Danny Sullivan, You Changed My Life. Thank you.

Heather Lloyd-Martin and Jill Whalen

Me and Jill Whalen after our first SEO speaking gig — in Amsterdam!

Last week, I read the news that Danny Sullivan is shifting away from his role as Chief Content Officer of Third Door Media, and is taking an advisory role.

I was shocked.

Sure, Danny isn’t the first “first generation” search marketer to step away from the industry (I believe my first business partner, Jill Whalen, was the first.) But, he’s the biggest. He’s called the “Godfather of SEO” for a reason.

Danny’s been neck-deep in this search engine stuff since the very beginning.

And, it’s because of Danny that I got my SEO start.

Once upon a time, in the late ’90s, Jill Whalen and I published a newsletter called RankWrite. She wrote about SEO. I wrote about content. The newsletter did well, and we grew our subscriber list fairly quickly.

Back then, there were only a handful of “SEO experts.” Heck, back then, most folks didn’t know what SEO was! The old guard included Greg Boser, Bruce Clay, Disa Johnson and Shari Thurow.

And of course, Danny was included too. He had already published A Webmaster’s Guide to Search Engines and was reporting on the industry.

Because of Danny, my first industry speaking gig was with Jill Whalen in Amsterdam (I believe Danny’s wife was due soon, and he didn’t want to fly.) I was as green as could be, completely freaked out, and I was convinced I’d be gonged during my presentation (yes, the moderator would hit a big gong if the speaker ran overtime.)

I am so grateful the video of my presentation is no longer online. :)

That conference changed my life in so many ways. It was the first time I traveled internationally by myself and the first time I spoke to a huge crowd.

And despite my speaking glitches, my presentation gave me the confidence to know that I was on the right path. I had found my passion.

Plus, I had more to look forward to! Danny had invited Jill and me to speak at Search Engine Strategies (SES) Boston a couple of months later. Back then, SES was THE SEO event. First Amsterdam, then Boston. I was on a roll!

However, life likes to throw you a curve now and then.

Two days after I returned from Amsterdam, my husband committed suicide. I was left virtually penniless, in shock, and wondering what to do next. If it weren’t for Danny’s pre-existing invitation (and a lot of help and encouragement from Jill — thanks, Jill,) I would have passed on the Boston conference. I would have stayed home and licked my wounds.

But, I went. And I had fun. Life felt a little lighter.

Because of that event — and the opportunities that came from it — I built an income. I built a brand. I turned a crappy situation into a wonderful career.

Danny continued to invite me to SES conferences. Because of him, I was able to travel the world and talk about what I love. I met amazing people, and had incredible experiences.  The “old-guard” SEO folks –the first and second generations — are like family to me. We grew up together.

I wouldn’t have found my family — my tribe — without Danny.

(As a quick shout-out to Danny, he always invited smart, female speakers. Women like Shari Thurow and Christine Churchill rocked the house back then, and they still do today. We may have been outnumbered, but we never felt tokenized.)

Along with Disa Johnson, I even got to visit Danny when he was living in the U.K. and meet his family. I’ll always remember an early-morning trip to Stonehenge, which still ranks as of my coolest memories ever.

I have a lot of cool memories.

I have to admit: I cried when I read Danny was transitioning to an advisory position. Immediately, my brain cycled through 19 years of search memories, places and faces. I don’t know why I reacted like that. I’m happy for Danny.

But, the emotion still hit me. Hard.

I know Danny’s not going away, and he’ll excel somewhere else. If anyone deserves to take time off and to reflect, well, that’s Danny. He’s done a lot over the last 21 years.

How many other careers did Danny launch? How many people can track their success back to Danny’s help? How many times have we been frustrated with Google, and we’ve relied on Danny’s calm, in-depth take?

For many of us, Danny has been a part of our lives for over two decades.

I know it’s not goodbye –Danny’s “taking a break.” But, the news does feel like the end of an era.

Thank you, Danny, for everything.

Your help, encouragement and support changed my life.

Update: Kim Krause Berg wrote a wonderful post about Danny’s role in her life and career. You can read it here.

The Women Who Made SEO Great

I remember it like it was yesterday.

The year was 2000 and I was invited to speak at the Dallas Search Engine Strategies conference. Back then, SES wasn’t the huge, three-day monstrosity it is today. In fact, imagine a really big room with a bunch of roundtables. Yeah, that was the conference.

I was speaking with Jill Whalen on writing for search engines – and boy, was I nervous! I have a clear memory of saying a silent prayer before we started our session. I was that stressed out! :)

Back then, I didn’t know many women in SEO (and the ones I did know about were faithful subscribers/commentators in I-Search, the main discussion list for our industry.) I remember meeting Barbara Coll during SES Dallas. I also met Shari Thurow. But it seemed like the majority of the SEO crowd back then were men.

My, how times have changed.

