Want to Create Irresistible Content? Be Sure to Do This First!

Make your SEO content positively irresistible with this technique!

Make your SEO content positively irresistible with this technique!

Let’s say you’re about to start a new SEO copywriting project, and as always, your mission is to write appealing sales copy that turns site visitors into customers.

Sure, you’ve worked on a creative brief with your client (or in-house team). Plus you’ve poured over company brochures, existing content, trade show materials and other helpful information. And yes, you’ve had meetings with the marketing manager, creative director or web team. That’s all great for getting ready to write excellent SEO content.

But it’s not quite enough.

To write authentic, powerful content that truly resonates with prospects and converts them into customers — you need to go beyond “arm’s length” research.

You want to get on the phone with the company’s top sales representatives; the folks on the front lines with customers every day.

Let’s look at all the advantages of talking directly with sales professionals, whether you’re writing for a B2B manufacturing company, a non-profit association or a company selling wedding gowns.

  • Sales reps are calling on prospects every day via email, on the phone, through web conferences and in person. They know exactly how prospects talk about goals, products, services, customers, industry trends, competition, hurdles and other points of context. They can share these prospect insights with you.
  • When sales reps talk with prospects, they work hard to connect and establish strong, trusting relationships. This is accomplished by showing a deep understanding of the prospects’ world and educating prospects, using the same language and even jargon used in that industry. In manufacturing, prospects might talk about excess inventory or cloud storage security. An association might talk about member benefits or retention vs. acquisition. Wedding gown buyers might mention taffeta or tulle fabric. Sales reps can pass along that language (and jargon) to you, to make your copy stronger.
  • Sales rep can give you the lowdown on exactly what happens during sales calls. For instance, what are prospects worried about? Skeptical about? Excited about? What’s their main problem? How do the sales reps explain company solutions? And what objections do sales reps overcome to win the sale? This is great stuff for you to know! It can make a huge difference in the relevance and persuasiveness of your SEO copy.
  • Sales reps can give you typical real-world scenarios prospects face in that industry. For example, I recently wrote a blog post about an emerging market for my client; an exciting new direction for their product line. The marketing manager asked me to talk with their sales rep who handles that product area, so he could tell me about the big trend, how it works, the ideal prospects and how to set his company’s solutions apart from all others. This type of conversation can clarify your understanding of how to describe various scenarios in your copy.
  • Sales reps can brainstorm copy ideas with you. They’re experts at thinking on their feet! For instance if you’re struggling to come up with blog topics for your client (or company), the sales reps will likely have all kinds of ideas based on their day-to-day interactions with prospects. The reps may tell you funny or fascinating stories you can use in your content, bringing your content to life.
  • Each industry has its own language, and the best way to learn that language is to talk with someone who speaks it every day. Sales reps can give you a treasure trove, not to be overlooked, for keyword research and more. More than once, I’ve been given a list of potential keywords to research. But then, after talking with a sales rep, I discovered a few more keywords that were absolute gems. Sales reps can bring you new keyword ideas that are worth gold.
  • Sales reps can review your drafts to make sure they’re on-target. After all, who knows better when it comes to converting prospects into customers? Recently I wrote a blog series with the sales rep reviewing my drafts. She recommended a few minor adjustment changes that made a world of difference in content authenticity. And, she helped me nail the call-to-action copy using her extensive experience in closing deals. If possible, have sales reps review your copy to make it more successful.

As you get ready to work on your next SEO copywriting project, request a phone call with at least one top “front lines” sales representative. Your copy will be much better for it.

Here’s to your web success!

Guest blogger Pam Foster is a SuccessWorks Certified SEO Copywriter and the owner of ContentClear Marketing and PetCopywriter.com. She works mainly in the pet-veterinary industry and enjoys speaking the industry’s language in her work — woof!

Should You Change Your Copy? These 3 Tools Will Help You Decide

There are some times when we’re a little too in love with our own copy.

As a consultant, I’ve had to gently tell clients why their baby (their site copy) is ugly. Some nod and tell me that they already know. Others are amazed I’d feel that way. Their website could have the most boring B2B content in the world and I’d still hear, “It can’t be that bad. Can’t you just fix it up?”

No. No I can’t.

Whether you work in-house or freelance, you’ve probably faced the same situation. The challenge is, sometimes clients don’t listen to your recommendations. They need proof that their content may not be the best.

These three tools will help provide the proof you need.


I learned this tip from the ebook Going Beyond Google: Gathering B2B Competitive Intelligence Information from the WebWordle lets you generate “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently.

Using Wordle is simple — simply paste some text and click “go.” For instance, here is the word cloud for the Lenova Yoga 3 Pro landing page:











Compare this to a word cloud for the MacBook Air:











See the difference? The Lenova copy is filled of geeky features (features is even one of it’s more relevant words!). Words like “processor,” “bluetooth” and “graphics” are represented. Yet, there are hardly any benefit-oriented words, other than “save.”

