I’m happy to publish a nice guest post from copywriter Glenn Murray who has a bunch to say about copy and he is well versed in this area so I hope that you join in the conversation and add your 2 from whichever currency.
Over to Glenn…
There’s a lot of talk around the traps, at the moment, about LSI, ‘the Semantic Web’, ‘Web 3.0’ phrase-based this, probabilistic that… I’ve been paying close attention to all this talk, but I’ve been a little… shall we say… suspicious of it.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not questioning whether search engines actually use Semantic Analysis Methods. Today’s search engines are definitely smart enough to take context and ‘hidden’ meaning into consideration when learning what a page is all about.
What I’m suggesting is that the search engines are smart enough that we don’t have to optimize our copy any more. Helpful, informative copy naturally contains the elements the search engines look for when assessing relevance. And now that the search engines are smart enough to find those elements, we copywriters can forget about optimization.
Assuming someone’s doing keyword analysis to choose the most appropriate keyword phrases to target, and then planning clusters of pages around those phrases, all we copywriters need worry about is writing helpful, informative, engaging, compelling copy.
Don’t believe me? I suspected you wouldn’t. So I’ve dug up some NON-SEO copy I’ve written over the past year or two, and analyzed it to see if it naturally contains the things that SEO copywriters would normally focus on.
What do SEO copywriters normally focus on?
Let’s say your page is about cooking. An SEO copywriter would consider the following:
- Keyword density / phrase ratio – Have I used “cooking” 15 times on this page?
- Keyword prominence – Have I used “cooking” in my headings, bulleted lists, bolded bits, etc.?
- Subparts / stems – Have I used “cook” and “cooks” often enough?
- Related terms – Have I used “chef”, “ingredient”, “recipe”, “gourmet”, “cuisine”, “taste”, “aroma”, “oven” and so on?
- Synonyms – Have I used “baking” and “barbequing”
- Modifiers – Have I used “pastry cook” and “short order cook”, just for good measure?
(Hold on, don’t shoot! I know there’s more to semantic indexing than that)
I’m gonna stop you there for a sec. I’m not saying this is all Google uses to learn meaning. Far from it! I haven’t even mentioned construction grammar, generative grammar and the other transformational grammars. (Mostly because I don’t know what they are!)
Nor am I saying that Google thinks precisely in these terms. For instance, it doesn’t use keyword density, as we think of it, at all.
4 examples of copy that contain these elements WITHOUT optimization:
Below are 4 pieces of non-SEO copy I’ve written over the last year or two. When I wrote them, I wasn’t targeting any particular keyword, I was just writing on a supplied topic. (And I swear, I didn’t optimize them at all during this exercise. I performed this analysis as much for my own understanding as for this post.)
- Piece 1 – Formit brochure copy .DOC file (topic: Rainwater tanks)
- Piece 2 – Divine Pearls web copy .DOC file (topic: Freshwater jewellery)
- Piece 3 – Evolve Pictures web copy .DOC file (topic: Concept art)
- Piece 4 – Perring Group web copy .DOC file (topic:Executive search)
For the sake of this exercise, let’s use those topics as our target keyword phrases.
Visualizing natural optimization with yellow highlighting
In each sample piece of copy linked to above, I’ve highlighted in yellow:
- The most likely target keywords
- Prominent keywords
- Subparts / stems
- Related terms
As you can see, every page in every sample is heavy with instances from the list above. Maybe not every item on every page, but, it’s important to remember that Google isn’t looking for specific statistics, nor is it checking things off a list as I’m doing here. It’s looking at the entire page, and the neighboring pages (and a whole lot of other things), and making judgments based on the whole.
Bearing that in mind, it’s hard to imagine Google needing more from these samples. I’m confident it could tell that the Formit copy is relevant to searches for “rainwater tanks”, the Divine Pearls copy is relevant to searches for “freshwater pearl jewellery”, and so on.
Visualizing natural optimization with word clouds
It took me a long time to go through and highlight everything in those documents. It’s certainly not the sort of thing I’d like to have to do for every job.
