This is the first guest-post from the talented and lovely Becky Sheetz-Runkle here on the gonzoblog. Becky is a marketing strategist and the author of Sun Tzu for Women: The Art of War for Winning in Business . She’s also a proud gonzodesign client. Contact her at bsheetz[at]beckysheetz.com.
I’ve worked in ad agencies for over a decade. I’ve seen the way content is delivered and consumed by audiences change pretty dramatically in that time. The delivery systems have evolved as the industry has moved from beginning to understand the power of the web, to robust multi-channel viral media campaigns. Marketers’ sophistication in targeting and reaching segmented buyers has grown exponentially.
For all these reasons, as a marketer, I’m excited. But as a writer, I’m frustrated. You see, while marketing has evolved and gotten smarter, the craft of copywriting has devolved and gotten …like… way dumber.
Whether it’s a web article, a blog, a corporate site or a good old fashioned brochure, poor copywriting strikes me in the same way sub-standard design affects my visually-creative friends. Not only is it hard on the eyes and the brain, it doesn’t do anything to advance the business it seeks to promote. And in a competitive industry where every advantage matters, bad copy may even be a liability.
There are two primary reasons for the current and prolifically schlocky nature of copywriting:
1. The Commoditization of Writing
There are a million and one “opportunities” for “writers” to produce for copy mills and other low-paying, content-ravenous websites. Don’t misunderstand me. There are some very good people between gigs who find themselves chained to their keyboards churching out content for these sites. But they’re the exception. I’m simply trying to illustrate what’s going on in the industry, and how it’s fostering dumbed down, sound-alike content wholly incapable of driving anything close to business results.
As with other creative channels, there are a plethora of price shopping businesses seeking to award copywriting jobs to the lowest bidder, paying them pitiable wages for their effort. My personal favorites are the guys and gals who want only the most qualified writers with the best portfolios, but with budgets suited for the entry level. They get what they pay for, which is readily seen in the quality of their content.
The bottom line is that if a business is serious about powerfully telling their story and inspiring customer and prospects to take action, learn more, or buy something, stellar copywriting is a tool that can help make this happen, not a burdensome expense along the way.
2. SEO Rules the Web
I’m not being glib here. It really does. Any self-respecting copywriter doing any work for the web is an SEO copywriter. The problem is that there are a lot of businesses that simply aren’t serious about SEO. How do I know? I’ve seen their websites.
SEO copywriting, like copywriting that predated the acronym, takes skill. But it also takes science. Much more than sprinkling keywords, it involves understanding the ever-changing rules of internet marketing—and the science of selling. There are winning and losing SEO copywriting tactics. Here’s a look at the path to defeat:
Avoid SEO Pitfalls
Keywords at all cost
Keyword optimization is critical. But keyword stuffing is way too much of a good thing. As you probably know, keyword stuffing is the obnoxious “strategy” that involves cramming keywords into the copy—everywhere. You’ve seen it. The website belongs to a dentist in Rockville whose primary service is bridges. You know this because each page is un-artfully littered with these keywords. It’s almost as if it’s been written with the deliberate intention that no one will read it.
Picking the right keywords is also essential to SEO success. It’s not enough for a business to take the words their people use to describe their company, that they are all too comfortable saying and writing, and making that the crux of your keyword strategy. I see this surprisingly frequently. Just because they use them doesn’t mean their prospects and customers do. There are too many good options out there like Google AdWords Keyword Tool, Wordtracker and KeywordSpy to settle on arbitrary search words. We’ll discuss these in an upcoming article, The Art and Science of SEO.
The how and where of keywords
Not all copywriters who understand the importance of using the right keywords at an appropriate density are up to speed on the importance of utilizing different formatting conventions to drive traffic. Google behaves like a human, which means techniques like highlighting keywords and key phrases in bold, bullets, italics and underlining are important, as are links that contain those keywords. But I’m getting ahead of myself. More on this in the forthcoming blog post, The Art and Science of SEO.
Set it and forget it
This is another very familiar trap. Lots of companies dedicate resources and great thinking to their keyword optimization strategy and incorporate it intelligently throughout their website, blogs and other online content. Fantastic! But then they fail to keep their great plan current. They don’t regularly update their SEO execution so their internet marketing strategy continues to generate meaningful results.
Traffic, traffic, traffic!
I’m in a tiny minority in the SEO world on this one, so you may want to disregard my advice. Cleary I’m missing something. When you read popular wisdom (oxymoron, anyone?) about SEO, you see that the number one goal is traffic. After all, what can be better than getting 5,000 new unique visitors this month?! Oh, I don’t know, selling 300 more products to qualified buyers than last month. Or scheduling 10 meetings with 10 high-value prospects from inbound web leads.
Of course, traffic is important, and it’s a great metric, but not nearly as important as making sales. So when you’re implementing your keyword strategy, focus on getting qualified buyers to your site with interest in what you sell instead of random eyeballs.
SEO is only the beginning
I want to recant what I said above about SEO ruling the web. SEO is a bloodless coupe that drives your regime (or business, if you prefer) to power (the sale). But SEO doesn’t rule benevolently as you and your subjects (customers) live happily ever after. Like the bloodless coupe, SEO is only the beginning. The potential buyer you get to your website really doesn’t impact your business if they don’t make a purchase or are somehow moved forward in the sales pipeline. SEO alone won’t make the sale for you. There are a host of other content and user experience factors for your website, blog, Google Maps site and more that will influence the buyer to purchase from you.
They say people don’t read. It’s true. I know some people. But I don’t blame them. The web medium, combined with the glut of inane words and pointless messages that hit us each day encourage skimming or avoidance, not reading and understanding. But you know what, if you’re passionate about what you do and what you sell, try communicating it in a way that builds trusts, inspires people and tells the world why what you do matters. Give people something compelling, meaningful, genuine or witty (or all of the above!), and they may read it—and be better off for it.
Join us soon for a positively more upbeat take on SEO copywriting that will cover what to do to optimize your search strategy in The Art and Science of SEO.