Web Copy Writing

Writing Copy for High Rankings and High Response Rates


Ask any direct marketer what creates a high response rate in paper catalogs, direct mail letters, direct response magazine advertisements, and other conventional media, and the answer will no doubt be "great copy."

Ask a web positioning specialist what creates great rankings, and the response will probably include topics like "keyword frequency," "keyword density," "word count," and other mechanistic descriptions of what the copy of a page must contain.

As one might expect, there is an inherent conflict between writing copy to attract customers and writing copy to rank well in search engines and directories. A teaser headline that gives no clue as to the topic but intrigues the reader may work well in a magazine, but a TITLE tag that leaves the reader clueless may generate few click-throughs in a search results page.

This article will describe ways to resolve this conflict between search engine optimization and response rate, and provide suggestions for creating copy that will create both traffic and sales.

Copy Dilemma: Rankings vs. Response
In a world of perfect search engines, a page full of content relevant to a search word or phrase would outrank pages with less relevant content. In the real world, search engines use page analysis algorithms to try and decide which pages are relevant. Web developers, in turn, try to determine how the algorithms work and to create pages with content that will create high rankings.

Unfortunately from a marketing copywriter's standpoint, high rankings can't usually be achieved by tweaking Meta tags that the web-surfer never sees. Most often, there is a specific prescription for each page -- how many times the keyword will appear in the title, the heading(s), the body text, and so on. Depending on the parameters, this can place severe limits on the creativity of the copywriter, and may demand awkward wording compromises.

A Note on Cloaking/Redirection
A partial solution to the rankings vs. response conflict is to deliver different content to the search engine spiders and web browsers. This enables the web developer to optimize one page for a search engine, and create a different page to potential customers. The latter page can be more creative, and use copy and design elements that appeal to these browsers.

One way to accomplish this is cloaking, in which the server actually identifies the entity requesting the page as a spider or end-user, and delivers the appropriate page. Another way is redirection, in which the page indexed by the search engine contains code to load a new page when an end-user requests that page.

There are several issues that make cloaking and redirection a less than perfect solution to the copywriter's dilemma. First, the status of these techniques with individual search engines is never entirely clear. It is known that search engines view with great disfavor any techniques that deliver content to searchers that differs greatly from what is indexed.

Some "spammers" have used techniques that create highly ranked pages for popular search terms to drive traffic to sites with unrelated content; this would be sufficient to get the domain banned at most search engines if the practice is discovered.

To date, there have been few problems reported with more benign practices in which the content of the delivered page is highly relevant to the search term and is similar in content to the indexed page. On the other hand, there is always an element of risk involved in employing these techniques. The risks might include getting caught in a "spam" crackdown by a search engine, or having a human reviewer at the search engine decide that the spidered page was too different from the user page.

Either of the above might result in the page being dropped from the index, or even in the domain being penalized. While many web positioning professionals use either cloaking or redirection at the current time, some developers or site owners may decide to avoid the risk by creating pages that are intended for viewing by both spiders and human browsers.

The other issue is that even with cloaking or redirection, the search engine will present its users with content from the page it sees. Each search engine has its own method for displaying search results, but in general the results will include the page title, along with text from the beginning of the page or the Description Meta tag. Thus, it is an inescapable fact that at least some of the page copy must work for BOTH spiders and human viewers.

With this in mind, let's move on to look at some of the individual areas of the page:

Write good copy for the TITLE of your web pages. Too often the <HEAD> section of a web-page is written only for the spiders tastes. Learn how and why to write good titles for your pages.

Make your page descriptions attract clicks as well as search engine rankings. The Meta Description is the first opportunity you may have to really market your site to your customers. Learn how to use it well.

Make your visible page appeal to both humans and spiders. Use your headers and body text to the utmost advantage. Make it appeal to the spiders or you won't get ranking, but if you forget to make it appeal to humans you'll get low sales per visit. Learn how to find the balance.

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