SEO copy best practices mean writing for your readers as well as for Google.
A funny thing happened to me recently:
I was going through a project with a client and – half way through talking about rewriting his website content – he said:
“Oh don't worry about that bit. That's just SEO copy.”
Me: “Sorry. What?”
Him: “Well, that big paragraph near the bottom is just there for SEO purposes. We won't worry about that.”
I confess. If this hadn't happened before, I would have been completely stumped.
What makes something “SEO copy” rather than just good copy?
All your copy needs to be SEO optimised copy.
What is SEO copy?
SEO copy has two jobs to do:
To be high-quality writing which appeals to your reader (some of whom might be lovely people who want to link back to it).
Seamlessly contain the phrases which your reader will type into a search engine to find the copy in the first place.
You can't extract one half of this equation and expect it to work. Otherwise, things go wrong:
Case you don't want number one: All filler, no killer
You might have some beautiful copy. It's like prose in its verbiage and so eloquent and persuasive that Shakespeare or whoever wrote Barack Obama's speeches might weep with envy.
But it's useless if no one ever gets to read it because you didn't bother to optimise it.
Case you don't want number two: All killer, no filler
Equally, you might have content that ranks at the top of every Search Engine Results Page. Neil Patel is on the phone asking you for a list of your SEO copy best practices.
But it's no good if your copy is so boring or so obviously stuffed with keywords that people click away to look for more of the Internet's amazing cat pictures rather than endure reading it.
You can't just mark part of your copy as “for Search Engine Optimisation purposes” and then hide it way down the page.
Loads of people do.
The “SEO copy block” and e-commerce
There are times when a picture can speak a thousand words.
Unfortunately, Google doesn't have ears.
This is partly the reason why image alt text is a thing.
It's also the unfortunate reason why many people (such as my totally-not-hypothetical client) add big blocks of text near the bottom of product or service pages hoping that they will never be seen by a human eye.
They are purely there for Google's spiders to trawl for semantic keywords. You normally have to scroll pretty gosh darn far down the page to find them.
So people do this? What does Google think?
Yes, people do this. No, Google doesn't really like it.
John Mueller is Google's Webmaster Trends Analyst. He says:
“...From our point of view, that's essentially keyword stuffing. So that's something which I would try to avoid.”
Got it, John.
(I'm partially paraphrasing here from one of the “Webmaster hang outs” – these are somewhere between an update, an interview and a State of the Union Address from Google's top people. You can find a decent transcript of this one over in this article at Search Engine Round Table.)
So, what does John think we should do instead?
“I'd stick to really informative content and put that in place where you think users will be able to see it...
...think about what you can do to make those pages rank well without having to put a giant paragraph of content below the page.”
Does Google penalise the “below the fold copy block” plan?
Well, it's certainly not going to win any prizes for “how to write good SEO copy” from the search engine maestros.
But you can find a whole heap of different websites which clearly succeed using this technique.
Or do they?
In a different Webmaster hang out, someone asked good old John how the search engine giant feels about keyword stuffing in general. (You can find large extracts of what he said in this article over at Search Engine Journal.)
For our purposes, the takeaway is that companies who do this sort of thing may succeed despite using keyword stuffing or similar SEO bad practices. Not because of them.
The thinking is essentially:
Google detects that loads of people visit a website directly. That is to say...
People seem to love the business regardless of its terrible SEO practices. Which means that...
Some ranking signals are based on how users interact with the Search Engine Results Page they get shown. This probably indicates that...
You too can probably do the same if you are confident that people will want to find you and interact with you online without you having an SEO strategy at all...
I guess the takeaway could be that if you're really popular, Google will overlook your terrible, rage-inducing flaws.
A slightly nicer takeaway comes from a different part of the chat. Here, our buddy John is talking about bad link building practices. He says:
“...we can kind of ignore that and just focus on the good parts where we have reasonable signals that we can use for ranking.”
They're just trying to think the best of us. Isn't that lovely?
How do you write SEO content that's reader-friendly too?
This is probably worthy of half a dozen lengthy articles in and of itself.
Most SEO companies – as well as any freelance copywriter worth their salt – will suggest that you:
Show off your benefits somewhere your clients will actually read them.
Use SEO best practices (rather than anything which might be considered keyword stuffing) to avoid the risk of nasty Google penalties.
Your SEO copy needs to consider both sides of the coin
For now, it's worth thinking about this from two sides:
First of all, even if you are personally really happy with the words you've used on your website...
Even if you've judged your presentation of what your business offers to perfection. Even if you have threaded the needle between boast and powerful persuasion to within an inch of ideal tolerance...
It won't do you any good if you haven't considered how your customers will be able to use a search engine to find you.
That definitely doesn't mean you need every paragraph to be stuffed with keywords.
It definitely does mean you should bear in mind that – unless you've flagged a page as not searchable – a search engine will be looking at your website and making a judgement how relevant it is to any given search.
On the flip side, don't forget that no matter how smart you are when you optimise your SEO copy for Google, it's a human being – probably one with some quantity of eyes and some level of functionality of brain – who is going to be the one to actually pass final judgement on whether your copy is worth anything.
Do you still have questions about your SEO copy? Let's talk.
You can contact me here via ye olde website. Or why not get in touch directly?
Do that by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org