5 Tips for Top Positioning (And Converting) Page Titles

Wondering about a SEO content strategy that offers the biggest impact in the shortest time? Try tweaking your page titles.

Wondering about a SEO content strategy that offers the biggest impact in the shortest time? Try tweaking your page titles.

The page title appears in the top bar of your Web browser and it’s also the clickable link on the search engine results page (SERP)—the page you see after entering a Google or Bing search. From an SEO perspective, a keyword phrase-rich page title can help boost search positions. And from a conversion perspective, a well-written page title can tempt prospects to click on your SERP listing over the nine other competing listings.

In short, page title creation is a highly important SEO skill set. Here’s how to do it:

1. Give your copywriter “control” over your page titles
It’s easy to think that page title creation is firmly in IT’s realm—after all, they’re part of the back-end code and often considered “too techie for marketers to deal with.” However, because the page title is the first thing people see after completing a search, it acts as an attention-grabbing headline. Although IT can create a page title that “works,” marketing can create top-positioning page titles that scream “click me” on the search engine results page.

2. Make your page titles unique for every page
Unless your company has an SEO-savvy IT department—or your Web designer knows her way around search engine friendly coding—your site may be lacking an important element: Unique page titles for every page. Take a peek at your pages and see if the page titles change, or if they’re highly similar (or worse, exactly the same.) Yes, you will have to make every page title unique—which can seem like a daunting task. However, the good news is, you should see increased search positions simply by writing unique page titles and editing your content (assuming you write your page titles right, that is!)

3. Focus on your most important keyword phrases
You may be tempted to shove every important keyword phrase into your page title, hoping that one of them will “hit” and gain the rankings you’ve always wanted. For example, don’t do something like this.

Garden supplies, gardening tools, gardening gifts, hand gardening tools, tools for gardeners, garden tools, tools for gardens: GardenNow.com.

From an SEO perspective, keyword phrase-stuffing your page title won’t help you position. And from a conversion perspective, there are better ways to create your page titles that will gain more powerful results (more on that in a bit.) When you focus your page titles on the top two to three keyword phrases that you targeted in your writing, you’ll see much better success rates.

(As a side note, make sure that you’ve done proper keyword phrase research before rewriting your page titles. If you’re not sure about how to do this, a content marketing strategist can help set your keyword phrase strategy.)

4. Get over yourself
Many companies lead their page titles with their company name, screaming their branding all over the SERPs. However, that may not be the best option. If your company name is long—say something like Pristine Printing Services, you’ve already sucked up 26 characters (with spaces)—and best practices dictate that you want to keep the main “meat” of your page title to 70 characters with spaces. Consider placing your company name at the end of the page title—if at all. That way, you’ve focused your page title on the keyword phrases and the user experience—and you have more characters to create a compelling page title.

(The one exception to this rule is when your brand is so trusted—such as “IBM”—that it’s more beneficial to lead with the company name.)

5. Give your prospects something to click for
Do you offer free shipping? Does your company offer a unique benefit? Because page titles are instrumental in getting people to click on your listing over the nine others on the SERP, how you say what you say is crucial. Instead of a page title like:

Garden supplies: Outdoor gardening tools from GardenNow

Consider something like:

Outdoor gardening tools and garden supplies—free shipping and 25% off retail

See what I mean? Just because you’re using keyword phrases in your page title doesn’t mean that you have to write something that sounds like a laundry list of keywords. Remembering the “page titles are like headlines” mantra should make them easier to write (and more powerful from a conversion perspective.)

Tweaking your page titles takes time, effort and a whole lot of creativity. However, all that work can result in some incredible returns. It’s well worth it.

6 Questions to Ask Your SEO Copywriter

Have you decided that outsourcing your SEO copywriting and content development strategy is the best bet for your business? (If you’re not sure, see last month’s blog post.) Now here comes the hard part: Finding the right SEO copywriter for your needs.

Have you decided that outsourcing your SEO copywriting and content development strategy is the best bet for your business? (If you’re not sure, see last month’s blog post on how and when to outsource your SEO.) Now here comes the hard part: Finding the right SEO copywriter for your needs.

SEO copywriting professionals can have a wide variety of skill sets, from the newbie who is just getting her virtual feet wet to the uber-experienced direct response professional who is also a whiz at SEO. If you’re ready to take the plunge, here are six questions to ask any prospective SEO copywriter.

1. What kind of experience do you have?
SEO copywriting is different. Someone may be a fantastic direct response copywriter. But if he doesn’t have SEO copywriting experience, he may not be your best choice. Why? Because SEO copywriting is part geeky knowledge, part creative brilliance. Not only will your new hire have to have “normal” copywriting skills, but he’ll also need to know how to choose keyphrases, set a strategy and weave keyphrases into your copy the right way. Some folks are self-taught, but the best SEO copywriters have had some hands-on training. A combination of solid experience plus additional training (for instance, being Certified in SEO copywriting) ensures that you have a quality candidate.

