Should you kill your blog?

I know this will sound weird coming from the SEO content chick. But I’m going to say it anyway.

Some companies should give up on blog writing and kill their blog.

Here’s why.

SEO content marketers (myself included) agree that blogging for B2B and B2C companies is a smart SEO and customer engagement move.  Blogs are great for marketing and lead generation. Google and Bing reward strong resource sites. Sounds like a win/win – right?

Well, not always.

We’re pushing the blog, blog, blog mantra so much that we forget a rarely talked-about fact: Not every company should blog. In fact, blog writing could be taking budget and time away from things that drive more revenue. Here are five times when folks should back away slowly from their blog – and never look back.

  • The “no time, no budget” scenario. Too busy to blog? It’s easy to say “outsource it” except for one little thing – outsourcing costs money. If you can’t find a quality writer for your budget and your team doesn’t have time, put blog writing on the back burner.  It’s better to have a top-quality blog that you’re proud of than a crappy blog that doesn’t help you (and you’re ashamed to show people.)
  • The “hate to write, no budget” scenario. Some folks can’t stand to write. And it shows. If this is you – and you honestly have no other available resources – please do yourself a favor and let your blog go. Instead, focus your energies somewhere else. For instance, I know a few ex-bloggers who love sending tweets. There’s not as much pressure to write the “right” thing when you only have 140 characters to work with.
  • PR insists that the blog should always promote your product or service. Blog writing is different than sales writing. You’ll allowed to be a little more casual and a whole lot less sales-y. If PR (or someone else high up on the food chain) insists that all posts should push your product or service, it’s time to reconsider your blogging fantasies. Yes, blogs can certainly help soft-sell what you offer. Sure, you can throw in the occasional sales message. But your main blog writing goal should be to engage your readers and keep them coming back for more. Not hitting them over the head with another sales message.
  • A blog doesn’t support your conversion goals. If you’ve built a sales or lead generation-oriented microsite, a blog would actually detract from your conversion goal (getting people to buy from or contact you.) Blogs are great for folks in the “research” phase of the sales cycle. If you’re only focusing on folks who want to take action now, stick to writing conversion-oriented copy.
  • You’ve tried – you really have. But you aren’t seeing a ROI. There are scads of articles about what to do if people don’t like your blog content. By all means, see if you can “fix” your blog – an outside perspective can provide some fantastic ideas.  But if you’ve given it a solid shot and it’s still not meeting your goals (and yes, that means that you have to set marketing goals for your blog) consider saying “buh-bye” to your blog. Especially if other marketing channels are making you more money.

Are there any other times when a company should walk away from their blog? What would you add?

Are you asking the wrong question first?

I cringe every time I hear this question before anything else is discussed. Maybe you do too.

“How will (insert SEO copy idea here – usually a bad one) help with the search engines?”

On the surface, it doesn’t seem like such a bad first question to ask. After all, “SEO copywriting” stands for “search engine optimization copywriting.” Good writing = higher rankings has been a common mantra since the beginning of SEO time. It makes sense that folks would be considering the search engine implications.

But it also ignores a major part of the equation.

Aggressive SEO copy techniques don’t mean a thing if your audience isn’t buying from you – or taking whatever action step you want them to take. If your online content isn’t resonating with your audience, it’s failing your company – even if it has a top ranking.

Instead of focusing on search engines, there’s another question to consider: How does this content (or SEO copy technique) serve your customers? When that piece of the puzzle is solved, then you discuss how to maximize the SEO opportunities in a way that doesn’t detract from the message.

Not the other way around.

See how this changes the discussion? When you’re asking, “How does this serve our reader,” certain spammy SEO copywriting techniques don’t make any sense. You don’t think about bolding and hyperlinking every keyword (and making sure that keyword is on the page 20 times or more.) Writing a keyphrase-slammed post sounds like a stupid idea.

Because you know that wouldn’t work for the reader. Even if you could get those pages to rank, you couldn’t make the readers buy. Or read. Or even stay on your site.

