In the 1983 film Return of the Jedi, Han Solo and crew attempt to infiltrate the Empire in a stolen Imperial ship. As they pass an Empire vessel, Han advises his first mate, Chewbacca, to keep his distance without looking like he’s trying to keep his distance.
After a trademark, Chewy retort, we assume asks, “How do I do that,” Han replies, “I don’t know, fly casual.”
It’s a fun scene, and one, while nearly 40 years old, can help us understand how to write great content for users that is also optimized for Google.
Dare we say, write casual.
At its core, search engine optimization or SEO is a simple concept.
- You create content centering around a keyword or set of keywords.
- A user searches for content using those keywords.
- Google, matching content and search keywords, pairs your output with what the user is seeking.
- The user chooses your link from Google’s search engine results page (SERP).
And yet, many brands are so caught up with how to rank on Google, they create unappealing user content.
Or, they develop highly engaging copy that users like, but most will never see because Google’s algorithm barely notices it.
Therein lies the dilemma – engaging content that ranks high. Would it surprise you to learn it’s easy to achieve since both users and Google want the same thing?
That means that seven out of every ten users do not look at the second page of search results. Yikes.
Although Google’s search algorithm encompasses more than 200 different ranking factors, many of those are out of your control. To improve your standing, focus on what you can control.
Thankfully, what you control aligns with several of Google’s most essential methodologies – effective use of keywords followed by relevance and authority.
Let’s take a look at each of these.
1. Keyword Use
The basis for SEO stems from keywords.
When a user enters a search term, Google uses those keywords to provide that user with the best possible content. It also allows you to generate content most relevant to your users.
But when researching keywords, place more of your focus on the long-tail variety, versus the more competitive short-tail keywords. In addition to being less competitive, long-tail phrases lead to higher conversions, since they signal intent. Consider:
- Short-tail keyword: Cheap flights
- Long-tail keyword: Cheap flights from DFW
The first keyword indicates someone wants to fly. The second reflects someone planning to fly.
When choosing keywords, don’t always go for the obvious, low-hanging fruit. Chances are it’s been picked (and it’s almost always short-tail keywords).
During your research, use a simple search to see if the biggest names in your niche rank for those keywords. If they do, consider developing content around a different set of keywords, preferably long-tail. The results might surprise you.
Once you find the keywords around which you’ll create content, it’s essential to know how to use them. Here are the main ways to achieving the most from your keywords:
Page Titles: Often, your page title will match the title of your content, be it a blog post, landing page, or product page. Include your primary keywords at the start of titles to ensure it shows up in its entirety on a SERP (especially on smaller mobile screens). This will increase your page’s relevance within the search as well.
Meta Description: The meta description is the block of text that appears under the title and web address of a search. Meta descriptions don’t directly impact SEO, but they do influence click-through rates, which does affect your ranking. Ensure your descriptions are captivating, feature your keywords naturally (more on this below), and stay between 50 and 160 characters.
Headings and Subheadings: Both headings and subheadings give your content structure and scannability – easy for people or search engines to understand the subject matter. Headings are an excellent place for your primary keywords or terms related to it. But don’t overdo it. First and foremost, headings need to be descriptive and informative.
URLs: Web addresses that feature a mass of letters and numbers and characters are an absolute mess. Aside from creating general confusion, they are a pain to copy and paste or easily share. Generate short and relevant URLs with a keyword that best describes the page to which it points.
Content: The most critical factor in using keywords is within your content. Best practices include using your primary keyword early on in your content and then variations of it throughout your text. Make sure it flows naturally within the context of what you write.
SEO copywriting isn’t restricted to the use of words. Don’t ignore images and videos. Both are indexed by Google, which opens up more avenues for your content to connect with users and make it more compelling.
In each case, make sure the media, including the file name, is relevant to your post. Employ keywords when titling the image and using alt text.
A big no-no when optimizing your SEO is keyword stuffing, which brings us back to “fly casual.”
Don’t shoehorn keywords where they least fit or don’t make sense.
Everything you produce, from your titles to your URLs to your content, should be created with your user in mind. Yes, it’s critical to integrate keywords in your content, but do it organically.
