Going Beyond Linkbait – Why You Need Good, Original Content

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Content link baitLast week, I read an article in Mediaweek that warmed my heart. The title? “Marketer Must-Have: Original Web Editorial.” The article profiled how AT&T hired an outside firm to create value-added content that’s “something of value and more than just an advertising message.” Why? Because they realized, according to the article, “Search and social media are the main modes of information discovery, and both engines live off vast pools of content.”

Yes, yes, yes!

To that I say two things: Hear hear, and what the hell took you so long?

Original content provides companies an incredible opportunity to provide value to their readers, connect with their customers – and yes, get more search rankings for more keywords. Zappos is an excellent example of a site with fantastic content – product pages, blog posts, articles – even Tweets.

At the same time, there are some misconceptions about what “original content” can mean. Here are some things to think about when you’re planning your SEO content marketing campaign:

Know your audience and write for them. One of the first questions I’ll ask a prospect is “what is your customer persona?” About 75% of the time, the response is “what’s a customer persona?” The first step in any content marketing campaign – which includes your SEO copywriting campaign – is to focus on who you’re writing your copy for. Is it a middle-aged woman in the Midwest who loves domestic travel, Dancing With The Stars and Oprah magazine? A single male city dweller who lives in a condo, digs the latest electronics and eats out every meal? These nuances are important. How you write what you write is just as important as what you write. If you miss the customer persona boat and write general copy, you’ll see general (read: so-so) conversion results.

Beware the cognitive trap that controversial “linkbait” equals quality content. I think the term “linkbait” is an unfortunate one, as it implies “baiting” a site to link to yours. Listen, quality content is quality content. Thinking of terms of “what content will drive the most links and stir up the most controversy” is a short-sighted strategy that ignores other forms of useful content. For instance, should you not include a FAQ page about your product because it’s not a good “linkbait” article? It sounds ridiculous to read – but this is something I hear about every day.

I am the first to admit that some of my more controversial posts are my most popular. At the same time, I hear clients wanting to create nothing but snarky content, believing that controversy is what gets viral link love and makes sales. Yes, if you are passionate about a topic, by all means, let it fly. But if your blog is filled with rants, slams and sexy headlines with no content, you’ll lose your readership – or cause them to rail against you. If you must rant, rant responsibly – and make sure that your content marketing strategy encompasses all sorts of content.

Good content means a good content marketing strategy. It’s tempting to read the Mediaweek article and think, “By gum, I need to kick out a bunch of articles.” And that’s half right. The other missing element is how those articles (or blog posts, or Tweets) fold back into your content marketing strategy. And on a broader scale, how your writing dovetails with your television ad spots, radio ads, Yellow Page ad and newspaper/magazine display ads (yes, people still do advertise in newspapers!). Your content strategy gives you a roadmap so you know exactly what to write, who you’re writing it for, and how the writing integrates with the rest of your site and your overarching marketing strategy. If you’re kicking out “onesie twosie” articles in an attempt to halfheartedly gain search rankings and build buzz, you’re not leveraging what you can leverage. Good planning = better search rankings, better conversions and a better connection with your customers.

And at the end of the day, isn’t that what it’s all about?

The #1 Deadliest SEO Copywriting Sin

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dreamstime_7297345Recently, a couple blog posts have focused on the “deadly sins” of SEO copywriting and content marketing. Michelle Bowles from TopRank Marketing showcases five tips for avoiding deadly SEO copywriting sins. An old (now offline) post from GrokDotCom reminds us that “Nobody wants to read your sh**! These articles are funny, informative and (for some) may hit very close to home.

Yet, I was surprised that no-one pointed out the #1 SEO copywriting sin. And that’s creating keyphrase-stuffed copy.

I’ve ranted about this SEO copywriting sin before. Somehow, people really do believe that SEO copywriting means seeing how many times you can force-feed a keyphrase into site copy. They aren’t worried about creating a customer persona. They aren’t worried about developing persuasive benefit statements. Heck, they aren’t even worried about their online image (after all, keyphrase-stuffed copy tends to read like it was written by a third grader.) Instead, it’s all keyphrases – all the time. And as a result, conversions suffer.