Plus, focusing on your readers first provides a good reality check for other SEO content ideas. You may think that Twitter is fun and a fantastic free marketing idea. But if your customers aren’t on Twitter – and your carefully-worded tweets aren’t getting read –  it may not be the best marketing channel for you.

So consider your target audience the next time you’re examining a SEO content technique. Ask yourself if your idea serves any purpose other than possible search engine juice. If the answer is “no,” reexamine your technique.

Your readers will thank you.

SEO copywriting vs. social media writing: What’s the difference?

It’s not often that something leaves me speechless.

I was chatting with someone who said, “SEO copywriting is so 10 years ago. Now it’s all about social media writing.”

Uh, what?

That’s when I realized that some people believe that SEO copywriting and social media writing are two different skill sets.

Back in the day (around 2001,) “SEO copywriting” was more commonly referred to as “writing for search engines.” It encompassed any keyword-based online writing, including directory listings (I remember when getting a Yahoo directory listing was a big deal,) articles, PPC ads and sales-oriented pages.

The term “SEO copywriting” came about to differentiate the unique direct response writing style that grew out of this new niche.  Copywriters were forced to satisfy two “target audiences”: The automated, soulless search engines (making sure the right keywords were in the right places the right way,) and prospects (using proven direct-response techniques to encourage the sale.)  As far as I know, it’s the first time that copywriters were “forced” to include certain words in the text just to make sure that their target audiences could find the page in the first place.

Granted, us “writing to sell” copywriters were still creating articles, white papers and other types of “non-sales” writing. We just lumped any keyword writing service under the SEO copywriting umbrella.

Now, we have blogs, Twitter and Facebook. We’re communicating with folks in real-time, breaking down the stuffy corporate Website walls and humanizing our companies. We write linkbait posts to drive traffic, send targeted Tweets about our companies (knowing that tweets appear in Google and Bing search results, too,) and pray that people Stumble and Sphinn our latest musings.

From where I sit, social media writing is just SEO copywriting in a different wrapper. Social media writers need to understand keyphrase research (like SEO copywriters.) They need to understand the audience and write incredibly engaging content (like SEO copywriters.) They are writing content to meet a specific goal: More subscribers, more search engine traffic, more referrals from Twitter, more interest in a product or service.

In short, the same thing a SEO copywriter typically does – just with a more trendy name. :)

Having said that, there are some important differences.

  • Not all social media writers know how to write to sell. Direct response copywriting is a very unique skill set that’s based in neuropsychology, psychology and years of testing. A general blogger (who doesn’t usually write sales copy) may not write copy that converts as highly as a dedicated copywriter. To paraphrase Austin Powers, direct-response writing, “may not be their bag, baby.”
  • By the same token, some copywriters can’t shake the sales out of their writing no matter how hard they try. They try to write an informative blog post and make it sound like a squeeze page. The immediacy of Twitter, (“What do you mean I can’t edit my Tweet once I’ve hit send. What if I think of another way to say it?”) freaks them out. Sales copy keeps them happy. Anything else…not so much.

What do you think? Are there any other major differences between SEO content writers and social media writers? What do you call what you do for a living (or what your in-house copywriters do?). Copywriter or social media writer?

Can sexy linkbait blog titles backfire?

Let’s face it: Sexy blog titles get clicks.

But is there a time when a blog title’s sexy tease makes us feel a little…misled…when the post doesn’t come through on it’s promise? Perhaps.

This came to mind after reading a really great article with a sexy linkbait title. The article was called, ““Warning! SEO Copy Bubble Bursting” from the Content Marketing Institute.

To give the headline its due – hey, it got me to click. The headline did its job. But then I read the post…

I was expecting the article to be a typical “SEO copywriting is dead” post – and for the first couple paragraphs, that’s where it was heading (for instance, read the line about “hucksters and self-proclaimed experts” in SEO). However, just four paragraphs into it, the author is discussing the importance of content marketing – and then defining some SEO writing techniques to use (hey, wait, I thought the SEO copy bubble had burst.)

