Shouldn’t a good copywriter be writing optimised copy anyway?

Search Engine Optimisation is vital to your business. Everyone says so. Everyone who works at an SEO company at least. Most copywriters will sing you a slightly different tune. They’ll say SEO content is bad copy stuffed with keywords and that in many cases it actually harms your business by turning customers away when they find your page to be a jumble of catchphrases, poor grammar and uniform sentence structure.

Andy Maslen, author of ‘The Copywriting Sourcebook’ hates SEO. Really hates it. Take a quick look at his blog and you will find posts joyfully expounding the fundamental flaws of SEO and predicting its impending doom. In one he describes SEO copy as “boring, mechanistic copy that attracts visitors but then repels them the moment they arrive.”

Maslen’s views on SEO are neither new, nor unusual. Back in 2009 copywriters like Alastaire Allday were already asking questions about the efficacy of splashing keywords and meta-tags all over your pages.  On his blog Allday criticises SEO for looking bad, reading worse and, again, switching off the customer. The common thread shared by most anti-SEO arguments is that the negatives of poor quality content far outweigh the benefits of increased traffic.

Of course the arguments used to support SEO Content are persuasive too. In simple terms of dollars and cents optimising your web presence for search engines just makes sense. Increased traffic to a website more often than not means sales and business owners are unlikely to stop using a service that is working for them.

SEO also has benefits when it comes to better understanding what your customer wants from you and how you’re coming across to them. If you are higher in the Google rankings then you are going to get more organic (unpaid) visits. This traffic can shine a new light on the frame of mind people are in when they find your site. If people are searching ‘dog grooming products’ and landing on your page dedicated exclusively to cat grooming, perhaps its time to expand your product range.  Alternatively, if you sell spare parts for washing machines it may be time to rephrase some of your on-page copy.

Speaking of frame of mind, it is worth remembering that the majority of the time people use a search engine they are looking for a product or service. Before they even land on your page they are ready to buy. Compare this to your attitude when confronted with a poster advert on your two-hour evening commute and the advantages of SEO are clear.

Of course, there is a middle-way argument. If a copywriter is doing their job properly they’ll be mentioning keywords anyway. If their writing is on-brand and relevant to the customer then surely it will come out optimised as well. More importantly, they’ll be writing fluent pieces that visitors will actually want to read.  And it is this second aspect – fluency, readability, or whichever intangible characteristic you personally ascribe to good writing – that really matters. Especially now.

You see you can’t talk about SEO without at least mentioning Google. And – without getting bogged down in penguins, pandas and algorithms – there are a few things that have changed since the birth of SEO that we need to consider. The first is Google’s new page ranking system that values social shares over inbound links. This development effectively flips the world of search marketing on its head and prompted Ken Krogue, writing in Forbes magazine no less, to announce the death of SEO. Krogue’s piece used at its heart a quote from SEO expert Adam Torkildson who said of the changes “Google is in the process of making the SEO industry obsolete, SEO will be dead in 2 years.”

But why would Google do this to those poor SEO marketing firms? To tell the truth Google don’t like SEO, at least not in its sloppy keyword splashing incarnation. The search engine giant wants the best content at the top of its listings and it is believed that by switching to a focus on social rather than links there will be a greater chance for the content people actually like to shine through.

All this points to one thing. Quality content is king once more. What copywriters have been saying for years has finally been vindicated. Write it well, and the rest will come.

And yes, this does mean that if you want to compete for a place on the first page of Google search results you’ll need to get a G+ account.

Author: George Wright Theohari

Branding | Content | Design. We develop and deliver beautifully effective communications across print, digital and film.

9 thoughts

  1. You might be interested to know that Google has SEO practioners on staff. The notion that “Google don’t like SEO” is uninformed and just plain wrong. Adam Torkildson is “one of the top SEO consultants in Utah” according to Forbes magazine which makes your description of him as an “expert” breaks down into “x” (the unknown) and “spurt” (a short burst).

  2. Thanks for the mention. I think, in fact, your “middle ground” solution is the best and most reasonable point to be made in this debate. The best direct response copy with its specificity and focus on reader interests would be naturally optimised, without the need for any nonsense from so-called SEO experts. Incidentally, I write a lot of web copy, much of it specifically requested to be optimised, but sometimes not: it makes no difference to me whether SEO lives or dies, unlike some people who make their living propagating the idea that it matters.

  3. We’re by no means saying that Google is against SEO in every form, rather that pages with well-written content will naturally fit the profile that the search algorithm now looks for; original, interesting content that real people want to read.

  4. So what’s the use of an SEO guy?

    It’s this… he keeps you informed of Google developments and all that other technical stuff you probably don’t have the time or the inclination to read, he trawls through search results to make sure your website is where you want it to be, he tells you when your site isn’t performing and he tries to figure out why, he dives into data to depths you’ve never know.

    He spends three weeks creating a computer-crashing spreadsheet of facts and figures, and then presents you with just two very important insights that can help you do your job better.

    It’s a lot, lot more than just keywords.

    If you’re lucky enough to work with a good SEO guy, you’ll see how useful they can be.

  5. My SEO guy would like to add something to this discussion… your folder structure isn’t search-engine friendly at all. (See URL above, with year/ month/ day.) You’d know that if you worked with a good SEO guy. 🙂

  6. I think we’re reaching a stage (certainly from the SEO people I’ve been talking to) where SEO will essentially eventually boil down to good copy anyway. They’re always tweaking the way Google does it, eventually the search engines won’t be ranking keywords and nonsense copy, they’ll be ranking good writing and useful websites. Hopefully. So the best bet is to just write the best articles you can, and the SEO people know that – the market for good writers for content is on the rise.

  7. I should note that’s I’m just referring to content writing – when it comes to website management and design, like Kat said above, there’s a whole lot more that an SEO specialist can do!

  8. Because the precision with which we use words matters, on the web as elsewhere, I’d like to clarify that my ire is reserved for exponents of so-called “SEO copywriting”. Not SEO in general eg as I understand, Google is now weighting social shares above inbound links.

  9. Thanks for your comments, Kat, Phil and Andy. I think, Phil, that your point here is essentially what our argument boils down to: “I think we’re reaching a stage (certainly from the SEO people I’ve been talking to) where SEO will essentially eventually boil down to good copy anyway. ”

    And we should be clear – as Andy has stated above – that we’re not trying to devalue the SEO industry as a whole (thanks for your insights Kat – perhaps we should talk further about Speak Media’s strategy when we begin building our new site!). We’re concerned rather with the effect that keyword-stuffing has on the quality of copy/content.

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