In this guide, I’m going to tell you everything I know about SEO copywriting.
I’m going to explain how I’ve been able to rank #1 for keywords like “copywriter”, “consulting”, “A/B testing guide”, and even “how to be popular” (don’t ask), either here on my own site or via a client’s site.
Whether you are wanting to write content that ranks your own business or create valuable SEO assets to sell to clients, this guide is for you.
I’m going to share everything I know and give you the insider “secrets” that most SEO professionals won’t tell you about creating content that ranks.
But first, we need to address the elephant in the room.
Why You Should Probably Avoid Using The Phrase “SEO Copywriting”
SEO copywriting is a funny phrase.
If you don’t know what SEO is, it stands for Search Engine Optimization, and it’s the process of attempting to position your website pages so that they are one of the first options people see when searching specific phrases via Google.
Copywriting, on the other hand, is the process of writing words intended to prompt a specific action by the reader. Learn more about copywriting’s definition here.
These two combine into “SEO copywriting”, and I’m using it here simply because I intend to hit the #1 search result for this query in about 12 months. I’ll need to beat out 20 of the top SEO professionals in the game in order to do that, but I like my chances.
Here’s the thing, though.
“SEO copywriting” is a bit of a misnomer.
It implies that the process of writing copy for SEO is different – that the copy itself is fundamentally different from “non-SEO copy”.
But that’s not the case.
Nobody who understands either SEO or copywriting uses this phrase. In fact, it’s become a bit of a joke in the industry.
If someone is referring to themselves as an “SEO copywriter”, it’s pretty much a sure sign that the individual isn’t particularly talented at either SEO or copywriting.
It’s the type of phrase you use when you have a mediocre skill set and are solely targeting small businesses owners who don’t understand marketing and can only afford a mediocre skill set in the first place.
That’s not a dig at anyone.
This screenshot is from MY LinkedIn profile:
That’s from my first year as a freelancer… when I wasn’t particularly talented at either SEO or copywriting, and I didn’t know wtf I was doing.
There are a handful of legitimate experts who use this term simply because it’s become very common among their target audience (sort of like how I’m targeting people who are googling the phrase in this post).
And furthermore, there’s nothing wrong with being in the mediocre category in your career. Nobody starts as an expert. Everyone who has mastered a skill had to spend YEARS being mediocre along the way.
BUT if you are intending to position yourself as an expert at writing content that ranks, you should know that using the phrase “SEO copywriter” is probably not going to do you any favors.
And for the purposes of this article, you should understand that I’m not about to teach you a special type of writing.
I’m going to teach you how to write great copy within the context of targeting a specific SEO keyphrase and then use SEO techniques on the backend to give yourself the best chance to rank.
This is the correct way to do “SEO copywriting”.
If anyone tells you otherwise… well, they are welcome to try and outrank me.
With that in mind, let’s dive in.
The SEO Copywriting Framework I Use To Consistently Hit #1 Rankings
I have a very specific process I go through to write content that ranks, and I’m going to take you through the entire process from A to Z in this guide.
- Analyze front page results for the target keyword
- Brainstorm ways to create a better resource
- Outline structure for longform content
- Write, rewrite, and evolve the piece
- Go through on-page SEO checklist
- Publish the content and adjust based on results
If this looks relatively simple, it’s because it is relatively simple.
Here’s the problem.
It’s very easy to go through the motions on each of these steps.
Steps #2, #3, and #4 in particular are not completed on a Pass/Fail grade. Most people do these at a D level. If you really pay attention to this guide, I’m going to teach you how to do these at an A level.
Why was I able to outrank a $100 Million A/B testing software company for the phrase “A/B testing tools” on a $2,000 budget?
Why was I able to stroll in and outrank Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur, McKinsey, Bain, and Boston Consulting Group for every single keyword in the consulting space?
Why am I ranking in the top #3 results for every copywriting term I’ve targeted despite the fact that well-established, well-known brands had previously owned these rankings for YEARS?
It’s pretty simple.
I took each of these steps a lot more seriously than the writers on their teams did.
