Here’s some SEO for copywriters to follow

SEO for copywriters and content creators tends to get caught a little too much in the technical and not enough for the customer. Yet many of the iterations Google has made, such as Hummingbird and voice search, are very much about inviting people, not bots, to the party.

photo of two hummingbirds around a flower. article is talking about Hummingbird algorithm SEO for copywriters
Photo by James Wainscoat via Unsplaash

Due to this, there’s an extremely legitimate reason to gather up the buzzwords and toss them out the window. Writing for people as people (as opposed to people mirroring what they think spiders and bots want) is super important.

If you are an ad agency, startup or business who claims to be “monetising synergistic relationships” and to “distill complexity and tactically retool services in a social stratosphere”, not only do you sound unapproachable and confusing, you’ll also find no benefit to your rankings in today’s search engine optimisation pool.

Need to convince the boss (or yourself) that it’s time to retire the buzzwords?

SEO for copywriters and content creators has to get simple, human and appealing. Here’s why

1)      SEO likes conversation

Designed to support the growing number of people using mobile searches in local areas on the fly and voice search, the Hummingbird release of 2013 and later iterations of Google’s search engine updates that mirrors natural speech. This is about making the best out of local search when people are roaming about like “where can I buy tennis shoes” or “cafes that make gluten free muffins” and giving back queries that match that need as opposed to the history of the tennis shoe or well ranking muffin recipes.

Google is attempting to also allow for words to have multiple meanings as opposed to literal rankings. So context counts. How the question is asked, the place you are asking that question, the device you are using, and of course all the other data Google knows about you is nectar for the Hummingbird.

Yes, this is primarily a change around voice searching questions or mobiles, however the ramifications for all search overall are pretty huge. It’s time to stop fitting your queries into what a search engine would want and ask for what you need as a person instead.

Can you really afford to be missing out on mobile, voice and tablet search?

If you’re speaking in buzzwords and startup lingo that a customer wouldn’t use in a million years, expect to find yourself falling behind in this area.

This isn’t simply the advice of “read it aloud and see if it makes sense”. It’s “would you say this into your phone to find what you offer?” If the answer is no, you need to do a re-write.


2)      Keyword tool retirement

Conspiracy theorists think that Google is attempting to increase their monopoly of the web and force you to pay for ads in order to succeed. The cynical optimist in me calls baloney. Yes, money may be a part of the equation, but it’s certainly not the whole ballgame.

Google is content mad, and wants to remain the most respected search engine in the Western World. They aren’t about to start giving everyday users bad results based on under the table payments. They are far too savvy for that. Their entire working model has been about being as useful as possible to the end user.

Besides, cash hungry search engines rarely keep their sheen or their audience for very long. Any yahoo knows that.

My theory is the removal of the keyword tool is weaning businesses, copywriters and ‘SEO experts’ off bad habits. SEO for copywriters has been about sandwiching in terms. People don’t speak like that. We speak in simile and in like-terms. This is what Google is aiming to encourage.

First of all, not having the search data for specific words stymies hacks and charlatans who jam their content full of keywords and chase high placements through dodgy tactics. Less information forces them to think long tail in the keyword searches, to prepare content that is socially acceptable, and to be smarter about context. It forces writers to keep their stuff on target, surrounded by decent story and exposed to an audience that appreciates it. It means there’s not much incentive to try and game the system.

Secondly, (and I’m preparing for a lot of copywriters to hit me with tomatoes right now but…) SEO has sucked the creative juice right out of copy for long enough. If you have to be so damn straight up and basic with the way you explain things as to consider what keywords go in your company name as opposed to what meaning it has to you and your customers, I believe you’re suffering.

Content needs clear messaging sure, but not so clear and so boring that it reads beige. People have imaginations. They love stories and creativity. Speaking in analogy and having you paint a picture with words is much more appealing to a potential customer than something that reads like a shopping list of Google hits. They may not use creative language to get to a page on the web, but it is what they’ll want when they get there. The focus on keywords has robbed some fairly decent writers of a fair chunk of their creative writing ability- and made a lot of the web pretty bloody boring in the process.

Finally, it’s a combination of keyword tool and conversational wording (again). Hummingbird is geared towards writing in question format. It looks for contextual word play. It looks for synonyms. It loves complete sentences in both typed and voice form. Why on earth would Google go to such extraordinary lengths and still have a tool that discourages natural language usage and focuses in on singular words?

By removing that keyword tool and pushing a long tail focus, it’s helping itself, to transition to that conversational model without screwing up search for the end user. Here’s hoping it retrains writers away from boring the socks off customers in the process.

Should you care about SEO keywords? Yes. There’s no point in writing a website that doesn’t include words that you want to rank for.

Should they rule the roost? No. The magic happens when the people like the content.

3)      How people respond matters

Beyond framing things in question format, localising for devices or attempting to allow for context in natural language usage, Hummingbird looked at the bread and butter framework of search:

  • Informational- I have a question I need answered;
  • Navigational- I want to find somewhere (in real life or cyberspace);
  • Transactional- I want to buy something/I want to exchange something;

Then it scuttles off to check out what the rest of the kids have said about a particular source through social media endorsement, sharing through peer networks, return visits and bookmarking.

