How To Beat The Blogging Blues

Remember when blogging was fun? :)

Remember when blogging was fun? :)

Raise your hand if you’re feeling pressured to blog all the time.

Blogging is fun when you first start out. Then, for some people, blogging starts to get old. Writer’s block sets in. You learn that your 300-word posts won’t cut it in today’s Brave New Google World, so you have to write more. Your posts go up to 500 words. Then 700.

You start to get tired.

You read that it’s not enough to just blog anymore. You have to create standout content that truly differentiates yourself from the competition. Now, the magical blog post length is over 1,000 words.

And you don’t know how you’re going to do it (or pay for it) all.

My contrarian advice: Quit blogging so much.

I did. And it didn’t hurt my conversions one bit.

I went through the same blogging burnout a couple years ago. Once upon a time, my blog was publishing four days a week. My blogging editor was finding sources to interview and curating content, while I was writing posts, recording videos and developing the editorial calendar.

Suddenly, everything stopped. My blog editor quit and I realized I had an opportunity. I could stay on the content creation hamster wheel. Or I could jump off and try my own thing.

I took the leap.

About that time, I discovered Derek Halpern and read about his 80/20  blogging rule. Derek says, 20 percent of your time should be spent writing, 80 percent should be spent on promotion.

So I gave it a try. I sliced the blogging schedule down to once a week, I wrote longer, more in-depth posts and I spent more time on LinkedIn Groups and Twitter promotion.

The result: My conversions have actually increased.

For me, blogging less is actually better than blogging more.

I think this is happening for a couple reasons:

  1. I think the extra time I’m spending on content creation is paying off. The content is higher quality and clicks more with the reader. People enjoy reading it. It makes them want to sign up for my newsletter. It’s working.
  2. Extra promotion time means I’m driving more traffic to the site.

I mention my experiences to you, because you may be feeling the same blogging burnout. You may be cranking out blog posts for clients that fit their magical “write 750 words on X” requirements…but you know the posts won’t convert.

Or, you may work in-house and feel stuck. You may not have the budget to hire a full-time blogger, but you feel the pressure to blog constantly.

I’ve been there. If blogging less and promoting more sounds like a smart idea, consider these steps.

– Check your analytics 

You need to know exactly what to slice if you’re going to drastically reduce your blogging schedule. For instance, I’ve worked with firms that got a great response every time one of their engineers blogged. On the flip side, posts written by their PR department would fall flat (surprise!).

The results you find may be surprising. For instance, my content curation posts drove great traffic, but they didn’t help with any conversion goals (for instance, getting people to sign up for my newsletter.) They were also extremely time-consuming to produce. My decision: get rid of them.

–  Figure out a realistic blogging schedule

Now that you have a “do-over” chance, figure out what blogging schedule works best for your company. For my company, blogging once a week was perfect. For yours, you may need/want to blog more often. It’s OK to slice your blogging schedule down in baby steps to see what works.

– Consider how you can reallocate your time/resources to make your posts even better

Now that you have the additional blogging time, use it to create spectacular resources your readers need. Take a hard look at competing sites (whether local or national,) and consider how you can step up your blogging game. Can you write in-depth reports? Can you interview industry experts? This is a great time to check your keyphrase research, plus look at Quora and LinkedIn groups for content ideas.

– Build promotion into your editorial calendar

It’s not enough anymore to upload a post and watch for the Google results to roll in. Think about where you can promote your posts to get the biggest bang for your buck and set up a promotion schedule.

For instance, I post on various LinkedIn groups, Twitter and my Facebook page within a couple days of publication. If I cite an industry influencer, I make sure that I’ve mentioned her on Twitter or Google+. That way, she’ll (hopefully) share my post with her audience — and, yes, drive traffic to my site.

– Obsessively track your analytics

Confirm what’s working, what’s not and tweak your campaign accordingly. For instance, I like to track my weekly newsletter subscription stats and see how they relate to a blog post topic. If I get a lot of newsletter signups based on a blog post, I know I have a winner.

A special note for freelancers…

If a large part of your income comes from blogging, you may be thinking, “I can’t write fewer posts! I’ll lose money!”

That’s a fair point.

Instead of blogging more often, blog better. Consider offering your clients longer, more in-depth posts and pair those posts with some promotion. That way, your clients will see better results, and you’ll maintain your blogging revenue stream.

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Discount Your Copywriting Rates? No Way! Try This Instead.

copywriting rate discount

Is discounting your freelance copywriting rates ever a good idea. Really?

How many times has this happened to you:

You sweat and slave over a copywriting proposal. Finally, you get an email from the client. Success! They want to work with you!

And then you read, “Your copywriting rates are too high.  We were planning to spend about half that amount. Can you bring your price down?”

Ouch.

Now, you’ve got a dilemma. Should you discount your copywriting rates and get money in the door? Or should you hold fast to your price and possibly lose the gig?

It’s easy to get in panic mode and immediately offer the discount. But that may not be the best idea. Here’s why:

Reducing your copywriting rates reduces the value.  Let’s say that you charge $250 per page – and the client wants to pay $150 per page. If you meet your prospect’s price, you’re telling them, “I was padding my bid by $100 a page. $150 is the true value.” Not the best first impression.

–  An initial rate reduction makes it hard to charge full price later.  After all, if the client got you for $150 a page, why would they pay $250?  Would YOU pay an additional $100 a page if you knew that you didn’t have to? Yeah. I didn’t think so.

– It’s easy to resent your low-paying clients. And by “resent,” I mean “flake out because you have bigger, better-paying jobs.”  The client feels burned because they know that they aren’t a priority — and you feel burned because you’re doing the work for less money. Think this won’t happen to you? It can (and probably will.)

Fortunately, there’s a way to handle this situation so your client feels heard – and you get paid what you’re worth. Here’s how:

– Are you bidding on a large project? Offer a small discount if the client pays the contract up front. This solution is a nice win/win for all.  The prospect gets the discount they want – and you get a big check before you start!

