SEO Copywriting: 4 phases to craft top-performing content

SEO copywriting is crafting high-quality content to rank highly in search engine results.

It’s a tactic we’ve employed at our sister site, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, that’s yielded fantastic results. In fact, we’ve systematized and built an SEO machine that’s propelled some of our articles straight to the #1 spot for their keywords.

It’s not all about ranking high though. And not every SEO article hits on Google. But that’s not the entire point. Helping our readers with amazing content is the beating heart of what we do at IWT and GrowthLab. SEO copywriting just helps bring that content in front of more eyes.

Let’s take a look at what exactly SEO copywriting is AND the step-by-step process of how we create a top-performing blog post on IWT.

SEO copywriting in a nutshell

SEO copywriting is simply writing content that targets specific keywords. It’s done with the hopes that those web pages appear higher in Google’s rankings for your targeted keywords (which means more people read and enjoy your blog content).

Think of SEO copywriting as a tool in your entrepreneurial toolbox. You don’t need to be a master at it. But once you get the basics of how to use it, it becomes one of many tools you have to help you build your business.

To help you get those basics down, there are three SEO copywriting tenets you should know:

  1. The reader is king. You need to provide the most useful, engaging content for your reader above all else. If you try to create content just for the sake of it ranking well instead of helping your reader, no one will want to read it, no one will want to share it, and you will die alone — which brings us to…
  2. Google is smart. REALLY smart. That means that you can’t trick it with scummy SEO tactics like keyword stuffing an article or buying links. At least not for long. They’re constantly updating their algorithm with the intent of bringing high-quality content to the forefront and sending everything else to the dark side (aka anything after the first page).
  3. Patience is key. Like lifting weights or swiping on Tinder, you’re not going to see results right away.

These tenets lie in the backbone of IWT’s SEO copywriting strategy. Now, I want to show you how it’s employed by following the life of an SEO post from keyword to top search on Google.

How to do SEO copywriting like IWT

Let’s take a look at a keyword and see how IWT would tackle it.

Oh look. Here’s one now.


In 2017, we decided to go after the keyword “Why are weddings so expensive” for three reasons:

  1. We were already ranking with that keyword — but the article ranked low and didn’t adequately address the reader’s needs (more on that in a bit).
  2. It was a messy topic filled with misconceptions, pain points, and anxiety (i.e., PERFECT for IWT).
  3. We wanted to give Ramit a minor anxiety attack about his upcoming wedding.

So we had our keyword. Now it was time to put the keyword through our four phase SEO content machine.

Phase 1: Research

Brainstorming is the most integral cog in our SEO copywriting process.

Each month, the IWT editorial team meets via video conferencing to go through a list of keywords we want to tackle.

We call it the SEO Brainstorm.

SEO brainstorming

Totally real, unforced amusement at one of Ramit’s jokes during an SEO Brainstorm.

The purpose of the meeting is two-fold:

  1. Brainstorm fresh takes on the keywords and give our insights on how the future article fits within our brand.
  2. Discuss research strategies in order to give readers the most comprehensive, helpful article that answers their questions.

The team contributes ideas on how we can provide the most value for each keyword for an hour out of the month.

If you’re doing this on your own and don’t have a team to help, there’s a great tactic to help you brainstorm ways to approach the keyword: Borrow. And then add even more value.

No. Don’t just rip off someone else’s SEO copywriting. Instead, study the first four to five hits on Google for the keyword.

Google results

Wedding anxiety is real.

Look at the pages that are ranking really well and ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the headline communicating?
  • How is the article providing value?
  • Who is the type of person searching this keyword?
  • What can I learn from these articles?
  • Above all else: What value can I uniquely add to these search results?

For “Why are weddings so expensive” we found that the articles focused on the finances of weddings as well as advice on how to cut down on expenses. Someone on the team also suggested we reach out to a wedding planner for their insights. That was our unique value.

So we decided to craft an article that answered the question of why weddings are so expensive AND addressed people’s fears of blowing up their budgets. Fantastic!

By answering the above questions and brainstorming ways to approach the article, we came up with a solid angle with which we wanted to approach the article.

The fun was just beginning, though, as we moved to phase two:

Phase 2: Front-load

Now you have your angle — and you’re probably itching to start typing away at your first draft like Jack Kerouac on a bender.

cat gif

You, writing the Great American SEO Article.

But you need to fight that compulsion. Instead, front-load the work.

Many writers dive in and research as they go along.

Instead, dedicate yourself just to researching and outlining your article. This is called front-loading the work and it’s absolutely crucial. When you put in the time and sweat equity up front, you reap HUGE rewards in the future.

