SEO Copywriting: How to Bootstrap a Website with This Ultra-Efficient Writing System

Here are just a few of the thousands -- yes, really, thousands -- of things I’ve written and published in my life:

  • Critical literary essays
  • Insurance guides used by Fortune 500 companies
  • About a dozen poems
  • Articles in trade magazines
  • eBooks published on Amazon
  • Massive case studies for blogs like this one
  • ...and, of course, a sh*tload of SEO-driven articles for the web

In fact, the last time I took stock, I’d written and published close to 1,500 articles on various websites, all of which I’d classify as “SEO copywriting.” That’s not an exaggeration.

Here’s the crazy part, though: of those 1,500 articles, only about 200 were ones I wrote for myself -- for my own websites -- to make myself money.

The other 1,300 were written mostly for one giant website.

If you know me now, that probably sounds crazy. I’m a site builder. I hire writers. I don’t write stuff for other people.

Would Perrin really write 1,300 articles to make someone else money?

More...

Yes, he would. And it’s kind of a funny story.

It starts with me moving to Chicago on a whim smack-dab in the middle of the 2008 recession. I won’t retell that story, since I’ve already told it in this blog post, but here’s the gist…

In 2008, there were basically no jobs -- especially if you were a young, fresh, 20-something college grad with an English degree. After sending out 700+ resumes, I got the crappiest sales job in the entire world and immediately started looking for a way out.

I found my escape route in an Craigslist ad.

“SEO Copywriter Wanted. $8hr.”

I applied, got the job, and took it despite the 50% pay cut.

In the first week, I was tossed into the proverbial deep end of SEO copywriting. Not only did I have to learn the ins and outs of the technical aspects, I had to start producing tons of content immediately.

We’re talking multiple articles per day on subjects that required ultra-deep research and that had to get past two hyper-strict editors whose comments on my work would often be longer than the article itself (literally).

It was as much of a trial by fire I’ve ever had in my life. Lots of writers didn’t make it past the first couple of weeks.

Did I make it? Well…

I dove into the writing with my familiar rage-fueled focus. Eventually, I found my writing legs. I learned how to research quickly. I learned how to get my brain to operate at a higher frequency. I trained my fingers to type faster.

All this stuff helped me survive in Chicago on $8/hr.

It also forced me to lump most of my writing into the weekends, which made it even more insane. I think my craziest work day was 14 hours long, and I produced 12,000 words of content.

But I survived.

And I survived because I’d developed the right skills. More importantly, though, I’d turned those skills into a system for writing great SEO copy quickly.

That’s what I want to share with you today.

And it’s important. In fact, it can make or break the businesses of people who are just getting into this game.

You see, lots of people get into SEO and IM for the same reasons I did: I was broke. And, needless to say, it’s pretty tough to hire writers if you don’t have any money.

But if you have that skill set at your disposal -- if you can just.. buckle down for a month and knock out a big batch of content for a new site -- you can break into the ‘biz without a big upfront monetary investment.

I did.

Being an ultra-efficient SEO copywriter helped me bootstrap two sites, one of which earned $4,000/mo and another that earns $8,500/mo.

If you can develop strong writing skills, it’s like strapping a jet engine on your website -- especially if you don’t have the capital to go buy a bunch of content.

Luckily, it’s not hard.

Well, it is hard. But it’s not difficult. Mostly, it just takes practice and a bit of sweat.

And while you probably won’t ever have to write 12,000 words in a day, with the system outlined below, you should be able to crank out 40 or 50 articles for a new site in a month, so you can spend the rest of your time marketing.

How to Use this Blog Post

This blog post has two parts. The goal here is to help you turn yourself into an absolute SEO copywriting beast. To do that, you need to understand two things:

PART 1 will detail all the technical elements of a good SEO-driven article. Some of this might be old news for the more experienced SEOs in the crowd. But it’s still important. If nothing else, it’s good to know the theory behind these elements and to have a checklist you can use for everything you write.

Click here to skip to Part 1: What is SEO Copywriting?

Honestly, though, the technical stuff is easy. It takes 10 minutes to learn. You should understand it after reading this post. The hard part is actually doing the writing. To that end…

PART 2 will introduce you to my system for writing good content as efficiently as humanly possible. It’s not theory. It’s a step-by-step process. It’s also going to tackle some of the mental roadblocks that stop people from unleashing their potential as content producers.

Click here to skip to Part 2: How to Write Like a F*cking Beast 

Why these two parts?

First, it's important to understand that being able to produce good SEO copy is not the same thing as being an exceptional SEO copywriter.

However, being an SEO copywriter does require an understanding of good SEO copy. If you already understand the anatomy of SEO copy and are more interested in how to boost your efficiency and production, feel free to skip to Part 2. 

Part 1: What is SEO Copywriting?

SEO copywriting = writing content that targets a specific keyword or group of keywords in a way that Google likes, understands and is happy to rank.

In essence, understanding the technical aspects of SEO copywriting is almost the same as understanding and implementing on-page SEO best practices.

Beyond basic on-page seo, however, SEO copywriting also tries to create a good user experience, which tangentially affects SEO.

In the context of SEO copywriting, I like to think of these two as direct and indirect ranking factors.

Direct ranking factors are those things that Google has explicitly stated it takes into account when deciding how to rank a page. In other words, if you do them correctly, you are likely to rank better in the SERPs. These include:

  • Title tags
  • URL slugs
  • Headings and subheadings
  • LSI keywords and/or WDF*IDF
  • Outbound links

Indirect ranking factors are those things that produce a good user experience, which positively affects but does not cause other ranking boosts based on other ranking factors. These include:

  • Meta descriptions
  • Formatting
  • Content quality
  • Headline strength
  • Content length
  • Engagement (media and readability)

Let’s look at each of these in detail.

