How to stop worrying about Google updates…

…and learn to love writing really great SEO copy!

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

Tune in and learn how to set yourself free…

Fear is counterproductive

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

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

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

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

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

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

Focus on making your content better

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

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

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

  • Does our content really represent our company?

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

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

  • How can we create quality content within our organization?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


photo thanks to marklarson  (Mark Larson)



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

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








How to find a Google-savvy SEO copywriter

Greetings! In today’s SEO copywriting video post, Heather addresses a topic that is very important if you are looking to hire an SEO copywriter, which is: how to find an SEO copywriter who won’t screw up your Google listings.

As you know, Google has made a lot of changes to its algorithm, and those changes have been largely focused on content quality, so the key to hiring an SEO copywriter is finding someone who is keeping up to date with all of what Google is doing.

So yes, you want your new hire to be an excellent writer, and yes, you want them to understand conversion theory and how to get people to take action, and how to write content that is shareable, but you also want to make sure that they know how to stay on Google’s good side!

Here’s how to do it:

Review their writing

The first thing you want to do is review their writing.

Always ask for clips, and not just from one client, but from a variety of clients that they’ve worked with.

  • Look at their Website. Do they even have a Website?
  • Are their articles well written? Or do they look like they were written quickly?
  • Would you consider their articles to be a valuable resource?
  • Do they repeat the same words over and over?

You want to see if their articles are well written. In judging this, think of their articles as if you were scanning the Web and just happened to land on one of their articles. Would you want to delve in and read more, or does it look like the article was written hastily?

You also want to get a sense for how they integrate keyphrases into the copy. If you are able to “catch” the keyphrases very easily, and it appears that the same word (or phrase) is being repeated over and over again: huge red flag!

And of course, you also want to look at their own website, and see how the copywriter has worked with an optimizer on-site.

If they don’t have a website and they are an SEO copywriter, that might also be a red flag because that’s a basic foundational step for an SEO copywriter – to have their own (well written and well optimized) site.

Ask about their process

The second thing you want to do is get on the phone with them and ask them about their process.

Ask something like: “Let’s say we sign the contract today – what would you need from me in order to get started? What is the process for how you write Web pages?”

Note their answers and beware these danger signs – the things you do not want to hear in response to your questions.

“Danger signs” include:

  • “Every article is X words for Google.”

You do not want to hear something like: “Well, every article I write is 500 words. I write that way for Google because that’s what Google wants.”

Wrong. That’s not what Google wants – that’s a myth that’s out there.

  • “Every article has a X percent keyphrase density.”

You also don’t want to hear the words “keyphrase density” come out of their mouth. Even Google’s head of spam, Matt Cutts, has come out and said there is no such thing.

  • The copywriter doesn’t ask about your target market or conversion goals.

You also want to pay attention to what questions the copywriter is asking you: are they asking about your conversion goals and your target market, or are they saying something like “When we sign the contract, then we will have a kick-off called ‘We’ll ask you a lot of questions’”?

If they are not asking these kinds of questions, that means that the content they’re writing is not going to be good for you: it will probably be too general, it’s not going to fit your target market because they didn’t ask what it was, and it won’t fit your conversion goals.

So make sure that the copywriter is asking you really good questions, as well!

Ask about the latest Google updates

The final thing you want to do is ask them about the latest Google updates.

Ask something like: “Well, so can explain a little bit about what Google has been doing lately with their algorithm updates? I’ve heard about this Panda and Penguin thing – what does that mean?”

  • If the copywriter can’t clearly explain Google’s Panda and Penguin updates…
  • Run away.
  • Run quickly.

You want someone who actually knows the answers. If they can’t clearly explain what Panda and Penguin mean to the SEO industry and to content generation, it’s time for you to run away, and run away quickly, because these are things that any experienced SEO copywriter should know about.

If they do not know, that means that they are not keeping up with the industry, and that can come back to bite you later!

Thanks for tuning in to today’s video how-to! If you have any questions or topic suggestions for Heather, please let her know: email [email protected], or tweet her @heatherlloyd. (And she’d love to know what you think about the new site design!)