It’s obvious once you finish the article that the writer is a SEO copywriting advocate. If anything, she’s talking about content mills – not smart SEO copywriting. She just chose a sexy linkbait blog headline – one that implied a completely different viewpoint – to get the click.

It’s an interesting strategy. But something to think about is:  It’s one thing to drive clicks. It’s another when the information you promise (via the headline) isn’t really what the article is about. This headline “bait and switch” – if it’s done incorrectly – could frustrate readers rather than drawing them into the story.  As an example, one of the comments was that the reader felt “mislead” by the headline:

So tell me. What do you think of this headline strategy? Is it too “bait and switch” for your tastes? Or do you think the author is a smart marketer – and her sexy headline is a fantastic traffic-driving idea?

3 ways SEO can ruin content

Last December, Lee Odden from Online Marketing Blog wrote a post called,“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” has existed:

Do you think SEO ruins content?

I had to think about that, as my first reaction is not just “No” but “Hell no – SEO doesn’t ruin the content.”‘

But the more that I thought about it, the more I thought, “Well, sometimes it does…under very certain circumstances.” Here’s when that is:

  • When the content was written by an inexperienced SEO copywriter. Most “keyphrase-stuffed” content I read comes from folks who think that SEO copywriting really is a bunch of keywords separated by commas. Their clients tell them that they need a 500 word article, and the keyword needs to be in the copy at least 30 times…so that’s exactly what the writer provides. In this case, the writer doesn’t know enough to educate the client about best practices – and they end up writing keyphrase-stuffed drivel. Writing generated from content mills often falls into this category.
  • When the article/blog post/FAQ was only written for search engines, and the site owner/SEO doesn’t care if anyone really reads the article. I’ll see this technique used by companies who want to position for a competitive term, so they write tightly-focused articles around one keyphrase. Unlike the article written by an inexperienced SEO copywriter that attempts to make sense, these articles are stuffed with grammatical errors and are darn near incoherant (sometimes this is because the site owner had non-English speakers create the copy.) You’ve seen these types of articles all over the Web…but you’ve probably never read one. Why would you? There’s nothing of substance to read.
  • When the company hosting the article decides to bold every keyword, include a long list of “related keywords” at the end of every post. The various (and random) bold and italicized keywords renders the page impossible to read.

So, what’s perhaps more accurate to say is: Smart SEO doesn’t ruin good content. It enhances it, in fact – 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?

Blog about it! A smart content marketing strategy

Greetings!  Today we’re picking up our discussion of content strategy, specifically, how to develop and leverage our content by writing blogs.  As you’ve surely noticed, blogging is big and is only getting bigger, and with good reason:  besides helping to build search rankings and an online brand, blogs present a fantastic content marketing venue!  And because they’re relatively simple to set up and publish, blogs lend themselves well to providing new content on a regular basis.

As covered in some detail in the previous two posts (“Are you leveraging these content strategy opportunities?” and “Content Strategy: building out your content with articles”), the smart SEO content strategy seeks to capture prospects while they are actively searching for information and resources on our product or service.  This research phase of the buying cycle is where we meet them with fresh, useful content that (hopefully) leads them back to our site.  Blogs are an excellent platform for doing just!  So let’s look at building out and leveraging our content with blogs.

Blogs:  Pros, Cons, and Community

Blog Pros:

  • Blogs are highly malleable, allowing you to write about any subject you choose in as many words as you choose.  You’re not beholden to a word count – whether less than 100 or over 1,000 words, the only “rule” that applies is what works best for your target audience.
  • If you have an inflexible site template that doesn’t lend itself to adding new content, such as an e-commerce site, a blog gives you a forum to do so.  Similarly, if you’re dealing with a site that feels a bit “uptight” or you find yourself bored with its “corporate” tone, a blog allows you to unleash your personality and express your bad self!
  • Blogs allow you a rapport with your readers, and real-time feedback via comments: good, bad, and spammy.  Your community of loyal readers can help you with your business; their comments can guide you in making product or service decisions, and provide insight into what your target market is interested in.  As for spam, it can be deleted.  And negative comments can also enlighten you: even if it stings, it’s better to receive such comments directly than have them circulating beyond your radar.  You can at least deal with them when they’re right in front of you.

