Maslen on Marketing, Web copywriting

The SEO Copywriting Industry’s Dirty Little Secret

So what’s the deal with SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) copywriting? Can you, by dint of clever wordsmithery, boot a site onto the front page of Google, possibly to the very top? Or is there something else going on?

I spent an hour or so combing through some of the supposedly best SEO blogs on the web, including one regarded in the SEO “community” as the best, to find out what’s the current advice on best practice. Here’s what I discovered.

Google isn’t stupid

Google employs many hundreds, possible thousands, of clever and quite morally driven people whose job it is to update the famous algorithm that determines PageRanks for a website.

They are not unaware of what’s going on out there so they simply weight the algorithm in favour of factors that are totally outside a site owner’s control.

Most important of these are “Trust/authority” and “Link popularity”. Loosely translated, this means if you are a highly regarded authority on a particular subject, budgerigar breeding, for example, many people who are also interested in budgerigar breeding will link to your site.

You can write about budgerigar breeding till you’re blue in the face (or possibly green, or yellow), but unless you have those links, forget it.

It’s a simple but effective way of ensuring that the site owners who get the PageRanks are the ones with the widest reputation, not the deepest pockets.

Copywriting (now referred to as part of “on-page optimization”) is important, but it comes pretty well bottom of the pile of decision-factors.

Smoke and mirrors

Listen to many so-called SEO copywriting experts and you will hear a great deal about the importance of keywords, meta tags, bold and italic tags …blah, blah, blah.

Once you have blown away the smoke and smashed the mirrors, the truth is revealed.

It’s no more a specialist art than decent direct mail copy ie make your copy relevant to your reader by talking in detail about the things that interest them. Use bold and italics to highlight key passages – but don’t overdo it. Write interesting headlines that help the reader understand what you’re talking about.

And, overall, write for your reader not for the spider – advice provided gratis by Google in its own report on SEO.

The proof

Just to close, here are a few of the qualifications in a report on on-page optimisation.

On tags:

“although not used for “rankings” by any of the major engines”

“although not necessary”

“we never recommend employing the tag”

On keyword density:

“A complete myth as an algorithmic component”

On body tags:

“never studied in a depth of detail that’s convincing to me”

“it has a very low correlation with high rankings (close to zero, in fact)”

“These tags appears to carry little to no SEO value”

“a very, very tiny amount of SEO weight”

“No testing has yet found that internal anchors are picked up/counted by the engines”

And their earth-shattering conclusions?

“whatever works best for the content and the visitors is likely ideal”

“The truth is that in the process of producing great web content, we sometimes forget, sometimes ignore and sometimes intentionally disobey the best practices laid out above.”


And I’m telling you this because

A lot of the people peddling “advice” on website copywriting today weren’t writing at all until a few years ago. That could explain the nonsense they churn out.

Ignore everything but your customer, and concentrate on writing copy that’s relevant to them. Make it as detailed, as concrete, and as specific to their needs as you can manage, and you will have automatically optimised copy.

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