Direct Ranking Factors

These are page-level, on-page SEO best practices, and they’re an essential part of writing good SEO copy. They’re also easy to learn and can be condensed into a simple checklist you or your writers can use for every post (I’ve created one for you below).

I’m going to keep these short, since we mostly want to talk about writing today.

Title Tags

According to Moz, title tags are the one of the most important on-page ranking factors, second only to the content of the page itself (although it’s also worth noting that in Backlinko’s massive study of ranking factors in 2016, the found that while the title tag is still important, it’s not as important as it used to be -- likely because of the rise of semantic search).

Best Practices:

  • Your title tag should contain the keyword you’re targeting
  • It should only contain 50-60 characters or 512 pixels wide (so it “fits”)
  • It should be “clickable”

PRO TIP: You can target multiple related keywords in your title tag. For instance, the title, “How to Find Cheap Flights: Tips & Advice” would target “how to find cheap flights,” “cheap flights,” and “cheap flights tips.”

URL Slugs

URL slugs -- namely, using keywords in them -- is technically a direct ranking factor, but not by much.

Google does read and understand the URL slug of a page; however, John Mueller said in a Webmaster Hangout in early 2016 that having keywords in the URL is a “very small ranking factor.” Adding to John’s comments, Barry Schwartz from SERoundtable concluded it’s “not worth changing URLs to get keywords into them.”

Still, it is a ranking factor, albeit a small one. Aside from Google reading and understanding your URL, though, using a good URL slug has other benefits.

Best Practices:

  • Include your keyword in your URL slug
  • Keep URL slugs short
  • Keep them readable and/or memorable

PRO TIP: You can easily edit the title tag, the URL slug and other meta data with the Yoast SEO plugin (highly recommended).

Headings and Subheadings

Heading tags are HTML attributes used to define headings in order of importance: H1 headings are the most important, then H2, and so on.

Of the headings, the most important by far is the H1 heading. In their 2015 study of ranking factors, Moz found strong positive correlations between H1 headings and good rankings (generally concluding that the more relevant the H1 heading is to the query, the stronger the correlation).

John Mueller said in October of 2015 that H2-H6 headings help them to understand the structure of a page but do not necessarily provide a rankings boost.

Best Practices:

  • Make sure you have one and only one H1 heading on every page
  • Include your primary keyword in your H1 heading
  • Include related keywords in H2-H6 headings

PRO TIP: You can find related keywords for sub headings using the "also ranking for" function of the new Ahrefs keyword explorer 2.0.

Why did I put these two together? Because nowadays, they work together, roughly, in the form of the WDF*IDF formula, which, according to TextBroker, is “a formula by which search engines determine the optimal distribution of topics, relevant terms, and keywords in content.”

In other words, it’s how Google reads pages semantically. I’m not going to go into the technical details here, and as an SEO copywriter, you don’t need to know them. You just need to understand that (1) keyword “stuffing” absolutely does not work, (2) content should be good and relevant, and (3) Google looks at all the topics on a page when determining where it ranks.

Here’s how this translates into practical steps.

Best Practices:

  • Don’t overuse keywords -- especially not your primary keyword
  • Use related keywords through the article and in headings
  • Try to incorporate terms other top pages in Google seem to use

Reboot published a really cool study (honestly, one of the best controlled SEO experiments I’ve ever seen and a model I think should be duplicated for other experiments) examining the effects of outbound links on organic rankings.

They found that outbound links to highly relevant, highly authoritative sites was taken into account by Google and did positively impact rankings.

Best Practices:

  • Link to relevant pages on power sites in your niche
  • Links should make contextual sense and add value to readers
  • Just don’t overdo it (no hard rule here; trust your gut)

Indirect Ranking Factors

Engagement Factors

The ranking factor it affects: dwell time.

Engagement factors are those things that get users to spend time on your page, interact with it, and possibly click through to other pages on your site. They include:

  • Thoroughly answering the question
  • A good UX
  • Good formatting
  • Rich media
  • Content quality
  • Content length

From a non-technical perspective, the point of all of these things is to create a fantastic user experience. From a technical perspective, the main point is to increase dwell time.

Dwell time = the time it takes from when you click on a result to return to the SERPs. There are nuances, of course (Moz’s Dr. Peter J Meyers says it’s “an amalgam of bounce rate and time-on-site metrics), but I think the above definition is the most straightforward.

The impact of dwell time is still the subject of some debate. Dr. Meyers (cited above) and Neil Patel conclude that dwell time is a ranking factor. Joshua Hardwick from Ahrefs notes that it’s still unclear and would both be (1) hard to measure for search engines and (2) easy for black hats to manipulate.

Mostly, the consensus is that it does exist in some form and it is used as a ranking factor. Of course, because it’s still rather nebulous, we can’t optimize for it.

However, we can try to boost user engagement, which (clearly) has lots of benefits outside of good organic rankings.

We do that by addressing the bullets above.

Best Practices:

Headlines

The ranking factor it affects: SERP CTR.

Headlines = the creative words you use to craft your title. The more engaging your headline is, the more likely someone will be to click on it, which mean it’s in our best interest to create the best headlines we possibly can.

