April 25, 2007
Search engines read text and not much else. Because they can’t generally index graphics, search engines rely on the text in web sites to provide information about the site content, which they can compare with search queries.
Webmasters therefore need to use body text on any pages on the site that they want indexed by the search engines and ranked highly for matching search queries. Not graphical text that was created in design software, but actual, visible body text. Not sure if your site uses graphical or body text? A good rule of thumb that I learnt from search engine guru Danny Sullivan is to try and highlight the text with your mouse. If you can drag your mouse over individual words in the text when viewing it in a browser, chances are this is body text and the search engines can read it.
(figure 1 – What site visitors see on non text-heavy pages)
(figure 2 – What search engines see on non text-heavy pages)
The most important page on which to use body text is the home page. Above is an example of a home page that uses graphical text instead of body text. Figure 1 shows what content the site visitors see, while Figure 2 shows the content a search engine sees and indexes.
How much information about a site’s content does a page like the one above provide a search engine? That’s right, very little. With next to no text to be found, the search engine would have to rely on the page’s Title and META Tags to tell it what the page is about. With such little information to go on, it is unlikely that a search engine would consider this page a relevant match for search queries relating to its content. To remedy this, it is widely recommended that each web page you want listed in search engines should contain at least 250 words of visible body text.
While it’s a good idea to use plenty of body text on web pages, if that text doesn’t contain relevant keywords and phrases that people type in to the search engines, there’s not much point, because a site isn’t going to be found for logical search queries anyway. Many web sites make the mistake of including text on their site that is either unrelated to their products and services, or full of marketing-speak like “Internet solutions” or “superior services”. The Internet is plagued with web sites selling particular items without once making reference to those items in their site text. Weird huh?
For a search engine to find a site relevant for a particular search query, it MUST find that search query somewhere in that site. The easiest way to ensure this is to include logical keywords and phrases within the visible text on web pages, as well as in the Title and META tags. The best way for webmasters to find keywords that searchers are actually using is by conducting keyword research of their target market on a site such as Keyword Discovery or WordTracker.
Once it is determined what search terms perspective visitors are commonly typing in to search engines, they can then be compared to the goods and services offered on the site and the body text can be adjusted accordingly. Sites lacking any keyword research tend to use very generic, unfocused body copy, or sales-oriented “hype”. Neither style contributes to high search engine rankings.
Target keywords and search phrases placed strategically throughout your body copy give your pages a much higher ranking potential on search engines for related searches. But it’s not as easy as throwing the keywords into your site text willy-nilly. You must ensure that the keywords are integrated seamlessly so their repetition is unobvious and so that the text flows smoothly for the reader.
Don’t compromise the readability of your copy to achieve this – hire an expert copywriter to strike the right balance if need be.
Before writing your web site copy, you should research potential keywords and phrases that your target audience may use in search engines and then narrow the list down to your priority terms for each page, sorted in order of importance. You should then use those target search terms as a basis for the creation of optimized Title and META tags for each page on your site. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to integrate those same target search terms into your visible web page copy. We call this SEO copywriting. But exactly how do we do it?
Speak to Your Audience
Don’t lose site of the reader when writing your body copy. Integrating your keywords is important, but not if you are sacrificing the readability of your site and losing the attention of your audience. Put yourself in their shoes like you did when researching your keywords. What are they looking for? What do they need? How will your product/service help them? Does it represent value for money?
Be emotive when describing your products and services. Describe how your product/service will make them feel or look, how it will improve their lives, give them more time etc. Use trigger words that people respond to such as “free”, “success”, “you”, “cash” etc. Not sure what these are? Check out Words That Sell reports. These reports are perfect if you are targeting a specific industry or profession because they define what keywords people in over 38 industries respond to and what they expect when making a buying decision.
Not sure who your audience is or what they’re looking for? Why not ask them? Use a free survey service such as Survey Monkey to learn more about them so you can write “to” them and not “at” them. You could even draft various styles of body copy and obtain feedback from your site visitors to determine what copywriting style works better for them.
