How a Personal Crisis Shaped My Business

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I don’t typically write about personal “stuff” on the SEO copywriting blog. Marty
shape-businessWeintraub’s post, “Manage Like You’re Dying: A Humbled Entrepreneur’s Reflections” inspired me. Thank you, Marty, for sharing your story so others can do the same.

I’m going to tell you a story not many people know.

Eleven years ago, my then-husband committed suicide. Saying that I was “devastated” doesn’t come close to describing how I was feeling. I don’t remember much about that time. That’s probably a blessing.

At the time, SuccessWorks was barely two years old. SEO copywriting was a brand new concept. I was still very much in start up, with less than two nickels to rub together. Suddenly, I found myself grieving, damn near psychologically comatose and in an incredible amount of personal debt. But if I wanted to stay afloat, I had to suck it up and keep my business running.

That dreadful experience shaped my business more than any book, conversation, or mentor. Here’s what I’ve learned.

  • Life is short – enjoy what you do. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a few buyout offers and job opportunities. I would be a much richer woman had I taken advantage of even one of those opportunities. I couldn’t – and didn’t – because I wouldn’t love what I did anymore. I wouldn’t have my self-employed freedom.  If you’re in a job you hate – or working with clients that make you twitch every time they call – consider if it’s really worth it. The answer: Probably not.
  • Believe in your vision – even if others can’t see it. There were times that I wanted to roll up in a fetal position and stay there. I’d look at the debt and the bank balance and wonder WTF I was thinking. At the same time, I was blessed with incredible focus. I choose to not think about the “bad stuff” and turned my attention to what was working. That minor attitude shift made all the difference.
  • Asking “why me” does nothing but zap your energy. If you’re going through crisis, by all means, grieve. Rant. Cry. But know that it’s not personal. You were not singled out for this experience. We all have dark nights of the soul. It’s part of the experience.
  • Treat your supporters like gold. I learned who my friends really were during that time, and I love them with all my heart. Today, I’m blessed with a number of cool confidants who let me be my weird, neurotic self and don’t judge me. They help keep me sane, and I would do anything for them. At the same time, I also learned to…
  • Cut loose anything that emotionally drains you. There are “emotional vampires” who suck your energy. Let them go. Others may be nice to your face, and drive the knife in the second your back is turned. Be kind and be compassionate, but don’t engage. Still others face draining situations or jobs. Determine how to find peace, or learn to walk away. It makes life much happier.
  • Trust your instincts. I found myself “managing by my gut” when I had no other frame of reference. If it felt good – I’d do it. If it didn’t – I wouldn’t. That’s helped me steer clear of some mighty bad business situations – and succeed in situations others thought I was insane to try.
  • Be clear about what’s fear-based behavior, and what’s real. If you’re in crisis mode, everything and everyone feels like a threat. You start to contract. Suddenly, you’re afraid to do things (expand your business, try public speaking, work with bigger clients) because you’re “not ready.” Examine your real motivations and take many calculated risks.
  • Believe in your abilities. Always. My experience 11 years ago helped me psychologically survive the worst of the recession and keep kicking. I may not have been in the best mood some days (major understatement.) But I’m still here and stronger for it.
  • Give back. Always. It blows me away to remember how many people have helped me throughout my life and career. Back in the dark days, complete strangers donated money so I could go on a mini-cruise with my friends. My mechanic worked on my car for free. It was incredible. Because of that experience, I make it a point to give back to my friends, my community and my industry. Everything and everyone is connected. It’s the least I can do.

Life has certainly changed since then. In fact, today is my two-year anniversary with my wonderful husband. SuccessWorks weathered the recession, survived and thrived. And, because of that experience 11 years ago,  I have a perspective that I never would have had.  In the words of Winston Churchill (one of my personal heroes,) “Never, never, never give up.”

Those are wonderful words to live by.

Happy Birthday, SuccessWorks

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What a difference 13 years can make.

I started SuccessWorks in 1998, one month after my father passed away. Back then, I had no idea how much my life would be influenced by my leap into self employment. All I was thinking was, “I want to be a writer.”