One tool we like to use is CoSchedule’s headline analyzer, which uses user-engagement data to assign scores to your headlines. It tracks elements commonly used in highly successful headlines, such as: common formas (e.g. questions, how-to), numbers, emotional words, power words, length, etc. Any “green” score is good enough for most articles.

You can also use Thrive’s relatively new headline optimizer to actually write different headlines and test them against each other.

Here are some tips from Conductor’s study published on the Moz blog:

Of course, data can only go so far, and there’s no way to tell in advance if a headline will be successful.

Here’s an example of a Headline test we ran on Health Ambition using the Thrive Headline Optimizer plugin and the rules outlined by Conductor.

We added a number in the headline and immediately saw an almost 27% engagement increase.

Best Practices:

Meta-Description

The ranking factor it affects: SERP CTR.

The meta-description appears under the title of your post in the SERPs. According to Matt Cutts, you can do fine without even using them. In fact, many of my successful sites didn’t use them at all (I just let it generate automatically from the text on the page).

However… they take like five seconds to write, and they crucially give you a chance to sell your page to searchers. If you can effectively “sell” you page, it means more clicks. In other words, no matter where your page ranks, a good meta-description can increase your SERP click-through rate (CTR).

Best practices are below, but here are some more nuanced tips from Neil Patel.

Best Practices:

  1. Make sure it fits within the given space (currently around 155 characters; use the Yoast SEO plugin to see a SERP preview of your page)
  2. Make it highly relevant to the search intent of your targeted keyword
  3. Use emotional words and include a call to action

As an SEO copywriter, what do I do with this info?

If you’re setting out to generate some SEO-driven copy, it needs to be optimized for both search engines and the end user. The best practices above should be learned, internalized and applied to every article you write.

For easy reference, here are all the best practices again:

It’s important to note that, here, we only covered the technical and on-page SEO elements required to write good copy. There are many other elements to both technical and on-page SEO; they just aren’t a part of the blog post-creation process.

Now that we’ve got that squared away, let’s move on to the fun part…

Part 2: How to Write Like a F*cking Beast

Now that we’ve covered some of the technical aspects of SEO copywriting, let’s talk about how to actually do it.

I’m going to show you the exact system I used to (once) to churn out 12,000 words in a single day. It’s the same system I used to write the first 60,000 words of content for the most successful site I ever built.

I call it The Fishing Net Protocol (FNP).

Before we dive into it, though, we have to tackle something vitally important…

Key Performance Metrics for SEO Copywriting

We need these. We need to measure what we’re doing.

And, for some of you, you’ll need to radically change how you’re measuring your own performance (especially those of you who are perfectionists, which I cover below).

And really, for SEO copywriting, there are just two key performance metrics you need to be worrying about:

  • Words Per Hour (WPH)
  • Content quality

Words Per Hour

This is by far the most important metric for an SEO copywriter.

When I’m really sitting down to tackle a big batch of content, I live and die by my WPH. Everything else is just details.

Why is it so important?

Well… this might be a tad controversial, but here’s the reality: even if your writing is B+ quality, you can still make a lot of money if you have a lot of content

I try really hard to make my writing great all the time. However, if I had to choose between A+ writing and a really good WPH, I’d choose the WPH every day of the week.

That said, the more you write -- the more you practice -- the easier it will become to produce high-level writing while maintaining a good WPH.

How to Calculate Your Baseline WPH

Your WPH is going to change based on the difficulty of the content (I take much longer to write posts on AuthorityHacker, for example); however, you should establish a baseline WPH to give yourself something to shoot for. Here’s how:

Take a typing speed test like this one to find out your WPM (words per minute); use that to extrapolate your WPH (words per hour). I’ve included my results because Gael told me to.

Divide that number by three (to account for natural pauses, research and thinking time), and use that as your benchmark for your WPH.

For example, if your WPM is 60 (which is pretty fast, by the way), your maximum possible WPH would be 3,600 words. 3,600 / 3 = 1,200 words in one hour. Finally, reduce that number by a couple hundred words to give yourself a few extra minutes of editing and research time.

In other words, if your WPM was 60, you could set your baseline WPH at 900-1,000 words.

For further reference, here are some other WPH benchmarks based on my experience as a writer and editor:

  • 500 WPH = average
  • 750 WPH = above average
  • 1,000 WPH = professional level
  • 1,250+ WPH = blazingly fast

Content Quality

In my view, the only other metric you should be concerned about is content quality.

And it’s kind of a pain in the ass because it’s subjective. It’s hard to pinpoint when a blog post crosses the threshold from mediocre to good, for instance.

So, while I’d love to give you a way to understand exactly what makes a piece of content good, I can’t. The best I can do is help you understand the questions I ask of my own content:

  • Does it accurately and thoroughly answer the question?
  • Does it cover the “required” topics that all high-ranking articles cover?
  • Does it also add something different than the “standard” articles I’m seeing?
  • Is the spelling, grammar, syntax and formatting solid?
  • Does it feel like it’s good?

If I can answer yes to all these questions, I’ll feel good publishing.

I want to note something here, though: the vast majority of blog posts don’t need exceptional quality. They just need to be good, solid posts. Of course, this isn’t always true. On this blog, for example, I put enormous amounts of effort into every post. But most of the time, for most niches,

In other words, don’t try to write Hamlet. Just try to write an interesting blog post that does the job.

My System: The Fishing Net Protocol

I first developed this method when I was slaving away as a content goblin for evil, web-based corporations, but I’ve since tweaked, re-tweaked and refined it for my purposes as a site builder.

