You Can’t Make A Silk Purse Out of A Sow’s Ear: SEO Copywriting and Poorly-Converting Pages

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Oh. My. Goodness. The writing was horrible.

The Web page copy was a sight for sore eyes — literally. The run-on sentences made my eyes cross. Rampant comma use forced my eyes to pause after ever third word. And please, please tell me — what does this paragraph even mean?

In short, this was not conversion-based SEO writing. This was a mess.

The person in charge of the horribly-written page was the new marketing director — and she had just inherited the Website. One upon a time, her company had hired a cheapie writer who created copy for $50 a page. The result was a garbled mess. When I asked why they even accepted the copy as-is, she said, “My boss thought that’s what SEO copywriting was supposed to look like.”

When I asked how I could help, she said, “Can’t you just tweak it a little so it sounds better and throw in some keywords?”

Sigh. No, no I can’t. And that’s because, as my father used to say, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. To translate: If the copy is already bad, “tweaking” it won’t help. The only thing you can do is scrap it all and start over.

So many people are afraid of total page rewrites — especially if the page is positioning well. Their first concern (which makes sense) is “if we change the page, what happens to our rankings.” At the same time, getting rankings is just a slice of the search engine conversion pie. After all, a top position means nothing if that page doesn’t drive your conversion metrics.

Wondering if your site falls into the “sow’s ear” category? Here are some things to check:

  • What do your analytics say? Are people staying at your site — or bouncing out mere seconds after they arrive?
  • Are your rankings so-so, but your conversions are non-existent?
  • Do you know deep, deep down in your heart that the copy is bad (C’mon, it’s OK to admit it. We’ve all been there.)

If you’re feeling like your copy qualifies for “sow’s ear” status, you are certainly not alone. Know that you’re in good company, but don’t let your rankings neurosis overcome your good sense. To eliminate your sow’s-ear status, your only help for salvation is action. Yes, there are ways to rewrite the copy so the rankings aren’t decimated. In fact, that’s the easy part (and we’ll talk about the how-to in a future post.) A smart copywriter can easily craft new copy that maintains your past keyword positioning.

Will rewriting your copy be painful? A little bit. Yes, you will be spending time and money to make it happen. And yes, the pain is definitely worth it. Although a SEO copywriting overhaul sounds grueling, it will more than pay for itself in increased conversions. Besides, wouldn’t you rather have the “silk purse” copy your site deserves?

Get Rid of Your SEO Skeletons Once and for All

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I found hidden links within 60 seconds. Discovering the duplicate pages took another minute.

No, this isn’t a scammy corporation trying to spam their way to the top. This is a Mom and Pop business where the owners are honestly trying to do everything right. Yes, they educated themselves by reading books and visiting forums. Yes, they can speak SEO — to a point.

But they knew they couldn’t do it all themselves.

So they did what most companies do. They hired out to SEO #1, who suggested adding 50 duplicate doorway pages, one for each state. That SEO lasted six months before getting fired for non- performance.

Enter SEO #2, who thought hidden links were the way to go.

Then, the owner of the company put his fingers in the SEO pie. He decided to add hidden text because, “It just seemed to make sense to me.”

And with that, the company (which will remain nameless) hid another SEO skeleton away in their closet.

This situation is so common that I call it “inadvertent spam.” The site owner didn’t mean do to anything wrong,” but their site is full of violations. And unfortunately, their pages aren’t positioning as a result

If you aren’t seeing the results you want — and you’ve either optimized the site yourself, or worked with one (or many) SEO firm (s) — consider a SEO audit. Yes, they cost money. Yes, they’re pricy. But they are well worth it.

Would an SEO audit be a smart move for your site? Ask yourself:

  • How many people/firms have “touched” the site within the last five years? Different SEOs (whether in-house or outsourced) may implement different techniques. If the SEO isn’t skilled — or was trying to game the engines — those techniques may have hurt your site long-term.
  • Do you really know your site’s history? If you’re a new hire (or just moved to the SEO department) calling an audit allows you to see exactly what you’re getting into. Additionally, it helps you find new ways to leverage your search campaign that the last person may not have seen.
  • Does your IT department (or SEO) brag about having “secret ways to trick the engines” or “proprietary methods that will gain top rankings?” That’s like hearing your accountant say that she has a “proprietary tax preparation method” for keeping your taxes down and the IRS happy. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Get an audit and check it out.
  • And finally”¦if you’re optimizing the site yourself, are you sure that you’ve grabbed every opportunity? A SEO audit will outline what you need to do next, helping you focus your efforts and save time.

