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Old 5th November 2005, 05:01 AM   #1
contentisking
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Default Writing for Search Engines - checklist

I thought you might find this checklist useful with regard to writing for search engines. Please feel free to add your own.

-------------------------------------

Have I conducted keyphrase research?

Am I targeting phrases, not single words?

Have I used key phrases consistently throughout my copy?

Is my copy 300-500 words per page?

Have I particularly placed my key phrases within the first 150-250 characters?

Do my targeted phrases appear at the start of paragraphs?

Is the content organised logically and split it into separate subject-focussed pages or sections?

Have I used relevant, descriptive content within links?

Are my key targeted search phrases placed near the start of my copy?

Have I avoided being over-repetitive?

Have I created sub-headings, emphasis and bullet lists featuring the key phrases?

Are my key phrases placed in Title Tags (especially within the first 60 characters)?

Have I kept the important keywords at the beginning of the Description Tags and have I used 200 characters or less?

Have I supplied Alt Text (relevant and descriptive captions for images)?

Have I identified sites to link to and provided relevant and descriptive link text?

-------------------------------------

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Old 5th November 2005, 08:15 AM   #2
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Is my copy 300-500 words per page? Why? You want your copy to be however long it needs to be to suit your target customers (the people with the money) not the search engines. Not all customers communicate in the same way. CEO's for example will never read 350-500 words of copy. The want the bottom line and they want it now.

The engines don't care, either. Depending on the circumstances, you can get a page ranked with 100 words of copy or with 1000 words of copy. Length is not something you need to keep a check on.

Have I particularly placed my key phrases within the first 150-250 characters? Again... why? The engines will find your text regardless of where it is on the page. There is no need to try to shove keyphrases within the first 150-250 characters of a page.

Do my targeted phrases appear at the start of paragraphs? Not necessary. See above.

Is the content organised logically and split it into separate subject-focussed pages or sections? Only do this if this is the best thing for your target customers. In some instances, you might want a short segment of copy in the middle of the page with no sections.
[b]

Are my key targeted search phrases placed near the start of my copy? Same as above... not necessary.

Have I created sub-headings, emphasis and bullet lists featuring the key phrases? Do this only if it suits the message and your customer's needs.

I don't mean to be brutel, but you cannot create copy solely for the engines and expect it to do as well as if you put your customer first. SEO copywriting involves SEO AND copywriting for your customer. Many of the things you've listed (IMO) will lead to the copy sounding mechanical. Plus, they just aren't necessary.

Perhaps, years ago, they might have helped, but today Google and other engines are changing and adapting so that copywriters have a lot more freedom in creating naturally sounding copy that also ranks well.

For instance, an associate of mine just recently noticed a change in how Google apparently assesses the title tag. On his test page, he removed the title tag and Google inserted something from a headline he had on the page. They would have normally just inserted the domain name if no title tag were present. For the sake of copywriting, this means nothing at all, but it goes to show that Google is making changes to every aspect of their algo constantly.

We, as copywriters, have to keep pace with the most recent information and be prepared to adjust when needed. But first and foremost, we have to put the site visitors first.

I just finished teaching a seminar in Philly (I'm writing this from the hotel room as a matter of fact) and in the wrap up session we (that being all the presenters) repeated a few common themes that are always constant in SEO:

1. Your customer comes first. They have the money and they should never be replaced as top priority by the search engines.

2. There are 1,000 different ways to drive traffic to your site without the engines. There is no other way to make money without customers.

3. Using outdated information will leave you frustrated and behind the pack.

4. Buying into the latest SEO fads will almost always bite you in the you-know-what later. (Usually after some major update.)

I'm rambling, but myths run rampid online and it seems SEO copywriting is getting a bad reputation because of many of the myths. I'm rather on a soap box right now to declare to the world that good SEO copywriting does not sacrifice the visitor experience.

I'll shut up now

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Old 6th November 2005, 04:27 AM   #3
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Default Writing for Search Engines - and readers

<Edited to remove promotional content.>

I’m grateful for the comments and am happy to respond.

-------------------------------------

Is my copy 300-500 words per page? Why? You want your copy to be however long it needs to be to suit your target customers (the people with the money) not the search engines. Not all customers communicate in the same way. CEO's for example will never read 300-500 words of copy. The want the bottom line and they want it now.

The engines don't care, either. Depending on the circumstances, you can get a page ranked with 100 words of copy or with 1000 words of copy. Length is not something you need to keep a check on.


-------------------------------------

From a search engine optimisation perspective, 300-500 words is an ideal length. It allows some three-to-five targeted phrases to be used (the maximum target per page) in such a way as to avoid compromising your writing style.

