Why Answering Questions Is a Powerful Content Play

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!) 

What about Google’s stance?

Remember my blog post on 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.

For instance, like this:

search results for what is seo copywriting

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? Post your reply in the comments!

10 must-read resources for SEO writers

10 Must-Read Resources For SEO Writers

Let’s talk about a big SEO secret.

Once upon a time, I was sitting around a table with a bunch of other SEO experts. At one point, someone said, “Do you have a hard time keeping up with all the SEO news?”

As I looked around the table, I saw everyone was nodding. And, yes, I was nodding too. Because, once upon a time, I could keep up with all the SEO news. I could read every article, check out every newsletter and stay extremely informed.

That conference was 17 years ago. This was before blogging blew up and before social media ruled our lives…

Is it any wonder we have problems keeping up with the latest and greatest?

In fact, one of my SEO Copywriting Certification students asked for my “must read” short list. Why? Because he was feeling overwhelmed and needed a way to focus his efforts.

I get it.

His question prompted me to brainstorm my short-list resources I keep up with no matter what. Do I read and follow others? Heck yes. But, I find myself returning to these resources when time is tight.

Here’s my short list of 10 must-follow resources:

The SEM PostJennifer Slegg, the publisher, is a long-standing SEO expert, speaker and fantastic journalist. Her posts, like “How Google Handles Rankings for Identical Products on a Site,” can be a tad on the geeky side — but, they are worth the read. Plus, she can get guys from Google to talk to her on record. I cite her blog posts in my Certification class all the time.

Search Engine Land. This site was founded by search marketing’s O.G. Danny Sullivan (did you hear he works at Google now?) and Chris Sherman, who programs the SMX conferences. SEL is a great all-around source covering SEO, SEM, local search and more. Their news editor, Barry Schwartz (who also runs the slightly more technical Search Engine Roundtable), has been reporting on the industry for years.

Stonetemple’s Digital Marketing Excellence BlogEric Enge and Mark Traphagen, the dynamic duo behind the blog, are two smart guys. When they’re not running studies to determine what SEO technique really works, they will get down and dirty with in-depth posts like, “The Three Marks of Great Content.” Check out their videos, too — they’re delightfully geeky.

Neuromarketing, by Roger DooleyLearning about neuromarketing will turn your copywriting knowledge up to a Spinal Tap 11. Roger Dooley takes an extremely geeky subject and makes it accessible and fun. Plus, he understands the SEO side of the street and has presented at search marketing conferences. You will learn a lot. Trust me.

Anything by Larry Kim. Larry. Is. Brilliant. He dives into the data and serves you up a hot helping of “wow, I never thought of that.” He frequently publishes on his Medium account, with viral post titles, like “13 Easy LinkedIn Hacks That Will Boost Your Profile Views” and “Five Facebook Power Tips That Will Make You Shout For Joy.” You’re going to dig Larry. I just know it.

The BuzzSumo blog. I’ve said before that I’m a Steve Rayson fangirl (he’s the Director of BuzzSumo.) He combs through big data, pulls out the tasty bits and serves them up in extremely detailed (but not too geeky to read) blog posts. If you want to know the top words to include in headlines or how to amplify content, you must read this blog.

Moz’s Whiteboard Friday. OK, the entire Moz blog is good — let’s get that out of the way first. But, Rand’s Whiteboard Fridays are off-the-hook awesome. In his funny, mustachioed way, Rand answers questions (some of them, highly technical) in an easy-to-understand style. Plus, for those of us who hate sitting through videos, there’s a nicely formatted transcript for us to read. Enjoy! Rand has since moved on to another company, but the Moz team has kept Whiteboard Fridays alive.

Content Marketing InstituteThe CMI site has everything an SEO content marketing strategist needs. Do you need content marketing stats for management buy-in? Check. Looking for writing tips? Yup, you’ll find them. You’ll also find a wealth of other information, too, like training courses and case studies. When I’m training clients, I always have at least one slide listing CMI as a resource.

Marketing ProfsThis site, like the CMI site, has it all. Salary surveys, marketing tips from expert authors, original research and more. Ann Handley, the chief content officer, is a marketing genius. If you get a chance to see her live, go! She’s great!

What about you?

What are your must-read blogs and folks to follow? 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!

Should Writers Care About Voice Search?

Do you feel like voice search is a fad, and people will eventually tire of their Alexas, Siris and Google Homes?

Admittedly, I’ll typically type a search query before saying it — even if Alexa and Siri are right there. Old habits die hard.

At the same time, I know this tide is quickly turning. Every day, more folks are turning to voice assistants to find the information they need. Heck, even my husband uses voice search (and he’s not an “early adopter” of technology.) :)

In fact, according to Google, 20% of mobile queries were via voice search — and that was in 2016. ComScore says voice search will make up 50% of queries by 2020.

