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Nail SEO Copywriting and Prove Keywords Are Still Relevant

There’s still no easy way out of this demanding craft

After the early years of SEO copywriting, every guru on the Internet suddenly decided SEO copywriting no longer means including keywords in your copy because it’s not natural and Google only rewards natural copywriting.

Oops, I just made the mistake of writing a completely natural sentence with the keyword phrase SEO copywriting in it twice. Will I go to Google jail?

You tell me. By including a keyword phrase twice in one sentence, have I made that sentence unnatural? Of course not. And yet if I took the advice of some gurus out there, I’d rush back and change one of those phrases to search engine optimized copywriting or something even more awkward and unnatural.

Besides, we recently determined what Google deemed high quality content in their recent Panda update, and Google has been telling us all along that they value keywords – it’s how they know what to rank content for. Duh.

SEO copywriting made easy?

Consider these pronouncements (I’m not naming names in order to protect the innocent):

If you are writing primarily with the goal of impressing the search engines, that is just the opposite of writing naturally.

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I think keyword density is an overrated concept. Even with similar keyword densities, one page may rank while another does not. And that’s true even if they have the same link profile. That in and of itself should show the (lack of) value of KD.

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Is SEO copywriting still necessary? The naysayers are partly right, but

There’s truth to some small degree in the above statements. You don’t have to “impress” search engines, and yes, other keyword strategies in addition to SEO copywriting contribute to a product’s search engine results page (SERP) ranking.

But the bottom line is, while some gurus may have appealing ideas on why you don’t have to work hard on your SEO in writing copy … you still have to convince the search engine that your copy is about what it’s actually about.

Here’s a very natural piece of promotional material gleaned from Amazon about a book called Gardening Without Work: For the Aging, the Busy & the Indolent.

The reason many people hesitate to have a garden is twofold: the time involved and the physical effort. Ruth Stout has solved the double problem by her celebrated method of mulching. She tells all about it in this book — along with a hundred other labor saving practices.

Plowing, hoeing, cultivating, weeding, watering, spraying and fertilizing have all been done away with under the Stout system. On the positive side, there are but four steps to be taken in order to supply your family with fresh, quality vegetables and fruits. These are: mulching, planting, thinning and harvesting.

How all of this is accomplished in a few minutes a day is explained in this witty, entertaining and practical how-to-do-it by a woman who became America’s number one gardener.

Ruth Stout, sister of mystery writer Rex Stout, was born in Kansas, but lived most of her life in Connecticut. So widely did her reputation spread, that she was constantly in demand as a speaker before garden clubs and as a contributor to gardening magazines, and people flocked to her home from as far away as Texas and California to observe her method at first hand.

If you want to sell a book … why wouldn’t you use the word “book?” The closest this copy comes is “how-to-do-it” as a noun – and a rather awkward one, at that. What’s more, no one searching for any form information on gardening would ever find this in Google search results. Even though it uses the words “gardening” in the title, and “garden” and “gardener,” in the copy, such broad phrases are useless for getting this book to show up in a Google search, due to the voluminous competition.

And even if you consider more specific keywords that might apply such as “lazy gardening” or “easy gardening,” this copywriter  doesn’t even use those terms. And no, Google’s algorithm hasn’t figured out from this “natural” copy that the book is about lazy or easy gardening: It ranks nowhere for these phrases.

And how about a proximity phrase to tell the search engines that this book is about vegetable gardening? Nope, not there.

The only optimized phrase garnering Page 1 ranking  is “gardening without work” from the title … and most Google users who type in that exact phrase probably already know about the book. Which means, there’s no new audience development, when there could be.

So what about this piece of wisdom?

Keyphrases don’t have to be in their original form. We do a lot of synonym work so that we can find good pages that don’t happen to use the same words as the user typed.

(OK, I will name names for that  one: It’s Google spam-meister Matt Cutts. And he ought to know, right?)

I can assure you that “how-to-do-it” might be more creative to write, but even though Google itself tells us its algorithms recognize synonyms, Google just isn’t going to know that this promotional copy is talking about a book on easy vegetable gardening. Google “how-to-do-it” and see what it gets you.  (HINT: sex and science both make an appearance on Page 1.) Google’s bots might be smart, but they’re not that smart — at least not yet.

Of course, the copywriter probably assumed that because the copy is on Amazon, he or she doesn’t have to think about good SEO copywriting … but lots of people search for books or other information on easy vegetable gardening without going straight to Amazon. So much for synonyms.

More bad  SEO copywriting advice

This one slays me, because it’s so easy to prove it completely wrong.

Instead of always using “blue suede shoes” as-is (the entire, original keyphrase together), you can also use just “blue” and just “suede” and just “shoes” within the copy.

Well, actually, no. If you don’t use the phrase exactly as the shoppers will, you wind up with all kinds of unwanted results. You can test this by using quotes when you Google — that’s how you can see what Google sees when it reads your keywords.

