Link Building for Content Marketers: Interview with Debra Mastaler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fail on any of these points and I delete!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rapid Results, Lots of Fun: Growth Hacking Tips from Ann Smarty

Do the words “rapid results” make your heart rate pitter patter with glee?

Are you looking for a fun way to help your clients?

If you don’t know Ann Smarty, you’re in for a treat. Ann has been on the forefront of blogging and content marketing for years — plus, she knows her SEO stuff (@seosmarty is even her Twitter handle!).

Read what Ann has to say about growth hacking strategies, why building your brand assets is so important — and why you may not need a blog. Enjoy!

The topic of “growth hacking” is hot – but I run into people who don’t know what it is. Can you please define growth hacking and tell us how it differs from digital marketing?

I am not aware of any formal definition. Here’s how I understand it: Growth hacking means coming up with efficient tactics to grow your business.

Growth hacking can be part of digital marketing but while the latter is more long-term and strategic, growth hacking is usually about rapid results, lots of experiments and fun.

Moreover, while digital marketing is comprehensive (it aims at building all kinds of aspects of your business including sales, reputation, usability, etc.), growth hacking is about mostly doing whatever it takes to grow the site user base.

Growth hacking is also less about watching competitors and more about developing unique growth ideas.

I’m asking this for all those businesses out there who really don’t want to blog. Is having an on-site blog a prerequisite for digital marketing/growth hacking? Or, are there any non-blogging “hacks?”

Blogging is just one growth hack. There are many more :)

For examples, growth hacks in my newsletter include YouTube tricks, ways to obtain natural links that bring traffic and users, creating brand assets that generate user base of their own, etc. It’s not just about blogging, though blogging usually makes it easier!

Do you run into people who insist email marketing is dead? Is it really? Where does email marketing fit into an overall growth hacking strategy? Or does it?

The death of email marketing was a thing a few years ago when social media sites were just emerging and many people thought social media communities would eventually replace email marketing.

Well, guess what, social media platforms are mature now, they are useful for marketers but they definitely never replaced email marketing. In fact, the two are most effective when combined!

You discuss increasing Google search exposure by answering niche questions. Are there any specific ways of doing this or Q&A forums you’ve found work better than others?

The most effective way to earn traffic by answering questions is to answer them on your site and build up a resource.

One of the most efficient scenarios I’ve come up with so far is the following:

  • Any time you plan to create and publish content, use SERPstat to find related questions people tend to type into Google’s search box
  • Break those questions into generic ones (those that deserve creating a separate page to address them) and specific ones (those that should be covered inside an article)
  • Do some more digging to research search volume and competition (SERPstat can show you both) to pick the best generic questions to create content around
  • Use specific questions as subheadings as well as a clickable table of contents within each article.

Here’s a good example of the above scenario in action.

Also, make a good habit of covering each customer’s questions on your site as a FAQ question. Not only will it increase your chances to rank higher, it will also decrease the amount of customer support emails.

You’ve also discussed creating alternative web traffic sources by building brand assets. Are you saying that Google traffic isn’t enough? How can that be? ;)

Even if we forget about the (always) disturbing Google whims (manual penalties, ever-growing list of tools), depending on one source for traffic, leads and customers is never a good idea! :)

What are the best hacks for building these assets? And what “alternative web traffic sources” should an agency or individual consider?

I’ve discussed my favorite platforms to build brand assets here. In short, brand assets can be any page or resource that can be bring you traffic (preferably on auto-pilot).

For example, a must-build brand asset is an email list (which you can scale by using automated workflows. Here’s more info on all the ways to automate your email communications and grow engagement with GetResponse).

Social media accounts are more brand assets to consistently develop.

Creating on-site brand assets is another great idea. Think eBooks, apps, aforementioned FAQs. These will bring return traffic from bookmarks and downloads.

The sky is your limit really… Creating an online course and publishing it throughout educational platforms is one idea, for example. Or publishing an instructional download, such as a pdf. Or even maintaining an author column at a high-profile niche publication.

The more you do, the more traffic sources you build!

