2013 recap for SEO copywriters: What’s cool, what sucked

Be different2013 was a big year for SEO copywriters.

It wasn’t so long ago that I was railing against content farms and spammy search results. This year, Google has made some major strides that changed the game and improved the SERPs. Heck, Google’s search results have gotten good enough that Jill Whalen left the industry. And that’s saying something.

Let’s talk about what happened this year – and what it means for SEO copywriters:

What’s cool

Google is definitely tightening the content quality noose. Techniques that used to work, such as “stitching” articles and spammy anchor text links in press releases are no longer considered OK (for more about press releases, here’s a great explanation from the Bruce Clay blog.)

Plus, the Hummingbird algorithm reinforces that writers don’t have to shovel keywords into the content. Yes, know your keyphrases. Understand the reader’s intent. But focus your writing on the reader – not on what you think Google “needs to see” for a top search ranking.

Does this mean that SEO copywriting is dead? Or dying? Or it’s so easy now that anyone can do it?  No. As AJ Kohn said in a Google+ post, “The ‘write naturally’ movement misses the fact that most people don’t write well.” True dat.

What it does mean is Google is finally going back to basics. Old-school print copywriters knew that every word they wrote needed to be laser-focused on the reader. We never wrote an additional 200 words of brochure copy because we thought we “needed to.” We wrote what we needed to write to tell the story.

Yes, storytelling is a big deal. Learn it. Do it. 

The key here is “telling the story” – and telling it in a unique and compelling way. In past blog posts, I discussed the importance of “commanding SEO content.” Content that’s so unique, compelling and powerful that it deserves a top spot.  As Seth Godin says, “The only reason to build a website is to change someone.”  If you’re just going through the paces and writing stuff because you’re trying to make Google happy, you’re doing it wrong.

Google doesn’t buy from you. Your customers do.

I see these changes as a good thing. I’m not nervous about the future. I’m excited. Because – finally – the conversation is starting to change. It’s not “how many words can we write for Google?” It’s “how can we create content that’s truly powerful and tells the story?”

What sucked

Google’s new Keyword Tool is pretty miserable for keyphrase research. There may be a writer who loves using it – but I haven’t talked to him or her yet. My recommendation is that Google is good for “training wheels” keyphrase research. But if you want to really turn your research up to 11, it means working with a more robust keyphrase research tool.

That means writers need to invest in something like Wordtracker, Keyword Discovery or their other favorite tool of choice (which is something they should be doing anyway.)

Of course, Google’s decision to list all organic keyphrases as [not provided] was a major kick in the teeth. Once upon a time, it was easy to see the keyphrases that were driving the most traffic. Now, things are a little more tricky. Can it be done? Sure. But you need to know how to do it. Tracy Mallette’s [not provided] roundup provides a great overview on what this means and what to do.

What SEO copywriters need to do in 2014

First, you need to be prepared to up your writing game. If you’re an OK writer, it’s time to put the time in to get really, really good. Now is not the time to sit back and figure your writing is “good enough.”

Good enough just won’t cut it anymore.

Ann Handley wrote a fantastic article about how 2014 is the year of good writing.  One of my favorite quotes from her article is:

Next—in 2014 and beyond—comes the notion that good writing is the foundation of all good content, whether that content is a 140-character tweet or the product pages of your website or your content marketing infographic.

I. Love. This.

Second, if you want to truly succeed as an SEO copywriter – whether you work in-house or freelance – you need to keep up with the latest information. It’s scary how many smart SEO copywriters don’t know what rel=author is. I mention Schema.org and I can see their eyes glaze over. When I mention Hummingbird, they don’t understand what it means and how it’s important.

And that’s sad.

You have a responsibility to your clients, your company and yourself to stay informed. That doesn’t mean you need to be an SEO expert. But you do need to keep your head in the game. Yes, improve your writing skills. But know what’s happening out in the wide world of Google. For every thing you don’t know, you’re missing opportunities. You’re leaving money on the table. You’re falling behind.

In short: get educated or get out.

There are a host of resources (free and paid) that can help you. Use them. Learn from them. Consider them business expenses that are just as important as your phone, your laptop and your software. Because they are.

Like Ann, I see 2014 as a very exciting year for SEO copywriters. I see lots of opportunity – and lots of revenue for smart SEO copywriters.

I’m ready. Are you?

Let’s rock it. Together.

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