7 Tough Love Tips to Boost Your Freelance Income

Freelance writers receive a lot of happy-crappy “how to increase your income” advice.

There are thousands of  blog posts online outlining tips like:

“Charge more money.”

“Find your niche.”

“Package your services.”

It’s not that the advice is wrong (heck, I’ve discussed those tips, too.) It’s that the advice only goes so far.

“Charging more money” doesn’t mean anything if you don’t know your numbers. And there are a lot of writers out there making six figures without a niche.

So, how do freelance copywriters boost their income?

Over the past 20+ years, I’ve learned a lot of hard business lessons the hard way. Sometimes, I was warned about a course of action, and I stupidly did it anyway. Why? Because I’m stubborn. Did it work out? No.

So please consider this my tough love writing advice to you. If you want to increase your income, you have to get your business process tight and wired.

Here’s what to do.

Fire the clients who no longer serve you.

It may be the client who pays you late every single month. Or the client who sends you work Friday at 4:30 and expects it to be finished by Monday. Or the client that likes to call and “check in.” A lot.

Or, sadly, this can be your very first client. You outgrew them years ago, and they pay you far below your normal rate – but you have a hard time letting them go.

Let them go. It’s time.

Your clients may not bring you joy every single day, but you should at least enjoy working with them and feel respected. If you keep clients on who drive you nuts and suck up your available bandwidth, you won’t have time to help future clients you’ll love.

Here’s some more information on how to fire a writing client.

Ruthlessly budget the time you’ll spend on a project.

How many times have you calculated your hourly wage after completing a project and realized you could have made more working at McDonalds?

Yeah. We’ve all been there.

Yes, it’s OK to spend a little extra time polishing a project. But if you find yourself spending hours more than you originally budgeted, you have one of two problems:

– Your client is demanding additional work than what was originally contracted for (and you’re not kicking back as you should.)

– You need to stop being a perfectionist and get work out the door faster.

Remember, you cost yourself money every time you spend too much time on a project. It could be a few dollars. Or a few hundred. Either way, this is something you’re doing to yourself.

If your client wants something that’s out of scope, tell them that it’s an additional charge and ask if they still want to proceed. Easy. Here’s the difference between “out of scope” and a revision.

If you’re taking too long to write something, it’s time to tighten down your process. Remember, your copy is never going to be perfect. No matter how many times you tweak it. Really.

Know your numbers and stick to them.

Quick: How much money do you need to make to cover your monthly bills, including your insurance costs, vacation time and taxes? How many pages do you need to write every month to make that happen?

If you can’t immediately answer that question, that’s a huge red flag.

A huge mistake freelancers make is pulling pricing numbers out of the air without thinking about their hard monetary needs. Sure, you can charge $15 a blog post. But if your monthly expenses are $1,000, you’ll have to write an average of 17 articles a week just to break even.

The purpose of owning a business is to make money. If you’re constantly stressed about cash flow, your life will be a very unhappy place.

Remember, as a freelancer, you are responsible for everything – your own retirement, your own vacation, your own salary and your own health care. If you set your hourly rate at what you used to earn as a full-time employee, you’ll come up short every month. Carol Tice outlined the expenses you’ll need to cover in her pricing-savvy blog post.

Think out of the box

You don’t have to offer the same services as every other writer. One competitive intelligence secret top writers use is to talk to people in their target market (yes, on the phone) and ask them what their main challenges are. A quick 15-minute conversation can provide you a wealth of insider information you can use to craft future service offerings.

Need other ideas? Here are four ways you can increase your freelance income – fast.

Focus on your business first.

How many hours a week do you spend on your business? Not just administrative stuff like paying bills – but profit-driving things like setting up your marketing plan, connecting with influencers, planning new services and making your website shine.

For many writers, the answer is, “I don’t market my business.”

And that’s a huge mistake.

Your most important client is you. Period. That means you need to set aside time every week to strategize and plan (you know, just like you do for your clients.) You can set aside a half day to make it happen (Fridays tend to be good days.) Or, you can spend 30 minutes a day on business planning.

Do this. Do this now. Even if you think”you don’t have the time.” If you go out of business because you didn’t plan correctly, you’ll have plenty of time on your hands. But that’s not really what you want, is it?

