A Digital Copywriter's Guide toSearch Engine Optimization

What It Is, Why It Matters, and How You Can Get Started

The world of SEO copywriting is rich in terms that may be new to you. Concepts like “on-page SEO,” “optimizing web content,” and “keyword research” might sound confusing.

You might wonder if you need to be technically adept to be a successful SEO copywriter. (The answer is no.)

But what do you need to know, and where can you find clients who pay well for SEO copywriting?

The truth is, there’s a tremendous opportunity for writers who want to learn about SEO and apply it to client work.

If you’re intrigued by SEO copywriting, you’re in the right place to learn everything you need to know to get familiar with this skill… including where to find clients and how to grow your copywriting business.

What Is SEO Copywriting?

The basic concept of SEO copywriting is simple. Write content that answers your readers’ questions and that is easily found and understood by search engines.

Imagine this scenario…

You’ve adopted a fluffy new puppy. It doesn’t take long for you to realize you need a dog grooming service to help your pup look and feel his best. If you’re like many people, you turn to Google and type in “dog groomer near me.”

The top results are for the dog groomers with the most robust online presence in your area. Those top spots go to websites that use terms like “dog groomer + [your town]” and “dog grooming services in [your town]” and have lots of good testimonials and reviews.

If you’re like most people, you click through to the website of one of the groomers in the top three spots on Google.

You look at their location, the services they offer, appointment availability, testimonials, and prices. You might do this for two or three groomers. Then, you’ll choose one and make an appointment.

You’re not going to click through to page eight of the search results to find your dog groomer.

In fact, statistics show 75% of people never go beyond the first page of Google!

This means Google’s page one is the online equivalent of the most desirable real estate in town.

As an SEO copywriter, your skills can help your clients in several ways:

  • To get found by the right people — people who want and need their products and services.
  • To appear credible and answer people’s questions — building trust with their prospects.
  • To earn leads and sales by writing content that guides visitors to the next logical step.

You can see why SEO copywriting is in high demand.

A Crash Course in SEO Terms

If you’re intrigued by SEO copywriting, you’ll find it helpful to know some of the terminology. For example, you’ll hear about algorithms. You encounter algorithms all the time… Every time you visit Amazon, do a search on Google, or browse Netflix, there’s an algorithm in play.

Search engines use an algorithm to return useful results to you whenever you type in a search term. Think of the algorithm as a set of instructions that tells the search engine what to do.

But there’s another side of the algorithm. When you write a page for a website, the search engines crawl that page to see what it’s about. The algorithm helps the search engine decide what the page is about and how good it is compared with pages on a similar topic.

As an SEO copywriter, you’ll use keywords to help the search algorithm rank your page.

Consider the “dog groomer + [town]” example above. That query suggests you’re looking for a dog groomer in a specific location.

The algorithm parses millions of data points to deliver the results that seem to fit best. These instructions tick dozens of boxes to “grade” a website and see if it’s credible. The site with the most “ticks” wins a top slot.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, there weren’t as many websites as there are today. The growing number of websites means ranking on the search engines is harder to do. The algorithm has gotten more sophisticated, but its basic job is still the same: to provide the best match for your query.

To do this, Google reports using around 200 “signals” to rank a site. Although they don’t share everything, they do let you know some of those signals. 

  • The quality of the content
  • How long people stay on the web page
  • The number of sites linking to the page

… just to name a few.

Now, only a fraction of Google’s signals have anything to do with your work as an SEO copywriter, so don’t feel like you have to know everything. (Nobody knows everything about how Google ranks pages… not even the coders at Google!)

As an SEO copywriter, it’s your job to write intriguing content designed to answer your future reader’s questions. And you’ll use keywords to help you understand better what your audience is looking for.

Let’s break that term “keywords” down further.

In the dog grooming example above, “dog grooming + [town]” would be a keyword phrase. So would “dog grooming services + [town].” As a copywriter, you’d write about the services and practices of the dog grooming salon and include a mention of the area, since it’s a location-based business.

