14 Things I’ve Learned During My 20+ Year Career

Recently, someone asked me what I’ve learned in 20+ years of being in the SEO world.

Her question initially made me go “hmmm” — and then, the ideas started flowing.

I originally posted nine of these tips on LinkedIn. Here’s my original list, as well as five bonus tips! Enjoy!

🌀The only SEO constant is change.

🌀The smartest SEO expert is usually not the one with the biggest social following.

🌀Feeling weird about a prospect, but you can’t put your finger on why? Trust your gut and let them go. It’s not worth the pain.

🌀ALWAYS get a deposit up front. ALWAYS. Paying an initial retainer is a standard practice. If your prospect complains about paying you, don’t work with them.

🌀The only thing standing in the way of your success (and charging higher fees, and working with better clients, and taking more time off) is you

🌀Gaming Google only works short-term, and only if you know what you’re doing. It’s not worth it.

🌀Keeping up with the latest SEO changes is crucial. If you’re optimizing sites like it’s 2010, you’re doing yourself (and your clients) a disservice.

🌀Spend extra attention on your page Titles/headlines. They matter.

🌀If you’re writing content “for Google,” stop it. Your content is for readers, not algorithms.

🌀You *can* learn SEO by yourself — but, it will save you time, money and brain cells if you hire someone to help.

🌀Not every “SEO trick” you read about works in every situation. YMMV

🌀Social platforms go in and out of style. Remember MySpace? Or Friendster? Or Vine? Leverage them while they’re hot (assuming your target market lives there,) but know that your audience will eventually move on.

🌀”Writing naturally” and ignoring keyphrase research will hurt you. Even if you’re a big brand. Even if you “know how people search.” Put in the time and do the keyphrase research. It’s worth it.

🌀Google giveth, and Google taketh away. Authorship. Google Reader. Google+. Orkut. Decent keyword data. All gone. Poof. Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because Google gave us something free (in exchange for our data, of course).

What would you add to this list? Leave your comment below!

Will AI Replace SEO Writers?

I was going to write about Google’s latest nofollow link changes, when a great question came in…

“Hey Heather, I read that Chase hired a AI (artificial intelligence) company. The machine-generated copy outperformed human-written copy. Should I worry? Is SEO copywriting next?”

Yup, it’s true that Chase locked down a five-year deal with Persado, an AI content company.

Persado’s Google ad copy says the company “reinvents marketing creative by applying mathematical certainty to words.” When you click on Persado’s home page, a big ol’ subheadline screams, “The future of marketing success is through the power of words.”

(LOL, really? I had no idea.)

Snark aside, I’ve been hearing AI-themed rumblings for a while. After all, many of us already fight for higher pay and a seat at the marketing table. If AI can take our copywriting jobs — well, we may as well work at Starbucks for free coffee and good benefits.

I see why AI can outperform humans in limited ways. For instance, Chase hired Persado to create ad content, which is normally short, sweet and very focused. AI could cycle through a multitude of copy variations faster than a human writer, learn what works, and create a super-clickable ad.

And, it worked. In Chase’s case, some of their AI-created ads saw twice the clicks as ads created by humans.

Ouch.

What’s more, AI doesn’t require insurance, hand-holding or a salary. It will never miss a deadline or force you to listen to its bad date story.

It seems easier. And cheaper. I get it.

But (because there’s always a but…)

Does this mean that AI can eventually replace SEO writers?

No, and here’s why…

Behind every blog post, sales page and skyscraper guide, is a smiling, imperfect human.

We’re the ones who create the brand voice. We’re the ones that develop the strategy. We’re the ones who can create snarky responses on the fly (for instance, the person who handles Wendy’s Twitter account is a genius.)

Even Alibaba, which has its own AI tool, acknowledged that “human creativity is the cornerstone for the machine.

AI can do simple tasks (like writing ad copy.) But anything more complex? Nope. Not yet.

Not until we’re bowing to our robot overlords, that is. :)

In fact, Barry Feldman (who coined the term “artificial stupidity”) checked out an AI content farm so he could evaluate the content quality.

Yes, their price was dirt-cheap — imagine writing 50 articles for $45. Yet, the copy was…dreadful. For instance:

“Numerous fruits are called thus because they are called this way from several blooms.”

Yup, imagine sporting that copy on your site. Suddenly, $45 for 50 articles doesn’t seem like a deal anymore.

OK, but what about SEO writing?

SEO copy seems like it would be an easy AI target. After all, it’s just shoving keyphrases into content, right?

(That was a trick question; of COURSE it’s more than that!)

