SMX Boot Camp: Copywriting for Search Success

Feb 26, 2008 - 5:52 pm 3 by
Filed Under SMX West 2008

Moderated by Dana Todd, who is heavily involved with both Sitelab and their new venture, Newsforce. Congratulations are also due to Dana who just was reelected to the Board of Directors of SEMPO. The “SMX Boot Camp” series of sessions seems to be primarily focused towards beginners. There are not too many better speakers than Heather Lloyd Martin and Jill Whalen to teach attendees about copywriting for SEO. Without further ado, let’s kick it off!

Dana introduces the speakers and mentions that way back in 1998 or so, she saw both Jill and Heather first present on the subject of writing for search engines (SEs). It was a new thing to consider: now your creative had to be crafted with spiders (search engine crawlers) in mind as well as humans.

Heather Lloyd Martin from SuccessWorks Search Marketing Solutions is also the author of “Successful Search Engine Copywriting.” Her presentation is titled “Increase Sales with SEO Copywriting Strategies.” She introduces that her and Jill will be discussing the foundations of SEO copywriting, and how it is different form direct response copywriting. She will discuss about 5 main points, including: how to create content, places to include key phrase, and how to works with titles and descriptions.

Why care about content? Quotes Seth Godin who said simply “the best SEO is good content.” She agrees that between technical considerations and linking, other things are important to SEO, but feels that the content will drive the rankings. SEO content across the buying cycle - shows a triangle with sections from top to bottom: purchase, research, awareness. The awareness phase is when people now they want to find out more about something. Then they do research, and eventually make a purchase. Some keywords actually fit all phases of the buying cycle. A lot of ecommerce people focus only on the top of the triangle…this is faulty because there is a lot more activity going on earlier in the buying cycle.

She shows a site called “” and explains how she is impressed with the way that they have optimized the content. She shows that they have taken the time to create pages specific to many of the searches related to Amsterdam, and yielded lots of rankings at Google as a result. I have to add that I personally feel the page she highlighted, which is about pickpockets in Amsterdam, does look a little “unnatural” to me because of the optimization. This may be partially because they are not native speakers, but in my opinion they could use a scrub to make it more human-friendly. However, as Heather points out, this is an example of how a smaller site can effectively compete against much larger sites, through the use of extensive content.

A lot of ecommerce sites were not concerned about content because they figure with their thousands of products there is enough. Not so, Heather says. She uses the example of and the “jewelry education” section which spends a page describing Diamonds, with links to further information about gold and pearls.

How to work with key phrases? How do you place them in the copy? Jill will be explaining lots about this, so she just wants to touch on it. Heather sees in the forums a lot of comments about “optimizing with keywords not being that big of a deal..” Shows an example of “the Place Below” restaurant in London and how the content is overstuffed, making it look less appealing. She asks the audience how many people would eat there based on reading this content and no one raises their hand.

For maximum success, place 2-3 key phrases in: your main body or text copy, headlines and sub headers, calls to action and hyperlinks. Sound difficult? She says that this often actually makes it easier to make writing more specific. Instead of using “our inventory,” use “our complete line of table lamps” or “our data recovery service.”

She will now talk about how to improve conversions starting directly at the search results page (SERP). The SERP will incorporate the page tile and the description snippet, which becomes the first chance to convert the searcher. Leverage the power of titles. From a copywriter’s mentality, titles are like the headline. Those who write titles often spend more time working on the title than anything else. Heather describes using the “” command in the Google search box to evaluate your current tiles. There is a problem if all of them or many of them are the same. If you walked into a bookstore and saw all books with the same title and different content, how would you differentiate?

Best practices for creating a title. Make it read like a compelling headline. Create unique titles for every page. Include the main kws. Don’t necessarily target the brand or company name. She recommends keeping to 50-75 characters. She likes using benefit statements in the titles (i.e. Free Shipping).

The description snippet. She knows that search engines often do not use the Meta Description. They will pull a snippet of text that is around the search query. So, if you place benefit statements around the main key phrases, you will likely have a more compelling snippet used for the SERP description.

Leverage other forms of content. With Universal Search., content is a lot of things now. She will focus on consumer reviews. She cites a study that said that 9 of 10 people will look to consumer reviews prior to a major purchase (citation needed :p – 89% of statistics are made up). She recommends using these.

Overcoming common challenges – there is a give and take between what we can do and what we cannot. “Insanity is doing the same thing over an over and expecting different results” Albert Einstein. Do not expect vastly different results with minor tweaks. If there is no time to create content – use partnerships or outsource it. There is a lot of grey area- you can create some content and outsource the rest. If you cannot get signoff to create new pages, try to edit current pages for key phrases. Also tweak the titles to reflect the new focus, and additionally, use headlines and sub headlines. The decision makers can actually start to see minor results and then may buy in for a greater amount of new content.

For a quick solution to unique titles, see if IT can dynamically create them and allow for later tweaks. You should always hand-create titles for the most important conversion pages. Heather asks how many are affiliates? The problem with that is that the content is the same across multiple sites. One of the things you can do as much as possible is to add unique content around the boilerplate stuff. Again, rewrite the main conversion pages first, and then figure out a plan for gradually doing the rest.

