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.

On SEO Copywriting

Posted by Robin on Feb 22nd, 2009

Before you hire an SEO copywriter, read this.

The bar for entry into SEO copywriting is very low. Often, requests for SEO copywriting contain “rigorous” demands like “Must be a native English speaker.” But even if you’re not outsourcing and the writing seems okay on the surface, some copywriters will—to put it bluntly—make you look bad.

If you lose even one sale because your site looks unprofessional, is it worth it?

Writing is more than the ability to string a sentence together.

Amateur writing lacks grace. It seems fine on the surface, but the rhythm is off. It’s like listening to your tone-deaf brother sing in the shower. Sure, he knows the words and you recognize the song, but there’s no way he should quit his day job. Bad SEO copywriting is like that. I’m not even talking about keyword-stuffed garbage; that’s easy to avoid. I’m talking about writing that is flat. Dull. Regurgitated. You wouldn’t pay to hear your brother sing, so why would you pay for writing that’s just as tone-deaf?

Amateur SEO writing often contains usage errors. I can’t even count how many times I’ve stumbled across copywriters looking for SEO work who can’t tell “complement” from “compliment.” It breaks my heart every time.

Amateur writing breaks the rules, but in a way that says, “I didn’t read the warning label” rather than “I’m a rebel with a cause.” In spite of what your English teacher told you (and yes, I used to be one) it’s often fine to break the rules. For instance, you can include a sentence fragment at times, for impact. Like this. But amateur copywriters break the rules from lack of knowledge, not from sensitivity to their readers.

Valuable web content is more than just “okay.” It accomplishes things. On a sales site, it makes people want to buy. On a news site, it delivers new insights and keeps readers coming back.

It’s more than grammar. It’s more than accurate research and good sentence structure. It’s about IDEAS. When you hire a copywriter, you’re hiring someone to give form to insight.

Good writing delivers on a promise. It yields wisdom. It stokes desire.

Good writing sets off fireworks. Bad writing sets off alarm bells. Which are you paying for?

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?

Web Content Development: Six Critical Types of Pages

Posted by Robin on Jul 30th, 2008

When I work with a client to develop a website content plan, there are typically a few different types of pages that work well, depending on the client’s goals and the preexisting site content. Obviously, not all content falls into one of these categories, but these are some common types of useful website content:

1. Core Pages
These are the pages that you probably think of first when you think of website development: a homepage, an “about” page, hours and directions, a contact page, and basic information about products and services. For example, a restaurant would need to include the above pages, plus menus (and please, for the love of God, don’t put them in PDF–I know it’s easier for updating seasonal menus, but it’s a drag from a user perspective. At least from my personal user perspective. MS Word is even worse.) A restaurant may also include information on catering, special events, and reservation policies.

  • To provide visitors with expected information

2. Landing Pages
Landing pages, also known as doorway pages, are highly targeted towards a specific search term (often in conjunction with a pay-per-click ad campaign). For instance, if a Seattle-area Mexican restaurant was trying to expand its local catering business, it would be useful to have pages focused on “Mexican Catering in Seattle” and “Seattle Catering.” (A tantalizing PPC ad that leads to the page might say, for example, “Seattle Catering–Sizzling Fajitas, Crispy Nachos.”) When a user clicks on the ad, or the natural search engine result that leads to the page, she should see the info she’s looking for right away.

  • Give the user what she’s looking for, whether she arrives by ad click or search engine result
  • Effectively target the term for natural search engine results (not with artificial keyword density parameters, but with strategic research and use of search terms in the right places)
  • Get the visitor to take action, such as ordering up a taco bar for a graduation party

3. Product Pages
Product pages are especially helpful for retailers who are trying to help customer find very specific products. Let’s say you sell digital cameras and you want your customers to know that you specialize in Canon products. Since zillions of other retailers sell Canon cameras, you want to target specific models–but you need to distinguish your copy from the same copy (or total lack of copy) that appears on all of those other retailers’ pages. Why? Because duplicate content tends to get filtered out of natural search results, and having no content at all provides little indication of what the page is about. This is why more and more retailers are offering product reviews by customers, but you can just as easily include some customized marketing copy geared towards specific products.

  • Target your products more effectively in natural search results
  • Provide useful information to site visitors attempting to make a purchasing decision

4. Blog Posts
A blog is by no means a necessary component of doing business online, although it offers a couple of major advantages: it’s an easy way to keep your site fresh, and it can be a great tool for communicating with customers.

  • Inform visitors of business-specific news
  • Showcase your opinions, ideas, and expertise

5. Special Resources
Special resources are pages that set your site apart from your competitors–something that you can give to your users that no one else can. For instance, if you’re a plumber in an area with lots of historic homes, you might devote a section of your site to the unique plumbing problems of older houses.

  • Demonstrate your expertise
  • Build trust
  • Propel sales

6. Pages Targeted to Social Media
Social media sites like StumbleUpon, Reddit, and Digg allow users to share web content that they find compelling for being funny/controversial/sad/irritating/exciting. Each social media site has its own ethos, and different types of material are going to appeal to different social media audiences. Social media users may not convert into customers, but if you submit something unusual or compelling to a social media site, it may become popular enough that bloggers and site owners link to you, which can be a nice boost. There’s potential for crossover between a “Special Resource” page and page geared towards social media. (Best example ever of making effective use of social media for brand promotion: http://www.willitblend.com/)

  • Get traffic to your site
  • Gain brand recognition
  • Get people to link to your website

Depending on what kind of business website you’re developing, you will need at least one (and probably more than one) of these types of pages. You may, for instance, choose to start out with some well-developed core pages and then add some additional landing pages or special resource pages in order to increase your site traffic and grow your business.

Mission Statement

Posted by Robin on Jul 21st, 2008

Mission statements are so 1999, but I thought I’d write one anyway:

My mission as a web content developer is to put my copywriting skills and knowledge of best practices in Internet marketing to work on your behalf, advancing your web presence and making your products and services easier for your customers to find.

With genuine enthusiasm for your product, a solid understanding of your target audience, thorough research, and superior attention to detail, I’ll help you meet the goals that you’ve set for your site and your business.

Why I Love Small Business Copywriting

Posted by Robin on Jul 10th, 2008

Why do I focus on working with smaller businesses? Working with larger companies is great (and I enjoy the work), but for a few reasons, I find small to midsize businesses, as well as nonprofit organizations, even more fun to work with when it comes to copywriting and web content development. Here’s why:

  • Talking directly to the decision-maker means that projects get done faster and have a more immediate impact on the business. I find the collaboration exciting and it’s great to see positive results without waiting for the layers of bureaucracy to catch up.
  • In my experience, small business websites often have lots of exciting potential that isn’t being tapped. I find this tremendously stimulating because I know my work can make a significant difference.
  • The bottom line is even more critical to these organizations than it is to large corporations, and I feel like I bring good value to the table
  • While it’s true that doing work for larger companies can offer more financial stability, smaller organizations offer a great deal of project diversity. I like working with a church one week and a whitewater rafting business the next week and a jewelry affiliate site the week after that. I get to learn about a lot of new industries, products, and services along the way.