November 12, 2003
~~~IN TODAY'S ADVISOR~~~
----> Beyond High Rankings
*Search Engine Marketing:
----> SEO at the Expense of Good Copy -- No Way!
*This Week's Sponsors:
----> Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines
----> Custom In-Depth SEO Web Site Analysis
----> SEO Without Usability -- An Exercise in Futility
*Stuff You Might Like:
----> Buyers' Guide to Search Engine Optimization Firms
*This Week's Sound Advice:
----> Measuring SEO Success
----> Frolicking in Tampa
Today I've got a great issue dedicated to going beyond high rankings.
Without great copywriting and site usability, high rankings aren't
worth the virtual paper they're written on. Read on to get the full
~~~Search Engine Marketing Issues~~~
++SEO at the Expense of Good Copy -- No Way!++
Last Monday I was reading the excellent email discussion newsletter
I-Copywriting <http://www.marketingwonk.com/lists/icopywriting>, and
was surprised to see a post by Mike Banks Valentine that I heartily
disagreed with. I usually agree with Mike, and in fact he has written
a few guest articles for me. (See Press Release SEO - Media Kit
Linking Campaigns: </issue070.htm#guest>.)
Of course, I quickly dashed off a rebuttal to the list, and have
decided to share it with you since I feel so strongly about this. As
it happens, it flows quite nicely into Scottie's guest article too, so
please forgive my laziness in not writing something brand-new for
today's newsletter. Oh yeah, and you can participate in a discussion
of this subject over at the High Rankings Forum, where moderator Karon
Thackston (who also rebutted the original post) started an interesting
Enjoy! - Jill
Mike Banks Valentine wrote (in part):
>>SEO's take existing web copy and massage it to make the text and
page structure "crawler friendly" so that those search engine spiders
will recognize what a given page is "about." The goal is to gain top
rankings in the search engines for competitive keyword phrases
targeted by our clients.
Those clients could often benefit from a seasoned professional writer
RE-writing their web pages as well, but only if they were willing to
FOREGO high search engine rankings.<<
Sorry, Mike, but you've got to be kidding? There's an entire new
field created just for this purpose called SEO Copywriting (which I
just might have had a little hand in creating!). The whole idea is to
write for the search engines AND the site visitors. There's
absolutely no reason to forego high rankings in exchange for
professional copywriting. The thought of that is simply ludicrous to
Yes, it's true that the typical SEO's job is to edit existing copy so
that it utilizes the keyword phrases. In fact, that's my specialty,
and it's what my Nitty-gritty report is based on. BUT...and this is a
huge but...it's not always possible to edit existing copy in a way
that will make sense for the search engines and the site's users.
In those cases, it's imperative that the SEO put away their ego to
step down and let the professional copywriters take over. I firmly
believe that any good professional copywriter worth their salt can
easily be trained in SEO copywriting. In fact, it takes them
generally about 2 or 3 pages to understand what they need to do, as
long as they have the benefit of a decent SEO teaching them.
SEOs should stay away from trying to write copy, just as copywriters
should stay away from thinking they are SEOs just because they know
how to write for the search engines. Both need to work together, not
In my opinion, any SEO who does not have a professional copywriter on
staff or contracted out is doing a huge disservice to their clients,
because there's no sense in getting high rankings if your site's copy
sounds like it was written by an SEO. It will be a million times
harder to make a sale under those circumstances. Let's face it, the
best SEOs are somewhat technically inclined, and the best copywriters
are generally creatively inclined. Together, they make a killer
For all you professional copywriters on this list, the world of SEO
copywriting is wide open right now. There are only a few really good
people in the field, although it's growing by leaps and bounds. SEO
is hot, very hot. If you're having trouble finding good writing jobs,
I would strongly suggest that you learn the art of SEO copywriting and
then find some SEOs to partner with. You will benefit, the SEO will
benefit and most of all, the clients looking for high rankings, sales
and a site that totally rocks will benefit from it!
_____________Nitty-gritty Special Report_________________
Want to learn how to write for high rankings in the search engines?
If you don't have the time or money to see Jill's Writing for the
Search Engines presentation at conferences or seminars, for
only $49 you can learn it all in her informative, quick-read report.
Download the Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines today!
