TopRank Marketing Editor

SEO Copywriting On The Road: Strange Scenes Inside The Wizard Academy

TopRank Marketing Editor     Online Marketing, SEO, SEO Tips


“Easy reading is damn hard writing,” opened chancellor Roy Williams at last week’s Wizard of Ads training seminar, ’12 Languages of The Mind.’

Never is this quote from Nigel Hawthorne (not Nathaniel Hawthorne, as it’s commonly credited to, per Williams) more apt than when you are a writer of any trade struggling to find that opening hook.

(To serve a personal example, the percentage of time I spent drafting this opening paragraph will exceed the percentage of time spent on any one remaining section of this entire post.)

SEO copywriting serves perhaps the greatest challenge when finding that hook, as we copywriters are encouraged to begin our posts with keywords as far up and to the left as possible in our titles.  (This post may be a bad example, as a blog that begins with ‘SEO Copywriting’ carries the promise of inherent fascination within.)

Williams’ seminar, as many who have attended Wizard Academy in the past can attest, proves extremely difficult to distill into a bite-sized blog post, making a starting point even more difficult to craft (…and so I chose a mildly profane quote, which seemed as a good a hat-rack as any.)

This was no simple ad or copywriting seminar.  We learned more than just how it is that we as writers write.  Rather, our discussions (sometimes linear, more frequently not) focused on how the entirety of the human race thinks, reasons, believes and dreams.  In almost no instance, will our thought process be as flat as the paper or monitor where are words are broadcast.

So how can we overcome the inherent flatness of our mediums to give our words deeper meaning?  One way is to understand how to effectively use ‘portals.’  For the philosophical thinker, dreamer or writer – think of a portal as a doorway to another world, where the deeper meaning and additional knowledge you are about to receive is only partially visible until you cross its threshold.  For the SEO copywriter, think hyperlinks.

(If you’ve just returned from the portal I’ve provided, you return with knowledge and insight you would have never otherwise had, including:

  • Walt Disney, like Roy Williams, truly understood the additional languages needed by man, as evidenced by his quote, “Of all our inventions for mass communication, pictures still speak the most universally understood language.”
  • Images can help you both better tell a story, and via hyperlinks, drive traffic back to your website.
  • TopRank Senior Account Manager Jolina Pettice dresses up her dog each Halloween. )

Ideas that circulated through the room during those two days touched on art, music, mathematics, physics, metaphysics, thought particles, mirror neurons, Elton John, the Wizard of Oz and The Matrix – in seemingly equal parts.

As a writer whose primary objective with this post is to provide actionable tips, distilled from two days of deeply profound thought, my dual fears are providing too much and too little.

As such, below find the top three tips that will stay with me as an SEO copywriter.  To further encourage you to attend a training at Wizard Academy, I must reiterate that the three actionable tips that will help me professionally pale in comparison to the new ways of thinking that will undoubtedly help me personally (after my travel grogginess wears off, that is.)

