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

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

Want to brush up on your online copywriting skills?

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

That was back in 2012.

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

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

Copywriting, content marketing and strategy:

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

Confessions Of An Advertising Man, by David Ogilvy.

Optimize, by Lee Odden

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

Everybody Writes, by Ann Handley

Copyblogger

Content Marketing Institute

Why people buy (consumer psychology and neuromarketing)

Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini

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

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

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

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

Roger Dooley’s blog

Social Triggers

General SEO, Internet marketing and usability

Internet Marketing In An Hour A Day, by Matt Bailey

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

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

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

The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, by Stoney deGeyter

Moz

Search Engine Land

Search Engine Watch

Search Engine Journal

UseIt.com

QuickSprout  (SEO information plus so much more!).

The SEM Post

Style and grammar guides

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

Elements of Grammar, by Margaret Shertzer

The Little, Brown Handbook, by Fowler and Aaron

Oxford Guide to Plain English, by Martin Cutts

Grammar Girl 

The Oatmeal’s Grammar comics

General writing suggestions

Stephen King’s On Writing

Individual blog posts

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

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

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

Photo gratitude: Joe.Ross

 

[Updated] How to Write a Title That Gets Clicks

How to create web page Titles for readers and Google

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

I feel a rant coming on.

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

So, a Title would read like:

keyword | here’s another keyword | yet another keyword

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

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

And now begins my rant:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want to see what I mean?

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

Enjoy!

</rant>

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

Don’t ignore your Titles. Embrace them!

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

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

- Include your main page keyphrases.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Action step: Review your Titles

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

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

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

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

Photo thanks to Andy Hay

It’s never going to be perfect

A friend accosted me first thing in the morning…

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

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

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

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

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

Really. That’s how weird I got.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There will always be something to edit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s a wonderful feeling.

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

5 Weird Writing Productivity Hacks That Work

How much more copy could you write with these productivity hacks?

Do you feel burned out and brain dead after a full day of writing?

Heavy writing days used to exhaust me. My brain felt like mush. I could barely talk. Exercise was out of the question. All I wanted to do is sit in front of the television and force my brain to stop thinking.

You’ve probably had days like that, too.

I’ve learned some great time (and sanity saving) writing hacks over the years. And I no longer feel like my brain is going to explode at the end of the day.

But yeah, these tips are a little weird.

Here are five of my favorites:

Chart your writing rhythms

Your writing brain doesn’t click along at peak capacity 24/7. To leverage this hack, simply notice when your brain is on and your creative juices are flowing. For me, I can write a 500 word blog draft in about 15 minutes between 7-10am. Between 3-5pm, I’ll stare slack-jawed at my laptop and check Facebook every few minutes.

Chart your own writing rhythms and notice the patterns. Then, give yourself permission to write only during your peak times. Yes, you will feel guilty if you’re not writing during your “off” times, but get over it. Let the process work.

Limit your writing time

Are you used to long, ultra marathon-like stretches of writing? You may get a lot done during a 10 hour write-a-thon, but it often has a heavy cost. Instead, break your writing time into 25-minute chunks. This technique, called the Pomodoro Technique, forces you to focus 100% on a task for less than 30 minutes. At the end of the 30 minutes, you’d take a short break and let your brain rest. Chris Winfield discusses his success with the Pomodoro Technique here.

Some people worry that 25 minutes isn’t enough time and they’d feel rushed. For me, it’s the exact opposite. I love to see how much writing I can accomplish in a 25 minute block of time. Plus, the Pomodoro Technique is a great way to complete tasks you don’t enjoy doing. It’s much easier to keep up with your bookkeeping when you know you only have to do it for 25 minutes.

The five minute brainstorm technique

Do you feel like your first drafts are all over the place without a cohesive flow? Spend five minutes outlining some quick notes before you start writing. You don’t have to create a full-fledged outline. Just let your mind wander and see what comes up. This hack seems to rearrange things in my brain and makes the actual writing process easier.

