Radio interview: What are SEO & SEO copywriting? How did I get into both? And how did my big mouth get me fired?
October 12, 2010 • Glenn Murray
I was recently interviewed by the very wonderful Serena Star and Johny B at Bondi FM. Have a listen if you’re keen to hear an intro to SEO and SEO copywriting, or if you’re keen to hear how I made a start in (was pushed into) the industry.
Note that Serena runs a couple of very interesting site: 1) Grassroots Internet Strategy – helps business owners avoid building crap websites; and 2) How to retire in 12 months – her personal challenge to create a passive income.
Johnny also runs a great blog for a good cause: SoberPaddy.com.
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Full transcript of interview
Johnny B (Interviewer): You’re tuned to the Live Peep Show on Bondi FM. That was the sound of the Propellerheads with Velvet Pants. Before that, we had old-school Stardust, Music Sounds Better With You. Not “Without You”, “With You”.
Now we’ve got a very special guest in the house, Glenn Murray, who runs a website, Divine Write, W-R-I-T-E; not Divine Right, which’d be, you know, a bit of a religious zealot to have in here.
You’re very welcome to the show, Glenn. Tell us a little bit – you weren’t always hosting the copywriting website, were you?
Glenn: No, I wasn’t. And good afternoon everyone, how are you going?
No, in the early days, I was a technical writer, as it turns out. I worked out for, worked in the software industry, and wrote very exciting user manuals and online help for software products. And I worked in a really cool company, and over the years it got less and less cool, got bigger and bigger. And I was a little bit too hung up on the cool, the little family environment that we had; and I campaigned to really kind of keep that. And it was like butting my head up against a brick wall.
And you know, being in business now, I understand why they didn’t like that. But I think I opened my big mouth one too many times and had an argument with my boss, and I said, “Right, I want to see my redundancy options,” and stormed out. And the next day I couldn’t get in; my security card didn’t work.
Johnny B (Interviewer): Oh, no!
Serena (Interviewer): That’s a pretty sure sign, hey?
Glenn: I knew I was out then.
Johnny B (Interviewer): I think there’s a problem with the electricity or something.
Glenn: There was. It was a problem that was only affecting me. Everyone else streamed by me. So I knew that day that I wasn’t coming back.
So I got a, you know, I got a little redundancy payout; and I got home and decided to, you know, get on the job hunting trail I suppose. And for I think it was nearly six weeks I tried to get a job. And I was a Senior Tech Writer; I’d been working in the industry for nine years, so I was a Manager. And you know, I was about as senior as you can get in that little world; and I just couldn’t get a job. I couldn’t get a job as a senior or an intermediate …
Serena (Interviewer): Was this around the time when the bubble burst?
Glenn: It was.
Serena (Interviewer): Yeah.
Glenn: I’d like to blame that. But maybe my mouth really was so big that everyone knew about it. But I couldn’t even get a junior job; and after a while I’d applied for every job out there and written a whole heap of cold calling letters to companies who weren’t actually offering work, just in the hopes that they might have something available, and no-one had anything. I didn’t even get a single call back, much less an interview.
And I’d been used to being able to go into any old place and just get a job; I’d been head-hunted so many times. So that was a bit of a shock, and my redundancy money was starting to run out, so I thought, “Well I’ve got to do something.” And given that I’d already been effectively cold calling to get these applications out there, I thought, “Well, you know, what else can I do?” I’d written a better copy in the past; I’d written some brochures for the company I’d worked for. And so I thought, “Well, you know, I’ll cold call and see if anyone wants some copy.” So I called up a few companies, and as it turns out, a lot more people, a lot more people wanted copy than wanted tech writing. And I thought, “Well, hey, I can do that. And I can bluster for a little while.”
And I set up Divine Write that afternoon and ran into Gosford to register the business name – that was what you had to do in the good old days.
Johnny B (Interviewer): Get to Gosford.
Glenn: Yeah. I waved my Business Certificate around when I got home, and …
Johnny B (Interviewer): Woohoo.
Glenn: … I was very proud of myself.
Johnny B (Interviewer): Excellent.
