Content Therapy: Here’s Looking at You, Site!

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Today we’re going to undertake an honest inventory of our content. This will be a somewhat brutal — but ultimately enlightening and worthwhile — evaluation of our web content.

In what Heather has likened to therapy, a “SWOT” analysis systematically examines our relative strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.  Ready?

As we discussed earlier, you’re not the only wonder in web town!  (I know: Surprise!) So to refine and improve upon your content, and one-up your competition, you first need to truly know thyself, and second, you need a fearless reality-check on where you stand relative to your competitors.

This is where SWOT analysis comes in:

  • Strengths: Even if your business is in its infancy, it still possesses certain strengths from the get-go.  For instance, can you sell your products at 10-percent less than your competitors?  Do you offer unique, fun products not found anywhere else?  Besides your intrinsic strengths, consider your external advantages: Do you have a great supplier who ships products fast and works with you on payment terms?  That is definitely a plus in the strengths column!  Try to come up with ten strengths your company has.  If you’re stuck, ask for the opinion of a trusted colleague, friend, or even a client:  you may be surprised by how wonderful other people think you are!
  • Weaknesses: Just as your business has inherent strengths to bring to the table, the reality is that it — like all businesses — has weak spots.  There is at least one internal vulnerability that you need to acknowledge and eventually overcome in your marketing materials (more on that in a later post).  For instance: Are you a brand-new company competing against an established one?  Are your prices slightly higher because you can’t buy in volume like the big boys?  Again, list your top ten weaknesses.
  • Opportunities: Time to take heart!  These insights and visions — opportunities —  are what motivated you to start up your business in the first place, right?  Did you see the beginning of an emerging trend, and notice that there are very few sites offering what you want to sell?  Do you have scads of contacts from your last job that you could leverage as your own, first few clients?  From an SEO standpoint, opportunity can mean that you can optimize for terms and concepts well ahead of — or better than — your competitors.  Revisit your strengths:  what opportunities present themselves from them?  Write down five opportunities that your business has, right now.
  • Threats: Real or perceived, threats do exist and it is wise to acknowledge the worst-case scenario and make a plan to work around it.  It could be an ex-employee who starts up a competing business.  It could be that your supplier doubles their price of an essential product or service.  This does not mean your competition will take over your market share and drive you out of business.  But it does mean that you should be aware of such threats, and make a solid plan for surviving them!  Again, list your top five perceived threats.

Whew!  Great job!  Now that you’ve done your SWOT analysis, try putting everything you’ve listed — strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats — into a matrix, like so:

Now, don’t you feel better, knowing where you stand and where you need to focus your efforts? Next week, we’ll delve deep into how to profile your perfect customer and thereby craft precision benefits statements!  Stay tuned!

SEO Content Marketing Roundup, Week Ending July 21st, 2010

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Getting social with it: this Wednesday’s roundup of the latest and greatest of SEO content marketing news and links features social media marketing, as content marketers grapple with such slippery issues as social media SEO, whether social media is helpful or hurtful to marketing campaigns, and how social marketing stands up to search engine marketing efforts.  Engage, enlighten, and enjoy!

Can social media actually hurt your content marketing campaign? The case is made in a Hubspot blog that cites seven specific ways in which social media may sabotage your best marketing efforts.

So what about the customer experience with social media? Backing up the Hubspot blog, Search Engine Land reports that this year’s American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) has, for the first time, measured general consumer satisfaction levels with social media, and found it wanting as compared to traditional online marketing channels. (And apparently, Google has dropped in its satisfaction rating).

Going viral: on the flip side, Marketing Sherpa presents eight “inspirational” social marketing success stories for 2010, five from B2C and three from B2B campaigns, in which marketers were able to harness the power of their social audiences to spread their message and generate a viral response.

Social media marketing specialists made their respective cases for incorporating social media into content marketing campaigns, speaking at the Blueglass LA Session. Published in Search Engine Journal, the hot topics included using social media to create customer advocacy, making content go viral, and the role of “influencers.”

The relationship between search engine and social media marketing, and whether there exists such a thing as “social SEO,” are explored in great detail with a case study in Wordstream.

