SEO rich web copy is one of the of the top things I get asked to produce as a copywriter and understandably so: Google rankings have become an essential part of running any business with an online presence. You want your page to be seen and rated highly, a sign that your clients can have confidence in your expertise. I get it, of course, but as someone who has a passion for words and the craft of writing, I can’t help but feel a tiny bit discomforted by the drive to conform to the algorithm. Are we posting words after meaningless words just for the sake of bland content marketing? I wonder if there could be a way to celebrate the beauty and power of language whilst also maintaining our status in the coveted rankings, to create a harmony between the two? Must we just suck it up and cram in the keywords and the backlinks?
Many brands skate dangerously close to becoming simulacra, cling-wrapped copies of their competitors. Everyone is being told to do the same thing to improve the online visibility of their business if you are a creative business this is a very bitter pill to swallow. It becomes a race to the bottom to get your website to the top.
This practise always makes me think of a passage from Watt, by Samuel Beckett, in which Watt is struggling to assimilate words and things. Words have somehow become so overused and obvious that they are no longer useful in defining an object, they have reached a point of semantic satiation and are rendered absurd.
“Looking at a pot, for example, thinking of a pot, at one of Mr Knott’s pots, it was in vain that Watt said, Pot, pot… for it was not a pot, the more he looked, the more he reflected, the more he felt sure of that, that it was not a pot at all. It resembled a pot, it was almost a pot, but it was not a pot of which one could say, Pot, pot, and be comforted.”
Not long ago, I took a ceramics course and this passage (and Patrick Swayze) was almost all I could think about whilst haphazardly throwing my pots. Occasionally, web copy can come dangerously close to this level of absurdity and it’s a struggle to produce something more meaningful, something that does justice to the authenticity of the product and the creative forces behind it.
So, why do creative businesses need to consider producing content for their website and social media? Once upon a time, a small store would simply have have a shop sign, a telephone number, a listing in the Yellow Pages; a way of advertising their presence and services and communicating with potential customers. Now we have the algorithm; a framework we can choose to operate within to our best advantage. They key is to sit within this framework whilst simultaneously standing out as unique and desirable.
For anyone wanting to keep it real on their business blog, here are my top 5 tips for creating meaningful and valuable content:
1 – Post frequent updates to your website. A simple way of doing this is to integrate a blog into your site. Every time you make an update to your website, the search engine notices and adjusts it’s rankings accordingly. Fresh content also shows your customer that you are present and at the helm of your business. A word of caution, though: aim to keep your content of value and interest to your target demographic without resorting to overstuffing the keywords, which brings me to:
2 – Use keywords purposefully and sparingly – see Mr Knott’s pots above.
3 – Be friendly. Try to establish relationships with fellow creatives and entrepreneurs in order to earn backlinks and mentions. Also, pay it forward. It is a common misconception that linking to other sites can be detrimental to your SEO as it can lead users away from your website, but when you add a link to another site, assuming it is relevant, you are actually adding value to those visiting your site and therefore providing an additional service, which subsequently raises the search engine’s valuation of your authority and ranking. Just be circumspect about the links you use; they should always align with your brand identity and add value for your customer.
4 – Stay true to yourself and your brand. If you are a creative entrepreneur and are trying to run a business that is meaningful to yourself and to your customer or readership, then do not be a box-ticker. Remember to do what feels authentic for you and your business in order to showcase your brand vision.
5 – Try not to feel overburdened by perceived requirements. Some wildly successful businesses are actually using their reluctance to conform to the algo-dictators to their advantage. Their failure to toe the party line actually makes them seem all the more exclusive and exciting. Rolls-Royce, for example, aren’t stuffing their content with keywords relating to luxury vehicles, they’re simply relying on their name to draw customers to their website. Google ‘luxury vehicles’ and it will take you a while before you will get to Rolls Royce. You will scroll past Bentley, at the top, BMW, Mercedes, Peugeot, Sixt and dozens of others. Where’s Rolls-Royce, though? Hiding, tantalisingly. You want them? You go direct.
One of my most coveted brands at the moment is The Vampires Wife, a fashion brand by the divine Susie Cave and seen on every celebrity worth her salt from Florence Welch to Keira Knightley. I would sell my soul for one of Susie’s dresses, but what also speaks to the content geek in me is the way in which the brand approaches the posting rules. Regular content posts can be found on the website under the ‘Stuff’ tab, and focus primarily and delightfully on interesting and inspiring things that have been plucked out of the ether to share; poems, photographs and other tidbits. It’s personal, warm, eclectic and gives a sense of where the brand’s creative vibe is coming from. It doesn’t scream “Buy my dresses!”, but in not doing that it makes them seem even cooler and more desirable.
Ok, so if you are running a small homewares store in a market town, you aren’t necessarily going to succeed by following the same strategy as a global brand like Rolls-Royce, or a dress designer to the stars, but you can stay true to your vision whilst benefiting from the gifts of the algorithm, so keep it balanced, keep it in perspective and don’t be afraid to break the rules!