Writing for Print vs. Web: 5 Tips for Catalog Copywriters

Confession: Catalog copywriters have yelled at me during an in-house training. Two separate times.

Teaching print copywriters the difference between writing for the web vs. print can be an interesting challenge. A common misconception is that web SEO copy is “thin,” keyphrase-stuffed and poorly written. So, when I start talking a mile-a-minute about “putting keyphrases into content” and “Title tags,” the first reaction is often something like:

“What the hell is she talking about? Stick random words in our copy just for search engines? No way.”

That’s when the yelling starts (and the real learning takes place.) By the end, they’re totally on board with the “writing for web vs print” fundamentals.

If you’re a print catalog copywriter looking to make the leap into SEO writing, here are some things to consider (and yes, you can yell at me if you need to!). :)

Good SEO copywriting for catalog sites is good writing, period.

Yes, this means that you have to include certain words (otherwise known as keyphrases) in your copy. However, the keyphrases should never detract from your content’s “voice” or flow.

Keyphrases are your friends.

Adding keyphrases (the words people type into a search box to find your products)  help people easily find your product pages  – and it’s a must-do strategy for top search positions. Otherwise, it’s like writing a fantastic catalog description, but only mailing the catalog to a few people. If you want to maximize the number of people who see your product page, keyphrases are key.

Longer copy is a good thing.

Does writing only 50-75 words for a print catalog seem stifling? Time to rejoice – the search engines reward product pages with original, descriptive and keyphrase-rich web copy. You still want to write tight content that’s easy to scan, but know you have more room to move with the copy length.

You can learn SEO writing – even if you’re not a “techie.”

It’s true that new terms like “meta description,” “H1 tags,” and “Titles” can initially seem intimidating. An easy way of remedying this is matching the SEO term to a concept that’s more familiar to you. Your headline goes in the H1 header tag. The meta description is like a short abstract. Titles are the headlines that appear on the search engine results page. It’s really that simple.

SEO writing is a must-have skill set.

More than ever, catalog companies are reducing the number of print catalogs they mail, or discontinuing their catalog all together. This means they’re looking for copywriters who can blend traditional print catalog writing guidelines with web SEO copy best practices.

If you don’t get the training you need, you may miss out to a less experienced (but more web savvy) writer. Now is the time. Really.

3 Ways to Save Money on SEO Copywriting

Greetings! In today’s Q&A video post, Heather addresses the question: how can I save money on SEO copywriting services? You may have noticed that professional SEO copywriting isn’t cheap. You do get what you pay for. So the challenge is if you want to build out really good content for your site, you’re looking at either:  A) learning how to do it yourself, which is an investment in time, or B) outsourcing your SEO copywriting to a professional, which will cost you money.

Sorry, but there’s no way around this one. If you want great SEO copywriting that gets results, you’ll have to pay for it one way or another. But there are ways you can save money on SEO copywriting services, right now!

Heather explains, focusing on saving money on your SEO content generation:

1) Repurpose Existing Content

There are very powerful ways you can leverage existing content: for instance, maybe someone on your staff has written a book, or possibly a “meaty” white paper: you can take these raw materials and repurpose some of the content into FAQ pages, blog posts, and tweets.

This is an especially smart strategy if your company has been around for awhile and you’ve archived content handy to revise and repurpose.

2) Get Trained in SEO Copywriting Best Practices

This applies to larger companies that have been outsourcing their SEO copywriting for all this time, as well as to those smaller to mid-sized businesses (SMB’s) that have talented writers on staff.

  • For larger companies: It can pay off in a big way to have everyone involved with content and content marketing trained in SEO copywriting best practices, be it marketing, branding, or even I.T. personnel: it’s important that they understand why SEO copywriters write the way they do, and how SEO copywriting fits into the whole web development process.
  • For SMB’s: It can be extremely cost-efficient to train those talented writers on your staff in SEO copywriting best practices, rather than relying on an outsourced SEO copywriter to create content.