If you’re guilty of this sin (and a lot of companies are, both big and small,) here’s how you can repent:

  • Locate your “most sinful” pages. They may be the articles you paid $15 for that repeat your main keyphrase over and over. It may be your home page that you made more “keyphrase heavy” in an attempt at a higher ranking. Simply start out by figuring out what pages could use a rewrite – and you can develop the editorial plan later.
  • Find a new writer (or train your existing one.) Some writers keyphrase-stuff their copy because they honestly don’t know any better. If you’re working with a in-house writer, it may make more sense to sign her up for a SEO copywriting training or conference to refine her skills. If the “sinful” writing was created by an outsourced professional, consider hiring someone else. If you’re paying good money for SEO copywriting services, you deserve to have a quality product.
  • Plan your writing/editing schedule. Rewriting web pages just feels overwhelming, doesn’t it? After all, once you’ve created them, it seems frustrating that you’d have to create them again. The rewriting process goes much more smoothly if you figure on rewriting X pages a month, rather than thinking you have 50 pages to revamp right now.
  • Review your keyphrases again before you start writing. Don’t assume that they keyphrases you currently have on the page are the “right” ones.  Depending on the person who did your keyphrase research and how long it’s been since you’ve done it, there could be a plethora of more targeted phrases you could use. Once you’ve chosen your per-page keyphrases, it’s always a good idea to spot-check them in Google to see the other results that come up. Sometimes, what seems like the “perfect” keyphrase may not be as relevant as you think.
  • Consider other SEO content marketing strategies to help reinforce your keyphrase relevancy. Once reason people keyphrase stuff is because they want a high ranking on that phrase – but they do that at the expense of what their copy sounds like. Remember that you can create blog posts, articles, press releases, FAQ pages and other web page that contain your “money” keyphrases – and seeding the phrase throughout your site will help increase relevancy.
  • Always, always write copy for your customers -not the search engines. I guarantee you that Google doesn’t care about the money you make from your site (unless it’s being moved to their side of the table.) But you do. You care a lot. If you want your web pages to both position well and convert, take the time to write your pages right the first time (or hire a SEO copywriter who will.) Develop your competitive analysis. Figure out what’s in it for your customer. Work with your benefit statements. Develop an engaging tone and feel – whatever that means to your audience. The hardest part of SEO copywriting is preparing to write. Believe me, once you have this part down – the rest will flow easily. And you’ll have the perfect combination of well-written, keyphrase-rich content that converts like crazy.

Ten Stupid Things Catalog Marketers Do to Mess up Their Sites

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catalog-marketer-frustrationCatalog marketers – wake up! It’s time to “get” SEO – or run the risk of having a poorly-performing site and subpar search visibility.

Last week, I enjoyed the honor of speaking at the Direct Marketing Association’s ACCM conference.  And it was an excellent reality check for me. Although I’ve been talking about SEO copywriting for over 10 years, there are many catalog marketers who just don’t “get it.” Maybe it’s because they just started to think about SEO copywriting. Maybe because they tried to do it themselves without having a clear understanding of what they’re doing.  Either way, the results range from so-so to dreadful…and these marketers are frustrated.

“Getting it” is incredibly important for catalog marketers right now.  Multichannel Merchant reported that online-only catalogs in March 2009 totaled 2,011 – up from 1,868 in March 208. During the same time period, print-only formats decreased from 1,574 to 1,347. This means that the online catalog competition is getting more heated…and catalog merchants need to do everything they can to stay on track.

Does your catalog company “get it?”  Here’s 10 of the most stupid things that catalog marketers do to mess up their site.

