A copywriter’s dream is to see one’s copy featured on the first page of the search engine results page (SERP). While the sense of “winning the SERP” might stoke the copywriter’s ego, it’s not much of a guilty pleasure. In a competitive digital environment, a high-ranking link is what site owners want anyway.
We copywriters here at Island Media Management want to share some tips on copywriting in 2020 and what it takes to win at writing in a digital age.
Knowing your audience – humans and machines
Content marketing is free marketing, and writing something that doesn’t waste a reader’s time is good service. But in the process of entertaining readers with good user experience, we tend to forget that we are also writing to an entirely different audience – the search engine algorithm.
At the moment, search engines have not evolved to imitate the human visual cortex. A person might be drawn to minimalist websites that contain few words that speak so much (marketers enjoy playing with subtext and subliminal messages). But search engines? They are still learning how to empathize with us a.k.a. creative apes with anxiety.
Regardless, we still think that it’s important to stay close to the human end of the human-machine audience spectrum, because 1) actual people will create conversions, not A.I., and 2) search engines, while still imperfect, are increasingly smarter and more human-like in choosing relevant content to satisfy users’ search intent.
How to write for BOTH readers and robots
Back in the day, SEO was a numbers game, and keyword frequency loading was a common practice. But search engines are still computer programs that work with numbers, even though developers have been able to quantify user experience and page quality. So how do we strike the balance between writing for humans and search engines?
First impressions matter
Research by UX Developer Nielsen Norman observed that users typically absorb 28% of content online. This is attributed to many disruptive eye-straining online factors such as ads, pop-ups, hyperlinks, and bad text color schemes. Reading from web pages has become a daily chore for millions of people. With limited time, attention, and an overabundance of information on the Web, first impressions matter a lot.
This is also true for search engines. Each webpage has been given a “crawling budget”, which is the maximum time given to a webpage for a spider-bot to scan the html code for indexing. Search engines have become smart enough to successfully infer a piece of content’s underlying theme by looking at not only the frequency of keywords but also its relative positions in the body and headings hierarchy – a bit like how actual people read.
Let’s take an honest example. In this blog article, the focus keyword – the keyword that we are competing the ranks for – is “writing digital age”. We incorporate the keyword seamlessly into the title, position it at the front-side of the string, and use the focus keyword as a theme for this copy.
The focus keyword also appears on the very first paragraph along with target related keywords such as “copywriting”. Of course, in well-written content, related keywords that are not targeted will also naturally appear in the conversation (it’s difficult not to include “user experience”, for example).
In Google’s SERP, the meta description is the black text underneath the URL. It acts as a preview for your potential visitors. The bold words are the keywords taken from the search query. Since your user’s keywords are potentially displayed in the meta description, it’s crucial to include the focus keyword in it.
But don’t be lazy – keyword loading is a big no-no. The meta description is also your first point of contact with the readers. Take our example for reference:
“Writing in the digital age has its own challenges and opportunities along the SEO journey. Improve your copywriting skills for 2020 by learning a few tricks and strategies here.”
Image tagging using Alt Text
If your site contains many images, assign an alt text to help search engines understand what the image means, and how it is related to the content. Remember: use relevant keywords.