Picture by Sarah G...

Picture by Sarah G...

What Art was to the ancient world, Science is to the modern: the distinctive faculty. In the minds of men the useful has succeeded to the beautiful. Instead of the city of the Violet Crown, a Lancashire village has expanded into a mighty region of factories and warehouses. Yet, rightly understood, Manchester is as great a human exploit; as Athens.

- Benjamin Disraeli

Tom Albrighton and Martin Williams have spent the greater part of this week discussing whether or not copywriters is the right term to describe professional creators of content. While they have covered that debate fairly comprehensively, it has raised a few other interesting questions.

The question that intrigues me most as an SEO, is that of a percieved division between the “creative professional” copywriter and the “keyword-driven” SEO content mill. It’s a question I’ve tried to answer before in discussions, explaining that the latter has to balance the art of copywriting with the science of SEO.

But am I right? Are copywriters artists, or are they scientists? And is there really a fundamental division between the beauty of the copywriter and the usefulness of the SEO content creator?

Copywriters – Artists or Scientists?

I’ve stood on both sides of the fence, starting my career in a strictly creative role which didn’t include much in the way of web copy. However, for the past two years I’ve been employed mainly as an SEO, balancing traditional copywriting requirements with the commitment to keywords that the search engines require.

And I don’t think either role can strictly be considered an art.

Is Copywriting an Art?

One of the key points raised by Tom and Martin is that copywriting is a creative endeavour. That the main skill that separates the copywriter from the SEO content creator is the ability to produce original prose instead of recycling and rehashing old ideas.

But is that all there is to copywriting?

Not in my eyes. The key weapon in any copywriter’s arsenal is a knowledge of psychology. A good copywriter knows how people’s minds work. They understand which tactics will influence different audiences in different ways, and then use techniques refined by a range of professionals to produce the desired outcome in the reader.

And isn’t understanding how something works, identifying ways to change that behaviour and carefully modifying the variables to affect the outcome known as scientific method?

It’d take a fool to claim that copywriting can be reduced to a cold, calculating science, but if we put the field solely into the realms of art, we run the risk of overlooking the very process that makes good copy so effective.

And if copywriting is a mix of the art of writing and the science of psychology, can’t the same be said of SEO?

Is SEO a Science?

On the face of it, it’s easy to consider search engine optimisation a science. It’s concerned with manipulating data to ensure that a computer programme returns a favourable result.

But to bracket SEO as mere engineering is as much of a mistake as painting copywriting as purely an art.

Take the Meta Titles as an example. Every SEO knows that a website’s title tag carries weight with the search engines. But the good SEO also knows that it carries weight with the client. A creative, eye-catching title can make or break a site, especially if it turns up near the top of the SERPs.

Reworking on-site content to contain important keywords also requires a degree of artistry, as does creating all-important link bait. Dull, formulaic content won’t bring in the back links, regardless what the content mills tell you.

So if copywriting is an art laced with science, SEO can be seen as a science combined with art. And that’s never more true than with SEO copywriting, which relies on the creative ideas of the writer to fulful its primary function.

So, Are Copywriters Artists or Scientists?

If Disraeli is right in the quote I opened this piece with, then it’s inevitable that copywriting as an art will eventually be supplanted by SEO copywriting as a science – at least as long as search continues to be the main way people find information.

But I don’t think that’s true. Eventually, clients and the search engines are going to get wise to the content mills, the paid-by-the-word articles and the keyword stuffed nonsense that’s being sold as SEO copy. And when that happens, copywriting the science and SEO the art are going to dovetail beautifully. Copywriters aren’t just artists. They aren’t just scientists.

Copywriting is a skill that combines the two fields into something more than the sum of its parts. And that combination is going to stand us in good stead regardless of whether we’re writing for SEO purposes or not.

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