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Yes, SEO Can Ruin Content. Here’s How

Do you think keyphrase usage destroys well-written content?

Well, you’re right. Up to a point.

Way back in 2011, Lee Odden wrote “Content Strategy and the Dirty Lie About SEO.” At the end of the post, he posed the question – the question that’s been debated ever since “writing for search engines” started:

Do you think SEO ruins content?

My first reaction was, “Of course not. Good SEO writing is good writing — period.”

I still feel the same way.

But…the haters have a point.

Six years later, there’s still a bunch of SEO writing B.S. floating around:

  • Focus on one keyphrase per page, and repeat it at least X times.
  • Focus on X keyword density (why won’t keyword density die?)
  • Include a keyword every X words.
  • Exact-match your keyphrase at least X times in your copy.

Maybe you believe some of this B.S., too (it’s OK. This is a judgement-free zone.)

This B.S. is why some SEO copy is horrible.  Is it any wonder why some folks think SEO ruins everything?

So, here’s the real deal:

Yes, SEO can completely decimate content — if you’re doing it wrong.

Here’s how:

When the content is written/optimized by someone who has no idea what they’re doing

Most keyphrase-stuffed content I read comes from folks operating on incorrect information.

They do what their clients tell them (for instance, focus on one keyphrase per page) without knowing it’s wrong. These writers don’t know there’s a better way, so they keep doing the same (incorrect) things. Over and over and over.

The result is stuffed, stilted-sounding content that has no conversion flow. The page doesn’t position. The page doesn’t convert. It’s sad.

via GIPHY

Sadly, many writers think ALL SEO writing is poorly-written content. So, here’s a news flash:

Folks, if you ever think, “This post sounds bad. I had to work hard to add all those keyphrases,” you’re doing it wrong.

When the content is written “for Google,” without readers in mind

Raise your hand if you’ve been asked to write “1,000 words for Google.”

Yeah, me too.

SEO writing isn't "writing for Google"

Sadly, some folks believe that following a strict writing formula will help them magically position. These folks don’t care about the content’s readability. They only care about the keyphrase usage.

They may even come right out and say, “I don’t care if anyone reads this. I just want the page to position.”

Ouch.

This magical SEO copywriting formula may include things like:

  • Specific word counts because “all posts should be X words for Google.”
  • Exact matching a nonsensical long-tail keyphrase multiple times (for instance, [portland relocation real estate oregon].
  • Bolding or italicizing words that shouldn’t be bolded or italicized.
  • Repeating all keyphrases X times in the first paragraph.

If you find yourself following a weird writing formula that makes the content read like gibberish, know it’s not true SEO writing. What’s more, following a writing formula won’t help you position. The best bet is to learn the right way to do things and throw those useless old rules out the window.

Don’t believe me? Check out Google’s Quality Raters Guidelines and see how Google defines low-quality content.

When the Titles are filled with keyphrases, with no conversion focus

This is a pet peeve of mine.

Get rid of Title pipes

I’ve discussed before how overly-optimized Titles are an inefficient branding method. The search results page is your first conversion opportunity. A Title that’s chock-full of keyphrases isn’t as persuasive as one that’s benefit-rich:

Which listing would get YOUR click?

GEICO’s “you could save $500+” is a fantastic benefit statement, and blow’s Progressive’s keyword-focused Title out of the water. Esurance is a runner-up since they include the benefit “fast” — but the Title could still be better.

Need more “good” and “bad” Title examples? Here’s a great post from Search Engine Watch.

SEO doesn’t ruin content. It’s “stupid” SEO that messes things up

Smart SEO doesn’t ruin good content. It enhances it – making it easier to be found in search engines and shared via social media. If you’ve mastered the art of online writing for both engines and people, you have a very valuable skill set.

On the flip side, yes, stupid SEO will ruin content. And your conversions, too. As my father used to say, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” – and repeating a keyword incessantly will not suddenly transform the page into “quality content.”

It reminds me of what some folks say about sales copy being too “sales-y.” There’s a way to include a call-to-action that gently leads someone to the next action step. And there’s a (wrong) way to do it that beats them over the head with hyped language, bold and italics (Hmm. now that I think about it, what IS it about bolded and italicized text?).

What do you think? Is SEO the death of good writing?

Looking for a low-cost way to learn the SEO writing ropes. I’m running a 3-part webinar series! Check it out!

Beyond SEO: The Semantic Web & Knowledge Graph

knowledge-graph-by-the-seaAs the go-to expert for all things Google patents for some ten years now, Bill Slawski of SEO by the Sea and Go Fish Digital has made an art and science of predicting and explaining the deep water currents driving search engine results.

Lately, Bill has focused on the changes to search results brought on by Google’s “Knowledge Graph” and the Semantic Web.

You’ve likely come across these terms in your work as an SEO copywriter, but what do they mean, exactly? And why should you care?

In this interview, Bill offers a straightforward explanation of these latest forces impacting search results, and why you should have a handle on them.

What should an SEO copywriter understand about the Semantic Web (vs. Traditional SEO/Search)?

Google appears to have gone into a different mode when answering search queries, which illustrates one of the big differences between the worlds of SEO and the Semantic Web.

Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs) have traditionally been a list of links to resources found on the Web that respond to a specific query typed into its search box. Google finds these resources by crawling Web pages, indexing their contents, and then returning links to the user.

In doing so, Google creates snippets representing those pages, and provides these snippets as well as their corresponding URLs and page titles, in its SERPs.

