Wednesday, 11 February 2009

SEO - Integrity or Dominance?

Let’s face it, when your day-to-day clientside copywriting job involves a predominant focus on digital work, you’re going to be handed some laborious and uninspiring SEO tasks from time to time. Just as Obama inherits an economy that’s on its metaphorical knees, so too the noble copywriter inherits the occasional boring task – both are unfortunate territories that come with their respective jobs. (Should writers get a ‘Write House’ too?)

No stranger to digital copywriting (or laborious literature), I’m regularly tasked with optimizing adverts (that’s ads to you yanks) for publication on several leading websites and job boards. Regardless, however, of whether I’m optimizing yet another generic ad or working on an exciting strapline for a flashy print campaign, I, like most writers, apply the same passionate approach and professional integrity to every piece of copy that leaves my fingers.

This approach ensures that each piece of work is well written, readable, user-friendly and above all, optimized. But what if other, less noble copywriters turn the tables? What if lazy companies (and those really looking to get the edge on their competitors) cheat to get their advertisements above yours?

In fear of compromising my current employers and incurring libelous accusations from those my words wish to accuse, my illustrations on this point may lack the venom and clarity that they would otherwise achieve in an uncensored and perfect copywriting world. I, like most writers, have bills to pay and until Obama really does save the global economy (Gordon Brown’s not having much luck), I shall illustrate my point anonymously.

I noticed a competitor’s batch of ads had suddenly started appearing above those of my own company – an occurrence that knocked not only the status quo of our business interests, but also my creative ego. Whereas (I’d like to think) my digital copy was optimized, coherent, readable and populated with an appropriate keyword density, these scurrilous ads simply repeated the keyword three or four times every single sentence, to the degree that their copy read like a piece of SEO overkill.

The ink in my pen positively boiling by this point, I was presented with the first ethical copywriting dilemma of my career (drum roll please) – do I sacrifice coherent grammatical structures and flowing language for nonsensical keyword saturation? Do I play my competitors at their own game, resulting in my return to the top of the rankings, yet with significantly poorer English attributed to my name?

In the end, although this is an ongoing issue in my working life, my heart won over my head. I remain digitally battling my enemies of English and although their ‘unethical’ methods may rile the purist within, I take great heart from retaining my literary integrity and staying true to my beloved profession.

(This article was written for and appears on

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