  1. Uploading your print catalog content without rewriting it for the online market. Yes, I know that rewriting every product page sound prohibitive from a content management and cost point of view. The reality is, the sites that have unique content are typically the ones that position better for the keyphrases they target (plus, they see higher conversions.) Focus on your top 20% pages and rewrite those first. You’ll definitely see an increase in search rankings and conversions.
  2. Wanting to put every applicable keyphrase on your home page, figuring it’s “the most important page.” The goal of SEO copywriting isn’t to get folks to land on your home page. Instead, you want prospects to land on a page that more closely matches their search query – and that’s typically an inner page.  Besides, shoving every keyphrase you’re targeting on your home page will make the page impossible to read.
  3. Same Titles across all site pages. One of the fastest ways you can quickly improve your search engine visibility  is to create unique, keyphrase-rich Titles for each page. Unique Titles help the search engines understand what your page is about – and well-written, “clickable” Titles help encourage conversion off the search engine results page.
  4. Not researching keyphrases. You may think you “know” how your customers are searching. However, keyphrase research allows you to double-check your hunches, plus find other keyphrases you may not have thought of. Ignore this step at your peril.
  5. Focusing on only 5-10 keyphrases (and the site has over 5,000 products). Most ecommerce sites have hundreds – if not thousands – of applicable keywords (depending on the site’s size.)  Although some keywords are higher value than others, don’t focus on a few at the expense of the many. If you do, you’re missing out on the opportunity to reach folks at all phases of the buy cycle.
  6. Making the “add to cart” button impossible to find. If you want people to buy from you, you have to ask for the sale. Hiding the “add to cart” button (or making it hard to find) will do nothing but force people away from your site.
  7. Hiring cheap writers who write poorly. I spoke to an e-commerce site owner who went offshore for his SEO copywriting – and he complained that he wasted over $2,500 on bad writing that didn’t help him. Unfortunately, that’s a common story.  SEO copywriting – like any form of direct marketing writing – is a “get what you pay for” proposition. If you can’t hire it out, consider training your marketing staff, instead.
  8. Not updating the site. Every see someone with a mullet and think “That’s SO 80’s!”  A Website mullet (old, outdated content) is just as off-putting.  Make sure that your blog posts, press pages, articles and product pages reflect your most current information.
  9. Assuming that people will call you for more information. No, putting up “teaser” content to trick people into calling for more information is not a good idea. People rely on your Website to help them make an informed decision. Forcing people to call your company for more information is a good way to lose conversions. Not to mention, sites with little-to-no content typically don’t position well.
  10. Not leveraging other types of customer communication and content. Can’t change your content template? Start a blog. Want to keep in immediate touch with your customers? Consider a Twitter campaign. Having an e-commerce site is just the first, foundational step. There are many more ways that you transform surfers into spenders and expand your online branding. The key is setting a strategy, controlling what you can control and making it happen.

Successful SEO Copywriting Tips for Catalog Marketers

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catalogEvery once in awhile, I come across an oldie article that’s still a goodie – with a little updating.

I wrote this article around 2004 or so and wanted to update it because of its importance in today’s marketplace.

Catalog marketers are doing everything they can to get sales in the door and stay in business. Print costs are through the roof. Postage costs are expensive (and who knows if the post office will continue six day a week delivery?). If you’re a cataloger marketer, and you haven’t focused on your website and organic SEO, now is the time to get started.

One of the main ways catalog marketers can gain search rankings and site conversions is through well-written SEO content. Let’s get into the how-to – and discuss what catalogers can do, right now.

Catalog marketers face a unique situation: Every page means potential profit. Print catalogers have known this for some time, relying on talented copywriters to pen persuasive prose that gains qualified leads or eventual sales.

Unfortunately, what works in a print catalog (short product descriptions with multiple items featured per page), will not help a company gain online positioning in Google and Yahoo. The good news is that the same copywriters who create compelling catalog copy can master the SEO copywriting art – and you’ll see higher page rankings.

Once your marketing staff learns SEO copywriting best practices, your copywriters will produce text with a double-duty emphasis – a seductive call to action plus stellar search engine positioning. It’s simply modifying your copywriter’s existing process and learning how search engines work.

B2B or B2C catalogs – both can win with SEO copywriting!

Traditionally, B2C catalog marketers have seized the online space, knowing that search marketing lets them reach customers at every stage of the buying cycle. However, B2B catalogs can also benefit from search engine optimization techniques. For instance, if a company searches for a particular product, such as “decanter centrifuges,” top search engine positioning builds brand recognition and places your products front and center in the search engines. Although it’s true that “businesses don’t search,” individuals within those businesses need solutions – and B2B catalog optimization allows your solutions to be featured at the exact time your future customers are searching for the exact product you offer.

