Case study: How SEO copywriting helped one small business owner stretch his marketing dollars

Studio Blue logoWhen Dan Walton, co-owner of the Portland, OR based Pilates studio Studio Blue launched his Website in 2007, he faced a frustrating problem.
“I Googled “Portland Pilates” and my site didn’t come up,” said Walton. “Other studios were showing up in the top ten results.”

Walton — who isn’t a computer geek and didn’t know anything about search engines — decided to take matters into his own hands.  The Pilates instructor learned about search engine optimization (SEO), took a SEO copywriting training course, and learned how to write copy that gets better search engine rankings. Now, Walton’s site appears in the top 10 of Google for keyword searches like “Portland OR Pilates”and “Pilates mat classes”– and he estimates getting at least five new clients a week from his Website.

SEO copywriting — the art of writing online website copy that makes the page easy to find in the search engines — has been a crucial component of search engine optimization success since the mid 90’s. Unfortunately, small business owners don’t always have the budget to hire someone to write their Website copy — and they don’t think they can learn. The result: nothing gets written.

“I like to write and figured I could do this. That’s why I took a course,” said Walton. “I figure I saved about $5,000 doing it myself.”

DIY SEO copywriting is becoming the option for small and medium-sized businesses that need to be easily found in the search engines. According to Heather Lloyd-Martin, CEO of SuccessWorks, a firm specializing in SEO copywriting training, “It’s a smart move for companies to learn how to write their own Website copy. That way, they don’t have to pay someone $50 – $500 per page to write it for them.

Lloyd-Martin released her online Small Business SEO Copywriting Training course to help companies bring their SEO copywriting in-house. Although she insists that SEO copywriting is easy to learn, Lloyd-Martin does have some practical advice for time-strapped business owners:

  • Set a writing schedule. It’s easy to figure that you’ll write something “when things calm down.” Plan to spend a set amount of time each day working on your Website and stick to your schedule.
  • Check out other Websites and figure out what you like and don’t like about their Web pages. That will give you an idea how to write for your site.
  • Ask for input from customers, friends — even family members. Learn what they love about your service. Ask them to review your first writing drafts. Their advice can help you see your site (and your writing) with new eyes.

Today, Walton is planning a site redesign, which includes a blog, more site content and even a Twitter campaign.  “It’s great to know that I can do this myself,”he says. “It’s saved me a lot of money.”

Searching for catalog marketer SEO pain points

ACCM 2009Are you a catalog marketer completely stymied by SEO copywriting (or SEO in general?)

I need your help.

Next week, I’m presenting on “Next level SEO: Supercharge your existing SEO campaign and increase your ROI” during the Direct Marketing Association’s ACCM conference. It’ll be an intense 2.5 hour session, outlining all the things marketers can do to improve their sites and make more money.

I want to make sure that I’m discussing the pain points that catalog marketers are feeling right now. If you’re a catalog marketer, what are your biggest SEO challenges?  Is it writing original content for 10,000 SKUs? Is it researching and managing a keyphrase strategy? Is a “SEO 101” recap in order, or are you way past that and looking for new ideas?

Thanks in advance for any and all help you can provide. I’ll be giving my presentation next Monday – so please leave your comments, questions and ideas.

And if you’re going to the ACCM conference in New Orleans, stop by the SuccessWorks Search Marketing Labs. We’ll be reviewing sites live and offering fast, on the fly SEO consulting. Session times are:

Tuesday, May 5 – 2:30-4:45 p.m.

Wednesday, May 6 – 11:15-12:15, 2:45 – 3:45 p.m.

And yes, we’ll probably Tweet the heck out of the event. So don’t forget to follow me on Twitter for the latest and greatest!

Cool interview transcript with Mike Moran, Bill Hunt and David Meerman Scott

coverLast year, I was honored to be asked to moderate a discussion between Bill Hunt of GSI, Mike Moran from Converseon and David Meerman Scott. The transcript of the audio conference was just released and is available here.

Although the purpose of the audio interviews was to promote the new release of Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (a GREAT book if you haven’t read it yet,) the interviews are incredibly informative as stand-alone resources.  Check them out!

