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Search Engine Optimisation Copywriting - the Top Ten Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

In the last few years, search engine optimisation copywriting in the UK and around the world has changed beyond recognition, as has the way sites are optimised by their design, coding and links. However, the biggest changes have been with SEO copywriting. Some of the same old mistakes are being made, and with all the changes to the ways search engines rank sites, fresh pitfalls are appearing. This article looks at some of the most common mistakes and omissions in SEO copywriting - and how to avoid them.

1. Too much time on the look, not enough on the content. If, like me, you're in the business of SEO copywriting, this is a perennial bugbear. The content of your website is more important than its design, and it's going to be even more key in the future. Search engines rank websites for what's in them. You're almost certainly paying your site design people a great deal of money - but you're wasting it if your copy is an afterthought and few people visit your website. Invest time and money in copywriting. Better still, talk to your copywriter while the site is being designed, rather than ask him or her to fill in the empty spaces afterwards.

2. Lack of keywords. Keyword selection is the most critical single factor in search engine optimisation. Yet all too often businesses ignore it. If you're a blue chip company it rarely matters - people are going to come to your site anyway. But any small or mid-size company ignores it at their peril. If your site isn't optimised in the way it's written (not just in the way it's coded) then you're losing out on customers - big time.

3. Optimising keywords that no-one is searching for. Your company may pride itself on its great service, but it's pointless to optimise 'great service' or anything along those lines, as no-one will be searching for it. (In fact it can be positively counter-productive, as some search engines treat 'service' as a stop word and mark down accordingly.) You can find a free search engine query tool at www.overture.com, or you can pay for a more detailed and comprehensive one at www.wordtracker.com. These will tell you which terms have been searched for recently and how often.

4. Optimising keywords that everyone is searching for. You need to be specific in what you optimise. If you're selling jewelry (or 'jewellery', as it's spelled in the UK), then it's no use simply optimising for the word 'jewelry'. Be more specific. Even phrases like 'antique jewelry' or 'beaded jewelry' are searched for many thousands of times a month. Find out what people are searching for and see what you're up against by going to a couple of search engines and entering those terms. If your competitors are all optimising for a specific term, it's probably best to avoid it if you can find an alternative that will still bring in the traffic.

4. Alternate spellings and endings. Think laterally, think creatively, think how others would spell or term something. Are you going to optimise for 'jewelry' or 'jewellery' - or both? How about 'website' or 'web site'? - both versions are common. And so on. Don't try and cover all the bases - but do try and check them against what's being searched for and how many times and in what context you'll find that keyword on the internet. That way you're more likely to make the best choices.

5. Keyword density. The general rule of thumb is to try and get them in headings or subheads, and early on in the copy. Two to five times overall on a page, with an absolute maximum of three different keywords per page is what to aim for. Some pundits recommend keyword density of up to 5%. This is almost certainly too much, and some search engines will actually penalise you for it.

6. Clumsy use of keywords. Beware of your copy becoming awkward if you try and repeat your keywords too often:

"If you're looking for wonderful widgets, this is the best place for wonderful widgets. Our wonderful widgets are better than any other wonderful widgets you've heard of..."

Copy like that puts off anyone reading your website. And nowadays, when keywords are crowded in like that, it's putting off the search engines as well.

7. The amount of text. Opinions vary as to exactly how long a page should be. Your homepage should be no longer than around 250 - 300 words, but you can easily double that if needs be for other pages. All pages should have clear headings, subheads, and short paragraphs. A page could be as little as 100 words. What it won't be, if it's optimised correctly, is a single paragraph of 30 -50 words.

8. Missing the extras. Text links within your site and anchor text pointing to it are important elements of search engine optimisation copywriting. Text links between pages in your site make it easier for search engine spiders to travel across the whole site. You should therefore always look to include them within your site, unless your site is too complex for it to be practicable, in which case your site needs a hierarchical structure. Anchor text is the visible text in a hyperlink - as in the following:

"Effective search engine optimisation copywriting is essential for getting the most out of your website."

Of course, the anchor text that helps your site up the rankings is actually on a hyperlink from an outside site - but good anchor text is text that's written in the right way, with the correct keyword. So get your copywriter to suggest anchor text with which outside sites can link to yours.

9. Doorway pages that aren't proper pages. Doorway pages are - or were - simply pages within your site that were optimised so that very often they were the first pages that visitors reached. However, the phrase 'doorway page' nowadays tends to refer a page that has very little to do with a site, but is merely optimised for a couple of key phrases and aims to immediately redirect the visitor to the site proper. There's nothing wrong with optimising several pages on your site - in fact it's generally an excellent idea, as it allows you to cover many keywords. Just make sure that each optimised page has original content, is a genuine part of your site, and is shown on your sitemap.

10. Resting on your laurels. This is perhaps the most common failing of all. A properly optimised site should get you up near the top of the rankings. But you'll need to keep working on it if you want to stay there. Every day around 7 million items - documents, pages whatever - are added to the internet. Your competitors are going to be choosing keywords and optimising websites of their own. One way to develop and keep high rankings is with relevant links. Another is by adding original content, such as articles or newsletters - so keep your copywriter busy.
About the Author

Peter Wise is a freelance advertising copywriter, website copywriter and SEO copywriter based in London, UK. He also writes direct mail, brochures, newsletter articles and press releases. You can reach him at +44 (0) 7767 687524. For further information, please visit http://ideaswise.com/


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