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I often fill these pages with rants about what not to do when writing copy for search engine optimisation (SEO) and for a web audience.

However, it struck me recently that I have not spent much time exploring best practice in SEO copywriting and how to ensure your content is as fit for purpose as possible.

I am going to remedy that today. Please comment if you have any questions or additions.

Spiders

Spiders are the crawlers sent out by search engines such as Google to trawl through the web, recording details and information about the pages they visit.

What they find determines how well you rank for the words and terms within your site. So, what can you do to help?

1) Choose your keywords and phrases and stay conscious of them to ensure they appear whenever naturally possible within the website's text.

2) Spiders pay more attention to bold and italic words, so when you use such formatting, try to make sure it is a keyword or phrase.

3) They read left to right, so place your keywords as early as possible in the text.

4) Spiders consider headlines and sub headings to be particularly important, so make sure they are as relevant as possible and, if natural and readable, contain your keywords.

Humans

I am often amazed at how many people forget the real purpose of SEO. The motive is not to get to the top of the search engine results pages, not really. That is like saying the purpose of cooking is to heat meat, rather than eat it.

The idea is to gain greater visibility and traffic. That means all content on a page must be interesting to people. People, not search engines.

So, make your copy fun, interesting, relevant, grammatical. Everything a real person looks for when browsing the web. Also, try these tips:

1) Alliteration is good. Humans like alliterative phrasing and looking out for such opportunities allows the writer to concentrate on creating elegant copy rather than just functional words.

2) Use short sentences. The online reader is lazy. To help them read the page more easily, keep sentences short and try to limit paragraphs to just two or three lines.

3) Keep a sense of humour. Unless your pages cover genocide throughout history, there will be opportunities to make the odd joke. Seize these. The more personality you have on your site, the better.

4) Call to action. Your copy does not just exist for the reader to read, you are trying to secure business. While your content should not be one endless pitch, do not be afraid to include a call to action somewhere in it.

Linking out

There is a lot of confusion out there over links. Most people are happy with the basics: inbound links good, farmed links bad and so on, but some people worry that linking out from your content could devalue your site.

I believe there are three important points here.

1) If you are a human reading a website, outbound links to sources provide credibility and relevant further information. That makes you happy and gives you a positive impression of the page.

2) Should a search engine spider be looking at your content, outbound links to relevant pages are no problem, it will only get suspicious if you are linking out all the time and to irrelevant places.

This will devalue your site's importance to the search engines and, of course, too many links can make you look very suspicious.

3) If you want to link to a new pages, make sure a new window opens up. The last thing you want to be doing is directing people away from your site.

Linking in

Inbound links are brilliant; the more the better, particularly if you can receive them from high authority pages.

However, the main way to secure these links is to create impressive content that real people will want to link to.

This means good copywriting can result in good SEO. Rubbish and repetitive content may be cheaper or easier but it will not provide the long-term benefits you need.

Quality is everything

If you can't write, don't. If you can, then make sure you take the time to really hone your copy and make it as good as it can be.

Each time a company commits words to its pages, it is presenting itself to a potentially huge audience.

This might be the page that scores hugely in Digg or Sphinn and carries your firm's name around the world. Or, it might be that just one person sees it but he or she carries enormous buying power.

Make your words impress the search engines and the online community. Make your words work.

Kevin Gibbons

Published 21 April, 2009 by Kevin Gibbons

Kevin Gibbons is UK Managing Director at digital marketing agency BlueGlass. He is also known as an SEO speaker and can be found on Twitter and Google+.

102 more posts from this author

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Bdr London

Bdr London, Internet Advertising Agency at BDR London

I agree about the linking out to credible sources lots of people think outbound links are bad, but it can add value to your reader.

I also believe that as you can get bad side effects from links from poor quality sites. You can good karma from high quality outbound links, it improves your credibility.

over 7 years ago

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ChristiaanH

I see linking out as a good way to get people to notice you. If enough traffic goes their way from your blog, well that will certainly get their attention. To me it's thusfar the way to get people to visit little known pages. 

If you supply a bigger site with enough incomming links from your site that will get attention and eventually you might just get traffic back because they placed a linkback on their site. 

