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?

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

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

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.

[cta]Want actionable sales and SEO writing tips? People think my weekly newsletter is pretty cool — why not sign up today?[/cta]

 

Hack Your Growth, Drive Fast Traffic: Strategies from Ann Smarty

Ann Smarty

Do the words “rapid results” make your heart rate pitter patter with glee?

Are you looking for a fun way to help your clients?

If you don’t know Ann Smarty, you’re in for a treat. Ann has been on the forefront of blogging and content marketing for years — plus, she knows her SEO stuff (@seosmarty is even her Twitter handle!).

Read what Ann has to say about growth hacking strategies, why building your brand assets is so important — and why you may not need a blog. Enjoy!

The topic of “growth hacking” is hot – but I run into people who don’t know what it is. Can you please define growth hacking and tell us how it differs from digital marketing?

I am not aware of any formal definition. Here’s how I understand it: Growth hacking means coming up with efficient tactics to grow your business.

Growth hacking can be part of digital marketing but while the latter is more long-term and strategic, growth hacking is usually about rapid results, lots of experiments and fun.

Moreover, while digital marketing is comprehensive (it aims at building all kinds of aspects of your business including sales, reputation, usability, etc.), growth hacking is about mostly doing whatever it takes to grow the site user base.

Growth hacking is also less about watching competitors and more about developing unique growth ideas.

I’m asking this for all those businesses out there who really don’t want to blog. Is having an on-site blog a prerequisite for digital marketing/growth hacking? Or, are there any non-blogging “hacks?”

Blogging is just one growth hack. There are many more 🙂

For examples, growth hacks in my newsletter include YouTube tricks, ways to obtain natural links that bring traffic and users, creating brand assets that generate user base of their own, etc. It’s not just about blogging, though blogging usually makes it easier!

Do you run into people who insist email marketing is dead? Is it really? Where does email marketing fit into an overall growth hacking strategy? Or does it?

The death of email marketing was a thing a few years ago when social media sites were just emerging and many people thought social media communities would eventually replace email marketing.

Well, guess what, social media platforms are mature now, they are useful for marketers but they definitely never replaced email marketing. In fact, the two are most effective when combined!

You discuss increasing Google search exposure by answering niche questions. Are there any specific ways of doing this or Q&A forums you’ve found work better than others?

The most effective way to earn traffic by answering questions is to answer them on your site and build up a resource.

One of the most efficient scenarios I’ve come up with so far is the following:

  • Any time you plan to create and publish content, use SERPstat to find related questions people tend to type into Google’s search box
  • Break those questions into generic ones (those that deserve creating a separate page to address them) and specific ones (those that should be covered inside an article)
  • Do some more digging to research search volume and competition (SERPstat can show you both) to pick the best generic questions to create content around
  • Use specific questions as subheadings as well as a clickable table of contents within each article.

Here’s a good example of the above scenario in action.

Also, make a good habit of covering each customer’s questions on your site as a FAQ question. Not only will it increase your chances to rank higher, it will also decrease the amount of customer support emails.

You’ve also discussed creating alternative web traffic sources by building brand assets. Are you saying that Google traffic isn’t enough? How can that be? 😉

Even if we forget about the (always) disturbing Google whims (manual penalties, ever-growing list of tools), depending on one source for traffic, leads and customers is never a good idea! 🙂

What are the best hacks for building these assets? And what “alternative web traffic sources” should an agency or individual consider?

I’ve discussed my favorite platforms to build brand assets here. In short, brand assets can be any page or resource that can be bring you traffic (preferably on auto-pilot).

For example, a must-build brand asset is an email list (which you can scale by using automated workflows. Here’s more info on all the ways to automate your email communications and grow engagement with GetResponse).

Social media accounts are more brand assets to consistently develop.

Creating on-site brand assets is another great idea. Think eBooks, apps, aforementioned FAQs. These will bring return traffic from bookmarks and downloads.

The sky is your limit really… Creating an online course and publishing it throughout educational platforms is one idea, for example. Or publishing an instructional download, such as a pdf. Or even maintaining an author column at a high-profile niche publication.

The more you do, the more traffic sources you build!

It sounds like writing good copy (newsletter copy, email copy, web copy) is a needed growth-hacking skill – which is great for SEO writers! Is there anything else folks should know?

