Lies Writers Tell To Cripple Your SEO Copywriting


Even the newest of SEOs and marketers understand how important content is to developing a brand presence. Your content is who you are. It’s your voice in the market and what you use to convey your message to customers. It’s through the combination of your Web site copy, your blog, your article marketing, your pitches, and your social updates that you reach prospective customers and turn them on until they become full-blown customers. There’s just one problem.

You…well, you can’t write. Or at least that’s what you’ve been telling yourself for the past thirty years.

Because you don’t believe you can write, you seek out advice, often from writers (or self-proclaimed ones). You ask for their tools of the trade and writing advice. The problem is sometimes these folks point you in the wrong direction. They don’t mean to feed you lies or bad best practices. It just, well, happens.

For example, below are five well-intentioned pieces of writing advice that may actually do more harm than good when you’re trying to build content for an SEO campaign. Break these “words of wisdom” and the content you put out will thank you. It will also probably suck less.

“Listen to music while writing!”

This might be the worst piece of advice ever told. And how many times have you heard it? About a million. You’re told that if you listen to music while you write it will help you block out distractions and make you focus better. And it will. If you’re listening to jazz or classical music or anything that doesn’t have actual words happening. But most of us aren’t listening to that. We’re listening to the music we like. Music with catchy beats, sweet lyrics, and that makes us dance around in our chair without a hint of shame. Essentially, it creates an even more powerful distraction – the need to get all Kevin Bacon up in our office.

Because our brain can’t help but focus on the words we’re hearing, listening to music ends up making us less focused and more ADD than we’d be on our own. It’s not music that helps you tune out the world, noise does. Want to put yourself into a trance of super-focus? Let SimplyNoise help you white-noise your way to productivity or check out RainyMood to let rain and thunder guide the words out.  These two sites will help you block out disruptions WITHOUT adding more to the fire.

“Just write what you know!”

Not sure what to write about in your blog today or what to create a sizzling new infographic around? Just write what you know! I’m not sure what that really means, but it’s terrible, vague and misleading advice. You should not write about what you know. No one really cares about all the things you know. What they do care about is what they WANT to know. The information they’re interested in and the advice that’s going to help them do something in their lives better. It’s not about you at all.

But fret not! The truly fantastic thing about having customers on the Web is that they tell you, every day, exactly what it is they want to know. They’re leaving you messages in your analytics, your site logs, through the conversations they have with you via social channels, and through the search modifiers they use. Don’t write what you know. Write what they’re asking for. And use all the information you have at your disposal to figure out what the heck that is. Then serve it back to them.

“Write to impress!”

Telling someone they need to “come off smart”, “impress their audience” or “sound like an expert” in the content they write is a fantastic way to paralyze them or put them on a sad journey of incredibly awkward writing where their Web site copy reads like their 10th grade essay on Shakespeare. You don’t need to sound intelligent or like a scientist when talking to your customers. You just need to sound like them.

  • You need to use the same words they do.
  • You need to use the same paint points.
  • You need to show the same fears, the same concerns, the same wants.
  • You need to be weird like them.

The best way to ruin the writing you’re doing for your SEO campaign is to focus on yourself or your company. Focus on them. Sound and represent them. That’s where the magic happens.

“Writing is serious business!”

You’re writing content to introduce people to your brand, to communicate with them, and to drive them to take a particular action. You’re not curing cancer (unless you are) or saving puppies (again, unless you are). So take off the cape and remove all that pressure that goes along with having to save the world on a daily or weekly basis and just write.

Write to your audience. Tell them exactly what you want them to know, in your own words but in their language. Talk to them like you’re talking to your closest friend. If it helps you get the words out, have a drink or two while you’re trying to find your magic and get it all out. You can write buzzed, you just have to make sure you edit sober. Do whatever you need to do to remove the pressure. It’s not going to help you speak to your audience any more effectively.

“Only share when you have an original idea!”