Are you so overwhelmed with must-do tasks that you can’t figure out how you’d even find 30 minutes a day for marketing? The next tip is for you…

Let go of your need to control.

As freelance writers, it’s easy to believe that we have to do it all. We write the content. We research the keyphrases. We handle the back end of our businesses, like marketing, bill paying and invoice-wrangling.

Is it any wonder that balls get dropped?

Give yourself permission to think about tasks you could delegate to someone else. For instance:

  • You can bring on another writer and supervise their work. This strategy works to your advantage. You can make more money for much less work.
  • You can outsource tasks you don’t enjoy (like bookkeeping or keyphrase research) to someone else.
  • You can hire someone to post on social media for you (and yes, you can approve the posts first, you control freak you!)
  • Do you hate sales? Consider bringing on a commissioned sales person.
  • Is client communication driving you nuts and eating into your time? Bring on a part-time project manager.
  • Is your day taken up by administrative tasks? Hire a VA for a few hours a week.

The most successful freelancers I know work with a team of smart, talented people. Bringing on team members is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it’s the complete opposite – you are so laser-focused on your strengths, you recognize there are things you shouldn’t handle yourself. Yes, this is money that’s out the door. But you will make more money – and have more free time – if you bring on the right people to help. Trust me.

Think bigger

When I first started my SEO copywriting career, I’d look at the SEO cool kids like Danny Sullivan, Detlev Johnson and Shari Thurow and want to be just like them. They were speaking at conferences. They were working with major clients. They had some major SEO street cred.

My goal back then was to push myself out of my comfort level and speak on the national circuit. And yes, I made it happen!

Am I happy where I am today? Yes. Do I think I can do even more? You bet. I just set a big business goal for myself today – one that, yet again, pushes me squarely out of my comfort zone. I’m not sure how I’ll make it happen yet. And I have a feeling I’ll need to find help. But hey, that’s part of the fun!

Consider how you can take your business one step beyond. Maybe you want to make 50% more this year. Maybe you want to double your newsletter subscribers. Or maybe, you want to work your tail off ten months out of the year so you can vacation for the other two. Don’t let yourself think, “This sounds fun…but…” No excuses. Your mind (and your intentions) are much more powerful than you think.

Now get out there and start making some of that Internet money (thank you, South Park!).

5 SEO Client Types to Avoid at All Costs

Do you instantly hit the “ignore” button when you see a “special” client’s name come up on caller ID?

Do you write “please shoot me” notes during client calls?

Choosing the wrong clients is a slow, sure path to insanity. Fortunately, these folks throw up some pretty obvious red flags during the sales process. The key to business success is noticing those red flags in the moment — and not deluding yourself into thinking you can “fix” the client (yeah, right!)

Here are five common SEO writing client types to avoid at all costs:

– The “Taylor Swift” client

“All of my past SEO providers did me wrong, and I want to tell the world!”

If a prospect is outlining her grievances about every SEO writing firm she’s worked with — and this is your first phone call — you may want to steer clear. It’s true that people can make lousy SEO-provider decisions. And it’s true that there are bad SEO companies out there, and you may need to repair some legitimate damage. At the same time, you’ll want to proceed with caution when you notice that blinking neon chip on her shoulder. Especially if the prospect is ranting about her SEO exes instead of discussing the project.

With a “Taylor Swift” client, the real problem may not be “bad” SEO companies. Instead, the client may have some … issues. Just know you will never be her SEO knight in shining armor. No matter how well you perform, you too will “do her wrong” eventually – and she’ll add your story to the mix.

Do you really want to get involved with that hot mess?

– The mullet master

“I know a lot about SEO writing. I need doorway pages and article spinning.”

Does your prospect’s site scream 1999? Are they talking to you about doorway pages, keyphrase density and submitting to article directories? Your client could be so stuck in the SEO past that educating them will be a full-time job.

Assuming they listen to you.