How to Turn Blah Headlines into Eyeball-Grabbing Powerhouses

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Direct response headline writing is tricky.

You know that you have to “grab the reader’s attention,” but that doesn’t help much when you’re facing headline-writing writer’s block and nothing is flowing. How can you work your SEO copywriting magic when you don’t even know how to begin?

We’ve all been there — you just need a little jump start. If you’re feeling stuck, here are some tried-and-true headline archetypes, compliments of the American Writers and Artists Institute.

Idea Starters: 52 Headline Archetypes to Get Your Creative Juices Flowing…From The Best of The Golden Thread

  1. How to (accomplishment) by (doing something unexpected)
  2. How to (accomplishment) in (time frame)
  3. How to turn (problem) into (benefit)
  4. How to get (goal) from (something common)
  5. How to improve your…
  6. How to start…
  7. How to have…
  8. How to make (someone/something) do (something great)
  9. (Problem) – how to fix it
  10. How to get free (product/program)
  11. How you can (action) in the next (time frame)
  12. How an uninformed (person/action) make a fortune in (business type)
  13. How an unexpected (event) changed my (situation)
  14. How I (accomplishment) in (time frame)
  15. How I (accomplishment) by (something unexpected)
  16. How I improved my (problem)
  17. (#) ways to (promise)
  18. (#) ways to avoid (problem)
  19. (#) steps to…
  20. (#) ways to…
  21. (#) ways to beat (problem)
  22. Get rid of your (problem) forever!
  23. Buy no (product type) ’til you’ve seen (product name or description)
  24. Read this and (promise/threat)
  25. Dare to be (promise)
  26. Read this or (threat)
  27. What makes…?
  28. Do you make these mistakes in…?
  29. Want to be (better condition)?
  30. (Problems) – Which do you want to overcome?
  31. (Personalized greeting), here are (#) (products) of interest to you. Which (#) do you want free?
  32. Are you ever (problem)?
  33. Tired/fed up with (problem)?
  34. Should you (something your prospect is thinking about doing)?
  35. Are you…?
  36. Are you ashamed of (problem)?
  37. Secrets of (some kind of expert)
  38. What never ever to (common chore/action)
  39. The truth about…
  40. What you should know about…
  41. The one sensible way to…
  42. What every (person) should know…
  43. The secret of…
  44. Why…
  45. What it takes to…
  46. What everybody ought to know…about this (business type)
  47. Little known ways to (benefit)
  48. The wrong way and the right way to (do something directly related to your business)
  49. The secret of (accomplishment)
  50. The secret of…-Yours, if you qualify
  51. Your (something important to you) is in imminent danger
  52. When experts (failure/problem) – this what they do

This article appears courtesy of The Golden Thread, an e-letter from AWAI that delivers original, no-nonsense advice on how to build your freelance copywriting business. For a free subscription, visit http://www.awaionline.com/thegoldenthread

Has your SEO copywriting strategy changed with the times?

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The economy has shifted. Has your marketing message?

In today’s learned helplessness, recession-mindset economy, some business owners are moaning, “People just aren’t buying. There’s nothing we can do.”

The reality is that companies (and individuals) are buying products and services every second of every day. However, the marketing message that worked a year ago may not be applicable now. When money is tight, prospects want to know they’re getting a good deal (read: value) from a company they like and trust. Additionally, your prospects may have different objections than even six months ago – objections you need to overcome if you want to make the sale.

Although this article is written for salespeople, the principals apply to Web site sales copy – and how we all need to look at our messaging a little differently.

How has your company changed messaging (or developed new content) this year?

So, What’s in It for Me?

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When faced with an offer, an action step or a request, we all want to know one simple thing: What’s in it for me?

For instance, how many times have you received an email like this one:

“Thank you for (staying at our hotel, talking to our customer service rep, buying something from us.) We’d like to invite you to fill out a form so we can improve our customer service.”

And how many times have you junked that email as soon as it hit your inbox?

Chances are, your first thought is, “Why should I spend my time filling out your survey.” And really, why bother? Even if it takes “just five minutes,” that’s five minutes you could spend working, answering email, or watching The People’s Court reruns.

In short, filling out the survey wouldn’t benefit you one iota. So why bother?

