2013 recap for SEO copywriters: What’s cool, what sucked

Be different2013 was a big year for SEO copywriters.

It wasn’t so long ago that I was railing against content farms and spammy search results. This year, Google has made some major strides that changed the game and improved the SERPs. Heck, Google’s search results have gotten good enough that Jill Whalen left the industry. And that’s saying something.

Let’s talk about what happened this year – and what it means for SEO copywriters:

What’s cool

Google is definitely tightening the content quality noose. Techniques that used to work, such as “stitching” articles and spammy anchor text links in press releases are no longer considered OK (for more about press releases, here’s a great explanation from the Bruce Clay blog.)

Plus, the Hummingbird algorithm reinforces that writers don’t have to shovel keywords into the content. Yes, know your keyphrases. Understand the reader’s intent. But focus your writing on the reader – not on what you think Google “needs to see” for a top search ranking.

Does this mean that SEO copywriting is dead? Or dying? Or it’s so easy now that anyone can do it?  No. As AJ Kohn said in a Google+ post, “The ‘write naturally’ movement misses the fact that most people don’t write well.” True dat.

What it does mean is Google is finally going back to basics. Old-school print copywriters knew that every word they wrote needed to be laser-focused on the reader. We never wrote an additional 200 words of brochure copy because we thought we “needed to.” We wrote what we needed to write to tell the story.

Yes, storytelling is a big deal. Learn it. Do it. 

The key here is “telling the story” – and telling it in a unique and compelling way. In past blog posts, I discussed the importance of “commanding SEO content.” Content that’s so unique, compelling and powerful that it deserves a top spot.  As Seth Godin says, “The only reason to build a website is to change someone.”  If you’re just going through the paces and writing stuff because you’re trying to make Google happy, you’re doing it wrong.

Google doesn’t buy from you. Your customers do.

I see these changes as a good thing. I’m not nervous about the future. I’m excited. Because – finally – the conversation is starting to change. It’s not “how many words can we write for Google?” It’s “how can we create content that’s truly powerful and tells the story?”

What sucked

Google’s new Keyword Tool is pretty miserable for keyphrase research. There may be a writer who loves using it – but I haven’t talked to him or her yet. My recommendation is that Google is good for “training wheels” keyphrase research. But if you want to really turn your research up to 11, it means working with a more robust keyphrase research tool.

That means writers need to invest in something like Wordtracker, Keyword Discovery or their other favorite tool of choice (which is something they should be doing anyway.)

Of course, Google’s decision to list all organic keyphrases as [not provided] was a major kick in the teeth. Once upon a time, it was easy to see the keyphrases that were driving the most traffic. Now, things are a little more tricky. Can it be done? Sure. But you need to know how to do it. Tracy Mallette’s [not provided] roundup provides a great overview on what this means and what to do.

What SEO copywriters need to do in 2014

First, you need to be prepared to up your writing game. If you’re an OK writer, it’s time to put the time in to get really, really good. Now is not the time to sit back and figure your writing is “good enough.”

Good enough just won’t cut it anymore.

Ann Handley wrote a fantastic article about how 2014 is the year of good writing.  One of my favorite quotes from her article is:

Next—in 2014 and beyond—comes the notion that good writing is the foundation of all good content, whether that content is a 140-character tweet or the product pages of your website or your content marketing infographic.

I. Love. This.

Second, if you want to truly succeed as an SEO copywriter – whether you work in-house or freelance – you need to keep up with the latest information. It’s scary how many smart SEO copywriters don’t know what rel=author is. I mention Schema.org and I can see their eyes glaze over. When I mention Hummingbird, they don’t understand what it means and how it’s important.

And that’s sad.

You have a responsibility to your clients, your company and yourself to stay informed. That doesn’t mean you need to be an SEO expert. But you do need to keep your head in the game. Yes, improve your writing skills. But know what’s happening out in the wide world of Google. For every thing you don’t know, you’re missing opportunities. You’re leaving money on the table. You’re falling behind.

In short: get educated or get out.

There are a host of resources (free and paid) that can help you. Use them. Learn from them. Consider them business expenses that are just as important as your phone, your laptop and your software. Because they are.

Like Ann, I see 2014 as a very exciting year for SEO copywriters. I see lots of opportunity – and lots of revenue for smart SEO copywriters.

I’m ready. Are you?

Let’s rock it. Together.

Ready to learn some advanced B2B writing skills? Check out the B2B SEO Copywriting Certificate courses – all taught by industry experts.


12 replies
  1. Julia McCoy says:

    Awesome, informative article. Good doesn’t cut it anymore in various ways – 500 words isn’t long enough, seo keywords and density doesn’t matter as much as good writing does, inlinking will be more important than ever, etc. You must be researching every day, every week, to stay ON TOP in the copywriting industry. Finding out those “tips” that the majority of others don’t know could be the difference between success and failure for copywriters in 2014.

    • Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      @Julie – thank you for your comments! You definitely have to keep up with the daily SEO news. I took some time away from the computer last year and was shocked at what happened while I was gone. It took a looonngg time to catch up. Things are shifting pretty rapidity – and you’re right, those tips could be the difference between success and failure.

      That’s why I’ve always said that SEO copywriting (and SEO in general) is the perfect career for people who love fast-paced industries. There’s never a dull moment…


  2. Troy Bombardia says:

    Yea Google really killed all those spammy writers and spammy websites. They killed the Exact Match Domains, where previously really crappy sites (eg howtoinstallwordpress.com) could show up on the 1st page of Google with literally 1 page of content.
    Word count also was dramatically increased – good posts in Google’s eyes now need to be over 700 words.

  3. Roger VanB says:

    How, with the rapid change in your industry, does a small business person stay abreast of what is effective to promote the business. If one SEO org is good today and gone tomorrow it creates significant burden on the small business owner who is trying to focus on new and existing customers. Thanks for your input

    • Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      This is a toughie.

      Small businesses tend to always get the short end of the stick. Too many responsibilities, not enough folks to learn (and implement.)

      My advice would be to bring on a consultant who is OK with working a few hours a quarter. Have him/her assess your site, develop a process and train your team. After that, they could check in with you on a monthly basis (or even better – quarterly) to tell you what’s new, measure your success and tweak your process.

      Yes, it costs money – but it’s less than hiring a firm. And it’s a faster way to keep up with the latest and greatest.

      Your other alternative is to spend a lot of time reading blogs, books, tweets, etc. You may save money this way, but you won’t save time – and you probably won’t be as efficient.

      How else can I help?

  4. Cat Fyson says:

    Hi Heather,

    Brilliant piece that really gets to the crux of things. As someone who works in content marketing, this is an exciting turn for SEO. Stories are always going to be more engaging to readers, and so it’s time to get more creative!


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