It sounds like writing good copy (newsletter copy, email copy, web copy) is a needed growth-hacking skill – which is great for SEO writers! Is there anything else folks should know?

Content has always been the foundation of any other marketing efforts. It’s never “build it and they will come” though (unfortunately). Creating good copy is a necessary step 1, then there come many more steps including publicizing and marketing that content using your assets (e-newsletter, social media channels) or paid placements (search and social media ads).

What’s your top growth hack tip for snagging some “low-hanging fruit” success?

My favorite growth hack won’t work for everyone but it will hopefully inspire many. I have found that re-packaging old content is an easy and absolutely awesome way to create new traffic sources.

For example, I went back to my old content, ordered voiceover on Fiver and created three premium courses on Udemy. Now they work great for bringing brand recognition and site visitors.

What’s your favorite music to listen to while you’re writing?

I am not listening to music when writing. I am a multi-tasker. I am writing, monitoring Twitter and feeding baby – all at the same time. I cannot also add background music to all of that :)

Why Incubation Time Makes You A Better Writer: Tips from Henneke Duistermaat

Have you wondered why your blog post titles are falling flat, and folks aren’t taking action?

Are you looking for a way to simplify your writing process?

If you don’t know Henneke Duistermaat, you’re in for a treat. Henneke is the owner of Enchanting Marketing and has been featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine and Copyblogger. 

In fact, Copyblogger’s Brian Clark has said, “You should listen to Henneke’s every word!”

Learn what Henneke has to say about her streamlined writing process, what sales writing mistakes make her cringe and ways to open the curiosity gap. Enjoy!

You write books, develop courses, blog and (sometimes) take on copywriting clients. That’s a lot of writing!  What kind of productivity processes do you have in place to help you accomplish so much?

Firstly, I write over a series of days – even for smaller projects. My first stage is gathering the information required. For copywriting projects, I focus on (1) who is the customer, (2) what is the expected action on this page, (3) why would the customer care about taking this action, (4) why might the customer hesitate, and (5) why would he trust me. I leave the research for a day before I plan the content, which means arranging what content goes where. On the next day, I write a first draft. Then on the next day again, I edit. Sometimes I edit over a couple of days.

When you spread writing over several days, you take advantage of incubation time. You become more creative. Also, your editing goes faster when you look at your draft with fresh eyes. I also suffer less from procrastination when a writing task is relatively small!

For blog posts, I often use a standard structure which helps speed up writing, too. Most of my posts have an opening in which I empathize with the reader and promise how I’ll help them. Then I have a series of tips. And lastly, I have an upbeat paragraph in which I encourage readers to implement my tips.

What also helps is that I write in short bursts of time (25 to 30 minutes) and take a lot of breaks. This keeps my energy levels up. And I spend relatively little time on social media. I don’t even have a Facebook account. I focus on what I do best – which is content creation.

You are an incredible marketer and your posts can get thousands of shares! Well done! Do you have a favorite marketing technique that helped you go from “a good writer” to “a well-known influencer?”

Thank you!

What has helped me most is being focused. So rather than write about a variety of topics, I tried to establish my credentials as an expert in web writing and business blogging. I rarely write about other topics. I tend to write in-depth content, sometimes focused on ultra-specific topics like how to use adverbshow to create smooth transitions, or how to eliminate weak words from your writing. Such in-depth posts about the nitty-gritty of writing help me stand out as an expert. I didn’t think people would be interested in such detailed posts, but my readers have encouraged me to write them.

Another often underrated skill is listening. We think of ourselves as writers, but getting to know our audience and listening to their needs helps connect with them. I often get emails from people saying that my blog post came exactly at the right time. “Was I reading their mind?” I love those emails because they show me I’m in tune with my audience’s needs.

You must see sales pages that make you cringe. What are the most common sales page errors you see? How can a writer conquer common sales writing mistakes and write some serious sales copy?

One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is using generic statements like “We’re passionate about creating awesome websites” or “We’re committed to customer service excellence.”

Such generic statements don’t help persuade readers to buy because everyone says the same. Even more importantly, such statements don’t help readers visualize what you’re talking about—they don’t really tell us something. What is so special about their customer service?

