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.