Heather Lloyd-Martin opened with a Seth Godin quote: “the best SEO is good content.”

Your content is not just for the search engines, this is how you're communicating with your customers. This may be the only way you can get your message across to some customers. They may not pick up the phone to talk to you.

Are we giving customers all the info they need to know? Are we persuading them they want to do business with us? Does our content encourage customers' trust?

It's likely (darn near) everything you know about SEO copywriting is wrong. What's been ignored over the years is that it's more than just looking at the engines. It's also about creating content that draws people in. It's direct response copy, always has been. You have to get into the customer's head.

Easy-Bake Oven approach to SEO copywriting: create 250 words, add a few key phrases, publish. As a result, we now have a lot of crap copy out there. Not that people are spammy or bad, they just don't know any better. The problem is people are in their own heads, trying to work in as many keywords as possible, rather than being in their customers' heads.

This may be okay from a “mechanical” aspect, but not from a conversion aspect.

Advantage small business owners have is that we have direct contact with our customers. In large companies, the people writing the content almost certainly never have direct contact with the customers. Small business owners do, which makes it easier for us to get in the customers' heads.

SEO copy is not simply a list of words to do better with the engines. Keep in mind at the end of the day, the search engines don't pay your bills. Your customers do.

Example of Amsterdam Escape. They specialize in vacation apartment rentals in Amsterdam. Heather noticed their site kept coming up no matter what kind of quirky search she was doing when she was searching for things to do in Amsterdam. This was great branding for them.

Their story: once upon a time they dominated the engines. Then they got involved with an SEO who duplicated their content. Their site was banned from Google for 18 months. They were spending $4,000 a month on Adwords just to keep in the game. Not a lot for a big business, but it was a huge amount of money for a small business such as Amsterdam Escape.

Heather talked to the webmaster and asked what they did. In a nutshell, their webmaster read Google's webmaster guidelines (despite the fact that English isn't his first language). He didn't know before then that duplicate content was a problem. He learned content was important. They polled everyone in the office about questions people asked when they called in to book, things they wanted to know about. Then they created good, high quality content pages to answer those questions in depth.

As a result, they give potential customers a lot of information that may not be available anywhere else — and they rank well for many different long tail search phrases. They are focusing on what customers want to know.

Even more, it saved them $48,000 in pay per click they no longer had to pay. They didn't have to change anything on their site — they just got rid of the duplicate content and added this valuable content that customers are interested in, and now they outrank major hotel chains.

One thing they do particularly well at Amsterdam Escapes is focus on benefit statements. This gets left out in many SEO copywriting seminars because of the focus on the mechanics of writing for the engines, but you need to focus on the benefit to the customer. Without a benefit statement, the customer has little motivation to do business with you.

People focus so much on where they're going to stick their key phrases, they forget about what they need to do to convince the customer to buy from them.

At the end of the day, people buy because of emotions and what they feel about it. We research and perform “due diligence” to make ourselves feel better, but ultimately it's the one that makes us feel better that we buy from. We buy because we want to make more money, be more attractive, look good to our bosses, save money, look younger, live an easier life, enjoy more free time, sell more, increase our productivity, feel better, etc.

If you get stuck, watch infomercials.

Everything you need to know about copywriting you can learn from late night infomercials. For instance, The Total Gym talks about people whose lives have been transformed, are suddenly now getting dates, fitting into their “skinny clothes”, etc. This is why people buy — it's the fantasy that just by purchasing this item, your life will be better.

You can sell the most boring thing in the world, but you can come up with emotional triggers for your customers. Peel back the layers and find out why people are really buying from you. It's hard: people don't necessarily know. They hide those emotional responses from themselves, because they don't like to think of themselves as people who make decisions based on emotion. Rather, they like to think of themselves as rational beings.

You can have different benefit statements for different target audiences. Talk to people in your organization. Talk to your customers. Talk to yourself. Gather all the information you can get about why your customers buy from you before you start writing.

It's hard to focus on benefits. We're trained to think about features. Spend time with this. There are no wrong answers, but be sure to ask yourself if what you're looking at is a feature instead of a benefit. A feature is “what something does.” A benefit is what that feature will do for your customers.

She recommends Bob Bly: one of the great copywriters out there. The Copywriters Handbook by him discusses how to pull benefits out of features. Well worth the cost and will teach you a lot about general copywriting that doesn't always get covered in SEO copywriting sessions.

Key phrase research offers you a chance to get inside your customer's head.

She hears from businesses all the time that they only have a handful of “key phrases” they want to focus on. Keyword research lets you identify additional phrases people are using to search for what you offer.

You can either optimize pages you already have, or use the keyword research to identify new pages you can write for your site.

Example of gift basket search. Includes many phrases such as holiday gift baskets, gourmet gift baskets, baby gift baskets, etc. One phrase on the list is how to make gift baskets. If you sell gift baskets, why would you want to tell people how to make them? Could be once they read the instructions, they figure out it's more trouble than what they want to go through — and so they buy from you. Worked for a dealer of concrete paving stones she worked with — including how to instructions increased their sales.

It's all a matter of catching people as much as possible at all stages of the buying process.

