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, to many people, 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, overoptimized 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.

Ten common dumbass SEO copywriting mistakes

frustrated-dudeIt’s sad to see people set themselves up for SEO copywriting failure.

Every day, I talk to folks who literally hobble their own SEO success. It’s not that they don’t have the resources for a robust SEO copywriting campaign. Heck, sometimes, these folks are swimming in budget (really!), have talented in-house copywriters and a solid site design. Where they get stuck is that they’re making the same dumbass SEO copywriting mistakes over and over…yet expecting different results.

If this sounds like you, please, please, consider this a wake-up call.  It is possible to do lots of cool things with your content – capture leads, encourage downloads and even make sales.

But the first step is admitting you have a problem. Once you do, you can pinpoint the dumbass mistake you’re making and see some positive changes. For once.

Here are ten dumbass SEO copywriting mistakes to watch for:

  • You’re writing articles for SEO purposes only. OK, I know that articles are “linkbait” and drive traffic. I get that. What I don’t get are folks who churn out crappy, keyphrase-stuffed articles about, say, “digital cameras” and expect that the search engine floodgates will open. Just because your drivel drives traffic (maybe), doesn’t mean it will help you make money.
  • You’re creating content without measuring your results. I spoke to someone who submitted scads of articles to free article syndication sites. When I asked if he was gaining traffic from his efforts, he said he “didn’t know.”  Yet, he was spending $1,000 a month for an unproven strategy that I can almost guarantee brought in zero cash. Folks, if you’re spending money, you should always, always know if you’re seeing some ROI.
  • You’re keeping the writing in-house when you have no idea what you’re doing. Hey, I’m the first person to admit that folks can easily bypass outsourced SEO copywriting services and write compelling copy in-house. But if you throw someone into the SEO copywriting waters without a little guidance, you’re setting them up (and your site) for failure. There are scads of low-cost SEO copywriting training options out there, including books, seminars and online training. For sites with complex needs, a customized SEO copywritiing training can help you set strategy and give your team a step-by-step roadmap. The investment will be worth it.
  • You’re paying bottom-dollar for SEO copywriting services. I’ve ranted on this many times before. No, you don’t have to pay someone $1,500 to write a good Web page. And yes, there are many firms that offer good-to-excellent SEO copywriting services for less. But if you’re paying $10 a page, do you really think you’re going to see quality? Really?
  • You aren’t tracking your keyphrase usage. The key to a successful SEO copywriting campaign is more than choosing targeted keyphrases. It’s knowing how those keyphrases should appear and overlap throughout your site. If you’re uploading content without making sure that your keyphrase choices mesh with your overall campaign, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
  • You’re working with too many providers and no-one is setting strategy.  I’ve worked with clients who have three SEO copywriters and one SEO firm – but no main strategy. As a result, everyone did their own thing to make themselves look good, but no-one was looking out for #1 (the client.) So, let me be clear: Without an overarching SEO content strategy, you are going to hemorrhage cash and pay for SEO copywriting services that don’t help you. Don’t make this mistake.
  • You’re ignoring the direct response aspect of SEO copywriting. Sticking keyphrases into your copy is the easy part. The hard part is making what you have to offer so compelling that people need to buy from you. Blow this step off at your conversion peril.You want people to immediately take action when they visit your site – not immediately back out and visit your competition.
  • Your pages are benefit-statement free. Do you tell people why they should buy from you? On every page? I don’t know how many times clients tell me about the cool things their company offers – but the information is nowhere on their site.
  • You pushed all your content to the bottom of the page, figuring that “people don’t read.” It’s not that people don’t read online. People read differently online – and you have to account for those differences when you’re writing and structuring your content. Besides, why waste an opportunity to show off your benefits and connect with your customer?
  • You ignore the low-hanging SEO copywriting fruit. For goodness sake, it’s not that hard to do some keyphrase research, edit some pages and change some Titles. If you can’t do it, find a firm that offers SEO copywriting services and have them help you. Yes, there will be an investment of time, money or both. But it’s all worth it if it gets more targeted folks through your virtual doors.