Note: In the past, I have written posts on various other blogs on a variety of topics. I have been in the process of consolidating them under this blog and labeling them with their original date. This post is from the now defunct bingseoguide.com.
A new acquaintance asked me the other day if I knew any really good articles on writing copy for websites. I thought about it for a minute and replied no. What I know about writing good copy for websites has come from various sources over the years and I like to think of “good” website copy as more of a science than an art.
Now before you writers out there start getting upset with me for calling the fine art of literature a “science”, remember that this is about writing good copy for SEO. That means writing good, pertinent content that a variety of users will be interested in and searching for. I myself, do not write copy for the websites that I build but I spend a great deal of time editing and modifying copy that professional writers create for me. That being said, here is my list of 10 Rules for Writing Good Copy for SEO.
1. Structure Your Copy
This one of the most common mistakes website developers make. Often, when we build websites, we focus on the wrong areas too much and not enough on the areas that potential users are interested in. Your copy and it’s structure should be determined by what users are looking for. Below is an illustration of the more traditional approach to structuring your website and the more modern “Content is King” approach.
As you can see, the most important keywords and highest sitemap priority should still be assigned to the homepage. However, we have found that some pages that are often very prominent in most website’s navigation, such as the “About Us” page, rarely bring search traffic. Therefore, many webmasters are finding that by adding importance to content based pages they can get a much higher amount of search traffic.
2. Write Copy for Humans
Too often does my company hire a freelance writer to create copy for a new website only to receive several word documents full of content that would make reading legal documents seem interesting. Sometimes, we will get copy from an overzealous freelancing grad student that reads like an excerpt from a doctoral thesis. Good copy is readable by everybody. Try to avoid text that is written at a very high reading level or overly keyword dense. Nobody wants to read text like “Come visit us at the Surf Mall Plaza to buy levi capris while you walk by the Newport Nike store on your way to Bed bath and Beyond next to the Seaside Apple Store“.
3. Use the Users’ Lingo
When writing copy it is important to use words and phrases that are in common usage, even if they might be outdated or changed inside your specific industry. For example, I build a lot of websites for lawyers. Lawyers who sue people for hitting their clients with a car while drunk. The problem is that these lawyers don’t call themselves lawyers. They call themselves, “Personal injury attorneys who obtain settlements on behalf of clients against intoxicated drivers in crashworthy DUI lawsuits.” Do you see the difference in wording? Which type of wording do you think a potential client will use when searching for a lawyer? Just because your client may be an expert in the area of business that they practice doesn’t mean that their wording is what potential clients/customers are looking for.
4. Research Keywords
There are several tools out there that can help you figure out what key words or phrases people are looking for in relation to your website. Once you have determined your main keywords these tools will help you identify seconday ones to focus on.
5. Use Key Phrases
Sometimes it is more common for users to type in phrases when searching rather than keywords. These key phrases, or “long-tail” terms can help you establish a niche in what might be a very competitive market. It is possible that more users will search for “Newport Beach Community College” than “Newport College”. Once again, this is where research is most useful.
6. Properly Place Your Keywords
Once you have decided on what keywords and phrases people are searching for in your market, it is important that you use them in all areas of your site. It is not simply enough to make sure that these keywords are used in your site’s copy. they should be present in the header tags, alt attributes, title tags, title attributes, description tags, anchor tags, navigation, and links.
Despite what some SEOs tell you, do not attempt to stuff keywords in the antiquated “keyword” meta tag. This practice has not worked on any major search engine for almost a decade now. That’s about a century in computer years. Altavista was the last to abandon it in 2001. For some reason many SEOs still insist on it because they read SEO books from 1998.
7. Choose Header Text Wisely
Usually, the text inside your <h1> tag is the same as the text in you <title> tag. This is not a bad thing. The thing to remember here is that Bing only supports so many characters and spaces (about 75) so anything longer than that will get chopped off in your search results (see below). Also, having to long of a title on your page can make your website seem spammy and increase your bounce rate.
8. Allow and Encourage User Input
One of the great things about blogs is that they have always featured areas for user input. This has spurred a new generation of websites (Web 2.0) that not only encourages user input, but thrives on it. Allowing users to comment on and rate items on a website is a great way for customers to feel “ownership” in the sites. These users are then in turn more likely to link-to, revisit and discuss your site with their friends.
9. Avoid Provoking Controversy
Sometimes it is easy to get a website caught up in something related to it’s topic that might actually hurt it. For example, starting a blog that focuses on SEO topics related to Bing makes it easy to engage in the current debate of which is better: Bing vs Google. However, engaging in such debate is asking for trolls. Just look at the comments under the Mac vs PC YouTube videos.
Engaging users in debates that they feel passionate about is very difficult to achieve online without sending a very negative message overall. Therefore, try to avoid controversy in your copy where there is danger of it disrupting the flow of your site.
10. Follow Trends
It is important to stay up-to-date with the latest trends regarding your website’s product or service. Often, writing about the latest innovations and trends in your site’s area of business can help drive new users to your site. Also, try creating content based on how your product relates to or is being used in current events. Search engines like websites that are constantly being updated. Use current events and trends as an opportunity to add valuable new copy to your site for returning visitors.
So that’s my advice for anyone writing copy for websites as a profession. Remember that good writers don’t necessarily write good copy for websites and good webmasters don’t always write good copy for humans. Follow these guidelines and you will find that not only will users find your site more useful but that search engines will rank them higher as well.