Blog Cons:

  • Blogs require consistency and commitment.  And they are work, make no mistake.  Writing a blog can feel especially burdensome when you’re crazy-busy, but it’s critical you stick to your editorial calendar and publish your blog regularly.  It doesn’t have to be daily, but then again, if you’re only posting once a week, you need to be sure that it is substantive:  it has to count!
  • Blogs require monitoring and attention.  You need to be responsive to your readers’ comments; it’s bad practice to publish then forget it.  It’s a certain blog-killer when your readers find their thoughtful, well-considered comments ignored.

Voice and Community:

  • If you plan to delegate your blog-writing to another, you need to provide a very clear outline of your editorial guidelines:  what’s okay, what is not, and what specifically is expected of them.  Not to advocate smothering their creativity, just underscoring the importance of being reasonably clear and ensuring consistency with your “voice.”
  • Whether it’s you or your delegated blog-writer, networking with other bloggers within your “circle” is an integral part of effective blogging.  Blogging is about community, and while simply blogging for the sake of it is okay, sharing your input with others via guest blogs, commentary on other blogs, linking out, and mentions will encourage others to help you with the same: linking out to your content, mentioning your work, promoting your offerings, etc.  You have to earn your blogger love!

How to Structure a Blog Post

Structuring a blog post is much like structuring an article.  You can check out Twitter and Google Insights to see what folks are discussing, as well as what they want to know.  As with articles, you’ll want to use the same keyphrase and linking strategy:  use your main keyphrase in your headline, and whenever it is possible and makes sense, hyperlink the keyphrases.  Smart blogging will also link seamlessly to your site’s product or service pages – again, when it makes sense to do so.

There, the similarities end.  There are several ways blogs differ from articles, notably:

  • Unlike the monologue of an article, a blog post encourages discussion and seeks to build a rapport with a community of readers.  It provides an ideal venue for soliciting feedback, running interviews, and offering your (informed) opinion.
  • Blog writing is personal, real-time, and spontaneous.  And a great way to measure your blog-writing success is by the number of people commenting on your posts.  Ideally, you want to get folks discussing and sharing your post with others in their network.  It follows that if you’re looking at having to run every word by the corporate legal department or are otherwise stymied, a blog is not going to work for you.
  • As opposed to articles, it’s perfectly okay to write short, snappy blog posts interspersed with longer, in-depth ones.  (This actually can be a highly effective strategy, as evidenced by Seth Godin’s success with this style).  Another perk of this kind of flexibility is that you can give yourself a break every once in a while!  It’s not easy to conjure 500 words about such-and-such topic every day; grinding them out regardless of your muse invites a slow and painful burnout.  Here’s where the editorial calendar comes in to save your sanity:  setting it up around your schedule, going easy on the blog posts on your busiest days, is a great strategy.

Well, folks, that’s a wrap for today.  Thanks for visiting, and please feel free to leave a comment :-) Next week, we’ll discuss the art of writing news releases in our ongoing series on savvy content marketing strategy.  See you then!

Are you too busy to blog?

There’s an interesting blogging conversation in the LinkedIn SEO Copywriting group. One woman said that she creates a monthly newsletter (which she posts to the site) instead of blogging. In her words, “I don’t have a separate blog; I’ve got enough to do.”

Tell an online marketer that you don’t blog and you’re liable to get a shocked response. “You don’t blog? Um, why not?” Blogging – what was once just a geek-chic thing to do – is now a major marketing mainstay. “Everyone” is doing it.

Are you sure that it’s a good idea that you aren’t?

Well, here are some things to think about…

It could be said that “no time to blog” isn’t a reasonable excuse. That’s because that blogging (and I’m talking quality blog posts here – not stuff you upload at the eleventh hour because you have to write something) drives traffic and helps establish you as an expert. I can look at my own analytics and tell you the days I’ve blogged and the days I haven’t just by looking at a graph. My traffic spikes during the “blog days” and falls during the “non-blog days.” For me, it would be stupid not to blog. I’m gaining too much traffic every time I do.

