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Writing Copy for Search Engines and People

January 15th, 2012 by
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Search is one of the most common and most important activities internet users engage in. It’s a precursor, in fact, to most of the other activities we engage in on the web, from shopping to self-medical-diagnosis. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has become one of the cornerstones of effective internet marketing.

If you’re reading this blog, I’m going to assume you already have at least some idea of what I’m talking about, so I’ll spare you a detailed explanation; if you need a primer, click over to seOverflow.

Copy is the most misunderstood element of SEO.

Copy is just one element of SEO, and it’s often the last element to be considered. And I think it’s the most misunderstood element as well, and usually the least effectively implemented. The source of the misunderstanding is that web marketers and writers lose sight of what they’re doing on the web in the first place, and are seduced by all the metrics and what-have-you. They end up focusing purely on making sure they’re meeting the needs of the search engines, so the copy ends up boring, awkward, or just an unnatural-sounding pileup of keywords and search terms.

So here’s the dirty little secret.

SEO copywriting is just like regular copywriting.

What? Then why do so many websites have such terrible SEO copy?

Well, first of all, copy is hard. Writing copy for the Web is even harder; and blending Search Engine Optimization (SEO) into the mix takes something that’s difficult in the first place, and adds a layer of apparent mystery that makes it seem pretty much impossible for you to do well.

How to get started writing SEO copy that works.

Keyword research
This post is about writing copy. We’ll assume you’ve already done keyword research, you know how to do it, or you’ve contracted with a vendor to do it, so I won’t delve into it any further here.

All good writing starts with audience awareness
Whether you’re talking about the great American novel, or the great brochure you picked up at the tanning salon yesterday, there is no possible way to overstate the importance of speaking to your audience. Marketing copy is no exception to this rule, and either is SEO copy. In the case of web copy, you have 2 meta-audiences – people and search engines. These audiences each have completely separate and unrelated needs and your job, as the SEO writer, is to meet them.

Always remember, you’re optimizing content for search engines, but creating it for people. So come up with great, compelling content for you human audience, just as you would when writing standard marketing copy. Then come back and edit (or optimize) it for the Search Engines. That way, you ensure that you’ll be fulfilling your ultimate goal – making sales.

Related but separate point – traffic doesn’t keep the lights on
Traffic is awesome. Traffic is necessary. The more visitors, the merrier. But if your prospects get to your site and the content isn’t any good: if it’s boring, incoherent, unpersuasive, or unprofessional, you’re not going to make the sales you need to pay for all this wonderful keyword research, the Pay Per Click campaign, and your Google ads.

What you’re really looking for is branded SEO messaging. That is, messaging and copy that fulfills the SEO requirements of keyword density and placement, while simultaneously reinforcing your core brand promises, and selling the benefits of your products and services.

Titles and headlines are key
Here’s a case where search engines and people are on the same page. You need to include your search terms in your headlines (h-tags). Your readers’ eyes will naturally gravitate to your headlines.

So make sure your headlines are selling the benefits persuasively, and include your search terms and you’ll be effectively serving both your masters.

Missing links
There are three types of links.

  1. External (your copy links out to someone else’s website). When you’re thinking about including an external link, consider whether or not the content at the target of that link is appropriate for your site. By linking to it, you’re endorsing it; you’re incorporating it by implication into your own site. Don’t link too much. Your copy will look all spammy.
  2. Internal (you link to another, related page on your website). If you’re writing a blog post about SEO copywriting, and SEO copywriting is one of your services, link to your SEO copywriting landing page.
  3. Backlinks (a link from someone else’s site back to yours). When you include an external link, take a few minutes to email the owner of the site you linked to. Lots of times they’ll return the favor. Otherwise, creating good, useful, persuasive content is the best way to get backlinks, and is another instance in which creating great content for humans is the best way to make the Search Engines happy as well.

Don’t duplicate content
Search engines ignore duplicate content, such as if you offer several shirts, the only difference being their size or color. Don’t just copy and paste the descriptions of each shirt, substituting the color or size. Seize this opportunity to create more unique, useful, keyword enriched content for Google or Bing to discover, index and rank.

Questions or Comments? Leave a reply, we would love to hear from you.

1 Comment on “Writing Copy for Search Engines and People

    Lipika Vig says:

    I find it so reassuring that am not the only girl out there over the
    age of 20 who doesn’t know any of this! Time to learn *about all of it*.


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