Ebook Copywriting

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Ebook Copywriting

  1. 1. The Unscary, Real World Guide to SEO Copywriting SEO copywriting tips for writers, publishers and everyone else. By Ian Lurie ConversationMarketing.com Portent.com
  2. 2. Legal, Notes and Other Stuff © 2008, The Written Word, Inc. d/b/a Portent Interactive and Ian Lurie. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Click here to read the license. That’s a fancy way of saying: Ian scrapes out a living writing and selling books like these. Please, buy a copy. However, you are free to pass this along to friends and colleagues as you see fit. Spread the word, and get more people writing good stuff online. If you like this book, you might want to check out Ian’s blog at www.ConversationMarketing.com, and his company, at www.portent.com. If you want to talk to Ian, you can reach him at ian@portent.com or on Twitter at @portentintUnscary, Real World SEO Copywriting 2
  3. 3. What Search Engines Want Search engines aren’t as mysterious as some professionals might have you think. And the practice of moving up in the ‘organic’ or unpaid rankings on search engines - also known as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) - isn’t that big a mystery, either. Search engines want a nice, orderly world defined by content. In a search engine’s perfect world, all content is neatly classified, easily categorized and really useful to us poor humans. The closer we can get to that easily categorized, useful content, the better we’ll do in the search engines. As a publication (a blog, a news site, or some other regularly published site), you’ve got some unique advantages: - You have lots of content. - That content is generally of high quality. - You add content all the time. - The content can easily be organized and categorized. So, this should be easy, right? Yes, and no.Unscary, Real World SEO Copywriting 3
  4. 4. The Catch I said search engines want easily categorized content. They rarely get it. And publication web sites are often a mess because the writing in those publications is top-notch for print. In print, eye-catching headlines and careful use of column inches are paramount. Online, descriptive headlines and easily-scanned content is the highest priority. So you’re going to have to make adjustments. That’s what this e-book is all about.Unscary, Real World SEO Copywriting 4
  5. 5. How Search Engines Think Search engines are hierarchical beasts. They see everything in a series of pyramids. First, they see the entire internet. Every page on the internet has ‘votes’ in the form of links, and search engines decide a site’s authority based on those links. The more relevant links you have, the more authority you have, and the closer you are to the top of the hierarchy for a particular topic: More links & trustUnscary, Real World SEO Copywriting 5
  6. 6. How Search Engines Think Then, they see a hierarchy as determined by the structure of your site. The more clicks required to get from the home page of your site to a particular page, the less importance a search engine will accord that page within the site itself: Home page One click Two clicksUnscary, Real World SEO Copywriting 6
  7. 7. How Search Engines Think Finally, search engines look at the structure of each page on your site. Each page is awarded relevance to a specific topic or key phrase based on certain elements of the page structure itself: The title tag, the headings, the copy, and then things like bullets, lists, filenames and a whole set of narrowly-defined geekery from which I’ll spare you. For your purposes, this is what you need to remember: Title tag Headings CopyUnscary, Real World SEO Copywriting 7
  8. 8. How Search Engines Think As a writer, you can influence the search engines by doing what you do best: Writing! But, you can exert even more influence by emphasizing these rules: 1. Text is Text 2. Write Descriptive Article Titles 3. Write Descriptive Headings (and use heading tags) 4. Use Descriptive Link Text 5. Create Hubs 6. Use Standard Phrasing This isn’t about writing garbage for search engines. It’s about writing really fantastic online copy that both your readers and search engines will find useful. Now, I’ll go through each of these rules in detail.Unscary, Real World SEO Copywriting 8
  9. 9. 1: Text is Text Search engines understand text. That means words I can cut-and-paste from my browser window into MS Word or another text editor:Unscary, Real World SEO Copywriting 9
  10. 10. 1: Text is Text Graphical text - text created using Photoshop and then placed on your site as an image - is pretty, but search engines can’t read it. Search engines do have video and image components now. But even those search tools determine the relevance of a particular image or video primarily based on the text around it and the filename of the image or video. So remember rule 1: Text means editable, cut-and-pastable text. If you can’t click, drag, and then copy and paste text on a web page into MS Word, then chances are search engines can’t find it.Unscary, Real World SEO Copywriting 10
