SEO and Me: A Love/Hate Relationship

by Linda Pophal

 

I have a love/hate relationship with search engine optimization (SEO). I understand SEO. I very often use the concepts in my own writing—and often use the concepts in writing for clients. Sometimes, though, and probably because I was a writer long before SEO was even “a thing,” I balk at what can seem at times to be a misguided focus—a singular focus—on SEO to the exception of everything else.

A Case in Point

A few years ago, I created content for a client that was going to appear both online and in print. The difference in the approach I took with the two projects was striking (at least to me).

With the online content I knew I couldn’t—or shouldn’t—attempt to be clever in my headlines, subheads, or even body copy to a large degree. I needed to think about the types of words and phrases that people might be entering into their browsers to find what we were promoting.

With the printed brochure copy, though, to a larger degree, I could let my creativity run free. While I still needed to ensure that the copy would clearly convey the offer and the benefits of the offering, in print I could choose to use more “flowery” language, more alliteration that might not lend itself to logical search streams.

It made me a little sad—to a large degree because the vast majority of the copy I write these days (98%+) is for online consumption. And search does matter.

But I don’t think search always matters as much as some clients think it does.

Which Comes First—the Concept or the Demand?

From a search engine optimization (SEO) standpoint, some of the most classic titles of our time would never have made the cut:

  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Gone With the Wind
  • The Catcher in the Rye

Even modern-day classics might create consternation among SEO purists:

  • Orange Is the New Black
  • Parasite
  • This is Us

None of these titles clearly reflects the content or purpose of the movies or shows they represent. They’re not descriptive. They’re not logical. They don’t include the kind of words or phrases—keywords—that users would likely have been searching prior to the ascension of these shows into everyday nomenclature.

They’re creative titles. They’re aspirational. Like the comedy show, Seinfeld, they’re not really about anything—at least not until they actually became popular.

They’re the kind of titles that would never make their way into title tags, URLs, H1s or H2s. At least that’s what SEO experts would tell us and the kind of feedback they might give to hapless copywriters naïve enough to suggest titles and headlines that are creative rather than keyword-driven.

But, as both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates famously discovered, sometimes we have something to offer that people don’t know they even want yet. And, if they don’t know they want it, how can they come up with search terms or phrases to help them find it? They can’t.

Sometimes Creative Beats SEO

Not all traffic to websites is organic traffic driven by keyword search. Not all companies or individuals that manage websites view their website as the front door to access their services. In some cases, the website is simply a “must-have”—more of a “for more information” resource for leads and prospects than an inroad for generating the leads in the first place.

In those cases, SEO really doesn’t matter much.

Sometimes SEO Matters Most

Sometimes, though, a website is built specifically as the front door to more information about a product or service—or the access point to purchase that product or service. If it’s built for a company or product that already has a highly recognizable and highly regarded name, the needle between no-SEO and lots-of-SEO may hover somewhere in the middle. Interested customers will find you.

If your website, though, is for a company or product that has very low awareness or is just being introduced, SEO is going to matter. A lot. The needle is going to fall at the lots-of-SEO end of the scale. At least initially.

Marketers: Just Think!

The bottom line: as in any other marketing endeavor there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. Content creators need to think about what their content is intended to do and who it’s intended to do it for.

If I were writing copy for Apple’s “about us” page I wouldn’t worry too much about SEO. Most people know what Apple is and what it does. If, though, I was writing content for some new Apple product release, I would use keywords and phrases that reflected the consumer need the product fulfilled. That’s how they’d find out that Apple had something to offer that they needed.

Don’t become so overly focused on SEO and algorithms that you forget the purpose of your content: to connect with people, and compel them to some kind of thought or action. That’s what great copywriters do today and that’s what they’ve always done.

Do you?

About Us

Strategic Communications, LLC, works with B2B clients to help them achieve their goals through effective content marketing and management with both internal and external audiences. We work with clients to plan, create and publish high-quality, unique content. Whether on- or offline, or both, we’ll help you achieve desired results.

(Strategic Communications is certified as a Woman-Owned Business Enterprise through the Wisconsin Department of Administration.)

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