Also, a page should begin with a summary of its contents or an introductory paragraph (the pyramid style of writing). By doing so, you also give the CEO that “bottom line”. If they want to read more, they still can. That’s for the benefit of both readers and search engine positioning.

If you have too many words, the density of the targeted phrases is reduced and poorer rankings will be achieved.

-------------------------------------

Have I particularly placed my key phrases within the first 150-250 characters? Again... why? The engines will find your text regardless of where it is on the page. There is no need to try to shove keyphrases within the first 150-250 characters of a page.

-------------------------------------

I did not say anything about “shoving” keyphrases into text. However, the first words a search engine finds on the page have a stronger influence than elsewhere.

And, if your main keyphrase or phrases are relevant to the page (and they should be!), where else should they appear but in the introductory material?

-------------------------------------

Do my targeted phrases appear at the start of paragraphs? Not necessary. See above.

-------------------------------------

While there are many on-page and off-page factors that influence search engine ranking, using targeted phrases at the start of paragraphs does have a positive effect.

In addition, readers who skim text (including disabled people using screen readers) tend to pick out phrases at the start of paragraphs.

Therefore, you are making your copy more accessible for your readers (and search engines) if you bear this in mind.

But, as always, this should not be done in such a way as to make it appear clumsy.

-------------------------------------

Is the content organised logically and split it into separate subject-focussed pages or sections? Only do this if this is the best thing for your target customers. In some instances, you might want a short segment of copy in the middle of the page with no sections.

-------------------------------------

There are always exceptions to the rules. But, generally speaking, content should be organised logically and split into separate subject-focused pages or sections. Yes, again for ease of consumption by readers and, by good chance, search engines, too.

-------------------------------------

[B]Are my key targeted search phrases placed near the start of my copy? Same as above... not necessary.

-------------------------------------

Sorry, but this is absolute best practice and does have a positive influence.

-------------------------------------

Have I created sub-headings, emphasis and bullet lists featuring the key phrases? Do this only if it suits the message and your customer's needs.

-------------------------------------

Copy that’s formatted for online readers (yes, those who skim and scan) benefits hugely from this kind of sub-editing. The fact it also helps regarding search engines is a bonus. Of course, there will be occasions when the customer’s needs dictate different approaches.

However, since the customer’s main need is usually for readers to easily consume the material … sub-headings, emphasis and bullet lists will contribute towards this.

And, if you are using this kind of formatting, then it would be natural for targeted phrases to appear appropriately within it.

-------------------------------------

I don't mean to be brutel, but you cannot create copy solely for the engines and expect it to do as well as if you put your customer first. SEO copywriting involves SEO AND copywriting for your customer. Many of the things you've listed (IMO) will lead to the copy sounding mechanical. Plus, they just aren't necessary.

-------------------------------------

I disagree for the reasons stated above. At no time do I advocate creating copy “solely for search engines”. However, there are techniques that can enhance material for readers AND search engines.

-------------------------------------

Perhaps, years ago, they might have helped, but today Google and other engines are changing and adapting so that copywriters have a lot more freedom in creating naturally sounding copy that also ranks well.

-------------------------------------

The changes and adaptations are more to do with the numerous off-page factors that now have influence. The rules for copy are the same. That is, good, topic-focused content that is also formatted well for readers will boost rankings (if also prepared with some consideration of search engine optimisation).

-------------------------------------

For instance, an associate of mine just recently noticed a change in how Google apparently assesses the title tag. On his test page, he removed the title tag and Google inserted something from a headline he had on the page. They would have normally just inserted the domain name if no title tag were present. For the sake of copywriting, this means nothing at all, but it goes to show that Google is making changes to every aspect of their algo constantly.

-------------------------------------

The Title tag is currently one of the strong influencers regarding Google (if it succinctly describes the main theme of the page). The current major update (dubbed Jagger) of Google’s algo is creating ranking changes. And, yes, minor changes happen all the time.

But, as it stands, a focused Title that reflects the main topic of the page, helps with rankings. And, of course, the Title should be exactly that … the Title of the page’s content!

-------------------------------------

We, as copywriters, have to keep pace with the most recent information and be prepared to adjust when needed. But first and foremost, we have to put the site visitors first.

-------------------------------------

I completely agree. But we can still put site visitors first while also pleasing search engines.

-------------------------------------

I just finished teaching a seminar in Philly and in the wrap up session we repeated a few common themes that are always constant in SEO:

1. Your customer comes first. They have the money and they should never be replaced as top priority by the search engines.


True. And, if the customer also wants more people to access the material, consideration should be given to search engine positioning, too.

2. There are 1,000 different ways to drive traffic to your site without the engines. There is no other way to make money without customers.

There are, indeed, many ways. Although I’m not sure about 1000. But traffic via search engines will be near the top of the list if not at the very top.