Glenn: So yeah, it was, it was, I didn’t really make a start in copywriting; I was really pushed into it. And you know, it was the best thing that company ever did for me; because it really has, I was always uncomfortable as an employee …
Johnny B (Interviewer): I hope you’ve told them about that? Or you’ve probably written copy for them since, have you? Have you had any dealings with them?
Glenn: I have had dealings with them.
Johnny B (Interviewer): Have you?
Glenn: They did, someone contacted me from there and asked for some copy. But when I told them that I’d worked there, I didn’t hear from them again.
Johnny B (Interviewer): Is that right? Oh, no.
Glenn: But you know, I really don’t blame them. I was a terrible employee. I was good for a while; but you know, as soon as I didn’t think they were doing the right thing, being arrogant, I just you know, I just said, “That’s it.”
Serena (Interviewer): I hear from a lot of business owners that that’s actually how they start. ’Cause either a redundancy, or something happens, and they’re just, yeah, it’s like kind of, “What’s next? Because I don’t have any other options.”
Glenn: Yeah. And I’d always wanted to start a copywriting business; I toyed with the business name of course, and it was a little bit of a dream for me. But I’d never really seriously considered it, ’cause I just didn’t have the balls to do it. I’d grown up with an employee mentality and we were in an employee family, and I just kind of, that was the natural thing for me. But I was always very unhappy in employee roles; I was always looking for something more, and jumping around from job to job and wanting more money, and trying to create more challenges for myself. So that was all part of the problem; and I didn’t know it, but at the time they did me the greatest favour they could.
Serena (Interviewer): Yeah. Now tell us a bit about, for those who don’t know, what copywriting and in particular SEO copywriting is.
Glenn: Alright. Copywriting is simply the writing of words to promote a product or service; and the particular ‘brand’ of copywriting, I suppose, that I do is website copywriting. I didn’t set out to do that, but I suppose with my IT background – I’m not an IT person by the way, I’ve got a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts; so I was very …
Johnny B (Interviewer): In what?
Glenn: Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Linguistics, and a Master of Arts in International Communication.
Johnny B (Interviewer): Wow.
Glenn: And what’s more, both from Macquarie Uni, very highly regarded amongst IT people. So yeah, I was well out of my environment in the IT world. But given my IT background, a lot of people, you know, were interested in getting me to write their web copy, as if that was some sort of IT project.
And then when SEO copy came around, I had no idea what it was; and I heard the label once and I had a look, did a search on the Internet, and I can’t remember her name – Jill Whalen, she’s a quite, quite famous, bit of a celebrity in the US in the SEO world; and she’s an ex-copywriter, or still is kind of an SEO copywriter. And I read an eBook of hers, and it’s the only eBook I’ve ever bought, actually. And I thought, “Well yeah, okay.” It was like 20 pages, and I thought, “I can do that.”
And turns out SEO copywriting is simply using the words that people are searching for to find your product or service, it’s making sure that those words are included in your web copy.
Serena (Interviewer): ’Cause it’s a massive art form, isn’t it? It’s like, I think still, I talk to a lot of businesses who, they just put the brochure copy onto their website, and yeah.
But now there’s like, it’s way beyond anything that I can really … I can understand it, but yeah, it’s just, when I start hearing it I kind of glaze over. But how does it actually work? Like it’s really important obviously for Google.
Glenn: It is. Although I’ll qualify everything I say by saying firstly, you always have to give your user preference. So if there’s ever a contest between what Google wants and what your readers want, you’ve got to favour your reader, because they have the money. Google doesn’t give you anything.
Johnny B (Interviewer): And so what does that mean, really? So somebody’s looking for a certain thing as opposed to how Google is going to rank? You tailor towards what people are looking for, is that it?
Glenn: Well, I’ll give you an example. If, and kind of answer both questions at once – if your, what’s your website that you …
Johnny B (Interviewer): SoberPaddy, SoberPaddy.com.
Glenn: SoberPaddy. Okay. So if you, and what do you think people are searching for when they’re looking for that website? Or what is it that you offer on that website?
Johnny B (Interviewer): I don’t really offer anything per se. It’s not so much I’m creating some sort of, something I can sell, not at the moment; but it’s pretty much just a database for people who have got alcoholic or tendencies or problems, or are trying to give up alcohol.
