Meet the copywriter – Paul Philbin

This week we talk to Liverpudlian writer Paul Philbin about night-time writing, SEO copy and the evils of daytime telly!  DSCF0040r

Q) How did you get into copywriting?

A) 20 years ago, I was told I had to give up working on building sites due to a progressive wasting disease in my spine. I was foolish enough to ignore this advice for a while but soon found out the hard way that surgeons actually know a thing or two.

A change of career was needed and I enrolled myself into the University of Liverpool to study creative writing.

Degrees are pretty useless to someone who spends most of their time at home, and I struggled at first to find a channel for my new found creativity.

Then I discovered the world of copywriting.

Q) What does a typical day look like for you?

A) Dark is the easy answer here. After many months of trying to find the right daytime formula to be at my most creative, I discovered that night-time was the best option.

There are no kids playing football in the street, nobody knocking to sell me useless household products and best of all – the phone never rings.

The biggest plus for me of using content mills is the diversity of jobs on offer….these sites are a great way of keeping yourself sharp, and in tune with the current trend of copy in demand.

Q) How do you get over writer’s block?

A) To be honest I think this is a myth – or an excuse for a day off.

I think inspiration can be found anywhere, and… erm… erm……. ah well never mind.

Q) Do you have a full-time job, or are you freelance?

A) Yes! Freelancing is my only source of income, but one of the drawbacks to night writing is having to become the Cook, Cleaner and Child Picker-upper, while everyone else is at work.

This also helps you to realise that day time TV is the Devil.

Being a freelancer means resisting the temptation to watch Bargain Hunt

Freelancers must resist the urge to watch Bargain Hunt

Q) What do you like about copywriting?

A) I enjoy the challenge of finding new angles to be creative.

The diversity of projects on offer is staggering and each one brings with it an opportunity to blow the client, or audience away.

Achieving blow-ability every time is demanding. This is a great motivator and a source of self satisfaction when you get there.

Q) What frustrates you about copywriting?

A) Clients who value keywords over content.

Stifled creativity syndrome is the bane of my life.

Q) What tools do you use everyday to get the job done?

A) Good coffee and great music are my weapons of choice.

Trying to write without background music, would be like having a T-bone steak without first opening a bottle of Merlot.

The coffee is essential – especially for night watchmen like myself. Anything instant would be sacrilege.

Q) Content mills – necessary evil or just plain evil?

A) The biggest plus for me of using content mills is the diversity of jobs on offer. Pay per word rates are not always as important as honing your skills and these sites are a great way of keeping yourself sharp, and in tune with the current trend of copy in demand.

Q) How much do you know about SEO? How does it impact on how you write?

A) This ever changing beast has to be considered in almost everything I write, but many clients make the mistake of using it in the wrong way.

I believe the most effective SEO is in the long game. Regular quality content is far more valuable than quick fixing someone’s ranking, and will keep you near the top for much longer.

Q) Who would be your dream client to write copy for?

A) Anyone with a great idea – and a blank canvas.

Claude Hopkins

Claude Hopkins

 

Q) Who are your copywriting role models?

A) Claude Hopkins – David Ogilvy – John Carlton.

Modern day choice would have to be the Copyblogger tribe. Awesome.

Was M&S new £150m site money well spent?

Marks & Sparks have just spent a reported £150m on their new website. How they managed it is anybody’s guess, but let’s take a look and see if from a content perspective, it was money well spent…

M&S New Homepage

M&S New Homepage

First impressions

On first appearance, the new site doesn’t look any different to other department stores such as www.debenhams.com. The navigation is clear, there’s plenty of white space and lots of pictures.

The headings on the home page are big and bold, text is minimal and there’s a clear call to action. With Mother’s Day approaching, the main emphasis is on this with all links leading to Mother’s Day gifts.

So far, so good.

Tone of voice

The style of voice they’ve chosen is informal and casual, e.g. ‘perfect present for Mum’, which reflects a down to earth approach; presumably to shake off the ‘where fusty old grannies shop’ image  (apologies to grannies out there).

Clicking onto a page for flowers, M&S have, again, gone for the minimal approach with only pictures of flowers and a brief description, e.g. ‘Tulip Gift Bag’. However, on this page for skin cream, there is more copy with a post from M&S’s beauty editor, which M&S are using to give the cream some authority.

They further play on the authority theme in the copy with words such as ‘hyaluronic acid’, ‘peptides’ and ‘patented compounds’, which makes it sound scientific, even if no one actually knows what these words mean.

On a more down to earth level, appealing words such as ‘natural’, ‘ideal’ and ‘youthful boost’ have been used. They’re not averse to the odd cliche with phrases like ‘a powerful cocktail of ingredients’.

