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SEO Copywriting: Does 'Search Friendly' Mean 'Human Readable'?

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The aggressive drive to be the number-one search result in Google continues to change the nature of communication. No one is feeling that more than today's copywriters. In less than a decade, many copywriters have fundamentally changed, or felt pressured to change, their approach to the craft. They have learned that some traditional communications tactics don't register well with a greasy machine named Googlebot.

Here's a scenario that illustrates the painful growth curve experienced in many marketing departments.

Meet Paul, a top-notch copywriter with an advertising background who found his way to the marketing department of a 400-employee factory automation company. When the company's site was created in 1998, search relevance wasn't a factor. Paul wrote in whatever fashion suited the brand, often pasting copy from print materials onto Web pages with no regard for what actual terms customers might use to search for the company's services on the Web. No one found the material through search, but the few visitors that the site received were greeted with on-brand and generally well-written copy.

The years roll by. The site grows, becomes more Web-friendly, introduces some Flash animation highlighting product features, and has gained substantial recognition as a core part of the marketing communications arsenal.

Then one day a new online marketing manager is hired. He arrives armed with spreadsheets full of keyword research data. He explains to Paul that last month 735 people searched for factory automation software on Yahoo but didn't find the company's site (years ago Paul's manager decided that any Web site reference to automation software should be replaced with the Synentex Auto-3000 to build product recognition). His list of keywords includes dozens of other, more obscure phrases that Paul can't imagine including in a well-written paragraph.


Paul sticks to his guns, citing the importance of brand messaging and effective communication unbridled by statistical measures of relevance. So the marketing manager boldly takes a crack at it. The result: what was once a well-structured, compelling business argument now reads like a thesaurus entry full of awkward keyword phrases that do little to enhance the selling proposition. After hearing Paul's concerns, the marketing manager has a curt reply: "It will rank well on the search engines."

In this scenario, no one wins. It illustrates a common quandary: Do you sacrifice brand experience and copy quality in order to gain some traffic, or vice versa? Thankfully, there is a middle ground where you can produce good copy that is a pleasure to read (and prompts the desired response at a high rate) and also indexes well with the search engines. That middle ground is based on some simple SEO best practices, applied through the skills and talents of a good copywriter.

Here are some guidelines that may help:

  • Know the numbers: Though there will be many judgment calls regarding keyword phrases and the prominence of their use, in our search-driven online marketplace there are no good excuses for ignorance. It's critical to understand what search terms could help potential customers find your site, the frequency of those search phrases' use, and the number of competing sites that are part of the search results. A well-thought-out keyword-strategy is table stakes.

  • Strike a balance: There may be several attractive phrases to target for search engine optimization, but you'll get best results if you target one or two keyword phrases per page.

  • Link keywords into phrases: If factory automation and automation software are potential search phrases, you can combine these into a phrase factory automation software. Using this phrase with consistency will build relevance for both search phrases and help to reduce keyword clutter.

  • Direct your link text: If you have any control over the links that point to your site (through directory listings, channel partners, etc.), and with the internal links on your site, craft link text that integrates your chosen keywords. Search engines look at the words in the links pointing to your pages to determine the relevance of those pages. So instead of having others link to Synentex, have them link to Synentex Factory Automation Software. What does this have to do with copywriting? Well, if the relevancy of your page is driven by the link text of the pages pointing to it, you'll need to worry less about using those keywords on the body copy of the page, giving you more creative rein.

  • Link keywords with a colon: The page title and description, though not always read by human visitors, are a great place to use your keywords prominently. Use a colon to separate the company name and the main keyword. This ensures that your keyword has high prominence (closeness to the beginning of the text sentence), an important factor for search relevance. For example, as a title, use Synentex: Factory Automation Software and factory automation installation. For the description, try Factory Automation Software from Synentex, a provider of...

  • Choose few targets, aim well: Not every page of a site needs to be rigorously optimized. Have a clear understanding of where you can get the best benefit. For pages that are not likely to receive search traffic, you have more liberty to write the perfect copy that builds a great experience and sells the brand.

Finding a person who can deliver great copy is a challenge. But finding a good copywriter who can deliver great search-friendly copy is extremely rare. But with the right approach, you can bridge worlds to create compelling copy that gets found by those searching for your products or services.


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Dan Skeen is practice lead of Traffic Generation Solutions at Quarry Integrated Communications (www.quarry.com). His areas of expertise include social media optimization and search engine optimization. Reach Dan via 519-743-4300, ext. 2493, ordskeen@quarry.com.

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