  11. 11. 2. Write Descriptive Article Titles An article title must clearly describe the article, on its own. The reader should not need to read any other copy to understand the article topic and, if relevant, the opinion of the writer. Look at the title of any article on your site. Then write that title on a separate, blank sheet of paper. If a complete stranger read that title, would they know what the article was about? A headline that works in print often works because of the text around it. Online, your headline may have to make sense all on its own. Can you tell me what the content of this article will be? Mustang Gallops Into Sunset Nope. How about this, instead? Ford Mustang Wins Awards at Sunset Auto Show See the difference? In print, you often keep your article titles short and punchy because of space restrictions, and because you’re trying to grab the attention of passersby at a newsstand, or the guy who’s reading over someone’s shoulder on the subway. Online, you’re trying to grab the attention of someone who’s rapidly scanning a list of article titles in their feed reader or on your home page. So descriptive is better.Unscary, Real World SEO Copywriting 11
  12. 12. 2. Write Descriptive Article Titles Most content management systems publish the article title right into the page’s title tag, as well. You can see the title tag above the address bar for the page you’re currently visiting in your web browser: I won’t go into the techie details of how that tag gets there. You’re a writer, not an HTML programmer, and you shouldn’t have to become one just to write web- and SEO-friendly copy. I will tell you, though, that the title tag is allll the way at the top of the page hierarchy search engines use to categorize content. Refer back to page 7 if you want to see that hierarchy again. Your content management system must use the article title in the title tag (good) or let you type in a custom title tag (even better). If it doesn’t talk to your developers! As a copywriter you must have control over the title.Unscary, Real World SEO Copywriting 12
  13. 13. 2. Write Descriptive Article Titles Assuming your CMS lets you put some version of the article title into the title tag, there’s another, non- SEO benefit: Writing a great, descriptive article title will improve clickthru from search engine results, too. Search engines use the page title as the top of the ‘snippet’: If someone searches for ‘internet marketing strategy’ and sees this title tag, they’re very likely going to click. If they see ‘Conversation Marketing’ and nothing else, they won’t click, because they have no idea what they’re going to get. Rule #2: An article title must clearly describe the article, on its own. The reader should not need to read any other copy to understand the article topic and, if relevant, the opinion of the writer. Write descriptive article titles.Unscary, Real World SEO Copywriting 13
  14. 14. 3. Use Tagged, Descriptive Headings. Every page of your site must have at least one level one heading (H1). All headings must be tagged as headings. All headings must be descriptive, so that a reader can understand what’s coming next in your writing from the heading alone. If you look at the page hierarchy on page 7, you’ll notice that headings are the second priority. Search engines start with title tags (you read rule 2, right?) and then work their way down, using headings as a page ‘outline’ that describes the structure of your writing. The concept of headings can be a little abstract, so I’ll start with an example from a tool we all know and love: Microsoft Word. As a writer, you know you should create headings to break up a page of content (if you don’t, just quietly nod and read up on proper copywriting techniques later). But, you also know you can create the visual equivalent of a heading, or an actual heading. I create the visual equivalent by making my heading bold and bumping up the type size: But, if I then tell MS Word to create an outline, I get a mess: I created something that only looks like a heading. MS Word has no way to know whether I mean the bold text to be a heading, or just plain old bold text. Structural higgledy-piggledy results.Unscary, Real World SEO Copywriting 14
  15. 15. 3. Use Tagged, Descriptive Headings. To create a real heading, I should use the styles drop down, like this: Note that I can make a heading look any way I want by editing the style in Word. On the web, you’ve got Cascading Style Sheets to do the same thing. Now if I use outline mode, Word knows what to do: The word processor knows that ‘This is my heading’ is at the top of the page’s semantic structure. ‘Semantic structure’ simply means that text on the page includes information about the content’s structure. By setting my heading to actually use the ‘Heading 1’ style, I added information to the page that tells Word it’s at the top of the page hierarchy. That’s a word processor. Now I’ll show you how it works online.Unscary, Real World SEO Copywriting 15