Serena (Interviewer): Kind of inspiring though, really, isn’t it?
Johnny B (Interviewer): Something like that, yeah.
Glenn: So they can get a bit of, glean a bit of support from …
Johnny B (Interviewer): Information supports and, yeah.
Glenn: So you might conceivably want to rank for alcohol support, alcoholism support.
Johnny B (Interviewer): Yeah.
Glenn: Now let’s, you know, you wouldn’t just assume that; but just for now, let’s say that that’s what you want to rank for. That would mean that on your website, you should include the phrase “alcoholism support” quite frequently. And in reality, more often than any other single phrase.
Johnny B (Interviewer): Okay.
Glenn: And you also have to think about including it in the right places, and that means like in your headings and your bullet points; in bolded text; in numbered lists; in links; those sorts of places.
’Cause they, anywhere where people look for meaning, where people will scan. If you’re reading a website and you scan, you look at certain places, and they happen to be the headings, the bullet points, etcetera; because people do that Google, places a great deal of value on those places to assess what your site is about.
Johnny B (Interviewer): Okay.
Glenn: Okay. So SEO copywriting is really important, because in using those phrases in the right places at the right frequency, you’re telling Google what your site is about, okay. And that’s one of the three pillars, I suppose, of SEO.
The other two pillars, the first pillar is that your site has to be readable by the search engines, ’cause they send out this little robot – you could call it Googlebot – and Googlebot crawls all over your site and “reads”, in quotes, the words on your page and, and tries to make some judgements about what your page is about, based on those words. If it can’t crawl your site, then it doesn’t matter what you write or how good you do what you do – how well you do what you do, sorry – it won’t matter, ’cause Google can’t read it.
Serena (Interviewer): Is that ’cause people are using like Flash, or are there other reasons?
Glenn: Sometimes, yeah. Flash is a big one. Google has gotten better at reading Flash; but still, I run a flash website and I provide an HTML alternative which I redirect the search engines to, ’cause they can’t read Flash very well.
And other people use images, and they get a designer to design something really, really cool. And then they’ve got all the words in a single image file, and they present that as their web copy. And if you can’t select it with your mouse, essentially, Google can’t read it. So they can’t read anything inside an image like a JPEG; if all your words are in a JPEG, they can’t read it.
Johnny B (Interviewer): Okay. Oh.
Glenn: So those are the sorts of things, and there’s plenty more that you can do wrong and can totally block Google from reading what you do.
Serena (Interviewer): And what would you say for like bloggers? Because SEO copywriting, it’s great if you can get it on your site for the pages that are static; but what if you’re just blogging on a regular basis and you don’t have any sort of static about new kind of information?
Glenn: Well that’s even better. Bloggers have the upper hand in reality, because – and this leads me to the third pillar, which is links. So the first pillar is, you know, your site has to be readable by the search engines. Second pillar is, you have to use the right words in the right places so when they do read your site, they understand what it’s about. And the third pillar is that you have to get lots of links to your site; because that tells Google that your site is important. ’Cause if other people are linking to you, they must have a good reason for it.
Now Google is very good – you can’t just go out and buy a link, for instance, because Google … well you can, and it’s not illegal; but Google doesn’t like it, and if it finds out you’ve done that, they’ll discount those links and maybe even ban you. And they’ve got lots of very smart people developing algorithms to determine whether you’ve done that. So you’ve got to give other webmasters a good reason to link to you. And if you can’t buy links, and swapping links doesn’t do much ’cause Google sees they’re linking to you and you’re linking to them and it goes, “Oh well, they’ve just made an arrangement.” So you’re kind of left without much choice; you can throw a few links on directories …
Serena (Interviewer): How effective is it to link, say, on, when you do a comment on someone’s post or on someone’s site?
Glenn: Normally comments, the links in comments are what they call “no follow”, which means that Google doesn’t pass any, any value from their site to yours. So it basically doesn’t count.
A good way, a simplistic way of thinking of SEO or the Google ranking algorithm – and it’s very simplistic, but it does help you – is that if you think of the whole Internet as a big election where every site is a candidate and every link to a site is a vote for that candidate, then the site with the most links is the candidate with the most votes, and they win the election. Now that’s very simplistic, because there are certain types of links, and some links are better than others, and all that sort of thing; but yeah, links and comments, they don’t get counted as a vote.