3. Using outdated information will leave you frustrated and behind the pack.

True. Fortunately, nothing I’ve said is outdated.

4. Buying into the latest SEO fads will almost always bite you in the you-know-what later. (Usually after some major update.)

True. Fortunately, I haven’t mentioned any latest fads.

I'm rambling, but myths run rampid online and it seems SEO copywriting is getting a bad reputation because of many of the myths. I'm rather on a soap box right now to declare to the world that good SEO copywriting does not sacrifice the visitor experience.

I agree. Please see all of the above. Thanks


Last edited by contentisking; 6th November 2005 at 02:16 PM. Reason: Typos and info
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Old 6th November 2005, 06:20 PM   #4
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I'm sorry, David, but I find myself in direct conflict with many of your comments.

Quote:
From a search engine optimisation perspective, 300-500 words is an ideal length. It allows some three-to-five targeted phrases to be used (the maximum target per page) in such a way as to avoid compromising your writing style.

Also, a page should begin with a summary of its contents or an introductory paragraph (the pyramid style of writing). By doing so, you also give the CEO that “bottom line”. If they want to read more, they still can. That’s for the benefit of both readers and search engine positioning.

If you have too many words, the density of the targeted phrases is reduced and poorer rankings will be achieved.
300-500 words may be a stereotypical length if you're writing specifically for the engines and them alone, but doing that only addresses half of the purpose of SEO copywriting.

As far as a page beginning written the same way every time (with a summary of its contents, etc.) why? There is no one-size-fits all style of copywriting. All customers are not the same. All people do not have the same communication styles. People are not clones and copywriting should not be written in the same way for every purpose and person.

Quote:
1. Your customer comes first. They have the money and they should never be replaced as top priority by the search engines.

True. And, if the customer also wants more people to access the material, consideration should be given to search engine positioning, too.
No, the customer I'm speaking of here is the end user... the site visitor with all the money.

Quote:
Are my key targeted search phrases placed near the start of my copy? Same as above... not necessary.

-------------------------------------

Sorry, but this is absolute best practice and does have a positive influence.
Sorry, but that is outdated information.

Quote:
The rules for copy are the same.
From my research, testing and use I must say I strongly disagree with this statement.

Quote:
The Title tag is currently one of the strong influencers regarding Google
FINALLY! Something we agree on See? We might be able to go have a pint together yet.

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Old 6th November 2005, 11:02 PM   #5
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Nice thread so far. Good to see some lively discussion. I'm all for scannability, and for making the meaning of a page clear and easy to understand - at least when those are important to the intended visitors of a page.

I do think that creating guidelines to copywriting for an online page may not be as easy as trying to follow some formula that really doesn't exist, and may never have.

I appreciate the effort to try to come up with some useful guidelines for people on writing copy, and I don't think that there is any harm in the suggestions made so far, but they have the potential to handcuff people, and what they create on the web, possibly for the wrong reasons. I'm not sure that a few of them really help with ranking in the search engines.

Like usability, SEO can't really be pigeonholed into a simple set of instructions. There are a number of things that you can do that give you the potential to rank higher or lower on search engines, but there is no easy-rank, "follow these instructions" secrets that will make you show up at number one.

I'll elaborate in response to some of the statements made in this thread.

Quote:
From a search engine optimisation perspective, 300-500 words is an ideal length. It allows some three-to-five targeted phrases to be used (the maximum target per page) in such a way as to avoid compromising your writing style.

Also, a page should begin with a summary of its contents or an introductory paragraph (the pyramid style of writing). By doing so, you also give the CEO that “bottom line”. If they want to read more, they still can. That’s for the benefit of both readers and search engine positioning.

If you have too many words, the density of the targeted phrases is reduced and poorer rankings will be achieved.
Most search engines are likely using approaches such as normalization and term weight vectors instead of anything remotely resembling keyword densities.

Keyword density is good for looking at an individual document to tell you if maybe you've used a phrase too many times, but has nothing at all to do with the indexing of a document within the corpus of a larger set of documents. See: The Term Vector Database: fast access to indexing terms for Web pages for one of a large number of documents that examines the use of term weight vectors. Here's one that is a little more modern:

Term Vector Theory and Keyword Weights: An Introductory Series on Term Vector Theory for Search Engine Marketers

Normalization of page length attempts to make certain that there is no bias between longer and shorter documents. Maybe there is an optimum length, or range of lengths for a page, but I've done a number of experiments with both very short pages, and very long ones and am satisfied that limiting oneself to a range of 300-500 words is unnecessary.

