It’s ironic: Search engine optimization/search engine marketing consultants are springing up all over the place, like dandelions in spring. Yet none of them seem to agree much on the best practices, methods and standards for optimizing Web sites.
As a result, I’ve found that the worst thing about optimizing my Web site for search engines, which I am doing now, is the often conflicting and even contradictory advice I get from the various SEO specialists I hire or talk with.
Go With Your Gut
One SEO consultant looked at the Web site for my freelance copywriting business, bly.com, and gave me very specific guidelines for writing a page about my freelance copywriting services, optimized for the keyword phrase “freelance copywriter.”
Specifically, his instructions were, “Freelance copywriter” should be:
- the first words on the page.
- included near the beginning of the first sentence.
- located near the end of the second paragraph.
- in a subhead between the second and third paragraph.
- located near the end of the third paragraph.
- in a subhead between the third and fourth paragraph.
- in the fourth paragraph.
- in the first sentence and at the end of the last sentence of the last paragraph.
The SEO consultant told me that following these specifications would result in a homepage search engines would like. But as a copywriter, I easily could see that any copy written to fully conform to these rigid guidelines would sound incredibly stilted and awkward, making me look incompetent. So I asked a few of my colleagues whether the above guidelines are in fact right or as nutty as I believed them to be.
“My advice is always to write for people, not search engines,” says copywriter Dianna Huff. “Yes, it’s good to place the correct keywords in the body copy, and yes, it’s correct to place your most important keyword at the beginning of the title tag and in the headline of the page.
“However, you don’t have to do this to achieve high rankings. And you certainly should not do it if your copy ends up sounding spammy. If you want a site to rank well, you do have to optimize it, but not at the expense of the marketing objectives. Copy should be written for people, not search engines.”
“Over the years, the tactic I found that works best is to have the most targeted keywords towards the top of the page and work your way down, like a reverse pyramid,” says Internet marketing consultant Wendy Montes de Oca. “The entire page should be keyword-dense, and there can be some repetition, but from my understanding of search engine spiders, they like more organic content. So, what I found that works is to make a list of the top 10-15 keywords and use that naturally, organically and reader-friendly in the content. And, of course, use your top five keywords in the alt, meta and title tags. For instance, if there’s a picture of Bob, don’t just have ‘Bob Bly’—have ‘Bob Bly, freelance copywriter.’”
Do you want to write Web pages that sparkle with style, persuade your prospects and please search engine spiders all at the same time? Here’s a simple four-step SEO copywriting process that has worked for me:
1. Keyword research. Come up with a list of keywords and phrases for which you want to optimize the page you are writing. These should be the keywords and phrases people use when searching for your product or service on the Internet.
You can brainstorm what these words might be, then use any number of online tools to find which ones are the most popular. Two tools I use are www.wordtracker.com and www.spacky.com. For detailed instructions on how to conduct keyword research and discovery, visit www.thekeywordmoneymachine.com.
2. Write the best copy you can. Don’t even think about keywords as you write. Concentrate 100 percent on sounding like one human being talking to another about a subject he is enthusiastic about and wants to share.
3. Insert keywords from your list. Do this wherever and as frequently as you can, without disturbing the style, tone, meaning and persuasiveness of the copy. If forcing a keyword disrupts the flow of the copy, don’t do it.
For instance, on bly.com, one line of the original homepage copy read: “Call on freelance copywriter and Internet marketing strategist Bob Bly.” I like the sound of strategist. But keyword research showed that people search for Internet marketing consultants, not strategists. So I changed the copy to read “Internet marketing consultant.”
4. Write keyword-rich meta tags for each Web page. The most important meta tags are the title and description tags. The title tag is what your visitors see at the top of their browser windows when they visit your site, as well as what they see in their bookmark lists. Failure to put strategic keywords in the title tag can result in pages being poorly ranked. The title tag can be a maximum 95 characters, including spaces.
When your Web site comes up in a Google search, the description tag is what the user sees on the search engine results page. It should incorporate strategic keywords and clearly communicate what you offer, who it is for and the key benefit. Your major keywords also should be placed in the keywords meta tag, though Google pays less attention to the keyword meta tag than to the title and description tags.
When you go to bly.com, you see that I violated the rules of SEO copywriting by not having the keyword “copywriting” in the headline. But not revealing what you are selling in the headline can be an effective way to engage the reader. So in this case, I chose the human reader over the search engine spider. You can visit the site and decide whether it works.
Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter who has written copy for more than 100 clients including IBM, AT&T, Praxair, Intuit, Forbes, and Ingersoll-Rand. McGraw-Hill calls Bob “America’s top copywriter” and he is the author of 90 books, including “The Copywriter's Handbook.” Find him online at www.bly.com or call (973) 263-0562.