Sunday, January 20, 2008

Writing For The Engines

"The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think." ~ Edwin Schlossber, Designer, author & artist.
I recently did an interview with Copywriting Insider - a twice monthly e-letter from American Writers & Artists Inc. (AWAI) and the editorial team at Inside Direct Mail.

The publication focuses on “inside” information for copywriters on the hottest markets in the direct-mail industry and the techniques that can best improve their skills.

I was asked to participate in a special issue on writing SEO copy. Part 1 of the interview is below, please enjoy…


Andrew Palmer is a recognized SEO expert and renowned Internet marketer. He has worked with industry giants, including Agora Inc., and currently works with Cabot Heritage Corporation, and lectures on such topics as "Direct mail on the Web" and the "Free Content Model" of Internet Marketing. Today, he shares the some of the techniques he has used to help businesses develop a successful online presence, and tells us what he expects from an online copywriter.
CI: Andrew, how did you came to be a search engine optimization consultant?
That’s a difficult question, and I’m afraid the answer is long and involved. First of all, let me say that I consider myself to be much more than that. I see myself in a business-building capacity, and search engine optimization is just one aspect of what I do.

To give you the short answer, I’m actually a licensed attorney. I was working in Washington D.C., and my firm needed someone to build a website. I was assigned the task, and I found that the opportunity to create something from scratch on the Web was a lot more dynamic and fun than being an attorney. So I switched.

I like to say that I left the dark side and entered the good light. I’ve had a wonderful time since then building businesses for people in everything from law to non-profit causes to information publishing.
CI: In this interview, we’re going to focus on search engine optimization and how it affects copywriters. So my next question is: How important do you think it is for a copywriter to understand SEO before writing online material?
I don’t want copywriters to think about search engine optimization while they are writing online copy. I just want them to write well. Nothing is going to do a better job for a website than good copy, and good copy can be written for the direct-mail industry and then posted on the Web and do very well. If copywriters focus too much on keywords or on the optimization, I think it creates poor copy.

I want the copywriter to have the mindset of “What’s going to be the best copy for my client?” – whether it’s going to end up in the mail or online. Good copy works on the Web. Copy that is tailored to be optimized is never as good. Period.

I think the copywriter does need to have a big picture idea of search engine optimization. And if the promotion the copywriter is going to work on will be online, the copywriter needs to know that he or she is going to have to deliver a piece of copy that is keyword-rich... and that they need to think about what the keywords will be before they get started.

But that’s probably as far as I would want them to go. I don’t want them to think that they have to repeat a keyword eight times in a particular piece, because that’s going to end up as really bad copy. I want it to happen organically, and have the copy flow naturally.
CI: What are some of the biggest mistakes copywriters make when writing for the Web?
That goes back to what I just said. The biggest mistake is trying to write copy that they think Google wants, that they think will be optimized high instead of just writing good copy… instead of getting the point across … instead of talking about benefits, using the 4 U’s, using all the copywriting skills they have.

If they throw all of that education and all of that experience out the window and try to do something different because it’s for the Web, that’s the biggest mistake they can make.

Bottom line: They need to fall back on what they know, work as copywriters and not worry about the medium.
CI: SEO writing goes beyond sales copy. Can you comment on other types of writing that an SEO copywriter should be prepared to do?
The most important online copy I work with is not promotional copy per se, but it is marketing copy, also know as web site landing page copy. If I am working with a client to bring in free email names to add to his list of e-letter subscribers, we need to have a page that convinces the random surfer who lands on that page to sign up.

We often do that by offering them a special report as incentive. And I sometimes have a copywriter create the special report.

But I need that landing page to be dynamic. I need that landing page to sell the benefits of the report, to sell the benefits of my client’s e-letter so we can get those free names into the marketing chain and up sell them. Once we have their names, it’s a matter of direct-mail marketing on the Web. We are able to monetize them via good editorial and good promotional copy.

A copywriter should be involved from the idea to the final execution. They should be involved every step of the way. That’s what I tell my clients … especially smaller businesses. One of the most important things they can do is find a professional copywriter who understands the process of how to convince a random surfer to sign up and give up an email address.

Part 2 next week, stay tuned...