SEO Copywriting 101: Search Engines Ain’t That Smart

Ian Lurie
sheep search engine

Search engines are cool, but they aren’t that bright. They don’t know that you meant ‘car’ when you typed ‘vehicle’.

If you’ve just spent 3 hours digging through a thesaurus, finding every alternative for ‘shoes’, start over. Burn the thesaurus. Think about the words that people use to find you.

Then, as a revolutionary new internet marketing strategy, actually write those words in your copy.

You’ll get more traffic.

You’ll get more sales/leads/whatever.

You may need to find the right keywords, first. I wrote about keyword selection in this article. Plus I wrote a whole seo copywriting ebook on the subject.

That’s actually the lesson for the day. The rest of this post is a meandering rant about the same topic, over and over. I’m emulating 75% of the blogosphere in hopes that my ad revenues will go up.

The tragedy of synonym diarrhea

Many moons ago, I did some copywriting for company. Let’s call them Jane’s Web Tools. Jane, the owner, had written her home page copy, and it read like this:
“Edit your personal online space, then forward it to your friends. Put your photographs, videos and personal notes into an web-powered album for them to enjoy.”

I’ve changed the names, business and keywords to protect the innocent.

Of course, Jane was selling a blogging tool. Everyone searching for her searched for ‘blogging tool’ or ‘personal blogging tool’.

She’d fallen victim to synonym diarrhea. Somewhere in grammar school, our teachers tell us to never use the same word twice in a paragraph. If you want to be the next Herman Melville, the key is to master the language and provide a veritable cornucopia of different words that all mean the same thing. Why call something a ‘shoe’ when you can call it ‘footwear’?


Our hero rides to the rescue

My first copywriting run generated something like this:
“Create your own customizable blog. Then add your own photographs, video and even audio files. Your friends will love it!”

We went through the same exercise throughout her site.

Her traffic went up. So did her conversions. She threw out her thesaurus.

The moral of the story

Use the keywords people use to find you.

footwear shoes

cycle bicycle

vessel sailboat

Get the idea?

I’m not suggesting you repeat the same keyword over and over. You have to use some judgment, and your sense as a copywriter.
Nor am I suggesting you use keywords purely for the search engines. There’s no such thing as ‘picking keywords for search engines’. Search engines don’t spend their evenings and time off browsing the web on their own. People use keywords to find stuff. So, use the right keywords, and the rest will follow.

Nor am I suggesting that you start counting the number of occurrences of ‘buggy bumpers’ in your copy.

But you can emphasize the keywords and concepts that your audience will really use to find you.
‘Emphasize’ means:

  • Put those keywords in your title tag;
  • Put ’em in your headline;
  • And put ’em early on in your page copy.

’nuff said.

SEO Copywriting eBook
Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at

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  1. Cool post. I guess what is most important about SEO is just as you said – write what people search for.
    Sometimes, I feel that there isn’t even a need for perfect grammar. People don’t read in such detail anyway 😛

  2. Brilliant. This is what I preached in a different media, but ultimately to the same end — connecting with customers — when I mentored TV news writers and reporters, and edited their copy, I had to slap them silly to exorcise synonymitis. It was in every newsroom stylesheet I ever wrote: “It’s MARS, not ‘The Red Planet’ … it’s SNOW, not ‘The White Stuff’ … it’s a FIRE, not a ‘blaze’ … even if you have to (gasp) say the word twice in the same sentence and ten times in the same story.” Glad to hear the concept validated for different purposes.

  3. I would say that sane usage of synonyms is very welcome due to Google’s context analysis. Though mass-usage of unused synonyms is pointless. And yeah, good point – you have to use keyword you want rank for 😉

  4. Yet another great post! Thanks, Ian. What I find most common with keywords is people trying to shove them all in their homepage or one main page on their site. It’s called dilution people…don’t do it!

  5. This is a very timely post for me as I’m in the process of developing copywriting training materials for our network of writers. Definitely can’t lose site of your audience for the sake of SEO. A bit of a balancing act.

  6. Re:
    TR @ WSB says:
    December 17, 2008 00:01
    . . . when I mentored TV news writers and reporters, and edited their copy, I had to slap them silly to exorcise synonymitis.
    That’s it. I’m editing news agency texts every day, and most of my work is to cure them from synonymitis. The writers should be professionals, but they use the words like pupils. Honestly!
    If you speak German, see my homepage, Blog 40 to 54.

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