Editor’s note: Some of this content was originally written by Dan Kern in 2015. We’ve revised it and added new context to adhere to modern SEO copywriting best practices.
Well-written, compelling online content is what persuades your customers to purchase your products above others. But they’ll never see that great content in the first place without proper SEO copywriting strategies.
SEO content writing is a must-have in today’s digital marketing world. Search engine results are only getting more crowded, and the right copywriting techniques make the difference between ranking on page one and getting buried on page 50.
Those strategies don’t have to be a mystery. Our SEO strategists have worked with dozens of eCommerce businesses to craft search-engine-friendly content, and we’re sharing our proven best practices with you today. Heads up: There’s a lot to cover, but every strategy in our SEO copywriting guidelines is crucial to success.
If you’re overwhelmed at the thought of doing it all on your own, reach out to our SEO team for help.
What is SEO Copywriting?
SEO copywriting has evolved a lot over the years. Gone are the days of awkward, keyword-stuffed content meant to “trick” Google into ranking your content on the first page of search engine results pages (SERPs).
Today, the key to successful copywriting is what it always should have been: authoritative, natural, compelling content that gracefully uses keywords and semantically related verbiage that is both directly and indirectly relevant to a user’s search query.
While SEO content writing still involves the strategic use of keywords (the search terms that users type into Google and other search engines to find what they’re looking for), it’s not the only thing that matters anymore. By targeting keyword phrases in your website copy, you may increase the likelihood of your content being served higher in SERPs — but your content won’t get very far if that’s the extent of your SEO strategy.
Why? Contrary to popular belief, writing content for SEO isn’t the primary focus of the best SEO copywriters. They don’t write solely for search engines; they use comprehensive strategies to first and foremost educate and inform the reader — and then use search engine optimization to bring in the readers they’ve been writing for.
SEO copywriting is crucial for every business, but especially for those in the eCommerce space. To beat your competitors, you need copy that not only motivates your consumer to purchase but also gets your products seen before others.
Don’t worry: It’s not as impossible as it seems. By using both eCommerce copywriting best practices and proven SEO copywriting tips and tactics, you can start driving traffic to your website and see an increase in consumer conversion rate.
6 SEO Copywriting Best Practices
The specifics of your SEO copywriting strategy will depend upon your products, website, and industry. However, there are some key tactics that apply for every business and every vertical.
- Proper keyword targeting
- Enticing media usage
- Reader-friendly formatting
- Internal linking
- Meta data optimization
- Reader-focused copy
1. Use keywords properly and effectively.
Keyword usage is still an integral part of SEO copywriting. But it’s not as simple as doing some basic research, throwing keywords on the page, and hoping for the best.
We employ several strategies to target keywords for and indicate user search intent to search engines — without creating a subpar consumer experience.
Use important keywords more frequently.
During your keyword research process, you will identify the more important keywords (usually those highly relevant to your product and/or high-volume and short-tail). Focus on these keywords for the best chance at pulling in organic search traffic.
When using a primary keyword, look at the overall length of your copy. While there’s no magic number or “keyword density level” you should try to hit, make sure the main keyword is included an appropriate amount of times to show search engines what the page’s focus is.
Use semantically related keywords.
LSI keywords (Latent Semantic Indexing Keywords) are semantically related to your target keyword. They aren’t necessarily synonyms but instead keywords that are frequently found with your target keywords because they share a similar context.
For example, if you’re writing content for your “camping tents” category page, you might also want to target phrases like “camping house,” “sleeping tent,” and “outdoor sleeping tent.”
You can use keyword research tools like Ahrefs’ “Also Rank for” or Semrush’s “Related” functions to identify these terms. Our strategists also use Clearscope to identify other important/related terms that are often explained as part of that topic and to compare our content to those pages that are already ranking for that target audience search intent.
Use keywords in headings and subheadings.
Where it makes sense to do so, use target and primary keywords in your H1 and meta page title — as close to the beginning as possible, because this header position holds more weight with search engines. Add unique words from the secondary keyword phrases later in the meta page title for a more semantically descriptive and keyword-rich meta page title.
An eCommerce example: The keywords “how to choose hiking boots” (primary), “how to choose trail hiking boots” (secondary), and “how to choose mountain hiking boots” (secondary) could be combined into the following meta page title: “How to Choose Hiking Boots for Mountain Trails.”
Make sure the meta page title reads naturally and is enticing, as this is the first look users get as your content. To get ideas, review the paid search ads at the top of the SERPs. Part of the reason they rank there is because their titles/messaging are compelling and, in return, they get higher click-through-rate (CTR).
Don’t forget your subheadings, either. These locations are viewed as important areas within the body content because they outline the focus of the content. Use primary and secondary keywords here via <h2>, <h3> and <h4> sub-headlines, as it makes sense to do so.
