Monthly Archives: December 2014

Is SEO killing your website?

knife

Something weird seems to be happening in the world of marketing.

Perfectly sensible clients, trained in strategic thinking, market analysis and sophisticated sales & marketing techniques have suddenly started putting their brains in neutral when faced with the task of making creative decisions about their company’s website.

If they were looking at a script for a TV ad they’d be saying things like “No, that doesn’t quite represent the humorous personality of our brand”.

If they were looking at a sales letter they might say “It’s almost there but the headline doesn’t really sell the offer hard enough.”

If they were looking at a brochure design they might say “That body copy is hard to read, make it black and slightly bigger”.

And yet, it seems to me, a lot of these critical faculties seem to fly straight out of the window when they’re faced with a website.

Because the SEO people have scared them. Blinded them. Addled their brains.

Now, let’s get one thing straight. SEO is vitally important. If nobody can find your website, nobody can read about how wonderful you are. You must do SEO. No question. (And, by the way, I’m just talking about on-page SEO here, not off-page, linking back from other sites etc.)

But SEO isn’t everything.

You must not let SEO drive the entire structure and content of your site.

You must not let it totally dictate your copy and headlines. You must not let it turn your website into a me-too, pile of bland garbage.

You must not let SEO turn your site into a glorified Yellow Pages entry. But so, so many sites look and feel exactly like this now.

On-page SEO works by ensuring that your site features the words that people use when searching for your type of product or services. These keywords can be in the headlines, the copy, the links, your site’s URL and so on.

But the problem is, everyone uses broadly the same words to search for you.  And these tend to be boring words that simply describe the sort of product or service they’re looking for: cheap shoes, call centre services, freelance copywriter Cambridge. That sort of thing.

These are the keywords that get you zooming up Google.

So what most of the SEO boys do (and they are boys, usually, with scraggy beards) is replace your vibrant, engaging SELLING copy with a load of keywords.

So your site races up the ranks. But its selling power has been killed at a stroke.

The headlines and copy become bland and generic. Your site feels just like everyone else’s. Because the SEO boys have ensured it IS just like everyone else’s.

Because it uses exactly the same words.

Your powerfully unique proposition “We deliver in six hours or your money back: guaranteed” is replaced by “Courier and Parcels Service Manchester”.

“Are you making these five crucial mistakes on your website?” is replaced by “Website Design and SEO Service Aberdeen”.

“Heineken Refreshes the Parts Other Beers Cannot Reach” is replaced by “Beer”.

It really has become that crass. Astonishingly so.

 

 

If the writer doesn’t understand it, your customers won’t have a chance

confused

Amazingly, I actually clicked on an internet display ad yesterday.

Internet display ads are, of course, the most ineffective advertising medium ever invented. And yet clients continue to pour squillions of quid into them. As if somehow, someday – perhaps by divine intervention or sheer good luck – they’ll suddenly start working for their brand.

But the tiny handful that do generate a click through do so because they use classic direct response/editorial techniques and offer something useful to the reader. “Lose pounds with this old wives’ trick’…’Get the new iPad for £30’…and so on.

And this one from Aviva did just that. It offered to explain a little about the government’s new pension rules, due to take effect next spring.

This met a need – my desire for knowledge about how my pathetic provision for retirement (ha!) might be affected – so I watched the little animation.

I was nodding along and understanding what it was telling me until it mentioned something about ‘your marginal tax rate’. At which point they lost me. I had to go and look it up on Money Saving Expert, never to return.

I had no idea what Marginal Tax was. I consider myself a reasonably educated grown-up sort-of person (your views may differ) with a little bit of knowledge about income tax and such like but this was a new one on me. (It’s actually just the way you, for example, only pay 40% on the bit of your income that’s over the 40% threshold. Simple.)

But experience told me instantly what had happened here. Because it happens in advertising agency meeting rooms throughout the land (and probably the world) day in, day out.

The client briefs the suits (the account handlers) about what they want to say in the video. The clients occasionally use industry jargon which is their own in-house language that everyone at the client understands.

At which point, a good account handler will say “Sorry, I’m not sure what you mean there, can you explain it to me?”.

The bad one, who is smiling and nodding but thinking mostly of going to lunch, will just write it down.

The bad account handler will then brief the copywriter and art director.

When faced with the Marginal Tax stuff, the good copywriter will say “I don’t understand that. And if don’t understand it, I can’t write about it in a way our lovely customers will understand it, either.” And the account handler will be asked to go back to the client and get the clarity she should have got in the first place.

But the bad copywriter will write it down, include it in his script and carry on thinking about how can turn Marginal Tax into a pun.

And the little video clip will get made, and the client will approve it because they know what it means and forget that the end viewer might not. (And, to be honest, they’re paying their agency a lot of dosh to think about this stuff and ensure the language used is right for the target group.)