Content has always been the foundation of any other marketing efforts. It’s never “build it and they will come” though (unfortunately). Creating good copy is a necessary step 1, then there come many more steps including publicizing and marketing that content using your assets (e-newsletter, social media channels) or paid placements (search and social media ads).

What’s your top growth hack tip for snagging some “low-hanging fruit” success?

My favorite growth hack won’t work for everyone but it will hopefully inspire many. I have found that re-packaging old content is an easy and absolutely awesome way to create new traffic sources.

For example, I went back to my old content, ordered voiceover on Fiver and created three premium courses on Udemy. Now they work great for bringing brand recognition and site visitors.

What’s your favorite music to listen to while you’re writing?

I am not listening to music when writing. I am a multi-tasker. I am writing, monitoring Twitter and feeding baby – all at the same time. I cannot also add background music to all of that 🙂

Google Frees Up Search Results Real Estate for SEO Titles

Google Increases Page Title Character CountIt’s been an interesting week for SEO…in a good way.

As Jennifer Slegg reported last Wednesday, Google has increased the width of its main search results column. Granted, the news didn’t make for an earth-shattering headline, but Google’s redesign of its search engine results page (SERP) is huge news for anyone involved in digital marketing (including, of course, SEO copywriters!)

Let’s explore the implications…

More SERP real estate for page Titles  = SEO content opportunities

When we’re creating a page Title, we’re trying to accomplish a lot within a very limited character count. Ideally, your Titles should:

  • Include keyphrases (of course!)
  • Describe what the landing page is about in a compelling manner
  • Encourage target readers to take action.

Here’s the exciting news:

Previously, the recommendation was to keep your Title character count to 59 characters (including spaces.)  Now, we have about 11 more characters to work with for desktop listings — or approximately 70 characters including spaces (Google measures in pixels, which is why we say “approximately.”)

The additional character count feels almost decadent! There’s a lot you can do with 11-18 additional characters — like slip in one more keyphrase!

For mobile listings, Google has increased the Title space even more, to about 78 characters total.

The character count has changed for desktop search meta descriptions, too. Now, we have roughly 100 characters for each line or 200 characters total, including spaces. [Note: as of this writing, the expansion to 100 characters per line applies only to the first line of the description; Google is still only displaying 150 to 160 characters total before truncating descriptions with ellipses, although that should change soon].

Pretty cool, eh?

Will this new Title and description length “stick?” As I’ve said before, Google giveth, and Google taketh away. The character/pixel count can stay as-is, or change again (as it has in the past.) I always advise folks to not make any major changes immediately after a Google change…just in case.

But, let’s say the changes do stick. What does this change mean for your clients — and your bottom line?

Want to be an SEO copywriting hero? Suggest a content audit!

Chances are, your client (or your employer) doesn’t know about this change — and could benefit from a longer Title length.

If you’re a freelancer with a prospect that’s still not quite ready to commit, bringing this new development to her attention – and probably being the only freelance writer to do so – may mean winning your prospect’s trust and confidence. And winning the contract.

A smart first step could be a SEO content audit. Depending on what you find, one site audit may turn into more than just tweaking Titles. For instance, the content may be in need of rewriting or keyphrase editing — and that’s another way you can help!

Do you work in-house? Sharing this information can make you the in-house hero. Especially if you can conduct the content audit, find the opportunities and make the changes.

Check site analytics to determine your strategy

Because of the different Title character counts for desktop and mobile listings, you’ll want to answer an important question:

Does your client receive more desktop or mobile visitors?

If most of your visitors come from desktop search (as may be the case with B2B sites), you’ll want to follow the 70-count guideline for Titles. If the majority is from mobile, then you have more room to move.

The more likely scenario you’ll encounter is that their traffic is a mix of both desktop and mobile. So, how do you figure out a strategy when you’re straddling both worlds?

The answer: the same strategy we’ve pursued when we only had 59 characters, including spaces. Setting SEO aside for the moment, focus on putting the meaty, compelling, clickable, CTA information in the known visible part of the Title – meaning, the first 70 characters, including spaces. This way, the most critical elements appear in the desktop results.

Have fun!

The longer Title character count is good news for companies, searchers and — yes — SEO copywriters! How are you going to leverage this new opportunity? Let me know in the comments!

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Is Your Content Really Failing?

FailDoes your content receive eight shares or less?

If so, your content is “failing,” according to a recent industry study.

