52 Questions to Ask Your New Copywriting Client [Updated for 2017]

Anyone who knows me knows that I tend to ask a lot of questions….

Why? Because that’s how I learn.

When you’re onboarding a new copywriting client — whether you work for yourself, or an agency — asking lots of question is the key to success.

Sure, that means that you’ll be spending an hour (or more) on the phone. But just as you wouldn’t enter a marriage without a pretty solid “getting to know you” process, you shouldn’t start writing without a solid customer interview under your belt.

After all, how can you write specific, action-oriented content if you don’t have any specific information?

Here are 52 of my favorite questions to ask a new copywriting client – enjoy!

Important: Ask these questions after your client has signed on the bottom line. Although you may touch on some of these topics during the sales phase, it’s best to save the “meat” of your questions for the kick-off client call.

Reporting/set-up questions

  1. Can I review your analytics?
  2. Do you have any customer persona documents? Can I see them?
  3. Do you have a style guide?
  4. Can I see reports outlining your SEO/content marketing success, to date?
  5. How do we measure success? Conversions? Page positions? Social media love?
  6. Which social media platforms are working for you?
  7. What is your per-page keyphrase strategy?
  8. How did you arrive at your keyphrase choices?
  9. Do you need me to create the strategy and research the keyphrases?
  10. How important is it for you to position for a particular keyphrase? If it is a competitive keyphrase, are you prepared to spend the time (and budget) to make this happen?
  11. What’s your one thing that drives most of your current content marketing success?
  12. What tools/platforms do you use (SEMrush? BuzzSumo? Trello?)

Marketing questions

  1. Who is your online competition? Why would you consider them “competition?”
  2. What is your unique sales proposition?
  3. Why should a prospect purchase from you rather than your competition?
  4. What are your company benefit statements?
  5. What content approach has worked in the past?
  6. What has not worked?
  7. Do you like your site’s “voice?” (how it reads and sounds.)
  8. If not, what’s an example of what you would prefer?
  9. How do you follow up with prospects?
  10. How do you follow up with current clients?
  11. Can I see your other marketing materials (autoresponder emails, print materials, etc.)
  12. Are there any keyphrases that you’re not currently positioning for, and you want to gain a stronger position?
  13. How do you currently promote new content (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.)
  14. Who is your “perfect customer (s)”?
  15. What benefit statements are important to those customers?
  16. What customer profile would not be a good fit for your business?
  17. Can I review your customer testimonials (or better yet, can I chat with a few of your happy clients?).
  18. Has your company won any awards? Can I see the documentation?
  19. What are the most common questions that customer service answers? How do they answer them?
  20. Can I talk to your best salesperson to get his/her perspective?
  21. What are the most common objections to overcome?
  22. Has your product/service been featured in a book, endorsed by an organization, etc.
  23. What primary action do you want readers to take?
  24. Is there a secondary CTA?
  25. What is your biggest sales “sticking point” right now?
  26. How will the content be promoted?
  27. What is your influencer outreach strategy?
  28. Is there anything you’ve wanted to try (for instance, white papers,) but you haven’t had the time?

Process/procedure questions

  1. Who else will I be working with (for instance, an external SEO company.)
  2. Who is my main point of contact?
  3. What is the expected content turnaround time?
  4. Who will review the content?
  5. How long does content approval take?
  6. How would you like me to send you the content? For instance, in a Word document?
  7. How often would you like to receive project updates?
  8. How will I know if the content is working? Will I have continued access to your analytics?
  9. How is the editorial calendar created and who is on the editorial calendar team?
  10. How often do you deviate from the editorial calendar?
  11. How often do “quick turnaround” posts happen?
  12. Are there any content structure/wording no-no’s I should be aware of (for instance, not using the word “cheap” in the content.)

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Quit Obsessing Over Your Freelance Writing Niche. Do This, Instead.

Right this minute, someone out there is wondering, “how can I find my perfect freelance writing niche?”

(Maybe even you.)

I receive heart-wrenching letters every week from writers trying to find their true path. These folks have heard they need to “find a niche” — and that’s where they get stuck.

Because people aren’t focused on finding a niche. They want to find THE niche. The one thing they should do that will be fun and satisfying and most lucrative and feel almost effortless.

And, let’s face it, there are a lot of people selling their “best writing niche” ideas. You can buy training courses on how to write for small business owners, how to write B2B copy and how to write white papers that sell for 10K a pop.