A Semantic Web approach has Google crawling web pages on a search for entities (specific people, places and things), collecting information about those entities, and adding that data to a fact repository — now known as Google’s “Knowledge Graph.”

So how does the Knowledge Graph work in the Search Landscape?

The Knowledge Graph, or “knowledge panels,” is part of the search results interface that Google uses to share information about entities – again, these entities may be specific people, places and/or things.

As for “things” — it’s important to note that they may include ideas, brands, and products.

For example, when someone performs a search that includes an entity (as many searches do), a knowledge panel about that entity appears at the top of the search engine results page. This panel provides more information about that specific entity, and often includes other related topics that people usually search for when entering their initial query.

So, search results are no longer just lists of snippets pointing to pages that are ordered by information retrieval scores and PageRank. With its knowledge panels and the Semantic Web, Google has added a number of other ways to decide what it might show on its SERPs.

Given the significant changes in search results brought on by the Semantic Web and Google’s Knowledge Graph, what would you advise an SEO copywriter do? Should s/he cite entities for better SERP rankings?

If entities appear in your content — as they often do — see if you can make the mentions of them richer by fleshing them out. Remember that a named entity includes ideas, brands, and products.

Including more information about the entities within your content can help make it more interesting, more likely to be noted by others, and shared socially.

This can mean including information about related entities, as I previously referred to. Adding this relevant, related content could make your own rank well for a wider range of search queries.

What resources would you recommend for a deeper dive into the brave new world of the Semantic Web and Knowledge Graph?

I’ve been fortunate to have teamed up with Barbara Starr, who is a founder and co-organizer of the San Diego Semantic Web Meetup Group (she added me as a co-organizer.) Barbara has strong roots in the Semantic Web Technology community, and also likes to research Google’s patents.

On June 23rd, Barbara and I collaborated on a presentation for the San Diego Semantic Web group, titled Ranking in Google Since The Advent of The Knowledge Graph

I also highly recommend this recent (May 2015) Search Engine Land article from Barbara on changes to how Google handles search results via the Knowledge Graph: Structured Data and the SERPS: What Google’s Patents Tell us about Ranking in Universal Search.

In this post, Barbara describes how a Google patent titled Ranking search results based on entity metrics (https://www.google.com/patents/WO2014089776A1) might feature different knowledge panel content based upon metrics involving notability, relatedness (as in related to other entities mentioned), contribution, fame and prize.

So if you are creating content for pages and mentioning entities within that content, understanding more about these metrics can give you a sense of what might appear for entity-based content in search results, and perhaps give you some ideas of what to write about.

Going forward, what do you see happening with the Semantic web? Will it eclipse “traditional SEO”?

Many commercial businesses have been relying upon SEO on the Web to bring them traffic to their pages, and through their doors.  But searchers often want answers as quickly as they can get them, and Semantic Web approaches are geared towards sharing data as quickly as possible.

The search engines see searchers as their primary customers, but also rely upon business owners to advertise on their pages. This may mean that traditional SEO may have some life left in it.

Connect with Bill on Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn

Photo thanks: ©William Murphy | Flickr.com

 

 

 

How to write high-ranking copy for your one-page site

Welcome back! In this week’s Web-writing video tip, Heather addresses a question that she’s been asked repeatedly in the past week: “How can I write high-ranking copy for my one-page site?”

You may be wondering why you would even want a one-page site, thinking “wouldn’t I just want to build out more content to the site?” And in most cases, yes, you would. But some companies decide on a one-page site for various, specific reasons, which Heather explains.

Of course, the biggest challenge of having a one-page site in the post-Panda SEO world is being found and ranked well in the search engines. So tune in as Heather discusses how you can optimize your single-page site with four specific strategies…

Many companies have one-page sites

  • Direct response sales pages

You probably have seen a one-page site that is essentially a very long direct sales letter. The purpose of that page is to get you to buy something or to sign up for something – and the site itself is just that one page.

  • Lead generation pages

You may also have encountered a one-page site if you’ve searched for something like car or home insurance. These are often lead generation pages that have their own separate domain name/URL, and where the sole purpose of the site is to collect your contact information.

  • Home pages (and the rest of the content is behind a firewall)

This third scenario is one in which the site technically isn’t just one page. There may be hundreds or even thousands of additional pages on the site, but all the yummy, meaty content is behind a firewall.

With this type of site – where all the “goodies” are reserved for paying members – the only page visible to “non-members” and the search engines is the home page.

In this scenario, the only page the site owner has to work with for optimization is the home page.

So if you have a one-page site that suits your purposes, that’s cool…

But here’s the challenge…

  • The search engines reward resource sites…and one-page sites aren’t considered a resource.

Resource sites are larger (than one page) sites that go in-depth about a particular topic, and one-page sites don’t fit that description. They are not considered a resource – no matter what.

  • You can tweak the content until you’re blue in the face…but it won’t position.

For example, if you have a one-page site about “internet marketing” and you pit that site against all the thousands of other sites out there that have multiple pages dedicated to internet marketing, your site is not going to position – no matter what you do, and no matter how many times you tweak the content.

In order to position that one-page site, you will have to do more to it…

So what can you do?

  • Can you make the one-page site part of your main site?

What a lot of companies do when faced with this SEO dilemma is rather than having that one-page site as a separate domain, they incorporate that landing page into their main site.

This is a really easy workaround. This way, you’re not marketing two separate domains, and you’re not worried about two domains: everything is happening on your one main site.