On the flip side, the MacBook Pro copy focuses on fun, including words like “creative” and  “play.” The content’s voice is less formal, too. If I was trying to tell Lenova’s marketing department that their content was too features-oriented and not reader-friendly enough, this is one of the tools I’d use.

The Customer Focus Calculator

Once upon a time, there was a fantastic calculator called the “We We Calculator” that was developed by Brian and Jeffrey Eisenberg. After typing in your URL, you received a score that indicated how often you “we we’d” all over your copy (that is, wrote about your company more than you wrote about your customer).

It was a brilliant idea.

Although Brian and Jeffrey have moved on to other things, their We We Calculator lives on in the form of the Customer Focus Calculator. Simply enter in a page’s URL and the company name. You’ll instantly receive an analysis that shows the percentage of the time your content focuses on your company versus focusing on your customer. If you see a low customer-focus percentage, you’re encourage to think of ways to adjust your wording.

This tool is especially good for B2B companies that write extensively about their company, their warehouse square footage and all of the awards they’ve won — but don’t mention a thing about their customer or benefits. Since many people think that good copywriting means showcasing how their company is bigger and better, this tool can be a real eye-opener.

Microsoft Word (really!).

Have you ever had to break the news about a client’s F-K score? I have. And no, I’m not talking about the dreaded “F” word. I’m referring to the client’s Flesch-Kincaid Score.

The Flesch-Kincaid Score tells you what grade level you’re writing for. Shorter sentences and sentences with fewer words would receive a lower F-K score (and yes, lower is considered better.)

This is where things get tricky. Some companies believe that they should write exceptionally high-level content because their target audience is “different.” They’re smarter. They’re more educated. They’re (fill in the blank here.)

They may be right. However, writing to a lower grade level may be a better move.

James Altucher wrote a great post detailing his own F-K score research. After compiling a list of 30 popular articles, he found “…on average, of the 30 articles: all written by bestselling authors, CEOs, entrepreneurs, great communicators, were writing at an average of an 8th grade level.”


Microsoft Word has a feature that allows you to check your Flesch-Kinkade score. It’s not automatically activated (at least it wasn’t for me – here’s how I made it happen), but it takes about 30 seconds to set up. Once you do, it’s easy to write copy, check the score and make any necessary modifications.

If you’re writing in WordPress, there are some plugins that will check your score (I’d love to hear some recommendations) and there are sites like Readability-Score.com where you can paste in your text and get your score.

What if a client kicks back and refuses to believe their baby is ugly? Pit two versions of a page against each other and test the results. That way, you can be 100% sure that their company-centered, high F-K score copy doesn’t work — and you can focus your efforts on writing content that does.

As a side note, it couldn’t hurt to run your own site copy through these tools, too. You may be amazed by what you find… :)

Photo thanks: © Imagesparkstudio | Dreamstime.com – Man Wearing Dunce Cap And Holding Book Photo













Are You A Content Strategist or an SEO Copywriter?

Hmm, maybe I’m an SEO content strategist after all!

Are you undervaluing your work — and selling yourself short?

I’ve talked to many freelance and in-house copywriters who claim that they’re “just” a writer. Sure, most of their time is spent writing copy. But they’re also setting the editorial calendar, using tools like BuzzSumo to find new topic ideas and even explaining Google’s latest updates to their clients or team members.

To me, it sounds like these writers made the leap from “writer” to “SEO content consultant.” They just may not know it yet.

I mention this for a few reasons:

  • If you’re helping clients with strategy and you’re not being paid for it, it’s time to change your process and raise your prices.
  • If you’re providing SEO help to your department — even if you’re technically “just’ the writer — start documenting your advice and tracking your successes. It may be time for a raise.
  • If you have a strong handle on SEO content strategy, you may want to consider adding, “SEO content strategist” to your LinkedIn profile. Chances are, you’ll attract a different type of client.

Below is a post that I originally wrote in 2011 that I think is even more relevant today. I’d love to know your thoughts — please leave your comment below. Thanks!

There’s a hot discussion in the LinkedIn SEO Copywriting group. No, it’s not about keyphrase density or the ramifications of Google’s +1…

…It’s all about the difference (assuming there is one) between being a content strategist and an SEO copywriter.

It all started with this article by Doc Sheldon. Briefly, the article outlines the differences as:

SEO copywriter: The person who writes the copy. According to the post:

“First of all, they write not only for the reader, but for the search engines, as well. They have to be conversant in things like keyword density and placement, and in some cases, even have to do their own keyword research….They have to be able to understand at least the basics of the conversion funnel, in most cases, in order to couch the client’s presentation in such a way as to instill confidence in the readers, and help herd them through that funnel to a successful conversion.”

Content strategist: The person who plans the overarching strategy and editorial calendar.  Sheldon explains how the content strategist is the “hub” of the content creation process.