Here’s a basic, simplified process of FNP:

  • Cast a wide “net” and gather 15-20 good sources you could potentially use to write your article
  • Throw back the small or bad “fish” (sources) and keep 3-5 good “fish”
  • Skim them to find common topics and uncommon but interesting topics
  • Write a quick outline
  • Use your “fish” as a constant stream of new data/info to write about
  • Add your own insights, anecdotes and analysis along the way

The FNP works for a couple key reasons.

First, it drastically shortens the research phase of writing and boils it down into its most minimalist form. This does not work for articles that require tons of research, but it’s perfectly fine for standard blog posts.

Secondly, it eliminates the problem of not knowing what to write about. You gather sources, and you use them as information on-tap. If you’re stuck, click to a source and read a bit more.

Finally, it helps fill in gaps by allowing you to do your own analysis. This is what makes the system so strong and adds value for readers: it’s not just info from other sources; it’s that info curated in a smart way with new analysis added.

Let’s (finally) dive into the actual process.

Step #1: Casting the Net (gathering sources)

Time: 5 minutes

Here, we want to gather as many decent looking sources as we can as quickly as we can. To do this, we’re just going to start with a good old fashioned Google search, and then we’re going to look at the sources listed on Wikipedia.

However, we’re going to try to search intelligently, so we can give ourselves better odds of finding good, interesting information.

To Google, we’re going to use site operators and good footprints to find better, more authoritative results:

  • [Topic]
  • [Topic] site:.edu
  • [Topic] site:.gov
  • [Topic] + study
  • [Topic] + statistics
  • [Topic] + controversy
  • [Topic] + breakthrough

The site operators will help you find ultra-high authority sites writing about the topic, and, hopefully, some real experts. The other footprints (especially “controversy”) will help you find the best little nuggets of info.

When googling your topic + .edu and .gov site operators, you’ll see stuff like this:

You can see how searching for .edu sites brings up really amazing results. In this example, I’m writing the hypothetical article, “Why Do Cats Purr?”, and this returns articles from veterinary universities and animal behavior scientists.

When googling the footprints, you’ll find stuff like this:

In one of those results, I found something I hadn’t found elsewhere (so far):

To be clear, I’m not reading these.

If a result looks interesting, I’m just opening it and doing an ultra-quick, 5-second check to see if it’s worth looking at in-depth in my next phase.

Scan the SERPs for results that look good, accurate, relevant or controversial. Use Ctrl + Left Click to open these in a new tab.

Don’t open everything. Just a few per result. Remember, we only have 5 minutes, so move quickly. Shoot for 10 results total.

PRO TIP: Try to find results that are slightly different from each other. We don’t want results that simply say the same thing.

Then, head over to wikipedia and search for the topic (or the closest thing you can find). When you’re there, scroll all the way to the bottom, where Wikipedia lists sources.

Here’s the great thing about Wikipedia: you’ll almost certainly find highly interesting results that are related and authoritative but didn’t show up in Google.

In this case, there’s an awesome source for why Cheetahs purr. That doesn’t tell me why domestic cats purr, but it would absolutely be interesting to discuss in our article. It’s highly interesting and could shed new light on our question.

Like with our Google results, open a few of these in new tabs. Shoot for five.

PRO TIP: If you’re having trouble finding a good Wikipedia page on your topic, go for a broader, related page. For example, if your articles is on coffee makers, try“coffee preparation” instead.

Here are my results:

I “caught” about 10 “fish” in my “net.”

For the typical article, it will probably be more; however, for a simple question like, “why do cats purr?”, the results sometimes say a lot of the same stuff, which was the case here.

Now, we have to whittle this batch down…

Step #2: Throw the Bad Fish Back

Our goal now is to reduce our initial batch of sources from 10-15 down to about five really good, interesting sources.

A good source will have at least one of these characteristics:

  • Comprehensive
  • Highly interesting
  • Includes original data
  • Controversial
  • Written by an expert or curates other experts
  • Long or tackles the question from multiple angles

In Step 2, we want to quickly scan each of our sources and keep the best five.

We do this because reading and understanding 15 different sources just takes too much time and therefore hurts our efficiency. Five sources is kind of a sweet spot that gives us enough information to work with creating a timesuck.

So scan for good sources roughly based on the criteria above. Close everything else.

To help you get a feel for my thought process, let’s take a look at the sources I kept and those I tossed out for my imaginary article, “Why Do Cats Purr?”:

Here are the sources I kept:

These sources cover all the general information I need to know to answer the basic question of my article, and they provide several interesting/controversial angles I can potentially pursue.

Here are the sources I tossed out:

Steps #3 and #4: Skim for Topics & Make an Outline

Time: 5 minutes.

Here, you want to quickly scan each of your saved sources and figure out the following:

  • The quick answer to your main question
  • Common related topics
  • Uncommon/interesting topics

Open a new document in your favorite text editor. As you find these topics, jot them down and arrange them into an outline.

Here’s one example of a few things I saw from one of my sources:

I’m really just looking for major themes here and comparing them against major threads in the other articles.

After scanning my sources, this is what my outline looks like (Note: My normal outline would NOT contain multiple levels -- too much time; the sub-bullets below are just me explaining what those sections would be about, so you can see my thought process):

  • The Common Misconception About Purring... 
  • Perrin's note: cats don't purr just because they're happy
  • Why Do Cat's Purr?
  • Perrin's note: common reasons cats purr
  • How Do Cats Purr?
  • Perrin's note: about the physical mechanisms of purring
  • Purring as Communication
  • Perrin's note: how this works and why they do it
  • Purring as... Manipulation?
  • Perrin's note: how this works and why they do it
  • Purring to help YOU?
  • Perrin's note: purring actually has healing effects for humans
  • Other Animals that Purr
  • Perrin's note: fun facts about other animals that purr

That’s seven sections.

