It’s 2017. Is SEO Copywriting Training Still Needed?

Have you shelved SEO copywriting training for your in-house writers, figuring the money was better spent elsewhere?

That strategy may put your company at a competitive disadvantage.

Conductor recently reported that half of all content jobs require some SEO skills.

That means companies (like your competitors) are valuing SEO copywriting knowledge more than ever before.

Are you ready?

This statistic shocked me. Yes, I knew more companies were training their writers. But I didn’t know it was that many.

Why? Because I’ve heard all the reasons why training the writing team wasn’t a priority…

“Our writers write for social. We figure the organic listings will sort themselves out.”

“Our style guide includes a SEO writing checklist. The writers don’t need anything more.”

“There’s no budget.”

(Maybe you’ve said the same thing.)

But here’s what tend to happen…

The marketplace starts to shift. Companies realize their social campaigns aren’t driving organic traffic. Smaller sites are out-positioning them for major searches. Thousands of pages aren’t positioning — and they’re not sure why.

Suddenly, SEO copywriting training becomes an important priority.

Over the last three years, I’ve worked with large companies running well-known authority sites. They employed professional writers, wrote excellent content, and aggressively published.

But here’s the challenge: Their writers didn’t understand how to research keyphrases, or how to integrate them into the copy.

The existing content team couldn’t “see” the low-hanging optimization fruit opportunities — and how, just by tweaking some old content — they could dramatically increase their search volume.

They didn’t realize how their old-school SEO writing techniques was actually making their site less competitive — not more.

The writers didn’t realize that SEO copywriting was more about serving up excellent, 10X content — and not about writing stilted-sounding, keyphrase-stuffed content.

In short, the writing team didn’t know what they didn’t know — and, that knowledge was throttling their search traffic.

SEO copywriting in 2017 is more about topic and entity optimization and less (actually, not at all) about optimizing for one keyphrase per page. (Want to learn more? This recent post from Searchmetrics dives into some geeky SEO writing goodness.)

It’s giving your reader ALL the information she needs to see in the micro-moment. It’s leveraging the competitive landscape and reader feedback to craft the right content length, every time.

It’s far more complicated than it was back in 1999, 2009 — or even just a couple years ago.

To answer the question: Yes, SEO copywriting training is necessary. In fact, a lack of SEO writing skills puts companies at a competitive risk.

Plus, the knowledge you’ll gain will pay for itself in increased site traffic and higher-converting pages.

Your writers can no longer live in SEO darkness.

The key is finding the right training for your team.

Here’s how to do it:

How to train your writers in SEO writing best practices

Fortunately, there are a number of ways your team can get the training it needs. Here’s the breakdown:

Online SEO copywriting training courses

There are a number of online training courses available, ranging in price from $29 to $995 or more. Some courses focus primarily on writing skills, while others also discuss content marketing strategies.

Pros:

  • Convenient: Writers can log in and learn when they have time.
  • Lower-cost: Online courses cost less than customized trainings and some workshops.
  • Some online courses have monthly calls, so there is some instructor interaction.

Cons:

  • Some training courses offer no (or very limited) instructor interaction.
  • Course materials go out-of-date quickly, so you’ll have to ask how often the training is updated. Don’t expect an expert, up-to-date course for $30 — unfortunately, they don’t exist.
  • There is no one-on-one help. Some companies may benefit from an outside consultant checking out their copy.

Some online courses are: Yoast’s SEO copywriting training, AWAI’s SEO Copywriting Success and my SEO Copywriting Certification training.

Writing workshops

If you’re lucky, you can track down a local SEO writing workshop. Register for them right away — writing workshops are fun, small-group experiences where questions are always welcome. Typical prices range from $99 to $1,500 for a multi-day event.

Pros:

  • More one-on-one attention: A small-group environment makes it easier to ask questions.
  • Lower-cost: Online courses cost less than customized trainings.
  • Great networking opportunities: You’ll be learning with other writers like you.

Cons:

  • Writing workshops don’t happen very frequently.
  • They are usually held in larger cities — so if you have to travel, the costs quickly skyrocket.
  • You may not learn everything you want; it all depends on the agenda.

AWAI’s Web Writing Intensive brings together fantastic speakers and a very robust, hands-on program. It’s held once a year, typically in Austin, TX. For more of a content marketing slant, the Content Marketing Institute has their Content Marketing Master Class.  And yes, I run small-group SEO copywriting workshops from time to time, too.

Customized SEO copywriting training

Does you company know you need to do “something” with your content — but you don’t know what? Customized SEO content training mixes together a SEO content site audit, consulting and training.

Costs for a customized training are from 5K – 10K or more. Why so much? Instead of presenting a “stock” training, the consultant is reviewing your analytics, auditing your site and customizing a deck based on your team’s requirements.

Pros:

  • You get exactly what you want. You want information about sales writing? No problem. More information about keyphrase rearch? Great. You choose the agenda.
  • You can train your entire team, not just a couple key people. This helps the entire organization understand their role in an SEO writing/content marketing team. Some presenters allow you to record the presentation, giving you an on-demand training resource when you’re on boarding new writers.
  • You learn what you need to do and how to do it. Your writers can immediately implement changes and track results. Plus, you can learn about cool new tools you can use.