Wear different hats. Literally.

Sometimes, I feel like two people live inside my brain. My inner writer is laid back, easy going and just wants to let things flow, man. My inner editor is much crankier–and she forces me to reexamine every word. Their constant fighting can make life…difficult.

If the two sides of you can’t get along, it’s time to separate the voices inside your head. Some writers wear one hat (like a baseball cap) when they’re writing and another (say, a cowboy hat) when they’re editing. You could even write at a Starbucks and edit at a Dunkin’ Donuts. The key is to physically do something that cues your brain into the right writing mode. It sounds like a cheesy solution, but it really does work. Try it and see.

The two minute trick

There are days when the writing muse isn’t with you, even when you’re writing during your peak time. You can’t think. You don’t feel like writing. You can feel the icy-cold beginnings of writer’s block seep into your brain.

Don’t pack in the keyboard! Instead, set a timer and force yourself to write for two minutes. At the end of two minutes, you can walk away if you choose. Or, you can keep going. Some days, you may close your laptop and know that you’ve done your best. And that’s OK. I often keep going past the two minute mark and write for an entire 25 minutes. There’s something about giving myself the permission to stop that loosens up my brain cobwebs.

What about you? What’s your favorite writing productivity hack (the weirder, the better!).

How to Generate 3,640 Blog Post Ideas in 12 Months

Ideas

Imagine generating thousands of blog post ideas! You can do it!

Imagine what it would be like to generate 3,640 blog post ideas in 12 months.

You’d stop feeling like your brain was going to ooze out of your ears every time you brainstormed what to write about next.

Your editorial calendar would be fully fleshed out.

Life would seem so much calmer.

Skeptical? Actually, it’s pretty easy.

Here’s how to do it:

I borrowed this idea from James Altrucher (I highly recommend subscribing to his newsletter. He rocks!). James recommends people exercise their “idea muscle” every single day. That means picking a topic and writing down 10 (or more) ideas. They don’t have to be great ideas. They don’t even have to be very good. You just need to put something down on paper.

This tip changed my life. Coming up with 10 daily blog post ideas is now part of my process. Some days, it takes me less than two minutes to generate my 10 ideas. Other days, I’m searching my brain for that final blog post idea at 9:30 p.m. What I can say is the process has gotten a lot easier over time.

Today, I have pages of blog post ideas. Some of them are better than others, but about 75% of them are OK. “OK” means I can tweak them later. Or combine them with another idea.

Here’s my process:

- I pick a idea theme

Some people may prefer to write down whatever comes to mind. There are days when I can easily do this, but it tends to be the more difficult option. Instead, I choose a theme like, “10 posts about blogging.” This helps me focus and generate ideas faster (especially when I’ve only had one cup of coffee.)

For instance, some theme ideas could be:

  • Ten clients you could interview for a case study
  • Ten old posts you could update
  • Ten common questions you hear from prospects
  • Ten things that differentiate you from your competitors
  • Ten of your favorite industry stories
  • Ten random blog post titles

Heck, one of your idea lists could be “10 possible idea themes!”

- I write down my ideas at the same time every day

I am a huge creature of habit. If I want to get something done–and keep doing it–I have to schedule a time. I write my ideas down while I’m enjoying my first cup of coffee. My brain is fresh and I don’t feel torn in 100 different directions. You may be more flexible in your approach.

If you find yourself forgetting to write down your ideas, or complaining that you “don’t have time,” try doing it first thing in the morning. If you want until your day is done, you may be too exhausted to think of one idea, much less 10.

- I don’t edit myself

Writers love to edit themselves. A lot. Instead of letting our creative juices bubble, we tend to criticize every idea as “not good enough.” You’re right. Quite a few of your ideas won’t be good enough. Some may be downright stupid. It’s OK. Embrace your imperfections. You’re not looking for a perfectly edited and well-considered document. You’re looking for that diamond in the rough idea you can use.