But even as we laugh at the survey example, how often are we violating the “what’s in it for me” rule on our own websites? It’s easy for us to rest on our online laurels and figure that “hey, everyone knows our brand,” or, “our specials are listed on the “specials'” tab” – why list them again?

Think about this behavior offline. Imagine walking into a store looking for new tennis shoes. Would we want the salesperson to grunt and say, “All shoes are on that wall. Pick the ones you want.” Or would we want her to tell us about the different brands and how they’ll make us run faster, tone our legs while walking and improve our game?

If you really think about it, you’ll realize that we’re often missing the benefit boat. We don’t tell our customers what’s in it for them. We don’t mention how our service will exceed expectations. We sit back and hope that our prospects will figure it out.

This point really came clear during the DMA’s ACCM conference last week. We evaluated many catalog sites with:

  • Pages chock- full of thumbnail pictures with no benefits nor calls to action
  • Benefits like “free shipping” hidden towards the bottom
  • Feature-based product pages with no benefits

If you consider the inverted pyramid style of online writing, your most important information (think benefit statements) should be near the top of the page. Additionally, we know from Jakob Nielsen that people first scan Web pages horizontally and across the top of the content. So, it’s not just that people need to know what’s in it for them. They need to know right away.

Scour your site for benefits and see where they appear. Do you shout your benefits on every page? Or do you hide them below the fold? Just one “what’s in it for me” statement could make the difference between sluggish sales and a top-converting page.

The Secret Way to Get Exactly What You Want

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Imagine this: You’ve been hinting around to that hot guy (or gal) in the office that you really, really want to go out. You’re friendly and scintillating within a 1 mile radius of his voice. You’ve highlighted your hair within an inch of its life. You’re putting out some major vibes…

…But why won’t he pick up what you’re putting down and ask you out, already?

We’ve all met these folks and there’s always one constant: If you don’t come right out and tell the clueless object of your affection, “I want to date you,” the date won’t happen. In marketing terms, you won’t convert.

And you know whose fault that would be? Yours.

My father used to say that you have to ask for what you want (he called this theory “Get it and growl.”) No hidden agenda. No, “Well, I just assumed they knew how I felt.” No passive/aggressive “Well, if you REALLY understood me, you’d get it.” If you want it (whatever it is), pipe right up and ask.

And that includes asking for the sale on your Website.

Fast forward to yesterday. My dear friend and owner of the soon-to-be-uploaded FI-Strategies.com forwarded over his Web copy. Some background: This man is a consummate salesman. Professionally, he’s at the top of his sales-training game. Yet, he didn’t ask for the sale in his copy because, in his words, “I made the incorrect assumption that most people would hit the “contact us” button if they wanted more info.”

That’s like assuming that the hot girl will go out with you. Someday. If you don’t ask, you may not get.

“Wait,” you may say. “Isn’t it obvious that my site is trying to sell something?”

Yes, that’s true. People wouldn’t be on your site (assuming you sell a product or service) if they didn’t want to buy something.

However, think about when you bought your last new car. You were obviously on the lot to purchase a car. Yet, the salesman probably still said something like, “Let’s draw up the paperwork so you can drive this baby home today.” He probably also handed you a pen so you could sign the contract.

That’s about asking for the sale, baby. That salesman wanted to sell the car, and he asked you to buy it. Guess what — you did.

Another real-life example are infomercials. The cutaways that discuss the products features, benefits, price and how-to buy occur at least four times in a 30-minute spot. “Call now — special pricing for the first 100 customers” and “Call right now and lose 10 pounds by next Saturday” are all about asking for the sale. And just think — how many times have you watched an infomercial and actually — gasp — bought something. That’s the power of the call-to-action.

Asking for the sale (and creating calls-to-action) is easy. Simply tell people what you want them to do and give them a reason to take action. Here’s how to find opportunities on your site and to leverage those opportunities for SEO purposes.

  • Review your own site. Are there any calls-to-action within the text such as “learn more” or “contact us today” or “buy now.” If not, why not?
  • If you do have calls-to-action sprinkled throughout your site (good job,) did you pair them with benefit statements? For instance, would you rather read “call today” or “save $100 on your order if you call today.”
  • Remember that hyperlinks are, by themselves, calls-to-action. That is, the hyperlink text encourages (that is, persuades) people to click through to the next page. From a SEO copywriting perspective, hyperlink the keyphrase whenever possible.

