SEO Copy Manager Richard Hostler talks in-house SEO copywriting
Brookstone has such a great “voice” for product descriptions. How was this style developed, and what do you recommend to other in-house copy teams who are trying to determine their company voice?
We’ve come a long way from our early days of selling specialty tools via mail order. Back then, it was much simpler to communicate with customers in a single voice. As our product lines and business evolved, so too did our voice. Now we interact with customers across the country through our stores, catalogs, and email programs, and around the world via our website. Maintaining a single voice across all these channels can be tricky. We strive to keep all our copy informative and engaging, but most of all, fun. After all, we sell fun stuff. Our copy should reflect that.
Brookstone does SEO copywriting right. Do you have a formula down for creating your site content or tips for other copywriters to improve their style and technique?
One point I like to emphasize whenever I talk about SEO copywriting is that it has to be good copywriting first and foremost. Sure, you have to choose the right keywords and employ best practices in your site architecture, but that’s just loading the bases. If you want to score points with your customers or clients, you have to write interesting, informative and engaging content.
Since you aren’t the only one writing the copy, how do you convey the Brookstone style to your writers?
I encourage all writers to keep it simple. Advertising copywriters and SEO copywriters often overthink and overwrite their copy. Our writers need to find whatever is fun and unique about the product at hand and write around that. We have to get to the point quickly to catch the eyes of shoppers who are browsing online, but also tell an engaging enough story to keep the interest of customers who read all the way to the end. Once new writers understand how to keep their copy fun while writing short and long at the same time, they’ve pretty much got the Brookstone style.
What do you look for when hiring an SEO copywriter?
I look for three things. First, I look for a strong writer. This is by far the most critical trait. SEO is something that can be taught. Good writing isn’t. Second, I look for someone who understands the dual nature of SEO copywriting. We are writing for both the spiders and our human readers. Some people get tripped up here and have trouble communicating with both audiences fluently. Finally, I look for someone who really wants the position. I have interviewed dozens of writers over the years who haven’t researched me, my company or our products. If they won’t take the time to prepare for an interview, I have to question whether or not they will put in the research time necessary to be an effective SEO copywriter.
What advice do you have for writers (SEO or otherwise) looking for an in-house copywriting gig?
If a company has an in-house writing team, it will also have plenty of copy for you to check out. Whether this is print ads, catalogs, articles, retail signage, instruction manuals, technical pieces, emails, or any kind of web content, you can use it for two important purposes. First, you can decide if the company’s product set and/or style are a good fit for you. It’s very difficult to write engaging copy day in and day out about something that doesn’t interest you. Second, and this goes back to my answer to the last question, you can use the published copy to better prepare for your interview.
So, you asked me this question during my Brookstone interview. Now, here it is back atcha! What ís the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t take others’ criticism and editing personally. I had real trouble with this when I was getting started in my writing career. I would pour myself into a piece of ad copy or spend days on an article only to have it torn apart by someone higher up the food chain. It’s hard not to take that kind of beatdown personally, but that’s exactly what you have to do. Clients and in-house partners are often unclear when giving instructions for a project. I find that it requires a completed first draft before clear direction is given. Accept the perspective and criticism of others and don’t get defensive about your copy. After all, there’s plenty more (or at least there should be plenty more) where that came from.
Who is your writing inspiration?
My own special odd couple: Dr. Seuss and David Ogilvy. Dr. Seuss twisted, shaped, deconstructed and invented language to create stories that were fun to read and listen to but also touched on some pretty serious subjects. SEO copywriters do the same thing to some extent. We have to come up with creative ways to write around sometimes awkward keywords without offending our readers. David Ogilvy, on the other hand, was the father of advertising as we know it. He worked with big-time clients and wrote many iconic headlines. I have a Divid Ogilvy quote hanging on my office wall to remind me that I am a copywriter first and an SEO copywriter second.
What are the biggest challenges faced by in-house SEO copywriters and how do you overcome, or work around, them?
In-house work brings with it a measure of security and daily routine that can be equal parts benefit and stumbling block. It’s easy to settle in and lose touch with the latest SEO developments. It’s important to keep yourself informed and to constantly hone your SEO copywriting edge. SEO has a short and rapidly evolving history. It’s easy to fall behind.
Is there anything you want to add that our copywriting readers should know?
We have seen some major changes from Google over the past few weeks: all queries switching to “not provided” and the hummingbird update. As with most shakeups from Google, a certain amount of uncertainty has surfaced in the blogosphere. I, however, don’t believe this is a time to panic. In fact, I think it’s a great time to be an SEO copywriter. More than ever, Google is making content king when it comes to search. We may not have the same metrics we’ve relied on for years, but the nature of SEO is the same. Sites need rich, engaging content that feeds the increasingly important knowledge graph. As SEO copywriters, we are the ones who will write this content and help drive the future of search.
About Richard Hostler
Richard Hostler writes engaging copy that generates sales. He is currently the SEO Copy Manager at Brookstone, where he connects online customers with the best gadgets and gifts. When he’s not writing, Richard can be found training for and racing triathlons around New England. You can follow him through his website, LinkedIn or twitter.