2. What do you charge, and what’s included in the price?
You may think that a writer’s price is incredibly inexpensive, but make sure that you know what’s included in the rate. Just like when you buy a plane ticket, some writers charge a low per-page rate, but then add on “extras” like keyphrase research, a per-page keyphrase strategy, and creating titles and meta descriptions. That’s great for some clients. But if you need lots of extras (such as when you don’t have a per-page keyphrase strategy in place), know that you’ll be paying more per page.

3. How has your writing boosted your clients’ revenues?
Yes, we all want top-10 search engine rankings, and your SEO copywriter plays a huge part in making that happen. However, there’s a bigger question to ask: Will your copywriter make you money? Ask your copywriter how her writing has helped to increase conversion rates. She may tell a story about how one landing page generated $25,000 in almost instant revenue. Or how SEO copywriting training helped to increase revenues by 27 percent. If a copywriter can’t give you specifics, dig deeper. Sometimes, the copywriter doesn’t have access to analytics, so his non-specific answer isn’t his fault. At the same time, he should have one heck of a testimonial portfolio and other street-cred to make up for it.

4. Do you outsource to other copywriters?
You may have felt an instant connection when you chatted with the copywriting agency. But will the outgoing and whip-smart woman you spoke with on the phone be the same person writing your copy? Maybe. Ask your copywriter if she outsources. If she says “yes,” ask for a writing sample from the person who will be doing the writing. Outsourcing isn’t a bad thing. But as the client, you have a right to know the players and the process. (Side note: If you don’t hear the “main” copywriter discuss how she evaluates every piece of copy before a client sees it, run away fast.)

5. What kind of ongoing education do you receive?
SEO copywriting is not a “set it and forget it” kind of skill set. The search engines are ever-changing and what worked six months ago may not work today. Plus, new neuromarketing, eye-tracking and information-processing research is changing the way copywriters write content. Ask what kind of sites, conferences and research your copywriter is tracking. If she says, “I don’t keep up with techie stuff,” she still may be an awesome copywriter … but she may not have the necessary SEO skills to really do the job (depending on the skill level you need).

6. What other skills do you bring to the table?
Some SEO copywriters can take on a full-scale SEO campaign and thrive, replacing your need for another SEO company (this is especially true for small businesses.) Other SEO copywriters can train your team, build links and even write that e-book that’s been on your “to-do” list for years. Once you love and trust your new writer, explore how else she can help you. You may find that your SEO copywriter can help you grow your business in many additional ways—and you’ll have a trusted marketing partner who can create killer, high-converting (and positioning) copy.

Should You Outsource Your SEO Copywriting? 5 Ways to Find Out

Last month, I discussed how to successfully bring your SEO copywriting in-house. However, what about businesses sitting on the other side of the in-house versus outsourcing fence?

Last month, I discussed how to successfully bring your SEO copywriting in-house. However, what about businesses sitting on the other side of the in-house versus outsourcing fence? Yes, outsourcing means “relinquishing control” of your copywriting. However, getting outside help can make a huge impact on your campaign—plus it allows your in-house team to focus on your core competencies rather than SEO copywriting.

If you’ve been wondering what to do, consider these five “You should outsource if …” scenarios.

… You need new marketing content—fast!
Strategic outsourcing can help you reach your content marketing goals faster, even if you have an in-house SEO copywriting team. Consider what writing makes sense to keep in-house (such as important branding pages,) and outsource the rest. For instance, writers can quickly add keyphrases to existing copy and make your pages more “search-engine friendly.” Finding freelancers for a short-term writing fix is a smart, strategic move.

… Your team has no idea how to write optimized content—and doesn’t want to know.
Some marketing departments eat up SEO copywriting theory like candy and relish every training moment. Some prefer to stay far, far away from it, keeping within their copywriting comfort zone. And that’s OK. Just because you can DIY doesn’t mean that it’s a smart move. You’ll make faster progress if you let a professional make your optimization dreams come true. Besides, if you don’t want to write something, it’s easy to let it fall off your desk … and your site’s search engine rankings suffer as a result.

… Your team tried writing the content—but something isn’t working.
Maybe your conversions are tanking and you can’t tell why. Or your rankings dropped after Google’s May Day update, and you’re not sure of a safe next step. In this situation, outsourcing your content marketing provides you two huge advantages. From a SEO standpoint, an expert copywriter can “see” opportunities (and yes, challenges) that your team doesn’t. Rewriting the content will allow them to revisit your keyphrases, check your strategy and tighten up your SEO. Secondly, a fresh perspective can lead to some amazing discoveries. You may have thought that your site copy was just fine—but your copywriter can show how to make it even better. I’ve seen some amazing transformations (and conversions) when a company lets an outside copywriting take the reins.