For a 1,000-word article with a 50-word introduction, each section would only have to be 135 words long (about two paragraphs).

I can tell some of these sections are going to need more than just a couple of paragraphs, so I’ll likely end up cutting one or two nonessential sections (e.g. “do other animals purr”).

Overall, this outline accomplishes exactly what we need it to: it covers the required topics (common topics all ranking articles cover), and it adds in some highly interesting info.

Step #5: Use Sources to Write the Body of the Article

Time: 40-70 minutes.

Now for the hard part.

First, do not spend this time writing an introduction. We’ll do that later. Writing introductions first is a time-killer. It’s much, much easier to dive right into the meat of the content based on your outline.

In my case, I would fire up a new word document and immediately tackle the first point in my outline: “The Common Misconception About Purring…”.

This is the secret sauce to doing this quickly...

...use your sources + your own analysis to fuel your content production. This is what makes most professional writers so good compared to mediocre writers; they have the ability to draw information from sources, quickly put it into their own words, and then add analysis.

And remember, at this point, you already have sources that you have used to build your outline. So the information is all there and you know where it is.

Here’s what that might look like for ““The Common Misconception About Purring…”

We’ll work from the the following source:

I would use that to write something like:

Conventional wisdom tells us that cats purr for one reason: to express their contentment. But what if I told you that’s not exactly true?

While cats do purr when they’re happy, that’s only one of the reasons for the behavior. According to Danielle Venton, of Wired, cats may also purr to express other emotions--such as hunger, pain or fear--and even to help regenerate bones.

Why does this matter? Aside from shaking up cat owners’ worldviews, it might even help save a few feline lives. If more cat owners understand that purring can mean a number of different things and that it can sometimes indicate negative emotions, or even physical pain, they might be able to better understand their pet’s health.

The more shocking effect of purring (that it can actually regenerate bones) may also shed additional light on the near-mythological durability of cats (having nine lives, etc.), and, as we’ll find out below, may even be able to affect the health of humans.

Let’s break that down into its component parts.

Of course, in a real article, it might not be separated like that. I might weave my analysis into the information instead. I chunked it out here to make it easier to visualize.

I also think my analysis stretches a bit too far, which is probably because I was trying to use that one paragraph from that one source. In reality, I would likely find similar bits of info from all my sources to create a more organic section.

In other words, it’s not Hamlet. But it does a decent job at conveying the information and adding something new.

I should note here that analysis ≠ bullshit.

Analysis means seriously considering the information and thinking about what it might mean, where the gaps might be, and how it could be interpreted.

It’s also a skill, and, like with other aspects of writing, you’ll get better at it with practice.

Step #6: Write Your Introduction

Time: 5 minutes.

After you’ve written your article, you should have a strong grasp of what the “answer” to the article’s question is.

To write your introduction, put that “answer” into one good, solid, comprehensive paragraph. I like to think of this as a miniature version of the article.

It’s also a good place to insert a bit of personality or a personal anecdote. It can be creative. I just has to be hyper-relevant to the article.

After that, you should be done.

I can hear you screaming at me through your computer screen: “BUT WHAT ABOUT THE CONCLUSION?!”

Don’t worry about it. I hardly ever write them. Conclusions are usually just reworded introductions, which is stupid and wastes readers’ time. Instead, fill that space with great info and/or analysis.

If you really feel like you need to wrap your article up somehow, just plop in a couple sentences thanking your readers for their time and inviting them to comment below.

Note On Practice

This is not going to be easy the first time you do it. Hell, it won’t be easy the 50th time you do it.

Writing. Is. A. Skill.

It’s like playing the piano. You don’t just read about it and sit down and play some Beethoven. You have to practice.

If you’re a site owner, try to understand that you have it good: the time you spend practicing writing will likely make you money. That can’t be said for many folks -- even good writers trying to break into the professional writing industry.

So don’t get discouraged if you feel slow or bad or any combination of those two. It takes time, and you’ll keep getting better as you continue writing.

That said, I do want to give you a few small hacks to help you get over some of the most common mental blocks to help speed your practice alone…

3 Mental Blocks You Need to Get Over Before You Can Write like a F*cking Beast

I’ve been a writer for about a decade. I’ve also been an editor, and I taught college writing classes. And, of course, I rub elbows with other site builders all the time.

In other words, I’ve been surrounded by both professional and amateur writers in some capacity for most of my professional life.

So I know the mental blocks.

They almost always boil down to one of three main issues: insecurity, perfectionism, and bad mechanics. Let’s quickly cover each of these as well as some strategies for squashing them.

Insecurity

This is probably the primary mental block for newer writers.

Here’s why it happens: writing is your own thoughts translated onto a page for the world to read, and that’s inherently scary for a lot of people.

Here are the forms it might take:

  • “Is this really good enough?”
  • “Someone else has already said this.”
  • “I’m not sure this is right.”
  • “What if someone comments and tells me this is bad?”
  • “What if I fail?”

The most common type of insecurity I see is fear of failure.

Fear of failure is usually a vague feeling. If you’re feeling this fear, ask yourself, “What does failure look like?”

