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 soon-to-be-living with 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 gramatically correct. However, a verbiage blunder like this does nothing but reflect negatively upon their brand. Considering the negative press due to their recent store closings and the latest attack ads by Dunkin’ Donuts, it seems that Starbucks should evaluate their future messaging a bit more closely…

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 in 2008.

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 (my company, SuccessWorks, has some case studies like this, and they are an amazing way to show expertise.) 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?

Want to keep your SEO copywriting in-house and save money on outsourcing? Learn more about customized SEO copywriting training today.

SEO copywriting tough love: Control what you can control

I’ve just returned from DMA ’08 in Vegas. In a neon and gambling chip haze, old school marketers (list brokers, print copywriters) merged with SEO firms, search technologists — and yes, even 2.0 social media agencies. I saw 50-something marketers dance to The Village People’s “YMCA” (complete with arm movements) and boogie to Rick James’ “Superfreak” (in a decidedly psychedelic/Dave Chappelle moment.)

And I saw a lot of learned helplessness. And heard a lot of “Yeah, we know that we can (change our Title tags, rewrite our content, do 301 redirects, look for incoming links.) But we’ve already spent so much on SEO with such little effort. Why bother.”

Will. You. Please. Snap. Out. Of. It.

Yes, the economy is scary. Yes, business may be slow, receivables are taking forever to collect and prospects are scared.

Ignore the fear and look at the facts.

Marketers, now is the time to seize an incredible opportunity — building your Website rankings and increasing your conversions. Rather than moan and complain (“nothing has worked before, our rankings may not increase enough to matter, I don’t know where to start,”) focus on what you can control. It doesn’t have to mean a huge budgetary expenditure. You can even do it in-house. Just do it.

Think about it: why sit back and let your competitors gain search engine market share when you can do something about it — especially when much of the work can be conducted in-house? Getting frustrated won’t help you. Complaining about the “SEO that did you wrong” won’t help you. The only thing that will help you is good, old-fashioned momentum. Here’s how to get started now:

If you haven’t conducted keyphrase research, do it now. Last week, I discovered one-third of my audience hadn’t researched their keyphrases. Still other audience members did some initial keyphrase research, but hadn’t double-checked their keyphrases for six months or more. If this sounds like you, it’s time to update your keyphrase list. Run your research by using a free online keyword research tool or consider for-pay solutions like WordTracker or KeywordDiscovery. And if you’re new to keyphrase research, this article by Christine Churchill provides a good foundation.

Review your on-page keyphrase usage. It’s amazing how many companies will say that a page is optimized for X keyphrase — yet that phrase doesn’t appear anywhere on the page. Make sure that your main phrases are represented more than once, but aren’t sabotaging the flow of your copy. If your text sounds like “Our widget site has the cheapest widgets online. View our widget selection now,” it’s time for a rewrite.

Edit your text for keyphrases. If your pages don’t have a strong keyphrase focus, editing for keyphrases (inserting page-specific keyphrases into the copy in a way that doesn’t detract from its tone and feel) is an excellent SEO copywriting alternative. As a side note, if you notice your text suffers from “too many keyphrases,” try slicing a few for improved readability. Whenever you edit your text, don’t forget to…

Jazz up your Titles. Yes, Titles are important to search engine positioning. And yes, your keyphrases should appear in your Titles. However, a snazzy Title helps to encourage conversions from the search engine results page. Part art, part science, learning how to pen Titles is a profitable skill set (and can instantly help positions.) If you’re new to writing Titles, this article provides a primer.

Test your copy. Why complain that your SEO copywriting “isn’t working” when you can do something about it — for free. Google’s Website Optimizer allows you to test different versions of your Web pages and “easily increase revenue and ROI whether you’re new to marketing or an expert.” This level of testing used to cost thousands just a few years ago, so the price is definitely right. Tim Ash also writes about landing page testing in his blog — it’s definitely worth a read.

Look for SEO content opportunities. So many companies focus on what can’t be done, that they completely ignore what they can accomplish. Is it impossible to add additional content to product pages? Build a blog where you can wax poetic about your products and link into individual pages. Is your budget so small that it’s almost laughable? Are site Titles dynamically generated (and not the best?). See if you can hand-create Titles for a special campaign. Need to establish your site as an industry resource? Consider writing articles and white papers. Adding additional content helps gain new positions, new leads — and new conversions.

