Spotlight on Search Interview with Heather Lloyd-Martin of SuccessWorks
A lot of buzz in the SEO community lately has been focused on the value of creating compelling content as if it’s a new idea. Writing web site copy that satisfies both search engines and users is nothing new to Heather Lloyd-Martin. She’s been an active proponent since the late nineties.
I first came across Heather’s copywriting wisdom a long time ago when explaining the Internet to potential clients was still common and the idea of Internet marketing and optimizing web sites for better search engine rankings was gaining popularity. Since then, Heather has been a very influential force in educating search marketers on the value of copywriting for the web, for SEO and most importantly, for conversions.
If you’ve been to search conferences, Heather is easy to spot. She’s either speaking or you can just pick out the most friendly, positive person in the room. I volunteer with Heather on the Search Engine Marketing Council of the DMA where she is President have been impressed with her leadership and enthusiasm.
On to the interview!
I remember first hearing of you in 2000 when reading the Rank Write Roundtable newsletter that you moderated with Jill Whalen. That seems like such a long time ago. Tell us about your background – how did you get involved with SEO copywriting?
Hehe, it does seem like a long time ago! I have always been involved in marketing and copywriting on some level. Before I started writing for the Web, I had written copy for book jacket covers, created text for brochures, penned product specs…if it was writing, I did it! I quit my “real job” in 1995 to be a full-time online writer ‚Äì and never looked back!
When Jill and I “met” online, I was writing Web copy for some sites (some big-brand, some small business,) and freelancing for Entrepreneur Magazine. Jill wanted her client’s copy to sound good and read well ‚Äì and she knew that writing good content (not just stuffing it with keyphrases) was key. But really, nobody was discussing “SEO copywriting and conversion” back then. It was all getting hits to a site.
“SEO copywriting” wasn’t even a keyphrase in Wordtracker way back in the day….I first checked in 2000 or so, and the phrase didn’t receive any hits! We’ve come a long way!
What are the typical challenges you most often encounter on search engine optimization writing projects?
I see a lot of super-scary keyphrase-stuffed copy with no benefit statements ‚Äì and absolutely no conversion flow. Sometimes, the text doesn’t even have links to a purchase page. But it would have lots and lots of keyphrases.
There’s also the challenge of a client insisting that they have a main “money keyphrase,” and they want all their optimization around making that term #1. When that happens, I explain the “keyword long tail,” and help them set up tracking so they can get some real data. Jen Laycock wrote a great article about the “keyword long tail” and SEO expectations. And Matt Bailey’s article about the keyword long tail is also very good. I’ve sent both to clients as reference articles.
Really, the challenges are minor, tho.’ Once my clients understand why and how they need to fix their copy, they take care of it. We may have to have a few discussions with IT and legal to get everyone on the same page, but it all works out. It’s a very good thing.
What are some of the most common misconceptions you hear in regarding to writing search engine friendly copy?
That SEO-friendly copy is “too long,” is “keyword stuffed” and “won’t help conversions.” I used to hear these complaints much more often a few years back. Now, I think that folks have realized that their content really can help them gain search engine (and conversion) success ‚Äì and it’s a necessary component to the optimization process.
Unfortunately, what I notice now is what I call the “Easy Bake Oven” approach to SEO copywriting. Writing for conversion isn’t emphasized at all – instead, it’s all about writing exactly 250 words, throwing in a few keyphrases, and sticking it all in HTML. If it could only be that easy! It’s sad, really, to see SEO shops promise “original copywriting” when they don’t employ experienced copywriters on staff. The purpose of copywriting is to help people take action. It’s about getting inside your customer’s head and figuring out what their pain points are ‚Äì and then overcoming those objections with the copy. It’s writing in a tone and feel that resonates with your customer, helping them get to know and trust you. If your text is all about the keyphrases, and not about your customer. it’s not going to sell the way you want. It’s that simple.
What do you think about some SEOs that emphasize things like keyword density and latent semantic indexing, etc? Do those concepts really apply to good web copywriting?
I think that some understanding of LSI and keyword density is a smart thing to have ‚Äì there are some great research papers on LSI that provide fantastic information. Having said that, copywriting is a creative endeavor designed to make a company’s product or service compelling. Yes, it’s important to know how the search engines work ‚Äì crucial, in fact. But “writing to sell” is more than just understanding LSI and sticking words into the text. It’s using the right words that resonate with your target market. It’s getting inside your prospect’s head and creating text that converts ‚Äì while still keeping a keyphrase focus. It’s about getting people to take action ‚Äì now.
It’s a unique skill to be able to write copy that is compelling to readers and at the same time employs a keyword strategy. Bob Bly recently wrote an article in DM News, “Why I Don’t Believe in SEO Copywriting” that seems to subordinate the need to consider search engines when copywriting for the web. I’ve always thought it was a matter of skill to be able to write effectively for both readers and search engines. What do you think?
