Direct Mail Design: Copy

At this point, after you have looked at the layout and color/images in the last two blog posts, you should have a general idea of what you want your direct mail to look like. There is another important factor that goes with your design, and that is the copy. Words have the power to inspire, empower and create desire

At this point, after you have looked at the layout and color/images in the last two blog posts, you should have a general idea of what you want your direct mail to look like. There is another important factor that goes with your design, and that is the copy.

Words have the power to inspire, empower and create desire. Direct mail marketing is especially vulnerable to a bad choice of words. The visual design catches their eye, but if the words do not convince them to take action, you will not get the desired response.

With that in mind, let’s look at the top five list of the best words to use in direct mail:

  1. Free: Who doesn’t love free stuff? This is very eye catching and sucks people in. We all want a good deal and nothing is a better deal than free.
  2. Amazing: We all want the best things, and if it’s amazing we have to have it!
  3. Discover: This is a challenge to find out new information. It makes us curious and we want to know more.
  4. Easy: These days we all need easy. There is just not enough time in the day to get things done. Whenever it can be easier it’s a good idea.
  5. You: It’s all about the recipient! What is in it for them? There should be lots of “You”s in the copy to show them all the great things that will happen to them when they buy from you.

On the other end of the spectrum, do not use these top five words to avoid in direct mail:

  1. Expensive: Duh! Who buys expensive stuff? We all want a deal!
  2. Charge: This word just makes me cringe! I don’t want to be charged! I want a positive, charge is negative.
  3. Price: It is never about the price! Do not even speak of it! It is about what you are doing for the recipient, like saving them time, money, headaches and so on.
  4. Cost: Just like price and charge, this is a turn off because you are focused on a negative.
  5. Sign: This is a real commitment it we have to sign for it. What if we are not ready? Think of ways to attract people, not scare them off.

These are by far not the only best and worst words to use, but they’ll give you a good start. When creating the copy for your campaign, be sure to consider how each word builds toward your message and call to action. Your call to action is the most important part. You need to give the recipient a reason to respond and how to respond.

Wonderful words mean nothing if they don’t drive the correct response. Tell your recipients exactly what you want them to do. Then provide them with multiple ways to do it. Keep in mind that we all have mobile devices with us 24/7, so you should allow for responses from tablets and cell phones. You will need your landing pages and website to have responsive design to accommodate this, but it will pay off for you big time. You can contact your mail service provider for help with the design, copy and pitfalls to avoid.

Copywriting for the Left Brain/Right Brain

Writing copy for how the left brain and right brain processes information can make all the difference in your sales outcome. The left brain is customarily considered the area where people process information logically. The right brain is considered to be more creative. But when writing direct marketing copy, you must appeal to both hemispheres. After all the effort to get attention and deliver your message, ultimately it’s in the closing where you

Writing copy for how the left brain and right brain processes information can make all the difference in your sales outcome. The left brain is customarily considered the area where people process information logically. The right brain is considered to be more creative. But when writing direct marketing copy, you must appeal to both hemispheres. After all the effort to get attention and deliver your message, ultimately it’s in the closing where you make your logic-based sales pitch and move your prospective customer to an emotional place where they give themselves permission to buy.

The left hemisphere of your brain does, in fact, have more of a logic and mathematical focus. But to be creative, research finds both the left and right brain hemispheres are used. As marketers, we strengthen our message when we appeal to both the left brain and right brain with a formula to move our message along to our end goal of generating a lead, sale or contribution.

In any successful direct mail letter, landing page or other selling channel there are certain attributes that work well for the logic side of how we process information. Importantly, you need to bring your prospect back to emotion for the final close.

You should always interpret information for your readers, listeners and viewers. It’s the nuance of interpretation-not just throwing out information and letting it sit idly by-that is transformational in generating response. Here are some ways to appeal to logic:

  • Features versus Benefits. It’s easy to talk features of a product or service, but they need to be translated into benefits. Taken a step further, you need to spell out why those benefits are important.
  • Guarantee. Make it specific-not some fluff language that gives you wiggle room that doesn’t assure the prospective buyer. Give your customer 30 days, maybe 60 or 90 days to get a refund. Or how about a lifetime guarantee?
  • Pricing Presentation. Break down the price. Cost per day or month. Another approach: relate price to the cost of not buying the product.