(You DO get a deposit before you start work, right? If not, you’ll want to check out this video.)

– Offer to eliminate a deliverable from the agreement. Rather than reducing your copywriting rates, you could slice a page from the agreement, or reduce the consultation time. This strategy brings down the cost without having to slice your rates.

– Just say no.  Sometimes, the only thing you can do is explain to the client, “Because of the time it would take to complete your project – and the experience I bring to the table – I have to keep the cost as-is. Are you sure that we can’t work something out? I have had many prospects come back with, “We want to work with you, so I guess your rate is OK.”  Whew!

And if you do need to walk away, that’s fine. You know you’ll land another client soon – plus, get paid your full rate!

What about you? How do you handle it when a prospect requests a discount? Is there any time when you will offer a price reduction?

Make more money in your copywriting business + have more free time?  Heck yeah! Check out what the Copywriting Business Bootcamp can do for you! Classes start February 11th.

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[Updated]Why Do Freelance Writers Hate SEO Copywriting?

“SEO copywriting is low-paying, demeaning work.”

“SEO copywriting is synonymous with unethical projects.”

“[Much of this] SEO content is written by non-native speakers.”

In the words of Liz Lemon from 30 Rock, “What the what?”

I was amazed to read such angry posts in a LinkedIn group.  I knew SEO copy had a bad reputation in some circles. But I had no idea that some freelancers HATED the concept of SEO copy.

The sad thing is, their hatred is fueled by misconceptions. It’s true that spammy copy is out there. It’s true that some clients (still) insist on keyphrase-stuffed content (and will only pay $10 for 500 words.) And if you’re trolling Upwork or job boards for SEO copy gigs, well, you probably won’t find the cream of the money-making crop.

But here’s the thing: SEO content is good content, period. It was never – ever – supposed to be synonymous with spam.

Plus, profitable client relationships are out there. If you’re only getting paid $5/post, that’s not the industry’s fault — that’s on you.

Here’s how I responded to the “I hate SEO copywriting” LinkedIn comments…

First, I totally understand the feeling that some folks have about SEO copy. Companies like Demand Media have cheapened the concept and has given it a horrible reputation. It’s true that you’ll see ads promising $5 for writing 500 words – and those 500 words are mindless drivel, at best. It’s sad.

It sounds like what you call “SEO copy” is what I call “spammy copy.” *Real* SEO content writing – the type that Google likes (and doesn’t bounce out of its index) – isn’t like this. It’s always been about writing quality content for readers. Yes, you have to do certain things to help the page position in Google. At the same time, “certain things for Google” doesn’t mean copy that reads like, “Our cashmere sweaters are the best cashmere sweaters online. Buy our cashmere sweaters now for the best cashmere prices.”

Good SEO copy doesn’t read like this. It’s good copy first – and good for Google second.

I’ve been talking about SEO copy for 14 years – and I was a freelance copywriter before I entered the SEO space. It drives me NUTS when I see overly-optimized copy. Or I hear about clients who will only pay 10/page and they want something that’s keyphrase-stuffed.

Fortunately, Google is (slowly) bouncing those kinds of pages out of their index. The Panda update targeted thin, low-quality content – and sites like Demand got hit. That was a huge wake-up call for clients, SEO companies and writers. They were suddenly put on notice that bad content is…well…bad.

So please know that I’m with you when you talk about spammy copy. Also, please understand that there are many instances of good SEO content – Brookstone’s site is a prime example. Companies of all sizes have benefitted from good SEO content – I’ve seen it increase conversion rates, drive more traffic and help companies make significantly more money.

And there are many (quality) writers who are able to attract good, high-paying gigs. If it were all 10/page jobs, I would have boogied out of the industry a long time ago. 🙂

So, please know that not all SEO content is bad or spammy or repetitive. There are some “good guys” in the industry, too. 🙂

–Update–

Fast forward to 2016, five years later.

A lot has changed since the Panda update. Google got smarter, content marketing is the hot marketing strategy, and SEO writers are being tasked with creating quality, 10X content. Keyphrase research is still an important component of SEO writing, but writers have way more room to move.

In short, we’ve come a long way, baby.

Yet, the misconceptions are still out there. A well-known freelance writing expert said SEO was on its way out — unless someone wanted to work for $5 a post.

No, no, no, no.

Clients WILL pay more than $5/post. Keyphrase research-based writing is still important (check out this Whiteboard Friday for Rand’s take on keyphrase research.)  The success stories from freelancers and end clients are out there.

I’d love to share some success stories with these folks – they’ve obviously only seen the “dark side” of SEO content. Let’s show them the light.

If you’re a business that has benefitted from SEO content, please tell us how you’ve benefitted. Did you make more money? Increase the number of leads coming to your site? How has SEO content helped you?

And if you’re a freelance SEO copywriter, I’d love to hear from you too! These folks need to know that it’s not all $10/page, offshore work. There are real writers making a real living as an SEO content writer.

C’mon guys. Let’s show the haters that SEO content (that is, GOOD SEO content) is a smart business move. You shared some great success stories in the comments when I originally published the post. Let’s do it again!

(And I’m looking forward to your comments – thanks!)

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SEO Editing vs. Copywriting for SEO

Should you create original content? Or, should you SEO optimize a page that’s already on the site?

Freelance and in-house writers ask this question all the time. Their emails say, “My boss (or client) wants me to add keyphrases to this existing page. The problem is, the page isn’t very good. Will the keyphrases help? Or is better to rewrite it?”

That’s an excellent question that I address in the video  — or, you can read the modified transcript, below.

SEO copywriting and SEO editing — what’s the difference?

First, let’s go over the differences between SEO copywriting and keyphrase editing.

Keyphrase editing is also known as “on-page optimization,” “optimizing the text,” or “SEO copyediting.” The technique is to add keywords — either derived from the writer’s keyphrase research or received from an SEO — to existing text.