There are books and blogs and webinars, all screaming the same tune. THIS IS THE FUTURE! LEARN THIS NOW! YOU’LL MAKE SO MUCH MONEY!

It gets confusing.

So, people go from blog post to blog post, and purchase training course after training course, trying to find that one thing.

That one copywriting niche that makes their life complete.

via GIPHY

In the meantime, they don’t write. They don’t start anything. They’re…stuck.

(Feel familiar?)

If this sounds like you, I want you to stop and take a deep breath.

It’s OK you haven’t found THE copywriting niche for you.

Why?

Because there’s more than just one niche for you out there. Good, profitable, fun niches.

Your job isn’t to pick THE niche. Just A niche.

Let’s talk about how to do that.

It all starts with high school…

Remember taking career aptitude tests way back in high school? They were a way to supposedly tell us what we should be when we grew up.

There was all this emphasis on “what are you doing after high school” and “what will you major in?” At the tender age of 18, we were supposed to have our lives figured out for us. Many of us dutifully went to college, chose a major and made a future career choice. Mine was “psychologist.”

Did I know anything about my career choice, other than I would have to go to graduate school? Not really. But, I had to choose something…right?

Let’s face it: most of us had no idea what we were doing back then. The only exception I know is my high school boyfriend. He wanted to be an accountant like his dad, and he worked his way up to a Big Six accounting firm. He’s done well.

The rest of us, well, we’ve bumbled around some. I’ve owned a video store and art house theater, worked as a secretary, worked as a recruiter, dabbled in marketing for a plate freezer company and even tried my hand at accounting. I discovered the world of writing and SEO in my 30’s.

Chances are, you’ve lived a similar job trajectory. You’ve tried different things and stayed with some more than others. Maybe you’ve been in the same profession for awhile, but, there was a time when your career choices were more flexible.

News flash: Finding our copywriting niche takes a lot of fumbling around. It’s learning what you like, what you don’t, and how you best work.

You may be one of those rare folks who know exactly who you want to work with, and what you want to offer (if so, I envy you!). But, most folks need to circle around and get cozy before committing.

via GIPHY

What’s more, you have the aptitude for multiple niches inside of you! I’m not talking so-so niches, either, I mean good, meaty, fun and profitable niches.

Just like we can look back at our high school selves and say, “How can anyone be expected to choose a career at 18 years old?” we should give our current selves the same compassion.

How can anyone be expected to choose the one true freelance writing niche for them when they are first starting out?

But wait…don’t you have to start somewhere?

Yes. Here’s how

I got this idea from reading Designing Your Life. The authors, both Stanford professors, discuss how there’s not one true “perfect job.” Instead of focusing on finding THE job, the authors recommend prototyping out three job alternatives and choosing the best one.

That way, you get to design the job (and life) that works for you today — and you know how to focus your efforts.

(I highly recommend reading the book if you’re stuck and need direction. The book goes in-depth about how to prototype your career choices, the importance of a workview, and more.)

Think about the author’s advice in terms of choosing a niche. There’s a remarkable amount of freedom in knowing there’s not ONE niche for you. Your career (and interests) will naturally flow from one thing to another. Opportunities will pop up. Clients will come and go.

Your “job,” right now, is to think about three possible niches that sound fun. To you. Not what makes a “10 best freelance writing niches” list. Or, what your favorite mentor copywriter is pushing.

Just pick three writing niches you would enjoy. No pressure. No judgment. It’s all up to you.

Research your niches for three months or so. Check out the freelance copywriting competition. Look for possible clients. Break down the pros and cons. For instance, small business owners may be your passion — but they typically don’t have much money to spend. You may be fine taking on more clients so you can help small business owners. Or, you may want to work less and make more.

Pretend you’ve made a choice and live one day as an “industrial B2B copywriter,” or a “health and wellness freelance writer.” Or, you can choose to be the “newsletter maven,” and market your business to all businesses, big and small. How does it feel?

You’ll often learn everything you need to know just by noticing how you feel.

via GIPHY

The important thing is to take action every day — however small — towards researching your freelance writing niche. You may not feel that “checking out blog posts” is helping you accomplish your goals. However, even the smallest action steps put you that much closer to making a decision.

Once you’ve made a decision, commit to it for at least six months. You may have regrets and doubts and want to second-guess yourself. That’s normal. Know that you’ve done the research and you’ve evaluated the options. Worst-case scenario — you dump choice A for choice B after six months and go for a different target audience.