Many pages are editorially-focused

Many pages are editorially-focused

Editorial focus

The new site features a magazine-style layout and M&S are relying heavily on links to ‘editor’s picks’, which, considering their customer demographic (according to retail-week.com, M&S’s fastest growing online customer is affluent females aged between 55 and 65), could be construed as condescending.

Aren’t their customers intelligent enough to make their own decisions about quality? Do they really need to be told what they should be buying?

Summary

M&S customers don’t want fancy gimmicks – they want to find what they’re looking for quickly and easily. It could be argued that this new magazine-style design goes against that fundamental ecommerce functionality.

With regard to copy, there’s not much copy to talk about really. While no one wants to be bombarded with too much text on the internet, a bit more to read on certain pages wouldn’t go amiss.

Meet the copywriter – Raymond Peytors

Welcome to a new feature on the blog, Meet the writer. Here we’ll talk to Copify writers about their 13788daily routine and how they got into the weird and wonderful world of copywriting. This week, it’s the turn of Raymond Peytors, a writer with over 25 years’ experience.

Q) Hi Raymond tell us a bit about yourself, how did you get into copywriting?

A) I have been writing various types of material for about 25 years. I started with small articles for local newspapers and magazines, copy for events and exhibitions followed and that led to an early introduction into copywriting.

Q) What does a typical day look like for you?

A) I usually start working at around 9am on projects that I have already accepted. Then I work until the orders are completed. The day ends when the work is done. I usually work for around six hours every day, except Sundays.

Q) How do you get over writer’s block??

A) I walk around, listen to music or engage in an activity that has nothing to do with writing. I love cooking and sometimes peeling vegetables can cure the block and get my brain working again!

Peeling veg can cure writes block, who knew?

Peeling veg can cure writers block, who knew?

Q) Do you have a full-time job, or are you freelance?

A) I have been freelance for 30 years. Working for myself ensures that I actually get on and do something. Working for others is just too limiting.

Q) What do you like about copywriting?

A) I love the creativity and the fact that I learn so much about different subjects. One reason I enjoy writing for Copify so much is that I never know what my next assignment will be.

Q) What frustrates you about copywriting?

A) Sometimes I have a great idea for an approach to a job only to find that my idea is out of line with the brief. Briefs can also cause frustration if they are unclear or ambiguous. Having said that, one learns to interpret what is required.

Don't thank me, thank the Microsoft Office family

Don’t thank me, thank the Microsoft Office family

Q) What tools do you use every day to get the job done?

A) I use MS Word and I also have good dictation software. I find I sometimes produce better material when I am walking and speaking rather than typing.

Q) Content mills – necessary evil or just plain evil?!

A) Very necessary I think, especially for most website owners. Copywriting is not as easy as many people think it is. Paying a professional is undoubtedly preferable to publishing poor quality in-house material.

Q) How much do you know about SEO? How does it impact on how you write?

A) I know quite a lot about SEO and, as everything ends up on the Web nowadays, SEO unconsciously affects almost everything I write. Knowledge of SEO is essential in my view.

Q) Who would be your dream client to write copy for?

A) The Guardian newspaper, if they were brave enough to publish what I write!

Will Self

Selfie

Q) Who are your copywriting role models?

A) Will Self. He’s brilliant.

Ask an SEO – Matt Beswick on automation with APIs

Matt Beswick

Matt Beswick

Automating some of the tasks that are carried out as part of an SEO campaign can give you a competitive advantage and also help those who are stretched in terms of resource. But with Google seemingly cracking down on any form of scalable, relatively easy form of link building, is it still possible to automate tasks by using APIs?

I put this, along with other questions to an SEO and API fan Matt Beswick.

Q) Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself, how did you get into the weird and wonderful world of SEO?

A) Completely by accident! I started out developing Facebook games in late 2007 and stumbled across a formula that really took off. We went from 0 to 150,000 daily players within a few weeks which enabled me to leave my job and start Hidden Pixel. From there we just had a natural evolution into running marketing campaigns for clients and SEO formed part of that.

Q) Can you tell us a bit about the team at Hidden Pixel?

A) We’re a fairly disparate team based all over the world who, other than our developers, work from home. We have copywriters out in Ireland and the US, a designer in Amsterdam and Romania, a dev team in Ukraine, and outsource any process work via oDesk.

Q) You run an integrated web design and marketing agency – how do you ensure that designers and developers take SEO considerations into account when putting together a site?

A) Unfortunately it comes down to micro-management and, so far, I haven’t worked out a way of getting past that. There’s definitely a process of ongoing education and our developers are pretty much set now (Google haven’t indexed a dev site for at least 6 months!) but everything still gets fully briefed, documented and checked to make sure there aren’t any balls-ups.

