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 🙂

Why Incubation Time Makes You A Better Writer: Tips from Henneke Duistermaat

Henneke Have you wondered why your blog post titles are falling flat, and folks aren’t taking action?

Are you looking for a way to simplify your writing process?

If you don’t know Henneke Duistermaat, you’re in for a treat. Henneke is the owner of Enchanting Marketing and has been featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine and Copyblogger. 

In fact, Copyblogger’s Brian Clark has said, “You should listen to Henneke’s every word!”

Learn what Henneke has to say about her streamlined writing process, what sales writing mistakes make her cringe and ways to open the curiosity gap. Enjoy!

You write books, develop courses, blog and (sometimes) take on copywriting clients. That’s a lot of writing!  What kind of productivity processes do you have in place to help you accomplish so much?

Firstly, I write over a series of days – even for smaller projects. My first stage is gathering the information required. For copywriting projects, I focus on (1) who is the customer, (2) what is the expected action on this page, (3) why would the customer care about taking this action, (4) why might the customer hesitate, and (5) why would he trust me. I leave the research for a day before I plan the content, which means arranging what content goes where. On the next day, I write a first draft. Then on the next day again, I edit. Sometimes I edit over a couple of days.

When you spread writing over several days, you take advantage of incubation time. You become more creative. Also, your editing goes faster when you look at your draft with fresh eyes. I also suffer less from procrastination when a writing task is relatively small!

For blog posts, I often use a standard structure which helps speed up writing, too. Most of my posts have an opening in which I empathize with the reader and promise how I’ll help them. Then I have a series of tips. And lastly, I have an upbeat paragraph in which I encourage readers to implement my tips.

What also helps is that I write in short bursts of time (25 to 30 minutes) and take a lot of breaks. This keeps my energy levels up. And I spend relatively little time on social media. I don’t even have a Facebook account. I focus on what I do best – which is content creation.

You are an incredible marketer and your posts can get thousands of shares! Well done! Do you have a favorite marketing technique that helped you go from “a good writer” to “a well-known influencer?”

Thank you!

What has helped me most is being focused. So rather than write about a variety of topics, I tried to establish my credentials as an expert in web writing and business blogging. I rarely write about other topics. I tend to write in-depth content, sometimes focused on ultra-specific topics like how to use adverbs, how to create smooth transitions, or how to eliminate weak words from your writing. Such in-depth posts about the nitty-gritty of writing help me stand out as an expert. I didn’t think people would be interested in such detailed posts, but my readers have encouraged me to write them.

Another often underrated skill is listening. We think of ourselves as writers, but getting to know our audience and listening to their needs helps connect with them. I often get emails from people saying that my blog post came exactly at the right time. “Was I reading their mind?” I love those emails because they show me I’m in tune with my audience’s needs.

You must see sales pages that make you cringe. What are the most common sales page errors you see? How can a writer conquer common sales writing mistakes and write some serious sales copy?

One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is using generic statements like “We’re passionate about creating awesome websites” or “We’re committed to customer service excellence.”

Such generic statements don’t help persuade readers to buy because everyone says the same. Even more importantly, such statements don’t help readers visualize what you’re talking about—they don’t really tell us something. What is so special about their customer service?

As soon as you add a specific detail, the credibility of the copy is boosted. For instance, a headline like “Our world class widgets help you increase email sign-ups” is a generic statement, and while the benefit (increasing email sign-ups) is good, it lacks persuasiveness. Try for instance: “549,333 websites use our widgets to increase email sign-ups” or even: “So-and-so used our widget to increase sign ups by 79%.”

Some writers swear by sales writing formulas like PAS and AIDA. Other writers think that sales formulas are outdated and won’t work online. What’s your opinion? If you do use sales writing formulas, what’s your favorite one and why?

I find PAS and FAB the two most useful copywriting formulas.

FAB stands for Features – Advantages – Benefits.

FAB reminds us that our customers aren’t interested in features, and they aren’t interested in specifications, they don’t even care about advantages. All they want to know is what you offer to them. How do you make them happier or richer?

In my book How to Write Seductive Web Copy, I use the following example to describe the difference between features, advantages, and benefits:

Imagine you’re selling an oven. One of its special features is a fast preheat system. The advantage of this system is that the oven heats up to 400º F (200º C) in just five minutes. The benefit is that a cook doesn’t have to hang around until the oven is finally warm enough. It makes cooking less stressful and you have a much better chance to get dinner ready in time even if you’re extremely busy.

