Why Writers Should Look for “Easy” Content Wins

Did you grow up hearing, “If it’s easy, there must be something wrong with it”?

Yeah. Me too.

Instead of looking for the easy way out, we often look for the most challenging, brutal way to do things. We work harder. We work longer hours. If we’re not suffering, we aren’t trying.

It’s all about the hustle.

Granted, this mentality helps us to a certain extent. Busting out of our comfort zones is important. Sometimes, we have to go through some pain to see some gain (for instance, starting a new workout routine.)

But, what does this mean to our content marketing strategy? Should we always push the content marketing envelope?

My answer: Nope.

Here’s why…

Easy has a huge benefit.

A parallel I like to make is around exercise.

I love high-intensity exercise. It’s the only thing that makes my brain turn off.

But, it’s hard.

The only way I can do it is to build in rest days. I go to yoga. Or I take a walk. I’ve even thought about Zumba (don’t laugh.) If I push myself too much, I burn out, get sick and have zero energy.

Now, think of this in terms of your content marketing campaign.

Constantly writing (and researching, and promoting) detailed long-form posts is hard.

Publishing daily (or even weekly) for some companies may be the equivalent of engaging in high-intensity exercise without a break.

Balancing search and social without a sustainable plan can cause burnout — fast.

The result? The post quality goes down. The writers (you!) burn out. Sales go down.

You’re pushing so hard towards your goal, you don’t realize you don’t have to push so darn hard all the time.

So, what can you do instead?

Look for easy.

Here are some ideas:

  • Repurpose old blog posts and turn them into an email series.
  • Re-optimize old blog posts that have so-so positions.
  • Send social traffic to old posts (hey, those old posts need love too.)
  • Revise older posts and republish them as new.
  • If a task has been challenging in the past (say, getting subject matter experts to blog,) work around it (for example, interview the experts instead and post the transcripts.)
  • Slice your publication schedule (it’s OK. Really!)

If you’ve been hitting roadblocks, find the easy workarounds rather than beating your head against the wall.

You’ll be happier. Your content will be better for it.

And yes, you still want to stretch yourself and try new things. Challenging yourself to try something new is a good thing  (I’m challenging myself to hold more webinars this year.)

But, you still need those “rest days.” You still need the easy to balance out the hard.

(Need a place to start? I updated my post on how to conduct a content audit – please check it out and share it with your friends.)

What do YOU think?

Are you feeling like you’re on a never-ending content creation hamster wheel? Does it feel like “easy” isn’t good enough? What are you doing to simplify your SEO content creation efforts? Leave your feedback below — I’d love to hear from you!

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.

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!

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!

Over 70 Percent of Top-Ten Sites Have This Characteristic

Quick: What’s a common characteristic of 70 percent (or more) of top-ten sites?

Is it a clickable Title?

Is it long-form content?

Nope. In fact, to borrow from Buzzfeed, “The answer will surprise you.”

The answer: site security.

Two recent studies show secure, https pages are locking up the top results.

Barry Schwartz reported that two sources — RankRanger and Mozcast — show over 70 percent of top-ten listings are https.

(For the record, RankRanger says 70 percent, and Mozcast’s chart shows 78 percent.)

(Graph from RickRanger)

(Graph from MozCast)

That’s a pretty huge percentage.

Google + https = LOVE

I know Valentine’s Day was a few weeks ago, but I can’t help but bring up Google’s love affair with https.

Google has been pushing https for a long time and incentivizing the switch.

For instance, starting this July, Chrome will flag http pages as “not secure.”

Just last week, Google’s John Mueller said that new sites should go with https from the start.

Plus, https sites supposedly receive a “slight rankings boost” in Google.

Google is making their intentions extremely clear.

What does this mean for your site?

I’d love to say, “Switch to https and receive an automatic rankings boost! Tell your clients! Tell your friends!”

But, I can’t.

It’s true that most of the sites in the top-ten results are https. That doesn’t mean that being a secure site is what boosted their rankings. They may have already been smart, top-positioned authority sites.

Correlation is not causation.

However, with ALL the reasons Google is giving us to switch to a secure site, doing so just makes sense.