Today, women rock the SEO world. When I go to conferences, the gender ratio is 50/50 – and many more women are leading companies and hold some pretty nice power positions. It’s a wonderful thing to see.

This post (and there will be a follow-up, too) features the women who made SEO great. These smart females were in the trenches back at the beginning and deserve to be celebrated. They have unselfishly led discussion lists, built resources, and helped set best practices. I am proud to call many of them my close friends.

Get to know these women and definitely follow them on Twitter. They have a lot to share and teach you.

Thank you, ladies. You inspire me every day.


Kim Krause Berg– Kim began designing websites in 1995 and within a year launched her own SEO/Usability consulting business. Her impressive client list includes Geico, USC Information Technology Program, and the Discovery Channel – Travel. Kim is a frequent contributor to Search Engine Land, creating articles from successful marketing and web design to why blending usability and SEO really matters. Follow Kim at @kim_cre8pc.

Christine Churchill  – Hands down, Christine is one of the nicest folks in SEO. As president of KeyRelevance, Christine has well over a decade of experience in the online marketing world. She has marketed cruise lines and hotels, steel foundries, schools, ecommerce sites – the list goes on!  A well-known industry speaker, Christine has appeared at Search Marketing Expo, Search Engine Strategies, and is a regular contributor to industry publications including SearchDay, Search Engine Guide and more. Follow Christine at @ChrisChurchill.

Barbara Coll – An early advocate of web marketing, Barbara started WebMama in 1996 because she “didn’t think people understood the value of search generated visitor traffic.” From there, she quickly became a recognized leading expert in Search Engine Marketing. As the founding President and Chairperson of the Board of the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO), Barbara has helped to increase awareness and promote the value of search engine marketing worldwide. Follow Barbara at @webmama.

Debra Mastaler – With a diverse background – including 15 years’ marketing Anheuser-Busch and operating an organic food and clothing directory – Debra transitioned to being the link goddess we know and love today. As President of Alliance-Link, Debra trains Fortune 500 companies and top SEO firms on link building best practices. Among her many accolades, Debra was featured among Search Marketing Standard Magazine’s 2011 “Women of Internet Marketing” and voted one of Level 343’s Top SEO Women of 2011. Debra is also a featured guest speaker at SES conferences and SMX expo’s. She is a columnist for Search Engine Land and Search Engine Guide, and blogs at her own site, Link Spiel. Follow Debra at @debramastaler.

Susan O’Neil – As CEO and Founder of Website Publicity (later acquired by Paragon Digital Marketing,) Susan established a digital marketing agency in 1998, long before the internet marketing explosion. She also co-authored Maximize Website Traffic, one of the first books on SEO ever published. Follow Susan at @suejon.


Jessie Stricchiola – One of the founding board members of the esteemed Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, SEMPO, Jessie has been “toying around” with search engines since 1997. The Principal at Alchemist Media – which is consistently ranked by B2B Magazine as one of the Top 100 Search Marketing Companies – Jessie pioneered the charge against PPC click fraud and has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, and NPR.  She co-authored the book, The Art of SEO, and serves as a litigation consultant on internet related issues. Follow Jessie @ltstricchi (protected account).

Laura Thieme – A 15-year veteran of SEO, PPC, and website/keyword conversions, Laura is the CEO of  Bizwatch Search Analytics and owner of Bizresearch, which she started in 1997. She is a frequent speaker at SMX conferences, and has been featured in the New York Times, Internet Retailer, TechNewsWorld and Search Engine Watch. A http://www.bizwatchsearchanalytics.com/reporting/index.php/laura-thieme-president-a-visionaryrenowned Google Analytics guru, Laura was called as an expert witness in a case involving trademark and metatags. Follow Laura @bizwatchlaura.

Shari Thurow – Shari was the first person who made people think about “search engine friendly websites,” and has been designing sites since 1995.  Today, she’s a frequent speaker at industry conferences and a regular contributor to Search Engine Land. Shari has been featured in many publications, including the New York Times, USA Today, Wired, and PC World. Her search usability site, Omni Marketing Interactive, offers fantastic resources. Shari is the author of Search Engine Visibility and co-author of Where Search Meets Web Usability. Follow Shari at @sharithurow.

Dana Todd – Known for her creative hair color (currently a brilliant jewel tone purple), Dana has over 17 years experience in digital marketing and is appreciated for her intelligent, no-nonsense speaking style. She’s also a past chairwoman for SEMPO after serving on their board. Dana has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, and The StreetFollow Dana at @danatodd.

Amanda Watlington –  Amanda is one super-smart woman. Her impressive resume includes working with 3m, Sharp Electronics, Mercedes Benz and Washington Mutual. She’s also a prolific writer, and has authored scads of articles and two books including Business Blogs: A Practical Guide (co-authored with Bill Ives.) Her site, Searching for Profit, says it all – she’s helping companies build long-term profitable relationships with their clients. Follow Amanda at @amandaw.

