You’re not alone. I know exactly how tricky it is to find a great copywriter. Like you, I too am perpetually digging my way through
heaps and heaps of charcoal to get to a copywriting gem; those rarities unmarred by irreparable glitches such as prohibitive costs, arrogant demeanours and semi-interested attitudes.
In my previous post I promised to enlighten you on how to find a great copywriter. But before I do that, I figured it would be a good idea to cover exactly what you should be looking for in a copywriter.
With The WordWright being a copywriting agency, chances are fairly good that I spend more time than you mining for talent. So, I decided to share our list of 10 Must-Have Characteristics of a Copywriter with you. It is my recruitment blueprint, and I hope you find it useful.
10 Must-Have Characteristics of a Copywriter
A good copywriter takes the time to really understand your business and your vision
If your copywriter doesn’t bother asking questions about your business – both the tangibles and the intangibles – and fails to spend time on your website, it is a red flag. If your copywriter doesn’t understand your business, how on earth will he or she be able to articulate your value proposition to your clients? Quick answer: Not possible!
A good copywriter has a great character
Think of traits such as honesty and ethics. These are important. To give you an idea why: chances are good that your copywriter will have access to privileged business information; information you certainly wouldn’t want in the hands of any one of your competitors. Don’t underestimate the value of Values!
A good copywriter has an opinion and is prepared to share it with you
You need somebody who thinks and who – when necessary – is prepared to offer you an opinion based on their knowledge and previous experience. A rent-a-drone, who mechanically executes his or her assignment, is a wombat.
A good copywriter is prepared to go the distance
Hit-and-run is counterproductive. You need a copywriter who is prepared to stick around so that you can leverage the understanding they developed of your preferences, and build on the knowledge they gained about your business and products. You also don’t necessarily have the time to keep coaching one newcomer after the other.
A good copywriter wants to add value
Any copywriter worth his or her salt will add value to your business in one way or the other. It could be a fresh perspective on something old and tired or a brand new idea that could help you to improve traffic, sales etc. The bottom line is that any half-decent copywriter will spend some time thinking about your business and about your site. Does yours?
A good copywriter can think creatively
Creative thinking is essential. There is hardly a single topic that hasn’t been covered somewhere on the internet. If your copywriter regurgitates the same-old-same-old, there is a fair chance that what you have to say will be viewed as blah-blah. A creative copywriter has the ability to view your product or service from every dimension and every angle, and goes on to produce something nice, fresh and worth reading.
A good copywriter writes well
I actually saw a copywriter state in her blog that the ability to write is secondary. It would have been funny if it weren’t so horribly absurd. Obviously you want to have somebody who can write well. Customers don’t want to read badly written stuff and they certainly won’t return for more of the same. So, at a risk of stating the obvious, check that they can string together words in a meaningful and sufficiently entertaining manner.
A good copywriter is a consummate professional
A consummate professional delivers quality. Their work is well researched, well written and on time. They answer your e-mails and treat you with respect.
A good copywriter understands on-page SEO and knows enough about off-page SEO to help you there too
Having sound knowledge of SEO is no longer an optional requirement. Your copywriter must know how to please both your human and search engine visitors. The latter is really important for your business’ visibility. Have a look at Google’s SEO starter guide and read my two blogs: Web Content Optimization Part 1: The Search Engines and Web Content Optimization Part 2: The Human Factor. These explain what your copywriter should know as the barest of minimums.
A good copywriter trusts his or her own abilities sufficiently not to ask you for a retainer
If the copywriting turns out to be poor, you are going to have a tough time recovering your hard earned cash. Believe me. I learnt this the hard way.
A common sense thing to check before you hire a copywriter is his or her own website
- Is SEO evident?
- What does the writing look like?
- Does the site contain interesting web content?
- Is there evidence of social media activity?
- Does he or she blog?
Where to look for a copywriter
My next post will cover this. Be sure to check back in a couple of days’ time for the third and final installment in the copywriter series.
Let’s grow the list
I am sure that there are some of you who would like to add something to my list of copywriter characteristics. Share your thoughts with us in the comment section – we really welcome feedback!
In the good old days, your copywriter would do just what his or her title implies: copywriting. You or your marketing consultant
would take care of the marketing pitch; your SEO consultant would take care of the SEO because he or she knew about the little shortcuts and tricks that would help you get ahead in the search engine rankings.
Like I said, those were the good old days.
