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Styling Your Copy for Search Engines AND Visitors
By Scott Buresh - April 8, 2003

Since all of the major search engines use the words that appear on web pages as an important factor in their ranking algorithms, it is important to make sure that you let the search engines know exactly what your pages are about. However, it is just as important that you do so in a way that will not compromise your marketing message or turn off your visitors. To demonstrate how it is possible to style your copy for search engines without diminishing the visitor experience, it is perhaps easiest to create a fictional example.

Our Company

Borrowing from the Road Runner cartoons, weíll call our company Acme, and assume that our company is engaged in making widgets. Letís also assume that we have gone to Wordtracker and established that one of the prime keyphrases for our site is "Widget Manufacturing" (for more about keyphrase selection, please see my past article Selecting and Evaluating Keyphrases for Search Engine Marketing).

Below is how the headline and first few sentences of our current homepage read. Please keep in mind that, for the sake of brevity, weíve only included the top segment of the fictional page copy. Ideally, there would be 200 words or more in total- enough to give our visitors a compelling marketing message and enough to feed the search engines with the content that they crave.

Acme, Inc.

Acme has been making custom widgets for over a decade. Widgets have changed throughout the years, but our commitment to quality and unprecedented customer service has not. Every step of our time-tested process, from instigation to implementation, is geared toward your satisfaction. Producing widgets is not just what we do- itís how we live. Itís the air we breathe.

First, letís consider the headline text (and ignore the fact that we may have an unhealthy widget obsession). Search engines consider prominent words on pages to have more weight than regular words, so it is beneficial to use keyphrases in headline text (so called because it resembles the headline of a newspaper story). Unfortunately, our existing headline doesnít take advantage of our keyphrase- it merely says "Acme, Inc." From a pure search engine perspective, we may be tempted to create a headline that simply reads "Widget Manufacturing" (our keyphrase). This would work fine for search engines, but what about our company and our brand? Seeking a balance, we come up with "Acme- Quality Widget Manufacturing". Now we have something- a workable headline that includes our keyphrase, describes our business, and should please both search engines and visitors. Our updated sample now reads:

 

Acme- Quality Widget Manufacturing*

Acme has been making custom widgets for over a decade. Widgets have changed throughout the years, but our commitment to quality and unprecedented customer service has not. Every step of our time-tested process, from instigation to implementation, is geared toward your satisfaction. Producing widgets is not just what we do- itís how we live. Itís the air we breathe.

* keyphrases shaded red are for visual illustration purposes only.

 This is better from a search engine perspective, but the headline is merely the beginning. Now we have to reinforce in our copy, to our visitors AND to search engines, that we are experts in "widget manufacturing". The problem, however, is that our visitors are smarter than search engines. With them, we could use any number of synonymous terms in the copy and still get our message across ("widget creation", "widget production", etc). Search engines are not yet clever enough to understand that these terms can essentially mean the same thing, so we have to reinforce the relevance of our page in exact terms.

Trying to achieve a balance between visitor and search engine considerations, we modify our above copy to include our keyphrase in opportune places, so that the page now reads:

 

Acme- Quality Widget Manufacturing

Acme has been engaged in custom widget manufacturing for over a decade. Widgets have changed throughout the years, but our commitment to quality and unprecedented customer service has not. Every step of our time-tested process, from instigation to implementation, is geared toward your satisfaction. Widget manufacturing is not just what we do- itís how we live. Itís the air we breathe.

 

We would continue this process for the rest of the copy on the page. Again, ideally there would be 200 words or more in total.

Conclusion

The differences between the original and new versions of this page may be subtle, but the differences in the search engine positions between a site that uses these techniques and one that does not is often substantial. It should be noted that while it may be tempting to try to shoehorn keyphrases into the site wherever possible, this defeats our purpose. We may get more search engine traffic, but our visitors will not be able to look past the disjointed, unprofessional copy. Too many instances of the keyphrase can also put us at risk of penalization. The most important thing to remember when styling body copy and headlines for search engines is not to compromise the visitor experience.

Scott Buresh is managing partner of Medium Blue Internet Marketing. His articles have appeared in numerous publications, including ZDNet, WebProNews, MarketingProfs, DarwinMag, SiteProNews, PromotionData, and Search Engine Guide. Medium Blue is an Atlanta search engine optimization company that works with clients all over the country.

 

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