To simplify catalog SEO strategy, remember that you are reaching at least two distinct markets: Customers who are ready to purchase now and customers who are gathering information. Developing a content development strategy that satisfies both masters will help you drive additional targeted traffic at every phase of the purchasing process.

Let’s examine the content optimization steps catalog marketers and copywriters can take for stellar positions and conversions:

Laser-focus your keyphrase choices

Your customers use search phrases to find your products – and statistically, some search phrases are more searched upon than others. The key is to determine exactly what phrases your customers type into the search box and determine exactly how they search. Broad and specific keyphrases reach customers in different phases of the buying cycle. Once the marketing department understands user behavior and the psychology of search, this knowledge can be honed for search engine benefit.

Some searchers are close to making a purchase, know exactly what they want, and will search on highly specific phrases. For instance, one lingerie catalog site owner said that her site logs showed that women almost exclusively searched for lingerie names and stock numbers. Once they found their items (under searches like “ethereal half slip 8710”), they were ready and motivated to buy. Women were able to do their search, click through to a specific product page and immediately make a purchase. Search marketing helped this company reach women who were extremely motivated to learn about a particular product.

However, what about customers who may not have an item number – or who are in an earlier stage of the buying process? General keyphrases provide searchers an SEO road map, helping them narrow their search and gain new information. Examples of general keyphrases are “women’s half slips” (rather than the specific “ethereal half slip 8710”), “import auto parts” (rather than “FastCar body kit CX-3459”) or “decanter centrifuge” (rather than “Alfa decanter centrifuge 34X1”). Although these customers may not be ready to make an immediate purchase, your search engine presence alerts them to your site – and tempts them to click thru to gather additional information.

The best sites have a mixture of general and specific keyphrases that capture buyers in all phases of the cycle. Keyphrase research tools like WordTracker and Keyword Discovery will help your staff determine the best keyphrases for your site and will indicate how your customers search.

SEO copywriting best practice: Focus on 2-3 specific keyphrases per page, use synonyms, and (intelligently) repeat your keyphrases throughout the copy. You don’t have to worry about meeting a certain keyphrase density, but you do want to make sure that your copy reads well.

Short catalog copy won’t always work online

Google states in their Webmaster guidelines that site owners should create an “useful, information-rich site.” Additionally, the way the keyphrases appear in the body copy is incredibly important for search positioning. If your product page text is a mere 50 words pulled from the product box, the search engines may not consider your page as relevant as another site with well-written, original product copy.

Consider also that prospects are entering your site through individual product pages – not just your home page. These prospects may have no idea what your company benefits are, what incentives you offer (like free shipping) and what differentiates you from the competition. If your pages are short and benefit-free, you lose two crucial advantages:

  • Short text – especially for competitive keyphrases – typically does not position well.
  • If your landing page doesn’t educate your customer about your main benefits and provide complete product information, you’re losing an opportunity to educate your new prospect and help gain their trust.

Need another reason for your marketing department to embrace pages with a longer word count? Your customers, especially for larger-ticket purchases, require information before they will make a purchase or contact you for information. If they don’t learn what they need to know, they’ll surf to your competition. Fast.

Updated content tip: If your platform is such where you can’t edit the template – and adding new copy is impossible- a blog may provide the benefits you need. Check out this article about blogs for catalog marketers. If you don’t know what to write about in your blog, here’s a post by Google’s Matt Cutts discussing how to write useful articles.

SEO copywriting best practices for catalog sites: Although over 500 words is the SEO copywriting “sweet spot,” write as much quality copy as you can while integrating your main keyphrases.

Create unique Titles for each page

The Title does double SEO duty. Search engines consider them a highly important coding element and they index words in the Title to determine relevancy. However, Titles are also crucial to the conversion process. The words in your Title are what are displayed in search engine results as the clickable link.  If your Title doesn’t contain the main keyphrases found on your page – and fails to be compelling – you run the risk of losing positions or conversions.

Update: In a previous blog post, I discussed how Kitchen Kaboodle, a local Portland, OR retailer, could spice up their Titles for greater SEO and conversion benefit.

