The Power of Copy

Several things tie organic/natural search engine optimization (SEO) to paid search engine marketing (SEM). Keywords and key phrases that drive high traffic and conversions for paid listings perform for organic listings, too.

Helping Your SEO Team

Consider giving your organic SEO team and content management people access to paid SEM conversion and return on investment (ROI) reports. The SEO folks can use them to adjust page layout, copy, keyword use, and linking strategies.

The paid SEM team also benefits greatly from data usually not shared with them. If at all possible, give them access to your Web analytics. Most of the better analytics tools provide reports that show conversion of search engine traffic by keyword. I hope you tagged your paid listings with unique inbound URL identifiers. This allows those reports to isolate paid and unpaid conversion and site behavior.

Your site may have an internal search engine (a search box or form). If you have a search box and a visitor doesn’t immediately see a direct link to what they’re looking for, chances are they’ll use the search function. Often, the types of things visitors search for within your site are the same keyword searches that belong in paid and unpaid search campaigns.

The Importance of Title, Description, and Landing Page Copy

Keywords and key phrases are just the beginning of the power of copy in search marketing. Regardless of whether a search result is paid or not, the searcher sees title, description, and (depending on the search engine) URL. You may not be able to do much about the URL, but you do control title and description to some extent. Don’t assume changes in title and description have no impact. Words and messages in titles and descriptions can make the difference between success and failure in paid and organic/natural listings.

Each landing page on your site, from home page to the most specific product or service page, consists of copy. The words, phrases, sentences, and structure of your site serve a dual purpose:

  • For searchers, copy and structure educate and persuade.

  • For search engines, copy, structure, and links accurately describe page content.

In organic SEO, copy is written to serve simultaneously visitors and search engine spiders. Content and copy have a lot to do with when and how often each page is found in organic, unpaid search results (by keywords, key phrases, and position). Simply being found in search results is useless unless:

  • Listings are selected and clicked.

  • Once searchers reach your site, they take a desired action (informational sites may not have conversion or action-based goals but can impact visitor attitude and behavior).

Keywords Are Searchers’ Central Focus

Let’s look at a typical example that occurs when catalogs go online. Most likely, the copy on the site mirrors the copy written for the catalog. Catalogs aren’t Web pages. The way people browse a catalog is often quite different from how they end up on a specific online product page:

  • They navigated to the page via a hierarchy from the home page. In that case, they know the brand and understand how the product fits into the context of the site.

  • They used a search box on an internal page (perhaps the home page). These visitors had some interaction with the site.
  • Visitors reached the page via a nonsearch link (internal or external). The link may or may not be descriptive of what visitors find when they arrive.
  • Visitors found a link in a search engine result.

Many visitors have little loyalty to or knowledge of your site when they arrive. They must be convinced by the layout and copy they’re in the right place. This holds true for search and nonsearch visitors.

But search visitors are on a mission. The word or phrase they used moments earlier is their primary focus. In every case possible, that search phrase should closely correlate to the landing page and be part of its essence. Often the keyword is the product, product category, or brand you are selling.

Unfortunately, instead of finding words or phrases that are the central focus (the search), searchers often arrive on a page full of promotional or descriptive language not central to their mission. On a site I just visited, the vendor was selling filing cabinets. The lead sentence began: “310 Series 26-1/2″ Deep Full-Suspension Files Spring-loaded follower block in each drawer keeps files upright and neat.”

Not only did I have a less than stellar experience, chances are the page doesn’t rank well in organic or XML-fed results. Rather than use copy written for the print catalog, they could have used: “Deep filing cabinets provide more room. Full-suspension files mean no mess.”

Five Tips to Improve Your Campaign

Run a test right now. Search for some products and note the impact copy in titles, descriptions, and landing pages have on your actions, satisfaction, mood, and willingness to purchase. The better the copy, the more likely you are to find the information you need and take the next step (respond, call, buy, email, bookmark, etc.).

Don’t ignore opportunities to improve your campaign. Ensure a good communicator is part of your internal, external, or combined SEM/SEO team — a writer who can watch over all the places where words and copy impact a campaign. Get your teams synchronized. If you don’t have a trained writer, have someone assume the role of keeper of the words, copy, and message.

If you need help tapping the power of copy with organic and paid search campaigns, consider attending Search Engine Watch and Jupitermedia’s SES conference in San Jose, CA, August 18-21. Several sessions will be devoted to search copywriting. You can also check out “Search Engine Visibility” by Shari Thurow, which explains writing for search engines.

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