Justin Timberlake may be able to bring sexy back, but you won’t be able to bring keyphrase density back. In a perfect world, you’re able to educate your prospect — and she actually listens to you and takes your advice. Unfortunately, many SEO prospects who are stuck in the past stay that way. They like it there. And they’ll keep calling providers until they reach someone who says, “Article directories? I love it! Yes, I can help!”

The “Yeah … but” prospect

“Yeah … but are you really sure that will work? My mother’s uncle’s cousin said I should try something else.”

Feeling like you’re talking to a brick wall? Do you have tiny bald patches from ripping out your hair? You’re talking to the “Yeah … but” prospect.  This person will shoot down any idea you have, even if they called you for help.

Unfortunately, this prospect is so pessimistic that making a decision is impossible. You’ll send proposal after proposal, but none of them will be “right.” Follow-up calls won’t help. Client education won’t help. This prospect is stuck in a deep hole of indecision, and there’s no way to dig them out. Nor will you probably ever sign a gig with them. Walking away is the safest thing you can do for your sanity (and your bottom line.)

– The “Wimpy” client

“I don’t pay deposits. I’ll pay you the entire invoice when the job is complete.”

This is the client who would gladly pay you Tuesday for SEO writing work you do today.  When asked about paying a retainer, their flat answer is “no.” Maybe it’s because they’ve been “burned by a bad SEO provider” (see my earlier point above.) Perhaps it’s not “how accounts payable does things.” That puts you in an uncomfortable situation. If you want the gig, you have to trust that the client will pay you. And pay you on time.

Your response to this type of client should be something along the lines of “No freakin’ way.” Paying a deposit is a standard practice that shouldn’t freak out a possible client. If it does freak them out, that’s a huge red flag. Essentially, the client is asking you to extend them credit and take on all the risk. If things like paying rent and eating are important to you, always get a deposit up front.

The “shiny objects” client

“I need help with my SEO copywri … Look! A squirrel!”

One day, your prospect is pumped about Pinterest. The next, she’s talking about adding new blog content. The following week, she’s changed her strategy entirely and feels it’s time for a redesign. In the meantime, you find yourself sending multiple proposals and spending hours chatting about your prospect’s “cool idea.”

On the positive side, these prospects are incredibly excited about the SEO and marketing opportunities. On the negative side, they often want to implement them all. Right now. And then change their minds.

Shiny-objects clients are notoriously difficult to help. Sometimes, you can pin them down and get them to sign a contract. Just be prepared for lots of forwarded emails promising to “submit your site to 1,000 directories” or “help your guest posts get more exposure.” If something new catches their eye, you’ll be the first to hear about it.

What other SEO writing client types would you add to the list?

Are Two Sites Better Than One?

Every once in awhile, someone will call me with this great, “guaranteed not to fail” idea.

The conversation goes something like this.

“Why don’t we build out another site, write a whole bunch of new, optimized content and target the same keyphrases. That way, BOTH sites can position in Google, and we can dominate the search listings. Cool idea, eh?”

Unfortunately, I tend to be the cold, dreary rain on their SEO parade.

This strategy can be a cool idea — for the right reasons.

But, if you’re doing this purely for SEO, splitting your site will be a major hassle for little return.

Here’s why…

Twice the sites can mean triple the efforts

Think about your current site (or your clients’ sites.) How much content do you produce a month? How are you promoting it on social media? How long does everything take — and how much does it cost?

Building a brand-new site just for Google means tripling your efforts, costs and output. It means a new wireframe, a new design, and new technology to manage.

Plus, it takes a long time for new sites to position, even if there’s a solid content strategy in place. Assuming the site does position.

Many times, the ROI never pencils out.

What does Google say?

The SEM Post reported how Google’s John Mueller had this to say during a Twitter chat:

“If you split a site into two sites, each site will have to rank on its own. That can result in the 2 sites not being as visible in search (or as much traffic) as the single old site (eg, very simplified: 2x page 2 probably gets fewer visits than 1x page 1).”

So, if you’re splitting out your existing site — or creating a new site “just for Google,” you may be creating more trouble than it’s worth.

You have been warned. :)

But (because there’s always a but…)

Some companies create multiple sites because it makes sense for their customers. For instance, a company may have separate sites for B2B and B2C customers.

