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December 10, 2010

The Copywriter’s Dilemma: Google or the Public? A SPN Exclusive Article

Recently a potential client contacted me to write content for his site for a new product.

The brief was as follows:

“The text is for Google not the public. The language needs to be “normal verbiage” in original copy but does not have to be technical. I want a key word density of 8%.”

At that level of density the keyword would have appeared at least every second line, and this was for a piece of work of 1500 words.

I declined.

I don’t write for Google, I write for humans. Keywords are important – essential – for search engines. But it is people who read the online content, who pick up the phone and who place an order. Who has the patience to read 1500 words with the keyword stuffed in so monotonously that the content becomes unreadable?

But the bigger question is: How did a website owner become so convinced that this was how content must be written? His commitment to the keyword density was unwavering and he even sent me examples of how easy it was to do. It would have been a challenge to make it work but a waste of time for me and the client. I’m not sure if someone out there took up the project – I’ll keep monitoring the site to see if it appears.

Keyword obsession is a dangerous game. The roulette spinner, aka Google, dominates the market for keyword promotion, ably assisted by SEO marketers and companies who have become enslaved to the idea that keywords equal profits and they are the one true path to success. Ten years ago the term “keywords” was not part of everyday lexicon. A search in Google (sigh) returns 301,000,000 results for “keywords.” All of this has undoubtedly contributed to the belief that filling content with keywords so it’s fatter than Santa’s sack is what matters in online content.

While the jury is still out on the appropriate density of keyword frequency (and I’ve seen some SEO companies recommend 10 to 12 percent) a creative approach to including keywords in content can overcome unreadability and obvious stuffing. Well written content, that is engaging, interesting, covers the keywords, answers customers questions, creates trust, and makes the customer want to do business with you is a more successful model than content written with an overblown emphasis on keywords.

As a professional copywriter I ask my clients to send me a list of their top ten keywords, in priority order, along with all the other information necessary to compile the content for their sites. Copy is prepared with the keywords included, but written with the ideal customer in mind. Good copywriters will always have “Think like a customer” as their primary focus. “How will this copy rank in search engines?” should always be second.

Writing for people is far more enjoyable than writing for a search engine, and I’m sure readers respond accordingly. Overuse of keywords alienates readers who feel they are being talked at, rather than communicated with. Why risk your credibility with customers unnecessarily?

Nikki Cripps is a Sydney based copywriter who writes exclusively for small business websites. She’s been a journalist, public relations consultant and writer for almost 20 years. She is the owner and operator of