Searchers Crave Descriptive Web Copy

Across the Web, the inclusion of relevant, topic-specific content has long been considered a cornerstone to achieving high rankings in search. Descriptive content within pay-per-click ads (PPC) is perhaps even more critical, as the more precise the ad, the more targeted the viewer - and the more justified the click-through spend. This leaves Web sites that display limited "indexable" content particularly vulnerable to lower organic rankings, and vague PPC ad copy subject to quickly expended budgets wasted on non-converting, untargeted traffic.

This past week, Forrester Research released a study on travel researchers that bodes well for the application of these search marketing fundamentals to the travel industry - typified by image-heavy sites that often contain little indexable content, resulting in lower organic visibility. Forrester researchers concluded that "Descriptive travel content is important to nearly all U.S. online travelers. What matters most? Information that helps provide clarity to their trip, such as insight into pricing rules, destination activities, and affiliation with organizations like VeriSign that communicate site security."

According to the study, 68 percent of the travelers polled "value descriptive content." "Destination maps, pictures of the hotel room, local dining information, activities, entertainment and events, airline seat maps, and weather information," all rank at 50 percent and above in terms of importance.

Results of the study further revealed that, of the types of content contained within the Web travel segment, "descriptive content, including rules and restrictions (i.e. fare and refund regulations), detail and control (i.e. access to attractions on foot or by car), and peace of mind (i.e. validation from the Better Business Bureau, or VeriSign)" is most important to Web travelers. With these results in mind, it becomes necessary to think about how consumers are finding sites via search and how those sites can maximize the value of the initial impression made within the search results.

Although providing high quality indexable Web content intrinsically addresses "naturally occurring" (organic) search rankings, keyword positioning within copy will be even more important. The messaging that surrounds your keywords is often displayed within search results and therefore should call out your strengths and differentiators. Remember to include accurate titles and descriptions of the pages - also often displayed within search results. Ensure that each page title relates to the content contained on the page and is consistent with information that the user will want to read. It's important to keep both business and search goals in check during title, meta, and copy development, as one is easily tempted to write copy to sway an engine and not necessarily to attract a searcher.

When creating PPC ad copy, it is eminently more important to refine and target the message that you are delivering, as this is your opportunity to have complete control over the displayed product. The information from Forrester's study, though it may seem obvious, is in fact what marketers often overlook when developing paid ad copy. For example, I've talked with many people in the industry that continually say a paid ad should contain a call to action and the targeted keyword, or it won't be effective in driving traffic to a site.

My response is that the call to action should be subtle and show the user what they are looking for, instead of what we feel they should be looking for (which inevitably may or may not include a keyword). The standard "just include the targeted keyword" ideology indirectly lends credence to this practice, as what usually drives a searcher to click on a paid ad is hope that the destination site will provide the information they seek (which generally relates back to that keyword). However, if you can deliver a message that addresses your target audience's needs, it really won't matter whether or not the ad contains a specific keyword.

With these points in mind, the results of the Forrester study indicate that consumers are both becoming more educated about, and are using, the Internet as their primary resource for information. As such, information - descriptive content - is exactly what consumers (across all industries) want you to give them. Not a sales pitch, not an infomercial, but real honest to goodness content about why they should be choosing you over your competition. Is this what you are accounting for in your search advertising plan (both organic and paid)? Is this what you are recommending to your clients? Should it be? My answer: You bet!