My path to becoming a copywriter was a little unusual compared to most marketing professionals. I didn’t have a background in digital marketing or advertising. Most of my writing experience came from fiction and the academic world.
While I certainly felt like I possessed the tools necessary to be a copywriter, there was one stumbling block that drove me absolutely crazy when I made the transition:
Man, did I hate keywords.
Coming from fiction and academic writing, I had a pretty good sense of how to craft a blog post that flows smoothly and naturally from one point to the next.
What threw me off, however, was the constant need to pepper articles with keywords that I often felt weren’t entirely relevant to what I was writing about.
At first, the intricacies of SEO strategies were a bit lost on me, and I confess to rolling my eyes on more than one occasion when I looked at the list of keywords I was supposed to incorporate into my posts. Using them felt forced and fake, and I hated it.
While I eventually got around to understanding and appreciating why keywords are important, I still find them frustrating at times.
Still, as a copywriter, keywords are a necessary aspect of my writing process, so I’ve had to incorporate a few strategies to help me use them more effectively without feeling like I’m reducing every post to a “buzz word” laden bore.
Here are a few of the things I’ve learned about using keywords more effectively.
Do Better Research
This might seem obvious, but it’s really remarkable what a difference a little extra research can make. As Mark Twain famously remarked: “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter – ’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.”
Researching the SEO metrics on keywords is a necessary step in the process, of course, but you should also be digging into the actual topic you’re writing about as well. Sometimes there’s a lot of noise in these search metrics, and if you’re not careful you’ll end up targeting keywords that may score decently, but don’t actually have much relevance to the subject at hand.
As an especially absurd example of this, I recently spent a lot of time trying to find good keywords for a data center client only to discover that one of the highest ranking searches was “data center vs datacenter.”
Again, this is a bit of a silly example, but choosing the wrong keyword in industries with highly specific terminology can make your writing task way more difficult than it should be.
Good research should help you select keywords that not only score well in searches, but are also germane to the industry.
Depending on the personas you’re trying to reach, latching onto the latest terms and phrases that are trending may not deliver the kind of value that people are looking for. Only by delving a bit deeper into the details of the industry can you identify the issues and terminology that really matters to readers and drives meaningful (read: convertible) traffic.
Don’t Overthink It
It’s easy to drive yourself crazy worrying about keywords. Did you choose the best words? Did you think of every possible permutation of a long-tail phrase? Did you use your primary keyword too many times or not enough?
So, I’m not going to go so far as to say that none of this stuff matters, but don’t get too obsessive about it.
Google and other browsers are pretty smart when it comes to crawling blogs for keywords. While it’s important to optimize your posts to qualify for featured snippets and obtain first page search result status, keywords are only one component of the algorithm governing searches.
You can have the perfect array of keywords scattered through your post, but if your organization is sloppy and the writing is crap, all of that time you spent researching those keywords won’t amount to much in the end.
As a copywriter, your primary job is to write things people actually want to read. It may sound silly to be so reductionist, but with so much content available today, you can’t afford to be mediocre.
To make a crude analogy, imagine writing a blog post is like cooking a meal and keywords are the seasoning. Picking the best seasoning might make a bad meal edible, but why would anyone bother eating it when there are so many better-tasting options available?
Don’t Become an Algorithm
It’s easy for copywriters to fall into patterns.
The nature of the job has us churning out quite a bit of content on a regular basis, so it’s only natural to develop routines and habits to pad out our word count.
In its worst form, you turn into a human algorithm spitting out vague phrases like “driving business results” or “fostering innovation” that could be equally applicable to a boring, small-town flooring company or the hottest new Silicon Valley tech startup.
Keywords can make this habit even worse if you’re not careful. Simply sprinkling keywords into a sea of bland, cliched writing isn’t delivering value to anyone. You need to make sure the words you’re using actually matter in the context you’re using them.
Again, nobody wants to read boring content. The last thing you want is for a reader to think the only reason a post exists is to sell them on something. A post that feels like it rolled off an assembly line run by a keyword generator isn’t going to hold a reader’s attention.
Rather than simply plugging in keywords, think about why they’re important in the first place.
While it’s easy for marketers to think of them purely as traffic drivers, the reason these words are ranking in search engines is because people are interested in them.
Keep in mind the questions readers might have about them or how they may be relevant to people embedded within an industry. If creating compelling content was a simple as dropping a few keywords into a post, we would already have algorithms in place to do that.
Fortunately for us copywriters, technology isn’t quite at that point…yet.
So whether you live for keywords or you struggle to find ways to incorporate them into your writing, hopefully these tips will help you take a more productive approach to using them.
Keywords should always add value to your writing, so anything you can do to identify and deploy them more effectively will be beneficial to you in the long run.
Published on January 8, 2019