I’m a journalist and writer – it’s what I do. I’m not a marketing agent, I’m not a web designer and I sure as hell ain’t an SEO specialist. And while SEO copywriting is listed as one of my specialities, I abhor the term and everything it stands for.
Search engine optimisation is something that I tolerate. I know this outburst may not win me many fans amongst fellow copywriters and prospective clients, but I believe there is something almost pernicious about the practice of fooling Google, Bing and other more obscure search engines.
In the early days of the Internet, SEO was about stuffing as many keywords into a sentence that the basic rules of grammar and syntax allow. It was about squeezing the majority of them in the opening paragraph, and it was about spreading backlinks like an incurable disease.
As far as I’m concerned, good copywriters construct copy for people, but they take the irritating nuances of search engines into account. SEO experts, however, are far more concerned with bounce rates, meta tags and sitemaps. Of course, these issues are necessary evils. But you wouldn’t hire a butcher to give you a manicure, would you? A copywriter is an artist of sorts; an SEO expert is a data analyst.
Wouldn’t it be great if the quality of content was enough to get websites to the top of SERPS? Imagine a world in which the written word defined the quality of copy, instead of statistical data that Stephen Hawking would have trouble deciphering.
Thank the gods of Google for their fight against inferior, contrived and cynical copy. At last, there is hope for those of us who began copywriting because of a love for the written word. Had I wanted to immerse myself in data analysis, I would have applied for a job in a bank.
In the midst of the biggest Internet revolution since… the Internet, I still receive comments and forum replies from copywriters who mock my beliefs. Once I decipher their poorly constructed sentences and malapropisms, I can just about conjure up the inclination to deliver a suitably wry reply.
If I were the person in charge of content for a major retailer or legal firm, I wouldn’t give a rat’s posterior about keyword densities. I’d be far more concerned about striking the right tone for the target audience. I’d be preoccupied with providing value and information for the reader through readable copy.
I am a firm believer that SEO and copywriting are two different disciplines. Generally speaking, there are copywriters who do a bit of SEO because they have to (I include myself in that category), and there are SEO specialists who write incomprehensible drivel that is intended for search bots and algorithms. (I must do a little research into algorithms, as I’m still unsure what they are).
What does a copywriter do? Or should I say: what should a copywriter do?
- Deliver naturally written content that is easy to read
- Focus on the benefits of a product or service
- Give readers value – and a reason to come back for more
- Front load content – people skim content, so copywriters must front-load it with key benefits
- Use language that persuades
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not claiming that keywords are completely irrelevant. My idea of SEO is five minutes spent on Google Adwords and five hours on my content. I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that writing for humans is why I write. I hated maths and economics at school, but I loved to see the reactions on the faces of people who read my stories.
Unfortunately, search engine algorithms don’t have faces.