FAB tells us to always focus on customers. Specific features and specifications add credibility to your copy, but benefits sell because they connect to human emotions. You always need the combination of facts (features and specifications) and emotion (benefits).

PAS is in a way quite similar to FAB. Instead of focusing on the positive benefits of your copy, you focus on what problems you help avoid. PAS is powerful because problems can attract even more attention than benefits. People want to avoid pain, hassle, risks, glitches, and problems.

PAS stands for: Problem – Agitate – Solve. First you describe a problem, then you agitate by highlighting the emotions that go with the problem, and then you offer your solution. Once people believe you understand their problems and how they feel about it, they’re more likely to believe you have a good solution for them, too.

PAS and FAB are simple and persuasive. You can write persuasive web copy for any product or service using these two formulas.

What’s your favorite site for sales copy inspiration (and no, Apple doesn’t count!) 🙂

Haha! Apple doesn’t count? Why not?

Other copywriting examples? It depends on what you’re looking for. For simplicity, I think the UK government’s website is interesting to study. It covers a huge number of topics in a pretty clear manner. What I also like is that it reinforces the point that FAQ pages are pretty useless. You need to answer questions when they come up in people’s mind. That’s usually when they’re reading about a product or service.

For writing with personality, I like Man Crates. They write great copy for a clearly defined avatar (or ideal reader profile). If you’re interested in stories, then J Peterman is a great website to study.

One of your blog posts discusses the “curiosity gap” and its importance. Can you talk a little bit about what the curiosity gap is, and why “minding the gap” is so important during the age of content shock.

Curiosity has a bad name. We associate it with either nosiness and clickbait titles. But curiosity is a healthy human trait. Without curiosity, we wouldn’t learn and innovate.

To use curiosity in an ethical way, we appeal to people’s desire for learning about a specific topic, and then we open up a gap by pointing out there might be something they don’t know yet. This way we can write subject lines and headlines that entice people to click through.

For instance, here’s a subject line that did really well for me recently: 

A Pain-Free Copywriting Process: 5 Key Questions You Must Answer

The first part (A pain-free copywriting process) refers to something a lot of my audience desire. Copywriting is hard—who wouldn’t like to make the process pain-free? The second part (5 key questions you must answer), then opens up the curiosity gap because we get curious to know which these 5 key questions are.

You don’t have to do this in two parts. Here’s another example:

Do You Know This #1 Fiction Writing Trick For Compelling Business Content?

This subject line appeals to people’s desire for creating compelling business content; and it arouses curiosity by referring to the #1 fiction writing trick. (What’s the trick? This post is about the principle of Show. Don’t tell.)

Speaking of content shock…I don’t know how many super-long emails I receive every day. Do I read them? Usually not. What are some things writers can do to write more “snackable” emails that actually get read?

Emails tend to get wordy because people are trying to communicate too much information. You see this with companies a lot. They want you to fill in a satisfaction survey AND like them on Facebook. They want you to reply to an email AND click to read the latest post. They share three or four tips in one email when one tip is enough. Everyone is overwhelmed already, so let’s keep life a little simpler for our email recipients.

So, the key to being “snackable” is to focus on just one action per email. This action can be to click through to read your blog post, to reply to your email with a concrete answer, to click to buy a product or to fill in a questionnaire. Whatever it is, limit it to one action.

Once you decide which one action you want from the email, it becomes easier to cut out all the irrelevant parts. Often you can reduce the number of words by 50%.

If writers only remember ONE thing from this interview, what’s the big takeaway? 

Let me mention again this point about generic statements because as copywriters it can be difficult to write persuasive copy because often we don’t know enough.

To write good copy, it’s important to get as much input as possible from your clients or their customers or to do your own online research. Ask as many questions as you can and when a client gives you a generic statement, ask for an example. For instance, I remember a client telling me they had state-of-the-art facilities; and I had to probe him for quite a long time before I finally got some specific statements about his facilities. These specific statements included explanations about his machinery plus I asked him to explain why his customers would care about this machinery. So, again, each fact about the machinery was connected to a benefit for buyers.

Bonus question: What do you listen do while you’re writing? Music? Nothing? White noise?

I like silence. Music distracts me.

Want to learn more from Henneke? She’s our featured Certification training guest speaker next Wednesday, June 29th. Learn more about the SEO Copywriting Certification Training.

What to Know About Local SEO: Interview with Andrew Shotland

Local searchSteeped in Local SEO and search for some 13 years, Andrew Shotland is a leading expert in this highly competitive space. He is the proprietor of Local SEO Guide, an SEO and SEM consultancy (and blog) he founded nine years ago. Andrew has also authored Search Engine Land’s monthly local search column since 2009.