++SEO Without Usability -- An Exercise in Futility++
Frequent Advisor contributor (and all-around good egg) Scottie
Claiborne has some wise words for anyone optimizing Web sites for the
search engines. 'Nuff said. Here's Scottie! - J
SEO Without Usability -- An Exercise in Futility
By Scottie Claiborne
Recently, I needed to purchase some specific promotional materials.
No problem, I thought, I'll find a source online.
The industry is fairly competitive and the sites that I found in the
search engines had employed some aggressive SEO techniques to get to
the first page of the results.
The page Titles had the exact keyword phrases I searched for, and the
page copy repeated them many times. There were long links within the
content that included the keywords as well. SEO had worked well for
them -- here I was -- a qualified buyer with credit card in hand who
had found their site through a search engine.
And yet I abandoned that site (and the nine others like it) in
disgust. In fact, I was so irritated that I actually turned my
computer off and pulled out the Yellow Pages to find a local supplier.
The sites were textbook-perfect examples of pure SEO. They weren't
deceitful in any way, but they were designed completely for search
engines, not for people. The goal was to reach the top of the search
engine results pages (SERPs) and that goal was accomplished with
flying colors. Unfortunately, the goal was wrong. The site should
have been pursuing buyers first, and *then* traffic.
SEO Without Usability
I was looking to place an order right away -- so what stopped me?
Here are a few of the pitfalls I encountered:
* No prices on the pages. I was supposed to call for pricing or put
something in my cart before the price was shown.
* Incomplete or minimal descriptions. The name of the product was
repeated over and over again but things like sizes, shipping weights,
and available colors were not included.
* No pictures or poor-quality pictures.
* Inconsistent navigation. The one site I *almost* managed to
purchase from changed the text in their links from page to page
(targeting slightly different terms) and I got caught in a circle,
unable to find the checkout!
* Unusable shopping carts or insecure order forms.
* Poor organization of products. I was unable to find related
products or accessories.
In other words, time and money was spent to "optimize" these sites in
a way that brought them traffic, and then drove it away!
Now those companies are most likely convinced that:
a) The Internet is not a good market for their products and/or
b) SEO is a waste of time and money.
After all, they get TONS of traffic and may even be paying for more
bandwidth, but no one seems to buy anything. So once again SEO is
given a bad reputation.
Incorporating "the Big Picture"
Should every SEO learn usability? Not any more than they need to
learn design skills or database programming; however, in the same way
that the average SEO can spot design or technical issues and recommend
or work with a specialist, they should also be able to spot major
usability issues and recommend or work with a usability analyst.
A usability analyst can walk through the site and spot obstacles that
may prevent users from completing their goal. They typically address
marketing, layout, technical, and design issues that can frustrate
users or even drive them away. When site owners are presented with a
usability study in addition to an SEO analysis, they have a better
picture of overall "health" of the site and a blueprint for greater
profitability, not just more traffic.
Usability reports are a relatively inexpensive investment that return
far more than their cost in increased sales, subscriptions, leads,
etc. SEO and usability improvements implemented together can result in
dramatic changes in traffic and conversions.
Anyone who is looking to improve the usability of a site without
investing in a professional report can easily find the current issues
with a site by performing a quick-and-dirty usability study.
Find 5-10 users who have never been to your site. These people should
ideally be your target demographic: age, lifestyle, income, etc. Ask
them to perform a set of tasks on the website, i.e., tasks that you'd
expect your average visitor to accomplish. As you observe them
carefully, ask them to talk out loud as they perform the tasks. Don't
guide them or lead them in any way, and don't answer any of their
questions. Make sure that you write down everything that you witness
during this exercise.
You'll be amazed at what you can learn. An official report or
theoretical discussion pales in comparison to watching a user get
frustrated and click away from a site. Usability analysts are skilled
at interpreting the results of these studies, but anyone can find out
what is wrong with a Website through this method.
The future of SEO and Usability
Search engine optimization is still in its infancy, and is a
constantly changing discipline. As the search engines get better and
better at rewarding the best/most complete sites, usability will
become even more important.
Many long-time SEOs are now looking at the big picture and working
with usability analysts. This ensures that their sites are crawler-
and user-friendly along with being ready for sales conversions. Sites
that can be found and that are usable as well will also attract links.
It just makes sense. The double impact of more traffic and higher
conversions makes for happy clients and powerful testimonials, as well
as satisfied searchers.