“He will often be one of the key contacts with the client, in order to get a deep-set grasp of the various aspects of their business, such as goals, problems, competition, strengths, weaknesses, audience and much more…He will usually have significant input into, if not control over, the overall content needs of the client.”

The post ends with an intriguing line:

“Although, many of the self-proclaimed SEO copywriters I know are actually content strategists. Maybe they just haven’t thought of it that way yet.”

Sounds nice…but one top direct response copywriting expert disagrees

Enter Bob Bly, direct response copywriting guru. His opinion? “Everything you describe (as a content strategist) I do as a copywriter.” His belief (and I agree with him) is that a copywriter’s main job is to make their client’s money. It’s one thing to know how to write. It’s another to know how to write in a way that makes people take action (for more about the difference between social media writing and SEO copywriting, check out this post.)

Here’s what I think…

I can see all sides here.  If you’re working one-on-one with clients, you probably are dealing with “content strategy” issues – you just may not call yourself a “content strategist.” :)

At the same time, there are SEO copywriters who never deal with strategy. A more experienced copywriter (content strategist?) sets the strategy and chooses the keyphrases – and the copywriter does the writing. For instance, new SEO copywriters may not be ready to set strategy quite yet.

Additionally, a content strategist may be looking at more than just Web copy. For instance, she may provide Twitter or Facebook recommendations – but not necessarily be the person penning the tweets. She may set a blog’s editorial calendar – but not be the primary blogger. And she may have high-level SEO knowledge that a conventional SEO copywriter may not have.

As another perspective, here’s a great post about how content strategists are not copywriters (but sometimes they have to be.)

What say you? Is there a difference between being a SEO copywriter and a content strategist? If so, what’s the difference? Experience levels? The type of work being done? Or something else?

And while you’re pondering,  I’ll leave you with some wise words from Bob Bly:

“Until you have written a sales letter that generates a greater response rate for selling a product than the current sales letter for that product, you can’t call yourself a competent copywriter.”

Truer words were never typed. :)

 Photo thanks to © Yuri_arcurs | Dreamstime.com

The C-Word And Why Content Isn’t King

You know what I’m tired of hearing?

The oft-repeated mantra “content is king.”

“But wait Heather,” you may say. “You train people how to write content. You consult on SEO content development. Heck, your entire career was built on content.”

True. But I think the mantra “content is king” has done more harm than good.


Even in today’s brave new Google world, some people still believe that it’s the quantity of the content – not the quality – that’s important. The primary goal of content is to help a site be seen in the SERPs.

But being seen only works when there’s something else in play.

That “something else” is the C-word.


So how did we move away from connecting with our readers?

I blame Google. :)

When content became a commodity

Back in the print days, businesses weren’t rewarded for kicking out tons of content. There weren’t as many reader touch-points back then, so we focused on what we could do (for instance, write articles for trade magazines.) What’s more, the quality was always exceptionally important.

We did everything we could to connect with the reader because landing an article placement was a BIG DEAL.

(And yes, I’m conscious of the fact that I sounds like a crabby old woman screaming, “In my day, we didn’t have Google. ‘Search’ meant cracking open an encyclopedia and thumbing through card catalogs.” Now get off my lawn and make those kids turn their music down!).

Then, “writing for SEO” came into vogue – and with it, the push for kicking out tons of so-so content.

Before Google’s Panda update, Google would reward sites with thin content stuffed with keyphrases. It was no longer about “connecting with your reader.” Discussions about brand voice, reader personas and buy cycles went down the tubes.

It was all about content, all the time. Content, content, content.

Did it work? Short-term – yes. Long term…well, we all know how Google handled thin, keyphrase-stuffed content.

This solved part of the problem.

Some things just don’t change

Admittedly, I was thrilled when Google took their anti-thin content stance. “At last,” I thought, “We can go back to writing smart content.” And over the years, things have definitely improved.

Yet even today, the “content for content’s sake” mentality continues. How do I know?

  • A well known (and smart) SEO company ran an advertisement looking for writers. Their pay? $15 for a 500-word article.
  • “Reformed” content mills still exist. Sure, the sites look classier and their reputation is better. But the average pay is still extremely low.
  • Companies hire folks on Fiverr to write blog posts.

I get the economies of scale. I understand how clients are only willing to pay X for content, so companies need to make content generation economically viable. And I understand that many, many companies have an outdated idea of what SEO techniques will truly help make them money.

At the same time, it’s hard for a writer to do a great job when he’s incentivized to write fast. Things like spending additional time on the tone and feel, learning about the customer persona and trying multiple approaches isn’t cost effective. They’re writing content for content’s sake.

There’s no incentive to connect.

(As a side note, there are many incredibly super-smart content marketers, writers and SEOs out there. Larry Kim from Wordstream is a prime example and an amazing writer. A good number of folks are doing it right.  What I am saying is the “content for content’s sake” mentality is still out there.)

