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The Missing Ingredient in SEO

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Load all the keywords you want. Set up all the landing pages you want. Create enough ways for your prospects to find you at the top of Google. It doesn’t matter. You’ll be bypassed by savvy searchers soon enough if you aren’t careful about content.

I’m a searcher. I’m one of the people responsible for the over 4 billion searches Americans perform every month. On average, American computer users make about 35 searches per month. I’m way ahead of that average. I was all over AltaVista when they launched and I still use their image search, one of the best on the web. I considered myself one of Google’s first visitors, often feeling personally responsible for their growth as I told everyone I knew who used a computer about them. (My lawyer is looking into getting me my fair share of their growth.) I’ve often thought I need to keep a pad handy for all the little searches I’ve been meaning to get to. One that kept slipping my mind was “terracotta roof tile.”

I was hoping to re-roof our house this year and I thought I’d look into terracotta tile. You know, the mission look. On a search for terracotta roof tile, the top four results all came out of Australia, not my fist choice in either roofing supplies, roofing contractors or information about cost, problems, structural considerations and the how-to. Perhaps my term “terracotta” was too “English.” So I searched clay roof tile. Ah, good, a clay roof tile manufacturer is on top. Out of Ohio. That is good news. It means Americans lead the way in search engine optimization, at least when it comes to clay roof tile. I got good info on clay roof tiles from this site and some pretty pictures. The site was slow to load and some of the jpegs weren’t optimized, but oh well. It takes time. I did find it funny that the manufacturer of these clay roof tiles used three separate web design firms to design their site, none of which had a very impressive site of their own. But somehow, one of them managed to make their client’s name appear at the top of Google on a relative search. Chance? May have been. At least now I understood that in Australia they say “terracotta” while here in the States we say “clay.” Now to find a local roofing contractor who can handle this job and perhaps bid it out.

Search orlando roofing contractors + clay tile

Damn, here’s where the SEO firms had me corneredand mad. Hyphenated URLs that were obviously landing pages populated the list. I looked into a couple and backed out quickly. I’m not filling out forms to find a roofing contractor in Orlando. I don’t want to “request a bid” and wait for someone to call me. Your forms scare me. They scare most people. What list am I getting sold to? What sorts of Cialis, mortgage refinance, V1@grA and other assorted SPAM will flood my inbox shortly? How many hot married women looking to fool around will send me links to their sites, and how many of them will sell my email address? (And just how many widows of slain third-world politicians are there out there?) I don’t want to keep a separate mail account just for your SPAM, you online marketers. And I know who you are because I look at your URL in the search results. If I’m being directed to www.roofing-tile-contractors-in-your-area.com, I can make a pretty safe assumption that this is not a good place to go. And I’m also looking at the content blurb on the search results. If I find reputable sources to use in locating Orlando Roofing Contractors… prescreened home improvement contractors to choose … to ask about roofing tile brands, color blah blah blah, I know this is not a site I need to see, even though they landed at the top of the search. Going to this site becomes just one more step in my search, leading me no closer, only taking me to a different kind of search engine that requires information from me. No, thank you.

It’s all about leads. It’s all about hits. If these landing page mini-search engines can drive a lead to the final destination, they get paid. And so the search results page becomes a carnival midway, with barkers and hawkers shouting loudly and trying to get your attention. “Step right up and try your luck!” But after you’ve been on a carnival midway long enough, you learn to walk with purpose and make a beeline to your next ride or game. Get out of my face, jerk. I’m not interested in trying to toss a ring around a bottle.

The Internet airwaves are littered with middlemen, shouting at me like a local used car dealer on TV. They’re insulting my intelligence and they think I’m a fool. This is one of the reasons remote controls were invented. Get me away from these insipid commercials.

For all the science that SEO is generating, it is still an art. And like every new advertising medium, it gets clogged with people simply doing it wrong and making it ugly. Look at old TV commercials from when TV was invented. It’s incredible that people were actually watching these things and not laughing. It’s even more incredible that people were actually going out and buying the products that were being pitched. We’ve evolved in our commercial production since the dawn of television to the point that commercials can now be mini-movies and works of advertising genius. It’s time we evolved in our search engine optimization production.

Search engine optimization comes down to what advertising has always come down to. It’s not who is shouting the loudest or making the most impressions with the most dishonest promises. It’s about hitting people with words that work. Not just information. Words that reach into their souls and make them feel what advertisers have always made us feel: like they understand where we live.

I write SEO copy for a very successful and top-ranked agency. I am always provided with a list of keywords and keyword phrases that I need to write the copy around for the websites we do work for. These keywords and phrases can appear redundant and are often misspelled, allowing even for the human error in typing a search query. But it’s the list that the guys in the know, who know what people are searching for, provide me, and it’s up to me to make it sound coherent. “Why does it matter?” is obviously the thinking of many SEO firms, otherwise their content and copy wouldn’t be so brazenly obvious.

The reason it matters is because, just as in the old days of advertising, you’re still trying to get people to watch or listen to your commercials. You don’t want them to change the channel or the station. In fact, you want to hook them enough in just a few words that they actually have to make an effort to click your way. It’s harder than just NOT reaching for the remote. We expect ACTION from our SEO copy. Read morefind out the rest of the story.

It’s hard. It can’t really be taught. It is the next evolution of copywriting and yet it’s the same as it’s always been. Make you laugh. Make you cry. Make you wish you had what I’m selling you. And make you buy it without insulting you. You’ll buy because I related to you.

How can you be interesting in SEO copy? Consider this paragraph, loaded with keywords for our client, and yet not really trying to sell you anything at all:

Being at the top of a search didn’t mean anything to me. I needed to see if maybe those guys at [client's name] didn’t just have some really good SEO guys who had loaded the search engines with the phrase I was searching. Could it possibly be that some guy had sat up late one night watching the Panthers and Falcons go into overtime as he typed keyword description pages for this site? Phrases like [several keyword phrases appeared here] Stranger things have happened. Nonetheless”

If I find that in the search results, I’m clicking on it to find out more. Random blog-style writing is far more interesting to me than hurry – click here for great rates on [product X] – don’t be left out – now’s your chance to own – but wait there’s more – and much, much more. I’d click on it just because it was different.

I was just being honest. I was getting tired of writing the same things over and over for our client that would appear on a few landing pages. And it was then that I realized who my audience was. They were searchers, like me, and they were tired of the same old crap, the same loud-mouthed carnival midway barkers shouting at them with the come-ons of early television. They, like me, will still sit through commercials when they watch TV, but only if the commercials grab them, are funny or otherwise appealing.

SEO copywriting is a puzzle. But we don’t have to give in to the easy way. Salesmen can’t write it. They’re just playing the numbers and counting on a percentage return. They’ll fill it with clichs and the same tired calls to action that salesman are always looking for, no matter what advertising medium they work in. Copywriters are here to stay. It’s time to get the barkers off the midway…or it’s at least time to rewrite their come-ons.

I gave up on the clay roof tile. It was too expensive. I’ll wait until we land a clay roof tile account. Or a terracotta roof tile account.

Dave Wilkie is Creative Director for Kinetic Results, a Dallas Search Engine Optimization Company & New York Interactive Media Agency.

The Missing Ingredient in SEO
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