Are You Ignoring This?

Between you and me, are you ignoring “the olds?”

No, I’m not referring to your OK Boomer and Gen X readers — or anyone over 25 that may be considered “too old” to get it.

I’m referring to your old blog content that may be ignored, unappreciated and un-promoted — even if it’s still accurate and well-written.

You know, the content that makes up the majority of your blog (or, maybe even your site.)

I ask, because most content marketing articles you read talk about how to write and promote NEW content.

If I randomly check Twitter right now, I’m sure I would see at least a couple, “Hey, I just wrote this post — check it out” tweets.

But, I probably won’t see anything like, “Hey, I wrote this post 10 years ago, but it’s still accurate and good and helpful. Read it!”

Why?

Because we often downplay the value of our old content and focus on new, shiny posts with more recent date stamps.

And that’s sad.

Here’s the thing…

Not all of your old content is worthy of new promotional efforts.

The article may be out of date. You may currently focus on slightly different topics, so republishing an old post would feel off-brand. Or, your old writing style makes you cringe a little inside.

(Hey, we’ve all been there.)

Having said that, most site owners have some old content that they could polish  up and make shine.

And really, it (normally) doesn’t take that much time. Maybe 10 minutes a post.

Here’s my process…

To make things easy, I have a huge Google Sheets document that outlines every post I’ve written since 2009, if I’ve updated the article, and when I’ve published it on social media.

I’ll quick-scan my list, pick an “old” post, and make some standard changes:

  • Replace the header image
  • Check all the links
  • Review the information — is it still accurate? 
  • Make any necessary format changes
  • Push “update”

A “last updated” date stamp appears below the original, showing readers that I’ve made some changes since the original publication date.

Done! From there, I freely promote my “old” posts — yes, even posts that are 10 years old — on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.  

In fact, some of my older video posts are some of my most popular — and many of them are from nine years ago.

Granted, some posts take more updating — such as my big authoritative posts like this. Others need slightly more than 10 minutes to make them shine. That’s OK.

But, the majority, like my 23 amazing tips post and this one about spicing up B2B content, took virtually no time at all.

Nice.

Why else is this important?

Because it’s just darn wasteful to spend time and money creating fantastic content — and then toss it aside because it’s perceived as “too old.”

Let’s face it: even if your followers are glued to your social media feed, they aren’t going to read everything you post. Nor remember every post you publish.

Republishing old posts helps your posts get seen (and shared) by more people — and, it’s one of the easiest ways to increase your content’s return on investment. Especially posts that don’t perform in Google, but do pull well on social.

Can you help your clients with this?

You bet!

Chances are, your client doesn’t remember (or recognize) that her “olds” content is still hot. Instead of leveraging her “deep cut” content, she may focus all her promotional time on writing and promoting new posts.

Just imagine how she’ll feel when you tell her that her old content can drive new traffic. This saves your client time (she doesn’t have to keep creating new content) and money.

Pretty cool, eh?

What do you think?

Is your “olds” content gathering dust? Or, do you update it, promote it, and give it a new life? Leave a comment and let me know!

Is Google Out to Get You?

A few times a year, every year, I receive a panicked “What should I do?” email.

The emails read something like this…

“We used to be position three for our main keyphrase. Now, we’ve dropped to the second page. Our other keyphrases aren’t positioning as well as they had been, either. I think Google penalized our site and now we’re losing leads every day…”

Ouch.

I totally understand why someone would freak out about lost positions. Hey, even I get cranky when I see the occasional dip. For many sites, losing positions directly translates into lost revenue — so seeing a positions drop can mean an income drop, as well. 

But, is that drop because Google is out to get the site, and the powers-that-be slapped them with a manual penalty?

Or, is it a normal algorithmic fluctuation — meaning other sites are now positioning because Google “decided” those other sites deserve a top position?

Let’s break this down…

Just because your positions have dropped (even severely) doesn’t mean that your site has been “penalized” by Google. 

Kristine Schachinger, in a recent Search Engine Journal article, clearly defines what a penalty is…and isn’t. Her quote:

“The only true penalty (officially) is a “manual action” from Google.