With a national or international business, it’s the same process. Imagine you’re writing for a software company that specializes in invoicing software for small-business owners. You’ll use keywords like “invoicing software for small businesses” or “how to create invoices.”

As an SEO copywriter, you’re always thinking about what your reader wants to achieve, what questions they have, and how you can help them.

Relevant keyword terms can help your readers find what you’ve written.

We’ll talk more about where to find keywords later, but for now, know there are software tools that can help you find them. And in many cases, your client may already have a list of keywords they want to create content around.

When you blend these keywords into your copywriting in a conversational way, you create something that is useful and easy to read for your visitors, and you make it possible for search engines to recognize when your copy is a match for a search query.

A Growing Industry

In 2020, the SEO industry was worth $47.5 billion and is expected to grow to $77.6 billion by 2023.

There’s no way to know the exact number of websites globally, yet one source says there were 1.92 billion as of January 14, 2022. Millions of them use SEO copywriters.

What will you write about as an SEO copywriter?

It’s up to you. No matter your background or interest, there’s a way to turn your existing knowledge into a new career as an SEO copywriter. 

Every industry uses SEO copywriting as part of its marketing, from insurance to jewelry, from software development to car accessories.

People buy food, gifts, clothes, and anything you can think of online. And often, they find what they’re looking for with a little help behind the scenes from an SEO copywriter.

In the business world, SEO copywriting drives business too. For example, marketing software giant HubSpot serves other businesses. They report that SEO efforts account for 61% of leads.

According to WebFX, “Over 90 percent of online experiences begin with a search engine.” Many of those searches are for broad information such as “dog groomer near me” or “how to”–based questions. (There’s a reason “how to” content is so popular online!)

And, of course, Google is still the big kahuna when it comes to search engines. It handles over 3.5 billion searches a day!

All of these businesses hoping to get found and ranked well by search engines need SEO copywriters to make that happen. Everyone from your local dentist (or dog groomer) to enterprise software companies.

As you can imagine, the demand for copywriters who understand how to optimize their words for search is big… and growing all the time.

Take this recent LinkedIn search. Typing in “SEO copywriting” found thousands of job postings, with more posted every day.

LinkedIn SEO Search Example

What Types of Projects Do SEO Copywriters Handle?

Companies use SEO copywriting for…

  • website pages,
  • blog articles,
  • pillar pages (like this one!),
  • frequently asked questions,
  • social media profiles,
  • social media posts,
  • pay per click ads, and
  • landing pages.

As an SEO copywriter, you can specialize in one or two of these or focus on a specific industry.

If you choose to focus on an industry, you’ll most often find yourself…

  • writing webpages,
  • updating existing webpages, or
  • writing blog content.

That may seem like a short list, but there’s a lot of variety within it. Take webpages. There are many different types, and each one serves a specific purpose. Here are just seven webpage possibilities.

  • Homepages provide an overview and help visitors find what they’re looking for.
  • “About” pages introduce the company or team.
  • Service pages educate people on the services the company offers.
  • Product pages introduce specific products of the company.
  • FAQ, or frequently asked questions, pages answer the most common questions.
  • Sales pages, whether in short or long form, sell a product or service.
  • Pricing pages provide pricing details for products or services and even price comparisons of different offerings.

All of these pages need to be optimized for search.

Let’s say you’re hired to write website copy for a software company. They would like you to write the homepage, “about” page, product page, FAQ page, pricing page, fulfillment page, and contact page to start. You charge $3,000, and the entire project takes you about two weeks.

As you work together, the company asks you to add an email series that thanks people for their order and walks them through how to get the most out of the software. At $150 per email and a series of seven emails, you’re at another $1,050 for another one to two days of work.

Then, they want you to handle their blog too. You agree to two posts a month at $300 per post for a steady $600 a month. They also ask you to do keyword research to help plan their editorial calendar. That’s a separate fee.

SEO for an E-Commerce Site

Imagine a company that sells walking sandals for women. It’s an online boutique shop with a dozen styles (and growing).

Your client knows the right content can attract more customers, provided it’s been optimized well for search. That’s where you come in.