Jill Whalen – Jill and I started our SEO conference journey together and we were business partners for quite a few years (who remembers the RankWrite newsletter?) Jill was the CEO of High Rankings and started her SEO journey 1995. Today, she’s on a new journey and is owner of the site What Did You Do With Jill?


There were so many smart SEO pioneers, we even came up with a part two — enjoy!

Ladies, you have my sincere gratitude for building the SEO industry, blazing the proverbial trail, and guiding the rest of us! You rock! :)

Photo thanks to Brett Jordan

18+ Ways to Tell if You’re an SEO O.G.

Are you wondering if your “SEO expert” has been around as long as he claims? Feeling like you’ve been in the business since the beginning of SEO time?

Here are 18 ways to tell if you’re an SEO O.G. (“old guard” or ‘original gansta”.) Plus, you’ll find even more tips, thanks to a little help from my SEO friends.  If you’re new to the SEO world, you’ll enjoy reading how much things have changed. And if you’re an O.G. SEO too – enjoy! Here’s your trip down memory lane.

  1. You remember when getting a Yahoo Directory listing was a big deal.
  2. You have a robot t-shirt from the original Googledance.
  3. You remember when Search Engine Strategies was so small that roundtable sessions were the norm.
  4. People didn’t know who Danny Sullivan was.
  5. One word: Looksmart
  6. You didn’t optimize for Google – because Google didn’t exist.
  7. RankWrite was the only resource that discussed SEO copywriting.
  8. You remember prospects telling you, “We won’t pay you, but we’ll give you a piece of the company. Our company is gonna be huge.”
  9. You remember the dotcom crash, the F*cked Company site and a bunch of companies going out of business.
  10. A little engine called GoTo.com launched – and you debated whether PPC was really viable.
  11. “Big Boy” reminds you of Inktomi first – then the hamburger chain.
  12. I-Search was THE email newsletter to read. Having your post featured was a big deal, too (thanks to @mdsimmonds and @airdisa for the fantastic I-Search moderation!).
  13. Search Engine Strategies San Francisco was at the Fairmont – complete with a sit-down, steak lunch.
  14. “Content optimization” meant making sure that you had a 5.5% keyword density for AltaVista.
  15. You remember when Bruce Clay was featured in Wired magazine.
  16. You remember answering the question,”Commas or spaces in the meta keywords tag?”
  17. You didn’t need glasses when you first started your SEO career (after all, you were probably in your late 20’s or early 30’s!).
  18. Danny Sullivan called you a “first generation” search marketer way back in 2006.

Plus, here are some more – thanks to all of my O.G. friends who contributed!

HUGE thanks to David Burke of VisualFuture (and Sally Burke, too!) who let me post this pic from “back in the day!’ Folks pictured are David Burke, Sally Burke, Jill Whalen, Craig Paddock, me (back when I was a blonde) and Chris Sherman.

3 Ways to Conquer Your SEO Copywriting Fears

Is your fear holding you back from SEO copywriting success?

At first read, you may think, “Fear? My fear isn’t holding me back from success.”

I used to think that too. About a lot of things. But ask yourself if any of these statements ring true for you:

“Our home page copy is really spammy, but it’s ranking well. I don’t want to change it and cause our rankings to drop.”

“We hired a copywriter a few years ago. Her writing was horrible. I’ll never outsource again – it was a dreadful experience.”

“I know we need to do something with our site, but what if it doesn’t work? If I can’t show ROI, I may not have a job at the end of the quarter.”

Or if you’re a copywriter, you may think…

“I want to start freelancing, but what if I don’t make any money. Better to keep my horrible job than be forced to live under a bridge.”

Sound familiar?

You go through a couple bad vendors and think, “Nope, never again.” You think of revamping your site copy and think, “Nope, it may not work.”

So you do nothing. But unfortunately, even doing “nothing” causes stress. Because deep down, you know that doing nothing has less to do with the numbers and everything to do with your psychological wiring.

In short, your fear is messing with you. And it’s costing you money.

I get it. I really do. I’ve been self employed for over 20 years, and I’ve had my share of fear-based moments. I’ve launched businesses with a scant $1,000 to my name. I’ve had vendors who worked…and others who really haven’t. And yeah, I’ve felt the fear.

And yeah, it messed with me too. It messes with everyone.

Now, here’s how to get over it.