How to Get Over it

Here’s the good news for an SEO copywriter: in this game, the only measure of success is traffic. So, failure usually just means no one sees the writing (because it doesn’t rank). If that happens, well, no one will see it. On the other hand, if it gets traffic, it has already not failed by definition.

In other words, because you’re an SEO copywriter, if your content fails, no one will ever know. When you realize that, it becomes much easier to write with abandon.

Perfectionism

If fear of failure is the most common mental block, perfectionism is the most dangerous.

It’s dangerous because, sometimes, people don’t even know they're a perfectionist until it’s too late -- until they sit down to write, lose themselves, snap out of it, and realize they’ve just spent eight hours writing a 1,500 word article.

What often happens to perfectionists is some iteration of the following:

  • They get frustrated with spending so much time writing
  • So they try to outsource more of it
  • They are never happy with a writer's work
  • They either send it back dozens of times for revisions, or
  • They spend several hours editing it, negating the benefit of outsourcing completely

I’ve probably heard some version of this story hundreds of times. And I always feel a tinge of heartbreak for perfectionists.

Because -- and trust me on this -- perfectionism can be a business killer.

Bootstrapping a profitable authority site (which is why most of us would be interested in SEO copywriting, anyway) lives and dies on efficiency. And most of the time, efficiency is the opposite of perfection because you often just have to… stop tinkering and get stuff out the damn door to make progress.

Here’s how to get over it

Lower your standards and set strict time limits.

Perfectionists usually have outrageously high standards. Lower them.

Let’s consider your ideal article -- the final form, the A+ version you’ve been chasing in all its glory. Think about it. See it in your mind’s eye...

...then, specifically shoot for the B+ version. Imagine that the moment your article crosses the threshold from B+ to A-, your computer will explode.

(To be clear… I’m not saying you should be writing bad content. I’m saying that for perfectionists, B+ content is usually very good, and A+ content is un-achievable).

Now, set a specific time limit to get to the B+ version based on your WPH (from earlier). For recovering perfectionists, I usually recommend giving yourself just a few extra minutes of editing time for your own peace of mind.

So, for example, if my baseline WPH was 1,000, and had to write a 1,200-word article, I’d give myself exactly 1 hour and 20 minutes to reach the B+ version of it. And when I hit that time limit, I would stop and hit publish.

Bad Mechanics

In writing, mechanics = grammar, punctuation, and syntax.

And they’re important: people expect websites to be well-written and well-edited, and if you get this wrong, you risk looking dumb.

There are also thousands of rules to know if you want to perfect your mechanics, so if you don’t understand them, all the rules can feel extremely daunting.

Here’s the good news, though: most of your readers won’t know 100% of the rules either, so you’re fine if you just know 80% of the most common rules.

Here’s how to get over it

Focus on commas, and use good resources to make sure they’re right.

Generally, comma mistakes make up almost all grammar mistakes in writing. If you can just master that stupid little squiggle, you’ll be 80% of the way there.

I won’t go over comma rules and functions in this post, but here are some great resources you can spend a few hours with.

Finally, you can use Grammarly to double-check your work. Hemingway app also helps make your content more readable.

Over to you...

Welp, there it is: about as big of a brain-dump on SEO copywriting as I can give you. Now, I'd like to hear from you. How do you write? Where do you get stuck? What else do you want to know?

Drop me a note in the comments!​

Perrin Carrell
 

Hey there :) I'm Perrin, part of the Authority Hacker team. When I'm not blogging about Internet Marketing here, I help businesses improve their online presence, and, of course, I run a couple profitable blogs of my own.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 51 comments
Kenal Louis - December 16, 2016

This is another in-depth as well as insightful, article. It seems our experience can contribute to our writing more than we think. The fact that we are not all English majors or “professional writers” is very encouraging. I am highly creative as a person and enjoy creating art. I recently had an art show where I talked with a fellow artist about the struggle artists have with selling their art at shows. I mentioned that artists are known in the majority for not being articulate and speaking to viewers about their works… this is their biggest downfall. Having experience in retail selling merchandise to customers, I know that customer engagement is a big deal and helps lead to sales. From what I’ve been learning since joining AH Pro and the AH Group, providing specific and informational content drives traffic. It increases engagement online and the time people spend going through your content. You provided an excellent article, Perrin on SEO copywriting. Great tips on how to build these type of contents and where to draw inspiration/information from.

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    Perrin Carrell - December 17, 2016

    “I mentioned that artists are known in the majority for not being articulate and speaking to viewers about their works…” Ha. Try talking to a poet.

    Kidding aside; thanks man :) Glad you enjoyed it.

    Reply
Joshua Hardwick - December 16, 2016

Perrin, this is an absolute beast of an article! (thanks for mentioning me in there btw!)

I have to say, I really resonate with the part about perfectionism. I can easily spend 5+ hours editing an article and usually, the changes will be somewhat negligible. I’ve found myself rewording the same tiny paragraph countless times on multiple occasions. In an ideal world, this wouldn’t be so much of an issue but like you say, “perfectionism is a business killer”. I have to force myself to remember that while I’m sitting agonising over the wording of a paragraph, one of my competitors is probably pumping out an extra post during that time.

It’s still difficult (especially when you care about your content), but it’s the only way to do things at any real scale.

Anyway, top notch post – also just read your one about the “Pareto principle” + outreach and, well, that was great too!

You’re killing it!

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    Perrin Carrell - December 17, 2016

    “I have to force myself to remember that while I’m sitting agonising over the wording of a paragraph, one of my competitors is probably pumping out an extra post during that time.”