Cons:

  • Some consultants charge on a per-person basis, and that can add up if you want your entire company to attend the training. Make sure to clarify the charge.
  • The cost is higher, due to the complexity.
  • You’ll need to schedule a training day and coordinate schedules.

I love training in-house writing teams. You can also find other smart writers/consultants to help your team. Just email a writer you admire and ask about their availability!

How can you choose the right training resource for your team?

If your content team has five or more writers — and you know your content has “issues” — a customized training may provide higher ROI. Online trainings are great for smaller teams and small business owners. I’d recommend a local workshop for any-sized business. They’re that fun.

So, what’s the bottom line for your company?

SEO copywriting training is no longer a “nice to have” goal. Check out your options. Make the (very reasonable) investment. Train your team. It’s a no-brainer.

After all, your competitors are training their writing teams. Shouldn’t you train yours?

Want to learn more about training options? Let’s talk –I’ve been training writers for 19 years

How to Find Easy SEO Copywriting Opportunities

Did you grow up hearing, “If it’s easy, there must be something wrong with it”?

Yeah. Me too.

Instead of looking for the easy way out, we often look for the most challenging, brutal way to do things. We work harder. We work longer hours. If we’re not suffering, we aren’t trying.

It’s all about the hustle.

Granted, this mentality helps us to a certain extent. Busting out of our comfort zones is important. Sometimes, we have to go through some pain to see some gain (for instance, starting a new workout routine.)

But, what does this mean to our content marketing strategy? Should we always push the content marketing envelope? Are we doomed to live a hamster wheel life, grinding out new content all the time while we suffer in silence?

Many content marketers are grinding it out

If you fall into the “hamster wheel” camp, you’re not alone. In a 2016 study from the Content Marketing Institute, 60 percent said their top challenge was “producing engaging content.”

 

It’s not just B2B companies that are suffering. In-house B2C teams and publishing companies are facing the same levels of content burnout. Often, these teams are required to produce more writing with fewer resources, so creating quality content in an efficient manner is even more important.

Now, instead of telling my in-house SEO copywriting training clients they should write longer blog posts, jump on the latest content marketing bandwagon, or develop yet another brand new content asset, my advice boils down to three words…

Look for easy.

Here’s why…

Easy has a huge benefit.

A parallel I like to make is around exercise.

I love high-intensity exercise. It’s the only thing that makes my brain turn off.

But, it’s hard.

The only way I can do it is to build in rest days. I go to yoga. Or I take a walk. I’ve even thought about Zumba (don’t laugh.) If I push myself too much, I burn out, get sick and have zero energy.

Now, think of this in terms of your content marketing campaign.

Constantly writing (and researching, and promoting) detailed long-form posts is hard.

Publishing daily (or even weekly) for some companies may be the equivalent of engaging in high-intensity exercise without a break.

Balancing search and social without a sustainable plan can cause burnout — fast.

The result? The post quality goes down. The writers (you!) burn out. Sales go down.

You’re pushing so hard towards your goal, you don’t realize you don’t have to push so darn hard all the time.

That’s where finding easy ideas come in. You don’t have to reinvent the content wheel all the time. Nor, do you have to publish 100 percent, brand-new content.

Repurposing is OK. Finding the workarounds is OK. Developing an easy content marketing schedule (as opposed to doing a bunch of things you feel you “should” do for SEO) is OK.

Ready to make your SEO copywriting life a little easier?

Here are some ideas:

  • Repurpose old blog posts and turn them into an email series.
  • Re-optimize old blog posts that have so-so positions.
  • Send social traffic to old posts (hey, those old posts need love too.)
  • Build links to your existing content assets.
  • If a task has been challenging in the past (say, getting subject matter experts to blog,) work around it (for example, interview the experts instead and post the transcripts.)
  • Slice your publication schedule (it’s OK. Really!) Steve Rayson just wrote a great post about why this works.
  • Update an old blog post.
  • Instead of focusing on writing long-form posts every week, consider publishing shorter posts more often.

(Speaking of updating an old blog post…I updated my post on how to conduct a content audit – please check it out and share it with your friends.)

Short on time?

It happens to the best of us. There are some days (or weeks, or months) when making major changes is impossible. Instead, focus on what you can do in the short amount of time you have. Need inspiration? Here’s a list of 23 SEO copywriting tips you can accomplish in five minutes or less.

If you’ve been hitting roadblocks, find the easy workarounds rather than beating your head against the wall.

You’ll be happier. Your content will be better for it.

And yes, you still want to stretch yourself and try new things. Challenging yourself to try something new is a good thing  (I’m challenging myself to hold more webinars this year.)

(If you need more content growth-hacking ideas, check out this great interview with Ann Smarty.)

But, you still need those “rest days.” You still need the easy to balance out the hard.

What did you think?

How are you going to integrate “easy” into your 2017 content strategy? Let me know by posting a comment below!

Do you have questions about SEO copywriting or need expert tips? I answer your questions (and more!) in my weekly newsletter. I’d love it if you signed up — here’s the link!

