SEO copywriting vs. social media writing: What’s the difference?

It’s not often that something leaves me speechless.

I was chatting with someone who said, “SEO copywriting is so 10 years ago. Now it’s all about social media writing.”

Uh, what?

That’s when I realized that some people believe that SEO copywriting and social media writing are two different skill sets.

Back in the day (around 2001,) “SEO copywriting” was more commonly referred to as “writing for search engines.” It encompassed any keyword-based online writing, including directory listings (I remember when getting a Yahoo directory listing was a big deal,) articles, PPC ads and sales-oriented pages.

The term “SEO copywriting” came about to differentiate the unique direct response writing style that grew out of this new niche.  Copywriters were forced to satisfy two “target audiences”: The automated, soulless search engines (making sure the right keywords were in the right places the right way,) and prospects (using proven direct-response techniques to encourage the sale.)  As far as I know, it’s the first time that copywriters were “forced” to include certain words in the text just to make sure that their target audiences could find the page in the first place.

Granted, us “writing to sell” copywriters were still creating articles, white papers and other types of “non-sales” writing. We just lumped any keyword writing service under the SEO copywriting umbrella.

Now, we have blogs, Twitter and Facebook. We’re communicating with folks in real-time, breaking down the stuffy corporate Website walls and humanizing our companies. We write linkbait posts to drive traffic, send targeted Tweets about our companies (knowing that tweets appear in Google and Bing search results, too,) and pray that people Stumble and Sphinn our latest musings.

From where I sit, social media writing is just SEO copywriting in a different wrapper. Social media writers need to understand keyphrase research (like SEO copywriters.) They need to understand the audience and write incredibly engaging content (like SEO copywriters.) They are writing content to meet a specific goal: More subscribers, more search engine traffic, more referrals from Twitter, more interest in a product or service.

In short, the same thing a SEO copywriter typically does – just with a more trendy name. 🙂

Having said that, there are some important differences.

  • Not all social media writers know how to write to sell. Direct response copywriting is a very unique skill set that’s based in neuropsychology, psychology and years of testing. A general blogger (who doesn’t usually write sales copy) may not write copy that converts as highly as a dedicated copywriter. To paraphrase Austin Powers, direct-response writing, “may not be their bag, baby.”
  • By the same token, some copywriters can’t shake the sales out of their writing no matter how hard they try. They try to write an informative blog post and make it sound like a squeeze page. The immediacy of Twitter, (“What do you mean I can’t edit my Tweet once I’ve hit send. What if I think of another way to say it?”) freaks them out. Sales copy keeps them happy. Anything else…not so much.

What do you think? Are there any other major differences between SEO content writers and social media writers? What do you call what you do for a living (or what your in-house copywriters do?). Copywriter or social media writer?

3 ways SEO can ruin content

Last December, Lee Odden from Online Marketing Blog wrote a post called,“Content Strategy and the Dirty Lie About SEO.” At the end of the post, he posed the question – the question that’s been debated ever since “writing for search engines” has existed:

Do you think SEO ruins content?

I had to think about that, as my first reaction is not just “No” but “Hell no – SEO doesn’t ruin the content.”‘

But the more that I thought about it, the more I thought, “Well, sometimes it does…under very certain circumstances.” Here’s when that is:

  • When the content was written by an inexperienced SEO copywriter. Most “keyphrase-stuffed” content I read comes from folks who think that SEO copywriting really is a bunch of keywords separated by commas. Their clients tell them that they need a 500 word article, and the keyword needs to be in the copy at least 30 times…so that’s exactly what the writer provides. In this case, the writer doesn’t know enough to educate the client about best practices – and they end up writing keyphrase-stuffed drivel. Writing generated from content mills often falls into this category.
  • When the article/blog post/FAQ was only written for search engines, and the site owner/SEO doesn’t care if anyone really reads the article. I’ll see this technique used by companies who want to position for a competitive term, so they write tightly-focused articles around one keyphrase. Unlike the article written by an inexperienced SEO copywriter that attempts to make sense, these articles are stuffed with grammatical errors and are darn near incoherant (sometimes this is because the site owner had non-English speakers create the copy.) You’ve seen these types of articles all over the Web…but you’ve probably never read one. Why would you? There’s nothing of substance to read.
  • When the company hosting the article decides to bold every keyword, include a long list of “related keywords” at the end of every post. The various (and random) bold and italicized keywords renders the page impossible to read.

So, what’s perhaps more accurate to say is: Smart SEO doesn’t ruin good content. It enhances it, in fact – making it easier to be found in search engines and shared via social media. If you’ve mastered the art of online writing for both engines and people, you have a very valuable skill set.

On the flip side, yes, stupid SEO will ruin content. And your conversions, too. As my father used to say, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” – and repeating a keyword incessantly will not suddenly transform the page into “quality content.”

It reminds me of what some folks say about sales copy being too “sales-y.” There’s a way to include a call-to-action that gently leads someone to the next action step. And there’s a (wrong) way to do it that beats them over the head with hyped language, bold and italics (Hmm. now that I think about it, what IS it about bolded and italicized text?).

What do you think? Is SEO the death of good writing?

Blending sales copy with optimization: Ka-Ching!

Greetings!  Today we’re picking up where we left off last Monday, and transforming our notes for our online content into well-structured web pages that will grab our readers’ attention and convert them with powerful direct response strategies!