Finally, the thorny issue of measuring the success of social media marketing in terms of the return on investment (ROI) is tackled in  iMedia Connection.

Mastering Your Content Message: What’s the Buzz?

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Have you mastered your content message?

“Sure I have!” you may exclaim.  “I’ve defined my target market and have addressed their needs and pain points  – what more can I do to perfect my perfect message?”

Well, how about checking out the buzz around your product/service?  Previously, I talked about checking out your competition.  Now, we’re taking it a step further by researching your target market’s conversations.That way, you can keep up with their concerns in real time, and update your content accordingly.

Remember, website content is a living document (as are all things internet) and it’s smart practice to be continually updating your message and content, flexing in sync with your market’s expressed preferences.

Again, it’s a relatively easy and simple thing to do, thanks to the search engines.  For example, starting with your competition research, just expand it to include Google Groups, News, and Blogs. Those resources can be found under “more,” on the far top right of the Google search engine results page:

Take a look, and note what people are saying about you, as well as your competitor’s sites:  what do they love, and what could they do without?

Then revisit your content message:  how can you improve upon it to more precisely hone in on your target market?  How can you better address their needs and desires?  How can you further differentiate yourself from your competition?

Another great tool for tracking your market’s buzz and trends is Twitter.  For up-to-the-minute trend information, simply go to Twitter search and type in some key terms into the search box, and voila!

For example, let’s say I’m in the business of writing professional resumes, and want to check out what’s trending in my chosen market.  Entering “professional resumes” into the box, these are my real-time results:

Thank you, Twitter!

In a future post, we’ll delve even deeper into your SEO copywriting and content marketing strategy with an analytics tool designed to make you take a good, hard look at yourself!  Stay tuned!

SEO Content Marketing Roundup, Week Ending July 14th, 2010

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On a Clear Day, You Can See SEOToday’s word:  the SEO content marketing landscape offers up divergent opinions and healthy debate about quality content and linking strategy!  So let’s get to it while it’s still fresh off the press!

The content quality debate is far from over!  A completely different take on web content mills (“content farming”), such as Associated Content and Demand Media, was posted at SEObook.  While I respectfully disagree with most of the author’s opinions, hey, we’re all entitled to them!  Debate is healthy!

Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words!  Closely related to the content quality debate is the practice of outsourcing SEO to those who know English only as a second language.  Case in point:  this SEOmoz article on how speaking “engrish” presents an SEO copywriting challenge unique to those not versed in the native tongue.  So for those considering outsourcing such precision-language work because it’s relatively cheap, you may also want to consider this:

Building your link-love:  This Search Engine Journal blog explores several concrete ways to increase your link-love with content on your site, specifically targeted to those of us who are weary of link-exchange negotiations.

A second article at Marketing Sherpa takes a 180-degree turn from SEJ’s blog, examining ways to build consistent, long-term, quality inbound links and boost SEO by forging link-exchange partnerships.

Finally, we have more content marketing meat with a case study from Hubspot, showing how one company shot to the top of Google search engine results with a coordinated website optimization and social media campaign.

Has Associated Content Cheapened SEO Copywriting?

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My, how the SEO content development fur is flying.

In the July 6 issue of MediaWeek, the headline “Council to Counter Web Generators’ Growing Clout” was front and center. The Internet Content Syndication Council (ICSC), comprised of representatives from firms such as Proctor and Gamble and Reuters, is complaining that content aggregators like Demand Media and Associated Content are “cheapening” the quality of Web content.

I couldn’t agree more.

For those unfamiliar with the business model, Web content aggregators make their money from syndicating content produced by freelance writers.  The production process is like SEO copywriting on steroids: Editors use savvy keyphrase research to ferret out SEO copywriting opportunities, and assign keyphrases to their freelancers.

However, rather than the emphasis being on the customer experience — that is, creating a quality, informative article that’s targeted towards a specific market, the emphasis is on content that’s “good enough” to get links or long tail rankings. For more information about Demand Media’s business model, check out this Wired article.