Ha! Bob penned that after I wrote an article for him about SEO copywriting. Yes, I understand Bob’s point, and he is right in a way. Writing copy solely for the purpose of search engine positioning is bad news. The text sounds stilted, it typically doesn’t convert well, and it doesn’t reflect well on a company’s brand.
At the same time, SEO copywriting *is* an important skill. After all, if you are an online copywriter and you don’t understand how to write for the engines, you are doing your clients a disservice. Why shouldn’t appropriate pages be written with SEO copywriting best practices in mind? Otherwise, you’re forcing your clients to edit the pages for keyphrases later – and that doesn’t always work.
If you do it right, you’re not putting your client’s conversion needs on hold in an attempt to gain better rankings. Far from it. Copy can still be seamless and brilliant with keyphrases. The key is – the writer needs to be talented to make it work. Otherwise, the text does sound like a bunch of disconnected words strung together. And that’s a problem.
You’ve written an e-book on SEO copywriting. What made you decide to write the book? Is it more for SEOs, for corporate marketers and copywriters or for all of the above? What’s the most important reason someone should buy the book?
I decided to write the book because there wasn’t anything about SEO copywriting on the market. Jill had written a short guide about keyphrase editing ‚Äì but there wasn’t anything that said, “Here’s how to write the content from scratch, pen a Title, and edit an XML document.”
That, and I knew that a lot of small businesses really wanted a “do it yourself” resource. I had people asking me if I had written a book they could purchase ‚Äì or if I planned to write a book. Finally, I thought ‚Äì “OK, OK, I can do this. I should write a book!”
It took me about 3 years to write 123 pages (and that was writing off and on.) Although I had a love/hate relationship with it at the time, I’m thinking of working with a publisher and releasing another version of the book. Stay tuned for that‚Ä¶
The book is geared towards someone with copywriting (especially Web writing) experience, who just wants to learn how to mix SEO copywriting into their skill set. I’ve had people from large corporations buy it, as well as lots of SEOs and small businesses. The book leads the reader through the entire SEO copywriting process ‚Äì from choosing keyphrases, to writing the text, penning a Title, and a chapter on “overcoming common SEO copywriting challenges.” So, it’s a complete “how-to” guide, and goes into depth on quite a few issues.
Plus, many of my fellow SEO experts were kind enough to provide interviews and case studies, like Danny Sullivan, Detlev Johnson (if you haven’t seen Detlev’s SearchReturn newsletter, check it out at www.searchreturn.com) Jim Banks, Greg Boser and Andy Mindel from Wordtracker. I am very grateful to those guys ‚Äì their help was invaluable!
You’re the President of the Search Marketing Council of the DMA, you speak often at industry conferences like Search Engine Strategies and you run a consulting business. When do you sleep? What motivates you to be so active in the industry?
Sleep, sleep…what’s that? Seriously, I love what I do, and I love having a variety of things *to* do. Speaking and travel are such treats for me. Yes, it can be a pain to be on the road a lot – especially during “back to back” conference time. But being on stage is almost like “play time” – even if it takes days of preparation and I stress out like crazy before stepping on stage. And conferences are always very fun.
My DMA work is part of “giving back” to the industry. I work with them because I feel that I have a responsibility to educate folks about best practices and help people understand how search fits into their marketing mix. Granted, working with the DMA and other folks on the SEMC is fun, and the DMA has provided me with some great opportunities and a chance to try out some new skills. But “fun” mixed with “giving back” is a very cool combination.
And my clients are wonderful folks. I’m truly blessed to be working with the people I work with.
The DMA Search Engine Marketing Council (SEMC) which was previously the Association of Interactive Marketing (AIM) has some ambitious objectives. What is the key mission of the SEMC?
Our key mission is to be the primary search marketing resource for the direct marketing community. It wasn’t that long ago when the Direct Marketing Association was only running one ‚Äì maybe two – search marketing panels during a three-day conference. Now, each conference has multiple search marketing panels, plus site labs. We’re educating the marketing community about search, as well as writing best practice guides and producing Webinars for the general community. Other things are in the works, too. It’s exciting to see.
Dina Freeman from Yahoo!, Amanda Watlington from SearchingforProfit.com, Kevin Lee from Did-it.com and Detlev Johnson from PositionTech have been loyal friends and colleagues since the AIM days ‚Äì and have spent their free time working on the Council. They have really helped the SEMC grow into what it is today ‚Äì and we’re still growing!
Every time I see you, you’re a very happy camper. Do you ever get grumpy?
Oh, yeah. You bet. I’m a writer, so by nature I can be incredibly mercurial. At the same time, my mood “set point” tends to be set fairly high. Fortunately, I can shake off grumpy moods fairly quickly and gain perspective. Life is too short to stay cranky for long periods of time. And drinking lots of chai tea lattes helps, too.