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Yes, SEO Can Ruin Content. Here’s How

Do you think keyphrase usage destroys well-written content?

Well, you’re right. Up to a point.

Way back in 2011, Lee Odden wrote “Content Strategy and the Dirty Lie About SEO.” At the end of the post, he posed the question – the question that’s been debated ever since “writing for search engines” started:

Do you think SEO ruins content?

My first reaction was, “Of course not. Good SEO writing is good writing — period.”

I still feel the same way.

But…the haters have a point.

Six years later, there’s still a bunch of SEO writing B.S. floating around:

  • Focus on one keyphrase per page, and repeat it at least X times.
  • Focus on X keyword density (why won’t keyword density die?)
  • Include a keyword every X words.
  • Exact-match your keyphrase at least X times in your copy.

Maybe you believe some of this B.S., too (it’s OK. This is a judgement-free zone.)

This B.S. is why some SEO copy is horrible.  Is it any wonder why some folks think SEO ruins everything?

So, here’s the real deal:

Yes, SEO can completely decimate content — if you’re doing it wrong.

Here’s how:

When the content is written/optimized by someone who has no idea what they’re doing

Most keyphrase-stuffed content I read comes from folks operating on incorrect information.

They do what their clients tell them (for instance, focus on one keyphrase per page) without knowing it’s wrong. These writers don’t know there’s a better way, so they keep doing the same (incorrect) things. Over and over and over.

The result is stuffed, stilted-sounding content that has no conversion flow. The page doesn’t position. The page doesn’t convert. It’s sad.

via GIPHY

Sadly, many writers think ALL SEO writing is poorly-written content. So, here’s a news flash:

Folks, if you ever think, “This post sounds bad. I had to work hard to add all those keyphrases,” you’re doing it wrong.

When the content is written “for Google,” without readers in mind

Raise your hand if you’ve been asked to write “1,000 words for Google.”

Yeah, me too.

SEO writing isn't "writing for Google"

Sadly, some folks believe that following a strict writing formula will help them magically position. These folks don’t care about the content’s readability. They only care about the keyphrase usage.

They may even come right out and say, “I don’t care if anyone reads this. I just want the page to position.”

Ouch.

This magical SEO copywriting formula may include things like:

  • Specific word counts because “all posts should be X words for Google.”
  • Exact matching a nonsensical long-tail keyphrase multiple times (for instance, [portland relocation real estate oregon].
  • Bolding or italicizing words that shouldn’t be bolded or italicized.
  • Repeating all keyphrases X times in the first paragraph.

If you find yourself following a weird writing formula that makes the content read like gibberish, know it’s not true SEO writing. What’s more, following a writing formula won’t help you position. The best bet is to learn the right way to do things and throw those useless old rules out the window.

Don’t believe me? Check out Google’s Quality Raters Guidelines and see how Google defines low-quality content.

When the Titles are filled with keyphrases, with no conversion focus

This is a pet peeve of mine.

Get rid of Title pipes

I’ve discussed before how overly-optimized Titles are an inefficient branding method. The search results page is your first conversion opportunity. A Title that’s chock-full of keyphrases isn’t as persuasive as one that’s benefit-rich:

Which listing would get YOUR click?

GEICO’s “you could save $500+” is a fantastic benefit statement, and blow’s Progressive’s keyword-focused Title out of the water. Esurance is a runner-up since they include the benefit “fast” — but the Title could still be better.

Need more “good” and “bad” Title examples? Here’s a great post from Search Engine Watch.

SEO doesn’t ruin content. It’s “stupid” SEO that messes things up

Smart SEO doesn’t ruin good content. It enhances it – making it easier to be found in search engines and shared via social media. If you’ve mastered the art of online writing for both engines and people, you have a very valuable skill set.

On the flip side, yes, stupid SEO will ruin content. And your conversions, too. As my father used to say, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” – and repeating a keyword incessantly will not suddenly transform the page into “quality content.”

It reminds me of what some folks say about sales copy being too “sales-y.” There’s a way to include a call-to-action that gently leads someone to the next action step. And there’s a (wrong) way to do it that beats them over the head with hyped language, bold and italics (Hmm. now that I think about it, what IS it about bolded and italicized text?).

What do you think? Is SEO the death of good writing?

