Why Direct-Response Writing Skills Are So Darn Important

I had an interesting moment yesterday …

I was chatting with a prospect and discussing how SuccessWorks (my firm) employs experienced writers with highly honed skills in SEO copywriting and direct-response writing.

His reply? “What’s direct-response writing?”

Ouch. Good reality check. I’ve drunk my own Kool-Aid long enough that I assume everyone else understands the benefits really tight writing brings to the table.

And now I understand what I didn’t understand before. This is why good websites pay top dollar for keyphrase-stuffed copy that fails to persuade, educate or even interest the reader. Companies simply don’t know any better.

Obviously, I have some issues concerning this.

Long before there were search engines, there was direct-response copywriting. Its purpose: to persuade readers to do something – call an 800 number, buy a Franklin Mint collectible or purchase a time share. You’d see it in your Publisher’s Clearing House letters. (You may laugh, but I bet you bought at least one magazine subscription.) You’d see it as a special insert stuffed inside your credit card statement.

You’d see direct-response writing everywhere – and in fact, you still do …

Persuasive-writing techniques worked back then, and they work now, too. Like it or not, the more the writing hits the hidden-need “hot buttons” – the more it grabs your prospects, gives them what they want and boosts your benefits – the better the page converts. As in: makes money.

So when did the definition of SEO copywriting get so bastardized that direct-response copywriting principals were gleefully ignored? Where companies who don’t even employ experienced copywriters can charge good money for bad copy?

In short, where did SEO copywriting go wrong?

The copy on your website is your only salesperson during an online sale or lead generation campaign. If you want web leads to contact you, the copy on your site has to persuade them that your firm has what they need. In order to score a sale, your site has to prove why someone should buy from you – and not your competitor, who offers the same product for $5 less.

Including strategically placed keywords in the copy (the unique “twist” of SEO copywriting) is 20 percent of the SEO copywriting battle. A good content strategy, paired with ongoing content is 10 percent. In my opinion, the rest of the equation – 70 percent – is writing copy that makes a prospect’s heart go pitter patter.

It’s giving him the facts he needs to make an informed decision, still feel good about his decision in the morning and recommend your site to his friends later that day. It’s penning such persuasive prose that it’s like gently grabbing the reader by the hand, whispering in his ear, and leading him to your next action step.

It’s powerful, seductive stuff!

SEO copywriting is not about simply writing to make the search engines happy. Yes, you should do the keyphrase research, and yes, you should put your keyphrases in the search engine power positions. I’ve been talking about SEO copywriting best practices for 10 years now – and those guidelines are still valid.

But remember – the search engines aren’t going to buy anything from you, nor will they contract with you for services. Your prospects just might – so write for them instead. Learn to embrace direct-response copywriting and know that SEO copywriting is more about persuasion than algorithmic relevancy.

When you demand better copy, you’ll realize mind-blowing results. Really.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »

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Published: December 3, 2008

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