However, what works for me doesn’t work for everyone. And certainly, just because you do have a blog doesn’t mean that 1,000 people will flock to it every time you post.

If you had a blog and stopped posting, check your analytics and review your traffic. Were you getting more leads while you were blogging? Were you “meeting” more people on Twitter? If so, you have four choices:

  • Suck it up and go back to blogging.
  • Develop another content marketing plan that you can keep up with.
  • Hire someone to blog for you.
  • Ignore everything and lose leads to your oft-blogging competitors.

Harsh? Yes…but compassionately so. I get being “too busy” to blog. I face it every day. However, like my trainer says about exercise, “too busy” isn’t a reasonable excuse. What is an excuse is, “After reviewing our analytics and giving it a good shot, our company relies on other marketing touch points (a newsletter, a discussion group) to connect with customers and demonstrate our expertise.” It’s not so much that you “don’t have time to blog.” It’s that you’re spending your time participating in other, more lucrative marketing avenues.

For instance, the woman in the LinkedIn group isn’t ignoring her blog – she never had one in the first place. Instead, she has a different customer engagement strategy. Could she possibly drive more traffic if she did blog? Perhaps. But what she has is working for her right now.

At the same time, if blogging worked for your company – even as a short-term experiment – you owe it to your bottom line to manage your time better and provide your hungry readers the content they crave. Yes, that may mean planning your day a tad more efficiently. Or hiring someone to blog for you (sounds expensive – but really, it’s cheap compared to lost lead opportunities.) Or even taking a step back, working with a consultant on your blog marketing, and re-engaging.

The key is to figure out a way to keep your blogging bus rolling along.

What about you? Do you feel like you’re “too busy to blog?” How do you handle it?

SEO content marketing roundup, week ending July 28th

Yes, dear readers, it’s time to get current with the latest and greatest of SEO copywriting and content marketing news!  This post is dedicated to our SEO Copywriting & Content Marketing Queen, Inside Informant, and Generous Educator, Heather Lloyd-Martin. (I can get away with this, because she’s out of town this week!)  Heather will be both presenting and speaking at the SES (Search Engine Strategies) San Francisco Conference-Expo, on Tuesday, August 17th.  Details follow:

As part of ClickZ’s Connected Marketing Week, Search Engine Strategies (SES) San Francisco is hosting its “learn-in” from Tuesday August 17th through Thursday August 19th, featuring the brightest stars of search and social marketing. And yes, our Heather is most prominently featured! First she will introduce the speakers for “Content Marketing Optimization,” and then present — surprise! — “Developing Great Content.”  The agenda details can be accessed at SES San Francisco.

Speaking of great content“¦other news and links well worth your while, from content mills to content as link bait, to landing page testing, content management, and a 12-step rehab program:

Content Therapy: Here’s Looking at You, Site!

 

As promised, today we’re going to undertake an honest inventory of our content. This will be a somewhat brutal — but ultimately enlightening and worthwhile — evaluation of our web content.  In what Heather has likened to therapy, a “SWOT” analysis systematically examines our relative strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.  Ready?

As underscored in the previous Mondays’ posts, researching your competition and tracking social trends, you are not the only wonder in web town!  (I know: Surprise!) So to refine and improve upon your content, and one-up your competition, you first need to truly know thyself, and second, you need a fearless reality-check on where you stand relative to your competitors.

This is where SWOT analysis comes in:

