What Rodney Dangerfield and SEO copywriters have in common

The comedian Rodney Dangerfield coined a brilliant one-liner – “I don’t get no respect.”

The same can be said for some SEO copywriters.

I received this email from a woman we’ll call Joanne (names have been changed to protect the innocent.) Here’s what she had to say:

Hi Heather,

I am a fan of your blog and I am also a copywriter for a major search marketing agency where I write both paid search and SEO copy. I have nine years of copywriting experience, a master’s degree in mass communication, and I was “stolen” away from a major competitor to work at this agency. Since joining this agency about a year and a half ago, however, I’ve struggled to really find my place within the agency as I am the only copywriter and therefore a department of one.

Yesterday, I was quite baffled by a comment made by the senior director of our SEO team as he introduced me to some others from our New York sales team. He started out by talking about the great experience I have and the work I’ve done so far for the agency, but then he made a comment about how I did strictly SEO copy at my last agency and said “So, you know, she just sat around keyword stuffing for 8 hours a day.”

At first I laughed it off as a joke, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more it has bothered me. First of all, I feel that it shows a complete lack of knowledge about SEO copywriting by the most senior SEO person at my agency, which is more than a little disconcerting. Mostly, however, I feel that it completely belittles my position within the agency and grossly misrepresents the job I perform.

My question to you is, how do we overcome this perception that SEO copywriting is merely keyword stuffing? How do we stress the value we bring as great writers first and foremost, while also stressing the fact that carefully working keywords into web copy also requires a special skill and talent? I honestly cannot believe that SEO copywriting is still even perceived this way in 2008.

I’m truly at a loss for how I change the perception of myself and my talents within this agency and hope that you have some advice. I understand that you are very busy and may not have time to respond to all of your emails, but even if this question could be worked into a blog post, I’m sure it may help others facing similar struggles.

Dear Joanne:

I feel your pain.

For years, copywriting has often been dismissed as a “soft” skill set because “anyone can write.” With SEO copywriting, the myth is taken one step further (“anyone can shove keyphrases into copy”) – but is no less dismissive.

The question is: does sticking keyphrases into copy equate into skilled “SEO copywriting?” And that answer is “no.”

What does a copywriter do that’s so special?  Bob Bly, in his book, “The Copywriter’s Handbook,” cites Judith Charles as saying “A copywriter is a salesperson behind a typewriter.”

That helps bring it home a little better, doesn’t it?

If your company had a sales force, you wouldn’t throw just anyone on the sales floor and expect them to perform. You’d want highly-skilled salespeople who would meet your sales goals. There’s a reason top salespeople make a lot of money – it’s because they generate beaucoup bucks for their employers.

And that’s what good copywriters do – they make beaucoup bucks for their clients. SEO copywriters generate profits (and leads, and brand awareness) plus help gain top search engine rankings.

That’s a big deal.

Yes, anyone (with some training) can learn keyphrase editing and where to place keyphrases in their copy. That part has never been rocket science. But copywriting is much, much more than keyphrase editing. It’s getting inside your target audience’s head and learning what makes them tick. It’s penning words that help build trust and gently lead your prospect to your next conversion step. It’s knowing what psychological buttons to push so the prospect feels – without a shadow of a doubt – that your company understands his pain, and you can help him. Right now.

Every time you see a commercial and think “Hmm, I should look into that more” – it’s because a copywriter wrote the copy that made you want to buy (or at least consider) the product. Every time you read an email that actually makes you click into the site – and every time you head to the mall chasing a hot deal you read about- know that a copywriter wrote the copy that made you take action.

But enough ranting. Let’s talk about how to show ROI.

The best way to show value? Good, old fashioned metrics. Can you show that your copy drove additional traffic (my company, SuccessWorks, has some case studies like this, and they are an amazing way to show expertise.) Can you show that people are buying more product? Downloading more white papers? Staying on the page longer?  In a perfect world you should be tracking this information anyway – after all, how can you improve your content if you can’t tell if it’s working? But in a world where you want to strut your SEO stuff, you’ll need metrics that matter.

At the end of the day, it’s your responsibility to toot your own horn and showcase your success. Don’t expect to be recognized for a job well done. It’s nice when it happens – but sadly, “atta-boys” don’t happen often enough. Once you can attach a ROI to your SEO contribution, you’ll find that people view your skills and talent much differently – and you’ll start gaining the respect a skilled SEO copywriter deserves.

I hope that helps. Readers, what other advice would you give Joanne?

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