What to do when your web copy client asks you to optimize their website for a bunch of keywords?
This isn’t an unusual request, so I’ve thought long and hard about my response.
I feel that a part of my job as a web copywriter is also to educate my clients. Well-informed clients are a joy to work with, and usually pay more than uninformed clients.
And, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of those areas where most clients need quite a bit of education.
In this article, I hope to provide you with enough basic knowledge about SEO and SEO Copywriting to respond to your clients intelligently … and preferably get you hired for a bit more money.
This article is intentionally basic to help you understand how search-engine rankings currently work. Plus, I review the major components of SEO, and I put a few words in your mouth so that you’ve got something to say to your prospects and clients.
For more advanced information on SEO and SEO Copywriting, I encourage you to watch Heather Lloyd-Martin’s webinar.
Search Engine Optimization Basics
When a client or prospect asks me to optimize their website for certain keyword phrases (or simply to “optimize” their site for the search engines), I stop and give them a brief explanation about how SEO works.
The search engines (let’s just say “Google”) want to deliver the best possible results to the person searching. Google knows that if another search engine starts providing better results — i.e., results that are more relevant to the searcher — then they will soon lose search business.
And, a loss of search business is a loss of revenue in the form of advertising.
So, Google wants to list websites that are the most relevant to the searcher. That means that Google has to somehow differentiate between searches that are purely for “information” and searches done by shoppers looking for a specific product.
Can they do this?
Yes, to a certain extent. In fact, some keyword research tools will tell you which keyword phrases will more often result in a sale. They’re getting to that level of sophistication with the search algorithms.
Google tweaks its ranking algorithm almost daily, but if you understand this concept of relevance, then you don’t have to sweat the details when Google does change the algorithm (and they will change the algorithm).
Determining relevance isn’t easy, but I think we’d all agree that Google does a pretty good job of figuring it out.
What goes into Google’s ranking algorithm?
Remember that the goal is relevance. So, to determine relevance, Google looks at several factors (see the statement below from Google’s website on their “PageRank” algorithm):
- Is the keyword phrase the focus of the website or web page?
- Is the keyword phrase mentioned on the website or web page?
- Does the keyword phrase link to another page elsewhere on the website?
- Is the “subject matter” of the page related to the subject matter of the “adjacent” pages on the website? This, in Google’s algorithm, makes the page more “relevant” to the search query.
- Is the web page or website mentioned as a resource elsewhere on the Web (especially if by the primary keyword phrase)?
- If it is mentioned elsewhere, how “important” is the referring website?
- Is the website or web page mentioned via social media or social networking channels?
- Again, if it is mentioned via social media, then how often, where, and how is it mentioned?
Most people split the above factors into what we call “on-site” and “off-site” optimization.
On-site optimization consists of the things you do ON your website to optimize it for certain keyword phrases:
- The keyword phrase is in the title of the web page
- The keyword phrase is in the description of the web page
- The keyword phrase is in the URL of the web page
- The keyword phrase is mentioned on the web page in a header
- The keyword phrase is mentioned elsewhere on the web page
- The keyword phrase is inside “anchor text” for an internal link from one web page on the site to another web page on the site (see below)
- And, there are a number of web pages on the site that emphasize the keyword phrase … and related keyword phrases! (Topic relevance)
The age of a website also factors into the ranking of a site. The longer it’s been around, the higher it’s likely to be ranked.
The term “anchor text” refers to the use of your keyword phrase as the hyperlink to another web page. For example, This is anchor text that links to the Wealthy Web Writer homepage. Anchor text allows you to say, “this is what this web page is all about.”
What Matt Cutts of Google says is that you really only need to mention a keyword phrase a couple of times for Google to “get” that it is the subject matter of the page.
What he also says is that you can actually optimize a web page for multiple, related keyword phrases. For example, you might have “Dog Training Tips” in your title, “Dog Training Treats” in your description, and your URL might be “/dog-training-secrets.”
Google also pays attention to what it calls “semantically related” keyword phrases, such as “teach your dog to sit.” If they know that your website is all about dog training, then they will list you for the phrase “teach your dog to sit” if that phrase is mentioned on your site. (Note: These are often referred to as “long-tail” keyword phrases.)