Why Good Content Isn’t Enough: Interview with Debra Mastaler

Around 16 years ago, I met Debra Mastaler, founder of Alliance-Link — and I was immediately impressed by her intelligence, knowledge and her no-nonsense advice. Debra is a trailblazing woman (in fact, she was one of the first women in SEO) who knows how to set smart, sustainable link marketing campaigns. If you have a chance to see her speak, grab it. You’ll walk away with a wealth of actionable information.

I sat down with Debra to chat about link building for content marketers — and here’s what she had to say. Enjoy!

Let’s start with the big question first: Can content strategists continue to just write copy — or do they need to have a link building strategy in place before they start writing? If they write it, will the links naturally come?

From my experience, not having some type of marketing strategy in place before you begin usually nets little in the way of traffic and links to your content.  You tend to get lost without a map; have an outline first and linking will be easier.

I’ve had very few “wins” with content when I didn’t spend time mapping out:

  1. Who to market the content to and
  2. Where to promote it.

Having a sense of direction before the first word is written is key, know the demographic you want to promote to and find out where that demographic frequents.

When you know who’s interested in your content and where they congregate you’ll have an easier time promoting your content to them.

From there, the links will come if the content is good!

Are some content assets naturally more “linkable?” For instance, you read “create infographics for links” — and then Steve Rayson from BuzzSumo says that infographics drive shares, but not links. What really works?

That’s hard to say and dependent on a couple of things.

First, different types of content work in various market and demographics, it’s important to first identify your market and understand elements within it such as ethnicity, age, gender, income, leisure activities, education, etc.   You should have some idea who is buying your goods and services and what they “like”.

If you don’t know, find out.  It will make your content promotions and inbound link efforts so much easier!   Use sources like the U.S. Census Bureau, FedStats and Reference to help.

From there, identifying trends is next.  Having demographic data is important, but as a link builder I need to be able to learn from the past so I can look into the future.  Once I know who I’m targeting, I look at what worked in the past and use that information to make predications on where to move forward. I set alerts and pull data from current news sources to determine what’s appealing to my target audience.  If I find infographics and/or interviews were solid hits, I will lean in that content direction.

But if not?  I won’t do an infographic just because it’s the tactic du jour in the SEO landscape.  Following the herd is not always the best way to go.

What about Penguin and spammy links? Is this something folks need to worry about if they’re dipping their toes in the link building waters?

Since Google folded the Penguin filter into their algorithm and made it a permanent part of their ranking system, I recommend you not be tempted to use “spammy” links as part of your link building efforts.  Getting out of hot water with Google is time consuming and expensive, best to avoid spammy links and save yourself a lot of heartache.

How can an overwhelmed content creator focus her efforts? Building lots of links? Being choosy and finding the best ones to target?

Search engines place high value on quality pages so content creators should spend time developing partnerships with solid sources that will host their content.  Sources as in well ranked websites with strong traffic and social patterns.  These elements support ongoing SEO efforts and help promote content which will drive traffic and eventually – links.

What are a couple examples of no-brainer, low-hanging fruit link opportunities a lot of site owners and content creators miss?

This depends on your industry or niche really, but in general, everyone should have solid social media accounts in place and should belong to a high profile industry association or Chamber of Commerce.  Both of these items go a long way to establishing credibility for your site and in assisting with content promotion.

Is link building all about SEO? What about sites that offer a nofollow link, but could send tons of targeted traffic?

I am fond of saying, “links help get you ranked but clicks show you deserve to be there”.

If you can get content placed on high traffic sites even if they use nofollow attributes on the links, go for it.

With today’s algorithms, you need “clinks” or clicks and links in order to rank and stay ranked.  Don’t let nofollow attributes stop you if the site has high traffic.

I get “will you link to me” emails all.the.time. 99.9% of the time, I ignore them — these folks are strangers emailing me out of the blue. Having said that, is begging strangers for links a viable strategy?

Many of these emails are generated from outreach software that searches on keywords and do little to personalize or research their requests.  I delete these as well.

But occasionally one will hit my desk I’ll pay attention to, especially one from a website using keywords within my target niche.  I seldom add their links to my site “just because,” but if someone points out a legitimate reason why I should add the link, (replace a broken link) then I may do it.

Before I do, I make sure I research the requesting site well.  If they have an email signature, I click the links.  No signature, I usually ignore the request.

In addition, I’ll run the name of the requesting site for complaints and run the name of the person making the request through Google Plus to see if they have a profile.  I have the Rapportive app installed on my machines so I can see the contacts details in my inbox.

Fail on any of these points and I delete!

Are there certain pages on a site that can be a link-acquiring powerhouse? For instance, cornerstone content pages?

We need to step back and determine where the clicks are coming from before we can answer this one.

If your links are sitting on high traffic, well ranked pages linking to cornerstone content, it makes sense that page will get the most traffic.

But in general, studies have shown your Home and About Us page receive the most clicks overall.  Why?

Studies show Home pages are most generally linked to or cited in media and general content.  Even if they don’t link to the company, they use the name which in turn motivates people to search.  Once on the site, people want to know about the company behind the screen so the About Us page is clicked.

If you want your cornerstone content clicked on repeatedly, re-socialize it periodically and work to have it placed on a site with continuous high traffic.

What’s the wackiest/most original link building campaign that actually worked?