3) Consider Guest Blog Posts from Loyal Customers or Readers

It can prove to be a costly investment of time and effort trying to figure out fresh, quality content for your blog. Having one of your loyal readers or customers write about their perception of your products or services via a guest blog post can help to pull in other readers/customers.

  • This will not only save you money, but will also serve to fill out some of those content “holes” in your editorial calendar, and serve your readers by highlighting fresh perspectives from others.

The main thing to consider is that whatever you do, think Quality. Make sure the content on your website, blog, or social media site is something you’re proud of, and want to share with others.

Change the Game of Search by Defining Your Content Category

Guest Author, Joe Pulizzi

Joe is a leader in the content marketing space. Not only does he “get” the importance of quality, well-written content, but he’s also a fantastic evangelist who’s helping to transform the industry. I’ve always enjoyed his perspective, and I’m honored that he’s providing today’s guest post. Enjoy! — Heather

It happens all the time. A brand defines the search terms that their customers are looking for around their products and services. Then they actively create web content like blog posts, articles, ebooks and white papers around those terms.

Then the activation begins. The “content coordinator” comments on appropriate blog posts, shares the content in the right places online, does guest posts for link backs and more.

This can work. It may also produce crickets, depending on the difficulty of that keyword phrase. Sometimes, the clutter may simply be too much to cut through. I’ve seen some brands do everything possible and all the right things and still not crack the search rankings for a particular keyword.

Change the Game

I’m of the belief that the consistent creation of valuable online content can actually change the behavior of an industry…if you want it bad enough.

Our company, Junta42 and the Content Marketing Institute, made exactly this kind of move four years ago.  Back in 2007, the industry of non-media companies creating media was called custom publishing.  The term “custom publishing” was dominated by associations and large companies who had worked in that field for years.

We made the decision that instead of fighting for that keyword, we change the conversation.  Instead, we called the industry “content marketing”  My first blog post in April of 2007 was entitled “Why Content Marketing?” This was strange to literally everyone in the industry because no one had used this phrase in this way…but we dedicated ourselves to changing the game on that key phrase.

The results?  Content marketing is now THE phrase used for the industry.  According to Google Insights, content marketing is now used more than custom publishing worldwide.  Thousands of posts, hundreds of webinars, tens of ebooks and white papers, and a ton of community support, and it happened:

This one decision has made all the difference for our business.

And we’re not alone.  Citrix GoToMeeting has done the same thing with “Workshifting,”  the concept that people can work from anywhere today. HubSpot has done it with inbound marketing.

This type of strategy is not easy. You may not choose the right term.  Customers and industry influencers may not spread your message.

It takes a lot of customer listening and a ton of research to choose a term that will work for you, your customers, and ultimately drive business.

But, if it works, it’s a game changer.  If it works you can dominate an industry within that keyword phrase and all variations of that phrase.

So, what will your phrase be?

Joe Pulizzi is founder of the Content Marketing Institute.

How Good Pick-Up Lines Can Help You Write Great B2B Copy

When you were single, did you use the same pick-up line every time?

If you were talking to the smart guy (or girl,) you probably led with a brainy comment.

If a hockey fan caught your eye, you’d chat about the Stanley Cup and the Bruins.

If you thought an outdoorsy-looking person looked hot, you may mention your love for everything REI.

The key is, you’d change what you’d talk about depending on your, um, target audience. I bet it even came naturally. You’d do it to make a a better connection, faster – and move him or her to your next conversion step (asking them out.)

Why don’t we take the same care with our web copy?

Many B2B websites use the same pick-up line, expecting it to work with every audience they serve.

Rather than personalizing the reader pitch, their copy is the equivalent of “Hey, baby. How YOU doin’?”  It’s general. It’s untargeted. It’s all about them. And it doesn’t show that the company understands anything about their target audience.

Sure, this approach may work some of the time. But it won’t work most of the time. Here’s what to do instead:

I’ve talked before about creating vertical-specific landing pages for B2B copy. This gives companies two distinct advantages:

  • You can speak specifically to what’s important to a defined customer persona. For instance, dental offices and real estate agents buy mailing lists. However, the benefits to a real estate agent (finding possible home buyers within a certain demographic group,) is different than dental offices (finding families within a certain zip code.)
  • Splitting your pages up by vertical allow you to capitalize on less competitive (but still highly targeted) keyphrases. For instance, it could be tough to gain a competitive ranking for the phrase “mailing list.” It’s a heck of a lot easier to position for “real estate agent mailing lists.” Plus, searchers entering your site off that phrase would be highly targeted.

