Yes, you read that right. You need to optimize your content for your readers before you optimize it for search engines. Keyword-stuffed copy that’s backed with no reader-friendly strategy will just give your site a high bounce rate.
You can’t just focus on getting people to your site; you must also focus on converting them once they’re there. And that’s where highly-researched, carefully-planned, conversion-driven copy comes into play.
For your copy to produce lasting results, it must be focused on three elements: readers, conversions, and search engines—in that order.
The whole purpose behind search engines is not to promote businesses but to help people find what they need. When you lose sight of that, you’re in danger of cheating with SEO and ultimately harming your own site.
SEARCH ENGINES AND READERS WANT THE SAME THING.
Since search engines were created for users, your site’s copy should be too. That’s who it’s all about, after all. The interesting twist is that when you optimize your copy for your readers, it’ll naturally be optimized for search engines too. Sure, you may have to add a couple elements (like a meta to a blog post) to make it really stand out to Google or Bing, but all the effort you put into making your site user-friendly will automatically make it search-engine friendly too.
For a website to be user-focused as a whole, all of its individual parts must be too. And copy is a major part. To make a user-friendly website, its copy must be reader-focused.
WHAT YOUR READERS WANT TO SEE
Your readers want to see that you grasp their problem and have a satisfactory solution. So make sure you really do understand their problem and really do have a good solution to it.
To write valuable content, you must know what your readers value. So before you even begin copywriting, you need to identify three things about your audience:
- Their pain points – what are their main problems?
- Their fears – what are they afraid of and why might they be hesitant about hiring you?
- Their goals – what outcomes are they hoping for?
Then you must identify specifically how you can solve their pain points, alleviate their fears, and help them meet their goals.
With their concrete problems and your specific solutions in mind (and written out, so you can consistently refer to them), you’re ready to write content that will be highly-valuable to your readers.
Just make sure that your copy is not focused on you and your business but on your audience. At the risk of oversimplifying —your copy should not use “we” or “us” more than “you” or “your.” Your copy should be staged in the reader’s world.
Let’s say you’re writing about the value you can bring as a virtual assistant. Instead of saying “I guard your time” or “I take care of all the pesky details,” you could say “You’ll have more free time” or ” You won’t have to worry about the pesky details anymore.”
Pro tip: Providing additional resources and linking to industry-standard websites proves that you aren’t just being self-promotional but are sincerely trying to help your readers. This tip is especially useful in blog posts.
2. NATURAL WRITING
It’s as simple as this—your readers want to be able to understand your writing. Reading your copy should not take effort. If they feel like they’re having to work to get through your copy, they probably won’t stick around. The same holds true if they’re distracted by an abundance of repetitive keywords or any errors.
Use simple, short sentences. Write like a human being, not an author or grad student. You’re not writing a novel or a research paper. So leave out the long, complex sentences and unnecessarily big words. Especially leave out the therefore’s.
Also, don’t use keywords unless they naturally fit. (Or, in other words, stop tacking the name of your city onto the end of every blog post title!) And use synonyms, instead of the same keywords over and over again. There are plenty of other places you can safely stick in an extra keyword or two (page titles, metas, URL, etc.) without ruining your site’s homepage copy because of it.
In addition, don’t use industry jargon. Your readers need to be able to identify their problems in your copy. Your audience may not know the official name of their problem; they just know what it looks and feels like. Express their pain points and fears the same way they would.
The same goes for your solution. Your audience may not know they need a CRM; they just know they need a better way to track their communication with leads and current customers. So maybe a better heading than “The Most Comprehensive CRM Yet” would be “The Best Way to Manage Customer Communication Yet.”
Pro tip: Users are reading your website to learn more about your brand too, not just your product or service. Your copy should naturally reflect your brand’s personality and goals. It should be so authentic that every future interaction a customer has with your company affirms the promises and voice of your site’s copy. Every part of your brand should tell the same story.
3. LOGICAL TRAIN OF THOUGHT
Expert copywriters plan their copy according to a customer’s train of thought. What will they want to know first? When will they be ready to take action? Where will they need to be reassured?
For example, rather than waiting to answer all the pressing questions in an FAQ section, try to answer them in relevant sections of the copy itself. You can repeat them in an FAQ for those who don’t go through the whole site. But those who do will feel reassured that you anticipated their concern and had a solid answer ready. Their progress through your site won’t be hindered by an important question weighing on their minds.
Make sure you prioritize the content most important to your readers, not to you. You may want to put the prices at the end of your landing page, after all your reassurances, explanations, and testimonials. But the prices are a huge decision-making factor to your readers. They’ll want to see them sooner rather than later. Don’t make readers hunt through your whole page to find the sections most important to them.
