Web and Ecommerce 7.7. Search Engine Optimization and Copywriting

Search Engine Optimization and Copywriting

Why do people come to your Web site? It’s not your cool domain name. It’s probably not your cutting-edge design or spiffy back-end database. People come to your site to see what you have to show and hear what you have to say. When it comes down to brass tacks, the important aspect of your site is content and copy. The copy can be written, spoken, or animated. But that’s why your visitors show up.

But copy is the one thing entrepreneurs frequently get wrong. They’ll pay some dude to do fancy Flash animations and really pull out the wallet for some neat ASP programming, but they’ll “do” the writing themselves or hand it to their brother.

If there’s one place in your Web site development where hiring a professional really pays off, it’s planning and executing the copy on the site.

Everyone and their dog think they can write copy. “Why pay someone to write my Web site when I can do it myself?” “I can pay someone $50 to write my copy.” Just because you or someone else can put together sentences more or less coherently does not mean you know how to use copy to maximize the effectiveness of your Web site. We can all write a letter home to our mums, but it takes experience, skill, and education to write Web copy that works.

So what, then, makes good Web copy? Here are some aspects that distinguish the best Web copy from the mundane:

  • Good copy starts with a position statement and messaging strategies

A good copywriter develops a message consisting of one, two, or three sentences that you want your customers and prospects to know more than anything else. That message is based on a formal position statement or strategy. Without a formal positioning and messaging strategy, most of your copy is going to be off-base. It’s like that old saying: “If you don’t know where you’re going, when you get there, you’ll be lost.” Positioning and messaging are the “there” where your copy is going.

  • Good Web copy is closely tied to a search engine optimization strategy.

One of the primary functions of Web copy is to make the site visible to search engines. Experienced Web copywriters begin with your search engine optimization strategy and craft the copy around that strategy.

  • Good copy is headline-based

The great advertising genius, David Ogilvie, had one overriding principle: It’s all in the headlines. Write a great headline and 99% of work is done. The same applies to Web sites. Most people read Web sites carelessly and badly (unless they print them out). They read quickly and skip over sentences, paragraphs, and entire sections. However, every visitor reads the headlines―they can’t help it. So a great copywriter knows how to produce meaningful, interesting, and motivating headlines. Headlines should communicate your messaging, be lively and interesting, and, above all, encourage visitors to read the rest of the copy.

  • Good copy starts strong

Good Web copywriters know how to start strong. The most important sentence (besides the headline) is the first sentence on the page. Why? That’s when people are at their most motivated and attentive. And that’s usually the only sentence a plurality of people will read―and a majority never get past the first paragraph So, good copy puts a lot of meat and seasoning in the first and second sentences to maximize impact.

  • Good copy is brief

Most people do not like to read. So good copy says what it has to say and gets out while the getting is good. I consider anything in a third or fourth paragraph to be design more than copy.

  • It’s okay to repeat yourself.

Oscar Wilde said that if it’s worth saying once, it’s worth saying a hundred times. That goes for your messaging and positioning, too. To get your message into your user’s heads, you have to bonk them with it several times.

  • People want to read about themselves, not you.

There’s a New Yorker cartoon where a man on a date is talking endlessly about himself while his hapless date sits in stone-cold silence. At the end of his monologue, he says, “You’re the most interesting person I’ve ever talked to.” It’s funny because it’s true. People want to know about themselves more than they want to know about you. Good copywriters take every opportunity they can to put the reader into the copy by using the second person (you). Bad copywriters go “me, me, me” and “we, we, we” all the way home.

  • Readers are interested in benefits, not features

It’s an old marketing rule: customers want to know about benefits, not features. They don’t want to know that a car has a GPS system; they want to know that they’ll never get lost or have to stop at a gas station to get directions. In marketing, they say that the only wavelength people listen to is the station WIFM, or “What’s In it For Me?”

  • Product descriptions are different from other Web copy

If your site includes a catalog of products and descriptions, you should hire someone experienced with writing product and catalog copy. Product descriptions are a very specialized form of copywriting; an enormous amount of research has been done into exactly what must be said in various product descriptions to maximize the number of purchases. If your site involves product descriptions, hire a person experienced at writing catalog or product descriptions. Experience translates into higher sales figures.