For instance, let’s look at this example from Constant Contact:

You can see how the company was able to customize the copy (and the application list) for the target audience.

Compare this to another Constant Contact page targeted towards consultants:

See what they’re doing? Their pick-up lines are personalized for the audience. They know what real estate agents and consultants want to hear – and it’s addressed in the copy. The “voice” is personal and friendly, not the B2B equivalent of “How YOU doin’?”

In short, the way they wrote their copy helps them make a better connection, faster, with their audience.

And I bet their copy converts like crazy, too.

What do you think? What’s your favorite way of connecting with your target audience?

How to Save Time and Money on Web Copy Revisions

save-timeThere’s nothing worse than seeing a SEO content strategy stall because the revision process gets hairy. I’ve seen writers quit, team members refuse to speak to each other and turf wars break out between agencies – just because everyone had a different idea of what the copy should read like.

It doesn’t have to be that way (really!) Here’s how to avoid it.

  • Before the first word is written, meet with all involved team members and brainstorm ideas. Some companies wait until after the content is written before they get feedback from marketing, sales, IT and customer service. Instead, consider getting everyone in the same room for a content brainstorming session. A quick 60-minute meeting allows everyone to be “heard” – and could generate some great content ideas
  • Give everyone one point of contact by appointing a “Copy Czar.” Having one point of contact speeds up the revision process. There is nothing that slows things down faster than a bunch of emails flying back and forth – and a confused writer who doesn’t know what changes to implement. The Copy Czar is the final authority who chooses what revisions make the cut – and what gets left on the editing room floor.
  • Find a writer with the experience you need. If you are revising your SEO copy, you’ll need someone who knows how to write for search engines. You can train an in-house copywriter, but know that you’ll be dealing with a high number of revisions and more overall time spent (after all, they’re just learning!). If time is short, find someone who has experience. You’ll save a lot of time, and cut way back on revisions.
  • Know that clarity = fewer (or no) revisions. Do you want your copywriter to use a certain tone and feel in your copy? Are certain benefit statements very powerful? The Editor should give the copywriter very clear marching orders. Telling the writer, “Whatever you think is best,” doesn’t make them feel warm and fuzzy.  What the writer hears is: “Write something, and if we don’t like it, we’ll have you completely rewrite it.”
  • If you are the writer, make sure you insist on very clear direction. Ask detailed questions. Create a rough outline and get initial approval.  Send emails like, “I plan to focus on these benefit statements in the copy. Are you in agreement?” The more you communicate, the less chance that someone will come back and say, “I don’t know why you wrote it this way. Can you do it over?” Again, clarity = fewer (or no) revisions.
  • Give very clear feedback. Yet again, we’re back to the clarity = fewer (or no) revisions equation. Comments like, “I don’t like this” and “Why did you do it this way” aren’t helpful.  Your copywriter can’t crawl into your brain and see what you don’t like about the page. If you don’t like something, explain what you would like to see and offer an example. Your writer will love you for it. Trust me.
  • Decide how many revisions are really necessary. If you’re outsourcing your content, this is easy – most writers will cut their clients off after a certain number of revisions and charge extra for additional changes. (They don’t do it to be evil; they do it to keep from tweaking the same piece of content 100 times without getting paid.) If your copywriter is in-house, the Copy Czar should set the expectation with all team members that there will be X revisions – period. That guarantees that you hit your SEO content milestones – and you can successfully launch your new content on time.

Should Your SEO Content Marketing Take a Holiday?

I read a brilliant article yesterday called “Your customers aren’t taking the next 45 days off,” by Matt Heinz.  His point was that now is the best time to market your B2B company. And I agree with him.

