Writing for print vs. Web: 5 tips for catalog copywriters

Confession: Catalog copywriters have yelled at me during an in-house training. Two separate times.

Teaching print copywriters the difference between writing for the Web vs. print can be an interesting challenge. A common misconception is that Web SEO copy is “thin,” keyphrase-stuffed and poorly written. So, when I start talking a mile-a-minute about “putting keyphrases into content” and “Title tags,” the first reaction is often something like:

“What the hell is she talking about? Stick random words in our copy just for search engines? No way.”

That’s when the yelling starts (and the real learning takes place.) By the end, they’re totally on board with the “writing for Web vs print” fundamentals.

If you’re a print catalog copywriter looking to make the leap into Web SEO writing, here are some things to consider (and yes, you can yell at me if you need to!). :)

  • Good SEO copywriting for catalog sites is good writing, period.
  • Yes, this means that you have to include certain words (otherwise known as keyphrases) in your copy. However, the keyphrases should never detract from your content’s “voice” or flow.

  • Keyphrases are your friends.
  • Adding keyphrases (the words people type into a search box to find your products)¬† help people easily find your product pages¬† – and it’s a must-do strategy for top search positions. Otherwise, it’s like writing a fantastic catalog description, but only mailing the catalog to a few people. If you want to maximize the number of people who see your product page, keyphrases are key.

  • Longer copy is a good thing.
  • Does writing only 50-75 words for a print catalog seem stifling? Time to rejoice – the search engines reward product pages with original, descriptive and keyphrase-rich Web copy. You still want to write tight content that’s easy to scan, but know you have more room to move with the copy length.

  • You can learn Web SEO writing – even if you’re not a “techie.”
  • It’s true that new terms like “meta description,” “H1 tags,” and “Titles” can initially seem intimidating. An easy way of remedying this is matching the SEO term to a concept that’s more familiar to you. Your headline goes in the H1 header tag. The meta description is like a short abstract. Titles are the headlines that appear on the search engine results page. It’s really that simple.

  • Writing for the Web is a must-have skill set.
  • Hamilton Davison, executive director of the American Catalog Mailers Association, predicts that mailing costs will skyrocket 22 percent this year or next. More than ever, catalog companies are reducing the number of print catalogs they mail, or discontinuing their catalog all together. This means they’re looking for copywriters who can blend traditional print catalog writing guidelines with Web SEO copy best practices. If you don’t get the training you need, you may miss out to a less experienced (but more Web savvy) writer. Now is the time. Really.