SEO Schmeseo

by Patricia Fitzgerald

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been asked by a potential client, “Do you write SEO content?” Or how much potential business we’ve lost by answering, “No, we don’t.”

Give us a chance to explain. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) entered the lexicon of marketing-speak back in the early 2000s. Companies desperate to drive their websites to the top of Google search-result pages were willing to do — and pay — just about anything to get there. That included hiring SEO “experts” to implement some decidedly shady tactics designed to trick Google’s algorithms into ranking their clients’ web pages higher. And it worked — for a while.

Key-word stuffing (overloading web page copy with key search phrases) is among those dubious tactics. Chances are, you’ve come across web copy crammed with key words. “Cheap plumber in Southern California provides cheap plumbing services in Southern CA for customers looking for cheap plumbers who serve the So Cal region.” And so on. Doesn’t exactly instill confidence, does it?

Ok, yes, that’s an extreme example of key-word stuffing, but we’ve seen ample websites that are just as egregious. What’s more, we’ve been asked to write some of them. Clients come to us armed with spreadsheets of key words which they expect us to stuff into their web copy as frequently as possible, whether it makes sense or not.

This kind of copy isn’t written for humans, let alone customers. It’s written for computer software that will never, ever buy your services or products. At Copy & Design, we write for people. Not programs.

Once it caught on to all the SEO shenanigans, Google changed the way it goes about ranking web pages. Which means that key-word stuffing no longer works and may in fact get your website blacklisted. Yet companies continue to pay thousands of dollars to SEO consultants who peddle a formula for key-word density they say guarantees top-billing in search results.

The truth is, whether your web page repeats a key word five times or 500 makes no difference to Google. Here’s a little experiment you can try. Go to Google and type in “plumbers in Southern California.” The top four entries you see are paid ad placements. Those companies forked over money to get their names at the top of the list; key words had nothing to do with it.

Under those paid placements, you’ll see a brief directory listing of plumbers in — you guessed it — Southern California. Under that, you’ll find yelp reviews, more directories, and some job listings. Very few results in the top 10 are for websites of actual plumbing companies.

So if key-word stuffing doesn’t work, what does? Good search-engine ranking boils down to good content: the actual words on the page, written for actual human beings — ideally, your customers. It doesn’t take an expensive SEO expert to develop good content. It does take a few basic guidelines.

Know What You’re Writing About

Write content that is specific to the products and/or services you offer, and that demonstrates your in-depth knowledge of said products/services. So rather than repeat over and over that you are a cheap plumber in Southern California, focus your content on the specific types of plumbing services you offer, and clarify how you save money for your customers.

Have a Voice

Your web content should reflect who you are as a company — in other words, your brand. Your copy should read like a human writing for other humans, with a genuine personality and voice. Throw away your key-words spreadsheet write with authenticity.

Mean Something

Avoid filler content — vapid copy whose only purpose is to rack up key words. Think about what’s most important to your customers. What do they want to know about you and your offerings? What questions might they have? What challenges do they want solved? Then write meaningful, useful content that matters to your customers.

Back to our plumber example: if you find many of your customers are concerned about roots growing into their pipes, write content on how to avoid or remedy this problem. Tell ‘em something they don’t already know.

Keep It Current

Good, quality web content requires a long-term commitment. You’ll need to keep it updated and fresh. As new issues important to your customers come up, identify and address them. Spend less time creating lists of key words, and more time thinking about content your customers will actually want to read.

Be Natural

Don’t force key words in where they don’t belong. Don’t contort your content just to cram in search phrases. Write about real subjects that are relevant to your customers, and the key words will work themselves in naturally.

Spread It Around

Google isn’t the end-all-be-all of search engines. These days, people use all manner of online platforms to search for services, products and information. Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, Thumbtack, Yelp, Twitter, Amazon — there are a growing number of social media spaces people use to find what they’re looking for. So whatever good, rich, relevant content you put on your website, make sure you’re spreading it around to other online channels where it can be found and clicked on.

So there you have it: Our long explanation for why we don’t do SEO content. We can, however, help you with creating good, quality content for your website — content that engages, informs and encourages your customers to stick around, bookmark you and come back for more, and invite others to check you out. We call it people optimization. And it most definitely works — no tricks required.

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