Jeff and I recently met with a Des Moines based client to discuss how their internal marketing writers could utilize SEO techniques when composing new content – whether it be company white pages, press releases, marketing collateral or web content.
At Blue Traffic, we enjoy performing such consultations because we want our clients to practice sound SEO strategies even after our professional partnership ends. Thus, I was delighted to meet with some fellow writers and share with them the fundamental rules and strategies I employ when fashioning content for other clients.
Unfortunately, rather than edifying the eager scribes, I departed with a sense that I had left the poor chaps terribly confused. Although describing the basics of SEO is a relatively simple and harmless chore, communicating the intricacies of writing SEO copy can be a horribly frustrating exercise. Why? Because optimizing content isn’t an exact science.
We SEO copywriters have a tough job. But it’s not impossible to write optimized content – not by any means. Thus, I decided to compose a basic set of rules for SEO copywriters to follow, rules that anyone can consult to produce content both readers and search engines will enjoy. This is by no means a complete list. Other copywriters might have other lists. It’s not my intent to pen the authoritative manual on optimized content. It’s just a list of methods that have enabled me to achieve desired results for clients in a variety of industries.
Rule 1: Google doesn’t appreciate Shakespeare – people do
Search engines are exceptional consumers of content. They read everything they can crawl. They’ve read every book in every language – twice. But they don’t understand it. Nor do they know if it’s any good. Google can tell you what a sentence or paragraph or article is about without knowing whether it’s prolific in a profound sense or a plentiful one.
Google assigns value to content according to the behavior of human readers – not according to some arbitrary algorithm that projects an entry’s staying power. If people like it, Google likes it. So do your SEO copywriting for people.
You can optimize and optimize and optimize, hoping Google will reward your efforts with premium rankings, but if human readers don’t enjoy it, then neither will Google. How does Google know if people like it? By following the links.
A popular saying in the SEO community is that “Content is King.” It’s not that simple. Try searching for a classic book, like Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. What ranks No. 1? The actual text? A scholarly critique? An original book review? No. No. And no. It’s a generic Wikipedia entry. Why? Because Wikipedia has about a billion links pointed to its site. Is this a good thing for search engine users? Probably not. Is it good for the tens of thousands of book reports written by students who never read Mr. Twain’s book? Certainly not.
I introduce this fact not to discourage anyone or to underscore Wikipedia’s considerable advantage. This extreme example is introduced to emphasize the fact Google rewards links, not great content.
How is this valuable to you? In most cases, you won’t be competing with Wikipedia but with rival companies, organizations, groups and bloggers. So just get more links than them. It’s that simple. How do you do that? Write more engaging content than them.
But isn’t that contradictory? Didn’t you just say content is worthless? No, SEO copywriting is definitely in. What I said is to get more links. And you get links by writing better content. How do you do that? That’s what rule No. 2 is for.
Rule 2: Shut up and write some engaging content already
The internet is a democracy where everyone has a vote. Those copywriters who compose posts that receive the most votes (links) win not elections but powerful rankings. Your best SEO copywriting strategy is to reach out to voters by writing content they will link to. Content people within your niche will blog about or Tweet about. Content that gets people talking about your products, your services, your company.
Don’t be frightened to take a unique stance on a familiar topic. Nobody ever stood out by being the 700th person to agree with something. The people who generate buzz are those provocative rogues who are courageous enough to support a daring, and perhaps unpopular, position. Fresh wins the fight. New angles are always the best, even if they’re seemingly ludicrous.
For instance, say Galileo had a blog way back when and he wrote an incredibly controversial post about the world being round – not flat. People would think he was absolutely crazy. They’d bash him in the comments section. He’d be the laughing stock of every astronomy forum. But I bet people would link to him. And I bet his blog would rank No. 1 for “The World is Round.” And I bet a whole lot of people would be searching for that once they realized that he was probably right.
So write engaging content. Establish yourself as an authority on a subject or introduce a fresh argument. How do you do that? Read rule No. 3!