- Sometimes, I need a little help

That’s when I turn to tools like BuzzSumo, HubSpot’s Blog Post Topic Generator and the Blog Post Idea Generator.  Yahoo Answers, Quora and LinkedIn are great sources of information too.

- I keep all my lists in one place

I use Evernote for idea generation. I create new pages within my Ideas notebook and go to town. When I’m looking for something to write about, it’s easy for me to quick-scan the subject lines and find something that catches my interest.

Some people may prefer an Excel document, using pencil and paper, or creating separate Word docs. It’s up to you.

Just think about the blog post idea possibilities…

If you generated 10 blog post ideas every day for 365 days, you’d have 3,640 ideas in 12 months.

Even if you limited your idea generation to five days a week, that’s still 2,600 ideas in 12 months.

How easy would it be to flesh out your editorial calendar with thousands of post ideas?

Doesn’t life just seem a little…calmer…right now?

Try it and let me know what you think!

Did you enjoy this post? Want more SEO writing strategies and tips. Sign up for the SEO Copywriting Buzz newsletter! It’s packed with actionable information for in-house and freelance writers.

 

Photo thanks: © yeahorse | Dreamstime.com – Motivation And Ideas Photo

[Updated] 27-Point Checklist: How to Write for Google

Are you writing your SEO copy based on the latest information?

Are you sure?

I originally wrote this SEO copywriting checklist in 2012. My, how things have changed. Today, there’s a new Google algorithm in town (Hummingbird,) and new rules around content optimization. I’ve updated the list to reflect these changes and provide additional information. I’ve also included two additional tips.

As a side note, I would argue that there’s no such thing anymore as “writing for Google.” Yes, there are certain things you should do to make the Google gods happy. However, your most important goal should be writing clear, compelling, standout copy that tells a story. I’m keeping the old headline in the hopes that I can convert some of the “write for Google” people to do things the right way.

Whether you’re an in-house SEO content writer, a DIY business owner or a freelance SEO copywriter, this 27-point checklist will help you write engaging, Google-happy content. Every time.

Items to review before you start writing:

- Do you have enough information about your target reader?

Your copy will be much more powerful if you can picture your target reader. Ask your client or supervisor for a customer/reader persona document outlining your target readers’ specific characteristics. If the client doesn’t have a customer persona document, be prepared to spend at least 30 minutes – 1 hour asking some detailed questions. Here’s more information on customer personas.

- Writing a sales page? Did you interview the client?

It’s important to interview new clients and learn more about their company, their USP and their competition. Not sure what questions to ask to get the copywriting ball rolling? Here’s a list of 31 questions you can start with today.

- Does the topic resonate with your readers?

When you’re blogging, it’s tempting to write about whatever strikes your fancy. The challenge is, what interests you may not interest your readers. If you want to make sure you’re writing must-read content, sites like Quora, LinkedIn, Google Trends and BuzzSumo can help spark some ideas.

- Did you conduct keyphrase research?

Some people mistakenly believe that keyphrase research is no longer necessary. Keyphrase research (and content optimization) is still incredibly important. If you don’t give Google some keyphrase “cues,” your page probably won’t position the way you want.

- What is your per-page keyphrase focus?

Most writers focus on 2-3 keyphrases per page. New to keyword mapping? Check out how easy it is to develop your own per-page keyphrase strategy.

- Did you expand your keyphrase research to include synonyms and close variants?

No longer are writers stuck with using exact match keyphrases in their copy. In today’s world, including synonyms and related words is a good thing. Here’s some more information on close variants (plus some advanced SEO tips.)

Items to review when the page is complete:

- Did you edit your content?

Resist the urge to upload your content as soon as you write it. Put it away and come back to it after a few hours (or even the next day.) Discover why editing your Web writing is so very important.

 – Did you edit it again?

Once is never enough. Review your content at least one more time. It’s amazing what you can find to edit the second (or third) time around!

- Does your content answer your readers’ questions?

