Andrew Palmer on Satisfying Your SEO Clients

Andrew Palmer is a recognized SEO expert and renowned Internet marketer. He has worked with industry giants, including Agora Inc., and currently works with online businesses ready to reach new heights. Today, he shares the some of the techniques he uses to help businesses develop a successful online presence, and tells us what he expects from an online copywriter.

CI: Andrew, how did you came to be a search engine optimization consultant?

That’s a difficult question, and I’m afraid the answer is long and involved. First of all, let me say that I consider myself to be much more than that. I see myself in a business-building capacity, and search engine optimization is just one aspect of what I do.

To give you the short answer, I’m actually a licensed attorney. I was working in Washington D.C., and someone needed to build a website. I was assigned the task, and I found that the opportunity to create something from scratch on the Web was a lot more dynamic and fun than being an attorney. So I switched. I like to say that I left the dark side and entered the good light. I’ve had a wonderful time since then building businesses for people in everything from law to non-profit causes to information publishing.

CI: In this interview, we’re going to focus on search engine optimization and how it affects copywriters. So my next question is: How important do you think it is for a copywriter to understand SEO before writing online material?

I don’t want copywriters to think about search engine optimization while they are writing online copy. I just want them to write well. Nothing is going to do a better job for a website than good copy, and good copy can be written for the direct-mail industry and then posted on the Web and do very well. If copywriters to focus too much on keywords or on the optimization, I think it creates poor copy.

I want the copywriter to have the mindset of “What’s going to be the best copy for my client?” – whether it’s going to end up in the mail or online. Good copy works on the Web. Copy that is tailored to be optimized is never as good as what I call good copy.

I think the copywriter needs to have a big picture idea of search engine optimization. And if the promotion the copywriter is going to work on will be online, the copywriter needs to know that he or she is going to have to deliver a piece of copy that is keyword-rich … and that they need to think about what the keywords will be before they get started. But that’s probably as far as I would want them to go. I don’t want them to think that they have to repeat a keyword eight times in a particular piece, because that’s going to end up as really bad copy. I want it to happen organically, and have the copy flow naturally.

CI: What are some of the biggest mistakes copywriters make when writing for the Web?

That goes back to what I just said. The biggest mistake is trying to write copy that they think Google wants, that they think will be optimized high instead of just writing good copy … instead of getting the point across … instead of talking about benefits, using the 4 U’s, using all the copywriting skills they have. If they throw all of that education and all of that experience out the window and try to do something different because it’s for the Web, that’s the biggest mistake they can make.

They need to fall back on what they know, work as copywriters and not worry about the medium.

CI: SEO writing goes beyond sales copy. Can you comment on other types of writing that an SEO copywriter should be prepared to do?

The most important online copy I work with is not promotional copy per se, but it is marketing copy. I’m talking about landing page copy. If I am working with a client to bring in free email names to add to his list of e-letter subscribers, we need to have a page that convinces the random surfer who lands on that page to sign up. We often do that by offering them a special report as incentive. And I sometimes have a copywriter create the special report.

But I also need that landing page to be dynamic. I need that landing page to sell the benefits of the report, to sell the benefits of my client’s e-letter so we can get those free name into the marketing chain and upsell them. Once we have their names, it’s a matter of direct-mail marketing on the Web. We are able to monetize them via good editorial and good promotional copy.

A copywriter should be involved from the idea to the final execution. They should be involved every step of the way. That’s what I tell my clients … especially smaller businesses. One of the most important things they can do is find a professional copywriter who understands the process of how to convince a random surfer to sign up and give up an email address.

CI: Aside from being dynamic … what do you like to see in a landing page?

The elements are really, really basic. It’s just a benefit-oriented piece of copy. It has to be very concise, and it has to quickly convince the person who lands on that page to give over their email address in exchange for a report or a subscription to an e-letter. It has to present a compelling argument, because many people will not give you an email address because they’re afraid of being spammed.

It has to be a compelling argument that makes them think, “You know what? It’s worth it giving my email address to these people I don’t know so I can get that report.” Or “I really want to get what these people have to say every day, so I’m going to give up my email address.” That’s the kind of argument the copywriter has to put forward.

By focusing on benefits and credibility, they have to convey the message, in a very concise way: “You need this … you need this e-letter … you need this special report, and therefore you’re willing to give up your email address for it.”

CI: Early on, you talked a little bit about keywords … about how you don’t want copywriters to write to keywords, but you do want them to keep the keywords in mind as they write. Are there other SEO techniques that the copywriter should be aware of?

Again, I really like it when copywriters know the big picture, when they know what we’re trying to achieve with search engine marketing. They need to understand that a particular article or promotional piece needs to be focused on a singular keyword or phrase. Other than that, I don’t believe the copywriter needs to be involved in the really technical stuff (like the use of meta tags). But they should definitely understand title tags.

What I mean by that is that very online article should have a very good title tag that includes the keyword or keyword phrase. So the copywriter should provide us with a keyword-rich title that can be converted into a title tag.

Copywriters sometimes get too creative with their titles – and those titles have nothing to do with the marketing point of the article. So the SEO marketer has to edit them. It’s much better if the copywriter creates a title with the keywords inserted at the get-go, so it requires little or no editing from the SEO person.

I don’t want to get too technical here, but I think your readers should know that the title is the most important thing that Google looks at when assigning search engine rankings. So if they understand that the title should be not only creative, but also include the keyword … that would be of great benefit to them when writing online copy.

CI: Let me finish by asking you a wide-open question. If you were to sit down with a copywriter (kind of like what we’re doing right now), is there anything else that you would want to make sure they know?

I would want to make sure they understand that, as an industry, we’ve kind of come full circle. The online world started with a lot myths with respect to copy. But a lot of information publishing companies, specifically Agora, have proven that the same rules that apply in direct mail also apply online.

There seems to be this idea that short copy is what drives online marketing – yet Agora has been putting their long-copy direct-mail packages online and making millions of dollars. There are people who scan, and there are people who read, but the numbers are equal both on and off line. The point is, you want to use the best copy you can. As the saying goes, “Bad copy reads long, good copy reads short, regardless of length.”

So we don’t want to get caught up in the myths. And we don’t want to think that the most important thing now, today, with online marketing is the optimizing and the coding and the edits that an SEO consultant would make. That’s 100% wrong. The most important part of the marketing process is and always has been the copy.

I can take a piece of copy and make it number one on Google by using search engine optimization – and that’s a wonderful thing. But if I have to change the essence of that copy to do it, and if copy is then no longer as strong as it could be, I may be number one on Google … but I’ve got no sales. No conversions to paying customers. I don’t want to ruin the copy. So, aside from doing some minor optimization, I don’t touch it. Maybe that means I’m number 25 on Google instead of number one … yet, because that copy is so good and so dynamic, I’m converting at a five percent rate.

Well, that’s what I want, and that’s what most marketers want – a good piece of copy that converts … not a piece of copy that will always be number one on Google.

The most important thing is good quality copy that converts. So that’s what copywriters need to focus on. Don’t worry about SEO … just write good copy. If you’re working together with someone who has some optimization skills, you can be very successful online.

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Published: December 19, 2007

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