As soon as you add a specific detail, the credibility of the copy is boosted. For instance, a headline like “Our world class widgets help you increase email sign-ups” is a generic statement, and while the benefit (increasing email sign-ups) is good, it lacks persuasiveness. Try for instance: “549,333 websites use our widgets to increase email sign-ups” or even: “So-and-so used our widget to increase sign ups by 79%.”

Some writers swear by sales writing formulas like PAS and AIDA. Other writers think that sales formulas are outdated and won’t work online. What’s your opinion? If you do use sales writing formulas, what’s your favorite one and why?

I find PAS and FAB the two most useful copywriting formulas.

FAB stands for Features – Advantages – Benefits.

FAB reminds us that our customers aren’t interested in features, and they aren’t interested in specifications, they don’t even care about advantages. All they want to know is what you offer to them. How do you make them happier or richer?

In my book How to Write Seductive Web Copy, I use the following example to describe the difference between features, advantages, and benefits:

Imagine you’re selling an oven. One of its special features is a fast preheat system. The advantage of this system is that the oven heats up to 400º F (200º C) in just five minutes. The benefit is that a cook doesn’t have to hang around until the oven is finally warm enough. It makes cooking less stressful and you have a much better chance to get dinner ready in time even if you’re extremely busy.

FAB tells us to always focus on customers. Specific features and specifications add credibility to your copy, but benefits sell because they connect to human emotions. You always need the combination of facts (features and specifications) and emotion (benefits).

PAS is in a way quite similar to FAB. Instead of focusing on the positive benefits of your copy, you focus on what problems you help avoid. PAS is powerful because problems can attract even more attention than benefits. People want to avoid pain, hassle, risks, glitches, and problems.

PAS stands for: Problem – Agitate – Solve. First you describe a problem, then you agitate by highlighting the emotions that go with the problem, and then you offer your solution. Once people believe you understand their problems and how they feel about it, they’re more likely to believe you have a good solution for them, too.

PAS and FAB are simple and persuasive. You can write persuasive web copy for any product or service using these two formulas.

What’s your favorite site for sales copy inspiration (and no, Apple doesn’t count!) :)

Haha! Apple doesn’t count? Why not?

Other copywriting examples? It depends on what you’re looking for. For simplicity, I think the UK government’s website is interesting to study. It covers a huge number of topics in a pretty clear manner. What I also like is that it reinforces the point that FAQ pages are pretty useless. You need to answer questions when they come up in people’s mind. That’s usually when they’re reading about a product or service.

For writing with personality, I like Man Crates. They write great copy for a clearly defined avatar (or ideal reader profile). If you’re interested in stories, then J Peterman is a great website to study.

One of your blog posts discusses the “curiosity gap” and its importance. Can you talk a little bit about what the curiosity gap is, and why “minding the gap” is so important during the age of content shock.

Curiosity has a bad name. We associate it with either nosiness and clickbait titles. But curiosity is a healthy human trait. Without curiosity, we wouldn’t learn and innovate.

To use curiosity in an ethical way, we appeal to people’s desire for learning about a specific topic, and then we open up a gap by pointing out there might be something they don’t know yet. This way we can write subject lines and headlines that entice people to click through.

For instance, here’s a subject line that did really well for me recently: 

A Pain-Free Copywriting Process: 5 Key Questions You Must Answer

The first part (A pain-free copywriting process) refers to something a lot of my audience desire. Copywriting is hard—who wouldn’t like to make the process pain-free? The second part (5 key questions you must answer), then opens up the curiosity gap because we get curious to know which these 5 key questions are.

You don’t have to do this in two parts. Here’s another example:

Do You Know This #1 Fiction Writing Trick For Compelling Business Content?

This subject line appeals to people’s desire for creating compelling business content; and it arouses curiosity by referring to the #1 fiction writing trick. (What’s the trick? This post is about the principle of Show. Don’t tell.)

Speaking of content shock…I don’t know how many super-long emails I receive every day. Do I read them? Usually not. What are some things writers can do to write more “snackable” emails that actually get read?