Several years ago I implemented a link building campaign that used free tee-shirts as an incentive.  You link to the site, we give you a shirt. It was an overwhelming success and one of the best campaigns I’ve done, I’m constantly amazed at what people will do for a free tee-shirt.

That said, Google is very much against this type of tactic now, their Link Schemes post pointedly says:

“The following are examples of link schemes which can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results:

Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link”

What made this campaign “wacky” was the niche the client was in; you wouldn’t in a million years think a tee-shirt would be an incentive but boy, were they ever.

Now-a-days I spend more time developing targeted advertising that drives people to landing pages or cornerstone content over running special events. Just as effective but I’ll admit, tee-shirt giveaways are definitely more fun!

What about guest posting? Some folks say it’s “dead,” others say it’s an opportunity goldmine. What do you think?

We still use it as a way to expand reach.  The issue here is finding solid sites to host the content, with competition for space at an all-time high, this is tough!

If content strategists can do just ONE thing to improve their link profile, what would it be?

Beef up your personal link profile by focusing on what you can do for people rather than using it as a place to drop keyword links.

People hire people to solve problems. Get rid of the keyword-keyword links in your bios and tell them how you can help.  Make your bio links conversational instead.

As for site profiles… work to get links from authoritative sites that are frequented by the people buying your products and services.  If sites/pages are ranking well for your terms/industry, work to partner with those companies.

Thanks, Debra! Debra is also a guest trainer for the SEO Copywriting Certification training, sharing her link marketing strategies with my students. Sound intriguing? Here’s more information about the training.

How to Do a Content Audit [Updated for 2017]

 

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

Remember that perm you spent hours teasing? 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.

Although we’d never throw an old picture of us online, we routinely keep old, subpar 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.

If you’ve been publishing for awhile, a content audit will help you find those old, outdated content assets and make them shiny and new again. Yes, it’s detailed. Yes, it will take a lot of work.

Let’s get started!

What’s a content audit?

The content audit process involves combing through all your old website posts and evaluating the content from a few different perspectives:

  • Brand voice — does the voice “fit” your company’s current voice?
  • Customer needs — does the content help your customers, or is it outdated or unclear?
  • SEO  — does the content position, or does it require re-optimization?
  • Conversion — does the content help the sales/lead generation process?

According to Rebecca Lieb, “A content audit is the cornerstone of content strategy.” Although it is time- consuming (more on that later), the net result is extremely positive.

Before we get into the content auditing how-to, let’s first discuss…

Why do a content audit on your website, anyway?

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.

Reviewing your old content provides you tremendous SEO and conversion opportunities:

  • 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!”
  • 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!).
  • 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.
  • Reformatting your posts (adding headlines and subheadlines and creating shorter paragraphs)  make your posts easier to read. This simple change can sometimes decrease your bounce rates and even increase your conversions.
  • Rewriting your Titles (and maybe doing a little keyphrase editing) can increase the page’s SEO power and drive new traffic. Bonus!
  • You can update older, evergreen posts that are still good — but, they need to be brought up to date.
  • You can find posts with old calls-to-actions (or no CTAs) and update them.
  • You can find “holes” in your existing content, and build new content to fill the holes.

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.

Moz has a great list of reasons on why to perform to perform a content audit. You can check it out here.

How long does a content audit take?

You’re looking at a minimum of five hours for a very small site, to 50 hours (or more) for an extremely large, e-commerce site. Most sites will take somewhere in the 20-30 hour range.

Yes, it’s a lot of time. And yes, it’s worth it. Think of it as a marathon…not a sprint.

My recommendation is to set aside at least 30 minutes a day (more if you can) and keep yourself on a timeline. Because content audits take so long, it’s easy to start strong and put it aside as soon as things get busy (I’ve been there!).

You can also pay someone to conduct a content audit for you. Hiring an SEO content strategist is a great option if you don’t have a lot of time, but I’d recommend keeping it in-house if you can. You can learn a lot about your site (and the opportunities) when you go through it, page-by-page.

Ready to get started? Here’s how to do it!

How to do a content audit for your website

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:

SEMrush

Screenshot from an 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 fixing, and 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?

How to start making changes to your site

Now that you have your to-do list, it’s time to start making changes.  Your content audit should end with a list of recommended next steps, along with a list of high-priority pages. If you are working with a consultant, she should provide action items for the company, recommending how to make the necessary changes.

Many companies integrate their content marketing makeovers into their existing strategy. For instance, a smaller company could benefit from this content marketing strategy:

  • Publish new content: four times a month
  • Re-optimize six pieces of old content
  • Recycle/update one piece of content a month.

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.

Have you conducted a content audit on your site? What did you learn? Did a tool or platform make the content audit easier? Lave a comment and let me know!

Ph

Why Your Content Creation Is Failing — and What to Do, Instead

whycontentfailing

Does your company have challenges around content creation (especially creating optimized SEO content?).

You’re not alone.

I hear the complaints all the time…

“We create a lot of content every month, but it’s not very good. Our writing has quality issues, and we’re not sure what to do.”

“Our writers refuse to optimize their content because they think ‘SEO writing’ is bad. How can we fix this from a process perspective?”

