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SEO Copy Manager Richard Hostler talks in-house SEO copywriting

SEO Copy Manager Richard Hostler answers in-house SEO copywriting questions.Brookstone SEO Copy Manager and Ironman (he completed the triathlon in July), Richard Hostler takes time out of his work, and workout, schedule to answer our in-house SEO copywriting questions.

Brookstone has such a great “voice” for product descriptions. How was this style developed, and what do you recommend to other in-house copy teams who are trying to determine their company voice?

We’ve come a long way from our early days of selling specialty tools via mail order. Back then, it was much simpler to communicate with customers in a single voice. As our product lines and business evolved, so too did our voice. Now we interact with customers across the country through our stores, catalogs, and email programs, and around the world via our website. Maintaining a single voice across all these channels can be tricky. We strive to keep all our copy informative and engaging, but most of all, fun. After all, we sell fun stuff. Our copy should reflect that.

Brookstone does SEO copywriting right. Do you have a formula down for creating your site content or tips for other copywriters to improve their style and technique?

One point I like to emphasize whenever I talk about SEO copywriting is that it has to be good copywriting first and foremost. Sure, you have to choose the right keywords and employ best practices in your site architecture, but that’s just loading the bases. If you want to score points with your customers or clients, you have to write interesting, informative and engaging content.

Since you aren’t the only one writing the copy, how do you convey the Brookstone style to your writers?

I encourage all writers to keep it simple. Advertising copywriters and SEO copywriters often overthink and overwrite their copy. Our writers need to find whatever is fun and unique about the product at hand and write around that. We have to get to the point quickly to catch the eyes of shoppers who are browsing online, but also tell an engaging enough story to keep the interest of customers who read all the way to the end. Once new writers understand how to keep their copy fun while writing short and long at the same time, they’ve pretty much got the Brookstone style.

What do you look for when hiring an SEO copywriter?

I look for three things. First, I look for a strong writer. This is by far the most critical trait. SEO is something that can be taught. Good writing isn’t. Second, I look for someone who understands the dual nature of SEO copywriting. We are writing for both the spiders and our human readers. Some people get tripped up here and have trouble communicating with both audiences fluently. Finally, I look for someone who really wants the position. I have interviewed dozens of writers over the years who haven’t researched me, my company or our products. If they won’t take the time to prepare for an interview, I have to question whether or not they will put in the research time necessary to be an effective SEO copywriter.

What advice do you have for writers (SEO or otherwise) looking for an in-house copywriting gig?

If a company has an in-house writing team, it will also have plenty of copy for you to check out. Whether this is print ads, catalogs, articles, retail signage, instruction manuals, technical pieces, emails, or any kind of web content, you can use it for two important purposes. First, you can decide if the company’s product set and/or style are a good fit for you. It’s very difficult to write engaging copy day in and day out about something that doesn’t interest you. Second, and this goes back to my answer to the last question, you can use the published copy to better prepare for your interview.

So, you asked me this question during my Brookstone interview. Now, here it is back atcha! What ís the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t take others’ criticism and editing personally. I had real trouble with this when I was getting started in my writing career. I would pour myself into a piece of ad copy or spend days on an article only to have it torn apart by someone higher up the food chain. It’s hard not to take that kind of beatdown personally, but that’s exactly what you have to do. Clients and in-house partners are often unclear when giving instructions for a project. I find that it requires a completed first draft before clear direction is given. Accept the perspective and criticism of others and don’t get defensive about your copy. After all, there’s plenty more (or at least there should be plenty more) where that came from.

Who is your writing inspiration?

My own special odd couple: Dr. Seuss and David Ogilvy. Dr. Seuss twisted, shaped, deconstructed and invented language to create stories that were fun to read and listen to but also touched on some pretty serious subjects. SEO copywriters do the same thing to some extent. We have to come up with creative ways to write around sometimes awkward keywords without offending our readers. David Ogilvy, on the other hand, was the father of advertising as we know it. He worked with big-time clients and wrote many iconic headlines. I have a Divid Ogilvy quote hanging on my office wall to remind me that I am a copywriter first and an SEO copywriter second.

What are the biggest challenges faced by in-house SEO copywriters and how do you overcome, or work around, them?

In-house work brings with it a measure of security and daily routine that can be equal parts benefit and stumbling block. It’s easy to settle in and lose touch with the latest SEO developments. It’s important to keep yourself informed and to constantly hone your SEO copywriting edge. SEO has a short and rapidly evolving history. It’s easy to fall behind.

Is there anything you want to add that our copywriting readers should know?

We have seen some major changes from Google over the past few weeks: all queries switching to “not provided” and the hummingbird update. As with most shakeups from Google, a certain amount of uncertainty has surfaced in the blogosphere. I, however, don’t believe this is a time to panic. In fact, I think it’s a great time to be an SEO copywriter. More than ever, Google is making content king when it comes to search. We may not have the same metrics we’ve relied on for years, but the nature of SEO is the same. Sites need rich, engaging content that feeds the increasingly important knowledge graph. As SEO copywriters, we are the ones who will write this content and help drive the future of search.

