Copywriting is dead; long live copywriting!

  • 1
  • May 6, 2014
Stephen Kenwright

Stephen Kenwright

Strategy Director

In SEO, ‘copywriting’ is a dirty word.

It conjures connotations of spam. An ‘SEO Copywriter’ is usually worth $5 for a few hundred words. ‘SEO copy’ is stuffed with keywords – is never more than one page of a Word doc – and looks like it’s translated from another language. Sometimes it is.

…but ‘copywriting’ is what our clients call ‘content writing’. Often we can write ‘content’ when we are talking to our SEO friends…but when we’re talking to clients we write ‘copy’. For businesses copy is just one element of their content. Somehow ‘Content Writer’ doesn’t do David Ogilvy justice,

There’s a very good reason why a great Copywriter can command a wage upwards of the figure many SEO professionals can expect to receive – there’s a need for copy and content outside of the boundaries of SEO. Even in the industry, it’s becoming essential to be a good writer if you’re going to succeed.

I was copywriting several years before I was involved in SEO, and as recently as a couple of years ago when I was last freelancing a brief for an SEO agency would amount to little more than “stretch these two sentences over 400 words, 10 times”. When the inevitable Panda issues arrived after populating a site with low quality copy the understanding was that there just wasn’t enough copy on the site and more low quality copy was ordered. In 2014 it’s much more beneficial for a website to get across those 400 words of information in 2 sentences – think how much more value you can get from one tweet than you can from the entire library of Ezine Articles.

SEO Copywriting ≠ Content Marketing

Content Marketing’ has largely replaced ‘SEO Copywriting’ as the industry accepted term for putting pen to paper. While the fact that more and more SEOs doing good things with content is helping to enhance our reputation among bloggers, businesses and in-house marketing departments, there are plenty of less scrupulous companies that are just substituting one term for another.

Some changes are simple – like replacing ‘link juice’ with authority or even link equity – some just come down to remembering who we’re talking to and using ‘title’ instead of ‘H1 tag’ when it’s more appropriate. Some terms aren’t interchangeable – we have to remember that copywriting is so much more than we’ve been making it out to be.

Sites like Copyblogger are going some way to restoring the reputation of proper copywriting within the industry. Brian Clark published a post called ‘SEO Copywriting is Dead’ back in 2006 – about the same time that the industry was starting to experiment with spinning and syndication.


This was back when Copyblogger still published comments – this post only got one.

Google wants to rank websites that provide the best user experience and Digital Marketers such as ourselves are advocating the art of great storytelling in order to achieve rankings, so the term ‘SEO Copywriting’ should all but die out in the next few years. That doesn’t mean that every piece of copy we create can or should be labelled as Content Marketing. There’s a significant difference between copywriting and content marketing – if we’re going to move into the latter we should at least learn what that difference is – Sonia Simone was most of the way there in 2011.

If we want our clients’ PR departments to start building links while they just happen to be on the phone to a journalist – or if we want to become more involved with other aspects of our businesses in general, because that’s what we need in order to do SEO in 2014 – we have to start speaking their language. We can start by taking back copywriting.