Just one of many ways to get noticed.

over 7 years ago

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Vincent

Ths is a great piece and so true.  Much easier to pull something down than to build it up.  Working a niche is also key, and linking, in whichever direcion, though mostly in is all good.  The only problem I can see with your article is that it is very blog/content centric. How do these rules apply for products and service that you are trying to sell. 

I know that a service-related blog would be applicable, but how about for a product?  Do you simply have to do the hard sell on a product blog?

over 7 years ago

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Tom9

Great article - many thanks.

A bit off topic, but in reference to "3) If you want to link to a new pages, make sure a new window opens up. The last thing you want to be doing is directing people away from your site" this is a great point, but if you are intending to write standards compliant - and user friendly - web pages, then forcing links to open in a new window is something of a no no. Like anything I guess, it is a trade off between what you consider to be more important ...

over 7 years ago

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Hamish Gilbertson, Consultant at Southern Content

Bravo! This is the best summary of the best practice in creating Web content I have read in a long time. You'll note: I say "creating Web content" not "SEO copywriting"...

Web copy that doesn't cater to search engines isn't good Web copy.

Strongly endorse: "The idea is to gain greater visibility and traffic. That means all content on a page must be interesting to people. People, not search engines."

But achieving the greater "idea" means presenting the content that is interesting to people in a form that conveys that interest to/via search spiders.

Maybe I'm belabouring a slight difference in perspective? Maybe you get what I mean?

Anyway. As I said: bravo!

Few things:

  • Would love to see evidence of greater weight being given to bolded or italicised content. Particularly, content in italics since there are issues with readability and I've heard this theory less. Bolding is more-widely accepted as attaching greater weight. (Makes sense: one bolds key points and if one is writing with keywords in mind then one's key points will be couched in keywords.) I've never been sure enough to advise relying on bolding. And using lots of italics isn't something I advise.
  • People forget the potential of meta descriptions as copy that can win clicks of a SERP when acknowledging that they have no ranking weight... As you say, its about visibility AND traffic. Getting on that first page of results is part of the battle. The next step is to engineer a listing that sells your page over other top results. And meta descriptions can help.
  • I would have spent more time on the concept of using keywords "naturally". Finding decent Web content sometimes requires too much time wading through value-lesscontent created around a specified keyword density.

Great article. No wonder the homepage is flooded with retweets.

over 7 years ago

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Vincent

Ths is a great piece and so true.  Much easier to pull something down than to build it up.  Working a niche is also key, and linking, in whichever direcion, though mostly in is all good.  The only problem I can see with your article is that it is very blog/content centric. How do these rules apply for products and service that you are trying to sell. 

I know that a service-related blog would be applicable, but how about for a product?  Do you simply have to do the hard sell on a product blog?

over 7 years ago

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Mark Chapman

I've noticed that many people interested in SEO, and some less experienced working in the search engine optimisation business, often have queries similar to Vincent's post (excerpt below). Well, (forgive the slight pitch here) we at Fuse Optimisation have developed approaches to ensure great positions in the search engines while ensuring (in Vincent's example) products sell.

Vincent's quote: "Working a niche is also key, and linking, in whichever direcion, though mostly in is all good.  The only problem I can see with your article is that it is very blog/content centric. How do these rules apply for products and service that you are trying to sell. 

"I know that a service-related blog would be applicable, but how about for a product?  Do you simply have to do the hard sell on a product blog?"

It's not just about a hard sell in the copy. It requires hard work and application by SEO experts - and is the reason why companies employ search engine optimisation firms and consultants to best develop their online presence.

Fuse (forgive slight pitch again) has developed expertise in building carefully architected websites, and within those, crafting content-rich areas that help the search engines recognise these areas as terrific sources of information about X or Y product / service etc.

So, to answer Vincent's query, it is not necessary to focus mainly on blogs. But there is a requirement to research and develop great, well-written content - and optimisevia SEO properly - to ensure Google and the other search engines recognise, over time, that certain websites contain information to satisfy searchers - whether that's about the law, accountancy, banking, retailing, whatever is a business's content specialism.

