As a copywriter I have seen it all – and I mean ALL. As digital marketing has developed I have witnessed the cross over from clumsy traditional marketing campaigns that fell flat on the internet to marketing solely for the internet at the exclusion of all others. Don’t think that’s possible? Look at this gem I found:
“Search engine optimization (SEO) tips include website design best practices for how to get Google to rank your content higher in search engine results placement or SERP.”
That was the first line of an article I found from a well-used source that I would I would love to name and shame, but am fearful to do so for legal repercussions. If you can read that once and understand what it says, you’re in a class of your own. This line is written solely for one audience, and they’re not even human! It is written to trigger the excitement in Google SEO bots and hopefully push that content, and the site it’s on, to the top of the rankings – even though it makes no sense at all.
If we deconstruct the sentence we can see what has been done. Someone, somewhere has read an article that states to rank high in a search you have to have your keyword in the first line of text. It’s probably the same article that suggests three keywords an article repeated three times will optimize your SEO ranking – and it would have, about four years ago. There are four well searched SEO phrases in that line, “search engine optimization (SEO) tips,” “website design best practices,” “how to get Google to rank your content higher” and “search engine results placement or SERP,” but little else. This leads you to wonder – if it’s really that simple, does it work?
There are writers, there are copywriters, there are SEO copywriters and at the top of the chain … there are good SEO copywriters. Effective marketing copy is an art. Anyone can turn out SEO copy by randomly inserting the SEO keywords into text but this creates unreadable copy. Even now the Google bots are rejecting this type of copy, recognizing it as a ploy to massage the ranking system and having the power to downgrade any website that uses such tactics. When you ‘tune in’ to the SEO keywords they almost jump out at you as you read. One line that will always stick in my mind was an article that kept referring to, ‘… my friend in a Calgary Marketing company that I know…’. Every other line was, ‘When my friend in a Calgary marketing company called me up…’ or ‘…by asking my friend in a Calgary marketing company…’ and by the end of the article I was totally ready to hunt down this ‘friend’ (Who works in a Calgary marketing company – YES I KNOW!) and give him a very large slice of my mind with double jalapenos on. It was even worse when I knew it was written for a Calgary marketing company and the name of the company could have been inserted there, but they were probably already ranked number one in the search engines for their own name, so they took the opportunity to use another keyword and see if they could up their position. Somehow the whole article left me feeling used or, more correctly, abused as a reader. So no, SEO that simple does not work, so why do so many companies use it?
It would seem articles on the internet can hang around for decades. Some writers research these articles taking no thought for how recent or relevant the information is and write away. These tend to be the lower end cost writers. Untrained, inexperienced but have a computer, elementary school English and lots of bills, so are cheap. By and large, even though the quality of any piece of writing is only as good as the person behind the pen, cost is an indication of experience. If you want an intelligent piece of copy, SEO or not, you need someone to write it who knows the market, knows what ‘sells’ and can write something worth reading. Isn’t that the goal after all, you want people to read your article and buy your product rather than just be number one ranked on Google? As I have already said, effective SEO copywriting is an art, and if you don’t have an effective copywriter who can insert SEO into your text without alienating the audience, then you don’t have a website that will sell. And if you have a website with copy like the very first example I gave, it won’t rank high in the rankings for much longer either. But the whole issue does give rise to one very big question:
Is SEO killing web content quality?
I think the answer to that is … yes. Cheap, SEO stuffed content written for Google is abundant on the internet. Short, uninformative articles written in poor English with no facts behind them that repeat the same phrases or keywords over and over again have become commonplace and serve only one purpose – the appease the SEO search engines. So much so we’ve become immune to their asinine qualities. The only reason there is so much of it is that it is ‘economical’ to produce. Creating a website is not easy and the cost reflects this, so companies cut costs where they can, which roughly translates into cheap copy. This is a HUGE mistake. It’s like buying a Ferrari but not wanting to pay for the engine, so you buy two hamsters and a hamster wheel. Just like those hamsters can’t power a Ferrari, poor quality content will not attract customers to a website or convert them into sales.
This may come as a surprise to you, but a good SEO copy writer does not think in keywords. No, they think: How will people find my content? What terms must I include? How must I word hyperlink anchor text so that I train Google about the search terms it should associate with those sites? With these questions in mind they are armed with a framework of text that will build a compelling article, with the right keywords, but totally readable and enjoyable. These are the type of copywriters that know Google will change its algorithm every three months to try and stop bad quality content from propagating, and write so that their copy is algorithm safe. SEO is not about keywords, it’s about content, no more than that, it’s about writing what your audience needs to hear. Effective copywriters know how to balance the marketing see saw of SEO RICH and GOOD QUALITY CONTENT so the rest of the designers can concentrate on making it look pretty, and your perspective customers are in the win/win situation of darn good looking content they want to read. What more could a company image want?
Whatever content you need, consider who writes it. Can they reach out to your audience? Do they know how to be found? Will they offend the ranking system with heavy handed SEO tactics? There are writers and companies out there who will produce the kind of work that educates Google on what people really want to read. Take the time to find them – then hang on to them. A professional copywriter knows their trade, has a feel for what works and pays the price to keep at the forefront of their industry – so you don’t have to.
KISSMETRICS.com – SEO rankings criteria infographic
SOCILAMEDIAMANAGER.com – How SEO is used in rankings