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Search engine optimisation – it's all in the writing

I now propose to go right out on a limb and say that design has very little to do with search engine optimisation. This is a sweeping generalisation, I admit, and one to which my designer friends will take instant umbrage. But it is true to all intents and purposes. Design can certainly assist in achieving good optimisation. By that I mean it will assist if it doesn’t hinder the process with acres of code that the robots need to wade through in order to find the potatoes and gravy. Or if the navigation throughout the site is logical and easy to achieve. Or if the pages are designed to load quickly.

Other than that, optimisation is all in the writing.

Now, I am a copywriter with around 40 years’ experience of the advertising business; and there can be few people in the world who know less about design than I do. But my entire working life seems to have been spent arguing with designers about the length of copy in relation to the size of the pic in any given piece of work. And I confess that I mostly lost, thereafter seeing my words relegated to four lines of 8-point Myopic beneath an illustration the size of a house.

In website terms, however, the tables have been nicely turned. Here’s why.

To optimise a website, you first need to take a good, long look at the HTML meta tags of Title, Description and Keywords. Do you see what I see? Yes, they are words. And all of these words require researching and embellishing. Likewise, take a peek under that all-singing, all-dancing Home page banner – and what do you see? More words. These words, unlike those used in the meta tags above, are written for both search engine and potential human customer alike.

Search engines love words. Great, isn’t it?

Given all of this, it is pretty clear that all you need in order to properly optimise a website is a lexicon of well thought out words – keywords and keyphrases – sprinkled like generous confetti throughout the meta tags and the body copy. Well, almost.

In the first place, those words must be relevant. They must state clearly what it is you are selling and where you are selling it. The general marketing principle is: (a) product description, (b) product benefits, (c) region of operation. What you don’t need are turgid explanations about the size of your company and who the product is designed for. Your potential customers will mostly be bright enough to know whether or not they are in the market for what you are offering. So to say, for instance, that your ‘range of gardening gloves is ideal for gardeners’ is a touch obvious, not to mention redundant and a waste of valuable space. In all promotional writing, brevity and clarity are the two most important attributes. But I digress.

So how do you go about collating these key words and phrases? First, you could invest in software that generates your meta tags and keywords for you. Fair enough; there are some good programmes around, and I would be the first to applaud any device that makes life a touch easier. On the other hand, you could take the more intellectually satisfying route and do it yourself.

“Oh, no,” you cry, reaching for the gin bottle. “I don’t do writing!” To which I answer: “You don’t have to. Someone has already done it for you.” I should tell you, straight away, that I am not an advocate of plagiarism. However, it is not theft to take a good, long look at somebody else’s literary ideas and adapt them to your own ends. I will cite John Donne’s penchant for re-working William Shakespeare as a good example of this. And what is good enough for Mr Donne, is certainly good enough for me. So, to formulate your keywords and phrases, why not research what your competitors are doing, then adopt and adapt? By competitors, I mean serious competitors, the people who are listed at No. 1 on Google, Yahoo and MSN in your sphere of activity. Delve into their meta-tags, analyse their body copy, figure out what it is that convinces the search engines to place them at No. 1.

If you feel that such a ploy is a little devious, you can console yourself with the thought that the writers of the No.1 material probably pinched it from someone else in the first place. So that’s all right then.

And now for the denouement to this piece, which is the most important bit of all.

We have established with some certainty, I think, that a website stands or falls in the listings stakes by the quality of its words. Of course, that quality is determined by the search engines, not your old professor of English. So the judgment is in algorithm terms rather than literary terms. That’s fine; we are simply trying to accommodate the engines, not win a Nobel Prize.

Further, in my not so humble opinion, every Home page should carry a stick of keyphrase-rich body copy. And this stick of copy should be placed where it can be seen, read and acted upon by the search engines. As close to the top of the page as possible.

Sadly, so many Home pages don’t have this attribute. The page designs leap from whiz-bang banner to product list or string of pics with no intervening tit-bits of information – in the shape of copy – designed to feed the search engine robots. There is little for the robots to get their shiny little teeth into.

Let me prove the point. On several occasions recently, I have been asked to optimise websites on which the Home pages were bereft of any meaningful copy. Within an hour or two, the copy was written and the sites posted to the engines. Within a couple of days, the sites in question were featuring nicely on the first couple of pages of the major engines. Previously, they were barely indexed.

There’s nothing magical about any of this. Because, guess what, search engine optimisation is all in the writing.

If this has been helpful, maybe you’ll let me know.


About the Author: Pat Quinn is an award-winning UK copywriter who also operates a search engine optimisation service. Because it’s all in the writing! Here:

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Camilla Todd
Camilla Todd is Head of Digital Marketing at WNW Digital and manages Search Engine Optimisation, PPC, Social Media campaigns and Brand Awareness for WNW Digital SEO clients. You can follow her on Twitter @camilla_wnw, email her at or phone on 01392 349580

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