  • Can you build out the site with informative, keyphrase-rich content? (This will take some time).

Now if you’d rather not go with option #1 (above) because you have an awesome domain name for your one-page site and you want to do more with it, you can just go the traditional route of building out more content.

That way, you’ll build relevancy for your single-page site, and you will see not only a search engine ranking boost, but also more people sharing your content – because there’s more content to share!

The flip side is that it’s going to take some investment of time as you’ll be writing a lot of content as you build out the site.

  • Can you make any of the password-protected content public?

If you have a membership-exclusive site, or a similar situation where the majority of the content is password-protected, then the best-case scenario is if you can pull some of that content out to your home page so it is accessible both to non-members and the search engines.

Granted, you’d still have the “meat” of the content behind a firewall, but you’ll have more content that the public can look at and the search engines can work with.

This is actually a great way to work with conversions off of membership site: non-members can get a little taste of what they’d get in the way of content if they were to sign up for member status, and that can encourage them to convert a bit faster.

  • If worse comes to worse…what other ways can you drive traffic to your one-page site?

Finally, if none of the above strategies appeal to you, and you want to keep that one-page site as it is, then consider other ways to drive traffic to it.

It should be clear that traditional SEO via organic search is not going to work for you – but certainly there are other ways you can drive traffic and get the targeted visitors you want landing on your site. Explore social media, and all the other options available to you!

Thanks for checking in to this week’s SEO copywriting how-to video! Do you have a burning question about SEO, Web writing, or content marketing? Fantastic! Zip an email on over to Heather via heather@seocopywriting.com, or tweet her @heatherlloyd. And be sure to tune in next week – we’ll see you then!

 

Do you have questions about SEO Copywriting Certification training? Writing services? Customized SEO copywriting training? Heather’s always available to help you out! Feel free to email her at heather@seocopywriting.com or tweet her @heatherlloyd.

 

photo thanks to Danard Vincente

 

 

Interview with Alan Bleiweiss, search marketing expert and king of rant

Today we’re honored to share our interview with Alan Bleiweiss, the outspoken search marketing industry leader widely known for his unabashed views (and rants). A recognized author, speaker, and character, Alan is now the Director of Search Services at Click2Rank Consulting based in Lacey, Washington.

So what led you to the involvement you’ve had over the years with SEO copywriting?

It’s the core principle of my path in the work world.  Each aspect of whatever job I’ve done over the years that fits ideally with my passions in life has now built on each previous aspect of previous jobs long enough that it led me to SEO Copywriting as a core area of expertise in my life.

I was writing content (newspaper articles, radio spots, how-to guides, statistical reports…) 30 years ago as head of Crime Prevention at two different bases in the Army, then again managing a real estate company in the early 90s (house ads, agent bios, newspaper articles, company instruction manuals…).

When I got into web work, in 95, building sites, then later managing their development for companies big and small, I found it was faster for me to write the first version of content than it was to wait around for clients to provide it.

So from early on in my work life, I’ve been honing my own marketing communication skills.  Especially when, months after a site would go live, it would inevitably still have my writing.  Sometimes that was due to clients “never getting around to it”, and just as often, they actually liked my content!

Then around late 2000, early 2001, when clients started asking for SEO and I dove in with both feet, it was natural to integrate that into my own content work.

You’ve described yourself as an “On-Site Forensic” SEO consultant. What does that involve?

When I first came up with that catch-phrase, I understood what it meant in my own mind, yet I hadn’t taken the time to put actual words to it.  So I’ve had a lot of time to sit with it and each time I’ve been asked, I’ve gotten clearer at describing it.

Forensic SEO is the process of looking all the way into the bone structure of a site (the body) – evaluating all of the components, the environment within which that exists (the competitive landscape), everything that goes into it, and even the relationship each has to the others.

It’s then understanding what’s working as it’s supposed to, and where there’s disease or unnatural patterns that shouldn’t be there.

You recently joined Click2Rank as the Director of Search Services: What are your greatest challenges there?  In what direction are you heading?

Having come from being a consultant to working in an agency that also has in-house client needs (for our parent company), and also having a team that reports to me has been challenging in many ways.

It literally calls on all my years of experience – not just in SEO, but in project and team management, business leadership, crisis management, finance and budgeting… So many things that come up on a day to day basis that I hadn’t ever had combined all in one package this way…

Just one example of the challenges I face is how much I appreciate, more than ever, the responsibility I hold in my hands when it comes to people’s lives.  My team are humans, with families, and kids, and emotional/psychological/spiritual needs.

That needs to be weighed against the needs of the business – the mission, the budgetary reality, the team cohesiveness, all the tasking and deliverables…

That’s dramatically different than when I just had a part-time assistant, and I could take on work or not whenever I pleased, come and go whenever I wanted, work from home as often as the wind changed, and spend the money that came in any way I felt like in the moment…

And we’re growing as well.  We can’t hire fast enough.  Which is a good thing, and yet a monumental challenge given our goals. So I’m excited about our future.

To be crystal clear, I feel like this new leg of my journey is the most rewarding I’ve ever known.  And as radically different as my life was just six months ago, I still wake up and routinely thank God and at the same time, can’t believe I get paid to do this stuff.  I truly am blessed…

Have you any Search Marketing Wisdom to share with SEO copywriters as to what they should be paying attention to?

Always remember that no matter what other signals search engines use to determine ranking or relevance, or topical focus confirmation, it always comes back to the content.