    This is EXACTLY it. In SEO, your product is content, and every piece of content is worth money. So the more you can do, the better :)

    Reply
Casey Gentles - December 16, 2016

Hey Perrin, wonderful article bro. You really provided a ton of value and insights here.

Personally I think I fall in the “perfectionist” category. Often times nothing seems good enough.

… But I have learned to just ‘ship’ so I kill my ego and get things done and most times
the content performed way more than I had expected.

Again thanks for this write up and I’ll be sure to put some of your pointers to my daily
writing regime.


Casey Gentles

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    Perrin Carrell - December 17, 2016

    That’s the way to do it man. Just get it out the door :)

    Reply
Vin - December 16, 2016

Solid, solid write up. Passing this along to the team.

Did you look into TF-IDF too? (https://en.onpage.org/wiki/TF*IDF)

TF-IDF and WDF-IDF seem to be REALLY similar. Only difference I’m seeing is that TF is related to frequency across multiple documents, and WDF is related to a single document.

Been using the tool on OnPage for a while. Make the changes based on the tool results usually shows ranking improvement within ~30 days.

Gotta look into this WDF now and see how different the results are.

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    Perrin Carrell - December 17, 2016

    Thanks man :)

    Unless I’m horribly mistaken, TF*IDF and WDF*IDF are the same thing (they have the same fomrula; see here https://en.onpage.org/wiki/TF*IDF and here http://wdf-idf.com/).

    And yea; I’ve been meaning to give OnPage.org a proper run-through using all its features: semantic analysis + all the other goodies, like site structure, etc.

    Reply
Matt - December 16, 2016

Hit the nail on the head with the mental blocks, I’ve fell victim to 1 & 2 many times. Thanks for the tips!

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    Perrin Carrell - December 17, 2016

    You bet man :) Go forth and conquer!

    Reply
Alison - December 16, 2016

WOW – lost for words :)
Amazing article & covers exactly the issues I consider when writing. In a previous life I was a scientist in medical research and I can guarantee that everything Perrin has written here is the exact same method I developed over a decade to research & collate information for scientific papers . Absolutely & totally agree re: efficiency.

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    Perrin Carrell - December 17, 2016

    That’s so cool that a similar system crosses genre lines — especially with something as difficult as science writing. Thanks for the kind words :)

    Reply
Leo - December 16, 2016

Hey Perrin,

I really enjoyed this article. It’s wonderful to see how far you’ve grown since NSP2. As a perfectionist, I really identified with the need to deliver B+ level work instead of spending far longer to get to A+.

For reference, could you let us know how you define B+ level work? How many images are you looking for? Does that mean including bullet point lists? After you write the article do you go back and add related terms? Do you do a count on the number of times the keyword appears?

Thanks for sharing with us,

-Leo

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    Perrin Carrell - December 17, 2016

    Ha. I knew someone was going to ask this.

    The answer’s mostly going to be the same as what I said in the section above about content quality. It’s subjective. If you’re unsure, to start, focus mostly on sticking to hard WPH deadlines for yourself (e.g. I’m going to publish this 1,000 word article in 90 minutes).

    Reply
Andy - December 16, 2016

Thank you, the WPH metric was a huge revelation!!!

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    Perrin Carrell - December 17, 2016

    WPH is the shrine to which you should pay homage, grasshopper.

    Reply
Ted - December 16, 2016

Great Job, Perrin. Thanks for the tips. It made me examine my style of writing and I found I’m already doing this to some extent, just much more slowly than I need to.

Your advice will allow me to hone my process and hopefully pick up some speed.

I am definitely too much of a perfectionist. I’m sure you’ve heard the famous writing quote, I think attributed to Oscar Wilde, “I spent all morning taking a comma out, and then spent afternoon putting it back in”.

Sometimes I feel like that, and I think your excellent article will help me past this hurdle.

Thanks again!

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Quinton - December 16, 2016

12k in a day.

Gosh.

You aren’t even human.

Excellent post. I soaked up so many excellent tips.

Now it’s time to implement.

Question: what do you listen to while you write?

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    Perrin Carrell - December 17, 2016

    Classical. And not because I’m a d-bag. Can’t write if I listen to music with words for some reason ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    Reply
Sandeep Nayak - December 16, 2016

Absolutely insightful article it just gave me the inspiration lacking from manyou months. Thanks a lot

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Michiel - December 17, 2016

Great article, Perrin. I love your system and will start using it for sure! I had a similar approach more or less, but it is very helpful to see it all structured and laid out like this, very helpful.

I love that WPM tool, I tried it out and reached 66 WPM, pretty decent. Unfortunately, my real production speed is a lot lower as I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist, but your article is a good reason to try and fix that :)

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    Perrin Carrell - December 17, 2016

    Make sure you don’t use your WPM as your benchmark (my formula for setting a benchmark WPH is above). You need time to research, think and edit :)

    Reply
Bhuboy Villanueva - December 17, 2016

Thanks for this, I learned new way of searching in google for research, which for me is the most important part of writing

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Tantely - December 17, 2016

So, I’ve just spent more than 2 hours reading this post troughly and taking note with many screen shots. And I must say a big THANK YOU Perrin Carrell, because that is really the kind of piece of information that I need right now to start my blogging adventure. Got to share.
Keep up the good work :)

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Bhargavi - December 17, 2016

Hi Perrin,

This is a fabulous information and neatly woven content creation / writing strategy. I closely connect myself about the perfectionism which I will be eliminating from my thought process going forward. Was always looking for that “quick formula” to speed up the research process. Thank You!

