SEO v Brand: Beware the spiders

Trigger warning: Spiders etc

A gentle summer breeze flutters the curtains as you sleep soundly in your bed. All is peace, everything is fine… except, it isn’t; something is wrong, very, very wrong.

Thick, oppressive heat fills the room. Shadowy corners turn an inky, unknowable black that absorbs all light and joy, leaving in place only cold, hungry fear.

A small, spindly shadow crawls up the duvet along the line of your leg. Moving in short, jagged scuttles the blood-red spider is already past your thigh. It pauses for a moment before its needle feet prick their way higher, tip-toing toward your waist.

You shake your head, you murmur, unconscious but aware that something isn’t right.  

Eight black, unblinking eyes move up your chest to the edge of the duvet. It waits, an inch from your exposed skin. Your breathing quickens as it crawls slowly but with unmistakable intent onto your vulnerable throat.

You know you must wake up. Neurons fire, blood pumps, muscles tighten but then, nothing; you lay still, paralysed by fear.

Now, it is time. Dark mandibles unfurl; each a tiny, jagged butcher’s saw. The spider begins its work…

Seconds, or perhaps hours later you shake yourself awake, screaming. The spider is gone. But your scream is silent. You shout. But your shouting is a weightless, empty nothing.

The spider has stolen your voice.

…Of course this is not really how it happens (to most freelance copywriters). And I’m not really talking about eight-legged spiders. I do, of course, mean web spiders. Those clever little algorithms that use web content keywords and general good SEO (search engine optimisation) to decide who soars high in the search rankings.

Check your ears for Brie

Unless you’ve been keeping cheese in your ears for the last 15+ years you’ll have heard (relentlessly) from copywriters, your content agency and everyone else about the importance of keywords and SEO. It’s impossible to ignore. And, of course, as a provider of online content, I’m not going to disagree or tell you they’re not important. But I do think your web content should be about more than SEO.

Take off the objective blinkers

If your aim is solely to drive page rankings, surely SEO is the most important thing? Well, yes and no. You’ve got to remember your brand. That ephemeral, hard-to-pin-down thing; the bridge you’ve built to your customers. And no matter how strong it is, like any bridge, it is fragile; one small crack and the damage can be irreparable.

What’s your brand got to do with SEO rankings?

Well, everything. Because, whatever you write online is there for your customer and potential customers to discover. They can love it and share it or be bored and totally put off by it. SEO content won’t affect any of that. But how you use your brand voice absolutely will.

So how does it go right, and wrong?

The client wants to be on the first page of Google search. The team does some keyword research. And before you know it the website is full of keyword-driven content, which the web spiders love. Then, over time, assuming all the other good stuff is in place (dynamic site, fast loading, correct keyword density etc.) it works, and the page moves up the rankings – cue much whooping and slapping of backs. But, um, what happens when someone actually reads it?

“I am fluent in over six million forms of communication and…”

If you’re only thinking about keywords without considering the brand, you’ll end up with unnaturally repetitious, robotic content that sounds like C3PO having a nervous breakdown. That sort of hard-to-read content is (fingers crossed) way off brand. “Good Heavens!” indeed. And whether you’re a copywriter in London or a plumber in Cardiff manager that won’t do.

Off-brand is not OK

Just like your logo and design guide, your brand voice is an integral part of the brand. Hopefully you’ve put as much thought into your verbal identity as you have the visual side. Because no matter how beautiful the design, if your copywriting and/or content isn’t engaging, people will lose interest fast. The same goes for all the SEO; it doesn’t matter how high your Google rank if no-one cares about your online content.

Ranking v. Engagement?

It’s not one or the other. It’s both and that comes via your brand. I don’t think I’m telling anyone anything new here or at least I hope not. It’s more of a reminder. Google rank is important. But don’t forget the vital role your brand voice plays in creating engagement. As with all things, it’s a balancing act. You can’t do away with keywords; but forget about your brand voice and what’s it all for?

So, by all means feed the spiders but don’t let them take your voice.

…Of course this is not really how it happens. And I’m not really talking about eight-legged spiders. I do, of course, mean web spiders. Those clever little algorithms that use keywords and general good SEO (search engine optimisation) to decide who soars high in the search rankings.

Check your ears for Brie

Unless you’ve been keeping cheese in your ears for the last 15+ years you’ll have heard (relentlessly) about the importance of keywords and SEO. It’s impossible to ignore.And I’m not going to disagree or tell you they’re not important. But I do think your content should be about more than SEO.

Take off the objective blinkers

If your aim is solely to drive page rankings, surely SEO is the most important thing? Well, yes and no. You’ve got to remember your brand. That ephemeral, hard-to-pin-down thing; the bridge you’ve built to your customers. And no matter how strong it is, like any bridge, it is fragile; one small crack and the damage can be irreparable.

What’s your brand got to do with SEO rankings?

Well, everything. Because, whatever you put online is there for your customer and potential customers to discover. They can love it and share it or be bored and totally put off by it. SEO won’t affect any of that. But how you use your brand voice absolutely will.

So how does it go right, and wrong?

The client wants to be on the first page of Google search. The team does some keyword research. And before you know it the website is full of keyword-driven content, which the web spiders love. Then, over time, assuming all the other good stuff is in place (dynamic site, fast loading, correct keyword density etc.) it works, and the page moves up the rankings – cue much whooping and slapping of backs. But, um, what happens when someone actually reads it?

“I am fluent in over six million forms of communication and…”

If you’re only thinking about keywords without considering the brand, you’ll end up with unnaturally repetitious, robotic content that sounds like C3PO having a nervous breakdown. And that sort of hard-to-read content is (fingers crossed) way off brand. “Good Heavens!” indeed.

Off-brand is not OK

Just like your logo and design guide, your brand voice is an integral part of the brand. Hopefully you’ve put as much thought into your verbal identity as you have the visual side. Because no matter how beautiful the design, if your content isn’t engaging, people will lose interest fast. The same goes for all the SEO; it doesn’t matter how high your Google rank if no-one cares about your content.

Ranking v. Engagement?

It’s not one or the other. It’s both and that comes via your brand. I don’t think I’m telling anyone anything new here or at least I hope not. It’s more of a reminder. Google rank is important. But don’t forget the vital role your brand voice plays into creating engagement. As with all things, it’s a balancing act. You can’t do away with keywords; but forget about your brand voice and what’s it all for?

So, by all means feed the spiders but don’t let them take your voice.