The Only 6 Optimizations Your Copy Needs – Using 1 Word or Phrase

We all know something shifted in search engine optimization. It’s tied to ongoing copy more than static, and has little now to do with clever tricks. It’s simple, understandable, and even DIY (do-it-yourself).

We Want Our Copy to Serve Multiple Purposes

First, we need to put search in context. The big three purposes of our web copy are:

  • Site: We want copy to fit into the overall purpose, direction, and value of our web site. We want the value, ideally, to persist. Since we’re not deleting old posts, but adding new ones, retention of relevance and significance are important. Any given fluff piece just detracts from the cumulative significance of our content.
  • Social: We want our copy to contribute to the ongoing social dialogue that’s happening *away* from our web site, because that’s where people are spending most of their time and always will. It would delusional to think people will spend inordinate time hanging out on our web site vs. Youtube, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. It won’t happen. We want our copy to be portable enough to go where our audience is.
  • Search: We want to rank well in searches, and not just the searches we come up with off the top of our heads (“Brooklyn Real Estate Agent”) but the ones people are actually doing in large numbers, or that (alternate strategy) our competition is missing out on, since those can result in more total visits than the more competitive phrases. We recognize search is a portion of the pie, not all of it, but we don’t want to leave it out.

We’re More Likely to Get Penalized than Get Better Rankings

Knee-jerk optimizing usually ruins all of these purposes. The copy becomes less integral to our site, organically. It becomes less interesting or relevant, socially. Ironically, too, search suffers the most. If we’re stuffing keywords into our text, in hopes that machines will rank our copy better, we’re cruising for an over-optimization penalty. That happens when search engines detect unnatural language and repetitive use of phrases aimed at gaming search results. Those days of inorganic copy, based on a felt need to compete on a technical front, are gone, and good riddance! Who wants to decipher a lot of machine-oriented writing to extract a useful, human element?

Start With the Copy, Not the Keyword

Get the copy written, first and foremost. Don’t start with search phrases. Start with the conversation your desired audience is already having. What are their core problems, to which you’d like to respond? Don’t drink your own Koolaid, either. It’s not what we *wish* they were thinking about, discussing, and trying to resolve – it’s what they’re *actually* talking about that matters. There’s so much social information available, that this is easier than ever to mine and understand. People now enter the sales process (with products and services alike) at multiple stages. Some are in the midst of discussion with peers; some are searching reviews rather than looking at home pages; some are watching how-to videos; some are just chit chatting about the problem itself, without a thought as to how to solve it.

Start With the Audience, Not With Search

More than ever, now, people arrive at a business home page having already researched, discussed, and framed their questions *before* they do an actual search. Focusing on search and search alone leaves a LOT of business on the table; it’s the lowest level of competition for clients at the *end* of the social dialogue. Instead, dig into these ongoing conversations more than ever. Gather information from existing clients, too, if you can get it reliably, but don’t rely solely on the people you’re already reaching. If your business model depends on new clients, you want to reach the people you aren’t currently reaching and don’t yet even know about, because you aren’t yet part of their dialogue.

Use a Focus Keyword or Keyphrase in 6 Simple Ways And Be Done With It

Once you have a piece of audience-centered copy, sum up it’s highest and best association with a relevant search phrase. Don’t force it to fit a mold; find what it already fits, and optimize accordingly. You can ensure your web copy is legitimately optimized by 6 simple uses of a single word or phrase:

  1. TITLE: Ensure the focus word or phrase is in the title. It’s better earlier in the title than at the end. Don’t just tack it on with a hyphen. If you’re doing that, chances are good it’s not really an appropriate focus word for the article or page. If you choose the focus word authentically, it’s relevant enough to hold prominence in the title.
  2. URL: Ensure the focus word or phrase is in the URL/link for the post or page. Depending on your site’s “permalink” configuration, this may be automatic. Most sites built on wordpress, for instance, are configured to use titles in the URLs, saving you time and effort and reinforcing the focus in search results.
  3. DESCRIPTION: Ensure the focus word or phrase is in the search engine description for the post or page. When you see a set of results in Google, the description is what appears under the title and URL for any given article.Search engines determine what a page is about by the description. There’s more than one way to ensure your focus word is included. You can either manually configure the page description, if your web site allows this, or leave it to the default behavior, which is for Google to use the first 156-160 characters of your article. In most cases, it’s simplest just to ensure your focus word is in the first 156 characters.
  4. HEADLINE: Ensure the focus word or phrase appears in a headline. Headlines are distinct from the title. The title appears once, at the top of an article. Headlines appear throughout the piece in bold or with other emphasis. When that happens, search engines understand that the headline is a useful summary of what that section of a post contains. Don’t cram the phrase into every headline in the article. Besides being an inauthentic use of headlines, you’ll likely get a penalty for over-optimizing.
  5. IMAGE: Ensure the focus word or phrase appears in the alt-tag for the attached image. When you attach a photo, graphic, or image to a page or post, it should always have an alt tag. You can usually configure this by filling in a field when you upload an image to your web site, or again when you attach it to an article. The alt-tag is meant to describe what the image is, what it contains, what it represents. If the focus keyword is relevant to the post, and the image is relevant to the post, it should be a simple matter to include one in the other.
  6. PAST POSTS: It’s not just the *current* focus phrase that matters. Once you’ve been doing this consistently for a while, you can mention past focus phrases in a current article, in the form of links. For instance, if the current article is about “Choosing the Perfect Wedding Cake.”, the article might mention how the cake goes along with the perfect wedding dress in some way. Make that text a link to a past article you wrote about choosing the “perfect wedding dress.”