My father lived life on his own terms. I wanted the same for myself.

Today, I feel extremely blessed. I was able to enter the “SEO world” at the very beginning, making me a “first-generation” search marketer (kinda makes me feel old just typing it!). I’ve been able to combine my love for the written word with uber-geeky technical SEO techniques – and share the fun I have with SEO copywriting around the world.

And that’s pretty darn cool.

This month marks the beginning of some changes here at the SEO Copywriting blog. I’m going to take a step back and showcase other talented SEO writers, technologists and direct-response gurus. I’ve met some fantastic folks through my SEO Copywriting Certification training – smart, talented writers who “see” SEO copywriting slightly differently. You’ll be meeting some of them soon. You’ll like them.

I’ll also be running interviews with talented folks in the SEO space. These experts – many of them “first-gen” folks like myself – truly understand the value of smart content. Again, I am blessed with having grown up with many of these people – and I’ve learned a lot from them over the years. You’ll learn from them, too.

Yes, I’ll still be posting and sharing my knowledge – heck, this stuff is fun for me! Laura Crest (the woman who writes the wonderful Wednesday roundups) will be stepping in as Editor. That allows me more time to strategize, create more material for my SEO Copywriting Certificate class… maybe even take a day off now and then. :) The important thing to know is I’m still here.  The SEO Copywriting team is growing. And you’ll benefit from even more information and different “voices.”

If there’s anything you’d like to see featured in the SEO Copywriting blog, please comment below and tell us. Maybe you want more information on technical SEO stuff. Or analytics. Or maybe you’re a freelancer and you want to know how to make more money and build your client base.

We want to know.

Thank you, everyone, for the last 13 years. It’s been a great (and wild) time – and I’m ready for more.

How about you?

What I’m Grateful For…

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Do you celebrate Thanksgiving on auto-pilot?

You eat. You party. You watch sports and check out the latest movies. You hang out with friends and family. And in the back of your mind, you’re thinking, “Hey, I better get as much downtime as I can. Monday is just around the corner.”

That’s true – but the question is, “What are you grateful for?”

Did your mind automatically go to what you weren’t happy with? That’s normal. During challenging times (and no matter what the press says, the recession isn’t over for a lot of folks,) it’s easy to dwell in the bad and ignore the good. You look at dwindling cash flows – or clients with tighter purse strings – and sweat the unknown. Before you know it, you’re always there – in the bad stuff – and it’s hard to get out. I know. I’ve been there.

Or maybe you’re not really focused on the bad stuff, but you’re not noticing the good stuff either. When good stuff happens you shrug and think, “Well, yeah, I guess that’s OK.” But you don’t feel, just for a moment,  the gratitude from landing a new client. Or writing a incredible page. Or for hiring the one consultant who actually helped you. Or for your high school English teacher who always encouraged you (thank you, Gerry Vandeboe.)

There are those who start and end every day with making a list of what they’re grateful for. Although I’ve never been so disciplined, I do appreciate the ritual of taking time to focus on what’s good rather than what could be better. So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to share 10 things that I’m grateful for this year.

