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Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) Copywriting vs. Conventional Copywriting?

Allan Bisset

I’ve come across some interesting client views on SEO copywriting recently where the desired emphasis was on the appropriate tone of voice and correct corporate terminology – in other words everything you’d expect from “proper copywriting” in an ad agency for example. These considerations are still important for SEO copywriting.  Just like good offline content, effective web copywriting is a creative process blending art and science.  Good, informative content written in the appropriate tone of voice for your intended audience (reflecting your brand values, proposition and with a strong call to action) remains vital to your site or your brochure’s success.    Just like any good copywriting exercise, Internet copy needs to be accessible, credible and effective.  More so, since copy is the only truly cross-platform, cross-browser media.  That applies to content and body copy as much as it does to title tags, keywords Meta tags, description Meta tags and ALT text for images.

I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.

Differences Between Ad Copy and Internet Copy - Length

But there are significant differences between writing for a print ad or brochure or any offline or broadcast medium and writing for the web.  Length of copy is probably the first and most obvious major difference in approach. Great offline ad copy involves producing a first draft, then subbing it down, and then subbing it down even more.  Honing and paring the thing until you’ve caught the essence in as few words as possible using words that conform to the style and vocabulary of the client.   Writing copy for a website, especially with SEO in mind, is almost entirely the opposite!  Google thinks content is king and your customers surf the web primarily for information.  If it’s information they want, then give it to them in as much depth as possible.  Never use ten words when 100 more informative ones would do better!

Mind Your Language

The second difference lies in the use of language and that’s where those coming from a pure marketing and brand management background often have problems with the concept of SEO copywriting.  Brand managers jealously guard brand identity, integrity and expression.  Above the line ads, literature, showrooms and brand environments all have to be “on message” and adhere to the brand’s personality and tone of voice.  So when an SEO agency tells a brand owner that they have no visibility for keywords that should be incorporated into the website content, often the reply will be: “We don’t want visibility for those keywords because they don’t reflect the brand’s  personality."

Who Owns the Search?

That may be absolutely true, but it doesn’t change the fact that people are searching using those keywords rather than your authorised or approved brand consistent statements or straplines. It’s the visitor who owns the initial Search and the SERP (Search Engine Results Page).  This concept is (and remains) tricky for brand managers to grasp, because it means that there is a space their brand occupies that is completely out of their control, and always will be.  By not using certain keyphrases the brand owner is simply excluding himself from that initial conversation.  He’ll never hear that customer’s need expressed, so will never even have an opportunity to fulfil that need.

The initial search is entirely defined by the searcher.    So if your corporate lexicon insists on synonyms like “inexpensive”, or the evergreen “cost-effective”, but  your potential customers are typing in “cheap” if you don’t use that word, you won’t even get on their radar.  With apologies to Voltaire - You may not agree with what they have to say, but you will die a corporate death if you ignore it!

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