Heather Lloyd-Martin is a 20-year marketing veteran, a recognized author and considered the pioneer of SEO copywriting. For over 12 years, Heather’s firm, SuccessWorks, has been training corporate in-house SEO copywriters and creating revenue-driving Web site content campaigns. Heather serves on the board of American Writers and Artists, Inc., is an advisory board member of SEMpdx and serves on the PubCon conference advisory board. In 2010, SuccessWorks launched the SEO Copywriting Certification training, the only certification program for in-house and freelance SEO copywriters.
Can you tell us a little bit about SuccessWorks and how you got into the SEO copywriting business?
Sure! I started my SEO copywriting career B.G. (before Google) around 1998. Prior to that, I had worked as a print copywriter and journalist – and I realized that writing for websites was the next big thing. Back then, it was all about shoving keywords into the content and stuffing the keywords tag ... and folks weren't really talking about content with a conversion flow. That attitude lasted until the dot-com crash, and then "conversion" became the hot word. :)
SuccessWorks was the first SEO copywriting agency way back in the day. I still write copy and help with content marketing campaigns – but, my main focus is on SEO copywriting training, such as customized seminars for marketing teams and my online SEO copywriting training. It's fun to see folks "get" SEO copywriting and see how powerfully it can impact their business. One of my recent training clients thought they'd never have good search rankings – they were competing with a big-brand competitor. The client emailed me a month after the customized training, thrilled that they scored a #1 Google ranking. They never thought it would happen. Hearing that is always incredibly gratifying.
I'm also thrilled when I hear about a freelance SEO copywriter land his first big client – or, after he's completed my online SEO copywriting training course, realize how he can help his clients (or company) make more money and see greater success. As I tell my Certificate students, those success stories are what keep me going – I LOVE hearing them!
Which do you recommend doing first—keyword research or topic selection?
In most cases, I would have already done some "general" keyphrase research before chose my topics. Many times, the keyphrases help spark some article ideas that I hadn't considered, so I make note of them for later. It's amazing how many keyphrases are associated with the "research" part of the buying cycle – and how easy it is to create good content that answers your customers' questions.
If I have a topic in mind, but I haven't narrowed down the keyphrases, I have another method. The big thing for me is figuring out the angle – so I'll browse other sites, check out the news, review competitors' sites, review SERP listings ... and then I'll start to gradually pinpoint my approach. Once I have a topic in mind, I check out the keyphrases and refine from there.
How important is the title, both for ranking and for click-through rate? What makes a good title? Are there any other ways to increase click-through rate from the SERP?
A lot of folks ignore the title, thinking that it's just a place to put the keywords and call it good. However, the title is incredibly important from a conversion perspective. Titles act as headlines on the search engine results page, encouraging people to click on your listing versus the nine others listed. And now, with Google Instant, having a well-written title is even more important. With results quickly flashing by, you want your listing to have immediate impact.
During SEO copywriting trainings, I compare the titles to the headline blurbs that scream at us on magazine covers. Every one of those blurbs (like "Visit these low-cost vacation destinations") are written with the sole purpose of getting you to pick up the magazine and learn more. If the magazine merely had something on the cover like, "Vacations: Cabo, DC, Amsterdam and more," it wouldn't grab people's attention quite as powerfully.
Whenever you can craft a title that's persuasive, has a benefit statement and is also keyphrase-rich, you've done your job.
If you could only place your keyword phrase in three spots on the page, where would you put it?
I'd place it in the title and in the headlines/subheadlines. I'd also hyperlink the phrase whenever possible. Fortunately, writers have much more room to move than that and you can place your keyphrases within the body copy wherever they flow and fit.
Is the reader always the priority? Do you ever write content strictly for SEO or ranking purposes?
Ugh, no ... never. Ever! I've had prospects call and say, "We need you to write a 1,000 word article. We don't care what it sounds like. Just shove the keyphrases in there so Google likes it." Assuming some quick education doesn't change their viewpoint, I don't work with those types of clients. I can't. I couldn't live with myself.
A huge misconception about SEO copywriting is that it's all about the engines – what Google supposedly "wants." But the real name of the game is actual page conversions – and that's where writing for the reader is so important. Yes, include keyphrases. Yes, know your SEO. But for goodness sake, remember that your target audience – the folks who will hopefully pay your company money – are people ... not bots. You wouldn't repeat the same phrase if you talked with someone on the phone. Why would you do it in your web copy?
I actually wrote a blog post about this. Writing for the engines without thinking of the human element is a huge pet peeve of mine.
Let's talk about blog posts. How does word count factor into SEO? What do you think of list posts—lazy writing or giving Web readers what they want?
As far as I know, Matt Cutts has never said, "Bloggers should write 1,000 word posts." Yes, granted, you have more positioning opportunities if you have 500 words on a page versus 50. At the same time, it all goes back to writing for your audience. So many folks are cranking out dreadfully long, fluffy articles thinking that's what "Google wants." But you know what? Maybe it's not what their readers want? In fact, their analytics will show that folks see a long, scrolling and poorly written page ... and they'll leave.
It's true that optimal page length depends on the reader. Some folks want quick, action copy, while other folks are willing to read and scroll. It's something to test and try with the target audience.
Oh, and about your "list posts" question. Here are my three comments:
1. They can represent "lazy writing," but lists can help people focus their writing, too.
2. People like reading lists. That's why you'll see magazines at the newspaper check-out line that have headlines screaming, "Lose weight these 10 easy ways." Lists make information seem more bite-sized and palatable.
3. Lists tend to get retweeted and linked to quite a bit.
Any strategies for creating linkbait?
Argh! I hate this term. Once upon a time, the term used to be "newsworthy" – is what you're writing interesting and worthwhile reading? Yes, you want folks to link to your content – but "linkbait" always sounds so spammy. You shouldn't have to "bait" folks to link to you. Rather than "linkbait," think about writing good articles that your users will enjoy. Yes, sometimes that means that you take a stand and write something controversial (such as saying, "I hate the term linkbait"). :) Or you create an easy-to-follow numbered list. Or you interview an influencer in your industry.
How can copywriters make their writing more goal-oriented? What techniques or trigger words increase conversion rates?
I could write an entire book about this (in fact, there ARE books about this!). The biggest tip is know that making a purchase is always based on emotion – even if we think we're making a "logical" decision. People visit sites with a virtual chip on their shoulders. They may not say, "Why should I buy from you," but that's exactly what they're thinking! The copywriter's job is to figure out what the underlying psychological process is and develop content that overcomes objections and illustrates the benefits.
So, for instance, your prospects could be thinking, "I need to look good to my boss. Will hiring you make that happen?"
Or they may be thinking, "I need a solution that saves me time. How much time will I save with your product/service so I finally have the time to do other things?"
Or they may be thinking, "I want to feel more attractive. Will this product really make me feel better about myself?"
Writing words without thinking about the psychological process behind the buy decision won't get the job done. If you want conversions, you have to understand the psychology behind the purchase.
What are the tools you can't live without?
Personally, I can't live without 4 shots of Starbucks espresso every morning. :) But if you're talking about SEO tools, I do dig WordStream – especially when I'm training a bunch of folks. Even the free tools can generate some pretty powerful results. [Editor's note: We didn't pay her to say that, I promise!]