  1. I’m grateful for the people who helped me get my start in the wild and wooly world of SEO copywriting.  Danny Sullivan, Disa Johnson, Chris Sherman, Jill Whalen and other folks became my friends as well as my colleagues. Thank you.
  2. I’m grateful that the SEO Copywriting blog was ranking as one of the top 23 SEO blogs by Hubspot. That announcement made my day!
  3. I’m grateful for my SEO Copywriting Certificate students. They have provided me fantastic feedback, referred the training to others and has made every twice-monthly conference call fun.  You guys are helping me do exactly what I want to be doing.
  4. I’m grateful for fantastic help from folks like Paige Oliver, Laura Crest, Amy Teeple, Joe Dolson and Erin Kistner. These are the fantastic folks who help keep SuccessWorks running. They rock – hire them if you can!
  5. I’m grateful for my clients, past and present. Thank you! If it wasn’t for you guys, I wouldn’t be able to live the self-employed life.
  6. I’m grateful for my friends and family who put up with me spending more time in front of a computer than in front of them. Um, you know that I’m working on that – right? I’ll be there in just a minute…. :)
  7. I’m EXCEPTIONALLY grateful for my husband, Ron Blanchette, who married this self-described “lifetime bacholerette” and puts up with me on a daily basis.
  8. I’m grateful for my father, who taught me everything I know about business and interpersonal relations. Because of him, I realized early on that I was destined for self employment and planned my life accordingly.
  9. I’m grateful for all the really bad stuff that’s happened in my life. Counter-intuitive, I know – but without the “bad stuff,” I wouldn’t be the woman I am today.
  10. And of course….I’m grateful for you, dear reader. Thank you for reading each blog post (and for subscribing to the weekly SEO Copywriting Buzz newsletter.) Thank you for spending your hard-earned and precious time reading my Web copy tips.

What about you? What (or who) are you thankful for this holiday?

3 Ways to Conquer Your SEO Copywriting Fears

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Is your fear holding you back from SEO copywriting success?

At first read, you may think, “Fear? My fear isn’t holding me back from success.”

I used to think that too. About a lot of things. But ask yourself if any of these statements ring true for you:

“Our home page copy is really spammy, but it’s ranking well. I don’t want to change it and cause our rankings to drop.”

“We hired a copywriter a few years ago. Her writing was horrible. I’ll never outsource again – it was a dreadful experience.”

“I know we need to do something with our site, but what if it doesn’t work? If I can’t show ROI, I may not have a job at the end of the quarter.”

Or if you’re a copywriter, you may think…

“I want to start freelancing, but what if I don’t make any money. Better to keep my horrible job than be forced to live under a bridge.”

Sound familiar?

You go through a couple bad vendors and think, “Nope, never again.” You think of revamping your site copy and think, “Nope, it may not work.”

So you do nothing. But unfortunately, even doing “nothing” causes stress. Because deep down, you know that doing nothing has less to do with the numbers and everything to do with your psychological wiring.

In short, your fear is messing with you. And it’s costing you money.

I get it. I really do. I’ve been self employed for over 20 years, and I’ve had my share of fear-based moments. I’ve launched businesses with a scant $1,000 to my name. I’ve had vendors who worked…and others who really haven’t. And yeah, I’ve felt the fear.

And yeah, it messed with me too. It messes with everyone.

Now, here’s how to get over it.

  • Know that fear is sometimes a good thing. Fear can be your mind’s way of saying, “Hey, we’re doing something outside of our comfort zone. We don’t like this.” If you want to build muscle, you have to train outside of your comfort zone. And if you want to build revenue, sometimes, that means doing something outside of your business comfort zone. Can you imagine what your business life would be like if you didn’t have the guts to buy a domain name – or build a website – or take a chance on a risky project that netted you a lot of money. You’ve already conquered this fear already. You can do it again.
  • Outline a small, actionable step and do it.  How many things do you have on your “to-do” list like, “Talk to a copywriter,” or “Figure out how to handle our unoptimized pages.” Ack! With to-do’s like that, is it any wonder you’re stressed, overwhelmed and fearful? Focus your energies instead on one thing you can do to move the process forward.  For instance, ask your LinkedIn network for copywriter referrals. Divide your site into sections and list 10 unoptimized pages a day. Breaking up huge projects into small tasks helps you feel a sense of accomplishment. And before you know it, you’ll have completed what felt like an overwhelming task!
  • Understand that the past doesn’t dictate the present. Afraid to hire a new SEO copywriter because the last relationship was less than stellar. Guess what? Unless you’re still with your very first boyfriend (or girlfriend,) you’ve already conquered this fear. You dated again. You probably even had another long term relationship. You dealt with it. Just because you had a bad experience once doesn’t mean that it will repeat itself. Nor should a past experience (even if it just happened last week,) cause you to immediately reject a future one. Should you learn from your experience? Yes.  Should you take the lessons you learned and make more informed decisions? Yes. But the decision shouldn’t be “I’m too afraid to deal with this again.”

