The Trouble with “SEO Copywriting”

Guest Author, Eric Enge

The trouble with the term “SEO Copywriting” is that so many people misinterpret what it means.  A large number of people associate the term SEO with a mindset that involves manipulation and trickery, and they bring this faulty mindset to copywriting as well.  Worse still is that many believe that this manipulative behavior is a victimless crime – after all we are only tricking big corporate America (Google and Microsoft) into giving us search traffic they would not otherwise intend to give us.

But there are in fact real victims.  People who come to search engines and click on links to sites that have managed to rank well in spite of poorly written copy are victims. And, in the long run, the publishers who fall into this trap are victims as well.  Even if their bad content helps them rank in the short term there is no long-term future for their business. Visitors to their site see no value, and eventually the search engine algorithms catch up to them and take their traffic away.  When this happens they are left with nothing and have to start over again.

So what are the most common problems that come up when you have the wrong mindset? Here are the two biggest ones:

1. Content written mostly for search engines The search engine must never be the primary target of your article. This is a slippery path on a mine-filled hillside.  With search engine algorithm changes like Panda, the search engines are getting better at measuring content quality and user engagement.  I would argue that the strength of your brand is also a ranking factor today. Bad content hurts a brand while quality content helps build it.

In addition, no writer can serve two masters equally well.  The target audience for your writing must come first.  Write something outstanding that reflects well on your brand.  Something that helps convert visitors into customers.  Something that you can be proud of. This is the content that the search engines want to find and deliver traffic to.

2. Content over-filled with keywords Once writers learn that keywords are important for search engines there is the danger that they lose focus on the user.  Consider the following example:

“Looking for left handed golf clubs? You have come to the right place. Our left handed golf clubs help you take your game up a notch. Left handed golf clubs you will find on this site are made by Ping, Callaway, and TaylorMade. Who else would you want to buy left handed golf clubs from?”

Don’t you almost feel soiled reading it?  Clearly it is completely unnatural looking and it just does not seem well written.  As a user this type of writing is a complete turnoff. Can you imagine talking to someone at a party that kept repeating the main point they are trying to make in a conversation in every sentence like this?

There are two major problems with this sample text.  One is the excessive use of the main keyword.  The other is the complete lack of use of any synonyms.  While we don’t actually know what factors are used in Google’s Panda algorithm today, both keyword stuffing and a lack of synonyms could easily be signals that indicate poor quality content.

Consider instead using variants of the phrase, such as “left handed golf club.” “clubs” or “club.” In addition, focus instead on pitching your value proposition, such as we see in this sample text:

“We offer left handed golf clubs from Ping, Callaway, and TaylorMade. Our clubs are backed by the strongest support team in the industry. If you have any concerns with the club you purchase just return it and we will refund the full price, no questions asked.”

In this version the copy focuses more on the key selling point of superior service, not on keyword stuffing.  You also see other variants of the key phrase being used in a way that closely approximates the way that people normally communicate.  Much better!


SEO Copywriting is dead. Long live SEO Copywriting! Master the art of producing content for users.  Content which is designed for readability, and that quickly gets to the key benefit the user might be looking for when they come to your site.  Move the reader towards your ultimate goal.

And finally, create copy that is SEO aware (because it is presented in search engine crawler visible text) and that uses terminology that keyword research tools tell you are used by prospects that are searching for products like yours. Not keyword stuffed, but selected to match up with the topics of interests of your prospective customers.

Eric Enge is the President of Stone Temple Consulting, a 20+ person Internet marketing consulting firm with offices in Boston and Northern California. A self-described “crusty old veteran” with 30 years working experience in technology and the Internet, Eric writes for Search Engine Land’s Industrial Strength Column, and is a contributing expert to the Search Engine Watch SEO Column.

Eric is the author of the SEOmoz Link-Building Pro Guide, and co-author of The Art of SEO, published by O’Reilly Media.

Is Your SEO Copywriting Any Good? 3 Tell-Tale Tests

Welcome back!  Today’s video SEO copywriting tip concerns how to tell if your Web SEO copywriting is any good.

Whether you hired an SEO copywriter or are doing it yourself, you may not be sure how to gauge the quality and effectiveness of your SEO copy.  Join Heather as she outlines three tests to tell if your SEO copywriting is any good, focusing on what you need to watch out for:

Test #1:  Does the writing work?