Or, a company may offer a new service/product that’s completely unrelated to their main target audience — so, a new site makes sense. For instance, my coaching site will be a brand-new site. It won’t have anything to do with SEO writing.

Or, a company may have another, technical reason. My SEO Content Institute site is where my products (and training back-end) live. It used to be all under my SEO Copywriting domain, but selling products AND services AND the training/technical back-end caused things to be confusing. And break. A lot.

As you may have noticed, I am the queen of multiple sites — but, I do it because it makes business sense. Not for Google.

And yes, it’s a pain to manage multiple sites. :)

What do you think?

When I first talked about multiple sites in my newsletter, many subscribers emailed me saying, “Yes, our company has multiple sites, and its a nightmare.” Sometimes, the multiple site strategy was for SEO. Sometimes, the powers-that-be thought it was a “good idea” to build something new.

In almost all cases, unless there was a compelling business purpose, the ROI wasn’t there.

But, what do YOU think? What do you see? Leave a comment below and let me know what’s on your mind. I’d love to get your take.

“SEO Content Marketing Is Too Expensive.” Now What?

How many times have you heard, “We can’t rewrite the web content right now. It’s too expensive”?

Or…

“Revising the SEO content is going to take a lot of manpower. We have other priorities.”

Yeah, I’ve heard it too.

Sure, the content may be horrible. But, the thought of changing it (and paying for it) is too overwhelming.

Even if it’s holding a business back from SEO (and sales) success.

The disconnect between expectations and reality

Many prospects (and in-house teams) are surprised at how hard it is to create good SEO content. In their heads, it will take just a few weeks and cost less than $2,500 for the entire site. They won’t need to allocate manpower to it, or have to pay for “extras” like competitive intelligence or keyphrase research.

The content will just…happen.

When they get the inevitable reality slap of “yes, this costs time and money,” it’s easy for the prospect (or manager) to back away, reprioritize, and choose to do something different.

Sure, they know their current SEO content is underperforming. But, the thought of change is too overwhelming. Too expensive. Too….everything.

If you get kickback, or hear “not now” from the powers-that-be, the first reaction is often to get angry or feel discouraged. After all, it’s easy to go down a path where you can feel like, “they don’t care,” or “they’re just trying to lowball my pricing.”

Instead, take a deep breath…

Here’s what you can do

Remind your prospect/boss that content marketing is not a sprint — it’s a marathon.

A marathon you can eventually win, even if you take baby steps.

Is it ideal to comb through all the content at once and switch it out? Sure. But most teams can’t accommodate that workload (and the up-front price tag for outsourcing would be hefty.)

Instead, look at what you can realistically do every month. For instance, maybe the first month is checking out the competition, reviewing the keyphrase data, and creating the editorial calendar.

Month two, you could rewrite a couple important “money” pages (the ones that drive the most revenue) and track performance.

And go from there…

You’re still getting everything done — and the client is still paying the same amount — but it’s all happening in baby steps. You can take your time, see what’s working, and adjust accordingly.

The baby step approach is often much less overwhelming to the prospect (or boss.) She can budget X hours (or dollars) every month to get to the goal.

Plus, a baby step strategy allows everyone to see some nice wins along the way. The wins may not happen quite as quickly as doing everything at once, but they do happen.

Will you still get some kickback, even with a suggested baby step approach? Possibly. If so, put your curiosity hat on and ask the client, “how much is it costing to not improve these pages?”

Or…

“How many leads could you generate if these pages were performing?”

This helps shift the prospect’s attention from, “oh, crap, this is expensive,” to “oh yeah, it’s costing us more to NOT do it.”

This shift doesn’t guarantee your boss will say, “You’re right. Let’s start today!” You may still get a “not now” response. That’s OK. At least you’ve helped her think about the situation in a new, realistic, and less scary way.

How to Master Meta Descriptions With the Google Snippet Trick

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

Last week, I came across a Yoast article discussing Google’s longer meta descriptions (Google doubled the room we have for meta descriptions last year — from 160 characters with spaces to 320.)

The first paragraph contained a sentence that made me laugh:

“It appears that Google very often creates a meta description by itself…”

Basically, the author is saying that Google will often disregard our submitted meta descriptions and use a snippet of text from the landing page, instead.