  • Know that fear is sometimes a good thing. Fear can be your mind’s way of saying, “Hey, we’re doing something outside of our comfort zone. We don’t like this.” If you want to build muscle, you have to train outside of your comfort zone. And if you want to build revenue, sometimes, that means doing something outside of your business comfort zone. Can you imagine what your business life would be like if you didn’t have the guts to buy a domain name – or build a website – or take a chance on a risky project that netted you a lot of money. You’ve already conquered this fear already. You can do it again.
  • Outline a small, actionable step and do it.  How many things do you have on your “to-do” list like, “Talk to a copywriter,” or “Figure out how to handle our unoptimized pages.” Ack! With to-do’s like that, is it any wonder you’re stressed, overwhelmed and fearful? Focus your energies instead on one thing you can do to move the process forward.  For instance, ask your LinkedIn network for copywriter referrals. Divide your site into sections and list 10 unoptimized pages a day. Breaking up huge projects into small tasks helps you feel a sense of accomplishment. And before you know it, you’ll have completed what felt like an overwhelming task!
  • Understand that the past doesn’t dictate the present. Afraid to hire a new SEO copywriter because the last relationship was less than stellar. Guess what? Unless you’re still with your very first boyfriend (or girlfriend,) you’ve already conquered this fear. You dated again. You probably even had another long term relationship. You dealt with it. Just because you had a bad experience once doesn’t mean that it will repeat itself. Nor should a past experience (even if it just happened last week,) cause you to immediately reject a future one. Should you learn from your experience? Yes.  Should you take the lessons you learned and make more informed decisions? Yes. But the decision shouldn’t be “I’m too afraid to deal with this again.”

When you take action – even just a little bit – you’re taking control and meeting your fear dead-on. You don’t want the fear to win, do you? It doesn’t have to. And that’s something you can control.

SEO Copywriting Is Dead. Long Live SEO Content Marketing

crown-pictureI’ve been reading the latest “Is SEO copywriting dead” debate by Glenn Murray and Brian Clark. Considering that I’ve been talking about SEO copywriting for over 11 years – and I’m considered by some as the pioneer of SEO copywriting – reading the headline “Is SEO copywriting dead” is a little like hearing that your baby is ugly.  My first response was not just “No,” but “Hell no.” SEO copywriting is alive and well.

But then I got to thinking. You know what? I’m going to agree with them. Maybe, as it’s currently defined, SEO copywriting should be dead. And here’s why.

SEO copywriting “techniques” – as they are commonly understood today – represent a bastardized version of copywriting that’s not good for customers, not good for users and serves up pure schlock.

I am tired of seeing top-Tweeted posts that say you should “include your keyword at least 15 times in your copy,” or “put all the keywords at the top of the page so the search engines can see them.”

I am beyond miffed when I hear prospects say, “I want you to write a bunch of pages for the search engines. I don’t want people to actually read them.”

The amount of misinformation out there is enormous. Sadly, most people never talk about the second half of the SEO copywriting equation — the half that’s even more important than keywords.

And that’s writing compelling, interesting and persuasive content designed to communicate with your customers.

SEO copywriting was never – ever – about keyword density.  It was never just about, as Brian Clark calls it ” Inserting targeted key words in certain places (like titles), and in frequencies and densities designed to satisfy a particular search engine algorithm.”

It’s always been about conversion. It’s always been about communicating with your customer. It’s always been around good, quality content. Jill Whalen and I wrote about it in the RankWrite newsletter (which Jill spun into the High Rankings Advisor) back in 1999.

What’s sad is that quite a few people refused to listen. Instead, they focused on shoving keywords by the handfuls into the copy. And as a result, SEO copywriting became a low-value skill set. Bob Bly talks about how one SEO copywriting ad reaches a new low for the copywriting profession.

And you know what? He’s right.

Talented, smart, awesome copywriters are asking me how they can compete against “SEO copywriters” charging $10 a page.  These are copywriters that get paid over $1,500 a page in print media.  But these same folks seem overpriced in the web market – even though their writing is proven to bring in thousands more dollars than what their clients paid. That’s how undervalued quality SEO copywriting skills are.

What’s sad is that people are accustomed to keyword-stuffed, over-optimized copy as “normal” SEO copywriting. They don’t know that good copywriting is seamless and benefit-driven. That savvy SEO copywriting, in the brilliant words of Lisa Barone, is supposed to entice, entertain, engage and educate. Instead, they take their $10/page copy, upload it, and figure that’s the best they can get. They don’t like it, but they don’t want to change it for fear that they’ll lose their search engine rankings

Unfortunately, people have become victims to their own mediocrity. But I’m sorry. If you pay $10/page and expect brilliance, you deserve what you get.

Don’t get me wrong – there are are clients, SEO firms and SEO copywriters who “get it.” I read Lisa Barone’s writing and adore every word. Karon Thackston has done an excellent job writing copy and educating the community. Jill Whalen has always said that good SEO means good content. I applaud not only their willingness to debunk SEO copywriting myths, but also their talents. And there are a host of other SEO copywriters just like them.

But then I read SEO copywriting articles like one I saw today that read – and I am not making this up – “The copy should be written in simple language so that everyone can easily understand and get the focus of the write-up without putting too much brain.”

And at the end of the day, if  the main perception of SEO copywriting is that it’s more about the algorithm than the customer, well, I have to wonder if the term “SEO copywriting” is really, truly accurate anymore.