Emails tend to get wordy because people are trying to communicate too much information. You see this with companies a lot. They want you to fill in a satisfaction survey AND like them on Facebook. They want you to reply to an email AND click to read the latest post. They share three or four tips in one email when one tip is enough. Everyone is overwhelmed already, so let’s keep life a little simpler for our email recipients.

So, the key to being “snackable” is to focus on just one action per email. This action can be to click through to read your blog post, to reply to your email with a concrete answer, to click to buy a product or to fill in a questionnaire. Whatever it is, limit it to one action.

Once you decide which one action you want from the email, it becomes easier to cut out all the irrelevant parts. Often you can reduce the number of words by 50%.

If writers only remember ONE thing from this interview, what’s the big takeaway? 

Let me mention again this point about generic statements because as copywriters it can be difficult to write persuasive copy because often we don’t know enough.

To write good copy, it’s important to get as much input as possible from your clients or their customers or to do your own online research. Ask as many questions as you can and when a client gives you a generic statement, ask for an example. For instance, I remember a client telling me they had state-of-the-art facilities; and I had to probe him for quite a long time before I finally got some specific statements about his facilities. These specific statements included explanations about his machinery plus I asked him to explain why his customers would care about this machinery. So, again, each fact about the machinery was connected to a benefit for buyers.

Bonus question: What do you listen do while you’re writing? Music? Nothing? White noise?

I like silence. Music distracts me.

On Viral Headlines & Bad Listicles: Interview with BuzzSumo’s Steve Rayson

Steve Rayson discusses viral headlinesSince our first interview with Steve Rayson in June 2015 — and only two years after he and co-directors James Blackwell and Henley Wing launched BuzzSumo — the SaaS company has grown by quantum leaps to become a leading content data and analytics platform. And it shows no signs of slowing down.

Nor does Steve, for that matter. We caught up with him to ask about his latest article sharing his insights into viral headlines, which closely parallels his year-end analysis of 2015’s most-shared content. (If you read through all that Steve has researched and published over the past year, you’ll appreciate just how busy he’s been). Enjoy!

In your recent BuzzSumo article reporting on the findings from your research into viral headlines, you break down the viral headline structure into five common elements: Is there one that is absolutely essential to a “clickable” headline?

I don’t think there is a single element. I think if I had to point to the most important element I would probably say the clarity of the promise is key: What will I get if I click through to your content?

I think one of the interesting aspects was how the performance of headlines varied so much from network to network. See the top three word phrases (headline trigrams) across FB and Twitter as an example. So you do have to craft different text when promoting content on the different social networks.

tirgams-twitter-facebook-2

BuzzSumo just released research findings from its joint study with HubSpot on B2B vs. B2C content performance across all the major social networks. Did you find any surprises that relate to your viral headline study?

Not that relate to viral headlines per se, but I think it is interesting to see the importance of Facebook to B2B sharing. Whilst I understand the focus on LinkedIn, I think B2B marketers should not ignore Facebook as it seems to be growing in importance.

b2b-v-b2c-social-sharesIn discussing how well list and “how to” content formats perform across all social networks, you express reluctance in sharing your findings for fear that the web will be saturated with them – particularly in B2B marketing. Why are you especially concerned about B2B?

One concern is simply that we will see the same headlines again and again as people are lazy. My other concern is the appallingly poor quality of many list posts — I mean really poor.

For example, today I clicked to read a post on ‘10 Tips for a Successful Product Launch’. The post was one of those short list posts that add zero value. The advice recommended was that you should:

  • Plan
  • Set measurable goals
  • Launch a product your customers need
  • Define your key message
  • Beta test your product
  • Etc.

You get the idea. It is just a list almost anyone could sit down and write, but it is actually not helpful.

In fact, it is worse than not helpful as it wasted my time. I get frustrated when I click through to these posts. So much so that I am actually developing an app which uses a combination of algorithms and human filtering to suggest helpful or valuable content so you don’t waste time on these types of list posts.

This sounds similar to what Google does with its Panda algorithm and Search Quality Raters guidelines. Is this the case? Will the app be integrated into the existing BuzzSumo platform or will it stand alone as its own set of search returns?