For example,  Googling “red cotton dress” without those quotes pulls up millions of pages where the three words “red,” “cotton” and “dress”  appear somewhere on the page, but not necessarily together.

But as you’ll see, you get results like this:

red and navy fiji floral stretch cotton ‘Megan’ strapless dress

and

Ladies’ white & red cotton dress gloves vintage

Think about it: We all Google casually like that without quotes, and we all get frustrated by the unrelated results we get, so you know that’s exactly how Google responds to non-exact phrases. And yes, of course, you can also add those words in separately, but why not together a few times for good luck?

If you Google “red cotton dress”  – with quotes around the phrase – that search delivers results with that exact phrase in that exact order. If you’re writing copy about red cotton dresses, and you want to be found by the people who are shopping for those dresses, you must use the exact phrase or risk being bumped down the first page – or even off of it – by those unrelated results for red and navy dresses and vintage white and red dress gloves.

But is it “natural?”

What’s more, I reject the idea that writing for SEO means you can’t make your copy flow naturally. The first sentence in this post was one example and I wasn’t even trying. Here are some examples written for clients by Mequoda.

Keyword phrase: BATNA negotiation

These BATNA negotiation practices are the product of the top minds in negotiation and mediation from Harvard, Tufts, MIT, and the Negotiation newsletter. There is simply no better source for learning how to use BATNA negotiation than their advice and instruction!

Keyword phrases: dyspareunia, female dryness, intercourse pain

In spite of the frequency of dyspareunia in women over age 50, many are embarrassed to discuss female dryness and intercourse pain, either with each other or with their gynecologist.

Keyword density is still the foundation of good SEO copywriting

In fact, this brings us to the most important point of all: density. The SEO copywriting gurus proclaim there can’t possibly be a magical line that Google reaches and decides that copy either is or isn’t about the topic you’re writing about.

Actually, there is, and Mequoda’s Gold Members prove it every single day. Is it hard and fast? No. Is it unchangeable? Of course not. As all the gurus say, Google keeps improving its algorithms to encourage natural writing … but as I noted above, you still have to tell Google what your copy is about, and that doesn’t mean just a single mention of the topic, either.

Even if that Amazon SEO copywriter had remembered to use a single descriptive keyword phrase such as “easy vegetable gardening,” how is Google supposed to know that the book is only about easy vegetable gardening, and that easy vegetable gardening isn’t just a single chapter in the book? As smart as it is, the Google bot could even be forgiven for thinking that this book − excuse me, this “how-to-do-it” − is about Ruth Stout and her brother, writer Rex Stout. The name “Stout” appears more often than does any keyword related to easy gardening.

So what’s the golden rule for keyword density? Well, the SEO copywriting gurus are once again partly right. It’s not a precise figure. It’s a range, and our extensive research and our clients’ experience tells us that right now it’s 1-3%. We’re comfortable wandering slightly under or over that range, too.

But remember how everyone believes Google rewards “natural” writing? Well, how do you think Google decides what’s “natural?” Google has determined that people writing naturally automatically use the phrases they’re focused on 1% to 3% of the time, so that’s the bots’ standard for determining what’s natural.

In fact, before Google had figured this out, in the early days of SEO copywriting, the range was 3-5%. As the algorithms improved, though, our clients began noticing that their rank was dropping for posts with density in that range. So yes, Google does improve and change its algorithms − but no, that doesn’t mean it ignores keywords.

As I said, we can prove it. Our annual Rocket Awards for Gold Members honor clients who’ve grown their website traffic the most over the previous 12 months. Here’s just a sample of what our Gold Members achieve using our keyword density and SEO copywriting methods, drawn from the 2014 nominees and winner:

SEO copywriting the Mequoda way

So for all the copywriting gurus who no longer believe in using exact keywords in a natural way to a range of desirable density, we say, prove it! We’d welcome your data in the comments below. Until then, we’ll stick with what we know works, and what works for our Gold Members, right through 2015 and beyond.

This post was originally published in 2013 and is updated frequently. Mary Van Doren contributed to this post.

Posted in Audience Development Strategy

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3 thoughts on “Nail SEO Copywriting and Prove Keywords Are Still Relevant

  1. jb says:

    Nice post however, the URL says 2013. I don’t think Panda will like that!

  2. Amanda says:

    Tell me about it – stuck between a rock and a hard place – keeping the URL from this older but recently updated post and all the juice it comes with with an old URL – or a permanent redirect to a new URL.

  3. Linda says:

    I completely agree with the post, and suspect most of the “SEO Gurus” you reference would as well. The issue isn’t so much not using keywords–of course you want to signal to the search engines, and to your audience, what your topic is. The thing to be avoided is keyword packing and unnatural use of language. It would surprise me if using the words that define your topic would be seen as unnatural.

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