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The Google Bot is a Good Reader

02/28/2009

I recently made a pitch to a interesting guy who worked in advertising for 30 years before he retired to sell foul weather sailing gear. When we got to the part about rewriting the copy on his site, I said, as I always do, that writing is the most important thing on the site. I mentioned my background (a BA in Philosophy with a minor in Creative Writing from one cool English Department), and stressed that good copy is important if you want to win the sailing sales regatta or a high ranking from the Google Bot.

My prospective client and I had set sail. He told me that as a career ad man, he definitely understood the importance of good copy. Copy that looks good to humans, that reads well with snappy verbs, proper grammar, and logical structure, also looks good to all the search engines. Since the Google Bot, the most powerful robot ever built by humans, now understands what it reads, my task as a search engine optimizer is to write something it will like. How many years of technology-driven advertising now, and we’ve come right back to good writing? At last, copywriters could go back to writing what potential customers needed to hear, without worrying about weather the search bots would understand it.

So, now it’s clear sailing? Well, no. Writing has always given me an edge in SEO, but the bots still want to see more repetition of keywords than most humans. People get to your page because they were looking for the subject matter already. It can be a little annoying to see the words repeated so often. But without them being there, how is the bot supposed to know what the page is about in the first place? It’s like spotting a sail on the horizon of a giant ocean. If your sail’s not up, you won’t be seen.

Luckily, things are getting better. While your keyword density on the page should still be substantial, it’s not nearly as high as, say, the old Alta Vista algorithm required. Since the early days of search engines, creating an artificial intelligence that could understand natural language was the goal. Every search engineer wanted to create bots and algorithms that could sail through the internet and weed out the long strings of nouns with no sentence structure, the poorly written articles that were obvious attempts at spamming, and the blatant black-hat SEO tactics. During those dark days of search technology, trying to win searches and still have well-written copy was a lot like a sail boat tacking into a strong wind.

How far we have come! These days, Google’s robot practically enjoys well written language. I still have to work in the keywords as seamlessly as possible, but now I get rewarded for doing it well. One method: I try to work in different grammatical uses and forms of the keywords on a page. If, for example, for this ex-ad man, I wind up with “sailing gear” as a key phrase, as I work my way through the copy, I will use sail as a gerund, verb, a noun, an object, and an adjective, and any other variation I can. Google will notice, and reward the page.

This is good news for writers looking for work (is that redundant?). The world of search engineering has finally gotten around to rewarding good writing. It is no small task teaching a robot to be a discriminating reader, but Google, and others, have done it. Good writers have their dream reader: someone who reads everything, discerns the subject matter carefully, categorizes perfectly, remembers instantly, and rewards excellence with higher search engine rankings. Leeward ho!

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