This is the easiest test of all:  read the copy and ask yourself if you like it.  Does it work for you?

What you should watch out for:

  • “Fluffy” Copy  Meaning, what could be conveyed in 250 words is dragged out with no apparent purpose or reader benefit to 500 words.  Often this is the result of the SEO copywriter being told that s/he needs to reach a certain wordcount. As Heather has discussed in previous posts, this is a persistent SEO myth.
  • Boring Copy  Self-explanatory.  Either you wrote it when you were brain-dead tired, or you’ve hired an SEO copywriter who hasn’t grasped the tone, feel, and voice of your site.
  • Bad Copy  Again, self-explanatory.  If the copy reads like someone wrote it in five minutes, then they probably did. While Google Panda has eliminated a lot of poor content, you can still find copy riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, and/or that seems to make no sense.

Test #2:  How’s the keyphrase usage?

Look at the use of keyphrases in the Web copy and start drilling down from the SEO perspective.

Here’s what to watch for:

  • Too many keyphrases  As with SEO copy wordcount myths, keyphrase density remains a tenacious hangover from pre-Google days. The notion is that you have to a certain percentage of keywords, or keyword density, in the copy.  And again, this is counter-productive nonsense as Heather has addressed before with her video post on over-optimization.
  • Too few keyphrases  On the other side of the spectrum is the overly-cautious SEO copywriter who fails to include enough keyphrases in the copy for fear of keyword stuffing.  For instance, s/he may have only incorporated the keyphrase in the page Title and called it good.  This is something else you’ll want to evaluate.
  • Are the keyphrases appropriate?  This can be a more difficult thing to judge if you’ve outsourced your SEO copywriting and the writer has chosen the keyphrases for you.  Just know that if you’re in a highly competitive market and are targeting general (= highly competitive) keyphrases, such as  “digital camera,” that it’s going to be that much more difficult to position for those keyphrases.

Look to make sure that the keyphrases targeted aren’t too general.  You want keyphrases that are specific to the page you’re optimizing for.

And, if you do have questions, be sure to ask your SEO copywriter how they selected the keyphrases they’re using, and why they decided upon those particular keyphrases.  Hear what s/he has to say.

Test #3:  Conversion Power

At the end of the day, we all want our sites to do something for us – be it blog comments, subscription sign-ups, direct purchase, or contact.

What to watch for:

  • Reviewing a sales page?  Be sure the benefits to your prospect are front and center, and that you’ve included a clear call to action.
  • Reviewing a blog post?  Check to see if the post is engaging and optimized with a keyphrase-rich Title.
  • Reviewing a FAQ or article page?  Does the FAQ page or article link to other areas of the site?  Are there any “dead end” pages that fail to help the prospect take action?  The point of all your SEO copywriting efforts is to get your readers to move around your site.


Writing lessons I learned from my Dad

Recently, I spent about 10 days staying with my parents. Although I may have missed Father’s Day by a couple of days, in the spirit of the holiday, I wanted to share some lessons that I picked up from my dad and how they relate to copywriting.

Know your audience and speak appropriately

Growing up, I never heard my father swear or curse. Instead, if the situation called for a good cuss word, my dad would say, “Sugar” (with an elongated “sh” sound at the beginning). He may have wanted to say “shit,” but he was aware of the little ears around him (he had four kids so there were always under-aged ears in his vicinity), so he tailored his words based on his audience.

In marketing, you are not writing for everyone. Focus on your target market. Get to know the individuals you are trying to reach and write in a language that is appropriate for them.

Research is vital

When I grew up there were no search engines. In fact, the internet of today was nowhere to be seen. However, I believe my dad created my reliance on Google and Bing when I need information.

I was an inquisitive kid. Being the youngest of four, I think my incessant question asking got to be too much for both of my parents. Whereas my mom sometimes just made stuff up to get me to stop asking questions (it took me until adulthood to realize that using too much deodorant wouldn’t make you explode), when my dad had too much, he would simply say, “Look it up.” Back then, that meant sifting through our massive dictionary or volumes of encyclopedias. When search engines came into their own, I found an easier way to look things up.

Today, from keywords to fact checking, I still rely on research. It makes me a better writer. The tools may be different, but when I’m not sure of something, I hear my dad’s voice saying, “Look it up,” so I do. You should too.

