The simple truth is this: search engines read text and not much else. You absolutely, positively need to use text on the pages of your site that you want indexed and ranked highly. Not graphical text that you created in your fancy design software, but actual, visible body text. Not sure if your site uses graphical or body text? A good rule of thumb that I learnt from search engine guru Danny Sullivan is to try and highlight the text with your mouse. If you can drag your mouse over the text when viewing it in a browser, chances are this is body text and the search engines can read it.
Ok, so you’ve created your body copy and your site pages are loaded with good old-fashioned text. But your job’s not over! Now you need to get targeted. Search engines aren’t going to rank your web site about socks highly if your body copy talks about foot sizes. You need to get specific. If you sell socks, then for heaven’s sake, make sure your site copy has plenty of references to the word socks! At the risk of sounding like Dr Seuss, if you want to be found for, big socks, small socks, cotton socks and wool socks, then mention them all. Better still, sort your copy into categories based on your products and services. If you sell blue socks AND red socks, then have a page dedicated to each kind. This allows you to target niche keywords within your copy and meet the relevancy guidelines for logical search queries.
It sounds so obvious, but I’m constantly amused by the number of web sites I see selling particular items without once making reference to those items in their body copy. For example, there are thousands of sites on the Internet promoting web site design services right? Next time you see one, take a look at their body copy. You’ll be surprised how often you’ll see flashy looking sites without a single mention of the phrase "web site design" in their page copy. Instead they’ll use fancy all graphic pages or Flash movies. Or if they do use body text, it might include cryptic jargonised language like "Internet Solutions" or "online brand building".
What the heck does this tell a search engine about their business? Absolutely nothing. Are these sites going to be considered a relevant match for search queries about "web site design"? No way! The creators of these sites might think they’re being clever, but they are really missing the boat entirely. What’s the point of having a web site if you are going to sabotage its ability to be found?
Anyway, back to you and your web site. So now you’ve added plenty of text to your pages and the copy flows well for the reader. You’ve researched your keywords and phrases using WordTracker or something similar and now you’re faced with the dilemma of integrating the keywords into your carefully written copy. So how do you satisfy the search engine’s craving for keywords without interrupting the copy flow for the reader? The answer is: very carefully.
Let’s take a look at a practical example. We have a client that specializes in luxury adventure travel. Before I optimized their site, part of the home page copy read like this:
"We specialise in providing vacations for people who want a personal service. We bring to our efforts a fanatical obsession with quality and exclusivity. We also bring a freshness, an outward-going passion for discovery which justifies our growing reputation as one of the world's top travel providers. We can put together packages that include all adventure activities, accommodation, transport and food".
Extensive WordTracker keyword research for the client had determined that the home page should target the following key phrases:
So taking our original home page text, the challenge was to integrate these keywords carefully and naturally so as not to disturb the logical flow of the copy and lose the interest of the visitor. Here’s how I did it:
"We specialise in providing the best adventure vacations for people who want a personal and tailored travel service. We bring to our efforts a fanatical obsession with quality and exclusivity. We also bring a freshness, an outward-going passion for discovery which justifies our growing reputation as one of the world's top overseas adventure travel providers. We can put together luxury travel packages that include all adventure activities, accommodation, transport and food".
Note that the key phrase "overseas adventure travel" accommodates the phrase "adventure travel" too. Voila! The search engines are happy because the site contains text content relevant to related search queries, the client is happy because we were able to integrate the keywords without distracting the visitor and I’m happy because I know the site is going to rank highly for the client’s target search terms.
Now go and apply the same principles to your own site...
November 12, 2002
Search Engine Marketing Columnist
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