In the 3 years that I’ve worked as a copywriter at Ultimate, I’ve seen a lot of developments in industry trends and best practice. As an SEO specialist, I constantly need to be aware of how people are searching and how they prefer to have information presented to them. For example, what is their preference in tone of voice, or length of content? Personal preference plays a huge role, but research has clearly identified a number of key trends. Read below to see how both the copywriting industry and Ultimate have responded.
Increasing Word Count And Introducing Pillar & Cluster Content
Back in 2016, the blogs I was writing tended to be just 300-400 words in length. At the time, this was considered to be best practice and certainly wasn’t uncommon. Such blogs were targeted at delivering the most valuable pieces of information succinctly, in order to capture the attention of people browsing the internet on their mobiles and tablets.
Since then, however, there has been a radical change in thinking. Extensive research suggests that if longer content is engaging, relevant and written to a good standard, the audience will read it. For example, a study by Moz discovered that content longer than 1000 words typically receives more shares than shorter pieces. If someone is actively interested in a topic and eager to learn more, lengthier content can perfectly suit their needs.
With this research in mind, alongside an industry-wide shift towards longer content, we took the decision to increase the length of our standard SEO blog posts to 500 words minimum. In addition, we began to introduce our clients to the idea of a pillar and cluster content strategy. Simply put, this strategy focuses on providing the audience with both a general overview of a broad topic or drilling down into more specific subjects.
A pillar page is a minimum of 1000 words long and effectively acts as a summary. For someone new to a topic, it acts as a brilliant introduction, highlighting all the different areas which they may wish to consider investigating further. Take the example of a pillar page on digital marketing. It would probably to discuss the basics of SEO, PPC, social media, copywriting and link building.
Each of these paragraphs would link to a cluster landing page or blog, preferably with the link attached to a keyword. The content on these pages is specific to a sub-topic, such as paid advertising on Facebook. That specificity is reflected in the use of a long-tail keyword (more on these below) rather than just a simple phrase. Cluster landing pages are a great place to drill down into details for anyone who really wants to learn more about your product or service.
Someone arriving at your site could land on either the cluster page or the pillar page. The links between the two allow people to easily navigate to other relevant information that might be of interest to them. They also make it easier for search engines like Google to crawl the site and build up a picture of how authoritative you are on the subject.
Ultimately, the focus should always be on quality over quantity. It doesn’t matter how long or short your content is if it doesn’t deliver the answers people are looking for. By being as helpful as possible you will create a positive brand impression, winning over the prospective client. Below are some of the features of copywriting that have either gained importance in the past three years, or skills that have remained cornerstones of copywriting to this day.
A long-tail keyword is a very specific keyword phrase, typically at least 3 words long. They are used to target individuals who are searching for a precise piece of information. Again taking the example of digital marketing, a keyword would be ‘PPC advertising’. A long-tail keyword would be ‘PPC advertising for Facebook’.
Whilst the search volume for such terms might be quite small, it is certainly worth your while producing relevant high quality content. Anyone searching for those terms clearly has an excellent idea of what they’re looking for and will look favourably upon anyone who can provide a clear answer. Their intent is high and are more easily converted from leads into customers.
Furthermore, there is far less competition for long-tail keywords, making it easier for you to improve your search engine ranking.
Another significant element of copywriting today is the importance of link building. Link building has always been a key aspect of copywriting, but has noticeably gained momentum during the past three years. A link does what it says on the tin - it links two pages on the Internet together. These connections have always been vital for good SEO practice, as without them neither people nor crawlers can find your website! However, links have caused trouble in the past: an old Gray-Hat practice called link farming, where people built a network of sites all designed to link to each other, gave link building a bad name. This practice prioritised quantity over quality, and focussed on the number of links as opposed to their content.
Today though, the best practice approach to link building concentrates on the content and quality of the links provided. Penalties for link farming saw focus shift to the body of the links, rather than the number found on any given page. For instance, creating high-quality, original and exceptional content for the links is prioritised and results in higher search engine rankings for the most important terms.
Audience Research & User Journey A final aspect that has changed, in my experience of contemporary copywriting over the years, is the prioritisation of the user journey. The user journey, or buyer’s journey, refers to the user’s intentions and goals which have led them to the page. The industry-wide attitude towards users used to mainly focus on how to get and then maximise clicks and interaction. Now though, copywriting has shifted its approach to take the user and their query into consideration both on and off the page.
A greater focus on user research and their goals offers us invaluable information about how to best produce the content they read. For instance, the user’s intention is a huge factor in what - and how - they search, and can be broken down into the following stages: awareness, consideration and decision. The awareness stage denotes a user trying to identify their needs; the consideration stage follows, when an identification of the problem has produced multiple potential solutions, and the decision stage means a user has already decided upon a solution category.
An understanding of this process has generated a shift away from copy that maximises clicks and interaction towards provision of useful information which addresses the user’s needs at the specific stage of their journey. Leaving the user with a fulfilled query therefore inspires a positive association with the agency, as they feel satisfied that their needs have been met. At Ultimate, the commitment to producing engaging content which both addresses the existing query (and even preempts follow-up questions) ensures that the user has a positive interaction with high-quality informative content. The process of copywriting at Ultimate aims to address the right stage of the user journey in order to satisfy their query as well and efficiently as possible, adding value to their journey and leaving them with a positive overall experience.