If your clients ask, “Should we go secure?” The answer is yes. After all, do you want to see, “this site is not secure” on a webpage you wrote? Or lose out on the (possible) chance for a slightly better position?

Ugh.

And, if you haven’t switched to https for your own site, now is the time. Talk to your web designer or host — they’ll be able to help.

After all, if moving to https can (possibly) move the needle — why not take advantage of it?

Every little bit helps.

So, what’s going on with you?

Are you happy? Frustrated? Swamped with work? Trying to figure out your next steps? Or, are you frustrated with Google and wish they’d make things easy for a change? (I know, I know!) Leave a comment and let me know!

Did you enjoy this post? Why not sign up for my free, weekly newsletter? It’s all the smart SEO information you need — without the fluff.

It’s 2017. Is SEO Copywriting Training Still Needed?

Have you shelved SEO copywriting training for your in-house writers, figuring the money was better spent elsewhere?

That strategy may put your company at a competitive disadvantage.

Conductor recently reported that half of all content jobs require some SEO skills.

That means companies (like your competitors) are valuing SEO copywriting knowledge more than ever before.

Are you ready?

This statistic shocked me. Yes, I knew more companies were training their writers. But I didn’t know it was that many.

Why? Because I’ve heard all the reasons why training the writing team wasn’t a priority…

“Our writers write for social. We figure the organic listings will sort themselves out.”

“Our style guide includes a SEO writing checklist. The writers don’t need anything more.”

“There’s no budget.”

(Maybe you’ve said the same thing.)

But here’s what tend to happen…

The marketplace starts to shift. Companies realize their social campaigns aren’t driving organic traffic. Smaller sites are out-positioning them for major searches. Thousands of pages aren’t positioning — and they’re not sure why.

Suddenly, SEO copywriting training becomes an important priority.

Over the last three years, I’ve worked with large companies running well-known authority sites. They employed professional writers, wrote excellent content, and aggressively published.

But here’s the challenge: Their writers didn’t understand how to research keyphrases, or how to integrate them into the copy.

The existing content team couldn’t “see” the low-hanging optimization fruit opportunities — and how, just by tweaking some old content — they could dramatically increase their search volume.

They didn’t realize how their old-school SEO writing techniques was actually making their site less competitive — not more.

The writers didn’t realize that SEO copywriting was more about serving up excellent, 10X content — and not about writing stilted-sounding, keyphrase-stuffed content.

In short, the writing team didn’t know what they didn’t know — and, that knowledge was throttling their search traffic.

SEO copywriting in 2017 is more about topic and entity optimization and less (actually, not at all) about optimizing for one keyphrase per page. (Want to learn more? This recent post from Searchmetrics dives into some geeky SEO writing goodness.)

It’s giving your reader ALL the information she needs to see in the micro-moment. It’s leveraging the competitive landscape and reader feedback to craft the right content length, every time.

It’s far more complicated than it was back in 1999, 2009 — or even just a couple years ago.

To answer the question: Yes, SEO copywriting training is necessary. In fact, a lack of SEO writing skills puts companies at a competitive risk.

Plus, the knowledge you’ll gain will pay for itself in increased site traffic and higher-converting pages.

Your writers can no longer live in SEO darkness.

The key is finding the right training for your team.

Here’s how to do it:

How to train your writers in SEO writing best practices

Fortunately, there are a number of ways your team can get the training it needs. Here’s the breakdown:

Online SEO copywriting training courses

There are a number of online training courses available, ranging in price from $29 to $995 or more. Some courses focus primarily on writing skills, while others also discuss content marketing strategies.

Pros:

  • Convenient: Writers can log in and learn when they have time.
  • Lower-cost: Online courses cost less than customized trainings and some workshops.
  • Some online courses have monthly calls, so there is some instructor interaction.

Cons:

  • Some training courses offer no (or very limited) instructor interaction.
  • Course materials go out-of-date quickly, so you’ll have to ask how often the training is updated. Don’t expect an expert, up-to-date course for $30 — unfortunately, they don’t exist.
  • There is no one-on-one help. Some companies may benefit from an outside consultant checking out their copy.