Successful SEO copywriting tips for catalog marketers

catalogEvery once in awhile, I come across an oldie article that’s still a goodie – with a little updating.  I wrote this article around 2004 or so and wanted to update it because of it’s importance in today’s marketplace.  Catalog marketers are doing everything they can to get sales in the door and stay in business. Print costs are through the roof. Postage costs are expensive (and who knows if the post office will continue six day a week delivery?). If you’re a cataloger marketer  and you haven’t focused on your Website and organic SEO, now is the time to get started.

One of the main ways catalog marketers can gain search rankings and site conversions is through well-written SEO content. I’ve talked a lot about SEO copywriting for catalog sites and I’ve posted my catalog marketer SEO copywriting case study from SMX West. But let’s get into the how-to – and discuss what catalogers can do, right now.

Catalog marketers face a unique situation: Every page means potential profit. Print catalogers have known this for some time, relying on talented copywriters to pen persuasive prose that gains qualified leads or eventual sales.

Unfortunately, what works in a print catalog (short product descriptions with multiple items featured per page), will not help a company gain online positioning in Google and Yahoo. The good news is that the same copywriters who create compelling catalog copy can master the SEO copywriting art – and you’ll see higher page rankings.

Once your marketing staff learns SEO copywriting best practices, your copywriters will produce text with a double-duty emphasis – a seductive call to action plus stellar search engine positioning. It’s simply modifying your copywriter’s existing process and learning how search engines work.

B2B or B2C catalogs – both can win with SEO copywriting!

Traditionally, B2C catalog marketers have seized the online space, knowing that search marketing lets them reach customers at every stage of the buying cycle. However, B2B catalogs can also benefit from search engine optimization techniques. For instance, if a company searches for a particular product, such as “decanter centrifuges,” top search engine positioning builds brand recognition and places your products front and center in the search engines. Although it’s true that “businesses don’t search,” individuals within those businesses need solutions – and B2B catalog optimization allows your solutions to be featured at the exact time your future customers are searching for the exact product you offer.

To simplify catalog SEO strategy, remember that you are reaching at least two distinct markets: Customers who are ready to purchase now and customers who are gathering information. Developing a content development strategy that satisfies both masters will help you drive additional targeted traffic at every phase of the purchasing process.

Let’s examine the content optimization steps catalog marketers and copywriters can take for stellar positions and conversions:

Laser-focus your keyphrase choices

Your customers use search phrases to find your products – and statistically, some search phrases are more searched upon than others. The key is to determine exactly what phrases your customers type into the search box and determine exactly how they search. Broad and specific keyphrases reach customers in different phases of the buying cycle. Once the marketing department understands user behavior and the psychology of search, this knowledge can be honed for search engine benefit.

Some searchers are close to making a purchase, know exactly what they want, and will search on highly specific phrases. For instance, one lingerie catalog site owner said that her site logs showed that women almost exclusively searched for lingerie names and stock numbers. Once they found their items (under searches like “ethereal half slip 8710”), they were ready and motivated to buy. Women were able to do their search, click through to a specific product page and immediately make a purchase. Search marketing helped this company reach women who were extremely motivated to learn about a particular product.

However, what about customers who may not have an item number – or who are in an earlier stage of the buying process? General keyphrases provide searchers an SEO road map, helping them narrow their search and gain new information. Examples of general keyphrases are “women’s half slips” (rather than the specific “ethereal half slip 8710”), “import auto parts” (rather than “FastCar body kit CX-3459”) or “decanter centrifuge” (rather than “Alfa decanter centrifuge 34X1”). Although these customers may not be ready to make an immediate purchase, your search engine presence alerts them to your site – and tempts them to click thru to gather additional information.

The best sites have a mixture of general and specific keyphrases that capture buyers in all phases of the cycle. Keyphrase research tools like WordTracker and Keyword Discovery will help your staff determine the best keyphrases for your site and will indicate how your customers search.

SEO copywriting best practice: Focus on 2-3 specific keyphrases per page, and repeat your keyphrases throughout the copy. You don’t have to worry about meeting a certain keyphrase density, but you do want to make sure that your copy reads well.

Short catalog copy won’t always work online

Google states in their Webmaster guidelines that site owners should create an “useful, information-rich site.” Additionally, the way the keyphrases appear in the body copy is incredibly important for search positioning. If your product page text is a mere 50 words pulled from the product box, the search engines may not consider your page as relevant as another site with well-written, original product copy.

