Writing for Search Engines

Apr 11, 2007 - 2:52 pm 6 by

This session covers search engine writing and keyword usage in the copy, presented by Heather Lloyd Martin and Jill Whalen.

Heather Lloyd Martin speaks first. She discusses her overview. First, she will use a case study about how SEO copywriting boosted profits of a company. Then, she discusses best practices, and finally, she will discuss how to overcome challenges.

Case study: AmsterdamEscape.com. She noticed: "Everytime I look for something in Amsterdam, you have something ranked!" How do you do that? It's a highly competitive marketplace.

At first, a "bad" SEO created duplicate content but were banned from Google. They then spent $4,000 on AdWords to keep visibility. This was a considerable amount of money for them.

They hired a short-term consultant who discovered the duplicate content. The consultant developer/SEO made great content and then filed for reinclusion.

They added value-added content pages. AmsterdamEscape is about apartments in Amsterdam, but they created other pages about what people like in Amsterdam - nightlife in Amsterdam, Amsterdam do's and don'ts. This keeps visitors at the site for a long time. They started ranking for Amsterdam nightlife, Amsterdam shopping, Amsterdam red light district, Amsterdam apartments, etc. Furthermore, there were other rankings for long-tail keywords too. This is success from a content perspective.

The result = the company cancelled AdWords and saved $48,000 a year. (Not every company should do this -- but for this company, this represented a huge amount of savings.) If you are spending on PPC and you have organic listings, this can definitely boost your visits.

Best practice rundown: Don't do the easy bake method for copywriting where you stick in key phrases and then hope that it is done. Every word you write is highly important to the tone and feel and conversion metric. So you don't want to sound spammy -- visitors who come to this site will see it as keyphrase stuffing. It is not content creation.

There are certain things to avoid or look for when writing content:

#5 - lack of keyphrase focus. You need to look at your page and see if your keyphrase is there in text, not graphics. If you're not positioning in the SERPs, make sure those key phrases exist on the page!

#4 - short, stubby copy. People who write for catalogs write in a certain way. But writing online content is different. You can control everything you say with content. Increase your usability with around 250 words per page (which is a sweet spot). There are ways to structure pages so that they are not scary. Example: 220 words with white space might be good - not hard to read. You can put a complete explanation of what you have to offer on several pages - longer copy is not a bad thing. Palm.com is a good example of a site that breaks it down into several pages.

You should have 2-3 keyphrases throughout your copy. The first paragraph is important for marketing to draw your users into the content.

How to structure the page? Main body text copy, tp to bottom. Headlines and subheadlines - benefit statement next to a keyphrase. Call to action links (hyperlinks) - especially important in internal linking structure. SEO copywriting makes your writing more specific. It does not destroy it.

#3 - content doesn't convert. People are hitting pages and leaving them. Should you edit this phrase for keyphrases? Probably not. At this point, if your page doesn't convert, rewrite it. You can't take something that isn't doing so well to dress it up.

#2 - you want clickable descriptions on the SERP. The cruel thing is that Google and other engines don't display our carefully written meta description. SERPs display a snippet of text around search query. There is a workaround - hint - putting benefit statements near your main keyphrases, especially your first instance. Your description will boost your benefits. The first opportunity for conversion is on the SERPs, so you should have a good description.

#1 - untantalizing titles. Titles, from a marketing prospective, are nothing but headlines. The better the title, the better you can boost your rankings. Titles can be really important. She says that she had a client whose title was revised alone and that ranked a previously unranked site to the top 10.

Example: Radar detector sale - save up to 60% -- that's exactly what the user wants, and it's on sale!

Titles should be unique to every page. Make it read like a compelling headline. Include keyphrases. DOn't necessarily target company name unless you are a big brand (because you already have trust). Each title should be 50-75 with spaces.

In SEO copywriting, it's okay to take baby steps in your organization. * For fast success, try editing pages that are not crucial for conversions and tweak the title to reflect keyphrase focus. Another tip is to try adding headlines and subheadlines to text (this can add keyphrases and hyperlinks). Adding a hyperlink to another related page can boost that page's ranking. * See if the web developer department can dynamically generate titles that can be tweaked later. * Hand-create titles as much as you possibly can on your most important conversion pages. This can be a gradual process. * Unless you are a big brand with a lot of links, chances are your copy will not position. Therefore, you should look for creating new content for your product to differentiate the content. This makes you more competitive. * Rewrite your main conversion pages first and figure out a gradual strategy, and then tweak the title accordingly for maximum power. * Don't be afraid to provide lots of information - and you shouldn't feel afraid of splitting this into different pages. The cool thing is: the more content, the more opportunities your site has to position for different keyphrases.

What content can you write? You can write article pages, FAQ pages, how-to pages, blogs. The richer that your site is, then you really do become an authority hub. Even e-commerce sites can be hybrid sites - you sell a product but you also have a lot of information in your site that is geared toward the target audience. People may not find you for the digital camera you are selling, but they will find you for the article that says "how to buy a digital camera."

