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SEO copywriting

Search engine optimisation, or SEO, refers to the tactics we use to ensure relevant information on our websites can be found by users easily via search engines.

Search engine optimisation, or SEO, refers to the tactics we use to ensure relevant information on our websites can be found by users easily via search engines.

Producing a well-optimised website needs the input of the whole web team. But there’s a lot that you can do as a content producer that isn’t particularly technical yet will help your pages appear higher in search engine rankings.

In this guide we provide you with a range of recommendations that can be implemented at the copywriting, image-editing and uploading stages that will help optimise your website. 

Many of the approaches are the same as those used when producing the content for the new University of Manchester website that launched in April 2014. The Division of Communications and Marketing consulted SEO experts at MediaCom to plan and deliver a fully optimised website.

Better copy for users – and search engines

As a content producer, the very least you’ll have to provide is copy for a webpage. With a little creativity, you’ll find that this is one of the quickest and easiest ways to improve that page’s SEO.

When using search engines, people look for the information they need by typing in search terms. The search engine will then search the internet for content that is relevant to those terms.

If your webpage is to stand the best chance of showing up in those results, it’s important that the content contains words that closely match the kind of terms your intended audience will be looking for – we call these keywords.

Choosing what keywords to include

Your own judgement is often the best guide. If your page contains information on funding options for PhD students in a particular subject area, ask yourself: who is looking for this information, and how would they be likely to describe what they’re looking for? It’s likely that users – and therefore search engines – will regard a page titled ‘Funding for PhD programmes in XXXX’ as being more relevant than simply ‘Funding’.

For a more rigorous approach, Google AdWords’ Keyword Planner Tool is a powerful way of seeing what keywords rank well and how much competition there is for those keywords.

Using a variety of keywords can also help to boost your visibility in the search engine results.

Writing the copy

Try to achieve the following when putting your copy together:

Headers and subheaders

The header is the most important place to include keywords, as this piece of copy describes to the user what information is contained on the page. If it fails to do that, the user may go elsewhere.

Worse still, they might not even get to your page in the first place. That’s because search engines apply the same priority to headers as a user would.

So, make sure that your headers:

  • are descriptive;
  • contain keywords as early as possible;
  • are unique to your site and your offering (remember, you’ll be competing with other universities for search engine ranking).

You can then use subheaders to include secondary keywords – for example, on a page about funding, you might like to include ‘scholarships and bursaries’.

All of this helps from an SEO point of view, but it also helps in terms of user experience, breaking up copy meaningfully and into digestible chunks.

When writing the copy, it’s good practice to mark up the headers and subheaders to denote the hierarchy of headings. This is because, when the copy is uploaded, the text will need to be formatted so that the headers or subheaders are displayed in the right font settings on the webpage. If the content management system your team uses doesn’t allow for rich formatting, then the HTML tags can be added as follows:

Header 1 <h1>text</h1>

Header 2 <h2>text</h2>

Header 3 <h3>text</h3>

Adding these tags also has the benefit of alerting the search engine to the importance of this text – all the more reason to include your keywords here.

Body copy

While it’s very important to get keywords into headers and subheaders, it’s less vital for the body copy. Cramming the copy with keywords can look like spam and be off-putting for the user.

It’s much better to have well-written copy that contains the most important information as early as possible. This, coupled with the keywords in the headers and subheaders, should ensure that your page works from both SEO and user-experience points of view.

Similarly, don’t be tempted to write reams of copy in order to cover a whole range of keywords. It’s important to have enough words to convey what the page is about – but no more. Think about your reader.

Tone of voice and house style

In addition to the SEO recommendations above, the University’s guidance on tone of voice and house style are crucial tools for anybody who’s involved in writing for our websites.

Checklist for SEO copywriting

  • Write for your audience.
  • Write in plain language.
  • Get to the point early.
  • Get keywords into your headline.
  • Use subheaders to boost SEO and aid readability.
  • Cover all the important information, but don’t write too much.
  • Use keywords in the right place, at the right time – don’t overdo it.

