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.

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.

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.

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.