Writing and Ranking for the Search Engines

Welcome to our first monthly ClickZ column on writing for the search engines! For those of you who don’t already know us, we’re Jill Whalen and Heather Lloyd-Martin. We moderate the Rank Write Roundtable, a free weekly email discussion on search engine writing and rankings.

If you’re scratching your head right now, wondering why we’d be devoting a monthly column to writing for the search engines, you’re probably not alone. Until we started Rank Write back in June of 2000, there wasn’t a whole lot of discussion on this topic. Yet what most people don’t realize is that writing for the search engines is actually the most important aspect of any search engine optimization campaign. That’s right… the most important aspect. More important than meta tags, you may ask? Most definitely. More important than link popularity? To be sure!

The secret to successful search engine rankings is right in front of your eyeballs. Despite unceasing spam that guarantees high rankings with a meta-tag tweak (that technique doesn’t work, by the way), the major search engines look at the visible content on your Web page to determine relevancy and ranking. What this means is that high rankings will NOT magically appear by randomly inserting key phrases into your copy and meta tags. Nor will you be blessed with long-term rankings if you’re searching for a quick-fix solution. It’s true that titles and meta tags are important, but only after you’ve created great keyword-rich marketing text. Therefore, it’s crucial to spend time on your body-text copy to eventually get the high rankings you want.

Yet there’s another search engine optimization (SEO) element that’s just as crucial as writing and submitting to the search engines: your prospects’ experience when they visit your site. In future articles, we’ll discuss how writing key-phrase-rich home page copy is actually serving two masters — the search engines and your target audience. Your readers need snappy, engaging text — not a laundry list of key phrases — to tempt them to buy or ask for information NOW.

We’ve all seen Web sites that sacrifice good, persuasive writing for stilted text, thinking that this is necessary for the search engines. But, it does your company absolutely no good to drive traffic to your site if your copy sacrifices your marketing flow. Sure you can argue that the text is “key-phrase-rich,” but you run the strong risk of users getting bored with your copy and surfing to your competitor. After all, why spend your time and money on “being No. 1” when your prospects leave your site as soon as they get there?

Although our focus for this column is “writing for the search engines,” we certainly won’t leave you hanging when it comes to traditional SEO techniques. It’s true that the writing on the page is critical, but to maximize your results, you still need to know how to create great titles and meta tags. We’ll explain how to match these up with your text by utilizing the same key phrases you already targeted. We’ll tell you which tags are critical to your success and which ones you don’t have to worry about as much. It’s important to note that SEO is a cumulative effort. Not every technique is necessary for every Web site. We’ll throw out a host of ideas, and you can pick and choose the ones that work for your site. Believe it or not, meta tags and the like are NOT something you need to obsess over. If you concentrate on your copy first, then do what you can with the tags and be diligent with your submittals, your site should be in good shape.

Of course, we’ll also keep you informed on such things as submitting to human-edited directories like Yahoo and DMOZ (and explain the differences between them and the spidering search engines). We’ll also discuss link-popularity, pay-for-placement, search-engine monitoring, and keyword-research techniques. Plus, you can always count on us for some general rants and raves regarding the engines and their latest shenanigans!

So, grab a cup of coffee, relax, and enjoy our monthly articles. Together, we’ll be steering you through the twists and turns of misleading SEO information. The road may be long, and it may seem confusing at times, but the scenery you’ll see from long-term ranking results is grand!

Let us know what’s on your mind and what SEO writing and submitting tips YOU want to know about. If you have questions, article ideas, or comments, just send them over to us: heather@rankwrite.com or jill@rankwrite.com. We’d love to hear from you.

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