It seems painfully obvious that having a web presence that people not only understand, they happily endorse, share, bookmark and come back to works wonders when you look at what search is meant to do.

So how many people do you think run to a site that reads with phrases like “high-growth adjacency” and “pivotal disruptors in mission critical settings” and say “Yes, I finally found the people who speak my language?”

I’m guessing maybe a startup founder’s Mum, and the Mum of the copywriter who wrote that tripe.

The thing to remember is the only people who genuinely like buzzwords are the ones who are using them to describe things. And that’s only because they want to sound special, clever and a wee bit toffy.

SEO for copywriters should be an exercise in speaking plain language to real people. Not courting the PhD advisor of a linguistics department.

Customers (and people generally) don’t like reading them because it seems needlessly cryptic, which in turn usually sets off the alarm bells.  We mistrust things that make it harder for us to understand them.

Therefore, we’re not going to like, share or endorse something in cyberspace that looks like it’s purposefully written to confuse us, or actually does.

Nor are we going to take the time to try and unravel its mysterious meaning when there are far better, easier and less headache manifesting competitors to buy from instead.


The bottom line on SEO for copywriters and content writing in general 

Designing your brand position around the driest words in town so you can rank well and bore the trousers off people doesn’t work in Google’s favour. Keeping it relevant, conversational and able to be understood in that 5 second window before someone decides to go to another option, does.

Looking at search from a voice and mobile perspective, and considering what a real human being would ask for as opposed to search engine shorthand appears to the way of the future. There isn’t any room for convoluted buzzwords in that landscape.

So start writing like a real person. Or watch as your buzzwords drag you further and further away from gaining the exposure you need.

If not for the search engine, at least do it for all the customers you lose who can’t be bothered doing the mental gymnastics that is your copy, and for all the copywriters who have migraines after reading that stuff.

It truly is time to take a big blowtorch to those geek speak terms and let your copy be free. Hoo-freaking-ray!

Stop making SEO for copywriters and Google bots your high priority. Contact me to find out your alternatives now.

14 Comments. Leave new

  • Sen-bloody-sational, Bek. I’m bookmarking this and sending to my clients who just don’t get that keyword stuffing and pompous language won’t help them. Oh, and I don’t think it’s the mum; in my experience, it’s the wife (or ‘life partner’).

    • Glad to hear it’s going to be put to good use, Trish. I think anything we can do to prise the buzzwords out of the copy is a good thing!

      Heh. Good point re: partners. The obligatory office lackey could be included in that, too.

  • What an enlightening post. Needs to be read far and wide. I’m keeping it for clients too. Love that Hummingbird.

    • Thx Bec. I love Hummingbird, too.

      Surprises me that it is as late as it is. I mean, 15% of all Paypal transactions were getting done through mobile and tablet almost 4 years ago, so who knows what kind of opportunity has been lost in that time. But it’s great to be moving forward to a more creative and less confusing landscape!

  • Brilliant article, Bek, and sums up my thoughts exactly. I’ve always been just a little resentful at having to ditch creative headlines and copy in favour of those using the best keywords – so the move away from this is a very welcome one. Not that I’ve ever tried to game the system with keyword stuffing, but sometimes the ‘best’ keyword isn’t always the easiest to use unobtrusively in copy.

    Finally we can get back to being informative, insightful AND creative. A win-win for everyone.

    And love the idea of pitching conversational language at those industries who love to bath in buzzwords as essential for their site’s success. It’s certainly a powerful argument.

    • Thx Anna. I feel the same way, too. And coming from product development where cutting through with names and descriptions to being forced to boring-ise words what websites are called or write to suit keywords alone seemed so very, very wrong.

      Think for me, this closes the gap between SEO copy and the true art of marketing. It gives us a better chance to capture imagination as opposed to pandering to keywords.

  • Thanks, Bek. Brilliant article. You and Hummingbird are singing my song … and I’m confident it will resonate powerfully with copywriters everywhere. Our instincts about engaging, conversational content are finally being validated. Having spent a couple of days unsuccessfully championing a conversational content tone with a buzzwordy client, I will also be bookmarking this for my quiver.

    • Glad to be of service Sheryl. I’ll no doubt be leaning on this too… startups are very naughty when it comes to buzzwords.

  • Shauna Maguire
    October 17, 2013 11:45 am

    I think it goes back to plain English – would you ever speak the way some copy is written? Or if you did, would anyone actually listen to or take in anything you said? You’ve hit the nail on the head with the emphasis on focusing on creating content that is relevant and user friendly and, gasp, has a bit of personality!

    • It boggles the mind that people overcomplicate their message, doesn’t it?

      You only get 3 seconds to make an impression as someone is sifting through websites and to spurt out a bunch of geek speak is such bad marketing form.

      Personality all the way here. I don’t know who invented the idea business should sound a specific way, but they should be shot out of a cannon into the sun.

  • Great article Bek.

  • I sound a bit like a broken record but great post Bek. I think good SEO copywriters have been advocating and doing this for a while now but it is nice to have the reigns on our creativity loosened.

    I usually keep in mind the type of queries I type into Google and ask my clients to consider they queries they type. When they realise their customers enter the same ‘natural language’ queries, it becomes a little easier to tear them away from the idea of keyword stuffing.


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