Before launching his own business, Andrew headed up business and product development for Insider Pages, a local search startup. As its Chief SEO Officer, he developed an SEO program that attracted over 3 million unique visitors/month to the site.

Here, Andrew answers questions about Local SEO best practices and search trends, as well as the challenges faced by brands competing on a local level. Enjoy!

Could you briefly summarize the essential ways that Local SEO differs from the SEO for big national brands? 

Google, Bing & Yahoo typically show separate local business listings for queries they deem to have significant local intent. The methodologies to compete for rankings in these “local packs” are somewhat different than those you would apply to non-local SEO.

Local SEO also includes appearing well in local-specific search services such as Apple Maps, Facebook Local, Yelp, the Yellow Pages sites and various vertical search engines. It’s a huge, complex space to play in.

If you were to list Local SEO best practices, what would be the top 3? Why?

The Top 3 Local SEO Best Practices in no particular order:

  1. Compete for relevant queries where you have a physical location. It’s hard to show up in the local results without a physical location in the searched city.
  2. Make sure your Google My Business (GMB) and top local search site business profiles (e.g. Yelp, YP.com, etc.) are claimed, up to date and consistent with your N.A.P. (Name, Address & Phone Number) that appears in text on your website.
  3. Don’t ignore the non-Local pack results. These can generate significant traffic. So do all of the typical SEO things to your site to help it rank well: Ensure Googlebot accessibility, use smart keyword/content targeting and get links from other sites.

Last week, Mike Blumenthal (and other local SEO experts) reported that Google had dropped businesses’ G+ pages from its “Places” search results, instead returning URLs from its “Maps” API. Do you think this is just part of Google’s mobile agenda, or is it, as Blumenthal suggested, another indication of the impending “divorce” of local search from G+? What would you say are the implications?

I don’t think this is that big a deal. Google is trying to untangle all of its services from Google+. Google+ for businesses was pretty confusing so perhaps this might end up making Google My Business easier to deal with. I don’t think this changes how we approach Google Local at all. Perhaps this will screw up some services that relied on the API for data, but that’s about it.

In your monthly Search Engine Land (SEL) column, you frequently cite how a well-optimized Google My Business (GMB) page can boost local businesses’ rankings. What specific things would you recommend a Webmaster (or site owner) do to fully leverage their GMB page?

There are a few things you can do to leverage your GMB page:

  • Make sure all of the info is up to date
  • Make sure your business categorization is correct
  • Make sure it links to the most relevant URL on your site (this one is huge)

(Editor’s note: You can view Andrew’s Local SEO Guide GMB page here)

What are some challenges brands face with Local SEO?

Multi-location brands have some of the biggest problems with Local SEO, but some of the biggest opportunities, too. On the problems side, dealing with the data issues involving tens, hundreds and even thousands of locations can be a huge task.

In particular, managing their Google My Business issues requires a lot of well-honed processes to do it at scale. Unfortunately you can’t just use a cookie-cutter approach because the problems you encounter change every day.

On the plus side, when you have scale, you can use that to your advantage once you get the basics right, in terms of content, links, etc. We typically see multi-location brands able to rank for their target queries en masse much easier than single locations, all things being equal.

Given all the Google updates to its Local SEO algo over the past two years that you recently summarized in your September SEL column, what do you see trending for Local SEO and search?

We think two big opportunities at the moment are Facebook Local and iOS Search/Apple Maps. Both of these local search systems are generating huge traffic right now but it seems like most of the Local SEO world is ignoring them. That’s great for our clients 🙂

Any parting words about Local SEO and/or Google’s local algo updates? 

It’s a great business because it’s always changing and it’s one of the biggest markets there is. It’s very satisfying to be able to help both large and small businesses navigate their ways through this ridiculous stuff. Sometimes I have to laugh that this is what I do for a living. It’s certainly fun.

Connect with Andrew on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+

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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

 

 

 

Does Your Writing Make Your Clients Money? With Brian Massey

Rock conversions with A/B split testing!

Rock conversions with A/B split testing!

Brian Massey is known as “The Conversion Scientist” for good reason, beyond the trademark and his signature lab coat. He has immersed himself in the science of conversions-driving online content for over 20 years, founded on hard data gleaned from analytics and testing.

We caught up with Brian to ask him about A/B conversion testing, as well as how and why writers should add this skill set to their offerings. His responses are candid and rich with details – you’ll want to savor and bookmark this one!

Read more

Talking International SEO with Gabriella Sannino

For international SEO, think globally but write locally!