Smart SEO copywriting closes the loop between the engines and your offer - the right approach is critical. You can do this for your own site and you can babystep it. Do a couple pages a month; the rankings will slowly build.

Jill Whalen of HighRankings.com speaks next. She will provide editing strategies and opportunities.

Remember that keywords are the key. Focus on what people are searching for. That is "guinea pig" SEO. Do keyword research. Optimize for real words that people are searching for.

Your homepage can have general phrases - what your business is about. On your inner pages, you should be specific. Every page should be written well because they are gateways to other pages on your site.

Keyword-rich content is crucial: 1/3 of SEO. Don't forget title tags, links, crawler-friendly design, etc. If you have been around for a long time and have built up links, this may help you and will stick. Newer content will just require you to focus on linking again.

Example: Cosmetic Dentistry page. It looks fine, but Google's cache shows nothing. You can view the text cache of the site to see what text Google sees.

Placing keyword phrases into copy: No text graphics, user comes first, descriptive, location is important in geotargeting, keyword phrases (not just keywords), and plurals, tenses, suffixes, etc.

Search Engines don't read graphics (as in the cosmetic dentistry page). You can use ALT tags. You should watch out when you use a WYSIWYG editor because sometimes the copy may not show in the final page. Flash is not readable by the engines. Comment tags are not helpful - they aren't hurtful but they do nothing for you. PDFs are indexable and are technically like graphics; search engines do convert them to HTML text. You can optimize PDFs.

Turn text images into real text and watch out for graphic headlines. Do stuff with CSS and other tactics that can be read by engines.

Users come first. Write content that makes sense to people. Don't sprinkle keyword phrases - temporarily this might help you but your users will wonder what "crazy drugs you're on" (the crowd laughs).

Add keyword phrases that make sense. E.g. replace "Frequently Asked Questions" with "Frequently Asked Questions about Gastric Bypass Surgery, Stomach Stapling, etc." This technique is "thinking like a reporter." Ask who? what? where? Ask questions as you're writing them and be descriptive.

The simplest trick is to be descriptive. Don't use terms like "Our team" or "Our service." Use something like "Our search marketing team" or "Our event planning service." Try, instead of "if you'd like to contact us, fill out this brief form online" -> "if you'd like to contact us for help with your next meeting planning, fill out our special event planning request form." Put two different phrases in one sentence - be creative and descriptive. Another example: "this small resort offers tone of the finest views in St. Lucia" can be turned into "this small Caribbean resort hotel offers ..." And another "with the industry changing and print providers offering..." to "with the print on-demand industry changing..."

Single words don't count. Turn them into phrases. Often times, a single words can be turned into longer keyword phrases. A quick trick is to go back to your one-word terms that are part of a longer phrase - turn these into longer phrase or phrases. You can optimize your page for more than 2-3 phrases. Sometimes 5-6 phrases is enough to help you rank for them too.

Keyword: Invest. Do keyword research - small cap investing, real estate investing, online investing, invest in stock. See where these longer phrases make sense to substitute into pages.

Keyword: Marketing. Do keyword research and see what fits better: Internet marketing strategy, marketing your business, opt-in email marketing, marketing program.

Keyword: Balloons. Keyword research: inflatable advertising balloons, outdoor advertising balloons, promotional balloons, promotional helium balloons.

Don't push these words in. Make sure they sound right in your copy. If it doesn't make sense to turn this word into a larger phrase, don't.

If you're local (e.g. doctor, dentist, lawyer), you want people to find you in the same geographical area. You need to make sure your website is clear about your location for lots of reasons. Search engines can categorize you based on your local phrases. Instead of "our office," say "Our NYC office," "New York City barber," "cosmetic dentist in Manhattan."

Before - fully customized packages. Discounts and coupons to more than 100 shops and attractions. After - fully customized New York City Travel packages. Discount and coupons to more than 100 shops and attractions in the Manhattan area.

You don't have to use the same phrase again and again. Use plural, past tenses, suffixes. Don't rely on search engines for "stemming." Search engines understand the plural but you should do it yourself. It avoids repetition.

People should see "art lesson" and "art lessons" - example - 1) take each art lession when you have time. 2) Personal critiques of your art lessons.

Words with multiple spellings. - Forklift or fork lift - work place safety vs. workplace safety - colocation vs. co-location vs. collocation - webcam vs. webcam Advice: Use all these forms to get all the traffic, but focus on these other spellings on different pages. It looks like a typo if it's "misspelled" in multiple spots on one page.

Bonus phrases: not as targeted but are descriptive, still relevant, and might be searched upon.

Example: "New York's finest dining establishments" changed to "New York City restaurants" - maybe these people are not looking to rank for NYC restaurants but they can add ads for NYC restaurants on their page!

She shows us a page called the epitome of no copy. Someone who looks at the website and won't know what it is. People who write for websites might think along the lines of a brochure, but this is not the case when people find a site from a search engine.

Good web writing matters! It can help bring extremely targeted visitors, and then converts them into customers. It's worth paying copywriters what they're asking.


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