But I understand if your automatic reaction is, “Heck no. Not now. All of my clients are on holiday.”  That’s what I used to think too. I’d work my butt off for 11 months out of the year, figuring that December would be smooth, easy sailing.

And I’d be wrong every single year. Last year, I was sending in proposals the week before Christmas. Heck, I received sales calls on Christmas Eve. People were  buying and making quick decisions.

I expect this December to be just as wacky (in the good way.)

The reality is, people are working during the next 45 days. Vendors are being researched. Contracts are being signed. Checks are being cut. Budgets are still being finalized. You may say that this is your “seasonal slow time,” but consider if that’s just an excuse for not trying. After all, if your customers are working – should your SEO content marketing campaign really take a holiday? Or is there something you can do?

My take: There’s always something you can do. Here are some ideas:

  • If you’ve always thought about starting an email newsletter, why not start one now? If you work fast, you can send your first one out this month. Or, if it makes more sense, you can launch your newsletter in the New Year.
  • Do you have a lot of Web content that needs to be written? Why not take the time to find an experienced SEO copywriter who can take the work off your plate. Your SEO copywriter could be a smart cookie who already works for you. Or, they could be a vendor that you contacted and “clicked” with.
  • Do you know that one of your Web pages would “sell better” if it was rewritten? Why stand in the way of future profits? Rewrite it now and see if you can make more money this month.
  • Are case studies important to your business? Why not write one this December? There’s a good chance that your clients have a little more time to chat this holiday season, and can help you create a compelling case study.
  • When’s the last time that you revisited your customer persona and your benefit statements.  If your marketing message is pre-recession, it could pay to develop a new game plan.

Don’t be a holiday SEO content slacker – especially if being one could hurt (or stall) your marketing efforts. Make a promise to yourself to do at least one thing towards your content marketing strategy this December. Just one. That’s it.

You may be amazed at the results.

How to stop worrying about Google updates…

…and learn to love writing really great SEO copy!

Greetings & welcome back! In today’s SEO copywriting video how-to, Heather discusses a most timely topic since Matt Cutts’ recent, ominous-sounding pronouncement that the next Google Penguin update will be “jarring” to SEO’s and Webmasters – and that is, how to stop worrying about Google updates and start writing really great SEO copy!

Tune in and learn how to set yourself free…

Fear is counterproductive

The thing is, around all the Google updates and the stress that comes with them, that fear is really counterproductive.

  • Get out of the learned helplessness trap!
  • Google updates are not an excuse to stop writing content.
  • Think of this as an OPPORTUNITY. Good content is still good for Google.

What this fear of Google updates does is get a lot of companies stuck in this learned helplessness trap: they don’t know what Google is going to do next and so they use that as an excuse to stop writing content. They completely freak out within the organization!

But instead of being all fearful about what Google is going to do next, think of what’s going on as an opportunity: Good content is still good for Google.

I know that it’s not sexy news, but there are a number of sites out there that never got penalized by either Panda or Penguin – they came through just fine! And that could be you.

The key is to focus on what your customers and readers are looking for, and stop focusing so much on what you think Google might want!

Focus on making your content better

So think of ways you can focus on making your content better, and this will help you ride through those algorithmic updates. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What questions do our prospects/customers ask? Do we answer them on the site?

That’s a great way to be able to get folks to come to your site that might not know anything about you! You might also want to ask…

  • Does our content really represent our company?

I’ve talked with a number of people who’ve said: “Yeah, we don’t really love the content that’s there – it doesn’t really sound likes us – but it’s what we have, so we’re stuck with it.”

No! You’re not stuck with it! If it doesn’t represent your company, then change it!

  • How can we create quality content within our organization?

If you’re not satisfied that your website copy represents your company, you can change it either in-house, and write that quality content within your organization, or if you are maxed out internally and that’s not an option – then outsource it!

Find someone you can trust to work with: just last week, I talked about how to find a (Google-savvy) SEO copywriter.

  • Do we have low quality content on the site that we need to fix?

You might also want to evaluate your site and see if you have low quality content that you need to fix.

