You may not know this, but every web page should be written for two target audiences. The first audience is users, of course. We all want our customers and clients to find our online content interesting and useful. But the second audience is nearly as important: search engines. Google’s powerful algorithm, for example, doesn’t just look at code and meta data. It mostly looks at the same information that users do and tries to determine its value to flesh-and-blood human beings.
After all, that’s what puts all of those shiny black Teslas in the parking lot in Mountain View – good search results. If our searches resulted in garbage – or worse, phony garbage, we would simply stop searching. Consequently, teams of programmers constantly update the algorithms to weed out the detritus and present only the most relevant results – and to do it, they read what people like you and I write and judge us more than your aunt Evelyn who always asks when you’re going to start a family like your cousin Curt in Omaha.
So, we need to write first for humans (our main target audience) and then for supercomputers trying really hard to think like humans (our second target audience). And there’s actually a fairly distinct difference between the two.
Here’s an example of a paragraph of web copy for a fake company called Fluffpuppy that sells dog treats, written for real humans only:
We sell dog treats. They are made from beef, pork and chicken, and they’re perfect for making your dog sit up and beg. Best of all, these wholesome ingredients don’t just taste good – they’ll help your best friend feel good as well.
Nothing wrong there, right? Wrong. To do this effectively, you need to think about both what a human searches for and wants to find on your page, as well as what a search algorithm THINKS that a real human searches for and wants to find on your page. So while including the phrase “dog treats” is important, it’s not in the copy enough. Worse yet, the brand name – Fluffpuppy – isn’t in there at all. Of course, the human can see the graphic of the logo on the top of the page, but all the algorithm sees is a file name (probably something super descriptive like logo.png, depending on who did your web development).
Then there are those ingredient names. Do people search for beef and pork when they search for dog treats? Probably not. They may be interested in seeing those ingredients once they get to the page, but until then they are more likely to search for something very basic like “dog treats” or “Fluffpuppy dog treats” or even the classic “what are the best dog treats.”
With that in mind, it’s tempting to try to trick the algorithm by shoveling keywords into your copy like a college linebacker at the all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch buffet. Here’s what that looks like:
Fluffpuppy dog treats will make your dog howl for more. Buy Fluffpuppy dog treats and watch the reaction as each dog treat gets your dog’s attention. Plus, Fluffpuppy dog treats are tasty and healthy – perfect for you and your best friend. Fluffpuppy dog treats – the only treat your dog needs.
Not only is that hard to read, the computers who try to be people are now smart enough to recognize it when somebody is getting too crazy with the keywords (remember, their goal is good search results, not garbage). So after a certain point (and none of us know what point because we don’t drive Teslas and work at Google), those algorithms start to penalize you for writing copy that nobody really wants to read. With all the talk of SEO in the world today, it can be tempting to push your luck here – don’t do it. You will actually hurt your chances for showing up in a search result. Remember, both the real humans and the fake humans who read your copy want roughly the same thing. Here’s an example of copy that gives both of those audiences what they are looking for:
What is the best dog treat? The healthiest? More importantly, which dog treat is right for your breed, whether your best friend is a beautiful black lab or an adorable mini pinscher? Every Fluffpuppy treat is filled with the flavors and wholesome ingredients that trainers and breeders recommend.
Notice that it includes several very likely search phrases (such as “what is the best dog treat”) along with the product name a few times (but not so many times that it gets obnoxious) and the brand name. It also includes a few popular dog breeds, something else that humans like to search for, along with “trainer” and “breeder” two words that pet owners respect that are likely to go together with the words “dog” and “treats.”
The trick is to make your copy appeal to humans and artificial humans without sounding like it was written by a computer, and it can be harder than it sounds. You’ll get better with practice. Just dig in and don’t be afraid to make revisions. You can also ask somebody like me for help. Together, we’ll climb the search results and get your web page in front of the people who matter most.