Plus, Google says that they pay attention to what’s on the pages “adjacent” to a web page. That is, if you have several articles or web pages on your website that use related keyword phrases, Google will give you a higher ranking (or relevance) for those keyword phrases.
All of these “on-page” strategies help Google to classify your website and pages for specific keyword phrases.
However, it’s becoming quite difficult today to get ranked for any reasonably competitive keyword phrases if all you do is on-page optimization!
For example, you might get ranked number one for “Green peas on my head,” but can’t be found in the first 20 pages of Google for “organic farming” … if you don’t also pay attention to the “off-page” factors!
It has to do with relevance, and relevance is determined by others’ opinion of you more than your opinion of you.
A major factor in the ranking of a website has to do with whether or not other websites (including social media sites) believe that the site is “relevant” or important.
If, for example, your website is linked to from another website, and that link has your primary keyword inside “anchor text,” then Google will “pass” the relative importance of the other website onto the link to your website.
In other words, your site is considered more “relevant” if it is linked to by a high-ranking website than if it is linked to by a low-ranking website.
It’s the difference between getting an endorsement from Michael Masterson or from your Aunt Jane. Google pays attention to the relative importance of the people who “vote” for you by linking to or mentioning your website.
Thus, it’s not the quantity of links you have back to your site from other sites, but rather the quality of the links.
Google uses a very complicated algorithm to calculate the relative “ranking” of a page. They call this their “PageRank™” algorithm, and here’s what they have to say about it:
PageRank Technology: PageRank reflects our view of the importance of web pages by considering more than 500 million variables and 2 billion terms. Pages that we believe are important pages receive a higher PageRank and are more likely to appear at the top of the search results. PageRank also considers the importance of each page that casts a vote, as votes from some pages are considered to have greater value, thus giving the linked page greater value.
It is generally understood today that the “on-page” factors help Google identify and classify what your website and web pages are about (subject relevance), while the “off-page” factors are what mostly determine your relative ranking in the search-engine results (ranking relevance).
Here’s what we understand about off-page relevance today:
- Link relevance: Google “passes PageRank” to a website when a higher-ranking website links to a lower-ranking website. That is, having links to your site from higher-ranking sites will boost the ranking of your site (per the description above).
- Social media: We’re discovering that what you do with social media and social networking can have a lot to do with your search-engine ranking. What we know from thorough testing is that getting mentioned on social networking and social media sites, such as Digg, Delicious, and even YouTube and Facebook pages can increase your search-engine ranking.
Thus, you’ll often hear about “linking strategies” that are “guaranteed” to get your website ranked high in the search engines. There’s no absolute guarantee, but if you execute a well-thought out strategy that legitimately “passes PageRank” back to your site from external links, then you’ll be in excellent long-term shape.
What to Say to Your Client
When a prospect or client asks me to help them get their website ranked for certain keyword phrases, I explain that: “I can easily optimize your website for one to three keyword phrases while I write the web copy, but getting your site ranked high for those keyword phrases is an ongoing effort.”
I’ll then explain the difference between on-site and off-site optimization, and make sure they understand that it’s primarily the off-site efforts that pay off in higher search-results rankings.
My general rule of thumb is that I need five solid pages of web copy for each keyword phrase for which I want to rank … more if it’s a highly-competitive keyword phrase.
And that’s just the on-page factors. I then tell them that we need to get a good 15-20 quality references (links) back to the website from other (higher-ranking) websites and social networking/social media sites — for each keyword phrase.
That is, we need “votes” from outside sources, preferably high-ranking and important outside sources.
I recommend that we start with one primary keyword phrase that is not highly competitive, yet gets sufficient traffic to warrant the time and expense of the work.
The bottom line is that as a web copywriter, often the best you can do is to optimize the website for certain keyword phrases (one to three for most websites), understanding that optimizing the website is not the same as getting the site ranked.
However, once you learn some of the tricks and techniques of off-site optimization, you can significantly increase your income by offering these services to your clients.
And here’s a word of warning:
You’ll see “secrets” released occasionally by Internet marketers that show how they got their website onto the first page of Google in one week.
What they don’t tell you is that a week later their site isn’t listed in the first 100 pages.
Avoid what are called “black hat” methods that use some quirk in the ranking algorithm to temporarily get a website ranked. Google cracks down heavily on these sites and methods, so be careful of shortcuts and tricks.