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Some random thoughts on search engine optimisation

I have received an enormous amount of response to my recent articles in this esteemed Newsletter. And, of course, I am delighted. However, I am also somewhat embarrassed that so many people address me as some kind of expert on all things SEO. Really, I'm not. I'm just a hack copywriter-cum-website builder who has been messing around with SEO long enough to recognise that certain ploys seem to work and some definitely don't.

However, lack of knowledge of a subject has never in the past prevented me from pontificating upon it at great length. So here we go again. This time, I present a whole ragbag of different thoughts on website optimisation; and if the string doesn't come undone, everything should turn out all right.

One. Writing web pages.
I reckon that if you have something to say, you really can't beat words for saying it. But, in my opinion, much of today's website copy is like the man who winks at a girl in the dark: he knows what he's doing, but nobody else does!

For instance, why would anyone in their right mind kick off the copy on a Home page along the stultifying lines of: "Based in Lincolnshire, we have been in the chub-fuddler business for 50 years"? Yet they do; and this is their main preamble. Even worse, many begin what they think is their sales pitch with: "Welcome to the website of Charlie's Chub-Fuddlers" Neither of these gambits says anything about anything; and the terrible truth is that lines of this kind are everywhere.

Let's clear the decks, your opening headline (which should be an H1paragraph, by the way) should say in no uncertain terms what it is you are offering vis-a-vis service or product. (Not to mention the benefit of owning the damn thing.) This is the line that both search engine and customer will see first. It is the line that convinces both to stick around. In addition, this headline should reflect and tie-in neatly with your HTML meta tags of Title, Description and Keywords.

Make no mistake, your headline is crucial for winning good search engine listings and for making sales.

Two. Benefit is the soul of advertising.
I mentioned 'benefit' above, so maybe I should enlarge briefly upon that. It is an unwritten rule in the advertising business that people don't buy products, they buy the benefits of owning them. They buy because the product gives them kudos among their peers, or makes them feel good, or does precisely the job they need at less cost, or because they imagine they have found a bargain. For instance, one car is very much like another, but a Jaguar will bring more admiring glances than a Ford. Likewise, one cocktail dress is very much like another, but the one with the Emmanuelle of Paris label will make the wearer feel more glamorous.

So the words that you throw willy-nilly onto your website are important; and they are important in two distinct respects. First, they will prompt the search engine robots to give your site a high listing. Second, they will encourage your potential customers to buy your product. On these grounds, make every word count. And to give you an example of what I'm saying, here's how the chub-fuddler headline (above) should look: "Charlie's chub-fuddlers do the job faster and more accurately than any other chub-fuddler on the market. So you get more, high-tolerance chubs for your money." Or words to that effect.

Three. Web page copy ? how long, how wide and why?
There is a distinct difference between webpage writing and, say, print brochure writing. A brochure is designed to sit in the hands of its readers and be manipulated, depending on their predilection, front to back or back to front. A web page, on the other hand, has no tactility. It just sits there and stares back at you. The browser experience is completely different from the brochure experience.

Research shows that people won't read every dot and comma of a web page, the way they will a brochure. With a web page, they tend to duck and dive, picking up snippets of information here and there. In which case, a web page should only say as much as it needs to say ? provide appetisers ? then stop. If you have a lot to say, the better bet is to continue the theme on another page. And do believe it, your readers will go with you, just so long as what you've written is interesting enough.

One of the best ways I know to present copy is to use bullet points. But I feel that you should use these only after your main preamble, as a kind of reminder of the main features and benefits of your product or service. Too many bullet points too soon tends to demonstrate that the writer is stuck for words.

Something more. Quite a large proportion of website owners feel compelled to set their copy right across the page ? from edge to unforgiving edge. This is vastly in error. Very few eyes can follow a printed line with any accuracy over a width longer than six inches. This is why books are printed, on average, about six inches wide and why newspapers have columns.

The moral is clear. Keep length of web page copy within reason, and keep the width of that copy within reasonable eyespan.

Four. Neglect the smaller search engines at your peril.
The following figures are not exact by any means. Copywriters don't do exactitude, we only do near enough for jazz ? which is why we aren't all actuaries. Anyway, the big three search engines ? Google, Yahoo and MSN ? seemingly account for around 75% of the Internet's search traffic. And if you are nuts enough to want to add that lot up, you may find that it will run into many billions of searches per month.

Anyhow, by extrapolation, it appears that the remaining, lesser known search engines must handle 25% of the traffic between them, which I can tell you with some accuracy amounts to about 950 million searches a month.

Wow! you say. And quite right, too. What seems plain from all of this is that if you aren't deliberately targeting the smaller engines, you are neglecting, even rejecting some 25% of your potential customers.

Yes, it shook me, too, when I discovered it.

If any of this has been helpful, maybe you?ll let me know.

About the Author: Pat Quinn is an award-winning UK copywriter who also operates a search engine optimisation service. Because it?s all in the writing! Here:


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