SEO copywriting best practices for catalog sites: Each page should have a unique Title, reflecting the keyphrases utilized for the page. Write around 50-75 characters and make the Title as compelling and keyphrase-rich as possible.

Creating keyphrase-rich content for catalog pages will help each page gain higher positioning and ROI. With just a little education, your copywriters will be kicking out keyphrase-rich copy in no time – and you’ll see top positions and sizzling conversions.

Three Free Ways to Get Your Online Marketing Butt in Gear

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marketing buttA post by Bob Bly got me thinking…

Bob posed the question, “Are your customers tightening their belts?” The DM News study he cited said that 84 percent of people surveyed have “cut back their spending.”  Bob even mentioned his own experience – higher returns, less robust sales – the normal “we’re all in this recession together” blues.

But let’s think about this.

The reality is – no matter how bad things are, people are still buying. Yes, companies are going out of business and yes that is sad.

But people are still buying. Maybe not as much. Maybe not as often.

But there is money to be made.

Listen to your own self-talk. Are you saying things like, “We have to hunker down and get through this. We’re slicing all spending and new projects until the economy gets better?”

Or are you saying, “OK, we have to slice our budget – but what creative things can we do right now? Where should we focus our efforts?”

See the difference? One firm is making the best of what they’ve got, and the other is too scared to move.

Which firm would you rather be?

Start thinking of some ways you can start gaining a little more market share. They don’t have to cost money – they just need a little work and a strategy. Here are three free ways to get started:

  • Call some of your best customers just to say “hi.” My father taught me that it’s the little things that build customer loyalty. It’s remembering a client’s birthday. It’s asking about their husband and kids. And it’s calling them when times are tough just to say hi – even if they haven’t ordered from you recently. The economy isn’t just hitting people’s pocketbooks – it’s hitting their self esteem, too. You think that they don’t feel bad that they sliced their order with you by 75%? They do. You think that they like slow-paying you? Nope. There are people behind those irritating corporate policies. They’re scared too. And they would really appreciate a friendly voice at the other end of the phone. You may not talk about business during that conversation. But you will help cement a relationship. And you never know what you’ll learn from a customer that could spark a new idea or strategy.
  • Examine marketing avenues that are heavy on strategy – but not a lot of cash. It doesn’t cost anything to build a Facebook fan page. A Twitter account won’t set you back a cent. If you’re a local business, have you submitted to Google My Business, Yelp and other local sites? Granted, not every business can benefit from a Facebook or Twitter account. And your customers may not Yelp. But that’s something to research and consider, not figure “it won’t work.” Especially since you can do all that for, yes, free.
  • Try different SEO copywriting approaches. It could be that the old tone and feel isn’t working anymore – and that’s hobbling sales. If you have a SEO copywriter on staff, pick a sales page and experiment with something completely different.  You can try changing the headline, the offer – even the tone and feel.

So, what free marketing tactics would you add to the list?

Photo credit: © Mona Makela | Dreamstime.com

Could SEO Copywriting Help Kitchen Kaboodle?

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edit_2009-04-01_1Earlier this year, Kitchen Kaboodle a Portland, OR upscale kitchen retailer, got some major buzz for a very amazing thing.

They decided to close their retail store three days a week, opening their doors Thursday-Sunday only.

Wow.

The co-owner, John Whistler, said that it was because of market demand. Customers wanted lower prices. Cutting expenses elsewhere wasn’t feasible. So, they closed during their slowest days.

Wow.

I’ve been chewing on this story for a long time. Stories like this upset me – there are far too many small local businesses that are suffering right now. The good news is that these folks came up with a workable solution. Closing the retail store three days a week may indeed be the perfect alternative to a recession-mindset economy.

And then I looked at their Website. And I wonder, “If their site was optimized, would that help replace the income they’re missing three days a week? If they invested a little bit of time and cash into their site, could that help take their business in a new (and profitable) direction?”

The answer is yes – and that’s very exciting.