If you’re at all familiar with international SEO, then you’re most likely familiar with Gabriella Sannino.

Gabriella is the owner of Level 343, an international marketing and SEO agency based in San Francisco. She has worked in marketing and multi media for over 20 years, starting out as a Web developer in 1994 when she founded Level 343.

In the ensuing years Gabriella donned many hats, including research and development specialist, brand strategist, and creative director before deciding to specialize in international marketing and SEO in 2005.

We were fortunate to grab some time with Gabriella to ask her about her experience with international SEO, and to share her insights into this somewhat rarified field.

Read more

SEO Copy Manager Richard Hostler talks in-house SEO copywriting

SEO Copy Manager Richard Hostler answers in-house SEO copywriting questions.Brookstone SEO Copy Manager and Ironman (he completed the triathlon in July), Richard Hostler takes time out of his work, and workout, schedule to answer our in-house SEO copywriting questions.

Brookstone has such a great “voice” for product descriptions. How was this style developed, and what do you recommend to other in-house copy teams who are trying to determine their company voice?

We’ve come a long way from our early days of selling specialty tools via mail order. Back then, it was much simpler to communicate with customers in a single voice. As our product lines and business evolved, so too did our voice. Now we interact with customers across the country through our stores, catalogs, and email programs, and around the world via our website. Maintaining a single voice across all these channels can be tricky. We strive to keep all our copy informative and engaging, but most of all, fun. After all, we sell fun stuff. Our copy should reflect that.

Brookstone does SEO copywriting right. Do you have a formula down for creating your site content or tips for other copywriters to improve their style and technique?

One point I like to emphasize whenever I talk about SEO copywriting is that it has to be good copywriting first and foremost. Sure, you have to choose the right keywords and employ best practices in your site architecture, but that’s just loading the bases. If you want to score points with your customers or clients, you have to write interesting, informative and engaging content.

Since you aren’t the only one writing the copy, how do you convey the Brookstone style to your writers?

I encourage all writers to keep it simple. Advertising copywriters and SEO copywriters often overthink and overwrite their copy. Our writers need to find whatever is fun and unique about the product at hand and write around that. We have to get to the point quickly to catch the eyes of shoppers who are browsing online, but also tell an engaging enough story to keep the interest of customers who read all the way to the end. Once new writers understand how to keep their copy fun while writing short and long at the same time, they’ve pretty much got the Brookstone style.

What do you look for when hiring an SEO copywriter?

I look for three things. First, I look for a strong writer. This is by far the most critical trait. SEO is something that can be taught. Good writing isn’t. Second, I look for someone who understands the dual nature of SEO copywriting. We are writing for both the spiders and our human readers. Some people get tripped up here and have trouble communicating with both audiences fluently. Finally, I look for someone who really wants the position. I have interviewed dozens of writers over the years who haven’t researched me, my company or our products. If they won’t take the time to prepare for an interview, I have to question whether or not they will put in the research time necessary to be an effective SEO copywriter.

What advice do you have for writers (SEO or otherwise) looking for an in-house copywriting gig?

If a company has an in-house writing team, it will also have plenty of copy for you to check out. Whether this is print ads, catalogs, articles, retail signage, instruction manuals, technical pieces, emails, or any kind of web content, you can use it for two important purposes. First, you can decide if the company’s product set and/or style are a good fit for you. It’s very difficult to write engaging copy day in and day out about something that doesn’t interest you. Second, and this goes back to my answer to the last question, you can use the published copy to better prepare for your interview.

So, you asked me this question during my Brookstone interview. Now, here it is back atcha! What ís the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t take others’ criticism and editing personally. I had real trouble with this when I was getting started in my writing career. I would pour myself into a piece of ad copy or spend days on an article only to have it torn apart by someone higher up the food chain. It’s hard not to take that kind of beatdown personally, but that’s exactly what you have to do. Clients and in-house partners are often unclear when giving instructions for a project. I find that it requires a completed first draft before clear direction is given. Accept the perspective and criticism of others and don’t get defensive about your copy. After all, there’s plenty more (or at least there should be plenty more) where that came from.

Who is your writing inspiration?

My own special odd couple: Dr. Seuss and David Ogilvy. Dr. Seuss twisted, shaped, deconstructed and invented language to create stories that were fun to read and listen to but also touched on some pretty serious subjects. SEO copywriters do the same thing to some extent. We have to come up with creative ways to write around sometimes awkward keywords without offending our readers. David Ogilvy, on the other hand, was the father of advertising as we know it. He worked with big-time clients and wrote many iconic headlines. I have a Divid Ogilvy quote hanging on my office wall to remind me that I am a copywriter first and an SEO copywriter second.