Some online courses are: Yoast’s SEO copywriting training, AWAI’s SEO Copywriting Success and my SEO Copywriting Certification training.

Writing workshops

If you’re lucky, you can track down a local SEO writing workshop. Register for them right away — writing workshops are fun, small-group experiences where questions are always welcome. Typical prices range from $99 to $1,500 for a multi-day event.

Pros:

  • More one-on-one attention: A small-group environment makes it easier to ask questions.
  • Lower-cost: Online courses cost less than customized trainings.
  • Great networking opportunities: You’ll be learning with other writers like you.

Cons:

  • Writing workshops don’t happen very frequently.
  • They are usually held in larger cities — so if you have to travel, the costs quickly skyrocket.
  • You may not learn everything you want; it all depends on the agenda.

AWAI’s Web Writing Intensive brings together fantastic speakers and a very robust, hands-on program. It’s held once a year, typically in Austin, TX. For more of a content marketing slant, the Content Marketing Institute has their Content Marketing Master Class.  And yes, I run small-group SEO copywriting workshops from time to time, too.

Customized SEO copywriting training

Does you company know you need to do “something” with your content — but you don’t know what? Customized SEO content training mixes together a SEO content site audit, consulting and training.

Costs for a customized training are from 5K – 10K or more. Why so much? Instead of presenting a “stock” training, the consultant is reviewing your analytics, auditing your site and customizing a deck based on your team’s requirements.

Pros:

  • You get exactly what you want. You want information about sales writing? No problem. More information about keyphrase rearch? Great. You choose the agenda.
  • You can train your entire team, not just a couple key people. This helps the entire organization understand their role in an SEO writing/content marketing team. Some presenters allow you to record the presentation, giving you an on-demand training resource when you’re on boarding new writers.
  • You learn what you need to do and how to do it. Your writers can immediately implement changes and track results. Plus, you can learn about cool new tools you can use.

Cons:

  • Some consultants charge on a per-person basis, and that can add up if you want your entire company to attend the training. Make sure to clarify the charge.
  • The cost is higher, due to the complexity.
  • You’ll need to schedule a training day and coordinate schedules.

I love training in-house writing teams. You can also find other smart writers/consultants to help your team. Just email a writer you admire and ask about their availability!

How can you choose the right training resource for your team?

If your content team has five or more writers — and you know your content has “issues” — a customized training may provide higher ROI. Online trainings are great for smaller teams and small business owners. I’d recommend a local workshop for any-sized business. They’re that fun.

So, what’s the bottom line for your company?

SEO copywriting training is no longer a “nice to have” goal. Check out your options. Make the (very reasonable) investment. Train your team. It’s a no-brainer.

After all, your competitors are training their writing teams. Shouldn’t you train yours?

Want to learn more about training options? Let’s talk –I’ve been training writers for 19 years

Link Building for Content Marketers: Interview with Debra Mastaler

Around 16 years ago, I met Debra Mastaler, founder of Alliance-Link — and I was immediately impressed by her intelligence, knowledge and her no-nonsense advice. Debra is a trailblazing woman (in fact, she was one of the first women in SEO) who knows how to set smart, sustainable link marketing campaigns. If you have a chance to see her speak, grab it. You’ll walk away with a wealth of actionable information.

I sat down with Debra to chat about link building for content marketers — and here’s what she had to say. Enjoy!

Let’s start with the big question first: Can content strategists continue to just write copy — or do they need to have a link building strategy in place before they start writing? If they write it, will the links naturally come?

From my experience, not having some type of marketing strategy in place before you begin usually nets little in the way of traffic and links to your content.  You tend to get lost without a map; have an outline first and linking will be easier.

I’ve had very few “wins” with content when I didn’t spend time mapping out:

  1. Who to market the content to and
  2. Where to promote it.

Having a sense of direction before the first word is written is key, know the demographic you want to promote to and find out where that demographic frequents.

When you know who’s interested in your content and where they congregate you’ll have an easier time promoting your content to them.

From there, the links will come if the content is good!