It’s OK. This is your life and your business. Many business owners (and companies) reinvent themselves and pivot in a slightly different direction. You can, too.

So, quit worrying about THE perfect freelance writing niche for you. You have many perfect niches inside you.

Just. Start. Your. Business. Already.

It’s time.

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Danny Sullivan, You Changed My Life. Thank you.

Heather Lloyd-Martin and Jill Whalen

Me and Jill Whalen after our first SEO speaking gig — in Amsterdam!

Last week, I read the news that Danny Sullivan is shifting away from his role as Chief Content Officer of Third Door Media, and is taking an advisory role.

I was shocked.

Sure, Danny isn’t the first “first generation” search marketer to step away from the industry (I believe my first business partner, Jill Whalen, was the first.) But, he’s the biggest. He’s called the “Godfather of SEO” for a reason.

Danny’s been neck-deep in this search engine stuff since the very beginning.

And, it’s because of Danny that I got my SEO start.

Once upon a time, in the late ’90s, Jill Whalen and I published a newsletter called RankWrite. She wrote about SEO. I wrote about content. The newsletter did well, and we grew our subscriber list fairly quickly.

Back then, there were only a handful of “SEO experts.” Heck, back then, most folks didn’t know what SEO was! The old guard included Greg Boser, Bruce Clay, Disa Johnson and Shari Thurow.

And of course, Danny was included too. He had already published A Webmaster’s Guide to Search Engines and was reporting on the industry.

Because of Danny, my first industry speaking gig was with Jill Whalen in Amsterdam (I believe Danny’s wife was due soon, and he didn’t want to fly.) I was as green as could be, completely freaked out, and I was convinced I’d be gonged during my presentation (yes, the moderator would hit a big gong if the speaker ran overtime.)

I am so grateful the video of my presentation is no longer online. 🙂

That conference changed my life in so many ways. It was the first time I traveled internationally by myself and the first time I spoke to a huge crowd.

And despite my speaking glitches, my presentation gave me the confidence to know that I was on the right path. I had found my passion.

Plus, I had more to look forward to! Danny had invited Jill and me to speak at Search Engine Strategies (SES) Boston a couple of months later. Back then, SES was THE SEO event. First Amsterdam, then Boston. I was on a roll!

However, life likes to throw you a curve now and then.

Two days after I returned from Amsterdam, my husband committed suicide. I was left virtually penniless, in shock, and wondering what to do next. If it weren’t for Danny’s pre-existing invitation (and a lot of help and encouragement from Jill — thanks, Jill,) I would have passed on the Boston conference. I would have stayed home and licked my wounds.

But, I went. And I had fun. Life felt a little lighter.

Because of that event — and the opportunities that came from it — I built an income. I built a brand. I turned a crappy situation into a wonderful career.

Danny continued to invite me to SES conferences. Because of him, I was able to travel the world and talk about what I love. I met amazing people, and had incredible experiences.  The “old-guard” SEO folks –the first and second generations — are like family to me. We grew up together.

I wouldn’t have found my family — my tribe — without Danny.

(As a quick shout-out to Danny, he always invited smart, female speakers. Women like Shari Thurow and Christine Churchill rocked the house back then, and they still do today. We may have been outnumbered, but we never felt tokenized.)

Along with Disa Johnson, I even got to visit Danny when he was living in the U.K. and meet his family. I’ll always remember an early-morning trip to Stonehenge, which still ranks as of my coolest memories ever.

I have a lot of cool memories.

I have to admit: I cried when I read Danny was transitioning to an advisory position. Immediately, my brain cycled through 19 years of search memories, places and faces. I don’t know why I reacted like that. I’m happy for Danny.

But, the emotion still hit me. Hard.

I know Danny’s not going away, and he’ll excel somewhere else. If anyone deserves to take time off and to reflect, well, that’s Danny. He’s done a lot over the last 21 years.

How many other careers did Danny launch? How many people can track their success back to Danny’s help? How many times have we been frustrated with Google, and we’ve relied on Danny’s calm, in-depth take?

For many of us, Danny has been a part of our lives for over two decades.

I know it’s not goodbye –Danny’s “taking a break.” But, the news does feel like the end of an era.

Thank you, Danny, for everything.

Your help, encouragement and support changed my life.

Update: Kim Krause Berg wrote a wonderful post about Danny’s role in her life and career. You can read it here.

