The Differences Between Copywriting and SEO Writing

Dec 12, 2019 - Mary Kinder

Full disclosure – I’ve been writing marketing copy for a long time – a bit longer than I’d like to admit, actually. I started somewhere after typewriters, but before the Internet took over. So, my writing career certainly pre-dates SEO (Search Engine Optimization) writing. While I’ve been able to adapt and keep up with the ever-changing marketing world, there are differences between writing general copy and writing SEO copy – although both do share one very important trait – the writing still has to be good.

What is SEO?

The easiest explanation of SEO is that it’s any activity that helps a website rank higher in search engine results. Because most of us are lazy and only look at the first or maybe second page of a search, a higher ranking should result in more website traffic. The early days of SEO were kind of awful. The thinking at the time was just to string together keywords in almost any random order. Thankfully, the people who sort all of this stuff out (Google) realized that content should be relevant and interesting. So, the SEO of today is much more complex and requires good writing, too. So, what are the differences between copywriting and SEO writing?

SEO Writing vs. Copywriting

Desired Results

One of the biggest differences between copywriting and SEO writing has to do with results. While both should move the audience forward, what that looks like varies between the two. The goal of SEO writing is to increase online search ranking in order to get more traffic to a site. Copywriting is focused on turning that increased traffic into tangible sales. So SEO works a bit like a map, while the traditional copy is the pitch.


Another difference is the phrasing. Copywriting – at least good writing – focuses on being appealing in order to draw readers in. This can be done through humor, information, insight, etc. SEO writing, on the other hand, is trying to appeal to an unknown and constantly changing algorithm. So, the wording can get a bit clunky when trying to add in the necessary phrases. This is what drives some people a bit crazy about SEO writing. However, some writers do it better than others, so it doesn’t always have to be so obvious. Another difference is that SEO is usually more informative and may cover a range of topics. Traditional copywriting is usually written in the brand voice and tends to focus primarily on persuading readers to take a particular action.


What you’re writing determines whether you need a copywriter or SEO specialist. Of course, all print pieces and traditional broadcast ads should go to a copywriter. SEO writing is most often used to generate traffic to a site, so the website itself may have minimal SEO writing. However, longer formats such as blogs or information-heavy pages like product pages should use compelling and interesting SEO writing that both generates interest with readers and checks the right boxes for searches.

Target Audience

SEO writing most often targets people who are just beginning their search for a solution, product, etc. This is due to the timing of when potential customers encounter SEO copy, as compared to traditional copy, which is usually crafted toward a “warmer” audience who is further along in the purchasing journey.

Copywriting and SEO Work Together

Here’s the real secret about copywriting and SEO writing – the two go hand-in-hand. At the minimum, both styles must be interesting and well-written. If you think SEO is just adding certain phrases, you’ll quickly discover that strategy won’t help you increase traffic to your site. SEO also won’t provide instant results. To be effective, it must be part of a well-thought out overall marketing strategy that builds on itself step-by-step.

As an experienced copywriter, I’ve adapted my writing to work for SEO when necessary. However, I leave the heavy lifting to the experts. At Nichols, it means working in conjunction with other writers, content specialists and digital strategists. As a team, we can best determine the most effective path to increase online traffic for our clients and eventually, increase sales.

If you need help with your own copywriting and SEO, send me an email at or click the button below to get a conversation started.