Focus on your uniqueness

My dad grew up the youngest of eight in a Catholic family in a small town in Pennsylvania. In the 60s he was not a hippy or a flower child – he probably came across more like “the man” since he was a teacher with a crew cut.

Today, this 70-year-old grandfather with white hair is a retired guidance counselor and is very active in his church. Do you have a visual image of him in your head? Good.

In his small New Jersey town of about 5,000 residents, my dad is well known from his involvement in church, school, and community associations. He is also a soft-spoken gay advocate (of which I am so proud). Last week, I realized that he likes rap music. I discovered this when he told me not to change the radio station as he tapped his fingers to I Need a Doctor by Dr. Dre, Eminem, and Skylar Grey.

This is probably not the picture you had of my dad in my head – trust me, he is constantly surprising me too. However, this just reminds me that none of us fit into perfect little boxes. You (and the business about which you are writing) are unique. Don’t promote yourself just like everyone else. Find your unique selling proposition (USP) and focus on that.

Important information warrants repeating

While I was home this last trip, my mom was (finally) given a prescription for a CPAP machine to treat her sleep apnea. My dad and I joined her at the appointment where she learned how to use it and how to set it up.

That night my dad was setting up the machine and asked me for help. Although we sat through the same session, I am more mechanically inclined, and (honestly) I had a better angle when viewing the demonstration. I helped my dad through the process of setting up the machine and asked him questions along the way to make sure he understood what we were doing.

This experience was a great reminder that:

1)    All people do not process information the same way.

2)    You need to make sure vital information is clearly conveyed.

3)    Sometimes you need to repeat a message – restating it in different ways – to make sure your audience gets the right information.

Love what you do

While I am most likely biased, I think my dad was an awesome guidance counselor. He didn’t work at my high school, but we would run into former students (who were older than I am) and they would still remember him. That says a lot. Why do they remember him? Because he was a smart guy (again, possible bias here) and he cared about each of his students. He loved what he did and it showed.

Love what you do and it will show in your writing. Don’t believe me? Look at something you wrote because you “had to” and something that you enjoyed writing. I bet you’ll see the difference.

Thanks dad for the lessons – you probably had no idea you were teaching them to me. Happy belated Father’s Day to all dads!

Amy C. Teeple is a proud graduate of Heather’s SEO Copywriting Certification program.  A Jersey girl living in Southern California.

Don’t Give It Away for Free!

So, what do you do when someone wants free advice?

I talked to someone the other day who had just hung out her freelance Web writing shingle. That means, she’s hustling for clients. All. The. Time.

She had a great sales-call conversation with a local business owner. They talked. They laughed. They bonded. He asked her, “What changes would you make to my site,” and she spent 45 minutes outlining how she’d change the Titles, how she’d start a blog, how she’d add keyphrases to his copy. She even showed him how to research keyphrases.

She was convinced she got the gig. The prospect told her that “He’d let her know” — and she hung up the call in a sales-happy daze.

Fast forward two weeks. The prospect won’t return her calls. He won’t return her emails. And when she looks at his site – surprise, surprise – some of the copy was changed per her suggestions.

Where did she go wrong?

She gave it away for free.

This is a problem for any professional. If you work with computers, everyone calls you for tech support. If you’re an attorney, people ask you to answer “Quick legal questions.” And if you’re a freelance SEO copywriter (or SEO professional) the question on everyone’s minds is, “How can I do better in Google?”

Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for educating prospects. That’s important. But there’s a fine line between educating clients on best practices and telling them how you’d “fix” their site (or whatever you get paid to do.)

This can be especially tricky during the sales process. You may really, really need this sale. Or, the person asks you face-to-face. Suddenly, not giving out free information seems like a sales (and social) faux pas. You start wondering if other people have given out freebie information and you’ll look bad if you don’t.  Heck, it doesn’t feel comfortable to say, “Uh, you have to pay me for that.”

No, it doesn’t feel comfortable. You don’t need to say those words, exactly…but you do need to say something like them. That is, if you want to make money.

Yes, you want to show off your expertise during the sales process. Yes, you want to wow the prospect. At the same time, you need to set a boundary. You need to know – clearly, deep in your heart-of-hearts know – that you are willing to talk about X for free. Maybe you provide one tip. Maybe you provide very general (but highly educational information.)