Sprinkle some calls-to-action through a Web page and see what happens. Chances are, you’ll find that people are happily willing to take your desired conversion step. And all you had to do was ask.

Who’s Stealing Your Web Content?

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Years ago, I had the not-fun feeling of seeing an article I had written sitting on a competing SEO company’s site (which will remain nameless.) The article was posted as if the SEO company wrote it. There was no byline, no link back to my site, no nothing.

I was pissed.

What’s worse is that the aforementioned scammy SEO argued that they owned the copyright! It wasn’t until that I showed them that the article originally appeared in a SearchDay issue did they take it down. So not cool. And did the SEO apologize? No. They said they took it down “because there was some confusion about who owned the copyright.”

It wasn’t confusing to me. That article was mine.

Unfortunately, the mad push to create value-added content makes good folks do really stupid things. Copy-stealers usually fall into one of three categories:

 – The “everything is free” copy-stealer. This person honestly has no idea that using your article would be harmful, bad or unethical. They just liked the article and wanted to put it on their site.

 – The unethical writer. This person “borrows” large sections of text in order to fulfill a current writing assignment. Although they may not copy the article completely, they will copy entire paragraphs and pass them off as theirs. What’s worse, they’ll sell their dupe article to a client. As discussed below, the client is then liable for the copyright violation.

 – The evil copyright violator. This person knows exactly what they are doing, don’t care and wait to get caught. I would lump the unethical SEO in this category.

Has this happened to you? If you’re wondering, copy a random snippet of text from one of your articles, paste it in the Google search box, put quotes around it and see what comes up. If pages are returned — be warned. Someone else may be using your content without your permission.

Additionally, many site owners and writers use Copyscape (basic searching is free, premium is .05 a search with other goodies included) to catch the copyright violation.

So, what to do?

Most violators that I’ve dealt with have fallen in the first category — they didn’t mean to do anything wrong, and they are mortified when they learned what they’ve done. I’ve had great luck emailing people and saying, “Hey, take that article down. It’s mine.”

With other folks, it may be more of a battle.

Bob Ellis, partner in Conkle, Ellis, Fergus and MacDowell, LLP and whip-smart Internet attorney had this to say about the topic:

Whether your material is copied verbatim or whether it’s “adapted,” it’s still copyright infringement. Everything you create that is your original work (text, art, scribbles, scripts, etc.) is automatically copyrighted when you create it — no need to say “copyright (c) 2015”, no need to say “all rights reserved.”

But having a copyright and being able to enforce it are two different things.

The best way to be able to enforce your copyright rights is to file a copyright registration for every piece of work you want to protect. Registration is easy — no attorney necessary — and fairly cheap: only $35 if you file online. The Copyright Office website at www.copyright.gov will walk you through it.

What are the advantages of registration? Once you have registered your work, you have a legal right to sue infringers in federal court, to get an injunction ordering the infringement to stop, and to receive rather hefty “statutory damages” — that is, damages you don’t have to prove — as well as attorney fees.If you haven’t registered, all you can get is an injunction and actual damages, the ones you have to prove.

Any person or company that posts your work on their site is liable; not just the web developer who may have been the true culprit. If the only infringer is an individual without much money you could end up spending a lot of money for an injunction, and there would be no money for damages or attorney fees.If a major corporation infringes your copyright, a credible threat will probably produce a quick, favorable settlement for you, but if they are determined they could spend unlimited amounts on lawyers to grind you down and string things out.

An online service provider on whose servers the infringing copies happen to reside is NOT considered an infringer, but you can even send the service provider a demand that the infringing material be removed, and they are required by law to respond.

Copyright violation can be fairly common in today’s “the Internet is free” environment. The key is catching it — fast. After all, you’ve put time, money and effort in your content. Why let someone else use it for free and without attribution?

Update: here are more tips on what to do if someone steals your web content.

What the Heck Does Keyphrase Research Have to Do With the Buying Cycle?

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Looking back on some of my SEO gigs, it occurred to me that a majority of folks don’t take advantage of what I think is a major factor in the overall SEO success. And that’s making sure you’re speaking (or writing) to people in all five phases of the sales cycle.

But there’s more to it than simply writing content for all five phases. When you’re writing pages for different audience mentalities, it stands to reason that you’ll need to research keyphrases differently, too.

So what are the five phases of the buying cycle? And what do they have to do with keyphrase research? Read more