Thanks to these simple steps, I’m able to charge a minimum of $10k per month to provide SEO-driven content marketing for up-and-coming brands, and over the last two years, I’ve been able to build my own small portfolio of businesses to around $30k per month in revenue purely through organic traffic.
So with that said, understand that if you read through this guide looking to cut corners, you’re wasting your time. I’m not reinventing the wheel here. I’m going to help you understand what REALLY moves the needle on rankings beyond the simple math equation of backlinks and domain authority.
If you read through this guide looking to put in the work and master this skill set, it might just change your life.
1. Analyze The Existing Front Page Results For Your Target Keyword
The SEO copywriting journey begins with the target keyphrase.
Finding the right keyword targets — aka “keyword research” — is an entirely different skill set and, in my opinion, the single hardest part of SEO. It’s well beyond the scope of writing the content itself, and you can be one of the best SEO copywriters in the world without having a clue about how to do keyword research.
So we start with the keyword.
I want to also mention that I always focus on ranking a single piece of content for a single keyphrase between 1-5 words.
I don’t believe in trying to rank for “long tail” keywords aka longer keyphrases that don’t get much direct search volume.
Recent SEO studies have proven what I’ve believed for years: while around 70% of all searches are longtail, 80% of search traffic gets essentially funneled into shorter “parent” keyphrases.
In other words, ranking for the 1-5 word parent keyphrases results in collecting 80% of the related long trail searches.
So let’s start with a keyphrase.
Everything’s better with examples, and for this example, rather than giving you yet another meta example from the writing or marketing worlds, I’m going to walk you through my process for attempting to rank a side-business for the term “plant based diet”.
The first thing we need to do is Google this term and see what we find on the front page.
I use the Ahrefs toolbar to help me analyze this content. Ahrefs is my go-to SEO tool, but it’s pretty expensive (lowest price tier is $99/month) and unnecessary if you aren’t seriously investing in SEO for your business or as a service.
MozBar is a free alternative that is nearly as good for the purpose of SEO copywriting, so if you don’t have another tool already, give that one a try.
Here’s the key data I’m looking for when I evaluate each of the 10 results that show up on the front page:
- Brand type: How big is the brand? How focused is the brand’s niche?
- Content type: Why type of content is this? Is it similar to the other 9 results or different?
- Domain Rank/Authority (DR): this is your SEO tool’s overall evaluation of the domain’s SEO standing.
- Page Referring Domains (RD): This is the total number of websites that are linking to this specific page.
- Word count: How many total words does the content have?
Here’s a live recording of me looking through and analyzing the first five results for plant based diet.
And here’s the data for the top 5 results. I use Ahrefs to analyze this data:
- Plant based recipe brand: “beginner’s guide”, 76 DR, 536 RD, 1700 words
- Harvard: definition article, 92 DR, 631 RD, 700 words
- Harvard: informative article, 92 DR, 611 RD, 1200 words
- Healthline: “beginner’s guide”, 91 DR, 533 RD, 2200 words
- Plant based fitness brand: “guide”, 65 DR, 13 RD, 2200 words
Looking at these results, I’m thinking that breaking into the top #3 is going to be very challenging, BUT I think it’s doable.
100 is the highest possible DR, so the fact that three of these results are in the 90s means we have an uphill battle ahead of us. The saving grace is that they are all massive sites focused on numerous topics, which means if we can get Google to see our brand as a plant-based focused brand, we can probably steal one of these spots for ourselves.
If anything, I’m actually more concerned about competing with the other two plant-based focused brands on the list. They have pretty good pieces of content already, and we’ll need to really create something special to break into the top #3. The saving grace here is that the 5th result only has 13 referring domains, which will be very easy to beat with a little bit of link building.
But frankly, none of that really matters to you as the copywriter.
From a writing perspective, all we need to do is figure out how to create a better resource than any of the above examples.
2. Brainstorm Ways To Create A Better Resource
Making a better resource isn’t about reinventing the wheel.
It’s just as much about understanding why the top results ARE ranking as it is about finding gaps that we can fill to create something better.
I like to create a list of things these articles are doing well in addition to a list of ideas for improvement.
Let’s start with what they are doing well.
