There was a time when you could cram almost any combination of keywords onto a page and it would lead to a decent return, in the form of traffic to your site. "Page juice" was a bankable term for a while—meaning that you could load a page with (usually dubious) content, and that page would draw attention from the likes of Google and Yahoo! and other search engines, who would funnel a crowd of "netizens" (remember that term?) your way, and thus give you the opportunity to make a pitch, close a sale, or at least collect some demographic info.
Google continues to refine its algorithm for search, and in that refinement comes a need for more targeted copy on your page. Targeted, but also human relevant. Google's mysterious and growing artificial intelligence is getting loads better at sussing out what's actually good, relevant content, and what is essentially "word garbage" and filler, meant as link bait.
It's never been more vital to have well-crafted, human-readable copy on your website. It's never been more vital to have content that means something to your readers. The new keywords in SEO are "value," "benefit," and "relevance."
Content has an evolution
Copywriting—writing that is traditionally used for commercial purposes such as marketing or business support—is an odd little craft. The definition of a "good copywriter" has changed a great deal over the years, but only in that it shifts along a spectrum. "Good copywriting" started as "something that is artful and inspiring while being persuasive." At a point, it became "writing that is functional and direct, while being persuasive." And then, for a dark period in our lives, it became "whatever the lowest bidder or this guy I hired to do accounting can provide."
Finally, though, we're cracking light on a new dawn in copywriting, with the move into human relevant content.
Copy needs to have a purpose. What's the point of all those words? If the idea is to sell something, does the copy support the value proposition and benefit statement of the product? Does it spend its time informing the reader of just how this product will change/enhance/improve their life?
A common mistake in copywriting is to focus on features. There's nothing wrong with feature-driven copy for the right audience, of course. If someone is reading the manual of something they just purchased, they're probably a lot more interested in what the product does and how it does it, than how it will make them feel once they finally figure out what that red button is for.
Likewise, if you've already managed to persuade the reader that your product is going to make their lives better, feature-focused writing in the form of a data sheet or overview will help "close the deal."
But just like every other part of marketing, the idea is to build a funnel.
Going wide, getting narrow
Good copywriting starts with an offer. That offer is uniformly about one thing: "This product will make your life better and make you feel a certain way. It will benefit you in these ways."
That's it. That's the top of every funnel you'll ever encounter in marketing and business. Free product giveaways are about giving the reader a chance to experience how this product will make their life better, with no risk to try. Contest announcements are about telling the reader that they can have a better life with your product, "and look how generous we are!" Email and ad campaigns are messages to your readers that tell them how much better life will be once they start using your product, and how they can learn about even more benefits if they click through, sign up, download a trial.
Three goals of SEO
For SEO, the goal is to keep the reader on the page. Effective Search Engine Optimization starts with enticing someone to get to the page in the first place. That means having well-crafted copy that presents value as well as information.
The second goal of SEO is to make the content of your page enticing enough that the reader sticks around, reducing the "bounce rate" (the timeframe in which they arrive and then leave your page), and encouraging their click-thru rate (in this case, the number of links they explore to get further into your site, aka "your funnel").
The third goal of SEO is to encourage the reader to take an action, with a well-crafted and human-relevant CTA. Something immediate and impulsive is good. Verbs are good. "Submit" is terrible, but "Get on board!" has merit. "Download Trial" is weak, but "Get your FREE copy now!" is stronger.
Test it, and test it again
The key to getting good SEO results with good copy is to test everything. Have two sets of page copy and CTA copy ready to go right off the bat, and run a split test using Google Analytics, Optimizely, Pickfu, or some other A/B testing platform to see which gets the best results. Pick the winner, and then do the test again with another set of copy and CTA. Repeat. And repeat. And repeat. Because SEO is not static process—it's dynamic, and it evolves.
Why? Because people are fickle. What's hot today is cliche tomorrow. So the clever phrasing or tagline that brought you results last month will play out eventually, and people will stop paying attention. And when people stop paying attention, SEO is dead.
Content is king. You'll hear that again and again. Good content is alive, and keeps growing as you go. Finding good copywriters, who are not only reliable but also smart and able to think ahead and think in terms of value and benefits—that's the key to success with search engines, with marketing, and with business. Human-readable content is how you will build and grow a business, so invest in good copywriters from the start, and keep them going continuously.