It is called Anders Pink (B2B Marketing) and is separate from BuzzSumo. In essence, you set up an Anders Pink stream and our algorithm filters content for your team.

You can add RSS feeds, content shared by influencers or published by specific sites. For all of them you can filter by keywords; for example, “only show content shared by these 10 influencers about influencer marketing”. Then your team can rate, flag and comment on new content, so you can further filter it by the most highly rated by your team and ignore the rest.

So in the wider scheme of marketing things, what overall headline creation and content sharing strategies would you suggest? 

Headlines matter and you can increase shares by adopting the viral content elements and structure in your headline that I outlined in my blog post.

That said, I think you have to research and test what works in your area. As I always say, you need to be clear about your amplification strategy before you write content: who will share or link to the content, and why?

You also need to spend as much time on amplifying your content as creating it.

Finally, findings from a study of 3 million paid link headline click-through rates conducted by HubSpot and Outbrain (Data Driven Strategies for Writing Effective Titles & Headlines) seem to contradict BuzzSumo’s. Specifically, they report that headlines with the words “how to” and “amazing” all hurt CTRs by as much as 59 percent. What do you make of that? Is it merely a difference between “clicks” and “shares”? Or does it have to with the nature of the headlines studied?

This Outbrain study from 2013-14 was very different and was about the clicks through from headlines on Outbrain promoted content. Thus it was not about content headlines per se but the adverts that promote content.

I think this explains some of the differences but it is mainly about a different context. The Outbrain study is about Outbrain-promoted content and the headlines they use to get people to click through to a promoted article. Its headlines are the featured posts you see at the bottom of an article on say “Time” or a major publisher, as shown in the image below. This example is typical — the 4 ‘around the web’ stories are from Outbrain.

TimeThus Outbrain-promoted headlines occur in the context of an article someone is reading on a major publisher.

What are people looking for at the end of an article on say Time? I think it is very unlikely to be a tip or a how to post. Thus you wouldn’t be surprised to see ‘how to’ posts perform badly in this context. However, if you were on LinkedIn or a social site and browsing for ideas on how to improve performance, you are probably going to be much more interested in a ‘how to’ post.

So context to me plays an important role and explains the differences, I suspect. If you look at the article from Time on the Federal Reserve as an example, at the bottom OutBrain are promoting a set of articles that are not relevant to the post.

Personally I don’t like these article placements, but people say they work as you can get your content exposed on major publications.

So the Outbrain survey is very specific; it is not about article headlines but the headlines used in these article promotions. I don’t think this is typically how people find content, particularly when it comes to B2B content. I can see how entertaining content may work better.

And yes, the Outbrain survey was on click-throughs to articles while our focus of course was on the articles people shared, i.e., they were engaged with the content or felt it had enough value to share the post. There is a big difference between what motivates me to click through to an article advertised on Time and what motivates me to share with my audience. So you can’t really compare.

That said, Outbrain actually found “When used in the headline, the words ‘amazing’ and ‘photo’ increase page views per session”. This is consistent with our findings about these terms when it comes to engagement and shares.

OutBrain

OutBrain says “while ‘amazing’ may only attract a small audience, this is an audience that continues to be highly engaged.” Thus it seems to me that this is consistent, that this highly engaged audience is more likely to share the content.

I hope this explains my views.

Abundantly, thank you! And thank you for sharing  your time with us, Steve. :)

Connect with Steve on Twitter and LinkedIn

Photo thanks: Phoebus87 at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia.org

What to Know About Local SEO: Interview with Andrew Shotland

Local searchSteeped in Local SEO and search for some 13 years, Andrew Shotland is a leading expert in this highly competitive space. He is the proprietor of Local SEO Guide, an SEO and SEM consultancy (and blog) he founded nine years ago. Andrew has also authored Search Engine Land’s monthly local search column since 2009.

Before launching his own business, Andrew headed up business and product development for Insider Pages, a local search startup. As its Chief SEO Officer, he developed an SEO program that attracted over 3 million unique visitors/month to the site.

Here, Andrew answers questions about Local SEO best practices and search trends, as well as the challenges faced by brands competing on a local level. Enjoy!

