13 Tips to Improve Your Copywriting for Better Search Rankings
This article was updated on October 18th, 2021.
If you want to improve your copywriting for better SEO and engagement, you’ve come to the right place.
I’m pretty sure I came out of the womb pen-in-hand. My earliest writings were published on the second grade classroom typewriter, by some poor mom who got much more than she bargained for in that volunteer role. I’m also a ruthless editor. My grammatically on-point text messages may not earn me points among friends, but my skill does come in handy as the Sr. Digital Strategist and content writer at Forge and Smith.
Fact: if reach and brand awareness are your goals, you need a business blog to drive inbound traffic.
Fact: quality copywriting matters for any professional website.
Most Important Fact: engaging copy influences how users engage with your site, and user engagement signals tell search engines if your content answered a search or not. Thus, copy influences ranking.
Content quality and keywords impact at least 10 ranking factors that I can count. You could take your chances with sub-par writing, going up against hundreds or thousands of other websites covering the same product, service, and content topics as you… but if you’re reading this post, you clearly already know that’s a bad idea.
Not everyone can be a writer, or afford to employ a professional to drive their SEO and content marketing — and that’s okay. What you can do is adopt simple practices to improve your writing so that it’s the best work you can produce for your business website.
Most of these tips work across the board for general website content writing and copywriting (yes, there is a difference!), including UX micro copy and longer-form content like blogs and case studies.
- Before You Start to Write
- Write Now
- Reduce & Revise
- Bonus Tip to Improve Your Copywriting
Before You Start to Write
This first group of steps is a know-before-you-go bundle, to help you lay a solid foundation for what you write.
1. Identify your reader
One of the best ways to improve your copywriting (and content writing) is to have a specific person in mind.
It’s obvious that you wouldn’t use the same tone, phrasing, or topics in a fashion blog as you would in the website copy for a law firm. Beyond that though, you need to be able to turn off your own voice, point of view, and personal word preferences when writing business website copy.
Think of your ideal customer, the dream person with the exact problem your product or service is intended to solve. Imagine they’re sitting in a chair opposite your desk. Dedicate your content to them. Every word in your CTA buttons, every sentence in your banners, even your blog topics should be carefully selected as if you were speaking directly to that customer.
If you don’t have brand identity guidelines that include a voice and tone copy guide, consider creating one — even if you’re the only person who uses it. This handy document can help with creative blocks, or to wrangle rambling thoughts.
2. Have a keyword strategy
Don’t stop at CTA buttons and blog topics when targeting that dream customer. Your SEO strategy can help improve your copywriting, too.
Make sure you have a solid understanding of how people are searching for you, and which stage of their journey this specific copy hits.
Use your customers’ search intent, most-used phrasing, and an SEO tool (or three) to choose optimal keywords. Search intent plays a huge role in whether your copy resonates with the people who discover it. Grammar gods forgive me for saying this, but relevance and content quality more than make up for the odd misplaced apostrophe.
Having a keyword strategy before you start will keep your writing on topic, get your CTA buttons clicked, and save you time rewriting to squeeze in those keywords after the fact. Keywords in page titles, headings, meta descriptions, and other website copy still play a role in ranking, especially in SEO for Bing, Yahoo, and other search engines.
3. Create a content outline
I admit, I don’t always create a content outline. When I do, my writing is almost always stronger, and the copy is much easier to write. A simple bullet list is all it takes.
If you’re writing website copy, list all the content blocks you need to fill in the order they fall reading down the page: banners, headlines, body copy, buttons, repeat.
For blogs or case studies, list the points you want to cover and then put them in a logical order. The bullet list can naturally inform headings, because each point is usually a succinct phrase that captures the copy you’ll write after it.
If your blog writing starts to digress and you find yourself devoting screen space to a point not listed on your outline — or five paragraphs deep into an off-brand analogy — the content outline will nag you back on track. “Three more points to cover, get with it!”
The added bonus of a content outline for better content writing is that if you’re easily distracted, it’s a snap to find your place when you sit back down at the keyboard. And if you feel overwhelmed by the task of writing in the first place, it’s visually broken into tiny chunks of copy that feel much more doable.
If that happens often, here are tips to help you get over a creative block or sense of copy-specific foreboding.
4. Get into the mood
Whether your learning style is visual, kinesthetic, or by reading/writing, there’s a great way to set yourself up for success before you start: do some reading.
If you’re writing a blog, read industry publications similar to your topic. Get a feel for the way the information is presented, and think about how you’d say it to your customers.
If you’re writing website copy, visit websites — lots of them. Not just websites within your industry. Explore your favourite sites, and think about why the copy triggers a positive reaction for you. Look at buttons that you can’t resist clicking, and callouts that create such a strong connection that you naturally move through multiple pages.
It’s much easier for your brain to switch from reading about organic supplements to writing about them, than it is to switch over from thinking about your spouse/dog/grocery list/that jerk who cut you off this morning.
These steps aim to improve your writing process and the copy itself.
5. Get to the point
Business websites aren’t driven by fantastical descriptive passages like prose. You need to get to the point.
Your word choice is even more urgent than an elevator pitch, because the reader isn’t captive in any way. If someone chooses your page or post from a list of search results, they have lots of options one back-click away if your copy doesn’t deliver instantaneous satisfaction.
To improve your copywriting or content writing, get your voice, perspective, and point right out in the open. Your banner, first headline, and first copy block should all clearly give someone a reason to stay on your site. Don’t count on scrolling to reach that juicy copy meant to convert — every extra action is a drop-off opportunity.
In a blog, tell the reader in your first paragraph(s) exactly what they’ll get from finishing the article. (I’m talking web copy paragraphs, two or three sentences in length.)
