After 12 years of writing for the web, helping customers with web strategy and teaching and certifying other SEO copywriters, Heather Lloyd-Martin of Success Works still sees people getting so wound up in SEO that they forget their communication goals.
Backlinks, keywords and page descriptions are all important factors in SEO copywriting, but according to Heather, your main focus should always be on the people in your target audience. The human audience always trumps the search engine in Heather’s world.
Get hooked on great content, not SEO metrics
Heather offers keyword density (the number of times a keyword appears in web text represented as a percentage of the total text) as an example of a metric that some SEO experts have always put too much emphasis on.
“Back in the day, and I’m talking mid-nineties or so before the term SEO copywriter even existed, everyone knew that you needed a 5.5% keyword density to get a top search result with Alta Vista. Some people became obsessed with that number. But even then I recognized it as shortsighted to be too focused on a given metric as opposed to focusing on content that adds value for the readers,” she says.
SEO best practices can only take you so far
Heather believes that the basic best practices of SEO copywriting have stayed stable over time, and it’s how you apply them that makes the difference.
“It’s more important to connect with your reader and provide them high-quality content rather than stuff your content full of keywords,” she says.
The big SEO picture
According to Heather, SEO copywriting should never be limited to a focus on search engine results alone. It always has to be put in a wider communication context. By way of example, she points out how people tend to write articles focused around one keyword purely to drive search engine traffic.
“Some people will flood their sites with content without making sure that they’re providing quality content,” she says. “They figure these articles will get great search rankings and traffic-driving links. The reality is that these poorly-written articles don’t provide a good reader experience, so people won’t read them or link to them.”
Any old link will not do
Other companies write controversial “linkbait” articles hoping they’ll drive incoming links. Then again, why buy links when you can get them for free … in masses? However, companies should consider whether that type of post will help or hurt their content marketing strategy.
“For example, someone might want to write a controversial article hoping other sites will pick it up. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But have they considered whether the controversial aspect is good or bad for the brand?”
Facebook? Just one more channel of communication
Heather Lloyd-Martin believes that Search Media Optimization (SMO) is an area that is growing in importance and is crucial for getting found by the search engines. At the same time, however, she emphasizes that as with everything else, it has to be put within the context of the given business situation.
“It’s important for companies to become self-publishers disseminating information through a variety of media and channels. But not every channel will be advantageous for every company.
“For example, Facebook is a media that can get folks talking in a different way, much more casually than on a blog or a website. And that can be a great thing.
“But it’s not necessarily a good idea for a manufacturer of spare parts for the shipping industry, for example, to just pop up a Facebook page without giving it careful consideration. To me, Facebook is just one more way to connect with your customers,” Heather says.
SEO copywriting has two audiences
It’s up to the online copywriter to find the right balance between writing for the search engines and for people. Copy that is found by the search engines does so not only because it follows the best practices of SEO. It does so because ultimately it is relevant and valuable to people.