Embrace the C-word

Good content should connect with your readers. Will every blog post you write change their lives? No. But it should make them think. It should tell a story. It should help them understand something, entice them to do something or even make them crack a smile.

It should reach out from their computer screen, touch their shoulder and say, “Hey, I’m here to show you something. Here’s some information you can use, written just for you.”

A great post by Jonathan Fields illustrates this point. His post, “Don’t Create Content. Move People” is smart and spot on. Jonathan says:

“But, that word. Content. It almost implies the opposite. Filler. Something to scatter-spray, like a weapon. To amass or consume.

What about moving people? Deeply and profoundly?”

Successful blogs (and sites) focus on connection. They know their audience. They give them what they want. There is a personality behind the prose.

So the next time you ask a writer to create five, 500-word blog posts…take a step back.

And the next time you’re rushing through a writing assignment so you can get it off your plate…relax.

Think of your audience.

Think of what they need.

Think of how to connect with them.

Content + connection is truly king.


Photo credit thanks to: © Laralova | Dreamstime.com – Pixel People Social Connection Photo

Talking International SEO with Gabriella Sannino

For international SEO, think globally but write locally!


If you’re at all familiar with international SEO, then you’re most likely familiar with Gabriella Sannino.

Gabriella is the owner of Level 343, an international marketing and SEO agency based in San Francisco. She has worked in marketing and multi media for over 20 years, starting out as a Web developer in 1994 when she founded Level 343.

In the ensuing years Gabriella donned many hats, including research and development specialist, brand strategist, and creative director before deciding to specialize in international marketing and SEO in 2005.

We were fortunate to grab some time with Gabriella to ask her about her experience with international SEO, and to share her insights into this somewhat rarified field.

What spurred your decision to specialize in international SEO?

As an Italian citizen, I grew up in the Middle East (Lebanon, to be exact). Therefore, I’ve always approached life, family and business a bit differently.

I feel my life’s experience is one of the reasons I’ve launched myself into international business.

Aside from the natural progression of speaking a variety of languages (five altogether), I have a firm grip on how far apart most businesses truly are in communicating from one culture to another: I see the gap in B2B (business-to-business) when communicating globally.

What have you found to be some of the biggest challenges when doing international SEO, as a whole?

One of the most important challenges is how to structure a domain name and your URL. There are 3 basic options: Top-Level Domains (TLDs), subdomains, and subdirectories.

Top-Level Domains (TLDs) mean using .fr for France, .it for Italy, .de for Germany, etc.

The second option is subdomains (e.g., Germany.yoururl.com). Personally, I think this is the least beneficial method of using your URL name for global SEO — a few years ago, Google started treating subdomains as part of the root domain, rather than as separate domains.

On the other hand, if the site will be in different languages and hosted in a variety of locations, using subdomains may be a smart strategy.

For those countries that you’re not actively marketing in, I would suggest using subdirectories (e.g., yoururl.com/it/ for Italy).

The second challenge is keyword research. It depends on if the site is in English and needs to be localized or the other way around.

As a first step, you need the basic comprehension of the content in order to identify the topics that will align cohesively and semantically to the services or products offered. It’s no longer just a matter of translating the keywords from English to Italian, for example, since sometimes there is no literal translation. That’s why it’s important to either live in, be a part of, or otherwise intimately familiar with the target country — or consult with an SEO copywriter who is.

You’ve previously discussed understanding a region’s culture as a prerequisite for doing an effective here, and using hreflang annotations for multinational and multilingual website pages here).

The other thing is to make sure that when doing keyword research for different countries, you employ someone who is familiar with the local dialect, including the local spelling. Meaning, rather than using a machine translator, consult a human being who understands these subtle, yet crucial, nuances.

It’s also important to keep in mind that in some countries, Google isn’t even in the mix while in others, only Google keywords are available. Then there are languages where the keyword research is too small to give sufficient search volumes for specific keywords.

Do you have any resources you’d recommend for those interested in doing international SEO?

Yes! A few authorities I would recommend following is Aleyda SolisSante Achille for the European markets, and Doc Sheldon for the Latin American markets.

In regards to tools, I would suggest SEMrush, Wordtracker, keywordtool.io, and Ubersuggest.

If there is one thing you know now that you wished you’d known when you started, what would that be?

I’ve been at this quite a while, so remembering the earliest stumbling blocks is challenging. I suppose I’d say that I wish I had realized how globalized business was destined to become, so that I could have been even earlier to the international SEO market.

Anything else you’d advise an aspiring international SEO copywriter?

Don’t assume that being fluent in a language is sufficient to enable you to compose compelling content… you need to be fluent in the culture, too. Religion, politics, social class distinctions, lifestyle, colloquialisms and more all contribute to your content’s ability to engage readers. These differences matter and they matter a lot for writing content that’s compelling in any language.

You can connect with Gabriella on Google Plus, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Learn directly from SEO experts like Gabriella Sannino when you enroll in SuccessWorks SEO Copywriting Certification training program. Check out the training options available to you, today!






