I feel a little let down today…
Someone who I admire in the copywriting space basically shat all over my profession in a (highly inaccurate and actually quite passive aggressive) Instagram post.
So, I’m here to channel my righteous anger into something productive.
Spoiler alert: it is.
First I’ll give you a quick intro into what is usually meant by SEO and conversion copywriting (the latter being a term that was only introduced to our little circle a few years ago by the way). After that I’ll be breaking down the inaccuracies of Alex’s post and why they show a lot of ignorance towards what SEO copywriting actually is.
And I just want to preface that by mentioning that I usually love Alex Cattoni and her stuff, but she herself has said she knows very little about SEO so I don’t really get why she would then create an educational post about SEO copywriting, especially one that perpetuates so many inaccuracies about what it actually involves.
For reference, here’s the post. And for added reference, go to the last page on the post cause that’s probably what annoyed me (and a lot of others) the most. It basically looks like her social media manager Googled a bunch of SEO terms and just threw a list together at random…
What is Conversion Copywriting?
Conversion copywriting is writing copy that helps persuade a reader to take action in some way. Usually this is by purchasing an item, but a conversion can also be to get someone to sign-up for a webinar or to join an email list. Essentially, conversion copy has one purpose: to create 1 specific type of conversion.
It’s also understood that conversion copywriters have a good understanding of the “back-end” of the sales process and can advise clients on how to optimize their funnels or ad campaigns.
Conversion copywriting is usually applied to the following types of copy:
- Sales Pages
- Landing Pages
- Email Sequences
- Website copy
- Ad copy
Now I’ll be honest: one of the things I have pending on my to-do list is to eliminate the words “conversion/convert” from my entire website.
Because the very purpose of copywriting is to create some type of conversion, so I feel that the term “conversion copywriter” is completely redundant. It’s a bit like saying you’re a “word writer”.
Now, I get that in the digital age the term conversion copywriter is used to specify that someone works in the digital realm and can track how well their copy converts. However, if this is being used as a way to EXCLUDE SEO copywriters it literally makes no sense.
If anyone is good at tracking data and metrics (especially conversions) it’s us y’all.
It’s the SEO nerds.
Anyways, back to why I will no longer be using the term conversion copy.
Finally, “conversion copywriter” or “copy that converts” has become so overused because every copywriter goes through the same Copyhackers training (great courses btw, not bashing them) so it’s starting to lose any type of edge or uniqueness.
what is SEO Copywriting?
SEO Copywriting is the skill of writing highly persuasive copy that also ranks well in search engines like Google and Bing. An SEO copywriter will carry out keyword research and make sure that their content best satisfies the search intent of the user and contributes to the overall content marketing goals of their clients. An SEO copywriter will also be familiar with concepts like how Google uses Natural Language Processing (NLP) to understand language.
For me, SEO copywriting is the perfect alignment of the creative “left” brain and the analytical “right” brain. To paraphrase David Oligvy, an SEO copywriter needs to be both a killer and a poet.
SEO Copywriting is usually only applied to writing the following types of copy/content:
- Website Copy
- Blog Content
- Product Descriptions
Now, the word around the metaphorical campfire is that SEO copywriting doesn’t qualify as conversion copywriting because it’s main purpose isn’t to generate a conversion, but to show up on Google.
This, my tender reader, is bullshit.
How does SEO Copywriting Generate conversions?
Before diving in I want to clear the air: there is no point in being found on Google if the visitor then bounces directly off your website.
This is why business owners invest in SEO copywriting.
Not because they want to be found on Google, but because they want to convert traffic from Google.
Our job doesn’t end at getting you to show up on organic search, that’s just getting people through the door. Our real job is then to write copy that inspires them to take action (aka buying something, booking a call with you, joining your email list or filling out a contact form).
Here are some ways that SEO copywriting generates conversions:
- We write pages that target high-purchase intent searches such as “web designer Chicago” or “Best leads for German Shepherd Dogs” (yeah ofc I had to throw in a dog example). These searchers are typically ready to make a purchase and need to be convinced that our clients have the best solution possible for them and with our copy we help them understand just that.
- We map out entire content marketing strategies for our client’s blog: these strategies usually map out a content funnel and help deliver the type of content that a prospect needs at various stages of consumer awareness. The conversion behind these blogs are usually persuading people to sign up to an email list, waitlist for a course or purchasing an item directly (eg for affiliate sites). So don’t hit me with your “SEO copywriting is only for ‘educating‘ visitors”. Content can also be strategically written for sales.