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Earl - December 17, 2016

Absolute badassery! This is exactly what I needed at this time, since I’m starting a new and trying to save a couple of bucks. The perfectionist part hits home for me, because I’ve been that guy sitting there for 8hrs doing a 2,000 word article.

I will be taking the high points of this and putting it into a document so I have a blueprint. Thanks SO much for this!

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    Perrin Carrell - December 17, 2016

    Thanks, Earl :)

    Yea man — for most people who write their own content, if they can just work on pushing your work out if the nest, their revenue goes way up.

    Reply
di sekitar - December 17, 2016

I just start blogging for 4 months, usually I spent 4-5 hours for make 1000 word article from research until publish. I already make outline but I often feel lost when I start writing.

Maybe I will try your tips and hope my writing skill increase after practice and practice.

Can I add more minutes to translate?
because my blog didn’t use english language, but i use english website as my reference.

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Abhik - December 17, 2016

12000 frigging words in a day including research?? How come your picture doesn’t show you wearing a cape?

The perfectionist in me fills me with so much anxiety and negativity I feel faint even before I start lol :)

Really helpful article! The research part was very helpful indeed. Thanks!

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    Perrin Carrell - December 18, 2016

    Yea man. I can’t even explain how dead I was after that day. I slept for the next 14 hrs lol.

    And yea, learn to push that content out the door :)

    Reply
Viviane - December 18, 2016

Perrin, thank you for this brilliant article. Having the task broken down and following your thought process throughout is invaluable.

Out of curiosity, which “simple” themes do you favor? And do you consider Thrive simple?

“…for perfectionists, B+ content is usually very good, and A+ content is un-achievable” – ha, so true! In one fell swoop, I think you got me over this perfectionism thing. But then again, there’s always those pesky commas…

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    Perrin Carrell - December 18, 2016

    Glad you enjoyed it :)

    Thrive’s DESIGN is simple, and it’s highly flexible, but there’s a learning curve. You also need to do some work to make it look good.

    Simple themes usually = not too many elements, fast, easy to navigate, dark text on white background. Everything else is just your preference :)

    Reply
Travis - December 18, 2016

Amazing value in this article. So many gems in here…I lost count early on!

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Mohammad Umair - December 19, 2016

If anyone is looking at improving their SEO copywriting then this has to be one of the best articles to read. Superb guide Perrin.

BTW, just curious to know. Aren’t you the one who worked with Spencer Haws?

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David Hartshorne - December 19, 2016

Hey Perrin,

Great tips here!

As a fellow writer, I could definitely do with speeding up the content creation. I’m definitely too much of a perfectionist and I need to let that go a little while maintaining top quality for my clients.

I liked the tips on research. That can be a big time such if you’re not careful.

Cheers
– David

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Alfrick Opidi - December 21, 2016

Why couldn’t the editors just write the articles by themselves instead of over-commenting?

Nice experience, there :)

Otherwise, useful stuff, thanks man.

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    Perrin Carrell - December 22, 2016

    Yea; it was a terrible system and extremely frustrating lol.

    Reply
Stephen - December 23, 2016

This guide is not how i had expected it to be, but damn, it turned better than i expected. I would put this to practice and see how it turns out. Thanks perrin.

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    Perrin Carrell - December 24, 2016

    Thanks man :) Glad you enjoyed it.

    Reply
A D - December 25, 2016

Very well structured and written. Interesting to see your thought process. Makes me think a bit differently about my approach as I like to shoot for perfection but that is not always needed. Thanks for sharing.

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Akhil - January 11, 2017

Finally found something I can stick to.. really helpful guide. Wish I could write 1000 words post to say thanks… I’m sure I will after using this guide :)

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Albert Tan - February 9, 2017

Hi Perrin,

I have just finished writing a 3,600-word article. Your this article is just brilliant and it made me go back to re-edit and polish up quite a number of aspects of my article. I like the listings of the best practices which sort of give me the checklist for seo writing.

Thank you so much for your sharing!

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Maverick Martin - March 14, 2017

Outstanding information, I love the way you have made this a step by step guide. That will really help evaluate each page/blog article. Thank you!

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Brad - March 21, 2017

I’d be interested to know if there are any types of online content for which you would not follow these principles (or which ones would force you to deviate the most). Skyscraper content, reviews, etc. Do you simply scale-up the time estimates proportionally based on the word count?

Would you encourage outsourcing editing for these types of articles, maybe to someone on Fiverr, just because the success of these articles is highly dependent on the quality? And sometimes, checking your own work isn’t the most effective approach.

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Mike - March 30, 2017

Love this. I’m a Textbroker veteran, and wrote somewhere around 2,000 articles for chump change several years ago. In retrospect, pretty much all of it was someone else’s SEO. Now I’ve got sites that work for me. It’s all about the text, bro.

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Matthieu Gauthier - May 5, 2017

Hello Perrin,

It’s always very good stuff, and even if i’m not English born i love reading you.
I will try your technique on my new website, it’s exactly what I needed to start and structure my work.
Thanks again :)

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Daniel - July 26, 2017

For some reasons, am not happy I stumbled upon this article very lately.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been on a research; learning practical SEO skills to for my business. Your post was really resourceful.

Come to think of it, does it mean Interlinking isn’t stronger than outbound linking? Cus u never made mention of Interlinks.

Regards,
Daniel Nicholas, ShoutNaija

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