How I Beat Writer’s Block By Interviewing Myself

This is me, happy that I beat writer’s block.

I have a confession.

You know those tasks you put on your to-do list — but you never do them? You keep carrying them over day after day thinking, “I’ll get to it tomorrow.”

For the last few months, I’ve been sitting slack-jawed in front of my laptop every time I tried to start a writing project. I’d write a few words, hate them all and put it off for another day.

The project? My “About Us” bio page.

The bio I had was…OK. It did what it did to do, but I felt that it didn’t have much pizzaz. Nor did it reflect my personality. It was mechanically correct, but flat from a copywriting perspective.

Never was that issue so in my face than when I redesigned the site. When I asked people to review it, one of the top comments was, “You don’t really showcase who you are or what you’ve done. You’re an expert. You need to put that front and center.”

Sadly, I knew they were right.

Although I can expertly tease out a client’s unique benefits and make them sing on the page, I have a hard time doing it for myself. I write things like, “Heather has been the leading expert in SEO copywriting…” and immediately hear a snide internal voice say, “Who the heck do you think you are? If you’re that good, you don’t need to brag about it.”

You may have had the same issue. You may be super good at something…but instead of shouting it to the rooftops, you downplay your accomplishments. You make yourself smaller rather than bigger. You try to blend in rather than stand out.

How. Incredibly. Stupid.

The purpose of the “about us” page IS to stand out. It’s where you can connect with your readers and showcase your brilliance. If you sound just like everyone else, why would a client bother hiring you? After all, there are lots of other people just like you…and they may work for much less.

If you sell yourself short, you will always lose. Always. It could be a big contract. Or a cool speaking gig. Or a sweet contact. You. Will. Lose.

I decided to slap myself silly last week and get to work on the page. I’d tried free-association writing. I tried using an outline. So this time, I tried something different.

I wrote up a list of interview questions and wrote down my responses. Some of my questions were:

– How long have you been in the industry?

– What makes you different than other SEO content providers out there?

– Who have you worked with?

– What kinds of awards or special recognition have you received?

(You know. The same questions you’d send to any new client.)

I spent a long time answering my interview questions (actually, more time than I spent writing the About Us page.) I went through past emails to remember what I’d done and how I’d helped. I even asked my husband to remind me of my cool accomplishments.

(As a side note, why is it so easy for me to remember when and how I’ve messed up. But it’s so darn hard to remember what I’ve done well. Sheesh!).

Once the interview process was complete, I let it “sit” overnight and started my About Us page the next day.

30 minutes later, I finished my rough draft.  30 minutes! The writer’s block was gone!

I made some edits the next day, took the page live and finally (finally) crossed that item off my to-do list.


Here’s why I think my process worked:

– I believe that going through my normal client process helped me emotionally detach from the topic. That detachment made it easier to write about myself. Even though I was still writing about me, it almost felt like I was writing about a client. I’m more apt to push the writing envelope with a client and play up their strengths. If I’m writing about myself, I tend to be a bit more subdued.

– Answering interview questions forced me to think about my career. After 17+ years in SEO content development, accomplishments and milestones tend to blend together. There were quite a few things I didn’t even remember until my husband reminded me about them. If you’ve been in one career for a long time, you probably know what I mean.

– All the information I needed was right there. I wasn’t staring at a screen trying to yank factoids out of my brain. I could look at a sheet of notes, highlight the main points and start writing.

My About Us page isn’t 100% perfect yet, but it’s light years ahead of what it was. I finally feel like I have something that showcases what I’ve done, who I am and a little about my personality.

Plus, and more importantly, I can tackle my other pages with confidence. And I can finally (finally) rewrite my other pages, too.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a new home page to write…

What about you? What writing tips and tricks have you used to write about yourself or your company? Discuss them in the comments!

[Updated] 35+ Books and Blogs All Web Writers Should Read

Starting your SEO copywriting career? Check out these great resources!

Want to brush up on your online copywriting skills?

Recently, someone asked if I could send them some “must read” Web writing resources. By the time I was done, I had a very long list (27 to be exact.)

That was back in 2012.

Since then, I’ve stumbled across some great new resources. Many of them were suggested in the LinkedIn SEO Copywriting group and on Twitter (thank you!)

If you’re in the copywriting business – or just want to learn more about the wild world of copywriting, SEO/social and inbound marketing – enjoy! These books and blogs will keep you busy for a long, long time…

Copywriting, content marketing and strategy:

The Copywriter’s Handbook, by Bob Bly ***This is a must read book for all copywriters. If you’ve never read it, buy it today!

Confessions Of An Advertising Man, by David Ogilvy.