If you truly believe that you can’t put finger to keyboard until you have something truly original and remarkable to say…you’re going to spend a lot of time NOT writing content to help your search engine optimization efforts. There are no original ideas left. Everything you produce is going to be a reflection of things you’ve consumed, thought about, were inspired by from someone else. And that’s okay to admit. It’s okay to mention how reading a blog post from Copyblogger changed the way you looked at copy and how Rhea’s post on OODA loops changed the way you handle the SEO process. You don’t have to be 100 percent original. You have to be interesting and valuable. Sometimes we confuse those and don’t write content that could be great.

Those are just a handful of “good writing myths” that I’ve seen suck the life out of many SEO campaigns or blog posts. What stumps your writing? Or what’s helped you break through and write content that your audience relates to?

Your Comments

  • Angelos

    I am ALWAYS listening to music. Not an issue with me there.

    But the other four are spot on.

    I’m trying to get my site up and running, and the pro content that’s in draft form still is killing me. It has to be PERFECT. But Writing is never perfect. I always see better ways to phrase something the next day. And the next. And the next. SERIOUS BUSINESS!

  • Frank Reed

    Great post, Lisa. I write every day and needed to hear practical advice like this.

    One thing I really agree with is that there are no original ideas left. You are exactly right. Even the Bible says there is nothing new under the sun. This is not a problem but rather a great opportunity. It’s the reason why we have community wherever we find it. We are not looking for something new but something familiar.

    The “new” part comes with challenging like minded folks to expand on ideas and not settle for the status quo. Growth comes from taking your existing knowledge and molding it in the best direction to get better. Along the way you may run into something that is new to you but not truly “new”.

    In the end we talk about “new” technology but all that does is enable something that is as old as the human race: communication.

    Anyway, I have said enough. Nice post. Thanks.

    • Lisa Barone

      That’s a great comment, Frank, thanks. I love looking at expanding old ideas as an “opportunity”. So true.

    • Bob Gladstein

      A friend of mine happened to post this quote from the filmmaker Jim Jarmusch today:

      “Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”

  • Jill Whalen

    While I agree with your advice here (although I do listen to music with words…softly in the background), I am not sure that everyone is cut out to be a writer. Even if they follow all your advice.

    Just like any personal talent, there are people who can and should write, and those who can’t and shouldn’t. Thankfully, those in the latter group can hire professionals who can do it for them.

    • Lisa Barone

      Surely, not everyone is going to become the world’s best writer. And this makes me very happy (job security). But I think most businesses would improve their SEO writing DRASTICALLY if they got out of their own heads and set themselves up to succeed. Especially for small business owners – you are your customer. You talk to them everyday. Once you remove the pressure, the words tend to come out a lot easier. Even if they’re not perfect or as snarky as I would have written them. ;)

      • Jill Whalen

        Perhaps a compromise is in order. The not-so-great writers can put out a first draft, and then the professional writer can transform their great information and voice into awesome content that sings. :) (I always think of great writing like beautiful music…unfortunately, it can be rare to find great writing online.)

        • Lisa Barone

          Hey, I’ve often wished myself that I could just write a first draft and then have someone clean it up for me and make it pretty. I used to have Susan Esparza but now I have to do it myself. Or…not do it. :)

  • Princess Jones

    I don’t know about the music one, either. I guess I’m just not the type to hear a song and forget what I’m working on. But that writing to impress one is something that will have me gnashing my teeth in annoyance! I always wonder if they realize that all these big words make them sound inaccessible at best and stupid at worst.

    • Lisa Barone

      Ha, yeah, I hear you on the big words. Unless you’re trying to reach an audience that really does talk like that in every day conversations…what are you doing? You’re giving your audience nothing to relate to and probably scaring them.

  • Todd Mintz

    Music is as essential to writing as caffeine. My opinion of course…

  • Bhaskar Sarma

    Writing with music never worked for me. Neither does coffee in the morning.

    I used to wonder if I was the only writer who can’t write with music in the background. Now that you came out and spoke about music’s potential as a productivity killer, I can rest easy.

    Just say that coffee does not work for you either and I will wear a top hat, a waistcoat and monocles and tap dance on my desk ;-)

    On a more serious note, one thing that keeps me from writing more efficiently are long revision cycles. I find myself agonizing over drafts after multiple edits, reading the published piece and then spotting a silly typo or a grammar error.

    I guess I will get better with time.