So, what does voice search have to do with how you write content?

A lot.

First, let’s talk about what’s not going to work.

If you (or your company) is writing content like it’s 2011, you are going to get left in the dust.

I’ve talked about how “SEO articles” and posts that exact match the keyphrase every single time are bad for SEO and bad for readers.

Let’s face it — people expect more now.

Plus, here’s a surprising thing that may not work as well for some voice searches.

And that “thing” is longer, in-depth content pieces.

You know, the long-form content that’s all the rage right now.

Why? Because when someone asks a question like, “How do I hard boil an egg?” she’s not looking for the history of eggs, the many uses of eggs, and how eggs are stored around the world.

She just wants to know how to boil an egg. :)

I’m not saying stay away from long content. But, I am wondering how Google is going to handle question-focused content in the future — especially after reading this post that implies longer content isn’t always better.

What will work? Being human.

Gone are the days when we felt like SEO writing was robotic, stiff and dull.

If that’s how you feel about your writing, you’re doing it wrong (which is probably a wonderful thing to read.) Yes, you still need SEO writing skills, but you can finally take back your natural voice.

Content written in a conversational tone — especially content that answers frequently asked questions — will do well in mobile search (again, check out the article I referenced above for more information.)

That means delete the corporate-speak and “talk” to your customers on your site like you’d speak to them on the phone.

But, wait. Isn’t it too early to strategize for voice search?

Well, yes. And no.

Let me explain.

For all of the stats saying “voice search is growing,” there are others that discuss how frustrated users are with voice search. You’ve probably experienced this yourself if you try to ask Alexa a question she’s not prepared to answer. If you’re like me, you end up swearing at Alexa and typing your question into good old Google.

In many cases, the technology isn’t quite there for voice search.

In fact, a 2017 study by Seer Interactive found that just 8 percent of users searched the internet daily via voice search.

Seer Interactive voice search statistics

Their recommendation was to “watch and wait.” Which makes sense. I wouldn’t create an entire SEO content strategy around possible voice search implications. That wouldn’t have the desired ROI.

Yet, the opportunist in me think voice search is going to be huge. Siri will be less annoying and more our gateway to instant answers.

Why not get your mind right for when the time comes (as the Seer Interactive article suggests) and prepare for our new voice-enabled overlords?

What are some of the opportunities?

If you’re a freelancer, this is your time.

Think about it: how many companies have websites written in a conversational, friendly tone? How many companies have done a good job creating content that answers common long-tail questions?

(Yeah, not many.)

And, how many sites still show “old school” SEO writing where the main search term is exact-matched multiple times at the expense of synonyms and related words?

You can help those companies find their conversational brand voice AND optimize the copy. You could even develop a strategy for fixing their old, bad content.

How cool is that?

In-house writers have opportunities, too. Make a list of your customers’ common questions and ask Alexa/Siri/Google Home for their answer. You may not get an answer for some queries —  yet. The important thing is to watch the trends and learn from the data.

(And, if you haven’t already, create blog posts or FAQ pages that answers those common questions. Writing these kind of pages is always a smart strategy.)

Knowing how to write for Google’s Answer Box is also key. This post by BrightLocal discusses how optimizing for voice search can also help you gain the coveted “position zero.”  There’s nothing like being on the very top of the search results… :)

fun things to do in portland at night

What do you think?

Is your company tackling voice search? Are you looking forward to writing content for our new voice search overlords? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Is Content Syndication Spammy?

Imagine this…

The editor of a popular site emails you and says, “I love your work! Can we syndicate your content on our site?”

What should you do?

Celebrate and do the deal right then? After all, syndicating your content puts your writing in front of a brand new audience. One already-written post could result in massive site traffic.

Or, tell her that Google wouldn’t approve of two sites with the same post?

First, let’s define content syndication and discuss what it is…and what it’s not.

According to Search Engine Watch, content syndication is, “the process of pushing your blog post, article, video or any piece of web-based content out to other third-parties who will then republish it on their own sites.”

As an content syndication example, I write for a site called Biznology. Whenever I write a new post for them, it’s syndicated to sites such as Business Insider.

But, is this an OK practice? After all, online forums detail some scary syndication scenarios…

…Google may flag your post as duplicate content (aka, spam.)

…The other site that’s syndicating your content may position for your content instead of your site.

…Google’s Larry Page may tie you up and march you through the streets, while your neighbors throw garbage and chant “Shame. Shame.”

Seriously, this won’t happen.

You don’t want to spam Google, but you also want your posts to get maximum exposure.

What should you do?

Finally. Some good news

Good news — we don’t need to worry about the first and third possibilities. Google engineers understand content syndication, and they don’t consider syndicated posts duplicate content.

Nor will syndicating your content cause the Google gods to come after your site. Larry Page will not march you through the street. You will not have garbage thrown at your head.