Consider what questions your readers may have about your topic and make sure you answer them in your copy. Remember, people aren’t typing in [keyword], [keyword], [keyword]. They’re typically asking Google a question (especially if they’re using voice search.) Writing content that answers your readers’ questions will help it position for question-oriented queries. Here’s more information about “conversational search.”

- Is the “voice” of the page appropriate?

Yes, it’s OK if your copy has a little personality! Here’s more information about working with your page’s tone and feel and how to avoid the “yawn response.”

- Are your sentences too long?

Vary your sentence structure so you have a combination of longer and shorter sentences. If you find your sentences creeping over 30 or so words, it may be time to edit them down.

- Are your paragraphs too long?

Long paragraphs without much white space are hard to read off a computer monitor – and even harder to read on a smartphone. Split up your long paragraphs into shorter ones. Please.

- Are you forcing your reader into a “dead end” page?

“Dead end” pages (pages that don’t link out to related pages) can stop your readers dead in their tracks. Want to avoid this? Read more about “dead end” Web pages.

- Does the content provide the reader valuable information?

Google’s Panda update spanked sites with “thin,” low-quality content that was poorly written. Before you upload your page, ask yourself if the content answers your reader’s questions and is informative. If you find that you’re focusing more on the keyphrase usage than the actual content, rewrite the page.

- Did you use bullet points where appropriate?

If you find yourself writing a list-like sentence, use bullet points instead. Your readers will thank you and the items will be much easier to read.

- Did you use “too many” keyphrases?

Remember, there is no such thing as keyword density. If your content sounds “keyphrase-heavy” and stilted, reduce the keyphrase usage and focus more on your readers’ experience. Learn more about the myth of keyword density. Also, here’s a great article by Ian Lurie that discusses TD-IDF and why keyword stuffing doesn’t work.

- Does your headline include a keyphrase?

Searchers are following the “search scent” from the search engine results page. When they reach the landing page, they are quick-scanning for their search term (or a variation)–so including a keyphrase in your headline is important. Adding your keyphrase to your H1 headline is also an excellent way to reinforce keyphrase relevancy.

- Writing a blog post? Does your headline work for SEO, social and your readers?

Yes, you want your headline to be compelling, but you also want it to be keyphrase rich. Always include your main page keyphrase in your Title and work in other keyphrases if they “fit.” Here’s some great information on how to write headlines that get noticed (and are good for Google.).

- Did you include keyphrase-rich subheadlines?

Subheadlines are an excellent way to visually break up your text, making it easy for readers to quick-scan your benefits and information. Additionally, just like with the H1 headline, adding a keyphrase to your subheadlines can help reinforce keyphrase relevancy. You may not be able to add a keyphrase every time, but make sure you give it a try.

- Is your Title “clickable” and compelling?

Remember that the search engine results page is your first opportunity for conversion. Consider how you can create an enticing Title that “gets the click” over the other search result listings. Remember, you have about 59 characters (with spaces) to work with, so it’s important to write tight. Here are some additional Title-writing tips.

- Does the meta description fit the intent of the page?

Yes, meta descriptions are still important (here’s a great article by Neil Patel that explains why.) And yes, every page should have its own meta description.

- Is the main CTA (call to action) clear–and is it easy to take action?

What action do you want your readers to take? Do you want them to contact you? Is your main goal to entice your reader into making a purchase? Make sure you tell reader what you want them to do and make it easy for them to take action.

- Do you have a secondary CTA (such as a newsletter signup or downloading a white paper?).

Do you want readers to sign up for your newsletter or learn about related products? Consider ways to make the secondary call to action stand out.

- Does the page include too many choices?

It’s important to keep your reader focused on your primary and secondary CTA’s. If your page lists too many choices (for example a large, scrolling page of products) consider eliminating all “unnecessary” choices that don’t support your main calls to action. Too many choices may force your readers into not taking any action at all.

- Writing a sales page? Did you include benefit statements?

People make purchase decisions based on what’s in it for them. What does this mean to you? You need to put the benefits front and center. Make sure that you tell your reader how your product/service will make their lives better and satisfy a need. And for heaven’s sake–don’t bury your benefit statements!