This reminds me of the bad-ol’ days of SEO writing when “spinning” content was the norm. Specialized software could change out some keyphrases, tweak some wording, and create multiple versions of the page.

Was the copy good? No. Did it follow grammar rules? Very loosely. It looked like what it was — machine-generated content.

To bring this into the current day, think about how many times the Yoast plug-in told you that you didn’t use your main keyphrase enough times — when, in fact, your content positions just fine.

Software and machine learning is great for simple tasks. Anything more than that, you’re pushing its limitations. In a bad way.

STILL don’t believe me? The Whopper lives in a bun mansion. Just like you!

What am I talking about? Burger King created ads based on AI-generated content. Watching their commercials made me laugh so hard, I HAD to stop writing about links and share this stuff with you.

Here are some of the best lines:

“Tastes like bird” (not sure if that’s a benefit statement or a warning.)

“Bed of lettuce for you to sleep on” (and now I understand what I need to cure my insomnia — a bed of lettuce!)

“Burger King’s chicken is the new potato.” (Um…what?)

Sure, their commercials are funny and make me like Burger King a bit more — but, they also drive home a point.

In the words of Marcelo Pascoa, Burger King’s global head of brand marketing, “Artificial intelligence is not a substitute for a great creative idea coming from a real person.”

And there you go.

AI writing can handle “easy” tasks — but companies need creative people like you to develop great copy that connects with their reader and entices them to take the next action step.

I may have laughed at the Burger King ad, but I didn’t run out and buy a Whopper because it “tasted like bird.”

(Need a good laugh? Check out these commercials. You’ll be chuckling for a long time.)

I’m not saying that AI content creation isn’t a threat to some writers and agencies. If you specialize in PPC ad writing or Facebook ads — and you don’t create strategy or create other types of content — you may want to expand your skill set.

But, for now, we’re probably safe.

As long as I can sleep on a bed of lettuce, life is happy.

(And, wow, this was WAY more fun to write about than nofollow links!)

What do you think?

Are you ready to bow down to your AI overlords? Does AI writing freak you out? Leave a comment and let me know.

Is Bigger Search Volume Always Better?

Let’s play a game!

Let’s say you were a freelance copywriter specializing in pharmaceutical content.

Which keyphrase is the better one to target?

  • The term [freelance copywriter] with 1,900 searches a month.
  • The term [freelance pharmaceutical copywriter] with 10 searches a month.

What’s your answer?

At first glance, [freelance copywriter] looks like the better option. After all, there’s a huge difference between almost 2,000 searches a month and…10.

But, does that mean [freelance copywriter] would be the better keyphrase to choose?

Nope. Not by a long shot.

Why?

Let’s look at the Google search results and break this down…

But why ISN’T bigger search volume better?

I know, I know. You see 1,900 searches a month and start salivating. That’s a whole lot of search traffic. Who wouldn’t want all that traffic…and more?

But, is it a smart goal? In this case…no.

Here’s why…

First, let’s do a search for [freelance copywriter].

  • Eight of the top-10 results are informational and targeted toward people looking at freelance copywriting as a career choice (for instance, “how to become a freelance copywriter.”)
  • The other two results? Upwork.

When you see the majority of the top-10 listings filled with informational results with a completely different user intent — the term won’t help you. 

Especially when you figure that prospects are seeing the same informational search results and refining their search accordingly.

After all, they don’t want information about how to start a freelance writing career.

They want to find a freelancer. Like you.

So, let’s take a peek at [freelance pharmaceutical copywriter]. Sure, the search volume isn’t the greatest (10 searches a month versus 1,900.)

Still, the prospects typing in this search term are highly targeted. And that’s the important thing to consider.

There may only be 10 searches this month — but, those 10 people are looking for someone just like you!

When I search Google for [freelance pharmaceutical copywriter], I see some informational results — and, I see competing copywriting sites, too. 

So yes, this keyphrase is a keeper. 

“But Heather — just TEN searches? How are terms like that worth my time?”

I get it. What I’m saying sounds counterintuitive.

Remember the keyphrase is highly targeted. The only time someone will type in something like [freelance pharmaceutical copywriter] is if they are looking for a….you got it…pharmaceutical copywriter who freelances.

You’re not wasting time trying to position for a competitive keyphrase with a totally different user intent.

You’re not focusing on general key terms that your target audience won’t type into Google.

You’re focusing on what works — even if those search volume numbers aren’t ginormous. 

Perfect.

Do you write for B2B sites?

You will see the low search volume issue all the time. 

