You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear: SEO copywriting and poorly-converting pages

Oh. My. Goodness. The writing was horrible.

The Web page copy was a sight for sore eyes — literally. The run-on sentences made my eyes cross. Rampant comma use forced my eyes to pause after ever third word. And please, please tell me — what does this paragraph even mean?

In short, this was not conversion-based SEO writing. This was a mess.

The person in charge of the horribly-written page was the new marketing director — and she had just inherited the Website. One upon a time, her company had hired a cheapie writer who created copy for $50 a page. The result was a garbled mess. When I asked why they even accepted the copy as-is, she said, “My boss thought that’s what SEO copywriting was supposed to look like.”

When I asked how I could help, she said, “Can’t you just tweak it a little so it sounds better and throw in some keywords?”

Sigh. No, no I can’t. And that’s because, as my father used to say, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. To translate: If the copy is already bad, “tweaking” it won’t help. The only thing you can do is scrap it all and start over.

So many people are afraid of total page rewrites — especially if the page is positioning well. Their first concern (which makes sense) is “if we change the page, what happens to our rankings.” At the same time, getting rankings is just a slice of the search engine conversion pie. After all, a top position means nothing if that page doesn’t drive your conversion metrics.

Wondering if your site falls into the “sow’s ear” category? Here are some things to check:

  • What do your analytics say? Are people staying at your site — or bouncing out mere seconds after they arrive?
  • Are your rankings so-so, but your conversions are non-existent?
  • Do you know deep, deep down in your heart that the copy is bad (C’mon, it’s OK to admit it. We’ve all been there.)

If you’re feeling like your copy qualifies for “sow’s ear” status, you are certainly not alone. Know that you’re in good company, but don’t let your rankings neurosis overcome your good sense. To eliminate your sow’s-ear status, your only help for salvation is action. Yes, there are ways to rewrite the copy so the rankings aren’t decimated. In fact, that’s the easy part (and we’ll talk about the how-to in a future post.) A smart copywriter can easily craft new copy that maintains your past keyword positioning.

Will rewriting your copy be painful? A little bit. Yes, you will be spending time and money to make it happen. And yes, the pain is definitely worth it. Although a SEO copywriting overhaul sounds grueling, it will more than pay for itself in increased conversions. Besides, wouldn’t you rather have the “silk purse” copy your site deserves?

Scattering search engine bread crumbs

“Each time you write content about your key topics, you are seeding the Internet with keywords. Like bread crumbs that lead back to the gingerbread cottage, those keywords will help readers find you” says Patsi Krakoff from The Blog Squad. Although she jokes about “offending SEO experts” most of her SEO content comments are right on the money. Enjoy!

Get rid of your SEO skeletons once and for all

I found hidden links within 60 seconds. Discovering the duplicate pages took another minute. And — lookie here — the code is really, really bad.

No, this isn’t a scammy corporation trying to spam their way to the top. This is a Mom and Pop business where the owners are honestly trying to do everything right. Yes, they educated themselves by reading books and visiting forums. Yes, they can speak SEO”¦to a point. But they knew they couldn’t do it all themselves.

So they did what most companies do. They hired out to SEO #1, who suggested adding 50 duplicate doorway pages, one for each state. That SEO lasted six months before getting fired for non- performance. Enter SEO #2, who thought hidden links were the way to go. Then, the owner of the company put his fingers in the SEO pie. He decided to add hidden text because, “It just seemed to make sense to me.”

And with that, the company (which will remain nameless) hid another SEO skeleton away in their closet.

This situation is so common that I call it “inadvertent spam.” The site owner didn’t mean do to anything wrong”¦but their site is full of violations. And unfortunately, their pages aren’t positioning as a result

If you aren’t seeing the results you want — and you’ve either optimized the site yourself, or worked with one (or many) SEO firm (s) — consider a SEO audit. Yes, they cost money. Yes, they’re pricy. But they are well worth it. Jessica Bowman at SEMIn-House does a great job discussing this topic, so I won’t rehash it here. Suffice it to say that I’ve seen audits pay for themselves many times over. We offer SEO content reviews through SuccessWorks – and it’s amazing how tweaking a couple things can make such a huge difference.

Would an SEO audit be a smart move for your site? Ask yourself:

  • How many people/firms have “touched” the site within the last five years? Different SEOs (whether in-house or outsourced) may implement different techniques. If the SEO isn’t skilled — or was trying to game the engines — those techniques may have hurt your site long-term.
  • Do you really know your site’s history? If you’re a new hire (or just moved to the SEO department) calling an audit allows you to see exactly what you’re getting into. Additionally, it helps you find new ways to leverage your search campaign that the last person may not have seen.
  • Does your IT department (or SEO) brag about having “secret ways to trick the engines” or “proprietary methods that will gain top rankings?” That’s like hearing your accountant say that she has a “proprietary tax preparation method” for keeping your taxes down and the IRS happy. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Get an audit and check it out.
  • And finally”¦if you’re optimizing the site yourself, are you sure that you’ve grabbed every opportunity? A SEO audit will outline what you need to do next, helping you focus your efforts and save time.

