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Writing Effective Search Engine Optimised Copy for the Web

Jul 25, 2008
Writing SEO copy can feel like a minefield. Get it right and your website will attract new customers via search engines and increase sales. Get it wrong and new customers simply will not find your site. The good news is, there are some simple things you can do that will make all the difference.

As far as the search engines are concerned, they want to find the most relevant content for each users search. They do this by looking at two things. The first is inbound links, which tell the search engines how important you are. The second is the content, which tells the search engines what you do and how relevant you are for each particular search.

Think Web Pages, not Websites

Google looks at each of your web pages on its own merits, rather than looking at your site as a whole. So, when you are planning the structure of your website, you need to think about your key areas. Make sure that each area has its own page. That way, you can optimise each page for a particular product, offering or benefit.

For example, if your website sells electrical products, divide the site into separate pages for broad areas such as kitchen appliances, then create individual pages within these categories for products such as washing machines and irons.

Keyword Research

It is crucial that you get your keywords right, so rather than guessing, use keyword research. Single keywords tend to have more competition, making it difficult to get good organic search rankings for them, so it is far better to be more specific and choose keyword phrases.

For example, an airline should use 'cheap flights to Malta' rather than 'flights'. This also helps to ensure you get good quality traffic. People are more clued-up these days about search engines and know that more specific keyword phrases are more likely to deliver what they are looking for.

Emphasise your USPs

In the same way that USPs are important when you are writing sales copy, they are just as relevant to SEO copy. If you offer something unique, it is worth including it in your keyword phrases. If for example, your airline is the only one offering flights to a particular city, include that in your keyword research.

Building Keyword Phrases into your Copy

Content is king. There is no point in attracting lots of people to your page, if what they find is nonsense. Nobody likes to read copy that has keyword phrases clumsily or inappropriately dumped in the middle of every sentence. It is important to get the balance right and make sure that the keyword phrases are not getting in the way of the readability of the page.

Start by writing a first draft of your page, focusing on what you want to say. Then look at how you can incorporate your keyword phrases without losing the essence of the content.

For example, if you mention that your airline offers a huge range of European flights, you could expand on that by saying that these include 'flights to Italy' and 'flights to France'. Or you could change 'European flights' to 'cheap European flights' if that is one of your keyword phrases.

Focus on two or three keyword phrases per page. If you have too many, you will end up diluting them and they will be less effective. It is worth getting someone to sense check your copy. They will soon be able to tell you where the keyword phrases are getting in the way of readability.

Keyword Saturation

Each page needs to consist of well written copy, laced with your chosen keyword phrases. Approximately 5% of your content should be keywords. It is important not to go over 10%, though, as search engines may think you are spamming and penalise you with a low ranking. Measuring keyword density is the only way to ensure your keyword phrases are appearing prominently to search engines.

The Importance of Headings and Links

Search engines view titles, headings and links as being particularly important, so try to include your keyword phrases in them. It is often easier to work keyword phrases into titles and links than trying to wedge them into a sentence, so this kills two birds with one stone. Words that are in bold are considered of higher relevance by the search engines, so it is worth putting your keyword phrases in bold. It also helps users to pick out the relevant points.

Remember your Meta Tags

As well as building your keyword phrases into the copy, they need to be included in the page titles and meta tags. If you do not do both, your site will not be indexed for those keywords.

To Misspell or not to Misspell

This is a tricky one. You will notice when you do your keyword research that people often spell things incorrectly when they are searching. On the whole, best to avoid these in your copy. Your website is a reflection of your company, so peppering it with what looks like typos probably won't help to enhance your professional image. However, sometimes Americanisms are the more popular spelling (eg. organization rather than organisation), so it is worth considering these, but make sure you are consistent, so they don't look like mistake.

Last but not least, here are a couple of web copywriting tips:

- Know your Audience
If you have a clear picture of who you are talking to, it is far easier to pitch the tone and type of information at the right level. Create a mental image of your target customer, then imagine you are talking directly to them.

- Short and Sweet
The first couple of sentences are crucial. In a web environment, you are competing with a never ending supply of information, so you have got to grab peoples attention from the outset. Make them really relevant, so that your reader knows what you have to say is what they want to read. Then, once you have got their attention, you have got to keep it. Keep sentences and paragraphs short and to the point. Web audiences need relevant information quickly. Assume that your audience has a limited amount of time to hear what you have to say.

Remember, once your site is up and running, it is important to monitor and analyse its performance, so that you can make improvements where necessary. It is also crucial to regularly update your content, as the search engines begin to ignore pages that are not updated regularly. Users want to know your site is kept up-to-date and see fresh, innovative content, so be sure to provide them with it to keep them coming back.

Achieving good rankings is only half the battle. The web is a competitive environment, so once you have got good rankings for your key phrases, you need to make sure you keep them.

10 Simple Steps to Writing Effective SEO Copy for the Web

1. Carefully plan your site map to ensure that each product or benefit has its own page.

2. Be specific, use keyword phrases rather than keywords.

3. Use a keyword research tool to get your key phrases right.

4. Get the balance right. Do not let your keyword phrases get in the way of what you are trying to say.

5. Keyword phrases should make up around 5% of your copy and no more than 10%.

6. Build your keyword phrases into headings, links and meta tags.

7. Put keyword phrases in bold.

8. Keep your content punchy and to the point.

9. Once launched, monitor and analyse your site, then make improvements where necessary.

10. Update content regularly to keep users coming back and ensure the search engines do not ignore your site.
About the Author
Peter O'Flynn is Creative Director of Marketing Team Direct - the digital marketing agency that offers a complete range of integrated online marketing and SEO services .
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