Right Click Web Consulting
[Just a quick comment about this usability and SEO stuff. I've long
felt that usability is something that anyone involved in Internet
marketing has to be aware of. Coincidently, my usability analyst, Kim
Krause, has just come out with a short report that includes her
in-depth usability checklists. It's called "Please Ring Bell for
Service" and can be purchased here:
</ringbell> for the very reasonable price
of $23.95. I can vouch for Kim's knowledge of Web site usability, as
she has been writing weekly usability reports in conjunction with my
client site analyses for close to a year now. (Wow, has it been that
long?) I have found that integrating a complete usability report into
my SEO site report has given my clients invaluable info that they
can't get anywhere else. If you're an SEO and you're interested in
providing them with some basic usability analysis but you can't afford
Kim's custom analysis, Kim's "Ring Bell" report is a great place to
start! - Jill]
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Report includes: SEO research from Scottie Claiborne, usability
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Learn more: </report78>
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~~~Stuff You Might Like~~~
++Buyers' Guide to Search Engine Optimization Firms++
Hot off the presses! Last week, MarketingSherpa came out with the
third edition of their "Buyers' Guide to Search Engine Optimization
Firms." If you've been thinking about hiring an SEO company, you'll
most definitely want to purchase this guide.
I'm one of the writers/editors of this year's guide, so of course I'm
slightly biased; however, I'd be surprised if after reading it you
were disappointed in any way.
This year's guide is different than past ones, mostly because it does
not rate the companies that are listed. I know, I know, in years past
I was one of the huge proponents for a ratings system, and I still
believe that back then ratings were necessary. But these days, since
SEO companies have very different ways of skinning the SEO cat,
ratings have become nearly impossible because you're often comparing
apples to oranges.
Not to mention that the way they rated firms last year was really
dumb, in my opinion. They rated the firms basically on whether they
had top rankings for highly competitive keywords. Since a big part of
SEO is actually knowing which keywords to avoid and which to optimize
for, the ratings were pretty useless. So when the folks at
MarketingSherpa asked me how they might rate the companies this year,
I was stumped. What we decided was instead of ratings, we'd clearly
spell out what separates a good SEO firm from a not-so-good one. In
other words, what you should be looking for, what you should be
looking *out* for.
It's also important to note that the guide was written with no
particular bias towards small firms or big firms, since all companies
have their own needs in that respect. We went into great detail in
describing the pros and cons of different SEO methods, and we've
included a handy-dandy SEO glossary, which I'm proud to say I wrote
So the guide is not just a list of 100 SEO firms. That's a big chunk
of it, but the "meat" is the commentary before you get to the company
list. It was written so that the average person seeking an SEO firm
would get a better understanding of what SEO is. They would quickly
realize from reading this guide that SEO is not about Meta tags, but
about making your site work for the search engines and the people who
will be visiting it.
If I had to choose one thing that some might not like about this
guide, it would be that those hiring an SEO company will still have to
do their homework. Since bad companies are listed right along with
good ones, it's up to the individual looking for an SEO to read the
guide from cover to cover to get a good sense of the type of company
they prefer to work with. It should be fairly clear which companies
follow a best-practices approach to SEO and which may push the SEO
envelope a bit (or even a lot). After that, it's up to the hiring
authority to decide which methods they'd prefer to use on their own
You can see a table of contents, the list of included companies, and
purchase the guide for $149 here:
++Measuring SEO Success++
Hope you didn't miss me too much last week while I was frolicking in
Tampa! From my visit with my father-in-law where he showed me some
interesting sights -- to my dinners with the SEO Tampa babes, I had a
truly awesome time! It's always great fun to get together with my SEO
partners in crime, and they didn't let me down this time, that's for
sure. (See some strange looking pics here:
Oh yeah...and the seminar was a great success also. If you missed it,
don't worry; you'll get to see it (or an even better version of it)
sometime in the spring, most likely in Chicago. Now don't get this
confused with Danny Sullivan's SES conference in Chicago in December:
<http://www.searchenginestrategies.com>. I'll be speaking at a few
sessions at that one also.
And speaking of Danny and SES, I just got the word that I've got a
free pass to the Dec. SES for one of you lucky Advisor subscribers.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me why you're my only
logical choice to receive it. Remember, you still have to pay for
your travel and accommodations, so don't email me if you're not in a
position to do that.
See you next week! - Jill