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?

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16 replies
  1. Sarah Clachar
    Sarah Clachar says:

    Great post, Heather. Social media and SEO are just helping us copywriters spy on our prospects even more. Getting more in tune with what they’re looking for and what language to use to describe it.

    And certainly those who thought SEO copywriting was writing for bots has completely missed the boat.

    Reply
  2. Vi
    Vi says:

    Good post, Heather, thank you. I guess in “SEO-copywriting” there will be now (in after-Panda era) more stress on copywriting than on just SEO – we’ve been waiting for it real long. Hope our Russian national search engine Yandex will follow the example of Google one day..

    Reply
  3. pip
    pip says:

    Call it what you want, It is now plaesent to see and know that the nature of the web is changing to “content for the people” but SEO still plays a major part

    Reply
  4. amber
    amber says:

    At the moment, my title is still copywriter. But it would more accurately be SEO/Social Media/Web writer.

    Honestly, I think everything you do online ultimately comes down to SEO in one way or another. After all, SEO is becoming more and more about having good content and social activity, right?

    Reply
    • Heather
      Heather says:

      Exactly. It’s all about engaging readers. whether that’s a tweet, sales page or blog – and making sure you’re using the right search terms in your content so folks can find it in the first place. :)

      Reply
  5. Lara
    Lara says:

    I usually think of SEO Copywriting as a more static copy that has the keyword phrases that help people find the information faster and more directly.

    I usually think of social media as a conversation and flowing.

    Reply
  6. James Todman
    James Todman says:

    I think Social Media Copywriting should stand out as a seperate skill. It’s all about starting conversations and engaging with users in a few words. Sales copy does not work well on social media and over use can damage a brand. Then there is all the skilful use of hashtags, @replies and targeting influencers to ensure social media writing success.

    Reply
    • Heather
      Heather says:

      Hi, James!

      You’re right – social media writing definitely requires the writer to take a much different approach. Companies are (slowly) starting to realize that what’s good for one medium isn’t necessarily good for the other…and it’s better to have separate strategies (and sometimes, writers) to address sales and social writing.

      Thanks! :)

      Reply
  7. Doc Sheldon
    Doc Sheldon says:

    Great piece, Heather!
    Personally, I don’t see the nature of the two beasts being different. I do think, though, that a copywriter will have to approach social writing differently, just as they would take a different approach between a technical and non-technical audience. It’s all about knowing the audience.

    We just have more than one audience to consider at a time. :p

    Reply

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  1. […] 343’s Gabriella Sannino looks at the big picture of measuring social influence and SEO Copywriting’s Heather Lloyd-Martin looks at the (same) difference between SEO copywriting and social media […]

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