Johnny B (Interviewer): So if you can’t buy the links and you can’t get the links by posting comments, how do you get links? Is it they have to occur naturally, people have to put up sort of …
Serena (Interviewer): They have to like you?
Johnny B (Interviewer): That’s pretty much it, isn’t it?
Glenn: Well that’s very true, actually. But you know …
Johnny B (Interviewer): Oh, there’s no chance of me succeeding there.
Glenn: Oh you’d get links for your accent.
Johnny B (Interviewer): Yeah, yeah. Oh, maybe I’ll just put my accent up everywhere. There you go.
Glenn: It’d work well. Yeah, you do; you have to, you do have to give them a good reason to link to you. And if you think about it, if you wanted to help your readers and there was some other site that was really helpful and it had a lot of great information about alcoholism, you’re likely to link to it because that will help your readers.
So if you want to get links, if you want to attract links, the best way to do it for most businesses is to provide really helpful information in your niche.
So if you know a lot about something, like alcohol, alcoholism, you know, you can write some really helpful, informative, supportive stuff; and then when another site, say a site, a family support group, runs a blog and they’re writing about families, you know, impacted by alcoholism, they might say, “And if you’re in the Bondi area, check out this site – this is a great site,” and then they’ll link to it, and they’ll most likely link to it with your keywords – “Check out this alcoholism support site.” And that link will go, sorry, those words will go in the link, and that’s called the anchor text. And that link then carries a lot more weight because it uses your phrase. And what’s more, it’s coming from a site that’s relevant to yours, which is really important; and the page that it’s coming from has relevant content, related content, to yours, and they’re the best sorts of links.
Serena (Interviewer): What about links on like social media, like Facebook and Twitter?
Glenn: No, links from social media typically don’t carry any weight from a ranking perspective; but social media is critical to the overall SEO mix, because how is that family support blog, that blogger, how are they going to find out about your blog? The best way for them to find out about your blog is if you get on Twitter on Facebook, and for me my social media platform of choice is Twitter, ’cause it’s far more comfortable for me. So I would get on, in your shoes I’d get on Twitter and I’d follow other people who are in the Family Services sort of arena; and you know, if someone asks a question about alcoholism, you can help them, answer their question. Even if it’s kind of not even really related to specifically what you do.
The important thing is that you’re generating, like you said, do they have to like you – you said that earlier – and that’s true; in social media, it’s a real, you actually develop real relationships. And it sounds a bit kinky, but it’s true. It’s, well you wouldn’t be the first to get married from a Twitter proposal I’m sure, but …
Johnny B (Interviewer): I’d say it’s happened.
Glenn: Yeah, I’m sure it has. But the idea is that you become part of a genuine community; and it’s just like any networking event, you help people and they help you, and they start to like you and trust you and respect you. And that means that whenever you say something, they start to listen. And if you help them, they might even feel obligated to you.
So if you do that for quite a while, and then suddenly you say, “I’ve just written this really good blog post,” most of, or a lot of those people if they hear you or see you say that, ’cause they follow you, they will go and check out your blog post. And that in itself gets you a bit of traffic, a bit of buzz; they’ll start talking about it in their own, they’ll start Tweeting about it themselves; and none of that will help your SEO, but one of those people or two of those people might be in the process of writing a Family Services blog, and they might say, “I’ve just discovered this really great blog post,” and they’ll link to it. And that building of the buzz is how you announce your content and how people find out about it, and that’s how you generate the links.
So social media helps you, and it’s critical to the mix; but it only helps indirectly.
Serena (Interviewer): Yep.
Glenn: So the links from Twitter, for instance, they’re no-follow, they don’t pass any weight, and you can’t rely on, you know, you can’t just say …. ’Cause you could hire 100,000 Indians and pay them $50 a day, and if that worked you could make a massive fortune; but it just doesn’t work like that.
Serena (Interviewer): Yep. Yeah, well they should tell those people who keep spamming comments onto my site that it doesn’t work. Hundreds and hundreds.
Johnny B (Interviewer): You should use, do you use WordPress?