Looking for a low-cost way to learn the SEO writing ropes. I’m running a 3-part webinar series! Check it out!

Want to Write A Sizzling Services Page? Check Out These 7 Tips!

Want to know the secrets to writing a top-converting services page?

Unlike product pages, which are all about landing the sale, service pages are different.

It’s all about getting the lead.

With that in mind, here are seven smart strategies for capturing leads with savvy SEO copywriting.

Watch the video for all the juicy information, or check out a summary of the tips below:

1. Focus on benefits, not features

Don’t bury your benefit statements! It’s important to address how your service can specifically help your prospect. For instance, will your service save your customers money? Help them make more money? Streamline their operations? Tell them!

Features are important– but it’s your unique sales proposition (U.S.P.) and benefit statements that will grab your prospect’s interest and make them contact you. Merely listing features makes you sound the same as everyone else providing the same or a similar service. Who wants that?

2.  Consider persona-specific landing pages

Creating landing pages specifically addressing your main targeted audiences is a powerful strategy.

Constant Contact, an email platform, used to show vertical-specific landing pages targeted towards individual industry niches. I LOVE this approach. Why? Vertical-specific pages have very cool SEO and reader benefits.

From the SEO side, vertical-specific landing pages allow you to target highly specific keyphrases, for example [email marketing for real estate agents].

From the reader side, you can tie your writing back to your customer persona and drive home the “what’s-in-it-for-them” benefits. For instance, in the case of Constant Contact, people won’t just read about how cool email marketing is — instead, they’ll read an entire page focused on the benefits of email marketing for their industry. That’s a pretty powerful message!

3.  Don’t write skimpy copy

67% of the B2B buyers’ journey is done digitally, according to Forrester Research. That means if your site offers skimpy information and little copy, you run the risk of prospects leaving your site and checking out another vendor. Remember, people won’t “just call” or send you an email. No solid services information = no sale.

4. Include solid, vertical-specific testimonials

Yes, testimonials are smart to have on your site as social proof — but they are only as credible as you make them. Whenever possible, use the full, real names of your testimonial clients rather than just initials.  The latter can look fake (however real they might be) and could prove counter-productive.

5.  Highlight your company’s overarching benefits, too

Besides individual, specific service benefits, you want to highlight the larger, big-picture benefits that your company has to offer on every single page of your website.

Do you offer free, fast shipping? Does your company offer “white-glove” services, while your competitors offer a DIY solution? Shout your overarching benefits from the rooftops!

Boring B2B and B2C companies list technical features and facts, assuming that’s all their prospect wants (or needs) to know. Don’t be like those companies! In the words of Theodore Levitt from Harvard University, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.”

6Pay close attention to your page Titles

Yes, Titles are very important to readers and for SEO purposes — and it’s crucial to write them right.  If you create vague, non-descript Titles with broad keywords, such as “marketing services” or “web design,” you won’t see the positions you want — nor will you see much organic search traffic.

If your Titles are so-so, consider revisiting your keyphrase research and making some strategic tweaks. You may see a boost in page positions (and search traffic) if you do!

7.  Consider conducting keyphrase research before you name your services 

A cool-sounding, unique service name may seem edgy — but it may not be intuitively searchable. Naming your service something like “Revenue $ucce$$” when you offer “accounts payable services” may make your service hard to find online.

Some companies will conduct keyphrase research before naming a service. That way, they know what words people are using to search for what they offer — and they can consider using those search terms as part of the service name.

Looking for more how-to information? Learn how to write a killer home page and a revenue-driving product page!

Looking for a low-cost way to learn the SEO writing ropes? Check out my SEO Writing: Step-by-Step webinar series.

 

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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Photo thanks: © Bakhtiar Zein | Dreamstime.com

 

“Weird, Useful, & Significant”: World Building with Ian Lurie

planet earthAs an online writer and/or digital marketer, at some point you are sure to come across Portent’s CEO of 20 years, Ian Lurie (if you haven’t already). His wicked sense of humor is matched only by his expertise in all things content and internet marketing.

Here, Ian addresses questions about content visibility beyond the blog, world-building (he loathes the term “content marketing”), and creating “entry points into our world: weird, useful, and significant.”

Hope you enjoy Ian’s interview as much as we did!