When a page is optimized (or edited,) the content is not rewritten. The writer may edit the page Title and meta description, but for the most part, she’s working with the existing content.

SEO copywriting usually refers to creating original content. The writer still conducts keyphrase research (or receives the keyphrases from an SEO.) However, rather than editing the existing content, she would write brand-new content and include the keyphrases (along with synonyms and related words.)

So you see, SEO copywriting and keyphrase editing are very different: one is working with existing text, and the other is throwing away the existing text and starting fresh.

Should you optimize your site? Or rewrite your pages?

So, when is a better strategy to edit existing pages rather than rewrite them?

It’s best to optimize a page (keyphase editing) when:

  • You (and your readers) already love the content
  • The page isn’t crucial to the sales process
  • The bounce rate isn’t too high

If you have content on your site you (and your readers) already love and it’s performing well, but it wasn’t written with keyphrases the first time around, the page may be a good candidate for keyphrase editing.

It’s also OK to edit the page when it isn’t crucial to the sales process. For example, I’ve worked with companies that have edited old blog posts and saw a great bump in search positions as a result. Editing FAQ pages and articles can offer the same benefit.

Finally, optimizing the page is OK when the time on page (or bounce rate) isn’t too high. You know that people are sticking around and reading the page once they’ve landed on it, so adding in some strategic keyphrases here and there is typically fine for that page.

An SEO content editor or an SEO copywriter usually handles the keyphrase editing. He may be someone you employ in-house, or a freelancer.

There are also certain times when it’s better to write original content, such as:

  • When the page is crucial to the sales process
  • When the page is a duplicate
  • When page conversions or time on page is low

If a page is crucial to the sales process, or is somehow intended to make money — like the home page, and subcategory pages such as products and services — it’s better to rewrite it.

You also want to rewrite the page if it’s a duplicate. This is common with  local landing pages, where two (or more) pages may be basically the same (outside of the city name.)

Also, when you know that the page isn’t working — you’re not getting conversions, the time on page is low, and people are bouncing out quickly —  rewrite it. Readers are telling you they don’t like the page by leaving as soon as they can.

Sure, you can edit the keyphrases into a poorly performing page and sure, hypothetically that page might position a little better, but it won’t help boost conversions.

Either a freelancer or an experienced in-house SEO copywriter can rewrite your pages. Also, an SEO content strategist could do the keyphrase research for you, as well as dovetail her research with the rest of your SEO plan.

Make sense? There’s clearly a difference between when you would write original content and when you can work with the existing content — and it’s smart to know those differences before you proceed.

(Editors note: I originally wrote this post in 2011. A lot has changed since then, so I updated the video and the transcript. I hope you enjoyed the post!)

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What Is An SEO Copywriter? 23 Questions, Answered

23 SEO Copywriting Questions, AnsweredAre you wondering what an SEO copywriter is, how much you can make and if taking the career plunge is right for you?

I’ve answered 23 of the most common questions I hear about the SEO copywriting profession. Enjoy!

What is an SEO copywriter?

An SEO copywriter writes content with two end-goals in mind:

  • The content is strategically written to position well in organic search.
  • The content must “click” with the target reader and help her accomplish her micro-moment search goal. For instance, the reader may want to learn something new (“I want to know,”) or find something to purchase (“I want to buy.”)

SEO writing contains keyphrases — words and phrases a reader would type into a search box to find the information she needs.

What are some other common names for “SEO copywriter?”

You’ll see terms such as:

  • Digital writer
  • SEO writer
  • SEO content writer
  • SEO content strategist
  • Web content writer
  • Web writer.

Does “SEO copywriting” mean “repeating the same words over and over?”

No.

A common misconception is SEO copywriting equals keyphrase stuffing. Although some (uneducated) clients and employers request this kind of writing, it’s not effective in Google — and keyphrase stuffing is not considered SEO copywriting best practices.

Good SEO copy is good copy…with just a few (strategically placed) keyphrases here and there.

Where do SEO copywriters work?

SEO writers can work in-house or freelance for clients. Some writers do both — they have a full-time job, and freelance on the side.

What skills should SEO copywriters have?

analyticsAt the very minimum, SEO writers need to know how to include keyphrases into their copy according to best practices (which do change over time.) Other important skill sets include:

  • Keyphrase research
  • Google Analytics
  • Title creation
  • SEO article writing (more commonly known as “blogging.”)

More advanced SEO writers (sometimes called SEO content editors or SEO content consultants) also understand:

  • Schema
  • Content strategy
  • How to conduct a content audit
  • Landing page testing
  • Advanced analytics
  • Setting the editorial calendar
  • Influencer marketing
  • Some programming (and/or have some technical expertise.)

What other tasks do SEO writers handle for clients/their employers?

It depends on the organization.

Many freelance SEO writers handle all content production for their clients. This can copywritinginclude:

  • Newsletter copy
  • Email content
  • PPC ad writing
  • Sales pages
  • SEO article writing/blog posts
  • SEO content strategy.

In-house writers typically write web pages (including product pages and blog posts.) They may have other writing duties as well.

What knowledge does an SEO writer need?

At the very minimum, you’ll need to understand how to intelligently add keyphrases into the content. Some writers learn this by taking an online SEO copywriting course. Other writers may receive one-on-one guidance from an experienced writer. In many cases, the more training you receive, the more you’ll be able to write content that outperforms the competition.

There are some SEO writers who learn via online guides and blogs. As SEO writing is extremely dynamic — and things change all the time — this method is not recommended.

What kind of tools does an SEO writer need?

The main tool you’ll need is something that will help with keyphrase research.

An SEO writer can easily start out using Google’s free Keyword Planner — just know that it’s not ideal. Eventually, you’ll want to invest in a subscription-based tool, such as SEMRush, Wordtracker or LongTail Pro.