Then when you’ve made your logical left brain appeal, you must move your reader to the emotional right brain. It’s ultimately emotion that will convert to a sale. Bring your prospect to becoming a customer with these conclusions:

  • This is Good. You must lead your reader, listener or viewer to conclude “this is good.”
  • This is Smart. If it’s good, then show them how “this is smart for me.”
  • Open the door to Permission to Act. When in the closing of your message, your copy leads your prospect logically and emotionally, take them to a place where in their mind they give themselves permission to buy.

Using a journey from the logical right brain to the emotional left brain, you give your prospect permission to respond. Do this and you will have done your job as a marketer.

7 Tasty Copywriting Languages

How tasty is your copywriting? Taste-related words and figurative language can be more deliciously persuasive and sumptuously effective than literal words with the same meaning. Words that stimulate taste-activated areas in the brain are known to be associated with emotional processing. Language that frequently uses physical sensations or objects that refer to abstract domains, such as time, understanding or emotion, actually

How tasty is your copywriting? Taste-related words and figurative language can be more deliciously persuasive and sumptuously effective than literal words with the same meaning. Words that stimulate taste-activated areas in the brain are known to be associated with emotional processing. Language that frequently uses physical sensations or objects that refer to abstract domains, such as time, understanding or emotion, actually requires more brainpower, resulting in more engagement and comprehension.

To illustrate the point, the sentence, “She looked at him sweetly,” sparks more brain activity in emotion-based regions, like the amygdala, than, “She looked at him kindly.” Why? Because “sweet” amplifies a more physical experience, according to new research from Princeton University and the Free University of Berlin.

Figurative language can be more persuasive and effective in copywriting because your message is more imaginable in the reader’s mind.

For direct response copy, when practical (and without going overboard), a few tasty, figurative language uses can create more emotional reaction from your prospective customers. Figurative language works because the copy goes beyond the actual meanings of words. This way, the reader gains new insights into the objects or subjects in the work. Here are seven types of figurative language to consider using in copy and messaging.

1. Simile
A simile compares two things using the words “like” and “as.” Examples include:

  • Clean as a whistle
  • Brave as a lion
  • Stand out like a sore thumb

2. Metaphor
When you use a metaphor, you make a statement that doesn’t make literal sense, like “time is a thief.” It only makes sense when the similarities between the two things become apparent or someone understands the connection. Examples include:

  • Time is money
  • He has a heart of stone
  • America is a melting pot

3. Personification
Personification gives human characteristics to inanimate objects, animals or ideas. This can affect the way your customer imagines things. Examples include:

  • Opportunity knocked on the door
  • The sun can greet you tomorrow morning
  • The sky was full of dancing stars

4. Hyperbole
Hyperbole is an outrageous exaggeration that emphasizes a point, and can be ridiculous or funny. Hyperbole is useful in fiction to add color, but should be used sparingly and with caution in marketing copy. Examples are:

  • You snore louder than a freight train.
  • It’s a slow burg. I spent a couple of weeks there one day.
  • You could have knocked me over with a feather.

5. Symbolism
Symbolism occurs when a word which has meaning in itself, but it’s used to represent something entirely different. In this case, work with your graphics team, as images can express symbolism powerfully. Examples are:

  • Using an image of a flag to represent patriotism and a love for one’s country.
  • Using an apple pie to represent an American lifestyle.
  • Using an apple to represent education.

6. Alliteration. Alliteration is a repetition of the first consonant sounds in several words. An example:

  • Wide-eyed and wondering while we wait for the other ones to waken

7. Onomatopoeia. Onomatopoeia is the use of words that sound like their meaning, or mimic sounds. They add a level of fun and reality to writing. Here are some examples:

  • The burning wood hissed and crackled
  • The words: beep, boom, bong, click, clang, click, crunch, gobble, hum, meow, munch, oink, pow, quack, smash, swish, tweet, wham, whoosh, zap and zing.

Regardless of the type of words used, figurative language can help people visualize your product or service more instinctively. With tasty copy, you heighten senses that immerse prospects and customers to more powerfully see themselves possessing what you have to offer.