In your recent ConfluenceCon presentation you covered a lot of digital marketing ground. One of your main points was about making great content visible beyond the on-site blog.

Specifically, you mentioned using the Open Graph (OG) Protocol and Twitter Cards for social visibility. Could you translate what those are in non-techie speak?

Twitter cards and OGP markup improve the way your content is represented out in the world. In terms of world building, they make the entry points more attractive, and make it more likely that customers will take the first step towards interacting with you.

In practical terms, Open Graph Protocol is something Facebook uses when you embed a link in your newsfeed. Sometimes, when you embed a link, the result includes an image, a site name, etc. The site owner can provide that information to the Facebook crawler using Open Graph Protocol. The more information they provide, the more Facebook can enhance the listing.

In nerdier terms, Open Graph Protocol is a markup standard. It’s code you can embed in a web page that provides additional information, just like meta tags. With it, you can define the page’s topic, title, author, a thumbnail image you’d like displayed when the page is cited and a bunch of other information.

There are also specific OGP attributes you can define for music, videos, products and such.

Twitter cards are similar to OGP. They let you specify images, videos and such that can attach to a tweet of a specific web page. You can link to direct download/install of mobile apps, embed videos, audio, images and thumbnails and set properties like titles, descriptions and the linked site.

You also addressed off-site content marketing, citing SlideShare and free Kindle e-books. What are some general tips for content creators to best leverage these platforms?

It’s all about audience. Use the platform that gives you entry into the biggest, most relevant potential audience. That’s the whole reason for doing it. I know – duh. But when you’re leveraging third party sites, you want to be very, very deliberate about it:

  1. Make a really good case to yourself for using this or that site
  2. Understand the upside if your content is super-successful
  3. Understand what super-successful means on each site

Here are a few examples:

Most people visit the SlideShare for business information. If you want to get visual content in front of millions of business professionals, it’s the place to be. If you don’t have visual content, look elsewhere.

On SlideShare, it’s all about being selected “SlideShare of the Day”. That gets you home page placement, mentions on Twitter by @slideshare and all sorts of other publicity.

LinkedIn owns SlideShare. So success on SlideShare may transfer over to LinkedIn because users can easily share your presentations with their connections.

If that happens, you’ll get lots of visibility. But SlideShare also lets you place lead generation forms in those presentations. I’ve seen that generate leads in the past. Finally, you can let readers download your presentation. That puts your content in a person’s hands, which is great – it’s a permanent invitation to spend more time with you.

SlideShare delivers a very strong, clear invitation to enter your world.

You might write for Medium because you have long-form text content. Medium has a huge audience who come to the site expecting to see great writing in longer format. Medium recommends content to users – play your cards right and you can build real visibility.

There’s no direct business benefit, but Medium is niche-independent. I can make a case for using Medium if I have a unique topic, a non-business topic or a long-form piece in mind and no need for direct lead generation. Medium is the place to make a low-key, sincere invitation to the audience to enter your world and look around on their own.

Finally, look at Kindle e-books. Millions of people monitor Amazon for new free e-books. If you can crack any of the top lists, those people will notice. They can download your e-book and read through it. I’ll use Kindle if I have something text-based in long form and want to create a really lasting impression. Kindle is the rulebook – the detailed map for your audience to enter your world, start learning and really dive deep.

An intriguing part of your presentation is how each marketing campaign is a “little community”, and that we create many “entry points into our world: weird, useful, and significant.” How does a content writer find their “weird” and connect those dots?

You might find “weird” purely instinctively: For instance, I’m a cyclist. I know most cyclists are technology nerds. So I might write something about smartwatches, or the best cell phone cameras (for cyclists who want to take snapshots of that long climb they just did).

You can also find “weird” using tools that dig up random affinities: Ideas, likes and wants linked only by the fact that some people like both. That’s all about collaborative filtering tools.

For example, I love using Amazon’s “people who bought also bought” tool. Did you know people who buy cookbooks are really into de-cluttering (ironic)? Sounds obvious now, but I wouldn’t have thought of it. Or that people who buy diet books also read survival stories and books about direct selling?

And, of course, I hit Facebook a lot. You can use their ads tool to test interest categories and see what Facebook suggests. Before I knew Van Diesel played Dungeons and Dragons, I did a search on D&D and his name popped up. That’s pretty random (by the way, my lifetime ambition is to run a game for him). Also, did you know tennis fans like boxing? I wouldn’t have made that connection.