Serena (Interviewer): Yeah. So I use something that gets rid of them, but I didn’t know at first. And I was like, it’s quite, I guess at first you’re like, “Oh, these people are commenting and reading my blog.” And then you realise that they all look the same, and they don’t quite have anything to do with my blog.
Johnny B (Interviewer): Ukrainian window cleaning service.
Serena (Interviewer): Yep.
Johnny B (Interviewer): Oh.
Glenn: And probably, it’s probably wasting their time as well as yours; because it’s probably the case that your blog has been set to “no follow comments”.
Serena (Interviewer): Yep.
Glenn: Not all blogs are like that, but most are. Some people do pass value through their comment links, but most people don’t.
Serena (Interviewer): Yep.
Glenn: And it never ceases to amaze me that they do the same; every now and again one slips through. If you’re using WordPress for your blog, you can install the Akismet …
Serena (Interviewer): Yep. That’s great.
Glenn: … spam plugin, and it takes care of most. But every now and then one of them slips through, and I just look at it and I think, “Why bother?” Half of them don’t even put a link in. I just wonder why.
Serena (Interviewer): It’s mad. Now we’re going to play a track; stay tuned, we’ll be back very shortly with Glenn Murray. Up now we have Damien Dempsey, It’s All Good. You’re listening to Bondi FM.
You’re listening to Bondi FM. That was Damien Dempsey, It’s All Good. And it is all good. We’re here in the studio with Glenn Murray from Divine Write.
Now we talked a lot about the SEO side of things, so tell us a bit about SEO copywriting side?
Glenn: Okay. Well SEO copywriting does fit very neatly into that mix, and it’s a really important part of SEO broadly speaking. As I mentioned before, SEO copywriting is about making sure that you include the words that your target visitors are searching for in Google. You’ve got to make sure you know what those phrases are, and that you include those phrases frequently in your copy and in the right places in your copy. That’s what SEO copy’s all about.
And in reality, the two parts of SEO copy are “SEO” and “copy”. The SEO part is really fairly simple. It’s not an art; it’s a technique. And whereas the copy part is an art, and it’s always a challenge. Once you learn the techniques of SEO in SEO copy, the SEO part is, it becomes a fairly, you know, it’s almost like a checklist. But the copy part of SEO copy is always a challenge, and you’re always thinking, try and put yourself in the reader’s shoes and try and put yourself in the business owner’s shoes. And that does become a real challenge. And that challenge is made greater by the need to optimise for Google.
So in fact, I wasn’t just thrown into copywriting, I was thrown into SEO copywriting as well; because after I read that Jill Whalen book, my, I got a job as a, I was owned, I was running Divine Write and I’d been running it for about a year, and it was just going nowhere, and I was really struggling; I’d made a thousand cold calls in a year, telephone calls, and they were not to a thousand different clients but a thousand calls with call backs and that sort of thing. And it just wasn’t working.
So I ended up taking a Marketing Co-ordinator contract for a Sydney company for a three-month short-term contract; and my role there was amongst, you know, doing marketing co-ordination sort of things; I was also writing their SEO copy. And Chris, the boss, he said to me, “We need the SEO copy.” And I said, “That’s great, but I don’t know broader SEO.” And he said, “That’s fine; we’ve got someone else doing that.”
So next day I came in, start, and he said, “Oh, we changed our mind, by the way. We want you to do our SEO too, and not just the SEO copy.” And I nearly fell off my seat; I had no idea, honestly. And I said, “I can’t do that. I don’t know how.” And he said, “Well, I’m paying you by the hour – figure it out.”
Johnny B (Interviewer): “Figure it out”, yeah.
Glenn: Yeah, and he did, and I …
Johnny B (Interviewer): “You’re a smart boy.”
Serena (Interviewer): It’s a sweet deal.
Glenn: Well, it was pretty good. And fortunately in SEO, there were a lot of geeks, and most of those geeks were fairly friendly. And I got a lot of help just free, you know. People would just out of goodwill help me, show me the ropes, and threw a few links my way to the site that I was optimising. And we managed to get the site optimised and ranking number four in Australia for its key phrase “disaster recovery”, which was a big one in the computer industry, within that three months. And the beauty of that was, at the time I was then going home and optimising my own site in the same way.