Heck, you will even see “no results found” for some keyphrase searches — even when it’s a common industry term that returns relevant pages when you type it into Google.

This is normal. It happens because the search terms see such few searches, they aren’t shown in keyphrase research tools.

It doesn’t mean they’re bad terms. They’re just…unique.

Just remember that relevance trumps search volume every time.

In fact, focusing on keyphrase specificity (and user intent) can be one of the most difficult things for a new SEO writer to master. Especially when the high search volume numbers are calling.

What do you think?

Do you have clients that ask you to land them a top-10 result for an untargeted search term? Have you personally fallen into the “bigger search volume is better” trap? (It’s OK — it happens to a lot of people.) Leave a comment and let me know!

What’s the ‘Best’ Word Count for Google? [Updated for 2019]

Have you wondered what the perfect word count was for a blog post or landing page?

Over the years, that number has been a moving target.

Twenty years ago, I would recommend that every page be at least 250 words.

Back then, people considered 250 words “too much content.” “Readers won’t like it,” folks complained. “I don’t want that many words on my page.”

My, how things have changed.

Here’s a (very) general word count guideline for 2019:

  • For landing page content, I’d recommend a minimum word count of 350 words.
  • If you’re writing a blog post that you want to position, the minimum (in most cases) would be 500 words.

Why is there no hard-and-fast rule? The true “best” word count for a post or landing page depends on many factors. I’ll talk about them soon and show some examples.

Having said that, many companies think “shorter copy is bad.” Instead, they focus almost exclusively on long-form content — for instance, 5,000+ word, in-depth skyscraper guides.

Why so many words?

Because the people who write the content think that’s the only way to grab search positions. If the copy is longer, it must be better — right?

So, what does this mean for content producers? Is the age of short copy dead? Does Google reward super-long content?

Well…not really.

You don’t need to write 5,000 words every time. At the same time, longer copy has specific SEO benefits.

I’ll talk about what this means to content producers and how to figure out the best word count for your posts. But first, I need to get this out of the way…

Let’s talk about Google’s stance on word count

Google’s John Muller said in August 2019 that “word count is not a ranking factor.”

There’s no magical word fairy who reviews your word count and positions your page accordingly. The Google Quality Raters aren’t counting every.single.word.

In fact, Google has also said that word count does not indicate quality content.

This is good news — content producers aren’t forced to create long-form content every time we sit down to write.

We can write the right amount of content that satisfies the user’s query and provides the standout answer she wants.

But (because there’s always a “but” in SEO…..)

Google may not have an official word count stance, but research does show that longer copy can position better.

What’s the latest word-count research?

A 2017 study by ahrefs found the average #1 ranking page will also position for about 1,000 related keywords — which is something super-short content can’t do.

In a 2018 study, ahrefs found that longer copy positioned better:

HubSpot, in their 2017 post, found their blog post sweet spot was 2,500 words:

A joint study by BuzzSumo and Brian Dean found that long-form content gets more links than short blog posts:

This shows that long-form content does have benefits. It will position for more keyphrases and gain better backlinks over its shorter-copy brethren.

Viola Eva discussed this in a 2019 Search Engine Journal article. Her take:

The path to ranking success looks like:

  • Longer content leads to more links.
  • More links lead to better rankings (and more organic traffic).

It seems what might be ranking the website is not so much the content length itself (though it for sure helps to be competitive with the Page 1 results), but firstly the amount of links the page received. Guides, skyscrapers, pillar pages, and content hubs make the most interesting link targets.

This makes sense. Especially when you consider that over 91 percent of content gets no traffic from Google. None. Nada. 91 percent. Ouch.

Is it any wonder why companies think that long-form is the only way to go?

But…

Should you always write long-form copy? No. 

Shorter content can and does position.

For instance, the top-positioned page for the query [how to brew black tea] is 798 words. That’s still a lot of words — but the page has a number one result and position zero.

The top result for [how to restart a Fitbit versa] is a scant 94 words:

Remember that Google Quality Raters link I included earlier? The article is just 171 words long and positions at number two for [google quality rating guidelines].

So, there’s no hard and fast rule.

How should SEO writers determine the best word count?

Your answer: Quit wondering “what Google wants” and focus on your reader.

The content length should depend on the user query and what your reader needs to see.

That means:

Plan on conducting some competitive research before you start writing.

SEO writing is more than shoving keyphrases into content. In today’s world, you also need to check out your top-10 competition. Things to look for include:

  • How have other sites approached the content?
  • Do their posts provide videos, graphics, or lists?
  • What makes their page an authority page?
  • Does the page link to other authority sites?
  • Who is the author? Are they a recognized expert in their field?

