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SEO writing – a beginner’s guide

Writing for robots is part of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) – the art of getting high search engine rankings. If you’re a creative writer or journalist ever asked to write “SEO copy” and haven’t a clue what to do, here’s some lowdown.

This is a chapter from my book, How to Launch a Freelance Copywriting Business. It was specially written for creative writers and journalists who can already write well, but want to learn the business side of copywriting.

Just brilliant” – Claire Wingfield, writer and editor


From “Writing for the Web”

When writing for the web, you’re not just writing for people. You’re also writing for robots.

How does this work? Well, words on the web are essentially data. This data is “crawled” by bots or spiders, who feed it to search engines.

Think of bots and spiders as virtual life forms who zoom around the internet in search of interesting food.

What does this mean for writers? Well, if you’re writing for the web, you need to learn techniques that appeal to bots as well as people.

Some kinds of writing are tasty for the bots, and so they reward it with higher search rankings.

Writing for robots – SEO copywriting

SEO copywriting is part of search engine optimization (SEO). It refers to the art of writing text that ranks well in search engines.

In the early days of the web, this was something of a “dark” art. The practice of “keyword stuffing” led to shouty, unnatural web copy with a high keyword density. This practice is now penalised by search engines. Instead, we have the “semantic web” – a less literal approach powered by AI and machine learning.

A complete SEO copywriting primer is a book in itself, and the goalposts keep moving.

But the good news is that a few basic principles will get you a long way.

Search engine-friendly writing means writing for two different conceptual spaces:

Firstly, the visible words. This is the copy on actual webpages which is clearly visible on the web. People will read these, so they need to be attractive and useful.

Secondly, the invisible writing aimed at robots. This is the behind-the-scenes text that helps search engines. It includes meta descriptions, tags, headlines, titles and other structural elements of a site.

These text elements are a kind of code that helps the robots to do their work. You can see some of these – such as meta descriptions and page titles – by looking at search results. For others, such as tags, you need to view the source code.

It’s worth looking at the source code, if only to understand an important fundamental:

Search engines run on words.

In amongst all the code and numbers, bots are actually truffle-hunting the best words relevant to the search.

So here are the main elements of SEO copywriting.

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Meta descriptions

Meta descriptions are the two-line elements of text that appear in search results.

If you haven’t inspected them before, take a look now, by opening your browser and performing a search. Meta descriptions are a mini taster for the web page. They help visitors to see if they want to click further.

If the bots don’t find a meta description, they grab a nearby bunch of words and put them in the space.

This is a wasted opportunity for the company who owns the site.

A well written meta description can make all the difference between someone visiting or avoiding the page.

An SEO copywriter typically supplies meta descriptions for each page.

These should be around 140-160 characters long, to make the most of the available space…

Excerpt from How to Launch a Freelance Copywriting Business by Jules Horne – the essential business guide for creative writers and journalists.

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