Talking about Titles: How to educate your client

Faced with a SEO-clueless client and need to educate them on the basics? Ramon Eijkemans at Searchwritten discusses how to talk about Titles in his post Title-tags for dummies. Enjoy!

How to turn blah headlines into eyeball-grabbing powerhouses

Direct response headline writing is tricky.

You know that you have to “grab the reader’s attention,” but that doesn’t help much when you’re facing headline-writing writer’s block and nothing is flowing. How can you work your SEO copywriting magic when you don’t even know how to begin?

We’ve all been there — you just need a little jump start. If you’re feeling stuck, here are some tried-and-true headline archetypes, compliments of the American Writers and Artists Institute.

Idea Starters: 52 Headline Archetypes to Get Your Creative Juices Flowing…From The Best of The Golden Thread

  1. How to (accomplishment) by (doing something unexpected)
  2. How to (accomplishment) in (time frame)
  3. How to turn (problem) into (benefit)
  4. How to get (goal) from (something common)
  5. How to improve your…
  6. How to start…
  7. How to have…
  8. How to make (someone/something) do (something great)
  9. (Problem) – how to fix it
  10. How to get free (product/program)
  11. How you can (action) in the next (time frame)
  12. How an uninformed (person/action) make a fortune in (business type)
  13. How an unexpected (event) changed my (situation)
  14. How I (accomplishment) in (time frame)
  15. How I (accomplishment) by (something unexpected)
  16. How I improved my (problem)
  17. (#) ways to (promise)
  18. (#) ways to avoid (problem)
  19. (#) steps to…
  20. (#) ways to…
  21. (#) ways to beat (problem)
  22. Get rid of your (problem) forever!
  23. Buy no (product type) ’til you’ve seen (product name or description)
  24. Read this and (promise/threat)
  25. Dare to be (promise)
  26. Read this or (threat)
  27. What makes…?
  28. Do you make these mistakes in…?
  29. Want to be (better condition)?
  30. (Problems) – Which do you want to overcome?
  31. (Personalized greeting), here are (#) (products) of interest to you. Which (#) do you want free?
  32. Are you ever (problem)?
  33. Tired/fed up with (problem)?
  34. Should you (something your prospect is thinking about doing)?
  35. Are you…?
  36. Are you ashamed of (problem)?
  37. Secrets of (some kind of expert)
  38. What never ever to (common chore/action)
  39. The truth about…
  40. What you should know about…
  41. The one sensible way to…
  42. What every (person) should know…
  43. The secret of…
  44. Why…
  45. What it takes to…
  46. What everybody ought to know…about this (business type)
  47. Little known ways to (benefit)
  48. The wrong way and the right way to (do something directly related to your business)
  49. The secret of (accomplishment)
  50. The secret of…-Yours, if you qualify
  51. Your (something important to you) is in imminent danger
  52. When experts (failure/problem) – this what they do

This article appears courtesy of The Golden Thread, an e-letter from AWAI that delivers original, no-nonsense advice on how to build your freelance copywriting business. For a free subscription, visit

Why delete “doorway pages” from your SEO copywriting vocabulary

Wow, people still talk about doorway pages? Turns out, that answer is “yes,” and Google has changed how they define them (which doesn’t make sense to me – I always thought of doorway pages as copy that’s been optimized for one keyterm for the sole purpose of driving traffic.)

I suppose, like leg warmers, neon and parachute pants, doorway pages have to come back in vogue. People discuss them in forums as a new, easy way to generate content. Sure, the new brand of doorway pages may seem sexier, have a different name or enjoy a cutting edge reputation (better design – yeah!). But they still won’t help you convert. Nor will the search engines respect them as “real content.” Spam has been…and will always be…spam.

Side note with doorway pages: Where I see folks inadvertently do this is around local content pages. Say your bank has 10 branches scattered around Washington State. Some banks create the same sales copy for all locations, and simply swap out the city name. Easy strategy, bad planning. Instead, create custom pages for all locations. Besides, including references to local attractions shows that you’re involved in your community – and this can be a major selling point for folks who prefer to “buy local.”

Has your SEO copywriting strategy changed with the times?

The economy has shifted. Has your marketing message?

In today’s learned helplessness, recession-mindset economy, some business owners are moaning, “People just aren’t buying. There’s nothing we can do.”

The reality is that companies (and individuals) are buying products and services every second of every day. However, the marketing message that worked a year ago may not be applicable now. When money is tight, prospects want to know they’re getting a good deal (read: value) from a company they like and trust. Additionally, your prospects may have different objections than even six months ago – objections you need to overcome if you want to make the sale.

Although this article is written for salespeople, the principals apply to Web site sales copy – and how we all need to look at our messaging a little differently.

How has your company changed messaging (or developed new content) this year?