Are some content assets naturally more “linkable?” For instance, you read “create infographics for links” — and then Steve Rayson from BuzzSumo says that infographics drive shares, but not links. What really works?

That’s hard to say and dependent on a couple of things.

First, different types of content work in various market and demographics, it’s important to first identify your market and understand elements within it such as ethnicity, age, gender, income, leisure activities, education, etc.   You should have some idea who is buying your goods and services and what they “like”.

If you don’t know, find out.  It will make your content promotions and inbound link efforts so much easier!   Use sources like the U.S. Census Bureau, FedStats and Reference to help.

From there, identifying trends is next.  Having demographic data is important, but as a link builder I need to be able to learn from the past so I can look into the future.  Once I know who I’m targeting, I look at what worked in the past and use that information to make predications on where to move forward. I set alerts and pull data from current news sources to determine what’s appealing to my target audience.  If I find infographics and/or interviews were solid hits, I will lean in that content direction.

But if not?  I won’t do an infographic just because it’s the tactic du jour in the SEO landscape.  Following the herd is not always the best way to go.

What about Penguin and spammy links? Is this something folks need to worry about if they’re dipping their toes in the link building waters?

Since Google folded the Penguin filter into their algorithm and made it a permanent part of their ranking system, I recommend you not be tempted to use “spammy” links as part of your link building efforts.  Getting out of hot water with Google is time consuming and expensive, best to avoid spammy links and save yourself a lot of heartache.

How can an overwhelmed content creator focus her efforts? Building lots of links? Being choosy and finding the best ones to target?

Search engines place high value on quality pages so content creators should spend time developing partnerships with solid sources that will host their content.  Sources as in well ranked websites with strong traffic and social patterns.  These elements support ongoing SEO efforts and help promote content which will drive traffic and eventually – links.

What are a couple examples of no-brainer, low-hanging fruit link opportunities a lot of site owners and content creators miss?

This depends on your industry or niche really, but in general, everyone should have solid social media accounts in place and should belong to a high profile industry association or Chamber of Commerce.  Both of these items go a long way to establishing credibility for your site and in assisting with content promotion.

Is link building all about SEO? What about sites that offer a nofollow link, but could send tons of targeted traffic?

I am fond of saying, “links help get you ranked but clicks show you deserve to be there”.

If you can get content placed on high traffic sites even if they use nofollow attributes on the links, go for it.

With today’s algorithms, you need “clinks” or clicks and links in order to rank and stay ranked.  Don’t let nofollow attributes stop you if the site has high traffic.

I get “will you link to me” emails all.the.time. 99.9% of the time, I ignore them — these folks are strangers emailing me out of the blue. Having said that, is begging strangers for links a viable strategy?

Many of these emails are generated from outreach software that searches on keywords and do little to personalize or research their requests.  I delete these as well.

But occasionally one will hit my desk I’ll pay attention to, especially one from a website using keywords within my target niche.  I seldom add their links to my site “just because,” but if someone points out a legitimate reason why I should add the link, (replace a broken link) then I may do it.

Before I do, I make sure I research the requesting site well.  If they have an email signature, I click the links.  No signature, I usually ignore the request.

In addition, I’ll run the name of the requesting site for complaints and run the name of the person making the request through Google Plus to see if they have a profile.  I have the Rapportive app installed on my machines so I can see the contacts details in my inbox.

Fail on any of these points and I delete!

Are there certain pages on a site that can be a link-acquiring powerhouse? For instance, cornerstone content pages?

We need to step back and determine where the clicks are coming from before we can answer this one.

If your links are sitting on high traffic, well ranked pages linking to cornerstone content, it makes sense that page will get the most traffic.

But in general, studies have shown your Home and About Us page receive the most clicks overall.  Why?

Studies show Home pages are most generally linked to or cited in media and general content.  Even if they don’t link to the company, they use the name which in turn motivates people to search.  Once on the site, people want to know about the company behind the screen so the About Us page is clicked.

If you want your cornerstone content clicked on repeatedly, re-socialize it periodically and work to have it placed on a site with continuous high traffic.

What’s the wackiest/most original link building campaign that actually worked?