What are the biggest challenges faced by in-house SEO copywriters and how do you overcome, or work around, them?

In-house work brings with it a measure of security and daily routine that can be equal parts benefit and stumbling block. It’s easy to settle in and lose touch with the latest SEO developments. It’s important to keep yourself informed and to constantly hone your SEO copywriting edge. SEO has a short and rapidly evolving history. It’s easy to fall behind.

Is there anything you want to add that our copywriting readers should know?

We have seen some major changes from Google over the past few weeks: all queries switching to “not provided” and the hummingbird update. As with most shakeups from Google, a certain amount of uncertainty has surfaced in the blogosphere. I, however, don’t believe this is a time to panic. In fact, I think it’s a great time to be an SEO copywriter. More than ever, Google is making content king when it comes to search. We may not have the same metrics we’ve relied on for years, but the nature of SEO is the same. Sites need rich, engaging content that feeds the increasingly important knowledge graph. As SEO copywriters, we are the ones who will write this content and help drive the future of search.

About Richard Hostler

Richard Hostler writes engaging copy that generates sales. He is currently the SEO Copy Manager at Brookstone, where he connects online customers with the best gadgets and gifts. When he’s not writing, Richard can be found training for and racing triathlons around New England. You can follow him through his website, LinkedIn or twitter.

 

On SEO & guest blogging: A smart talk with Ann Smarty

SEO ninja Ann Smarty discusses SEO and guest bloggingToday we’re pleased to share our chat with Ann Smarty, founder of MyBlogGuest and veteran SEO and internet marketing expert.

Here Ann discusses how MyBlogGuest works, her current passion for reviving Threadwatch, and her take on guest blogging for links.

You’re well known as the founder of MyBlogGuest. Could you share a bit as to how it works for freelance writers and blog owners?

MyBlogGuest.com was started as a simple forum with the only aim to connect people with one interest: guest blogging. I never intended to monetize it. It was just a fun idea quickly wrapped together with no budget behind it.

What happened next was a fun time of building the community, collecting the feedback and implementing it. In an effort to cover development costs we had to monetize it but the gist remained the same: We wanted people to meet and build relationships

Currently our features include:

  • Articles Gallery: A writer can upload his/her original guest article there for blog owners to come, preview and suggest their site to be its home. I think it’s a good tool for any blogger: Whenever they have too little time, leave on vacation, get a new job, etc., the Articles Gallery can be their source to support the blog. The Articles Gallery is 100% free from any money offers: We want the blog owners to only use the content if they love it! There should be no other incentive.
  • Infographics Gallery: The similar tool for infographics designers to find blog homes for their work. Together with the infographics we require an original text description to go with it. (My case study is here).
  • Articles Requests: A blog owner can leave a “request” for some specific guest article topic and authors can pitch ideas. The unique part of this feature is that ALL articles here are pre-moderated, so the blog owner gets an essentially edited piece of original content based on his/her specific requirements and topic. (Here’s a quick video).
  • Verified authorship: We comply with Google trends and encourage authors to verify the authorship of their guest posts (and thus digitally sign them). Blog owners may visit that section of “verified” content and allow established authors to guest post.

#1 Authorship example:Ann Smarty

 

 

 

 

#2 Authorship example:Ann Smarty

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are lots of other features including link tracking (for authors to be able to use a guest post elsewhere if the blog, for example ceased to exist), free Copyscape checks (to make sure all content is original), 24/7 moderation and support (thanks to our awesome team), follow-up reminders, free hand-picked and monthly updated “featured” requests lists, etc.

We still can’t stress the value of relationships enough!

Even with PRO membership I have always been saying: Pay for a couple of months, build some contacts with a bunch of bloggers and move on! Don’t use it as your only or main source of guest post opportunities. Go out and reach out to more bloggers, use MBG-powered connections to expand to “friends of your friends” circles, etc.

Lately there’s been some concern expressed by SEOs regarding Google’s warning about guest blogging for links. What’s your take on all this? Should this be a concern?

My main concern is the SEO community – people are too distracted and confused. SEOs just keep looking in the wrong direction!

I’ve said this before: Guest blogging for links has always been doomed. It’s simply not the way it should be used to work!

Instead of picking up to Googler’s work and inventing “red flags”, SEOs just need to grow up and make it work the right way, i.e., build a linkable asset (tool, whitepaper, great article, etc) and use guest blogging and social media to get an initial attention to it.

If you are doing your job right, you won’t have to keep writing guest posts just for the sake of gaining links: Links will start coming on their own!