… Your content screams for a strategy—and you need an expert to help.
Too many companies launch their content initiatives willy-nilly without asking themselves a simple question: “Why?” Rather than launching everything content marketing-related, a strategist can help you decide what to focus on now and oversee the process. Your in-house team would still be doing all the work. But you’d be focusing on the right work for right now—and your strategist would be helping you every step of the way.

… You need a fresh start.
I hear, “I hate the content, but we don’t know how to fix it” way more than I’d like. It’s sad how companies wear their site content like a bad haircut: They know it doesn’t flatter them, but it’s what they’re stuck with. Just like you’d (hopefully) visit a new hairstylist if the old one continued to give you a “bowl cut,” a new-to-you SEO content writer can take your existing writing and make it better, snazzier and more SEO-friendly. Imagine: You can actually start to like your content again, rather than apologizing to prospects. How would that feel?

Outsourcing your SEO content marketing will cost you more money as compared to keeping everything in-house, true. But at the end of the day, “relinquishing control” and letting someone else master your messaging can drive some impressive revenues—and create content that you finally enjoy. It’s well worth it.

Successfully Bring Your SEO Copywriting In-House

The marketing manager of a large e-commerce site recently filled me in on a challenge she was having. She knew her content needed an SEO copywriting intervention—but she didn’t have the budget for a keyphrase editing or rewrite campaign.

The marketing manager of a large e-commerce site recently filled me in on a challenge she was having. She knew her content needed an SEO copywriting intervention—but she didn’t have the budget for a keyphrase editing or rewrite campaign.

So I asked her, “Have you ever thought of bringing your SEO copywriting in-house?”

And I could almost hear the light bulb flickering on above her head.

The reality is, SEO copywriting is one task that can often be brought in-house. With the right people and a little training, your existing team members can produce your content—and your company will save money on your search marketing campaign.

If this is the direction you want your company to go, here are some things to consider:

Decide who does the writing. This may seem like a no-brainer, as it’s easy to think, “Well, we have five people in our marketing department, plus all of our sales staff. They can all write copy.” However, some folks are more qualified to write than others—and choosing the best writers will help make your campaign much more successful.

Try to pinpoint possible in-house SEO copywriters by:

  1. Experience: Print/online copywriters and journalists are the easiest to train.
  2. Being realistic: Just because someone is an awesome salesperson doesn’t mean he knows how to write. Review a person’s past writing and be very, very honest about his capabilities. You can train a good writer in SEO copywriting. But you can’t train a naturally bad writer to write better copy—at least, not without putting in some major effort.
  3. Interest: Some folks don’t like to write. Period. They’ll do it when they’re forced to, but the results are less than stellar. Giving writing tasks to these folks won’t help you a bit.

You may decide that you have to hire someone on a full or part-time basis to handle some of the writing. That’s OK. Better to hire someone with experience to fill in the gaps, then transform people into writers who, well, really shouldn’t be the ones writing content for your brand.

Make sure your writers have time to write. SEO copywriting is not an “other duties as assigned” gig. I’ve seen the best campaigns go bad because the SEO copywriters had other tasks to complete—and those duties took precedence over creating content. If you want your SEO copywriters to churn out premium content, that means they need the time to write. And that means good, uninterrupted time-free from meetings, phone calls and e-mail. If you honestly can’t give your writers space to write, you may see better (and faster) results from outsourcing.

Get the right training for your team. This step is crucial. Yes, it is possible to train your writers in SEO copywriting best practices. Yes, you can train folks to write benefit-rich copy that converts like crazy. But the operable word is training. I’ve seen too many companies send their writers to a conference with the task of “learning everything they can about SEO copywriting.” Guess what? I’m usually speaking at those conferences, and the information panelists can provide in 60 minutes or less is basic at best—and it’s certainly not customized for a company’s unique situation.

The right training depends on how much copywriting knowledge your writing team already has. If they are experienced online writers and strategists who just need to understand the SEO copywriting nuances, reading some books and taking a course like my SEO Copywriting Certification training should get them up to speed. If your company currently doesn’t have an in-house SEO copywriting strategy and your writers aren’t experienced online writers, a customized training that discusses copywriting theory as well as SEO copywriting is probably your best bet.

Whatever your company chooses, remember that it’s not fair to push someone into SEO copywriting who has no experience and no training. Not only will it be frustrating for your writer, it’s bad for your business—who wants Web pages written by someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing?