Be sure to check back next week for the next webinar – see you then!


photo thanks to dannysullivan (Danny Sullivan)


You’re invited! This Wednesday, August 22nd, Heather will be holding an open SEO copywriting Q & A at noon Pacific / 3pm Eastern. Email our Heather G. for call-in information: [email protected]. Look forward to “seeing” you there!

Also, there’s one more week left to enter our contest to win a full scholarship to the SEO Copywriting Certification training – see Win an SEO Copywriting Certification Scholarship! for details!




SEO copywriting 101: A guide for clients

SEO Copywriting 101Whether you’re hiring copywriters in-house, or outsourcing to freelancers,  finding and working with SEO copywriters can be challenging – and a little bit scary, too.

First, you have to find the “perfect person” who will make your Web copy sing. Once you’ve found the perfect person, you have to give them direction, evaluate their content and make sure that it’s right for your site.

If you don’t know SEO, the entire process is confusing. How can you figure out who to hire? How do you get the SEO content quality you need?

If you need to hire a copywriter, this guide is for you. Here’s what to do.

How to hire the perfect in-house or freelance SEO copywriter

Looking for an SEO copywriter? Whether you’re looking to hire in-house or outsource, it’s tempting to ask, “How much do you charge,” and go from there. That can be a dangerous mistake. Would you work with an attorney because she was the cheapest around? Or a doctor? Heck no. Rather than focusing on price, focus on results and reputation. That way, you’ll find the right vendor (or employee) for your needs. (If you’re wondering how an SEO copywriter can help you, here’s a great resource.)

Many smaller businesses prefer to outsource their SEO copy. You can outsource to a freelance SEO copywriter, or sometimes your SEO company has someone on staff. Larger businesses – or companies that kick out a lot of content – may be better served with an in-house hire.

Questions to ask are:

  • What kind of experience do you have (here’s some guidance on working with a newbie and an intermediate SEO copywriter.)
  • If you’re outsourcing, ask the writer if she will be writing the content? Or will someone else?
  • What’s your process? If the copywriter doesn’t say, “I’ll need to start by asking a bunch of questions,” that’s a huge red flag.
  • Do you know how to write to sell (called direct response copywriting.) Or, are you primarily a blogger? There is a big difference between the two styles, so make sure you ask.
  • Can I see case studies and testimonials?

And here are some other questions to ask to get the best quote.

You also want to consider if you need a copywriter or a content strategist.  Here’s the difference between the two job descriptions. And if you’re wondering if hiring an SEO copywriter is really important (yes, of course it is,) here’s some additional information.

You’ve found the perfect copywriter? Great. Here’s how to get started…

If you are giving the SEO copywriter direction, you want to give them the right direction. Where a lot of good campaigns go bad is when the client dictates the article length and makeup based on SEO copywriting myths and misconceptions.

Beware the SEO copywriting myths, such as:

Plan to spend quite a bit of meeting time with your new copywriter so you can explain your unique sales proposition, your customer persona and what’s important to your customers. Your copywriter will also bombard you with a list of questions (here’s a list of 31 questions your copywriter may ask.)

This part of the process will take some time. You may be tempted to skip this step and think, “He’s smart. He’ll ‘get it’ and write great copy.” Don’t do it. Spend the time to get your writer up to speed. Your copy will be much better for it.

Your writer completed her first rough draft. Here’s how to evaluate it.

The most important question you can ask is, “Does the content make me want to buy?” If the answer is, “Meh,” that alone may dictate a rewrite. Whether your copywriter is writing sales copy or posts for your blog, the writing should showcase your benefits, be engaging and – yes – include keyphrases. Here’s some things to consider.

Now that you know exactly what to do, you can safely find the right in-house or freelance SEO copywriter who meets your needs – and start gaining benefit from well-written content. What could be better?

3 ways to save money on SEO copywriting

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

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

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

1) Repurpose Existing Content

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

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

2) Get Trained in SEO Copywriting Best Practices

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

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

3) Consider Guest Blog Posts from Loyal Customers or Readers

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

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

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

Thanks for joining us for this week’s Q&A video post!