(For those new to snippets, you’ll find the meta description snippet underneath the clickable link on the search engine results page — and the search term — or close variations — are typically bolded.)

Is this true? Is Google doing a meta description switcheroo?

Yes. But, here’s the deal…

This has been true for a long time. In fact, I remember writing about the Google Snippet Trick back in 2003 or so.

What’s the Google Snippet Trick? I’m glad you asked…

It’s simple.

When you write your page copy, try to include a benefit statement or call-to-action near the first instance of your main keyphrase (which is typically in the first paragraph.)

That way, when Google does grab a snippet of text for the search engine results page, your copy has as much marketing oomph as possible.

For instance, if you do a search for [SEO copywriting training], the search snippet for my site reads:

Endorsed by organizations such as seoPros.org and AWAI, the SEO Copywriting Certification training is a self-directed training focused on web content and social media writing. The materials are continually updated, reflecting the latest search engine changes.

Yes! I’ll take it!

Yoast recommends spending extra attention to your main paragraph. Although I would agree, remember that Google can pull the snippet from anywhere on the landing page (for instance, my snippet is from the bottom of the page.)

So, yes, every word counts — not just with your readers, but with Google, too. If you write a bloated, sloppy page, your search snippet may also read bloated and sloppy.

And, since meta descriptions help your readers convert and click through to your site, sloppy writing will hurt more than help.

What should you do now?

Take a peek at Google search results for your main keyphrases (or, if you work as a content strategist, your clients’ keyphrases.)

How do the search snippets read to you? Are they strong, or is there room for improvement?

If you find your snippets suck, you could gently tweak the site content, and add benefit statements or calls-to-action. Per Yoast’s recommendation, you may also want to pay special attention to your first few sentences.

Remember, search snippets are something that Google “controls,” so you may not be able to move the needle.

But, it’s worth a try. Especially if a keyphrase is super-important to you, and you want your Title and meta description to sing.

After all, the more compelling your Title and description are, the more chance your prospect will click through to your site — even if you’re not #1.

Cool, eh?

BTW, it’s still important to create a meta description, even if Google doesn’t always use it. After all, you don’t know when Google will make up its own snippet — or rely on your site for the answers. Why not err on the side of caution and spend three minutes crafting a cool description?

What do YOU think? Post your comments below — I’d love to hear from you!

What If B2B Keyphrase Research Doesn’t Work?

Looking for B2B keywords?

What do you do when conventional keyphrase research tools do you wrong?

Here’s what I mean.

Last February, I spoke during AWAI’S Web Content Intensive (woot — what a fun event!) During my presentation, a woman asked how she could find reliable keyword research metrics for her niche B2B.

Her problem? Conventional research tools, like SEMrush, told her there was “no data” for her B2B keyphrase searches.

The offering was so niche, and the keyphrases received so few searches, that conventional keyphrase research tools didn’t help.

Maybe that’s happened to you too.

B2B keyphrase research is quirky.

I’ve discussed before how many B2B searches receive low search volume. One keyphrase may drive just 20 searches a month — but, those searches represent a highly-focused and motivated audience.

You won’t necessarily see high numbers with B2B keyphrase research, but that’s OK. The keyphrases are often highly profitable in terms of lead generation and sales.

But, sometimes, there’s NO data to work with — and you have no idea how people are searching for you, what words you should include in your copy, or what to do next.

There's always a keyphrase research workaround

Fortunately, there’s always a workaround.

Here’s how to do it.

Chat with your prospects and customers.

Sometimes, the easiest ways to learn how prospective customers are searching for a company like yours is to simply ask. For instance, when talking to a prospect, ask, “What search terms did you type into Google to find me?” Or, include the question on your “contact us” form. While you’re chatting with your prospects, you can also…

Peruse their pain points.

Discovering your target customers’ specific pain points is a great way to unearth useful blog post ideas. Plus, when you interview your target customers, you can hear the verbiage they use to explain their problems. This allows you to write extremely laser-focused and customer-focused content using the terminology your readers use every day.

Review specialized forums and check out the discussions.