- The top articles are fairly extensive at 1,700-2,200 words.
- The top articles are touching on a lot of the key concepts:
- What is a plant based diet?
- Benefits of choosing a plant based diet
- Major plant-based food categories
- A large selection of plant-based recipes
- Sections addressing common questions
- The top articles cross off all the key onpage SEO metrics.
Oof. That covers all the main points.
The top articles are doing everything right.
There are no big gaps or obvious holes here that we can just check off to easily create a better resource.
Guess we just make a copycat article and then complain that it doesn’t outrank
Neil Patel the original right?
It just means we need to work harder and be more creative.
Here’s what I’m thinking.
- The simplest thing we can do is create something that is 3,000-4,000 words instead of just 2,200. That’s not going to make our article inherently better, but if we can find an extra thousand words of useful info, it gives us an edge.
- The best article does a great job hitting all the key concepts but doesn’t offer a practical approach to transitioning from a meat-based diet to a plant-based diet. The next best article is the inverse. If we can do BOTH at the same time, we give ourselves an edge.
- The best article is focused on getting people off the page and onto other content. If we can create something that gives people everything they need in the article, we can get a higher “Time on Page”, which will give us an edge.
- None of the top content brings in outside voices or provides real-life examples outside of the author’s story. This is a great opportunity to partner with plant based influencers who are interested in having their stories featured and will help amplify the reach of the content.
Notice that in this situation, none of our planned improvements are going to give us a de facto win. Each strategy simply gives us an additional edge, and we are hoping that by doing multiple strategies at once, we can give ourselves enough of an edge to take a top spot.
You really want to come up with 2-3 really solid ideas here as they will inform the next phase where we put together an outline.
That said, this is just the BEGINNING of this process.
The best ideas for improvement often come during the writing process, so if you don’t feel like your brainstorming knocks it out of the park, that’s okay.
3. Outline The Structure Of Your Longform Piece
Your ability to structure and outline a great piece is probably one of the three things that can make or break your content.
Great SEO copywriting really comes down to three key elements:
- Identifying enough core content to make a 3,000 word article valuable from start to finish
- Structuring the article in a way that contextualizes the content and anticipates the reader
- Writing the article in a way that keeps the reader engaged from start to finish
None of these are easy.
That said, with enough research or access to subject matter experts, pretty much anyone can pull off #1 without needing any special skill sets.
Additionally, #3 only requires a single skill set that quite a lot of writers possess: the ability to write engaging prose. If you are hiring writers, you will still struggle to find these people – it’s not a ubiquitous skill set – but it’s not exactly rare either.
That leaves #2: structuring and outlining.
This is the true secret weapon of great SEO copywriting. It’s the hardest skill to find, and I can count the number of people I know who can do this well on one hand (oh, and they are all making a minimum of $200k per year)
This is great news if you are reading this, because it means you just discovered an “economic moat” that can virtually guarantee you $200k per year.
And I’m going to let you in on a little secret.
It’s just teaching.
Structuring a longform piece of content is identical to a teacher structuring a lesson for students.
Your mind should be thinking along these lines:
- What is the core revelation of this lesson?
- What are the key takeaways?
- What’s the first idea that begins our journey toward the core revelation and takeaways?
- What is the maximum we need to zoom out in order to understand these points?
- What questions will come up with each progressive step toward these points?
- Which questions should be addressed as part of the lesson?
- Which questions should be noted and presented as a launch point for further but separate learning?
- Which questions should simply be ignored?
- What supporting information do we need to provide to make our points?
- What supporting information isn’t necessary but would enhance the lesson?
I like to think about these during the outline and structure phase, because it’s a different mindset to writing the line-by-line prose itself.
In my experience, cycling back and forth between structure and prose while writing a piece is incredibly inefficient. Sometimes, it’s unavoidable, and I’ll often make substantial structural adjustments mid-piece, BUT those adjustments often triple my time on the piece.
This isn’t a deal-breaker if you are writing for your own business, but if you are writing for a client, tripling your time means wiping out your margins.
The better you can learn to think like a teacher during the outlining process, the better equipped you will be to succeed.