Determine your content marketing opportunities. It’s one thing to task people with handling your online content. It’s another to tell them exactly what they should be writing. I’ve trained a lot of in-house copywriters, and the key to success (other than training) is having a clear action plan. What initially seems easy, “We’ll just send out some tweets, create a Facebook page and start editing pages,” is actually much more complex. Questions to ask are:

  1. What are our analytics telling us about our current content? What keyphrases are working?
  2. Do we need additional keyphrase research?
  3. What do we expect to gain from (insert content marketing strategy here)? For instance, if Twitter is part of your strategy, make sure you know how you’ll actually measure success.
  4. What pages can be edited for keyphrases (some folks call this “on-site optimization”)? Which pages should be completely rewritten?
  5. Is the tone, feel and benefit statement focus still appropriate for today’s marketplace?

If your company doesn’t have a content marketing strategy in place, I would highly recommend hiring a content strategist who can help you determine your content marketing opportunities and figure out next steps. This person doesn’t have to be a permanent member of your team; bringing on an outsourced vendor is fine. But as I mentioned in a previous post on my business blog, these folks will “see” opportunities that a technical SEO person won’t (which makes sense—technical SEO folks focus on code, not marketing.) Yes, this will cost some money, but much, much less than outsourcing your content. Plus, you’ll have a step-by-step plan for how to proceed.

Create an editorial calendar. The best-laid plans mean nothing without implementation. It’s one thing to know what to do. It’s another to actually do it. Determine who is writing what and the deadlines, then work with IT to figure out when new/edited content will be uploaded. A monthly editorial calendar is a great way to stay on track—plus, having everything written down makes everyone accountable.

Keep the momentum going. I know how hard it is to keep the content marketing momentum going when business is booming and everyone is swamped. Even if you have more business than you can handle right now, I encourage you to stay the course and keep cranking out quality content—even a few pages a month is good. And if your business is going through a natural slow time, using that time to build content is a powerful way to prepare for the upswing. Think about it: There is a high probability you’re getting the business you are because of your content marketing strategy. If you start to pull back and push content to the back burner, you’ll lose momentum—and possibly allow a competitor to “catch up” with you. Just remember the formula Momentum = Money, and you’ll be fine.

5 Ways to Make Your Product Copy “Pop”

Yesterday, I got a call from a highly frustrated e-commerce marketer: “We have a smart in-house SEO and our platform is solid. The problem is, our product pages aren’t ranking. What are we doing wrong?”

Yesterday, I got a call from a highly frustrated e-commerce marketer: “We have a smart in-house SEO and our platform is solid. The problem is, our product pages aren’t ranking. What are we doing wrong?”

I surfed over to their site and noticed a major problem. Their product content was pulled directly from the manufacturers’ copy.

That may not sound like a big deal. But it is. Here’s why.

Imagine that you’re an e-commerce retailer selling, say, a high-end ergonomic office chair. And let’s say that you upload the exact verbiage that appears on the manufacturer’s site (which is the “official” product description).

Sure, this sounds like an easy way to go. After all, rewriting or “tweaking” thousands of product pages sounds like a daunting task. But here’s the problem …

Chances are, many of your competitors are using the exact same strategy—and their Web page copy will read exactly like yours. Exactly.

Suddenly, seeing prime search engine rankings is that much harder. You’re not just competing with other companies that sell the same product. Your company is competing in the search engines with hundreds (or thousands) of companies with the exact same sales copy.

Who do you think is going to be No. 1 for that product search? Unless you’re the manufacturer, it’s probably not your company; your site sounds the same as everyone else. Heck, your product page may not even position in the top 100 search results with that strategy.

The “winner” will be the company that spent the time to wordsmith its content—and make its product copy “pop.”

A huge untapped opportunity for a plethora of e-commerce sites is revamping (or significantly tweaking) their product copy. Think about it: Product-label copy isn’t keyphrase-rich. It’s not constructed to maximize its search engine ranking potential. Nor is it necessarily targeted towards your customer base.

In short, it’s great as offline product copy. But for online … not so much.

The key is to spend time writing your product copy in a way that pops off the page. You need to include the product specs and features, yes—and that may mean using some existing product copy.

But it also means having a savvy content marketing strategy in mind so your product copy does well with search engines and your customers.

Here are some things you can do:

1. Include user reviews. Reviews provide fantastic user-generated content, and they often naturally use the main page keyphrases (for instance, people would probably include a brand/product name like “Kodak EasyShare C180” in their review). Reviews provide your company “free” additional content that’s a huge value-add to your site visitors. Plus, keyphrase research shows that people search for “product review” keyphrases. Why not give your customers what they want to read?

2. Want to keep the product spec copy? Give yourself the best of both worlds. Include the product copy, but add some paragraphs to make the page keyphrase-rich, benefit-heavy and unique. You don’t have to wax poetic and write more than 1,000 words. Depending on what you’re selling, a paragraph or two is ideal. But those paragraphs can have a tremendous effect on your rankings and conversions.

3. Are certain products highly important to your bottom line? Completely rewrite those product pages. Yes, it’s a pain and yes, it can be expensive. At the same time, you’re ensuring the product copy is laser-focused towards your target audience. Companies that have created product pages from scratch often see better conversions compared to pages that weren’t rewritten.

