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  Copy Sells, Flash Doesn't : Implications for Search Engine Optimization  
"Copy Sells, Flash Doesn't: Implications for Search Engine Optimization"
by Heather Lloyd-Martin

What do users want?
Before every site launch and redesign, marketing and IT departments agonize over this question. Should the Web site be graphics-heavy and light on text? Do prospects want rich media enhancements (like Flash) and will they buy more if they are in place? What steps should be taken to guarantee the best site experience?
These questions can be answered in one short and sweet comment: Keep it simple.
The results from a Jupiter Media Metrix study, released in September, point to some interesting tidbits:
- Only 20% of respondents would visit a site more often if it had rich media enhancements.
- 40% of respondents would visit a site more often if the pages would load faster.
- 59% of retail shoppers wanted more product information (and yes, this means more text on the page).

What Happened to the Bells and Whistles?
What's more? According to analyst Cormac Foster, "Companies can reach all these goals with a minimal application of technology." Whew - what happened to the ever-famous "the more bells and whistles that we have on our site, the more people will buy" theory?
In previous articles, I've talked about my preference for key phrase-rich and marketing-savvy text over rich media. I've discussed the pitfalls of Flash animation and warned readers that Flash or multimedia bells and whistles can not only harm their chances with the search engines, but they are useless to your customer. Yes, you can use these features (if you know your users like them and you work around any user or search engine pitfalls), but they shouldn't be the cornerstones of your users' experience. Your prospects want product or service knowledge, not whirling (and slow-loading) graphics.
The statistic "59% of retail shoppers wanted more product information" is telling. This means that almost 60% of respondents are screaming, "We're not getting the information we need from the sites we visit" - and this sentiment will result in lost sales. If your site provides sketchy product information in an attempt to "get people to contact you for more information," you are forcing your users to take another step before they can buy from you. When it comes to conversion rates, why tempt fate and make things more difficult for your buyers?

Super Cool Stuff Doesn't Answer Questions
Think about this concept in real life: Let's say you're visiting a retail store. The store is the latest in hip, with flashing lights and rock videos pounding from every corner. You see a product, love it, but have a few questions about it. You wait for a sales person...and wait...and wait...and still your questions aren't answered. Would you continue waiting just because the store was cool? Would you buy the product anyway, and figure your questions weren't important? No. Chances are you'd leave the super-hip store without spending a dime, figuring you can find your trinket somewhere else.

Three Tips to Improve Your Site Experience
Let's bring this back to search engine optimization writing. How can you take advantage of the latest Jupiter information and improve your site experience (and content) right now?

Give your customers what they want. The reason people visit a product or service Web site is because they want information. They may want detailed product information, where the more they know about the product the more they are willing to buy. Or, they may want precise information about your services before they contact you. The easier you can make it for your prospects to buy from you, the less chance they will surf to your competitors.

"Detailed product descriptions are a powerful means of differentiation for retail sites and require little incremental work." says Foster.
Rewrite your copy with well-researched key phrases in mind. One of the prime advantages of having more content on a page is you'll make the search engines happy. Remember, the search engines love text - lots of it - and will happily spider content-rich pages. Instead of adding more content without thought to the search engines, make all your "new" copy key phrase rich. (If you have questions about how to write for key phrases, check out "How to Write a Key phrase-Rich Home Page the Search Engines Will Love."
Keep your ego out of the way. Do you really care that your competitor enjoys the latest bells and whistles on their Web page? Why? Although their site may look like visual nirvana, that doesn't mean that it's converting customers, ranking well on the search engines, or offering the information their prospects need. In fact, a slow-loading site will alienate prospects with a dial-up connection (personally, I skip every Flash introduction I see, or immediately surf away). Remember, you're designing your Web site for your users' experience - not your own. When in doubt, Jupiter recommends surveying your users before adding enhancements. This will help give you the direction you need, while also offering a good "reality check" on what is important to your users - and what will send them packing.
Heather Lloyd-Martin, President of SuccessWorks, is the leading expert on search engine optimization copywriting.
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