3 Ways to Use the Spell of FOMO in Copywriting

FOMO: The “Fear of Missing Out.” Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Perhaps this particular fear describes you or someone you know. FOMO is a phenomenon reported by 56 percent of social media users, and it even has its own hashtag. This particular fear isn’t just of missing out on social media posts, it extends to checking email, phone calls and more. More importantly to direct marketers, the driving emotion of the FOMO is powerful and when properly used

FOMO: The “Fear of Missing Out.” Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Perhaps this particular fear describes you or someone you know. FOMO is a phenomenon reported by 56 percent of social media users, and it even has its own hashtag. This particular fear isn’t just of missing out on social media posts, it extends to checking email, phone calls, and more. More importantly to direct marketers, the driving emotion of the FOMO is powerful and when properly used, you can write copy and create messaging to leverage this basic human fear.

The term FOMO was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013. The acronym may be new, but classically trained direct mail copywriters have recognized the power of the fear of missing out for generations. We can use it in our copy to effectively sell because of how our brains are wired.

With mobile technology today, it is genuinely possible to become addicted to social networks because of the fear of missing out. It’s now effortless to compare and evaluate our own lives against that of our friends.

A survey last year of social media users by MyLife.com and reported by Mashable suggests:

  • 51 percent visit or log on to social networking sites more frequently now than two years earlier.
  • The average person manages 3.1 email addresses (up from 2.6 a year earlier).
  • 27 percent check their social networks as soon as they wake up.
  • 42 percent have multiple social networking accounts (61 percent for those age 18 to 34).
  • 56 percent are afraid of missing something such as an event, news or an important status update if they don’t keep an eye on social networks.

These stats suggest you’re more likely than not to be in the spell of FOMO.

But the reality is this: We’re all wired to have basic fear. And without taking inappropriate advantage of your prospective customers, there are ways you can appeal to this part of the brain—the amygdala—with messaging to make your sales programs more effective. Here are three uses with FOMO in mind as you write copy and create message positioning:

  • First to Know: If you fear missing out, you must surely want to be the first to know of an important development, new product or news. And, when you’re first to know, you’re most eager to tell others you’re first to know, and pass it along (to your benefit).
  • Inside Story: People like to have the inside scoop combined with effective storytelling. Combine the concepts of revealing your inside story with a unique selling proposition, or positioning, and the sum is greater than its parts.
  • Limited Time: When there is a limited time a product is available, it intensifies desire to acquire it now. The challenge today, however, is that it’s easy for customers to check out competition and discover that limited time appeal has its limits.

These uses also create urgency in your copy. Writing copy and messaging based on this intense human primal fear will drive higher response. There can be no question that the spell of FOMO is real and a part of your customer’s minds.

Content Marketing and Copywriting in Tandem

What differentiates the content marketing writing style from direct response sales copy? We hear a lot about content marketing these days, and, at first glance, it seems to be a distinctly different approach than direct response sales copy. But is it really all that different? Shouldn’t there be a plan to move the reader to action with the ultimate result of

What differentiates the content marketing writing style from direct response sales copy? We hear a lot about content marketing these days, and, at first glance, it seems to be a distinctly different approach than direct response sales copy. But, is it really all that different? Shouldn’t there be a plan to move the reader to action with the ultimate result of monetizing the marketing effort? As direct marketers, most of us would agree that getting the reader to buy should be the ultimate objective of any kind of marketing. But each of these skills—content marketing and direct response sales copywriting—can lead from one to the other.

Today we share five recommendations to strengthen both. Before we do that, let’s define each:

  • Direct response copywriting is all about leading the reader to action. It might be a sale on the spot, but it could also be lead generation, or perhaps an action as simple as getting someone to opt-in to a series of emails. Likely media used: direct mail, email, landing pages, video sales letters, print ads and direct response broadcast.
  • Content marketing, on the other hand, is about writing and freely delivering content of value to the reader. It builds trust, confidence and leads into selling from a softer angle. It may not get a sale on the spot, but it should have the reader predisposed to buy when the opportunity is presented. Likely media used: blogs, articles, online press releases, social media, white papers and video.

Content marketing should inform, build trust and credibility with the prospective buyer, so that when harder-hitting, persuasive direct response sales copy with a call-to-action is presented, the response rate is higher. In other words, when both approaches are used in tandem, the sum can be greater than the parts.