Yes, SEO Can Ruin Content. Here’s How

Do you think keyphrase usage destroys well-written content?

Well, you’re right. Up to a point.

Way back in 2011, Lee Odden wrote “Content Strategy and the Dirty Lie About SEO.” At the end of the post, he posed the question – the question that’s been debated ever since “writing for search engines” started:

Do you think SEO ruins content?

My first reaction was, “Of course not. Good SEO writing is good writing — period.”

I still feel the same way.

But…the haters have a point.

Six years later, there’s still a bunch of SEO writing B.S. floating around:

  • Focus on one keyphrase per page, and repeat it at least X times.
  • Focus on X keyword density (why won’t keyword density die?)
  • Include a keyword every X words.
  • Exact-match your keyphrase at least X times in your copy.

Maybe you believe some of this B.S., too (it’s OK. This is a judgement-free zone.)

This B.S. is why some SEO copy is horrible.  Is it any wonder why some folks think SEO ruins everything?

So, here’s the real deal:

Yes, SEO can completely decimate content — if you’re doing it wrong.

Here’s how:

When the content is written/optimized by someone who has no idea what they’re doing

Most keyphrase-stuffed content I read comes from folks operating on incorrect information.

They do what their clients tell them (for instance, focus on one keyphrase per page) without knowing it’s wrong. These writers don’t know there’s a better way, so they keep doing the same (incorrect) things. Over and over and over.

The result is stuffed, stilted-sounding content that has no conversion flow. The page doesn’t position. The page doesn’t convert. It’s sad.

via GIPHY

Sadly, many writers think ALL SEO writing is poorly-written content. So, here’s a news flash:

Folks, if you ever think, “This post sounds bad. I had to work hard to add all those keyphrases,” you’re doing it wrong.

When the content is written “for Google,” without readers in mind

Raise your hand if you’ve been asked to write “1,000 words for Google.”

Yeah, me too.

SEO writing isn't "writing for Google"

Sadly, some folks believe that following a strict writing formula will help them magically position. These folks don’t care about the content’s readability. They only care about the keyphrase usage.

They may even come right out and say, “I don’t care if anyone reads this. I just want the page to position.”

Ouch.

This magical SEO copywriting formula may include things like:

  • Specific word counts because “all posts should be X words for Google.”
  • Exact matching a nonsensical long-tail keyphrase multiple times (for instance, [portland relocation real estate oregon].
  • Bolding or italicizing words that shouldn’t be bolded or italicized.
  • Repeating all keyphrases X times in the first paragraph.

If you find yourself following a weird writing formula that makes the content read like gibberish, know it’s not true SEO writing. What’s more, following a writing formula won’t help you position. The best bet is to learn the right way to do things and throw those useless old rules out the window.

Don’t believe me? Check out Google’s Quality Raters Guidelines and see how Google defines low-quality content.

When the Titles are filled with keyphrases, with no conversion focus

This is a pet peeve of mine.

Get rid of Title pipes

I’ve discussed before how overly-optimized Titles are an inefficient branding method. The search results page is your first conversion opportunity. A Title that’s chock-full of keyphrases isn’t as persuasive as one that’s benefit-rich:

Which listing would get YOUR click?

GEICO’s “you could save $500+” is a fantastic benefit statement, and blow’s Progressive’s keyword-focused Title out of the water. Esurance is a runner-up since they include the benefit “fast” — but the Title could still be better.

Need more “good” and “bad” Title examples? Here’s a great post from Search Engine Watch.

SEO doesn’t ruin content. It’s “stupid” SEO that messes things up

Smart SEO doesn’t ruin good content. It enhances it – making it easier to be found in search engines and shared via social media. If you’ve mastered the art of online writing for both engines and people, you have a very valuable skill set.

On the flip side, yes, stupid SEO will ruin content. And your conversions, too. As my father used to say, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” – and repeating a keyword incessantly will not suddenly transform the page into “quality content.”

It reminds me of what some folks say about sales copy being too “sales-y.” There’s a way to include a call-to-action that gently leads someone to the next action step. And there’s a (wrong) way to do it that beats them over the head with hyped language, bold and italics (Hmm. now that I think about it, what IS it about bolded and italicized text?).

What do you think? Is SEO the death of good writing?

Looking for a low-cost way to learn the SEO writing ropes. I’m running a 3-part webinar series! Check it out!

What’s the ‘Best’ Word Count for Google? [Updated for 2017]

Have you wondered how long a blog post or landing page should be for Google?

