SEO copywriting turns everything you ever knew – or thought you knew – about writing completely on its head.
In a sense, it’s only the latest of a long line of writing disciplines that I have personally had to learn, like new languages, in a writing career that now runs into decades. Back at school, my English teacher Mr Binding once told us that we should write about “what you know”. Remember that one? Well SEO copywriting is the complete antithesis of that proposition. When you pen SEO copy, you are more likely to be presented with something you are wholly unfamiliar with. And the first job, therefore, is to bone up fast, because your audience will be entirely cognate, and will therefore come to a very quick understanding of whether – or not – you have a good grasp of what you’re writing about.
Again, I will defer to my school days but not, this time, to Mr Binding… but to a detention I was once given for a misdemeanour now long lost to the mists of time. I was held back after school and, as punishment, had to write an hour-long essay on the philosophical notion of living inside a table-tennis ball. Unfortunately for my academic jailers, their supposed punishment didn’t quite come off. About 20 minutes into my penitence, I found I was really rather enjoying myself; I locked my imagination into gear and was having a grand old time. As I recall the teachers had to pretty much drag me away from the desk.
SEO copywriting reminds me a lot of that afternoon in the 1980s. It was an important lesson. The insides of a table tennis ball are not, as my teachers had hoped, a depressing blank white screen, a tabula rasa. In cinematic terms they are, instead, a green screen, onto which you are quite free to project whatever you can mine, from the deep recesses of your imagination.
Writing ability is, of course, fundamental. And I remembered Mr Binding’s words and as I studied English through university and began writing fiction whilst studying for a Masters in Novel Writing. It especially held true as I began my career in journalism. Outside of the campus and my studies I wrote about that which I knew – the music scene of Manchester and beyond. Quite far beyond, actually – Beijing to Brazil, Moscow to Marrakech – a career in journalism taught me a great deal about both writing and adapting; about the art of journalism itself… and how it might be subverted. I found, for instance, that I naturally liked to introduce humour to my prose, feeling that a smile can engender a connection between writer and reader… an important bridge, made from words.
Aside from writing ability, however, an SEO copywriter must also be adaptable, and hyperaware of different styles of writing, for different commissions. An editorial job in Ibiza might, for instance, lend itself to a certain style of writing, but alongside that life I also began to receive more straightforward copywriting commissions. And then the job is about answering a brief, and holding true to that brief. I have written corporate websites, album covers, fashion brand descriptions, travel brochures…. and each time the tone and content of the copy has been different, a different voice emerging from the same fingers upon the keys of the PC. Words are like musical notes…. We all know the same ones, but it’s the way you arrange them that creates the melody. That’s where a writer’s skill comes to the fore; to hit the right note for the right occasion. That chameleon ability to change tone carries through life. I have had to learn to write for radio, for network television.
No hidden agenda
There is another unique aspect to SEO copywriting, which separates it even further still from other forms of writing. Yes, you may be living inside a table tennis ball, but the point of the exercise is to detail the experience effectively, and accurately. A company will have a very determined agenda they need to communicate, and it is for the SEO copywriter to understand those core messages, and incorporate them into his or her copy. An effective SEO copywriter needs, therefore, to have these writing skills, but also the focus and economy to bring them into focus: a fast grasp on the nature of the client and their industry; honing in on the pertinent details to draw upon in the article; deciding on the judicious choice of tone to hit in the copy.
As opposed to other forms of writing, there is also more work to be done with the words, once they are out of your head and have passed through your fingers to the screen and then out into the digital ether. A sub-editor will no doubt rework your journalistic prose, an script editor reconsider your dialogue for a film. An SEO company will, however, need to confirm you are hitting the right beats, the keywords, before they post and therefore publish it to the world. SEO copy is not only a creative form of writing, therefore, but functional.
SEO copywriting is undoubtedly the most directed, precise form of writing that I do, wholly designed to do a specific job. However I would argue it is, of course, communication; and as such, the argument about humour holds true. It may not be immediately obvious where the gags are in the inorganic chemicals industry but they are there… believe me. Just as they were, within the confines of that ping pong ball…