Use Easy to Understand Language
The Internet is no place for verbosity. People are in a hurry – they want to find what they seek quickly and easily with the least hassle possible. You can help them in this quest by ensuring your site pages use simple language and easy to grasp concepts throughout. For example instead of “brand-building web information architects”, use “website designers specializing in brand promotion”. Keep the large chunks of text on each page to a minimum, using bullet points, white space, graphics, lists and sub-headings to break it up and make it easier to read. This rule of thumb is especially important when creating landing pages for pay per click and other advertising campaigns.
Use examples to get your main points across or to demonstrate your product benefits. Use the old WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) adage when composing your body copy to keep the user’s interests at top of mind. Remember your international visitors by incorporating regional word usage (such as organize versus organize or jewelry versus jewellery) and avoid technical jargon that could alienate. Want your visitor to take a particular action? Spell it out for them in plain English, for example Click here to Buy Now, Subscribe to our free newsletter, Bookmark this page now etc. These references are called “Calls to Action”.
Build Your Copy Around Your Keywords
You should always build your page copy around your keywords and not the other way around. If your existing page copy doesn’t contain any of your target search keywords, you’re going to have to rewrite it! Start from scratch if you have to. The secret is to focus. Search engines aren’t going to rank your web site about socks highly if your body copy talks about foot sizes. You need to get specific. It sounds really obvious, but if you sell socks, make sure your site copy has plenty of references to the word socks! If you sell green wool socks, target the phrase “green wool socks” and not “foot apparel in lovely shades of emerald”! Who’s going to search for socks using that phrase?
At the risk of sounding like Dr Seuss, if you want to be found for, big socks, small socks, cotton socks and wool socks, then mention them all. Better still, sort your copy into categories based on your various products and services. If you sell wool socks AND cotton socks, then have a page dedicated to each kind. This allows you to target niche keywords within your copy and meet the search engine’s relevancy guidelines for related search queries.
So imagine you’ve added plenty of text to your pages and the copy flows well for the reader. You’ve researched your keywords and phrases and now you’re faced with the dilemma of integrating the keywords into your copy. So how do you satisfy the search engine’s craving for keywords without interrupting the copy flow for the reader? The answer is: very carefully.
Let’s take a look at a practical example. We have a client that specializes in luxury adventure travel. Before I optimized their site, part of the home page copy read like this:
“We specialize in providing vacations for people who want a personal service. We bring to our efforts a fanatical obsession with quality and exclusivity. We also bring a freshness, an outward-going passion for discovery which justifies our growing reputation as one of the world’s top travel providers. We can put together packages that include all adventure activities, accommodation, transport and food”.
Extensive Keyword Discovery keyword research for the client had determined that the site should target the following key phrases:
• adventure travel
• best adventure vacations
• tailored travel
• overseas adventure travel
• luxury travel packages
So taking our original home page text, the challenge was to integrate these keywords carefully and naturally so as not to disturb the logical flow of the copy and lose the interest of the visitor. Here’s how I did it:
“We specialize in providing the best adventure vacations for people who want a personal and tailored travel service. We bring to our efforts a fanatical obsession with quality and exclusivity. We also bring a freshness, an outward-going passion for discovery which justifies our growing reputation as one of the world’s top overseas adventure travel providers. We can put together luxury travel packages that include all adventure activities, accommodation, transport and food”.
Note that the key phrase “overseas adventure travel” accommodates the phrase “adventure travel” too. Voila! The search engines are happy because the site contains text content relevant to related search queries, the client is happy because we were able to integrate the keywords without distracting the visitor and I’m happy because I know the site is going to rank highly for the client’s target search terms.
Now it’s your turn – go tackle your web site copy!
Author: Kalena Jordan is the search industry’s first (and most loved) “agony aunt”. She is also one of the longest-serving search marketers in the world. As Director of Studies at the Search Engine Collage, Kalena welcomes challenging or tricky questions about search engines.