Here’s a few ways to evaluate your outline and identify structural weaknesses:
- Does reading through the subheadlines feel like reading through a solid summary of the post? If not, you might need to make some adjustments.
- Are there any standalone sections that could be swapped with other sections, and it wouldn’t meaningfully change the reading experience? If so, you might need to make some adjustments.
- Did you tack on a “extra strategies” or “additional insights” section at the end of the post? That’s a clear indication of poor structure.
Once you are finished with the outline, it’s time to write.
4. Write, Rewrite, And Let The Piece Evolve
Now it’s time to actually write the article.
There are different ways to tackle this, and you’ll want to find your own unique process over time.
If you find that you are coming up with strong ideas in your outlining stage, sometimes the writing process is really simple. You just… write.
If you find that outlining feels a bit more robotic, you might want to use this strategy from Julian Shapiro:
Not every piece of content needs “novel ideas”, but the more often you can share ideas that go against the grain or reframe something from a new angle, the more people will view you or your brand as a thought leader.
Julian uses his first draft as a discovery process for finding these ideas, and then once he’s established them, he uses the second draft to build a fully fleshed argument around those ideas, complete with stories, analogies, and examples.
My personal style is a bit different.
I come up with a lot of my ideas during the outlining stage, and then I sort of combine my first and second draft together in my writing process.
Rather than writing a full first draft and then coming back through on a full second draft, I write section by section and often end up rewriting a section multiple times before moving onto the next one.
This works great when the task is primarily to write great prose and find great examples.
And that’s why I outline and map out my ideas BEFORE I write.
In the past, I’ve used my first draft to discover ideas, similar to Julian, but I found that it often resulted in a TON of rewriting.
I’d get 500 words into an argument before realizing there was a better way to frame the point, and since my goal is ALWAYS to create the best possible article, that meant deleting massive chunks of content fairly frequently.
All that to say… find the writing method that works for YOU.
Write a lot.
Repetition is the path to improvement in most areas of life, but there’s few areas where this is more true than writing.
Write and rewrite.
5. Work Your Way Through This SEO Checklist
Once you’ve finished writing a great piece of content that the intended audience will actually want to read, you’ve finished the hard part.
The rest is easy.
Here’s my COMPLETE checklist for what is called “on-page SEO” — aka the specific things you do to a piece of content to help it rank in search that you would NOT do if SEO wasn’t a consideration.
- Include the exact target keyphrase in the headline.
- Include the exact target keyphrase in the first 100 words of the article.
- Include the exact target keyphrase in at least one subheader.
- Include the exact target keyphrase in the meta title and meta description.
That’s the complete list.
So if you’ve been following along so far, what I basically just told you is that “SEO copywriting” is just normal-ass writing with a few simple extra steps.
Now, I’m making a few assumptions here with this list.
I’m ignoring stuff like page load speed, image optimization, and other well-known aspects of SEO, because they are beyond the scope of writing an article for SEO purposes.
That said, if you want a complete list of things that can impact your on-page SEO results, check out this guide from Brian Dean at Backlinko. My personal checklist is a whittled down version of Brian’s.
Here’s a few things I NEVER concern myself with:
- Keyword density (if you track this, I can’t take you seriously)
- LSI keywords (Clearscope is overpriced and overrated)
- Image alt text (image search traffic is worthless and even a negative in most niches)
- Rich snippets (only important in a minority of niches)
There’s a few extra things you can do on-page to improve your rankings, but I don’t thinking any of them are worth doing pre-publication unless you are doing them as part of improving the overall value of the content.
We’ll cover these in the next and final section.
6. Publish The Content And Adjust Based On Results
At this point, you are ready to publish your blog post and get the ranking process started.
Here’s what I recommend:
- Publish the post to your website.
- Add links to 5 previous blog posts pointing to the new post, and include the target keyphrase in the anchor text — these are called “internal backlinks”.
- If you have access to Search Console, submit the post URL to be indexed.
- Promote your post — the most important step is sending it out to your email list.
- Monitor results over the next 3 months.
Setting up internal backlinks upon publication is the most commonly overlooked step in this process, and it’s a big deal. Internal backlinks inform Google about how you want your website’s domain “authority” to be leveraged in favor of your newly published blog post.