Optimize, by Lee Odden

Content Rules, by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman

Everybody Writes, by Ann Handley


Content Marketing Institute

Why people buy (consumer psychology and neuromarketing)

Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini

Buyology, Truth and Lies About Why We Buy, by Martin Lindstrom

Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Customers With Neuromarketing, by Roger Dooley

Switch: How To Change Things When Change is Hard, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Calls to Action: Secret Formulas to Improve Online Results, by Bryan Eisenberg, Jeffrey Eisenberg and Lisa T. Davis

Roger Dooley’s blog

Social Triggers

General SEO, Internet marketing and usability

Internet Marketing In An Hour A Day, by Matt Bailey

Search Engine Marketing, Inc, by Bill Hunt and Mike Moran <—-This book has been recently updated.

Don’t Make Me Think: A Common-Sense Guide to Web Usability, by Steve Krug

The Last Original Idea: A Cynic’s View of Internet Marketing, by Alan K’necht and Geri Rockstein

The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, by Stoney deGeyter


Search Engine Land

Search Engine Watch

Search Engine Journal


QuickSprout  (SEO information plus so much more!).

The SEM Post

Style and grammar guides

The Yahoo! Style Guide: The Ultimate Sourcebook for Writing, Editing and Creating Content for the Digital World, editor, Chris Barr

Elements of Grammar, by Margaret Shertzer

The Little, Brown Handbook, by Fowler and Aaron

Oxford Guide to Plain English, by Martin Cutts

Grammar Girl 

The Oatmeal’s Grammar comics

General writing suggestions

Stephen King’s On Writing

Individual blog posts

The Big List of 189 Blog Posts That Convert  (Thank you, @MichelleDLowery).

More than Keywords: 7 Concepts of Advanced On-Page SEO

What must-read resource (blog or book) did I leave out? Please add your favorites in the comments below! And check out the LinkedIn SEO Copywriting group for more suggestions.

Photo gratitude: Joe.Ross


[Updated] How to Write a Title That Gets Clicks

How to create web page Titles for readers and Google

Here’s how to make your search listing stand out!

I feel a rant coming on.

Recently, I stumbled across an old “how to write Titles” post. In it, the author discussed how her preferred method of Title creation was to separate the keywords with pipes.

So, a Title would read like:

keyword | here’s another keyword | yet another keyword

Before I start my rant, I need to get a few things out of the way first:

  • The article I mentioned is from 2012. Although it’s still a very popular article, it’s an older resource.
  • I have the utmost respect for the author. My rant is not directed at her.
  • Her advice was not technically wrong. In fact, the author did admit that there are many ways to craft a Title.

And now begins my rant:

My call to action is – can we please let pipes die? Please?

Instead, write the title like a headline and make it more “clickable” instead.

Titles are extremely important to your SEO campaign. There are two reasons for this:

  • Titles help with a page’s SEO. So, a strong Title can help a page position.
  • The search engine results page (SERP) is your first opportunity for conversion. A strong Title can help get the click from the SERP to your site. However, a so-so Title may not wow your reader.

To me, using pipes is an old-school method that doesn’t leverage any conversion opportunities. Sure, the keyphrases are in there. Sure, Google can tell what the page is about. But the Titles aren’t written for the users. They don’t scream “click me” from the search engine results page. They’re “SEO’d” – but that’s it.

In my opinion, pipes makes your Title blend into the background. After all, who wants their Title to blend in when it can stand out instead?

Want to see what I mean?

I discussed Titles during a 2012 video post. In it, I compare two SERP listings – one written like a benefit statement and one written with pipes. Judge for yourself which version is the more compelling. And let me know if my rant is justified. :)



For those of you who don’t like watching videos, here’s a transcript summary. Enjoy!

Don’t ignore your Titles. Embrace them!

- The search engine results page is your first opportunity for conversion.

- Think of Titles like headlines – write them to get the click.

- Include your main page keyphrases.

- Keep the character count to around 59 characters (with spaces).

A lot of people look at page Titles as “the place that we stick our keyphrases so Google knows what the page is about.” But Titles are much more than that – they are actually your first conversion opportunity off the search engine results page.

So it’s essential to create a clickable Title – one that people will read and think “That site has exactly what I need” and will select your listing over the others.

Given that your page Title is competing for the first conversion – that first click – off the search engine results page, you want to write it as you would a headline. You want to make it compelling and yes, you’ll want to include your main keyphrases for that page in the Title.

You also want to keep the page Title to around 59 characters, with spaces. After crafting such a masterful Title, you certainly don’t want any yummy parts of it to be truncated out (with “…”).

As an example of missed opportunities in page Title creation, here are screenshots of two Titles. The first example is representative of what you see a lot of today, where the Title has a keyphrase | keyphrase | construction. Is it incorrect? No, it’s okay – but not as persuasive as the second page Title shown below it.

Action step: Review your Titles

For your action step, take a peek at your own site and see if its page Titles present an opportunity for you to improve click-through.

To review your Titles, type this command into the Google search box: site:your domain. Google will return a list of all the pages it has indexed, and you can readily review your Titles.