And I’m thinking, no. No, it’s not. SEO copywriting was never supposed to be this. Perhaps it’s time to let this bastardized version of direct response copywriting die…and reinvent it into something else.

So, please, let me put the term “SEO copywriting” out of its misery. You’ve come a long way, baby.

Instead, why don’t we, as marketing professionals, embrace the term “SEO content marketing.” The term “content marketing” implies an ongoing process – not a one-off web page written for high rankings. “Content marketing” implies that there is a strategy behind the process. And it’s also more encompassing. “Copywriting” often elicited thoughts of “sales-oriented writing” – while “content marketing” could mean blog posts, articles, press releases – even Twitter posts.

It’s about time that people see SEO content marketing for what it is – a proven way to communicate with your customers that just happens to gain top search engine rankings. It’s more than a $10 blog post or an optimized page. It’s a well thought-out SEO and customer communication strategy paired with some kick ass writing.

SEO copywriting is dead. Long live SEO content marketing.

It’s about time.

Starbucks’ Latest Marketing Blunder: Value Meal Pricing

Insane womanIt is no secret that I frequently bang my head against a wall when I hear about Starbucks’ marketing.

There was the breakfast sandwich blunder. The incredibly horrible Gold Card blogging screw-up.

And now, the concept of Starbucks “value meals” (or, more accurately, what Howard Schultz calls “breakfast pairings at attractive prices.”)

What the hell are they thinking?

It must be hard for Starbucks’ marketing execs to see Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s – both firmly in the “fast good” space – gain advertising traction. First, Dunkin’s taste tests “proved” that people preferred Dunkin’ Donuts’ coffee over Starbucks. Then, McDonald’s announced their new McCafe coffeehouses with couches, music and wi-fi.

I can only imagine how those campaigns made the Starbucks collective corporate cream curdle.

But guess what? Starbucks has never been a fast food joint that’s used price as a differentiator. Starbucks is a destination cafe where folks can get a good cup of premium coffee, plug in their laptop and enjoy the third place experience.

Would I meet clients at a McDonald’s just because there’s a cafe? No.  Would I curl up with my Kindle at a Dunkin’ Donuts? No. I would imagine quite a few of Starbucks’ loyal followers feel the exact same way. If the perceived value is there – and Starbucks continues to be an integral part of their customers’ daily lives – people will pay more for their coffee.

The problem is: Starbucks is harming their perceived value.

Why is Starbucks suddenly competing on price and announcing “breakfast pairings at attractive prices?” I’m not saying that Starbucks should ignore the fact that they’re in the marketing cross hairs.  And yes, price is an important consideration in today’s economy.

But what I am saying that there are many different ways to react to the situation.

If Starbucks has to promote the food (and I would argue that Starbucks’ mucking about in food options has been more of a distraction than a customer benefit) promote the healthy options menu. There’s a differentiator – discuss how Fruit Stella bar and how it’s packed with omega-3s. Discuss the Power Protein Plate and how it’s a great alternative for low-carb dieters.  That’s a huge marketing opportunity that’s been lost – and that’s unforgivable.

Or if Starbucks really wanted to reinforce customer loyalty (and keep their existing users from trying less-expensive offerings,) why not make their existing coffee drinkers their customer evangelists? Why not focus on giving them the best possible experience rather than trying to pull an additional $25 for a Gold card membership.

Or…and here’s a crazy idea…why not decide that customers are such a priority that they handle loyalty cards in-house rather than outsourcing the project? It seems strange to me that Starbucks – a company that built its brand on the customer experience – would outsource their customer loyalty program  It’s like hearing that Mommy loves you – and then being foisted off on a nanny for your day-to-day care. There’s a perceived disconnect between words and action.

Please Starbucks – as one of your loyal customers – know that I’m there for the coffee, the partners and the experience.  Within walking distance of my condo, I can visit about five coffee places at 6:30a.m.  I choose Starbucks – and have always chosen Starbucks – for a reason. It’s my “third place” home.

And as a fellow marketer, get your acts together. Your brand – and brand loyalty – is yours to lose at this point. You’re frustrating your customers, pissing off your partners and sending out incredibly mixed messages. Customers will forgive a corporation that goes through hard times, lays people off, and starts making changes to benefit plans. It’s not fun – but it’s part of business-as-usual in today’s economy. What customers will not stand for is for the “third-place experience” to be eroded just because McDonald’s did some media-savvy marketing and got under your skin.

Man up, Starbucks. Get over yourselves and get back on track. Your loyal customers are counting on you.

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

Wham.  I felt the flashback hit while I was reading the Web Workers Digest post.

The article “How to work with a reluctant social media client” was excellent. The author discussed why clients are reluctant of blogs and Twitter, discussed some ways to deal with the disconnect, and posed this question:

“Are we all just too ‘into it’ to remember that our clients are often way far away from it?”

