Baby-step your way into a SEO content development campaign

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 edition of SEO Copywriting Buzz, 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 ezines, 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.)?

I view you as the expert on all things related to SEO Copywriting and would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.

Thanks so much for your time!

-Heather Mueller”

Thanks, Heather for the question (and the kind kudos!).

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 get 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.”

Is your marketing collateral screwing your brand?

Question for you:

When’s the last time you reviewed your marketing collateral. No, not your site copy. Your other marketing materials: Your customer emails, fax forms, customer service surveys, order receipts – anything you send to a client or prospect.

Guess what? Your collateral marketing material may be undoing all of your good SEO copywriting and content marketing work and hurting your brand. To illustrate this point, let me tell a story…

I was unhappy with my current merchant processor. They weren’t a bad company. The customer service folks were nice. They just weren’t a good fit. It happens.

Canceling the account meant filling out a form. Not a big deal. The company requires a reason for closure and provides nine possible options to check.

(Mistake #1 – There was no room to write-in a comment. You had to choose one of the nine choices. So much for wanting useful customer feedback.)

I glanced at the reasons and saw the reasons you’d expect: “Out of business,” “new business ownership,” “chose different processor.”

And then one choice quickly jumped out at me: Misrepresentation.
And then I read: Poor service from bankcard.
And then I read: Poor service from sales representative.

So, what the company is telling me is – out of nine possible (and apparently common) reasons for closing the account, 1/3 of them is for poor service or misrepresentation?

Immediately, what was a brand-neutral experience (they weren’t a good fit for my business, so what) turned into a brand-killer. (Have they been lying to me all this time? Do I need to go back and check my statements?) I instantly distrusted them and would not recommend them. All because of a one-page fax.

Their marketing collateral screwed their brand.

It happens with emails, too. Companies forget to review their autoresponder content all the time – so they may have “stuff” out there from five years ago. And since it’s automatic and no-one really sees the email in-house, the mistake is sent over and over and over again.

Case in point: After every email received (every one,) a direct cremation company would automatically send a general “here’s how to contact us” email.”  The companies first error? They misspelled the first word in the email  (they wrote “thanks you for contacting us.”) Yes, they misspelled the very first word.  Immediately after, the email listed a 800 number “if a death has just occurred,” and told the reader to “wait 24 hours for an email response.”There was nothing about “Sorry for your loss.” No mention of “We’re here to help you every step of the way.” No…nothing. I don’t think it was more than 25 poorly-written words. An email like that should have been written with the utmost care and compassion. Not as a fast one-off.

Tell me, would you trust your loved one to a company that misspells the first word of their email?

Again, the marketing collateral screwed their brand.

I urge you, please go through everything – your autresponders, your fax forms, your customer service scripts – everything and double-check it. You’re not just looking for the obvious mistakes (although if you find them, fix them fast!) You’re also looking for opportunity. Can you transform your writing so it’s more customer-centered? Do your “old” materials reflect a different style than what’s on your site – and you forgot to update them? Is there a way you can transform a customer receipt into an upselling machine?

For most companies, reviewing the collateral will take a couple hours, max. Worst that happens is everything is on-track and you have the peace-of-mind knowing that things are A-OK. But chances are, you’ll find something you can make just a little bit better – and making it better can help you make more money (and help people embrace your brand rather than avoid it.) The opportunities are there. You just have to notice.

Is your sales copy hurting your conversions?

The last week has been a most interesting experience.

My 30-day goal is to buy a new car. This is a big deal to me because (1) I keep my cars forever (like, 20 years,) and (2) I find car salespeople a tad on the challenging side. Imagine my thrill when I realized that I can go through my insurance company, pre-negotiate a deal and be linked to three dealers (thank you, USAA.)

That’s the good news. The bad news is that most of the car dealers have done everything possible (from a copywriting perspective) to push away my business. Here are some examples:

  • Not one car dealership has asked me how I want to be contacted. Yes, I know that “coming in and taking a test drive” is their bread and butter. And they want to actually talk to me rather than chatting via email. But here’s the thing: That’s not what I want. The car salespeople are trying to force their definition of the “next step” (talking on the phone) without hearing mine (let’s chat via email first.)The big takeaway here is: Know that all prospects are different. If you force people to contact you the way you want them to, you may lose conversions as a result
  • Their autoresponders don’t “mesh.” This was the second email contact I received from the dealer – five minutes after receiving their first email (you may need to click on the graphic to read everything).