If that’s how you are guest blogging, you will always be good! 🙂

You’re also very involved with the Threadwatch community. What is Threadwatch about?

Threadwatch is one of the oldest SEO communities. It’s been around since 2004! Then it was inactive for a while and Jim Boykin decided to revive it in January of this year. I happen to be Internet Marketing Ninjas’ community manager, so I was the one to oversee and manage the revival.

In my revival submission, I covered all the Google updates and news we had missed.

Since the re-birth we have redesigned it and added a couple of innovative features. One of the recently added is the “Marketing Conferences” page which enables users to mark conferences as “I am going to” and it will then be reflected in the calendar (as well as your user profile and on the conference page as well). Basically, it’s like a community-driven personal conference manager.

We are still undergoing the “beta” phase though: Looking for the “core” active members and editors who will create the “ultimate” voice of the resource and define its actual style.

Time will show but I would love to see Threadwatch to be the major resource of what is important in SEO and social. I don’t want it to be yet another list of “top lists”, you know. I want it to be the ultimate hub of in-depth SEO discussions: “Less noise, more signal” 🙂

But time will show… The community is organic in nature; you can’t always control it, so we’ll see where it goes!

You’ve been in the SEO and internet marketing profession for a considerable time now. What is your overall impression of the state of the SEO industry today?

I stopped counting years in SEO, to be honest. I’ve been involved long enough to understand that nothing essentially changes: Google is trying (and often failing) to find really quality content and SEOs are trying to “fake” it instead of actually trying to *build* it.

In the process, Google is getting more aggressive and SEOs are getting more sophisticated (instead of putting the same amount of energy into actually *building* it). Luckily, the SEO community is slowly but surely growing up and it’s been awesome to be part of that process!

About Ann Smarty

Ann Smarty is founder of MyBlogGuest, Branding and community manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas, co-founder of ViralContentBuzz and regular contributor to a number of top marketing resources. You can follow Ann on Twitter (@annsmarty and/or @seosmarty) and on Google+.

photo thanks to chrishusein

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Social search? Author rank? Terry Van Horne has his word

Candid interview with SEO/search expert Terry Van HorneTerry Van Horne is widely known and esteemed by the SEO and search community for many reasons.

He is held in high regard for championing SEO and search industry standards as the veteran SEO professional that founded SEO Pros. He is recognized as the Director of the not-for-profit Organization of Search Engine Optimization Professionals (OSEOP). He is known for his work with David Harry at the SEO Training Dojo.

Terry is also distinguished by his colorful character, straightforward manner, sharp wit, and merciless honesty when offering his opinion on industry matters – and I’m delighted he has done so here!

In this interview, I ask Terry for his take on social search, Google’s authorship, and the related G+ attribution issue. (His choice words about the latest buzzword, “outbound marketing,” were entirely unsolicited.) 🙂

There’s been a lot of discussion about Google’s authorship and its future as a ranking signal. Where do you see this whole author tag thing going?

Author Rank is a gleam in every popular blogger’s eye. I don’t think it has a hope in hell of ever being a bigger ranking factor than it is now.

In other words, if someone is plugged into the mother ship they see their friends and those they follow. Beyond that, author tags are only suitable for use in a very limited way.

The day they make it a ranking algo is the day you start seeing author tags on e-commerce pages.

In our initial discussion, you had mentioned a glitchy issue with Google’s attribution loop. What needs to be corrected?

Glitchy? I bet those getting caught in the “glitch” have a more colorful word for it.

To some extent it is broken with too much mis-attribution. Spammers are now picking up and targeting sites that are vulnerable to mis-attribution.

Google is trying hard to complete the circle between G+ profiles and anywhere they are found, so if a site is not using the author tag they are vulnerable to someone commenting and including a link to a Google profile.

Another way is if an author links to a G+ post. To some extent Google is forcing the use of the tag by making those not using it a target for highjacking authorship.

There’s also a lot of buzz about “social signals” in search and “social SEO”… What’s your take?

Think about it. This is SEO 101! If it is not indexable, it can’t affect rank. Correlation is not causation!

Most of Twitter is not indexable! Large portions of Facebook – same deal. Even Google + is limited by the privacy settings.

David Harry and I were interviewing Joe Hall for our “Search Geeks Speak” around the time he was promoting a social search tool, and he shared with us that he was surprised how much data is hidden on Facebook by privacy and other impediments.

IMO, Social is about verifying other signals like links and general promotion with buzz and legitimate engagement. For instance, an increase in the velocity of link acquisition should be accompanied by increased “mentions” and other Social buzz.