In today’s Brave New Google World, syndication is a non-issue.

BUT (because there’s always a but…)

Here’s the problem.

When it comes to content syndication, Google may not choose the original site as the “primary” authority. Yes, even if you wrote the article months ago, and Google has already indexed it.

Which means other sites can out-position yours for your own content.

Ouch.

Fortunately, there’s a signal you can give Google that says, “Hey, even if there’s another similar post out there, THIS post (meaning the post on your site) is the post to index.”

Ideally, the site syndicating your content places the rel=canonical tag on the page with your article, with the tag pointing back to the original article on your site.

This tells Google, “We’re republishing the original article, which you can find HERE.”

The result? Your site (should) stay the primary authority for the post (meaning, appear in search results) and you can freely syndicate your content.

This gives you a great best-of-both-worlds situation. You can expand your content’s reach, while still protecting your search positions.

Pretty cool, eh?

Want more details? Here’s some additional information about content syndication, plus Google’s take on canonical URLs. Enjoy!

What do you think?

Do you syndicate your content now? Do you plan to, now that you know it’s A-OK to do? Let me know in the comments!

 

What’s the Best Keyword Research Tool to Use?

What's the best keyword research tool to use

Are you looking for the best keyword research tool out there — but there are too many confusing options?

You’re not alone.

A popular thread in the SEO Copywriting LinkedIn group is “what’s your favorite keyphrase research tool?” People recommended 11 different tools, ranging in price from free (if you’re willing to forgo search volume information) to around $100 a month.

What’s more, there are way more than 11 keyphrase research tools on the market – so, is it any wonder it’s hard to find the best one for you?

Trying to make a choice? Here are some things to think about:

What’s your budget?

The reality is, you can’t conduct keyphrase research for free — especially if you’re working with more competitive industries. Consider what you can pay as a monthly (or yearly) cost, figuring you’ll need at least $50 a month for something decent.

If you have zero room to move, start increasing prices $25 or more a month to cover your keyphrase research costs. The cost shouldn’t be enough to freak out your clients, and it should mostly (or completely) pay for the tools you need.

Do you need the basics or all the bells and whistles?

Some keyphrase research tools just provide keyword data (such as KeywordTool.io.) Other tools are more robust and provide positioning information, competitive intelligence and site audit capabilities (like SEMrush.)

If you don’t need the bells and whistles, and you focus mostly on blogging/web content writing, save yourself some money and look for a basic platform. You can upgrade later.

If you’re helping clients with their content strategy, running content site audits and working with larger clients, a more robust tool will be your best friend. Yes, they cost more (Moz Pro, for example, is $99/month, paid monthly.) But, they will make it easy for you to find the competitive data you need more quickly.

Is it a platform you enjoy using?

Most keyphrase research tools give you a free trial, whether it’s a limited freemium account, or a 7-day free deal (sometimes, you can even find 30-day trials!). In many cases, you’ll have to give up your credit card information. It’s worth it.

The last thing you want to do is get stuck with a keyphrase research tool you hate using. Check out a few platforms and get a feel for the process. Is it easy to use? Is the data easy to find and understand? Does it provide all the data you need — or, does it confuse you with “too much” data? The best keyword research tool is the one you enjoy using.

Is the price too good to be true?

Beware of inexpensive tools that say they’re “just as good” as a more robust alternative. These tools may provide basically the same information as Google’s Keyword Planner, just in a different package. (Side note: I beg of you. Don’t use Google’s Keyword Planner for keyphrase research. Please.)

You’re looking for companies with high-quality databases, not one with a limited data set that won’t give you the information you need.  To be sure about your choice, ask yourself…

Do other experts recommend the platform?

Search experts love test-driving (and recommending) good SEO tools. If you see experts recommending the same tool, it’s definitely one to check out. On the flip side, if a company’s testimonials are sketchy-sounding, like from “Bob S. site designer,” you may want to investigate further before typing in your credit card number.

(And yes, good, low-cost (and even free) keyphrase research tools is a topic I cover in the SEO Content Writing: Step-by-Step course.)

What keyword research tools did the LinkedIn group recommend?

Good question.

Here’s the list of recommended keyword research tools. Starred entries (*) are better for content brainstorming than finding search volume information.

*KeywordTool.io (free) KeywordTool PRO does provide search volume information.

SEMrush

Keyword Finder

LongTail Pro

SE Cockpit

*Answer the Public

SerpStat

Amazon reviews (as one poster called them, “keywords straight from the prospect’s mouth!”)

SpyFu

Quora (to see your audiences’ pain points based on their queries.)

Moz

What about you?

What’s your favorite keyword research tool? Share it in the comments!

What’s the ‘Best’ Word Count for Google? [Updated for 2017]

Have you wondered how long a blog post or landing page should be for Google?