The key isn’t to copy a top-10 page. However, it is smart to see what’s currently positioning. This way, you can develop a writing strategy and make your content even better.

Throw your assumptions out the window.

One of the biggest SEO writing challenges is dealing with people who “just know” what works for their readers — but they don’t back up their opinions with data.

For instance, many writers think sales pages should be short (under 250 words) because “readers don’t want to scroll.”

However, companies create long sales copy all the time. And it works.

For instance, this product page from Brookstone is over 688 words long. This HubSpot sales page is over 1,300 words.

Plus, Neil Patel found that long-form copy positioned better, plus provided a higher conversion rate and better-quality leads.

Long copy can indeed clunk and be visually overwhelming. But, that’s true of any poorly-written page. As Seth Godin says, “Please, give me something long (but make it worth my time.)”

Dive into your analytics and roll around in the data.

SEO writers can’t ignore analytics anymore. The data is too tasty, valuable, and fascinating to ignore. Google Analytics and Search Console provide the in-depth information you need to know. And, you can always dive into specialized solutions like Serpstat, ahrefs, or SEMrush for more information.

Analytics will tell you:

  • What are your most popular posts?
  • Which posts get great Google positions — and which ones are ignored?
  • Which posts are positioning?
  • What are your post bounce rates?

If you’re freelancing, don’t be afraid to ask your clients for their analytics information. The data will help you better understand what’s working — and how to make their SEO content strategy even better.

Write as much as you need to — and not one word more.

Godin may write a 150-word post one day and a 1,500-word post the next. And that’s OK. Either way, his word count represents how long it takes to get his point across – and no more. 

“Fluffing up” a page just to meet a certain word-count requirement is horrible for your readers and it won’t help boost your Google rankings. Plus, since we’ve seen that shorter copy can still position, there’s no percentage to adding more content “just in case.” Focus on answering the query, instead.

Finally, think about this when you’re writing the copy:

  • Have I said everything I could?
  • Have I overcome all objections?
  • Have I showcased the product or service?
  • Is the keyphrase usage seamless?
  • Does the copy encourage the next conversion step?
  • Have I connected with my reader?

If your answer is “yes,”you’ve done your job.

It’s as simple as that.

(Note: This post originally ran 11 years ago! Wow! So much has changed since then.)

Now, you can get the latest SEO writing tips sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for the SEO Copywriting Buzz newsletter today.

Here’s an Easy Way to Test New Messaging

Does your site’s tone and feel seem…off…somehow?

Maybe your current copy is too formal, and you know you’re losing your audience. (I’m looking at you, B2B, legal and financial sites.)

Or, your target audience has changed — and what worked for your Gen X audience doesn’t quite click with your new Millennial market.

Or, you may just hate your content. That happens too.

Sure, you may be motivated to make some big changes. But, let’s face it. Rewriting pages to reflect a new voice is time-consuming, expensive and a huge gamble.

After all, your challenge is figuring out the right tone and feel that grabs your reader’s attention and doesn’t let go. 

So, how can you easily (and safely) test different “voice” approaches — plus, get almost instant feedback?

This is where things get interesting…

As many of you know, I launched a side hustle business called Pivot Hacks. I coach entrepreneurs who want to have more fun, make more money, and not work so darn hard.

This is a brand-new business with a brand-new target audience, so I’m still playing with the messaging.

To get better data, I’ve been running a little experiment over the past six months…

LinkedIn is where I see the most social leads. So, every week, I post different “types” of posts with slightly different messaging. Some of my posts are SEO-related (I test those posts, too.) Some of them are more motivational and “coachy.”

My goal?

I wanted to see what “clicked” with different target audiences and sparked great conversations.

I tracked the comments, reactions (including who reacted), sentiment, and who was reading my content. Granted, LinkedIn doesn’t give the greatest metrics — but I had enough.

Here’s what I learned:

What do my SEO readers love?

This won’t surprise you. My readers love irreverent musings with a dash of snark.

Yes, my newsletter already reflects this style. (I know you love my snarkiness.) Now, I’m experimenting rolling it out to my main site pages.

For instance, I’ve made some tweaks to my in-house SEO training sessions page. So far, the response has been positive — even from larger brands. 

That makes me happy.

Now, here’s what really surprised me…

Remember how I said I posted some motivational and “coachy” posts? 

Those posts outperform my SEO posts every. single. time.

Especially, my recent posts about taking a digital detox and #rewindthegrind. One of my posts even trended (#hustle.)

Which teaches me what people really want.

