Remember that first and foremost, you’re writing for human visitors. Don’t compromise your message to your human audience simply to make your pages more accessible to search engines. People are your audience. You may have to pragmatically balance the two needs, but in doing so, never take a decision in favour of search engines. It’s pointless getting a high ranking and attracting visitors to pages which don’t communicate properly.

This blog focuses on how you write copy which is ‘searchable’, that is to say, optimised to be indexed well.

Plan your keywords sitewide – before you write

When you’re planning your Web pages, structure your writing to include:

  • short sentences and paragraphs.
  • bullet points.
  • some keyword repetition.

Of all of these, your keywords are the most important. Keywords are words, word combinations and phrases which people are more likely to search on. The better your keywords match a person’s search, the higher your site will rank in the search results. Simplistically, if someone searches the Web for “golf balls”, your site will rank higher the more times that the phrase “golf balls” appears on the page. (As well as including keywords/phrases within your visible copy, they can appear in hidden meta tags too.)

So does that mean, if you sell golf balls, all you need to do is pepper your page with the phrase ‘golf balls’? No!

The real key to success is a little more sophisticated than that. You need to consider what your overall objectives are and, most importantly, put yourself in the mind of the person who is searching the Web.

Your objectives

Let’s say that you sell golf balls. So who buys golf balls? Simple – people who play golf. Now, what are people who play golf looking for on the Web? More than just golf balls, surely? (In fact, you’re probably selling more than just golf balls too, but let’s not complicate matters, eh?)

So, to attract visitors, you might have to create content known as ‘fish food’ – items that make your site ‘sticky’ and keep visitors coming back for more. This might actually have little to do with your products and services, but everything to do with your target audience.

So, for example, you might decide to have a review of all the golf courses in your county, state, or country (depending on how ambitious you are and how much time you have on your hands). Or perhaps keep a table of all major golf matches.

This type of content alone will attract more visitors than your golf ball price list – and it will specifically attract people who are interested in golf – so this will by itself tip the scales in your favour.

Hang on – isn’t this briefing about writing searchable copy? When do the techniques and tricks come in? Just a second, I’m getting there.

This is not irrelevant: simply weaving in a few keywords to your copy is of limited benefit – you need to provide copy which has value, too.

It takes effort to create and manage this type of copy, but that effort will be rewarded. Visitors coming to your site will see a company which:

  • is knowledgeable (perhaps with ‘expert status’).
  • is interested in their interests.
  • provides regularly changing information.
  • provides information which is hard to find elsewhere.

So this type of content encourages people to come back, rather than visiting only when they actually require golf balls. The value in this is that when they do want golf balls, they are far more likely to remember your website – and spend their money with you.

But there’s a massive search engine bonus too. By virtue of the variety of golfing information you’re posting to your site, people will find it via a far wider range of searches. I used this strategy to great effect in the website for The Training Foundation, which invests a lot of time creating and posting articles on an extensive range of training topics. Site visitors can register for automatic e-mail updates, which saves them the time of searching for what’s new and turns The Training Foundation into an active provider of information, literally reaching into people’s inboxes rather than waiting to be visited. And the reason that people opt into this list is simple: the content has value. As well as having many visitors, the site gained favourable magazine reviews, including one which said: “This is how all websites should be but, sadly, a good few years into the internet revolution many still fail dismally on these counts. So it is always nice to praise a site which genuinely justifies its place on the Web.”

Using this type of content (in this case lots of golf-related topics) boosts your chances of being found.

So, when planning your content, go beyond the immediate. Cast your net wide. Fish-food content is not only more searchable, it is more interesting and will draw visitors who wouldn’t ordinarily have found your site – and, if you keep the site relevant, they’ll all be the type of visitor who wants golf balls.

Putting yourself in the mind of your visitors

Okay, so I’ve looked at how we attract those visitors who are interested in golf, but not immediately looking for golf balls. Now what about those who are searching specifically for golf balls?
You need to use your market experience, and think what those people might input into a search engine. Without doubt, ‘golf balls’ is one option – but it’s far from being the only one. For instance, many golfers have a preferred brand of golf ball. Let’s look at how to write copy to mitigate for that.

Here’s an example introductory paragraph to a ‘golf balls’ product page, before and after a little (obvious) optimisation.