A manual action is when a Google human reviewer has looked at your website and dampened your visibility in the search engine result pages (SERPs) for violating the Webmaster Quality Guidelines in some manner.”

If your site (or your client’s site) wasn’t hiding text, participating in link schemes, or doing other things on Google’s bad list, it’s probably not a manual penalty.

Which is good news — and bad news.

The good news is, you haven’t annoyed Big G, causing them to slap you with a manual penalty.

The bad news is, it means that Google finds other sites more relevant for your desired keyphrases. It’s called “algorithmic devaluation.”

That’s like hearing your baby is ugly.

Sometimes, getting positions back is easy. It means looking at your existing content and determining how to add more value. I’ve tweaked some pages that had dropped in position, and they bounced right back up.

But…

Sometimes, the process is much harder. Getting those positions back may require you to change your content, to tweak some technical aspects, and to revise your existing process. This can take a long time and may require multiple experts.

Especially if Google changed the game and you were hit with a big algorithmic update (for instance, health and medical sites got hit this year.)

Fortunately, in cases like this, we have Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines to help us understand what Google considers high-authority content. Yes, it’s a long, boring document — but it provides so much insight. 

I’d recommend reading it, even if your site isn’t in trouble. It’s a great way to peek inside Google’s brain and to figure out what it really wants. 

How can you tell if you were hit be a penalty — or an algorithmic burp?

This one is easy. You won’t have to guess — in fact, Google tells you when you’ve been bad (assuming you have Search Console set up on your site.)

This is valuable for an older site that may have had multiple SEOs providing “expert” advice. A site owner may not know that a past employee set up a spammy link campaign — or pages with hidden text. Fortunately, Google will pinpoint the issue, provide helpful resources, and give you the opportunity to make it right. 

Once you’ve made the necessary fixes, you can submit your site for a reconsideration request. Google will either determine that you’ve changed your spammy ways and will remove the penalty (yay,) — or it will let you know there’s more work to do.

You’ll know either way.

What do you think?

Have you heard, “Google keeps penalizing me”? Is Search Console set up on your site — or your client’s sites? (If not, this resource will help.) Leave your comment below!

Did Your Client Ghost You? Here’s What To Do

Has this ever happened to you? 

You sweat and you slave and you stress over a writing job. Triumphantly, you turn in your content and wait to see the “I love it” feedback flood your email.

And you wait…

And you wait…

And you hear…crickets. 

You send a “Hey, checking in” email and hear…nothing.

You send your client a text that you know they read…but you still don’t hear a peep.

You’re being ghosted.

It’s hard to not search for subtext when you get no response. If you’re like me, your brain takes you into 100 different directions, none of them happy ones.

You wonder if your client hates your copy and just doesn’t want to tell you.

You wonder if ghosting is your client’s way of saying, “You’re fired.”

You wonder if you should send your client a, “Did I make you mad?” email.

You wonder if you’re going to get paid.

Should you be concerned if a client ghosts you? Yes. Should you panic? Not yet. Are there ways to protect yourself? You bet.

Here are some things to consider…

Most of the time, it’s not you — it’s them. Your client may be putting out fires, juggling 100 things, and reprioritizing as they go. Your content may have been a top priority last week, but now it’s #11 on the list.

This is normal — especially if your client is a small business owner or works in an agency.

If a week (or two) goes by without a response, it’s still probably nothing to worry about. You can certainly check in and see what’s up — but know that you may not hear back until your client’s life slows down.

But…

Although a client’s ghosting behavior may be nothing to worry about, it may have a huge impact on your business.

You may not be able to send an invoice before your client officially approves the copy — so you’re sitting around, not getting paid.

You may have lined up other jobs, so not getting approval means your entire schedule gets thrown out of wack. After all, you don’t know when your client will come back and say, “I’m back — and I need all these edits by tomorrow.”

I know of one coaching client who was afraid to take on other jobs because his client’s response time was so wacky. The client would drop out of sight, pop back weeks later, then want all their changes RIGHT NOW, no matter what.

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Here’s what you can do instead…

There are things you can do from a contract and client management perspective to protect yourself — and to set clear boundaries for your client.