People are craving a digital detox. They don’t want to “check in” while they’re trying to relax. Instead, they want a true vacation from their businesses. And, they are looking for systems and processes to make it happen.

I had no idea.

(If you feel this way too, please leave a comment. I’m curious to know who else is feeling the grind.)

So, what was cool about this test?

It was free (other than the time it took to write the posts.) Free is good.

I felt free to experiment. I wasn’t worried about SEO or Google.

I learned things. Sure, I’ll keep posting my SEO posts. But, now that I know my more motivational posts reach a wider audience and spark a different conversation, I’ll post more of them. Which is a fun challenge after 20+ years of SEO.

What do you think?

How do you test your messaging? Is this something you could try for your own site? Leave a comment and let me know!

Here’s How a New Site Can Make a Big Splash

Are you wondering how a new B2B site can gain BIG brand awareness — plus, see some fantastic SEO benefits?

Recently, some friends asked for help with their site. They are a new SaaS player in a highly-competitive industry, and they wanted to know how to make the biggest splash in the shortest period of time.

This is tricky. Here’s why.

From a pure SEO perspective, you can’t take a new site from zero to top-10 within a short time. Domain authority and links take time to build. It’s a process, and one that you can’t control.

That’s why so many new sites rely on PPC ads. PPC is a great way to drive immediate traffic while you’re waiting for your organic rankings to build. 

But, what if there was a way to build brand awareness, reach your target market, and drive initial incoming links? 

How to get noticed, the old-fashioned way.

Once upon a time, before Google, we focused on getting favorable press in trade magazines. 

Why? Because, it helped establish our company as a market leader. It built authority. And — most importantly — we wanted our target customer to read the article and think, “They have exactly what I need.”

Today, we can write authoritative, keyphrase-rich resources that help our company get the branding we want. For instance:

An internet security SaaS company could create an annual “state of the industry” survey that’s updated every year. For instance, check out Symantec’s Internet Security Threat Report.

An online bookkeeping software platform could survey business owners about what makes them successful. For instance, here’s what Xero did.

An SEO platform could survey top experts and share their opinions. Moz’s yearly Local Search Rankings Factors report is always well-publicized and cited.

The key is choosing a topic that:

— Your customers care about.

— Contains information that’s not available elsewhere (or, if it is available, you’re providing a unique perspective.)

— You can promote as THE resource, and…

— You can slice and dice the content in different Google-friendly ways (videos, blog posts, webinars, etc.) 

(Some of you may be thinking, “Hey, Heather. This sounds like the hub and spoke content strategy approach” — and you’d be right. If hub and spoke is new to you, check out this article for more information.)

Why is this approach so cool?

Lots of reasons:

— It’s a way to snag incoming links, fast. Yes, you’ll need to go all-out to promote your market-leading content. But your promotional efforts will be worth it.

— It jump-starts your visibility.

— It immediately sets you apart as a new company to watch.

— All of the content is (ideally) SEO-optimized, helping you position for a variety of tasty related keyterms and concepts.

— You can gain new newsletter subscribers quickly (especially if you require an email address in exchange for reading the report.)

So, what’s the downside?

This is not a “let’s pull this together in a weekend” quickie content play.

This is a “let’s do the research, set milestones, create an airtight editorial calendar, work with design, and plan a super tremendous promotional strategy” content play.

Expect that the initial content and promotional plan will take at least three months to create. Especially if you don’t quite have a writing process in place.

It will feel like it’s taking forever. It will be worth it.

There’s also the possibility that the promotion flops, and people don’t immediately care about your cool new guide. You don’t get the link love you want.

Some guides take a while to capture their audience. It happens.

If it happens to you (which it won’t,) dig into the “why” and reverse-engineer the cause. For instance:

 — Could you have promoted the guide differently?

 — Who did you reach out to directly? Would you choose different influencers?

—  How did the landing page perform? Was there any friction that made it hard for people to grab your guide?

 — Did the guide topic spark a conversation? If not, what could you have done differently?

 — Did you promote the content at the wrong time? For instance, summer can be slow for some B2B companies.

Chances are, you’ll discover a few things you’ll tweak for next time. And hey, even if the promotion was so-so, your well-written content still sets you apart.

What do you think?

Is this something you want to try for your site (or a client’s site?) Let me know in the comments!

What’s Most Important for SEO?

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Did the news about Google’s recent core algorithm update freak you out?

After all, SEO is confusing enough. But hearing that Google’s core algorithmic updates can drive companies out of business is always a little…weird.

