Dances with machines

Optimizing this site for search engines (SEO) yesterday, I was more aware than ever that I was changing my writing, often for the worse, so it would be easier for machines (i.e. Google) to understand. The application I used as my SEO adviser wanted me to:

  • Repeat my main keyword for each page as much as possible on that page (good Web copywriting doesn’t repeat the same words too much—to avoid the semantic carry-over ‘baggage’ of each occurrence and keep readers nourished with fresh words).
  • Use the main keyword in my page title and sub-heads  so search “bots” (robots) can more easily understand what the page or post is about  (good copywriting uses page titles and headlines or chapter titles to grab attention, intrigue readers, lead them into the writing that follows, not just matter-of-factly announce the main subject matter–boring!)
  • Keep my sentences short, no matter what (good writing varies sentence length to keep readers singing along with the sounds and rhythms of easygoing human language)
  • Avoid words with too many syllables, no matter what (good writing is precise, and sometimes a longer word packs a lot more, richer meaning per character and resonates more in your mind than a shorter, fuzzier one)
  • Include as many outbound links as possible (good writing, and Web copywriting in particular, doesn’t distract you by frequently suggesting that you read something else)
  • Avoid so-called “stop words”  in key words and page titles–words that make The Machine return too many results and/or too many irrelevant results.

“Stop words”

That last bit of advice about “stop words” really got me. “Consider removing them,” said the plug-in, sounding like Hal 9000, the rogue computer in “2001: A Space Odyssey” (“I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”). Here’s a snippet from just one of countless “stop word” lists:

stop words

And that’s just A through F… The list goes on. And many stop word lists are much longer. It’s hard to imagine any Web copywriter worth his/her salt willingly doing without ANY words!

Web copywriting SEO in a nutshell

Between the lines and looming large over even the geekiest professional SEO blogs and online forums, there’s a chronic ambivalence, a mixed message, between “Ignore the search engines, just create great, fresh content and you’ll rank high in search engine results”… and “You absolutely have to do [this] or [that] with your content and metadata and social networks” to get the best return on your SEO investment.The bottom line is that effective web copywriting SEO depends on:

  • Creating interesting, useful content for a well defined audience–and update it regularly;
  • Making sure your site is built on a platform that makes it easy for you to offer The Machines the right bait (URLs, page titles, headlines, keywords in copy, outbound links);
  • Engaging with social media–going out to mingle and talk usefully with your people, making sure you’re not just babbling like SNL’s “Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party” and handing out links back to your site like unwanted business cards (word is out that The Machines really couldn’t care less about those lately…).

the long view

My take on the future of Web copywriting SEO?  I’m thinking that if and when we get to the point where computers can understand Web content without our having to dumb down and interpret our “natural” language for them (and we sure seem to be headed hell-bent-for-leather in that direction!) we’d better be way more prepared to tango with them than Dave is in Kubrick’s film.