    First, the signature line in the email correspondence doesn’t match the “from” address – so this looks like an autoresponder. Not a huge thing, but you’re left wondering whether you should contact Amber or Misti. Second, the email doesn’t ask how I would like to be contacted (again.) And finally – there is nothing compelling about this email at all – no restatement of benefits, nothing about special financing offers. Nothing. Benefits sell, folks – and if you don’t clearly tell your customers “what’s in it for them,” they’ll find someone else who will and buy from them instead.

  • The emails I did receive tried to sell me on other (pre-owned) vehicles. Think about this: A prospect comes to you with very specific requirements. She’s ready to do a deal. Do you come back and say, “I know you want THIS – but how about THAT?” Hell no! You take her money and do the deal. If I would have wanted a pre-owned vehicle, I would have asked for one.
  • Remember, people get confused with too many choices. And a person who has spent the time to outline exactly want they want is a pretty motivated buyer. To throw choices at them that they didn’t ask for will overwhelm them at best – and frustrate them at worst.  The takeaway here is to know that upselling is fine (when you do it well,) but offering a completely different choice is not.

Has this process turned me off from purchasing a new car? Not at all. I can (mostly) understand why they’re doing what they’re doing from a sales perspective – there’s just things they could do better. And I have received (non-autoreponder) emails that have addressed my concerns. The big lesson here is – evaluate everything you do from a content perspective. Read every autoresponder you send your prospects. Review every customer relationship management process. Review your content and make sure that it’s informative, benefit-rich and actually answers your prospect’s questions. People won’t tell you things like, “Hey, your autoresponder doesn’t mention any benefits.” They’ll just walk away. And that’s much more expensive than having to rewrite an autoresponder series, Web page or brochure.

The 5-W’s and 1-H of SEO content marketing planning

Planning a SEO copywriting campaign doesn’t have to be rocket science.

In the frenzied initial stages of SEO content marketing, it’s easy to get so wrapped up in the big picture that you forget the important foundational details. It’s great when the powers-that-be get excited about all the new traffic their content marketing strategy will drive – or all the money they’ll make with improved copy. Yet at the same time, they forget important tidbits, such as “who’s going to write this awe-inspiring copy” and “how is the company going to pay for it?”

It’s fantastically fun to jump into the big-picture deep end – but just make sure that you address the how-to specifics, too.  Here are some questions to ask:

Who does the writing?  This is an incredibly important decision. During last year’s recession, many companies were hiring low-cost copywriters purely as a cost-cutting move. Although their intent was good (companies figured that more content would drive more traffic) the implementation left much to be desired. Today, businesses burned with the “cheap copy” mantra understand that bad copy hurts more than it helps (from both a search engine and a conversion perspective) – and they’re willing to invest more money in their digital assets. Whether you decide to keep your SEO copywriting in-house or outsource it, know that your writer needs to have some serious writing skills.

What pages need to be created (or rewritten) and When do they need to be uploaded? This is where your editorial calendar comes into play. Every month (or quarter, if you can plan that far ahead,) write down what pages need to be created (or rewritten,) who is doing the writing, the deadline, and the firm upload date. This kind of advance planning has two main advantages. One, it forces communication and accountability – in order to make a editorial calendar work, it means that all parties involved need to sign off on the deadlines and duties. The other advantage is that it makes your content marketing campaign much easier to plan. If you know you have a special promotion hitting the streets, you can build in time for content creation rather than waiting until the last moment. In short, editorial calendars help you get more done, faster. Really.

Where does the budget come from?  Good writing costs time, money or both. If you’re planning to keep your SEO copywriting in house, understand that the person doing the writing needs time to actually do the writing. Or if you’re outsourcing, make sure that you allocate a reasonable budget (and “reasonable” depends on your target audience, your brand and your particular SEO challenges.) Although you may be tempted to pay the cheapest price you can for content, really think about that move before you start hiring copywriters. You don’t have to pay $2,000 per page for copy, but you do want to hire someone who can show proven results. And those folks cost a little bit more. Consider hiring a Certified SEO Copywriter to ensure that your writer understands both conversion-driven copywriting and SEO – and can produce quality work.

