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Why I Don?t Believe in SEO Copywriting

September 29th, 2005 by Bob Bly

?SEO (Search Engine Optmization) copywriting? requires that the copywriter concern himself with strategic placement of key words within his Web copy to optimize search engine rankings of the pages he writes.

The problem is that to create really powerful copy, you have to have a single core audience in mind ? and concentrate all your effort on writing to that one audience.

When I write copy, that audience is the prospect ? the potential buyer of the product I am selling.

But with SEO copywriting, you are pandering to another ?audience? ? the search engines ? and not the reader.

And by creating copy that?s optimal for attracting search engines, you are, to some degree, weakening that copy?s power to sell ? diluting its strength ? because you are worrying about two audiences: the reader and the search engines ? instead of focusing every word on the customer.

And that?s not how to write copy that sells.

I think the best approach is:

1. Write the strongest selling copy you can aimed at the human reader ? and forget the search engines.

2. Once that copy is finished, go back and check to make sure key words are appropriately placed, but?.

3. Never change a word of strong selling copy if that change will make it even one iota weaker ? even if SEO best practices would endorse that change.

In other words, write for the customer ? and not SEO.

My small poll of top copywriters ? writers with a proven track record of writing winners ? agree.

?I?d rather invest my time and energy in [writing] interesting, informative, and fact-filled copy,? says Gary Bencivenga.

Parris Lampropoulos doesn?t even think about search engines when writing copy:

?When I?m writing the copy, I?m working at one task and one task only: to get whoever is reading it to place the order.?

To which I add: Right on!

Of course, I?m sure you have your own opinion on SEO and copywriting. So: what say you?


This entry was posted on Thursday, September 29th, 2005 at 7:00 am and is filed under Online Marketing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

577 responses about “Why I Don?t Believe in SEO Copywriting”

  1. Bob McCarthy said:

    I agree in principle. You should always write for your audience – in this case, the people who visit your web page via search engines.

    But let’s be practical. If you don’t appease the search engines, you don’t have an audience.

    If optimizing your web pages for search engine marketing is going to multiply your visits by let’s say 10 times, wouldn’t some copy trade-off be worth it?

    Bob McCarthy
    The Direct Response Coach
    McCarthy & King Marketing, Inc.

  2. Don Marti said:

    Most of the good SEO things you can do have to do with page structure and linking relationships among pages, not the copy. Getting incoming links from reputable pages is much more important than having copy that is somehow “search engine friendly” on its own. So interesting to humans means incoming links means search engine “juice”.

    Article: White Hat SEO

    Interesting tip from that page: “If you’re not able to compose appealing page intros, consider hiring a professional ad copywriter.”

  3. Joel heffner said:

    Isn’t the “answer” simple? 🙂 Test to see which pages/sites get the most visitors who buy or do whatever you want them to do. See which pages/sites have been written with SEO in mind and which ones are written the way Bob suggests. Shouldn’t it be like direct mail campaigns? Test and yee shall learn. 🙂


  4. Konstantin said:

    When Search Engine will range many pages in it’s SERPs a product from SEO-copywriter will be in the highest positions rather than just an ad copy. And in this case a reader will be your customer, but he will not find your great-really-powerful-copy 🙂

  5. Don Marti said:

    Some PageRank numbers… 5 3 4 2

    Looks like good copy and testing beats SEO copywriting so far.

  6. Konstantin said:

    Whois info: – Creation Date: 05-jun-1996 – Creation Date: 10-mar-2000 – Creation Date: 11-aug-1998 – Creation Date: 20-may-2005

    I don’t want to argufy. I just want to say that marketing has many ways of advertising: TV, Internet, news papers and magazines, radio, outdoor etc. And copywriting has its own types: copy for press, branding, text for TV or text for radio, copywriting for web and SE and so on.

  7. Bruce DeBoer said:

    Bob, I agree with you and Don Marti. If you structure your site to be search engine friendly that will go a long way to be seen. It’s important to have the keywords SOMEWHERE in the copy however. This is sometimes easier said than done when writing compelling copy.