Collaborative filters aren’t always right. Sometimes they’re hilariously wrong. But they’re a great tool for mining the weird.

In regard to content marketing (“whatever that is”, as you said): what content opportunities are you most excited about right now? Why?

Hmmm. As a writer, I tend to always be excited about content J. No matter what the delivery device, it’s about our ability to effectively communicate. I love it.

But you’re going to ask me again, I bet. So… I’m very excited about this ongoing democratization: Sites like Medium and Netflix delivering their own series and increasingly sophisticated social platforms mean we can engage in some really interesting world building.

Real-time information delivery like Google Now is really exciting, too. I can see some real potential for ‘ambient’ content that provides a great user experience. Imagine being able to stand in a location and ask your phone, “What happened here in 1850?” As a history nerd, I find that pretty exciting because we can curate our environments. That may sound creepy, and chances are marketers will completely trash the concept, but a guy can dream.

So how would you define “content marketing”? Do you have a more accurate definition of what we actually do?

I hate the phrase “content marketing” because it’s become a cliché that refers to cranking out dozens of crappy blog posts. I’ve avoided it because the meaning’s been twisted and over-simplified.

What do we actually do? OK, get ready for some seriously trippy metaphysics:

People are surrounded by content. We’re steeped in it, with clumps and clusters of related content forming worlds around, say, our favorite football team, or the car we want to buy, or childcare advice.

Usually, those worlds are pretty random. We see an article here, a social media post there, a blog post in another place, and then we link them together in our minds.

Content marketing – or whatever you call it – deliberately creates worlds around products or ideas. It creates new content and links it to old, or vice versa, or one or the other. Then it creates points of entry – advertising – to bring people into those worlds. It’s intentional, and it’s immensely powerful.

That’s content marketing. Or, as I call it, world building. I don’t expect that term to ever catch on. It’s too geeky. But I like it. So there.

Connect with Ian on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+

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Beyond Keywords: Understanding Semantic Analysis

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

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

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

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

No, We’re Not Talking Code

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

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

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

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

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

Keywords are Short Sighted

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

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

You will need to educate clients to break that habit.

Identifying the Concepts

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

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

Consider the search query [jaguar]:

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

semantic-equivalents

 

 

 

 

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

Singular terms and/or phrases might include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Query Classifications

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

They generally break down into:

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

query-classification

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Putting it All Together

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

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

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

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

One Final Thought…

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

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

google-hummingbird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

Connect with David on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+

 

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.

6 (easy) ways to transform your content from meh into memorable

Guest author Jon Ball shares 6+ ways to transform content from ok to fantastic!The internet revolves around content. Communities, friendships, enemies, audiences, traffic, links, exposure – much of it comes directly from the quality of the content you’re able to produce.

So, if you’re looking to start a brand new blog, add a little zing to your content, or simply understand the basic rules of creating for the internet, read on.

First, a word – all content lives and dies based around added value. If you can’t find a way to add value within your content, you’re not going to see the results you want.

So, without further ado, here are six easy ways to beef up your content.

 

1) Include Research

Did you know that as of 2010, we are creating as much information every two days via the internet as we did from the dawn of civilization until 2003? (Techcrunch)

Take a moment and think about that. Seriously – from the dawn of time until 2003. That’s a lot of information. In 2010 we were creating that much every two days. Two days!

Make sure to involve some research in your content to liven up your material. With the amount of information circulating the web today there’s bound to be some data on any subject for which you’re looking to write copy .

Especially deep dive and dig for data that is:

  • Fresh
  • Unique
  • Timely
  • Surprising
  • Interesting

 

2) Add Personality

The biggest problem most corporate blogs face is a lack of personality. People are afraid to include their own humor, insights, and personal thoughts into their work when creating company content.

While this is understandable, content suffers heavily if personality is withheld. There’s nothing more boring than reading flat content. Inject a little life into it!

One of the best ways to ensure your personality shines through is to share a story in the content. Even a quick snippet injects a wondrous amount of vivaciousness into an otherwise vanilla piece.

 

3) Define the Value

Added value is the best recipe for great content. Create content that continually adds value for your target audience and you’re well on your way to success.

