Is it time for SEO agencies to start taking copywriting seriously?

Google’s recent algorithm updates are increasingly penalising sites with little or no unique content. Could this mean that SEO agencies will finally start to realise the value and importance of copy as part of their campaigns?

Peggy Olson

Undervalued - The life of an SEO copywriter

Econsultancy’s 2012 SEO agencies buyers guide reveals that most firms have little to say about copywriting. Of the 36 agencies surveyed, 100% claimed that they offer copywriting as a service to their clients. However, only 8 (22%) revealed any specific information on the subject and just 6 (17%) revealed that they have dedicated in-house SEO copywriting resource.

The individual responses range from the comprehensive:

“Copy writing services we offer include copy writing for sales based and information based pages, meta descriptions and external content for syndication. All of the copywriting carried out is completed internally rather than being outsourced. Where clients do not require Summit’s copywriting service, we provide guidelines of how both web site and external content should be written from a search engine and user perspective.” – Summit Media

“Stickyeyes has its own multi-lingual content team, comprising journalists and copywriters, who create and publish all content in-house.”  – Stickyeyes

To the noncommittal:

“Content marketing for online channels, rather than sales copywriting”Vertical Leap

“Sometimes – More consultancy based”iSpy Marketing

The story so far…

When I started working as a copywriter around 5 years ago, the first 2 jobs I held were at SEO agencies who had previously outsourced work to India. This ‘filler’ copy served the purposes of Google’s primitive algorithm, but not the needs of clients, who were understandably peeved about paying agency rates for copy that didn’t even make sense, let alone reflect their products and services in a particularly good light. There was a need for copy that read well, even if most of it was never actually read, and that’s where people like me came in.

Then Google began unleashing its pack of wild, game-changing animals. First came Panda, seeing off the ‘content farms’ and now Penguin, taking down sites which have been over-optimised by keyword stuffing or suspect links. A job lot of directory and ezine article submissions every month just won’t cut it any more. It’s now about obtaining those valuable, below the radar links, that only come from copy that people actually want to read.

Google animals

Google's game-changing algorithm updates

So why do so many SEO agencies shy away from copywriting?

It’s difficult – Finding good copywriters is tough. Finding copywriters with a basic grasp of SEO principles is even more challenging. Add to the mix a list of uninspiring client keywords, and it’s not hard to see why agencies don’t want to get involved with content production.

It’s frustrating – Many agency clients (particularly big ones) have lengthy and complex sign-off procedures. There’s nothing worse than writing a killer piece of content, only to have it trashed by a finicky brand manager.

It’s time consuming – Writing great copy takes time and when you’re a staffer filling in an agency timesheet, trying to justify more than 1 hour per piece of content can be a hard sell to your line manager, even if that extra bit of time could pay dividends in terms of those all-important shares, tweets and likes.

It’s hard to measure – Thrown in with the hundreds of other factors that can influence an SEO campaign, measuring the impact of content can be incredibly difficult.

It’s misguided – Believe it or not, there are actually people out there who believe that ‘keyword density’ still has an impact on rankings. Another mistake that many companies are guilty of is making a distinction between ‘SEO’ copy and their regular sales copy. The two should NEVER be mutually exclusive.

Conclusion

Google isn’t advanced enough to read copy like a human, yet. But it is surely only a matter of time. SEO agencies need to recognise this, and start treating copy as an opportunity, rather than an inconvenience.

4 thoughts on “Is it time for SEO agencies to start taking copywriting seriously?

  1. Mike Robinson

    I have to agree – I’m always amazed at the disdain which some SEO agencies treat the input of a copywriter. Although they are selling a more SEO-friendly site to their client what the client is hoping to buy is more business, and well-written, persuasive copy is only going to help with that when it comes to conversion. Even if it means that the agency has to explain their take on SEO content to the writer (and it really isn’t that difficult to understand) it should be pretty straightforward for the writer to incorporate this.

    Reply
  2. Richard Michie

    I totally agree, I was trained to write direct marketing copy. The rule was and still is to write in your own voice, too much web copy reads like its written by robots to ensure the page ranks well. What brands forget is that if the customers who land on the page and don’t buy because the copy doesn’t compel them too. All the effort is wasted anyway.

    Great article.

    Reply
  3. Rudi O'Neil

    It’s a relief that badly written copy is being dismissed, because Google formerly championing it has created an awful scenario whereby people with a wholly inadequate grasp on English have been given the opportunity to use globalisation against the struggling native who needs more than a penny a word to break bread.

    There’s an aggregate lack of concern in relation to how important writing is. You only have to look at how ALL websites’ comment boxes use a generic American English spell check so that words such as minimise, globalise and recognise are all colourably incorrect.

    I’d like to see an algorithm that’s so Talmudic that all hacks are taken out of the equation. I find the attitude that web developers, SEO people and marketeers have towards copywriters, really quite distressing. It’s very much considered to be something that the aforementioned cannot be bothered to do – a basic yet laborious task to be farmed out to anyone with the idiocy to sit there and do it for hours at a time.

    Half the jobs out there are only worthwhile if you’re an eidetic legal secretary who can read a web page about a subject and instantaneously rehash it at 250wpm. The prophecy is web design becoming even more intuitive, hence simplified, coupled with REAL content agencies who divvy out the great copy they’ve skillfully, pridefully created, to people who’ve diversified their businesses to become content uploading specialists. This to me sounds fair.

    Reply

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