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SEO Copywriting - In the Wake of the "Florida Update

by Karon Thackston - 2004

After Google's most recent update, those in the search engine optimization (SEO) field seem to be standing at attention. As sites that have held long-standing positions in the top 10 flounder and bob around in the search results like a fishing cork in a pond, many are scrambling for answers about what to do next. I've been asked for my opinions about changes in search engine copywriting, so I thought I'd share some of my insights.

Just like the SEOs whose editorials and interviews you've recently read, I too am expressing opinions here. Nobody knows for sure what has happened or what Google plans to do in the future. However, based on what I've seen so far, I do have some observations to share in response to a few commonly asked questions.

"Many are saying that "over-optimized sites are being penalized. Should I reduce the keyword saturation on my pages?"

The changes at Google this go "round have nothing to do with a penalty; it's simply an algorithm change. No penalties, no punishments, etc. Over saturation of keywords has always been bad, however, many were getting away with it pre-Florida. I have never been a fan of "shoving keywords into your copy wherever you have an extra syllable. Keeping an acceptable level of keyword saturation is still important. Just don't overdo it. Remember, your ultimate goal should be to write for your human visitors not the search engine spiders.

Case in point: Do a Google search for the term "website design." At the time of this article, I clicked through to many of the sites returned in the top 10. As I read through the home pages of these sites, I noticed how often they repeated the keyphrase "website design." These pages had a good level of saturation. Not too heavy, not too light.

Unless yours is one of those sites where every third word is a keyword/phrase, I would not recommend changing the level of keyword saturation at this point.

"There have been reports of Google moving to a semantic-based system. Does this mean keywords will no longer be used?"

In my opinion, the reports are true Google is moving to a semantic-type system. But that doesn't mean keywords are on their way out at all. After the changes are made, Google will be going beyond *just* looking for keywords on your page. They"ll want well-written copy actual language that speaks to your site visitors. That means your copy will take on a more important role than ever before. And that's great news!

For those of us who have been focusing on search engine copywriting that appeals to both the engines and the site visitors, Google's upcoming changes should be very exciting.

I have a couple of other common-sense thoughts on this topic as well.

Searchers will continue to type in search strings that bring up what they are looking for. While I have noticed the keyphrases getting longer over time, I have not read any research that states searchers have begun typing "wood, nails and glass when they are actually hoping to find mirrors.

Common sense tells me that keyphrases will always be a determining factor in generating accurate search results.

The other common-sense aspect that comes to mind is that when Google moves to semantic search results, keyword saturation will become even more important. How will the spiders know what to gauge their semantic results by if there are no keywords included in your copy? Yes, semantics means that other types of verbiage need to be included, too but -- as I said earlier -- hasn't that always been the case?

"Some people have said that Google is now favoring information sites and information pages. Should I write more information-based copy for my site?"

While *some* search results for *some* keyphrases do seem to be filled primarily with information-based directory sites (those that do not attempt to sell), it is not the norm. Google understands that over 85% of people looking to make a purchase turn to search engines. While information-filled pages definitely satisfy a need for the first part of the buying process, they don't replace retail sites.

People will continue to research and make purchases online. This means they"ll want to see retail and other business sites returned in their search results. If they don't get what they're looking for, they"ll simply use another search engine.

So, to answer the question, I've always thought (and so has Google) you should include information pages on your site. Gathering information was, is and will always be a part of the buying process. If you currently don't have information pages on your site, yes, add some. But not because you think Google might approve because your visitors will.

Just like the demise of most META tags, and just like Google practically ignoring ALT/image tags, "tricks come and go. Write your copy primarily to impress your site visitors. Making drastic changes - unless they are based on a need by your target audience - is not a move I recommend.

Overall, it will take some time for any definite/solid information to filter down about the true effects of the "Florida update. Theories will continue to swirl around the "Net. So will rankings! But the fact remains that "common-sense SEO copywriting wins out in the long run.

About the Author

Copy not getting results? Learn to write SEO copy that impresses both the engines and your visitors at Be sure to check out Karon's latest e-report "How To Increase Keyword Saturation (Without Destroying the Flow of Your Copy) at

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