I spent 10 minutes reviewing the site and came up with three SEO copywriting opportunities.  Here are some things that Kitchen Kaboodle can try:

  • Create keyphrase-rich content. The Kitchen Kaboodle product pages have very little text.  Outside of how this is (most likely) limiting their conversions, the lack of keyphrase-rich content is hobbling their search engine rankings. For instance, this page sells “martini glasses” – yet there’s no content about “martini glasses” above the fold.

kitchen-kaboodle-serps003

In fact, the only (very short) description is below the fold.kitchen-kaboodle-serps004

Ecommerce sites can also look beyond their product pages, and build out unique content that they know their customers will enjoy. For instance, Sur La Table has recipies.  Cookware.com features product reviews from publications like The New York Times and Ebony. Strategic content marketing allows companies to capitalize on keyphrases used at all phases of the buy cycle. This means that Kitchen Kaboodle could have articles dedicated to, say, cookware reviews – and people who are looking for cookware reviews could click through from the SERP, read the article and immediately make a purchase.

To their credit, it looks like they’ve built out unique content on some product pages, and they’ve tried to insert keyphrases (although they’re doing it in a way that’s not very effective.) This certainly helps them, but they’d have better results if they…

  • …made their Titles descriptive and keyphrase-rich. Having the same Titles across the site is a huge SEO no-no that’s definitely hurting their positions. Their pages are going to have a much, much better chance of positioning if the Titles contained keyphrases and reflected the page content.

kitchen-kaboodle-serps

However, even if a page does position well (as this page did for “Silicone Madelaine” – a product search,) there’s nothing about the Title that provides further details or encourages click-through – especially when compared to the SERP competition:

kitchen-kaboodle-serps005

Notice the second SERP result – it’s keyphrase rich and highly detailed. Which one would you click?

  • Consider adding customer reviews.  Study after study indicates that people are more apt to convert when they can read customer product reviews.  That by itself is an excellent reason to build community and ask for feedback – people can read more about the cool kitchen gadget they want and buy it right away.  Additionally, consumer reviews are also great for gaining new search positions (think about how many times you enter a site from a review listing on the SERP.) This would help them fill some content and keyphrase “holes” until they had a chance to expand their product content.

Is there more that Kitchen Kaboodle can do from a SEO, SEM and social media perspective? Definitely. Certainly, if they wanted to grow their online orders, they could transform their site into a high-performing ecommerce kitchenware destination.  It may not be where they want to focus their efforts or budget. After all, Kitchen Kaboodle is a “local” store, so a national focus may not be their cup of tea. At the same time, in the spirit of “controlling the controllables,” it’s always nice to know there’s another way to gain new customers.

Photo credit – © Alexander Raths | Dreamstime.com

Copywriting Challenge: Write for 15 Minutes a Day

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You stare at the screen, fingers poised over the keyboard. That brilliant writing idea you had last night over a glass of merlot doesn’t seem so brilliant in the light of day.

You answered your email. You made some calls. You procrastinated as much as you possibly can.

And now, it’s just you and the computer and the pressure.

It’s not like you don’t like to write. You like to write. Hell, some days you love to write. If the writing Muse just visited a tad more frequently…

Think of it this way: getting in the writing habit – whether that means blogging or creating your latest SEO copywriting masterpiece- is like getting in the exercise habit.

Starting fresh is hard work.  You sweat and strain and hate every moment of it.

Then one day, it all clicks.

You realize that you start feeling “off” if you don’t take that lunchtime Pilates class (or write your latest blog post.) And without knowing it, you’ve suddenly replaced your old habit (being a literary couch potato) to one that’s much more productive.

So, here’s your SEO copywriting challenge: Write for 15 minutes before you do anything else tomorrow and keep that habit going every business day for a solid month.

Don’t check email first (checking email and the anxiety it provokes can be the biggest writer’s-block cause of all).  Don’t stress about the “perfect” topic.

Just write. It’s OK if all you write is “this is stupid” over and over. It’s OK to create a grocery list if nothing else comes to mind.

Just write.

Set a timer and tell yourself you can stop the second the timer buzzes. Don’t worry about form or tone or structure.

Just write.