When you take action – even just a little bit – you’re taking control and meeting your fear dead-on. You don’t want the fear to win, do you? It doesn’t have to. And that’s something you can control.

SEO Copywriting Is Dead. Long Live SEO Content Marketing

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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, 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, over-optimized 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.

Starbucks’ Latest Marketing Blunder: Value Meal Pricing

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Insane womanIt is no secret that I frequently bang my head against a wall when I hear about Starbucks’ marketing.

There was the breakfast sandwich blunder. The incredibly horrible Gold Card blogging screw-up.

And now, the concept of Starbucks “value meals” (or, more accurately, what Howard Schultz calls “breakfast pairings at attractive prices.”)

What the hell are they thinking?

It must be hard for Starbucks’ marketing execs to see Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s – both firmly in the “fast good” space – gain advertising traction. First, Dunkin’s taste tests “proved” that people preferred Dunkin’ Donuts’ coffee over Starbucks. Then, McDonald’s announced their new McCafe coffeehouses with couches, music and wi-fi.

I can only imagine how those campaigns made the Starbucks collective corporate cream curdle.

But guess what? Starbucks has never been a fast food joint that’s used price as a differentiator. Starbucks is a destination cafe where folks can get a good cup of premium coffee, plug in their laptop and enjoy the third place experience.

Would I meet clients at a McDonald’s just because there’s a cafe? No.  Would I curl up with my Kindle at a Dunkin’ Donuts? No. I would imagine quite a few of Starbucks’ loyal followers feel the exact same way. If the perceived value is there – and Starbucks continues to be an integral part of their customers’ daily lives – people will pay more for their coffee.

The problem is: Starbucks is harming their perceived value.

Why is Starbucks suddenly competing on price and announcing “breakfast pairings at attractive prices?” I’m not saying that Starbucks should ignore the fact that they’re in the marketing cross hairs.  And yes, price is an important consideration in today’s economy.

But what I am saying that there are many different ways to react to the situation.

If Starbucks has to promote the food (and I would argue that Starbucks’ mucking about in food options has been more of a distraction than a customer benefit) promote the healthy options menu. There’s a differentiator – discuss how Fruit Stella bar and how it’s packed with omega-3s. Discuss the Power Protein Plate and how it’s a great alternative for low-carb dieters.  That’s a huge marketing opportunity that’s been lost – and that’s unforgivable.

Or if Starbucks really wanted to reinforce customer loyalty (and keep their existing users from trying less-expensive offerings,) why not make their existing coffee drinkers their customer evangelists? Why not focus on giving them the best possible experience rather than trying to pull an additional $25 for a Gold card membership.

Or…and here’s a crazy idea…why not decide that customers are such a priority that they handle loyalty cards in-house rather than outsourcing the project? It seems strange to me that Starbucks – a company that built its brand on the customer experience – would outsource their customer loyalty program  It’s like hearing that Mommy loves you – and then being foisted off on a nanny for your day-to-day care. There’s a perceived disconnect between words and action.

Please Starbucks – as one of your loyal customers – know that I’m there for the coffee, the partners and the experience.  Within walking distance of my condo, I can visit about five coffee places at 6:30a.m.  I choose Starbucks – and have always chosen Starbucks – for a reason. It’s my “third place” home.

And as a fellow marketer, get your acts together. Your brand – and brand loyalty – is yours to lose at this point. You’re frustrating your customers, pissing off your partners and sending out incredibly mixed messages. Customers will forgive a corporation that goes through hard times, lays people off, and starts making changes to benefit plans. It’s not fun – but it’s part of business-as-usual in today’s economy. What customers will not stand for is for the “third-place experience” to be eroded just because McDonald’s did some media-savvy marketing and got under your skin.

Man up, Starbucks. Get over yourselves and get back on track. Your loyal customers are counting on you.