- Do you have vertical-specific testimonials?

Testimonials are fantastic–they offer third-party proof that your product or service is superior. Whenever possible, include vertical-specific testimonials (for instance, a real estate agent testimonial on a real estate landing page.) This will help increase your conversion rates. Learn more about writing sales copy with testimonials.

And finally…the most important question…

- Does your content stand out and truly deserve a top position?

SEO writing is more than shoving keyphrases into content. If you want to be rewarded by Google (and your readers) your content must stand out. That means knowing what your competitors are writing and coming up with a new angle, writing something in-depth and truly educating your readers. Making your site a must-read resource will take time. But the positions (and conversions) are well worth it.

What additional tips would you add to the checklist?

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2014’s 10 Hottest SEO Copywriting Posts

2014 is almost over.

What a long, strange year it’s been.

Authorship died, new algorithmic tweaks kept rolling out and Matt Cutts decided to take a break from Google. Quality writing is still in and spammy, formulaic writing is still definitely out.

The more things change, the more things stay the same.

While compiling the yearly top post roundups, I’ve enjoyed seeing how the SEO writing conversation has changed. In 2012, the top posts were of the back-to-basics variety. In 2013, people enjoyed the higher-level, more actionable posts. This year, we see more advanced writing posts, along with a sprinkling of client management tips.

Below are the hottest SEO copywriting posts of 2014. Whether you’re a seasoned SEO writer or new to the biz, you’ll find some tasty tidbits you can implement today.

Happy holidays to you and yours. Here’s to a healthy, happy and profitable 2015!

-Heather

#10: Introduction to Keyphrase Mapping for Content Managers

Have you made your keyphrase list and checked it twice? Great! Now it’s time to map the keyphrases to your pages. If you’ve never done this before (or you could use a little refresher,) check out this guest post by Adrienne Erin.

#9: Freelance Copywriting Proposals: 10 Questions to Ask First & 4 Types to Write

Do copywriting proposals drive you nuts? Are you wondering if your proposal should be a quick, one-page document or a multi-page monstrosity? This guest post by Ilise Benun will teach you the questions you should ask your prospect and how to structure your proposal.

#8: The SEO Content Writers’ Manifesto

You are more than “just a writer.” I wrote this manifesto especially for SEO writers and I’m so glad I did. I’ve heard that many folks have printed out the PDF and hung it near their computers (I’m honored!) If you haven’t read the manifesto before, check it out now.

#7: 20 Copywriting Blind Spots All Writers Should Avoid

We all have copywriting blind spots (yes, even me!). The key is knowing what they are and learning how to manage them. This post outlines the 20 most common blind spots I see every day.

#6: 5 SEO Client Types to Avoid at All Costs

Does one of your clients drive you a little insane? We’ve all been there. Learn about the different types of clients to avoid (like the Taylor Swift and the Mullet Master client) and how to handle them.

#5: Schema Markup for Reviews

Does your site (or your clients’ sites) include reviews? Read this guest post by Carrie Hill right now. You’ll learn how easy it is to implement schema markup–and how doing so has some extremely powerful benefits.

#4: 9 SEO Writers Share Their Top Tips

What goes on in the mind of a successful SEO writer? A lot. I asked 9 well-known writers to list their favorite SEO writing tips. The takeaway: Good SEO writing really is more than just keywords.

#3: A New SEO Approach to Content Strategy

Thinking just about keywords is old-school. Instead, you’ll want to think about entities instead. In this guest post by Gianluca Fiorelli, you’ll learn how to go beyond traditional keyphrase research and discover new content opportunities.

#2: How to Write Brilliant Headlines for SEO, Social & Your Readers

This is one of my all-time favorite posts. You know it’s important to have a good headline. But how do you write a “good headline”-especially when you’re writing them for social, SEO and your readers? This guest post by Danny Goodwin breaks down what makes a headline great.

