SEO: Sexy and You Know It
Have you been trying to seduce Google into giving your Web pages a number one spot—but Google keeps spurning your advances?
There could be a good reason for that. You could be trying to "dress up" your content too much, and it's falling flat with the Big G.
Right now, many marketers share a common fear:
"I'm afraid to write new content for our site—what if Google doesn't like it?"
This sounds like a needy person who is desperately trying to get someone to notice them. Instead of being authentic, they change everything about themselves to "fit in."
Part of that difficulty comes from the need to seduce Google. Instead of authentically writing great content—content that grabs their readers and doesn't let go—they focus instead on giving Google what they "think" it wants.
Back in 2009, I wrote a post called, "SEO Copywriting Is Dead. Long Live SEO Content Marketing." During that time, a number of companies realized that low-quality content—and lots of it—would give them the search listings they wanted. The typical process was to identify keyphrases that may be relevant and hire an inexpensive (often offshore) writer to create gobs of articles for literally pennies.
Did this content convert or somehow contribute to sales goals? No. Was it written with a customer persona in mind? No.
In fact, much of this content didn't even read well. Keywords were repeated to the point of nonsense. Some of the sentences didn't make sense. A fifth-grade English teacher would have given it a big fat grade of "F."
It was solely created to get in Google's results-page pants.
Are You Sabotaging Your SEO Content?
It's true that spammy, keyphrase-stuffed content worked—for a while. (That's assuming your definition of "it worked" means it positioned in the top results.) Then, in 2011, an algorithmic update (code named: Panda) wiped "thin" content from the top spots. The first rollout of Panda affected 12 percent of U.S.-based sites (bit.ly/QsQUqG). Their rankings literally plummeted overnight—and so did their profits.
Panda and its algorithmic update cousin Penguin have caused international controversy and many doom and gloom discussions. Marketers have gotten caught in a learned helplessness loop.
Site owners can't figure out why Google doesn't like them. They don't know what they're doing wrong and they're frustrated.
But here's where some weird self-sabotage comes into play: At the same time as marketers are struggling with content creation, companies are devaluing it.
We know that content is crucial—according to a MarketingSherpa report, more than 92 percent of marketers believe that content creation is "somewhat" or "very effective" as an SEO technique. But it seems to be in the lowest position on the "what will we spend money on" totem pole. Certainly budget is always an issue, but it's telling when companies will spend six figures on a redesign, then hire an intern to write content. Or outsource to a freelancer, budgeting $10 for a Web page.
Is it any wonder why these companies aren't seeing the results they want? As an industry, we should be ashamed of ourselves for believing $10-a-page, outsourced content would somehow meet our marketing goals.
The conversation had pulled away from what we knew were solid copywriting fundamentals. Instead, we replaced "conversion" with: "What will my Google ranking be, and how much will I have to pay for this?" Instead of focusing on value, we focused on driving incoming links.
Struggling With Content? Go Back to the Basics
Do you want to seduce Google and your customers? Find your uniqueness. Give your readers the excellent content they want. Write content that will be shared, linked to and loved. Spend time (and money) on content creation and do it right. In short, just go back to what we know are proven copywriting techniques.
Or, as Ken Krogue says in a July 2012 Forbes blog post, "The Death of SEO: The Rise of Social, PR and Real Content":
"Invest in real, valuable, relevant content that your audience wants. Grow your internal thought leaders to where they can add value to your audience and positioning in the market. Follow internal SEO practices to make sure it is found and sees the light of day. Take the time to make it so compelling that people talk about it and share it."
Yes, yes, yes!
There's no magic "keyphrase density" bullet. In fact, even Google says that's a myth. There's no secret way to spin the content, no magical word count and no sneaky way to drive links.
The SEO copywriting rules, in fact, are pretty simple—and these ideas stood the test of time (even before Google was a search engine):
- Know your reader/customer persona, and use a "voice" that they'll engage with and appreciate;
- Provide useful information;
- Know how people are searching for what you have to offer;
- Create unique, clickable titles and meta descriptions;
- Understand how your customers search—and what keyphrases they use throughout the buy cycle;
- If you're writing to sell, use benefit statements throughout your copy; and
- Sprinkle keyphrases throughout your content, but never sacrifice your article's readability for keyphrase usage.
Are there some complexities—such as determining your keyphrase strategy, specific "power places" for keyphrase usage and how to develop a content strategy? Yes. It can take time for even experienced copywriters to learn how to "write for search and social."
But once you have it down, the results are fantastic. Check out 37signals, Brookstone or Whole Latte Love. These companies give their readers fantastic information that helps make their lives (and their buying decisions) easier. Yes, the content is "good for Google." But more importantly, it's great for readers.
And in the long run, isn't that more important?
Let's stop trying to "seduce" Google—and let's seduce our readers with great content instead.
It's about time.
Described as a fast-talking, fiery redhead, Heather Lloyd-Martin is a 20-year marketing veteran, a recognized author and considered the pioneer of SEO copywriting. Recognized worldwide as a first-generation search marketing expert, she has been training corporate in-house SEO copywriters and creating revenue-driving Web site content campaigns via her consultancy, SuccessWorks.