It’s not enough to simply have added value however – you need to define it. First to yourself, and then to your audience.

Start by telling how you’re going to enrich their lives. Explain what the value added is. Explain why the value is important to them.

Here I’d refer to the adage ‘you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink’.

If you don’t explain the added value, there’s a chance it will be missed. Especially since at least 90% of readers are actually doing more of a fast scan that actually reading each individual word.

So, save yourself and the reader some time and be upfront about the added value of your content. Your audience’s attention span demands it.

 

4) Use Intelligent (Descriptive) Titles

Intelligent, descriptive titles are an absolute must. With the amount of content being produced online each and every day, readers don’t have time to read a synopsis of each and every piece of content they encounter. They’re going to devote minimal amounts of time (think 5 seconds or less) to scanning titles and deciding whether or not it’s worth clicking on.

80% of readers never make it past the headlines!

There are many ways to optimize headlines, but your number one goal should be to spark interest. With such a low click through rate in online usage, if you don’t capture your reader’s attention you’re wasting your own time.

Good headlines should incite at least two of the following:

  • Interest
  • Curiosity
  • Humor
  • Surprise
  • Controversy

 

Don’t be afraid to aim for the feels and hit them right in the emotions. A good title is provocative, and demands to be read.

And don’t forget the basics – things such as including strong adjectives, direct value, important keywords, numbers, and calls to action.

 

5) Know Your Audience

Never write a single word until you know who it’s for. Personal writing for yourself is okay, just don’t expect people to take a look at it.

Many treat their blog as a sort of online journal, and then are frustrated when no one wants to read it. The world doesn’t revolve around you, nor your company.

So, if getting traffic is an inherent goal of your writing, you better be writing with a specific audience in mind.

Knowing your audience can lead to:

  • Targeted writing
  • Tighter focus
  • Better engagement
  • Actual value (it’s not valuable unless it’s valuable for the people actually reading)
  • Content ideas

 

The short and sweet truth is that if you’re writing without a well-defined audience (often referred to as a persona) then you’re wasting your proverbial breath.

 

6) Format for Readability

Optimizing your content for readability is extremely important on the web. Once again, you need to bear in mind the deluge of information facing the average internet dweller these days. Nothing will keep your writing from being read like a good old-fashioned wall of text.

So, break your writing in easily consumable chunks. Use elements such as:

  • Bulleted/numbered lists
  • Images
  • Charts/graphs
  • Short paragraphs
  • Snappy sentences
  • Videos

 

The internet is no place to wax eloquent – leave the prose where it belongs.

 

7) (Bonus Tip) – Include Links Out!

Often overlooked, don’t be afraid to have outward-bound links. Some site owners are afraid of directing traffic away from their site, but your audience will be much happier if you use links properly – to help support your content.

Supportive links can be the difference between subpar content and truly outstanding, informative content. If there’s a website that will support your message, don’t be afraid to provide a link. The internet being what it is, it’s impossible to give readers the full story in a single piece of content. Links are the perfect solution to this problem, by breaking the story into digestible chunks and allowing each reader to decide when and where to stop.

So don’t be afraid to link out!

 

And Finally – Make it Sharable!

If you’re creating content for the web – whether for personal or professional use – make sure you’re creating content worth reading and worth sharing.

The internet is a portal of information unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, and the average readers are responding by lowering their attention span – we see more advertisements, information, videos, headlines and just stuff than ever before. We’re absorbing more than ever before. And, if you can’t deliver meaningful content in mere moments, then odds are you’re speaking primarily to yourself.

So create content worth sharing – hopefully these tips will help you do just that!

 

About the Author ~ Jon Ball

Jon Ball is VP of Business Development for Page One Power. Jon specializes in the implementation of highly effective link building strategies for clients across the globe. In his previous life he was a professional portrait photographer, and still passionately pursues photography. Page One Power is a link building firm that focuses on relevancy and transparency.

You can connect with Jon on Twitter at @pageonepower.

photo thanks to *brilho-de-conta

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Penguin 2.0: Should you rewrite your evergreen site copy?

The pending Penguin 2.0 update may require you to rewrite your evergreen site copyWelcome back! In this video of the SEO Copywriting Checklist series, Heather discusses the impending Google Penguin 2.0 update and what it means for site owners and evergreen web content.