Consider also that prospects are entering your site through individual product pages – not just your home page. These prospects may have no idea what your company benefits are, what incentives you offer (like free shipping) and what differentiates you from the competition. If your pages are short and benefit-free, you lose two crucial advantages:

  • Short text – especially for competitive keyphrases – typically does not position well.
  • If your landing page doesn’t educate your customer about your main benefits and provide complete product information, you’re losing an opportunity to educate your new prospect and help gain their trust.

Need another reason for your marketing department to embrace pages with a longer word count? Your customers, especially for larger-ticket purchases, require information before they will make a purchase or contact you for information. If they don’t learn what they need to know, they’ll surf to your competition. Fast.

Updated content tip: If your platform is such where you can’t edit the template – and adding new copy is impossible- a blog may provide the benefits you need. Check out this article about blogs for catalog marketers. If you don’t know what to write about in your blog, here’s a post by Google’s Matt Cutts discussing how to write useful articles.

SEO copywriting best practices for catalog sites: Although 250 words is the SEO copywriting “sweet spot,” write as much quality copy as you can while integrating your main keyphrases (try to write a minimum of 125 for catalog copy.)

Create unique Titles for each page

The Title does double SEO duty. Search engines consider them a highly important coding element and they index words in the Title to determine relevancy. However, Titles are also crucial to the conversion process. The words in your Title are what are displayed in search engine results as the clickable link.  If your Title doesn’t contain the main keyphrases found on your page – and fails to be compelling – you run the risk of losing positions or conversions.

Update: In a previous blog post, I discussed how Kitchen Kaboodle, a local Portland, OR retailer, could spice up their Titles for greater SEO and conversion benefit.

SEO copywriting best practices for catalog sites: Each page should have a unique Title, reflecting the keyphrases utilized for the page. Write around 50-75 characters and make the Title as compelling and keyphrase-rich as possible.

Creating keyphrase-rich content for catalog pages will help each page gain higher positioning and ROI. With just a little education, your copywriters will be kicking out keyphrase-rich copy in no time – and you’ll see top positions and sizzling conversions.

Why shouldn’t I do my SEO copywriting in house?

question markAs someone who just released an online SEO copywriting training series, you may think that I’m all about DIY SEO copywriting, all the time.

But that’s not quite true.

Recently, Mike Moran wrote a great blog post titled, “Why shouldn’t I do my search work in house?” In it, he listed some very specific reasons why outsourcing makes good sense for some companies.

I would argue that it’s the same for SEO copywriting. Yes, it is very possible to keep your SEO copywriting in house. Yes, good copywriters can be transformed into excellent SEO copywriters.

But sometimes, it makes more sense to outsource. Here are six of those times.

  • The SEO copywriting project would fall to you, and you can’t stand writing. You may be passionate about your business – and equally passionate about the fact that you hate writing. If that sounds like you, writing your own copy could be a huge mistake – you won’t like the writing process, you won’t write well, and you’ll end up hating what you create. Believe it or not, SEO copywriters love writing. It’s fun for them. And they can easily translate your business passion into really fantastic Web copy – and do it in about 1/4 of the time it would take you to create a first draft.
  • You’re in a time crunch. The only thing worse than bad SEO copywriting is text that’s been written fast – too fast. Hey, we’ve all been there. We have 50 pages to write in two weeks. We know that means working after hours to get it all done (or cramming it between other obligations.) We imbibe a lot of coffee to make it happen. And we write until our back starts to spasm. The problem is, the final 35 or so pages are going to sound like utter crap. If that’s the case, it’s better to bite the bullet and hire a SEO copywriting firm that can meet your deadline. Yes, it’s money out of pocket. Yes, it’s going to cost more than keeping it in house. But at least you can finish your site and get some sleep at the same time.
  • When you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing. It’s not that you don’t want to learn SEO copywriting – you do. But right now, you have no idea what you’re doing and you need Web page copy sometime yesterday. Rather than torture yourself, burn the midnight oil and try to find time to learn the SEO copywriting ropes (hint: you won’t find it), make your life easier and outsource it. It will be much easier to learn SEO copywriting when you’re not facing an immediate time pressure and you have some breathing room.
  • When no one on your team would make a good copywriter. Once upon a time, I worked with a group of lab technicians. These folks would talk about recombinant DNA like it was yesterday’s sports game and were incredibly brilliant beyond compare. But they weren’t copywriters.  In fact, everything they did was so technically brilliant, they couldn’t “dumb down”  their writing and discuss concepts in a way that “normal people” could understand. Good SEO copywriters can be trained, but there has to be a spark of something to train.  If your team members aren’t writers – it’s better to outsource.
  • If this is your one shot, and you need to generate conversions quickly. Many businesses are in the position of needing to generate leads (or sales) fast. It’s tempting to go the DIY route in this situation, but this is one time when hiring a professional is in order. An experienced SEO copywriter knows all the powerful direct marketing response tricks that can send your conversion counter clicking. It doesn’t mean that you can’t learn these tricks eventually – you can. But it may make more sense to learn a new copywriting skill after you get some cash through the door.
  • If you just need to see a couple “example pages” to get going. You’ve read the SEO copywriting books. You’ve been trained. And now, you’re sitting in front of a blank page wondering how the hell to start. Sound frustratingly familiar? Relax. Some folks are incredibly visual. They need to see a finished product before they can wrap their heads around what to do and how to proceed.  If this sounds like you, consider hiring a SEO copywriter to create one to three pages for you as as a template. Those pages will give you an idea of how to start – and you’ll have the jump start you’ll need.

