Writing for SEO & users, start here
- Search engines evaluate body copy in terms of relevancy to search queries, intent, comprehensiveness, and quality of writing
- E-E-A-T is important for all types of content, but especially YMYL topics - we have a whole guide just for E-E-A-T
- Write for humans and always focus on what makes your content as helpful as possible: know your audience, fulfill the query ASAP, use formatting to make it easy to skim
- Include breadcrumbs and strategic internal linking to help crawlers and humans understand the site structure and discover more content
Good headings help people and search engines
While words in the body copy of a webpage are not given as much individual ‘weight’ in search engine algorithms on a word-by-word basis as the page title or <code><h1></code> heading tags, search engines do examine text closely to learn what a page is about.
Search engines assess how well the body copy:
- Addresses the queries users search
- Matches the intent behind a user’s search query (more about intent below)
- Demonstrates depth & breadth of knowledge relative to other similar pieces of content on the web
- Is written (grammar/spelling/readability)
These four angles of examination are used by search engines to determine how valuable (helpful) a piece of content will be to human users.
Experience, Expertise, Authority, and Trust (E-E-A-T)
Google uses PageRank and manual systems to find content with E-E-A-T: Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.
E-E-A-T is a set of standards that Google's human quality raters use to review and rate web content. It’s a good way to qualitatively analyze content, but it’s not part of Google's ranking systems.
E-E-A-T is an important part of best practices for web content because these standards describe the type of content Google wants to index and show to searchers. There are many different content, technical, and off-page signals to consider, and you can learn all about improving E-E-A-T for SEO in this guide.
Summary of content best practices for E-E-A-T:
- Think about topics as entities. As discussed earlier, Google Search is entity-based. Create content that covers all topics relevant to your business. Cover one topic per page, including related subtopics. Provide plenty of context by using semantically-related keywords. If helpful to readers, link to trustworthy and authoritative sources.
- Use good internal linking. (more on this below)
- Use on-page navigation for long-form content (table of contents or nav bar).
- Update content regularly (4x per year).
- Publish expertly written content. Write about things you’re an expert in or have experience with. If necessary, hire an expert to write or review content. If outsourcing content development, use credentialed writers and sources. Create an author/reviewer byline that links to a bio page. Use Person schema markup on author/reviewer pages. Cite and link to high-quality, authoritative references in the body copy.
- Use original images instead of stock images. (more on optimizing images below)
<div class=”post-note”>E-E-A-T is very important for all types of web content, and critically important for YMYL (your money your life) topics—transactions or information that can potentially affect the reader’s physical, mental or financial health.</div>
How long should the content on a web page be?
How much body copy do you need? That depends on the competition, especially for non-branded keyword searches.
<div class=”post-note”>Content length (word count) is not a Google ranking factor. Google’s John Mueller has said as much many times, for example in this tweet from 2018:</div>
Here’s how to figure out (roughly) how long content might need to be:
- Search your primary keyword in Google and check out the top-ranking content. (Clear your search history, cookies, and cache first, or search in an Incognito instance.)
- Copy & paste those URLs into a free word count tool
- Use the average word count to get an idea of how much copy you need to write to rank well for that topic.
<div class="post-alert">Stop focusing on content length as a ranking factor. Instead, focus on content uniqueness, breadth, and E-E-A-T.</div>
Note that it’s OK for body copy to be located toward the bottom of the page on pages where the written content isn't the primary intent– e.g., on pages that feature photo galleries, videos, on ptoduct listing pages, etc.
Analyze top-ranking content to improve your outline
Take note of the topics addressed on competing pages; you may need to add them as secondary target keywords/topics. Of course, don’t just copy your competitors. Your aim is to create content that is better than anything else currently ranking. Publishing duplicate content (e.g. plagiarism) will actually hurt your search engine rankings.
Best practices for competitor research:
- Do not copy competitor content or structure.
- Note subtopics & related queries that winning pages cover.
- If relevant to your business, include them in your content as well - but look for a unique angle.
- Leverage your experience and brainpower to come up with related topics, insights, and helpful information that winning pages don’t have - this will give your content an edge.
When researching the competition, notice whenever a point is unclear, poorly worded, confusing, or could be better explained with an infographic—these are opportunities to outperform the current winners.
<div class=”post-note”>You can use a scraper tool that extracts details from the SERP and top-ranking pages including word count, headings, topics, related keywords and more. It’s a huge time-saver, especially if you need to create multiple content briefs for other writers. We recommend Thruuu SEO.</div>
7 SEO Copywriting Tips
- Focus on what’s most helpful for readers, and optimize for search engines later. Google wants to rank content that give human beings what they’re looking for.
- Write in active voice because it’s more direct and easier for people to understand. There are exceptions (like technical instructions or statements of fact), but active voice is better for the vast majority of web copy.
- Know your audience and write for them. Is your content intended for homeowners, academics, engineers, or entrepreneurs? Use simple language appropriate for your audience. Thinking of a relative, friend or neighbor that fits the profile can help you tailor your writing.
- Use short paragraphs, bulleted lists and headings to make your content easy to scan on a small screen. Most of your readers will be on a smartphone.
- Include hard numbers when possible. e.g. “57% of customers” vs “most customers”. But don’t clutter your content with facts and figures for the sake of looking smart.
- Skip to the good part. Don’t introduce your point with a preamble. Give readers the information they’re looking for up front, then offer more detail in the remainder of the content.
- Edit ruthlessly. You want every word on the page to have meaning and value. If you can remove a word, sentence, or entire paragraph without confusing the reader, do it. Ensure your content flows in a logical order. Check spelling, grammar and punctuation (use a tool if necessary) and get someone else to proofread your copy. At the very least, put it away overnight and proofread it with fresh eyes.
