You have read hundreds of pages about how your site can appeal to search engines, and why it is so important, but now we turn the tables on you. The best philosophy for writing for search is: Write for people first, not for search engines.
We know, we knowthat's what you were doing before you picked up this book. In fact, you were writing for people first, last, and only. We are not telling you to go back to that extreme. But neither should you take a pendulum swing in the other direction. Do not write for search engines and forget about people.
We are warning you about this because a far-too-common response of newbie search marketers is to optimize everything for search engines. To go overboard learning about every tiny part of search ranking algorithms and to overanalyze and overtune their sites to appeal to search engines every way they can think of. To "chase the algorithm," by constantly re-optimizing to keep up every time the search engines change. This is a huge mistake.
To see why, go back to the basics. What is the purpose of your Web site? To get high search rankings? No. Getting high search rankings is merely a means to an end. In Chapter 5, "Identify Your Web Site's Goals," you decided your Web site's goal. You have developed your search marketing program to support that goal. As you reconsider your Web site's goal, think again about your Web conversions. Selling a product. Downloading that white paper. Passing a lead to a manufacturer's rep. Getting a donation for your cause. Don't forget what your goal is: getting conversions.
If you get high rankings in search because you "chase the algorithm," but you have not written with people in mind, you might not get anyone to click through and eventually convert. Let's look at an example. To optimize a page for its "digital cameras" search marketing campaign, Snap Electronics could have produced the prose in Figure 12-3.
Figure 12-3. Overoptimizing your content. When you try to stuff keywords into every phrase, you produce stilted, unreadable copy that converts no one.
It makes your brain hurt just reading it, doesn't it? And the worst thing about the mind-numbing repetition of the "broken-record" approach is that it sometimes works. Sometimes search engines will give that kind of page a high ranking. But how many Web conversions do you think that kind of writing will draw? Most people reading that drivel would run screaming into the night.
Chasing the algorithm with tortured and torpid prose might win the battle (rankings) but lose the war (conversions). What is the alternative? Writing for people first. First, write strong, interesting, action-oriented copy. Your words must help your visitor complete their taskthat's how you get conversions. Take a look at Figure 12-4.
Figure 12-4. Writing for people first. You can write for your reader while still taking care to repeat the phrases needed for high search rankings.
Wasn't that better? Granted, we did not squeeze as many keywords into the same 60-word body (or 13-word title) as in the original, but you can read it without your brain imploding, which means that some people might convert (as opposed to none). And you just might find that you get the same search ranking for the well-written version as for the overoptimized one, because you have attracted far more links to the information-rich, visitor-friendly page.
Besides, chasing the algorithm will drive you nuts. Page ranking factors used by search engines can be extremely volatilesome believe that search engines regularly tweak their ranking algorithms as one way to doom search marketers who do chase their algorithms. And how do you know what is in that algorithm anyway? Well-respected search experts say that the optimal page size for search is between 250 and 550 words. Others say it is 350 to 600. Some say that you should change your pages frequently so that your content is fresh. Others say that you should stick with what is working. Who's right? Who cares? The only people who really know how the algorithms work are the search engine designers themselvesand they aren't telling.
Don't chase after any of these search factoids. You will miss the mark on actual conversions. And you will go insane tweaking your content. Get off the algorithm roller coaster and connect with your visitors instead. What do your visitors need to know? How can you help them get what they want? That is what will drive your conversions.
Yes, you should write with keywords in mind. You should use them early and often, in titles, and throughout the body. Yes. Do all of that. But not to the point of insanity. Not until your words seem like a computer tried to translate them from another language. Or that you were paid by the keyword.
So, pick your own reason for writing for visitors first:
In the end, it is your decision, but we strongly advise you to play it straight. Be factual. Avoid the overheated hype. Unlike other forms of marketing and advertising, a straightforward approach is often the most convincing on the Webeven a "soft sell" can sometimes be best. Now let's look at some specific techniques for writing copy that puts the visitor first but will still appeal to search engines.