Here’s what I do:

  • My contract states that clients have five business days to approve the content. If I don’t hear back from them within five days, the copy is considered “approved” and edits will cost additional money. It’s amazing how quickly clients will turn around content if they feel they’ll have to pay more if they don’t.
  • My payment schedule is based on dates — not deliverables. That way, I’m not waiting for final approval before I’m paid — or hear, “Bob hasn’t checked this out yet. Can you wait just a little bit longer before you invoice?”
  • I also warn my clients that they’re welcome to push their deliverable schedule — but, I may not be able to immediately fit them back into my work schedule when they’re ready. In most cases, this is just a 1-2 week wait — so it’s not a big deal. But, it saves me from having to scramble and switch gears after a client finally resurfaces.
  • I’ve learned how to let go of my preferred timeline and be more flexible. This one is hard — especially when I’m feeling stressed out and overwhelmed. Just because my awesome copy is a big priority in my world doesn’t mean my client feels the same. 
  • Finally, my contract states that the initial retainer is non-refundable. Why? Have you ever had a client pay you, ghost you, and then say, “Hey, we don’t have time for this after all. I want my money back”? I have. It wasn’t fun — especially after I turned down other gigs so I could take on the work. 

(And, of COURSE you get a retainer before you start writing…right?)

Here’s what not to do…

  • Email the client and ask, “Are you mad at me?” You’ll sound needy — and, chances are, the client is just busy.
  • Complain how their ghosting you is holding you back from other gigs or costing you money.
  • Email the client every. single. day. asking for a status report. It won’t help, and it will make you look way too high-maintenance, needy and annoying. 

What if you never hear back?

Oddly, it happens. Maybe your client was fired. Maybe there was a big internal crisis and everything that wasn’t mission-critical got put on hold. Maybe your client is just a flake, and this is the normal way she operates.

If your time is paid up, you’re good. You can send one, last, “Hey, checking in — I’m here when you need me” note. But know you may continue to hear crickets.

If you are still owed money, send an invoice for the work you’ve done along with a “I’m here when you’re ready to finish the project” note. In most cases I’ve seen, the writer eventually got paid even if the project was cancelled. She may have had to make a couple calls — or send a couple emails — but she was compensated for her time.

Eventually.

What do you think?

How do you handle it when a client ghosts you? Have you ever lost money because of it? Leave a comment and let me know!

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

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

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

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

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

My, how things have changed.

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

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

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

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

Why so many words?

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

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

Well…not really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the latest word-count research?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The path to ranking success looks like:

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

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

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

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

But…

Should you always write long-form copy? No. 

Shorter content can and does position.

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

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

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

So, there’s no hard and fast rule.

How should SEO writers determine the best word count?

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

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

That means:

Plan on conducting some competitive research before you start writing.

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

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

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

Throw your assumptions out the window.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dive into your analytics and roll around in the data.

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

Analytics will tell you:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s as simple as that.

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

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

Here’s an Easy Way to Test New Messaging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is where things get interesting…

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

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

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

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

My goal?

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

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

Here’s what I learned:

What do my SEO readers love?

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

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

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

That makes me happy.

Now, here’s what really surprised me…

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

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

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

Which teaches me what people really want.

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

I had no idea.

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

So, what was cool about this test?

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

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

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

What do you think?

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

Let’s Make Content Easy-to-Read Again

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

It. Was. So. Peaceful.

And then, I came home.

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

For instance:

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

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

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

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

For instance:

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

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

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

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

Plus, check out the latest voice search statistics…

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

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

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

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

Pretty cool, eh?

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

This is where the page strategy comes in…

Here are some tips for Google AND your readers:

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

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

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

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

I love this quote from Hubspot:

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

Yup. Exactly.

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

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

Check your paragraph and sentence length. 

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

Experiment with presenting your content in different formats. 

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

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

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

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

What’s the big takeaway? 

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

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

Your readers will thank you!

What do you think?

Leave your comment below!

Are You Sabotaging Your SEO Writing Success?

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You know those days when you work your butt off, but it feels like you have nothing to show for it? 

This week was one of those weeks.

Sure, I can blame feeling under the weather. I can even blame the actual weather (it’s cold and grey and dreary.) I can blame a lazy weekend hangover.