Think back to that dream customer. What words do they need to hear to stick around? What’s in it for them?
6. Respect grammar
As mentioned earlier, grammar and spelling are counted as quality signals among Google’s 200+ ranking factors.
Our brains are adept at skipping misspellings or filling in missing words (known as ‘typoglycaemia’), which means even a professional copywriter won’t catch all of their own mistakes. It doesn’t matter if English wasn’t your strong subject — you can still produce grammatically sound copy.
Find a browser extension, WordPress plugin, or grammar tool that will help you catch mistakes before you publish. The best tools go beyond spelling and grammar to suggest fixes for passive phrasing, assess the reading level, and assist with your keyword goals.
Not computer savvy? Ask a friend to read it over. A second pair of eyes can do wonders, especially if they have something in common with your target demographic.
7. Be aggressive
One of my biggest pet peeves is passive writing in business copy. If your sentence starts with “So, then you will be wanting to…” — stop! Let’s look at everything wrong with that phrasing:
- Kicking off with “So” sounds like someone trying to start a conversation but lacking confidence
- “Then you will be” could simply be “you’ll”, and we could all get on with our lives
- “Wanting to” — why are you even giving the reader the option to want, you should be straight-up telling them what they will do… an objective already captured under “you’ll”
The passive voice isn’t grammatically incorrect and neither are weak words, but they don’t work in marketing copy. From landing pages to social media captions, that copy is all about action: read this, click here, subscribe now. And if you want someone to stick with you through a blog post, you can’t afford to waffle your words.
Here’s Content Marketing Institute’s list of weak words, which I wholeheartedly support.
My own top picks for weakest words:
- In order to
- The thing is/as a matter of fact
If these words are in your copy, restructure!
Read my full rant on passive writing in social media copy for examples of passive writing and my recommended adjustments.
8. Add references
Almost everything has been said already, and by a source your customers would trust and respect without question.
Quoting and citing reputable references in blogs, case studies, and even certain web page copy has three great benefits to improve your content writing:
- It adds length to your articles or web pages that doesn’t rely on your own copywriting
- It drives the trust and credibility of your content by tapping the reputation of the source
- It improves your SEO score, and thus your copy quality in the eyes of search engines, through linking to reputable outside content
Paraphrasing statistics to cite in your copy is also a great writing practice. Take a stated fact, edit it into the right tone and language for your audience, and look for ways to improve that source’s copy using the techniques you learned in this article.
9. Save the best for last
Your headlines, titles, and CTA-driving copy are among the most critical things you can write. Wait until you’ve got into a serious writing flow before creating them, and they’ll be much stronger.
When writing blog posts, I almost always come up with title and first paragraph last.
It’s intimidating to create that first sentence, knowing it can make or break your article, and trying to write it first can leave you staring at a blinking cursor for hours. Skip it! The objective there is to capture the point of the post in an enticing way, and that’s way easier to do when you’ve just finished writing and have the most focused concept of your whole point.
When creating website copy, I start by writing the About page, which is full of brand story and really sets the mood.
Moving into other pages with that story in mind makes the voice and tone stronger. Saving the homepage for last after having written about the story, products/services, and other content makes it sharp — I know exactly what’s on those pages, and how best to sell it.
Reduce & Revise
Here are tips to polish and shine your copy before it goes live.
10. Edit, edit, edit
“Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” ~ Coco Chanel
One of the biggest ways to improve your copywriting has nothing to do with writing, and everything to do with what you do after the writing is done.
Every word might have made perfect sense and felt absolutely necessary as you were writing, but that doesn’t justify their existence in your copy. Go back over your work and look for redundancies and other fluff you can trim.
Try waiting 12-24 hours before taking a final pass at your copy. Thinking about something else between edits can make your focus sharper.
11. Read it aloud
This step is fun as well as hugely beneficial.
Reading your copy aloud will help catch awkward phrasing and run-on sentences — if you stumble over the words, your reader will too. And if you have to take a breath mid-sentence it’s definitely too long.
You can also read your copy aloud while writing it, to help work through mental blocks while finishing a sentence or point.
Imagine you’re reading the copy directly to your intended customer, or try out your acting chops with an accent. I like to channel Emily Blunt.
12. Style it for success
Getting back to the user experience aspect of search rankings, your copy needs to be readable. An intelligent, insightful page chock full of credible information but looking like a wall of textbook copy doesn’t stand a chance.
Make web page and blog copy accessible and easy to digest by using simple styling techniques:
- Keep paragraphs short
- Add images to long copy
- Use pull quotes, bullet lists, or indents
- Add a table of contents for quick navigation to specific content
When writing micro copy like banners, headings, and buttons, styling should successfully balance design and clear messaging. In user experience it’s not the length and size of your copy that count, it’s the words you choose and how easily the reader interprets them.
Bonus Tip to Improve Your Copywriting
This final point didn’t fit into the logical content buckets in my content outline. It happens.
13. Put your heart into it
Never, ever write for the sake of writing.
We’ve all been there — you know you’re supposed to publish a blog for content marketing and SEO, but you can’t think of a topic. Maybe copy for a new web page is due, but you aren’t feeling its purpose
If your heart isn’t in it, it usually won’t be a success. Your disinterest and rush to meet the deadline will impact the quality of the content. Content marketing is quality over quantity, and there’s no arguing the importance of strong writing in UX copy.
Don’t force it. Advocate for quality, because quality = ranking factors and conversions = search position and success. Explore exercises and practices like Inc.’s 16 Ways to Be More Creative.
Got a tip from your own experience, or a question about how to further improve your copywriting? Reach out to us on social!