SEO and the Psychomachia – Temperance vs. Gluttony
Choose your favorite webpage snippet:
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So what do you think? Which one of the blurbs is the most horribly written?
My personal least-favorite is #2, a mockup of the insensible, so-called “SEO” gobbledegook I stumble upon often in search results, and on web pages. With my vote firmly cast, I have but three words to say to those who persist in the backward belief that writing for SEO is a euphemism for repetitive keyword packing:
PLEASE. JUST. STOP!
Excuse me if I really hurt your feelings, but I really, really, really, don’t care.
As a writer who reads, I consider repetitive keyword packing to be a form of drip torture, as in drip, drip, drip, drip, drip, drip…
- Repetitive keyword packing is not some twisted, new media version of old-timey subliminal advertising.
- Repetitive keyword packing does not outsmart Google’s algorithm, or Bing’s.
- Repetitive keyword packing is a wasteful, nefarious practice that completely blows a potentially lucrative, FREE opportunity accorded to every single website.
Yes, the Keyword to Repeat here is “FREE.”
Think about it: For no charge at all, Google and Bing offer organic placement in search results, about 70 characters for page titles and about 150 characters for page descriptions; a little less for mobile results.
The titles are pulled from site names and Meta Titles. The descriptions are pulled from the text on web pages, or from Meta Descriptions, or from image or link titles. The combined information snippets are listed, gratis, in search results for related keyword queries.
So, why would anyone waste all that complimentary ad space, and block thousands of potential search combinations, by repeating the same word repeatedly on a web page and in the metadata?
Why would anyone not use the opportunity to write concise, truthful, information-rich, and vocabulary-rich copy designed to:
- Function like an advertisement
- Capture the widest audience possible
- Communicate site content intelligently
- Brand a product or service across the full scope of its niche
- Elucidate a complex subject or new idea
How Keyword Search Works
Back in the day of my life with cars, I often researched the phrases automobile shoppers entered at Yahoo and Google to find vehicles they’d heard about, or seen on the street.
Two of my favorite discoveries were:
“Car shaped like box”
“Electric car that Leonardo DiCaprio drives”
As an ad writer, my job was to help the searchers find the cars by linking such queries to targeted landing pages for related models.
I love those two queries in particular because they reveal how hard people work when they communicate with search engines. Sure, both queries are vague, but for those in the know about cars, each uniquely provides an easily identifiable definition of the requested vehicles.
Search engine algorithms create similar associations when matching queries to web pages.
Pages that talk about celebrities who drive electric or hybrid cars, for example, are more likely to be matched to the DiCaprio query ahead of more generic pages about celebrities, celebrities, celebrities or cars, cars, cars.
First paragraphs that describe the roomy, box-like shapes of the Honda Element, Nissan Cube, or Scion xB are more likely to be mapped to queries about box-shaped crossovers than to pages that sell boxes and nothing but boxes.
Why Cogency Matters
Cogent is my new favorite word when I talk about writing for the web.
Most readers took the same language arts classes that inspired writers to be writers. The courses engender in us fundamental, unconscious expectations of how written language should be constructed.
Text that employs word repetitions and nothing but word repetitions may hammer home the point – thump, thump, thump – but generally fails reader expectations, and can appear manipulative and condescending, if not downright lame and boring.
Web users are more likely to exit an offensive or boring website faster, creating a higher bounce rate for the site. High bounce rates are factored into website position rankings in search engine results.
Successful web copy, by contrast, meets reader expectations because it is cogent, sensible, grammatical, and easy for people – and search engines – to understand. Creating intelligible sentences and robust synonymical relationships to ideas results in a better read, keeps visitors interested longer and enables search robots to map pages more readily to related queries.
Well-written copy, therefore, gives a website a fighting chance of showing up early in organic results for searches about its subject matter, product, or service.
Would You Shop Here?
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Exceptions to Repetitions
In certain instances, repetitions are preferable:
- Repeating a brand name, product name, or lone-wolf concept name (like “query”) throughout web copy is preferable to using pronouns, of course, as long as the repetitions are grammatical and logical.
- Repeating words, concepts, and syntax in technical descriptions is the rule rather than the exception.