Or maybe, you don’t want to give anything away for free – even the most basic information. That’s OK, too.

When the prospect says something like, “What would you do to fix my site,” that’s when your boundary should kick in. Say what you’re comfortable saying and then steer back to the sales process. Tell them, “It looks like you have many Web writing opportunities here. I can outline them out in a report that contains (X) and costs (Y).

Or you could say, “That’s a great question. I’d have to dig deeper into your issues to really help you – let me tell you a bit more about how I consult with clients like you.”

You’re not ignoring their question or being rude. You’re simply – and nicely – informing them of your limits. At that point, they can choose to work with you (get the information they obviously want to have) or try to find someone who will give them freebie help. Either way, you win.

Consider if it’s time that you reviewed your own sales process. Have you felt “trapped” into providing “too much” information? Do you give it away for free? Are you gaining new clients – or inexplicably losing gigs? It could be that a slight change in your sales process can actually drive new business.

What about you? What kinds of information do you give away for free — or do you?

How Many Words Should Be on Your Home Page? A Closer Look

Greetings! Ready to get your learn on? Great, because today’s SEO copywriting video post delves into the question:  How many words should be on my homepage?

Heather’s SEO copywriting tip actually piggybacks on a recent (Google) Matt Cutts’ (“that’s a good question”) video addressing whether you should have more or less content on your homepage.  In his 57-second response, Matt doesn’t really cut it with his abbreviated answer. So here, Heather follows up on the question with the specifics on optimal homepage word count, discussing why you should move beyond counting words to how you can achieve reader engagement, conversions and page rank with a killer home page.


What Matt Cutts from Google Says:

  • The original question posed to Matt Cutts was: “Should I have more or less content on my home page? There’s certainly a difference of opinion here.”  His answer?
  • “If you have more content on your home page, there’s more text for Googlebot to find.” You can view the very brief video at

So What is the “Correct” Word Count for Your Home Page?

Yes, there are a lot of different opinions on this subject, and that’s precisely why so many people are confused about what to do with their home page.  On one side of the coin, they want to have an exceptional home page that makes it easy for prospects to take action.  On the other, they want to have a home page that positions well in the search engines.

As usual, there is no definitive “right” answer.  The “correct word count” for your home page depends on a number of factors.  Yes, you do want a respectable word count, but you don’t want to bloat your home page with fluff just to make it with the search engines. So let’s look at this more closely…

Looking Beyond the Home Page Word Count: Factors that Matter Most

You want to think about your home page from your prospects’ perspective.  What benefits and message do THEY need to read?

  • Landing on your home page, your prospects may or may not know your company.  Focus on what you need to say on your home page that will engage your readers and keep them on your site.

What are you doing on your home page to make it easy for your readers to take action?

  • You certainly don’t want to see your visitors land on your home page and immediately bounce off of it.  Your goal is to get your readers to go deeper into your site to learn more about how you can help them with the products/services you provide.
  • If you have a blog, you want your visitors to be able to read more of it, not just stop where you blog ends off on your home page.

How is your home page positioning?  How is it faring with conversions?

  • Analytics!!  Check them.  If your analytics show a high bounce rate from your home page, and that your visitors are not going to your site’s inner pages, then this presents a huge opportunity for your to revise your home page and make it easier for your prospects to do what you want them to do.
  • If your analytics are indicating that things just aren’t “clicking” in terms of conversions, time spent on you home page, or positions, you need to make some changes.

Is your existing home page content written for readers – or is it just serving the search engines? There’s a big difference.

  • We’ve all seen many sites where the top part is all pretty pictures and slick graphics, with maybe a few words.  Then beneath the fold, there are about 500 words comprised mostly of hyperlinks to serve the search engines. It’s not like anyone’s actually going to read that hyperlinked content, and often those 500 words are not even well written.
  • If that’s the way you’re writing your home page, the good news is that you can have the best of both worlds:  a good amount of quality content on your site that is targeted to your readers and still serves to get those search engine positions.

You can have it all with great home page content and search engine appeal.

  • A great example of serving both your readers and the search engines with your home page content is the site 37 Signals (now Basecamp.) These folks do it right. You’ll find that on the top part of the screen, 37 Signals funnels users into the different types of products they offer.  (They follow up with a lot of copy on their site geared towards these distinct users).  Then below that, they’ve fantastic content written for all users, with social proof, etc.
  • You can have the best of both worlds on your home page: quality content targeted to your readers and still achieving good search engine positions, if you make sure that the ranking-oriented copy is good, solid value-added content.  It won’t work for anyone if it’s simply “fluff” for the search engines.