Several years ago I implemented a link building campaign that used free tee-shirts as an incentive.  You link to the site, we give you a shirt. It was an overwhelming success and one of the best campaigns I’ve done, I’m constantly amazed at what people will do for a free tee-shirt.

That said, Google is very much against this type of tactic now, their Link Schemes post pointedly says:

“The following are examples of link schemes which can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results:

Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link”

What made this campaign “wacky” was the niche the client was in; you wouldn’t in a million years think a tee-shirt would be an incentive but boy, were they ever.

Now-a-days I spend more time developing targeted advertising that drives people to landing pages or cornerstone content over running special events. Just as effective but I’ll admit, tee-shirt giveaways are definitely more fun!

What about guest posting? Some folks say it’s “dead,” others say it’s an opportunity goldmine. What do you think?

We still use it as a way to expand reach.  The issue here is finding solid sites to host the content, with competition for space at an all-time high, this is tough!

If content strategists can do just ONE thing to improve their link profile, what would it be?

Beef up your personal link profile by focusing on what you can do for people rather than using it as a place to drop keyword links.

People hire people to solve problems. Get rid of the keyword-keyword links in your bios and tell them how you can help.  Make your bio links conversational instead.

As for site profiles… work to get links from authoritative sites that are frequented by the people buying your products and services.  If sites/pages are ranking well for your terms/industry, work to partner with those companies.

Thanks, Debra! Debra is also a guest trainer for the SEO Copywriting Certification training, sharing her link marketing strategies with my students. Sound intriguing? Here’s more information about the training.

How to Do a Content Audit [Updated for 2017]

 

Imagine if you had to use your old high school photo for your business headshot.

Remember that perm you spent hours teasing? Your super-big hair would be showcased on your LinkedIn profile.

That cool mullet you sported, paired with your Metallica t-shirt? Yup. That’s what readers would see when they clicked over to your “about” page.

Although we’d never throw an old picture of us online, we routinely keep old, subpar content on our sites.

You know, those posts we wrote when we just started blogging.

Or those “experimental” posts that didn’t quite qualify as thin content…yet, we knew they weren’t the greatest when we wrote them.

If you’ve been publishing for awhile, a content audit will help you find those old, outdated content assets and make them shiny and new again. Yes, it’s detailed. Yes, it will take a lot of work.

Let’s get started!

What’s a content audit?

The content audit process involves combing through all your old website posts and evaluating the content from a few different perspectives:

  • Brand voice — does the voice “fit” your company’s current voice?
  • Customer needs — does the content help your customers, or is it outdated or unclear?
  • SEO  — does the content position, or does it require re-optimization?
  • Conversion — does the content help the sales/lead generation process?

According to Rebecca Lieb, “A content audit is the cornerstone of content strategy.” Although it is time- consuming (more on that later), the net result is extremely positive.

Before we get into the content auditing how-to, let’s first discuss…

Why do a content audit on your website, anyway?

It’s easy to forget about all the old content we’ve written (just as it’s easy to “forget” about sporting a mullet!). I have this problem myself. Once a page is in cyberspace, I move on to the next one.

The problem is, those old pages are still active. They’re still in the search results. They’re still on your site. New readers may click through to an old post – and not be overly thrilled with what they see.

That’s not good.

Reviewing your old content provides you tremendous SEO and conversion opportunities:

  • You never have to worry about a client landing on an old page and thinking, “This information hasn’t been accurate in over five years. There’s no way I’d work with this person!”
  • It’s a great opportunity to clean up old links that go nowhere (or, even worse, go places you don’t want people to go anymore!).
  • Revising old posts can sometimes take less time than writing brand new ones. That’s a huge benefit for those weeks when you’re already time-strapped and writing a new blog post seems too overwhelming.
  • Reformatting your posts (adding headlines and subheadlines and creating shorter paragraphs)  make your posts easier to read. This simple change can sometimes decrease your bounce rates and even increase your conversions.
  • Rewriting your Titles (and maybe doing a little keyphrase editing) can increase the page’s SEO power and drive new traffic. Bonus!
  • You can update older, evergreen posts that are still good — but, they need to be brought up to date.
  • You can find posts with old calls-to-actions (or no CTAs) and update them.
  • You can find “holes” in your existing content, and build new content to fill the holes.