On the lower left-hand side of the slide there is a link to an article written by Jill Whalen about other types of low quality content – those things you might want to evaluate on your own site to see if it’s something that you might want to tweak.

And…

  • You also want to look at your analytics!
  • Think of ways to increase your conversion rates!

Wouldn’t it be better to focus on “how can we drive more sales?” and think of ways that you’re able to do so, rather than “Oh my goodness, what is Google going to do next?”

Because at the end of the day, Google does not pay your bills – your customers do.

So if you can figure out how your content can make your site more money, then that is a much better discussion to have than “Oh my goodness, what is the next update going to do to our site?”

Focus your content around your readers, and when the next update rolls around, then you are probably going to be much more relaxed about it, because you’re coming at it from a different angle – rather than trying to tweak your content to fit what you think Google wants today.

That said…if you have questions about what Google wants and are looking for a checklist for evaluating your content, simply sign up for my free weekly SEO Copywriting Buzz newsletter, and/or choose to receive daily blog post updates, and receive my free “How to write for Google” whitepaper!

Thanks so much for tuning into today’s SEO copywriting video how-to!

As always, if you have any questions at all, or if you are interested in the SEO Copywriting Certification training, please let me know – I’m happy to help! I can be reached via [email protected], or via Twitter @heatherlloyd.

 

photo thanks to marklarson  (Mark Larson)

 

 

Last call for SEO Copywriting Certification scholarship contest entries: if you haven’t entered to win a full scholarship to the SEO Copywriting Certification training yet, you have until 11:59 p.m. Eastern today to do so! Enter now at: Win an SEO Copywriting Certification Scholarship!

And remember – you have absolutely nothing to lose! Everyone who enters receives 20% off the certification training, plus 10% off the Copywriting Business Bootcamp training, through September 7th!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just Hire a Content Marketing Strategist, Already!

So, I turned down a SEO copywriting job today.

No, the reason didn’t have anything to do with what the client would pay (the money was pretty good, actually.) Nor did it have anything to do with what I’d be writing about (the content was fairly interesting.)

The reason I turned down the gig was because there was no content strategy in place – and although I could easily write the copy and take the client’s money, I knew that what I’d be doing wouldn’t help them.

Yes, I can write articles. Yes, those articles can easily have keyphrases. But to write 80 articles all focused around one keyword each…well…that’s not a content marketing strategy. That’s a step closer to Spamville.

What’s hard is explaining this to the client, who learned about this “content marketing strategy” from their marketing agency.  The agency explained to the client that if having one article on their site is good, 80 is better – especially when each article has a specific keyword density (can you SEE me rolling my eyes…argh!).

What’s more, the agency told the client that HOW the article was written really didn’t make much of a difference. It was all about focusing the article around one lone keyword.

Ouch.  What makes it worse is that I know the agency the prospect was working with. And I know that – every month – these poor folks are paying about 20K/month for advice like that. For some of us, 20K/month would mean a new car. Or a partial down payment on a house. You know, something that would be useful…

I’ve seen this same problem manifest in different ways, some more “SEO dangerous” than others.

Sometimes, the issue would qualify as a “stupid strategy” That is, it’s a strategy that won’t really help a client and shows that the SEO doesn’t know anything about content marketing (although they could be a fantastic technical SEO.)

Other times, I hear of weird content interlinking and keyword-stuffing strategies that are painful to hear about – and would be even more painful to implement. During times like these, it’s hard to keep my mouth shut and not say, “Um, WTF is your agency thinking?” (And for folks who know me personally, you know that, yes, I DO ask that question. I can’t help it. It’s how I roll.)

Here’s the thing: Your content marketing strategy is crucial. You wouldn’t hire a SEO strategist who didn’t understand the technical ins-and-outs of a Website. Nor would you hire an affiliate marketing strategist who knew nothing about affiliate marketing.

But why, oh why, do agencies (and SEO companies) think that it’s not important to have a content marketing strategist on staff? And what’s more – why aren’t clients screaming for this type of expertise?

A content marketing strategist is more than a glorified copywriter who helps makes your content pretty for Google. This person is responsible for reviewing your existing content, noticing how it performs, reviewing your customer messaging, and building-out value-added content your prospects want to read (and yes, helps them convert.)