If you’re a site owner — and you don’t want to hire a copywriter or produce content in-house — you may be tempted to turn to Demand Media or Associated Content for an “article bank” of articles.  Heck, it’s cheap, easy content that you can instantly slap on your site. But personally, I’d think twice about using such services. Here’s why:

1. Syndicated content isn’t targeted. It’s great to fill content “holes” with new content, and that’s a great strategy. But you want it to be original content, targeted towards your audience and their specific needs. For instance, if I was writing an article about marketing with mailing lists, I’d be asking questions about the target audience, their existing knowledge levels and their pain points. Those specific writing touches helps to connect with your reader…and drives conversions. After all, “write for your reader” is the foundation of every writing gig for a reason.

2. You’re getting exactly what you’re paying for.  Writers working with sites like Associated Content aren’t making much money. At all.  For instance, Associated Content’s site lists upfront payment rates of $2-$15 per article. If someone has an $1,000 mortgage payment, they will need to write over 66 articles in a month just to make their mortgage. The focus isn’t on quality – it can’t be for those rates. Those rates breed a sweatshop, “Write it fast and turn it in” mentally (and how could it not, really?)

As an example, I searched Associated Content’s site for “SEO copywriting” and checked out the first article.  Here’s a direct quote discussing the advantages of SEO copywriting:

  • “Helping to work out various steps to increase sales

SEO content writing aims to increase the sales rate and marketing goals to achieve maximum profit.”

Really? REALLY?  ::hits head against desk:: No, this isn’t exactly “high quality” content that should be syndicated. At all.

3. Bad content reflects negatively on your brand. Would you rent a rundown storefront in a bad area to save money? Heck no. It would drive customers away. Same goes for poorly-written content – if the content is inaccurate, poorly written or just plain dull, it’s not going to help.

As a side note, I’m a tad disappointed that a search engine like Yahoo, which is intimately familiar with the importance of quality content, would purchase Associated Content. From a SEO perspective, Y! would have to know that articles syndicated across multiple sites probably won’t position well. And from a pure copywriting perspective, it seems like they’d want to focus on quality content – not copywriting for “outsource-to-India” prices.

From a revenue perspective, I get it. Cheap copy makes money. But I’d like to see them up their game a bit. Shame on you, Yahoo, for promoting content that you know isn’t top-notch.

SEO Content Marketing Roundup, Week Ending July 7th, 2010

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Greetings fellow SEO copywriters & content marketers!  Today marks the inaugural weekly blog post featuring the latest and greatest content marketing news.  Explore, engage, go forth, and prosper!

Got quality? The buzz-phrase for today’s SEO content marketing roundup is “quality not quantity.”  Strong content helps land incoming links, encourages conversions and pushes your prospects’ emotional “buy” buttons. Check out the following links for the latest SEO content marketing scoop:

In response to the growing clout of low-quality, link-based content being churned out by such “generators” as Demand Media and Associated Content, officials from the Internet Content Syndication Council (ICSC) — whose members include heavies like Procter & Gamble, Reuters and The Tribune Company — are considering imposing quality guidelines for syndicated content.

Do you target a higher-end clientele – or offer a premium content. How you sell your product is just as important as the product itself! “The Lure of Exclusivity,” Target Marketing Magazine’s article by Denny Hatch underscores the fundamental, emotional hot-button keys to successful copywriting – particularly the dollar-backed clientele who yearn for “privacy and privilege.”

Want to get your geek on? For SEO geeks who (like me) who enjoy analytics and are intrigued by buyer behavior, Search Engine Journal has a great optimization guide for targeting onsite prospects in real time to deliver the most effective, conversion-optimized content.  Well worth a look – even if you’re not a techie!

“It is well worth the time to write great content as opposed to lots of decent content.” Yes, yes it is! If you’re looking for link-love, writing useful quality content (and knowing what to do with it) is key.  Read one person’s take on link-building (and content) success in SEOmoz.

For a concise summary of Google’s July updates, check out Search Engine Roundtable.  Thankfully, there is no drama or trauma for SEO Copywriters and Content Marketers!  The upshot is that Google is now faster on Caffeine.  Aren’t we all?

Baby-Step Your Way Into an SEO Content Development Campaign

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Are you doing nothing with your SEO content development campaign because you can’t do everything, right now?

