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SEO copywriting advice for weary creatives

Old school copywriter puzzling over how to make SEO writing more creative

Copywriting veterans face new challenges to make SEO writing creative.

Veteran copywriters might consider creative SEO writing an oxymoron. I’ve heard this rant before.

As business has evolved, copywriters have been forced to adapt in many ways since the time of Mad Men-style creative work.

They’ve had to accept creative limitations imposed by corporate brand guidelines, structured banner ads and email marketing along with other intrusions on their creative sensibilities. This has often been met with much weeping and gnashing of teeth. Add to this the requirements of copywriting for SEO (search engine optimization) and you might start hearing declarations about the death of creativity.

But let’s not be hasty. SEO writing does not have to inhibit your Web content creativity.

What is SEO copywriting?

Let’s start with a definition from Wikipedia: “SEO copywriting is textual composition for web page marketing that emphasizes skillful manipulation of the page’s wording to place it among the first results of a user’s search list, while still producing readable and persuasive content.”

As a copywriter you should be relieved by the use of words like skillful wording, readable and persuasive. As a right-brainiac creative thinker you will need to exercise your left brain a little more as you work through the new rules of writing SEO content for the Web. But once you become familiar with them you will start to see opportunities to write creative, compelling and persuasive online copy that is also search optimized.

Those pesky SEO writing rules

SEO is critical to content marketing success. There is ample research to show that after email, search is the most common online activity. So yes, there are SEO rules you must follow in order for your content to be found.

Many creative people rebel at the idea of rules. A lot of breakthrough ideas come from bucking convention and breaking the rules, so creatives are naturally inclined to bristle at following them. Here is a short list of SEO copywriting rules they might find most constricting to the flow of creative juices:

Keyword density. Telling a writer which words to use is a little like telling Babe Ruth which baseball bat to take to the plate. Telling a writer how many times to place a word or phrase into content is like telling Babe Ruth how many swings to take.

Headlines. “Here is the key phrase you need in the headline. Keep it under 65 characters. Oh, and make it punchy.”

Subheads and heading tags. Similar to headline challenges, subheads also need to synchronize with keywords in the title tag. For SEO best practices there should be an H1 and an H2 heading on each page.

Linking. Incorporating links to other Web pages with keywords in the anchor text is one more SEO writing rule to tax the copywriter’s creativity.

This is not a comprehensive list, but you get the idea. There are numerous words and elements already established before the first word is written. Writing around these requirements can make for a challenging assignment. The good news for cranky copywriters is you can still produce search-optimized content that is creative. Really.

How to make SEO copy more creative

First, it’s important to remember that copywriting formulas are not new. There have been direct marketing best practices formulas used in advertising and sales letters for decades. There has always been room for creativity within them. The same holds true in copywriting for SEO. You just need to get comfortable with the context and the rules.

Within the context of SEO writing rules you can apply some of the time-honored creative approaches that will work in any platform – print or digital. Answer the applicable 5-Ws:

  1. Who you are writing to? Who is your website visitor? Who are the decision makers?
  2. What are they searching for? What question are they trying to answer? What must they know to make a decision?
  3. When do they need an answer? When are they going to reach a decision?
  4. Where are they? Where do they need to be to reach a decision? Where are you?
  5. Why should they choose you over other options?

Another classic formula you can build into your SEO copy is the AIDA marketing model:

  • Attention: attract attention and create awareness in your web visitor
  • Interest: build interest by focusing on advantages and benefits
  • Desire: convince your web visitor they want you to satisfy their need
  • Action: tell them what to do with an effective call-to-action

5 Tips to jumpstart your SEO copywriting creative

  1. Write the headline first. Your headline is the set-up for the entire page. It makes a promise and offers a preview for what the reader is expecting. Nail that down and the rest will flow much easier.
  2. Write the subheads next. They provide an outline of idea chunks that flow from your headline. You’ve also cleared the hurdle of embedding major keywords, which will free you to think creatively about the rest of the content.
  3. Brainstorm keyword variations. Think about different combinations of key phrases, and plural and past tenses that will lend variety to readability while still optimizing your Web content.
  4. Group ideas into chunks. Readers and search engines scan online information in chunks, so use bullet and numbered lists and other formatting to enhance creative and search optimization.
  5. Don’t let the rules distract you from applying the fundamentals of persuasive writing. Don’t forget what works.

Confession: I am one of those old school copywriter/marketers. I’ve always had tremendous appreciation for great creative work that accomplishes business objectives. The challenge today is to create compelling content that motivates action AND is found by online searchers. SEO writing rules are table stakes for getting into the game. I’m having fun learning the new rules and finding creative ways to apply them.

What about you? What are some ways you have found to make SEO copywriting more creative?

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