Has search engine optimisation (SEO) transformed crafted copy into contrived content?
Writing web copy; or more specifically, writing optimised web copy that works, is very different in nature to writing marketing copy for offline materials such as brochures, sales literature etc. While a traditional copy writer has to worry about conveying key concepts, emotive themes, flow, readability, structure, punctuation, grammar and spelling, a web content writer has to worry about all those things plus the functional factors that will ensure the website gains high search engine rankings and can be found by its target audience ie SEO.
You have to consider your keywords, but the skill lies not only in choosing keywords but your keyword density, prominence and frequency. In other words, how many times you use your keywords, how many times in relation to the total number of words and where you put your keywords. Phew! But SEO doesn’t stop there, you also need to think about long tail keyword strings, titles, descriptions, tags etc. Where once you set out to be a writer, carefully crafting persuasive, engaging marketing copy, you were forced somewhere along the way to become a maths/IT geek – what happened to being an artist? *sobs*.
SEO web copy has to perform in a very different way to regular offline copy. Think of it as the difference between making a spaghetti bolognese and baking a cake (bear with me on this!). When making a spag bol there are a few key ingredients, you need your mince meat, tomatoes, pasta etc – think of these as your theme, structure and flow – but otherwise you can throw in some mushrooms, herbs, garlic, maybe some peppers, possibly a glug of wine – these would be your personal ‘voice’, your vocabulary, your style. The point being anything goes and as long as you end up with a tasty dish/communicate your key messages there are various routes to getting there. To write great optimised web copy it’s much more like baking a cake because there is a very functional element to SEO in addition to the stylistic one. A cake requires precise measurements and a certain amount of science so that it will rise. Search engine optimisation also has a very prescriptive ‘recipe’ and requires considered keyword usage and a certain amount of knowledge of how search engines work so that it will rank highly and be found.
So is good SEO web copy all about keywords?
So you just use an online tool such as the Google Adword keyword tool to select your keywords and sprinkle them over your copy like parmasan cheese (gone too far with the spag bol simile?!). Job done. No? No. The thing is, not only do you have to attract your audience in, you also need to engage them when they find you. All too often I see web copy literally littered with keywords and phrases whose flow has been severely compromised because keyword cramming has been prioritised over the traditional rules of good copy writing. I can just imagine some machiavellian type web developer standing over a copy writer with a whip demanding that “crumbly shortbread biscuits” be used 4 times in a single paragraph before it can be signed off. OK just me then! The point I’m making is that there has to be a balance between functionality and style in equal proportion and if your copy makes no sense because it has been forced to accommodate keywords then you will still not gain business, no matter how many website hits you get. To go back to our cake theme (over egging the pudding now? Sorry!), it still has to taste nice/read well.
So, returning to our initial question; is SEO killing copy writing? Well it has certainly upped the game and us ‘artistes’ definitely need to adopt a more technical approach but as long as we devise our keyword strategy carefully while maintaining high standards of quality content that would not be ashamed to grace a brochure or leaflet, I think copy writing is alive and well! Remember, if SEO means no flow say no!
Now, for that cake…