Here’s what my problem really was…

I was working — hard — on tasks. But, none of them were important. It was all content busywork that distracted me from what would really make an impact.

In short, I did this to myself.

The thing is, I see writers (and in-house teams) do this all the time. 

They write the same type of content over and over, even if it doesn’t position, doesn’t get shared, and doesn’t drive income.

They focus on detailed minutiae, like revising their blog categories (which is what I was doing) instead of moving their business forward and working on scary goals.

They spend all their energy on a small piece of the content marketing puzzle rather than doing the BIG stuff that makes a BIG impact.

And, that’s sad.

Why do we self-sabotage?

Because doing anything else is hard. It takes work. It means stepping out of our comfort zones.

For instance…

Heck, it may mean admitting that what we’re doing now isn’t working.

 — It’s easier to keep writing non-performing posts than to dig in, to figure out what’s not working, and to make a change…especially if there are in-house politics involved or if people feel “protective” of their work.

 — It seems easier to focus on smaller writing goals than to create a BIG content asset that you can repurpose.

 — It feels easier to sit behind our laptops and to check our social platforms than to prospect and to get ourselves out there.

 — It’s easier to be satisfied with “meh” results than to bring in someone who can tell you how to improve and how to change your process.

 — It’s easier to tweak our blog categories — something most readers won’t even notice — than to start penciling out plans for a San Diego SEO training/coaching workshop next March.

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

Busywork may calm our fears in the moment. We may feel like good little content soldiers. But, it doesn’t move us forward. It doesn’t give us the results we want. It doesn’t help us grow. 

Sometimes, it even saps our energy.

Does this sound familiar? 

Here’s what you can do.

Think about the things you do every day. 

Do they move you (and your business) forward? Do they put zing in your step and excite you? Are you seeing results — for instance, better positions, more money, or more clients?

If that answer is, “no.” Notice that. Know that you’re not alone.

Most of us LOVE to wrap ourselves up in a busywork cocoon. It feels cozy. Until it doesn’t.

Then, you have a major decision to make…

What are you going to do about it?

You see, noticing it is a (big) part of the solution — but, it’s not the only part. 

We have to take action.

Sometimes, we can do this by ourselves. In most cases, we need outside help to kick us out of our comfort zones and to help us do great things.

That’s why I’ll get called in to train writing teams. They know they need an outsider to evaluate their process and to help them get better.

That’s why people hire business coaches. They need someone to call them on their B.S. and to hold them accountable for making changes.

(And yes, it was my business coach who called me on my reluctance to get involved with video and my reluctance to hold the San Diego seminar I’ve been chewing on for three freakin’ years.)

The point is — you have options. This is something you can change. Heck, focusing on what really matters will make you feel like you’re finally moving forward.

And wouldn’t that feel great?

So, now what are you going to do?

Where are you burying yourself in busywork? What’s that one, big goal you keep thinking about — but there never seems like “enough time” to achieve it? Where are you feeling stuck and stagnant? Leave a reply in the comments and let me know!

Should You Rewrite Your Web Copy? Or Hit Delete?

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Do you look at photos of yourself from high school and think, “My hair! What was I thinking?”

Yup. Me too. In fact, a photo of 1980’s Heather — complete with BIG perm and beret — was on the screen during my AWAI Bootcamp presentation. 

(The conference organizers asked for old photos, and that’s the best one I had. Here it is, for reference. Feel free to laugh.):

 

I bring this up because, sometimes, we look at old blog pages and think, “Man, that’s not a good post, at all. What was I thinking?”

For instance…

 — You may not have realized that keyphrase stuffing is bad, so you excessively repeated the same keyphrases.

 — Some pages may be super-short and read less like an authoritative article and more like, “I wrote this in five minutes.”

 — Or, you may have accepted a guest post that wasn’t so great. 

Maybe these pages are lurking on your site, and you’ve forgotten all about them. Or, maybe you land on them from time to time and think, “I should do something about this post.” 

But you don’t, because you don’t know what “do something” means.

Heck, even Google disagrees on what you should do. Here’s a great post from Search Engine Roundtable outlining Google’s mixed messages.