Rule 3: That’s already been written about 50 million times, but that hasn’t
Everything has been written about. At least once, it has. The Internet is very much like The Simpsons – everything has been done before. And yet there are still infinite questions left unanswered. There are countless arguments that haven’t been made. There are myriad viewpoints that hitherto haven’t been introduced…So find them.
Identify the hot topics in your industry – then take an angle nobody else has considered. Here’s a great post on ViperChill about identifying hot trends through Stumbleupon, Delicious and Yahoo! Answers.
In addition to spotting trends, perform some critical analysis yourself. Do your due diligence. Search Google for specific industry-related questions. Which ones have no adequate answers? What information might prospective clients or customers want that’s inaccessible? Don’t know what information they want and can’t find? Then ask them.
Then, once you’ve identified a fresh topic, write the optimized content. How? That’s what rule No. 4 is five…for.
Rule 4: My keyword density formula is better than your keyword density formula – I guarantee it
What is optimized content? Is it content that follows an exact keyword density formula? Should you incorporate keywords into every sentence? Every paragraph? I heard you’re supposed to infuse one keyword into every seventh sentence – is that true?
My personal thoughts on keyword density: forget keywords and write naturally (as emphasized in rule No. 1). If your content is about a topic you hope to rank for, odds are you’ll use those keywords or phrases naturally. Injecting keywords where they don’t belong will only produce choppy and spammy content that neither Google nor your audience will appreciate. It’s a waste of time.
Furthermore, when it’s clear what your content is about, your readers will unwittingly know what keywords you want them to put in their anchor text links. If The Incredible Car Blog writes a blog about what cars will be like in 2020, odds are those linking to the post will put some variation of “2020 Cars” in the anchor text. And one link like that from a reputable site is worth more than 1,000 instances of “2020 Cars” included in the original post.
So write honestly and eloquently. Be informative and entertaining. Write something you’d want to read yourself. Don’t worry about optimization when you’re writing. Once you’ve completed the most engaging content in the world, that’s when you go back and optimize it. Rule No. 5 tells you how.
Rule 5: The brutally honest secret to optimized content
How do I optimize content? Well, I’d love to tell you how. I’ll say this: optimized content is what it isn’t. I mean, it isn’t what it is. Huh?
Myth: Optimized content is merely content with keywords included.
If writing optimized content was simply the process of stuffing a bunch of keywords between other words, you wouldn’t need writers. You could take existing content and scatter a bunch of keywords around. You might find this on a car dealership’s website:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was a great time to buy New Chevrolet Cars in Chicago!”
Does that mean you don’t want keywords in your content? Of course, not. You gotta have a few keywords. Just don’t overdo it. Let the opportunities present themselves naturally. Then pounce on them!
Let’s go back to that Chicago car dealership. Maybe they already have some unique web content with 5 or 6 natural instances of “Chevrolet Cobalts in Chicago,” a phrase they rank No. 1 for in Google. Spectacular! But they’re missing out on tons and tons of related searches. Why? Because they have no instances of “New Chevrolet Cobalts in Chicago,” or “Used Chevrolet Cobalts in Chicago,” or “Pre-Owned Chevrolet Cobalts in Chicago,” or “Best Chicago Dealerships for Chevy Cobalts.” There’s any number of ways people in Chicago will search for the same car, but this dealership is only taking advantage of one of them!
THAT is what optimized content is. It’s writing naturally and then searching through your content for ways to improve it. Anticipate the ways your audience would search for you, and then give it to them. Don’t set out to write content just so you can stuff it with 50 instances of a phrase you want to rank for. Write something of value to prospective clients and consumers, and then go back and optimize content accordingly.
I suspect this post will rank well for 5 or 10 phrases (none of which was intended to be Chevy Cobalt related), and yet I never compromised the flow or readability…At least I didn’t do so intentionally for the sake of search engine optimization.
And when people link to this post, they’ll either call it The Greatest Online Guide to Content Optimization Ever or The Absolute Worst Online Guide to Content Optimization Ever. Either way, one thing will be for certain: it will still rank well for Online Guide to Content Optimization. And now you know why.