And please don’t be shy – Heather really digs educating and helping others!  Zip your SEO copywriting or content marketing question to her at: [email protected].  She will answer, and very possibly next week!  See you then.








What does an SEO copywriter do, anyway?

Welcome back!  In today’s video post, Heather answers a question from the LinkedIn SEO Copywriting group:  What does an SEO copywriter do, anyway? It is an excellent question, as many folks are somewhat mystified by the words “SEO copywriting.”  Whether you’re in the Web writing profession, or are considering hiring a SEO copywriter,  you will learn a lot in just a few minutes,  as Heather tackles this question in her second Q & A video post.

By the way, do you have a question about SEO copywriting or content marketing?  Zip it to Heather at [email protected], and it may well be answered in her next video post!

What Do They Write?

  • An SEO copywriter may create content for blogs, Facebook posts and tweets (often know as a social media writer), or…
  • She may create sales and informational copy for Websites, writing content that helps people take action and buy the product or service offered.

The common denominator is that in SEO copywriting, all writing is “wrapped around” keyphrases.  The SEO copywriter knows how to research those keyphrases, or knows what the keyphrase research means, and she also knows how to skillfully incorporate those keyphrases within the page copy in a way that they fit and flow smoothly.

SEO Copywriters Are a Crucial Part of the Equation in a SEO Campaign

The image of the well-known marketing expert, Seth Godin, is shown because he is quoted as saying that “the best SEO is great content.”

How he meant that is, when you have a really well-written page, people will want link to it, because they want to link out to good quality content.  Well-composed, high-quality pages tend to attract more readers, and keep them on the site longer.

This is important to consider when hiring or working with a SEO copywriter, because you need to have solid, quality content on your site.  The writing needs to be good, and read smoothly.  You want to steer clear of clunky, keyphrase-riddled copy.

The Words SEO Copywriters Use Help Drive Traffic and Make Money

SEO copywriters are also crucial to the equation from a sales and conversions perspective, because their incorporation of keyphrases within the copy helps to drive traffic and income.  Their skilled writing will help visitors take that next conversions step, whether it’s going to another page in the site, or buying a product, or requesting more information.

SEO Copywriters Work in Conjunction with a Great SEO/Social Team

The chart by Matt McGee aptly demonstrates the many components that make up a successful SEO campaign.  The SEO copywriter plays an essential role in the overarching campaign, as noted, and may work with a number of team members such as programmers, web designers, social media and content strategists.  Ultimately, it is the SEO copywriter that creates the content that attracts traffic, engages the audience, and encourages site conversions.

Thanks for tuning in!  And remember, if you have a question for Heather, don’t hesitate to shoot her an email:  [email protected].  Check back in again next week – your question may well be featured!


How to save time and money on Web copy revisions

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

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

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

Has Associated Content cheapened SEO copywriting?

My, how the SEO content development fur is flying.

In the July 6 issue of MediaWeek, the headline “Council to Counter Web Generators’ Growing Clout” was front and center. The Internet Content Syndication Council (ICSC), comprised of representatives from firms such as Proctor and Gamble and Reuters, is complaining that content aggregators like Demand Media and Associated Content are “cheapening” the quality of Web content.

I couldn’t agree more.

For those unfamiliar with the business model, Web content aggregators make their money from syndicating content produced by freelance writers.  The production process is like SEO copywriting on steroids: Editors use savvy keyphrase research to ferret out SEO copywriting opportunities, and assign keyphrases to their freelancers.  However, rather than the emphasis being on the customer experience – that is, creating a quality, informative article that’s targeted towards a specific market, the emphasis is on content that’s “good enough” to get links or long tail rankings. For more information about Demand Media’s business model, check out this Wired article.