SEO Content Marketing Roundup, Week Ending June 1st, 2011

Herding cats: this aptly describes the challenge faced by online marketers in this week’s latest and greatest web writing news. Marketers from the once seemingly disparate fields of content, SEO, social, and search convene in discussions on how to optimize social content for SEO, how to socialize SEO copy, how search is becoming ever more social, etc. More often than not, the strategies offered seem to involve “holistic marketing” and “integrated approaches.” An ambition nearly as daunting as herding cats, and all the more interesting for that very reason…Here’s this week’s picks:

Content Marketing:

Lee Odden discusses blog marketing strategy with seven steps to social SEO success at Top Rank.

Shelly Bowen demonstrates four ways a content strategy saves you money at her pybop site.

How to start a corporate blog is at Vertical Measures.

ClickZ features a post by Heidi Cohen on 10 ways to improve your blog’s effectiveness.

Heidi Cohen also discusses making your content mobile-friendly at Content Marketing Institute.

Brand Dignity shares tips for increasing your online influence, while online reputation no-no’s (five ways you’re offending online customers) are at Search Engine Watch.

Brian Massey follows up his post on landing page basics with how to find the right copywriter for your landing pages at Content Marketing Institute.

eMarketer posts how the internet radio audience gives marketers more targeting opportunities, and iMedia Connection posts why everything you know about demographics is wrong.

Intriguing posts from Neuromarketing, including critical thinking about neuromarketing, and getting closer to the “buy button” of the brain.

The three levels of blended content are discussed via guest post at Convince and Convert, while four reasons why your content marketing strategy sucks are discussed via guest post at Level 343.

Seth Godin posts “all economics is local,” and Ian Lurie discusses what “freakish and frumpy aircraft” can teach the internet marketer at Conversation Marketing.

SEO & Search:

It’s now official: the Google +1 button for websites arrives today (June 1st), reports Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land.

Danny Sullivan also posts a great “Matt Cutts debunking” decision-tree’ish flowchart.  Fun read!

Meanwhile, Search Engine Land’s Matt McGee posts a live Google webchat in which Matt Cutts “riffs” on JC Penney, the Panda update, and confirms that Google will use +1 activity to influence its search results.

Mashable posts a live blog that recaps Google’s unveiling of its new mobile payment system, Google Wallet, as well as Google Offers details.

Lisa Wehr of Oneupweb posts that Bing has enhanced its social search even further at iMedia Connection.

What search engine marketers can learn from Google Adwords tests and  changes is posted at Search Engine Watch, as are 13 websites for search engine and browser market share statistics.

SEObook posts free SEO competitive domain research tools for top ranking Google websites, and iMedia Connection raves about the “supercharged Google utility” (Google Commerce Search 3.0) for ecommerce sites.

On the subject of ecommerce, Search Engine Watch posts “Winning Multinational ecommerce SEO Strategies,” and “Inhouse SEO Roles Grow Among Internet Retailer’s Top 500.”

WordStream posts the difference between keywords and search queries, and SEOmoz posts actionable link-building strategies.

And speaking of SEOmoz and linking, Rand Fishkin posts headsmacking tip #20:  “Don’t ask sites for links. Find people and connect.”

Great read at Search Engine Land by Julie Joyce on paid links (“What the Link Value Economy Hath Wrought”) as well as a candid post on how to get free unique content with customer product reviews.

Finally, HubSpot reports data showing that 68-percent of marketers did a website redesign in the last 12 months, largely driven by their marketing team.

Social Media Marketing:

Twitter’s launch of a new follow button for websites is discussed at HubSpot, as is YouTube’s 6th birthday, celebrated with 3 billion views per day and other monster stats.

Wicked smart read by Lee Odden of Top Rank, on social media (non-)strategy with “consultants, experts, and gurus (oh my)!”

Marketing Sherpa posts its latest weekly research chart showing that firms continue to substantially increase their social media marketing budgets.

Copyblogger posts 16 smart(er) ways to use LinkedIn as a B2B marketing tool for building your business, and Webbiquity (B2B Marketing Blog) posts why trust is crucial for business success and how to build it.