During this time of Google FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt,) people look for the secret SEO recipe that will make Google happy. Which makes sense — you want to focus on what drives the most ROI.

So, according to top SEO experts, what’s the most important aspect of your SEO campaign?

The answer may surprise you…

No, it’s not links (although links are important.)

It’s not your site design (although that’s important, too.)

Here’s the answer:

During the SMX Advanced conference, Search Engine Land released the 2019 Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors. The report breaks down what’s currently important to SEO rankings (for instance, keywords and content “freshness,”) what hurts positions (ad-heavy content and keyword stuffing,) and emerging verticals, (such as voice search.)

The big takeaway? Content rules.

In fact, according to this article, Barry Schwartz, editor of Search Engine Land, and one of the creators of the report, introduced the findings by saying “in the contest between content and links, it’s now a settled fact that content is more important.”

Wow.

Sure, content has always been important. But this year, the importance of content was turned up to a Spinal Tap 11.

This. Makes. Me. So. Happy!

So, what does this news mean to you?

Well, if you’re a content creator, this is pretty sweet news. :) The opportunity is there.

At the same time — and I’ve said this before — you need to up your game and learn how to create strategic SEO content.

It’s not enough to write a 500-word blog post focused around a target keyword. Now, you need to understand the competitive landscape, write in a conversational style, think about featured snippets, and provide content that’s more useful than what’s currently positioning in the top-10.

Is this more stuff to think about? Yes. At the same time, Google is giving us permission to write fantastic content. We don’t have to write the same content as our competitors so we “look competitive.” We don’t have to write keyphrase-stuffed content. We can do things differently…and better.

That’s cool.

If you want more information about what Google considers quality content, Google actually spells it out in this “oldie-but-a-goodie” post. The post is from 2011, but the information is still solid (and cited) today.

Yes, this will mean letting the low-paying, “I will pay you $25 for an SEO blog post” go. Let’s face it — for $25, you can’t spend the time you need to write content that snags fantastic search rankings. Not unless you want to make $1/hr.

Instead, it’s time to find those higher quality clients who understand the value you bring to the table.

They are out there.

Why would you settle for anything else?

What if your company has SEO content creation challenges?

Now is the time to get your writers the training they need.

It’s not just me saying this. During the SMX Advanced conference, Jessica Bowman, one of the authors of the SEO Success Factors, emphasized how important it is to train your writing staff.

Your writers want to create top-positioned content. They really do. They just need someone to break down the SEO steps, to tweak the strategy, and to streamline their current writing process.

Once that light bulb turns on and your writers “get it,” they’ll be unstoppable. I’ve seen training clients go from nowhere to positioning top-10 for highly competitive phrases. Sure, they worked their butts off to make it happen. But they did it.

That’s also pretty cool. 

(And you know I can train your team in SEO writing best practices, right? Just zip me a note if you need me.) 😀

What do you think?

Have you been thinking about an SEO writing training for your in-house writers? If you’re a freelancer — how do you think the latest news will benefit your bottom line? Leave a comment and let me know.

How to convince a clueless SEO writing client

How to Convince a Clueless SEO Writing Prospect

How can you convince an SEO writing prospect that you can help her land the search positions (and conversions) she wants?

Well, it depends…

I received a great question from one of my newsletter subscribers (thanks, Steve!). Here’s a quick excerpt:

“I usually ask a prospective client ‘do you have a website?’ If the answer is yes, I then ask ‘how is it working for you?’ Their answer is usually, ‘It’s not working. No business and the website doesn’t show up in top Google searches!’

Hmm, client is wasting money on the website with no business! How can you convince them of the need for SEO?”

(Raise your hand if you can relate.)

I’ve seen this scenario play out time and time again. Some prospects are convinced that SEO “doesn’t work” because they don’t understand it, they’ve tried before (and worked with a bad consultant,) or they figure they don’t need it.

When the reality is, their content is bursting with low-hanging fruit opportunities. Just a few tweaks and their site’s SEO potential would explode.

If only we knew the magical words that would convince them.

What are those magic words?

First, let me tell you a story…

Years ago, I used to nag my husband about integrating stretching into his hockey routine. He’d go from playing three hours of hockey to coming home and sitting on the couch.

I’d show him studies about how stretching would help…and nothing.

I’d warn him that he was going to hurt himself someday…and nothing.

I’d ask if he wanted to stretch with me…and, well, you know what happened.

In fact, he didn’t stretch or foam roll at all…until he was injured on the ice.

Going to physical therapy for seven weeks showed him the importance of stretching and taking care of his body. And now, he stretches all the time.

