Roving Report: The Most Important Word an SEO Copywriter Can Know


About five years ago, a lot of companies, disillusioned with SEO, started relying on the firehose of paid traffic that Facebook could send them.

But things are changing on Facebook. Traffic is more expensive and privacy concerns are rampant. So what should companies do instead to attract traffic?

That’s the question Russ Henneberry answered when he met with Heather Robson and Wealthy Web Writer members. The video of Heather and Russ’s discussion is available HERE.

I’ve thought of myself as fairly SEO knowledgeable for a long time, but I plan to use Russ’s suggestions to improve my results. You can, too.

Russ Was Meant to Do This!

Russ comes from a family of teachers and school administrators, and he followed in the family footsteps.

After teaching high school for about four years, and loving it, Russ realized he wanted to earn more money. So he left his teaching role and started a fundraising company working with — no surprise — schools.

“It didn’t do well,” Russ admitted. But during that time, he built his first website and started experimenting with SEO (Search Engine Optimization). He started running PPC (Pay-Per-Click) ads when they were a relatively new thing, and fell in love with digital marketing.

“I’ve done all kinds of stuff,” he told us, “but this found me. It’s what I was meant to do.”

Russ loves his digital marketing career, and also loves teaching others how to use digital marketing.

A little background…

In the early days of search engines, before Google came along, SEO was all about gaming the system and finding loopholes to get your content noticed by Yahoo, Alta Vista, and the like.

With Google’s arrival, search became better, and PPC advertising came into being on platforms like Google and Facebook. SEO started to take a back seat as marketers drove traffic through PPC.

“It was a feeding frenzy, where money started pouring into Facebook, and they obtained more and more data,” Russ explained. “Facebook became the dominant player in PPC because it was cheap, and the interface was easy to use.”

“The amount of data they would sell to us, in terms of targeting, was incredible,” Russ continued.

Google is the same, but they’re a more mature platform than Facebook, and more expensive.

Today, ad inventory on Facebook and Google is at a premium. Big companies like Procter & Gamble are spending millions, and paid traffic is growing more expensive.

In addition to what Russ referred to as “click inflation,” there’s another factor at work today, and that’s the growing level of concern with internet privacy.

Europe and the State of California have passed stringent privacy laws, and lawmakers are starting to call Facebook and Google’s business models into question. Lawmakers are looking at ways to force them to dial back the amount of data they’re collecting on people, and looking at how they’re selling that data to people who want to buy traffic.

Companies are panicking, worried that between click inflation and the additional scrutiny, their traffic source might go away.

“In digital marketing, traffic is oxygen,” Russ told us. “You’ve got to have a way to get traffic.”

So now, companies are looking for ways to get traffic without paying for it.

Social media is one way to go, but the best is still ranking well in search.

According to Russ, “We’re seeing a renaissance of SEO, and it’s critical for companies to start shifting budget away from paid traffic and into SEO.”

That’s a shift that creates opportunities for web writers and “people who understand how to write in a way that gets traffic from Google,” Russ explained.

Heather noted it’s a good trend for content writers as well as SEO specialists.

Since Google’s algorithms have gotten smarter and more sophisticated, “that frees writers up to serve the reader,” Heather reminded us.

The #1 Thing SEO Writers Should Focus On

Russ described Google’s algorithm as “a programmatic representation of the way a human being interacts with content and the Web.”

“Back in the day when I started, we could manipulate the heck out of Google,” Russ explained.

Then, around 2008, he read a book titled Get Content, Get Customers by Joe Pulizzi. Pulizzi, who founded Content Marketing Institute, is considered the father of modern-day content marketing.

After reading the book, Russ rebranded himself as a content marketer with a specific interest in SEO. He understands that the quality of the content matters.

So does Google. Its algorithms no longer look for the kinds of elements that can be manipulated, like keyword density. Instead, “it’s become more like a human. You can’t trick it anymore,” Russ stated.

To understand Google, you need to understand that their income depends on selling advertising to earn more and grow their business.

“For you to click on their ads, you need to be using their service,” Russ pointed out, “and you’ll only use their service if you have a good experience when you search for something.”

The more often Google helps you find a good article, “not some crap that doesn’t deserve to rank because some SEO guy manipulated Google,” Russ elaborated, the more often you’ll come back and search again.

Google wants you to use their platform, and they want you to enjoy a stellar content experience when you do.

That’s why they work constantly to improve their algorithm.

The Most Important Word Is…

In SEO copywriting, the most important word is intent.

Russ explained that, “as a writer, as someone who wants to practice SEO, you want to determine the intent of your possible customer, lead, or donor. You want to anticipate what they might search for, and what is the intent behind it.

“Then build a superior piece of content that satisfies that intent.”

Four Types of Intent

When you think about intent, you’re thinking about the buyer’s journey.