In short, auditing your content is an extremely smart move. Tweaking just a few pages a day could have a huge impact on your positions and conversions.

Moz has a great list of reasons on why to perform to perform a content audit. You can check it out here.

How long does a content audit take?

You’re looking at a minimum of five hours for a very small site, to 50 hours (or more) for an extremely large, e-commerce site. Most sites will take somewhere in the 20-30 hour range.

Yes, it’s a lot of time. And yes, it’s worth it. Think of it as a marathon…not a sprint.

My recommendation is to set aside at least 30 minutes a day (more if you can) and keep yourself on a timeline. Because content audits take so long, it’s easy to start strong and put it aside as soon as things get busy (I’ve been there!).

You can also pay someone to conduct a content audit for you. Hiring an SEO content strategist is a great option if you don’t have a lot of time, but I’d recommend keeping it in-house if you can. You can learn a lot about your site (and the opportunities) when you go through it, page-by-page.

Ready to get started? Here’s how to do it!

How to do a content audit for your website

1.  Start with a great content audit tool. I use SEMrush (Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider is another good tool) to spider sites and get a feel for the major issues. SEMrush will showcase the number of pages with major errors (such as no Titles,) as well as other issues like missing alt text, thin content or broken links.

Yes, you can manually check for these issues (we’ll talk about that in a bit) However, some issues (like finding all the broken links) are easier to find with a little computerized help.

Here’s a screenshot of an SEMrush report. This site’s main issues are around links and alt text:

SEMrush

Screenshot from an SEMrush content audit

2.  Create an Excel document (assuming you don’t have one already.) 

Having an Excel document at your fingertips makes it easier for you to indicate the quality of the content, flag what needs fixing, and include other page-specific notes.

If you used a site audit tool, you can export the data to an Excel document (although your spreadsheet may be filled with other data that’s not relevant to your content audit.)

To make things easier, you’ll want to customize the spreadsheet headings based on what’s important to you.

Here’s an example:

 

Many people “grade” their content to help them prioritize their pages. Content with minor (or no) tweaks would receive an A or B grade. If the content is truly bad, a D or F grade is appropriate.

3.  Take a hard look at every page. Yes, I said “every page.” 

There’s no easy way to do this. If you have an Excel document pre-populated with the Titles and URLs, you’ll need to click every URL link and view the page. If you use WordPress, you can view “all posts” and  choose where to start.

Things to check are:

  • Are there typos or other grammatical errors?
  • Are the keyphrases appropriate for the page? Is the page keyphrase-free?
  • Does the content need updating? Maybe your opinion has changed, or the industry has moved in another direction.
  • Is there a way you could make your post more readable? For instance, splitting longer paragraphs into shorter ones. Or, can you add headlines and subheadlines?
  • Is the call to action still relevant – or are you promoting a sale you ran over four years ago?
  • Does the content need a major overhaul? Maybe it’s a good topic, but your writing skills weren’t quite up to snuff back then.
  • Are the links still good, or are they returning a 404 page not found error? Did you make some newbie SEO copywriting errors, like hyperlinking all your keyphrases?
  • Are there low-hanging fruit opportunities, such as writing better Titles or adding meta descriptions?

How to start making changes to your site

Now that you have your to-do list, it’s time to start making changes.  Your content audit should end with a list of recommended next steps, along with a list of high-priority pages. If you are working with a consultant, she should provide action items for the company, recommending how to make the necessary changes.

Many companies integrate their content marketing makeovers into their existing strategy. For instance, a smaller company could benefit from this content marketing strategy:

  • Publish new content: four times a month
  • Re-optimize six pieces of old content
  • Recycle/update one piece of content a month.

You may want to start with the “worst of the worst.” You may want to work in chronological order. Or focus on one thing (like changing Titles) and then backtrack to other issues.

The key is to have a plan and work it.

Have you conducted a content audit on your site? What did you learn? Did a tool or platform make the content audit easier? Lave a comment and let me know!

Ph

Should You Publish Shorter Posts More Often?