4. Create a compelling, clickable title. Remember that your first opportunity isn’t when a customer hits your site—it’s the search engine results page. If you create titles like:

Kodak EasyShare C180 – 25% off and free shipping

… you’ll probably see better clickthroughs than with a title that reads:

Kodak EasyShare C180 – Buycameras.com

5. Don’t forget to weave in benefit statements. Remember, buying anything—from a new office chair to heavy machinery—means appealing to “what’s in it for your customer.” Focus your product copy on how your product will help your prospect. Will it save them money? Help them work more efficiently? Increase revenues? Penning specific benefit statements can transform your so-so copy into a high converting powerhouse.

Altering your product copy can seem overwhelming, especially when you have thousands of SKUs. But with the right content marketing strategy, you can have content that “pops” off the page—and see top-positioned content that converts like crazy.

5 Ways Marketers Mess Up Their Content Marketing Campaigns

I hear it all the time: “We tried content marketing and this ‘SEO copywriting stuff.’ But it didn’t work for us.” When I dig a little deeper, I unearth an important fact: The campaign didn’t work because the marketer got in its own way—and unfortunately, this fumbling caused its campaign to fail.

I hear it all the time: “We tried content marketing and this ‘SEO copywriting stuff.’ But it didn’t work for us.”

When I dig a little deeper, I unearth an important fact: The campaign didn’t work because the marketer got in its own way—and unfortunately, this fumbling caused its campaign to fail.

Let’s face it, marketers don’t mean to set themselves up for content marketing failure. Their intentions are good … but then something (politics, confusion, a “bright idea”) stops real results dead in their tracks. Instead of moving forward, the marketer inadvertently destroys any chances of search marketing success. As a result, it finds itself back at square one. With nothing to show for it.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, you’re not alone. Here are five of the most common ways I see smart marketers mess up their content marketing campaigns:

1. Not including a content marketing specialist in your online marketing meetings.
If I had a dollar for every time I asked, “How does this piece of content fit into your overarching content marketing strategy” and heard the answer, “Um, we just thought it was a good idea,” I’d be driving a shiny new Bentley instead of a well-loved Volvo.

I ranted about this in the post, “Just Hire a Content Marketing Strategist, Already,” on my SEO Copywriting.com blog. Content marketing experts can help you “see” your copy in a different way, so you can make smart, strategic choices. Can certain articles be repurposed? Can you “optimize” some content rather than rewrite it? These are questions to ask every quarter … and there’s an expert for that. Besides, if you’re going to spend the time and money it takes to build out content, shouldn’t you be sure that it supports (and doesn’t hurt) your other marketing efforts?

2. Writing copy solely for the purpose of search engine rankings.
Once upon a time, I created what I thought was a well-written article series for a client. The marketer loved the copy, approved it and proceeded to add 500, keyphrase-stuffed additional words. When I asked why, the response was, “Well, we added that for search engines.” Ouch.

Neither the search engines, nor your prospects, are going to reward you for nonsensical, keyphrase-stuffed content. Not to mention, how comfortable are you with having obviously bad copy on your site? Content marketing (and SEO copywriting) means writing for your prospects first, and the search engines second. Remember, the search engines don’t pay your bills. Your prospects do.

3. Deleting large chunks of content without checking with the content strategist.
Ah, the content review process. It’s not uncommon for marketers to make some tweaks to a Web page proposed by their content marketing specialist; many times, those tweaks improve the messaging. It’s a good thing. Unless, it’s … not.

The caveat here is that SEO content is written in a highly strategic fashion. Sometimes, a keyword really does need to be in a certain place for maximum search engine benefit. Rather than uploading edited copy that may not be effective after the changes, check with your strategist first. You can decide if the copy “tweaks” are worth it, and develop a solution that satisfies both search engines and prospects.

4. Not uploading pages.
Although this seems like a “no duh” tip, it’s amazing how many companies “forget” to upload their Web pages. Maybe it’s because IT got swamped, so adding new pages become a secondary priority. Or perhaps there was a staffing change, and the person spearheading the SEO initiative was transferred to another department. Sadly, spending the time (and effort) to create copy and not uploading it is a very common issue for many marketers.

If this has happened to you (or you’re afraid it will,) create an internal editorial calendar. Get everyone together who is involved in the content campaign (including IT people, since they’re the ones responsible for uploading the content), and set up some firm deadlines. Sometimes, what looks like inaction is only because other tasks seem more urgent (not because they really are). When you can attach a deadline to tasks, that urgency level is increased.

5. Tweaking titles without checking with your content marketing strategist.
This. Point. Is. Huge. Tweaking optimized titles without checking with your consultant first literally can unravel your SEO content efforts. Why? It’s because the page title is crucial for two reasons.