And always remember that no matter how well you’ve molded the sites’ SEO factors, if the content is not first and foremost written for the ideal site visitor(s) and their unique persona(s), you’re not following best practices.  And you’re doing yourself and the company behind the site a disservice if that’s going on.

So ask yourself – do I truly care about the site visitor and the site owner?  Or am I just trampling and disrespecting them so I can make a buck? Or worse, am I colluding with the site owner to take SEO shortcuts and thus justifying my trampling of search quality just because we only care about money?

If that’s your path, go for it.  Enjoy it.  Just have the courage and willingness to admit it.

Have you any advice for search and SEO folks, in general?

As much as it truly needs to always come back to and factor in the content and the site visitor persona(s), realize that you’ll always need outside confirmation that “this page, on this site, really is about this topic”.

Links from other pages on the site, how content is organized within the site, inbound links, social signals, whatever “it” is, the days of having less than ten sites related to any given topic are long gone.  So there’s got to be a way for ten otherwise identical sites or even ten pages within a site, to be sorted as most relevant.

That’s where search engines are continually looking for “outside signals”.  And those ways are always evolving because the web is always evolving as an information sharing medium.

So pay attention to those ways.  Because when you do, you can stay ahead of the search algorithm curve.

What’s your take on all the Google Panda changes?

I love them.  Not just because so many site owners have come to me to perform an SEO audit on their site that got hammered by Panda.  And not just because I’ve now helped a number of sites to rebound after performing those audits.

No – I love the Panda changes because myopic SEO is now in Google’s cross-hairs more significantly and more consistently than ever.

And Panda, as good as it was, clearly wasn’t perfect.  So Schema.org had to come out.  They (the search engines) had to finally admit, publicly, and loudly, that they suck at figuring out the mess that is the web on their own.  That they really do need our help, and that we shouldn’t leave it to them to figure it all out. Which some of us knew all along but which the search engines denied before this year.

And Schema is going to be the next iteration of on-site optimization.  Which means myopic SEO is going to become even more of a target.  That in turn will clean up the SEO cesspool even more.  And that tickles me pink.

About Alan Bleiweiss

Alan is a widely-recognized leader in search marketing and industry speaker at various SMX, Pubcon and Blueglass conferences when his schedule permits.  And earlier this year, he wrote the wildly popular “Site Owners Guide to SEO for Content Writing” which just this week became available in a Kindle edition…

If you want to have your ear filled with industry and business related rants, follow Alan on Twitter

 


Target your web copy with an ideal customer profile

Guest Author, Courtney Ramirez

There’s something at the center of every great web copy page. It’s not keyword selection or the call to action, although those are both important factors. It’s the customer. Understanding the customer is at the heart of good copywriting – but to make truly great SEO copywriting you need to go one step further and create an ideal client profile.

In an Ideal World, Who Are You Doing Business With?

When you create an ideal customer profile, you’re basically answering this question. Who do you want to do business with? The biggest mistake I see clients make is that they assume that everyone needs their product or service. This happens with everyone from solopreneurs to large corporations. No matter what your size, you need to narrow your scope and find an ideal client. Your ideal client is uniquely suited to what you have to offer.

Does this mean that you’ll turn away consulting clients who don’t fit your exact ideal or set up your shopping cart so only certain people can make a purchase? Of course not. When you focus on marketing to your ideal client you’ll naturally get business from people who are “nearly ideal.” Not everyone you attract will be carbon copies of one another.

Creating web copy pages with an ideal client profile in mind will make the process a lot easier, and a lot more effective. It will help you reach out to those ideal and nearly ideal clients in a more precise way.

With an Ideal Client Profile, You’ll Benefit From:

  • Easier keyword selection – You can tap into the exact words that your clients would use to describe your product or service. By getting into their head, you can find keyword phrases that represent their research phase, their decision making phase and their buying phase.
  • More targeted copy – Writing to an audience that includes everyone and your grandma can really muck up your copy. By focusing on just one person, you’ll know exactly what type of language to use.
  • Clearer calls to action– The more you know about your ideal client and what motivates them, the better your conversion rates will be.

Now that you know about the gloriousness that can come from an ideal client profile, it’s time to piece one together.

Building Your Ideal Client Profile – A Few Rules

  • Your ideal client is not your target market. Your ideal client is part of your target market but they are different. Think of it this way – your target market is your vineyard and your ideal client is that one perfect bunch of grapes that is perfectly ripe. Your vineyard includes lots of perfectly fine bunches, but you want to pick the perfect one.
  • The more specific, the better. Don’t be afraid to get really specific with your ideal client profile. Many businesses resist this type of narrowcasting because they believe that it will put a cap on their profits. Not so! If you know your audience well, you’ll be converting your ideal clients and nearly ideal clients at a better rate than casting a wide net and trying to market to everyone.

Building Your Ideal Client Profile – 3 Steps

Step One – Demographics

The demographic characteristics of your ideal client will detail their age, income, location and other quantifiable factors.

For example, an inner wealth coach focuses on working with high income women in Los Angeles, between the ages of 35 and 65, who have more than $2 million in net worth. This demographic information is an important starting point because already we can tell that the copy will be geared toward a female reader and keywords should include location.

Step Two – Psychographics

Demographics were the tried and true way to research a target market but due in part to the Internet, they are not enough to zero in on an ideal client. Online demographic groups can mingle to create new groups based on motivations, interests and feelings. Psychographic information helps you zero in on the intangible similarities between the members of your target market. With it, you can get a clearer picture of your ideal client.