Content elements

Depending on your role, you may be required to provide more than just copy for a webpage. That’s because a webpage is much more than a set of words and graphical features. There’s a lot going on beyond that. And – you’ve guessed it – these all offer you opportunities to further optimise the webpage.

Hyperlinks

Hyperlinks allow users to visit another webpage by clicking on a piece of highlighted text. By making sure that the ‘anchor text’ – ie the text that carries the hyperlink – relates to the destination page, you’ll make it clearer to the user where they’ll be taken to if they click the link.

This is true for how search engines read the page too. Aim to closely match the anchor text to the name of the page you’re linking to. For example:

Courses that challenge your preconceptions and give you a greater understanding of what it means to be a responsible global citizen. Our Manchester Leadership Programme could form part of your degree, blending community volunteering with a course unit that explores topics such as ethical leadership and social responsibility. You could also combine your studies with a year abroad via the Manchester Global Challenge, or explore your entrepreneurial side with the Manchester Enterprise Challenge.

The anchor text above will be prioritised by search engines and add to the ‘relevancy’ of the destination page, helping it to rank well. In contrast, anchor text such as ‘Find out more’, ‘Click here’ etc add nothing in terms of relevancy.

Wherever your copy refers to information that’s included elsewhere on your website, add hyperlinks to the relevant wording. If this is done naturally and not forced, it’s a good way to build up the relevancy of many of your webpages.

Imagery

Images make your pages visually arresting and can help to bring your content to life. They’re also loved by search engines, which see them as evidence that your webpage is offering a good user experience.

If providing imagery for a page, take the opportunity to include relevant keywords in the file name, ALT description and title tag (the popup text when you hover the cursor over an image). The user may not see all of these on the page, but search engines will when crawling your content.

For example, for an image of the University of Manchester logo, you might use the following:

File name logo-university-manchester (lowercase, words divided by hyphens)
ALT description  The University of Manchester logo
Title tag The University of Manchester logo

Video

Including video not only makes for a better user experience, keeping the user on the page for longer; it also has benefits for SEO:

  • videos in search engine results can boost your chances of a conversion, providing the video is suitably relevant;
  • other websites may choose to include links to your videos, increasing the authority of your site.

If you have a video you want to embed on one of your pages, ensure you include titles and descriptions that contain relevant keywords.

To embed a video, it first needs to be hosted somewhere. There are various third-party options, but the two most common platforms used at the University are:

Uploading your videos to YouTube has the additional benefit of making your video viewable to people who are watching similar videos on that platform.

Free platforms such as YouTube have some SEO disadvantages, such as the fact that the video on that site could outrank your page.

Page titles

The page title, or title tag, is what users see in the browser tab and what appears as the main link in the search engine results. As such it’s especially important that the text you use for this is relevant to the content of the page.

In terms of SEO, a well-structured title tag will go a long way to helping the page rank higher. Aim to get the most important and relevant keywords at the start of the tag.

Make sure the title is unique and meaningful, and avoid repeating keywords, as this can look like spam.

If possible, keep the title to 55 characters (including spaces) in length, as anything beyond that will be cut off in search engine results.

Meta descriptions

A meta description is the text that appears beneath the page title in search engine results. Essentially, it’s an early opportunity to persuade the user that your page is relevant to them.

There’s no SEO benefit to including keywords in a meta description but if it does include them, they’ll appear in bold, highlighting the page’s relevancy to the search terms.

As this is something of a sales pitch, try to include the main facts from the page and a call to action. The meta description should accurately reflect the information that the page contains, yet should make sense on its own, within the context of the search results page.

A limit of 300 characters (including spaces) is recommended, with anything longer likely to be truncated.

URLs

If you have the opportunity to decide what the URL of a new page should be, then this is another chance to include relevant keywords.

Using descriptive URLs will help your page rank better and will help those who see the URL (for example, in a print publication) to understand what the page is about. It’s better, though, to avoid ‘keyword stuffing’.

If your page title requires more than one word to be used in the URL, use hyphens rather than underscores to separate the words, for example:

www.manchester.ac.uk/collaborate/business-engagement

It’s not necessary to include words such as ‘and’, ‘or’, and ‘the’.

If you have any questions about this guidance, please contact Neil Condron (Content Manager).