I discussed BuzzSumo’s study during last week’s SEO Copywriting Certification training call. The author of the study, Steve Rayson, analyzed over one million posts and noticed a surprising trend. Popular, branded sites such as HubSpot saw a sharp decline in social shares. In fact, 50% of the content saw fewer than eight social shares.

The reason? “Content shock” — the demand for content has gone flat while the amount of content has exploded. The result? Less engagement.

(As a side note, some believe content shock is a myth. Whatever you believe, I think we can all agree that we’re bombarded by new content every. single. day.)

Many writers and marketers (maybe even you) panicked when they read the study. “EIGHT SHARES” they screamed. “Our company is lucky if a post gets retweeted a couple times.”

Sure, some of your content may enjoy a sharing explosion. But I’m guessing some of your content may not. Maybe even the majority of your content.

Does that mean that your content is “failing?”

Maybe. But let’s look a little deeper.

Social sharing is one measurement of content effectiveness. Things that are important (some would say more important,) are:

— Is the content driving conversions or otherwise making you money?

— Are people reading your content? Or are they immediately bouncing off the page?

— Did you match the content to where the customer is in the sales cycle? For instance, do you have high-quality content that helps prospects when they’re in the “research” phase?

— Do you hear, “Hey, I really like your content” from people in your target audience? For instance, I have a client who receives very few social shares (he’s in an industry that doesn’t share content much,) but he receives many “I faithfully read your content every week,” messages.  That’s more important to him than a retweet any day.

— Does the content position? You may have written a fantastic guide that gets some social love initially, but then fades into the background. If it’s still positioning in Google — and prospects are finding you through the content — do you care that you’re not receiving more social shares?

(As a side note, I find it funny that BuzzSumo’s initial Facebook post about the study has only received one share. Would that mean their content was “failing?”)

The reality is: Not all of your content is going to go viral. If you want 100% viral, all the time, specialize in cute cat videos. 

However, being the Steve Rayson fangirl I am, I think he still makes some excellent points. Although I may disagree with the “failing” moniker, I would agree with his other tips:

– Content research is crucial. Research time is a non-negotiable in today’s brave new Google world.  If you’re an end client, know that your writer may need to spend several hours researching your blog post topic. She isn’t padding her time. And yes, this is necessary (and billable.) You can give your writer a great head start by providing her trusted sources, white papers and anything else that will help her write the page.

– Post promotion is almost as important (some would say more so) as post creation (I talked about this in last week’s SEO Copywriting Buzz newsletter) Targeting influencers in a nice, non-pushy way is still important. Just know that influencers are being hit by 100 other bloggers asking them to promote their content, so approach them with care.

– It’s smart to leverage trends and be nimble. If you’re writing about a hot topic that happened two weeks ago, you’ve probably already lost the viral battle.

I would add my own tip to this, which is…

– You still need to optimize posts. “Write naturally” is a myth. If your posts aren’t positioning, there is a big disconnect you need to fix.

So, is the issue truly “content shock?” Or are people naturally tuning out content that’s poorly-written, poorly-researched and poorly-timed?

What’s the takeaway?

Whatever you believe around the “content shock” idea, consider this study a wake-up call. No, your content may not be “failing” if it receives eight shares or less. But that doesn’t mean that it’s working, either. If your content isn’t making you money somehow, it’s time for an overhaul.

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Why I’m Recycling My Old Content (And You Should Too!).

Have you ever pulled out an old pair of pants from your closet, and found money stashed inside?

It doesn’t matter if you found $1 or $100, the reaction is always the same. You get a little thrill from the experience. Your heartbeat quickens.

And a thought pops into your head like, “Woohoo! Found money! Score!”

I’ve been feeling the same way about my old blog posts. Here’s why.

I’ve talked before about the importance of performing an SEO content audit. There are many SEO advantages to doing so — for instance, you can find and fix posts with bad Titles, get rid of “thin” posts and change any bad links.

But there’s also another huge advantage that will give you a “woohoo” moment.

Chances are, you have a bunch of old posts (maybe 20…maybe 100 or more) you can tweak, update and repost as new content.

And it’s easy, too!

This idea hit me square in the noggin when I was running my own content audit. I constantly run reader surveys, so I know my readers are looking for SEO copywriting 101 tips, freelance business tips and how to increase leads with SEO content.

I’ve blogged about these topics many times before. So many times that I forgot about some of my old posts from seven or eight years back. They may occasionally receive some social media love — and many of them position well — but they are basically “forgotten.”

That’s when I had my brainstorm.