If you’re a site owner – and you don’t want to hire a copywriter or produce content in-house – you may be tempted to turn to Demand Media or Associated Content for an “article bank” of articles.  Heck, it’s cheap, easy content that you can instantly slap on your site. But personally, I’d think twice about using such services. Here’s why:

1. Syndicated content isn’t targeted. It’s great to fill content “holes” with new content – and that’s a great strategy. But you want it to be original content, targeted towards your audience and their specific needs. For instance, if I was writing an article about marketing with mailing lists, I’d be asking questions about the target audience, their existing knowledge levels and their pain points. Those specific writing touches helps to connect with your reader…and drives conversions. After all, “write for your reader” is the foundation of every writing gig for a reason.

2. You’re getting exactly what you’re paying for.  Writers working with sites like Associated Content aren’t making much money – at all.  For instance, Associated Content’s site lists upfront payment rates of $2-$15 per article. If someone has an $1,000 mortgage payment, they will need to write over 66 articles in a month just to make their mortgage. The focus isn’t on quality – it can’t be for those rates. Those rates breed a sweatshop, “Write it fast and turn it in” mentally (and how could it not, really?)

As an example, I searched Associated Content’s site for “SEO copywriting” and checked out the first article.  Here’s a direct quote discussing the advantages of SEO copywriting:

  • “Helping to work out various steps to increase sales

SEO content writing aims to increase the sales rate and marketing goals to achieve maximum profit.”

Really? REALLY?  ::hits head against desk:: No, this isn’t exactly “high quality” content that should be syndicated. At all.

3. Bad content reflects negatively on your brand. Would you rent a rundown storefront in a bad area to save money? Heck no. It would drive customers away. Same goes for poorly-written content – if the content is inaccurate, poorly written or just plain dull, it’s not going to help.

As a side note, I’m a tad disappointed that a search engine like Yahoo – who is intimately familiar with the importance of quality content – would purchase Associated Content. From a SEO perspective, Y! would have to know that articles syndicated across multiple sites probably won’t position well. And from a pure copywriting perspective, it seems like they’d want to focus on quality content – not copywriting for “outsource-to-India” prices. From a revenue perspective, I get it – cheap copy makes money. But I’d like to see them up their game a bit. Shame on you, Yahoo, for promoting content that you know isn’t top-notch.

For more on this topic, check out MarketingVox’s take.

Think Penny Wise, Search Foolish When It Comes to Investing in an SEO copywriter

Hello, all!

Today’s post is by Pam Foster, a highly experienced SEO copywriter and one of the first Certified SEO Copywriters in the world. Enjoy!

The other day, a marketer for a sophisticated mid-size national company inquired about hiring a professional SEO copywriter to improve his website’s search engine traffic and sales results.

He admitted that his website is in very tough shape (weak search engine rankings, not much activity on this site), and that he doesn’t know why. This kind of awareness is terrific — it’s the first step toward making big improvements!

So let’s quickly hit the key points about what’s wrong with his site — those missing critical elements that drive results online these days:

  • The web pages don’t include a single keyphrase his ideal prospects may be using to find his company’s services in search engines such as Google and Bing.
  • The page titles and meta descriptions have absolutely no information about why someone would choose his company among the many options in search results
  • The messages on every page are all about “how great and cool our company is;”  not focused on what the customer needs
  • It doesn’t seem to set itself apart from the competition. There are no messages that differentiate this website from others in the same business category
  • It isn’t “conversion-focused,” meaning there are no inviting calls to action; no compelling reasons to sign up for his company’s emails, inquire about services, or buy anything

And that’s just for starters.

So as you can imagine, this marketer would find tremendous value in hiring a skilled SEO copywriter who knows exactly how to bring his website to life with a smart keyphrase strategy, customer-focused messages, and compelling sales copy that offers unique and exciting reasons to choose his company over others. Right?

In other words, copy like this would be “found money”in the bank for his website, yes?

Well, sadly he didn’t see it that way. He balked at the fees for hiring a professional, skilled SEO copywriter — someone who will offer a terrific return on his investment and deliver measurable results. Instead, he decided to search for a cheaper resource; even though his company can and should make the sound investment in what works.

