The Expert's Guide to Keyword Research for SEO Copywriting
Keywords are just words—nothing scary or technical about them. So why are so many writers averse to doing keyword research?
There's a misconception among copywriters that SEO keyword research takes the creativity out of writing. But optimizing your content for search engines doesn't have to limit its quality any more than a round of copyediting. Just as editing improves your writing's readability, keyword research improves your writing's relevance and exposure (and often, its clarity as well). Why wouldn't you take steps to ensure that your intended audience can find your work?
Keyword research can easily become a natural part of your writing process. In this article, I'll walk you through my keyword research process, from the steps that take place before I begin writing a piece of content to the final steps of optimizing that content, keyword-wise, when I publish the piece.
Keyword Research for Copywriting: The First Steps
It's important to get in the habit of doing keyword research before you start to write an article. A lot of copywriters just write what they want to write, and then try to impose a keyword phrase on the article after the fact. This sets you up for one of two pitfalls:
- You choose a keyword that doesn't really fit and sounds forced.
- You choose a keyword that fits but isn't particularly relevant to your audience or is too competitive to rank for.
Admittedly, sometimes you have a great idea for a blog post and you just have to write it and worry about SEO later. But it's an excellent idea to have a running list of keywords that you plan to target with content. What does this buy you?
- No more writer's block: Think of your keyword list as a content idea generator. When you need to write a piece but don't know what to write about, craft an idea around one of your keyword phrases.
- Built-in priorities: Your keyword list—assuming it's properly organized—is also an ordered to-do list. If a certain keyword is driving lots of traffic or conversions, and you don't yet have dedicated content optimized for that keyword, write that content first. Move down your list according to audience demand.
- No shoehorned keywords: When you have a keyword phrase in mind before you put pen to paper, so to speak, your writing will naturally include the keyword. It's much easier to avoid that awkward, forced feel of bad SEO copywriting.
The best way to prioritize your copywriting tasks is to arrange your keywords in order of importance—that is, according to which keywords are driving traffic, are relevant to your audience, and don't yet have site content associated with them. Start with the keywords that are driving the most traffic first and work your way down the list. (Don't have any keywords yet? Easy! Use a keyword tool like WordStream's below.)
Once I've chosen a keyword to target, I open up a Word document and make a list of the keywords in that keyword group, in order of frequency. (NOTE: We group our keyword research into small clusters of tightly related terms, which has obvious benefits for PPC, but it's also very helpful for SEO copywriting. We've written about keyword grouping extensively on this site; you can learn more in our keyword grouping white paper.)
Let's say I choose the keyword "make money online." My list might look something like this:
make money online, making money online, online make money, how to make money online, make money online with affiliate program, ways to make money online, how to make money in online marketing, earn money online, make money online with pay per click
This task provides me with a list of popular keywords as well as less popular but related variants that I can (and should) include in my article or blog post. This accomplishes two good things at once:
- By including variations, I'm targeting a broader base of searchers (all interested in the same thing) with a single piece of content. This is more efficient than writing a full article for every single unique keyword.
- Using variations, as opposed to the exact same keyword phrase over and over, sounds more natural and closer to the way you would write if you didn't have to worry about keywords.
What's Next? Write It!
You've done the bulk of your keyword research; the next step is to write your damn article. Include the keywords from your list, but don't obsess about keyword density or you'll probably overdo it. WordStream's Keyword Density Checker tool can help you keep track of where you've inserted your keywords. Just remember to use those keywords in healthy moderation. Since you're writing an article specifically designed to target this group of keywords, they should fit into the text organically (no pun intended).
Where do the keywords go?
- In the body of the text, of course. Here's a good trick: Highlight your keywords to get a sense of whether you're using them too little or too much. Use different colors, if you need to, to keep track of how many variations you're using.
- In the title. It's a good idea to use your primary keyword here, rather than a lower-volume variant. (See our title tag guide for more help with writing SEO-friendly titles.)
- In subheads. Subheadings are good organizational practice as well as a good opportunity to work in more keywords.
The Final Touches, or, Cramming In a Few More Keywords!
Assuming you're in charge of actually publishing your article online (via your content management system or blogging software), there are a few more ways you can use your keyword research to optimize your article. (If you don't handle the posting, you can pass these tips on to whatever underling does.) Include your keyword or a variation in these additional places:
- Meta title: Many CMS's allow you to specify separate title (H1) and meta title tags. The meta title is the one that appears in search engine results. (Accordingly, if the meta title is fully optimized, you have a little more wiggle room for creativity in the H1 tag.)
- Meta description: Use your writerly skills to compose a meta description that includes relevant keywords without sounding mechanical or simply rehashing the headline, and you may boost your click-through rate.
- Image file names/ALT attributes: If you're including pictures on your page or in your post, use the keyword in the file names (e.g., make-money-online.gif). Also be sure to use the ALT attribute to tell search engines and users what the picture is. This text, and the caption or surrounding text, is the primary way that Google knows what the picture is.
- Anchor text: Link to your new page from several other pages on your site, using your keyword as the anchor text.
That's it! By which I mean, this is about the extent of what you, as a copywriter, can do in terms of on-page, keyword-focused SEO.
Is That Really It?
Well, not quite—there's a bit more you can do, post-publishing, by tracking your SEO results through analytics:
- Look at keyword referrers for the page. Are they what you expected? Are there new keyword variations? Refactor them into your research. Consider adding them to the page or writing additional content from a new angle.
- Check your search engine rankings for your primary keyword. This is variable and not very scientific, but it gives you a baseline idea of where your piece is ranking. (Just remember that better rankings are worthless if they don't increase traffic.) If you're not cracking the first couple of pages, you may need to devote more time to off-page SEO (such as link building) or target less competitive keywords.
- Take note of what works, and do it again. Do your visitors' search queries tend to be phrased as questions? Use questions in your content (and titles). Do they like "how to" keywords? Use 'em!
If you incorporate good keyword research practices into your writing process—instead of viewing SEO as a separate process to be applied after the fact—both your writing and your rankings will benefit. WordStream's SEO tool pack can help you generate keywords and insert them easily into your copy for instant SEO success!