Instead of reinventing the wheel and writing brand new posts, why not make my existing posts better?

Woohoo!

Here are the steps I’m taking:

– I’m combing through every post on my site. Yes, every page. It’s not hard, but it is time-consuming. Every couple days or so, I find a winning post I completely forgot about. A post that makes me think, “Ooh, you are like finding money in an old pair of jeans!”

– I note the URL in the “pending” section of my editorial calendar. I know that I’ll be sprucing the post up eventually — I just have to decide when.

– A week before I make an old post new again, I review the post and look for new writing opportunities. What are “new writing opportunities,” you ask? It depends on the post. They include:

  • Updating out-of-date information. This process can take a few minutes — or much more time. For instance, an SEO copywriting 101-type post can require a lot of editing. A general tips post may take an hour or less.
  • Checking the links to make sure they’re still live and relevant.
  • Adding (or heavily editing) the introduction. For instance, I may have an experience that is relevant to the post and be good to add. I did this for the post 5 SEO Client Types to Avoid at All Costs.
  • Adding or deleting graphics.
  • Including a quote, tweet or other relevant information.
  • Linking to new resources.
  • Rewriting bits of the content. My inner editor always kicks in and forces me to rewrite something — even if it’s just a paragraph or two.
  • Changing (or adding) a call-to-action. For instance, I can add a CTA for my Copywriting Business Bootcamp to many of my freelance business posts (and no, I have no idea why I didn’t do it before.) Adding a CTA obviously helps me from a sales perspective and also lets my readers know other ways I can help them.
  • Revising or testing headlines. Seven years ago, I didn’t have access to KingSumo Headlines, which lets you test different headlines. Now I do, and I LOVE trying new headlines. Side note: I like to make a bet with myself and guess which headline will pull better. The results are often very surprising.

Once the post is ready for prime-time (again), I set the post to publish. To do this, simply change the “Publish” settings in WordPress.Change publication date

 

If I wanted to revise this post, I’d change the publication date and click “OK.” Voila! That’s all there is to it!

Here are the most common questions I receive about repurposing old blog posts:

Wait — isn’t this cheating? Shouldn’t I write a brand-new post?

You certainly can, especially if you feel like writing a new post would be more valuable to your readers. However, if you already have a super post, and you can make it even better, why reinvent the wheel?

When is recycling an old post NOT a good idea?

If the post was “thin” or poorly written in the first place, the revisions would probably take too much work.

But what about SEO? Won’t this change the post’s rankings?

Possibly, but just be smart about it. You’ll want to see how the post is currently positioning and how (or if) it’s driving traffic. In fact, if your revisions are extensive enough, it’s possible that your “new” post will position even better than the original one. This is especially true if you ignored keyphrase research the first time around.

Won’t people notice?

Maybe. But if you’re offering great value — who cares. Besides, you’ll still be writing new content in addition to repurposing your old stuff. Right? 🙂

Do I have to disclose “this is a recycled post?”

You could. There may be a story behind why you’re recycling the post, and sharing the story would add to the post. But you don’t have to.

How often can I get away with this?

There’s no rule of thumb that I’m aware of — and it also depends on your publication schedule. I feel OK recycling one old blog post a month.

Ready to get started with your blog? Go for it! And let me know how it goes. Feel free to leave a comment (or ask a question.)

Now it’s time to check out some other old blog posts…after all, my next woohoo moment may be right around the corner.

Photo credit: © CrailsheimStudio | Dreamstime.com

Beyond Keywords: Understanding Semantic Analysis

Semantics ~ The meaning of a word, phrase, sentence, or text

semantics-hummingbirdI spent quite a bit of time thinking about what I could best offer the world of copywriting from the “technical” SEO perspective. At the end of the day? It all comes down to words and the associations they convey. So let’s deal with the singularly most important concept that comes to mind: semantics.

Going down this road is important because far too often you will run into clients that express their need to have a given group of keywords to be hammered on ad nauseam. This not only leads to some poorly constructed content, but often doesn’t leverage how search engines actually look at it.

You need some ammunition to combat this short-sighted approach, so that’s what we’re going to look at today!

No, We’re Not Talking Code

First things first, when we talk about “semantics” in this context, it’s not about the code that also bears the same name. (You know, the mark-up that is part of the world of web development and surfacing content.)

We are, in fact, talking about information retrieval and how search engines perform semantic analysis on content as they crawl and index it.