A different (and much more replicable) approach is to generate a tag cloud – or word cloud – from your copy. If the words from your target phrase, related terms, synonyms, etc., are very prominent in the cloud, that’s a pretty good indication that your subject matter will be considered relevant to searches for your target keyword phrase.
Word cloud for Formit brochure copy
Here’s the word cloud from my Formit brochure copy. Topic: Rainwater tanks. (I use Wordle for my tag clouds)
As you can see, without any optimization, my brochure copy looks fine. “Rainwater” and “tanks” appear to tie for the 2nd most prominent position. Interestingly, “water”, a subpart of “rainwater”, is 1st, and “tank”, a subpart of “tanks” is 4th. What’s more, most of the other prominent terms are related to the business of manufacturing and selling rainwater tanks.
Word cloud for Divine Pearls web copy
Here’s the word cloud from my Divine Pearls straight web copy. Topic: Freshwater pearl jewellery.
Without any optimization, “freshwater” seems to be about the 5th most prominent term, and “pearl” is the 4th. (And “Pearls” is clearly the most prominent.) “Jewellery” isn’t as prominent as I would have had liked, had I been optimizing the copy, but when you consider the whole – including the fact that most of the other prominent terms are somehow related – I’d suggest it’s fine as is.
Word cloud Evolve Pictures web copy
Here’s the word cloud from my Evolve Pictures straight web copy. Topic: Concept art.
Once again, without any optimization, “concept” seems to be no.1, and “art” looks like no.3. Note also that the other prominent terms are nearly all somehow related to concept art.
Word cloud for Perring Group web copy
Here’s the word cloud from my Perring Group straight web copy. Topic: Executive search.
Without any optimization, “executive” is the 4th most prominent word in the copy, and “search” is the 2nd most prominent. And once again, you’ll note that many of the other prominent words are related to the executive search domain.
Although I’ve chosen only 4 samples of my copy, I chose them because I knew they were definitely NOT optimized. So I’m confident I’d find the same results if I analyzed more. And I don’t think it’s just me. I suspect if you analyzed any decent copywriter’s work, you’d come up with similar results.
Helpful, informative copy doesn’t require optimization. It’s the topic selection and site structure that require SEO thought. Someone needs to:
- Do some keyword analysis to identify what customers are searching for;
- Plan a cluster of pages around each target keyword phrase;
- Supply the copywriter with a list of topics to write about (preferably one topic per page).
All we copywriters need to do is write helpful, informative copy on the topics supplied. Exactly as I did in the 4 samples discussed above.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Also bear in mind that the samples I’ve analyzed here are high level pages. Home, About Us, that sort of thing. More often than not, these pages would be supported by a great deal of very focused blog content, which would naturally contain even more keywords, related terms, synonyms, etc.
Please comment to let me know your thoughts
What do you think? Agree or disagree? Is SEO copywriting dead? I’d love to hear your comments…
PS. A big thanks to CJ Jenkins (my gracious host here at Science for SEO), David Harry from Reliable SEO and Ben McKay from Just Me and My Search Marketing for your help on this post. You may not agree with everything I’ve written here, but I appreciate your assistance!
And back to me…
Cheers Genn for a really well researched and interesting post, I agree to some extent but not fully so I’ll kick this off with a few bullets
- When you’re used to writing for SEO you do it all the time, it becomes a normal things after 5-10 years of doing it. I think we SEO’s tend to forget how hard it was to pick up in the beginning and how much though it took back then. Glenn’s example site is very good, but I think that not everyone will write as freely and as well as that.
- What about Rotschild wine?
- Density is a dud measure if you look at the percentages and try and get a ratio and so on. That’s not how it should be used. Use it to see at a high level which words stick out, that’s all.
- If you are a n00b to SEO and that you have written your copy off the top of your head, chances are it will need some tweaking to be effective.
I do agree that there is far far more to SEO than just copy but well formed copy goes a long way. This doesn’t mean copy that has been written by ticking those seo check boxes. This requires more of an artistic streak but at the same time making the copy meanfingul equates to making it useful for search engine optimisation.