  • Strengths Even if your business is in its infancy, it still possesses certain strengths from the get-go.  For instance, can you sell your products at 10-percent less than your competitors?  Do you offer unique, fun products not found anywhere else?  Besides your intrinsic strengths, consider your external advantages: Do you have a great supplier who ships products fast and works with you on payment terms?  That is definitely a plus in the strengths column!  Try to come up with ten strengths your company has.  If you’re stuck, ask for the opinion of a trusted colleague, friend, or even a client:  you may be surprised by how wonderful other people think you are!
  • Weaknesses Just as your business has inherent strengths to bring to the table, the reality is that it — like all businesses — has weak spots.  There is at least one internal vulnerability that you need to acknowledge and eventually overcome in your marketing materials (more on that in a later post).  For instance: Are you a brand-new company competing against an established one?  Are your prices slightly higher because you can’t buy in volume like the big boys?  Again, list your top ten weaknesses.
  • Opportunities Time to take heart!  These insights and visions — opportunities —  are what motivated you to start up your business in the first place, right?  Did you see the beginning of an emerging trend, and notice that there are very few sites offering what you want to sell?  Do you have scads of contacts from your last job that you could leverage as your own, first few clients?  From an SEO standpoint, opportunity can mean that you can optimize for terms and concepts well ahead of — or better than — your competitors.  Revisit your strengths:  what opportunities present themselves from them?  Write down five opportunities that your business has, right now.
  • Threats Real or perceived, threats do exist and it is wise to acknowledge the worst-case scenario and make a plan to work around it.  It could be an ex-employee who starts up a competing business.  It could be that your supplier doubles their price of an essential product or service.  This does not mean your competition will take over your market share and drive you out of business.  But it does mean that you should be aware of such threats, and make a solid plan for surviving them!  Again, list your top five perceived threats.

Whew!  Great job, and nobody died!  Now that you’ve done your SWOT analysis, try putting everything you’ve listed — strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats — into a matrix, like so:

Now, don’t you feel better, knowing where you stand and where you need to focus your efforts? Next week, we’ll delve deep into how to profile your perfect customer and thereby craft precision benefits statements!  Stay tuned!

Does your content piss people off?

A few days ago, my husband and I were watching an ad for Teleflora. It was your typical Valentine’s Day ad – a woman received flowers at work – but they were brown and wilted. She was obviously disappointed. The lesson: If you don’t purchase your flowers from Teleflora, the love of your life may question how much you really care.

The ad made my husband angry. First, he said, why are all Valentine’s Day ads targeted towards men? Why aren’t there any targeted towards women? After all, they buy Valentine’s Day gifts too (good point.)

But what made him the most angry was what he felt was the subtext of the ad. In his words, “OK, so I’m a tool if I don’t send flowers – and I’m even more of a tool if I send flowers and they aren’t the right kind. Men can’t win.”

(Fair disclosure: My wonderful husband celebrates Valentine’s Day 365 days a year. His ad resistance had everything to do with the messaging, and nothing to do with the concept of celebrating your beloved.)

When you’re writing copy, it’s so important to consider how the target audience will feel about your content. On the surface, the Teleflora ad was probably seen as witty and original. But since the target audience is men – and men are getting told yet again that their gifts had better measure up on Valentine’s Day – how effective was this ad, anyway?

This is especially important if you’re writing copy about “touchier” subjects. For instance, think of people who need high-risk car insurance and SR-22 forms. This population is already facing higher insurance fees, and are dealing with the stigma of needing a SR-22 in order to drive. If you are part of this target audience, would you rather read:

“Accidents, violations = OK!” (The General Car Insurance) or…

“This is auto insurance for people that many insurance companies do not desire to insure or for people that have had a policy cancelled” (High Risk Auto Insurance Ontario.)

You see the difference? The General makes a positive statement (OK!) while the other site reminds the visitor that yes, they did mess up royally.

As I stated in “Do You Know What Your Prospects Are Really Thinking”, your target audience is looking for excuses to NOT buy from you. When you write content that disempowers, embarrasses or freezes prospects with fear, they won’t react well. In fact, the only reaction you may see are huge bounce rates.

The important takeaway from these examples is to always – and I mean always – put yourself in your target audience’s shoes. Ask yourself how you’d feel if you read the copy. Would you feel empowered and positive (OK!) Or would you feel like, no matter what you did, it wouldn’t be good enough (Teleflora.)

Focus on writing copy that’s empowering, exciting and informative. You won’t piss people off – and your site conversions will show it.

(Private note to ProFlowers – your site is still focused around Valentine’s Day – and it’s the 16th of February. Oops!)