If you see any Titles like the one pictured, you may have an opportunity to not only write a more persuasive, clickable Title, but also to go back to the page content and see if there are other things you can do to tweak the Title and make it better for readers.

Updated note – you can also check out your Titles during a content audit. Here’s more information on how to make it happen. Have fun!

Photo thanks to Andy Hay

How To Do A Content Audit (And Why It’s Worth It!)

Does your content look a little…outdated?

Imagine if you had to use your old high school photo for your business headshot.

Remember that perm you spent hours teasing (and Aqua Net-ting?) Your super-big hair would be showcased on your LinkedIn profile.

That cool mullet you sported, paired with your Metallica t-shirt? Yup. That’s what readers would see when they clicked over to your “about” page.

(I can see you cringing at the thought.)

Although we’d never throw an old picture of us online, we routinely keep old, bad content on our sites.

You know, those posts we wrote when we just started blogging.

Or those “experimental” posts that didn’t quite qualify as thin content…yet, we knew they weren’t the greatest when we wrote them.

It’s easy to forget about all the old content we’ve written (just as it’s easy to “forget” about sporting a mullet!). I have this problem myself. Once a page is in cyberspace, I move on to the next one.

The problem is, those old pages are still active. They’re still in the search results. They’re still on your site. New readers may click through to an old post – and not be overly thrilled with what they see.

That’s not good.

Instead of hanging with your old content, run a content audit and fix it.

The content audit process involves combing through ALL your old posts, noting what’s wrong and making your so-so content shiny and new again.

Good news, you’ll see some incredible benefits. Bad news, if your company has been blogging for a few years – this will take some time.

But it’s worth it.

Here’s how to do it:

1.  Start with a great content audit tool. I use SEMrush (Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider is another good tool) to spider sites and get a feel for the major issues. SEMrush will showcase the number of pages with major errors (such as no Titles,) as well as other issues like missing alt text, thin content or broken links.

Yes, you can manually check for these issues (we’ll talk about that in a bit) However, some issues (like finding all the broken links) are easier to find with a little computerized help.

Here’s a screenshot of an SEMrush report. This site’s main issues are around links and alt text:


Screenshot from a SEMrush content audit

2.  Create an Excel document (assuming you don’t have one already.) 

Having an Excel document at your fingertips makes it easier for you to indicate the quality of the content, flag what needs to be fixed and any include other page-specific notes. If you used a site audit tool, you can export the data to an Excel document (although your spreadsheet may be filled with other data that’s not relevant to your content audit.)

To make things easier, you’ll want to customize the spreadsheet headings based on what’s important to you.

Here’s an example:


Many people “grade” their content to help them prioritize their pages. Content with minor (or no) tweaks would receive an A or B grade. If the content is truly bad, a D or F grade is appropriate.

3.  Take a hard look at every page. Yes, I said “every page.” 

There’s no easy way to do this. If you have an Excel document pre-populated with the Titles and URLs, you’ll need to click every URL link and view the page. If you use WordPress, you can view “all posts” and  choose where to start.

Things to check are:

  • Are there typos or other grammatical errors?
  • Are the keyphrases appropriate for the page? Is the page keyphrase-free?
  • Does the content need updating? Maybe your opinion has changed, or the industry has moved in another direction.
  • Is there a way you could make your post more readable? For instance, splitting longer paragraphs into shorter ones. Or, can you add headlines and subheadlines?
  • Is the call to action still relevant – or are you promoting a sale you ran over four years ago?
  • Does the content need a major overhaul? Maybe it’s a good topic, but your writing skills weren’t quite up to snuff back then.
  • Are the links still good, or are they returning a 404 page not found error? Did you make some newbie SEO copywriting errors, like hyperlinking all your keyphrases?
  • Are there low-hanging fruit opportunities, such as writing better Titles or adding meta descriptions?

Start making changes! 

How you make those changes are up to you. You may want to start with the “worst of the worst.” You may want to work in chronological order. Or focus on one thing (like changing Titles) and then backtrack to other issues. The key is to have a plan and work it.

If you need to make just a few changes, you can simply edit the post and push “update.” If you find yourself adding new information and/or rewriting the article, you can republish the post as a new one. That means you’d need to edit the “Published on” date in WordPress and hit “Update.” The date will change and you’ll have a “new” post!

You may be asking, “So, what’s in it for me? Why should I spend the time and cash to make this happen?”

Good question. Here are a few reasons:

1. You never have to worry about a client landing on an old page and thinking, “This information hasn’t been accurate in over five years. There’s no way I’d work with this person!”

2. It’s a great opportunity to clean up old links that go nowhere (or, even worse, go places you don’t want people to go anymore!).

3. Revising old posts can sometimes take less time than writing brand new ones. That’s a huge benefit for those weeks when you’re already time-strapped and writing a new blog post seems too overwhelming.