Over the years, that number has been a moving target.

Once upon a time, SEO consultants recommended that every page has at least 250 words.

Amazingly, some people considered 250 words “too much content.” “People won’t read all of it,” folks complained. “I don’t want that many words on my page.”

My, how things have changed.

Today, it’s an entirely different story. In many cases, a 250-word blog post could be considered “thin content.”  Now, many companies are creating 5,000+ word in-depth guides to showcase their expertise -and to snag positioning opportunities.

In fact, a 2017 study by ahrefs found the average #1 ranking page will also position for about 1,000 related keywords — which is something super-short content can’t do. Here’s a recent graph from ahrefs showing what this can mean:

Wow, that’s a lot of keywords!

So, what does this study (and others) mean for content producers? Is the age of short copy dead?

Let’s break down the word-count research

HubSpot, in their 2017 post, found their blog post sweet spot was 2,500 words:

 

A recently-updated post, citing a joint study by OKDork and BuzzSumo, says copy over 3,000 words receives more social shares:

Think longer copy is where it’s at? Some experts disagree.

One article discusses that we’re in the “age of skimming” and people won’t read a longer article. Anything too long will get stuck in the tl;dr trap (too long; didn’t read.)

And finally, a 2016 blog post in BuzzSumo (Yes, the same folks who helped with the above study) has this fascinating quote:

I know if you are in content marketing, there is a lot of advice about quality over quantity. Provide something of value, research it well, make it helpful. It is a strategy I have followed at BuzzSumo. I spend a lot of time researching posts, as I did with this one, aiming to produce authoritative, long form content that provides insights which, hopefully, are helpful to marketers. This takes time and I produce around one to two posts a month.

What’s the takeaway? Even the experts can’t agree on the “best” word count for Google.

Yes, it’s true that longer content has more positioning chances. And yes, a 1,500-blog post (or more) can more fully answer the readers’ questions.

But, not every topic lends itself to a longer blog post without pushing the “fluffy content” envelope.

What’s an SEO writer to do?

Your answer: Quit wondering “what Google wants” and focus on your reader.

That means:

– Throw your assumptions out the window. For instance, many writers think long-form sales copy doesn’t work in today’s overstimulated world.

However, companies writing long sales copy all the time — and it works. For instance, product page from Brookstone is over 688 words long. This HubSpot sales page is over 1,300 words.

Plus, Neil Patel found that long-form copy positioned better, plus provided a higher conversion rate and better-quality leads.

It’s true that long copy can clunk — but, that’s true of any poorly-written page. As Seth Godin says, “Please, give me something long (but make it worth my time.)”

– Poll your readers. A simple way to learn what your readers want to read is to ask them (amazing, I know!) You may find that many of their suggested topics would make great in-depth-article fodder or quickie “tips” posts. Free software like Survey Monkey makes running reader surveys a snap.

– Learn from analytics and testing. What posts do people love? What posts fall flat? Are longer posts getting shared more than shorter ones? What are your post bounce rates? Carefully review your analytics, test your content and see what’s clicking with your readers.

– Tighten up your writing.  Godin may write a 150-word post one day and a 1,500-word post the next. And that’s OK. Either way, his word count represents how long it takes to get his point across – and no more. Don’t “fluff up” a page just to meet a certain word-count requirement.

Finally, think about this when you’re writing the copy:

  • Have I said everything I could?
  • Have I overcome all objections?
  • Have I showcased the product or service?
  • Is the keyphrase usage seamless?
  • Does the copy encourage the next conversion step?
  • Have I connected with my reader?

If your answer is “yes,” you’ve done your job.

It’s as simple as that.

(Note: This post originally ran in 2008, and I completely updated it for today’s brave new Google world. I hope you enjoyed it!)

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New SEO Content Writing Course for Under $100 (For A Limited Time)

Do you want to dip your toes into the SEO writing waters, and you need a low-cost course to teach you the basics?

Are you tired of trying to learn everything yourself, and you’d love a webinar series with live Q & A and a place to ask questions?

Are you confused by conflicting SEO writing “rules,”and you’re wondering if you’re doing things the right way?

Problem. Solved.

I’m offering a three-week SEO content writing webinar series starting May 23, 2017!

Plus, the course price is less than $100 (and there are some extra goodies thrown into the price!).

via GIPHY

Here are all the course details. Have a question? Let me know. I’m standing by!

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!

Link Building for Content Marketers: 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!

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