Down the line, you can look at investing in other tools, such as HootSuite or Buffer (for social sharing,) CoSchedule (for editorial calendar creation,) or BuzzSumo (highly recommended.) You could also invest in content optimization tools such as Optimizely.

rp_Smart-Mouse3-Skills.jpgHow easy is it to learn SEO copywriting best practices?

“Easy” is relative. Most people pick up on the foundational SEO copywriting best practices fairly quickly. Keyphrase research tends to take more time to learn — but most writers master the process (and actually enjoy it!)

Once the foundational best practices are mastered, you can learn other aspects of SEO writing, such as Schema, strategy and more.

I’ve heard that things change quickly. Does this mean I have to relearn everything?

Not necessarily. It’s true that SEO copywriting best practices have changed over time. Having said that, many of the fundamentals have stayed constant.

The best SEO writers keep up with Google’s ever-changing algorithm and “rules.” This way, when things change, you’ll able to tweak your tactics (if needed,) advise your clients and leverage current strategies.

Is it easy to break into SEO writing?

If you have some writing experience, breaking in is fairly easy — but it will take time.

If you’re a freelance SEO writer, “breaking in” typically means “landing a client.” The speed-to-market depends on many factors, including your niche, your experience level and how hard you hustle.

Some writers apply for in-house junior SEO writing or account management positions to get their foot in the door. More experienced writers can apply for SEO editorial jobs.

I’m a print copywriter. How easy is it to transition to SEO writing?

It’s fairly easy. There is a learning curve (especially around keyphrase research.) However, once you “get” it, SEO copywriting will be easy and almost second-nature.

briefcaseI don’t have any writing samples. Can I still get hired?

Yes, but you’ll need to show your prospective employer (or client) something — otherwise, they won’t be able to evaluate your work.

Ways you can generate samples include:

  • Volunteer for a non-profit and rewrite some of their content
  • Ask a business owner if you can write an article in exchange for a testimonial.
  • Find a mentor, ask her to offload some writing your way, and write for free (in exchange for feedback and training.)
  • Create a “hobby blog” and write about one of your passions.

What kind of companies hire in-house SEO copywriters?

The employment possibilities are endless. All types (and sizes) of companies, including B2B, B2C, and publishing companies, hire SEO writers.

Can someone specialize in SEO writing even if they’re not “technical?”

Yes!

It’s true that the more you know about the “techie” side of SEO (and SEO copywriting,) the more opportunities that you’ll have. I highly recommend reading everything you can about SEO (including how to code) and upgrading your skills.

Having said that, there are many SEO copywriters who partner with SEO firms. The copywriter writes the copy – and the SEO firm takes care of the “techie stuff.”

I’ve heard freelance SEO writing = content mills and low pay. Is that true?

Not necessarily. It’s true that some companies will pay only $10/article. However, many companies pay freelancers anywhere from $50 – $300/hour. How much a freelancer gets paid depends on his knowledge levels, his niche and how well he markets himself.

tombstone_png_by_camelfobia-d5ichmgI’ve heard that SEO writing is dead. Is that true?

No. It’s true that Google has gotten smarter, which is a wonderful thing. Things are shifting to more conversational search, which means that it’s easier to “write naturally” and include synonyms, related words, etc.

Having said that, keyphrases are still important — and without them, a site may not position. Here’s proof that SEO is far from dead.

What are some typical freelance SEO copywriting rates?

The per-page rates are all over the board. I’ve heard of writers charging $25/post — and companies paying over $1,500 for a single page. Some freelancers barely clear $20,000 a year. Others make six-figures.

The factors that influence a writers’ income include:

  • Her experience level
  • The types of clients she serves. In many cases, B2B copywriting pays more than B2C (but not always!).
  • Her business savvy. For instance, is she building relationships with companies that could send her work?
  • Her past results. SEO writers who can show ROI are often more in demand (and are paid more).
  • How much she hustles for work.

Here’s some information about how to set your rates.

moneyHow much can in-house SEO copywriters make?

According to Glassdoor, experienced SEO writers can earn over $50,000 a year (of course, the salary depends on experience and the company location.) I know a few SEO writers/editors who are making around $75,000 a year (plus benefits.)

What are characteristics of successful SEO copywriters?

SEO writers love to write, love to research, love to learn and love working online.  They also tend to have a high tolerance for change – which is good, since Google (as well as other providers) love to mix things up on a regular basis.

Higher-paid SEO writers tend to have some “technical geek” characteristics. Those geeky characteristics help them understand the more technical elements of SEO writing — and liaison more successfully with an IT team, an SEO provider, and analytics experts.

If you are the kind of person who gets bored easily, SEO copywriting is a great gig. You won’t get bored. At all.

What’s the one thing an SEO copywriter MUST always do?

The scariest type of SEO writer doesn’t update his knowledge and uses out of date techniques. If you want to be in this industry, you MUST keep up with Google’s ever-changing whims. Today’s best practices could be borderline spam tomorrow.

How can an SEO writer make more money?

There are typically four ways:

  • Improve your craft — learn everything you can about neuromarketing, direct-response writing, SEO, etc.
  • Be able to showcase demonstrable results. For example, case studies and testimonials can help position you as an expert.
  • Offer more content writing services (for instance, here are some to try.)
  • Ask for more money. About 75% of the time, writers aren’t getting paid what they want because they set their rates too low. If you work in-house, you can ask for a raise.

In-house writers may also want to freelance on the side.

What’s the job horizon? Will this still be a “thing” in two years?

Yes.

Besides, even if Google was suddenly able to read our minds and immediately understand the searcher intent, content will still be a “thing.” Someone will need to write those web pages, landing pages and blog posts.

Why not you?

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Briefcase / ID 8613058100 © shmectorcom / Flickr.com

Analytics / © Komal Bhesaniya / Wikimedia.org

Tombstone / ID 333146680 © camelfobia / deviantart.com

 

[Updated] 42 questions to ask your new copywriting client

I’ve had a number of people ask me, “What questions should I ask a new copywriting client” — and I’ve been pointing them to this post.