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

Once upon a time, SEO consultants recommended that every page has at least 250 words.

Amazingly, some people considered 250 words “too much content.” “People won’t read all of it,” folks complained. “I don’t want that many words on my page.”

My, how things have changed.

Today, it’s an entirely different story. In many cases, a 250-word blog post could be considered “thin content.”  Now, many companies are creating 5,000+ word in-depth guides to showcase their expertise -and to snag positioning opportunities.

In fact, 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. Here’s a recent graph from ahrefs showing what this can mean:

So, what does this study (and others) mean for content producers? Is the age of short copy dead?

Let’s break down the word-count research

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

A recently-updated post, citing a joint study by OKDork and BuzzSumo, says copy over 3,000 words receives more social shares:

 

Think longer copy is where it’s at? Some experts disagree.

One article discusses that we’re in the “age of skimming” and people won’t read a longer article. Anything too long will get stuck in the tl;dr trap (too long; didn’t read.)

And finally, a 2016 blog post in BuzzSumo (Yes, the same folks who helped with the above study) has this fascinating quote:

I know if you are in content marketing, there is a lot of advice about quality over quantity. Provide something of value, research it well, make it helpful. It is a strategy I have followed at BuzzSumo. I spend a lot of time researching posts, as I did with this one, aiming to produce authoritative, long form content that provides insights which, hopefully, are helpful to marketers. This takes time and I produce around one to two posts a month.

What’s the takeaway? Even the experts can’t agree on the “best” word count for Google.

Yes, it’s true that longer content has more positioning chances. And yes, a 1,500-blog post (or more) can more fully answer the readers’ questions.

But, not every topic lends itself to a longer blog post without pushing the “fluffy content” envelope.

What’s an SEO writer to do?

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

That means:

 

– Throw your assumptions out the window. For instance, many writers think long-form sales copy doesn’t work in today’s overstimulated world.

However, companies writing long sales copy all the time — and it works. For instance, 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.

It’s true that long copy can clunk — but, that’s true of any poorly-written page. As Seth Godin says, “Please, give me something long (but make it worth my time.)”

 

– Poll your readers. A simple way to learn what your readers want to read is to ask them (amazing, I know!) You may find that many of their suggested topics would make great in-depth-article fodder or quickie “tips” posts. Free software like Survey Monkey makes running reader surveys a snap.

 

– Learn from analytics and testing. What posts do people love? What posts fall flat? Are longer posts getting shared more than shorter ones? What are your post bounce rates? Carefully review your analytics, test your content and see what’s clicking with your readers.

– Tighten up your writing.  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. Don’t “fluff up” a page just to meet a certain word-count requirement.

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 in 2008, and I completely updated it for today’s brave new Google world. I hope you enjoyed it!)

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

 

How to Find Easy SEO Copywriting Opportunities

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? Are we doomed to live a hamster wheel life, grinding out new content all the time while we suffer in silence?

Many content marketers are grinding it out

If you fall into the “hamster wheel” camp, you’re not alone. In a 2016 study from the Content Marketing Institute, 60 percent said their top challenge was “producing engaging content.”

 

It’s not just B2B companies that are suffering. In-house B2C teams and publishing companies are facing the same levels of content burnout. Often, these teams are required to produce more writing with fewer resources, so creating quality content in an efficient manner is even more important.

Now, instead of telling my in-house SEO copywriting training clients they should write longer blog posts, jump on the latest content marketing bandwagon, or develop yet another brand new content asset, my advice boils down to three words…

Look for easy.

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.

That’s where finding easy ideas come in. You don’t have to reinvent the content wheel all the time. Nor, do you have to publish 100 percent, brand-new content.

Repurposing is OK. Finding the workarounds is OK. Developing an easy content marketing schedule (as opposed to doing a bunch of things you feel you “should” do for SEO) is OK.

Ready to make your SEO copywriting life a little easier?

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.)
  • Build links to your existing content assets.
  • 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!) Steve Rayson just wrote a great post about why this works.
  • Update an old blog post.
  • Instead of focusing on writing long-form posts every week, consider publishing shorter posts more often.

(Speaking of updating an old blog post…I updated my post on how to conduct a content audit – please check it out and share it with your friends.)

Short on time?

It happens to the best of us. There are some days (or weeks, or months) when making major changes is impossible. Instead, focus on what you can do in the short amount of time you have. Need inspiration? Here’s a list of 23 SEO copywriting tips you can accomplish in five minutes or less.

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.)

(If you need more content growth-hacking ideas, check out this great interview with Ann Smarty.)

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

What did you think?

How are you going to integrate “easy” into your 2017 content strategy? Let me know by posting a comment below!

Do you have questions about SEO copywriting or need expert tips? I answer your questions (and more!) in my weekly newsletter. I’d love it if you signed up — here’s the link!

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!

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