Writing for Your Online Store

Posted by Robin on Oct 11th, 2009

What makes writing for the web so different? Here’s one factor:

Pre-Internet, you didn’t need to worry about keywords much. The job of copy was simply to inform and convince. Words serve an additional function now: they act as a map to guide people to the right location.

Keywords are not just important for external search results (e.g. Google or Yahoo); they are also critical for users who are already on your site.

Imagine that you have an online shoe store, complete with a nifty search box. You have a customer browsing your site, seeking the perfect fall boot. She types “knee-high boot brown leather” into the box.

What happens? The boots she wants don’t appear, or get buried amid pages of other boots that don’t meet her requirements.

The problem? They’re labeled “distressed espresso leather boots.” Your website doesn’t know that espresso describes the color brown, or that they are knee-high.

Words Are the Key, More Than Ever
Keywords help your customer find what she’s looking for. That doesn’t mean that the copy should be bland—quite the contrary. The writing must still sell the product gracefully. Good web copywriting strikes the right balance.

For instance, in the example above, the boots could be described as “Knee-high boots crafted of soft, espresso brown leather, subtly distressed to relaxed perfection.”

Here, you’ve included all of the likely search terms, plus additional information that evokes a lifestyle—“relaxed perfection.” The description is still short enough to be effectively scanned by someone in a hurry.

Include the Right Information
Customers shopping online often need more detail, rather than less, in order to be confident in their purchases. I’ve seen product descriptions that leave out vital information, such as the measurements for a piece of furniture.

Website copy has to have enough of the right kind of description—in the right places—to take advantage of search engine results (including the long tail) but not so much that it overwhelms or turns off a potential customer. In the example above, including the heel height and the overall height of the boots is important.

This is why user-generated reviews are so great—they include details that push products up to the top of the search results for more esoteric, long-tail phrases as well as basic searches.

However, even without the added heft that multiple customer reviews provide, it’s still possible to craft your product copy to take advantage of both internal and external search results.

As with any copywriting, but perhaps even more so, web writing demands close attention to the perspective of the customer—not just what they are looking for, but how they are finding it.

It’s All About the Writing

Posted by Robin on Oct 30th, 2008

Very soon after striking out on my own with this web content development business, I landed a client through Craigslist.

He was a local client and when we met in person to discuss the project, he mentioned that although he had heard from over a dozen other respondents to his posting, several of the responses he got contained mechanical errors in the writing–from people claiming to be professional writers. Obviously, he didn’t consider any of them. Moreover, part of the reason he was looking for a writer was that English was his second language; these were errors that stood out even to a non-native speaker.

He had specifically asked for a writer who was familiar with search engine optimization principles, and it sounded like he had heard from people who thought that keywords were more important than the writing itself.

Clearly, that’s not the way to approach one’s website; after all, the point of hiring a copywriter is to get good copy that converts, not just to bring people to your site with commonly searched phrases. If they get to your site and see lots of grammar and spelling problems, or even if they just see uninspired, uninformative copy, that’s not going to build a lot of trust, and all of your keyword research will be for nothing.

This particular client’s customer base was made up of highly educated, mainly wealthy individuals, so it was all the more important to provide seamless professional copy–while at the same time judiciously including the relevant search terms in appropriate places.

Search terms are important, but there’s no reason that they should come at the expense of good writing.

What is Strategic Copywriting?

Posted by Robin on Sep 20th, 2008

What is strategic copywriting, and how does it apply to your website? Any good commercial copy is strategic. However, an understanding of writing specifically for the web is crucial. What worked for a brochure in 1992 is not going to work for a website today.

The main difference lies in the power of keyword research. Good website copy shares many qualities with any good marketing copy: compelling writing, clear calls to action, and a solid understanding of the target audience. But the crux of strategic web writing is the ability to conduct and apply keyword research intelligently.

Writing strategic web copy demands a thorough understanding of the terms that your audience uses to search you out. It also requires an understanding of how to use keywords to maximum advantage: how to develop quality content around key search terms, how to place terms within the elements of a web page for the best effect, and how to use them to draw visitors to your site from a search engine results page.

Strategic copywriting with attention to keyword research is crucial because it helps you:

  • Gain an advantage over your competitors with superior knowledge of key terms.
  • Increase your site’s ability to target exactly what your visitors are looking for.
  • Gain a better connection to your site visitors, increasing the likelihood that visitors will become customers.
  • Become more visible to the search engines, and therefore more likely to entice new customers to visit your site.
  • Develop searched-for content that will increase the likelihood that people want to link to you, referring additional traffic to your site and increasing your site’s overall credibility.

Many small businesses completely ignore keyword research (or develop a very superficial keyword plan) when creating a website. Intelligent keyword research provides a serious competitive edge; are you taking advantage of it?

Fun With Keywords

Posted by Robin on Aug 24th, 2008

While doing keyword research, I frequently stumble across search phrases that range from somewhat odd to bizarre enough to make me question the functionality of my research tools. Usually, there’s a logical explanation for strange queries; for instance, back when “Dick Cheney’s sunglasses” was a popular search for a couple of days, it was pretty clear why people were checking out the vice presidential eye wear. (If you missed out on that, let’s just say it wasn’t because people wanted to emulate his fabulous sense of style.) While that humorous end of the long tail may not always bring customers or sales, it’s always fun to peruse, and may even provide a few useful insights.

For instance, here are some odd queries related to the keyword “blogging.”

“Died in a blogging accident”
At first glance, one supposes that some unfortunate blogger was electrocuted by her laptop. However, this is the reason for that phrase’s popularity, and a fine example of the observer effect.

“Cat blogging”
Yes, this is exactly what it sounds like.

“What the hell is blogging?”
Adding a little colorful language will help the search engine answer your question, I’m sure.

“Stop blogging”
Was this typed by a hopeless blogging addict–someone who needed to find a cure for compulsive blogging? Or an avid blog reader who reached the point of overload, desperately wishing people would stop writing? (“Stop blogging, Internet!”) Or a blogging widow, wishing that she could pry her spouse away from the keyboard? We may never know, but the sheer emotion behind the query reads loud and clear.