“We’ve focused our writing efforts around social channels in the past. How can we gain more Google traffic and increase our site visits?”

“We’re creating content, but it’s not driving qualified traffic. What are we doing wrong?”

Sound familiar?

Many companies — especially B2B companies — struggle with SEO content creation. Although the individual situations are always different, there tend to be some fairly common fixes.

Here are some things to consider if your in-house content creation is falling flat, and you’re not sure what to do:

Is the writing quality poor?

The fix: Examine your content creation process, price structure, and support

Is this how your in-house content makes you feel?

I frequently hear this complaint from agencies, publishers, and companies with a large outsourced writing team. In many cases, the reason boils down to sheer volume — the writers are overwhelmed, writing too fast, and focusing on getting the content out the door.

Consider soliciting feedback from your writers and ask about the workload. Are your writers frequently working overtime to complete daily writing tasks? Are they concerned about their writing quality (good writers hate kicking out bad writing.) A solution could be as simple as hiring additional writers (or finding freelancers) to fill in the content gaps.

If you rely 100% on freelance writers, and you’re having quality issues, your pay rate may be to blame. Paying a writer $50 for a 2,000-word blog post incentivizes her to work fast, not smart. After all, she’ll need to write a lot of $50 blog posts just to make her mortgage. Paying higher rates for a more professional writer may save you money in the long run, especially if your editor is spending a lot of time revising your writers’ work.

Do your writers hate SEO content creation?

The fix: Train your writers (and your editorial staff, too).

SEO content writing tip

SEO writing gets a bad rap.

Many writers, especially established writers with a print background, feel SEO writing is spammy. Unfortunately, this misconception is often fueled by in-house style guides that focus on keyphrase densities, ungrammatical keyphrases and focusing on Google instead of the reader.

In fact, an editor from a big-brand client once complained how SEO was killing their writing style. Their content didn’t flow — instead, it was choppy and pushed the SEO envelope way too far.

In cases like this, a team-wide training (that yes, includes the SEO department) is a smart move. The writers can learn that SEO content generation and strategy is based on smart, authoritative writing. Plus, the editorial and SEO department can learn how to balance optimization needs with creating quality — and readable — content.

We write exclusively for social. Where’s our Google traffic?

The fix: Time to optimize your content.

For many companies, creating social-only content can be a short-sighted strategy.

Certainly, social channels can drive a lot of traffic. However, your target reader is also searching Google for information that satisfies their micro-moments. According to CEB, 57% of the B2B buyers’ journey happens before the prospect contacts the company. If your company doesn’t have a strong Google presence, you’re losing leads — and money.

The key is to change your content creation strategy to include some optimization efforts. This may mean optimizing older content assets, as well as developing a new SEO content strategy.

(Do the powers-that-be insist you can ditch keywords and write topical-based content, instead? Check out this Whiteboard Friday video with Rank Fishkin.)

Your content isn’t driving traffic.

The fix: It depends — and you may want to look outside your company for the answers.

There could be a few reasons this is happening.

Perhaps it’s because your content is too company-focused, and it’s not serving your readers’ needs.

Or, it could be you need to optimize your content for Google and use some of your SEO writing skills.

Or, your content isn’t answering your readers’ micro-moments.

It’s easy to get stuck in a content creation rut, and miss important opportunities. You don’t realize your content doesn’t click with your target reader anymore. You’re not optimizing your posts as well as you should. Influencers don’t even notice your copy.

There are so many content marketing blind spots, you can’t “see” your content anymore.

In this case, it pays to work with a content marketing strategist who can help pinpoint your issues, highlight your opportunities and get your content creation back on track. Yes, it will cost money and time — but the outside perspective will be well worth it.

I’d love to hear your SEO content creation horror stories (and success stories, too!) Post your comments below!

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How to Make Tightwads Gleefully Open Their Wallets

cost-conscious-customers

Do you know someone who would rather save money than spend it?

The flashy new iPhone 7 doesn’t tempt him –- he’s happy with his old-school flip phone.

If he goes out to lunch, he’s ordering the cheapest thing on the menu and boxing up half for later.

He’s probably demanding the “best deal” when asking for a quote.

In the marketing world, he falls within the “tightwad” customer persona (really). Tightwads are 24% of all buyers – so almost one-quarter of your prospects fall into this group.

Does a tightwad ever spend money? Of course. Does he like to spend money? Nope.

But, what if your target reader is a typical tightwad? How can you transform his mindset from, “I’m not spending money on this,” to “Wow, this is a good deal.”

It’s all about writing tightwad-focused content.

The inner workings of a tightwad

Why is spending money so painful to a tightwad buyer?

His brain is wired a little bit differently.

In a tightwad’s brain, spending money = pain. Even if he’s spending money on something pleasurable – such as new clothes, a car or a vacation – opening his wallet hurts.

Every cent out the door is like shedding blood.

Having said that, tightwads will purchase your $350/post blogging services, your $10,000 training program and your specialized products.

Here’s how:

Tightwads are extremely analytical – and fluffy, non-precise sales copy will fall flat. Plus, phrases like, “you deserve it” – or anything that implies luxury — won’t work.