Jay Baer (slide)shares his Social Media Summit 2011 presentation on the 6-step process for measuring social media at Convince and Convert.

Content Marketing Institute post three keys to creating social media content that converts, and three key metrics to measure social media success are posted at Search Engine Watch.

eMarketer posts how social shoppers share local deals.

The top five Twitter tools for social media community managers are posted Social Media Examiner, and eight “must-know” tips on how to run a quality Facebook page are shared at The Next Web.

More data from Dan Zarrella at HubSpot, indicating that asking for the retweet with “please retweet” works, generating four times more retweets.  (It also works better than “please RT.” Go figure).

Mashable posts an infographic on the (brief) history of advertising on Twitter.

Finally, Brian Solis discusses how new media is changing the world of event marketing with “Power to the People: A New Mantra of Business.”

Want to Be an SEO Copywriter? Here’s How to Do It

Welcome back!  Today Heather answers a question from her SEO Copywriting Facebook groupHow do I become an SEO copywriter and get clients?” In a two-part answer to this loaded question, Heather first addresses how to go about learning SEO and direct response copywriting before you start working with clients, and then what to do once you feel ready to work with clients.

Ready? Then get set: Here’s the word on how to become an SEO copywriter and land those clients!

A lot of folks decide to enter into an SEO copywriting career because they not only love to write — blogs, short stories, poetry, etc. – but also want to make it pay.  Does this sound like you?  If so, then here’s how to do it!

Before You Start Working With Clients…

  • Learn everything you can about SEO and online writing: If you come from print, you’ll be taking the same set of writing skills and applying them just a little bit differently when you write online.

There are a few critical differences between print and online writing that you’ll want to master. And while it may sound really technical at first, and there may seem entirely too much to read on the subject, it will serve you well to wade through a few lessons.  The more you know about SEO copywriting, the better you’ll be able to help your clients.

  • Want to write to sell? Learn the direct response writing basics: Writing to sell involves a whole different set of skills.  You will want to learn as much as you possibly can about direct response copywriting basics. This will help you write online content that is engaging and converts.
  • Consider taking a copywriting course: Many freelance writers report that they’ve successfully used copywriting courses as a “jumping off spot.” This is a great way to get all the information you need at once from a trusted source before moving on to the next level.  Recommended resources are AWAI Online and of course, the SEO Copywriting Certification course.
  • Start your own website. Put what you’ve learned into practice: This is a fantastic opportunity to play, by taking what you’ve learned and testing it on your own website. Are those techniques and best practices you’ve studied working for your own site?

Ready to Work With Clients?

Once you’re confident you’re ready to work with clients, you’ll want to:

  • Make sure that your own site is perfect: If you don’t have a website for your own business, then now would be the time to create one! Why? Because your prospective clients are going to ask you if you’ve a site to check out. If you don’t have one, well…it’s gonna look pretty weird if you call yourself a website/online/SEO writer, and yet not have a website of your own!
  • Optimize your website for your name, as well as for your main keyphrases: This piece of advice comes straight from Richard Hostler, the senior SEO copywriter from Brookstone (via an SEO Copywriter’s Certification call):  he routinely evaluates new copywriters he’s considering to hire by doing a google search for the applicant’s name. So be sure you’re there in search results when you are being considered for that copywriting gig!
  • Consider offering your services for free or low-cost to get your foot in the door: Sure, we’d all like to make money right out of the gate, but it does take a while to ramp up your copywriting career. Providing your services at zero to little cost for a non-profit or small business is a great way to prove your value. In return, they can provide you with testimonials, clips, and everything else you might need to cultivate even more clients… that you can charge for your services!
  • Consider working as an SEO copywriting assistant to gain experience: Folks who have pursued this route have reported great results from being able to work one on one with an established pro. Granted, while you may not be making that much money when you’re working within this kind of relationship, the long-term benefits do make it worthwhile. You’ve an expert in your pocket to help you with questions and otherwise guide you on your way.