Always aim to make things efficient and easy to read and understand for your users. If you create content that people want to consume, engage with, and share, the ranking success with Google is certain to follow.
If you’re not sure what keywords to use in a particular piece, consider using a data-driven Content OPtimisation tool like Surfer SEO. It automatically gathers and analyzes numerous data points and then gives you specific recommendations about keywords and phrases that should be included in your piece. Incorporate these keywords naturally throughout your piece for the best SEO results.
Keeping with our Star Wars theme, if you type “fly casual” into Google’s search bar, you’ll see some predictable results. Not surprisingly, they favor Star Wars-related topics.
This is a prime example of how Google and SEO work.
Google aims to return the most relevant results to your inquiry. In Google’s own words, relevance is defined as:
How closely the elements of your ad campaign match what a person seems to be looking for.
Take this post, for example. This page will never rank high for searches specific to the keyword “fly casual.” Even though we use it a lot, it’s not something with which we’re concerned. Why?
The term’s relevance ties to Star Wars content, and this post ties to SEO copywriting.
Now, if your business sold Star Wars merchandise and one of your items was a fly casual coffee mug, that is indeed relevant. You’d want content centered around that particular keyword to help raise your product’s profile and, in turn, your site’s relevance.
This drives the point of how vital the right keywords are in crafting good content. Understand what motivates your audience to engage with your brand, then develop the content that pushes those buttons.
The second part of Google’s quality equation is authority. How much weight your website carries in relation to others in your niche.
Perhaps the holy grail of SEO is backlinks. For Google, backlinks from other authoritative sites (inbound links) back to your website are the primary indicator that your site matters.
Along the same lines, the links you include to other sites (outbound links) provide your content substance. It shows you as someone that values the information of others (which Google loves) and that your material is well-researched (which Google really loves).
Additionally, if you’ve produced other content related to what you’re working on, link to it. It will enhance your site’s standing as one with a trove of information.
Using both types of links gives your content a whole new dimension as an authoritative source for others to consume and use. They’ll want to link back to or share what you produce with others, which raises your profile and your ranking.
In both cases, when you add a link, use anchor text that flows naturally, don’t use the same text or link over and over. Google will penalize you, and users will move on to better content.
Understanding SEO Copywriting
With the knowledge of what type of content Google favors, let’s join that with what your users want.
While content that ranks is essential, it also needs to keep users engaged once they get to your site. You want users to spend time reading and clicking and sharing what you create. You want to entice them to take action – leave their contact info, make a comment, buy a product.
Content creation isn’t just a matter of stringing a few words together. You need copy that is easy to read, flows, and compels them to take action. Here’s how to do it.
1. Subject Matter
It might seem like branding 101, but the type of content you produce must appeal to the audience you are targeting.
Assume you run a blog that focuses on outdoor travel adventures – camping, hiking, mountain biking. The content you produce should appeal directly to that audience.
Features might encompass off-road vehicles, info on state parks, and backpacking abroad. Fans of roughing it amongst nature would also readily consume pieces inclined towards the environment or ways to preserve forests or oceans.
If your aim is broader, then it requires leg work on your part to find that happy medium.
For instance, is there a segment of adventurers who like hiking and climbing but prefer 4-star hotels and pricey Airbnbs? Identifying that sub-group opens the door to content serving that specific crowd.
Creating the best possible content is as much about figuring out what your brand represents, as knowing to whom it appeals. That knowledge doesn’t just serve your desired audience; it also builds a site that Google will reward as important among your niche.
Another aspect of the content you create is whether or not it’s both valuable and shareable.
Earlier in the post, we noted that seven out of every ten users do not look at the second page of search results. Certainly, an intimidating stat for some, but you can overcome it while strengthening your overall ranking (and brand).
Regardless of who you produce content for, research what your desired audience wants. What problems or questions do they have and what solutions can you provide? Chances are they know people seeking similar answers.
Understanding pain points not only helps you identify keywords but focuses you on producing appealing content. Content that doesn’t just sell your brand or a product, but engages your audience with solutions.