While researching and outlining can be pretty idiosyncratic, here are a few tips that can help you when it comes to SEO copywriting:

  • Read five to ten articles on the first page at least. This will give you a great idea of what other articles are doing that are working. It will also help you gain more information on the topic that you might not have known before but can be helpful for your reader. See if there are any common threads in each article (listicles, expert advice, etc).
  • Compile any and all relevant sources you can find into a single document. Having the information on one document keeps you organized. You’ll also avoid situations like, “Wait. Where did I get that piece of information again? Wasn’t there something I wanted to say about this topic?”
  • Reach out to any sources who will bolster your article. At IWT, we’re all about expert advice. Experts can add value and insights to your article you wouldn’t get otherwise AND readers love it when they can get the opinions of an expert.

For “Why are weddings so expensive,” we went through dozens of articles and videos gathering any and all information I could about the topic. We put each link we used into the outline document as well as sections of relevant information I use.

It’s always a good idea to cast a wide net when it comes to your sources. So we also reached out to 10 wedding planners for the article.

Guess how many got back to us?


Yup. Just the one. THAT’S why it’s a good idea to cast a wide net for sources.

Her name is Sarah Glick of Brilliant Event Planning and she was very excited to work with us. Since it was peak wedding season, she was very busy with different events so we sent her a list of questions and she got back to us with a substantive response for each one. Awesome.

With all of my information on hand, it was time to outline.


You can see how my outline evolves to include research and interview questions

Now there are two schools of thought when it comes to drafting: Some view writing as this exciting fast-paced adventure where you jump right in without outlining and figure things out along the way.

And then there are good writers.

Kidding — mostly. Outlining is an invaluable resource to any SEO copywriting process. By laying out the bones of your article, you’ll be able to know exactly where you want to go and the points you want to hit.

Also, Google LOVES it when your article has a solid structure. It shows that you put time and effort into your content AND will most likely give value to your reader.

For “Why are weddings so expensive,” we knew the rough points we wanted to hit on. So our outline looked something like this:

I. Introduction

  1. This is how much the average wedding costs in the United States.
    1. [show graphic of average wedding cost]
    2. According to a recent study by The Knot, the average wedding in America in 2016 cost $35,329 — up from $32,641 the year before!
  2. And these prices might actually INCREASE depending on where you live.
  3. This can be disheartening…BUT the best thing is to be realistic about your wedding plans and prepare for it. Here’s how.

II. How to save on a wedding

  1. We talked to a wedding planner on exactly what you can do to get the most out of your wedding/areas you can cut back on.
  2. Talk about:
    1. sub savings accounts
    2. automated finances
    3. earning more money
  3. What most couples get wrong about wedding expenses

III. Conclusion

A few things:

  • We added value up top. This is crucial when it comes to SEO copywriting. The reader is coming here looking for answers as to why weddings are so expensive so we answered that question as quickly as possible. You need to do the same with your SEO copywriting.
  • We added actionable advice. After you hook the reader in you need to continue to add value. A person searching this keyword probably has some anxiety about their big day. So we acknowledged their fear by offering up a solution.
  • We knew where we wanted to go. Our outline was our roadmap. It kept us from getting lost while drafting the article. If you ever get mentally blocked while writing, you can refer back to your outline and know exactly where you should go next.

Outline your SEO copywriting keyword and get the general structure of how you want the piece to be laid out. Once you do that you’re finally ready to…

Phase 3: Draft

When we draft at IWT, we always make sure we’re ticking the boxes off of our in-house SEO checklist. This is a running list of to-dos we need to accomplish for each SEO post.

They are:

  1. The article answers the searcher’s intent. Remember: The reader is king. Google does all they can to service readers by answering their questions as thoroughly and quickly as possible. Consider each SEO keyword you’re targeting as a question then and make sure you answer that question.
  2. The article is at least 2,000 words. Like a few others on this checklist, this isn’t a hard rule. However, if your article is an in-depth and comprehensive resource on the keyword you’re targeting that means that it’s likely to be longer. As such, 2,000 words is a good rule of thumb as to whether you’ve added enough depth to an article.
  3. The primary keyword is in five places. The title, URL, the subhead, the alt-text for an image, and at least three times throughout the post. It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean you should try to cram the keyword anywhere you can. As long as your keyword is in the aforementioned five areas, you’re fine. Do not force keyword placement. Put it in places that make sense, otherwise your readers will know.
  4. Embed at least one picture and one video. Having supporting media in your post can help with engagement (and therefore ranking). However, don’t force it.
  5. Link to 2 – 3 posts from the same site. Internal linking does the double duty of providing even more valuable relevant content for your readers and also boosting SEO rankings for your entire website. Don’t overdo it though or you’ll just look obnoxious.
  6. Add 2 – 3 links to other sites. Outbound links give you an opportunity to add relevant content for your readers. Make sure that the pages you link to are trusted, relevant resources.
  7. Use 3 LSI and secondary keywords in the post. LSI stands for “latent semantic indexing” — which is just a fancy way of saying related keywords. So along with your primary keyword you’ll want to add three other variant keywords throughout your post as well. Finding them is a snap too as Google includes keyword suggestions at the bottom of every search result page.

wedding google search

LSIs for “why are weddings so expensive.”

