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.

Simplistic Utilization of Language

Posted by Robin on Jul 14th, 2008

Sometimes, in their desire to “sound good” people fall into the linguistic tiger trap of not saying what they actually mean. For example:

“A simplistic black dress is the answer to all of your fashion problems.”
A simple black dress might very well be the answer to one’s fashion problems, depending on the degree of sartorial challenge. However, a simplistic black dress would add to one’s difficulties with style; I’m not sure what such a dress would actually look like, but simplistic actually means “overly simple” in a negative sense, as in “His simplistic response didn’t even come close to answering her question.”

Another example is “utilize” vs. “use.” This is a regular occurrence in business-speak: “Company X utilizes special software for tracking inventory and managing costs, resulting in increased savings for consumers.” The trap here is the same as with “simplistic.” “Utilize” sounds like “use” but fancier; therefore, it must be better, right?

However, “utilize” means “to make useful” or “to turn to good use” as opposed to just using a tool for its intended purpose. Company X is using special software intended specifically for inventory management, so “use” is the appropriate choice here.

Now, if Company X repurposed robotic bumblebees originally intended for espionage to keep track of inventory, the company would indeed be utilizing the bumblebees, as inventory control was not their original raison d’être.