  16. 16. 3. Use Tagged, Descriptive Headings. This next section includes some very basic HTML code. Don’t worry! It’s easy to use. Plus, chances are your content management system has an MS Word-style interface that lets you tag headings with a click. Either way, at the end of this section you’ll be able to create a good semantic outline on your site. In MS Word we can create a semantic outline. We can do the same thing in HTML. Here’s some text on a web page: Main Heading Here’s the first paragraph, with a bunch of content that’s related directly to the main heading. And here’s the next paragraph. Sub Heading This is a subtopic, related to the main heading but then classified a bit more by a sub- heading. Sub-heads make content easier to read. I could create this layout by making the headings bold. But then a search engine will see this: Main Heading Here’s the first paragraph, with a bunch of content that’s related directly to the main heading. And here’s the next paragraph. Sub Heading This is a subtopic, related to the main heading but then classified a bit more by a sub- heading. Sub-heads make content easier to read. You already know that this means: No semantic outline. Search engines use the semantic outline to figure out a page or paragraph’s focus. Without that outline, search engines probably won’t accord as much relevance to your page for a given topic.Unscary, Real World SEO Copywriting 16
  17. 17. 3. Use Tagged, Descriptive Headings. If, on the other hand, I use some very simple HTML to ‘tag’ my headings, like this: In MS Word we can create a semantic outline. We can do the same thing in HTML. Here’s some text on a web page: <h1>Main Heading</h1> <p>Here’s the first paragraph, with a bunch of content that’s related directly to the main heading.</p> <p>And here’s the next paragraph.</p> <h2>Sub Heading</h2> <p>This is a subtopic, related to the main heading but then classified a bit more by a sub-heading.</p> <p>Sub-heads make content easier to read.</p> Search engines immediately understand: The H1 element - the text between <h1> and </h1> - refers to the entire page. The H2 element refers to a subtopic. If I had many subtopics, I’d just create an outline: All subtopics are H2 elements. All sub-subtopics are H3 elements. And so on. As I said before, your content management system may allow you to tag headings using a simple point- and-click tool. But, at worst, you have to remember <h1> and <h2>. So, first half of this rule: Use Tagged Headings.Unscary, Real World SEO Copywriting 17
  18. 18. 3. Use Tagged, Descriptive Headings. Those headings have to be descriptive, too. Otherwise, you create a nice semantic structure that’s meaningless. Take this example: <h1>Today’s Top News</h1> <p>Here at Harrison’s Bike Shop, we offer great cycling apparel.</p> <p>And here’s the next paragraph.</p> <h2>Other Coverage</h2> <p>Special for Fall! Get 20% off on every cycling jersey in stock!</p> <p>Sub-heads make content easier to read.</p> If I write “Today’s Top News” on a blank sheet of paper, do I really know the topic of the page? I know it’s about news, from today, that’s important. But what’s the news about? Business? Medicine? Politics? Hobbits? The squirrel acorn harvest? I have no idea. Neither will a search engine, or the typical reader who visits your web site and rapidly scans the page. This is much better: <h1>Today’s Top Healthcare News</h1> <p>Here at Harrison’s Bike Shop, we offer great cycling apparel.</p> <p>And here’s the next paragraph.</p> <h2>Other Healthcare Coverage</h2> <p>Special for Fall! Get 20% off on every cycling jersey in stock!</p> <p>Sub-heads make content easier to read.</p>Unscary, Real World SEO Copywriting 18
  19. 19. 3. Use Tagged, Descriptive Headings. What a difference a single word can make. Now I know I’m about to read about Healthcare news. A search engine knows, too. The perfect page structure will have: - A level 1 heading <H1> - Followed by paragraph copy - Followed by one or more level 2 headings <H2> - With paragraph copy after each of those, too Rule #3: Every page of your site should have at least one level one heading (H1). All headings must be tagged as such. All headings must be descriptive, so that a reader can understand what’s coming next in your writing from the heading alone. Use headings.Unscary, Real World SEO Copywriting 19