You see, he wasn’t ready until he was ready — no matter how many times he heard he “should” do something. 

We humans are strange, irrational beings. We let fear, apathy and doubt block smart decisions. No amount of convincing will teach us to eat our vegetables if we don’t like vegetables. Or, that exercise is important if we hate breaking a sweat.

So, why should SEO be any different? 

After all, when’s the last time you convinced someone to do something they were dead-set against? It’s almost impossible — unless the person feels pain and is motivated to try something new.

That’s when they’ll be ready.

What should you do with “hard-to-convince” SEO writing prospects?

My first step is to go into question-and-education mode. I ask questions about the lifetime value of their customers, the keyphrases that are important to them, and what percentage of their visitors convert. That way, I can combine my educational tidbits with specific, measurable benefits.

It’s one thing to say, “you’ll see an increase in search traffic.” It’s another to say, “even a 5 percent bump in search volume converting at your current rate could mean over $460,000 in income.”

That’s education done right.

But, what if your prospect still isn’t convinced?

This will sound harsh…

Don’t waste your time.

Let them go. Set them free. If it’s meant to be, they’ll come back (you’ll be surprised by the number of times that happens.)

Like my husband and stretching, if they aren’t ready, they aren’t ready. 

Sure, it’s OK to stay in touch and to check in. Sometimes, the buy cycle moves glacially, and a lead may not convert for years. 

Just don’t spend time trying to convince someone to love SEO. It won’t work, and it’s time you won’t get back.

Besides, as my mother used to say, there are plenty of fish in the sea. Why waste time trying to convince someone when you can find clients who DO understand your value?

The (good) clients are out there. Really. You just have to find them.

What do you think?

Have you had your share of indecisive prospects? What did you do to unstick their decision-making process? Let me know in the comments!

Let’s Make Content Easy-to-Read Again

Yup, I’m back! I spent my digital detox rafting down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. For almost three weeks, I lifted heavy gear bags up steep, sandy hills, hung on through the cold, wet rapids, and found sand everywhere.

It. Was. So. Peaceful.

And then, I came home.

Hitting reality full-speed was hard. Sure, re-entry is always…challenging. But, I never noticed how much energy-sucking crap filled my day-to-day life until I had digitally detoxed for three weeks. 

For instance:

  • Spending 10+ minutes every day deleting newsletters I never read.
  • Saying, “Yes” to people asking, “Could you help with this one thing?” — even when I don’t have time.
  • Responding to text dings, email notifications, or other “hey, look at me” distractions in the moment. 

Ugh, right? I’m sure you can relate. You spend 10 minutes doing this, and another five doing that…

…and before you know it, you’ve lost an hour (or more) a day doing stuff that (to quote Bill Murray in the film Meatballs) “just doesn’t matter.”

But then, I got to thinking. Content marketing, as it stands today, forces people to wade through a lot of energy-sucking crap to get the gems they want. 

For instance:

  • We write extra copy so we can shove keyphrases in somewhere, and we hide the “meat” of the post towards the bottom. (I’m looking at you, recipe sites.)
  • We focus on long-form guides that are 2,000 words (or more) because “that’s what Google wants.”
  • We worry about content that’s short (say, 500 words) and wonder if it’s “too thin.” (As a reality check, 500 words used to be considered “too much” content back in the day.)
  • We’re forced to write buzzword-filled content because our boss is convinced that “our audience needs to see this on the site.”

I’m not saying this stuff is bad — there are studies showing how longer content tends to get higher rankings and more links. Following what works is a good thing.

And, sometimes we need to add buzzwords to our content — or write in a slightly more academic style. That’s fine.

But, OMG, please let us write content that’s easy to read. 

Plus, check out the latest voice search statistics…

According to a recent study by SEMrush, the average text length for a voice search answer was 41 words across all devices (for instance, Google Home or Alexa.)

Just 41 focused words written at a high-school comprehension level.

Of course, the answers are pulled from posts that are much longer than 41 words. In fact, 78 percent of voice search answers are culled from the top-three results — and those pages tend to have higher word counts.

Yet, Google can still find the right 2-3 easy-to-read sentences with the right answer.

Pretty cool, eh?

So, how do you dovetail what Google seems to reward (longer word counts) and still make it easy for folks to find the specific information they want?

This is where the page strategy comes in…

Here are some tips for Google AND your readers:

Tell me a story that engages my brain. Don’t drown me in jargon. 

Conversational, easy-to-read content is always king. Yes, I know you want your brand to sound “smart” and “like a market leader.” However, many top-positioned, highly-technical sites are easy-to-read, engaging and approachable. Here’s a great post from Content Marketing Institute that discusses why storytelling is so important.