The winds of change swept through cyberspace since then and the neatly compartmentalized functions of copywriter, SEO whizz and marketing guru are compartmentalized no more. As a business owner, you should be rejoicing the fact. Not only are you about to save some money, but you are also about to be released from being a whizz-hostage! Unless, of course, you choose to be one. Somehow, I don’t think so.
The rules of the Search Engine Game have been simplified. If you go and have a look at what Matt Cutts has to say in the official Google Webmaster blog, you’ll agree with me. The end result is that you need less SEO from your seriously-expensive SEO Ninja, more SEO from your much-lower-priced-copywriter and, if said copywriter has gumption, fewer hours from your marketing consultant too. If yours is a small business, the latter probably means you.
Needless to say, I trust your copywriter is a real copywriter; one who understands SEO and who has initiative. If not, it is time to find one who does.
Here are some of the benefits of investing more in a copywriter, and less in the rest:
A copywriter costs less
Allow me to quantify this motherhood and apple pie statement!
- Cost of SEO Whizz / Consultant: $75 – $200 per hour
- Cost of Marketing Guru: $100 – $200 per hour
- Copywriter: $25 – $40 per hour
As my bookkeeper says, numbers speak louder than words.
The price of a copywriter is transparent
A copywriter usually charges per word or per item of work. This means you know what you will be getting and how much you stand to pay…or won’t pay for that matter. I mean, if you are not getting what you thought you were getting, the copywriter gets to keep his or her writing and you get to keep your money.
Not so for the SEO Whizz and the Marketing Guru. They’ll give you an estimate or, more often than not, a guesstimate. You could end up out of pocket or with a half-finished piece of nothing to call ‘mine’. And nothing is nothing; it doesn’t really matter how you look at it.
What a copywriter does is transparent
You can see what your copywriter does. Word by word. Item by Item. You can check conversions, bounce rates, CTRs…in fact, there is very little you can’t check.
Just how measurable are the other two players in the trio? Dare I say barely? It makes ROI awfully difficult to calculate. Your average SEO whizz in particular tends to have a mystical abracadabra approach that makes me twitch a little. There is nothing alchemical about SEO, and when inbound links appear as though by magic, my ulcer starts acting up.
So, am I saying keep the copywriter, and fire the rest?
Absolutely not! I am merely suggesting that you become more streetwise! Only give those tasks that are too technical for your copywriter to your SEO Whizz. The same applies to your marketing guru. Master the art of being selective in your assignments and save on your bottom line.
Does your copywriter have what it takes?
Only you can answer this question. If not…well…
And that takes me to the next and final (controversial) point.
A copywriter is replaceable
Sure. This is not going to make me the most loved member of the copywriting community. But it is true, and I am going to say it exactly as it is. There are tens, or maybe hundreds of thousands of copywriters! I don’t know how many exactly, but who cares? The bottom line is: there are more than enough to choose from if your current copywriter turns out to be a dud. The trick is to identify a great substitution – a topic we’ll be covering in our next post.
Also, you don’t need any of the online freelance brokerages to find one. Although there are some diamonds to be found in their mines, trust me when I tell you that the charcoal outnumbers these gems at 100:1.
How do you discover a diamond copywriter in the darkness of a coal mine?
I’m afraid you’ll have to wait to find out! My next post (second part of this series on copywriters) will give you the nitty-gritty on what a copywriter should be. Part three will show you how to find them. In the meantime, read my blogs – the last two in particular. Once you’ve read it you’ll probably be able to formulate an improved SEO strategy for your website and find yourself in a position to understand some of the things your existing copywriter needs to know and do to serve you well.
Search engines love web content. So do Internet users surfing the Web for information or whatever it is that they are after. Appease them, and you will be rewarded. Disappoint them, and you won’t. It really is as simple as that.
In Part 1 I will explain as concisely as I can how to appease the Search Engines. In Part 2, which will follow next week, I will address the human element.
Search Engines and your Web Content
We all know that the Search Engines’ algorithms are a somewhat mysterious and murky affair. That is intentional, as you can imagine. You can tweak here, and tweak there as much as you like without knowing what the exact outcomes are going to be.
Fortunately there is one element that bears an influence and that you do have complete control over: your web content.
When your site gets crawled by a search engine’s bot / spider, its primary focus is web content. The search engines like to find structure, they certainly like to find volume and they definitely like to find freshness.