They may be expert SEO practitioners,  but their focus is around your messaging and your opportunities. Not to mention, watch-dogging your existing content play to make sure that everything you do fits neatly into best practices.

So, here’s my call to action…

If you are an agency or a SEO company, for goodness sake, just hire a content marketing strategist already. You don’t have to bring them on full-time (although I’d recommend it.) Even having an outsourced content marketing strategist will help. If nothing else, your content marketing strategist may see opportunities that a more “technical” SEO wouldn’t see – and these opportunities can help increase the value of a contract (and more importantly, increase the value to the client.)

This way, Mr. Technical SEO or Ms. Agency Marketer, you can focus on what you know and excel with – and the content strategist can do her thing.

If you are a client working with an agency or SEO, ask about their content strategy process. If the agency dances around the whole “content marketing strategist” talk, run. Run away. And run fast. For the most technically-savvy SEO’ed site doesn’t mean a thing without a good content marketing strategy. After all, are people buying from you because your site boasts elegant code and a slammin’ back end? Or because of your content and how it’s presented?

At the end of the day, as Seth Godin said, “The best SEO is great content.” When you work with a specialist, he can make your content great – and help you make content decisions that make sense for your site. It doesn’t get better than that.

Baby-Step Your Way Into an SEO Content Development Campaign

Are you doing nothing with your SEO content development campaign because you can’t do everything, right now?

I received a question that I thought was excellent – and illustrates a common fear around launching a SEO copywriting campaign.

“Hi Heather,

I was just reading your latest newsletter and noticed the section titled “Do you have SEO copywriting questions you need answered?” There’s something I’m curious about, and I didn’t know if it might be something your other subscribers would be interested in as well…

I’ve talked to a couple of digital marketing specialists lately who claim that SEO copywriting does no good without an overall, long-term strategy. So, my question is this: Is there value in doing some initial keyword research to create compelling, keyword-rich web content (and then incorporating those keyword phrases into additional online collateral like e-zines, blog posts and press releases)? Or should companies hold off until  they can afford it all — social media, link building strategies, blogging, analytics, PPC, etc.)?”

Yeah, I hear things like this all the time. And it’s sad, because the mindset is so, so wrong.  Here’s why:

In a perfect world, yes, it would be great to have a completely robust SEO strategy in place, and the content development would be a piece of the search marketing pie. That’s when clients can see the fastest results (which makes sense, since you’d be leveraging multiple marketing touchpoints.)

But here’s the thing: That’s not always the reality. For many businesses — and this is applicable for small businesses as well as Fortune 500 companies — doing everything, all at once isn’t feasible. Maybe it’s because of finances.

Maybe the company is working things out internally. Sure, they may be ready to do one thing (like content development,) but not a link building strategy. Yet.

Does this mean that a company should wait until they have the time, budget and manpower to launch a full-scale campaign?

Hell no!

I’m not saying that companies should run out, willy-nilly, and “try some SEO stuff” without having some sort of strategy – that’s just stupid. But, sheesh…if all you can do is write your butt off in an attempt to gain more search rankings, see better conversions and brand your businesses, then write your butt off.

Be smart about it – you may want to hire a content marketing strategist to teach you the ropes and set strategy. Or train your team in SEO copywriting best practices. But by all means – write.

It’s like telling someone that they don’t need to try to lose weight until they’ve created a 3-month meal plan, have an exercise strategy in place, hired a personal trainer, have eliminated sugar and caffeine from their diet and have purchased new exercise clothes. Gee. Can’t someone just start by eliminating their before-bedtime snack?

I’m a firm believer (and I’ve said this many times on stage) in SEO copywriting baby steps. If all you can realistically do this month is edit 15 pages for keyphrases and tweak your Titles – great. Or getting SEO copywriting training may be the easiest first step to take.

Just know that there are many ways to accomplish your content marketing goals – and, as Katherine Andes from the LinkedIn SEO Copywriting group said, “Eat the elephant one bite at a time.”