Get help when appropriate. If your site has 10,000 pages, and Google has indexed 2,000 — don’t just wonder why. Hire a consultant to help you untangle the situation and focus on what’s really important. Yes, this solution could mean spending $5,000 (or more). According to Jessica Bowman’s article about the value of site audits for in-house SEO’s, a full site audit can cost up to $35,000. Sure, the initial sticker shock sounds scary. But do the math — how many new customers could you acquire (or products you could sell) with increased search engine visibility? Site audits gives you the freedom of knowing what to fix (and sometimes, how to fix it) for the fastest results. That more than justifies the cost.

Wondering what SEO content changes would provide your site maximum ROI? SuccessWorks offers customized SEO copywriting training and SEO copywriting reviews. Contact us for details.

SEO copywriting in Vegas, baby – DMA ‘08

I can’t believe it’s that time of year already. Next week begins DMA ’08, held at the Las Vegas Convention Center. I leave on Sunday for three jam-packed days filled with sessions, meetings, and yet more sessions. Here’s the latest and greatest:

Wondering how to improve your SEO campaign? Check out the SuccessWorks Search Marketing Experience Labs. A panel of experts will review your site and give you the SEO lowdown on what’s great, what you can do better and what you need to change right now. I’m extremely honored that some of the best and the brightest industry thought-leaders are joining me on this fast-paced panel. You’ll meet:

Jeannette Kocsis – Harte-Hanks

Graeme McLaughlin – BCAA

Detlev Johnson — Search Return

Join us October 14th from 2-3pm and October 15th from 10-11am. If you join us on the 14th, you can help me celebrate my birthday. There may even be cake (and really, shouldn’t every conference session have cake?).

But seriously, the Search Marketing Experience panels are not to be missed. After all, it’s not every day that you can receive thousands of dollars of SEO advice for the cost of a conference pass. Just one tip could literally pay for the entire trip. Really.

If you want to drill down into SEO copywriting and content development, I’m co-presenting with Graeme McLaughlin on “Profiting through the Search Engine Sales Cycle“ on Monday, October 12th from 3-4:15. I’ll be discussing how to make money, see higher search rankings and streamline your spend with SEO copywriting — and Graeme will present his case study about how BCAA is leveraging content on their site. Graeme’s a great guy with an even better accent — it should be a rockin’ session.

See you in Vegas, baby.

Does your Website copy sound like a bad date?

Does your Website copy sound like a bad date?

Once upon a time, I went on a date with a boy named Mark. During the course of the date, he proceeded to tell me about his acting career (bitchin’- he was starring in his friend’s independent no-budget film), his job (he was making killer tips), his financial situation (awesome — he’s finally able to move away from home) and his abs (they were in noxious pain, dude, because he was “whalin’ on them” earlier.)

I made it through half my drink before I couldn’t take it anymore. At first, I thought it was his use of “dude” every third word. Or about how someone could spend that much time talking about his abs. Then I realized something, as narcissistic as it sounded — I could have probably overlooked a number of conversational sins if he would have done just one thing: talked less about himself, and focused more on me.

And really, deep down, don’t we want it to be all about us?

Of course we do. So why do companies insist on creating ego-driven content that doesn’t focus on the reader?

I know, I know. You didn’t mean to sound like a bad date. When you approved your corporate copy to read, “Our 50,000 square foot facility is state of the art,” you really did think that your customers would care. But think about it. Your 50,000 square foot facility provides me as much of a benefit statement as hearing about my friend’s abdominal muscles. Why would I care about your factory size when what I really care about is that you carry hard-to-find, full-warrantied parts you can ship overnight for 20 percent less than the manufacturer.

Wondering if your site does nothing but talk about your company’s coolness? Future Now has a great tool called the We We Calculator. Simply submit your URL to learn your “customer focus rate” percentage, and how many times you used “customer focus words.” If your percentage is low, you’re asked if your self-focused copy “might have an impact on your effectiveness.”

Try it. You’ll be surprised. You may be more of a bad date than you ever thought.