About Richard Hostler

Richard Hostler writes engaging copy that generates sales. He is currently the SEO Copy Manager at Brookstone, where he connects online customers with the best gadgets and gifts. When he’s not writing, Richard can be found training for and racing triathlons around New England. You can follow him through his website, LinkedIn or twitter.

 

The Veg-O-Matic approach to SEO copy development

Earlier this month, I was honored to speak at SMX West. I was originally going to chat about how content strategies have changed over the last year. Then, Chris Sherman (one of the conference organizers) said, “I really like your Tweets and how your firm repurposes content. Can you talk about that?”

Sure thing!

My slides were based on this 2011 blog post. When I originally wrote this, Google+ wasn’t even on the radar. Now, it’s yet another platform that marketers have to use and measure.

Feeling overwhelmed? Relax. Take a peek at my slides, and then read how the Veg-O-Matic approach to SEO copywriting can make your life easier than before.  Really!

 

One of the areas where many site owners get “stuck” is content creation. There are more SEO copy opportunities than ever before, including:

  • Tweets
  • Facebook posts
  • Product/service pages – new pages, as well as updates to existing pages
  • Case studies
  • Blog posts
  • White papers
  • Videos
  • Webinars

(I’m sure you could add more to the list.)

The challenge with “content overload” is that nothing gets done. Planning an editorial calendar seems impossible. There’s too much to write in too little time.

That’s when you bring in the SEO content Veg-O-Matic to slice and dice your content into little bits.

For those not familiar with Ron Popeil’s Veg-O-Matic, it was a hand held appliance that made slicing and dicing vegetables easy. You could cut a carrot into small pieces. You could shred it. You could even create thin julienne slices. Cutting it up was effortless – and one carrot could take many different final forms.

You can do the same thing when you plan your SEO content. Rather than thinking, “Oh, man. I have a month’s worth of tweets to plan,” think of how you can “slice and dice” existing content many different ways. Here’s what I mean:

Say that your company creates one white paper a month. Once the white paper is complete, you could:

  • Pull out tasty 140 character tidbits and use them as tweets
  • Transform some of the main topics into 500 word blog posts. Each week, send out an email newsletter featuring the posts.
  • Create a video based on a white paper topic (I’ve been creating YouTube SEO copywriting video tips, and they’re pulling in great traffic.)

You see? You’re taking existing content and working backwards. You’re doing what you can with what you already have. Granted, you’ll still want to plan bigger projects (like another white paper or a product page revamp.) But, finding time for big projects is much easier when you’re not reinventing the content wheel every time.

Instead of looking at your editorial calendar and thinking, “It’s mid-March, what do I write/tweet/blog about for the next 30 days,”it shifts to, “We just completed a blog post/case study/video. In what ways can we slice and dice it into tasty content tidbits?”

Once you’ve figured out how to leverage what you have, the content creation process seems much more effortless.

You can accomplish the same goal even if you don’t have one “big” content piece a month. For instance, say that your company blogs five times a week. You could probably pull a couple – maybe more – good tweets out of every post. You could track popular blog topics and develop a Webinar (which could even be an additional profit center.) Heck you could even produce a monthly “Twitter tips” list that you could offer as a downloadable .pdf. The possibilities are endless.

You don’t need to solely focus on existing Web content, either. Do you have an old how-to guide that you could dust off and transform into blog posts or tweets? Did you write an article years ago that you could repurpose? Have you written a book? As long as the content is updated and valid, looking to “old” content sources is a smart idea. Recycling is good for the environment, and it’s great for your content, too!

Consider taking a cue from Ron Pompeil and see how you can Veg-O-Matic your content. You may find that you’re releasing more quality content than ever before – and creating your monthly editorial calendar is easier than ever before.

What does an SEO copywriter do, anyway?

Welcome back!  In today’s video post, Heather answers a question from the LinkedIn SEO Copywriting group:  What does an SEO copywriter do, anyway? It is an excellent question, as many folks are somewhat mystified by the words “SEO copywriting.”  Whether you’re in the Web writing profession, or are considering hiring a SEO copywriter,  you will learn a lot in just a few minutes,  as Heather tackles this question in her second Q & A video post.

By the way, do you have a question about SEO copywriting or content marketing?  Zip it to Heather at askheather@seocopywriting.com, and it may well be answered in her next video post!

What Do They Write?

  • An SEO copywriter may create content for blogs, Facebook posts and tweets (often know as a social media writer), or…
  • She may create sales and informational copy for Websites, writing content that helps people take action and buy the product or service offered.

The common denominator is that in SEO copywriting, all writing is “wrapped around” keyphrases.  The SEO copywriter knows how to research those keyphrases, or knows what the keyphrase research means, and she also knows how to skillfully incorporate those keyphrases within the page copy in a way that they fit and flow smoothly.

