Saturday, October 22, 2005

What can a good copywriter do for your online business?

Sometimes you see something on the web that infuriates you.

I did when I saw a blog post from Bob Bly, who has written a number of books about copywriting, titled Why I Don't Believe in SEO Copywriting. In that post, he recommends that if you are going to write copy for a web site page, that you write it first as if it were a stand-alone document, and then you stuff the keywords in the appropriate places, if it really must be ruined by a need to be found by search engines.

I wrote a response there, which I'm going to reproduce here:

I think that your definition of SEO copywriting shows that you don?t really understand SEO. The primary focus is the audience. Search engines are just the way that they arrive on a site, at least if you are good enough at SEO copywriting.

There are a lot of writers on the web who fail to see the framework within which they work. Good writing doesn?t exist in a vacuum. It anticipates not only who the audience is, but how they will get to your site, which path they will follow to the page, whether or not they have other browser windows open, and if they will arrive at a site through the home page, or be delivered, as most people are, to an interior page by a search engine.

When you fail to consider which words an anticipated audience expects to see upon a site, and when you ignore conducting research that can help you use search engines to pull people to a site?s pages, you're sabotaging your own efforts, and potentially harming your clients.

I understand that Bob Bly has a reputation as a fine copywriter, and has written a number of very well received books on the subject. So it surprised me a little to see his words. Then I recalled looking around the shelves of my local Borders at books on copywriting, and picking up his book on "Online Copywriting" and being very disappointed that he didn't seem to have any knowledge of things such as the way people look at web pages, scan text, juggle multiple windows, and often enter sites somewhere in the middle of the site rather than at the front page.

I believe that book has been out a couple of years now, and I suspect that more than a couple of people have read through it hoping to get an idea of how to write for web sites. So, it comes as no surprise to read about the experience the Jeremy Zawodny, from Yahoo! had recently when speaking about search engines to a group from the Direct Marketers Association, in his post, Future On-Line Advertising Growth, based on DMA Conference experience:

In talking to some of the Search Engine Marketing folks that were in sessions on Saturday, I discovered that the vast majority of DMA folks are very, very, very new to Search Marketing. I'd go so far as to say many of them are incredibly clueless about the process, benefits, costs, etc.

I suspect that Rand is spot on in his assessment of how folks outside of SEO might view how search engine marketing works in a post of his today on Mainstream Press and SEO.

Back to Bob Bly's view on the differences between writing copy, and writing SEO copy. He claims that you can only focus upon one audience, and it should be the people reading the pages. If you try to also write for search engines, then your copy loses focus. I can't even begin to agree.

Search engines do not read web pages, they index them. They are not an audience, but rather part of the framework in which you write.

Search engines can help deliver people to those pages that you want your audience to read, and if you can't consider them when you write, then you should stay away from writing for the web. There's a nice recent grokdotcom article that can help you find someone who can write that copy for you: A Persuasive Online Copywriter is Worth More

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