Pro tip: Your CTAs should also correspond with the reader’s buying journey. Instead of putting “Buy now” or “Contact us today” at the end of every section, consider using a different CTA such as “See our services” or even using two CTAs that allow the customer to choose between them, based on where he is in the conversion process.
4. RELEVANT MATERIAL
Your reader should never be surprised by what’s on your page. Every word should have an express, strategy-oriented purpose.
In addition, your page’s headline should be a clear match to its content. Clickbait that exaggerates your article’s content and makes readers expect something you aren’t actually providing will give you very few fans and probably even fewer conversions.
Your headlines and content must match, and so should your keywords and content. If you’re going to use a keyword, support it with useful, relevant copy. Don’t stray from the topic; your readers don’t have time for rabbit trails.
And your headlines, keywords, and copy should all be relevant to your audience. Don’t choose topics just because they’re trending on Twitter. They need to be trending within your target audience too.
Pro tip: To learn how to write click-worthy headlines that aren’t clickbait, read 5 Data Insights into the Headlines Readers Click.
5. CONTENT THAT’S EASY ON THE EYES
If a reader clicks through to your page, only to find a long block of tiny text that goes all the way to the bottom of her screen, she’ll quickly hit the back button. I know I would.
Your copy shouldn’t look intimidating. Even if it is long.
Break your copy up into small paragraphs— smaller paragraphs than you find in books. The longest paragraph in this article so far is 5 sentences, and I’m already thinking of ways to shorten it.
Why short paragraphs? Simple—the human eye needs a break once in a while. So does your mind. Nice, short paragraphs provide that much-needed break and make your writing far easier to get through.
Subheadlines are useful for the very same reason. They serve as guideposts, pulling you through the page section by section and providing structure to your content.
Other elements that provide relief for your readers’ minds and eyes are bullet lists, images, pull quotes, and charts and graphs. These provide a way to get additional important information on a page with fewer words and less reading.
Any content you can express (or re-express) in an infographic, list, or chart is better off there than in a paragraph. Why? Because readers remember 80% of what they see but only 20% of what they read.
Not only do people love to see visuals, but they also love to scan. Our eyes scan through junk mail, brochures, and blog posts like it’s second nature. Because it is.
Small paragraphs, bullet lists, and subheadlines will help scanners grasp the main ideas of your content and allow them to decide whether or not they want to read it entirely. Without these elements, scanners won’t even give your copy a chance.
If you’re including informational graphs, relevant images, concise lists, and explanatory subheadlines, even scanners will learn your main points and capture valuable information. And now they’ll trust you more and come back again.
Pro tip: For more ideas on making your content easy on the eyes, read Copyblogger’s 8 Incredibly Simple Ways to Get More People to Read Your Content.
WHY THESE IDEAS WORK FOR SEARCH ENGINES TOO
So now you know how to make your copy reader-friendly. Are you curious how these reader-focused writing tips naturally translate into SEO-friendly writing tips?
Here are a few ways:
- Because you’re addressing the real needs of your reader and speaking in their language, your writing will automatically include search phrases your readers are likely using.
- Because you’re trying to provide real value by linking to other reputable sites and sources, search engines can use those links to determine what your site is about and how credible it is.
- Because you’re adding subheadings to make your copy easier to get through, search engines spiders can also get through it more easily and quickly discover what your page is about. (Subheadings are also a great spot to naturally place keywords.)
- Because you’re only using keywords and their variations where appropriate, search engines won’t penalize you for using shady SEO methods. (And, believe me, that’s a very big benefit.)
Will you still have to fine-tune your website or blog post to get the rankings you want? Yes.
But that’s how it should be. You write for readers first; optimize for Google second. This order will get you lower bounce rates, higher conversion rates, and longer-lasting results than its reverse will.
Search engines certainly won’t punish you for putting your readers first. In fact, that’s what they want you to do.
In closing, here’s a quick review of how to simultaneously optimize your copy for readers and search engines.
To help you remember all the SEO copywriting details I cover in this post and the next one (SEO Copywriting: What to Do After You Write), I created a handy copywriting checklist. Just download the list and either save it to your computer or print and display it to help you remember these points as you write and optimize your content.
About the author: Jessica Swanda
Jessica Swanda is a freelance writer and content strategist who travels the USA full-time with her husband. Her writing has been featured in Marketing Profs and Social Media Today. She loves social media, digital marketing, and vanilla chai lattes (not necessarily in that order), and she’s always up for a good book or board game. To see more of her copywriting and marketing tips, visit her website Proof Is In the Writing.