Just Write! Ian Lurie on Why You Have to, Even If You Think You Don’t

Guest Author, Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is Chief Marketing Curmudgeon and President at Portent Interactive, an internet marketing company he started in 1995. Ian started practicing SEO in 1997, and has been addicted ever since.  As a steadfast fan of Ian’s candid and wicked-smart expertise, I’m delighted to feature his words of wisdom today.  – Heather

It amazes me how many business owners and employees think good writing is optional. Some of my favorite justifications:

“My customers don’t read”

Really? Do you sell to reptiles? Illiterate rodents? Tribbles, perhaps? ‘Cause otherwise, your customers read. Every day. Even if they don’t want to. They read signs. They read directions. They read e-mails.


If you sell anything, they read your e-mails regarding orders, sales, specials, etc.

If you provide a service, they read the reports and invoices you send ‘em.

And I guarantee they go to the Googles now and then to find an answer to a question.

Your customers do read. You’re confusing reading with reading books, or reading for fun.

The fact is, if your customers “don’t read”, then great writing is even more important. Your customers don’t want to spend a ton of time deciphering crappy writing. You need to get to the point with clear, directive prose. The best business writing goes unnoticed—all the reader remembers is the idea you were trying to communicate.

So, if your customers don’t read, you have to write that much better.

“My business doesn’t require any writing—it’s not that kind of company”

I. Uh.


I’m never sure how to answer that. When someone says that, my frontal lobe makes a kind of popping sound, and I black out for 30-45 seconds. Whatever happens after that must be bad, because when I come back to reality, the speaker looks like they got slapped with a rotten salmon.


If you make rubber grommets, you still need to explain why your rubber grommets are worth buying, right?

“Oh, but rubber grommets are a commodity. No one shops for them.”

Then you need to convince them to start shopping. That process starts with the first person who sees your site, if you’ve explained why you’re important to them. If you don’t bother, then yeah, they stop shopping, and go back to buying from the same place they always have.

There must be a reason you’re in the grommet business. If it’s just to sell to existing customers until they leave, I suggest you find a new line of work.

It’s up to you compel the reader. Saying “You’re not that kind of company” is just an excuse.

“My potential customers don’t use search engines, so I don’t need writing on my site.”

Surrreeee. It’s true. 10 or 12 North Americans out there never, ever search for stuff online. The rest of them, though, use Google, or Bing, or their computer’s search tools. Or, when they get to your site, they use your onsite search engine. Or, at a minimum, they’re going to search an individual page, with their eyes and brains, in an effort to figure out if they’re in the right place.

In all those cases, well-written copy that’s fully descriptive will help them find what they need. Which, in the end, is what turns visitors into customers.

At some point, customers search. Be ready when they do, with really good writing.

“No one’s going to read 500 words on shavers”

OK. So don’t write 500 words.

If you can present a compelling argument for your product in 25 words, do it. I don’t want 500 words where 5 will do.

“Writing” doesn’t mean “word diarrhea”. It means “communication”.

Yes, at some point, search engines get involved, and then it’s possible you’ll have to write more. That’s when you think about:

  • The questions you most often hear;
  • Special uses of your product;
  • Help/advice for best product use;
  • Your pet peeve (like people who think they don’t have to write);
  • Big changes in your industry that might have your customers wondering.

You can always drill deeper into a subject. There’s always someone who wants to read a 1,500 word treatise on the origin of the electric razor.

Just write!

No matter what business you’re in, you need to write:

  • Explanations of services, products, invoices, hours and policies.
  • Direction telling the reader what to do next, how to get help, etc.
  • Your case: Why customers should like you more than your competitor.
  • Communications with individual customers, via e-mail, Twitter, Facebook or whatever comes next.

It may be 10 words. It may be 10,000. It’s most likely somewhere in between.

Just write. The more you do it, the better you get at it. And, even if they don’t notice, your customers will appreciate it.

For more of Ian Lurie’s smarts, raves, and rants, check out his Conversation Marketing blog.  He’s also published several reader-friendly, no-nonsense ebooks on SEO copywriting, including The Unscary, Real World Guide to SEO Copywriting.

5 Steps to Great Content for Readers and Search Engines

Kristi Hines

One thing that has become evident in the post-Google Panda world is that if you want to ensure that your site doesn’t lose rankings, you will need great content!

Not simply search engine optimized content, but content that both search engines AND visitors will enjoy alike.

Everyone’s content development process is a little different.  Today I’d like to share mine with you, particularly when it comes to writing.