  20. 20. 4. Use Descriptive Link Text. Link text must clearly describe the page on which the visitor will land if they click the link. By now you get what I mean by ‘descriptive’: Take the link text and write it on a blank sheet of paper. Does it tell you about the page to which it links? For example: For more information on emergency preparedness quality metrics, click here. That link tells me the page to which I’m about to go is about ‘click here’. Of course I can read the rest of the sentence. But my eye is drawn to the link first. Search engines take this to an extreme. To a search engine, every link on the internet is a vote. More votes can mean greater authority for a given topic. But the link text can define how those votes are applied. So the ‘click here’ link tells a search engine the target page is very relevant and an authority about ‘click here’. Hmmmm... Try this instead: For more information on emergency preparedness quality metrics, click here. You can keep the ‘click here’. Usability studies show that people like to click the words ‘click here’. But by creating a separate, descriptive link, I emphasize the authority of the target page for EPQM. Putting the descriptive link first, I (arguably) reduce the importance of the second link. By separating it, I (definitely) increase the value of the link.Unscary, Real World SEO Copywriting 20
  21. 21. 4. Use Descriptive Link Text. One other note about link text: The best links are in the flow of the copy, not in a separate list of links off to the side or at the end of the article. Search engines may ignore a separate list, or at least reduce the value of those links. Surprise! A nice, short section. I’ll bet that’s a relief. Rule #4: Link text should clearly describe the page on which the visitor will land if they click the link. Use descriptive link text.Unscary, Real World SEO Copywriting 21
  22. 22. 5. Create Hubs. Similar pages should link to and from a single, central ‘hub’ page. That hub page can be anything - an article, a special category page, or something else. But there must be a single hub page. Way back on page 6, I said site hierarchy matters. Link structures within your site can funnel the link ‘votes’ that search engines use to determine the authority and relevance of each page on your site. If a page is 30 clicks away from your home page, it has less potential for a high ranking than a page that’s 1 click away. It also has less authority to confer back to other pages on the site. If you have a site that grows steadily, you’ll add more and more pages of content. Inevitably, older content will get pushed ‘down’ in the site hierarchy. They then move further from the home page and lose some of their authority within the site. That’s unfair! It means great articles on huge, well-maintained publication site with tens of thousands of pages could actually lose authority over time. Here’s how you even things out: Create hub pages. A hub page is a single, central page to which many other relevant pages on your site link. It can be an existing article or product page, or a category page. If you use an existing page, you’ll get faster results than if you use a new one. Established pages will already be in the search indexes and have authority upon which you can build. On the other hand, you can tailor a new page to be super- optimized. How do you decide? It’s actually pretty easy.Unscary, Real World SEO Copywriting 22
  23. 23. 5. Create Hubs. If you have a page that already has a strong ranking for a great key phrase, then make that page your hub. For example, if I want to gain a high ranking for ‘Google Analytics Consulting’, I already have a starting point: I’m not going to create a whole new page. I’ll use this page as my hub. If you don’t have a page that ranks well for any of my target phrases, go ahead, create a new hub page.Unscary, Real World SEO Copywriting 23
  24. 24. 5. Create Hubs. Say you’re optimizing for ‘buggy bumpers’. You have one page on your site, written 6 months ago, that’s right on point. And it’s on page 2 of Google, so you know you’re close to getting some real traffic. But you need to get into the top 10, and right now that page is pretty lonely: Buggy BumpersUnscary, Real World SEO Copywriting 24
  25. 25. 5. Create Hubs. Create another page with more information on buggy bumpers. Then link from that page back to the original buggy bumpers page, and vice-versa. Buggy Bumpers More about Buggy Bumpers Since links are votes, you’ve just added a vote for the buggy bumpers page. That page is giving some of the votes, back, since it links back to the ‘more about’ page, but still, you’re gaining ground. If you really know what you’re doing, you can NoFollow the links from the original page to the new page. That way, the new pages provide more link authority to the original page, which keeps all that authority in one place. Do not do this if you don’t understand it. This kind of link sculpting can potentially hurt your site in the rankings.Unscary, Real World SEO Copywriting 25
