Posted on November 5, 2009
I got into search engine optimization from a writing angle and not, like many, from a web designer angle. I think this gives me a unique viewpoint and perhaps a certain strength. My primary focus when I accept an SEO job is on what I think is the best strategy: creating good content and copy.
Concentrating on your site's written content is one sure-fire method to increase your search rankings. As the search algorithms change and adapt to the newest SEO tricks, and as the tricks adapt to the new algorithms, one thing will stay constant; good content is good content, and eventually it will get noticed. It may not happen immediately; in fact it may take quite a bit of time in some cases, but eventually the cream will rise to the top.
Giving people useful, relevant, entertaining and well-written content is the only long-term strategy that's going to work. You might follow other good approaches to generating traffic, like keyword optimization or generating links, but then what? You have to have something to keep them there, or to make them come back, or to make them want to do business with you. There has to be value.
Crafting copy for SEO purposes is akin to writing for two audiences at once. You're writing for your normal, human audience and, kind of in-between the lines, you're writing for robots. A search engine robot is just another audience to write for. Addressing these two audiences at once is the art of SEO, and the following steps are a broad overview of how I approach the task.
Your first pass at your copy should just be getting all the important ideas out there that you can. Write the copy as if there is no SEO involved in it at all; just write it for your audience like you normally would. If you know you're not the best writer, get help; hire someone who will ask the right questions, like - Who is your audience? How do they want to be communicated with? How can I make this content informative, entertaining, and relevant to them?
I can't emphasize enough how important it is to take the time to really think about your content and what it is communicating to your audience. I constantly see people skimping on this step - everything from just putting up boilerplate content to hiring people with low English skills to design and write their website. If you had a bricks and mortar location, would you spend a lot of money on the outside of your store so that it looked amazing and then leave the inside shoddy and unappealing? Probably not. But this, to me, is the equivalent when people focus on the graphics and feel of their site and don't put the effort into ensuring that it will add value to people's experience of the site. (I wrote some tips for writing promotional articles that included some effective strategies for brainstorming content.)
Next you implement keyword optimization. Long story short: you use SEO tools, like Google's Keyword Tool and others, to find what are currently highly ranked keyword searches. You write down the top keywords and keyword combination, and you find related terms that are highly relevant to your audience.
Part of the art of crafting good content for SEO is determining when a search term is much too popular to try to compete for. If you're in the business of selling acai berries, god forbid, and you see that there is a monthly search volume of 2.5 million searches for that term, and a search returns 7 million results, then you're going to have to start with some alternative ways to rank in search results. Maybe you concentrate on 'acai berry research' or 'acai berry benefits'; you'll have to pick search terms not on the straight and narrow. Of course these search terms contain your main product, so they are good choices. The point is that trying to rank high just for 'acai berry' would be an exercise in futility.
Then you begin the careful process of editing. Place the top keywords you've chosen into your existing copy, taking care that the copy remains readable to humans. Being readable to humans is much more important than being readable to robots. But if those important keywords and keyword phrases are in the copy, and it still flows well, then you've accomplished something.
Once you get to a point of being content with the content (using two heteronyms in a row http://www-personal.umich.edu/~cellis/heteronym.html - just an example of the kind of thing you don't want to do), you will edit the copy. If you have done all of this process by yourself up until this point, then you really want to get a second set of eyes on the copy. Even the best writers in the world benefit from having someone else proofread their work. No one is perfect, and having your work checked for clarity and grammatical mistakes reduces the chance that any problems will stand in the way of a potential connection with your audience.
You can find very differing opinions on keyword density; a general agreement is that around 3% is pretty good for your top keywords. All in all, I don't believe that this is a very important element; I'd just make sure that your dominant keywords have the highest percentages for your page's keyword density .
Another basic strategy is crafting individual pages to be strong for different keywords or keyword phrases. For example, I did a site recently for an investment firm, and my research showed that 'investment firm' and 'investment advisor' were two of the top searched phrases for that industry. On their site, I made one of their pages very strong for the first phrase and another phrase very strong for the second phrase. I also found several unobtrusive ways to fit their geographic location on the page without making it seem like they were too local.
One last bit of advice: study what works. You would think this would go without saying, but I've seen many people perform SEO without even checking out the competition. Referring to the investment firm I worked for recently, I spent several days just taking notes on similar companies to theirs, both in their market and in the markets of larger cities. This time spent may seem like a hassle, especially if you're in a hurry, but trust that this research will pay for itself many times over. There is no need to reinvent the wheel if someone's already done it for you. Of course, it should go without saying that you cannot copy their content - you are just perusing what keyword combinations have worked for them to attract traffic.
All of these strategies I've gone into are rudimentary. Only with practice (and sometimes trial and error) can you see how your SEO content choices have fared. It is a rapidly changing SEO world, and I believe that the only sure-fire long-term strategy is one of asking what it is that your audience wants to know, and giving it to them.
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