The author of this guest post is Jack Harms, an independent professional who is currently doing business as “The Marketing Department.

We are pleased to have Jack contribute his thoughts here on our blog. The thing that Jack said to me recently regarding writing for websites versus writing for traditional print advertizing is, “It’s like writing an ad for the new Jaguar, but being forced to call it a ‘car’… The last thing you want to call it in an ad is a ‘car’.” Let’s listen to this man of experience as he explains it to us this way:

I’ve been writing website copy lately.  As I focused more and more attention on ensuring I got as many keywords as reasonable into my paragraphs, it struck me that advertising copywriting as we used to know it may soon be a thing of the past.

I was schooled as a copywriter in two of Chicago’s more prestigious advertising agencies.  Writing ads the way I’m asked to write website copy would have gotten me banished to the research department.

The goal of advertising copy is to use interesting, engaging, even captivating – if you’re any good – terms that present your subject in such a way readers/hearers/viewers take away a positive, hard to forget image, and ideally are motivated to pursue purchase.

Writing for search optimization is different altogether.  The primary difference: It’s the readers/hearers/viewers who select the words you are to use.  Not the kind of unique, exciting, involving words that might increase someone’s interest in a product/service.  Website copy must be filled with words that come into the mind of an average person when he/she thinks about the genus of a product/service.  It’s like writing an ad for the new Jaguar, but being forced to call it a “car”, “sports car”, and “luxury sports car” over and over.  Doesn’t exactly differentiate the Jag from all the other automobiles that can be similarly classified.  If you want to create interest and enthusiasm for a car, the last thing you want to call it in an ad is a “car”.

The more of these “key words” (so called to avoid terming them “commodity” words, which they are) you can use in your web copy the better.  That will supposedly increase the chances of someone finding your client’s website.  Of course, when they do, they’ll then get to read even more of the repetitious descriptions that lead them to the site in the first place.

Trying to incorporated innovative copy in addition all the SEO language only leads to the all-too-familiar critique: “That’s too many words.  No one is ever going to read all that.”

Maybe the most frightening thing about website copywriting is that its quality isn’t being determined by writers, or even buyers, but by Google’s computer programmers.  It’s their mysterious, continually altered algorithm that’s judging the merits of the prose, merits defined by where in the search results your website address appears.

I guess you could call that “buying” of a sort.  But it’s way too accidental for those of us who used to have the effectiveness of our work determined by changes in product movement off store shelves.

Besides, mention algorithm to any 100 marketing/advertising types and watch their eyes glaze over.  Only 2 of the group will know what it is, and only one of them will know how it works…maybe.  Google has reduced writers to trying to out guess lines of computer code they don’t understand and that no one will explain.  In fact, the creators of the code militantly protect their progeny from even professional plying.

Try playing baseball in Googleland

The first change; all National and American league teams would compete against one another simultaneously, 162 times a year.  There wouldn’t actually have to be any team-against-team games, since runs scored might not be how winning was determined.

You can be pretty sure winning would have something to do with batters, because batters are closely tied to the traditional way of winning, scoring the most runs.

But because Google won’t tell you exactly how your batters’ performance will be evaluated, you can’t really decide how best to build your team.  Will you win by having the most batters come to the plate? That means you need lots of “singles” hitters.  Maybe it’s the highest number of fly balls hit, whether caught or not.  Heavy up on the home run hitter types.  Maybe it’s how many batters reach second base.  Sign singles hitters who can also run.  But maybe… it’s not batters at all… but the combined height and weight of the team you put on the field.  Not a pretty thought.

Regardless, after completing nine innings, both teams sit in the dugout and wait for someone from Google to announce who won the game.  When the winner is eventually declared, no explanation of how or why they won is offered.  Team names simply appear in a top-to-bottom listing…a listing that changes with each game played.  In some instances, the Google man might even declare extra innings are needed, again for reasons only he knows.

Recognizing the indispensability of websites and their undeniable strength as a sales tool, maybe a different approach to utilizing their value should be considered…one that is less reliant on search and more on finding.

What would you prefer:

A) Putting your salesperson in front of a room filled with modestly to passingly interested listeners, and having him/her make a presentation composed primarily of common, commodity-rated, generalized terminology that provides little if any differentiating information about what makes your product/service a superior value.

B) Putting your salesperson in front of a smaller, maybe much smaller, number of listeners who have gone out of their way to be in the room, and having him/her make a presentation focused tightly and effectively on the many benefits delivered by the unique features of your product/service.

The sales fact to consider before choosing is that only prospects buy.  Prospects are those who a) have recognized a problem and b) feel your product/service might be a solution.  Time and money spent dealing with non-prospects (known as suspects) is time and money wasted. Marketing activities should be devoted to identifying, contacting and communicating with prospects.

We also need to admit that, regardless of how well written your SEO paragraphs, there is only so much room on Google Page One… and it will never be enough for everyone.

So rather than relying on search as the primary way of attracting visitors, the majority of whom likely qualify as suspects, what about putting other communications tools back to work finding and developing website visitors…visitors who qualify as prospects, since they didn’t simply browse onto your website, but made a proactive, site-address-specific choice to visit.

Anticipating an audience of prospects wanting you to convince them yours are the best solutions, your website can now present your distinctive advantages in interesting, exciting, motivating ways that might lose you the Google ball game, but can succeed in building your business.

About the Author:

Jack started out of college (BA Journalism: Marquette, Master/Advertising, Northwestern, Evanston, IL) working as a copywriter at Foote, Cone & Belding, Chicago and moved onto creative supervisor at Leo Burnett, Chicago.  He left the agency business and worked as Marketing Manager/Director/Vice President for companies ranging from consumer products, lawn & garden equipment, housing and transportation (a van line company) for the next 14 years.  Jack has been a marketing/sales consultant for the last 25 years.  Much of his service consists of designing, writing and producing advertising, brochures, graphic presentations, and mailers – and now websites and related on-line materials – for a wide range of clients.  He has also created and presented over 300 seminars to groups of corporate executives and sales personnel on subjects related to improving marketing and sales efficiency.

Meanwhile, Can Customer Reviews Increase Marketing Results in Online Search?