From a search perspective, the title helps the search engines understand what the page is about. If there aren’t keyphrases in the title, you’re hobbling your chances that the page will position well. And from the marketing perspective, a well-written title is like a headline, temping folks to click on your listing instead of the nine others on the search engine results page. Upsetting that “keyword and marketing balance” can have repercussions, so don’t title tweak (or make any other content marketing changes) without really knowing what you’re doing, m-kay? The health of your campaign depends upon it.

Is Your Catalog Site Missing the SEO Copywriting Boat?

Yesterday, the marketing coordinator for a well-known catalog site contacted me about SEO copywriting services. “Our product pages aren’t ranking,” she said. “We heard we should ‘add keyphrases to our copy,’ but we’re afraid that keyphrases will make the copy sound spammy.” Ah yes, the old “keyphrases are bad” myth.

Yesterday, the marketing coordinator for a well-known catalog site contacted me about SEO copywriting services.

“Our product pages aren’t ranking,” she said. “We heard we should ‘add keyphrases to our copy,’ but we’re afraid that keyphrases will make the copy sound spammy.”

Ah, yes, the old “keyphrases are bad” myth. If this was expressed in a mathematical equation, it would look something like this:

Keyphrases + Content = Bad Copy That Doesn’t Convert

And that’s just not true. In fact, adding keyphrases into site copy can do more than help the page position in the search engines (although that, by itself, is a huge benefit). Good SEO copywriting is seamless. It’s powerful. And yes—despite those pesky keyphrases—it can help conversions. I discussed this quite a bit in a previous post called, “SEO Copywriting Is Dead. Long Live SEO Copywriting,” on my site’s blog.

Unfortunately, scads of catalog marketers are missing out on search engine rankings. Rather than realizing that a Web site is a completely different medium (requiring a different approach), they instead upload their print catalogs’ text and images without changing a word of copy. Then, when they check their search engine rankings, they’re convinced that “this SEO stuff doesn’t work.” When told they have to change their copy to make this “SEO stuff work,” they jump back in alarm: “Why should we change our copy when we already spent a lot of money writing it for our catalog?”

Um, because you wrote it for your catalog … not for an online environment. Those are two different marketing avenues. People don’t have to search for your products when they have your catalog in their hand, they can just flip to a page. But if you want folks to find your pages in the search engines, you’ll need to play the search engine game … and play it well.

But heck, don’t take my word for it. Let’s take a peek at a “traditional” brick-and-mortar site that does it right: Brookstone.

Brookstone is a master at creating value-added, intelligent content that also happens to be keyphrase rich. Its product pages are written from scratch, with keyphrases skillfully woven into the body copy. User-generated product reviews help encourage conversions (people feel more comfortable about making a buying decision when they can read what other people like and don’t like about a product). Brookstone includes a well-produced product video. Heck, even its product names like “Tranquil Moments Sleep Sound Therapy System” and “Fold-A-Way Rowing Machine” contain keyphrases.

Does it work? Heck, yes. Brookstone’s “Fold-A-Way Rowing Machine” page is positioning in Google’s top 10. As is its “Sleep Sound Therapy System” page.

And go figure … the site copy can’t be considered “spammy” in the least.

Some takeaways to consider with your own catalog/e-commerce site are:

  1. Is your product copy directly uploaded from your print catalog—or is it the “standard” product description appearing on the product packaging? A smart rule: If you see multiple sites with the same product copy, rewrite yours so it’s completely original. Yes, it’s time consuming. But this one act alone can immediately differentiate you from the hundreds (or thousands) of other sites offering the same thing.
  2. Know that user reviews are good for more than just reviewing the product; they can be incredible helpful for search engine positions. Every time someone posts a review, it provides your site “free content” that you didn’t have to source somewhere else.
  3. Keyphrase usage matters. You don’t want to repeat your keyphrase incessantly within your copy. But it is important to research your keyphrases, set a keyphrase strategy and use keyphrases on the page. Otherwise, your page probably won’t be found.

At the end of the day, catalog sites can definitely benefit from smart SEO copywriting techniques. Not only do SEO copywriting strategies help your pages position better in the engines, the additional, in-depth information gives your prospects the information they want (which, ultimately, encourages conversions). Everyone wins.

Why You Should Beware the ‘Quick SEO Copywriting Fix’

The question comes up during almost every conference at which I present: “I hear what you’re saying about writing quality content. But I need immediate results. What’s a quick SEO copywriting fix I can try?”

The question comes up during almost every conference at which I present.

“I hear what you’re saying about writing quality content. But I need immediate results. What’s a quick SEO copywriting fix I can try?”

I understand this mindset. I really do. Now that the recession is easing its iron grip on marketing budgets, companies are trying to make up for lost time. Now, more than ever, forward-thinking businesses have the opportunity to make a huge impact on their search engine rankings. And they’re doing what they can, where they can—as fast as they can.

