What’s the one SEO copywriting step you should never, ever skip?

There is a lot of SEO copywriting information online. Some is good. Some is excellent, making me excitedly think, “They get it! They really really get it.”

And some advice makes me bang my head against the wall.

Why? Because the advice is confusing, only applicable in certain situations, or just plain wrong. Here’s an (unfortunate) example.

This post by Michel Fortin makes some good points. It really does. But there was one line that concerned me, which was:

“Personally, I don’t spend time on keyword optimization, keyword density, or things of that nature.”

Now, to some new SEO copywriters – or folks who don’t understand the medium well – it could sound like, “Hey, that’s an entire step that I don’t have to worry about! Now, I know if I just write good copy, I’ve covered my SEO copywriting bases.”

And that’s not true. SEO copywriting is both art and science. It’s figuring out how people search for what you have to offer, and wrapping that information up into a compelling package. If you haven’t done your keyphrase research – and you’re not including keyphrases in your copy and Titles – you are hurting your SEO campaign. Keyphrase research is a step you should never, ever (ever) skip. Ever.

For those who are interested in the “should I optimize for keywords” debate, here’s my response to Michel’s post. Enjoy!

I would agree with you on keyword density. I’ve been teaching audiences and copywriters how to write for the engines for over 12 years, and I have never once measured keyword density. That’s an old holdover from Alta Vista days (remember them?!?) when SEO experts knew that a 5.5 percent keyword density would gain a good ranking.

That’s not even close to being true anymore – there are way more ingredients in the algorithmic soup to make that relevant. However”

If you don’t research your keyphrases, how do you know what words to include in your copy? It’s more than just writing “good copy.” For example, print catalog marketers write fantastically compelling copy every day. But when those catalogs are brought online, the sites don’t position well. The reason why is because there are no keyphrases in the content.

I know of one big brand company that researches their keyphrases before they name a product. Why? Because they learned that no-one would search for “Tranquil Moments Companion” when the product was actually a white-noise machine to help people sleep. :)

Additionally, some marketing departments think about their products and services in a different way than their customers. What they call a “multilingual global communication system” may really be (in prospect-speak) “free IM chat.” If that company optimizes for “multilingual global communications systems – no matter how good the copy is – they probably won’t get many (if any) qualified leads.

Keyphrase research should always be the first step in a SEO copywriting campaign. Not only can copywriters make sure that they are targeting the phrases people really use, but they can find new keyphrases to target. They can create content for all phases of the buy cycle. They can use keyphrase research to answer questions. And most importantly, the copywriters can make sure that what they are writing is great for prospects – but also accomplishes their SEO campaign goals.