People at the initial awareness stage are using general, overarching keywords. (Example: cameras)

People at the research stage are using more detailed keywords. (example digital camera reviews) This is an area where small businesses rock! Small businesses are more nimble than big companies and can quickly build out a page to respond to customer interest in these phrases. Keep up with what your customers are looking for and respond.

How to put this into action

  1. Review your site: what keyphrases match the pages you already have?
  2. Review your keyphrase list: are there new pages you can build?
  3. Choose three keyphrases to focus on for each page (okay to use the same phrase on more than one page).
  4. General phrases are best for home and category-level pages. Highly specific phrases work best for inner pages.

Set goals for yourself. You can't just shut down and create all this content at once, but baby step your way there. Add a page a month, a page a week, whatever you can do. Keyword research allows you to see what your site will have someday, and gives you a path to get there.

Another advantge of more content: gives you more opportunity to come up for long tail key phrases.

True long tail keyphrases don't usually come up in keyword research, because it may be that only a handful of people are searching for them over the course of a year. Your own site analytics can help you reveal the long tail keyphrases people are using to find you. These “onesies-twosies” can potentially constitute up to 50%-60% of the traffic to your site.

Things to consider if you need ideas of what to write:

  1. FAQ pages
  2. Designer/manufacturer information pages
  3. General how-to information
  4. Articles
  5. Newsletters (where the “meat” of the article is on your site — and the articles are focused around keywords)
  6. Blogs

Writing for the web is a little different from writing for print.

When writing for the web, lead off with your “conclusion”: your benefit statement. Don't wait until the end — most people will not have the patience to scroll all the way down or click all the way through to read it. You need to put it up at the top. Put it in bold or headlines, so scanners can see it. Include your keyphrases, but be sure to focus on benefits.

Rules of thumb:

  1. 2-3 keyphrases per page.
  2. Around 250 words depending on the page and content. This is a loose guideline and can (and should) be adjusted as necessary. You don't need to stretch out short pages or cut long pages as long as the content is solid.
  3. Place keyphrases in headlines, subheadlines and hyperlinks.
  4. Sprinkle the keyphrases through the copy where they fit and make sense.

When you need more optimized content and you already have a site, save yourself some work with keyphrase editing. Rather than writing from scratch, go back and add keyphrases to existing content. Keyphrase editing is easier than you might think. For example, take an existing phrase “all products shipped within 24 hours” and change it to something like “your personalized gift basket will be shipped within 24 hours” when you're optimizing for the phrase gift basket.

The key is to not overdo it. It's not about using phrases in every place you possibly can. You need to find middle ground, which can take practice.

Other keyword editing techniques:

  1. Change headlines to reflect keyphrases (and add benefits).
  2. Change (or add) subheadlines.
  3. Add keyphrases to hyperlinks.

Don't let your IT department code your title tags and meta description. The title is important because it is the text that appears as the blue link on the search results page. They're like headlines — a good one can entice more people to click on your link. Well-written titles paired with strong content helps pages position well.

You don't want the same titles/descriptions on every page. Use a Google query site:www.yourdomain.com to check your titles quickly.

  1. Make your title read like a compelling headline.
  2. Include your main key phrases.
  3. Create unique titles for each page.
  4. Don't necessarily target the company name (test for click through — if you're a big brand, it could be good; might not be so useful for less well-known businesses)
  5. Each title should be 50-75 characters (with spaces)

Google snippet trick: place your benefit statements next to your main keyphrases in your meta description and on your page. When Google pulls the snippet for your page, your benefit statement will have a good chance of showing up.


Do spaces make a difference vs hyphens in the title tag: it's okay to have spaces, not a problem.

Research on dropoff rate of clicks as you move down search results page: people are going through to second and third page, depending on demographic and market. Especially when the big brands dominate the first page or two, but people are looking for someone local or more “personal.”

Is Google moving toward using content snippets versus meta description? It's just them doing what they do, no way to tell or control which they're going to use, so best practice is to optimize both.

April 21, 2008

Learn more about the ways Diane can help improve the performance and profitability of your business web site, or request a no-obligation personal consultation, by visiting www.NineYards.com.


In that case I think it would be interesting to answer the following questions:
1. Can search engines provide an equal representation of websites?
2.Would it be possible that the concept of “equality” be measured in relation to the websites.

It's a relief to hear that folks are realizing that there's truly a balance between SEO and writing content for prospective customers. Yep, it may mean more work for some but as Diane points out here, you'll reap the benefits with more traffic, conversions, income and happy customers.

Thanks, Diane! Keep those words of wisdom coming.

Oh my, SEO indeed need more work and patience, but thanks to the folks out there for making it less painful. Thanks for the pithy post Diane! This was a very informative and would normally give us a good head start.

That happens most of the time. In an attempt to create good copy, customer's point of view is left behind. And what is being raised to the top instead is that of copywriter's using fancy write-ups that tend to impress himself. The truth is, "Simple copy is what makes a good copy".
This "feature-to-benefit" approach in writing a copy is one of the things we need for our SEO campaign.

Oh my, SEO indeed need more work and patience, but thanks to the folks out there for making it less painful. Thanks for the pithy post Diane! This was a very informative and would normally give us a good head start.

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Search Engine Guide > Diane Aull > Unleashed: Keywords and Content