This isn’t quite as good as speaking to a customer, but it still gives you an idea of what’s on your target audience’s minds, their pressing pain points, and what’s important to them. Plus, mining specialized discussion lists for your industry is a great way to brainstorm blog post ideas.

(Bonus tip: industry publications can give you some insight too — although they aren’t quite as good as mining discussion list data.)

Check out the competition

Fair warning: take this advice with a grain of salt. Some competing sites are bad, and you won’t learn anything useful by surfing around. Having said that, you can (sometimes) learn a lot by checking out a competing site. Look at how the competitor structures their content, review their blog post topics, and try to reverse-engineer their keyphrase focus. You can also use tools like SEMrush to see what phrases your competitors are ranking for.

Type your keyphrases into Google and see what happens

Google some possible search term ideas and look for competing sites. If you see some competitors — and the search results are relevant to what you offer — look for “searches related to [your search term]” at the bottom of the page. Voila! Those phrases are all possible keyphrase ideas.

Analyze your analytics

Unless you’re writing for a brand-new site, you should have some clickthrough data. Check out Google’s Search Console and Google Analytics to get a sense of how people are finding you now. You can even attribute exact keywords to URLs in Google’s Search Console — here’s how.

Checking out your analytics is always a smart move. Why guess at how people are finding you when the data is right there? To paraphrase a BuzzFeed headline, what you find may surprise you.

What do YOU think?

Are you stuck in a B2B keyphrase research rabbit hole? Does keyphrase research freak you out entirely? Let me know in the comments!

9 Reasons Why You’re Losing Freelance Writing Gigs

What are the most frustrating words you can hear (or read) after spending hours writing a proposal?

“You’re too expensive. We’re going to go in another direction.”

ARGH!

But, here’s the thing…

We’ve all gone beyond our budget and spent more than we’ve expected.

We buy a slightly more expensive car because it has better safety ratings.

We buy organic produce because we feel it’s better for us.

We splurge for an expensive night out, because it’s been ages since we’ve dressed in something other than yoga pants.

(OK, maybe that last one is just me.) :)

The point is, companies set budgets (sometimes, highly unrealistic ones) limiting how much they’ll spend.

But, like us, companies will make the call to spend more than expected — IF they think the value is there.

 

And that’s the key point.

Those companies that say “no” aren’t necessarily saying, “you’re too expensive.” They’re saying, “I don’t see your value, so you aren’t a good fit.”

​​​​​​​It’s true that some companies will only pay $6/post, and expect you to be THRILLED with that amount. I’m not talking about these folks.

I’m talking about folks who have money, and are ready to spend it…but they aren’t spending it with you.

Sound familiar?

If your proposals are falling flat, here are 9 things to check:

  • Are you bidding too low? Believe it or not, your low prices may be what’s causing prospects to run away.
  • Should you bid a monthly retainer rather than per-post? Many SEO copywriters brand themselves as “content marketers,” and handle the entire content campaign. Content marketing rates range from $1,250 – 10K+/month, so it may be worth upgrading your skills.
  • Are your proposals professional-looking and typo-free? Consider having another writer check out your template and make suggestions.
  • Are you bidding too high? Mom-and-pop businesses can’t spend $200 per post, even if you’re the best writer in the world. You may need to adjust your pricing for the market — or change markets.
  • Are you providing too much information? Do you feel compelled to brainstorm a complete strategy and include it in your proposal? Stop it! Your prospect hasn’t paid for your brainpower…and you run the risk of your client using your strategy without paying you. This happens all the time.
  • Are you getting too personal? Writing, “I’m a new mom who really wants to work from home,” or “I just quit my job,” screams “I’m a beginning writer who isn’t quite serious yet.” Leave the personal information out. Focus your proposal on what you can do for the client, instead.
  • Do you sound desperate? “I could really use this job” is a sure way to get your work ignored.
  • Do you sound inexperienced? If your SEO knowledge is old or you were never trained adequately, shore up your knowledge before pitching clients. I can’t tell you how many pitches I’ve read with the term “keyword density” in them.
  • Are you showcasing your value? What can YOU bring to the table that other writers can’t? If your prospect can’t see what makes you a unique and cost-effective hire, it’s easy to move on to another candidate.

