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Search Engine Copywriting: The New Direct Response

If you're a copywriter or corporate communicator, you've been trained to not use the same words or phrases repeatedly in your copy. If you did, someone -- your boss or editor -- would strike the offending words as being repetitive, wordy, or even boring. As a writer, you're supposed to use your creativity, knowledge of the language, and intellect to craft beautifully written copy.

Imagine, then, when someone informs you that a new copywriting skill involves using the same words over and over again on a Web page. When you see the offending copy, you cringe. "Ack!" you think. "What hack writer got away with writing that... that... that stuff?" Welcome to the world of search engine optimization copywriting.

SEO explained - briefly - and why it's important

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the art and science of designing and writing a Website so that it ranks well in the major search engines for specific keywords.

Competition for the top listings in any search engine, but especially Google, is fierce. And, most every company covets top placement: indeed, SEO professionals often hear from prospective clients, "We want to be number one in Google!" -- the same way PR pros hear, "We want our company on the front page of The Wall Street Journal!"

According to a comScore study, over 6.9 billion searches were conducted in February 2007 - with over 3 billion taking place on Google alone! Of the total U.S. Internet population, 84% use search: indeed, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, about 60 million U.S. adults a day are using search engines.

And what are people searching for? In a nutshell, everything. Thousands of people everyday search for information, products, and services that range from local businesses and real estate listings to medical information and B2B products and services.

Because of the Internet, the relationship with your potential customers begins before they set foot in your physical storefront or your salesperson visits their office - it begins when prospects visit your Website.

However, if prospects can't find your Website in the search engines, you're effectively sending them to your competitors.

Why copywriters make great SEO experts

Many copywriters and/or communicators mistakenly believe SEO is "too technical" and that you have to be a programmer or IT wiz to understand and implement it.

Nothing is further from the truth. In fact, copywriters - especially marketing communications and direct response writers -- can very easily pick up SEO copywriting strategies.

Why? Because the end result is the same -- to generate leads and sales. Effective SEO copywriting does three things:

  • Improves a site's rankings in the search engines
  • Encourages searchers (prospects) to click on the search engine listing
  • Compels people to take action once they get to the site

Yet, when copywriters see examples of optimized Web content, they cringe. "Ewwww!" I've heard copywriters exclaim. "I can't write like that."

Example: Before and After Copy

When Dr. Helaine Smith, a cosmetic dentist, first called me two years ago, her site wasn't appearing in Google at all. In addition, the site received little traffic, which meant prospective clients weren't calling her for appointments.

One problem was the site wasn't optimized. The other problem was the copy didn't do her fabulous practice justice. The former home page copy read:

Every client experiences state-of-the-art techniques in a beautiful spa-like environment where service and quality are the mission of the practice. Our goal is to enhance the health and beauty of each of exceptional clientele.

Please be our guest! I invite you to preview our services.

In rewriting the site, I had to address a number of issues:

  • Defining and communicating Dr. Smith's specialized services
  • Writing compelling copy that gets people to take action (in her case, call or email)
  • Optimizing the site and its content for the search engines

The resulting home page rewrite reads:

If you don't have a reason to smile, it's time to consider cosmetic dentistry. I'm Dr. Helaine Smith -- a cosmetic dentist who has built a thriving Boston cosmetic dentistry practice.

Every day I see patients who hide their stained or crooked teeth behind "closed mouth" smiles. When I tell them that with today's modern cosmetic dentistry technologies I can give them a beautiful new smile, they are excited but want to know:

  • Do cosmetic dentistry procedures really work?
  • Is cosmetic dentistry worth the cost and time?
  • Will a new smile really change one's life?

The answer to these questions is a resounding yes!

Choosing to have cosmetic dental work done is an important decision -- one that shouldn't be based on a Website alone.

To learn more about your cosmetic dentistry options, and to see our beautiful dental spa, call Barbara, our office concierge, to schedule your private consultation.

As you can see, I used the phrase, "cosmetic dentistry" six times throughout 184 words of copy. How did I do this without sounding "spammy" or clumsy?

Optimize each page for two or three keyword phrases only - When writing optimized Web content, focus on two to three keywords per page. It's easier to work fewer keyword sets into the copy than if you have a half dozen or so.

Be specific wherever possible -- When writing copy, ask the question, "What kind of... ?" Instead of "modern technologies," I used "modern cosmetic dentistry technologies." Instead of "your options," I used "your cosmetic dentistry options."

Write for your readers -- Writing optimized content doesn't mean throwing good writing rules out the window. The copy above addresses people's concerns and includes a call to action.

And the results? Dr. Smith's site now ranks well for close to a dozen keywords, including "Boston Cosmetic Dentistry" and "Cosmetic Dentistry Boston." In addition, traffic has increased by 500%. But more importantly, prospective clients now call and email her regarding her dental services.

As a professional copywriter, I, too, had a hard time transitioning from "real" copywriting to SEO copywriting. Yet, now that I know how to do it, I can't go back.

Because the Internet is changing how prospective clients find information and products, it behooves copywriters to keep abreast of these changes. Although technical in nature, search engine optimization should be a part of a copywriter's skill set.


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Dianna Huff is a B2B marketing communications consultant and copywriting expert. You can subscribe to her e-newsletter, The MarCom Writer, at the DH Communications website. To download her latest free e-book, "Five B2B MarCom Strategies to Increase Sales Now," visit MarCom Writer Blog. Click here to read more articles by Dianna Huff.

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Comments from our users:

Tuesday June 5th 2007, 1:16 PM
Comment by: Ronald M.
Insightful, insightful, insightful ... (Effective SEQ response?)
Tuesday June 5th 2007, 6:26 PM
Comment by: Dianna H.Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Ronald,

You made me laugh. Thank you!

Wednesday June 6th 2007, 10:23 AM
Comment by: Jean D.
This is helpful information...we're working on a new website now, and I would never havethought of using the same words repeatedly. But it makes sens. Thanks!
Thursday June 7th 2007, 12:04 PM
Comment by: Laurie M.
Pet Peeve: The misuse of "everyday" when what is actually meant is "every day." In this article:

"Thousands of people EVERYDAY SEARCH for information, products, and services that range from local businesses and real estate listings to medical information and B2B products and services."

Everyday is an adjective that means "daily" or "comonplace." Every day is a time expression meaning "each day" or "regularly."

Better: Thousands of people search every day for information....



Sunday June 10th 2007, 1:31 PM
Comment by: Lea L.
Thank you Dianna. Your example of the copy differences on the dentists site clarifies this concept better than anything else that I've seen. This will be a big help with some sites that I'm working on.
Monday June 11th 2007, 4:40 PM
Comment by: Sean S.
Great article! As a practicing SEO myself, I found the information to be accurate and effective. However, I advise you copywriters to use caution when keyword loading site copy. Just remember this phrase.

Don't force it.

You will know when you've loaded too much. If it sounds awkward or choppy, you've over-optimized.
Tuesday June 12th 2007, 6:09 PM
Comment by: Dianna H.Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Sean, Lea, and Jean, Thank you for the feedback. I appreciate it. I'm glad you found the article helpful.

Laurie -- I apologize for my misuse of "everyday." Mea culpa!
Tuesday July 3rd 2007, 10:59 AM
Comment by: Denise D.
Wonderful information, thank you Dianna.

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