1.  Figure out your target keywords

Sure, most people know a few keywords that define their site.  But chances are, they are not enough keywords to generate writing topics around.  In some cases, your keywords might be general enough that you can narrow them down into more specific topics of focus.  In other cases, your keywords may be so specific that you need to broaden your horizons in order to find topics to write about.

Keyword suggest tools are the best way to go for finding keyword phrases that people search for often. When you start typing in a keyword on Google, for example, it will start suggesting related search terms:

Google isn’t the only suggest tool out there though – be sure to check out Bing, Yahoo, Ubersuggest, and YouTube for additional keyword ideas.

The best part about the latter four is Topsy and Wefollow will tell you what keywords are popular on Twitter, Delicious will tell you what is popular in articles that are frequently bookmarked, and YouTube, of course, will tell you what is popular in video content.

2. Generate some content ideas based on those keywords that people will want to read

Once you have a great list of keywords, the next step is to create headlines that will appeal to readers.  The best way to generate some great content ideas is to use proven headline formulas, such as those given in the free guide, 102 Headline Formulas by Chris Garrett of Authority Blogger, and plug those keywords into the headlines in which they fit best.

For even more ideas, don’t miss Copyblogger’s How to Write Magnetic Headlines, which is an 11 part series on writing better headlines in no time.

3. Forget the SEO and write your content

Here’s what I consider the fun part.  This is where you forget about SEO for a while and just write your content.  Instead of thinking about optimization, think about the content – articles, blog posts, magazine pieces, etc. – that you have really enjoyed reading and write your content in that manner. Make it enjoyable, valuable, and exciting for readers!

I would also suggest during this writing spree to hold off on the editing as this can slow down your writing process. Let the ideas flow from your mind to your keyboard, then take the editorial run through to check for spelling and grammatical issues.

4. After your article is written, then you can work on the search optimization.

Now that you have a great piece of content that people will love to read, you should go back through and add the optimization features that will make the content easily searchable and targeted for your keyword phrase.  This includes the title tag and meta description, header tags (H2’s and H3’s especially), and optimization of your images (including the  ALT description), and a proper file name with keywords.

5. Get out and promote it!

Last, but not least, once that awesome piece of content is written, optimized, and published online, you will need to go out and promote it.  Content is not something where you create it and your audience will just naturally flock to it (unless you’re Mashable and already have a monster audience).

You will need to promote your content through social media, your mailing list (for those especially awesome pieces), instant messenger, forums, blog comments, and any other form of getting the word out in which you can participate.  Only then will your content be a success!

I hope these steps help you balance the fine line between SEO friendly and reader friendly content development when it comes to your blog posts, articles, and page content.  What additional tips would you like to give writers who have to develop content for both worlds?

Kristi Hines is a blogging and social media enthusiast.

SEO Keyword Density: Lose This Relic and Adopt Best Practices

Greetings to you! With today’s video post, Heather hopes to put to rest that chronic, persistent “keyword density” question: “What’s the best keyword density for my site?”

Having been around the block a time or two for nearly 14 years, Heather has encountered this question time and time again.  Her short answer: there is no such thing anymore!  Here she expounds on why this is so, giving her insight into the history behind the whole stubborn keyword density concept, and how to move beyond this antiquated mindset to relevant SEO copywriting best practices for keyword and keyphrase use:

What’s the best keyword density for your site?

From the beginning of SEO time, this question has refused to go away.  The reason that people think that keyword density is important is because they believe that it is the key to good search engine rankings.  While this was once the case, circa 1999, it is no more.

But before getting into all that, for those who are unfamiliar with the “keyword density” equation:

How to calculate keyword density?

Count the number of keywords/keyphrases on a given page, then divide it by the total word count.  Voila:  keyword density.  For example, a 500-word page with 10 keywords/keyphrases =  a keyword density of 2-percent.

You can party like it’s 1999, but don’t write SEO copy that way!

Back in the (pre-Google) day, that 2-percent keyword density would have been shy of the 5.5-percent we were all striving for to get the top rankings via the (now extinct) Alta Vista search engine. It’s an understatement to say that much changed since then (i.e., Google arrived), and search engines of the day are now looking at other ranking factors and signals, such as social and links.

So there’s a whole host of other things going into the search engines’ algorithmic soup, and far more important things to focus on both for search engine relevancy and user experience.

What you want to do instead – SEO copywriting best practices:

Hope this helps clarify the whole keyword density question for you: in short, it’s no longer a viable question!