The same inner wealth coach has psychographic quantifiers for her ideal client. She mainly works with women from that demographic group who feel trapped in wealth and aren’t sure how to cope with the feelings of being extremely privileged. They are looking for something more than just a weekly shopping spree on Rodeo Drive. They want to find their purpose and use their wealth to create good in the world. These psychographic elements will affect how the copy will position this particular coach’s services and will create the tone for the web content pages.

Step Three – Fleshing Out the Persona

Finally, it’s time to put your creative writing cap on and flesh out your ideal client profile into a persona. Look over the demographic and psychographic characteristics and create a person to fit those details. Give the person a name. Tell their back story. Get really specific and you’ll be able to understand how to reach your audience better.

For example, Stacia is a 42-year-old woman who lives in Beverly Hills. She has been married for 18 years and has a 15 year old daughter and 12 year old son. She is married to Greg, who is the CEO of a major entertainment company. She believes that she can do more with her money. She worries about raising her children in affluence and making sure they come out with good values intact. She likes bargain shopping but doesn’t know if it’s “okay” for her to shop at Costco. She has several causes that she is interested in supporting but doesn’t know how to start supporting them in a real and lasting way beyond making financial donations.

Find a picture on Flickr to match your ideal client profile so you know who you’re writing for. Get as detailed as possible with your ideal client, especially with large websites where you’ll need a lot of copy. By taking the time to create a profile you’ll find your SEO copywriting will be much more effective and easier to write.

About Courtney Ramirez:

Courtney Ramirez is a certified SEO copywriter and content marketing consultant. As a student of search engine marketing, web usability and social media, she’s been able to craft a writing style that is both inviting to readers and ranking factors. After dabbling in print journalism, she’s written exclusively online since 2005 and manages a small team of excellent writers at Six Degrees Content. She and the team work with solopreneurs who are overwhelmed by content marketing, small businesses who need a website booster shot and marketing companies who want to offer content without the hassles of hiring writers and managing projects in house.

Courtney prides herself on excellent customer service and is semi-addicted to the Sims 3. When she’s not typing away at the keyboard, she is spending time with her husband, an author, and two daughters.

 

The Trouble with “SEO Copywriting”

Guest Author, Eric Enge

The trouble with the term “SEO Copywriting” is that so many people misinterpret what it means.  A large number of people associate the term SEO with a mindset that involves manipulation and trickery, and they bring this faulty mindset to copywriting as well.  Worse still is that many believe that this manipulative behavior is a victimless crime – after all we are only tricking big corporate America (Google and Microsoft) into giving us search traffic they would not otherwise intend to give us.

But there are in fact real victims.  People who come to search engines and click on links to sites that have managed to rank well in spite of poorly written copy are victims. And, in the long run, the publishers who fall into this trap are victims as well.  Even if their bad content helps them rank in the short term there is no long-term future for their business. Visitors to their site see no value, and eventually the search engine algorithms catch up to them and take their traffic away.  When this happens they are left with nothing and have to start over again.

So what are the most common problems that come up when you have the wrong mindset? Here are the two biggest ones:

1. Content written mostly for search engines The search engine must never be the primary target of your article. This is a slippery path on a mine-filled hillside.  With search engine algorithm changes like Panda, the search engines are getting better at measuring content quality and user engagement.  I would argue that the strength of your brand is also a ranking factor today. Bad content hurts a brand while quality content helps build it.

In addition, no writer can serve two masters equally well.  The target audience for your writing must come first.  Write something outstanding that reflects well on your brand.  Something that helps convert visitors into customers.  Something that you can be proud of. This is the content that the search engines want to find and deliver traffic to.

2. Content over-filled with keywords Once writers learn that keywords are important for search engines there is the danger that they lose focus on the user.  Consider the following example:

“Looking for left handed golf clubs? You have come to the right place. Our left handed golf clubs help you take your game up a notch. Left handed golf clubs you will find on this site are made by Ping, Callaway, and TaylorMade. Who else would you want to buy left handed golf clubs from?”

Don’t you almost feel soiled reading it?  Clearly it is completely unnatural looking and it just does not seem well written.  As a user this type of writing is a complete turnoff. Can you imagine talking to someone at a party that kept repeating the main point they are trying to make in a conversation in every sentence like this?

There are two major problems with this sample text.  One is the excessive use of the main keyword.  The other is the complete lack of use of any synonyms.  While we don’t actually know what factors are used in Google’s Panda algorithm today, both keyword stuffing and a lack of synonyms could easily be signals that indicate poor quality content.

Consider instead using variants of the phrase, such as “left handed golf club.” “clubs” or “club.” In addition, focus instead on pitching your value proposition, such as we see in this sample text:

“We offer left handed golf clubs from Ping, Callaway, and TaylorMade. Our clubs are backed by the strongest support team in the industry. If you have any concerns with the club you purchase just return it and we will refund the full price, no questions asked.”

In this version the copy focuses more on the key selling point of superior service, not on keyword stuffing.  You also see other variants of the key phrase being used in a way that closely approximates the way that people normally communicate.  Much better!

Summary

SEO Copywriting is dead. Long live SEO Copywriting! Master the art of producing content for users.  Content which is designed for readability, and that quickly gets to the key benefit the user might be looking for when they come to your site.  Move the reader towards your ultimate goal.

