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Sep 15, 2008
Blog Post

SherpaBlog: Before You Write Copy or Blog, Make a Keyword List

SUMMARY: No summary available.
By Anne Holland, Founder

What information do you give your copywriter, creative team or company bloggers to act on now?

You're probably giving them lists of product and service features, promotional campaign info and, perhaps, a branding memo outlining rules regarding slogans, trademarks, tone and such. But you're most likely not giving them keywords.

Keywords are the highly specific words that your target audience would use to describe anything that has to do with your offerings, as well as the personal reasons why they'd buy. Initially, keywords mattered because they were the words that people typed into search engines when looking for something on the Internet or on your site.

But, as a copywriter myself, I've come to realize that keywords are much, much more powerful for reasons other than just SEO. Because all advertising boils down to "What's in it for me?”, your job is to convince prospects that their needs will be met. And, nothing is more compelling than speaking in a prospect's language – describing their own desire or pain to them in exactly the words they would use.

Do they say "bicycle" or "bike"? Do they say "cheapest" or "least expensive"? Do they want a supplier in the "Kansas area" or the "Midwest"? Do they yearn for the excitement of "new" or the safety of "guaranteed"?

You'll discover these words everywhere the customer is on your own site's search engine, focus groups, customer hotlines, online customer-written reviews, etc. You *won't* find them in your competitor's copy, and don't bother looking in the media or in analyst reports. Those aren't typical customers, so they use different words.

Your final goal is to attach a set of keywords, including phrases, to everything your copywriters and internal bloggers may write about – ranging from your product benefits, promotions, customer pain points, features, offers, user conferences, etc.

The most important places to get keywords inserted are:
o Headlines
o Subheads
o First paragraph of body copy
o First bullet point on a list
o Copy immediately next to or included on an action item (click link, button, toll-free number, reply card, etc.)
o Blog categories, topics and tags

If you are the copywriter, my advice is to take a two-fold approach. First, review the keywords list, then write your copy – but don't let the keywords restrict you too much. Often, the big battle is just getting words onto paper.

Then, when you go back to review copy, look for places where you can plant words from the list. Sometimes, it's a quick replacement of one term for another; other times, the process involves inserting an extra word or two.

Some copywriters feel they are not being creative if they use the same exact words or phrases multiple times through their copy. They want to switch up the terminology, make a change for change's sake. Generally, nothing could be more wrong. Rinse, lather, repeat, repeat, repeat. Consumers are not reading every word of your copy! They are glancing and spotting a few words. If you want to be sure your keywords have been seen and have an impact, put them everywhere.

Great copy is less about creative or clever phrasing and more about clarity of message for the skimming eye. So, the next time a marketer hands you a writing assignment, say: "Thanks. Where's the list of keywords for this?"

See Also:

Comments about this Blog Entry

Mar 14, 2011 - Dennis Briskin of Catalyst Creative Services says:
Dear Ms. Holland, Your article strikes me as spot on (as the Brits like to say). Readers (better to call them "viewers") skim and flit about. They do not look at text the way(s) proofreaders and copy editors do. And we must speak their language to encourage them over to our side of the table. To go deeper into reader awareness and insight, let's recall everyone has an unconscious mind. We are emotional first, intellectual second. Often (usually? sometimes?) what we call thinking or evaluation or assessment amounts to forming a rationale to support the inclination or stance we brought with us. We have here not so much bias as unconscious, emotional process. How do we account for THAT part of our target's decision to act? If you know of research (or even insight or educated guesses) please point me to it. Reach me at (not my company name nor even on my website).

Mar 15, 2011 - Daniel Burstein of MECLABS says:
Dennis, I think you may find MarketingExperiments (MarketingSherpa's sister company) research useful. For example, in "Measuring What Matters: How simplifying your metrics can increase Marketing ROI by up to 75%" ( we say, "When you can identify and track essential metrics, you’re prepared to take the most critical step toward peak optimization: Anticipating the sequence of thought in the mind of your customer." You can find more about the customer's sequence of thought throughout We've even created heuristics to help walk you through what your customers may be thinking.

Jul 05, 2012 - peter hobday of subscriptions strategy says:
Yes, spot on. Although I do this kind of work for a living, I read your article and went back over my latest website editing in keywords as you recommend. Very useful reminders, thanks!

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