- Website Copy: if SEO copywriting has nothing to do with conversions then why are we optimizing things like your services page or product pages? Surely the primary function of your services page is to…sell your services? Again, there is NO POINT in showing up on Google for these pages if we aren’t writing strategically for conversions
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Alex’s Post: A breakdown
So, I’m going to be tackling the very inaccurate list of SEO copywriting vs Conversion Copywriting part of the post because that’s where I feel the most harm was done and the most ignorance displayed. Here’s a reminder:
For me the most infuriating thing is that almost NONE of these focus on the actual writing and the actual work SEO copywriters do. For instance search intent, market research, keyword research, creating SEO content briefs and creating a solid content marketing strategy are not mentioned here.
Keyword density can be something taken into consideration by SEO copywriters, but here’s the sitch. Keyword density is much less important nowadays than what it used to be, especially ever since Google’s BERT algorithm update.
Additionally, keyword density is usually an arbitrary metric spewed out by SEO plugins like Yoast that have very little impact on rankings. Most SEO copywriters won’t bat an eyelash at what SEO plugins tell them to do because SEO plugins do *NOT* do your SEO for you. SEO strategy can’t be reduced down to turning those bullets green in Yoast.
These days, SEO copywriters are much more focused on covering the right semantic entities in their copy and content to show Google that they are covering a topic in-depth. Apart from making their copy more relevant, it also helps demonstrate that they are an authority on a certain topic because articles that only cover a topic on a surface level won’t have as much industry-specific vocabulary and related terms.
Building backlinks isn’t the job of an SEO copywriter.
Building backlinks is incredibly important to SEO, but that falls under the work of a link builder, not an SEO copywriter.
An SEO copywriter can write strategic content that is more likely to generate backlinks (stats articles, history of X, future of Y), but they don’t take on the role of curating a link building strategy.
The only other role an SEO copywriter could do in terms of backlinks is just to monitor if their articles are generating backlinks for their clients using a tool like SEMrush. However, if the client doesn’t have a good strategy for content distribution and isn’t actively building backlinks, that’s on them.
Again, this isn’t of much interest to copywriters because it falls under the realm of link building. And even then I don’t really know what exactly Alex had in mind when mentioning referring domains?
Referring domains can give you an idea of how healthy your backlink profile is I guess, but it’s not my job to monitor that or disavow backlinks from dodgy domains.
Measuring the CTR (Click-through-rate) is a good indicator of how well your title description and meta-description is performing on the SERP, but what we’re really interested in is how many of those clicks are actually converting.
My guess is that Alex supposed that we only care about getting people through the door which isn’t true: we want CONVERSIONS from Google and only measuring clicks isn’t that useful. I want to see how many of those clicks convert.
And on a side note, John Mueller recently said that CTR is NOT a ranking factor because if it were the SERP would be full of click-bait articles.
Sure, SEO copywriters are interested in Google’s algorithm and we need to know enough about how Google interprets language and search intent to be able to write copy that stands a chance of showing up on the SERP.
We should also be aware of any particular SERP volatility when new updates are released. An example of this would be in April and July 2021 when a new update led to a major dip in rankings for review and affiliate articles.
Knowing that can help us advise clients, but dealing with any technical issues that might arise from an algorithm update isn’t really our jobs. Bring on the tech guys for that.
But what *really* pissed me off about this was that it perpetuates the idea that we write FOR the algorithm, which we do not. We write content and copy for the humans, but we structure it in such a way that helps it show up on search.
I can understand why Alex might say that this is more in the realm of sales copy because it’s usually much more focused on persuading a prospect that the product being sold is the right choice for them.
But persuasion is also infused inti SEO copywriting.
I hate to beat a dead horse, but website copy (especially pages that are actively selling services) uses the same principles of sales copy to boost conversions. Even SEO content persuades in its own way because there is literally no better way of persuading someone than by educating them, in fact a cornerstone of any great piece of so-called conversion copy is education.
You are educating your prospect about the product in many ways about why it’s the right choice for them and a lot of SEO content does the exact same thing.
I’ll hold my hand up and say that not all SEO content does this, but every piece of SEO content (in the form of blogs btw) is strategic and should be designed to educate the prospect and move them further along the stages of awareness.
Or you know, provide a space for the author to rant a little like in this post?
To say that storytelling is the sole domain of sales copy is absolutely not true.
One of the reasons I get to know my clients so well is so that I can infuse their STORY into their content and web copy to help them stand out among all the beige content out there (usually written by people who just regurgitate the same top 5 articles on the SERP…)
I’ve seen a lot of bad sales pages and email campaigns out there that use zero storytelling and actually, it’s in content where I see the most storytelling because usually people are writing content from a place of expderience.