Things that DO work are:

  • Strong value propositions. What makes your product or service stand out? What do you offer that’s different than other sites? General statements like “We offer fantastic customer service,” mean nothing. What IS important is when your company is available 24/7 when your competitors are only open 9-5.
  • Specifics count. You’ll want to feed into a tightwad’s analytical nature. Instead of writing, “You’ll save money,” include a specific dollar amount or percentage (“you’ll save 23 percent!”). If you’re going head-to-head with a competitor, consider creating a comparison chart showcasing your differences (and your superiority.) Tightwads love graphs, charts and comparisons.
  • Reframing value is a great hack. There’s a reason UNICEF says you can sponsor a child for “just fifty cents a day.” Even if the total price is just $15 a month, fifty cents a day seems much more manageable.
  • Words matter. How you frame your copy can have a tremendous impact on conversions. In a Wharton study, three researchers framed a overnight shipping fee two different ways. One variation was telling respondents about a “$5 fee,” and the other variation said it was “a small $5 fee.” Guess which variation worked? Yup, a “small $5 fee.”

Want a great example? Check out Dollar Shave Club. The emphasis is on quick, easy and incredible value. To appeal to their tightwad audience, they break down their costs to $9/month, instead of saying “just $108 a year.”

Want another example? Check out Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ song Thrift Shop (warning, the lyrics are NSFW, so turn your speakers down!).

Want more? You can tweak your SEO, too.

Looking for every edge you can find? Here are some tightwad-focused SEO tweaks you can try.

  • Check out tightwad keyphrases. For instance, the phrase [cheap car insurance] sees over 90K searches a month, according to SEMRush. [low cost car insurance] receives 1,600 searches. If saving money is important to your customers, try targeting them with “cheap” keyword modifiers.
  • Consider placing your “tightwad” benefit statement in your Title. Things like “save 20%,” or “free shipping” can help your listing get noticed over others on the SERP. For instance, check out how Amtrak structured their Title:

save_20_percent-amtrak

  • Don’t forget a “tightwad” description. Granted, Expedia’s description isn’t the best — but the company does make it clear that folks can find the cheapest deals on Expedia. Compare this to Kayak’s description, which doesn’t quite fulfill the “cheap” promise.

cheap_airfares-kayak

Baby, don’t fear the tightwad

Writing great tightwad-focused copy is easy — once you know what makes the tightwad tick. Stay away from “luxury” references, target tightwad-focused keyphrases and experiment with word play. The result? Your readers are going to love you — and even feel OK about pulling out their credit card.

Well done!

Looking for a low-cost, hands-on SEO copywriting seminar? I’m excited to announce my Seattle-area SEO workshop on October 26th. Check it out!

 

 

 

Should You Publish Shorter Posts More Often?

Does the thought of writing a 3,000-word blog make you want to curl up in a small ball and rock back and forth?

What if I told you a recent study said writing shorter posts, more often, is a way to gain more social shares — even if that copy was written by a machine?

Recently, Steve Rayson from BuzzSumo wrote a post called, “The Future is More Content: Jeff Bezos, Robots, and High Volume Publishing.

The article throws out stats detailing how publications like BuzzFeed and The Washington Post are cranking out more short-form (under 1,000 words) content than ever before. Heck, even robots are jumping in the game and assisting with content generation.

Is more content, more often, really the key to content marketing success?

Are we back to the “bad old days” of low-cost content mills?

Let’s unpack this and talk about the opportunity.

Keep calm and ignore the robots (for now)

Hearing “computers can create content now” can strike fear in even the most experienced freelance writer’s heart. Why? Because many freelancers already complain how writing is a commodity (don’t believe me — check out typical writing fees on Freelance.com.)

Are writers now competing with content-writing robots as well as offshore writers?

The reality: Not necessarily (unless you’re a journalist, in which case you’re unfortunately living in your own hell.)

Yes, computer-generated content is a “thing.” However, computers aren’t evaluating micro-moments, researching keyphrases and developing reader-centered content. They won’t use, say, textural metaphors or employ other neuromarketing techniques.

That’s what humans do.

Will there be an uptick in computer-generated content? Yes. Will the average business have access to their very own writing robot? Not for a long time.

So, let’s put this fear aside and talk about another important point…

Brands are not publishers

Yes, we’ve all heard the “content is king” mantra. And yes, publishing quality content is important. But, does that mean the average company should turbocharge their content volume?

Newsflash: Brands are not publishers. Publishers are publishers. The average company is ill-equipped to crank out more content.

I couldn’t say it better than Ronell Smith from a recent Moz post:

“Publishing content no more makes you a publisher than running 26 miles makes someone a marathoner. Newsrooms are built to produce lots of content.”

For the average business, a sudden increase in content quantity will make the quality plummet. No one (including Google) wants to go back to the days of content mills, keyphrase-stuffed articles, and thin content.

Yes, many companies need to publish more often. Especially companies that only release one big piece of content every few months — leaving their blog a cold, empty place in the meantime.

But, does the average company need to crank out multiple pieces of content a day or week — even if that content is “just” 1,000 words or less?

Unless there is a solid reason to do it, I say no.

So, what’s a company to do?

It’s easy to chase your tail with the word count studies. This is because:

– The “perfect word count” has changed over time. It used to be 250 words, and now we say 250 words borders on “thin” content.