Russ focuses on four types of search intent. They are:

  1. Research
  2. Compare
  3. Buy
  4. Succeed



For example, if someone Googles “do I need accounting software,” that signals a research intent. If you’re writing for a company that makes accounting software, you need to provide content to satisfy that intent.


If they go on to search for “accounting software reviews,” you’ve moved past research and into compare. As the writer, you’ll create content to satisfy that keyword. People with a compare intent are a step closer to pulling out their credit cards, Russ pointed out.

Then after, reading some reviews, the searcher finds two big solutions that look worthwhile, so they search for “QuickBooks vs. FreshBooks.” This still shows a compare intent, but with added branding, it indicates the prospect is farther along their buyer’s journey. If you write for one of these companies, you should prepare content that addresses direct comparison between your product and the other.

The next search drills down to something even more specific. “Can FreshBooks process credit cards?” The searcher is leaning towards FreshBooks, but wants to be sure it can handle specific needs and features.


When the searcher types in, “is there a FreshBooks free trial,” they’re at the buy intent phase.

Don’t stop at that point in the journey, though — you’re not done yet.


Think about the questions, concerns, or problems the buyer might have in using your product or service — you don’t want returns or cancellations. This is where you should think about content that answers common questions and reduces calls on support.

Figuring Out the Keywords

Russ pointed out that one of a marketer’s best qualities is empathy. “Ask yourself which of the four types of search intent do they go to type in at each stage,” he suggested. A good “succeed” article might be “How to add a credit card to FreshBooks.”

Think through what the prospect will do at each stage. You can even do this as a brainstorming session with your client, and charge for it, Russ pointed out.

Each of the keywords on the list you create “represents something you need to go write. The keywords are your job security,” Russ announced.

To come up with keywords, Russ uses a process he refers to as “seeds and modifiers.”


The seed is a keyword that signals buy intent. It’s usually short and difficult to rank for. Russ gave the example, “buy shoes.”


The seed “buy shoes,” is very broad. To make it more possible to rank on, add modifiers. These will reduce your audience, but more importantly, will drop the competition.

So, instead of “buy shoes,” maybe you’ll use “buy women’s shoes.” “Fewer people will type this in than just ‘buy shoes,’ but the intent is more clear,” Russ pointed out.

Then, add a branded modifier. “Buy Adidas Advantage Cloudfoam Shoes” is far less competitive, but with a high intent. A woman who wants to purchase these shoes has already done her research and comparison.

It’s also a long-tailed keyword, which Russ defines as a key phrase with more than three words in it.

There are more modifiers you can add — colors, or features like “wide” — will further narrow the competition while increasing the intent.

“The more detail that goes into the keyword, there’s lower volume, lower competition, and super high intent,” Russ explained.

Tie Intent Into Client’s Goals

To make your keywords perform even better, tie the buyer’s intent into your client’s goals.

Russ divided most business goals into the following categories:

  • Raising awareness
  • Establishing trust and authority
  • Increasing retention
  • Generating leads
  • Getting more sales

Certain web pages are good at addressing specific goals. The homepage and articles, podcasts, and videos, are best for raising awareness.

Looking to establish trust and authority? Use your About page, as well as articles, videos, and podcasts.

For increasing sales, use the product and pricing pages, and a comparison page in addition to the sales page.

To increase retention, use your Support and FAQ pages, and selected articles, podcasts, and videos.

“You could make a good living just by getting clients who need to increase retention and building nothing but FAQ and support pages for them,” Russ suggested.

When you’re in discussions with a client, if their goal is to reduce churn and cancellations, don’t suggest more blog articles. Instead, listen to their problems, then write content to meet the specific succeed intent they’re looking for.

Use those blog articles to raise awareness and drive a lot of traffic.

“You are very valuable in this space, especially once you realize that different pages satisfy different business goals and different intent for the searcher,” Russ reminded us.

“It will set you apart from every other SEO copywriter.”

“Understanding the concept of search is one more layer on top of the writing you already know how to do,” Russ pointed out. “If you’re already writing, this isn’t any different.”

While SEO doesn’t impact emails, “if you’re writing web pages, copy, or scripts, understanding SEO sets you apart, especially once you understand how search impacts business goals.

“On-page SEO is the easy part,” Russ continued. “The hard part is the artist part where you actually create something great. If you can do both, you’ll be a valuable commodity.”

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Susanna Perkins

Susanna was dragged back, kicking and screaming, into freelancing after losing her job in the banking meltdown in March, '09. One 3-month stint in an appalling temp job persuaded her to get serious about establishing herself as web writer. In March, 2012, she moved to a small town in Panama with her husband and three small dogs. After enjoying the writer's life in the culture of "buenas" and "mañana" for 2-1/2 years, she's returned to the US. At least for now.


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