Why don’t you look at new opportunities? Some companies get stuck in a rut, churning out the same type of copy month after month. Sure, articles and newsletters and press releases are great. But what about trying Twitter? Or starting a LinkedIn group? Or uploading video? Testing a new content marketing channel can breathe new life into your campaign – and often, connect you with new customers that you wouldn’t have obtained through your standard channels.

How will you know if it’s working? How are you measuring page success? Rankings? Conversions? A reduction in bounce rate? If you don’t have analytics set up on your Website, do it now. Right now. And for goodness sake, please allow your SEO copywriter to review the analytics (and if they don’t understand analytics, you may want to consider hiring another copywriter.)

It’s true that starting a new SEO content marketing campaign can feel overwhelming at first – especially if folks are too focused on the “big picture” and forget those pesky implementation details. But once you’ve mastered the “5-W’s and 1-H” of SEO copywriting, your planning will be a little bit easier – and the implementation won’t be quite as painful. Good luck!

Why some large companies suck at content marketing

Recently, Junta42 released their 2010 content marketing survey (if you haven’t read it, do it now – it’s good reading.)

One of the oft-reported stats is that smaller companies (those with less than 99 employees) are spending two times more on content marketing than their big-brand counterparts (40 percent versus 18 percent.)

To those of us in the content marketing trenches, this is not surprising. And here’s my theory on why.

Small companies have a distinct advantage in the content marketing game: They “just do it” (to borrow from an old Nike ad.) They may start Tweeting because it’s free, granted -  but quickly realize that Twitter is a powerful marketing tool and stick with it (I have seen many smaller companies pay someone to Tweet for them because the campaign is so successful.)  Small businesses may start a blog for SEO purposes – but they they learn that their blog helps them interact with readers in a new, fun (and profitable) way.  Spending money for a Web-page rewrite may be daunting, but they do it to help drive new business. (for an example, check out the Studio Blue Pilates case study.) It’s certainly not that they have more money than their corporate counterparts. It’s that they’ve focused their spending on what’s worked: Content marketing.

Large brands…not so much.

I don’t know how many times I’ve worked with a big brand on a content marketing initiative, only to have it shelved, delayed or in a constant state of “We’ll finalize this during our next meeting.” One big-brand client who was thisclose to signing pulled out at the last minute because “legal would need to approve all the content, and they didn’t have time to do so.” Another client wanted to conduct market research on what, exactly, they should blog about. That was a year ago. And believe it or not, the market research is still ongoing (after being shelved a few times over 2009.) Yet another client feared Twitter because, “What if people Tweeted something negative about their company? How would we deal with it internally?”

Large brands don’t choose to have that “just do it” freedom, and that’s sad (I say “choose to have that freedom” as policies and procedures can be changed…assuming there’s an internal push to change them.) How many times have you seen a big-brand client discontinue a content marketing campaign because the project kept going on hold and the results were spotty? Or seen an ecommerce company directly uploading their print catalog copy for their Website and then say that “SEO content marketing doesn’t work” because the copy doesn’t position (uh, yeah…because there are no keyphrases in the copy.) Or refuse to build a blog – that market research proves that their customers would embrace – because “if an external consultant blogs for us, they may say something wrong. And we can’t handle it in-house. So we won’t do it.”

Instead, the budget that would have been (possibly) earmarked for content marketing flows other places. Large brands focus on being #1 in PPC results, purchasing display ads and doing other things that may gain exposure, yes. But it may also be a very expensive way to gain customers…especially since the experience is totally one-sided (buy from us) rather than interactive (tell us what’s important to you.)

That is sad as well.

So, consider this a call to action for large businesses to embrace content marketing. It could be setting up a dedicated Twitter-guru who monitors and responds to Tweets (like @alaskaair and @starbucks.) It could mean working with a consultant to uncover content marketing opportunities. It could mean making internal changes so getting one blog post approved doesn’t take a month every time. If Zappos can do it (heck, if Starbucks can do it) other large companies can do it too.

If they want to.

In short, it means that large businesses need to look at their content marketing assets differently. They need to get out of their own way and view their content as an interactive stepping-stone – not a reputation management threat.  And large businesses need to learn to carry through on campaigns that help them communicate with their customers and prospects, rather than pushing all their spend to PPC “because it’s easier.”

When that happens, it will be a good day for those big-brand companies. Their customers – and their bottom line – will thank them.

What to do right now: Planning ongoing SEO content

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.