There are myriad flavours, including some you may or may not have heard of such as:

  • Latent Semantic Analysis
  • Probabilistic Latent Semantic Analysis
  • Hidden Topic Markov Model
  • Latent Dirichlet Allocation
  • Phrase Based Information Retrieval

Yes, a whole bunch of fancy names to be certain. Feel free to research those, but we’ll avoid the uber-geeky definitions for now. They’re all just variants of natural language processing that search engines may or may not be using. It’s not related to the code-based approaches known as the “semantic web”. This is about words.

Keywords are Short Sighted

Now that we’re past that, let’s get back to the problem we looked at off the top: clients that are addicted to keywords. Sadly, the SEO world has yet to fully move past this. In the modern search world we want to target “phrases” more so than singular keywords. One- and two-word searches are rare in comparison with more complex search tasks performed by the end user. This is enough for us to consider using (“long-tail”) keyphrases over keywords.

The next issue that arises is that clients will want to stuff multiple instances of said keywords in the copy and, in an attempt to feed the perceived semantic engine, synonyms. Again, this is short-sighted and doesn’t really embrace the concepts related to today’s semantic search capabilities.

You will need to educate clients to break that habit.

Identifying the Concepts

The good news is that most writers will naturally create content that satisfies the food a search engine wants to dine upon. It is often the client of the copywriter that attempts to drag them into the wrong direction.

Let’s look at this in simplistic terms with my favorite example from over the years…

Consider the search query [jaguar]:

  • A big cat
  • A car
  • A football team
  • An operating system
  • …etc…

semantic-equivalents

 

 

 

 

While crafting the content on our page we want to flesh out the concept being expressed with related words, phrases and concepts to build upon the topicality.

Singular terms and/or phrases might include:

  • Automobiles
  • Cars
  • Autos
  • Vehicle
  • Auto
  • Car

But these are mere synonyms, so we’d expand on that with other relations which might include:

  • Engine
  • Garage
  • Tires
  • Hood
  • Spark plug
  • Keys
  • High Performance

Any guesses which [jaguar] this page is about? Once more, these are singular terms — we’d also build out the core concepts with various phrases, as well as related entities.

In a very simplistic understanding, phrase-based approaches look at top ranking/performing pages for variants of related terms and phrases for scoring purposes. I would recommend reading this post on phrase-based IR (information retrieval) to get a better grip on that stuff.

This ain’t yer daddy’s keyword density myopic approach.

Query Classifications

Another area worth mention in combination with these concepts is “query classification” (more here). This looks at user intent (when searching), and it’s something we should be cognizant of when constructing concepts and terms to be included in any piece of content.

They generally break down into:

  • Informational (seeking information)
  • Transactional (performing an action)
  • Navigational (finding a known entity)

query-classification

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While a given piece of content may offer multiple classification states, it is always important to understand the target, from an SEO perspective, when constructing the “semantic baskets” to be used for said piece of content. (Refer to the link above to learn more about that.)

Putting it All Together

Ok… so we want to consider phrases and terms that buff out the core targets of a given piece of content. Consider optimal occurrences of related phrases when crafting your semantic baskets for a given piece of content. What words, phrases, entities and concepts would a search engine expect to see on that page? (Don’t ever again think in terms of keyword density!)

Some things to consider, as a content manager/editor and/or as an SEO copywriter:

  • While doing the keyword research, use various tools to also create a list of “related phrases”
  • Layout content program and structural hierarchy
  • Map out terms to pages
  • Give your writers not only core/secondary target terms, but related phrases as well
  • Review and tweak pages prior to launch
  • Vary link texts when possible and remember themes/concepts as well as keyword phrases
  • Understand the relations of concepts

I like to think in terms of semantic baskets when researching and preparing any important piece of content that will be used for targeting. As stated off the top, in most cases a good copywriter will do most of this naturally.

One Final Thought…

Search engines love words. It’s what users type into it. Words are used to convey concepts and are constructed into phrases, entities and intent. This is what you want to look at when building out your pages. But we’re moving into a world where it goes beyond…. into voice search.

Back in 2013 Google announced what they called “Hummingbird”. And one of the elements within that was called “conversational search” which will treat a search task as an ongoing journey through a given search task. This consideration also drags us away from the truly limited concepts around keyword density and simple synonyms. (For more on that, have a read here.)

google-hummingbird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The point being, copywriters need to stay on top of the ever-evolving world of search. If you’re clients haven’t? You need to educate them. They’ll thank you for it.

