Why Direct Response Writing Skills Are so Damn Important

Where has SEO copywriting gone wrong?

I had an interesting moment yesterday.

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

His reply? “What’s direct response writing?

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

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

Obviously, I have some issues around this.

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

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

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

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

In short, where did SEO copywriting go wrong?

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

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

It’s powerful, seductive stuff, man.

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

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

What do you think? Leave your comment below!

15 replies
  1. Eric Brantner says:

    I couldn’t have said it any better myself! I can’t tell you how fed up I am with boring SEO content. People don’t understand that high search engine rankings are useless if you cant convert the visitors into customers. You have to combine basic copywriting techniques with SEO strategies to get the most out of your website content.

    Great post!

  2. Heather says:

    Hi, Christian-

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You’re right that it’s hard to write unique copy about 50 pencil holders or 10 almost-the-same widgets. However, I’m not sure if I’d start focusing on keywords more on these pages as much as make them as interesting as possible (not always easy!).

    Informational pages (which I think you mean by “less converting pages” are usually easy to write with keywords in mind – you usually have more room to move (like a 300 word article rather than a 75-word product description.)

    • Heather says:

      Hey, thanks! Although I would definitely be open to guest writers, I’ve been the main blog author (with a little help from Aimee Beck.) I appreciate your comments!

  3. Michelle Buss says:

    I totally agree with your comments. I often make the same point about my writing being their sales person.

    Problem is ranking on Google is just so important. I am considering setting up my own copywriting services website but am very disheartened by the thought of trying to rank for my keywords so that people can find me.

    No matter how good the sales person is they cannot sell squat if the customers can’t find the store.

    • Heather says:


      Thanks so much for your post!

      If you’re a good writer, learning the art and science of SEO copywriting isn’t overly daunting. Once you learn the ins and outs, you can figure out what keywords *would* work for you (and for which you could position.)

      For instance, some folks are just interested in local clients – so including a city/state modifier can help you position better (SEO copywriter in Portland, OR.)

      Or, you may focus on a certain vertical – such as high tech (high tech SEO copywriting.)

      Or, you may offer services that other copywriters don’t offer – and those unique service pages could position well.

      Plus, anytime you create a blog post, article or new page, you’re using additional words that people type into a search box to find what you offer – so that could drive additional traffic

      I’ve always said that the best SEO’s are also savvy copywriters. I understand how it can seem scary to learn at first…but it’s something you can master.

      And of course, you may want to consider the SEO Copywriting Certificate program as a way to learn the ropes and hone your skills: :)


      Thanks so much! Have a great day!


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