What do YOU think?

Did you think, “Yup, I do that” after reading the list? It’s OK. We’ve all messed up a proposal or two (or more!) The question is — what will you do differently next time? Let me know in the comments.

 

Wondering What to Write About? Try This!

How many of you get stuck in the “what should I write about” trap?

::raising my hand::

Fortunately, there’s a simple way to create highly useful content that’s great for your readers.

Plus, Google LOVES this kind of content, and it even gives it special billing in the search results.

What’s the secret?

Answer common questions your readers ask every day.

Why is answering questions such a powerful content play?

Easy. Because your readers have questions. Shouldn’t your company be the one that answers them?

Think about it. How many times have you signed up for a newsletter after reading a particularly helpful blog post? Or, downloaded a white paper for more information? You may have even made a purchase.

Strong, question-oriented content can cause conversions.

For instance, let’s say you were planning a trip to San Diego with your family.

You’d probably start typing in question-oriented queries like:

[best time to visit San Diego]

[average San Diego temperature January]

[things to do in San Diego with kids]

You may not know exactly when you’d visit, what you’d do or where you’d stay. You’d just type your questions and explore the opportunities.

Now, imagine finding a San Diego hotel website with a great, “Explore San Diego with your kids” guide.

After reading the guide, wouldn’t you examine that hotel property more closely — even if you’ve never heard of it before?

You bet. You may even book a stay, too.

Providing helpful content wins the game.

(And yes, this is the same for B2B companies. Writing content that answers your prospects’ common questions is a smart move — and your prospects will appreciate it!)

Does this technique have any Google benefits?

Yes.

Remember my post about voice search? I gave folks a heads up that question-oriented queries written in a conversational tone is a smart move.

In fact, Google pulls out popular questions and features them at the top of the search results page. Clicking a question provides the “best” answer (as decided by Google) with a link to the source page.

 

What’s more, those featured snippet answers may turn into voice search responses, too.

How cool would it be if YOUR content was read back to you by Alexa, Google or Siri?

I don’t know about you, but I get gleeful goosebumps even thinking about it.

(Want to learn more about featured snippets? Check out this recent study by SEMrush. It even breaks down the average paragraph length for featured snippet content.)

How can you find question-oriented queries?

Easy!

Check out KeywordTool.io and Answer the Public. Both tools offer great, free data (and the dude on the Answer the Public home page always make me laugh.)

Reddit, Quora and specialized forums are chock-full of questions.

Many paid tools have a “questions” feature.

And don’t forget to ask the folks in the trenches — the people who answer customer/prospect questions every day. These people may include:

– Receptionists and administrative assistants

– Customer service team members

– The company’s owner, especially if the owner is also handling sales

– The inbound and outbound sales team

Ready? Go forth and start answering questions — and please let me know how it goes!

Do you have questions about answering questions?

Or, is there something else on your mind? Let me know in the comments!

Still Using Google’s Keyword Planner? Your Time May Be Up.

Cover Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

Over the years, I’ve joked that “Google giveth, and Google taketh away.”

Here we go again.

And this time, it may directly affect how you do business.

Here’s what’s happening…

The free ride is over

Years ago, Google’s Keyword Planner was considered a fairly viable keyphrase research tool. Accessing it was easy, the data was decent, and, most importantly, it was free. Sure, it was created for PPC ad research, but it (mostly) did the organic trick.

In fact, many writers (and even agencies) relied on Google’s Keyword Planner for all their organic keyphrase research.

Then, over the years, Google changed the game.

At first, you had to be logged into Google to use the tool. No big deal.

Then, you needed to create an AdWords account to access the tool. You didn’t have to spend money, but you did need to sign up.

Then, Google started to show search volume ranges rather than specific numbers (unless you were a major advertiser; then you got to see it all.)

Sure, search volume ranges made the data fairly worthless (especially compared to paid keyphrase research tools,) but some loyal folks stuck with it — probably because it was free.

Not anymore.

Good news: Google rebuilt the Keyword Planner from the ground up. Bad news: Google is deactivating all AdWords accounts with no active spend over the last 15 months.