Does the thought of writing a 3,000-word blog make you want to curl up in a small ball and rock back and forth?

What if I told you a recent study said writing shorter posts, more often, is a way to gain more social shares — even if that copy was written by a machine?

Recently, Steve Rayson from BuzzSumo wrote a post called, “The Future is More Content: Jeff Bezos, Robots, and High Volume Publishing.

The article throws out stats detailing how publications like BuzzFeed and The Washington Post are cranking out more short-form (under 1,000 words) content than ever before. Heck, even robots are jumping in the game and assisting with content generation.

Is more content, more often, really the key to content marketing success?

Are we back to the “bad old days” of low-cost content mills?

Let’s unpack this and talk about the opportunity.

Keep calm and ignore the robots (for now)

Hearing “computers can create content now” can strike fear in even the most experienced freelance writer’s heart. Why? Because many freelancers already complain how writing is a commodity (don’t believe me — check out typical writing fees on Freelance.com.)

Are writers now competing with content-writing robots as well as offshore writers?

The reality: Not necessarily (unless you’re a journalist, in which case you’re unfortunately living in your own hell.)

Yes, computer-generated content is a “thing.” However, computers aren’t evaluating micro-moments, researching keyphrases and developing reader-centered content. They won’t use, say, textural metaphors or employ other neuromarketing techniques.

That’s what humans do.

Will there be an uptick in computer-generated content? Yes. Will the average business have access to their very own writing robot? Not for a long time.

So, let’s put this fear aside and talk about another important point…

Brands are not publishers

Yes, we’ve all heard the “content is king” mantra. And yes, publishing quality content is important. But, does that mean the average company should turbocharge their content volume?

Newsflash: Brands are not publishers. Publishers are publishers. The average company is ill-equipped to crank out more content.

I couldn’t say it better than Ronell Smith from a recent Moz post:

“Publishing content no more makes you a publisher than running 26 miles makes someone a marathoner. Newsrooms are built to produce lots of content.”

For the average business, a sudden increase in content quantity will make the quality plummet. No one (including Google) wants to go back to the days of content mills, keyphrase-stuffed articles, and thin content.

Yes, many companies need to publish more often. Especially companies that only release one big piece of content every few months — leaving their blog a cold, empty place in the meantime.

But, does the average company need to crank out multiple pieces of content a day or week — even if that content is “just” 1,000 words or less?

Unless there is a solid reason to do it, I say no.

So, what’s a company to do?

It’s easy to chase your tail with the word count studies. This is because:

– The “perfect word count” has changed over time. It used to be 250 words, and now we say 250 words borders on “thin” content.

– It’s important to differentiate between shares and positions. Getting shares is wonderful, but it’s often a transitory bump. Companies also want their content at the top of the search engine charts.

– Different studies may have different findings, causing a WTF reaction if you’re trying to keep it all straight.

So what should you do?

Should you go weeks (or months) without publishing because you’re working on the perfect long-form, in-depth post? No.

Should you publish a bunch of little, crappy posts every day, trying to tease out as much long-tail traffic as you can? Nope.

The answer is so simple.

Instead of publishing content based on what other companies do — why not focus on what your readers want, and what achieves your marketing/brand awareness/sales goals?

That means, stop worrying about your word counts and check your analytics instead. Survey your readers and find out what they want to read.

See what clicks and do more of it. 

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time you write something. Repurposing content is always a smart idea.

For instance, many companies write one big of content every 6-8 weeks. Once it’s created, they slice, dice and repurpose the piece into:

  • A SlideShare deck
  • A podcast (or podcast series)
  • Serialized blog posts (as Steve Rayson suggests)
  • Tweets and Facebook posts
  • Webinar content (don’t forget to include the transcript!)

Plus, you can fill in any “content holes” with other, shorter pieces your readers would love to read.

The key takeaway: Keep calm and keep writing.

Nobody (including Steve Rayson) is recommending you crank out crappy content for Google. Sure, there will always be studies discussing the “perfect” word count and content distribution frequency. But the real test is, what works for YOUR readers (and still gets seen in search results?).

Once you’ve nailed that down, you’re golden.

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