Long Tail Focus Phrases Are Essential Optimization Choices

If our whole strategy is short phrases (e.g. “Philadelphia Meeting Space” or “New Jersey Home Loan”) we’re likely to not only run out, but end up repeating ourselves to the point that those phrases reach obsolescence. Long-tail key phrases are longer, because they reflect a more natural search approach (e.g. “Qualifying for a New Jersey Home Loan”) and a more refined/specific search criteria (e.g. “Qualifying for a VA Home Loan in New Jersey”). Not only are long tail search terms appropriate for titles or headlines, they’re downright suited to them. Imagine, too, that the image attached to an article is a relevant chart. It’s easy to see how that image’s alt-tag could contain the focus phrase.

As mentioned in #6, it’s also easy to see how we could link from any one article to any other on our site (an internal link), simply by mentioning it and making that mention a link. Search engines like internal links, when there’s some shared relevance between them. For instance, if you’ve written an article on qualifying for VA loans, you might link to a past article you wrote on qualifying for FHA loans, or on how VA loans compare to non-VA loans, or on the VA loan process. Not only are those different topics, and different potential long tail search phrases, they’re natural articles to link to from one another. The principle is the same with static pages. Some web sites can even be configured to automate this task of internal links, by analyzing and providing “related articles” on your site.

Search Optimization Beyond The Focus Keyword is Probably a Waste of Time

Applying more than these techniques to our copy is likely to range from detrimental to pointless. The seminal principle is that if our copy consistently keeps an audience focus – over time and in the aggregate, regardless of any one given article – then we won’t have to do more to optimize our copy. Copy needs to respect the brains of the audience, not just clamor for bodies in the form of “traffic”.

  • AUDIENCE MENTALITY: The article addresses the framework or headspace your intended audience is in when they search for it. It doesn’t have to keep them there, but it does have to work with that. It has to at least acknowledge it.
  • AUDIENCE FOCUS: The article engages them at the level of the real problems they’re trying to solve (rather than a pitch). It’s too easy to confused what we want the conversation to be with what it is, and to oversimplify it. E.g. “I guess people are talking about “I want a plumber.” No one is talking about that in any significant way. And if we “optimize” for that, we optimize for insignificance. Our results will be lowest common denominator, and not substantial enough to be worth the effort.
  • AUDIENCE BEHAVIOR: The article talks about what people search for, talk about, ask about, research, or refer to. Keyword research is oversimplified, because that only tells us what people act on at the *end* of their thought process, not in all the formative stages leading up to it.

There’s No Such Thing as SEO Copywriting

The search engine optimization of any given piece of copy is not based, in the main, on how it’s written. There’s no such thing anymore (if there ever was) as “SEO Copywriting”. That was a gimmick of putting as many search phrases as possible in any *one* article. It’s diametrically opposed to the method of having a single focus phrase. People whose focus was not actually on writing but on *selling* web copy, could make it seem spectacularly complex, as though it required a lot of technical expertise. But their industry relied entirely on search algorithms being much more primitive than they are today. As the search engines got more accurate with indexing copy, Google and others would filter out copy that aimed at everything and therefore was relevant to nothing in particular. If any given article tries to be all things to all people, it succeeds at winning over no one, and search is wise enough to rank it accordingly, or penalize it and give it a compassionate burial.

Genuine copy writing is about human engagement. The ability to choose and apply a focus keyword or key phrase is the tiniest, least significant part of it. It’s an essential skill, but it’s like requiring that a business executive be able to use e-mail or put data in a spreadsheet. It’s presumed within the job description. In fact, it’s so basic as to be likely relegated to an assistant. That said, if you’re writing your own copy, be aware of these 6 optimizations, and then be done with it. Don’t try to pour a lot of technical horsepower into something that isn’t a technical process. Listen to and engage your audience, and optimization truly can be an afterthought.

For guidance, help, advice, and strategy in growing your audience, extending your reach, and improving your business referrals, contact MadPipe. We’d love to help you grow your business.

Daniel DiGriz

Daniel DiGriz is a corporate storyteller and Digital Ecologist® at MadPipe, which provides creative direction, marketing leadership, and campaign direction for firms that want a stronger connection with their audience. A Digital Ecologist® applies strategic principles from both natural and digital ecologies to help organizations thrive across multiple ecosystems. Daniel hosts podcasts, speaks at conferences, and his ideas have appeared in Inc, SmartBlog, MediaPost, Forbes, and Success Magazine.
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