But here’s the thing. There is no “quick SEO copywriting fix.” There’s no “easy way to get to the top of the search engines” like the spam e-mails promise. You can’t wave a magic algorithmic wand and transform your copy into search engine goodness.

You just have to roll your sleeves, do the hard work and get it done.

Unfortunately, many companies fall prey to this quick fix mentality and do stupid things that mess up their SEO campaigns, branding or both. For instance:

  • Building out stand-alone “SEO pages” geared to pull rankings

  • Hiring $10/post bloggers to write keyphrase-stuffed posts

  • Tweeting incessantly about their products or services without becoming a part of the Twitter community

Although these folks feel like progress is quickly being made (“Woo-hoo, now we have 50, poorly-written posts about legal services”), what they don’t realize is the unforeseen consequences. Poorly written content doesn’t convert. “Stand-alone” pages typically are over-optimized messes that search engines ignore. Splattering your sales message all over Twitter makes your firm look like a spammer.

So, what can you do to start seeing the search results (and conversions) you crave? I am so glad you asked …

1. Evaluate your existing content. Every marketer can leverage its own low-hanging fruit and focus on what specifically matters for its site. For some sites, penning new page titles can drive amazing results. For others, keyphrase editing (adding keyphrases to existing content) may be appropriate. Consider bringing in a consultant for this part of the process. The reason? The consultant doesn’t “own” the copy and can see it with fresh eyes. Because he’s not close to it, he can notice opportunities your marketing department may not.

2. Check your keyphrase research. It’s easy to let your keyphrase research stagnate when you don’t have the time (or funds) to spend on your site. Now that you’re planning a content overhaul, it’s crucial to examine what other keyphrases opportunities you can leverage – especially keyphrases that represent the research phase of the buy cycle. Research tools like WordStream, Keyword Discovery and Wordtracker can help you see what phrases people type into the search box to find products and services like yours.

3. Develop a (workable) content schedule and budget. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your site won’t be rewritten overnight. Work on your most important pages first, and set up a schedule where you’ll work on a certain number of pages a month. Or, if you know that writing content in-house isn’t your style, hire an experienced SEO copywriter and have him help. Creating content in baby steps is completely OK – and gives you the satisfaction of seeing continued improvement.

It’s tempting to fall prey to the SEO copywriting quick fix. But when you take strategic baby steps and focus on what’s really important to your site’s success, you’ll finally realize the search ranking (and conversions) you crave.

Talk to the (Twitter) Hand: The Perils of Non-Engagement

Every day, companies are jumping on the Twitter bandwagon—and perhaps, yours has done the same. Maybe it’s the lure of gaining new followers. Or possibly the attraction comes from all those Twitter success stories circulating the ‘Net. Or maybe it’s because Twitter takes five minutes to set up and doesn’t cost a dime. That’s OK, too. The thing is, many brands forget that Twitter is more than having a “who’s bigger” follower list or having the ability to Tweet pithy sales pitches.

Every day, companies are jumping on the Twitter bandwagon—and perhaps, yours has done the same. Maybe it’s the lure of gaining new followers. Or possibly the attraction comes from all those Twitter success stories circulating the ‘Net.

Or maybe it’s because Twitter takes five minutes to set up and doesn’t cost a dime. That’s OK, too.

The thing is, many brands forget that Twitter is more than having a “who’s bigger” follower list or having the ability to Tweet pithy sales pitches. Twitter is two-way communication, people. Not a one-sided soliloquy where you’re Tweeting solely for corporate self-gratification.

So let’s talk about two major brands that “get it” and use Twitter to its fullest potential. And then zero in on one company’s massive Twitter #fail.

Alaska Airlines and Starbucks give really good Tweets. When you read them, you get a sense that there is a person behind the computer—rather than a faceless corporate PR entity. In fact, Alaska Airlines even names the person handling the Tweets that day. And yes, their Tweets are more than just what these folks had for breakfast. For instance, Alaska Airlines promoted gift certificates and Starbucks previewed an upcoming sale on Cyber Monday (see the actual Tweets in the media player at right).

But here’s what makes both companies decidedly different: These brands engage with their customers. Starbucks and Alaska Airlines chat with their Twitter followers, answer questions and provide real-time customer service (see more examples in the media player).

Pretty cool, eh? And that’s why many people follow Alaska Airlines and Starbucks. The content is good, you know you’ll get a response and you’ll learn something. Maybe it’s early notification of a sale. Maybe it’s when in-flight wi-fi will be back. It’s useful information.

Let’s compare this to Citibank’s Twitter stream.

To say that Citibank has had reputation management issues in 2009 is putting it mildly. From taking bailout money to hiking credit card rates on some customers to 29.99 percent, the bank’s latest missteps have caused many good customers to cut up their cards. If there ever was a time for a robust social media campaign so people could “meet” the friendly customer service team members behind the scenes (that is, humanizing the corporation), now would be that time.