What struck me, is you substitute “SEO copywriting” (or even search engine optimization”) for “social media,” this article could have been penned in 1998.  Hence the highly-painful flashback.

Back in SEO’s early days, first-generation search marketers was asking the same question.  Of course, no-one outside of our closed Searchie group knew what the hell redirects, Titles and HTML were.  Nor did many people care about their search rankings.

Geeks were truly ruling the Internet world back then, and we had our own lingo to prove it. That’s why conferences were so awesome – finally there was a group of people who “got” what we did and could discuss the details.

But our clients didn’t “get it.” And that was frustrating.   We couldn’t understand why people weren’t willing to plunk down cash for a well-optimized site when the upside was so clearly positive.  So in an attempt to educate the industry (and hopefully future clients) we we wrote the same kind of educational articles, got on the same bandwagon and preached to the same choir.  Our message – yes, dammit, SEO is worth it.

Fortunately, it worked.

Fast forward 10 years to a recent colleague dinner. Many of us present were part of that first-generation SEO group. Yet, some were reluctant (including myself) to consider Twitter a useful social media technique “It won’t work, it’s not proven, and who the heck cares about my random thoughts” were frequent comments. Later that night, I realized something horrible. I hadn’t turned into my parents…it was worse than that. I had turned into the cynical, “old-school” marketer that drove me nuts 10 years ago.

Fortunately, I got over myself and realized that Twitter is incredibly useful (and yes, you can send tweets to @heatherlloyd).

It is not lost on me that some of the biggest proponents of social media were still in high school when I was shouting about SEO copywriting from the rooftops. SEO copywriting is now consideration a foundational step for any SEO campaign, but it’s also considered Web 1.0.  It’s no longer trendy, or hip, or a big risky expense.

Sure, we still have to show ROI and educate clients. And there are still some companies that are new to the most basic SEO techniques.  But SEO is now considered a “standard” part of the marketing mix – just like social media will be 10 years from now.

What also isn’t lost on me is every marketer needs to break out of their comfort zone and stay current in today’s environment.  Sure, that’s easy enough to say – after all, it’s always crucial to stay abreast in one’s chosen profession. But being current also means embracing techniques that may not be a part of our current experience.

I may not feel compelled to tweet every 10 minutes, but I am convinced that Twitter is highly useful if you know how to work it. Same with blogging – as an “old school” writer, it goes against every fiber of my being to write an off-the-cuff post without spending the day tweaking it. But has it brought in leads, increased my exposure and helped me communicate in a new way? You bet. It’s one thing to demand change and growth from our clients. It’s another to demand it from ourselves.

Certainly, new marketing methods aren’t necessarily more important than proven ones . At the same time, today’s unproven opportunities can be tomorrow’s revenue-drivers for your company.

So why let fear hold you back from implementing an exciting new marketing channel?

What You can Learn From Starbucks Coffee’s Blogging Boo-Boos

Oh Starbucks. Why are you walking away from the conversation?

As an every-day SBUX addict, I was researching their latest loyalty program – the Starbucks Gold Card (which, apparently, is black – not gold. Um…?)

For $25, I would get 10% off most purchases, free wi-fi for two hours, access to exclusive sales and what they call “member recognition” (strike one: I have to pay $25 on top of my daily coffee purchases to be “recognized?”).

So, like a good social media chick, I went to the Starbucks Blog where they posted a “sneak peek” of the Gold card (note: this blog post is gone and wasn’t even redirected to a custom 404 page. Bad Starbucks!). Although the tone and feel is a little too…corporate…for my taste, the original blog post did a good job outlining the benefits.

But then the problems began…

Comments started rolling in. People were (understandably) confused.

Did they need to combine their new Gold card with their regular Rewards card to get maximum discounts?

Why does someone need to pay to get a discount?

What kind of cool insider “member recognition” benefits will they recognize?

And why did the official Starbucks blog post specifically say, “so don’t be surprised if your barista isn’t up-to-speed yet!” (Great…so that means I have to pay for a discount AND educate my barista?)

So, let’s examine where Starbucks went wrong.