Parting ponderables: smart SEO copywriting closes the loop between the engines and your offer – so the right approach is crucial. Good writers can create seamless search engine-targeted copy w/out losing conversions. Create spider friendly content can drastically improve performance. Final word: use benefit statements! She announces her brand new site that went live last night at 3 in the

Next up is the venerable Jill Whalen of High Rankings. She will expand on some thing Hetaher spoke to and some other things as well. Copywriting SEO myths: “Your page copy must…”

- Be a certain number of words. Myth…make it as long as it needs to be to say what needs to be said

- Use bold or italics. Myth…this sometimes looks silly.

- Target a specific keyword density. Myth…there is no specific keyword density that you need to write to.

- Be optimized for only one keyword phrase per page. Jill could not disagree more with anything than this. You can get more success using multiple phrases…optimizing for one phrase can make the copy look contrived and silly.

- Be optimized for the long tail. Don’t get her wrong, long tail is good…but this isn’t optimization. SEO is about optimizing for phrases that lots of people are searching for.

Search engines don’t know about you. Websites are not online brochures. You have to assume that visitors have never heard of you. She shows an Australian site NIWA Science that she can’t figure out what the site is about by looking at the home page and the same thing with the “Springload” home page…if she already knew what they were, the content may make sense to her. Every page must provide specific info as to what the page offers. Do not make it into a puzzle. Use plain language that actually uses the keyword phrases. There is nothing scary about SEO copywriting, just trying to be a little more descriptive.

Good content should be on the “regular pages of your site.” Those are the pages that should have good content…you don’t necessarily need to cerate educational sections or whatever (paraphrased). What is good content? Your job is to answer the question of the searcher at the SE. Provide them with information. Speak to the target audience.

Content that is king is written for users while keeping the SEs in mind. Think about the users first. It is all about this delicate balance. Good content starts with good keyword research. It is really all about uncovering the words that people will use to find your site. Base your copywriting around those words. How to choose the keyword phrases? Use the most relevant. Is this keyword phrase exactly about what I offer? Then optimize for it – do not be afraid of it. Choose all the most relevant and specific phrases. You cannot be too general…if you sell houses your will not likely optimize for just the word “house.” You have to include geographical words, etc to make them relevant.

SEO copywriting for the home and main category pages: These are the pages that tend to get the most weight from link popularity, so you should sue your more competitive terms on these pages. use the broad ones here and capitalize on their popularity. You may want to list the products with a short summary, and then actually link to the products or sub categories. She uses her own site’s service page, and how she organized the content with brief intros and links.

SEO copywriting for the deeper product-level pages: Use more specific terms with strong keyword rich headlines. Use strong anchor text pointing to those inner pages from the higher level pages. the anchor text should escrive exactly what you are going to get. Shows an example of a cosmetics site that optimized a product page for crystal bath salts. her analysis led her to feel that the site should eb targeting “bath sea salts,” which is actually a more often searched word than crystal bath salts, and less highly competituive than kjust “bath salts.”

SEO copywriting for news pages: Use natural long tail keywords. Don’t use PDFs. Host your press releases on your site (amen, Jill). News items titles should be descriptive. For example: Title = “Consider the compliance risks and benefits of electronic test ordering;” or “Using technology to improved denials managements.” Don’t use “read more” unless you are also using a descriptive link to the same page.

Where to use keyword phrase: title tags are the most important, in her opinion. meta descriptions – she feels that SEs are actually using these much more often these days, so take care to insert the keywords. Anchor text, not only for outside links, but also for the internal links. Make sure that your site architecture allows this. Use keywords in clickable image alt attributes. And of course, use them in headlines. Whether or not it is an H tag, Jill actually doesn’t feel this makes a difference.

The engines have to see your content. Design issues can be a big problem, like using graphical headlines. When the images are not clickable, the engines may ignore the alt attributes. All Flash or graphical sites: avoid them because SEs cannot read them. Also you should avoid any technical programming that can “trap” spiders. Make sure that the engines can grab the text from the page.

Jill’s nitty gritty writing tips: be descriptive, not using “our product” or “our service.” At the same time don’t stuff it in a zillion times. Edit the current text on your pages and replace it with keyword phrases where appropriate. Shows a couple examples of generic creative versus optimized creative which actually “says what the stuff is.” Don’t use just single words – expand them into phrases. “Furniture” can become lots of different phrases. “Rustic wood furniture,” “solid wood furniture,” etc.

Ultimately you do not want to fake real content, fix your site! No need to create a bunch of useless articles about the history of doorstops or something…most likely your current pages can be “fixed.” Do not use “doorway pages” that are not an actual part of the site. She usually doesn’t; have this in her deck but someone just came through her class that had been taught an old SEO tactic from pre-1998 of using doorway pages.

Remember that content is indeed key. Hire real copywriters to do this…sure everyone can write, but that doesn’t mean they are legitimately able to be effective copywriters. Good content brings highly targeted visitors that want exactly what you have to offer and then converts them.

Note this is live coverage of SMX West 2008, and there may exist grammatical or typographical errors in this post. Please share your thoughts in the comments!


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