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

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Wham.  I felt the flashback hit while I was reading the Web Workers Digest post.

The article “How to work with a reluctant social media client” was excellent. The author discussed why clients are reluctant of blogs and Twitter, discussed some ways to deal with the disconnect, and posed this question:

“Are we all just too ‘into it’ to remember that our clients are often way far away from it?”

What struck me, is you substitute “SEO copywriting” (or even search engine optimization”) for “social media,” this article could have been penned in 1998.  Hence the highly-painful flashback.

Back in SEO’s early days, first-generation search marketers was asking the same question.  Of course, no-one outside of our closed Searchie group knew what the hell redirects, Titles and HTML were.  Nor did many people care about their search rankings.

Geeks were truly ruling the Internet world back then, and we had our own lingo to prove it. That’s why conferences were so awesome – finally there was a group of people who “got” what we did and could discuss the details.

But our clients didn’t “get it.” And that was frustrating.   We couldn’t understand why people weren’t willing to plunk down cash for a well-optimized site when the upside was so clearly positive.  So in an attempt to educate the industry (and hopefully future clients) we we wrote the same kind of educational articles, got on the same bandwagon and preached to the same choir.  Our message – yes, dammit, SEO is worth it.

Fortunately, it worked.

Fast forward 10 years to a recent colleague dinner. Many of us present were part of that first-generation SEO group. Yet, some were reluctant (including myself) to consider Twitter a useful social media technique “It won’t work, it’s not proven, and who the heck cares about my random thoughts” were frequent comments. Later that night, I realized something horrible. I hadn’t turned into my parents…it was worse than that. I had turned into the cynical, “old-school” marketer that drove me nuts 10 years ago.

Fortunately, I got over myself and realized that Twitter is incredibly useful (and yes, you can send tweets to @heatherlloyd).

It is not lost on me that some of the biggest proponents of social media were still in high school when I was shouting about SEO copywriting from the rooftops. SEO copywriting is now consideration a foundational step for any SEO campaign, but it’s also considered Web 1.0.  It’s no longer trendy, or hip, or a big risky expense.

Sure, we still have to show ROI and educate clients. And there are still some companies that are new to the most basic SEO techniques.  But SEO is now considered a “standard” part of the marketing mix – just like social media will be 10 years from now.

What also isn’t lost on me is every marketer needs to break out of their comfort zone and stay current in today’s environment.  Sure, that’s easy enough to say – after all, it’s always crucial to stay abreast in one’s chosen profession. But being current also means embracing techniques that may not be a part of our current experience.

I may not feel compelled to tweet every 10 minutes, but I am convinced that Twitter is highly useful if you know how to work it. Same with blogging – as an “old school” writer, it goes against every fiber of my being to write an off-the-cuff post without spending the day tweaking it. But has it brought in leads, increased my exposure and helped me communicate in a new way? You bet. It’s one thing to demand change and growth from our clients. It’s another to demand it from ourselves.

Certainly, new marketing methods aren’t necessarily more important than proven ones . At the same time, today’s unproven opportunities can be tomorrow’s revenue-drivers for your company.

So why let fear hold you back from implementing an exciting new marketing channel?

What You can Learn From Starbucks Coffee’s Blogging Boo-Boos

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Oh Starbucks. Why are you walking away from the conversation?

As an every-day SBUX addict, I was researching their latest loyalty program – the Starbucks Gold Card (which, apparently, is black – not gold. Um…?)

For $25, I would get 10% off most purchases, free wi-fi for two hours, access to exclusive sales and what they call “member recognition” (strike one: I have to pay $25 on top of my daily coffee purchases to be “recognized?”).

So, like a good social media chick, I went to the Starbucks Blog where they posted a “sneak peek” of the Gold card (note: this blog post is gone and wasn’t even redirected to a custom 404 page. Bad Starbucks!). Although the tone and feel is a little too…corporate…for my taste, the original blog post did a good job outlining the benefits.

But then the problems began…

Comments started rolling in. People were (understandably) confused.

