The Best Ways to Break in to the
SEO Copywriting Market

SEO copywriting (search engine optimization) is a web-writing skill that everyone needs to learn. It involves re-working the copy on a web page so that the link to that website appears near the top of the search results when a person uses a search engine (like Google or Yahoo) to find what they’re looking for. The ideal end result is to drive more visitors to your website (or your client’s website), without paying a dime in advertising campaigns to get them there.

I recently sat down with SEO copywriting pioneer, Heather Lloyd-Martin, to find out the top opportunities for SEO copywriters and the best ways to break in to the market. What follows is part two of that conversation:

RM: So Heather, it’s everyone’s top question. Where can I find a big pool of hot SEO copywriting clients?

HLM: Catalog companies are awesome, awesome for SEO copywriters. Often, catalogers will just take their printed brochure and simply upload it to their website, so it’s the same experience for somebody who’s reading the catalog in print as well as online. But catalog writing and SEO copywriting are two completely different mediums. And while catalogers may have created a wonderful print experience, when it’s uploaded on a website, a lot of times the writing isn’t specific enough to be able to be found in a web search.

Most catalog copy is very descriptive, and you get a really good sense of what they’re selling. You can almost feel it, or touch it, or smell it. But it’s not copy that positions really well on a search engine results page, because it doesn’t have keywords in it. So when re-writing it, you’ll still keep the same kind of tone and feel that the client originally intended, but you’ll write it in a way that will get higher search engine rankings for those keywords. No matter how great the catalog copy, without the search engine component, people aren’t going to be able to find it.

RM: Are there other opportunities besides writing product pages?

HLM: In addition to the product page, there are so many opportunities that catalog companies are looking at now. Blogging is huge for catalogers, because it allows them to talk about their products in a different way than they can do with traditional web pages. Articles are also big for some catalog companies. They may have an entire section of “how to” articles or an FAQ page on using a product or service.

RM: Like on home improvement sites – I love those articles. So, using that example, if my client is selling paving stones, I can write an article on how to use the paving stones to create a beautiful backyard patio. Someone searching the Internet for paving stones will then find my article in a search engine, and visit my client’s website to read the article. On that same page, I can tell them there is a company nearby that sells them, and they can install them, too. Fill out this form, and they’ll call you for a free consultation, etc.

HLM: Exactly. And those pages are just as important as the product page, because they help reach people at an earlier phase of the buying cycle, when the buyer is just researching his or her options.

RM: So, because of these types of scenarios, just how important is it for an SEO copywriter to really understand how to write copy?

HLM: It’s extremely important to understand how to write copy, and it’s the key thing that will differentiate you from SEO copywriters who don’t. Good copywriters – those who have a really good handle on direct response – are the folks who will do well with SEO clients. Because then you can go in there and say, “Not only am I going to help you get better positioning, but these pages are also going to help you convert your visitors as well.”

RM: So, would you recommend that that person take a step back and learn direct-response copywriting first, or should they go ahead and jump right into SEO?

HLM: It’s a really good idea to understand copywriting principles first. Understanding the foundation of direct-response copywriting allows you to look at a product and service from a customer’s standpoint. One thing you’ll find is that business owners get trapped with “knowing” how good their product or service is, and that they expect that everyone else will know that, too. So they use a lot of features in their copy. They don’t think in terms of benefits.

So, you can start in SEO and learn the basics to develop a page. But if you learn some very simple and fundamental copywriting techniques and combine them with the SEO techniques, you’ll be able to turn adequate copy into powerhouse copy that makes people want to buy even more.

RM: Let’s say I order your SEO program. At what point do I know that I’m ready to start working as an SEO copywriter? I re-watched the videos over the weekend, and it took me less than six hours! Can I start working as an SEO copywriter now?

HLM: I would recommend going through the entire program, and then trying it out on your own website, and maybe testing it on one other website. With every client you’re going to learn more and look at the copywriting a different way.

