Let’s focus on the search engine factors you have the greatest control over: what’s on the page. The goal is not to provide specifics on how to create top-ranked pages in every search engine but rather to outline the general principles of creating pages that rank well and convert search engine traffic into leads, subscriptions, or sales.
You want your pages to rank well, but not without meeting both the visitor’s and your business objectives. Take advantage of the elements that make your pages relevant to search engines. They’re the same elements that make pages relevant (and persuasive) to prospects.
Begin by finding the right keywords and key phrases.
Bad Keywords Nullify Everything Else
Taking time to understand customers is an integral part of effective marketing. How do your most qualified prospects use words to search? In uncovery, the first stage of persuasion architecture, identify all potential keywords/key phrases archetypical customers might use. Then, plan pages in the wireframing stage to address these keywords. How do your prospects ask questions? What is the intent of their queries? The language they use speaks volumes about them.
If you don’t understand how your target audience constructs language patterns in different situations, at different times of the day, or at different times of year, you’ll never fully reach your online market. Query language is tremendously important. It can demonstrate a visitor’s intent to buy, her stage in the buying cycle, and what question she has on her mind. Every search query or click on a results link is an implicit question from the prospect. Your job is to answer it.
Prioritize each of your keywords using four criteria: traffic potential, prospect’s intent, stage in the buying process, and likelihood to convert. This helps determine the value of your keywords.
Keyword selection is not merely a traffic exercise, but a conversion tactic. Keep both in mind at this critical stage.
The most important aspect of keywords is copy. Content (especially fresh content) is king where search engines are concerned. Let’s take a step-by-step approach to copywriting for search engine pages that convert traffic.
Invisible Page Elements
Invisible elements are important because conversion starts from the search results page:
- Title tag. The page title should broadcast the nature of the page in an engaging way. Using about 10 words, incorporate as many relevant keywords for the page as possible. You can normally gather them by restating the page’s objective. An example for a travel site could be: “Exotic vacations for those on a budget — your travel options.”
- Meta description tag. Use 15 to 20 words to reemphasize the keywords in the title tag.
- Meta keyword tag. Re-address the main key phrases in 20 to 25 words. Use commas and no spaces between keywords/key phrases.
Visible Body Text
Great online copywriting seizes and holds prospects’ attention by answering their unspoken questions. Answers should be relevant, address their needs and beliefs, and propel them to take the action you want:
- Headers. Repetition is key. Repeat the title tag in a header tag toward the top of the page. Your prospect clicked on your search result because he felt it might be relevant to his question. If he found the title valuable and relevant, why not display it on the page?
- Body copy. Ride that line of creative tension between what ranks well and what converts traffic. Copy should be persuasive and focused on benefits, not features. The page should contain 200 to 250 words (a sign of real content, not just fluff). The first paragraph or so should summarize the page (first, tell them what you’re going to tell them). This is ideal for skimmers. Use boldfaced fonts or otherwise highlight phrases that will engage prospects. The last paragraph should summarize what prospects learned and contain a call to action.
- Subheads. Break up the page so it tells its story to scanners, and integrate the keywords/key phrases. A word of caution: Don’t use a keyword just for the sake of using it. If it really doesn’t fit, use a related and engaging substitute. Better to lose a bit in rankings but come up higher in conversions. The bottom line is the bottom line.
- Bulleted lists. Use bullets to break up text on the page, possibly linking to appropriate site sections. Those quickly scanning the page will find it easy to read and immediately find valuable content. Giving visitors a whiff of your site’s value keeps them engaged.
- Hyperlinks. The most important elements in persuasion architecture. Remember, you’re designing for interactivity (clicking to more than one page creates the experience), not one static page. Incorporate keywords into the links’ text. Use five or more words to build links. Links should be constructed with an imperative, implied benefit of what visitors can expect when they click. This lets them know there’s more “scent” on subsequent pages.
Larry Chase, publisher of Web Digest for Marketers, says, “Make the link so good, even you would click on it!” Just as search engine crawlers like to bounce to pages from links, so do people. Ensure links are visible and in a contrasting color so people know to click (that’s why blue, underlined links work so well).
- Alt tags. Every image on the page should use an alt tag containing a single key phrase. This is also important for accessibility purposes (Section 508). Include blank alt tags (
) for invisible (spacer) graphics as well.
Though not a comprehensive list of factors that help your rankings, the above covers most of the on-the-page elements that will help you rank high. Remember: A high-ranking page that converts poorly is less desirable than a lower-ranking page that converts well. If you do forget, you’ll join the ranks of search engine optimists.