And finally, create copy that is SEO aware (because it is presented in search engine crawler visible text) and that uses terminology that keyword research tools tell you are used by prospects that are searching for products like yours. Not keyword stuffed, but selected to match up with the topics of interests of your prospective customers.

Eric Enge is the President of Stone Temple Consulting, a 20+ person Internet marketing consulting firm with offices in Boston and Northern California. A self-described “crusty old veteran” with 30 years working experience in technology and the Internet, Eric writes for Search Engine Land’s Industrial Strength Column, and is a contributing expert to the Search Engine Watch SEO Column.

Eric is the author of the SEOmoz Link-Building Pro Guide, and co-author of The Art of SEO, published by O’Reilly Media.

 

 

 

 

 

Is your SEO copywriting any good? 3 tell-tale tests

Welcome back!  Today’s video SEO copywriting tip concerns how to tell if your Web SEO copywriting is any good.

Whether you hired an SEO copywriter or are doing it yourself, you may not be sure how to gauge the quality and effectiveness of your SEO copy.  Join Heather as she outlines three tests to tell if your SEO copywriting is any good, focusing on what you need to watch out for:

Test #1:  Does the writing work?

This is the easiest test of all:  read the copy and ask yourself if you like it.  Does it work for you?

What you should watch out for:

  • “Fluffy” Copy  Meaning, what could be conveyed in 250 words is dragged out with no apparent purpose or reader benefit to 500 words.  Often this is the result of the SEO copywriter being told that s/he needs to reach a certain wordcount. As Heather has discussed in previous posts, this is a persistent SEO myth.
  • Boring Copy  Self-explanatory.  Either you wrote it when you were brain-dead tired, or you’ve hired an SEO copywriter who hasn’t grasped the tone, feel, and voice of your site.
  • Bad Copy  Again, self-explanatory.  If the copy reads like someone wrote it in five minutes, then they probably did. While Google Panda has eliminated a lot of poor content, you can still find copy riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, and/or that seems to make no sense.

Test #2:  How’s the keyphrase usage?

Look at the use of keyphrases in the Web copy and start drilling down from the SEO perspective.

Here’s what to watch for:

  • Too many keyphrases  As with SEO copy wordcount myths, keyphrase density remains a tenacious hangover from pre-Google days. The notion is that you have to a certain percentage of keywords, or keyword density, in the copy.  And again, this is counter-productive nonsense as Heather has addressed before with her video post on over-optimization.
  • Too few keyphrases  On the other side of the spectrum is the overly-cautious SEO copywriter who fails to include enough keyphrases in the copy for fear of keyword stuffing.  For instance, s/he may have only incorporated the keyphrase in the page Title and called it good.  This is something else you’ll want to evaluate.
  • Are the keyphrases appropriate?  This can be a more difficult thing to judge if you’ve outsourced your SEO copywriting and the writer has chosen the keyphrases for you.  Just know that if you’re in a highly competitive market and are targeting general (= highly competitive) keyphrases, such as  “digital camera,” that it’s going to be that much more difficult to position for those keyphrases.

Look to make sure that the keyphrases targeted aren’t too general.  You want keyphrases that are specific to the page you’re optimizing for.

And, if you do have questions, be sure to ask your SEO copywriter how they selected the keyphrases they’re using, and why they decided upon those particular keyphrases.  Hear what s/he has to say.

Test #3:  Conversion Power

At the end of the day, we all want our sites to do something for us – be it blog comments, subscription sign-ups, direct purchase, or contact.

What to watch for:

  • Reviewing a sales page?  Be sure the benefits to your prospect are front and center, and that you’ve included a clear call to action.
  • Reviewing a blog post?  Check to see if the post is engaging and optimized with a keyphrase-rich Title.
  • Reviewing a FAQ or article page?  Does the FAQ page or article link to other areas of the site?  Are there any “dead end” pages that fail to help the prospect take action?  The point of all your SEO copywriting efforts is to get your readers to move around your site.

Thanks for tuning in!  Do you have a question for Heather?  Fantastic!  Shoot it on over to askheather@seocopywriting.com and you well may be answered via next Monday’s video post. See you then!

 

 

 

3 signs that your SEO copy is over-optimized

Greetings!  Today’s SEO Copywriting video tip addresses the three telling signs that your web SEO copy may be over-optimized.  Yes, there is such a thing, and it happens when you’ve geared the copy so heavily towards the search engines that you’ve forgotten about the user experience.

Join Heather as she discusses the three telltale signs that your web content is over-optimized, and the three ways to fix the problem:

1) Too Many Keyphrases on the Page

  • Pages like the one shown are easy to spot: it is pretty obvious that the keyphrases are New York City and gift baskets.  But for the folks who are trying to read the page, and determine whether or not they want to work with this company, it’s flat-out bad copy:
  • User experience = bad. Too much emphasis on SEO: There’s nothing in the copy for the reader, and there’s nothing that speaks to benefits. Plus, the copy is so hard to wade through that anyone reading the page would be tempted to bounce out and find another site.

In trying to achieve ranking, the writer has created a user experience that is so bad that it’s actually hurting conversions.

  • The fix?  Reduce keyphrases: You have to pare down the keyphrases in the copy.  In some cases, this might mean that you have to re-write the page altogether.  But when you do that, and bring focus to what you’re doing, you’re going to see a huge jump in sales.