We found the easiest way to move video up the rankings was to accompany it with social activity. It is even more important for press releases and other more temporal searches, such as for events.

What are your top 5 favorite sources of SEO & search information?

SEO Training Dojo and the SEO Pros Community, David Harry, Bill Slawski, Webmaster Help Desk and Google Search – the last of which is by far the most useful resource I have to learn about anything from SEO to programming or the phone number of Buzz Buzz pizza! The best pizza in Toronto!

I don’t read many blogs as I would rather filter info through the community I’m hanging in. I see what’s worth reading or worse, what people need to be protected from.

As a veteran SEO professional, what words of wisdom would you offer the new SEO copywriter?

Concentrate on writing good copy because good copywriting naturally uses primary and derivative keywords which make the copy more understandable/readable and RELEVANT – because in the end “Google does not buy anything! Their users do!!”

Please the users and you please “the Google”.

You are known as an advocate for SEO & search industry standards. Could you discuss your work at SEO Pros?

SEO Pros and the Ontario registered NFP (Not For Profit) OSEOP (Organization for Search Engine Optimization Professionals) have been around since 2003. We were the first organization for Search Engine Professionals.

At times we have participated in the discussion of SEO Standards, and have always had upholding standards a requirement for being included in the OSEOP directory.

Currently we are moving our focus from Standards (basically there are many ways to the same goal) to Risk Assessment, which is less of a moving target.

I’m also a big supporter in the belief it has to be an inclusive process. I like the ideals of the RFC (Request for Comments) process* where anybody can participate by just following the framework.

Any parting thoughts you’d like to share?

People say SEO has changed a lot. On page optimization is same as it ever was and well, quite frankly, I don’t see link building and lot of what others call SEO as actually being SEO!

IMO, it is internet marketing/promotion or the new buzz word that annoys the F…. outta me … outbound marketing.

There ya go boys’!  An F bomb – the reputation remains unsullied!

CYa@DaTop!

Tmeister

* Request for Comments is the process by which many Internet Specifications and Protocols evolve.

 

About Terry Van Horne

Terry Van Horne has been developing and marketing websites since the early 90’s in various marketing and development positions, including: working as internet marketing manager for one of Canada’s largest real estate developers; SEO for an award-winning real estate company; and as search engine and marketing manager for ecommerce stores in the apparel and musical instrument industries. In 2007, he developed a YouTube Marketing Strategy for WorldMusicSupply, and to date those 300+ videos have received over 26,000,000+ downloads.

He is currently a partner with David Harry in the award winning SEO Training Dojo, a learning community, as well as three other marketing and industry news sites. Terry founded SeoPros.org, an organization for consumer advocacy and search engine optimization professionals, and is currently a Director of the NFP organization OSEOP that grew out of it.

photo thanks to fdecomite

Learn the latest SEO copywriting best practices with SuccessWorks’ SEO Copywriting Certification training – the only online SEO certification program independently endorsed by SEO Pros!

 

 

2012’s top 10 SEO expert interviews

The number 10 representing our 10 best interviews with SEO experts from 2012For us, 2012 was a year enriched with conversations with some of the best and the brightest in the SEO and search industry. From Jonathan Allen of Search Engine Watch to Jill Whalen of High Rankings Advisor, Eric Enge of Stone Temple Consulting to Dana Lookadoo of Yo! Yo! SEO, our guests generously shared their stories, perspectives, and insights with us.

So here they are (in no particular order): our top 10 interviews with a line-up of illustrious SEO visionaries, experts, thought leaders, luminaries…and really great folks!

 

Photo of Nathan Safran, SEO expert from Conductor2013 will be the year of the SEO”: an interview with Nathan Safran

Can you feel it? Conductor’s Nathan Safran did when his research, in partnership with Search Engine Watch’s Jonathan Allen, predicted that “2013 will be the year of the SEO.” Why? You’ll have to find out for yourself! Nathan also has some truly interesting things to say about Google’s Panda and Penguin updates, and the SEO and search industry as a whole.

 

Photo of Jonathan Allen, SEO expert, Director of Search Engine WatchInterview with the Englishman in New York, SEW’s Jonathan Allen/Part 1

And speaking of Jonathan Allen…the head honcho of Search Engine Watch shares the story – in intimate detail – of his path to his current role in part 1 of our 2-part interview. Did you know he began as a student of literature and philosophy? Learn more about Jonathan’s intriguing journey into the center of the SEO and search industry in this first installment! (Includes his break-through video, 50 SEOs, 1 Question).