Use subheadlines as “cues” to explain what the following paragraph is about and to help your reader find the information she needs. 

Yes, I know it’s tempting to write a sexy headline like, “Market Leading Excellence.” But, to your reader, this is just corporate-speak that says nothing. 

I love this quote from Hubspot:

“Subheadlines have the power to reel the reader in. While the headline may grab the user’s attention, you need to do more than that in order for the user to stay. You want to compel the reader to look, to click, to sample, to scroll, or to do whatever it is you want them to do.”

Yup. Exactly.

Use lists, bullet points and summary paragraphs to immediately help the reader find the information she needs. 

If your topic is about “how to boil an egg,” put that information front and center. You don’t need to write 500 words outlining the history of eggs and egg boiling. Please. Just…don’t.

Check your paragraph and sentence length. 

Long paragraphs and run-on sentences are annoying to read on a computer — and even more annoying to read on a mobile device. Instead, write short, snappy sentences. Do it. Please. They’re easier to read.

Experiment with presenting your content in different formats. 

For instance, you could create a 60-second explainer video that highlights your main points. Or, create an infographic for your visual, quick-scan folks. Think “easy.”

Not everyone will read your 10,000-word blog, no matter how much you put your heart and soul into it. But, they may check out your video or share your infographic.

Don’t just test your content — test your layouts, too. 

I’ve seen conversion rates increase 30 percent because the new layout better highlighted the important benefits. If you keep losing folks and you can’t figure out why, the layout (not the content) could be the culprit.

What’s the big takeaway? 

Know what your readers are looking for and make that information simple to find. Test your layouts and see if you can improve your time on page and conversion rates. Write in a way that makes your reader hang on your every word — not wonder what the heck you’re trying to say.

In short, think “simple, short and to the point.”

Your readers will thank you!

What do you think?

Leave your comment below!

What’s Your ONE Content Marketing Thing?

Here’s a question…

What’s the ONE content marketing tactic that drives the majority of your revenue?

Is it blogging?

Webinars?

Teaching small classes?

Or, is your answer, “Hmm, I’m not quite sure, but does it really matter? After all, shouldn’t all my content efforts help?”

Well yes…and no.

Because, without knowing your one content marketing thing, you’re putting your revenue at risk.

Here’s why.

What’s the ONE Thing, anyway?

Gary Keller, founder of Keller Williams Realty, Inc., coined the “ONE Thing” concept. His thought?

“What’s the ONE Thing I could do, such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?”

For instance:

  • You may not be a “saver,” but you’ve found that automatic deductions from your checking account helps you build a robust safety net.
  • You’ve found a bedtime ritual helps you sleep a full 8-hours. You know you can fall asleep wherever you are, as long as you can maintain your ritual.
  • If you want to function before 9 a.m., you need a grande almond-milk latte (OK, maybe that’s just me!).

The thing is, we use this ONE Thing principal all the time – but we don’t think about it. It just…works.

But, somehow, the concept gets lost when it comes to our content marketing.

And bad things happen.

Instead of focusing your efforts on the thing that works, your efforts get scattered.

That’s not to say that experimenting with other content strategy tactics is a bad thing. But those “other things” should be in addition to your ONE Thing…not instead of it.

On the flip side, when you do know your ONE content marketing thing, everything else is easy.

Not sure what your one content marketing thing is? Here are some things to try:

  • Comb your analytics. Does a certain type of blog post (for instance, thought leadership posts,) pull in more leads?
  • Do all of your new leads say they found you the same way (for instance, your podcast or a guest post?)
  • Was there a day (or month) that saw a huge spike in sales? Does it correlate to a certain something that happened (for instance, a webinar series?)

Finding your ONE content marketing thing sounds so simple in concept – but pinpointing it may take some time. Plus, if you have multiple target audiences, you may have multiple “things.”

For instance, LinkedIn is my best bet to reach customized training clients. If I want to sell courses, webinars (and in-person seminars) are what moves the needle.

Guess how I spend most of my time now?

I’ve also found that my one content marketing thing has changed and morphed over time. Once upon a time, guest posting drove major leads. Today, I do it here and there — but the ROI never pans out. Twitter used to be great, and now it feels like noise.

You’ll go through the same process. That’s OK. It means you’re trying new things and measuring the results.

What’s your ONE content marketing thing?

Do you already know what your one content marketing thing is for your business? Or, are in you in the process of narrowing it down? Leave your comment below and let me know!