4. Reformatting your posts (adding headlines and subheadlines and creating shorter paragraphs) actually make your posts easier to read. This simple change can sometimes decrease your bounce rates and even increase your conversions.

5. Rewriting your Titles (and maybe doing a little keyphrase editing) can increase the page’s SEO power and drive new traffic. Bonus!

In short, auditing your content is an extremely smart move. Tweaking just a few pages a day could have a huge impact on your positions and conversions.

Try it and see.

P.S., If you’re an SEO savvy copywriter, content audits can be a very profitable service offering. You’ll need to know your stuff – this isn’t a “newbie” gig. But if you have the knowledge and don’t mind evaluating thousands of pages, you can help your clients in an entirely new way.

Photo thanks to: © Lee1107 | Dreamstime.com – Young Woman 80s Model Shoot Photo

It’s never going to be perfect

A friend accosted me first thing in the morning…

“I’m stuck. I wrote 100 versions of my headline and I hate them all. I hate my copy. I’ve been working on this for four months. I don’t know what to do.”

My friend was freaking out. This wasn’t a “I just need to get this out with someone who understands” thing. This was a pure panic moment for him.

(And thank goodness that I had some coffee first so I could intelligently help him.) :)

We’ve all been there. For instance, how many times have you spent hours revising an important email? Or held off on launching your site because the design wasn’t quite “there?”  Heck, you should have seen me when I wrote my first book. My friend has to gently take my (previously unseen) final draft out of my clutching hand and say, “Heather, if you don’t let me have it, I can’t help you.”

I recently went through this myself. During my site redesign, I turned into the client from hell – the type of client I avoid like the plague. I worried about (OK, micromanaged) everything. I stressed over the launch. I even texted the designer at 8 p.m. to freak out about my logo color.

Really. That’s how weird I got.

A little bit of perfectionism isn’t bad. It ups our game and helps us do our best work. For instance, revising an important email may make sense – you want to make sure that you include all the necessary details. And sometimes, letting your site design percolate one more day can help you clearly see what needs tweaking.

Where a good thing goes bad is when the revision process is never ending. You edit and tweak and throw it all away and start over. You think about your project all the time. What started out as a cool thing (woohoo – I get to relaunch the site) is now a source of anxiety, dread and sleepless nights.

Your inner editor is a real bitch (or bastard, if you prefer the male version.) Yes, she may have useful things to say. Yes, she may make some good points. But the way she gets her point across is often cruel, slimy and paranoia-inducing.

“Is this the right word? Are you sure? Why don’t you spend the next hour combing the thesaurus to be absolutely sure.”

“Do you think your new client is really going to like this? It’s not your best work, you know.”

“Can you miss your deadline? This article would be much better if you had just a little more time…”

(If you’re like me, your inner editor really gets going around 3 a.m. There’s nothing like waking up in a paranoid sweat, wondering if you accidentally used the wrong form of “there” or if you should have waited one more day before turning in your content.)

Here’s a reality check: your writing will never be perfect. Ever.

There will always be something to edit.

There will always be something that’s not quite right.

And you will always find something that you don’t like.

That’s just how it is. It’s time to get over it. Here’s how:

1. Ask yourself what’s the worst thing that could happen if it’s not perfect. Will you get kicked out of the industry for a typo? Doubt it. Will people mock your new site? Maybe – but who cares if it makes money.  Will you lose sales if your headline isn’t perfect? Possibly – but you can change that after the site is launched and you can test. In most cases, the worst thing that will happen is a little short-term embarrassment (and that’s assuming you’ve made a mistake and it’s noticed.) You can deal with that.

2. Get away from the project. I don’t mean a couple hours. I mean leave your project alone for a week or more. When your brain is spinning out of control, you won’t see any new opportunities. You’ll drain your creativity. Just take a freakin’ break already and give yourself permission to let it go. Ever wonder why your best ideas happen in the shower, in the car, or when you’re gardening? It’s because you’re relaxed. Think about it.

3. Set a completion deadline: Tell yourself that you’ll complete your project by X date at Y time. Get specific. Don’t just say, “sometime on Thursday.” And “complete” doesn’t mean “Well, it’s mostly done – but I just want to look at it again.” No. When your deadline hits, you’re done.

4.  Tell someone else about your deadline. Ask a friend to email/text/call you after your deadline to see if you followed through. It’s amazing how knowing that someone will follow up can often spur us into action. However, there are some folks who may ignore their text and blow off the deadline. If that sounds like you…

5.  Give your friend permission to do it for you. This is extreme, and not for every case. However, if you’re sitting on a site design that’s really pretty good, having your friend push “publish” for you isn’t the end of the world. The site will be launched. The work is off your plate. Your anxiety will ratchet down to normal levels.

Plus, once it’s “out there” and live, you’ll (finally) realize just how damn good your work really is.

And that’s a wonderful feeling.

Photo thanks: ID 6681808 © Justin Brown | Dreamstime.com