 

A second photo of Jonathan Allen, to accompany part 2 of his interviewInterview with SEW’s Jonathan Allen/Part 2: A Search Manifesto

An in-depth interview unto itself, in part 2 Jonathan shares his unique take on Google’s search, social, and clean-up initiatives (i.e., Search Plus Your World, Google+, and Panda/Penguin). He also describes where he sees the search industry going with his provocative, self-described “search manifesto.”

 

 

Photo of Jill Whalen, SEO expert and CEO of High RankingsJill Whalen on SEO: then & now

One of the first women pioneers of SEO (she discovered SEO before it was SEO), Jill Whalen of High Rankings shares her trail-blazing venture into the industry. Starting with her analytical curiosity dating “waaaaay back to the early 1990’s”, Jill was instrumental in forging the SEO and search industry – along with her reputation as a leading industry thought leader and practitioner. She also shares her insights into the primary factors influencing SEO, the importance (and rarity) of truly good copywriting, as well as the impacts of Google’s data encryption, over-optimization penalty, and Search Plus push on the SEO profession and search industry.

 

Photo of Eric Enge, SEO expert, Owner of Stone Temple ConsultingInterview with SEO expert & master interviewer, Eric Enge

Renowned SEO veteran Eric Enge of Stone Temple Consulting is recognized not only for his expertise, but also his skillful interviews with the likes of Matt Cutts and Danny Sullivan. Eric credits his interviewing technique for allowing him to predict both the Panda and Penguin updates. Besides generously sharing his insights into how he sees the SEO and search industry evolving in the near future, Eric indulges us with a prediction for a huge update that should happen any day now…hmmmmm

 

Photo of SEO expert Jennifer Evans Cario of Sugar Spun MarketingOn SEO, social media & small business: An interview with SugarSpun Marketing’s Jennifer Evans Cario

Among the “second wave” of women who followed in the footsteps of the original SEO pioneers, Jennifer Evans Cario of SugarSpun Marketing shares her self-taught foray into SEO and internet marketing. She also shares her passion and childhood inspiration for championing small business, as well as her reasons for migrating from SEO and search to blogging and social media marketing. Along with her personal sharing, Jennifer addresses the intersection of search and social with her “Pinocchio Effect” theory, and talks about the thought processes behind her (then upcoming) book, Pinterest Marketing: An Hour a Day.

 

Photo of C.C. Chapman, Co-Author of Content RulesC.C. Chapman on SEO, Search Plus, and doing the unexpected

The widely recognized co-author of Content Rules, C.C. Chapman had relatively humble beginnings as yet another corporate employee. In his interview, Chapman shares a “high-level view” of his path to becoming a writer, speaker, and consultant, and why he loves Google’s Search Plus. He also speaks to the role of SEO in content marketing, emphasizes the importance of “doing the unexpected” with your content, and discusses why indeed content is king.

 

Photo of Debra Mastaler, SEO Link-Building ExpertQueen of Link: Interview with Debra Mastaler

Think link building, and you think Debra Mastaler. Like Jill Whalen, Debra is one of the first wave of SEO women who helped build the industry. Here she shares her story of her SEO beginnings – honing her link-building skills working for Whalen – and her holistic marketing approach to her profession (in fact, she refers to link building as link marketing). Find out what Debra has to say about the changing (pre-Penguin) link landscape, Google’s preference for big brands, and the plethora of link-building opportunities that social media and blogging have brought.

 

Photo of Matt McGee, SEO and Search ExpertMatt McGee on SEO & small business search marketing

The talented journalist and Executive News Editor of Search Engine Land and sister site Marketing Land, Matt McGee also finds time to write his own daily blog, Small Business Search Engine Marketing. In this interview, Matt traces his rise through the SEO ranks, discusses why he chooses to focus on small business SEM, as well as what small business owners need to focus on in light of the Panda and Penguin updates.

 

 

Photo of SEO Expert Dana Lookadoo of Yo! Yo! SEOYo! Yo! SEO’s Dana Lookadoo on Re-branding and SEO+

In our interview with another force emerging from the “second wave” of women in SEO, Dana Lookadoo shares her path to her profession. She also talks about her re-branding to incorporate word-of-mouth marketing and social media sharing with Yo! Yo! SEO (hence SEO+). So if you were ever wondering how Dana arrived at that name, you’ll find out here! You’ll also find out about her passion for educating clients, her thoughts about the state of the SEO industry, and her words of advice for the new SEO copywriter.

 

Interviews and corresponding posts by Laura Crest, Blog Editor

 

photo thanks to woodleywonderworks

 

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