Use the exact searchable format
It’s best to include each keyword in the exact searchable format, with variations where possible.
For example, if a keyword term is “luxury vacation rentals,” it should be placed into the copy in that exact order (if it sounds natural). Use variations of the term — such as “rentals for a luxury vacation” or “luxurious vacation rentals” — for extra brownie points.
If an exact-match keyword sounds ridiculous within the copy, it’s best to avoid it. Instead, use related terms that create informative copy that reads naturally.
Above all, make sure to use them naturally.
Keyword stuffing is a thing of the past. Google can identify an unusual amount of keywords in copy and will dock your content. It’s also awkward for readers.
Remember: The primary goal of quality content is to help users and provide them with what they are looking for, not to please Google. That’s why we cannot stress it enough: Use keywords naturally.
Re-read your content after it is written. If it doesn’t sound natural, reevaluate your keyword usage.
2. Use visual media and enticing language to increase dwell time.
The longer a user stays on your page, the more valuable Google considers that content. If your user bounces from your site back to Google search results too quickly, it negatively affects your web page’s performance metrics, which can impact your organic ranking.
There are a few SEO copywriting best practices you can use here:
- Rich media: Embed high-quality imagery (including animated gifs and infographics) and videos to prevent high bounce rates and increase the user’s time on your site. Keep site speed in mind when adding these items.
- “Bucket Brigades”: Bucket brigades are phrases used to help improve bounce rate, expand average time on page, and improve the overall user experience. Use phrases like “Wait, there’s more,” “But you might be wondering,” “Look,” and more in places where a reader may typically abandon your page.
3. Format your content for online readability.
Online readers have much lower attention spans than print readers. They’re often scanning or searching for the information most relevant to their specific needs or query, and they don’t have the time to wade through blocks of text to find what they’re looking for.
So, you need to break up your site content with different formatting styles in order to create an easily scannable (and visually appealing) web page of content.
Here are a few options (check them out in action throughout this blog):
Boldfacing & Italicizing
- Bold or italicize key information to emphasize it to both readers and search engines.
- Try to spread this usage out on the page, rather than clustering them.
- Don’t overdo it.
- Subheadings (aka “subtitles”: h2, h3, h4) help to segment content into subtopics.
- This is a good place to put primary, secondary, and tertiary keywords, because subheadings are given a little extra weight by search engines.
- Subheadings should provide transition, flow, and organization to the content.
- Lists help users to quickly scan content and comprehend it. They also make your copy more attractive.
- Lists should indent slightly (20-50 pixels).
- Bulleted lists should be used to detail user benefits of the topic at hand.
- Numbered lists should be used to outline steps of a process, prioritize, or order the topic at hand.
At the same time, you should avoid these formatting mistakes:
- Table HTML, which interferes with most mobile designs because of its restrictive nature.
- Lack of whitespace, which makes content difficult to read. Ensure that there is ample “breathing room” in between sentences, between images and paragraph content, and between the end of a paragraph and a succeeding subtitle.
- Overly large or overly small fonts. Typically, 11–13 point font for the main paragraph text should suffice.
- Off-color subtitles and other stylistic elements. Keep within the scope of a color palette to ensure that content appears professional.
Link building is an important part of SEO copywriting best practices. It’s also a great advantage on eCommerce sites, especially for users who are still browsing your products.
Within each piece of content, link to 1–3 other related pages on the website. Internal linking passes link equity throughout your site and helps your other pages rank higher in search engines, too. In addition, it encourages users to click deeper into your site.
You should also use keyword-rich internal text links to point to those pages where it makes sense, and make sure the anchor text varies across the site.
Here’s how to use them:
- Use the primary keyword for the page being linked to as the anchor text (be sure it sounds natural).
- Vary the link text, and do not use the exact same text every time you link to a page.
- The higher up in the site structure an optimized page is, the more internal links should be pointed at it.
- Try to spread links throughout the content instead of clustering them together, unless there is a valid reason to do so (such as a bulleted list of links to related resources).
5. Optimize your meta data.
Web pages use metadata to allow search engines and social media sites to better understand different elements of the page and how to use them for their own purposes. Here’s how to optimize each aspect for your SEO strategy:
Meta Title Tags
Meta title tags are those that show up in search results and within your page’s tab on a user’s internet browser. This is one of the first introductions to your page that a reader sees.
- Use 60 characters or fewer (including spaces and punctuation). Google will use ellipses after roughly 60–65 characters (based on pixel width).
- Use the primary keyword phrase (exact match is preferable) at the beginning.
- When appropriate, use unique words from the secondary and tertiary keywords later in the meta title to help naturally include more keywords.
