Thoughts on SEO Copywriting

For the past few months I have been writing SEO website content on assignment. It is great fun and although the search engine algorithms have undoubtly changed for the more complex, I have the suspicion that the basic concept and methodology I studied and formulated back in 2002 still hold true. Let’s explore this theory …

General Posits

First it is necessary to define some general posits and realities regarding search engine optimisation, which will be presented as unrelated concepts.

Content is King

Way back then, this was the rule when creating a website. The mantra was that search engines loved content. The more you had on your website, the more Google and Yahoo! loved your website, which then resulted in a high ranking.

For all that content to be king, it also had to be original and quality content. Relevancy was important. If you had a website about wheel nuts, then creating pages about squirrels loaded with nutty keyphrases would penalise your overall site ranking. Now keep in mind that this relevancy was checked by humans visiting your site and reading the content.

Computers Cannot Think

For all the glory and advances in computers, the machines are still only capable of doing what they are programmed to do by humans and still cannot learn anything by themselves. Machine learning may be hot science, but in reality it’s not true learning. It’s only recognising patterns that the computer was programmed to recognise.

All this means is that computers have been programmed to determine the relevancy of the copy on a website to its postulated purpose and, very important, determine the uniqueness of the copy compared to other websites. In short, they’ve replaced the humans in a more efficient manner.

Statistical Patterns

This where computers shine, albeit if correctly programmed. They can analyse a piece of text for keyword frequency and keyword spacing and keyword distribution, which is then compared to predetermined values.

Now these values are what differentiates the old hands from the young bucks and is the reason for this post.

Then and Now

Google did not exist when I first studied at a university. We searched using Alta Vista and Yahoo! was still a hand-edited directory. Courses and degrees in SEO and website design did not exist. We learned HTML in an afternoon and never spent time on the design, because we had information to share with the world.

We learned keyword frequency and emotive writing by studying the speeches of Cicero. Structure was learned from reading academic journals and the importance of brevity by searching for information using the card catalogue of the library. In short, we learned the how and why of language that was eventually programmed into search engines like Google and Bing.

Today, if you want a job in copywriting or SEO, then you must be in possession of a university degree majoring in … copywriting and SEO. Really? Yes, with total shock I saw that they actually offer B.Sc. degrees in website design and M.A. degrees in editing. Really really?

This means that the old hands, like me, who have all the knowledge, but the wrong qualifications, are precluded from obtaining jobs in copywriting and SEO work, even though we actually know more than the new graduates. Bummer.

So next time someone applies for a job, look beyond the new qualifications and remember that a B.A. degree obtained twenty years ago still meant something and entailed difficult language studies that eventually formed the foundation of modern SEO.


The Future Viability of Afrikaans as a Commercialized Language

Afrikaans is a language spoken by more than seven million people. However, as a publisher of Afrikaans fiction books, I have recently been confronted with the commercial viability of the language, meaning whether products like books and movies can make money of a sufficient quantity for subsistence living.

Applying the Pareto Principle, the answer appears to be YES. We have seven million people as a base; if, of those, twenty percent read fiction books, then we have one-million four-hundred thousand readers.

Let us assume that those readers each read on average one book per month: this gives as sixteen-million eight-hundred thousand books that are read every year by Afrikaans-speaking readers. We apply the Pareto Principle again to factor in secondhand books and calculate that then three-million three-hundred and sixty-thousand new books should be bought by these readers.

A search on WorldCat returns that on average 600 new Afrikaans fiction titles are published every year. Using this in our figure for new books bought, we determine that on average each published title should sell five-thousand six-hundred copies. At a publisher’s profit of twenty rands per copy, it means a publisher of Afrikaans fiction will make just more than one-hundred thousand rands profit per title published!

Very viable indeed.



Statistics from publishers, bookshops and my own experience indicate that an Afrikaans fiction book rarely sells more than three-hundred copies, of the printed version. So somewhere in our calculations above, we missed a step of applying Pareto’s principle. Maybe make a distinction between fiction and non-fiction by saying only twenty percent of Afrikaans readers read fiction, instead of assuming all readers of books read fiction?

This would give us an average of one-thousand one-hundred and twenty copies sold per title. This is actually close enough, because we also need to apply the principle to the distribution of the titles, meaning that twenty percent of the titles will make up eighty percent of the total number of copies sold. This means that a non-bestseller will sell on average 280 copies. Spot on!

(A best-seller will on average sell four-thousand four-hundred and eighty copies. That’s a huge difference!)

Back to the commercial viability of Afrikaans fiction books: if the publisher makes twenty rands profit per copy, then the total profit on a title will be five-thousand six-hundred rands. Wow!

Not only does this explain why Afrikaans fiction books are so expensive (because publishers need a higher profit margin), it also shows the importance for small publishers to dominate the eighty percent of titles to capture as much of the twenty percent of the revenue left by the best-seller books.

Conclusion: the numbers show that Afrikaans is not a commercially viable language for fiction books, unless a publisher is able to bring three or more titles to market every month, while cutting expenses to the bare minimum (no salaries, no book-launches, and minimum royalties).