Matt Cutts, a distinguished engineer from Google, recently released a video announcing the next wave of Google algorithm updates. He specifically discussed Penguin 2.0, saying it will roll out this summer.

So Google is giving site owners a big heads up!

Also, on last weeks’ SEO Copywriting Certification call with Bruce Clay, he discussed Penguin 2.0 and what it means for site content. So Heather thought she would address this update today because it is a big deal to a lot of site owners!

Tune in to learn what web copy on your site might need rewriting, before the imminent Google updates hit:

Are Some Of Your Pages So-So At Best?

– Does your site have any low-quality posts or articles?

– Does your sales copy walk a keyphrase-stuffing line?

When speaking to the SEO Copywriting Certification folks last week, Bruce Clay advised listeners to go through their websites and locate those pages that are of so-so quality, and make them as good as they can be.

A lot of companies have these so-so pages on their site. They might not be technically keyphrase-stuffed, but they’re not necessarily high-quality or well-researched either.

These mediocre pages might be articles that you kicked out all at once and under deadline, so maybe you or the writer in question were working a little bit more quickly than normal. Or you might have some lower-quality blog posts on your site from way back when you first started out.

There also may be old sales copy on your site, where you thought you were supposed to include more keyphrases than you really should, and they are walking that keyphrase-stuffing line.

These are all examples of evergreen content that is ripe for a rewrite.

Also consider that you’re probably not getting much promotional value from them, because you know they’re not good. You never link to them, you never talk about them, and you may haven’t had the time or the inclination to go through your site and make those posts or those sales pages as good as they can be.

Well…

Now Is The Time To Make Some Changes!

– Google wants to recognize authority sites.

– Identify low-value and low-quality content and rewrite it.

– If your blog hasn’t been updated in months, it’s time to start blogging again.

In his Google Webmaster Help video, Matt Cutts made it very clear that Google wants to recognize – and reward – authority sites. And Bruce Clay emphasized in his presentation that if you have those kinds of pages on your site that are so-so at best, now is the time to revisit and rewrite them.

So identify that low-value and low-quality content! And if you don’t have time to go through and rewrite those pages, now is the time to find someone who can help you with it.

That way, when the Penguin update does hit, you know that all of your pages are exactly the way you want them to be: they are well-written and well-researched, and you’re able to link to them and refer to them without embarrassment!

And if you’ve neglected your blog for months, now is the time to get back to it. Again, Google wants to recognize and reward authority sites, and the way that you can establish yourself as an authority in your niche is by blogging about it – consistently!

If you tackle this evergreen content rewriting project now, then when Penguin 2.0 and other Google SEO updates roll out, you should be in good shape!

Thanks for tuning in! Have any questions or feedback? I’d love to hear from you! You can leave them in the comments, or email me directly at heather@seocopywriting.com. You can also find me on Twitter @heatherlloyd.

photo thanks to nick.amoscato (Nick Amoscato)

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SEO Copywriting Checklist: Are you writing content “for Google”?

Write SEO content for your readers, not for GoogleGreetings! Welcome to another installment of the SEO Copywriting Checklist series. Today, Heather gets back to the basics in discussing whether you’re writing content “for Google”.

The idea that you need to write content in a particular way for it to position well in search results is a tenacious misconception. It’s also an unhealthy one, both in terms of search engine appeal and user experience.

Tune in to hear what Heather has to say about writing “for Google” and how to correct for this stubborn tendency in your own SEO content:

“Gift Baskets” Is Repeated 9 Times!

So here’s an example of what writing content “for Google” can mean, where the term “gift baskets” is repeated nine times within a teeny-tiny block of copy!

I’m sure that the person who wrote this content didn’t do so thinking “Im gonna try to spam the engines and get up to the top results!” But the problem is that a lot of folks still think this kind of keyword stuffing is the way you write good SEO content.

Relax! Google Wants You To Write Good Content

So if this has been your mindset – that you have to write separate pages “for Google” or stuff the page full of your keyphrases in order to get a good ranking – you can relax: Google wants to you to write good, quality content. Really!

– Never write copy “for Google”. Write it for your readers.

Instead of hanging onto the notion of writing your content for Google, think about writing for your readers – always focus on their experience!