They’d like you to start by optimizing their product pages and then move on to writing blog content.

Each product page is between 300 and 500 words. As an SEO copywriter, you research the potential keywords, learn about the customer’s needs and questions, and write punchy copy that appeals to both the customers and search engines.

You charge $250 per page. At a dozen pages, that’s $3,000, and you can probably knock it out in less than a week.

Next up, they’d like you to help develop the blog content, and they have 12 keyword-searched topics to start. For each blog post, you charge $350, and that’s $4,200.

They may want you to write all the blog content at once or spread it out over a few months. Either way, each blog post will take you two to four hours to complete.

They may also want you to review their entire site and give recommendations on what you can improve. For an SEO audit, you charge $1,000, and it takes you a few hours to put it together.

The entire project can bring in $8,000 or more and take you less than a month.

SEO Copywriting Principles

At this point, you may be wondering how you can get started as an SEO copywriter.

There’s plenty of work, it pays well, and you can do it from anywhere. The basic principles of being an SEO copywriter are simple.

It all starts with getting into the right mindset when you’re thinking about your customer. (That’s the person you’re writing to, not the client.)

The Mental Prep

With any copywriting role, you want to think about your reader’s goal. What are they thinking? What problem do they want to solve? How can you help them find the solution?

To answer those questions, you need to know who your reader is.

Who’s Your Reader?

Before you write a word, it’s helpful to ask yourself a few questions about your reader. Here are some questions to consider: 

  • Who’s reading this? How do they describe themselves? What are their interests? What are their values? What role are they in when they come to this page? (A person may be a mother and a CEO, but they’ll shop differently in each role.)
  • What do they need to know right now?
  • What do they already know about your topic/product/company?
  • How do they want to feel?
  • What do they want to achieve?

When you answer these questions before you write, you’ll be able to help your reader achieve their goals.

Write Conversationally

Reading online is hard. It’s difficult on the eyes, there are plenty of distractions, and people often read on tiny screens. It helps your reader when you write in a conversational and straightforward way.

As part of that, you want to be sensitive to their mood. What’s your reader thinking when they land on your website? Are they searching for a solution to a work problem? Or did their dog get into the cleaning supplies cabinet, and they’re frantically looking for the number for poison control?

Your writing can come across as supportive, friendly, educational, or funny.

Build Trust

SEO copywriting is a chance to build trust and credibility with your reader. One way to build trust is to share reviews and testimonials. Research says 79% of shoppers trust reviews like those found on Amazon or TripAdvisor. If you can share some of these reviews on your webpages, you’ll help your potential reader make the decision that’s right for them. 

Good SEO Copywriting Starts Here

As an SEO copywriter, you want to bring more visitors to the website. That’s step one. And then you want to help them take the next step while there.

Doing keyword research can give your insight into your customer’s thinking. When you weave keywords into your writing naturally, you signal to your reader that you understand what they’re looking for and what they want to accomplish, and you help the search engines find and rank your content.

How and where you use your keywords is going to affect how both your readers and your search engines interact with your writing.

3 SEO Copywriting Fundamentals

There are plenty of “rules” and “guidelines” for good SEO copywriting, but if you start out by mastering three of them, you’ll be well on your way to helping your clients get found.

1) Understand Keyword Intent

When people are in the process of making a buying decision, they go through a search journey. A typical search journey looks like this:

  • Research — How do I get a tomato stain out of a white shirt?
  • Compare — Which detergent works best for cleaning tomato stains; stain remover reviews?
  • Purchase — Buy natural stain removers (unbranded); Tide One Wash Miracle (branded)

When you know what your reader wants based on their search query, you know what to include in your copy.

Research tools like Ubersuggest, Moz, Semrush, and Ahrefs can help you analyze the words your potential customers use. These are paid tools, but they often have a free trial or a limited number of free searches you can do.

If you’re working with a dog groomer, “dog groomer near me” is an obvious term to optimize for.

But through keyword research, you may discover other useful terms to create content around.

Keyword Reasearch Screenshot

If your client offers dog grooming with sedation, creating a page that explains what that is, how it works, and who it’s a good fit for makes good sense, based on the fact that 1,900 people are searching for this term.