You’ll notice three things:

  • Like exercise, your 15-minute writing assignment will seem torturous some days. You will be staring at the clock waiting for the pain to end. But just like exercise, the writing process will gradually start feeling better and better.
  • Some of your writing will be absolute drivel. Be OK with that. Just know that within that drivel, you’ll discover gems of absolute copywriting brilliance  Learn to appreciate the brilliance when you see it and be gentle with yourself other times.
  • Amazingly enough, some days you will write longer than 15 minutes. Your fingers will fly over the keyboard while you experience the writer’s high. Enjoy it. The more you write, the better your writing days will be – and you’ll be writing faster (and better) than ever before.

Are you ready to take this copywriting challenge? How do YOU get yourself into the writing flow? Leave your comment below!

What Stephen King Taught Me About Online Writing

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I love Stephen King books.

“Carrie.”  “It.” “The Stand.” As a teenager, I had them all.

Heck, I even had them in hardback.

Whenever I’d make a new book acquisition, I’d crawl into bed, turn on my reading lamp and faithfully turn to the introduction before chowing down the main story.

Why? Because the introduction was just as creepy, scary and weird as the rest of the book – sometimes, even more so. It warmed me up to the book’s theme and set the stage for what I’d find next.

Sure, Stephen King would go through the normal stuff every author does in an introduction. He talked about the inspiration for the book. He talked about what was going on in his life when he wrote it. He mentioned a few characters, and thanked a few people.

But, where most book authors make the first few pages a dull litany full of “thank yous” and factoids, Stephen King seamlessly folded fact and emotion into the copy.

In essence, King made a book introduction – the most mundane part of every tome – spooky. And expertly set the stage for the rest of the story, placing the reader on the edge of her seat before she reached the first chapter.

Stephen King is a master of eliciting an emotional response through his writing’s tone and feel.

Direct-response SEO copywriting is a type of storytelling. Every web page – whether it be about industrial blenders, women’s coats or gardening shears – is there to draw the reader into a purchasing frame of mind.

If your prospect is at the consideration phase of the buying cycle, he’s looking for information, comparing features and kicking the virtual tires. If your prospect is ready to buy, she wants to purchase from a company she feels she can trust.

Read the text on your website, and ask yourself these questions:

  • Would I feel comfortable reading this text to a prospect?
  • Would these be the words I’d use to showcase our services?
  • Does the wording sound way too formal for your “family owned, small business” atmosphere?
  • Do the words inspire trust and confidence?
  • Do you feel energized after reading the copy? Or does your site sound exactly the same as all your competitors?

Isn’t it time to erase mediocrity from your SEO content?

Your website copy is your front-line, virtual salesperson. Never, ever be afraid to be engaging.

Why Direct Response Writing Skills Are so Damn Important

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Where has SEO copywriting gone wrong?

I had an interesting moment yesterday.

I was chatting with a prospect and discussing how my firm employs experienced writers with highly-honed skills in SEO copywriting and direct response writing.

His reply? “What’s direct response writing?

Ouch. Good reality check. I’ve drank my own Kool-Aid long enough that I assume that everyone else understands the benefits that really tight writing brings to the table.

And now I understand what I didn’t understand before. This is why good sites pay top dollar for keyphrase-stuffed copy that fails to persuade, educate or even interest the reader. Companies simply don’t know any better.

Obviously, I have some issues around this.

Long before there were search engines, there was direct response copywriting. Its purpose: to persuade readers to do something — call an 800 number, buy a Franklin Mint collectible or purchase a time share.

You’d see it in your Publisher’s Clearing House letters (you may laugh, but I bet you bought at least one magazine subscription.) You’d see it as a special mailer, stuffed into your credit card envelope. You’d see direct response writing everywhere — and in fact, you still do.

Persuasive writing techniques worked back then, and they work now. Like it or not, the more that the writing hits the hidden-need “hot buttons” — the more it grabs your prospects, gives them what they want and boosts your benefits – the better the page converts. As in: makes money.

So when did the definition of SEO copywriting get so bastardized that direct response copywriting principals are gleefully ignored? Where companies who don’t even employ experienced copywriters can charge good money for bad copy?

In short, where did SEO copywriting go wrong?

People, the copy on your website is your only salesperson during an online sale or lead generation campaign. If you want Web leads to call you, the copy on your site has to persuade them that your firm has what they need. In order to score a sale, your site has to prove why someone should buy from you — and not your competitor who offers the same product for $5 less.