Does that help the discussion? Hope so. Feel free to ask more about this, as necessary.

cheers - mark. chapman

over 7 years ago

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iGoMogul

Great article, thanks for the information. We especially like the part where you say "That is like saying the purpose of cooking is to heat meat, rather than eat it." It can be frustrating to come across SEO work that was obviously written for a spider and nothing else. Sure it'll rank high but the bounce rate will be through the roof.

over 7 years ago

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Mike Blackburn

Good summary post - I dispute your comment about the purpose of SEO, although I like your analogy, I don't think you've gone far enough.

For me it's not just about gaining greater visibility and traffic - all the traffic in the world doesn't excite me unless it converts to deliver my business goal.

The true measure of successful SEO must include conversion rates, it's all well and good delivering twice as much traffic to a site but if the conversion rate is halved will the client have seen value from SEO? Traffic needs to be relevant and capable of conversion.

over 7 years ago

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Jason

nice post, but I'm curious - what's the difference between this post and what people have been saying since 1999?

over 7 years ago

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Daniele

Good post, Kevin. I agree. I think the SEO (search engine optimization) must be User Optimization. A website is made for users, not for search engines. These ones are tools (and not the only) to find websites. I write every day for my blogs, and I write for users. The keywords come in the content naturally. It's wrong to force keywords in content. Over-optimized content are not a good content.

over 7 years ago

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malcom coles

If you want to link to a new pages, make sure a new window opens up. The last thing you want to be doing is directing people away from your site.

This makes me want to disbelieve everything else. Please - if people want to leave they will. Don't annoy them by doing this - they'll just shut your window anyway. V poor advice.

about 7 years ago

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David Thurman

Kevin

Great insights, but I have to say your suggestion to pop a new window when linking out is not being very user friendly, and takes no appriciation of the mobi market at all.

Many people use the back button on the browser, why would you take away the capabilty to return to your site with just a click, and not close a window? Not everyone is a web master, many will wonder what happened to a site.

In the mobi/mobile world, you are only allowed so many new windows (Opera 9.5 comes to mind) and clicking a back button is quicker then click tab, select old tab, or worse yet close the browser.

All the rest of your article is great, just don't enspouse poor UI techniques.

about 7 years ago

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Helen Gräwert (Baker), Freelance web writer at Concise Content

Hi Kevin; great post, thanks very much.

I've read in several places recently that formatted text receives more weighting from the spiders (which I'll be implementing on my own website). However, people shouldn't go too overboard with putting text in bold or italics to avoid, for one thing, making text difficult to read and follow for your human visitors!

Just one thing to add; you quite rightly say that "Spiders consider headlines and sub headings to be particularly important, so make sure they are as relevant as possible and, if natural and readable, contain your keywords".

You miss one crucial point here though, and that's HOW the spiders know the text is a headline or sub heading. Make sure you use header tags (i.e. H1 to H6) and apply them in the correct hierarchy. Always start with H1 (which the spiders will then know is the most important heading) and don't skip levels within a section.

Helen

about 7 years ago

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Thomas Fjordside

2) Spiders pay more attention to bold and italic words, so when you use such formatting, try to make sure it is a keyword or phrase.

3) They read left to right, so place your keywords as early as possible in the text.

Have you tested any of these? Or are we just putting out the same information as everybody else? I haven't seen no. 2 being tested and proven for at least 3 years now. If you have please share

about 7 years ago

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suchinwebs

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almost 7 years ago

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Rich @ Yeti Digital

Good article and I'd agree with pretty much everything you have written. Writing search engine and user optimised content is perfectly possible and there is no need for a trade off between the two.

almost 7 years ago

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SEO Manchester

Hit the nail on the head there with respect to writing for humans instead of the search engines, many SEO's loose this focus as its all about the rankings. Lest we forget that the site itself has to convert when the visitor arrives! Spot on lad.

over 6 years ago

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Expedia.ca Coupons

I found this post via one of your more recent posts. I truly am impressed by this post. It is very usefull for me explaining SEO importance to my clients.

over 6 years ago

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SEO Manchester

Great post; finding a balance between good SEO and good writing is one of our biggest challenges. Luckily, the latter seems to let the former occur naturally.

over 5 years ago

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