Could you briefly summarize the essential ways that Local SEO differs from the SEO for big national brands? 

Google, Bing & Yahoo typically show separate local business listings for queries they deem to have significant local intent. The methodologies to compete for rankings in these “local packs” are somewhat different than those you would apply to non-local SEO.

Local SEO also includes appearing well in local-specific search services such as Apple Maps, Facebook Local, Yelp, the Yellow Pages sites and various vertical search engines. It’s a huge, complex space to play in.

If you were to list Local SEO best practices, what would be the top 3? Why?

The Top 3 Local SEO Best Practices in no particular order:

  1. Compete for relevant queries where you have a physical location. It’s hard to show up in the local results without a physical location in the searched city.
  2. Make sure your Google My Business (GMB) and top local search site business profiles (e.g. Yelp, YP.com, etc.) are claimed, up to date and consistent with your N.A.P. (Name, Address & Phone Number) that appears in text on your website.
  3. Don’t ignore the non-Local pack results. These can generate significant traffic. So do all of the typical SEO things to your site to help it rank well: Ensure Googlebot accessibility, use smart keyword/content targeting and get links from other sites.

Last week, Mike Blumenthal (and other local SEO experts) reported that Google had dropped businesses’ G+ pages from its “Places” search results, instead returning URLs from its “Maps” API. Do you think this is just part of Google’s mobile agenda, or is it, as Blumenthal suggested, another indication of the impending “divorce” of local search from G+? What would you say are the implications?

I don’t think this is that big a deal. Google is trying to untangle all of its services from Google+. Google+ for businesses was pretty confusing so perhaps this might end up making Google My Business easier to deal with. I don’t think this changes how we approach Google Local at all. Perhaps this will screw up some services that relied on the API for data, but that’s about it.

In your monthly Search Engine Land (SEL) column, you frequently cite how a well-optimized Google My Business (GMB) page can boost local businesses’ rankings. What specific things would you recommend a Webmaster (or site owner) do to fully leverage their GMB page?

There are a few things you can do to leverage your GMB page:

  • Make sure all of the info is up to date
  • Make sure your business categorization is correct
  • Make sure it links to the most relevant URL on your site (this one is huge)

(Editor’s note: You can view Andrew’s Local SEO Guide GMB page here)

What are some challenges brands face with Local SEO?

Multi-location brands have some of the biggest problems with Local SEO, but some of the biggest opportunities, too. On the problems side, dealing with the data issues involving tens, hundreds and even thousands of locations can be a huge task.

In particular, managing their Google My Business issues requires a lot of well-honed processes to do it at scale. Unfortunately you can’t just use a cookie-cutter approach because the problems you encounter change every day.

On the plus side, when you have scale, you can use that to your advantage once you get the basics right, in terms of content, links, etc. We typically see multi-location brands able to rank for their target queries en masse much easier than single locations, all things being equal.

Given all the Google updates to its Local SEO algo over the past two years that you recently summarized in your September SEL column, what do you see trending for Local SEO and search?

We think two big opportunities at the moment are Facebook Local and iOS Search/Apple Maps. Both of these local search systems are generating huge traffic right now but it seems like most of the Local SEO world is ignoring them. That’s great for our clients :)

Any parting words about Local SEO and/or Google’s local algo updates? 

It’s a great business because it’s always changing and it’s one of the biggest markets there is. It’s very satisfying to be able to help both large and small businesses navigate their ways through this ridiculous stuff. Sometimes I have to laugh that this is what I do for a living. It’s certainly fun.

Connect with Andrew on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+

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The Semantic Web & Knowledge Graph with Bill Slawski

knowledge-graph-by-the-seaAs the go-to expert for all things Google patents for some ten years now, Bill Slawski of SEO by the Sea and Go Fish Digital has made an art and science of predicting and explaining the deep water currents driving search engine results.

Lately, Bill has focused on the changes to search results brought on by Google’s “Knowledge Graph” and the Semantic Web.

You’ve likely come across these terms in your work as an SEO copywriter, but what do they mean, exactly? And why should you care?