    I tend to take a journalistic approach: strong messaging front and center, with more detailed keyword laden copy deeper in the prose. Frankly, if you don’t grab the attention of web visitors in the first paragraph or two, you’ve lost them anyway. Keywords deeper into the copy will ensure that you have visitors to sell to.

    Keep track of conversion rates. If you’re getting massive visitors because your keywords are dense and don’t convert, change your strategy. I’d rather have a high conversion rate (obviously).

  8. Richard Leader said:

    It’s one heck of an assumption to make that you are writing for one audience and one audience alone when you’re dealing with a website.
    One of the great things about a pull media is that you can pull new markets and new audiences (or you could if you were listed on search engines).

    On the whole, I agree with Bob on this, but I do think you have to have the search engine at the back of your mind somewhere.

  9. Bob Bly said:

    Richard: The rule of thumb I found that works is this: even if there are secondary audiences, write your copy 100% for your primary audience. It will pull better among ALL audiences this way, including the secondary vs. if you tried to cater to multiple interests in the copy. Reason: focus sells.

  10. Phil Dunn said:

    Here’s a new twist on this question: How do you hide from search engines?

    I’m a solo marketing writer, and I find that my sites deliver strange time suckers to my email inbox and phone. I use direct mail and targeted email campaigns to generate business within a tight niche. The more exposure I generate on the Web, however, the more time I spend with crackpots and lookie-loos.

    A much different predicament than one where you’re selling a finite consumer product, I admit. But an interesting angle nonetheless.

  11. Don Marti said:

    Phil, have you tried creating a robots.txt file? You could set it up to keep your contact info available for people searching for you, but block pages that are getting unwanted attention.

  12. Andrea said:

    Kristian notes a good way to get banned by the search engines. Like other “black hat” techniques, invisible text goes against their terms of service. Not a good idea!

  13. Lisa Banks said:

    Copywriters can easily write copy that appeals to search engines without sacrificing one word of the sales message. In fact, this is one area that traditional offline writers seem to be lagging in knowledge. The more knowledge you gain of search engines and online user behavior, the more it’s going to help your response rates. Studies show that when the keywords used in a search by a customer appear on the page they click through to (especially in the headline) they are more likely to convert. A thorough keyword study can give you incredible insight into the words that your target audience is using, i.e., their motivations, fears, hopes, etc. It’s a sadly underused part of research that can help any copywriter create more compelling online campaigns. There is certainly much more that a copywriter needs to be aware of regarding search engines, but keep in mind that their goal is to show results that match what the customer is looking for. The closer that is, the more likely your site is to convert. So copy that supports a search engine strategy should be focused 100% on the customer – but if you’re not considering the search engines, then you’re not focusing on the end customer as much as you can.

  14. Lisa Banks said:

    I just wanted to clarify that my comments certainly weren’t meant to criticize Bob. I’m most likely one of his biggest fans! But I do think that when copywriters hear the phrase “Writing for the Search Engines” they too often hold narrow a view of what that entails…

  15. Ayana Glaze said:

    I like to think of myself capable of writing good SEO copy that is also compelling and get results. As a matter of fact, I know I can. I’ve done it for myself and tested my site with SEO and without SEO. When my site was optimized, I got more hits and my site ranked higher. This was without having to pay for Google ads. Now it isn’t optimized, and I don’t get as many hits or inquiries. The few I have gotten have all said the same thing. “It was hard finding you!” Just think about the many other people searching the web for professionals just like us, but can’t find us because our sites are not optimized. Think of the additional income we could make if we just learned to incorporate a few SEO basics into our own web copy that prospects could see as an example of our talents. I say SEO “basics” because to be truly successful SEO involves much more than the writing. It also involves how you tag the copy. Are keywords and headlines and sub headlines included in header tags

    ? So the keywords and keyword phrases link to other site pages? Are the pages appropriately named to include keywords? There is so much more to consider.