You don’t want to include a keyphrase so many times that it becomes distracting. People may well bounce off your page and out of your site to find another source of information that sounds more reputable, and offers content that is easier to read.

Additionally…

– Keyword stuffing won’t help your SEO.

Google has closed that loophole. Once upon a time, sure, jamming your copy full of keywords might’ve worked – but not today. So there’s no reason to do it!

– Unsure if you added too many keyphrases? Read the copy out loud.

If you aren’t sure whether or not you’ve been heavy-handed with the use of keyphrases in your content, sometimes the best thing to do is to just print that page and read it aloud.

The same applies if you’re a site owner working with a copywriter: when s/he submits the copy, read it out loud. That way you’ll hear if the keyphrase has been used too many times.

– Think quality – not quantity.

When thinking about your content, it’s always best to think of it in terms of quality.

It’s not about how many pages you can kick out so Google starts thinking you’re an authority on “X”. It’s about how many good pages you can write for your readers, so you attract more traffic and build your brand that way!

Thanks for joining me for this week’s video! As always, if you have any questions about today’s post, or anything else for that matter, I’d love to hear from you! You can email me directly at heather@seocopywriting.com, or find me on Twitter @heatherlloyd.

image thanks to warrantedarrest (Tomas de Aquino)

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SEO Copywriting Checklist: Is your content personality-challenged?

Learn how to bring technical content to life with tone and feelHello and welcome back to another installment of the SEO Copywriting Checklist video series! Today Heather addresses the question of whether your content is personality-challenged.

And while you may not be quite sure what “personality-challenged” means, chances are you have come across sites that, well…bore you to tears. Elicit the yawn. Have the charisma of a rock. That kind of thing.

So tune in as Heather discusses how you can avoid the yawn response to your website, no matter how technical your profession:

Are you boring your reader?

– This can happen in any industry, but especially medical and legal.

– The text often sounds dry, boring and technical.

– Yawn.

I see personality-challenged sites most frequently in the medical and legal fields. Typically these sites have content that is very dry, very technical, contains lots of really big words, and doesn’t forge a connection with the reader.

People will write their content this way for a couple of reasons:

1. Because that’s how they’re used to writing.

For instance, if they are a physician or an attorney and they’re writing their own content, their day-to-day technical writing style transfers over to their website.

2. Because they think it makes them sound smart.

Some site owners think that the more technical their content is, the smarter they sound, and that will dazzle their readers into contacting them. Actually, the opposite may very well happen. If people hit a site that speaks over their heads and they can’t connect with the copy, they might just back out and find another site they do connect with.

You don’t want folks to have the yawn response when they visit your website! You want them to think “Wow! I can really connect with this person. I love what they have to say, and I want to learn more!

Great example of a friendly, accessible tone and feel

Here’s an example of a site that’s done right.

You can find it at DrBaileySkinCare.com. Dr. Cynthia Bailey is a dermatologist based in California who has an office, but also sells products on her site and writes a blog. If you look at her content – and she’s written 99.9 percent of it herself – you’ll see how approachable it is.

Dr. Bailey’s site has a very friendly tone and feel.

Even her “About Us” page (shown in the screenshot) makes her sound very friendly and approachable. She talks about how patients describe her like a trusted sister – where people can come to her with their embarrassing skin problems and she can help fix them.

Her site does really well.

She writes tremendous blog posts that get great traffic, and she sounds like a human being – not like the scary doctor behind the scenes. She sounds like someone that you would actually want to call, and visit her office or buy her products, because you feel like you can trust her.

Takeaways:

– Friendly, approachable content works.

– You can still sound smart and experienced with a more casual tone and feel.

– Consider your readers’ needs carefully.

The example of Dr. Bailey’s site is something to consider with your own website if you’re working in the medical or legal profession: is there a way to shake up the tone and feel where you still sound smart, and you’re still outlining your expertise, but it’s not so technical?

Really think about your readers: What do they want to see? How do you connect with them in person, or on the phone or in an email? That’s the tone and feel you might want to capture in your web content to connect with your readers. It might work a lot better than copy that sounds dry, boring and technical!

Thanks for joining me! As always, if you have any questions at all or comments about today’s video post, I’d love to hear from you! You can reach me at heather@seocopywriting.com, or on Twitter @heatherlloyd.

photo thanks to johnc24

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