You can add keyword research to your skill set and charge an additional fee.

Even when your client gives you the targeted keyword terms, you still want to research your potential customer and ask additional questions.

Google’s “People Also Ask” is a great resource for this. Using this feature can lead you to a wealth of topics you might write about to help your client rank and also to help their customers find the information they need.

Google’s “People Also Ask”

2) Use the Keyword Term in Your Title and Meta Description

When you are focused on helping your reader solve a specific problem, your keyword and its synonyms will naturally appear in your copy. But you want to also include your keyword in the meta tags for the page.

These are bits of copy that don’t appear on the page you’re writing, but they do appear in the search engine results when your page ranks.

In fact, the first impression people get of your page often happens on the search engine results page (SERP) where they see the title and short description for the page. The title tag is a leading signal for the search engines. In the accompanying image, the title tag is “Lawn Care Software for Mac, Pc, iPad, iPhone and Android.” The description is called a “meta description.” It gives your reader a compelling reason to click through to your page.

lawn care software

For example, if you’re writing a blog post that is optimized for the term “lawn care software,” you want to include that exact key phrase in your title tag. Title tags should generally be 60 characters or less and easy to read — not just a jumble of words.

Your meta description should be 155 characters or less. It should be easy to read and compelling, giving the reader more information about the page. Using your key phrase in the meta description won’t improve your rankings, but it might improve your clicks.

As you can see in the example, the writer used the keyword “lawn care software” in the title and provided information about what it does and what platforms it works on. Notice the bolded text in the description, which can help grab your reader’s attention.

3) Formatting Matters

Studies show content that’s easy to skim performs better. So how do you make your writing good for skimmers and scanners?

  • Pay attention to white space—make sure there is plenty of it.
  • Use bullet points and numbered lists.
  • Write in shorter sentences.
  • Keep paragraphs short, too (no more than four sentences).
  • Break your copy into sections and use subheadings for each.
  • Guide your reader to the obvious next step by including a call to action at the end.

What Nonwriting Skills Do You Need as an SEO Copywriter?

By now, you’re probably seeing that more than writing goes into SEO copywriting.

  • Curiosity— The best writers are insatiably curious. Curiosity powers your research skills and develops your empathy for your reader.
  • Empathy— When you put yourself in your readers’ shoes, you can ask yourself what else they’d want to know. You can describe the benefits of the product or service in a compelling way.
  • Provide value— As a writer, your goal is always to provide value for your readers. When your reader finds your content compelling, they’re more likely to share it with others.

A Roadmap for Finding and Working with Clients

Ready to get started as an SEO copywriter? Here’s a step-by-step roadmap to help you go from beginner to highly sought-after SEO copywriter.

We’ve talked about thinking about your client’s customer and what they want and need.

You want to take the same approach with your clients.

First figure out what kind of clients you would most like to work with. You might have a background that could make you stand out with certain clients. Or you may have some areas of interest that you would like to focus on.

Next, start to research companies that you think are a good fit for you. Look for those that have an active blog, that rank well on search engines, and that have a strong web presence. Those are usually indicators they value SEO copywriting.

Then review the types of content they have on their site. Sales pages? Up-to-date blog content? Landing pages? The more they have, the more likely they value SEO copywriting. But also look for gaps. What are things they could improve? What are their likely pain points?

When you can approach clients and compliment them on what they are doing well, while also making helpful suggestions about what they might do better, you put yourself in a strong position.

Think Strategically

When you think of a horse race, you can picture each horse wearing blinders. Those panels on the sides of their eyes help the horse focus on what’s right in front of them. They don’t veer to the left or right or get distracted by another horse pulling alongside them… They forge ahead.

That’s what you want to do. Narrow your focus, and you’ll find it easier to land clients. Did you write web copy for a landscaper friend? Great! You can build on that experience. You could approach local landscapers and garden supply stores.

Or, an entire host of SEO agencies specialize in gardening/landscape work. These agencies can become great clients for you.

