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November 24, 2010

How to Write for Web Visitors and Search Engines

Visualize your site achieving top search engine results. Now imagine the wonder you would feel if your well-ranked website’s copy jumped off the screen, lodging itself in the mind of each site visitor and unconsciously causing every one of them to take the action YOU want them to take.

Think it’s rocket science?

Think again.

In fact, you’re reading an example of this type of writing now. If you want to know how you can please the search engines AND your site visitors at the same time with your website copy writing, read on.

Writing for site visitors or writing for search engines is certainly not mutually exclusive.

If your Web page isn’t seen by potential site visitors in the first place by ranking poorly in the engines, it’ll never be read. But… if it’s only optimized for the engines and doesn’t read well, people will click away without taking action.

I want to achieve both and I bet you do too.

After reading this, you will understand how to write in a style that greatly pleases the search engines, resulting in vastly improved rankings AND at the same time, causes people to take the action you want. The action is usually to buy something or fill out a form.

How Your Copy Appears:

First, let’s briefly consider the layout of your copy. If you want people to stay on your site, read your copy and take an action, the copy has to be very easy to read on a computer screen.

It’s simple really. Just use lots of white space. See how so far my ‘paragraphs’ are very, very short? Sometimes it’s just a few words. You ought to do the same. You can further break up your writing using sub-headings, bolded words, lists, bullets and boxes. See how I made the box above? Anything in a box will get read, and it’s a great way to create white space.

Avoid big blocks of text at all costs.

The key to successfully formatting your Web copy writing is to make it as easy as possible for people to scan and skim through your text. People skim online copy, so the more you break it up and make the important stuff stand out, the better.

Next, always remember who you are writing for. Hold a vision of your reader in your head as you write. Choose and combine your words in a way that speaks directly to each reader as if you’re just having a conversation with them alone. Write like you talk.

Here are my other top copy writing guidelines:

* Use the word ‘You’. Don’t write about yourself or your organization. No one cares.

* Use an active voice, not passive. Use action verbs often and well.

* Appeal to people’s emotions.

* Appeal to as many of the senses as possible. Paint a picture.

* As your grammar school English teacher constantly preached, “Show, not tell.”

* Use stories to illustrate your theme. People relate to and remember stories.

* Describe how you can make your reader’s life easier or better.

* Actually ask them to buy (or fill out the form) in your sales copy.

* Always describe the benefits and not the features (features tend to bore people to tears).

* Edit your work at the end to ensure it says what you want in the simplest and briefest way.

* Buy ‘Hypnotic Writing’ by Joe Vitale. I used some of his ideas in this article. Great book, thanks Joe!

The search engine algorithms today, especially Google’s, are now getting so sophisticated that the line that separates good search engine copy and good people copy is becoming very blurred. In other words, the better you write in general, the better that writing will get ranked in the search engines anyway, all other things being equal.

Keep in mind that a large part of what makes a page rank well is made up of off-page factors, meaning the links and anchor text that point to your website have a big part in determining your site’s rank. But on-page factors such as your copy writing for example play an important role too.

So you’re writing to get ranked well, to convert visitors into customers or list members and to attract inbound links. As you write, keep these three important goals in mind.

On-Page Writing that Please Search Engines:

Think of each page of your website as its own one-page school essay. If you remember back to English class your teacher would ask you to write an essay and be sure to determine in advance what the theme, or thesis, of the essay was going to be. One theme per essay and that’s what the essay was “about”.

When it comes to Web pages, think in terms of themes too, but condensed down to a keyword phrase. Each page on your site should have one main keyword phrase that sums up the entire page. This is the phrase for which you want the page to rank well.

When you sit down to write copy for a particular page, first determine what its theme is going to be and then reduce that down to a descriptive and succinct keyword phrase.

For example, if you determine that the theme for the page is ‘all the chairs we sell in our furniture store are listed on this page with prices and descriptions’. The keyword phrase for this could be ‘wooden chairs with prices’.

Again, get inside the heads of the potential people you want visiting and buying from you and really try to determine what keyword phrases they would choose to type into a search engine to find the particular page you’re creating.

Before you even start writing website copy the first step is to determine the page’s main theme using a keyword phrase and then make a list of related words and phrases.

Grab some paper and a pen or open up Notepad and begin to create a list of these keyword phrases. Phrases that are two to five words in length are best.

Next, use an online keyword tool to find variations and add the good ones to your ever-growing list. The best tool in my opinion is Google’s Adwords Keyword Tool.

Now that Google’s Instant is live you can also simply begin typing a phrase into the search bar and a drop down box will appear suggesting ways to finish the phrase for you. Use some of these hints as well.

Now you ought to have an excellent list of words and phrases that are related to your main keyword phrase.

The idea then is to weave the words and phrases on your list into your website copy.

Think of it this way. While you’re writing for your site visitor, while you’re using the rules I spelled out in the bullet list above, try to use the related words and phrases from your list. Furthermore, use synonyms, antonyms, stemming, plurals, and various tenses, contextual words, supporting vocabulary and modifiers as well.

Let’s look at an example. If the main keyword phrase of my page is ‘antique wooden chair prices’ then here’s a possible list I would come up with first:

Aged, historic, old-fashioned, traditional, old wood chairs, antique rocking chairs, wooden chairs, seats, old seating, antique oak furniture, antique pine furniture, refurbished chairs, dining room furniture, tables, wood, cherry, pricing, affordable, cost, for sale, on sale, how much do wooden chairs cost

Get the idea?

So here’s my try at using words and phrases from the list in my copy.

Looking for old wooden chairs or wondering how much antique wooden chairs cost online?

Below you will find pricing for historic yet affordable antique pine, oak and cherry chairs.

Imagine finding the perfect old-fashioned chair with which to complement your house.

Take in the intricate carvings and woodwork as you approach it. Feel the polished oak wood arm rests in your hands as you lower yourself onto the magnificent aged seat. Then hear your house guests compliment you on such a glorious and rare find that you had the good taste to buy.

You will find that our furniture return policy guarantees that you’re taking no risk when purchasing antique wooden chairs from us.

And you’ll notice that every chair we list below has an associated price.

Click the ‘Buy Now’ button and after a couple more clicks, you’ll have one of our famous antique wooden chairs shipped directly to your home in no time.

Not only will this sales copy appeal to readers, it will please Google too.

With people in mind, I used the word ‘you’ a lot. I appealed to their senses and their emotions, explained how it would improve their life and outright told them to buy now. I showed how buying a chair could make their lives a little better and explained how easy it is to accomplish.

With search engines in mind I made sure that almost every word and phrase supports the theme of ‘antique wooden chair prices’. And I have used lots of synonyms (antique, aged, old fashioned, historic), stemming (price, pricing), modifiers (affordable, glorious, magnificent), and contextual and related words (chair, furniture, home, house, woodwork, carvings, arm rests).

It’s important that you write for both search engines and site visitors, and now you know how. By following the layout conventions mentioned above, the copy writing guidelines and the ways to consider the search engines when writing that outline, you’ll be well on your way to pleasing both your visitors and search engines.

Jason O’Connor is a Web marketing consultant, writes for The Net Gazette, a Web business e-zine, and for Oak Web Works, LLC, a Web writing and marketing company. Visit