Note: This checklist isn’t sacrosanct. Even in our final rendition of “Why are weddings so expensive,” we didn’t follow every item on the list. Sometimes you have to break from the guidelines in order to best serve your reader.

Once you have your draft finished, it’s time for the fun process of editing, and redrafting, and repeating that ad nauseam until you have an article you’re happy with posting — which brings us to…

Phase 4: Post

When you’ve published your article, it’s time to play everyone’s least favorite game: The Waiting Game.

Unluckily for you, dear SEO copywriter, this might take weeks or even months before you can see the results of your hard work.

Search engines are sensitive. They’ve been spurned in the past. So they’re going to take a while to trust you and your content. Once they see that you’ve done a great job providing value to your readers though, your content will rise to the top.

Speaking of which…

Search results for why are weddings so expensive

After publishing the article, we were pleased to find that “Why are weddings so expensive? 3 things you can do to save” not only rose to the number one spot BUT it also got a Google Snippet (that little callout box under the search bar).

That’s basically the Congressional Medal of Honor for SEO content writers.

How to write SEO content people LOVE

Now you know exactly how IWT produces top-performing SEO content.

SEO is only a tool used to help get your content in front of readers though. All of the SEO in the world won’t help you if people don’t want to read your posts.

That’s why I want to offer you something that’ll help make your writing amazing:

The Ultimate Guide to Remarkable Content

Our founder Ramit Sethi distilled down his insights from 12 years of writing viral blog posts. He noticed that each of his most popular posts have seven distinct parts to them.

In this Ultimate Guide, Ramit will show you how to replicate those parts in your own posts.

Simply enter your name and email below and get instant FREE access to the guide — and start writing content people LOVE today.

Start creating remarkable content that people LOVE

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There Are 15 Comments


What is SEO copywriting?

At it’s core, it’s copywriting (the art of writing to get someone to take an action, usually to get them to opt-in or buy) but under the restrictions of adding in search keywords and accounting for character count limits.

That’s it.

Character counts matter for page titles and metadescriptions. Keywords count throughout your content.

In a way, it’s like the olympics of copywriting. Another way of looking at is rap versus free-writing. In the former, you are restricted by syllable counts and forced to have words rhyme. The latter, you have no limits.

Great article, definitely on point and valuable. Thanks for breaking it down step by step as well. Will implement on what we do internally for our new articles.

Awesome article! For a girl that knows literally nothing about SEO, this is so easy to implement. THANK YOU!!! I’ll definately be bookmarking this one!

The first thing you should do is fire the writer who doesn’t know the difference between a tenant and a tenet.

Ha! I wouldn’t go quite that far, but since Growth Lab and IWT are better than average quality sites…I was shocked to see such a blatant misuse of a word.

I was surprised too. Other “typos” as well. Because these are great sites, I’ll choose to think somebody had a (very) bad day.

Wow! What an amazing mentally stimulating great article! Thank you Ramit and team!

Ramit Sethi

I appreciate the feedback, but I have zero plans to fire anyone over a simple typo. On the other hand, perhaps this is a good opportunity for you to reflect on the way you give feedback, Tamar.

Great article and definitely bookmark-worthy for later reference. Do you also use a secondary source of information for keywords, such as Google AdWords Keyword Planner?

Tony Ho Tran

Gosh, job security is tough find these days! Thanks for reading anyway.

I’m not suggesting you fire anyone and maybe it’s just me, but when an article about copywriting starts off with “Google’s rankings for you’re [sic] targeted keywords”, it turns me off just a little bit. Hope you can fix those little mistakes, because your content is otherwise great.

Nasrin Chiappetta

Really appreciate your feedback, Tamar. As the lead of our copy editing team, I can tell you that we take the quality of our work very seriously to ensure we’re providing the best material on online business. This post unfortunately did not represent our standards of quality. We’ve reviewed these errors and have corrected them. We’re also making sure our editing process is improved so this doesn’t happen again. Thank you for reading and being an active part of the GrowthLab community!

Nasrin Chiappetta

Thank you for your feedback, Ugo. You’re right — this post unfortunately did not represent our standards of quality. As the lead of our copy editing team, I can tell you that we take the quality of our work very seriously to ensure we’re providing the best material on online business. We’ve reviewed and corrected these errors, and we’re also improving our editing process so this doesn’t happen again. Thank you for reading and being an active part of the GrowthLab community!

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