But then, I realized that I could add even more questions! So, I updated the post and clarified a few points. Enjoy!

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

Why? Because that’s how I learn. Whether I’m chatting with a new friend or a new client, I ask a bunch of questions. Then, I shut up and let them answer (yes, I know, this is more easily said than done!).

When you’re working with a new copywriting client, asking lots of question is the key to success. Sure, that means that you’ll be spending an hour (or more) on the phone. But just as you wouldn’t enter a marriage without a pretty solid “getting to know you” process, you shouldn’t start writing without a solid customer interview under your belt.

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

Here are 42 of my favorite questions to ask a new copywriting client – enjoy!

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

Reporting/set-up questions

  1. Can I review your analytics?
  2. Do you have any customer persona documents? Can I see them?
  3. Do you have a style guide?
  4. Can I see reports outlining your SEO/content marketing success, to date?
  5. How do we measure success? Conversions? Page positions? Social media love?
  6. Can I review your per-page keyphrase strategy?
  7. How did you arrive at your keyphrase choices?
  8. Do you need me to create the strategy and research the keyphrases?
  9. How important is it for you to position for a particular keyphrase? If it is a competitive keyphrase, are you prepared to spend the time (and budget) to make this happen?

Marketing questions

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

Process/procedure questions

  1. Who else will I be working with (for instance, an external SEO company.)
  2. Who is my main point of contact?
  3. Who will review the content?
  4. How long will it take to approve the content?
  5. How would you like me to send you the content? For instance, in a Word document?
  6. How often would you like to receive project updates?
  7. How will I know if the content is working? Will I have continued access to your analytics?

Photo thanks: ID 34597195 © Luis Carlos Torres | Dreamstime.com

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6 Ways to Handle It When A Client Changes Your Copywriting

Frustrated woman

Talk about frustrating.

You thought what you wrote showcased your best work ever. You expertly followed your client’s content marketing strategy. You chose good keyphrases.

You did everything right.

When you finished writing your SEO copywriting masterpiece, you could almost hear the harp music softly playing and feel the warm sunshine on your face. Your copy didn’t just sound good. It sung.

A week later, you see what the client actually uploaded. All of your tricky turn-of-phrases were gone. Your Title was changed from a compelling statement to a list of keyphrases. And your headline…you can’t even look at what they did to your headline.

You aren’t just mad.  You’re hurt. How could they destroy your copywriting baby like that?

Rule #1 of working with clients. They will change your writing, no matter how good you thought it was.

You’ve got to get over it.

At the same time, sometimes, clients make really bad copywriting decisions. Maybe it’s because the legal department got involved and sliced half of the copy. Or maybe, your client passed your copy along to five different people — and all of them had their own idea of how the content should read.

Should you cry? Rant? Keep your mouth shut? The challenge is — if you say nothing and the copy flops, the client may think the poorly-performing content is your fault. So you have to say something…but you have to do it the right way.

Here’s how to handle it.

– Leave your ego at the door.

Sure, it’s easy to get miffed when a client tweaks your SEO copywriting genius. But take a big step back before you send that nastygram. Did the changes mess with anything important (like the keyphrase usage.) Is the tone and feel consistent? Does the edited copy stick out like a sore thumb?

If there’s no real damage to your conversion strategy, keyphrase strategy or Title, it’s probably not a big deal (except, of course, to you.)

–  Check-in with the client. 

It’s tempting to write your client a “WTF did you DO?” email. Very tempting. Don’t do it.

And don’t send any email until you are calm, cool and collected.

Once it’s safe to ping your client, try an approach like, “I noticed that you changed the Title. Can you help me understand why?” After all, there may have been a good reason your client did what she did (no matter how much their changes make you die a little inside.) If there wasn’t a good reason, and your client is shooting herself in the SEO (and/or copywriting) foot, it’s time to…

 – …Put your education hat on. 

Educating the client helps them make more informed decisions — and can often help them see the “SEO copywriting light.”

If your client added a bunch of nonsense paragraphs because their SEO told them to, point out exactly how the new copy could hinder conversions. If your Title was totally tweaked, help your client understand how Titles need to be keyphrase-rich, yes – but also compelling and clear.

Don’t forget to add links to articles and blog posts that echo your sentiments. That way, the client sees that multiple experts feel the same way you do — and it adds credence to your position.

If you’re not feeling 100% confident about educating your client, know that SEO Copywriting Certification students can get writing feedback and ask questions about client situations. Sometimes, it’s nice to have an expert in your back pocket.

 – Offer a compromise.

Can you see areas you could improve? Depending on the scope of work, it’s sometimes worthwhile to tweak the copy one more time, and merge the client’s changes with your original text. Sometimes, a little copy-massaging can go a long way — and the client will (hopefully) see the difference between their edits and your shining final product.  Or, if nothing else, you’ve made the page just a little bit better.

 – Try testing.

If a client is sold on their 1,000-word sales page — and your version is 200 words — see if the client is open to copy testing. An A/B split test will provide irrefutable data about what really works (rather than what she thinks will work.)

Be warned that you may find that your client was right, and you were wrong. That’s OK. It will be a kick in the ego, but it’s OK. It’s better to be wrong than (inadvertently) cost the client cash.

 – Let it go.

At the end of the day, your client is the “decider” – not you.  If you’ve emailed your thoughts, backed them up with evidence and discussed the SEO ramifications – there’s not much else you can do.

Give it some time and see if you can revisit some options at a later date (like A/B testing, or tweaking the copy.) A few months of so-so results may help the client be more open to your expert advice – and you can finally start showing them what good SEO copywriting can do.

Photo credit: © | Dreamstime.com

Freelance Writers: Want to Make More Money? Here’s How…

online-training

Discover 4 ways online training can land you top freelance copywriting gigs!

As a freelance writer, you know that competition for writing gigs is fierce!

You’ve all heard the dreaded “everyone’s a writer” phrase, which devalues the work of really great writers.

