Writing for SEO web design teams

Writing for SEO web design is a craft all of its own. If you’re lucky enough to be teamed up with a web design team, you’ll all be working together to get the best possible search results for your business client. Typically, the team will include a graphic designer, a user experience/wireframe designer, a backend web developer, an SEO specialist – and you, the copywriter. Here’s what you need to know.  

Not just writing web pages

Writing for SEO is just a matter of copywriting web pages, right?

Wrong! If you’re working with an SEO team, you’ll find yourself providing all sorts of extra bits and pieces.

Sometimes, they’re “under the hood” elements such as meta descriptions or snippets.

Often, they’re front-end elements that fit in odd spaces. You may find yourself having to write to tight parameters to fit in with the page design.

You may also find yourself contributing to ideas on URLs and navigation. Only larger web design projects can afford a user experience (UX) specialist.

SEO web design terminology

Web developers and SEO experts often use their own terminology, so here’s an overview of terms you might encounter when writing for SEO.

Search engine optimisation. The art of creating websites that score high rankings in search engines. Back-end SEO means the IT workings under the hood. Front-end SEO is typically the design, user interface and your excellent copywriting.

UX, UI and UE design
User experience or user interface design. The art of creating clear navigation that users can easily follow. It’s a mix of visual layout, psychology, accessibility awareness, ergonomics, information architecture, and understanding website structure and its limitations.

A website wireframe is a schematic layout that provides a skeleton for the team to work to. It’s essentially a rough visual plan or map of structural elements for each page template. The graphic designer will interpret this layout and make it beautiful. A bit like putting a gorgeous gown on a clothes horse!

Another word for metadescriptions, the three lines of text that sit below the URL in search results. These should be written separately, and each one has to be different. Sometimes the SEO copywriter writes these. Sometimes, it’s the SEO specialist. Opinions vary on how long snippets should be, and Google keeps moving the goalposts. I use the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress, which makes them around 140-160 characters.

Search engine results pages. These are the pages that appear when you carry out a search on Google, or another search engine. Typically, each page includes 10 organic results and some ads. The SEO specialist’s aim is to get the client site high in the SERPs.

For more terminology around writing for SEO, see SEO for authors – anatomy of a website.

What does the UX designer do?

The UX (user experience) design role will depend on the scale of the job and the size of team. If your team is lucky enough to have this specialism, you’ll work closely with them as coordinator. However, on small site projects, the role is usually done by the web designer, with some input from you. In this case, check out this vital info on UX writing.

The UX designer needs to research and gain a deep understanding of the client’s needs, market, and goals for the site.

Then, they need conceptual skills to be able to create the best information hierarchy for the client’s needs.

They need to integrate research from the SEO specialist, who will research relevant keywords and competitor sites.

And they need to work with the graphic designer on matching beautiful design to practical user-friendliness and clarity.

As the copywriter, you may be asked to provide short elements of copy at different lengths, to fit in different parts of the website, and help with both SEO and navigation.

If you look at the BBC website, you’ll see different headers of this kind. Each one needs to be written separately for its intended space.

As a web content writer, you need to get used to writing to a given length, as parts of the web page structure may be designed to look best with a specific number of characters.

This isn’t very different to print media writing, where you often need to write for a given space.   

What does the web developer do?

The web developer builds the site. They liaise with the rest of the team and create the structure, look and branding provided by the designers.

To build an effective site, the web developer needs to know the exact navigation and URL structure, and what’s going where, before starting.

If a site is allowed to grow organically, it can end up slow, inefficient, and with lots of dead ends. Search engines penalise this with poor search rankings.

So, the web developer will liaise with UX and SEO to get everything decided before starting the technical build.

From a copywriting point of view, the web developer will want you to have everything ready and proofed for drop-in, rather than in draft format, with the expectation of “tweaks”.

Developer time is far more costly than copywriting time, so it makes sense to have changes made at the copywriting stage.

If you’re a copywriter writing for SEO, you may not have much involvement with the web developer until the staging or development site goes live. Then you may be asked to fill in missing elements, or pick up snags.

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What does the graphic designer do?

The graphic designer is responsible for the overall look and feel of the site. That includes branding, colours, fonts, styling and often image sourcing, too.

Web design is usually a compromise between the creative ambitions of the graphic designer and the practical constraints of web infrastructure based on a grid system.

It’s also a compromise between the designer’s love of visual images which typically don’t have much search juice, and the SEO expert’s need for words, which do.

Some graphic designers commission photography and manage photoshoots to get exactly the right images needed for the site.

The graphic designer may ask you as the copywriter to provide banner captions, straplines and other typographical elements to work with visuals.  

What does the SEO expert do?

The SEO expert works behind the scenes to research keywords, competitor sites and URLs to create the information structure of the site.

They’ll usually use the client’s previous site’s Google Analytics as a starting point for decisions about the best words to feature prominently on the site.

Ideally, they’ll give you, the copywriter, a spreadsheet of URLs showing the pages that need to be written, along with guidance on word counts.

They’ll also include the target search keywords for each pages, and sometimes also headers and navigational elements [h1s and h2s].

Your job is to write to this brief, focusing on the page theme and keywords, so that all elements confirm the same subject matter, and are congruent with each other.

You may also suggest in-text links to other pages in the site, which help reader flow to different parts of the site.

Typically, website pages are written more like newspaper items than creative writing – that is, with a pyramid structure. The main focus is at the top, and the theme is expanded below.

Literal titles are better than oblique titles for business sites where people are looking for information. They’re a better match for search engines.

So newspaper writing skills and a clear, communicative style will stand you in good stead.

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