Where do you find experienced copywriters?

  • You can always turn to job boards or RFP marketplaces (see section 7.2 above) as long as you ask for portfolios, client lists, and references.
  • Many virtual assistants (section 4.3) also offer Web copywriting services. Beware, however: most are not experienced copywriters. Ask for a portfolio and references and use our pointers above to determine how talented they are.
  • You can turn to design, marketing communications (marcom), or advertising agencies for copywriting services, but these often come at a premium. But, chances are, they’re darn good writers.
  • Many Web design and Web development agencies (see section 7.3) offer copywriting services. Again, their strengths may lie elsewhere―in fact, the weak link in practically all Web development agencies is copywriting. They often provide copywriting as an afterthought hoping you won’t notice that it sucks. Review their portfolios carefully using our list of what makes good Web copywriting.
  • You can go directly to the source. In the next few subsections, we list Web copywriting resources that can help you in your search for the best, or most cost-effective, experienced copywriter.

7.7.1. Editorial Freelancers Association


Since 1970, the Editorial Freelancer’s Association has been the leading professional organization of freelance writers, editors, translators, researchers, and proofreaders. Members pay a fee to be part of the organization, but you can use the EFA Web site to post jobs or gigs for your Web content needs. Advertising a job is free, but your ad will only be made available to EFA members. You can also search the member directory for free and contact any writer or editor on the list.

EFA members are available for all kinds of content assignments including creative writing, press releases, articles, Web content, advertising, collateral, speeches and technical manuals.

7.7.2. The Write Content


Led by owner and head writer, Heather Reimer, The Write Content specializes in Website and search-optimized content. Fees are very affordable ($125-$150 per Web page), and the company offers a 100% guarantee on its copy. The Write Content will also perform a free content analysis of your current site, evaluating the effectiveness, selling ability, and search engine profile of your site’s copy.

Services include:

  • Web site copywriting
  • SEO (search engine optimization) copywriting
  • Press releases ($150)
  • Articles
  • Sales letters

7.7.3. Custom Copywriting


An award-winning Web and SEO copy service, Custom Copywriting is the fastest growing SEO copywriting company in America. They specialize in conversational copy that is rich in keywords to maximize your search engine profile. Fees are affordable at between $75 and $100 per page. They also provide Web site articles, white papers, sell sheets, brochures, sales letters, direct response mailers, newsletters, and corporate magazine copy at pre-established rates.

Custom Copywriting will provide a free evaluation of your current Web site copy for effectiveness along with a ten-point keyword analysis.

7.7.4. Web Copywriters


Web Copywriters is one of the top-ranked SEO copywriting firms available to you at a reasonable price. They provide Web copywriting and proofreading services for businesses, law firms, medical/dental firms, technical companies, creative companies, and accountants. Unlike The Write Content, Web Copywriters do not guarantee your full satisfaction, but the do guarantee the originality of the copy they provide.

Services include:

  • SEO Web copywriting
  • Keyword research
  • Image, layout, and design advice
  • Menu navigation
  • Help with domain names and hosting
  • Press releases
  • Proofreading
  • Maintenance
  • Translation

7.7.5. Dot Com Copy


Founded by Kellie Fowler and Christine Jones, Dot Com Copy is a low-priced Web copywriting service. Copy is primarily written by the two founders who have experience in marketing and public relations, but not search engine optimization. Dot Com Copy offers package copywriting services but can estimate custom jobs, as well.

Services include:

  • Web copy ($550)
  • Search engine optimization
  • Product descriptions
  • Sales letters
  • Auto responders
  • Press releases ($150 each)
  • Articles
  • Newsletters
  • PR packages
  • Blogs
  • Podcast copy

7.7.6. Ascent Copywriting


Ascent Copywriting provides SEO copywriting, business writing, editing, and proofreading services. Founded by Amy Edelstein, the company has done work for many of the leading search engine optimization firms. Prices are quoted per job.

Services include:

  • Web site copywriting
  • Online catalog copywriting/product descriptions
  • SEO copywriting
  • Ad copy
  • Case studies
  • Articles
  • Newsletters
  • Press releases
  • White papers
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