Oh and hey, if you’re feeling real adventurous, you can watch this session on it:

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug. ” – Mark Twain

Connect with David on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+

 

SEO by the Sea’s Bill Slawski discusses the Semantic Web

knowledge-graph-by-the-seaAs the go-to expert for all things Google patents for some ten years now, Bill Slawski of SEO by the Sea and Go Fish Digital has made an art and science of predicting and explaining the deep water currents driving search engine results.

Lately, Bill has focused on the changes to search results brought on by Google’s “Knowledge Graph” and the Semantic Web.

You’ve likely come across these terms in your work as an SEO copywriter, but what do they mean, exactly? And why should you care?

In this interview, Bill offers a straightforward explanation of these latest forces impacting search results, and why you should have a handle on them.

What should an SEO copywriter understand about the Semantic Web (vs. Traditional SEO/Search)?

Google appears to have gone into a different mode when answering search queries, which illustrates one of the big differences between the worlds of SEO and the Semantic Web.

Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs) have traditionally been a list of links to resources found on the Web that respond to a specific query typed into its search box. Google finds these resources by crawling Web pages, indexing their contents, and then returning links to the user.

In doing so, Google creates snippets representing those pages, and provides these snippets as well as their corresponding URLs and page titles, in its SERPs.

A Semantic Web approach has Google crawling web pages on a search for entities (specific people, places and things), collecting information about those entities, and adding that data to a fact repository — now known as Google’s “Knowledge Graph.”

So how does the Knowledge Graph work in the Search Landscape?

The Knowledge Graph, or “knowledge panels,” is part of the search results interface that Google uses to share information about entities – again, these entities may be specific people, places and/or things.

As for “things” — it’s important to note that they may include ideas, brands, and products.

For example, when someone performs a search that includes an entity (as many searches do), a knowledge panel about that entity appears at the top of the search engine results page. This panel provides more information about that specific entity, and often includes other related topics that people usually search for when entering their initial query.

So, search results are no longer just lists of snippets pointing to pages that are ordered by information retrieval scores and PageRank. With its knowledge panels and the Semantic Web, Google has added a number of other ways to decide what it might show on its SERPs.

Given the significant changes in search results brought on by the Semantic Web and Google’s Knowledge Graph, what would you advise an SEO copywriter do? Should s/he cite entities for better SERP rankings?

If entities appear in your content — as they often do — see if you can make the mentions of them richer by fleshing them out. Remember that a named entity includes ideas, brands, and products.

Including more information about the entities within your content can help make it more interesting, more likely to be noted by others, and shared socially.

This can mean including information about related entities, as I previously referred to. Adding this relevant, related content could make your own rank well for a wider range of search queries.

What resources would you recommend for a deeper dive into the brave new world of the Semantic Web and Knowledge Graph?

I’ve been fortunate to have teamed up with Barbara Starr, who is a founder and co-organizer of the San Diego Semantic Web Meetup Group (she added me as a co-organizer.) Barbara has strong roots in the Semantic Web Technology community, and also likes to research Google’s patents.

On June 23rd, Barbara and I collaborated on a presentation for the San Diego Semantic Web group, titled Ranking in Google Since The Advent of The Knowledge Graph

I also highly recommend this recent (May 2015) Search Engine Land article from Barbara on changes to how Google handles search results via the Knowledge Graph: Structured Data and the SERPS: What Google’s Patents Tell us about Ranking in Universal Search.

In this post, Barbara describes how a Google patent titled Ranking search results based on entity metrics (https://www.google.com/patents/WO2014089776A1) might feature different knowledge panel content based upon metrics involving notability, relatedness (as in related to other entities mentioned), contribution, fame and prize.

So if you are creating content for pages and mentioning entities within that content, understanding more about these metrics can give you a sense of what might appear for entity-based content in search results, and perhaps give you some ideas of what to write about.

Going forward, what do you see happening with the Semantic web? Will it eclipse “traditional SEO”?

Many commercial businesses have been relying upon SEO on the Web to bring them traffic to their pages, and through their doors.  But searchers often want answers as quickly as they can get them, and Semantic Web approaches are geared towards sharing data as quickly as possible.

The search engines see searchers as their primary customers, but also rely upon business owners to advertise on their pages. This may mean that traditional SEO may have some life left in it.

Connect with Bill on Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn

Photo thanks: ©William Murphy | Flickr.com