SEO Copywriters Are a Crucial Part of the Equation in a SEO Campaign

The image of the well-known marketing expert, Seth Godin, is shown because he is quoted as saying that “the best SEO is great content.”

How he meant that is, when you have a really well-written page, people will want link to it, because they want to link out to good quality content.  Well-composed, high-quality pages tend to attract more readers, and keep them on the site longer.

This is important to consider when hiring or working with a SEO copywriter, because you need to have solid, quality content on your site.  The writing needs to be good, and read smoothly.  You want to steer clear of clunky, keyphrase-riddled copy.

The Words SEO Copywriters Use Help Drive Traffic and Make Money

SEO copywriters are also crucial to the equation from a sales and conversions perspective, because their incorporation of keyphrases within the copy helps to drive traffic and income.  Their skilled writing will help visitors take that next conversions step, whether it’s going to another page in the site, or buying a product, or requesting more information.

SEO Copywriters Work in Conjunction with a Great SEO/Social Team

The chart by Matt McGee aptly demonstrates the many components that make up a successful SEO campaign.  The SEO copywriter plays an essential role in the overarching campaign, as noted, and may work with a number of team members such as programmers, web designers, social media and content strategists.  Ultimately, it is the SEO copywriter that creates the content that attracts traffic, engages the audience, and encourages site conversions.

Thanks for tuning in!  And remember, if you have a question for Heather, don’t hesitate to shoot her an email:  askheather@seocopywriting.com.  Check back in again next week – your question may well be featured!

 

3 ways to ramp up your web copy right now

Welcome!  Today we’re introducing a fun new feature to Heather’s Monday how-to video blog series: answering your questions!  Yes, Heather is accepting questions you may have regarding anything SEO, content marketing, and web writing, then answering via her video blog post.  How cool is that?  Please submit yours to laura@seocopywriting.com and thank you!

Today’s post answers one of Heather’s most frequently asked questions:  “I’ve had this website for awhile and I want to make some changes, but I don’t know what to check out or where to start.”

Listen in, as Heather addresses what you should be checking out right now, and other tips to ramp up your web copy and content marketing!

1. Revisit Your Marketing  (A Good Thing)

It’s an inescapable truism: with any website or marketing material that we’ve been looking at for awhile, we tend to lose the “fresh” perspective of our prospect and it simply gets stale.  But this sticking point is actually a fantastic opportunity to revisit your marketing, and the starting point for that is analytics.

2. What’s Working?  What’s Not?  (Check Your Analytics)

For those of you who are averse to analytics, please don’t be!  No need: it’s not too difficult or techy. Really! Embrace analytics as your friend!  Analytics offer incredible information at your fingertips that shows you what pages are resonating with your audience, as well as those that are “clunky” and could be improved upon to do more for your conversions.

But if you’re simply allergic to analytics, consider bringing on some one who can help you.  Once you’ve a handle on the data, you can start making some really smart, informed decisions about what is working for your site as well as what needs tweaking.

3.  Are You Boring Your Readers or Engaging Them?  (Customer Persona, Tone and Feel)

It’s always a smart move to revisit the tone and feel of your site: is it resonating with your customer persona?   How does your content “sound” to your perfect prospect?  Are you engaging your reader?

Now that companies have begun to emerge from the recession, it’s delightful to see them want to reinvest in their website copy, and especially to re-invest in their sites’ tone and feel.  This renewal presents a fabulous opportunity for reviewing and updating their customer persona — or begin to build one — by figuring out what makes their prospects tick.

This doesn’t mean that you have to sound “corporate” in your tone and feel.  But by all means, play with the tone and feel and see what happens, then write content that is tightly wrapped around your customer persona.

Again, this is where you check your analytics to see what is working and what is not.

4.  What New Opportunities Can You Explore?

Some folks may have had to hold back due to tight finances, and so haven’t invested the time, energy, or other resources necessary to building a blog, a Twitter presence, or other social media profile.  Maybe now is the time to do so, as blogs and other social media platforms present great new opportunities to:

  • Connect and engage with your customers
  • Show prospects that you have what they’re looking for
  • Prove yourself as an “expert resource” for your customer

And that is when your customers are going to feel more comfortable and confident in buying from you, asking you for more information, or otherwise converting!

5. Think of Content Opportunities That Might Make Sense for You

Some social media platforms or venues may make far more sense for you than others.  There are so many opportunities out there, and it truly is up to you to decide what works best for you! For instance, Facebook might be best for B2C, while LinkedIn and white papers may prove the best venue for B2B.

Thanks for tuning in to this inaugural Heather Q&A how to!  Please submit your web writing question for Heather via  laura@seocopywriting.com — you may well find it answered via video post from Heather next Monday! We’ll see you then — have a wonderful web-writing week! 🙂