– It’s important to differentiate between shares and positions. Getting shares is wonderful, but it’s often a transitory bump. Companies also want their content at the top of the search engine charts.

– Different studies may have different findings, causing a WTF reaction if you’re trying to keep it all straight.

So what should you do?

Should you go weeks (or months) without publishing because you’re working on the perfect long-form, in-depth post? No.

Should you publish a bunch of little, crappy posts every day, trying to tease out as much long-tail traffic as you can? Nope.

The answer is so simple.

Instead of publishing content based on what other companies do — why not focus on what your readers want, and what achieves your marketing/brand awareness/sales goals?

That means, stop worrying about your word counts and check your analytics instead. Survey your readers and find out what they want to read.

See what clicks and do more of it. 

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time you write something. Repurposing content is always a smart idea.

For instance, many companies write one big of content every 6-8 weeks. Once it’s created, they slice, dice and repurpose the piece into:

  • A SlideShare deck
  • A podcast (or podcast series)
  • Serialized blog posts (as Steve Rayson suggests)
  • Tweets and Facebook posts
  • Webinar content (don’t forget to include the transcript!)

Plus, you can fill in any “content holes” with other, shorter pieces your readers would love to read.

The key takeaway: Keep calm and keep writing.

Nobody (including Steve Rayson) is recommending you crank out crappy content for Google. Sure, there will always be studies discussing the “perfect” word count and content distribution frequency. But the real test is, what works for YOUR readers (and still gets seen in search results?).

Once you’ve nailed that down, you’re golden.

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How to Give Your Readers a Squirt of Dopamine

Imagine writing so sticky that people hang on to every word, spend more time reading your copy – and How writing wordplay can give your readers a squirt of dopamineeven remember it later?

How?

Because every time they read your content, their brains are squirted with dopamine happy-juice.

Squirt

No, it’s not black magic.

In fact, coming up with smile-producing content is incredibly fun!

It’s all about the wordplay.

Let me explain.

My discovery (and “doh” moment)

Like a good marketer, I was checking out my article backlinks and saw someone linked to 14 SEO Copywriting Tips in Haiku. Cool.

When I checked out the backlink, the article discussed how haiku word play was popular.

NYC uses haiku street traffic signs:

Oncoming cars rush
Each, a three-ton bullet
And you, flesh and bone

Jonathan Schwartz, ex-CEO of Sun Microsystems tweeted a haiku to announce his resignation:

Financial crisis
Stalled too many customers
CEO no more

Why does haiku wordplay – especially around such serious topics – make us smile?

It’s all in our brains.

Enter neuromarketing research. Using words in unexpected ways makes our writing more persuasive, more easily remembered – and can even provide pleasure.

Yes, that’s right. Funny wordplay gives your readers’ brains a squirt of pleasure-enhancing dopamine. People want to hang on your every word because it makes them feel good.

How cool is that?

Was I aiming for a mass reader dopamine squirt when I wrote the blog post? Nope. It never even crossed my mind. Doh!

I wrote the post because it was fun to write. In a career universe full of meta description how-to guides (it’s a really great guide, but wow) and algorithms and RankBrain, you gotta shake it up somehow.

How you can light up your readers’ brains

Working with wordplay is fun. The key is thinking out of the box.

For instance…

I was driving behind an airport hotel shuttle with the slogan “Suite Ride” on the back. I laughed – but more importantly, I remember the brand (Marriott.)

Duluth Trading Company has a popular line of comfortable men’s work pants called Ballroom Jeans (I’ll let you figure out the wordplay.)

If haiku and unexpected word combinations aren’t your style, try textual metaphors like:

It was a hairy situation.

Learn to sell without feeling slimy.

Are you having a rough day?

Textural words like hairy, slimy and rough activate the sensory parts of our brains. While we’re reading the copy, our brains metaphorically feel slime, hairiness and roughness.

See? There are lots of ways to make your writing fun again.

Ready to play with wordplay?

What do you think of today’s post? Can you work some fun wordplay into your writing? Contact me and let me know (or leave a comment.) I’d love to hear from you!

It’s time to sign off
Enjoy playing with wordplay
Talk to you next week!

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21 Ways a Copywriter Can Help a Small Business

Opportunities for small business copywritersIf you ask a small business owner to give a presentation in public, you can see beads of perspiration forming almost immediately. That is, if your attention isn’t drawn to their knees knocking or their leg imitating a piston right where they sit.

While public speaking is a known and easy-to-admit fear of many, writing is a more subtle fear. Accepting the task is easy, but when it comes to stringing words together, many business owners are like a deer in headlights.