Ah, well. He’ll soon find that this “Penny Wise, Search Foolish,” approach means he’ll end up working with someone who doesn’t know all it takes to write successful SEO copy. Therefore, his frugality will come back to bite him.

We hope to help you avoid this problem with the following logic.

We’re not saying you have to take out a second mortgage to invest in SEO copywriting that works. But if you plan on a budget of at least $500-$800 or more per page, you’ll soon find that it’s a drop in the bucket when you consider the immediate and long-term gains you’ll realize.

For example, let’s say a single new client is worth $1,000 to you (if you’re a consulting service). Or 20 new product sales may equal $1,000 if you’re a retailer; even more if you’re a B2B marketer.

So would a $500 web page investment today, that returns $1,000 in business tomorrow, be worth it? I’m pretty sure I hear you saying, “Heck, ya!” Plus, when you consider the long-term gain of each new customer relationship, the revenue potential is infinite. Trust me on this one.

It’s important to banish short-term thinking when investing in your web content. Instead, consider it a solid foundation that will support your business revenue growth for quite some time. (You wouldn’t build your dream house on quicksand, now would you?)

Thanks for giving this some serious consideration. Here’s to your web success!
Pam Foster

Guest blogger Pam Foster is the owner of ContentClear Marketing and Pam recently became one of the industry’s first web content writers to achieve SuccessWorks SEO Copywriting Certificatio,n” the world’s only SEO copywriting certification program.

Photo thanks: © Ronfromyork |

Outsourcing your SEO copywriting? 9 ways to get the best quote

Yesterday, a business owner sent over an interesting question.

“Why do I have to answer so many questions before you give me a quote? Years ago, if I wanted a copywriter to write a print ad, I knew it would be X amount. Why can’t there be more transparency?”

He had a point. I don’t list prices on my site – and neither do a number of my Certified SEO Copywriters. The main reason is because, “we don’t know what we don’t know” – short, catalog pages could be $250 a page – or up to $1000 if you factor in things like strategy, keyphrase research, customer persona generation and other factors.

And granted, a range like that could freak out the average prospect.

However, there is a way to get the information you need and find the right SEO copywriter for your next campaign. It may take more background research than sending a quick “how much do you charge” email.  And from the copywriter’s standpoint, there are some things that prospects can do to get an accurate quote, quickly.  Here are nine tips to get you started:

Do include your domain name in your initial email. At least twice a month, I get an email from an @AOL address that says something like, “I need five pages written for search engines. How much will you charge me? From a copywriter’s perspective, we can’t help you if we can’t see what we’re bidding for. Some pages (think longer direct-sales pages,) cost more. Others (like short catalog copy) can cost less. We won’t know what to tell you without seeing your site.

Do let us know your challenges. It’s wonderful when a prospect says something like, “We’re ranking well in the engines, but our sales copy isn’t converting.” Or, “We have a marketing team now, but they don’t know anything about SEO copywriting.” That information helps us evaluate your site and develop some ideas.

Do talk to us on the phone. I understand that it’s often easier to gather quotes via email. That’s OK. I do it too. But even a 15-minute conversation can help copywriters delve a little deeper into your challenges and explore different ideas. I’ve actually saved clients money because I told them that they didn’t need the big content marketing strategy they thought they did – and some simple tweaks would garner a great reward. We wouldn’t have come to that conclusion in an email conversation.

Do tell us what you’ll expect. Do you need us to provide status reports to your marketing department once a month? Are you working on an internal deadline, and need to have copy turned around by a certain date? Let your copywriter know what you’ll need before he zips you a proposal. That way, you avoid any future sticky issues – like your copywriter expecting to be paid to be on a three-hour branding conference call – when you thought it was a freebie (yes, this has happened!)

Do chat with multiple writers. It’s tempting to hire the first SEO copywriter who happens to meet your pricing and turnaround requirements. Just know that finding a good writer may mean talking to multiple people and asking lots of questions. Some writers will quickly “get” your business and will immediately generate some ideas. Other writers may not be as well suited for the task. Who you hire is crucial – after all, this person represents your brand – so make sure you find the best person for your business.