    How many times did you rewrite this article before you hit the publish button?

    • Lisa Barone

      I don’t drink coffee to write either. We may be soul mates. ;)

      Do you read your drafts out loud when you’re editing them? If not, you might want to try doing that. It’s a really great way of spotting things that your eye just scans over and doesn’t pick up. Do that a few times and if it “sounds” right, then publish. I wouldn’t worry over every little typo. Obviously, do your best to catch them but if a few make it in, I don’t think it’s the end of the world. No one’s perfect. And it’s better to have slightly imperfect copy out there than nothing.

      I probably read this over and edited things 3-4 times before publishing.

  • Rufus Dogg

    Wannabe writers say stuff like this, just like wannabe ad men say “sex sells.”

  • Claudia Corrigan D'Arcy

    I’m one of those people who NEVER considered themselves a writer,until I began writing. Thankfully, I learned write online and the main goal was always communication to actual people. Sometimes I had to say the same thing over and over again in different ways to get my point across. That turned out to be a handy SEO skill too since now I can use the same keywords to say the same thing in different ways. I like to say to follow the Urban Sombrero example especially for products: give me a story that I will remember like they do in the J Peterman catalog.
    The “impressive” writing always sounds like lingo and BS. People don’t want marketing speak. Sometimes I leave a website still frustrated say ” but what do you DO???”
    Communication #fail!

  • Devon

    The music one is *really* reaching here.

  • Sonia Simone

    I don’t know who you people are who can listen to music (specifically, music you like, with lyrics and such) while you write. I’m with Lisa on this one. Huge distraction, very hard to get into the words in front of you.

  • Dave Doolin

    It helps to like music without lyrics. =)

  • Jess Joyce

    I can’t write without listening to music. Actually I can’t do much without music on around me – I always have either earbuds on or have music on around me wherever I go. I took a job at HMV for 3 years so I could work while there was constantly music on.
    Silence and that white noise stuff scare me and I find more distracting than just listening to a catchy tune, or even some metal on depending on the task at hand.

    Music to me is like songs in movies, essential and even mood setting :)

  • Shannon Steffen | Human SEO

    Brilliant, Lisa! This is what I’ve been telling my clients for years. They know their products and services better than anyone else. With a bit of guidance, they can become their best voice for success… even if they don’t think they can write.

    A copywriter and I met for coffee this morning. One of the main topics of discussion was the success found when you write like you speak. People want to hear you – the real you. And, after you are done writing as the “real you”, then you can tweak the content to add that keyword density you need.

    Never be a carbon copy of someone else. Success is found in being yourself.

    • Rufus Dogg

      The big thing that keeps my clients from writing blog posts is they don’t trust themselves as writers. I tell them to just write as they think and talk. Nobody is going to see THAT copy except both of us and I already know what they sound like. When they are done, they trust me to clean it up, make it flow, use the right words, whatever.. but to just get the ideas on paper is the biggest hurdle. It is far easier to edit the ideas of a client — especially the conclusion they want to draw — than it is to guess at what they are thinking. Sometimes the best writer is a really good copyeditor.

      • Bhaskar Sarma

        Tell me about it.

        I told one of my clients to just jot down a few bullet points and what kind of conclusion their post was going to take. I would do the rest of the work and the result would be a well written blog post with a nice headline and appropriate keywords.

        But that didn’t happen. Apparently, one does not simply write down in bullet points. Either its nothing or a full blown post.

  • Devon Gilchrist

    Best writing advice I’ve ever read. Fantastico.

  • netmeg

    I was going to comment but my music’s too loud.

  • Wasim Ismail

    To be honest I find listening to anything is a distraction, whether its Music, Podcast or anything else. When I’m working on content sightless distraction, and I’m off track. If anyone can write good content and listen to music or anything simultaneously…Hats Off To them

  • Dan M

    I’m totally with you on the music thing. Nothing I listen to is writing-friendly. I’m going to give that raining whitenoise a shot, thanks for the link.