Q) With the recent changes Google is making, is it not becoming virtually impossible to automate link building activity?

A) For brands, thankfully, yes. You can still semi-automate a lot if you have the correct processes in place but even well templated outreach is now giving diminishing returns. That’s how it should be though, isn’t it? Old school directory submissions are equivalent to sticking your business card in as many phone boxes as possible and hoping that someone sees it.


The really interesting thing I’ve noticed recently is that some of the most outspoken affiliate marketers are slowly but surely starting to admit that their software isn’t working as well as it used to and there’s no at least an element of manual outreach needed. If they’re saying that then the tide is definitely turning!

Q) What does a typical SEO report look like for you? what data is in it?

A) Reporting is definitely a weakness for us, which is being addressed at the moment. We use a mixture of Raven Tools, Google Analytics, AWR, and Excel… but I wouldn’t honestly be able to say that our reports are anywhere near as good as they should be. Give me a month, though, and they will be!

Q) How do you deal with ‘that’ SEO client – the one who refuses to allow access to their site/action recommendations/do anything in the least bit creative/funny/interesting?

A) We either don’t take them on, or we get rid. Seriously – if the client won’t work with you then it’s not worth keeping them on. As a business owner turning down a monthly retainer is hard to do but it works out better for everyone in the end.

Q) What are the metrics/KPIs you agree on when doing client SEO work?

A) If at all possible, traffic and sales / enquiries. You can send ranking and link reports until the cows come home but at the end of the day, for most, it’s all about the bottom line.

Q) Why are you not using the Copify API?? ;)

A) I knew you’d ask that… and I’ve got nothing but an apology. We’ll rectify that soon ;)

SEMrush

SEMrush

Q) You have written about SEO APIs extensively, but if you had to choose one along to recommend, which would it be?

A) The SEMRush API has saved me hundreds of man hours in competitor and keyword research so that’s the one I’d also go to first. Either that or Majestic, purely for the speed and amount of link data you can get.

Q) SEO reports have historically been focused on tangible elements such as X number of directory submissions, articles etc. Now that it is more about creativity, how do you convey, and most importantly justify that to clients?

A) We’re really, really lucky with our clients. Part of that comes back to pre-sales as we spend a lot of time finding out about the business, making sure the client knows what to expect, and showing them examples of the kinds of content we’ve done in the past and the effect it can have.

We justify it by showing the results we’ve had for other clients, educating our new ones as to what they can expect, and gently moving them away from the thinking that SEO is about the kinds of things you mentioned there.

Q) What standalone SEO tools do you use/recommend?

A) RavenTools, SEMRush, BuzzStream. Between those three you’re pretty much covered.

Q) How do you negate the risk of relying on APIs in terms of the consequences of a service going down?

A) APIs, like any other tool, are just there to make life easier. If you’re automating anything with an API it should be because you’ve got a manual process that you need to speed up so there’s always an alternative.

Q) Is SEO becoming a dirty word?

A) No – I think it’s going the other way. Over the last couple of years I’ve noticed more and more businesses shying away from the low quality, low budget, SEO and starting to understand that it’s a genuine marketing channel that you need to invest in.

Q) Are you still guest blogging?

A) Yep, and this hasn’t really changed for us at all. For smaller clients we do some mid-level guest blogging and for larger ones we go for the big wins. If you’re writing great content that’s going on sites that generate referral traffic then you can’t really lose.

Q) I’ve got a site I want to SEO, but I have literally no budget, what is your number one, free SEO tip?

A) Make great content ;)

I’ll wait a couple of minutes for you to stop headbutting your desk.

In reality if there’s one tactic that you could still do with no budget it would be guest blogging. That isn’t just because of the links but also the other opportunities that are generated, and how much you learn about the importance of building relationships.

McLaren - Matt's dream client

McLaren – Matt’s dream client

Q) Who would be your dream SEO client and why?

A) This is a great question! As a business owner I want to pick a brand with a 6 figure budget but I also love working with smaller companies. Either way they need a great product as that makes life infinitely easier. Either McLaren F1 or Sonos would be cool.

Q) Who are your favourite ‘SEO rockstars’?

A) Haha! I’ve been lucky enough to spend some drinking time over the last few years with a lot of the ‘rockstars’. If I was giving out awards it would be Rand Fishkin for inspiration, Wil Reynolds for making you just want to go out there and get shit done, Hannah Smith for content, Phil Nottingham for video, and Paddy Moogan for links and being the most genuine, solid guy you’ll ever meet.