Sunday, August 28, 2011

SEO Copywriting Tips

Don’t get hung up on keyword density

In reality, search engines don’t measure keyword density the way I’ve described above. They’re not actually looking for a density of 5% or 3% or 10%. So don’t get hung up on it. Instead, use density calculations only as a yardstick. A density of 3% will give you a page with plenty of instances of your keyword. If you can’t get a density that high without impacting readability, settle for a lower density. You can have some pages with a high density, and some with a low density, and still attain a high search ranking. The important thing is that you use your keywords more often than any other single word or phrase.

Exact string or just all words in the phrase?

If you’re targeting very specific keyword phrases in your copy, you’ll soon discover that it’s quite difficult to do. If you repeat your keyword again and again, your copy can become very unfriendly to readers.

For example, targeting “shoes” is easy; but targeting “blue tennis shoes California” is a lot more difficult. If your web page has 200 words, your keyword phrase has to appear six times for a keyword density of 3%. That’s fine if it’s a single word, because there’ll still be 194 words of normal copy left. The keyword won’t be so noticeable to readers. But if there are four words in the keyword phrase (as in “blue tennis shoes California”), there’ll only be 176 words left. That would make the keyword phrase a lot more noticeable. What’s more, exact keyword phrases can be difficult to incorporate into your copy in a natural way. Try writing a sentence that includes “blue tennis shoes California”, in this exact order…
Fortunately, however, you don’t have to actually target the exact phrase. (It’s better if you do, but you don’t have to.) You can simply target all of the individual words. So instead of repeating the exact phrase “blue tennis shoes California” six times, you’d simply repeat “blue” six times, “tennis” six times, “shoes” six times, and “California” six times. These individual repetitions could appear anywhere on the page. The important thing is that they don’t have to appear next to each other in the exact string “blue tennis shoes California”. Using this approach, you can more easily achieve the density you’re after without sacrificing readability. I will qualify this: when someone searches for “blue tennis shoes California”, all things being equal, a website that targets the exact string “blue tennis shoes California” will rank higher than a website that targets just the individual words. But when are all things ever equal? As always, the important thing to remember is that human visitors are more important than search engines, and that keyword density is not the be-all-and-end-all of SEO.

What if I want to target more than one keyword phrase?

If you’re targeting quite specific keyword phrases in your copy, you’ll find it difficult to aggressively target more than two keyword phrases per page. You can target a few extras (maybe related words), but only incidentally.

For example, let’s say you want your tennis clothing page to rank well when a customer searches for the following phrases.

  • “blue tennis shoes California”
  • “green tennis skirts West Coast”
  • “purple tennis hats”
  • “fastest tennis shoes world”
Let’s also assume 400 words per page. Now, if you try to optimize your web copy for all of these phrases, you’ll find that it becomes very difficult to read. Assuming you’re aiming for a keyword density of 3%, you’d need to include all of the words from each of the above phrases more than 10 times. That would mean approx half of the copy on your page would be keywords! The best way around this is to create additional pages. Have a cluster of pages for “blue tennis shoes California”, another cluster of pages for “green tennis skirts West Coast”, another for “purple tennis hats”, etc. This way, only around 10% of your copy will be dedicated to keywords. This results in much more readable, natural-looking pages. And in the above example, it would also result in a much more logically structured site; a well structured site typically wouldn’t discuss all of the above items on the same page.

Where should I use my keywords?

When identifying your site’s subject matter, search engines try to act human. If humans tend to pay close attention to particular parts of a page (e.g. headings), the search engines will do the same. The logic is that they assume your keywords are more likely to appear in those places. So try to include your keywords in:

  • text links
  • headings (using <h1>, <h2> and <h3> heading tags in your HTML)
  • bold tags
  • bulleted and numbered lists
  • domain names & URLs

Using keywords in headings

Like human visitors, search engines rely on headings to ‘scan’ your site. This means headings play a big part in how the search engines will index your site, and you should try to make them keyword rich. In fact, think about inserting extra headings just for this purpose. Generally this will also help the readability of your site because it will help customers scan read. For example, if you have a page detailing the benefits of purple tennis hats, you could break it up into logical sections with the following headings.

  • Stylish purple tennis hats
  • Tennis hats - purple and practical
  • Comfort comes first with purple tennis hats
However, when writing your headings, try to make them a little different from your Title tag, as there is speculation that this may cause penalties. Also, it’s important that you instruct your web developer to tag these headings with the appropriate level heading style (i.e. <h1>, <h2>, <h3>). And finally, try to include your keywords close to the start of each heading. But don’t do this if it stops your headlines from being engaging and compelling.

Using keywords at the start of the page

Many SEO experts believe that the search engines see words at the start of a page as more representative of what your site is about than words at the end (i.e. prominence). So it’s a good idea to make sure you use your keywords toward the start of each page.

Bolding keywords

The jury’s out on whether bolding your keywords is worthwhile for SEO. My personal opinion is that bolding should be used to help visitors scan your page. If keywords aid this cause, use them; if they hinder it, don’t. In practice you’ll probably find that your keywords will make it into those bold sections quite a bit. After all, they’re key to your subject matter, so it’s logical that they’ll occasionally help readers who scan.

Using keywords in bulleted and numbered lists

Although it’s logical, there’s no hard evidence (that I know of) supporting the claim that search engines pay particular attention to the words you use in bulleted and numbered lists. Once again, my recommendation is to use lists for scannability. If your keywords happen to end up there, all the better. If not, no big deal.

Using keywords in domain names and URLs

Once again, the jury’s out. Some people argue that having a domain name that includes your keyword is useful, while others argue that it’s only useful if it’s an exact match. Some say it’s a good idea to separate keywords with hyphens, others say hyphens raise trust issues. And some say it’s completely irrelevant! In any case, most of the time, you won’t have much say in domain names and URLs.

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