2) Too Many Hyperlinks on the Page

Sometimes copywriters pepper the page with hyperlinks for the perceived SEO benefits, thinking all those hyperlinked keyphrases will automatically get the page top ranking.  Others overdo it with the hyperlinks because they want to give their readers lots of choices, so they end up giving them all the choices and assume the reader will pick one.

  • Again, the user experience = bad.  Too many choices cause overwhelm.  Plus – what’s in it for the customer?

From the search engine perspective, hyperlinking users all over the place is not going to help you in your SEO ambitions – it’s not going to help you increase your rankings. From the users’ perspective, they are overwhelmed with too many choices and they find it difficult to make a decision.

  • The fix?  Focus on your conversion funnel

What you want to do in this case is to think about what’s in it for the prospect — the customer benefits – and then focus your copy around that.  On a landing page, narrow down the decisions facing the reader and hone it to a few educated choices.

In removing the “overwhelm” factor for readers, you’ll see a higher conversion rate as you help move the prospect along the conversion funnel:  you’ll achieve an increase in ROI.

3) “Fluffy” SEO Copy

  • The content is longer than it needs to be, so it loses conversion flow
  • Local pages and e-commerce product pages are typically the worst offenders

“Fluffy” SEO copy is often a result of the writer or site editor being instructed to conjure 500 words for a web page in order for it to be recognized by the search engines.  This 500-word rule has never been true – it’s a tenacious misconception.  So the writer ends up trying to say something in 500 words that may ideally need only 250 words.

The result is that the content is not only too long, but that it really isn’t written for the readers.  Instead, it’s stuffed with fluff to meet a mythical search engine wordcount.

  • The fix?  Write great sales copy and weave in the SEO elements.  Not the other way around.

This requires a change in thinking.  Approaching your web page copy this way, you’ll have really good, tight, benefits-oriented copy that will not only help folks to take action, but you’ll have what you need for the search engines too.

Thanks for joining us for this week’s SEO copywriting video tip!

Do you have an SEO copywriting or content marketing question for Heather?  Fabulous!  Zip it on over to her at askheather@seocopywriting.com, and you may well see it answered via next week’s video!   See you then.

 

 

 

 

5 ways to use analytics to find content marketing opportunities

Guest Author, George Passwater

Eggheads.

Geeks.

Socially challenged.

These are the stereotypes that come to mind when mentioning statistics or those who love digging through analytics. I may get the strange look from the occasional stranger, (maybe it’s my rugged good looks?), but I’m far from being the poster child for the Revenge of the Nerds movies.

With so many ways to find ideas for effective content marketing, we often forget to check the hard data. Sure, we look at it to see how many visitors we get or how many widgets we sell, but many overlook the goldmine of content ideas laying in analytics.

With such a limitless source of information, it’s hard to condense it all in one space, but I am going to give you 5 of the top areas to consider when looking for content marketing ideas through your analytics.

5 Ways Analytics Gives You Content Marketing Opportunities

1. Keywords

If you’re looking to generate more visibility and top ranking searchable content, the keywords section of your analytics is one of the first places to look. Here, you analyze what’s working and what isn’t, while finding other opportunities you may not see in your current SEO efforts.

For instance, finding out your site ranks high for the term “writing for tribbles” may excite or confuse you. I personally like a good tribble post, but to each their own.

To find out what keyword phrases people use to get to your site and how they can help you with creating content, consider:

  • What keyword phrases attract the most traffic to your site? Does content surrounding those keywords bring in more traffic to your site? I smell a topic to focus on here.
  • Do you have high conversion rates of pages with high-ranking keyword phrases? There’s opportunity for products, services or more content in them search results.
  • Do a search on keyword phrases that show consistent traffic in your analytics, but add “how to” or “how do I” in front of them. Do you see even more opportunities here?

2. Top Content

Now, not everyone will hit a home run on every piece of content they produce, but it’s better to have a winning percentage than the alternative.  To key in on the winning content from your site, look at the top content area in your analytics and ask yourself these questions:

  • How long does a reader stay on a page in this category?
  • Does a reader bounce from this page or click-through to additional content in the site?
  • What elements are common with the top content? Headline? Subheads? Formatting? Keyword phrase rich titles? Photos or video? Links from or to other sites?

3. Bounce Rate

In web analytics, bounce rate is the percentage of site readers who enter your site on a particular page and leave without clicking through to other site pages. In other words, it’s a very important statistic to look at when you’re analyzing your site for content marketing opportunities.

When you look at which pages have lower or higher bounce rates, consider some factors to pull out for creating new content:

  • Where did they come from? (No, not on a intergalactic sense, but what site did they come from?) Was it a search engine? What did they search for?
  • How long did they stay on your page before they bounced out?
  • Is the bounce rate higher or lower for new vs. returning site visitors?
  • What pages have lower or higher bounce rate? What type of content or keyword phrases did you optimize those pages for?

Just remember this: higher bounce rates are usually considered bad. This isn’t always the case; it just depends on the type of content or purpose of that page. If you have a high rate on a squeeze page with no conversions, then, yes, you need to go back and see what’s causing that behavior.

4. Referrers

Now, if you’re doing a good job at promoting your content, not only will you get high positioning in search and social, but others will link and talk about you on their own sites.

No, I’m not talking about your cousin’s extreme shopping cart demolition video extravaganza site or your Dad’s bass fishing blog – I’m talking about those sites who are relevant to your content.

For optimal results and if you were in, say the content marketing arena, you would want top sites referring traffic to you like highly respected sites, like seocopywriting.com.