But yeah, SEO copywriting is really important; and I don’t mean to diminish it, but the SEO part is just really a checklist. I would offer, I would urge people not to, or caution people not to get too carried away with some of the rumours and the hype that you hear about SEO generally, but also SEO copy; and probably the biggest one that people, the biggest mistake people make is they hear all about this thing called SEO, sorry, keyword density. And keyword density is the measure of how many times you’ve used your key phrase, for instance “alcoholism support”, how many times you have used that phrase on your page.
Now the way it works is that if you’ve got a hundred words on your page and you use that phrase five times, then its keyword density is 5%. Now SEOs love it; search engine optimisation practitioners, people who do this for a living, they love it; because it gives them another metric they can throw at the client and kind of distract the client a little bit. And Google doesn’t think in terms of keyword density at all; there’s some really good readings out there about why it’s irrelevant. But it is completely irrelevant.
So don’t get hung up on keyword density. It is important that you include your key phrases more often than any other phrase; so in your case, “alcoholism support”, if you’ve got that phrase on your page seven times and you’ve got 300 words on your page and there is no other phrase with, no other two word phrase with, that appears more than seven times, then you’re kind of okay. And there are tools you can use for that; one is, you can develop a, generate a word cloud out of your copy and it shows you which are the most frequently used words just … you’ve probably seen those word clouds out there where you get, it is, it’s literally a cloud of words; and the most frequently used words are the bigger, bolder words in the cloud, and the ones that are used hardly at all are small and fine. And that tells you, if you see your words from your phrase big and bold, it means you’ve used them quite often.
So that would be my first tip, is to avoid the keyword density trap.
Serena (Interviewer): And will this be in, you’ve got an eBook that you’re going to be giving away – so if you’re interested in this, stay tuned – but will all this be kind of covered in the eBook?
Glenn: It is, it is. All of this, the eBook that I’m giving away is my SEO copywriting eBook called Practical SEO Copywriting. Very imaginative. And it covers all of this in great detail. So if you, you don’t feel you have to be taking notes; but it does, and it does cover the, all of the balance between what readers want and what Google wants. Which is the real problem; that’s what I’m saying, don’t include your keyword phrase ten times per hundred words and ignore keyword density; because if you do do that, every second word on your page nearly will be your keyword phrase. And if you do that, readers will notice, and it will just read terribly. And people will think it’s really spamming; and people who don’t know anything about SEO will just think you’re an idiot. People who do know about SEO will think you’re a spamming idiot. So you’ve got to really ignore that.
Johnny B (Interviewer): It’s lose, lose, lose.
Glenn: Yeah. And that’s one of the, there is always a bit of a conflict between what users what and, sorry what readers want and what Google wants. And my book, my SEO copywriting eBook, is all about how to balance those needs. I do say always to try to favour the reader, but you don’t always have to make an either/or decision. So …
Serena (Interviewer): And how can people get hold of your book?
Glenn: Well I’m offering the eBook as a free bonus for people who sign up to my newsletter. So you can get it from my website at “divinewrite.com/news”, and that’s D-I-V-I-N-E-W-R-I-T-E, dot com, forward slash news. And you’ll probably find a little added bonus within the book; towards the end, there’s a 50% discount code for my other eBook, which is my SEO eBook, which is about the broader feel of SEO.
So it’s the SEO copywriting eBook that I’m giving away for free, and again, get that at “divinewrite.com/news”, and you’ll get the bonus of the 50% off the second book, which is the SEO book.
Serena (Interviewer): Wicked! Thank you so much for coming in. We’re running out of time, unfortunately.
Glenn: Did I talk too much?
Johnny B (Interviewer): Is he still talking, can we not just cut his mike?
Serena (Interviewer): Cool. Thank you so much. If you have an interest in copywriting, and in particular SEO copywriting, then check out “divinewrite.com” and subscribe for the free eBook. Check it out.
Thank you so much for coming in.
Glenn: Thanks, guys. It’s a pleasure.
Serena (Interviewer): You’ve been listening to Bondi FM. This is The Live Peep show. Up next we have a little track for you, Feel the Sunshine.
End of Interview.
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