#1 Content and SEO Tips For 2014

What should you be thinking about in 2015? Although this post by Leslie Poston was written in January 2014, the tips are perfect as an end of the year “what should I be doing” double-check. I especially like the tip about creating a skeleton editorial calendar. The more you can plan this year, the less scrambling you’ll be doing in 2015.

Photo thanks to: © Photodesign | Dreamstime.com – Holiday Bread And Beverages Photo

Should You Bleed On The Page?

James Altucher does it. Rand Fishkin does it. Ben Huh does it. So does Neil Patel and Chris Brogan.

They all write extremely personal posts outlining their successes, their processes and their failures.

In short, they open up a vein and bleed on the page.

As writers and marketers, it’s easy for us to put a wall between us and our readers. When we write a blog post–even if it’s a more “personal” post, we try to put our best foot forward and not get too personal. After all:

Someone may judge us.

We don’t talk about “things” like that with strangers.

We think that writing about our failures isn’t an appropriate topic.

We think nobody wants to hear the real story.

We’re embarrassed.

Can we write about our successes? Sure. Can we pen an impersonal essay on Google’s latest algorithm, or how to be more productive, or how to do X? You bet.

But writing about facing a class action lawsuit, not being able to make payroll, feeling suicidal or the process of leaving an industry and transforming ourselves? Well, that takes guts (or another body part that’s lower down.)

I’m one of those people who writes behind a wall. Sure, I’ve written some more personal posts. I’ve alluded to stuff that’s gone on in my life.

But there’s still a wall. I can feel it. And I’m wondering if I need to get over it.

My more personal posts get the most comments (even if many of those comments are behind the scenes.) They touch more people. I’ve built online friendships by disclosing how my ex-husband committed suicide, how I was hanging off a 25 foot rock ledge and how I’ve felt totally and incredibly overwhelmed.

This got me thinking: Should bloggers (and brands) be even more transparent? Sometimes, that may mean showcasing our successes. And other times, it may mean talking about our failures. Our insecurities. How getting up in the morning some days seems…hard.

Because those types of visceral posts build connections. They get people talking. They help people realize, “Hey, I’m not the only one who feels like things are f-ed up.”

From a business blogging perspective, it’s true that not all posts can (or should) be “Here’s an accounting of all the minutia happening behind the scenes.” People don’t care about the minutia. But the overarching lessons? Yes.

Chris Brogan talked about this in a recent newsletter. He said: “The best wave of media making is upon us: personal media. And it’s not a small-vs-big company story. It’s about people who care about connecting with their buyers and the community they serve. It’s about people who understand that lazy robot marketing and business practices don’t work. And it’s about you.”

I see this as more than, “Write in a personal voice that resonates with your audience.” It’s digging deeper and writing content that truly touches your audience. And yes, this occasionally means bleeding on the page. You don’t have to bleed every time. Just enough that people know that there’s a human being behind the brand.

I know that many businesses will kick back when they read about this. “Bleeding on the page” may feel like “Telling the competition about their failures.” They may feel like writing about internal struggles (whether those struggles are personal or corporate,) is “too much” information.

And certain industries (for instance, regulated industries) may not have the freedom to bleed. After all, they barely have the freedom to write a word without a legal team looking over their shoulder.

But for the rest of us, consider if writing on a more personal level could help connect you with your customers.

Here are some great examples:

James Altucher Confidential: Not only does James list some fantastic tips, the way he writes will make you bleed along with him (but in the good way.)

Rand’s Blog:  If you’ve ever dealt with depression, you’ll connect with this post. Rand Fishkin (the author) is the founder of Moz.

WhatDidYouDoWithJill: From SEO expert to personal transformation expert, Jill chronicles her insights, successes and setbacks.

BenHuh!com: Ben Huh, the CEO of Cheezeburger, discusses his suicidal thoughts – and how he broke free.

What I learned from fighting a 12-month long lawsuit:  Neil Patel bares it all and talks about his very expensive (and stressful) year.