Do ask us for writing samples. Writers love to brag about our successes. Yes, by all means, ask for writing samples – especially when evaluating us against another copywriter. It’s important that you find the right fit for the right price, and writing samples (as well as case studies) help us showcase our value. Plus, from the client standpoint, writing samples will clearly show the difference between a $5 and a $500 sales page.

Don’t expect free consulting as a way to “prove our worth.”
It’s important to find the right vendor – and many SEO copywriters will throw out some quick top-of-mind thoughts about how you should proceed. At the same time, asking us, “What strategy would you recommend” and “How would you specifically change the Titles” is moving from sales-process vetting to freebie consulting. Yes, ask us hard questions. Yes, ask for writing samples. But please know that the best copywriters (like the best doctors, attorneys and business consultants) won’t give it away for free.

Don’t tempt us with “more work later if you can lower your rate now.”
In my non-scientific estimation, 99.9% of copywriters have lowered their rate in this scenario. And 99.9% of copywriters would never do it again. Unless we have a signed contract promising us “future work” – including a retainer guarantee – we can’t “bank” on future work. Ask us this question later, after we’ve worked together and we’ve built a successful relationship.

Do be open to higher fees  – but ask us how you can save money. Many people start the SEO copywriting vendor search process without a clue about per-page rates. Or, the prospect needs more than writing – they need strategy and better keyphrase research – and that drives up the price. At the same time, if you feel like the price is edging higher than you’d like to spend, ask about training (DIY always costs less in the long run,) running a longer campaign for a smaller (guaranteed) monthly spend, or even paying your agreement up-front for a discount. There are always ways to save some cash without sacrificing quality.

RFIs gone wild!

Ah, the RFI. If you’ve been in business for awhile, you’ve seen the multi-page “request for information” documents prospects use during the vendor-vetting process. Some companies love filling them out, figuring it’s a great chance to showcase their successes and land the client. Other companies dread the time and manpower RFIs take to complete, preferring to opt-out of the process. With questions like, “Share your philosophy about working with clients, ” and “Explain a recent problem you had with a client, and how your firm handled it,” RFIs often feel like job interviews – except everything is done on-paper rather than face-to-face.

Mind you, I’m a big fan of prospect due-diligence. Companies need to make sure that the vendor they hire will meet their needs – and sometimes, you can learn everything you need to know by reading written responses (especially if you’re hiring a SEO copywriting agency – if they can’t write compelling RFI responses, I doubt they could create good Web copy.)

But then, the other day, I received a very unique RFI – and I’m curious to see what you think…

The “typical” questions were there regarding how my firm worked with clients, and and asking about my firm’s writing process. But then, the questions started getting very…personal.  They asked me to name my top clients and their annual spend. Then wanted to know if I’ve worked with clients in certain verticals – and they wanted me to name the clients and engagement scope. And in addition, they asked for two year’s of financial statements.

Mind you, my husband didn’t see my financials until about two weeks before we were married.

Yes, there would have been a MNDA in place – so the information would have been protected. However, I didn’t know anything about the gig. Nothing. Not the scope of work. Not the budget. Nothing. This could be a $100,000 SEO copywriting makeover – or a $1,000 project. And unfortunately, the prospect was prohibited from providing any information until after they received the RFI – assuming, of course, that my firm made the cut.

How did I handle it? I took my firm out of the running. Even with a MNDA in place, I didn’t feel comfortable discussing my current clients with a prospect – not without my clients’ express signoff. And certainly, I did not feel at all comfortable sending over two years of financial documents before I could even speak to the prospect (and truth be told, I would never send over financials to a prospect.) It’s a shame, because I’m sure that I could have helped them. But the RFI process soured me on the gig.

But you tell me.  What types of RFI questions are appropriate – and what feels like “RFIs gone wild?” Am I being stubborn? Would you have provided that information in the hopes of getting the gig (keeping in mind, of course, that you wouldn’t know what the gig was before submitting your information.)

What do YOU think?