I have been spending time with some good friends in the past couple weeks, and we’re all sharing thoughts of what 2013 may have up its sleeve to offer and challenge us with. I thought I’d take a minute here, and share four things regarding what I think I see in store for SEO copywriting, and how it may affect those of us who are offering this service to others.
1. It Ain’t Getting Any Easier – the ability to look up keyphrases and squirt them into $5-10 pages that rank on that merit alone is a pretty dead idea. A short-lived loophole that Google essentially closed-up with Panda and Penguin. Unless your multi-worded term has shown no history of monetary value, you are not generally going to rank for something simply because it is on the page. The risk now in putting out really thin pages outweighs the potential gains (even in the short-term these days, more than in the past) by a lot. Penalties are more common, and harder to shake. All of this adds together to mean that plunking out unsupported volume in pages drenched with specifically placed keyphrases, is definitely not the way most people are going to be heading. Those that do, are behind. If you are a copywriter and you are specializing in cranking out a ton of low level pages, I would probably start seeing what else you can do for income, as this is going to get tougher to sell to anyone reasonable in 2013. Negative SEO is about the only outlet left for cheap pages – so if you are creating them, know that you are likely helping the spread and perpetuation of negative, useless garbage.
On the flip side though, it should mean the work that is there collectively, should be of higher quality and offer more depth and challenge to you – and better pay-per-page. Now may be a good time to specialize – if you have a leg up on something that makes you a specialist, put it in the stirrup. One challenge is going to be, that clients are going to be demanding more of what they pay for and they will be looking for new and creative ideas. An ability to resonate should start to take over the ability to simply churn and burn in 2013 – thankfully. See it as a positive, because it will make it harder for non-writers to be able to fake it. Work will be harder to secure, but better to deliver.
2. Leveraging the Toolbox Will Mean More – in the past, simply putting decent sentences together could keep you pretty busy. I don’t see this becoming stronger in 2013, but really, see it going the opposite direction. Clients are going to be even more interested in leveraging your network and your skill set to make each effort a bit more powerful. This means, the more experience and diversity you can bring to the table, the more tables you are going to find waiting for you with a warm, welcoming seat. Can you blend your writing skills into something that reaches a bit farther? The idea that “content” is simply words on a page, is pretty passe in today’s web. This doesn’t mean solid SEO copywriting does not drive it, whatever “it” is – think of socially-minded sales copy, video transcripts, interactive ads, etc… So as “content” as a concept reaches out to become more inclusive, so too, should your own skill set. In 2013, experience is going to matter more to clients, as will offers that use SEO copywriting in more creative and expansive ways.
3. Brand Building Will Escalate – As Google trims the organic opportunities and limits the landscape to what they consider “brands,” an ability to discern and produce brand-worthy signals is going to become coveted. This means in 2013, you should be studying the winners (when it isn’t you), and see what they are sharing as potential brand signals. You should be keeping a finger on the pulse of discussions about branding, and any insights being shared in popular forums (though of course noting, most public sources are slow w/relevance). You should be testing theories, and collecting data. The signals Google uses to determine brand are still shrouded in all kinds of mystery, however, this is going to stay important through 2013, and likely become even more important as additional changes and filters are applied to the algo. If you are not paying attention to the importance of establishing brand in 2013 and beyond, you should be.
4. Organic Opportunity Will Continue Shrinking – recent FTC findings are giving Google a big green light to keep trimming out the organic results as they see fit. Less space to grab as verticals are shaved and the longtail is broad-stroked upwards (by Google interpreting what you”mean” in your search query), means a lot of panic and chaos will ensue. Or continue. Since penalties are being handed out for the same things that made up a lot of public strategies in the past five-seven years, the piles of the dead will only continue to rise. Immunity will come only thru proper alliance with Google’s narrowing terms; and as a result the web will become much more sterile, because small players no longer have an equal chance at reaching an audience. A lot of lesser-trained, and less experienced SEOs will go bust, because there are no easy answers to help you grab at shadows in a disappearing landscape. Organic was a way that anyone could get something noticed and sustainable on the web, but if you are paying attention, you have seen the beginning of the end of organic 2.0 in search. If 1.0 was simply cranking out a page, and 2.0 involved strategically linking to it, the new direction is blending these and adding in social and branding signals to help establish more validity in the content. In the past you could lob an anonymous page, ghostwritten, on an anonymous site and get it in the SERPs. This is going to become increasingly more difficult, as Google looks for confirmation that the content being created has some sort of legitimacy and merit. They will require increased levels of corroboration in author status, site relevance, and brand/social signals…making the winners fewer and larger, simply by the nature of criteria being used. Mom-n’Pop, good luck to you. The glory days are gone, and the Easy button has been taken away – so knowing how a page/site/project uses keyphrases without abusing them is going to continue to appreciate in value. However, this is all changing so quickly and is so overlapped, you cannot rely on the things you are reading out there: you need to be actively and passionately doing it, so you see for yourself what is really working or not.
Oh, I don’t mean to be all doom and gloom here or anything. Sorry if my thinking for 2013 is not all that rosy and positive for our industry. But I do think that SEO copywriting was a service that got killed by too many non-skilled people doing it, and forcing changes that result in increased difficulty. Google caused a bunch of bad writing to proliferate, and now they are scrambling to clean up the mess they caused. Broad stokes are going to make it really tough on a lot of people who were not doing more than simply hurling verbs.
I do think, as always, that any solid copywriter specializing in SEO and actually knowing what they are talking about is going to find plenty of work. Still. Forever. Yet I think that in 2013, the ability to get work as an SEO copywriter is going to become more demanding and difficult, as clients become skittish from past brushes with less-than-stellar efforts. (I am looking at you, India)
I’ll be right here again anyway, starting in on another year (I think this makes my 12th, yipes!) of trying to keep writing while I try to unravel life’s secret sauce. Cheers!