Tips and Tricks to Optimize your Web Content Structure
Title: Keep your title short. When I do copywriting, I always try to create titles that are longer than 40 characters but shorter than 70 characters. Your title should contain your keyword. The closer you place your keyword to the beginning of the title, the better. Test your newly crafted title. Type it into Google and Bing’s search boxes and hit enter. If the results are in line with the web content you are about to write, life is groovy. If something different surfaces, it is back to the drawing board for you.
Keywords: Keywords are still important and should be used when you are writing your web content. Choose a primary keyword by using a program like the Google Keyword Tool. Use the keyword near the top of the first paragraph and sprinkle it here and there throughout the remainder of the text. I like using the keyword near the bottom of the last paragraph as well. Don’t overdo it. A 2% to 3.5% density is more than adequate.
Headings: Use headings in your web content, and structure these properly. Incorporate your keyword in some of these. The Search engine sees the <h1>, <h2>, <h3> etc. in your web code.
Links: Add an outbound link or two to an authority site. This has to be in context though. Adding a Pete’s Pets link when your web content deals with the intricacies of Mayan beadwork won’t make sense. In addition, you may want to add one or two internal links to relevant locations on your site. If you scroll up, you’ll see I created an external link to the Google Keyword Tool. Scroll up some more, and you’ll notice that I created an internal link to my copywriting page.
Images: Yes! Yes! I know. Images aren’t text. But they do form a part of your web content and they should contain text to be rendered useful. In fact, you should have at least one image per post. When you upload an image, remember to add:
• Alternate Text
Most folks seem to think that Alternate text suffices. I don’t. Maybe it is just me. The keyword must appear in all three. It might not be a cake walk to get your keyword to sound natural, but it can be done – regardless of whether you are a copywriting expert or not.
Length: More than 300 words, please! Anything less than that, and the search engines may think that your web content is anorexic.
Tips and Tricks to Optimize your Web Content for the rest
Ah, yes! Freshness and volume, among other things. These Search Engines don’t ask much, now do they?
This is exactly why I recommend that you have a blog section on your site. A weekly blog will add four pages of fresh web content to your site every month, which translates to at least 48 pages a year. Allow comments. These add to freshness! Best of all, it’s for free. Just don’t publish spammy comments. You’ll get loads of those.
In addition to your blog, you need to keep a close watch on the rest of your web content:
Age: When any given piece of web content is a year old, it could be dusty. Make no mistake, if it is a high converting page don’t mess with it for Google’s sake. If it is not much of a performer, change at least 15% of the content around the upper reaches of the page or overhaul it completely. Word of warning: don’t replace all the web content on your entire site in a single go. You’ll confuse the bots. Rather phase drastic changes in over a course of 6 to 10 weeks.
Links: Check that these are operational on a regular basis. Search engines notice when links are no longer working and there is a 50/50 chance that your site could be devalued.
Additional pages: If your site is still thin in spite of the blog, gradually increase the number of pages on your site. 20% – 25% per year is a good rule of thumb. Consider adding page types that are regularly updated such as FAQ , In the News etc. Every little bit helps.
Duplicate Content: Regardless whether you or your beloved copywriting expert produced a piece of web content, always run it through Copyscape or a similar program to ensure that your web content is not duplicated elsewhere. Duplicate web content can severely affect your optimization efforts!
Meta descriptions: Perhaps a little old fashioned on my part? Now, I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t like the idea of allowing the search engines to decide which portion of my web content to harvest in order to describe my page or post. I write a meta description in an attempt to stop that from happening. You meta description will ideally be a short elevator pitch that sells your page. It should contain your keyword in one or two places. Each page and each post must have its own unique meta description.
Next week we’ll take a look at how you can optimize your web content to be as human friendly as possible. In the meantime, your comments and queries are welcome!
Consider making use of our Free Web Content Review offer. More information on this service is available here.
SEO ethics was a hot topic this month. The afterburn of Google’s de-indexing of several link building networks, such as BMR (Build My Rank), and the outing of GoDaddy by SEO superstar Joost van der Valk, left tempers flaring and heated debates in its wake. The story has been regaled (ad nauseam) thousands of times on the web, so I’ll spare you yet another version of it.
The point is just that black hat SEO doers and followers have been a thorn in the sides of ethical SEO experts, webmasters and website owners for quite a while now. It is easy to get fed up when fly-by-night Norman Nowhere websites manage to bamboozle their way into poll position on the back of unethical SEO practices while the rest of us, who are trying to build real and sustainable businesses, have to painstakingly edge our way up the ranks. Unethical SEO industry players like BMR callously hijacked the process to the detriment of the rest of us. From what I understand, their clients (among others) have been left link-less and for the first time in a long time the score has changed: Heroes 1 – Villains 0.
