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Before working in my current position I was a freelance writer focused on producing stories for travel magazines. Travel has always been a passion of mine and I found writing about the places I have been to and my experiences a pleasure. Through various contacts I was approached by the CEO of a travel web site who liked my stuff and wanted me to help him build content for an ambitious project encompassing travel in a number of different countries. Fortunately, I had experiences of all of the places the web site was covering so the position appeared ideal. However, this was the first time I had been involved in developing copy for the Internet and initially it wasn`t one of the best experiences I have had!
My first assignment was to write a piece about some of the leading attractions in Paris. However, the instructions attached to the assignment made it less appealing. According to the CEO (not a native-English speaker) whatever I wrote about I had to get the words `French` and `Hotels` in a sentence as many times as I could. I dutifully agreed and went on my business as I normally would. The CEO was not happy with what I produced; without a zillion references to `French` `Hotels` Google wouldn`t pick up the site and we wouldn`t get the ranking we required to sell lots of hotel rooms (the web site`s main source of revenue). I tried to point out that although the English language was one of the most flexible languages on the planet, it was virtually impossible to say anything of value about the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysees combining the words `French` and `Hotels` in a sentence. Having failed to perform, my services were no longer required, and I went about my business.
Although extreme, this episode was an introduction to a problem all people who create copy for the Internet face: Do you write for people, or do you write for Google? Do you produce glowing, luxurious copy that both stimulates and entertains the 10 or 15 people who read it (because its position on Google is so low), or do you create rigid, formulaic text that people are unlikely to appreciate but will at least get to read because the page is high in the rankings? Of course, there are differing opinions and a weight of evidence to support every point of view.
For many involved in the Internet, a quality product is key to bringing users back to a web site, and that means writing for people, not machines. For them, optimizing text through keywords could only increase ranking a few places, if at all, and damaging the rhythm and flow of copy will have an adverse impact on quality of copy and the number of visitors a page receives (itself a factor in Google ranking). Many prescribe to a belief that even for Google, content is King, citing the company`s statements that Google is a system designed to display `real` results and not the fruits of `spamming`. There is also the view that good copy produces `natural linking` - if something is good, people will link to it. As a result, good copy drives visitors to web sites. They also believe keywords are redundant - over use of keywords (and where do you draw the line) is something Google picks up on and which is detrimental to page rank. In addition, Google continually devises new ways to defeat artificially inflated PR, especially that of sites using keyword manipulation to achieves their goal.
For others though, things are equally clear - just different. Web sites are usually commercial entities with bottom lines to meet. An increase in page rank of only a couple of places can mean the difference between being on page one of the search results and page seven where nobody will find you. This can be the difference between a company succeeding or failing. Google is the key marketing tool for people in any Internet business and collecting data on perceived Google requirements and ensuring all of those requirements are met is key to commercial survival. As far as these people are concerned, natural linking was always a myth and with the advent of `PageRank` (PR), natural linking died a death - how many sites are on the top of search engine pages because webmasters have linked to them? Marketing, whether traditional or search engine marketing, is key to success, and you`d better not forget that!
Obviously, only Google knows what the answer and they are not telling. What then can be done to reconcile these two great hostile camps? Here is how I manage it - integration of the technical and the aesthetic goals of a website:
First of all, write your copy out without considering issues such as keywords and optimization. Write a good, quality piece that first and foremost makes sense.
Create a list of keywords and key phrases you believe people might type into Google to reach the page you are writing copy for. You don`t need to create too many, and it is best to ask a few people their ideas on what keywords they would choose before making a final decision.
Add the keywords you have decided on to the copy in places where they have a natural fit (with minimal disruption to sentence structure) and where they will help put your message across, not hinder people understanding it. This can be a lengthy process - it is a bit like putting a jigsaw together, but it is worth the effort.
Don`t repeat key phrases or keywords too many times - 3-5 times a page is more than enough for Google.
If possible (and only if possible) use relevant keywords in page titles and headings. Keywords in the