I had a consultation with a new client yesterday who is herself a very creative type, so she has very clear ideas about how she wants her website to look. The site will eventually be used for online selling, so she wants it to be product-led: lots of lovely glossy photos showcasing her products.
I didn’t have a problem with this at all, until we started talking about copy. No, she said, I want the absolute minimum of words on the site – the products should speak for themselves.
She has a point. Her products are very much about selling a lifestyle and will do well if she gets the photos right.
But unfortunately that’s not what the search engines think.
Firstly, a (very) brief lesson on what search engines are looking for.
It’s very simple really: the highest rankings go to sites which they consider to be both interesting and useful.
How do they decide what’s interesting and useful?
There are a few things they look for (and things they hate), but the main two points are that they want sites which are frequently visited (so lots of ‘hits’) and sites that people spend a lot of time on (a low ‘bounce rate’).
This is where search engine optimisation becomes complicated. As web designers and website owners we need to make sure that the content we put on there is good enough to hold visitors’ attention, whilst also looking ‘natural’ (Google likes natural, but is careful to guard the secret of how it decides what is natural and what is not).
So that’s the first reason you need words – to give your visitors a reason to stay on your site, and to keep coming back to your site. You can do this with images, but it takes longer to read a paragraph than to flick through some photos.
The second reason is even more critical.
Your search engine ranking depends more than anything else on which keywords your visitors are likely to search for. So, for example, searching for ‘web design’ gives you a list of all the web designers in the whole world, so the chances of me getting on to the first page of Google for that are slim to non-existent. So I am aiming for first page ranking with a search term of ‘web design Newcastle’. It’ll still be tough, but I hope to get there one day.
And how does Google know that it should rank my site for that particular search term? Well, because of the words I use on my site. If I don’t actually mention ‘web design Newcastle’ anywhere the search engines just don’t have a clue that that’s what I would like to be known for. So if you have no words, you have no possibility of ever getting ranked.
Getting your words right is not easy, but it is absolutely essential. When I explained this to my client yesterday she said ‘I don’t want to play the Google game: it’s my site and I want what I want on it’.
She has a point. But she can’t win against Google. Nobody can. And my battle with her continues. I may have to give in and just let the results speak for themselves, but that will make me very sad.