    One piece of writing advice that I’m still not sold on is the “write first, edit after” mantra. It’s probably a great fit for professional writers that have a solid method down for getting posts done on deadline, but if you’re new to writing or you don’t write regularly, you’re better off having fun. Play around with word choices and sentence structure as you go. Fix things you don’t like. You still need a solid proofread when it’s all said and done, but you’re less likely to be discouraged by a lackluster first draft.

  • Jon-Mikel Bailey

    It’s amazing to me how many of our clients will sell themselves short because of the stigma surrounding writing. I tell my clients all the time that they are experts in what they do and have every right to write about it. :)

    But, so many of them get stuck because they think they need to be writing award winning prose. That’s not the point! I will definitely share this with them.

    On the music side, while white noise is probably ideal, I prefer Swedish math metal. It works for me.

  • Dave Young

    Most business owners have no trouble talking about their area of expertise. Figuring out what you want to cover through a well-designed outline and then using podcasting to generate the “words” is a super-easy way to do it. The way to make it easy is to find someone to interview YOU instead of podcasting like a preacher delivering a sermon. Most people never think about it, but it works. Just turn the spotlight around and have a professional interviewer ask the questions. Then, repurpose the words by having them transcribed and converted into posts/articles for your blog. Easy.

  • Unmana

    I know I’m late to the party, but just had to say how much I love this post. I can’t listen to music while I work: in fact, I hate any kind of noise, including people talking (which is why I prefer working from home and often go on rants about loud neighbors)…

  • Sergei Baranov

    May I quote you: “The truly fantastic thing about having customers on the Web is that they tell you, every day, exactly what it is they want to know.”

    Yes, this is good idea. But, there is the almost the same value idea, namely, to write and tell customers about things, which are not known at all. Let’s name that setting a trend. And you are first, and, probably alone on … the very top of Google search result. What about that :)

  • Max Holloway


    I largely agree with this article, as someone who went from hating writing/proofing/editing to someone who writes/proofs/edits daily and loves it, however!

    Two BIG mistakes here;

    1. You imply that people don’t like jazz or classical. I’m an 5 year SEO veteran and absolutely LOVE jazz, in fact I recorded an album yesterday *cough* check my website in two weeks *cough*

    2. You imply that music without words wont break your concentration. This isn’t true!

    Anything that you recognise will break your concentration. This is why I can’t listen to jazz while writing, or doing any creative exercises.

    The fact that most people wont recognise certain musical nuances, licks or patterns (even changes) in jazz and classical is why this myth has been perpetuated.

  • Jim Mitchem

    Well said. Funny how being a (traditional) copywriter is paying dividends in this new market.

  • Jon Pearce

    Mixed feelings on the music one, I believe that trapping myself away WITH music can put you in the right zone, but have you ever felt yourself type words that you have just heard spoken or sung or is that just me? Music with no words the obvious answer!
    I also often have the urge or ideas to write when driving, which is not the best, but shows how this is a great thinking time if alone on a journey.

  • Alasdair Murray (@Alconcalcia)

    I never listen to music whilst writing. It’s a distraction from interpreting a brief or digesting some relevant information during a search on the web. I am far more productive when just listening to the sound of my own thoughts and, in my experience, writers in agencies where I used to work were far less prolific when sitting there with their headsets on and contemplating their own navels.

    I got a comment yesterday from a client: “Fantastic! I really like all the pages.
    I can’t believe how quickly you’ve managed to do all the web pages with the sketchy info I provided you with”. There;s no doubt in my mind that had I been listening to my top 20 tunes or the radio I’d still be working on it. Does a brain surgeon listen to music? Nah.

  • Jill Tooley

    I’m so glad you mentioned SimplyNoise! I adore that site – it’s brown noise all the way for me. Just like the majority of commenters here, I find it impossible to write while listening to music with lyrics. If I get tired of SimplyNoise, then I turn to Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings soundtracks, the Amelie movie soundtrack, or straight-up classical music. All of them work like a charm and block out distractions!

    By the way, I love these lines: “No one really cares about all the things you know. What they do care about is what they WANT to know.” I’ve heard the old “write what you know” advice dozens of times and it’s never helped me write a coherent, interesting post. Sometimes I’M not even interested in what I know! And if the content I write is boring to me, then what in the world are readers/customers going to think?!?