This provides you the pathway to generating posts that compel your users to take action – join an email list, download a video, make a purchase.
If that content proves valuable, your core audience will share it with others. Inevitably, this increases your number of views, pumping up those traffic numbers. The more traffic, the greater your relevance and authority, and the higher your Google rank.
In addition to excellent blog posts and high-quality images or videos, additional share-worthy content includes guides, how-tos or FAQs, infographics, ebooks, and white papers.
Make sure to include social media share buttons that are visible on not just your main pages, but every post as well. It’s beneficial to self-promote your content on social media yourself. Turn favorite portions of your content (or again, most relevant) into Tweets or Snaps or Instagram or Facebook posts.
2. Less is More
Don’t use seven words when four will do. Or don’t use 15 when you can get by with 10. Whatever the ratio, you’ve heard this writing rule before – cut the fluff, trim the fat, less is more.
Let’s look at an example using the opening line of this post:
In the 1983 film Return of the Jedi, Han Solo and crew attempt to infiltrate the Empire in a stolen Imperial ship.
Twenty-two words. A bit above average sentence length of 15 to 20 words. But it efficiently conveys a lot of information. Consider this alternative, verbal stew:
In the 1983 Star Wars film The Return of the Jedi, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leah, and Chewbacca attempt to infiltrate the evil Empire on the Forest Moon of Endor moon using a stolen code and stolen Imperial ship.
Forty words, and it’s a mouthful. It’s also a person’s first inclination when they write – cram as much info as they can into every sentence.
That might work if you’re writing a novel, but writing for the internet is different.
Whatever your online presence is, when a user visits, they’re looking for information. They want to find it as fast as possible. If they can’t, they’ll head to a site that gives them what they want.
Adopting the 7-4 rule keeps your copy snappy, and easy to read and understand. The first sentence said the same thing as the second with 18 fewer words. The faster someone connects with your content, the quicker you’ll get them to achieve the goal you want.
3. Keep it Moving
Unfortunately for your middle school English teacher, keep it moving means throwing a lot of what they taught you out the window.
First up, is readability. The average adult reads between a 6th and 8th-grade level. For comparison, the Harry Potter novels are written at 8th-grade readability.
To achieve that level, use plain language and short sentences. Apply the 7-4 rule to your word choices. Super and supercalifragilisticexpialidocious mean the same thing, but only one doesn’t require mental gymnastics to read.
Next, consider that much of your content is consumed on mobile devices.
Bite-size paragraphs are easier to read and absorb on small screens than massive walls of text. Toss aside long-held paragraph structure rules – aim for three-line paragraphs whenever possible.
If you want to make a strong point, give it its own paragraph, like this.
You want the text to glide across a screen. White space is your friend. Create a more enjoyable reading experience, not just with the words you use, but also the structure you place them in.
Last, keep your copy flowing by assuming your audience is smart. Let’s look again at the example highlighted in the 7-4 rule section:
In the 1983 film Return of the Jedi, Han Solo and crew attempt to infiltrate the Empire in a stolen Imperial ship.
In the 1983 Star Wars film The Return of the Jedi, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leah, and Chewbacca attempt to infiltrate the evil Empire on the Forest Moon of Endor moon using a stolen code and stolen ship.
Feel the difference?
Star Wars is a universally accepted piece of pop culture.
Even people who’ve never seen it know Return of the Jedi is a Star Wars film.
They understand that Luke, Leah, Han, and Chewbacca are a package deal. They also know the Empire is evil. The extra moon and code details are unnecessary in the given context.
Audiences love content creators who don’t insult their intelligence. It makes them feel valued and far more willing to engage with and share your ideas.
A final point – none of the above means to dumb down your content. Far from it. What you should do is to convey your message in its simplest form, so the widest possible audience reads it.
It might seem daunting, but SEO copywriting is as straightforward as the internet gets. Its a matter of doing what comes naturally.
Don’t overthink your content and don’t try to stuff it with more than what’s necessary. Focus on what’s important to your users, and Google will reward the effort.
Even if you’re casually trying to infiltrate the Empire.