Skilledup: Lets talk a little about the art of copywriting. What do you think makes for great copy?
Heather: Good writing resonates with a very targeted reader. I separate good content from bad content [by checking] if it’s clear who it’s written for. Is it addressing their pain points and explaining with a language the [intended] reader will understand and respond to? Inexperienced copywriters might not focus so much on that. I have seen very general home pages, where I need to ask, “Who is their target audience? There is a disconnect for some writers. They may be able to mechanically write well, but its more than just putting words on the page. It’s about crawling inside the head of the person who is going to be reading that content and giving them good information.
Skilledup: “Good copy” and “good content.” Are they one and the same?
Heather: I consider them very similar, if not the same. Where it breaks down for me, is “sales copy vs. blog copy.” Not every blogger can write to sell. Flipping that over, there are many sales writers who can’t blog. Their blog copy sounds like sales copy, even if they tone it down. Novice writers should get a feel for both, do what they like and write according to their own skill set.
SkilledUp: On the subject of sales copy, what do you think of the traditional long-form sales letter in an age when people are becoming accustomed to bite-sized information such as tweets that are limited to 140 characters? Do lengthy sales pitches still hold the same value?
Heather: It depends on how it reads. There are people out there who write traditional long-form copy incorrectly. As a result, readers find an overwhelmingly long scrolling page that means nothing to them…and quickly leave. You need to check the analytics and see if it is working. It can work. Even though people prefer to read shorter content, people will read long copy. It just needs to be relevant and written well. If it is written to sell, you need to make sure it is easy to read, uses lots of paragraphs and bullets, ample white space, and multiple calls to action.
Long form copy is not as popular online anymore, but I still see it done and sometimes done really well. When evaluating long copy, I first check its effectiveness as long copy, and see what I can do to make it more effective. That may mean taking a long page and breaking it up into smaller pages. This generates more content for search engines to spider and provides information the [prospective audience] need to see but in way that’s easier to digest for them, and in a way that converts better.
SkilledUp: You mention some of the mistakes that are made in copywriting, what are the classic mistakes that newbie copywriters make?
Heather: A huge mistake new writers make is that they are not writing for customer personas. They just start writing without identifying their audience.
1. Writers need to get inside the reader’s head and understand how they tick before writing.
2. I still see a lot of keyword stuffing. New writers sometimes don’t have an idea of how the keywords should flow in the copy. They are so conscious of the keywords that they stuff them in, ruining the copy flow and conversion. Eventually, people find a balance where keywords are seamlessly integrated into copy and it reads so well you couldn’t even tell it was optimized.
3. Creating really good titles is important. I still see titles that are keywords separated by pipes. Although that’s technically not incorrect, the SERP page is the first opportunity for conversion. When you have a title that is a headline written for a specific reader, that’s going to be more persuasive than just “keyword, pipe, keyword, etc.” Online writers need to learn how to meld SEO with good copywriting to get prospects to click into that first landing page.
4. One of the biggest newbie mistakes is not writing to sell. They focus on the features rather than the benefits and do not use the tried-and-true copywriting techniques. Although you have an adequate page, it’s not a persuasive page, which is a big difference.
SkilledUp: On the SEO side, what tools are you using?
Heather: I use keyword research tools. I recommend going beyond the Google Keyword Tool, because [other tools] have valuable data not found in Google. There’s KeywordDiscovery, WordStream and WordTracker, which is really good from an educational standpoint because it has webinars, eBooks and articles, which are really helpful for beginners. Some use Scribe and InboundWriter, two software that help optimize and check content.
There are many other tools beyond keyword research. SEOmoz has a huge suite of tools that is fantastic. It depends on the scope of the service you are providing, but at the very minimum, an SEO writer will need a good SEO keyword tool.
SkilledUp: So you’ve labored over a page for hours if not days. Once the page is up and running, what key metrics for success do you monitor?
Heather: Look at the conversions and bounce rate. If people are coming to a page and then immediately leave or not spending money, that’s a good indicator that the page is not performing and should be rewritten.
There are also social metrics. If you have a blog post, you want to monitor re-tweets and comments. Both indicate that your writing is resonating with readers to the point that they feel compelled to share with friends. What can be better than that?
SkilledUp: What companies and websites are consistently making good copy?
Heather: 37Signals, the company behind Basecamp, really understands their audience and has turned the subject of project management–which traditionally is kind of boring–into something that is very sensible and approachable. They have defined their target audience and reference target verticals using their products on their home page, giving good social proof. If you are a small business owner and see that, it is reassuring.
Brookstone is another spectacular example. They are one of the companies that got SEO and the importance of good content early. Product descriptions have longer sales copy that focus on the benefits with good features listed. They also include video, especially for their higher priced items. People need to fully research a product before they pay $700-$1000+, so having all those aspects of content working together is really great for their prospects–and Brookstone’s bottom line as well.
Good writing resonates with a very targeted reader. It’s about crawling inside the head of the person who is going to be reading that content and giving them good information. Writers need to get inside the reader’s head and understand how they tick before writing. Even though people prefer to read shorter content, people will read long copy. It just needs to be relevant and written well. Find a balance where keywords are seamlessly integrated into copy and it reads so well you couldn’t even tell it was optimized. At the very minimum, an SEO writer will need a good SEO keyword tool.