I still have clients who have unique situations where I have to sit back and think about it a little bit to develop my approach. But once you’ve worked on your own site and maybe one other where you’re able to test and play, then you start seeing what works with the search engines and what doesn’t. For example, you can start watching your conversions to see what works and what doesn’t. And the more you’re able to test and play that way, then when a client asks you to do work for their website, you have a foundation where you’re able to say, “Okay, I know how to do this, this has worked before, etc.”

RM: Sounds like it’s pretty important to have a website if I’m going to be an SEO copywriter.

HLM: It’s really important. If nothing else, you have the ease of being able to show samples of your work and a list of your clients. I can tell you that if you’re working online, and you don’t have your own website with your own domain that you’ve spent a significant amount of effort working on, the first thought a potential client will have is, “Okay, so you don’t have a website, but you want to help with mine?” So, let your own site be the testing and training ground.

RM: If you didn’t have a portfolio, and you were going after your first client, could you use your own website as a portfolio?

HLM: Definitely, that’s the first step for many people.

RM: Many people fear the “techie” side of SEO. Do you actually have to go in and edit the HTML page, or does the client do that?

HLM: Most of the time the client does that. I have not had any instances where the client wanted me to upload the copy. Now, having said that, if you know HTML and can do it, it’s a great skill set to have, because it makes you a “one-stop shop” for that client … but you definitely don’t need to. If all you want to do is the writing, and you don’t want to get involved in any of the technical stuff, you can do that. If you want to improve the types of gigs that you have and increase the amount of money you would make per gig, then yes, having some technical background and information is good to have.

RM: Are there any royalties ever factored into an SEO project?

HLM: I’ve never heard of it. It would be interesting to see or hear from any program members who have been able to work out that kind of deal, but I’ve never heard of it. It’s mainly because there are so many variables out there that the copywriter can’t control. For instance, you can’t control what the search engines are doing, and you can’t control the rest of the website. So it’s difficult to say, “I’ve done all the work here, so I deserve a certain cut of the pie.”

RM: What is the biggest mistake I could make as an SEO copywriter, and how do I avoid making it?

HLM: Probably the biggest mistake as an SEO copywriter is not going for it. To be so afraid of what you don’t know, that you don’t go out and get clients. Some people are afraid they won’t know how to talk about it with clients, and they don’t want to seem stupid. But the reality is that your skill set of knowing how to sell, how to write really strong copy, and how to choose keyphrases is incredibly important, and you don’t need to worry about the technical stuff. Most companies have somebody else doing it anyways! And if you hold back on being afraid to get gigs because you’re afraid they’re going to ask you a question that you don’t know, then you’re holding yourself back from income. And that’s a big mistake.

RM: Speaking of fears, what about the timing? Is the economy a factor at all?

HLM: The time is now! I was speaking at a major conference two months ago where you would figure most of the people in the audience would have had a really good handle on search engine optimization and writing the content for their site. So I asked the audience how many people had done keyphrase research. The majority of the audience had not done any keyphrase research, and these were big-brand companies! These companies can afford to pay a good amount of money to learn how to do this or to have somebody else do this.

So that shows that the opportunities are definitely out there. Especially in this economy, when clients are looking for anything they can possibly do in order to improve their existing website. You can go in and say, “I can do this, and it’s going to help not only your position, but also help make you money, because your pages are going to convert better.” That’s a huge benefit statement. It’s really, really huge.

The SEO copywriters that I know of in this economy right now, despite what’s swirling around us, have not taken a hit to their income at all. So SEO copywriting is doing just fine at this point of a very major recession, and that’s cool.

RM: Thank you, Heather – you have amazing energy, and I’m excited you’ll be joining us at the Web Copywriting Intensive in Austin. And, knowing your adoration of Starbucks, if anyone attending wanted to buy you a cup of coffee, what would be your beverage of choice?

HLM: Oh, the Starbucks beverage of choice is always my Grande Soy Latte … three shots!

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: January 14, 2009

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