Writing for Print vs. Web: 5 Tips for Catalog Copywriters

Confession: Catalog copywriters have yelled at me during an in-house training. Two separate times.

Teaching print copywriters the difference between writing for the web vs. print can be an interesting challenge. A common misconception is that web SEO copy is “thin,” keyphrase-stuffed and poorly written. So, when I start talking a mile-a-minute about “putting keyphrases into content” and “Title tags,” the first reaction is often something like:

“What the hell is she talking about? Stick random words in our copy just for search engines? No way.”

That’s when the yelling starts (and the real learning takes place.) By the end, they’re totally on board with the “writing for web vs print” fundamentals.

If you’re a print catalog copywriter looking to make the leap into SEO writing, here are some things to consider (and yes, you can yell at me if you need to!). :)

Good SEO copywriting for catalog sites is good writing, period.

Yes, this means that you have to include certain words (otherwise known as keyphrases) in your copy. However, the keyphrases should never detract from your content’s “voice” or flow.

Keyphrases are your friends.

Adding keyphrases (the words people type into a search box to find your products)  help people easily find your product pages  – and it’s a must-do strategy for top search positions. Otherwise, it’s like writing a fantastic catalog description, but only mailing the catalog to a few people. If you want to maximize the number of people who see your product page, keyphrases are key.

Longer copy is a good thing.

Does writing only 50-75 words for a print catalog seem stifling? Time to rejoice – the search engines reward product pages with original, descriptive and keyphrase-rich web copy. You still want to write tight content that’s easy to scan, but know you have more room to move with the copy length.

You can learn SEO writing – even if you’re not a “techie.”

It’s true that new terms like “meta description,” “H1 tags,” and “Titles” can initially seem intimidating. An easy way of remedying this is matching the SEO term to a concept that’s more familiar to you. Your headline goes in the H1 header tag. The meta description is like a short abstract. Titles are the headlines that appear on the search engine results page. It’s really that simple.

SEO writing is a must-have skill set.

More than ever, catalog companies are reducing the number of print catalogs they mail, or discontinuing their catalog all together. This means they’re looking for copywriters who can blend traditional print catalog writing guidelines with web SEO copy best practices.

If you don’t get the training you need, you may miss out to a less experienced (but more web savvy) writer. Now is the time. Really.

5 replies
  1. Nick Stamoulis says:

    Writing for the web is certainly different than writing for print. Some believe that web copy doesn’t allow for as much creativity, since it’s all about the keywords. I don’t agree with that. I think that it’s entirely possible to write keyword rich content that is also creative and valuable.

  2. Heather says:

    VERY true, Nick. That’s one of the most common things I’ll hear during a training, “But how can we be creative if we have to stick these extra words in there?” Once print writers realize that there’s a method to the keyword insertion madness – and it won’t interfere with their creativity – they mellow out. :)


  3. Judith says:

    I really enjoyed your article, Heather. It’s a good introduction to web copywriting as well as a caveat about teaching print writers about online writing. :D

    I’ve done both online and offline writing and while web writers have to mind keywords, what we all have to remember is that both print and web writing are meant to be read by real people.

    • Heather says:

      Yes, yes, yes. It’s (much) more than just “writing for Google.” It’s writing quality content that your readers love – and makes them come back for more.

      Thanks for your comment!


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