Back in the early days of the internet, around the late 1990s – the time that Receptional was founded – some clever marketers noticed that changing the keywords they used on their web pages affected the rankings and the amount of traffic they received from the search engines.

And lo, SEO copywriting was born.

Yet, as we know, a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. And so can a lot.

Often SEO copywriters overdo the SEO part of copywriting which can sacrifice the human experience. I’m talking about the type of copy that’s awkward to read because it’s been stuffed with too many keywords that the site wants to rank for, like this:

some people overdo seo

So, today, we’re going back to basics. Optimisation is no longer about stuffing as many keywords as you can into the copy and HTML elements. We’re going to look at how to correctly optimize a page using keywords naturally while engaging our human readers.

Let’s break down each component of optimizing a page by looking at sites getting it right and sites that are getting it wrong.

Paid ads vs organic listings

Let’s say we’re looking for ‘Christmas gift ideas for men’. We’ll run a search on Google using that keyword. Let’s see what we can learn from Google’s listings.

Looking at the paid listings, we see lots of great salesmanship.

gifts for men listings

We see reviews, sitelinks, delivery offers and, usually, a clear call to action.

These are classic marketing tactics, all great ways of reducing customers’ anxiety about clicking through to the advertisers’ sites.

However, when we look at the organic listings much of the marketing simply disappears. There are no reviews, no delivery offers and much less inspirational copy.

organic listings gifts

The listings are much less appealing than the paid ads we saw.

First impressions

Search engine listings are the first impression visitors will get of your site. So, let’s look at how we might improve those organic listings and make them more appealing.

Let’s break down the results into their component parts. Here, for example, is a listing from H Samuel, the jeweller. We see the title tag; the url; and the meta description:

listing meta

Each of these components is (largely) within your control, so it’s very possible to use those tried-and-tested marketing methods we saw in the PPC ads, in your organic listings.

Before we get into too much detail, let’s consider our objectives.

 What’s our objective?

For most sites, we’ll want to attract visitors, get them to know, like and trust us, then get a conversion – which might be a sale, capturing an email address, or downloading a white paper.

In traditional marketing, these two simple steps are represented as a sales funnel.

At the top of the funnel is our potential audience. At the bottom, are our converted customers.

Our aim as marketers is to:

  • Grab potential customers’ Attention.
  • Provoke Interest.
  • And Desire (for our products or services).
  • Then convince the visitor to take Action.

We call this AIDA. And our aim is to take as many visitors as we can from the top of the funnel to the bottom (without losing them along the way).

AIDA

In a traditional marketing campaign, we’d create a trigger such as a banner ad, an email, or a paid listing ad, that we’d put in front of potential customers. The ad generates interest. It encourages the reader to click through to a longer piece of copy that completes the sale.

There’s more than one step in the process; and, so our aim, in the organic listings should be to get customers to take a first step: to click through to our site.

organic listings should attract attention

We’ll help improve conversions if our message remains consistent and continuous – from the organic listing through to the sales page, the checkout, and even through to the thank you page.

So, our title and meta descriptions can’t be written in isolation. They need to be part of a continuous and consistent message.

In fact, in most cases, we’ll want to create the content on our website before writing the title and description tags.

Today, though, we’re going to follow our customer’s journey.

Write better title tags

Here are five top tips for terrific title tags:

1. Always include your primary keyword, and, if you can fit it in, your secondary keyword too.

2. Include your brand name. It’s probably best at the end – unless your brand is so strong that it’s likely to increase click throughs.

3. Every page of your site should target a different keyword. So, every page should also have its own unique title tag. Otherwise, Google will think you’ve created duplicate content.

4. Be consistent. The message in your title tag must match the message that your content delivers.

5. Finally, you should try to attract attention. But, in a way that’s consistent with the message you’re trying to convey.

Visitors should flow through

In practice, we can improve on H. Samuel’s listing by following those simple rules.

We might try something like this.

hsamuel

Or, by including a brand name at the end of the title, we’d see something like this (notice that Google’s likely to cut off the end, as we’ve included more than 69 characters):short url

Short, simple URLs

It’s worth a second to show how a short, descriptive URL can also improve your listing.

A short URL is much clearer. You should always try to keep your URLs short and clear, so that users can easily read and understand them. Here’s an example

better url

Description tags

Your description tag is your chance to let new visitors know more about your site.

You can include as much content as you want, but only 160 characters will show in the results. Try to include a sentence for both your primary and secondary keywords.

Again, it’s worth writing a unique tag for every page on your site.

Try to differentiate your site from the others on the page – while remaining consistent with your overall message. So spend time researching the other listings.

You can then include enticing, descriptive copy – and add detail. So, you might mention your money-back guarantee, if that’s appropriate.

And, of course, we’re still trying to attract attention; though it’s still click-throughs we’re after, not an immediate sale.

top tips for divine descriptions

Here’s the result of combining a better title, meta description, and URL. And, we know that a good listing can steal traffic from the other poor-quality listings that surround it. We’ve seen increases in traffic of around 20% by improving your listing in this way.

descriptions hsamuel

Not only that, but we know that Google measures click-through rates. So, if your listing is getting more clicks than those nearby, Google is likely to start boosting your site up the rankings.

Rich snippets

It’s also possible to add rich snippets to your listings. Google then has the option of including additional information such as images, reviews and the like. In the listing below Google has added my photo, because my author profile on this site is marked up with rich snippet code:

justin rich snippet

We know that searchers are more likely to click on results that include an image. Again, adding rich snippets can increase your click through rates by up to 20%.

You can read more in Receptional’s guide to rich snippets.

Looking for more?

If you’d like more tips on optimizing your listings, then I recommend this book by copywriting guru Karon Thackston. It’s a very easy read and includes more detail about how to market your site in Google’s listings.

A final thought: over the past couple of years, Google has increasingly emphasised users’ experience when deciding its listings. It’s no longer enough just to include keywords in your title and description tags. Users want to find sites that they like and trust. So, providing a smooth, consistent and continuous experience on your site is not just good marketing; it’s likely to be great for your rankings too.

Let me know if you’ve any questions in the comments section below: