SEO = Writing for Humans
There’s a tense discussion going on lately in the big, beautiful world of online content. If you’re using old SEO rules, your content can be nigh unreadable, doing little to help the consumer once they’ve Googled their way to your product page.
However, the perceived boost in sales from that traffic can outweigh the demerits created by keyword-stuffed, link-impregnated word salad made for software and not humans. New SEO rules are forever being tailored in the wake of perpetual updates of Google’s search algorithm. That requires adaptation, which warrants experimentation, which introduces a new possibility of failure.
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And failure is more than many manufacturers and online retailers are willing to risk. The problem with A/B testing is that either A or B must lose, and not everyone can afford to value the acquired knowledge over the (projected) lost sales.
Our advice: err on the side of good content. The rest will fall into place. Useful content has now solidly supplanted thin, factory-farmed content, thanks in part to the efforts of Google. While some resent the search giant’s power over the evolution of online content, this is one area where we think Google is fighting the good fight. Here are a few ways to ensure you are, too.
Keywords Can Light the Way
Despite their well-earned reputation as the unwelcome guest at the good content table, keywords can serve the reader and also serve the whims of Google or your search engine of choice. When you get your keywords right, it means you’re practicing good SEO, sure. However, it also means that you’re speaking your intended customer’s language.
Learn how they search, and you learn how they talk, which gets you closer to learning what they’re really searching for and creating content that meets their needs. The key to keywords: use them to bring the customer to what they want, and then stop. When it comes to the language your customers use, SEO best practices and effective communication are a both/and proposition, not an either/or one.
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Unique Content with a Purpose
There is power in repetition, yes. We often explain to clients that one of the advantages of enhanced content is that it will inevitably get scraped and end up everywhere. By producing that enhanced content, you control brand messaging, even when it’s lifted from preferred retailer sites and reposted elsewhere without permission. At least you know your product information is correct, which you owe your past, present, and future customers.
Unique content, however, gives you the opportunity to move past that basic consumer need to also meet your business need to be found online. Unique content lets you fill the SERPs with variations of accurate information about your product. And beyond that, you can target your intended customer audience with information and approach. So your SD card can maintain the sustained write speeds required for Full HD video? That’s great, but your video nerd customer will respond favorably to a different header and presentation of details than will your new parent, freelance reporter, or student customer.
You may create unique content because Google suggests it or your online retailer requires it of you, but it’s also an unparalleled chance to tailor your message to specific demographics. Ask your online retailers for guidance if they don’t volunteer it, or consider engaging the content services of someone well versed in what your retailer demands.
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Sometimes, though, it just makes sense to repeat some content across products. It isn’t helpful to anyone to have ten different versions of care instructions for high-end cookware. And the paragraph that talks about the rest of your product line or your company’s history doesn’t need to be poetically reinterpreted for the customer’s sake. But Google penalizes duplicate content, as we’ve discussed before. So the key is to make that repeated content a small percentage of the product page.
If the product page is on your website or an online retailer that lets you post files for download, such as Costco or Babies R Us, consider putting duplicate content on a separate linked page or in an attached PDF. Of course, you want to make the reader’s journey as simple and intuitive as possible. But if they really need a troubleshooting guide or care instructions, they’ll find it with your help. The simple matter of downloading a file or following a link won’t dissuade them.
Size Isn’t Everything: Content Length
Ah, content length, the much-debated, much-prized measure of importance. Here’s the thing: content that’s designed for SEO without thought of the customer can make you look a little divorced from reality. Content length should be determined by the specific narrative requirements of your products.
It’s absurd to expect or ask for the same product description length for products as different as over-the-counter cold medication, an SSD, a reusable water bottle, or a professional-grade table saw. Each has wildly different needs, and the length of product-page content length should reflect those needs. Even so, some retailers hold fast to lengthy content requirements, haunted by tales of Google’s emphasis on “rich” content. This creates hurdles many brands can’t leap over, at least not on their own. Many manufacturers compromise on content requirements to meet needs for ubiquity and availability in the big world of online retail.
To those manufacturers, we suggest pushing back (especially if you’re a larger company with many evergreen products and, thus, clout). We’ve seen brands stymied by heavy, illogical content requirements from online retailers with an overly SEO-dominated view of what content is for, and our hope is that enough conglomerates say no that those retailers reconsider their content guidelines. For most products, a thousand words is 400-800 words too many.
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From SEO to Search
No one wants to be that guy (scroll to the bottom). You know, the one still using circa-2006 SEO principles, with text that says nothing except that they overheard the word “keywords” once from their Internet-savvy nephew and believe that search is the future. SEO no longer consists of sneaky tricks to try to outrun the next search algorithm update.
SEO is now a set of best practices that help people find your content and ensure it’s as accessible as possible, both for the search algorithms and the people reading it. Of course you should mention your product name more than once. It’s the subject of your content, and you need to anchor your pronouns now and then. Yes, you should absolutely coordinate the phrasing between page titles, headers, alt text, and metadata. That’s called good messaging. But should you require that the generic term for your product show up three times per every hundred words because SEO sez so? No.
The evolution of search isn’t restrictive. Instead, it’s given us the freedom to bring solid content distribution practices together with high-quality writing for the benefit of the imagined activities of various search engines and the real activities of consumers. Stretch your wings and serve your customers.