Copywriter Chris Marlow suggests, “the term ‘content’ should be reserved for writing that does not have the express purpose of getting a lead or sale.” But she adds that, “sometimes you need ‘content’ to get the lead or make the sale.”

Whether you’re using content marketing or direct response copywriting, here are five recommendations to make both approaches stronger and logically flow from one to the other. Inspiration for this list comes from American Writers and Artists (where I teach a copywriting course), copywriting clients and personal experience:

  1. It all starts with the headline and lead. Use proven direct mail formulas like the four-Legged Stool (Big Idea, Promise, Credibility, Proven Track Record), or the four U’s (Useful, Unique, Urgency, Ultra-Specific), or any one of many other direct response copywriting formulas. The headline formula often works better when you fit your main idea within eight words or fewer. Using a proven direct response letter writing formula can make all the difference in your success.
  2. What’s the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt)? Get the attention of the reader and quickly demonstrate you understand their pain. Most everyone has on their minds fear, uncertainty, and doubt in their personal lives, relationships, finances, career, retirement or health.
  3. Is the message confusing, unbelievable, boring or awkward? Review the copy with a small inner circle of people. Reading copy aloud with someone listening and evaluating it is a must. If it’s confusing, unbelievable, boring or awkward, you’ll hear it when voiced. I was again reminded of the importance of this step after logging several hours by phone when reading a long-form letter aloud with a client so we could both hear it. The extra investment of time strengthened the story, benefits, false close and call-to-action items for the right flow to build the sales message.
  4. Gather a small group to review copy and the lead. Ask each person to assign a numerical ranking (1-10 scale) on whether they’d keep reading or not. If less than 80 percent of the responders wouldn’t read beyond the headline and lead, then the writer needs to fix the headline and lead, or start over.
  5. Is it clear? When your customer or prospect reads your copy (whether using content marketing writing style or direct response copywriting), has the issue been laid out clearly? Was a complex message simplified? Did the message build rapport and trust? Does the copy naturally flow so that the prospect concludes that your product solves the issue? And check the call-to-action. Is there one? Keep in mind that if you’re using introductory content writing, the CTA may be only to opt-in, subscribe or click a link to request or read more in a series.

Bottom line: what are you asking the prospect to do? Is it advancing the prospect along in a planned spaced-repetition contact strategy that leads to your ultimate desired action: a sale?

Whether your copy style is content marketing that is conditioning the reader to make a future purchase, or direct response selling asking for an action on the spot, what you write ultimately needs to justify its existence with a strategy that leads to monetization.

Landing Pages: This Worked, That Didn’t

Nothing derails an email conversion faster than the wrong landing page. Good emails tell a story to the recipient. It may be the story of a sale, how things work or what’s going on. Whatever the story, it needs to flow continuously from beginning to end. Any break introduces distractions that can divert the participant from the preferred action. Today we are reviewing emails and their landing pages from two companies that offer home improvement items for this edition of “This Worked, That Didn’t.”

Nothing derails an email conversion faster than the wrong landing page. Good emails tell a story to the recipient. It may be the story of a sale, how things work or what’s going on. Whatever the story, it needs to flow continuously from beginning to end. Any break introduces distractions that can divert the participant from the preferred action.

Every component of an email has a simple purpose: Move the person reading it to the next step. The purpose of the subject is to motivate the recipient to open the email. Once opened, the content should be a continuation of the subject and provide information for the next step.

Today we are reviewing emails from two companies that offer home improvement items for this edition of “This Worked, That Didn’t.” The emails—found in the Email Campaign Archive—are similar in content and creative, but very different in execution. The challengers are Build.com and Rejuvenation.

Both emails have a do-it-yourself subject line. Build.com uses “Make Your Outdoors a Masterpiece” and Rejuvenation has “Update a Hardworking Bath with Lighting, Hardware, and Accessories.” Recipients gearing up for home improvement projects would find the subjects appealing.

The Rejuvenation email (Image 1) has a photo of the beautiful bathroom. The copy at the top of the photo reads: “Hardworking Spaces: Bathroom Simple, warm, practical – a rustic bath will stand the test of time.” A button under the copy has a link to “Shop Bathroom.”

