Writing for robots is part of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) – the art of getting high search engine rankings. If you’re a creative writer or journalist ever asked to write “SEO copy” and haven’t a clue what to do, here’s some lowdown.
This is a chapter from my new book, How to Launch a Copywriting Business. It’s aimed at creative writers and journalists who can write well, but want to learn the business side of copywriting.
Just brilliant – Claire Wingfield, writer and editor
From “Writing for the Web”
When writing for the web, you’re not just writing for people – you’re also writing for robots.
Words on the web are “crawled” by bots, who feed this raw data to search engines.
Think of them as virtual life forms zooming around the internet in search of interesting food.
Some kinds of writing are tastier for the bots, who reward it with higher search rankings.
So if you’re writing for the web, you need to learn techniques to appeal to bots as well as people.
These skills are part of search engine optimization (SEO), and copywriting using these techniques is called “SEO copy”.
SEO copy is the art of writing text that ranks well in search engines.
In the early days of the web, it was something of a “dark” art.
Savvy web developers and writers could game the system by overloading the copy with keywords – a practice known as “keyword stuffing”.
If you were marketing a disposable widget, the words “disposable widget” had to appear as many times as possible within the text.
This led to shouty, unnatural web copy with a high keyword density.
Sometimes, website designers inserted inappropriate keywords to game the search engines.
For example, a site selling TVs might include lots of “Britney Spears” – completely irrelevant, but possibly attractive to some sections of the target market.
These practices are called “black hat”, from the “good guy” and “bad guy” hats worn in westerns.
Other black hat practices include using other companies’ brand names in your keywords, or adding backlinks to your own site on competitors’ blogs.
Thankfully, the sheriff’s in town.
Google and other search engines now penalise these practices, in their quest to introduce “good quality content to the reader who wants it”.
Search Engines In Brief
A complete SEO copywriting primer is a book in itself, and the goalposts keep moving.
But the good news is that a few basic principles will get you a long way.
Search engine-friendly writing means writing for two different conceptual spaces:
Firstly, the visible words. This is the copy on the actual webpages and blogs which are clearly visible on the web, and there to be read by people.
Secondly, the invisible words. This is the behind-the-scenes text that helps search engines. It includes meta descriptions, tags, headlines, titles and other structural elements of a site.
These text elements are a kind of code that helps the bots to do their work. Some – like meta descriptions and page titles – can be seen in search results. Others, such as tags, can only be seen by viewing the source code.
It is worth look at the source code, if only to understand an important fundamental:
Search engines run on words.
In amongst all the code and numbers, bots are actually truffle-hunting the best words relevant to the search.
Some of the truffles are visible in blogs and on web pages. Others are hidden underground, as extra enticements.
So here are the main extra truffles. If you write these, you’re already an SEO copywriter.
Meta descriptions are the two line elements of text that appear in search results.
If you haven’t inspected them before, take a look now, by opening your browser and performing a search. Meta descriptions function as a mini taster for the web page.
They help visitors to see if they want to click further.
If the meta description space is filled with incoherent rubbish, it’s often because they weren’t specifically written.
If the bots don’t find specific meta descriptions, they grab a nearby bunch of words and put them in the space.
This is a wasted opportunity for the company who owns the site.
After all, the meta description is a free advertising space.
A well written meta description can make all the difference between a click and a pass.
An SEO copywriter will typically supply separate meta descriptions for each page.
These should be around 140-160 characters long, to make the most of the available space…
Excerpt from How to Launch a Freelance Copywriting Business by Jules Horne – the essential business guide for creative writers and journalists.
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