Black Hat is not sustainable. Don’t believe for a moment that these Black Hat SEO companies are blissfully unaware of the fact that their snake oil rackets will be shut down at some point in time. They know it full well. The search engines employ very smart people to find those who don’t play well with others and they do find them. Every time a coconut. The big losers at the end of a black hat bust, are usually the clients. Contrary to popular belief not all Black Hat SEO clients are in on the act; some are completely ignorant until after the fact.
And that is why you have to err on the side of caution when selecting an SEO professional to help you optimise your site. In spite of these de-indexings and oustings and what-not, purveyors of SEO snake oil still abound and are likely to continue flourishing given the gap in the market left by, among others, BMR’s demise.
How to spot the SEO scammers
If any SEO company claims any of the following things, you should be smelling a rat:
- Too good to be true ‘guarantees’
- Number One Search Engine Ranking on Google
- Indexing within 2 days / 48 hours
- Promises of hundreds or thousands of links to your site within a short time frame
- Listing your site on hundreds of directories
- ‘Secret’ SEO methods (probably means Black Hat techniques)
- ‘Special’ contacts at the major search engines
- Pay once, rank high forever…or at least for a very long time
- Insistence that they handle your web content (Copywriting quality as well as brand-, patent- and copyright infringement risks)
- Suggestions to employ ‘shady’ content strategies such as fake product reviews, spamming and scraping.
How to spot the SEO hacks
- Poor keyword choices
- Lack of direct answers when you pose a direct question
- Know the buzz words, but can’t explain them intelligently
- Opaque, infrequent or no reporting
- Incorrect advice
How to identify an ethical SEO business
Research. Research. Research. And then research some more. Ask around. Speak to industry insiders such as your copywriter and your web designer. They might not know all the bad guys out there, but they definitely know who the good ones are. There are many of them.
Sadly there is no governing body to protect you from SEO villains. Sure, you can alert the search engines or try to sue if the offending party is on your own turf. But it is going to be awfully difficult and expensive to execute if they are safely tucked away on foreign soil.
Working with words is a fairly lonely pursuit. Even with your colleagues in the same building, you tend to interact less with one another than you would in most other offices. The reason for this is that copywriting, copy editing and proofreading demand complete focus. Any interruption breaks the rhythm and getting that rhythm going again, takes time.
To prevent isolation from others in the industry, I read competitors’ blogs and visit copywriting forums.
Eastern Copywriting Agencies win business despite quality issues
This week, for some reason, I saw several threads concerning the globalization of the copywriting industry and the ridiculously low rates charged by some copywriters. India, in particular, seems to be a source of great irritation.
Although I do concur that the quality of copywriting done by foreign language copywriters is below par, I could not help but think that these copywriters’ compensation, is usually no better. Buyers of foreign language copywriting get what they pay for. In my mind, that is a fair deal. Agreed?
Western Copywriting Agencies need to get with the program
Before whining about how and where customers choose to spend their copywriting budgets, it might be a good idea for western agencies – like my own – to rethink our value propositions, revisit our price lists and re-evaluate our attitudes. Things have changed dramatically over the past four years. And, whether we like it or not, the less-than-stellar economic conditions are likely to persist for the next decade or more.
For those who stick their heads in the sand and pretend that it is business as usual, the chances for survival are slim.
Our customers are under as much pressure as the copywriting industry itself
- global recovery is expected to stall.
- risks are set to intensify.
- the Euro area is expected to fall into mild recession.
- the rest of the world will economically slow.
In other words, 2012 is going to be a grind for your customers and, if it is a grind for them, it is also going to be a grind for you! Unless, of course, you reinvent how you do business.
Reinvent your copywriting business
Perhaps it is time to get off your pedestal and put yourself in each one of your customers’ shoes. You need to perfectly understand their present situation if you wish to share their road into the future.
The only way to gain a clear understanding is through dialogue. Ask your customer whether and how they are affected by the lack of real economic recovery. Establish if they intend reducing their budgets and if they are, by how much. Your interest in their situation
and willingness to be flexible in order to retain their business shows care and respect.
Be proactive and suggest creating an alternate copywriting proposition for them. Request inputs on this proposition. If your customer is part of the solution, they are more likely to remain committed to their relationship with you.
Finally, revisit your price list
Cut your costs and you can cut your copywriting prices. It is as simple as that. Take a day to evaluate your business. Improvement opportunities will be found. Guaranteed.