Post by Hayley Wolfcale, SEO Specialist

Many of our clients come to us with little knowledge on how to write copy for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes. With 4 years of SEO experience, my practice has taught me that writing content with search results in mind is more art than science, and keyword choices and placement can be intensely subjective.

With this 3-post series, I am planning to offer a step-by-step look at how I approach keyword research and copywriting. Here’s what I’ll cover:

  • Long content & keyword research: What I think of as “long” content includes, but is not limited to, blog posts, articles and informational pages
  • Short content & keyword research: I consider “short” content to include product pages, category pages and other shopping or research navigation pages
  • How to write <TITLE> tags, <H1> tags and META Descriptions: <TITLE> tags are shorter than they used to be—what can you squeeze in that space and what should it look like? What can <H1> tags do that <TITLE> tags can’t? How do you craft a META description that will encourage searchers to click?

For today post, let’s jump into long content and keyword research.

So you want to write a nice, meaty article or story for your blog—where do you start? You might have restrictions under the brand “voice” or scope of a company’s blog, but you can still create compelling stories and make information-intensive content interesting, and you can definitely optimize it for SEO.

Significance of Long-Tail Keywords

Here’s what I look for when hunting for keywords for long-form copy: long-tail keywords. No big revelation there, I know. But these low-volume keywords are more focused, so you probably have less competition on the search engine results page (SERP). Additionally, you won’t be competing with your own pages by optimizing with broader terms that you use elsewhere. And of course, generally, people who ARE searching for a long-tail term are more likely to be a qualified leads. If someone takes the time to type in “how can I increase my savings?” as opposed to “savings account” they’re more likely to be interested in the meaty information you have on your blog or informational pages.

If I find a relevant keyword that includes a Who, What, Where, Why or How, I know I’ve hit the jackpot! These people have questions that you know the answer to. Address these questions with lengthy and thoughtful answers—no one wants to click through to a site only to find that the information is sparse or the <TITLE> tag was misleading. You don’t like that feeling when you do research online, so try not to do it to others.

This is why keywords should always be chosen for relevance over search volume. It’s not just about following the search engines rules for fear of the site being sanctioned—visitors will remember when they’ve had a bad experience with your site, even if it was as fleeting and as simple as finding that the information they were hoping to find was in fact a keyword “bait and switch.”

What if You Can’t Find Relevant Long-Tail Keywords?

Sometimes you hit a brick wall. The topic you want to write about just doesn’t have any search volume, no matter how many synonyms you try in the Keyword Planner. I say, who cares? Especially when it comes to a company blog, you’ll probably be discussing the same topics over and over using industry terminology and proprietary keywords.

When this is the case, “optimizing” in the traditional SEO sense is less about differentiating your pages and more about ensuring the topics of posts are clear to both searchers and search engines. You might love the title with the pun, but make sure it includes at least some clue about the subject of the article. Search engines, after all, don’t understand puns. Choose the most appropriate keywords you can think of and make sure you use them in the META tags and body copy. It’s okay to choose the keyword with low search volume if that’s the clearest expression of the article’s subject.

Awkward Keywords

Maybe there’s a better term for these, but you know when you type stuff into Google and it magically knows what you’re talking about even though you didn’t use punctuation or correct grammar? That means that a keyword like “hotels Chicago” has an average of 9,900 searches every month. Could you use that phrase in copy without adding “in” or a comma between the two words? It would be tough. Sometimes you can find creative ways to use awkward keywords and take advantage of that high search volume, but more often than not, you, or some poor copywriter, is going to be banging her head on the desk trying to figure out how to fit a clumsy keyword into real copy that humans have to read. Don’t do that to yourself or your copywriters. Choose keywords that can be used in grammatically correct sentences, even if they have low or no search volume.

Keyword Research: Before, During or After?

I often optimize client materials after they’re written, but it’s usually simpler to choose keywords and then start writing. Even if you write the piece and then review it to add keywords, you’ll probably find that there are more opportunities to include the keywords and make them sound natural. You won’t have to shoehorn the keywords into the copy if you pick them before-hand.

Long Content Learnings and Best Practices

I often see brand sites that have very little readable content on their pages, preferring to put long information behind a wall, like signing up for a quote or an account. I see this as a missed opportunity for brands: when your site can’t answer questions or offer insights into the industry or products offered, you’ve lost a chance to look like an expert in your field. Not every page needs to be long, but there’s almost always a section where comprehensive information would better serve the visitor.

To summarize:

  • Do keyword research before you write
  • Avoid grammatically awkward keywords
  • Find relevant long-tail keywords and/or keywords that are questions
  • Don’t sweat it if you don’t find keywords with high, or any, search volume, especially when optimizing blog posts
  • Make your content valuable to the reader. Don’t create a blog that doesn’t offer original ideas or information that will interest your audience

Stay tuned for my next two posts and more on SEO copywriting!