Lee Odden

Lose the SEO Lingo and Optimize for Customers

Lee Odden     Online Marketing, SEO, SEO Tips

SEO CopywritingNo doubt, you’ve searched Google or Bing and found web pages that were clearly “optimized” in the name of SEO. That kind of copy might help a page appear higher in search results (less so with Panda) but doesn’t do much for readers once they click through.

When I see those pages, it reminds me of the increasing importance of optimizing for customers and user experience vs. the common overemphasis on search engines.  Keep in mind, technical SEO and how bots interact with servers and web pages is timeless, but writing web copy that’s more useful and a better reflection of what customers are looking for, (vs. chasing the most popular keywords alone) just makes sense.

Along those lines I recall reading a SEO blog a long time ago that advised creating websites, copy and links as if search engines didn’t exist.  By itself, that seems a bit naive – especially if you’re in a competitive category.   Creating, optimizing and promoting content based on customer interests that leads them to a purchase makes the most out of both useful content and SEO best practices.  Great SEO copywriting doesn’t read as a list of keywords, but instead balances keyword usage with creative writing that appeals to the reader; educating, influencing and inspiring action.

Consider the difference between these general SEO copywriting recommendations:

Use the most popular keywords at the beginning of title tags, in on-page titles, body copy, anchor text and image alt text in combination with attracting relevant keyword links from other websites so the pages rank high on Google. Higher ranking web pages can result in more visitors and sales.

In comparison, try this advice absent any explicit SEO lingo:

Use the words that matter most to your customers in titles, links and body copy to inform and inspire them to take action. Text used in titles should make it easy for readers to understand the topic of the page quickly, in the first few words. Text used to link from one page to another should give the reader an idea of what they’ll find on the destination page. A consistent approach to titling, labeling and copy in web page text, image annotations, video descriptions and links will create confidence for the reader in the subject matter and inspire sales.

Both recommendations should result in more focused and relevant content for search engines. But the focus on #1 is only on keywords and search engines. The advice in #2 is less SEO specific, but emphasizes relevance from the customer point of view and at the same time, is search engine friendly. Maybe more copywriters would take SEO advice if it didn’t use so much SEO lingo.

Does that seem a like a reasonable difference in approach or more a matter of semantics? Do you think more content producers would implement SEO practices if advice was more customer-centric? Better implementation of SEO best practices by creatively talented and customer focused content producers seems like a win, all around.


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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Avatar Elaine Speer says

    Excellent post! I’ve been trying to educate a SMB client about the importance of the customers’ experience on the website rather than all focus on key words and organic ranking. So what if you get people to your website if they dart off dazed and confused after their visit? 
    Your post was succinct and well organized. I am forwarding to my client.
    Elaine Speer

  2. Avatar Joanne Maly says

    Lee, thanks for your common sense (but increasingly ignored) tips on writing message-centered, customer-focused copy for websites and ‘not’ SEO-based, keyword-stuffed copy. I’m sharing your post on my firm’s Facebook Page and in some of my go-to LinkedIn groups. 
    Great to-the-point information as always. Appreciated.

  3. ha.. the first quote sounds like a cheat sheet and the second one is how you explain that cheat sheet to a client.

  4. Thanks for this it really helps me, its saying the search engines won’t read your site or buy from you, your customers and readers will so you have to think about them also

  5. Avatar Alison Ruth says

    Great post, Lee!  Upon first getting into the SEO industry I couldn’t help but feel like I was abandoning everything I ever learned about the customer as a communications/advertising major in college.  Your post makes a great point about the fine line between keyword-rich content and customer-friendly content.  With the ultimate goal being to generate more traffic and leads for any given business, it’s important to do extensive keyword research and ensure that your optimization works for both the search engines AND the consumer.  Encouraging writers to get creative with keyword usage has proven successful for our clients.  

  6. Excellent points – we’re all so busy trying to find and use the right keywords, that we lose our focus.  When it’s comes to selling yourself and your service or products it takes more than just using keywords – you have to be genuine and have a proven business with relationships and referrals.  I won’t do business with someone if they’ve just thrown the right keywords at me – not today and not tomorrow.  Thanks for the great post!

  7. Lee, I agree with your thoughts on optimizing for consumer rather than search engines. Stats still show that people tend to click on subject headings with the keywords they are looking for, or so that was the case they made for Adwords which I’m not sure you can compare. 

  8. I agree with Lee Odden: write copy for your readers, rather than just for search engines

    • This is something I have told a customer of mine in the past. They thought they would try and do their seo themselves… cut a long story short, they went and did so and their website saw a massive increase in traffic but the bounce rate went through the roof as people couldn’t understand what they were trying to say!

  9. I’m of a “mixed” opinion.  You do need to rank before any potential customers can find you.  However, it doesn’t matter how many you get if your site is a hard for anyone to even look at, let alone read.  You don’t have to get one or the other though.  I think your first priority should be to the visitors and making it better for them.  But if you need to tweak a few things for search engines to like it more (and it doesn’t do anything to really make a visitor’s experience worse), then do it. True SEO is about making it work on both ends.

  10. it’s tough ballgame with seo services. the people who need seo help often have no idea what seo is, and therefore are not likely to find your website via “seo” type keywords.

  11. What you wrote rings true – Panda or no Panda.  Even if the site ranks high, if people can’t even read through the first few sentences then it clearly hasn’t served it’s purpose.  People might click through but if they don’t find anything useful then they won’t be drawn in and are likely to stay away.

  12. While it is important to optimize for SEO to get readers searching the internet by keywords for content, the content must be easy to read, have relevant content and be helpful to the reader.  If you are optimizing solely for PR then eventually you will get the Google slap or people will just stop reading the content.

  13. Right on the mark!  I think today, more than ever, it’s important to write first and foremost with the reader in mind.  I know many of the articles I have written with no thought at all to SEO have had far more views than those I thought “too hard” on in terms of SEO.  Usually, keywords will fall into place naturally when you write without giving a lot of conscious effort to keyword optimization.  Thanks for another great post