Last year, a bunch of copywriters who also blog — like yours truly — shot the breeze on the Nuts and Blogbolts talk radio show.
It was an interesting and at times spirited discussion.
After some talk about content and copy (or should I say, writing content versus writing copy), the show's host, Mike Sansone, asked each panelist if we would individually respond on our blogs to this question:
“Writing for the visitor is more important than writing for the search engines. Can both be met without sacrificing quality?”
Ryan Healy posted his answer on the subject. Good answer. I agree with him, because he makes some great points. But I also disagree as I think there are ways around it.
So I guess my answer is both “yes” and “no.” Here's why.
First off, I'm not a search engine optimization (SEO) expert by any stretch. However, I do know enough about SEO to know that it's primarily based on three major factors:
Code, links, and content.
Let's take a look at each one…
1. Code has to do with ensuring the content is presented in a way that makes it more appealing to the search engines. Said in a different way, the code is optimized so that the search engines can find your content and read it more easily.
Why is this important? Because, in reality, your code not only helps search engines to find, crawl, and properly index your content, but also helps them present that content, when searched for, in a way that appeals to their users. Human beings.
2. Links are links within your content, as well as links to your content — the latter being more important, of course. When people link to you, they are indirectly telling the search engines your content is of value, and therefore of interest to their users.
Undeniably, this requires some writing skills, such as knowing how to write content that creates interest (i.e., what you write), and write it in a way that makes it interesting, too (i.e., how you write it). Which, by the way, is still copywriting. Isn't it?
3. Content, which is third in this list but by no means the least, is the one on which the question behind this post really hinges. I think a better question to ask is, “Can you write content and copy at the same time?” Yes. But there are three ways of doing this.
Ways of doing it that doesn't force one to sacrifice the quality of the other.
First, understand the difference between content and copy. To me, content informs. Copy invites. Content educates readers. Copy elicits a response from them.
But can you be both informative and response-driven, too? Absolutely.
I do believe that you can write content that's appealing to both the search engines and its users. At the same time. (And really, it's all about the audience, isn't it?) To ensure it's capturing readers' attention and informing them, while also generating a response.
Personally, I don't spend time on keyword optimization, keyword density, or things of that nature. I simply try to create good content. I look at it this way: I try to give what my users want, and by the same token I will naturally give what the search engines want.
So the objective is to focus on your audience. Find out what they want and bring value to them. Because that is why your website exists in the first place, whether it's to educate or to sell. (It's also what makes copy truly compelling in the first place, too.)
In terms of what kind of content to write, you can post a lot of it so that you naturally multiply your keyword density. You can focus on a particular niche so that you can zoom in your target audience. And you can also write content that's buzzworthy, too.
Do either one of these, and you will naturally attract a lot of organic traffic as a natural byproduct, without much extra effort. That's been my sole, core strategy for as long time.
But what about blending copy? Well, if you want to maximize your content and make it response-driven at the same time, I believe there are three ways to accomplish this:
The content guides people into taking action, whether it's directly or indirectly.
You can certainly turn your content into copy to a degree. You use the content itself to elicit a certain response from your audience, or add copy to existing content to accomplish this. (The converse is what I call “newsifying,” and I will come back to it later on.)
Press releases, product reviews, and even articles can be both educational and promotional. But guiding can also be as simple as adding links or forms within the content, and even adding words or phrases that lead people to take a certain action.
Therefore, the copy may or may not be part of the content proper. If it is, you can massage your content so it leads the reader. Even if it's just a few key phrases or pieces of transition copy, like “keep reading for…” “later on I will…” “next you should…” and so on.
But it can be separate and distinct from the content, and can either blend within the content, or be placed in sidenotes, in pullquotes, in Johnson boxes, or in sidebars.
However, in the case of a strictly long-copy salesletter, I agree your aim is to elicit a response and not satiate the engines. If you were to optimize your copy for the search engines, its quality may suffer at some point. So the trick is to find the proper balance.
As the saying goes, you can't be all things to all people.
But this is where the next two options come into play.
This is the process of using content to generate organic traffic, such as on landing pages, and siphoning that traffic to a copy-focused, response-driven page, site, or salesletter. It can be part of the same website, or it can be on another site altogether.
These content-only pages are beacons or baits that attract people who are interested in the content first and foremost, and are then led to take action elsewhere. Unlike “guiding,” this step involves two separate processes that are distinct from one and other.
Now, these may be concurrent or not. For example, you can funnel traffic to another page, or through a multi-step process where one only occurs after the first has been completed. Such as with optin pages, or what is often referred to as “reversed optin.”
For example, we see this in part with product launches that deliver content beforehand to increase exposure, create interest, and build lists of eager subscribers who are later notified when the product is launched and the sales copy published.
But whether it's concurrent or consecutive, when you really think about it you are still directing your visitors, are you not? So the content acts like copy, to some degree. It's still calling for some kind of action, even if it's to get people to read more.
This third step is where the two blend.
The term “newsifying” means turning copy into some kind of newsworthy piece — such as copy that tells a good story, reads more like an article or editorial, or educates the reader whether they take action or not. It's a salesletter in disguise, in other words.
Rather than adding copy to your content (as in “guiding,” above), in here you are doing the opposite. That is, you are adding content to your copy, or converting your copy into an informative, valuable, newsworthy piece in and of itself.
Even though the purpose is to elicit a response (a sale, in most cases), by making your copy read like an educational piece you also make it more palatable to both users and search engines — and perhaps even more so, since you're not overtly promotional.
In other words, it appears as a softer sell, where the content doesn't appear as an outright promotional or sales piece. But it's not necessarily a “soft-sell” in all cases, too. You can newsify your copy and still be strong, hard-hitting, and benefit-rich.
For example, in my white paper, The Death of The Salesletter, I talk about the increasing popularity in copy that's newsworthy, intriguing, and informative, rather than copy that's overtly hypey, aggressive, and mimicking every other salesletter out there.
Tests show that salesletters providing valuable content in themselves are getting better results than salesletters that appear salesy, over the top, and patronizing. These look less like salesletters and more like articles or editorials (think “advertorials”).
Here's a forinstance: you sell an information product on how to reduce stress. Rather than a salespiece that extols the virtues of stress reduction and the benefits of owning your product, you can write a free report on 16 tips for relieving migraines without drugs.
While the report talks about how to relieve headaches naturally, it connects with the effects of stress and how reducing it can help. Later, you introduce your product.
People will not only understand the real problem behind most headaches and become better educated on all the other effects caused by stress, but also understand the benefits of reducing it, and therefore the benefits of owning your product and ultimately buy it.
(Of course, I've just pulled this example out of thin air for illustration purposes only. I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. But hopefully, you get the picture.)
Anyway, this is just one example. There are so many different ways of doing this. In the above scenario, you write content that logically fits with your product or market.
But you can also pull one topic from the many covered in your product, offer content that teases your audience to want to know more, or provide content that's separate from your product but proves it, supports it, or emphasizes any of its key benefits.
(These articles are mini-salesletters in disguise, in other words.)
Nevertheless, the answer to the initial question is to use one of the above three steps. But in the end, keep in mind that we don't — and shouldn't — write for the search engines. Not really. Even when we do or think we do, we are still writing for the visitor.
Search engines exist primarily to help people find information. So the sacrifice, in many cases, is caused not by writing more for one or the other, but when we stray from either one by failing to focus on our audience and instead focus too much on ourselves.
Because I believe the more you focus on what people want and give it to them, the easier it will be to get both the search engines and your visitors to do what you want.
After all, it's all copy.