I received a question that I thought was excellent – and illustrates a common fear around launching a SEO copywriting campaign.

“Hi Heather,

I was just reading your latest newsletter and noticed the section titled “Do you have SEO copywriting questions you need answered?” There’s something I’m curious about, and I didn’t know if it might be something your other subscribers would be interested in as well…

I’ve talked to a couple of digital marketing specialists lately who claim that SEO copywriting does no good without an overall, long-term strategy. So, my question is this: Is there value in doing some initial keyword research to create compelling, keyword-rich web content (and then incorporating those keyword phrases into additional online collateral like e-zines, blog posts and press releases)? Or should companies hold off until  they can afford it all — social media, link building strategies, blogging, analytics, PPC, etc.)?”

Yeah, I hear things like this all the time. And it’s sad, because the mindset is so, so wrong.  Here’s why:

In a perfect world, yes, it would be great to have a completely robust SEO strategy in place, and the content development would be a piece of the search marketing pie. That’s when clients can see the fastest results (which makes sense, since you’d be leveraging multiple marketing touchpoints.)

But here’s the thing: That’s not always the reality. For many businesses — and this is applicable for small businesses as well as Fortune 500 companies — doing everything, all at once isn’t feasible. Maybe it’s because of finances.

Maybe the company is working things out internally. Sure, they may be ready to do one thing (like content development,) but not a link building strategy. Yet.

Does this mean that a company should wait until they have the time, budget and manpower to launch a full-scale campaign?

Hell no!

I’m not saying that companies should run out, willy-nilly, and “try some SEO stuff” without having some sort of strategy – that’s just stupid. But, sheesh…if all you can do is write your butt off in an attempt to gain more search rankings, see better conversions and brand your businesses, then write your butt off.

Be smart about it – you may want to hire a content marketing strategist to teach you the ropes and set strategy. Or train your team in SEO copywriting best practices. But by all means – write.

It’s like telling someone that they don’t need to try to lose weight until they’ve created a 3-month meal plan, have an exercise strategy in place, hired a personal trainer, have eliminated sugar and caffeine from their diet and have purchased new exercise clothes. Gee. Can’t someone just start by eliminating their before-bedtime snack?

I’m a firm believer (and I’ve said this many times on stage) in SEO copywriting baby steps. If all you can realistically do this month is edit 15 pages for keyphrases and tweak your Titles – great. Or getting SEO copywriting training may be the easiest first step to take.

Just know that there are many ways to accomplish your content marketing goals – and, as Katherine Andes from the LinkedIn SEO Copywriting group said, “Eat the elephant one bite at a time.”

Don’t Tell Me What I’m Thinking: Does Your Messaging Miss the Mark?

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It’s funny when television mirrors reality so closely.

Recently, I watched an episode of Mad Men, the AMC series about 1960’s-era advertising executives.

(I miss Mad Men.)

Their client, Playtex, needed a new advertising campaign. It was up to Sterling Cooper to create a compelling campaign about bras.

The company assigned just one woman to the advertising team.

The rest of the group were men — who assumedly have never tried to squeeze their man-breasts into a push-up bra.)

The group (without the woman’s help) developed a campaign around the assumption that women wanted to either be like Marilyn Monroe or Jackie Kennedy, and all advertising should center on those two female icons.

The problem is, the men didn’t ask any women if they related to either Jackie or Marilyn.

They didn’t ask the opinion of the lone woman working on the campaign.

In fact, they even dismissed her opinion after she disagreed with their ideas.

Just like what happens in hundreds of companies and ad agencies every day, the men of Mad Men ignored the real data in front of them and chose to make assumptions about their target audience.

And that’s not smart.

Fast-forward to a recent conversation I had. When I asked the marketing executive why the benefit “free shipping” was considered their top benefit — even if all their competitors offer the same thing — her answer was, “Well, we think people like free shipping.”

Had they done studies to prove this? No.

Does their customer feedback back this up? No.

They just “assumed people liked it because shipping was free.”

The problem is, faulty marketing assumptions means that your messaging – and your SEO content campaign – is always off the mark.