The net result is a piece of communication that fails simply because nobody at the agency/copywriter end had the intelligence or insight (or guts?) to say “Hang on a mo, sorry I’m being thick here, but could you put this into easy-to-understand words for me so I know what I’m talking about”.

When you’ve been working with complicated clients and products for as long as I have – financial services, professional services, healthcare, hi-tech, B2B – you get a sixth sense for spotting writing where it’s clear that the writer hasn’t really understood what he’s writing about.

And it happens far, far too often.

 

 

 

 

How to do great charity advertising

punch

 

 

 

 

 

As Mr Punch says memorably, on piers and promenades throughout the land, that’s the way to do it.

There’s an Oxfam ad appearing on the telly right now asking for donations to help the Ebola victims in Western Africa.

And it’s a superb, best-in-class lesson in how to do effective charity fund-raising.

So often these days, charity ads are produced to look like perfume ads, with an eye on the awards jury rather than a focus on maximum fund-raising. Moody black and white photography, portentous celebrity voice over and a glib, punny endline. Looks cool on your portfolio site but doesn’t bring home the bacon for the charity concerned.

But this one from Oxfam gets it bang on and I imagine does extremely well. Here are the key ingredients for successful charity fundraising, on telly or in dm or the press:

1. Look cheap. The work must look like it was bashed out in a hurry by the charity team. Not crafted by creative teams with silly big beards in their plush London offices. It must look and feel urgent and real. In other words, it should not look like advertising.

2. Show results. Crises and misery make it easy to write award-winning heart-tugging copy. But don’t  just show the downside. Make sure you show the upside too — the results of the appeal. Generate an emotional response, yes, but paint a picture of hope not despair.

3. Ask for a specific amount. This ad asks for £3. No more no less.  Often it works to give three different tick boxes and an ‘other’ one in case someone wants to give a huge amount or a very small amount that’s all they can afford. Remember: the biggest donors to charity are poor people and old people. Perhaps because they’re the ones who understand being needy?

4. Tell them what this amount will be spent on. As specific as possible. Again, this Oxfam ad does it right, it tells me my £3 will buy a treatment ‘kit’. Perfect. I really feel my £3 will genuinely  make a difference.

5. Make the response mechanism clear and simple. Show them and tell them. ASK for the donation, don’t assume showing a phone number etc is enough. It isn’t. Tell them to do it right now.

Easy when you know how.

 

Has copy become simply space filler?

 

wallpaper

Last week, a client referred to a piece of copy I’d written as ‘content’. As in, ‘I’ll see if anyone has any more comments on the content then get back to you’.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t care less what my clients call my output. I’m simply happy and grateful that they’ve chosen me to help them out. So if they want to, they can call my work Pea Soup with a Cherry on Top. (I’d rather they called it brilliant, cutting-edge, highly-effective, a bargain at twice the price etc but let’s not be picky.)

What I do is write lots of words that sell lots of stuff. (And I’ve lost track of the number of times people have asked me what a copywriter is. So it’s a stupid job title anyway.)

But this was the first time I’d heard the term ‘content’ used in a non-digital context. It’s been fairly common for a while to call website copy ‘content’ but not advertising or direct mail copy. The client was actually referring to a sales letter I’d written.

But does this throwaway client comment actually mark a sea-change in the advertising/marketing industry? (This isn’t a rhetorical question, I’m genuinely interested to know.)

Has the power of well-crafted, strategically powerful copy been completely relegated to a position of simply space-filler?

Has the designer and mac jockey finally climbed to the top of the perceived heap, so that pretty pictures and impossible-to-read typography are now the dominant consideration when you’re trying to sell your wares?

Has copy simply become that annoying stuff that goes in the boxes on the wire-frame marked ‘copy here: 50 words max’?

Even worse, are the words on a website now considered simply SEO fodder?

You see outfits calling themselves ‘communications agencies’ or ‘creative agencies’ or ‘marketing agencies’ everywhere now.

But scratch the surface of their glossy website and, remarkably often, you’ll find they don’t have a single copywriter on the team.

Not one. Not so much as a fresh-faced junior straight out of college.

Never mind a senior, highly experienced writer running the creative side of things.

(In the olden days, the copywriter was king. And it was very rare indeed that an agency would have an art director as the top dog in the creative department. In fact, if you’ve ever seen Mad Men, you’ll know that for a long while the writers simply sent their copy down to the art department who added some nice visuals to the copy. They knew their place.)

But things, as Bob Dylan pointed out, have changed.

Call me old-fashioned (you won’t be the first, I promise you) but how can an agency selling advertising or website creation services possibly be the real deal if there’s nobody in the building who can write some great copy?

More strangely, how can clients look at the agency and think they’re going to get some great emails or a fantastically compelling website or superbly effective advertising if the agency doesn’t have a writer on board?

Odd, isn’t it?