Climb out of your comfort zone: My experience on taking time off, conquering my fears and feeling stuck beyond belief.

What about you? Would you write a more personal post? Or do you feel that bleeding on the page has no part in personal or business branding?

And do you think I should dig deeper and bleed on the page more often?

Your thoughts?

 Photo credit: © Ainteractive | Dreamstime.com – Red Heart Bleeding On Note Photo

6 Things to Check Before Turning In Your Final Draft

Don’t submit your SEO copy until you check these 6 things!

Have you ever thought, “Wow, that headline could be better” after you turned in your final draft?

Or worse, your boss (or client) redlined your copy–and she sent you a nastygram to let you know?

Ouch.

I’ve reviewed a lot of SEO writing over the years and there is one big constant: so-so copy happens. Maybe it’s a headline that falls flat. Or maybe the writer missed some keyphrase opportunities.

Although the mistakes may be minor, they’re a red flag to your boss (or client) that you’re “working sloppy.”

That’s never good.

Make sure your content hits the mark the first time. Ready to evaluate your writing? Here are six things to check:

- How is your keyphrase usage?

Some people were trained that you have to include the keyphrases X times each on the page. I feel sorry for those people. They end up hating SEO writing because they were given incorrect information. Or, if a someone is new to SEO writing, they’ll often go nuts with their keyphrases and put them everywhere. Why? Because they think that they “have to do it this way.”

News flash: You don’t have to do it this way (whew!).

Yes, include keyphrases. However, focus your attention more on “how will my reader enjoy this,” instead of, “how many times should I repeat this keyphrase?”

Remember, Google is looking for informative pages that are centered around a theme, not how many times you repeat some words. It’s OK to use synonyms. It’s OK to not exact match your keyphrase every time. And it’s OK to write like a human rather than feeling you have to serve Google (in fact, this kind of writing is rewarded!).

- How are your headlines?

Ideally, your headlines and subheadlines should grab your readers attention and entice them to keep reading. Using your keyphrase as a headline (for instance, “Louisville, KY hotel,”) is just plain boring. Sure, the keyphrase is in there. But you’re missing out on an opportunity to make your content compelling.

Your readers quick-scan headlines and subheadlines before they dig into your body copy. The more oomph your headlines have, the more you encourage your readers to keep reading.

In a perfect world, your headline and subheadlines are benefit-rich and include a keyphrase. If you can’t make a keyphrase “fit,” focus on writing a compelling statement instead. Your goal is to make people want to read more. Not showcase the keyphrases you’re targeting.

Here’s a great post by Danny Goodwin about how to write killer headlines your readers will love.

- Can you turn a long paragraph into multiple shorter ones?

You know what’s overwhelming? A solid copy block without paragraph breaks.

I do one of two things when I see content like this. I either scroll to the bottom and look for a summary. Or, I back out of the site and find another resource. Too-long paragraphs make my eyes bleed. I don’t like it when my eyes bleed.

Review your content and see how you can divide your long paragraphs into shorter ones. Yes, one-to-three sentence paragraphs are OK if you do it right. Just remember that mobile readers may be viewing your content on tiny screens, so the easier you can make your copy to read, the better.

- Does your copy have any scary-long sentences?

Scary-long sentences are a personal pet peeve of mine–and it’s a big writers’ blind spot.

Sometimes, it’s because the writer is tired. Sometimes, it’s because they’re writing too fast. And sometimes, they come from an academic or legal background where long sentences are the norm. No matter what the reason, long sentences are clunky and hard to read.

If you feel your copy is so-so, splitting up your sentence length instantly spices up your content. Your copy is easier to read. You can get your point across more effectively. And it’s a great way to keep your reader engaged. Try it and see.

- Can you add any textural words?

As Roger Dooley says, “Use vivid, sensory, emotional adjectives to engage the brain.” Research has proven that textual words (like smooth, slimy or gritty) cause our brains to react in unique ways. That’s because your brain can picture what “gritty” feels like–and your brain actually lights up as if you were experiencing that sensation.