Landscaping Google Search Screenshot

Landscaping Google Search Result Screenshot

You can apply this technique to any industry, anywhere. What experience do you have? Who else in that area might need your services?

Play Detective

Once you have a few companies in mind, start thinking like Sherlock Holmes. You need to hunt for clues. Your goal? Find the name and contact info of someone to send a message to at each company on your list. Company websites, Google, and LinkedIn can yield all the information you need.

Your aim is simple — to ask if they use SEO copywriters. Likewise, your email can be simple.

Dear Prospect,

Do you work with freelance writers? I ask because I have experience as an SEO copywriter for the _________industry. I took a peek at your blog, and I think it’s really well done.

Here’s a sample of my work.

Here’s another sample.

If you need another writer, I’d love to chat and see if there could be a fit!



Simple, right?

A Step-by-Step Sample Project Scenario

Now that you’ve learned about the opportunities in SEO copywriting and mapped out a way to build your client roster, you may wonder what a real SEO copywriting project looks like.

Let’s say you reach out to a company. You share a couple of samples and ask if they use SEO copywriters. The response is favorable. You might receive a message like, “Perfect timing! We’ve just completed our content plan for the quarter and could use a hand with the execution. Do you want to get on a call to discuss next week?”

Or, they may say, Thanks for reaching out! We are ramping up our freelancers; could you share your rates and availability?”

They may ask you to do a single article to start. This is helpful for both parties to see if you like working together.

Once you agree on a rate and timetable, they’ll send over a creative brief. This document gives you the information you need to tackle the project.

A good creative brief is a page or two that shares information such as this:

  • Who the audience is
  • The tone they want. Friendly? Educational? Businesslike? Snarky? The tone of the Chewy e-commerce pet site is very different from Microsoft’s.
  • SEO keywords they want to rank for
  • Length
  • Key points
  • Suggested sources
  • Desired call to action
  • Deadline

In such a scenario, your job is to follow the directions and deliver a well-written piece on time. If you review the brief and have questions, you can ask your contact for clarification. Once you’ve delivered your draft, they may come back to you with revision requests after a few days.

This is a typical process for agencies and larger companies.

In other cases, such as working with a start-up or a local business, you may take a larger role, making suggestions and helping to manage the project flow.

For example, imagine your local dog groomer hires you to write their web copy. Chances are good they don’t know much about SEO copywriting and they’re looking to you for guidance.

In this case, you’ll want to outline the specific pages you’ll write, which may include a list that looks something like this:

  • homepage
  • “about” page
  • services page
  • FAQ page
  • contact page
  • three articles or blog posts

You can take on the keyword research in addition to the writing and charge an additional fee.

In a scenario like this, once you agree to a deadline, you’ll write up the Statement of Work (SOW), which can be a simple agreement about the work you’ll do and the fee you’ll be paid. You can include a bullet-pointed list of the pages you’ll write and the deadline, the number of revisions, and the payment terms. You both sign the work agreement before you begin work.

As part of that agreement, many writers take a 50% deposit to start the work, with the balance due upon completion.

Follow up

The key to success is in the follow-up. Research shows only 3% of people are ready to buy when you initially contact them. If you’re wondering about the other 97%, research also shows about 40% of those will be ready in the coming months.

But, you’ll land clients from that 40% only if you follow up!

Regular check-ins don’t have to be complicated or annoying.

For example, you can connect with potential clients on LinkedIn and comment on their posts. Or wish them a happy birthday. Set up Google Alerts, so you get notices when they make the news. Then drop them a note to congratulate them on winning an award or receiving more funding. You can also send an email every three or four months and share a couple of recent samples.

Nurturing relationships doesn’t have to take a Herculean effort, but it does pay off.

As you can see, there are endless opportunities for SEO copywriters.

You can work in any industry that intrigues you. You can focus on web copy, blog content, or product pages to start and then go from there. All it takes is a willingness to learn. Millions of companies are looking for reliable SEO copywriters. The work is enjoyable and allows you to build a rewarding career.

Explore Other Paths to
Becoming a Digital Copywriter