If you want to leverage the full weight of your website’s authority toward a new post, you need links in place from your strongest SEO articles pointing to that new post.
From here, it’s all about monitoring and adjusting.
I don’t make any changes to a new post until it’s been live for 3 months. That’s usually how long it takes to settle where it’s going to settle, and even then, posts will often continue moving upward over time. My highest performing post took an entire year to reach it’s #1 position.
Once your post has stopped moving upward, there are a few things you can do to try and increase your ranking.
- Add a video near the top of the post.
- Build backlinks to the post on other websites.
- Add specific content designed to capture featured snippets.
I learned that first one from Andy Crestodina, the talented co-founder of Orbit Media (and the nicest guy you’ll ever meet).
Andy is the only person I’ve ever met who kicks my ass in Time on Page. He told me that he consistently sees Time on Page increase by a full minute after adding a video near the top of the post, and this makes a lot of sense when you think about it.
I’ve since seen similar results on other websites since implementing his advice.
And of course, even if you are brand new to SEO, you’ve probably heard about backlinks. The more websites that are linking to your blog post, the more likely it is to rank higher in search.
Last and definitely least, let’s talk about featured snippets.
I’ve had quite a bit of success securing featured snippets. Here’s the snippet I currently hold for the search term “copywriter”.
When I first hit the front page for this keyword, I didn’t own the snippet.
I actually went in and added the text you see above specifically to try and secure the featured snippet… and I succeeded.
The key to capturing snippets is understanding what type of snippet Google wants there and creating text for that snippet. In this case, Google wanted a definition-style snippet, so I added a definition-style section of text early in the article.
Prior to 2020, getting a snippet was always a homerun. A snippet was an ADDITION to the 10 organic results Google already displayed on the front page, so you could try to get the snippet AND be the first normal search result as well.
But that changed in January of 2020, and now Google treats the featured snippet as the first result, so if you secure the snippet, you will not show up as a normal listing anywhere else on the front page.
In my experience, people often skip over the featured snippet much like an ad, and I’m not sure if the benefits of being first outweigh the negatives.
If I could choose between owning the snippet and being the first normal result, I might choose the first normal result for some keywords, but to be honest, I don’t have enough data to know conclusively which is better.
I can tell you with certainly, however, that grabbing the snippet is either the best placement OR the 2nd best placement behind the first normal result, so I often attempt to secure the snippet any time my post is ranking #2 or lower on the front page and has stopped moving upward for a period of one month.
And that’s probably 10x more than you actually need to know about featured snippets.
Next Steps: How To Apply SEO Copywriting
If you write content that ranks, you have a lot of options available to you.
The simplest option that will pay off the quickest is to sell this type of writing as a freelancer. I focused on this method exclusively for 6-7 years and maxed out my freelancing income at around $20k/month.
If you have never broken the $5k/month mark as an entrepreneur, I highly recommend starting as a freelance service provider.
You’ll learn to master sales and marketing and be exposed to many interesting business models. Perhaps more importantly, you can generate income very quickly without needing to take on the risk of startup or overhead costs.
I’ve put together an incredibly detailed, insanely helpful crash course to freelance copywriting that you can grab below:
If you aren’t in a rush, and you have the discipline to invest in a business for 12 months or more before seeing a return, there are some other options available to you as well through SEO copywriting.
- You can build an affiliate business.
- You can build a dropshipping business.
- You can build a DTC ecommerce business.
- You can build an education business.
- You can build a media business.
Basically, if there is any type of content out there being searched for, you can create content to attract those searches and monetize that traffic in some way.
I’ve used SEO copywriting to:
- Bring in leads to my freelance copywriting business.
- Sell affiliate products.
- Sell my own education products.
- Build a media business monetized through sponsorships.
- Purchase and grow a recipe blog.
- And I’m just getting started…
These types of businesses can take years to succeed, and most people I know who have built successful versions (including myself) spent years freelancing to pay the bills and invest in these businesses along the way.
But that said, if you have the skills and patience to write and rank, you can build virtually any type of business you see online.