The good news is that Citibank has a Twitter account. The bad news is that it’s running it all wrong. Rather than using Twitter as a way to engage customers, the firm’s locking its customers out.

For instance, check out some Tweets mentioning @citibank in the media player, above, followed by a screen capture of Citibank’s Twitter page.

So, OK, let’s give Citibank the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it signed up for a Twitter handle to protect its brand identity—but doesn’t plan to leverage this account for some reason. You could almost forgive the bank … except for the Twitter account promoting the Citi Forward credit card (see the media player again, please).

Here are three problems:

  1. Although it will re-tweet, Citibank doesn’t answer Tweets (I tried)—so there’s no real interaction
  2. Saying that Citi Forward is “the card that rewards you for good behavior” seems a bit disingenuous considering that other Citibank customers with good credit histories have had their interest rates hiked to almost 30 percent.
  3. There’s no customer service component.

In short, Citibank is basically telling its Twitter followers to “talk to the hand” (or perhaps, its middle finger.) Rather than dealing with its reputation management issue head-on—communicating with folks and showing the human side behind the financial institution—Citibank is sending out Tweets that provide useful tips, yes … but talks AT its followers rather than WITH them.

If you’re planning a Twitter account (or currently maintaining one,) remember that Twitter is a real conversation (in 140 characters or less.) You wouldn’t keep a friend who constantly talked about herself, seemed oblivious to how other people perceived her and never listened to you.

It’s no different in the online world.

The perils of non-engagement in the Twitter universe are real—and the rewards for an excellent, interactive campaign are also real.

After all, what would you rather do? Tell people to talk to your Twitter hand or, instead, engage with your prospects and customers in a new, interactive (and profitable) way?

Seems to me, the choice is easy.

Marketers, Stop Ignoring Your Content Marketing Strategy

As I write this, I’m on the plane heading back from DMA09. While I was moderating the Search Marketing Experience Labs, one common element ran through every site review: When you ignore your SEO content marketing strategy, you’re hobbling your conversions, ignoring your customers and forfeiting your search engine rankings. Here’s why.

As I write this, I’m on the plane heading back from DMA09. While I was moderating the Search Marketing Experience Labs, one common element ran through every site review: When you ignore your SEO content marketing strategy, you’re hobbling your conversions, ignoring your customers and forfeiting your search engine rankings. Here’s why.

Seth Godin had it right when he said, “The best SEO is great content.” A well-written product page can skyrocket your conversions. A fantastic blog post can gain your company new leads and incoming links. The right Twitter tweet can gain not just followers but evangelists for your brand.

It’s really that important.

I’ve been in the SEO industry for 12 years. During that time, I’ve seen companies spend six figures on design, embrace five-figure monthly PPC costs and chase the latest “sexy” online marketing tactic.

Yet unfortunately, these same companies will ignore the foundation of their SEO and conversion success—creating customer personas, developing a keyphrase strategy, and developing useful, keyphrase-rich content that helps prospects across the buy cycle and engages customers.

Instead, the content becomes an afterthought. The one piece—heck, the only piece—of a company’s marketing strategy dedicated to engaging with customers becomes, “Isn’t SEO content supposed to be stuffed with keywords in order for me to get a high ranking?”

And that’s sad.

Think of your SEO content marketing strategy as your online salesperson, enticing your prospects to learn more and communicating with your audience. Your SEO content strategy could encompass many things, including:

  • Product/service pages.
  • Blog posts.
  • Articles, FAQs and white papers.
  • Twitter tweets.

Every word you write is a way to engage, inform and, yes, sell. But most importantly, a content marketing strategy helps you communicate with your prospects on multiple levels.

Fortunately, some companies “get it.” Forbes reported in its 2009 Ad Effectiveness Survey that SEO (and yes, that includes your content play) was the most effective online marketing tactic for generating conversions. Furthermore, Mediaweek reports in its article, “Marketing Must-Have: Original Web Editorial,” how AT&T created more than 100 how-to articles targeted to small business owners. Paul Beck, senior partner and executive director of Ogilvy Worldwide, is quoted as saying, “Having a core content strategy is the secret to engaging an audience.”

And at the end of the day, isn’t engagement what it’s all about? The company that engages, profits. The company that doesn’t—even big-brand companies that dominate the brick-and-mortar world—get left in the dust.

My monthly SEO & Content Marketing Revue posts will show examples of companies who “get it”—and what they’re doing right. I’ll share what’s worked for companies like yours, as well as what to avoid.

Most of all, I’ll share how the right SEO content strategy can gain your company the SEO and conversion “win” you may have been missing up to now.

And I’ll answer your questions (because, yes, you will have questions,) showing you how to leverage the power of strong, customer-centered content.

Stay tuned. This will be fun. Promise.