But wannabe professional writers aren’t your only challenge.

Websites like Elance (yes, I’ve got a profile on there, too – *hangs head in shame*), pit freelance writers against each other in a race to the bottom of the pay barrel.

So, everyone can “write” – and usually, they’re all writing for peanuts!

Wow.

But that’s not all!

The freelance writers who do command more than pay-per-peanut rates aren’t “just writers” – they’re professionally trained as SEO copywriters, content strategists, graphic artists, and more. These talented people can measure the results of their work and make tweaks to improve its performance.

Are you panicking yet? Yes? You were already panicking about it before you read this? I know, sorry, BUT here’s the reality…

While you should be able to command higher pay based on your stellar, persuasive, always-on-deadline writing alone, that’s unfortunately not the reality we live in.

Thankfully, like your writing style, you’re adaptable. There is a way to stand out above the competition, and you can do it.

I know you’ve heard this before, but sometimes you have to spend money to make money.

I’m talking about training – where you get awesome knowledge, and often an awesome badge to prove it, in exchange for your hard-earned money.

I know, you’re probably thinking: But I regularly keep up on my training for free with all of the awesome resources available.

That’s what you’re doing on this site right now.

I thought the same thing.

But I broke down and paid for a training – Heather’s SuccessWorks SEO Copywriting Certification training, to be exact. (OK, before you get all AHA! on me, I’m not being paid to write this. Hear me out.)

Turns out you get a lot more out of online training than the structured knowledge that you paid for.

Sure, paid online training goes into much more detail than the stuff the experts give out for free (naturally), so you’re advancing your skills beyond what you can learn otherwise.

That’s great. You probably knew that.

But paid online training gets you ACTUAL PAYING WRITING JOBS. Like, for real. And not always in the ways you might think.

Here are four ways that purchasing online training can help in landing you more writing gigs.

1. The expert might hire you

If you purchase someone’s online training, that someone is more likely to hire you when they have an opening to fill on their content team.

They know you have the skills to do the job because they just trained you.

That’s what happened for me after I took Heather’s training.

She happened to have a Blog Editor opening on her SuccessWorks team just as I’d finished taking her SEO copywriting training, so she thought of me to fill the spot. I also happened to have an editorial background that helped land the gig.

One of my favorite quotes sums up this scenario perfectly:

“Good fortune is what happens when opportunity meets with planning.” – Thomas Alva Edison

For me, and probably for most of you, it’s a dream come true to work for someone you really admire and whom you consider the utmost authority on the topic you’re studying.

Not only can taking their training help you get a gig with them, having that impressive gig on your resume and those writing samples in your portfolio will land even more writing gigs.

2. The expert may recommend you

This ties in with number one.

When you take an expert’s online training, that expert may recommend you for work. That’s huge!

Why do they do that?

There are a few reasons:

  • They now have proof that you know what you’re doing.

As mentioned above, you taking their course proves to them that you have the skills necessary to rock at whatever you trained for. Now they know that you won’t embarrass them if they recommend you to colleagues.

Another bonus for them – they’re now a resource to businesses for quality writers. That adds value to their own business offerings. Recommending you actually helps them keep and generate business.

  • They want you to succeed.

Boy, that’d be super embarrassing if you offered an online training and none of your trainees succeeded in landing freelance or in-house writing work.

It benefits the instructors offering online training for potential customers to see you wildly succeed. That generates more online training business for the instructor.

  • They want to give back.

Your guru may want to give back to you for purchasing from them.

One way they do that is by sending writing jobs your way.

For instance, Heather has an email list for her SEO Copywriting Certification grads. It’s chock full of good stuff – including the occasional paid writing opportunity!

Copyblogger has a page on its site that recommends their Content Marketing Certification grads to businesses that need a content marketer. I’ve received a lot of inquiries through this site. They also occasionally include writing jobs in emails to certification grads.

3. Potential clients see evidence of your skills

Badges! Yay!

I love badges. I think everyone loves badges. Honestly, who doesn’t love badges?

Anyone considering selling online certification training shouldn’t even bother if they don’t offer a certification badge that graduates can display proudly on their site – if not on their foreheads.

More than just an ego-boost, badges are a quick way to draw attention to your skills and can help business owners and managers decide who to hire.

Otherwise, who knows if you’re credible? You’re just these guys.

If a marketing manager who knows and loves HubSpot (there are a lot of them) needs some content help, they’ll gravitate toward a writer who has that HubSpot Inbound Certification badge on their site because they know that you know the inbound methodology that they use to create content.

As you know, you really shouldn’t write anything online (except maybe your personal blog that you hope nobody finds anyway) without SEO writing skills, but it’s hard to prove those skills to potential clients without formal training. Badges offer quick proof.

4. New skills land you more clients — and higher paying jobs

So maybe this should’ve been number one — but it’s also the most obvious.

When you spend the money and take the time to keep up with your writing skills and learn new ones, you’re qualified to take on new types of work, can offer more services and can CHARGE MORE MONEY for the value you’re adding to freelance writing clients.

With advanced SEO writing training, you can prove your skills to potential clients to land more gigs and charge them more for that service. Keyword research and other SEO copywriting techniques adds a helluva lotta value to clients, especially when (don’t we know it) they’re often optimizing for the wrong keywords.

Maybe you’re an awesome blogger with mad SEO skills, but you’re missing a huge chunk of potential clients because you don’t know persuasive copywriting techniques. AWAI offers a well-known copywriting certification course. Writing copy that sells brings in big bucks for you and your clients.

Get that training and get writing – plus, a bonus!

Now that you know how purchasing online training can land new freelance writing gigs, get to it!

Do some research and find out what skills would help you the most.

Maybe you’re awesome on the writing-skills front and just need to learn how to find more clients. Well …

That leads me to my bonus way that paid online training leads to more writing gigs.

There are paid online trainings (SuccessWorks and AWAI offer two of them) that teach you how to find freelance writing clients! Instead of going it alone, you can learn how to ramp up your business faster — and make more money, more easily.