Clicking on the link takes the potential buyer to a landing page (Image 2) that continues the story started in the email. The same image is featured in the email and on the landing page. The headline on the landing page, “Time-Tested Bathroom,” is consistent with the copy from the email. The copy following the headline says:

For a bathroom that stands the test of time, consider borrowing design ideas from that other hardworking space: the kitchen. An apron-front sink and butcher-block counters stand up to just about anything, and will only get better with age. Burnished metals with a timeworn patina suit this understated aesthetic perfectly. Try a pair of Kent wall brackets in Antique Copper and beaded mirrors in Bronze finish for warmth and sparkle.

Featured products continue the story immediately following the copy. This is an excellent example of using an email to move people from their inbox to the shopping cart.

The build.com email starts out well too. It has a photo (Image 3) of an exquisite house with a sunset backdrop and beautiful lighting. The copy tweaks the subject line into “Make Your Outdoors an Oasis.” The button at the bottom of the image reads, “Get Started,” creating an expectation of additional information on how to get this look. There is another link at the lower left corner that is barely visible. It reads, “Sea Gull Outdoor Lighting.” One expects that the link will take you directly to the lighting used at this house.

The beautifully crafted email takes a surprising turn when you click on the Get Started link. Instead of information on how to create the look or the products used, the landing page is the company’s outdoor department (Image 4). The first thing you see is a lawnmower. Scroll about halfway down a very long page and you’ll find information on how to light up your night. Before you get there, you pass a video on grilling and the segment on indoor living outdoors. Only the most dedicated email recipients will search the page for the information they’re seeking.

The Sea Gull Outdoor Lighting link is also disappointing. Instead of going to the product page, the potential customer is taken to the outdoor department. Getting to the featured item requires choosing from thirteen outdoor lighting links or doing a site search. There is nothing easy about finding the items featured in the email. A search of “Sea Gull Outdoor Light” yields 2,606 products. Good luck finding the ones featured in the email.

The winner of the landing page challenge is Rejuvenation. To insure that your emails are always on the winning side:

  • Make links take people to the page they expect to see. If you don’t have an appropriate page, either build one or change the email message.
  • Keep the path from first click to checkout as short as possible. The longer the path, the more likely people will leave.
  • Tell a continuous story. Continuity keeps people moving forward. A good story answers questions at the right time and removes all resistance to completing the final call to action.

The Bowels of the Mail Beast

While my duties have shifted (radically) over the past few months, I still review our giant mailbag (over 1,000 pieces a month) in order to uncover the trends in direct mail, along with finding intriguing new pieces or others that have stood the test of time. Recently, I took a look inside many of these increasingly colorful mailers to see what trends were popping up.

While my duties have shifted (radically) over the past few months, I still review our giant mailbag (over 1,000 pieces a month) in order to uncover the trends in direct mail, along with finding intriguing new pieces or others that have stood the test of time. Recently, I took a look inside many of these increasingly colorful mailers to see what trends were popping up.

First, just like the outside, the slimmed-down approach is also visible inside, with more 2-page letters instead of 4-page letters, for example. More reply cards are perfed to the letter, which usually means that the letter is only one page.

I’m also seeing fewer copy tactics like the Johnson box, bolded copy, subheads, margin copy, multiple P.S., etc. It’s almost as if the marketer no longer believes that prospects 1) have much time and 2) even remember what a letter looks like anymore! Apparently, prospects don’t want to read much, yet with the scarcity of long letters in the mailbox, perhaps the chances for long copy succeeding are actually better than ever today?

Funny enough, the letters — long or short — with shorter paragraphs and readable font (that’s large enough, even up to 14 pt.) still strike me as the most effective. The small, cramped copy in long paragraphs on a single page are a turn-off, in my opinion, compared to the letters that still take their time, lead with a great story, etc.

Of course, many mailers these days don’t bother too much with story and simply get right to the punch, with their offers, their missions, etc. They often start with the reply card as the first thing the prospect sees when cracking open the envelope. This seems ludicrous to me, but it happens more and more.

Component-wise, there are fewer of them. Buckslips are an endangered species, while brochures are holding steady, largely because they sometimes replace letter copy entirely, or at least in part. Freemiums are also disappearing, but when they do appear, they’re less bulky and likely to be simple things like a bookmark, decal, a certificate of appreciation, etc. Even address labels have decreased, while calendars have become rare.

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.

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.