In this interview, Bill offers a straightforward explanation of these latest forces impacting search results, and why you should have a handle on them.

What should an SEO copywriter understand about the Semantic Web (vs. Traditional SEO/Search)?

Google appears to have gone into a different mode when answering search queries, which illustrates one of the big differences between the worlds of SEO and the Semantic Web.

Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs) have traditionally been a list of links to resources found on the Web that respond to a specific query typed into its search box. Google finds these resources by crawling Web pages, indexing their contents, and then returning links to the user.

In doing so, Google creates snippets representing those pages, and provides these snippets as well as their corresponding URLs and page titles, in its SERPs.

A Semantic Web approach has Google crawling web pages on a search for entities (specific people, places and things), collecting information about those entities, and adding that data to a fact repository — now known as Google’s “Knowledge Graph.”

So how does the Knowledge Graph work in the Search Landscape?

The Knowledge Graph, or “knowledge panels,” is part of the search results interface that Google uses to share information about entities – again, these entities may be specific people, places and/or things.

As for “things” — it’s important to note that they may include ideas, brands, and products.

For example, when someone performs a search that includes an entity (as many searches do), a knowledge panel about that entity appears at the top of the search engine results page. This panel provides more information about that specific entity, and often includes other related topics that people usually search for when entering their initial query.

So, search results are no longer just lists of snippets pointing to pages that are ordered by information retrieval scores and PageRank. With its knowledge panels and the Semantic Web, Google has added a number of other ways to decide what it might show on its SERPs.

Given the significant changes in search results brought on by the Semantic Web and Google’s Knowledge Graph, what would you advise an SEO copywriter do? Should s/he cite entities for better SERP rankings?

If entities appear in your content — as they often do — see if you can make the mentions of them richer by fleshing them out. Remember that a named entity includes ideas, brands, and products.

Including more information about the entities within your content can help make it more interesting, more likely to be noted by others, and shared socially.

This can mean including information about related entities, as I previously referred to. Adding this relevant, related content could make your own rank well for a wider range of search queries.

What resources would you recommend for a deeper dive into the brave new world of the Semantic Web and Knowledge Graph?

I’ve been fortunate to have teamed up with Barbara Starr, who is a founder and co-organizer of the San Diego Semantic Web Meetup Group (she added me as a co-organizer.) Barbara has strong roots in the Semantic Web Technology community, and also likes to research Google’s patents.

On June 23rd, Barbara and I collaborated on a presentation for the San Diego Semantic Web group, titled Ranking in Google Since The Advent of The Knowledge Graph

I also highly recommend this recent (May 2015) Search Engine Land article from Barbara on changes to how Google handles search results via the Knowledge Graph: Structured Data and the SERPS: What Google’s Patents Tell us about Ranking in Universal Search.

In this post, Barbara describes how a Google patent titled Ranking search results based on entity metrics (https://www.google.com/patents/WO2014089776A1) might feature different knowledge panel content based upon metrics involving notability, relatedness (as in related to other entities mentioned), contribution, fame and prize.

So if you are creating content for pages and mentioning entities within that content, understanding more about these metrics can give you a sense of what might appear for entity-based content in search results, and perhaps give you some ideas of what to write about.

Going forward, what do you see happening with the Semantic web? Will it eclipse “traditional SEO”?

Many commercial businesses have been relying upon SEO on the Web to bring them traffic to their pages, and through their doors.  But searchers often want answers as quickly as they can get them, and Semantic Web approaches are geared towards sharing data as quickly as possible.

The search engines see searchers as their primary customers, but also rely upon business owners to advertise on their pages. This may mean that traditional SEO may have some life left in it.

Connect with Bill on Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn

Photo thanks: ©William Murphy | Flickr.com

 

 

 

SEO via Media Relations with @SpinSucks Gini Dietrich

pr-seo-handshakeYou’ve most likely heard of Spin Sucks and the force behind it, Gini Dietrich. She entered the public relations (PR) business after graduating from college, working her way up from her initial position as an account coordinator.