Yes, training is an investment. Yes, you will need to spend time to go through the course and complete the exercises.

Yet, the benefits are well worth it — and you’ll be able to take your freelance writing business to the next level.

Have you experienced other ways that paying for online training has helped you land writing jobs? Let’s talk about ‘em in the comments below!

Connect with Tracy on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+

Photo credit to LeanForward If | Flickr.com

10 Stupid Business Mistakes Smart Writers Make

Are you struggling in your freelance writing business and you don’t know why?

Don't burn out. Make more money, instead.

Don’t burn out. Make more money, instead.

There’s nothing worse than working your butt off and feeling tired, burned out and poor at the end of the day. If you’re churning through clients and feeling like you’re making less than minimum wage, you know you have a problem.

Good news, if you’re in this position, you can easily fix it. Bad news, it may mean changing your process, how you spend your time – even how you communicate with clients.

Once you overcome what’s holding you back, you’ll be able to transform a business #FAIL into a fantastic (and profitable) way of life.

And that’s pretty cool.

Here are the ten most common business mistakes I see smart writers make:

Missing deadlines

Never, ever miss a deadline. Period. It makes you look flaky and puts your client in a very bad position. If you know up front that you can’t make a deadline, express your concern or don’t take the gig. I’ve seen writers get fired after missing one deadline. Don’t let this happen to you.

Oops, did I forget to invoice again?

Forgetting to invoice clients

How much would your cash flow improve if you collected everything that was owed you? It’s amazing how many solopreneurs forget to invoice their clients and end up in a cash crunch at the end of the month. Services like Paymo and FreshBooks can help, and they’re easy to use. If you need additional help (or you hate billing,) find a VA who can invoice for you. It’s that important.

P.S. Clients hate it when you send one invoice for three months of work and say, “Oops, I’m a bit behind. Please pay this immediately.” Doing this once could cause you to lose the client forever.

Asking if an invoice has been paid three days after sending it

Your personal finances are not your client’s problem. If you want your invoices to be paid up front or net 15, put that condition in your contract. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait for payment like everyone else.

Besides, if you do send a “please pay me” email, it screams “I’m desperate” – and you’ll turn off your client. Certainly, you should check in if it’s been over 30 days or if the check is late. Otherwise, makes sure you always have enough money in your account to help float any receivables.

Dropping the communication ball

Your clients will love you if you send them quick status report emails and answer their emails quickly. Good customer service is so rare that this one little thing will make your service shine. Waiting days to email because “You don’t know anything yet,” will drive your client nuts and cause them to think about you in cranky ways.

Talking about leads/clients on social networking sites

One of the best business pieces of advice my father gave me was, “Keep your mouth shut.” Congratulate yourself if a big fish comes your way, but don’t talk about it on Twitter or Facebook. I have seen writers kicked out of the running (or fired) because they said a little too much. If you treat everything as confidential, you never have to worry about saying the wrong thing. 🙂

Not having a well-optimized, compelling site

How can clients trust you to do a good job with their site if your is poorly designed, you aren’t positioning for anything, and the writing looks like an afterthought? Richard Hostler, Senior SEO copywriter from Brookstone, recommends new copywriters optimize their site for their name, as well as their other top keyphrases. When clients type your name into Google – voila – your name will pop up in the top spot, and they can read all about you.

This button says it all.

Being afraid to speak up

I’ve chatted with scads of copywriters who say, “The agency gave me a list of bad keyphrases, but I’m afraid to say anything to the client.” You know what happens after that – the page doesn’t position, and the writer gets blamed for sub-par work.

If something doesn’t work, speak your mind! Tell your client why. Back up what you say with data. Your client may choose to ignore you, and that’s their choice. If they come back to complain about their poorly performing page, you can remind them of your recommendations and see if you can steer them in the right direction.

Not keeping up-to-date with the latest SEO news because you “don’t have time.”

There is nothing more embarrassing than an informed client asking a question about the latest Google update – and you having no idea what they mean. Make sure that at least 10 percent of your day is spent educating yourself on the latest and greatest. Yes, it sounds like a lot of time. Yes, it’s that important.

Holding yourself back

Expanding your business is scary. So is taking on larger clients, asking for more money per page or taking a vacation when you know you really need it. Plan out what you want to do and do it. If you “fail” – so what? Pick yourself up and try again. This goes along with…

Not taking care of you

I’ve said it before – if you don’t take care of yourself, you put your entire business at risk. Play with different work/play schedules and see what works for your lifestyle. Laugh with your friends. Eat well. Exercise. Your energy levels will skyrocket if you do. Trust me.

What about you? What stupid business mistakes do you see new and established SEO writers make?

How to Survive the Business Dark Times

This is an “oldie-but-a-goodie” post that originally ran in 2010. I’m re-running it today because I’ve received two emails this week from folks who are stuck in a bad business hole. If that’s where you are too, please know that things will get better soon. Really.

Enjoy the post!

Sometimes, I receive an email that’s so compelling that I need to respond right away. This is one of those times.

The note said:

“I’m a freelance online copywriter. I’m busting my butt to get clients and doing all the necessary marketing (email, networking, social media, article marketing, etc.). However, I’m still not getting the results I desire, but I see my colleagues who do the same exact thing that I do, and they are making a killing.

I don’t want to sound like, ‘Woe is me,’ because that’s not me. I’m dedicated, passionate, and a fast-learner. I guess the question is, have you experienced this kind of ‘stuckness’ when you were just starting out? If so, what did you do to get past this phase? Please note, that I’m managing social media for two clients a month as well.”

Ah, I call this phase “surviving the dark times.” And yeah, it’s tough. I distinctly remember going through this about 14 years ago and feeling so frustrated that I threw a wicker chair against a wall. I knew what I wanted. I could SEE it. I just couldn’t figure out how to make the money flow.