Photo credit:© Risto Hunt | Dreamstime.com

Small business SEO copywriting training for under $400? Yes – for the first 250 signups.

writeI am very excited to announce this!

Do you want to reduce (or eliminate) your SEO copywriting outsourcing costs?

Have you been searching for a low-cost, high-value SEO copywriting training program that you could do at your own pace (preferably one that’s well…fun?)

Now, there’s a special online SEO copywriting training just for you – and I’m offering it for less than $400!

Starting right now, I’m opening up presales for my online Small Business SEO Copywriting Training. We’ll start the training May 11, 2009. 250 people will receive an exclusive discount for the one-month, two-lessons-a-week training. All I ask in return for the exclusive price is for your feedback after each lesson – what you liked, what you didn’t and what you’d improve.  It’s easy!

Remember, only 250 people will receive the discount. Check out the SEO copywriting training today – and please contact me or zip me a Tweet if you have any questions!  I look forward to showing you the SEO copywriting ropes soon.

Three free ways to get your online marketing butt in gear

marketing buttA post by Bob Bly got me thinking…

Bob posed the question, “Are your customers tightening their belts?” The DM News study he cited said that 84 percent of people surveyed have “cut back their spending.”  Bob even mentioned his own experience – higher returns, less robust sales – the normal “we’re all in this recession together” blues.

But let’s think about this.

The reality is – no matter how bad things are, people are still buying. Yes, companies are going out of business and yes that is sad.

But people are still buying. Maybe not as much. Maybe not as often.

But there is money to be made.

Listen to your own self-talk. Are you saying things like, “We have to hunker down and get through this. We’re slicing all spending and new projects until the economy gets better?”

Or are you saying, “OK, we have to slice our budget – but what creative things can we do right now? Where should we focus our efforts?”

See the difference? One firm is making the best of what they’ve got, and the other is too scared to move.

What firm would you rather be?

Start thinking of some ways you can start gaining a little more market share. They don’t have to cost money – they just need a little work and a strategy. Here are three free ways to get started:

  • Call some of your best customers just to say “hi.” My father taught me  that it’s the little things that build customer loyalty. It’s remembering a client’s birthday. It’s asking about their husband and kids. And it’s calling them when times are tough just to say hi – even if they haven’t ordered from you recently. The economy isn’t just hitting people’s pocketbooks – it’s hitting their self esteem, too. You think that they don’t feel bad that they sliced their order with you by 75%?  They do. You think that they like slow-paying you?  Nope.  There are people behind those irritating corporate policies. They’re scared too. And they would really appreciate a friendly voice at the other end of the phone. You may not talk about business during that conversation. But you will help cement a relationship. And you never know what you’ll learn from a customer that could spark a new idea or strategy.
  • Examine marketing avenues that are heavy on strategy – but not a lot of cash. It doesn’t cost anything to build a Facebook fan page. A Twitter account won’t set you back a cent. If you’re a local business, have you submitted to Google Maps, Yelp and other local sites? Granted, not every business can benefit from a Facebook or Twitter account. And your customers may not Yelp. But that’s something to research and consider, not figure “it won’t work.” Especially since you can do all that for, yes, free.
  • Try different SEO copywriting approaches. It could be that the old tone and feel isn’t working anymore – and that’s hobbling sales. If you have a SEO copywriter on staff, pick a sales page and experiment with something completely different.  You can try changing the headline, the offer – even the tone and feel.  Google’s Website Optimzer will let you run A/B tests for, yet again, free.