What does this mean?

Photo by Nigel Tadyanehondo

If you’re not spending money with Google, you’ve been kicked off the Keyword Planner island. If you want back on, you have to reactivate your account, reinstate a PPC ad campaign — and yes, actually run it and pay money.

You don’t get to play with the latest and greatest Keyword Planner without paying (for a PPC campaign.)

Plus, Google is instituting the change this week. So, there’s virtually no warning.

How bad is this, really?

It depends.

Many companies and writers have dropped Keyword Planner in favor of another, more robust keyphrase research tool. This is a good thing.

However, if Keyword Planner has been your best keyphrase research buddy, it’s time to find another option — fast.  Check out tools like Keyword Finder, Moz, Ahrefs, and SEMrush. Try their free trials. See what feels the best to you.

Yes, these tools cost money. But look at it this way — you’ve been getting a free ride all these years. It’s time to see where a real keyphrase research tool will take you.

Once you roll around in all the juicy data a paid tool provides, you’ll never go back to free.

Besides, a good keyphrase research tool is just as important as your computer, your website, and everything else you need to run your business.

Photo by Kaizen Nguyễn

It’s time to take the plunge.

What do you think?

When I published this information in my weekly newsletter, the feedback was split down the middle. About half of my respondents were freaking out, and asking for my keyphrase research tool suggestions (here you go.) The rest said they stopped using Google’s Keyword Planner a long time ago, and enjoy the tasty data a paid keyphrase research tool provides.

How about you?

Are you shaking your fist at Google, cursing them for taking away yet another “useful” tool? Or, did you read this with Zen-like calm, knowing Google is … well … Google? Comment below and let me know!

What’s Your Copywriting Superpower?

Have you seen the latest Marketing Profs 2018 Marketing Salary Guide?

The 2018 salaries for brand and agency content positions blew me away!

The forecasted salary range for a content strategist is $60,000 – $115,000.

A web copywriter? $47,000 – $104,000.

In fact, there was nothing under $40K a year.

Nice, eh?

This is great news for content writers like us. (Congratulations if you make this — or even more than this — now!)

But, what if you’re not making that kind of money?

It’s easy to look at salary surveys like this and think, “Everyone else is making way more money than I am. What’s wrong with me?”

I assure you that is NOT what’s going on.

In fact, after I wrote about this in my newsletter, I heard from many writers — both freelance and in-house — who ARE afraid of algorithms taking their jobs.

They’re floundering around, taking low-paying gigs, and suffering with slow-paying clients.

Maybe you feel the same way.

For instance…

A friend of mind was stressing out because she had a “feast or famine” business. When she was busy, she was too busy to think — but when things were quiet, she’d wake up at 3 a.m. and worry about money.

What’s funny is this woman is brilliant at product launches. She can write the emails. She can set up the back end. She can project manage the process. It’s a huge skill set.

The challenge is, she didn’t think of her skill set as a superpower. She didn’t realize she was charging way too little for the knowledge that was in her head.

Because that’s why clients pay you, you know. It’s because of your superpowers.

One SEO Copywriting Buzz reader summed this up beautifully when she responded to my “will machines take our writing jobs” email. Her note?

My copywriting superpower is being a CPA steeped in direct response. I don’t see my big clients looking to AI to write for them. They’re willing to pay me for what’s in my brain.

YES, YES, YES!

So, what’s your content writing superpower?

What do you do every day that seems easy to you — but, blows your clients’ or boss’ minds?

Do your blog posts get more likes than cute cat videos?

Do you have influencers at your fingertips, ready to help get the word out?

Can you write highly-technical content that only an engineer could understand?

Your superpower skill set is what propels you from, “I’m worried about money and clients don’t pay me enough,” to “I’m on vacation and I’m not taking on new clients right now.”

Knowing the value you bring to the table gives you the confidence to negotiate a much higher writing salary (plus, it allows you to work on the stuff you really find fun.)

It’s all about what’s in your brain. The information in your head is worth more than you know.

What do YOU think of the salary survey?

Is it inspirational? Depressing? Do you know your writing superpower, or are you still discovering your hidden talents? Leave a comment and let me know.

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