Formatting Web Copy
- Publish your content as an HTML page (not a PDF).
- Only put one space after a period. Double spacing after a period is outdated and does not belong in web copy.
- Don’t underline text in web copy, because it looks clickable and can confuse readers.
- Don’t use bold (<code><b></code>) or italic (<code><i></code>) HTML tags to style text on your web page, because those tags don’t mean anything to crawlers (bots and screen readers won’t understand that the text is bolded or italicized). Use <code><strong></code> to make text bold, and use<code><em></code> for italics.
- Make sure there’s enough color contrast between your text and background. You can use a color contrast validator to check if your colors meet accessibility standards. There are also free online tools you can use to check multiple accessibility issues on your site.
<div class="post-note">Extra user-friendly tip for web accessibility: Strive to meet all of WC3's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1. At minimum, you should pass the WCAG 2.1 AA. To be a leader in web accessibility, strive to hit the additional guidelines for WCAG 2.1 AAA. </div>
Should You Include a Date on Your Web Page?
If the information is time-sensitive (like financial investing blogs) or constantly evolving (like SEO) and you plan to keep your web page up to date, yes. A relatively recent publish or ‘updated on’ date can help your of-the-moment content rank better, because Google knows users prefer newer content. That’s why the date shows on the SERP when the algorithm determines it’s relevant.
Reasons not to include a date:
- You don’t keep your content updated
- The information is timeless (for example song lyrics or relationship advice)
- A date would be distracting to visitors (for example on the homepage, contact page, or eCommerce pages)
Think about your audience and how they’d likely judge your content if it had a date at the top of the page. Then do what makes the most sense.
How to Get Dates to Display in Search Results
Display a publish or update date (just one) visibly at the top of the page. If you want your publish/update date to appear on SERPs, refer to Google’s guidelines for publication dates.
You can’t trick Google into thinking your content is fresher than it is just by changing the date. Google still knows when the page was first indexed, and it can tell how much content has changed (or not) since then.
How Internal Linking Helps SEO
Be sure to include internal links to other pages on your website as appropriate within body copy. Internal linking helps readers by making it easy for them to access related content on your website. Internal linking helps search engine crawlers by making it easier for them to discover and index web pages.
Strategic internal linking also helps mold information architecture by showing Google which are the most important pages on your website. Pages with more internal links pointing to them are given greater weight by search engine algorithms.
Best practices for internal linking
Use keywords in your contextual anchor text, but don’t stuff keywords just for the sake of using them.
- Anchor text tells humans and search bots what the linked-to page is about.
- Use descriptive, relevant anchor text that’s helpful to users, which in turn is good for SEO.
- Don’t use the same anchor text to link to different pages
- Don’t use generic anchor text like “click here”
For images that link to another page, the image alt tag functions as anchor text (more on alt tags in the image lesson).
Do not oversaturate body copy with irrelevant links to other pages.
- The more internal links you include in the copy, the less “link juice” (page rank) each link sends to the linked-to page.
- Links from high-authority pages (like the homepage) pass along more link juice - use it wisely.
- Search engine bots have a limit of how many links per page they will crawl to find additional pages. Keep in mind links in the main nav, footer, and other elements count towards this total.
Use standard HTML links (a tags)
- Do not put rel="nofollow" tags on internal links that should be crawled by search engines
- When updating existing content, use the link report in GSC to see how many internal links each page has
It’s okay to have two links going to the same page, but know that Google will only care about the anchor text used in the first link.
<div class="post-note-cute">Google’s John Mueller states that “...links, from our point of view, just help us to better understand a site’s structure. And whether they’re in the header or in the footer, or in the sidebar or the main content, that doesn’t really change anything for us. ” You can hear his full comments at timestamp 45:11 in this Google SEO office-hours hangout from March 11, 2022.</div>
If you’re working with a big website, here’s a quick way to find existing pages with relevant content an interlinking opportunities for your new page. Do a site search (as shown below) for one of the new pages’ main keywords and you’ll get a list of all the indexed URLs on your site containing that keyword.
Always consider a user's next step
How do you make sure your internal linking is helpful to users?
It’s important to consider what type of content a user would be interested in next, based on the current page they’re viewing. Here are some pointers for keeping internal linking focused on user needs:
- Don’t create “dead ends”—add helpful, relevant links in body copy sitewide, including at least one internal link towards the end of the page.
- Don’t force users to use the top navigation. If you mention another page on your site, link to it.
- Don’t assume that users will be ready to take a KPI action directly from every page.
<div class=”post-note”>KPI means Key Performance Indicator, or a quantifiable user action you track to measure engagement and/or conversion. Examples include signing up for a newsletter, submitting a quote form, or making a purchase.</div>
Breadcrumb navigation is a type of internal linking that displays as text path on a web page to show users where they are within the website structure. Breadcrumbs make it easier for people to navigate, and they can also help Google crawl and understand your website.
Here’s an example:
You can add breadcrumb schema to your site that tells Google how to display your page’s breadcrumbs in search results.
Example of page with breadcrumb structured data:
Without structured data markup for your breadcrumbs, Google will break down the full URL so the sections look like breadcrumbs. Unless your URL structure is optimized, it won’t look as good on the SERP.
Example of page without breadcrumb structured data:
Navigational breadcrumbs: best practices for SEO
- Put breadcrumbs near the top of the page so they’re easy to spot.
- Format breadcrumb link text using slashes or arrows.
- Include the current page as the last item in the breadcrumb trail (but don’t link to the current page).
- Use breadcrumbs to display the path a user took to the page. Don’t mirror the URL structure if it’s not helpful.
- Add BreadcrumbList structured data (learn more about structured data).
- Specify multiple breadcrumb trails if there are multiple paths for users to reach a page.