SEO, Copywriting, and Creativity
By Gerald Jackson
SEO Content Development and Paying Attention to Your Audience
SEO content writing isn’t necessarily the most glamorous of tasks: the content itself is usually geared more towards garnering attention from Google search results, with the actual substance of the content secondary to that. But with Google’s new (and continued) attempts to adjust heir algorithms to promote “good” content, the role of the content writer continues to expand. With the overlap between copywriting and SEO content development becoming clearer, we can also talk about the impact of audience awareness and creativity on websites, blog posts, and articles.
How Do We Define “SEO Content” vs. Copywriting?
The distinction between an SEO content writer and a copywriter is somewhat of an arbitrary one… both jobs are technically doing the same, or very similar, work of reaching out to audiences with the intent of persuasion or sales. But through my experience bidding on and applying for several freelance and full-time jobs, it becomes clear that, for employers at least, there is still a significant difference between these two positions. SEO Writers write for search engines. An SEO content writer can research a topic and pull keywords and search phrases from several tools in order to craft an article that resonates with an online audience’s search patterns. Through the strategic use of paragraphs, subheaders, and rhetorical questions, an SEO content writer provides content that will index on Google search results based on certain criteria. Copywriters write for target markets. If you read classic books by David Ogilvy or Robert Bly, “copywriting” typically means the writing of more “direct” marketing. In traditional print media, this might mean advertisements or mailers. In our digital age, we find this kind of writing in things like email campaign sequences and mailers, landing pages, and long-form eBooks. As I’ve looked over different companies looking people to fill these different roles, it becomes apparent that these are actually significantly different positions.
Creative Writing in Content Development
A question that I’ve had asked of me by content writers that work with and for me is the difference between the two for the actual writer. For me, and I think that my opinion slightly changes day to day, is that the difference isn’t really that significant for the writer of you are a professional doing professional work. Let’s take the Google question. Recently, a leaked document detailing Google’s internal standard for determining high-quality content has made its way around the Internet. While I won’t dig into that right now (the document is 200 pages in total, so I’ll save it for another post), an overview of it suggests that Google views high-quality content in very similar terms as we do:
- It’s useful, informative, or educational.
- People like it: they land on the page, get what they need, and don’t go back.
- It’s unique, not just on a word-for-word basis but on a content basis.
- It’s substantial without being spammy or lengthy.
- It has several links, both to its internal domain and from external sources.
In reading these criteria, it seems pretty obvious that Google wants to promote quality content. This is a strong response to early search engine spamming where a page full of awkward keywords and irrelevant links. Instead, Google ranks content higher based on whether it fulfills certain content criteria, links to authoritative sources, and (seemingly) provides useful information. So there seems to be several aspects here that actually link the so-called “SEO Content Writer” and “Copywriter” jobs as described above.
- SEO writers need to effectively and creatively integrate keywords that draw results but also speak to an audience. A writer needs to be able to speak to their audience on multiple levels. The two main levels, however, are grabbing their attention via Google search results, and keeping it with the content.Last I checked, something like 70% of browsers will not navigate past the first page of Google results. So, you have to write with the notion of ranking high. But you can’t just dump words onto a page and hope that your audience will pay attention: at this point, spam sites are going to turn of audiences.
- SEO writers, like copywriters, must logically break down their content in a compelling and easy-to-understand organization. Google loves key phrases and potential search questions in subheaders. Guess what: people do too! If a reader types a question into Google, and your page contains a section clearly labeled with that question (or an answer to that question), then they are going to visit.
- SEO writers still need to deliver the goods. Just because you got a person to click your link doesn’t mean they are going to actually do anything once they get there. When they land on the page, you want them to stay there. Even better, you want others to link to your content to show that it is useful to some community.Include your keywords, but make sure that you don’t just rely on them. If you’ve read any blog posts that drag out a point or question or topic for 300 words just to provide a half-answer, then you know what I mean.
- SEO writers still need to sell. Once you’ve got the reader there, and once you’ve actually addressed the information they want, you need to get them on board with whatever made you write a blog post in the first place. Need them to sign up for a newsletter? Call a number for more information? Visit a landing page? Your copy needs to move them from point A to B to C to get them interested in what you or your company offers.In the world of SEO, that takes some serious copywriting skills. That’s because when people land on an informative post, they may not be thinking of doing anything but getting information. But if you write convincing copy that converts, then you can move a reader from curious browser to member of your exclusive mailing list in the span of 1,000 words.
Creativity in Content Development
So even generically, creativity plays a large part in SEO content writing as it does in traditional copywriting. With that kind of realization, it seems kind of silly to differentiate the two. But also consider what is expected of each position. SEO content writers pull visitors, and copywriters pull sales and conversions. If you want to take your SEO writing to the next level, then also think like a copywriter. Write posts that grab search results, but make sure that your content always funnels someone towards a goal. If your posts start directing sales and conversions, you’ll start to get the attention of marketing managers even without any direct sales. But most importantly, enjoy your writing, no matter what it is. Google can’t tell if you are having a good time, or if you are enthusiastic. But a real, human reader can, and will, and will often click a link or buy a project based on the energy of your writing alone. Be authentic, genuine, and persuasive without being cocky or “sales-y”. Your organic marketing could quickly integrate a more direct approach if you just take some time to employ some creativity.