  16. Lyn said:

    I think approach Bob outlined says it all! Write compelling sales copy, then review it with your key phrases in mind. There’s no “perfect” sales copy any more than there’s “perfect” SEO copy – so making changes for highlight a couple key phrases imposes no real need to “compromise”. The best SEO writers work their key phrases in pretty seamlessly. Nobody said it would be easy, but effective sales copy isn’t easy either.

  17. Bill said:

    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.

  18. Mike said:

    1. Write the strongest selling copy you can aimed at the human reader … and forget the search engines
    I couldn’t disagree more. The best approach is to start with some very basic keyword research. You are writing a webpage, the web has tools like that allow you to know what the very people you are attempting to talk to want to know. Why guess, when you can craft copy to suit the needs of your users, and use terminology that you know they use and look for?

    These tools also help solve the “mental block” issue, as you have a ready made source of potential new topics just by doing indepth keyword research. “Seems artifical dog testicle implants are big this year, might write about them” (BTW: Neuticles, as they are called, are actually quite popular!!!)

    3. Never change a word of strong selling copy if that change will make it even one iota weaker … even if SEO best practices would endorse that change.
    Absolutely agree. If the copy specuific to ampage sells, leve it.

    But what defines “copy”? Is it just, in the case of this blog, the words you wrote in the post above? Is it my comment as well as those above? What about the “other” content on your page, the navigation etc?

    That is all content that can be changed, and good SEO, even good SEO copywriting, has a lot more scope for using words than does any other medium.

    My $0.02, but I say that SEo and copywriting converge, when done correctly, more than perhaps many people realise.

  19. Pete said:

    I agree with Lisa and Bill.

    Effective, sound (and ethical) SEO depends on having great content, anyone will tell you that. You can have the most spider-friendly wording but if no humans are visiting and linking to your site, its of limited value.

    SEO-optimised copy and sales copy are one and the same.

  20. Priya Shah said:

    I agree to some extent. I don’t believe you need to compromise good copy for good rankings. Besides keywords in your page are only ONE aspect of copy. There are many top ranking pages that have very few keywords they are targeting in the copy. Inbound links are often a more important ranking factor than copy. You have to optimize both to get the best results. And there are many ways (usually involving the use of appropriate HTML elements) of making search engines give your primary keywords more weight when they occur in your page copy. Karon Thakston’s book on SEO Copywriting is an excellent primer.

  21. Jason said:

    I typically write all my copy and then go through and beef it up with my keyowrds where they are appropriate this seems to work pretty well. Good luck and great blog, I just found it today!


  22. Nuno Andrade said:

    I respectfully disagree Mr. Bly. Not “believing” in SEO copywriting is like not believing in different techniques for different mediums. A copywriter would not write for a radio commercial the same way he or she would for a print ad. Likewise, the Internet is a different medium, and should be treated as such.

    Your essay inspired a rather long entry on my blog. Read SEO Copywriting vs. Print Copywriting.

    I do have to admit however, that all of the spam above this comment (comments 24 through 36 as of this writing) does give SEOs a rather bad name. Although I disagree with the distinction between “ethical SEOs” and “black-hat SEOs” (which cannot truly be considered SEOs since they do not optimize anything but their greedy wallets), I think it’s a shame that so many see SEOs as outcasts.

    I believe that SEOs definitely play an important role. Our job is to categorize the content. If everyone optimized their site for the search engines as well as the reader, then content would be much easier to find.

    Consider us the librarians of the internet. Although every once in a while an author may come in and move his book into the best-seller rack, it would be irrational to condemn the entire library system as faulty.


  23. Eling M Orton said:

    Writing a page to target a specific term should be only a formality, writing for the many different indivudal character types a company is likely to deal with on the web and writing that copy to convert traffic from each group is the key to good copy period and should be the only challenge to consider when writing copy for SEO.

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