Placing strategically-placed keywords in the copy (the unique “twist” of SEO copywriting) is 20 percent of the SEO copywriting battle. A good content strategy, paired with ongoing content is 10 percent. In my opinion, the rest of the equation – so 70 percent — is writing copy that makes a prospect’s heart go pitter patter. It’s giving them the facts that they need to make an informed decision, still feel good about their decision in the morning and recommend your site to their friends later that day. It’s penning such persuasive prose that it’s like gently grabbing the reader by the hand, whispering in their ear, and leading them to your next action step.

It’s powerful, seductive stuff, man.

SEO copywriting is not about writing to make the search engines happy. Yes, do the keyphrase research and yes, put your keyphrases in the search engine power positions. I’ve been talking about SEO copywriting best practices for 10 years now — and those guidelines are still valid.

But remember — the search engines aren’t going to buy anything from you, nor will they contract with you for services. Your prospects just might — so write for them instead. Learn to embrace direct response copywriting and know that SEO copywriting is more about persuasion than algorithmic relevancy. When you demand better copy, you’ll realize mind-blowing results. Really.

What do you think? Leave your comment below!

Who’s Really Writing Your Web Content?

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Is this your SEO copywriter?Yesterday, I received a disturbing voice mail.

The caller represented an SEO outsourcing service based in India. He wanted to know if I wanted to save money on writing costs and outsource my SEO copywriting projects to his firm. He then named three high-profile SEO firms that had (supposedly) done just that, indicating that I would not be alone in this outsourced copywriting world.

And it got me to thinking: Assuming the SEO companies mentioned really did outsource their writing to India, I wonder what their clients would think if they knew the real scoop.

This is actually an extreme example of a widespread issue. SEO companies, agencies and design firms know that their clients need SEO copywriting services. At the same time, SEO copywriting may not be the firm’s core competency. When that happens, sometimes, they outsource it to a firm.

Sometimes, they work with interns (really!) Other times, they’ll outsource to India. The client rarely (if ever) knows about this arrangement.

On the flip side, some companies that do keep their SEO copywriting in-house assign the content to low-level personnel with absolutely no direct response or copywriting experience. These folks are then promoted as “experienced writers” — when their main gig may actually be design, programming or answering the phones (true story — one company called their receptionist their “expert copywriter!”).

I think that transparency is exceptionally important. If a client is paying hard-earned money for expertly-written pages, they should know the copywriter’s background. They should know that the work is being outsourced to India, written by an in-house intern or (hopefully) penned by an experienced wordsmith.

So, what can clients do for SEO copywriting due-diligence?

  • Get to know the writer who will  write your copy. You may have a great relationship with the salesperson or the CEO. However, the person you need to “click” with is your writer — the person actually controlling your online brand. There’s no reason why the writer can’t spend 15 minutes during a sales call explaining what she’s done and her experience. If the agency won’t put the writer on the phone, find another agency.
  • Outsourcing is not always a bad thing. If you hear “we outsource our SEO copywriting to freelancers” – don’t panic. I would still insist on chatting with the freelancer before you sign on the dotted line.
  • Review clips written by your writer. If his writing doesn’t turn you on — whether it be too “mechanical,” somewhat unclear, benefit statement-free or not very good, don’t figure that your copy will be different. It won’t.
  • Ask about the writing process. Good writing shops will insist on a kickoff meeting before the first word is penned. This is so the writer can learn about your business, ask about your preferred tone and feel, find out more about your competition and brainstorm possible approaches. This foundational step is so crucial that I would distrust any firm that skipped it. Yes, it’s really that big of a deal.
  • Remember that you get what you pay for. I have no tolerance for companies that pay low-dollar for writing services and then whine that their copy “isn’t converting,” “horribly written” or “is keyphrase-stuffed.” Would you trust a discount attorney or doctor? No. So why would you expect that paying super-cheap writing fees would provide you a good return. Sure, $10 a page sounds good,” but I guarantee that the final result will look like, well, you spent $10 on a page. If this sounds like your company, reevaluate your budget and adjust your expectations. You’ll be much happier as a result (and see better returns from your SEO copywriting efforts.)

What do you think? Post your comment below!