Writing Copy and its Role in SERPS

  in  Marketing and Advertising
If I had to choose just one skill I could excel at in regards to running an online business, it would be to write compelling copy. Interesting content ultimately drives traffic, recommendations / shares, and ultimately sales.

Search engines are far more sophisticated in their analysis of the value of each page. It used to be that you could create filler content on a page, then point some decent quality links to it, wait a week or so, and you find your mediocre content ranking well for competitive keywords in the SERPs. This mechanical process spawned a mountain of spam over the years. As such techniques became more and more mainstream, it became a real problem for search engines.

Google Panda and Penguin updates have fought aggressively against such spam, while their algorithm has looked at signals that are far harder to game: user behaviour.

User behaviour as a ranking metric
Search engines have to satisfy searchers with high quality results. There's no getting around that fact. If the SERPS show poor results, we'll use another search engine. And as the years roll by, we're becoming evermore sophisticated with our internet use. We have trained ourselves to spot advertorials and other forms of spam - any kind of signal that we are being sold to. If we detect such a signal, it's likely we'll click back to the search results page and find something more trustworthy.

Search engines like Google pay close attention to such behaviour, and good web design must take this into account. They want to know how we interact with content. Is content "sticky", or do we bounce off it almost the moment the page loads? They want the more compelling and user-approved content in their SERPs.

Writing copy for the web now means keeping people on the page - to get their mindshare and attention and ultimately: their trust.

Becoming a trusted and interesting voice
We all have our favourite websites we like to visit. A typical internet user does the "rounds" each day - going backward and forward between their usual haunts online. Because of previous good experiences on each site, we like to see what's new.

Such sites have already won us over. We trust them. We like them. We recommend them. We are part of a loyal readership.

Getting such a readership yourself requires writing copy at a consistent level, and writing it often enough to keep people coming back for more.

Writing copy with the SERPS in mind
When writing copy, it's always good advice to write first and foremost to your readership - human beings. But it's good to have one eye on the SERPs too. Typically, your page title is the clickable link in the SERPs, so you have to carefully think of a compelling title:-
  • entitling an article with a question e.g. "How Can I Help Alleviate Backache?" - people often ask questions in a search engine, and your article is more likely to be matched to such a question
  • lists e.g. "Eight Ways to Keep Your Energy Levels Up Throughout the Day" - while lists have been much-maligned in recent times just because of their sheer ubiquity, they are popular because people do like lists. Lists allow people to get information quickly.
  • courting controversy - using a title that intends to shock / grab the attention of the searcher. This is not always easy to do, as you have to back up that shock headline with substance. It's no good grabbing people's attention without "completing the deal". Think of issues in your area of expertise where you disagree with the consensus, and write about those things.
In conclusion
Writing copy is a discipline where you have the reader at the foremost of your mind. You write for the reader, and ensure the piece is engaging their attention throughout. However, you also have to "sell" the article too via an attention-grabbing title that will appear within the SERPs, as well as a good summary within the meta description field.