  • Know Where To Begin – Have the confidence to create a killer opening, whether it’s the headline of a website, title of a blog post or subject line to an email campaign.  An exercise conducted during the session focused on ‘chaotic ad writing’ where chancellor Williams took creative opening ad lines from 5 attendees (chosen at random) and matched them to the businesses of 5 other attendees (also chosen at random.)  My opening line, ‘You’ll Never Believe What The Tornado Blew Into My Bed’ (inspired no doubt by the raging tornado that was devastating my neighborhood as I sat one-thousand miles away) was synched with a business consulting firm.  Perfectly.Try this in your own writing.  Open yourself up to the promise of complete creativity and do not be afraid to insert details personal to you.  Do this right and you will open up your own doors of perception while simultaneously opening portals into the minds of your clients and prospects.  It is these same portals that have likely been closed for some time, lest they risk ingesting awful ads or web copy, that are just dying to be reopened for something compelling.(Specific rules for the SEO Copywriter: You will need a keyword for this exercise.  And if you are writing a website, your opening lines should not be so out there that you cannot sustain a theme.  And you should not – I repeat – should not – conclude this exercise with copy for your client that matches how you speak, versus how they speak.)
  • Know What To Leave Out – Humans are a great deal smarter than they are given credit for, unless they work at the airport.  Humans are also a great deal less patient than they are given credit for, like me at the airport.What this means to an SEO copywriter, or truly any writer, is that we can leave out details – provided we offer a reason for the reader to make their own connections.If you write compelling website copy for an ice cream manufacturer with a one of a kind turbo-powered churner, you don’t have to talk about how the churner works.  Your audience probably knows how a churner works, and if they don’t, they probably don’t care.  They want to know why it makes your client’s ice cream taste better than any other kind.  This is what will sell.The same rule applies to any type of creative writing.  It doesn’t matter who the lizard king is, what matters is that you are sucked into his story so you take the time to envision who he is.  ‘Ice cream’ and ‘lizard king’ are just flat words until you let the reader give them meaning by filling in the details.
  • Know When To End – Tie everything back together and close the loop you’ve created in your reader or customer’s mind.Clever nerds, or readers clever enough to follow my portal, will have picked up on the loop I began in the title of this post and connected to several times throughout.Esoteric?  Maybe.  But I’m targeting those who are interested in marketing and copywriting who were, like me, nerdy in high school.  If you can close the loops you create by connecting the last mental image you present to first mental image you create, you will break through and secure permanent mindshare in your reader or customer’s brain, and be a far better writer than nearly anyone who stands before you.

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  1. Your 3 main points are excellent reminders for any writer. If your intro doesn’t pull the reader in to read the remainder of your article, it really doesn’t matter how good it is, it will not get read. Knowing what to leave out is crucial. If you spell out everything for the reader he will lose interest and it makes them feel as though you don’t think they are intelligent because you spelt out everything for them. Finally, knowing when to end. My grandma, when talking about house guests, says they should leave while you still want them there–same with writing. You should end before they get tired of reading your piece. Leave them wanting more and they’ll have a new incentive to read your next piece.

  2. Avatar Robin Pernice says

    Killer post! This is a must for any writer. Appreciate the entirety, all encompassing view point..of writing. Thanks!
    Impressive to have articulated this.

  3. Mike, excellent information! Ok the airport bit was hilarious!!! I am definitely going to share these 3 main points with our blog team. In fact, I’m going to print it out and paste it in front of me as a reminder! What do you think of this idea about how to come up with keywords (by Ian Lurie)?

  4. Kimberly –
    Thank you for the feedback and for sharing Ian Lurie’s post.

    In regards to Ian’s advice detailing how best to avoid ego-driven keywords, these tips can truly never be repeated enough, especially #1 – ‘Go To The Numbers.’

    As Ian mentions, it’s one thing for your website to be optimized and found for ‘buggy safety devices.’ It’s quite another thing to be found for what your customers are actually looking for.

    Incidentally, I wrote a newsletter article on this very same subject substituting ‘yellow caterpillars’ for
    ‘buggy safety devices.’

    I am truly convinced that inspiration for any ‘keyword example’ in an SEO post comes from what can be found on the blogger’s desk or outside his window at the time of writing.

  5. OK. I loooove writing, and I love reading about writing, and I even love thinking about writing, but this post might be more than I can manage.

    I’m going back now and deconstructing my last writing projects … did I open my portal? did I explore it well enough? do I need to go back and re-do three months of writing to make sure our clients have gotten the very best out of my portal?

    The future is fraught with even more peril … will I be willing to open more than one portal? am I willing to throw safety (and time-efficient billings) to the wind and truly devise creative, compelling copy?

    The answers will come when they come. But I definitely feel more energized about writing b2b copy than I have all summer. Thanks, Mike!

    P.S. Re: yellow caterpillars … my desk is littered with the usual bland assortment of papers and half-empty coffee mugs … the view from my window is a lovely but decidedly common view of deciduous trees native to the Midwest … none of which explains where “purple monkey pants” came from during my most recent keyword selection conversation with a client who makes catalytic converters.

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