So, what free marketing tactics would you add to the list?

Photo credit: © Mona Makela | Dreamstime.com

Daily SEO copywriting candy: Could SEO copywriting help Kitchen Kaboodle?

edit_2009-04-01_1Earlier this year, Kitchen Kaboodle a Portland, OR upscale kitchen retailer, got some major buzz for a very amazing thing.

They decided to close their retail store three days a week, opening their doors Thursday-Sunday only.

Wow.

The co-owner, John Whistler, said that it was because of market demand. Customers wanted lower prices. Cutting expenses elsewhere wasn’t feasible. So, they closed during their slowest days.

Wow.

I’ve been chewing on this story for a long time. Stories like this upset me – there are far too many small local businesses that are suffering right now. The good news is that these folks came up with a workable solution. Closing the retail store three days a week may indeed be the perfect alternative to a recession-mindset economy.

And then I looked at their Website. And I wonder, “If their site was optimized, would that help replace the income they’re missing three days a week? If they invested a little bit of time and cash into their site, could that help take their business in a new (and profitable) direction?”

The answer is yes – and that’s very exciting.

I spent 10 minutes reviewing the site and came up with three SEO copywriting opportunities.  Here are some things that Kitchen Kaboodle can try:

  • Create keyphrase-rich content. The Kitchen Kaboodle product pages have very little text.  Outside of how this is (most likely) limiting their conversions, the lack of keyphrase-rich content is hobbling their search engine rankings. For instance, this page sells “martini glasses” – yet there’s no content about “martini glasses” above the fold.

kitchen-kaboodle-serps003

In fact, the only (very short) description is below the fold.  kitchen-kaboodle-serps004

Ecommerce sites can also look beyond their product pages, and build out unique content that they know their customers will enjoy. For instance, Sur La Table has recipies.  Cookware.com features product reviews from publications like The New York Times and Ebony. Strategic content marketing allows companies to capitalize on keyphrases used at all phases of the buy cycle. This means that Kitchen Kaboodle could have articles dedicated to, say, cookware reviews – and people who are looking for cookware reviews could click through from the SERP, read the article and immediately make a purchase.

To their credit, it looks like they’ve built out unique content on some product pages, and they’ve tried to insert keyphrases (although they’re doing it in a way that’s not very effective.) This certainly helps them, but they’d have better results if they…

  • …made their Titles descriptive and keyphrase-rich. Having the same Titles across the site is a huge SEO no-no that’s definitely hurting their positions. Their pages are going to have a much, much better chance of positioning if the Titles contained keyphrases and reflected the page content.

kitchen-kaboodle-serps

However, even if a page does position well (as this page did for “Silicone Madelaine” – a product search,) there’s nothing about the Title that provides further details or encourages click-through – especially when compared to the SERP competition:

kitchen-kaboodle-serps005

Notice the second SERP result – it’s keyphrase rich and highly detailed. Which one would you click?

  • Consider adding customer reviews.  Study after study indicates that people are more apt to convert when they can read customer product reviews.  That by itself is an excellent reason to build community and ask for feedback – people can read more about the cool kitchen gadget they want and buy it right away.  Additionally, consumer reviews are also great for gaining new search positions (think about how many times you enter a site from a review listing on the SERP.) This would help them fill some content and keyphrase “holes” until they had a chance to expand their product content.

Is there more that Kitchen Kaboodle can do from a SEO, SEM and social media perspective ? Definitely.  Certainly, if they wanted to grow their online orders, they could transform their site into a high-performing ecommerce kitchenware destination.  It may not be where they want to focus their efforts or budget. After all, Kitchen Kaboodle is a “local” store, so a national focus may not be their cup of tea. At the same time, in the spirit of “controlling the controllables,” it’s always nice to know there’s another way to gain new customers.

Photo credit – © Alexander Raths | Dreamstime.com