(Mixed messages from Google? Never! HAHAHAHAHA!)

Like your high-school hair, you’ve got to do something about those posts. 

Here’s what to do:

Get in the habit of keeping a list of “bad” pages so you can deal with them later.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll look at a not-so-great post, cringe, think, “I should fix this,” and immediately forget about it. Maintaining a living document will help you build fixing (or deleting) pages into your editorial calendar.

Does the page have good information that wouldn’t take long to update/fix? Fix it.

You can strip out the keyphrase stuffing, update your data, and turn the so-so paragraphs into copywriting gold. You can freshen up the header image, too. (I’m doing this with my old blog posts now.) Easy.

Is it a super-short page that’s poorly written? Trash it.

Let’s face it: writing a new article would probably take less time. As my father used to say, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”

Is it a poorly-written guest post? Let it go.

Sure, you can ask the original author to revise it for you. But will they say yes — or even respond to your email? Doubtful. Feel free to send this content to the great beyond.

Does the article have some bright spots, but you don’t have time to revise it right now?

Keep it — unless those bright spots are few and far between. Sometimes, a few minor fixes (for instance, a new opening paragraph or new subheadlines) can help. You can always revisit the post when you have more time.

And yes, my freelancing friends. Helping clients evaluate and fix content is a possible new profit center! Go for it!

What do you do when you see bad content on your site?

Cover your eyes and scream, “I can’t see you!”? Immediately click away? Wonder what you were thinking back then?  Leave a comment and let me know!

Is There a Secret SEO Writing Formula?

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Want to know one of the things that grinds my gears?

“SEO experts” who claim they have a “secret formula” that’s “100% foolproof.”

Why am I ranting so early in the morning?  Let me explain…

Earlier this week, I received a note from a super-smart SEO writer who ran into a…challenging…prospect.

Why was the prospect challenging? Because he wanted her to write and to structure the content exactly how [fairly well known SEO “expert”] said to do it. 

But, here’s the problem.

The writing formula she was supposed to follow made the content sound weird. The writer was concerned that the content (and the keyphrases) would sound clunky if she followed the SEO writing formula.

And, when she gazed into her client crystal ball, she realized that all the articles she’d create for this guy would sound exactly the same.

Ouch. 

As soon as I read her note, I wanted to update this blog post and to add one more client type to avoid. 

Some clients attach themselves to an expert’s writing and believe everything he says. If the expert says, “hey, add 20 additional keyphrases into your content,” the client would say, “great idea” without questioning it.

And this is sad.

Here’s why…

Meet the new “expert.” Same as the old “expert.”

I’ve been in the SEO writing game for over 20 years. If there was a “no-fail” SEO writing formula, don’t you think I would be on a beach somewhere counting my Benjamins and watching the waves?

Of course I would!

The reality is, there IS no sure-fire SEO writing formula.

Why?

The “best” approach depends on the keyphrase, the target reader, the query intent, and the current competition. 

What works for your site may not work for mine. Creating content for a smaller business is different than creating content for a competitive industry.

Plus, SEO (and SEO writing) is always in flux. Cookie-cutter approaches don’t work.

The thing is, there are always SEO “experts” who pretend they have all the answers. There are always sexy, well-branded folks touting their way of doing things.

Often times, these folks are immensely popular. They’ve got the branding stuff down. Folks cite them all the time. Their SEO skills…well…they may not be the best. Heck, these folks may not even work with clients.

In short, I’ve seen many “experts” come and go. 

What’s my best advice?

Think critically.

If you read an article that insists there is only one way to do X…run away.

If you try something you learned from an expert and it makes your copy sound weird — don’t upload the copy. Change it until it’s right.

If you’re reading conflicting advice, and you’re not sure what to do — hire someone you trust and ask them.

Just because someone has 15,000 followers on your favorite social network, it doesn’t mean they know their stuff. It means they’re good at branding. 

Don’t let the cult of personality mess up your SEO content. 

Whew. Rant over.

What experience do YOU have with SEO experts? What grinds your gears? Leave a comment and let me know! :)

Why Answering Questions Is a Powerful Content Play

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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!