Good copywriters understand buyer psychology. Period.
It doesn’t matter if you only write email campaigns or blog posts, understanding what persuades people to hit that “buy now” button is just as important for SEO copywriters as “conversion” copywriters. We use the same type of market research tactics as other copywriters to write copy and content that helps ideal customers self-identify as buyers.
Furthermore, creating an entire content marketing strategy and mapping out keywords to our content takes a LOT of research and understanding of buyer psychology, particularly in moving prospects along the stages of awareness and preparing them to make a purchase.
I think I’ve probably beaten this to death already in this article.
We only want to show up in Google because we want conversions from Google so this literally makes no sense.
A comment from Alex on this post might shine a light on why she thinks conversions aren’t a concern for SEO copywriters. She mentioned that she advises her clients to hire an SEO to “optimize her copy” once she’s written it which shows an enormous amount of ignorance about how SEO copywriting actually works.
A conversion copywriter doesn’t come in and write the copy and then we “optimize it”.
Sure, an SEO can do some other on-page optimization, but the actual optimization of the copy doesn’t work like that. SEO isn’t a button you hit once you have your copy.
The SEO strategy is literally baked into the copy we write, it isn’t added as an afterthought.
If someone is charging you to “optimize your copy” they are probably just throwing a keyword in your <title> tag, meta-description and turning those little bullets green on a plugin like Yoast.
This is NOT SEO copywriting.
You came recommended – basically that’s why I worked with you the first time BUT then we worked together and your work proved to be excellent. It was easy to work with you, you wrote great blog copy that didn’t sound like robotic and it worked – the results of the post were great. It is now high ranking, results in many comments and engagement and best of all – people asking about my program
SEO copywriters also use creative briefs and extensive research on our client’s brand, values and VOICE to make sure the web and blog copy we write actually sounds like them and not us. It is so unfair to assume that SEO copywriters don’t give a shit about brand voice, this is literally one of the things my clients compliment me on the most.
I knew I wanted to keep creating blog posts that help my audience, and attract new humans to my website, but I didn’t have the time to research and write them myself anymore.
Your intake process is the best I’ve seen. The fact that you do an analysis and spend a lot of time diving into who I am, why I do what I do, and HOW I communicate it to my people is invaluable. My biggest hesitation with hiring someone to write my posts is that they would sound cookie-cutter, and not like myself. And to have a copywriter that cares about that, is open to feedback, and typically writes how I write….you’re amazing.
Not only this, I don’t think Alex has any idea of how difficult it is to write CONTENT as someone else, on a topic you might not be an expert in yourself. This takes a huge amount of research on our part into how our clients speak about their niche and how they teach it.
So yeah, brand voice is incredibly important for us too.
Queue the rage…
SEO copywriting does not start with keyword research.
SEO copywriting starts with understanding who are writing for, in exactly the same way as “conversion” copywriting. That’s why I always say that one of the best skills of an SEO copywriter is market and topic research.
I go to great lengths to understand my client’s audience which usually looks like;
- Creating surveys and analysing the data
- Customer interviews
- A solid briefing process that helps my clients really get deep about their audience and the struggles they have
- Review mining
- YouTube comment mining
- Social media comment mining
- Combing through industry relevant Facebook groups and forums
All to get an idea of what problems our ideal customers are having, what aspirations they have and what language they are using to talk about it.
Once I fully understand who I am writing for, then I can start building out an SEO strategy because if I don’t know who I’m targeting, then I don’t know wtf they are searching for.
To conclude my Rant…
There is so much more I could say on this topic and maybe when I have more time I’ll revisit this post and update it, but this will have to do for now.
I really hope by now you can understand why saying things like “SEO copywriters aren’t conversion copywriters” or Alex Cattoni suggesting that we don’t incorporate things like brand voice and psychology into our work is really, really insulting.
I’ve spent thousands of dollars learning all aspects of copywriting and I blend them all to produce SEO copy that doesn’t just rank well but also adds to my client’s bottom line, boosts their authority in their niche and generates trust with their audience.
So, if anyone wants to suggest that we just write for stuff to show up on Google, you’re gonna have to fight me.
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Kerry Campion is a content marketer and SEO copywriter for ambitious SaaS companies. Her gig is creating customer-centric content marketing strategies and writing SEO copy that sounds nothing like SEO copy so her clients get the organic traffic they want, WITHOUT sacrificing their brand voice and badassery.