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Even before the lingering bamboo torture of Google Panda was unleashed upon the web, the buzz in SEO circles was all about the increasing importance of onsite content. The quest for evergreen links and attractive linkbait led to the establishment of resource sections and blogs on the websites of countless brands. Meanwhile, engineers had long-since dispensed with pages of keyword stuffed content, and we’ve seen a move towards keyword sprinkled blurbs which read coherently, and provide actual information.
Yet a lot of this content ultimately exists only for Google’s bots, which aren’t actually capable of reading any of it. The casual lavatory purchaser is probably unfamiliar with the SEO benefit of including a chunk of text explaining the history of the flush toilet and a brand’s boasts about the extensive options in their range. In fact, something has gone wrong if they’re actually reading it: why would you expect to find text at a category level on every site? Surely users understand well enough what some groups of items are?
It’s a ‘seen but not heard’ mentality that I’m sure most SEO Copywriters are familiar with: content tokenism, once heavily off-site has now moved onsite. Not to say that engineers are wasting time commissioning the stuff – it clearly helps you in the SERPs and it’s difficult to see how Google could condemn well-written content in conspicuously unnecessary places. But there are certainly more intelligent ways of thinking about this content.
In this context, it’s difficult to see conversion in the political marriage implied by our ‘If Content is King’ series. Both the statistical conversion rates and the conversion optimisation work engineers do to improve those rates are a critical part of the SEO process. If you’re happy to shunt high volumes of people to a page with an extraordinarily high bounce rate, you’re just a bad SEO. Yet, of all the tools at your disposal, content is surely the least obvious. You choose the right landing page, enhance your usability and work on site structure. Content barely gets a look in.
Which is all very odd when you consider that content always used to be the whole point of the AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) theory of consumer engagement. And while the role of grabbing the attention of your user is nowadays so frequently just a matter of having the right search position, online copywriting still has a role to play. SEO Copywriters should also be placing more emphasis on how they raise customer interest, convince them that they desire a product, and action them along the conversion funnel towards a purchase.
In many ways, keywords have replaced the snappy tag-line, the pointed interrogative and the visually arresting image. Even in the domain of the tabloid newspaper, clever wordplay has been all-but replaced by the need to get the keyterm into the headline. Nonetheless, these tactics will still make you stand out: a meta description that asks “Have you ever...?” will still stand out on a page. And the fact that so few meta-descriptions contain anything worth reading just serves to heighten the effectiveness of those that do (while still dropping a few of those critical keywords in).
In the internet marketplace, how interested a user is in the product on offer is often governed by factors out of the control of the SEO, let alone the content writer. Price is the most obvious of these, and even if your copy can convince a customer that the advantages and disadvantages of a product solve a specific problem for them, they may still end up elsewhere for their actual purchase. Certainly though, there is no excuse for not placing an item or category of items into the personal context of your visitors.
Desire is frequently social, and most ecommerce entities are incredibly effective at servicing this. Ratings and reviews are well established, wishlists prominently placed, and Facebook powered “X has this” notifications surely just around the corner. By having stock levels routinely visible and temporary price drops available, the sense of urgency to buy (because of looming scarcity) is also well established. Strong product copy emphasises these features, encouraging visitors to make choices more impulsively (despite receiving the impression that they are being armed with the facts they need). Mentioning off-site authorities – end of year awards, especially – is also invaluable.
The action stage of engagement is the one we’re all most familiar with. In short, use imperatives (“Click here”, “Find out more” etc.), keep it short and avoid adverbs.
Content isn’t just about shifting a specific product though, and content writers are regularly called upon to increase site-traffic with quality resources that naturally attract links, but don’t often lead anywhere. Placing these into the conversion funnel is difficult, but not impossible. From the genesis of the idea you should be thinking about what expertise, services and products the client has which can feature in the guide. Not as links out – Google may follow them, but your users won’t. But if you position the rest of the site as a venue to ‘discover more’ about the subject (and phrase it in that way), the resource will become more useful.
As for how you implement changes and test your sites to see how content aids conversion, the process is essentially the same as that for any conversion optimisation test. You will need to determine how successful changes are and set achievable goals. While we’re all increasingly comfortable with the idea of refreshing content regularly to appease Panda’s arbitrary opinions about freshness, there’s a contrasting reluctance to double up work initially. We should be undertaking A/B testing on our content, experimenting, and seeing if slight rephrases could be a quicker, more user conscious way to our conversion goals.
If content is your thing, you might like to read the other articles in the ‘If Content is King…’ series.