Starting with your conclusion, in an inverted pyramid style, is something folks like Dr. Jakob Nielsen have been spouting for years. Newspapers traditionally did so in wire releases in case a paper which picked up an article decided to truncate the bottom of the release, in case it needed to be reduced to fit within a space. I'm not firmly convinced that it is necessary, and likely depends upon the information and the audience more than blindly following a rule.


Quote:
[b]Are my key targeted search phrases placed near the start of my copy? Same as above... not necessary.

-------------------------------------

Sorry, but this is absolute best practice and does have a positive influence.
Best practice these days probably for a version of enterprise search which engages in full text indexing, though I wonder if that is even the case with some of the stuff that IBM and others are doing with unstructured data documents. Chances are that it is of much lessor importance in a term weight vector approach, though location is helpful when it comes to sequence, adjacency, and proximity of words, and defining meaning from that data.

Quote:
And, if your main keyphrase or phrases are relevant to the page (and they should be!), where else should they appear but in the introductory material?
It's nice if they are in the page title, in links to the page, maybe in headlines on the page, and in copy. Don't know that they necessarily need to be at the top of a page. The words "click here" appear nowhere on the front page of the Adobe site, yet it ranks at number one in Google out of hundreds of millions of results.

I love this document, from 1998, because it captures much of what we were doing back then to try to get search engines to index pages: What is a tall poppy among web pages?

Here's a snippet:

Quote:
A search engine selects pages in response to a query using some function of some attributes of the page and the query word. Perhaps the attribute most likely apriori to be significant is the number of occurrences of the word in the document. Pages are written in hyper text markup language (HTML) which gives a structure to them and it was clear that at least some search engines took notice of this structure. The HTML source of many pages was inspected, including some pages with quite unusual characteristics, evidently attempts at spamming in order to rate highly. It was considered that the following attributes of a page might be relevant to some or all of the search engines:

1. Number of times the keyword occurs in the URL.
2. Number of times the keyword occurs in the document title.
3. Number of words in the document title
4. Number of times the keyword occurs in meta fields - typically keyword list and description.
5. Number of times keyword occurs in the first heading tag <H?>.
6. Number of words in the first heading tag.
7. Total number of times the keyword occurs in the document including title, meta, etc.
8. Length of the document.
In the time between the publication of this document from 1998, and the present day, there have been many changes. Pagerank was one that soon arrived after it was published, though that has seen many changes itself. There have been a number of other ideas infused into the best ways for ranking pages, from Information retrieval studies, and exploration of how hypertext fits into the indexing of documents.

Having some guidelines are helpful, but let's not let ourselves be constricted by them to the point where we aren't experimenting, and trying other things, too.

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Last edited by bragadocchio; 6th November 2005 at 11:05 PM.
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Old 7th November 2005, 08:55 AM   #6
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Hey folks,

What a great thread. I have recently changed my whole outlook on website development. I have come to the understanding that the page has to offer meaning and a limited choice to the end user.

The aim of web pages is to get strangers to become friends and then turn friends into customers. If we develop copy for the sake of the search engine and ignore this fact your conversion rate may be terrible even though hits may be high. Even if the information on the page is well written and interesting it may miss the mark. If the page doesn't meet the expectations of the visitor it may miss the mark.

That means that if I have a visual artist website and the copy is 300 well-worded, words long, potential clients may be put off. Even if the copy is Pulitzer Prize winning material, the user expectation for the artist site is to see examples of their work that is compelling and copy that reflects the user expectations.

I am not an expert at SEO or SEM but what I am discovering is that the interrelationship between website design, copy writing, SEO and SEM is much more complex than the sum of the parts.

I have come to realize that the real numbers game is quality of visitor not quantity. If you get 100, 000 pairs of eyes on a site you may be likely to get 100 people to buy than if you got 1000 pairs of eyes on a site. But if a 1000 narrowly targeted visitors arrive whose expectations you met and trust you engaged and converted 10%-20% of those you are far better off.

Personally I would rather have fewer visitors, higher conversions, good user driven copy, and sites that meet user expectation. My clients will make more money and, in turn, I will get more business.

All the best,

Jay

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Old 7th November 2005, 09:16 AM   #7
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I agree 100%.

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Old 7th November 2005, 09:23 AM   #8
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Thanks Karon!

Jay

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Old 7th November 2005, 12:14 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gilmorejay
Personally I would rather have fewer visitors, higher conversions, good user driven copy, and sites that meet user expectation. My clients will make more money and, in turn, I will get more business.
And I also concur.

It's worth noting that all online marketing activity should be aimed at gaining quality visitors.

Of course, various techniques can be used to increase the number of quality visitors without compromising the quality of the copy or failing to deliver the user expectations.

I'd like to respond in more detail to the other postings but am up to me ears in online marketing work for clients. Hopefully later ...

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