Optimising an introductory paragraph: before 
Cracking Golf Balls – if you want a golf ball, we’ve got it!

Optimising an introductory paragraph: after
Cracking Golf Balls – the leading supplier of all major brands of golf balls, including Callaway, Hogan, Maxfli, Nitro, Nike, Pinnacle, Precept, Srixon, Strata, Titleist and Top Flite.

All I did here was to ‘not miss a chance’. If the person inputs ‘Callaway golf balls’ into a search engine, the page is ranked higher than it would have been. It could well have been ranked to some degree with my initial statement, because it also includes the phrase ‘golf balls’. However, the revised statement isn’t disadvantaged in any way for a plain old ‘golf balls’ search, and I’ve made it far more applicable to other obvious searches.

Because the keywords are in the same paragraph and close together, search engines will analyse these at the same time and combine them in searches and search results.

I might want to tune it further, to include those people searching for used as well as new golf balls.

Further optimising the introductory paragraph: before 
Cracking Golf Balls – the leading supplier of all major brands of golf balls, including Callaway, Hogan, Maxfli, Nitro, Nike, Pinnacle, Precept, Srixon, Strata, Titleist and Top Flite.

Further optimising the introductory paragraph: after
Cracking Golf Balls – the leading supplier of new, used, recycled and refurbished golf balls, including Callaway, Hogan, Maxfli, Nitro, Nike, Pinnacle, Precept, Srixon, Strata, Titleist and Top Flite.

I’ve lost the words ‘all major brands’ but it could have been included. I did this to keep the word count down – in this instance, I decided that reducing the number of words was better than the moderate gain of including the phrase.

So now, the page should get ranked higher for other searches such as:

  • “golf balls”
  • “new golf balls”
  • “used golf balls”
  • “new Nitro golf balls”
  • “used Titleist golf balls”
  • “recycled golf balls”

…and so on. What’s good about this is that there is nothing underhand about it – you are making the text more relevant to humans as well as search engines. Just a couple of revisions has seen this text grow from having one viable search phrase to many permutations. (I just know that this page is going to get lots of hits from confused golfers – sorry, people!)

You could go mad and include lots of keywords, but then the sentence would cease to make sense to the visitor. My revision is no less readable and is arguably more meaningful anyway. Besides, you’ve got lots of opportunities in other places on your website for different keywords.

People search for things in a variety of ways, some of which are surprising. You won’t be able to catch all of these, but you don’t need to – catching the most obvious will be sufficient.

Learning what people might search for

Of course, we don’t know exactly what people are searching for when they use a search engine. But, if you include a search facility on your own site, then implement one which stores the phrases that people input in the search box. (Some website search services send useful reports of the search phrases which are input.) You can use this knowledge to make information easier to find (if the search facility is used a lot for the same topic, then you can give it more prominence on the site) or to tune your website copy to ‘anticipate’ that people are using similar search phrases on search engines. Including these search phrases will help get you better pull-through from search engines.

What about longer copy?

I’ve looked at a simple example, which is the introductory paragraph on a product page. But what if you want a longer page of copy?
It’s safe to assume, by virtue of the copy length, that you’ll be introducing more topics. However, the same concepts apply.

  • Consider your audience.
  • Brainstorm the structure of the document.
  • Look for and list obvious keywords/phrases.
  • Look for and list less obvious keywords/phrases.
  • Look for associated words which might be used in searches (as per my ‘new’, ‘used’, ‘recycled’ and ‘refurbished’ example).
  • Ensure when you are writing that you weave these in, logically and in a way that makes sense to the reader – and adds value to the copy, don’t do it for its own sake.
  • Keep associated keywords together in the same paragraphs.
  • Structure your paragraphs to be as short as you can.

With all of these, please remember that your key role is to communicate. Do this first and foremost. You can see that even on this website, I’ve not followed these guidelines slavishly, or indeed implemented them all. That’s because communication is my primary focus. I’m not prepared to sacrifice the quality of my communications for a few search engine hits – and nor should you.
Implement them carefully, not formulaically.

The role is to add some structure to your writing to gain some benefits. (You can see from my example that just a little structure results in massive multipliers, so you don’t really need to try any harder than that.) You should not apply a rigid framework to your writing which turns your Web pages into nonsense.