Just as the best speakers value speech writers, and professional athletes have coaches, business owners need copywriters and copy editors. Here are a few areas where most small businesses could use a wordsmith:

Writing Big Pieces

  • Web Page Copy: There are plenty of small business web pages filled with mangled text, piecemealed and pasted from multiple sources, not always from their own pages or brochures.
  • Ebooks: Every business owner likes to think they are an expert in their field (ask their employees). Every business owner would like a bigger mailing list. Ebooks can prove the former while building the latter.
  • Press Releases: While some writers think press releases are a thing of the past, small business owners (your potential clients) do not. In smaller towns, well written press releases can mean local media coverage.
  • Blog Posts: This type of writing is the mud where many businesses get stuck. Providing conversational copy, relevant to a targeted audience, with a clear call-to-action, often means bigger profits in less time (and agony).
  • Articles: Most business owners are not familiar with terms like article marketing, advertorials, or native advertising. They like the concept, but shy away from the writing.
  • Sales Pages and Landing Pages: Most small business owners are familiar with the concept of long-form sales letters. Few are adept at putting the copy, the callouts, and the calls-to-action together.

Small Bits & Pieces

  • Commercials: Television and radio remain a popular platform for small business advertising dollars, especially in smaller local markets. As you know, short-and-quick is not always synonymous with clear-and-concise.
  • Catalog or Product Descriptions: Small blurbs like product descriptions, catalog copy and menu items are often difficult for a small business owner. It becomes an exercise of the ketchup trying to read its own label – from inside the bottle.
  • Email: Canned responses are time savers. Template sales emails or inquiry emails can also save time and increase outreach. When written clear and concise, a small business can send these emails with confidence.
  • Display Ad Copy: From taglines to internal signage, chamber directory ads to phone books, some small businesses haven’t changed their ad copy in years.
  • Brochures: Still viewed as an expected leave behind, sales collateral like brochures and sales cards hold a lot of value to some businesses. Creativity can be a key in creating a library of copy to be used elsewhere within the business.
  • Status Updates: If a small business is active in social media, status updates read more like commercials than conversations.

Mouth Pieces

  • Speeches and Presentations: Whether the full body of the speech or an outline, some of the best presenters tap into the strengths of a writer. Presentation slideshows are often in need of a good writer or editor.
  • Profiles and Bios: A lot of business leaders have difficulty writing about themselves. Bio pages on the web, in print or media kits, and social media profiles can all use the touch of a professional writer.
  • Video and Podcast Scripts: The “ums” and “ers” along with the always popular “so” and “basically” fill video voice overs and podcast episodes across the mediums. Good writing and a tool like CuePrompter will make your clients sound eloquent when they say the words you’ve written.
  • Transcription and Re-purposing: Smart business owners are starting to realize the value of recorded presentations or conversations, capturing large portions or small money quotes they can use elsewhere. A writer or editor who can extract the value from the whole is an asset to the company.

Specialty Pieces

  • SEO Copywriting: Writing title tags, headlines, and meta data is a specialized writing skill all its own. Recognizing how to improve copy for findability is also a strength many business don’t have internally. SEO copywriting is one of the most sought after types of writing.
  • Infographics: This style of writing also requires talents for both research and design. Being able to partner with a graphics person can strengthen the copy and the flow.
  • Tutorials: Technical writing or instructional manuals are very important to many kinds of businesses. Small businesses with a high turnover of employment are often seeking operational guidelines for new employees. Manufacturers are always on the lookout for a simpler way to teach customers how to use their products.
  • Grant Writing: If writing blog posts strikes fear into the minds of a business owner, grant writing can send them running for cover.
  • Policies: Terms of service, disclaimers, and codes of conduct are sought after as more businesses launch their own websites. This type of writing often includes a back-and-forth approval process with a legal department.

A lot of small business owners will avoid writing at all costs, sometimes delegating to someone within their company. Not every business will use all of the writing types listed above. It’s likely they haven’t yet considered the possibility of most of them.

As I work with small business owners daily, writing is clearly one of their weakest areas. If you’re a copywriter, or learning to build a copywriting business, I strongly encourage you to reach out to the small business owners in your area and help them in these areas.

About the Author

Mike Sansone works with small business owners and solopreneurs in building a better business presence online and offline through his company, SmallBizTracks. He has authored the ConverStations blog since 2006. You can connect with Mike on Twitter or Google Plus.

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14 SEO Copywriting Tips — in Haiku! [Revised]

stencil.blog-post-feature

I often tell writers to have fun with their content. Whether you’re a B2B or B2C, you can get your point across — and establish your expertise — without sounding boring.

Today, I thought I’d take my own advice. Below you’ll find common SEO copywriting tips – written Haiku-style. Enjoy!

SEO copy
Doesn’t mean “keyphrase stuffing”
Write for people first.

Don’t “write for engines”
Google doesn’t buy from you
But your prospects do.

Know your customers
Write informative content
Focus on their needs.

Do keyphrase research
Before you write your copy
Don’t ever skip it.

Focus your content
Think about reader intent
Choose words carefully.

Synonyms are OK now
And related words
Writers can rejoice

Include benefits
Tell folks what’s in it for them
Show how you can help.

Looking for an edge?
Research long-tail keyphrases
Answer the questions.

Another idea
Experiment with headlines
Play with your wording.

Watch your messaging
Pushy sales copy won’t sell
Folks will tune you out.

Don’t talk about YOU
Talk about your customer
Focus on her needs.

Titles are crucial
Always include keyphrases
Write to get the click.

Measure your results
See what works and what doesn’t
Change up your copy.

Have fun with writing
It’s a great way to connect
Thanks for reading this!

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Photo thanks to M161m161 | Dreamstime.com