Slipping textural words into your copy is a great way to make your lukewarm writing sizzle (see what I did there?)  Here’s more information on how you can make it happen.

Did you use the wrong form of a word?

Ah, Microsoft Word, why can’t you save us from ourselves? There are times we meant to type “there” and instead type “they’re.” Other times, we use the wrong word–yet Word doesn’t flag it. Word just makes us suffer.

Don’t rely on the red “typo line” to let you know if there’s a mistake. Check and double-check that everything is A-OK.  As a funny side note, I had originally typed, “just because you don’t see a read line” before I caught my mistake. Oops!

Turning in a clean and compelling final draft will make your editors love you, plus you’ll be seen as more professional.

What do you doublecheck before turning in your final draft?

Photo thanks: © Mpavlov | Dreamstime.com – Green Check Box Photo 

9 SEO Copywriting Experts Share Their Top Tips

Want to peek inside the busy brain of an expert SEO copywriter?

Last week, I asked a number of well-known writers to share their favorite SEO writing tip  (you can see the original post here.) Many people generously responded with resources, articles and words of advice.

Make sure that you follow these writers on social media and read everything they write. The education you’ll gain will be well worth your time. Trust me.

(And big thanks to the eight copywriters who submitted their tips. You guys rock!)

Kate Toon, Kate Toon Copywriter

Don’t get hung up on exact match keywords: Mix it up a little with related search terms. I use tools like keyword.io and ubersuggest.org to help me find alternate keyword choices. Using synonyms not only pleases the Google god, but it makes your content richer, more engaging and more enjoyable to read.

Jessie Wojdylo, Wojdylo Social Media

Break up your content in subsections with headers. Use the html code to make the subsections drop downs from a table of contents at the top of the article such as this…

Stoney deGeyter, Pole Position Marketing

Make the content readable! Don’t force keywords that don’t work. Add images throughout. Use headings and sub-headings to break up content. Add bullet points where possible. Readable font size. Easy to understand concepts. Short paragraphs. Etc. Etc. Great content still fails if you don’t make it easy for people to read, skim and scan for key points.

Glenn Murray, Divine Write

Assuming someone else has done the keyword research, and the site structure has been informed by that research, my no.1 tip is to not think about SEO at all, until after the client has approved the copy. It’s the ‘copy’ part of ‘SEO copy’ that’s hard. Get that right, and the SEO pass is child’s play. Almost.

Eric Enge, Stone Temple Consulting

My favorite tip is to give your writers a suggested article title or article focus, and then let them write. Don’t burden them with keywords (beyond the title) to focus on. Just let them do their thing.If they know their field, they will naturally create semantically rich content. If you feel a need to tweak it once you have seen what they deliver, not problem! But, don’t let artificial constraints stand between them and creating great content.

Demian Farnworth, Copyblogger

I’m with +Eric Enge. I like to grab an idea, close my eyes, and storm the gates.

Larry Kim, WordStream

Elisa Gabbert (WordStream’s content marketing manager) wrote “3 Super-Actionable Keyword Research Tips to Try Right Now” earlier this year.

Heather Mueller, Mueller Writing

Good question! My answer is probably the simplest: Write for readers FIRST, then see where keyphrases fit naturally. And remember the whole purpose of keyword research is to see what your actual readers are typing into Google to discover what you’re writing about. Otherwise, it’s too easy to get hung up on trying to force verbiage that won’t make sense to your target audience.

Michelle Lowery, Passion Fruit Creative Group

Keep the focus on the topic and the reader–not yourself. Your bio section is where you list your credentials. Don’t waste valuable post space trying to convince the reader you know what you’re talking about because you have this, that and the other experience. Don’t make it about you, a personal blog post being the exception. Giving the reader something of value means something they can use, that will benefit them–not your résumé, or your “humble brags” about your achievements.

What about you? What tip would you add to the list?

Photo credit: © Coramax | Dreamstime.com – Brain Photo