- Limit unnecessary words — such as conjunctions (use “&” instead of “and”) and prepositions — to keep the character count under 60 and focused on explaining what a user will find.
- Blend keywords to maximize space. For example, if your keywords are “diamond earrings” and “earrings made in USA,” you could use “Diamond Earrings – Made in the USA | YourBrandName” as your meta title.
- Make your meta title compelling. It has the biggest impact on your CTR.
Here’s what an optimized meta title looks like within the SERPs. Notice the primary and secondary related keywords, and how they are bold-faced by Google in the SERP. The character count is also kept within the ideal limits.
Note: As of September 2021, Google has started rewriting certain title tags in the SERPs. Stay on top of any changes to your meta titles with the tools mentioned in the video below.
The video below is hosted on YouTube. If you need assistance with viewing the video, please contact [email protected].
Meta Description Tag
The meta description tag is the “preview” text that appears below your meta title tag within the SERPs. It’s another opportunity to grab a searcher’s attention and increase the likelihood of them clicking on your copy.
- Use 155-160 characters or less (including spaces and punctuation). Google will use ellipses after roughly 160 characters (based on pixel width).
- A meta description does not directly impact search engine rankings, but it can impact CTR.
- Google will boldface keywords in the meta description, so here are some tips:
- Use the primary keyword phrase (or a variation) somewhere within it. Variations to consider:
- Different word order
- Different tense
- Different word forms (noun to verb, etc.)
- If you are unable to include any of the researched keywords in full/exact order in the page title, try to include them here.
- Use the primary keyword phrase (or a variation) somewhere within it. Variations to consider:
The meta description tag is an “elevator pitch” for a web page within search engine results. Therefore, it should:
- Be compelling to the search (focus on the benefits to them)
- Have proper grammar
- Include a call to action
- Promise what the page delivers
The following meta description example shows how ellipses are used by Google when the meta description is too long. Notice, however, the compelling nature and call to action in addition to keyword usage.
Image Alt and Title Attributes
Image alt attributes are used by search engines to help the visually impaired know which images are used on a page. Image title attributes are used to display a message when readers hover their mouse cursor over the image.
Make sure to:
- Accurately describe exactly what the image is.
- Keep it relatively short (10–15 words max).
- If it makes sense to use a target term in the alt text to describe the image, this can be done. It’s important not to use the same keywords on all images and over-optimize the page.
Link Title Attributes
Link title attributes display a message to the user when hovering a mouse cursor over them. Just like image title tags, these can be used creatively to combine keywords with calls to action.
6. Always remember the reader.
Many new content writers make the mistake of focusing too much on writing content for SEO (that is, search engines), rather than the real audience: the reader. Yes, your website copy should be optimized for search engines, but it should always be written for the real person who will come to your site.
We’ve all used search engines, and we’ve all come across pages in SERPs that promise one thing but deliver another. No matter how well your page is optimized for Googlebot, if the reader can’t find what they’re looking for, they’re quickly going to leave and look at another result. Google knows it, too; that’s why algorithms have changed over the decades to prioritize user experience, not SEO-focused writing.
If there’s one thing you should take from this list of best practices, it’s that SEO should never be the sole focus of any copy you write. You should first and foremost start with clear, concise, and informational copy, with optimization serving as a secondary focus. Only then will you create compelling content marketing that provides a stellar experience for your readers — serving up the best reading experience that answers their questions and concerns.
Remember: SEO Success Takes Time
Here’s the final thing to keep in mind: It takes time to see SEO copywriting techniques work. You can’t change one page’s title and expect new visitors to come flooding to your site the next day. It’s important to make continuous improvements to the website with the goal of improving the overall quality.
It usually takes a few weeks to a few months for noticeable changes to appear, which is why it’s so important to optimize your copy from the very first publish date. You can also try out SEO testing tactics to identify successful strategies more quickly and before rolling them out across your webpage types.
Find the SEO Copywriting Strategy that Works for Your Business
Clearly, there’s a lot that goes into successful search engine optimization copywriting. You’re not alone if the list above makes your eyes swim.
Fortunately, you can start with the simplest SEO copywriting best practices and still see results. For example, you might begin by optimizing meta data on all of your category and product pages before diving into a full-fledged SEO blogging strategy. Your site may see gradual gains until you have the bandwidth to go deeper into the copywriting process.
If you want to see more immediate organic traffic increases (as immediate as SEO allows for), consider working with a professional team of SEO marketers, like Inflow’s. Our strategists offer custom eCommerce copywriting services developed with your website and industry in mind.
Request a free proposal anytime to see what we can do for you.
In the meantime, download our free eCommerce Copywriting Guidelines now to keep in your back pocket during your optimization process.