As we all know, search engine marketing (SEM) has come to the forefront as a hot marketing strategy. That's because it's trackable, measurable, and provides an excellent ROI.

There were many reasons to overlook SEM in the past. If it wasn't the black magic of invisible text, cloaking and illegal doorway pages, it was the intimidation of concepts like meta tags and algorithm changes -- not to mention the confusion around paid inclusion and paid placement fees. Perhaps the kicker was a lack of standards and ethics among the SEM providers.

Now, as many of these obstacles have been addressed, SEM is a popular marketing strategy. It's one of the most cost-effective marketing tools online, so many want to improve their site rankings with SEM strategies.

The most basic optimization strategy is to pay attention to the copywriting on your site, and make it search-engine friendly.

SE-Friendly Copy in 5 Steps

Start by ensuring that the content on every page in your site is written from the user's viewpoint rather than your own. Users are accustomed to thinking "What's in it for me?" and couldn't care less about wordy product descriptions, nor be bothered wading through slabs of text they perceive to be irrelevant. Here are some basic pointers for good SEM copywriting:

1. Content -- Ensure that the content on every page in your site includes your strategic keywords and accurately describes your offerings. This helps you achieve a higher rank through search-engine crawlers and also improves the user experience. Users will click to your site from search engine queries when you provide relevant descriptions and HTML tags that contain your strategic keyword phrases.

2. Strategic Keyword Phrases -- Determining your best keyword phrases for each page is a vital and time-consuming task. These keywords are used in your title, description, and keywords meta tags, as well as in your content, so it's important to get this right with careful research.

  1. Brainstorm a list of keywords that describe your offerings. Try to imagine what users would type into the search engine box to find your site. Check your Web logs for clues.

  2. Check your keywords out on WordTracker or the Overture Suggestion Tool. These tools maintain a database of keywords that reveal which words people actually use on search engines, and how popular these words are with competitors.

  3. Select two or three of your most relevant terms (high scores in WordTracker).

  4. Expand your keywords to include plurals and misspellings.

  5. Use several strategic keyword phrases to write your copy. Remember that search engines work with text, not graphics, so ensure that your homepage includes at least 200 to 250 words. Repeat your keyword phrases at least three times, possibly more if copy is lengthy. Use keywords in headlines and sub-heads. Hyperlink keywords so they stand out.

  6. Create a new page for each topic.

3. Title Tag -- Write an HTML title tag for each page. This should be the first HTML tag on the page in the Head section. Use compelling words that will draw users to your site, and incorporate questions if possible -- this makes users think. Start with your important keywords at the beginning of the title tag. Begin with a capital letter and use sentence case for easy readability. Good title tags read like a one-line ad that solves a problem and shows urgency. Don't use your keyword phrase more than once in a title tag.

4. Meta Description Tag -- This HTML tag is important because it's often used by search engines as your site description in search results. It's also used to help summarize Websites when the spider robots index pages. When you write your description, make it compelling and relevant so potential customers will click to your page. Copy should contain several strategic keywords from the page. Search engines that support description tags sometimes limit copy (150 to 400 characters), so place essential copy in the first 150 characters.

5. Meta Keywords Tag -- This tag contains the most important keywords for each page. It will be read by search engines supporting the keywords tag, which includes AltaVista, FAST AllTheWeb and Google. Engines that don't support keyword tags say they don't penalize for them (Lycos, for instance). Keyword tags help users find your pages in search engine queries. List as many keywords as possible: up to 1,000 characters including spaces. Place keywords in your tags with or without commas, it doesn't matter. Place your most important keywords first.

So there you have it, the nuts and bolts of SEM copywriting. It's both an art and a science; one that takes time and requires attention to detail. However, the rewards are gratifying as you improve your rankings and increase the traffic to your site.
May 2, 2002

Paul J. Bruemmer has provided search engine marketing expertise and consulting services to prominent American businesses since 1995. As Director of Search Marketing at Red Door Interactive, he is responsible for strategizing and implementing search engine marketing activities within Red Door's Internet Presence Management (IPM) services.

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Search Engine Guide > Paul Bruemmer > 5 Simple Steps to Search Engine Friendly Copy