Sure, “free shipping” may be a benefit statement. But what if the customer cares about personalized assistance and customized solutions? Instead of satisfying your customers’ needs, you’re telling them what to think (free shipping is the most important benefit). And that’s not good.

Much like a relationship where one faulty assumption can cascade into five years of costly marriage counseling, assuming what your prospects are thinking can have disastrous effects. And just like the advice you’d get during marriage counseling, if you want to know what your prospects are thinking, the solution is simple.

Just ask them.

Don’t roll out new messaging campaigns hoping you’ll “connect” this time. Don’t create something sexy because you’re sure that your idea will work. Just open your mouth and ask:

“What are you thinking? What do you care about? What do you need?”

It’s that simple.

Here are some things you can do, right now:

Follow-up with customers with a survey or phone call after their purchase and find out what they liked — or didn’t like — about your service.

Although this personal approach can be extremely time-consuming, the conversations you’ll have will be worth their weight in marketing data gold. You can easily fold this information into upcoming SEO copywriting campaigns and test responses.

Invite a small number of your customers to participate in a focus group, and ask them questions about what they currently like about your company — and what they’d like to see.

Listening to a group of people talking about your product or service can spark some great feedback.

If you’re too “close” to your data, hire a content development consultant to comb through your feedback forms, talk to your customer service department and retool your marketing messaging.

Outside experts are great to help get you out of your marketing head, see your services in a different light and rewrite your SEO content to match your new messaging.

Talk to your customer service agents and ask what feedback they’ve heard about your products.

Your CSRs are your front-line people, and they hear it all — good and bad. These folks know what your customers are thinking, what they’re worried about, and why they chose your product or service.

Finally, don’t be afraid to change.

Your customers’ comments may make you feel defensive, edgy — or plain piss you off. You may rail about how “they don’t understand” and “how could they even think that about your product?”

Shut up and listen.

Yes, it IS hard to do. Because no matter how snarky some feedback can get, there are always nuggets of gold buried within. Learn from them. Don’t take them personally (even if they’re dissing on your campaign, dammit!). Make the necessary marketing tweaks and move on.

Change, in this case, is very good — and your messaging will be better for it.

What do you think? Leave your comment below!


What to do right now: Planning ongoing SEO content

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Add more SEO content to your siteSo, what new articles are you adding to your site this month?

I know, I know. Content development and adding additional Website content seems like “too much work” when time is already short and your nerves are feeling frazzled. You can’t ask your marketing department to do it — they’re already maxed out. Fighting for freelance budget seems too overwhelming. And heaven forbid that you add something new to your plate.

Sound familiar?

I am just as guilty as other site owners and marketing departments. Part of my marketing midlife recovery means more and better writing — blog writing, writing for other sites and, yes, writing for my own SEO copywriting site.

Easier said than done.

The thing is, writing ongoing content is more than just a SEO trick. Sure, the engines love new content, and adding ongoing content is one of the ways they measure how “fresh” a site is. Sites without new, ongoing content tend to slowly drop out of rankings sight, despite their age and history. It’s just like Hollywood, baby — if not you’re coming out with new stuff, it’s easy to forget all about you.

Of course, I always hear the kickback — “Why should I add new content? It’s a pain to do. “Yes, it is. But here are the advantages of fresh content:

  • It builds trust. When people search under various keyterms, they notice companies that continually position in the top 10. My favorite example of this is a company called Amsterdam Escape. Their site positions for main keyterms such as “vacations in Amsterdam” as well as long-tail keywords like “places to stay Amsterdam Newmarket.”
  • New content overcomes objections. You can’t assume that prospects will contact you for more information. If your content doesn’t answer their questions immediately, they’ll find another site that does.
  • New content can sell your product or service. This is the most obvious reason — good (or improved) content translates into better conversions.
  • New content gains search engine positions. ‘Nuff said.

Make a commitment to your company to upload at least one new article per month on your Website. That may mean hiring a firm who can help you with an editorial calendar or topic ideas. That may mean asking your internal team to step up and start writing. Either way, ongoing content will keep those search engine rankings (and conversions) flowing.