  1. There were 128 comments about the initial post. Starbucks responded twice. That’s it – even while there was a whirl of controversy going on. If you read through the comments, you’ll notice one customer who was incredibly excited about receiving a Gold Card get more and more discouraged with the Starbucks customer service process.  At no time did anyone step in and address his concerns. I would venture to say that the process basically turned a would-be evangelist into a cynical detractor.
  2. The official Starbucks response made it seem like a very elite group of people received a free card – and the rest of the registered Starbucks card users didn’t count.  Saying “Those that received the Gold card early were among our most dedicated and consistent registered card users,” is a slap in the face to people who (according to comments) spend thousands of dollars every year with Starbucks.  Heck, even I was miffed that I didn’t get a free offer – I’m in a Starbucks every day, sometimes twice a day.  It would have been much easier (and less offensive) to say that people were “randomly chosen.” People won’t argue with random…but they will feel cheated if they don’t feel “special” enough.
  3. They should have had a chart (or some kind of visual) showing the potential savings.  The big objection Starbucks needs to overcome is “I don’t want to shell out $25 for a loyalty card.” For many people (me included) that is a big enough stop sign to halt the consideration process in its tracks. If people are in coffee-buying mode, they probably aren’t in number-crunching mode…especially for early-morning Starbucks visitors who need that first cup to wake up. It would have been more effective to show in dollars and cents how the card would pay for itself in less than three months.
  4. Saying that I, as a Gold Card member, would have to “educate my barista” is just wrong, wrong, wrong.  From a corporate communications standpoint, you’re basically saying that either (1) Starbucks can’t get their act together to train their baristas properly or (2) their baristas are too slow to “get it (which is not the case – I heart my Starbucks baristas!) Either way, way to make the corporation look bad.  If I’m paying $25 for a loyalty card, I shouldn’t have to tell my barista how to give me my discount. I’m typically hitting my store at 6am sharp – that’s not exactly the time that I’m eagle-eyed and in the mood to fight for an additional 10% off.

Unfortunately, this isn’t new behavior for the coffee giant. Lisa Wehr discussed how Starbucks didn’t update their 2007 holiday podcasts, calling it a clear sign that “Starbucks was falling out of touch with their customers.”

I congratulate Starbucks with trying new forms of marketing to connect with customers. They have a loyal following (me among them,) great brand recognition and their partners are awesome.

However, just as Starbucks would never let a barista walk away in the middle of a conversation with a customer, they should frequently check their blog posts and keep the conversation (or “connection” in Starbucks-speak) flowing – NOT walk away from a post just ’cause it’s posted.

Additionally, Starbucks should carefully consider their blog post wording – as experienced copywriters know, how you say what you say is exceptionally important. An innocuous phrase like “our most dedicated and consistent..customers” can actually alienate people if used the wrong way

Part of Starbucks new mission statement specifically focuses on “our customers” and “our neighborhoods.”  Now, it’s time to redefine “customers” and “neighborhoods” to encompass online communities and provide the same level of communication you’d find in any retail store. THAT would keep with the customer-service oriented Starbucks corporate culture…and it would help their online customers feel heard.

Starbucks Coffee and Their Breakfast Sandwich Blunder

Don’t get me wrong. I adore Starbucks coffee.

My friends tease me about how, at every conference, I drag them all over creation to find the nearest Starbucks (and no, in my perpetually jet-lagged state, Dunkin’ Donuts coffee just won’t do.)

Every day around 6am, I walk to Starbucks and get my morning fix.

Heck, I’m even married to a man who works for Starbucks corporate.

If that’s not brand loyalty, I don’t know what is.

But here’s the problem. In a recent in-store promotion, the Starbucks writers fell into the trap that so many copywriters do – they let a headline get cutesy and take a back seat to substance.

I was waiting for my afternoon coffee when a customer grabbed the latest in-store promotional flyer for breakfast sandwiches. After a quick glance, she looked up and said, “You know, this headline doesn’t even make sense.”

I grabbed my own flyer (as did another customer) and realized she was right.

The headline: “Wake up to a new toasty warm and savory delicious.”

I wondered if this was a fill-in the-blank statement. “Hmm, I can ‘wake up to a new toasty warm and savory delicious’…what?”

My imagination started whirling on the possibilities that had absolutely nothing to do with food. Sure, the photo clearly showed a breakfast sandwich. And the subheadline (which clarified the statement but didn’t grammatically flow) did say “Starbucks Piadini, Wrap and Breakfast Sandwiches.” But the freestanding headline statement – the first thing I viewed when I read the flyer – was all fluff and no substance.

What’s worse, the headline stopped three customers in their tracks. We weren’t discussing the creamy hot goodness of our extra-hot soy lattes. Nor were we soaking up the Starbucks vibe. Instead, we were connecting over bad copy— and wondering why the heck a big brand could make such a strange error.

This is what happens when copywriters substitute good, solid writing with fluffy gimmicks.

Now, let’s talk about what could have worked…

Really, it could have been as simple as making the headline and subheadline flow. Such as:

“Now, you can wake up to a toasty warm and savory delicious Starbucks Piadini, Wrap, or Breakfast Sandwich”

This headline makes much more sense. I deleted “new” from the copy (typically a marketing power word) and replaced it with “now” (also a power word) to encourage the call to action

I also added the word “you,” to personalize the copy. This added two words to the original headline.

Starbucks could reinforce that this is a new product – plus hammer home the “healthy options” benefit by improving the subheadline:

Now, you can wake up to a toasty warm and savory delicious Piadini, Wrap, or Breakfast Sandwich…

…New healthy breakfast choices from Starbucks

There are scads of ways to improve the copy (and I bet readers can come up with their own improved versions.) However, the bottom line is this: someone at Starbucks corporate should have nixed this headline before it hit the streets.