Obviously, I pulled out of it. That doesn’t make me smarter or better. I just had a vision, and I stubbornly held on to it – and eventually, everything worked out.

You may have seen this in your own business – whether you’re a freelance writer, a small business owner, or even a partner in a corporation. You’re working mondo hours and not seeing the money you want. You’re waking up at 3 a.m. thinking about money.

And there’s a little voice inside of you whispering, “Give it up. You can’t do this. Close down and start over.”

Are you tired of hearing the “helpful” whispers?

 

Maybe you subscribe to a few newsletters in the hopes that they get you back “on track.” But the newsletters almost make it worse. Every headline talks about how much money everyone else (except you, of course) is making. You read inspirational stories about people who make it big within six months of opening shop.

And that little voice inside of you whispers even louder, “Forget it. You’re wrong. Other people know the secret, and you’ll never succeed.”

Then you try talking to friends or to your spouse. They try to be supportive. They really do. But when they say, “Maybe this isn’t the right time…maybe you should get a real job,” it tears you up inside. You don’t want to talk to them anymore. So you close down and give up.

And that inner voice that used to be a whisper is now a full-force 3 a.m. taunt. You’re so burned out and demotivated that it’s hard to get up in the morning, much less work.

Here’s your compassionate reality check: This process is normal. It sucks, but it’s normal. And you will go through this many, many times throughout your career.

There are some great books on this topic (The Energy of Money is a great one) but here’s my take:

Running a business – like everything else – is cyclical. Some days (or months) you’re super-creative, motivated and in the flow. Other days, you wonder why the heck you decided to go into business for yourself. Some months (or years) you can’t keep up with requests for business. Sometimes, you happily talk to phone solicitors because – darn it – it was the first call you’ve received in weeks.

There is dark, and there is light. There is super-busy, and there is super-quiet. It’s all part of the process.

Your business will ebb and flow like the ocean. May as well relax and enjoy it!

Your freelance writing business will ebb and flow like the ocean. You may as well relax and enjoy it!

Plus – and this is just my opinion – most folks quit too early. They hit the dark times, and they freak out. The fear is too much. They lose too much sleep. Instead of following their passion, they do what’s “safe.”

Granted, there are times you do what you have to do to live – and there is no shame or judgment in doing that. Just know that it’s one thing to let your dream die and give up. It’s completely another to do everything you can (even if that means taking a part-time job) to keep that dream alive.

I strongly believe that we are rewarded for being passionate. When we’ve done the planning and we can see the goal on the “other side” – we will eventually get there. The trick is – and I know that this is easier said than done – stay calm, manage by facts, and take care of you.

Some positive steps that you can take right now are:

  • Take time away from your business. Seriously! It may feel like the “worst time ever” to do it, but you need the perspective. You need to be able to look at your business with fresh eyes (and a calm brain) if you want to move forward. Otherwise, you’re going to burn yourself out and involve yourself in “busywork” that doesn’t move your business forward.
  • Take a hard, hard look at your business focus. Hindsight is always 20/20 – and for me, I know that a lack of focus can decimate my business opportunities. You may be an “online writer” – but who is your target audience? Can you picture what she/he would look like? What her hopes would be? Her fears? It’s so easy to do “anything” to get money in the door that we stray away from what we really want to do (and who we really want to work with.)
  • Spend time every day with “the end in mind.” Allow yourself to feel what it would be like to work with that company you really want to work with. Or imagine writing the check that pays off that last credit card. Or finally having enough money to take a “real” vacation. Keeping that excitement and vision alive is paramount.
  • Celebrate your successes. It’s so easy to say, “Well, yeah, I’m making money – but it’s not the money I want to make.” So what? You’re making money! Congratulate yourself and pat yourself on the back. You’ll never be able to break out of your funk if you never feel “good enough” to celebrate your successes.
  • Don’t believe everything you read and hear. Although your colleagues may say that they’re “raking in the bucks,” know that it may not be true. After all, it’s very, very hard for entrepreneurs to admit that they’re losing money (in our minds, we call it “failing” – even if that’s not the case.) It’s a whole lot easier to say that things are “great” rather than admitting “Yeah, I’m feeling pretty scared.”
  • Take care of you. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, you’re all you’ve got. If you get sick from the stress, you’re going to put yourself in a worse situation. If you ignore exercise because you “don’t have time,” you’re going to feel worse and be less productive. I would watch every piece of food you put into your body and focus on high-quality meals. The better you feel physically, the better you’ll be able to handle any situation. (After typing that, I’m feeling a little guilty that I just munched the complimentary chocolate they gave me on the plane!).
  • Recognize the voices in your head. The voices telling you that you’re a failure at 3 a.m. aren’t real. It’s your fear coming back to bite you. Notice the voices. Laugh at them. Learn from them. But do not let them get to you. They are not real.
  • Know that your hard work is not in vain. At this very moment, someone may be discussing hiring you – you just don’t know it yet. Your life and financial situation can change with one phone call.
  • Get support from other entrepreneurs. My support network is comprised of search folks and local Portland business owners. I love them. I can go to them hurting and scared and frustrated and come away feeling fantastic. It helps to know that you’re not alone (and you know that you’re never alone, right?) Other people have gone through this multiple times. They survived. You will too.
  • Ignore the naysayers. They do nothing but sap your energy and make you feel bad about yourself.  If you walk away from a friend feeling drained and tired, you may want to keep that friendship “on hold” until you’re in a better spot.  You don’t have time for folks like that.
  • Finally, recognize that this is, in fact, a phase. It’s the darkness before the dawn. It’s miserable and scary and…a little bit exciting too. Once you’ve gone through this a few more times, the process does get easier. You start to recognize what’s happening and move through it a little bit faster. It doesn’t make it “fun.” Heck, I go through this phase kicking and screaming (sometimes literally!) But at least you may not take it quite so personally next time.

If you’re going through this – hang in there. Know that things will – eventually – be OK. And let me know how it’s going. We’re all in this together.