Why you need rock-solid copy more than paid search

A couple of years ago, I wrote crap.

Truth. My professional life was largely dominated by creating web copy that I really, really disliked, but that got the job done really, really well. It was peppered with synonyms, keywords, and cautious-but-very-deliberate repetition.

It wasn’t link-bait, but it wasn’t beautiful.

If I’m honest, the crap copy was fun to create, because I was writing puzzles – using my right brain to generate original content that relied on my left brain to be strategic enough to rank highly. But I was aware that, in the grand scheme, it sucked.

Then Google changed the rules.

And then, thank heavens, Google did what Google does best. It changed the rules.

Suddenly, the user’s experience was paramount. Meaning and ease and simplicity were key, and needless repetition was…well, needless. My focus changed, from giving Google what it wanted to answering the users’ questions. I started writing what I called ‘sticky’ copy; copy that was appealing to both readers and algorithms.

Readers. Then algos. In that order.

The problem? Clients hadn’t caught up yet, and were (are) still asking for 10 posts a week, packed with keywords and geared to ‘rank high’, not to ‘inform well’.

Clients, you need to read this…

So, clients, if you’ve read this far, keep reading, because you need to know the truth.

The truth is:

  1. Organic search drives more traffic. Paid search yields, in South Africa, approximately 10{7aef4e5c6853be3cc4d057a807069aa9f2ae8fd184061eb63ea53e14fedec9bd} of traffic to a site, while organic search accounts for 51{7aef4e5c6853be3cc4d057a807069aa9f2ae8fd184061eb63ea53e14fedec9bd} (source: Graeme Stiles, Group Head: Organic Search, Quirk).
  2. It’s not actually about ranking, though that’s still a thing. It’s about best answering the user’s question. According to www.writtent.com, you’re “better off investing in one piece of content that engages your buyer personas than six pieces that fail to answer their real-life questions”.
  3. It’s about all content on a website. Panda and Penguin (Google’s recent algos) are content-focused; i.e. they’re interested in the website as whole. Is it quality? Does it make sense? If you have a website with thin, repetitive or irrelevant content, search engines don’t want it and they won’t recommend it.
  4. The ‘stories’ you tell must resonate. And they must be specific, relevant, interesting and personal. If not, they won’t achieve the two things you need: reach (exposure to suspects) and recall (by those who are your prospects).
  5. Reconsider the length of webpage copy. If you only have a few sentences per post, search spiders will think your content is too skimpy. Granted, there’s no minimum or maximum word count, but I’d aim for 200 words or more.
  6. Forget making your site an article factory. They don’t work anymore. (Plus there are local writers you should be employing, instead of content-conveyor-belts in Asia, which churn out pieces of limp twaddle for $1 each.)
  7. Forget clicks. Reach is everything. (This little nugget came straight from Aidan Baigrie, Commercial Team Head: Facebook Africa. I heard it myself.)
  8. Forget asking writers for wanton plagiarism. Don’t avoid eye contact if you’ve done this one before. No more asking a copywriter to visit your competitors’ sites and ‘just tweak’ their copy for your site. If we’re rewriting what’s already out there, Google will know it. And so will we. And so will you.

And now for the good news…

I’m not just a nay-sayer. (Well, not today.) In return for dashing your hopes about being able to skyrocket your business using only AdWords and a shoddy site with poor design and pitiable copy, I’ll give you some free tips for creating quality:

  1. Give away your expertise for free. (See what I did there?) Write, or brief a copywriter to write or edit, web articles that contain valuable advice.
  2. Don’t be too shy to put a human face on your business. Remember that, although your business remains the primary brand, it’s operated by people. Your consumers are also people. And people like to engage with other people.
  3. Work to establish yourself, and others in your business, as thought leaders. (Many of my clients want me to write thought leadership for them, while they remain hands-off. This is counter-intuitive.) The public wants your insight.
  4. Always keep in mind that quality copy creates and sustains customer loyalty, supports public relations and other efforts, and provides fodder for social media.

But don’t take my word for it.

Here are some questions that the Google Webmaster Central blog suggests you ask yourself, when judging the quality of your prospective website copy:

  1. Would I trust the information presented in this article?
  2. Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
  3. Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
  4. Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
  5. Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
  6. Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?

If these questions frighten you – if you’re thinking, ‘Hell’s bells, I don’t know. How do you tell? This isn’t my area! I’m not a writer!’ – you need a professional. Simple.

While you’re waiting for that professional to answer your call/email, read this and this.

So what’s the bottom line?

Nothing with any value comes easy. If it did, every site would rank equally highly and the resultant traffic jam would cause the information superhighway to collapse altogether. So, if you’re not going to leap aboard the quality content bandwagon and make the effort to create or source top-notch content, perhaps you should take your site down and try smoke signals instead. They worked well for the Greeks in 150 BC.


*This post originally appeared on Heavy Chef’s Quarterly Review.