So, when you’re looking at your analytics, look at what referrers send you traffic and how you can use those stats to create your own content.

  • What’s the focus of that site? Is it relevant to your site?
  • What specific information did the referring URL cover? Was it optimized for specific keyword phrases? What was its ranking on that keyword phrase?
  • Was the referrer a blog? Did that page have lots of comments? Did they answer the comments? Look at some ideas in the comments.
  • Did the referrer have a hook to it? Great headline, video or some sort of interactive element?

5. Email

Do you have an email newsletter? Do you create email content to a targeted list? If you do, there are valuable statistics in your email marketing.

Now, I have my own email marketing campaigns and I find loads of valuable information in how my readers interact with those messages. Although my Sponge Bob for president fan club email list (it’s really for my kids, not me!) may have different behaviors, look closely at:

  • Look at open rates – how many people opened your email? What was the topic? How about the subject line? Did you link to your site or keep them just in email?
  • Who opened your email? Are they consistently opening every message you send? What elements get them to open your emails? This is an opportunity for possible list for different content for different members of your lists.
  • What’s your click-through rate from email messages? Do they bounce from that click-through page or go deeper into your site? What was the common element?

Content Through Analytics

When you’re looking for ideas to create some kick butt content, statistics and combing through data isn’t boring – it helps you create opportunities

If you identify each opportunity to create new or enhance existing content, you will have a limitless amount of inspiration for your content marketing efforts.

George Passwater enjoys helping businesses succeed with online marketing strategies. You can find him blogging at georgepasswater.com or sending out online marketing tips in his marketing email newsletter.

 

How many words should be on your home page? A closer look

Greetings! Ready to get your learn on? Great, because today’s SEO copywriting video post delves into the question:  How many words should be on my homepage?

Heather’s SEO copywriting tip actually piggybacks on a recent (Google) Matt Cutts’ (“that’s a good question”) video addressing whether you should have more or less content on your homepage.  In his 57-second response, Matt doesn’t really cut it with his abbreviated answer. So here, Heather follows up on the question with the specifics on optimal homepage word count, discussing why you should move beyond counting words to how you can achieve reader engagement, conversions and page rank with a killer home page.

What Matt Cutts from Google Says:

  • The original question posed to Matt Cutts was: “Should I have more or less content on my home page? There’s certainly a difference of opinion here.”  His answer?
  • “If you have more content on your home page, there’s more text for Googlebot to find.” You can view the very brief video at http://youtu.be/4rsOpkDFDtc

So What is the “Correct” Word Count for Your Home Page?

Yes, there are a lot of different opinions on this subject, and that’s precisely why so many people are confused about what to do with their home page.  On one side of the coin, they want to have an exceptional home page that makes it easy for prospects to take action.  On the other, they want to have a home page that positions well in the search engines.

As usual, there is no definitive “right” answer.  The “correct word count” for your home page depends on a number of factors.  Yes, you do want a respectable word count, but you don’t want to bloat your home page with fluff just to make it with the search engines. So let’s look at this more closely…

Looking Beyond the Home Page Word Count: Factors that Matter Most

You want to think about your home page from your prospects’ perspective.  What benefits and message do THEY need to read?

  • Landing on your home page, your prospects may or may not know your company.  Focus on what you need to say on your home page that will engage your readers and keep them on your site.

What are you doing on your home page to make it easy for your readers to take action?

  • You certainly don’t want to see your visitors land on your home page and immediately bounce off of it.  Your goal is to get your readers to go deeper into your site to learn more about how you can help them with the products/services you provide.
  • If you have a blog, you want your visitors to be able to read more of it, not just stop where you blog ends off on your home page.

How is your home page positioning?  How is it faring with conversions?

  • Analytics!!  Check them.  If your analytics show a high bounce rate from your home page, and that your visitors are not going to your site’s inner pages, then this presents a huge opportunity for your to revise your home page and make it easier for your prospects to do what you want them to do.
  • If your analytics are indicating that things just aren’t “clicking” in terms of conversions, time spent on you home page, or positions, you need to make some changes.

Is your existing home page content written for readers – or is it just serving the search engines? There’s a big difference.

  • We’ve all seen many sites where the top part is all pretty pictures and slick graphics, with maybe a few words.  Then beneath the fold, there are about 500 words comprised mostly of hyperlinks to serve the search engines. It’s not like anyone’s actually going to read that hyperlinked content, and often those 500 words are not even well written.
  • If that’s the way you’re writing your home page, the good news is that you can have the best of both worlds:  a good amount of quality content on your site that is targeted to your readers and still serves to get those search engine positions.

You can have it all with great home page content and search engine appeal.

  • A great example of serving both your readers and the search engines with your home page content is the site 37 Signals. These folks do it right. You’ll find that on the top part of the screen, 37 Signals funnels users into the different types of products they offer.  (They follow up with a lot of copy on their site geared towards these distinct users).  Then below that, they’ve fantastic content written for all users, with social proof, etc.
  • You can have the best of both worlds on your home page: quality content targeted to your readers and still achieving good search engine positions, if you make sure that the ranking-oriented copy is good, solid value-added content.  It won’t work for anyone if it’s simply “fluff” for the search engines.

Thanks for tuning in to this week’s SEO Copywriting how-to video!  Do you have a burning SEO copywriting or content marketing question for Heather?  We’d love it if you send it on over to askheather@seocopywriting.com. Have a great week!  We’ll see you next Monday.