  26. 26. 5. Create Hubs. Over time, you add more pages. They all link to that one central buggy bumpers page. Those links are all descriptive, too, so they lend a lot of authority to the hub page. That boosts the importance of the page and creates a cluster of content that’s all relevant to this one topic. Then, link to your hub page from the home page, or from a page that’s 1-2 clicks from the home page. That brings this entire cluster of content up in the site hierarchy. Your site will gain relevance for the topic as a result. Buggy Bumpers More about Buggy Buggy Buggy Bumper Bumper Tips Bumpers Reviews Even better, visitors will appreciate that they can find all of the buggy bumpers content in one place. I am not suggesting you write reams of lousy content purely to move up in the search engines. Write good, useful stuff. Your visitors will appreciate it, and they’ll be more likely to buy, subscribe or return to your site. Don’t force the issue. Rule #5: Similar pages should link to and from a single, central ‘hub’ page. That hub page can be anything - an article, a special category page, or something else. But there must be a single hub page.Unscary, Real World SEO Copywriting 26
  27. 27. 6. Use Standard Phrasing. People search using familiar phrases. Make sure you use those phrases, too. Use standard phrasing everywhere: Article titles, headlines, link text and body copy. And, pay attention to spacing. People tend to search for topics using common phrases. I don’t search for ‘air travel prices’ or ‘plane tickets’. I search for ‘airfares’. You don’t search for ‘Manhattan business news’, you search for ‘New York business news’. You need to always be aware of common phrasing. This isn’t about researching keywords. You must never, ever research keywords before you write an article. That’s a surefire way to write lousy copy. Instead: 1. Write your article. 2. Look at other news sources, blog posts and other user-generated content out on the web. 3. Note how folks are referring to your topic. 4. Stay consistent and use that phrasing. Use standard phrasing in: - Your article title - Headings - The article copy - Links And so on. Again, don’t force the phrase into your writing. Just make sure that you use the right phrase when you’re otherwise going to refer to a particular topic.Unscary, Real World SEO Copywriting 27
  28. 28. 6. Use Standard Phrasing. For example, if I know everyone says ‘all-natural chocolate’ when they’re looking for organic chocolate, this isn’t so good: Our all-natural candies from chocolate are tasty! Nowhere in that sentence do I see ‘all-natural chocolate’. It’s almost there, but not quite. This is far better: All of our candies are made with tasty, all-natural chocolate! See that? Same meaning, still flows nicely, but now ‘all-natural chocolate’ is in there as a phrase. That’ll help boost the site’s relevance for the phrase. And, if the phrase shows up in search results, the search engine will bold it. That makes the listing stand out, and makes the reader more likely to click: One last detail: Be aware of spacing. ClassicalMusic may be a great brand name, but if you want to rank for ‘Classical Music’, you’ll have to space the words out. To a search engine, ‘ClassicalMusic’ is one word, and ‘Classical Music’ is two. You can space words out using a space, a hyphen (-) or a forward-slash. Search engines probably won’t interpret an underscore (_) as a space.Unscary, Real World SEO Copywriting 28
  29. 29. The Real Lesson. Nothing I’ve suggested in this book is really about search engines. Descriptive titles help visitors find the content they want. Descriptive headlines help them scan and find information on the page. Standard phrasing means you’re speaking their language. And smart linking helps visitors find their way around. That’s the real lesson: Follow these guidelines, but make sure you think of your visitors first, search engines second. Do what you do best: Write great stuff. The rest will follow.Unscary, Real World SEO Copywriting 29
  30. 30. There’s More. There’s always more. This booklet distills 12 years’ testing and knowledge into 30 pages. So you can imagine, I’ve cut a few corners here and there. I tried to keep this totally focused on pure copywriting. No techie stuff, no fancy stuff. If you want to learn more, have a look at a few sites: ConversationMarketing.com - That’s me. SEOMoz.org - A great resource for learning SEO. CopyBlogger.com - If you’re a writer and you’re writing online, read this blog. I also suggest reading the classics: Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy But the best thing you can do is write every day. Writing isn’t an inborn talent - it’s a skill you can develop over time.Unscary, Real World SEO Copywriting 30
  31. 31. Contacting Ian E-mail: ian@portent.com Twitter: @portentint Blog: www.ConversationMarketing.com If someone gave you a copy of this book, great! I told them they could. Pass it on.Unscary, Real World SEO Copywriting 31

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