First, you need to be clear about what you want folks to do once they land on your web page:  what steps do you want them to take?  Buy your product?  Subscribe to your service?  While it may seem a painfully obvious point, it’s an easy one to miss:  if you want your customers to take a specific action, then you need to tell them exactly what to do!

Ask for the Sale

This simple and amazingly effective sales technique is premised on that age-old saying: ask, and you shall receive.  But you have to ask, not merely hope for.  “Asking for the sale” implies just that: asking your customer, however subtly, to buy what it is you are selling.  You’ve certainly experienced a sales person handing you a pen while sliding the requisite purchase agreement towards you:  that is asking for the sale.  If you think about it, you can probably recall dozens of times you’ve been asked for the sale.

But Don’t Ask for Too Much, Too Soon

A critical caveat to asking for the sale is:  don’t ask for all of your sales at once!  You’ll overwhelm your customer and they’ll switch to “overload” and click off your page! This is particularly true of product/service pages, and this is where structure comes in:  you need to scale down your offerings and guide the customer through the sale.  Help your customer make a choice by narrowing their choices!  If you’ve more than a few different variations on one theme or product, then parse them out according to some organizing principle, such as “top sellers,” or “newest,” or “discount,” something that makes a buying decision more simple and gratifying for your customer!

Pay Attention to Your Tone and Feel

Second, you need to match your message to the customer’s mood.  This is somewhat intuitive turf that defies a “one-size-fits-all” formula — as is the case with most online writing.  It harkens back to knowing your perfect customer, and is geared towards letting your prospects know that you “get” them.

Recall those questions from last week’s brainstorming exercise?  They apply here:

  • What is the likely emotional state of my prospect?
  • What objections do I need to overcome?  How do I best express my value?
  • What benefits are most important to my customer?

Create Headlines that Promise Benefits

Third, tied directly to the last point, you need to convey a benefit to your customer immediately and up-front, in your headlines.  It’s a given that visitors scan (don’t we all?) and research has proven that dominant headlines grab the reader’s first!  Not only that, but the first couple of words determine whether the reader is going to continue reading your message.  So, you have to make them count!

Adding to that is the optimizing power of headlines for search engines.  Keyphrases count here, as headlines are what search engines “see” and weigh more heavily in churning out search results.  So yeah, your headlines are incredibly important!  In crafting your headline, be sure to:

  • Choose the most important keyphrase for the web page and focus your headline around that phrase
  • Convey the immediate benefit/s to your customer to grab their attention
  • Word the headline such that it lends itself to a quick-scan: easy to read and fast to grasp, while containing your main keyphrase

Hope you enjoyed this week’s post, and thank you for tuning in!  Next week, we’ll delve into developing compelling content paragraph by paragraph!  See you then!

Is your sales copy hurting your conversions?

The last week has been a most interesting experience.

My 30-day goal is to buy a new car. This is a big deal to me because (1) I keep my cars forever (like, 20 years,) and (2) I find car salespeople a tad on the challenging side. Imagine my thrill when I realized that I can go through my insurance company, pre-negotiate a deal and be linked to three dealers (thank you, USAA.)

That’s the good news. The bad news is that most of the car dealers have done everything possible (from a copywriting perspective) to push away my business. Here are some examples:

  • Not one car dealership has asked me how I want to be contacted. Yes, I know that “coming in and taking a test drive” is their bread and butter. And they want to actually talk to me rather than chatting via email. But here’s the thing: That’s not what I want. The car salespeople are trying to force their definition of the “next step” (talking on the phone) without hearing mine (let’s chat via email first.)The big takeaway here is: Know that all prospects are different. If you force people to contact you the way you want them to, you may lose conversions as a result
  • Their autoresponders don’t “mesh.” This was the second email contact I received from the dealer – five minutes after receiving their first email (you may need to click on the graphic to read everything).

    First, the signature line in the email correspondence doesn’t match the “from” address – so this looks like an autoresponder. Not a huge thing, but you’re left wondering whether you should contact Amber or Misti. Second, the email doesn’t ask how I would like to be contacted (again.) And finally – there is nothing compelling about this email at all – no restatement of benefits, nothing about special financing offers. Nothing. Benefits sell, folks – and if you don’t clearly tell your customers “what’s in it for them,” they’ll find someone else who will and buy from them instead.

  • The emails I did receive tried to sell me on other (pre-owned) vehicles. Think about this: A prospect comes to you with very specific requirements. She’s ready to do a deal. Do you come back and say, “I know you want THIS – but how about THAT?” Hell no! You take her money and do the deal. If I would have wanted a pre-owned vehicle, I would have asked for one.
  • Remember, people get confused with too many choices. And a person who has spent the time to outline exactly want they want is a pretty motivated buyer. To throw choices at them that they didn’t ask for will overwhelm them at best – and frustrate them at worst.  The takeaway here is to know that upselling is fine (when you do it well,) but offering a completely different choice is not.

Has this process turned me off from purchasing a new car? Not at all. I can (mostly) understand why they’re doing what they’re doing from a sales perspective – there’s just things they could do better. And I have received (non-autoreponder) emails that have addressed my concerns. The big lesson here is – evaluate everything you do from a content perspective. Read every autoresponder you send your prospects. Review every customer relationship management process. Review your content and make sure that it’s informative, benefit-rich and actually answers your prospect’s questions. People won’t tell you things like, “Hey, your autoresponder doesn’t mention any benefits.” They’ll just walk away. And that’s much more expensive than having to rewrite an autoresponder series, Web page or brochure.