Did they need to combine their new Gold card with their regular Rewards card to get maximum discounts?

Why does someone need to pay to get a discount?

What kind of cool insider “member recognition” benefits will they recognize?

And why did the official Starbucks blog post specifically say, “so don’t be surprised if your barista isn’t up-to-speed yet!” (Great…so that means I have to pay for a discount AND educate my barista?)

So, let’s examine where Starbucks went wrong.

  1. There were 128 comments about the initial post. Starbucks responded twice. That’s it – even while there was a whirl of controversy going on. If you read through the comments, you’ll notice one customer who was incredibly excited about receiving a Gold Card get more and more discouraged with the Starbucks customer service process.  At no time did anyone step in and address his concerns. I would venture to say that the process basically turned a would-be evangelist into a cynical detractor.
  2. The official Starbucks response made it seem like a very elite group of people received a free card – and the rest of the registered Starbucks card users didn’t count.  Saying “Those that received the Gold card early were among our most dedicated and consistent registered card users,” is a slap in the face to people who (according to comments) spend thousands of dollars every year with Starbucks.  Heck, even I was miffed that I didn’t get a free offer – I’m in a Starbucks every day, sometimes twice a day.  It would have been much easier (and less offensive) to say that people were “randomly chosen.” People won’t argue with random…but they will feel cheated if they don’t feel “special” enough.
  3. They should have had a chart (or some kind of visual) showing the potential savings.  The big objection Starbucks needs to overcome is “I don’t want to shell out $25 for a loyalty card.” For many people (me included) that is a big enough stop sign to halt the consideration process in its tracks. If people are in coffee-buying mode, they probably aren’t in number-crunching mode…especially for early-morning Starbucks visitors who need that first cup to wake up. It would have been more effective to show in dollars and cents how the card would pay for itself in less than three months.
  4. Saying that I, as a Gold Card member, would have to “educate my barista” is just wrong, wrong, wrong.  From a corporate communications standpoint, you’re basically saying that either (1) Starbucks can’t get their act together to train their baristas properly or (2) their baristas are too slow to “get it (which is not the case – I heart my Starbucks baristas!) Either way, way to make the corporation look bad.  If I’m paying $25 for a loyalty card, I shouldn’t have to tell my barista how to give me my discount. I’m typically hitting my store at 6am sharp – that’s not exactly the time that I’m eagle-eyed and in the mood to fight for an additional 10% off.

Unfortunately, this isn’t new behavior for the coffee giant. Lisa Wehr discussed how Starbucks didn’t update their 2007 holiday podcasts, calling it a clear sign that “Starbucks was falling out of touch with their customers.”

I congratulate Starbucks with trying new forms of marketing to connect with customers. They have a loyal following (me among them,) great brand recognition and their partners are awesome.

However, just as Starbucks would never let a barista walk away in the middle of a conversation with a customer, they should frequently check their blog posts and keep the conversation (or “connection” in Starbucks-speak) flowing – NOT walk away from a post just ’cause it’s posted.

Additionally, Starbucks should carefully consider their blog post wording – as experienced copywriters know, how you say what you say is exceptionally important. An innocuous phrase like “our most dedicated and consistent..customers” can actually alienate people if used the wrong way

Part of Starbucks new mission statement specifically focuses on “our customers” and “our neighborhoods.”  Now, it’s time to redefine “customers” and “neighborhoods” to encompass online communities and provide the same level of communication you’d find in any retail store. THAT would keep with the customer-service oriented Starbucks corporate culture…and it would help their online customers feel heard.

Starbucks Coffee and Their Breakfast Sandwich Blunder

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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 married to 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 grammatically correct. However, a verbiage blunder like this does nothing but reflect negatively upon their brand.

(Update — Starbucks’ messaging has improved so much since I wrote this article.)

Does a company’s messaging make you scratch your head and say, “I don’t get it?” What’s an awesome example of benefit-packed marketing? Leave your comments below!

What Rodney Dangerfield and SEO Copywriters Have in Common

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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.

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  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?