In general, Starbucks has had historically good copy that’s emotion-rich and grammatically correct. However, a verbiage blunder like this does nothing but reflect negatively upon their brand.

(Update — Starbucks’ messaging has improved so much since I wrote this article.)

Does a company’s messaging make you scratch your head and say, “I don’t get it?” What’s an awesome example of benefit-packed marketing? Leave your comments below!

What Rodney Dangerfield and SEO Copywriters Have in Common

The comedian Rodney Dangerfield coined a brilliant one-liner – “I don’t get no respect.”

The same can be said for some SEO copywriters.

I received this email from a woman we’ll call Joanne (names have been changed to protect the innocent.) Here’s what she had to say:

Hi Heather,

I am a fan of your blog and I am also a copywriter for a major search marketing agency where I write both paid search and SEO copy. I have nine years of copywriting experience, a master’s degree in mass communication, and I was “stolen” away from a major competitor to work at this agency. Since joining this agency about a year and a half ago, however, I’ve struggled to really find my place within the agency as I am the only copywriter and therefore a department of one.

Yesterday, I was quite baffled by a comment made by the senior director of our SEO team as he introduced me to some others from our New York sales team. He started out by talking about the great experience I have and the work I’ve done so far for the agency, but then he made a comment about how I did strictly SEO copy at my last agency and said “So, you know, she just sat around keyword stuffing for 8 hours a day.”

At first I laughed it off as a joke, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more it has bothered me. First of all, I feel that it shows a complete lack of knowledge about SEO copywriting by the most senior SEO person at my agency, which is more than a little disconcerting. Mostly, however, I feel that it completely belittles my position within the agency and grossly misrepresents the job I perform.

My question to you is, how do we overcome this perception that SEO copywriting is merely keyword stuffing? How do we stress the value we bring as great writers first and foremost, while also stressing the fact that carefully working keywords into web copy also requires a special skill and talent? I honestly cannot believe that SEO copywriting is still even perceived this way.

I’m truly at a loss for how I change the perception of myself and my talents within this agency and hope that you have some advice. I understand that you are very busy and may not have time to respond to all of your emails, but even if this question could be worked into a blog post, I’m sure it may help others facing similar struggles.

Dear Joanne:

I feel your pain.

For years, copywriting has often been dismissed as a “soft” skill set because “anyone can write.” With SEO copywriting, the myth is taken one step further (“anyone can shove keyphrases into copy”) – but is no less dismissive.

The question is: does sticking keyphrases into copy equate into skilled “SEO copywriting?” And that answer is “no.”

What does a copywriter do that’s so special?  Bob Bly, in his book, “The Copywriter’s Handbook,” cites Judith Charles as saying “A copywriter is a salesperson behind a typewriter.”

That helps bring it home a little better, doesn’t it?

If your company had a sales force, you wouldn’t throw just anyone on the sales floor and expect them to perform. You’d want highly-skilled salespeople who would meet your sales goals. There’s a reason top salespeople make a lot of money – it’s because they generate beaucoup bucks for their employers.

And that’s what good copywriters do – they make beaucoup bucks for their clients. SEO copywriters generate profits (and leads, and brand awareness) plus help gain top search engine rankings.

That’s a big deal.

Yes, anyone (with some training) can learn keyphrase editing and where to place keyphrases in their copy. That part has never been rocket science.

But copywriting is much, much more than keyphrase editing. It’s getting inside your target audience’s head and learning what makes them tick. It’s penning words that help build trust and gently lead your prospect to your next conversion step. It’s knowing what psychological buttons to push so the prospect feels – without a shadow of a doubt – that your company understands his pain, and you can help him. Right now.

Every time you see a commercial and think “Hmm, I should look into that more” – it’s because a copywriter wrote the copy that made you want to buy (or at least consider) the product. Every time you read an email that actually makes you click into the site – and every time you head to the mall chasing a hot deal you read about- know that a copywriter wrote the copy that made you take action.

But enough ranting. Let’s talk about how to show ROI.

The best way to show value? Good, old fashioned metrics. Can you show that your copy drove additional traffic  Can you show that people are buying more product? Downloading more white papers? Staying on the page longer?

In a perfect world you should be tracking this information anyway – after all, how can you improve your content if you can’t tell if it’s working? But in a world where you want to strut your SEO stuff, you’ll need metrics that matter.

At the end of the day, it’s your responsibility to toot your own horn and showcase your success. Don’t expect to be recognized for a job well done. It’s nice when it happens – but sadly, “atta-boys” don’t happen often enough. Once you can attach a ROI to your SEO contribution, you’ll find that people view your skills and talent much differently – and you’ll start gaining the respect a skilled SEO copywriter deserves.

I hope that helps. Readers, what other advice would you give Joanne?