True to form, Gini eventually set out on her own and started her PR business (Arment Dietrich, Inc.) in 2005. The following year, she launched Spin Sucks (she quips, “embarrassingly so”). Fast forwarding to today, Gini has authored Spin Sucks: Communication and Reputation Management in the Digital Age and co-authored Marketing in the Round. She is also a co-host of the podcast Inside PR, and the primary voice of the Spin Sucks blog.

We were fortunate enough to grab some of Gini’s precious time for an interview, focused around her thoughts on leveraging media relations for SEO.

Enjoy!

A few months ago, you hosted a fascinating webinar on leveraging media relations for SEO using a three-pronged approach (readers can download the free webinar on demand here). Could you summarize this three-pronged approach?

You bet! We look at earned media, as it relates to building brand awareness, increasing your search engine optimization, and generating qualified leads. If your efforts don’t do all three of those things, it’s not working for you. This gets a bit into one of your questions below, but you want to work with media outlets to write stories about you, interview you on topics of expertise, accept contributed content, or run OpEds.

In those stories—all of them—should be anchor text, as it relates to your targeted keywords, and a link to something on your website or blog. There are very few journalists who won’t do this for you. Once you have that link on a higher domain authority site than your own, you have the opportunity to track your own domain authority, your search engine optimization, the qualified leads hitting you up online, and your brand awareness.

In this webinar, you also discuss how to create content hubs around a specific keyword or phrase. What content hubs would you recommend for an in-house copywriter, versus a freelance business owner? Are there hubs that would perform better for B2Bs than B2Cs?

I hate this answer, but I’m going to use it anyway: It really depends. Your content hubs should be focused around your targeted keyword or phrase. For instance, PR metrics is a big one for us because I am focused on changing the way PR pros measure their efforts. Our content hubs are built from that. It’s less about the job you’re doing (in-house vs. freelancer) and more about the search terms you need to use. And no, B2B vs B2C does not matter. This is about content around your keyword or phrase.

Earlier this year on the Spin Sucks blog, you described how to use media relations to get on the first page of Google by demonstrating your expertise on a topic. Specifically, you talked about how to leverage media relations via guest blogging on a site with relatively high domain authority to earn a link from it. Given the amount of solicitations authority sites receive from link wheel spammers, what steps would you recommend an online writer take to successfully pitch a guest post to an authority site for an “unknown” client, or for that matter, his or her own new business?

The very best way, just like any other relationship, is to build trust. I get TONS of solicitations from the wheel spammers…and it’s gross. I also receive really bad pitches and integrated news releases from PR pros, which makes me very sad. However, if someone were to pitch me and say, “I know you’re on a mission to change the way PR pros measure their efforts. I have content that fits that perfectly. Here’s a quick outline.” That would most definitely get my attention.

There’s been a lot of SEO industry talk about making links “no follow” and avoiding keyword-rich anchor link text so as not to invite a manual penalty per Google’s Penguin. Have you encountered any issues with backlinks that use a keyword or specific website domain name? How do you deal with link fear?

Nope. I’ve never had an issue, but it’s because we approach it with a “white hat.” I can’t even speak to link fear because it’s never been an issue for us.

Returning to the question of how to establish authority in the eyes of Google: what would you recommend a “noobie” do to market her content to influencers, aside from pitching a guest post? How can a new copywriter demonstrate her credibility when trying to forge a relationship with an influencer?

I recommend you start a relationship online just like you would offline. You find something in common. You share content. You comment on their content. You scratch their back and, eventually, they’ll scratch yours. Every day we have new commenters on Spin Sucks. They’ll say things such as, “First-time commenter, long-time reader.” I love that because I can dig a little to see who they are, welcome them into the fold, and provide some context about them to our community. This always helps start the relationship.

Finally, in a recent Spin Sucks post referring to the Narrative Science genesis of news storytelling via computers – or more precisely, algorithms spawned from artificial intelligence software — you discuss how “[i]t’s a new world where algorithms and humans are working hand-in-hand to produce some of the world’s best content.” Assuming the trend towards algos and writers working together will only grow, where do you see this new world heading for content creators, SEO copywriters, and online communicators?

It scares me! I joke that a computer will win a Pulitzer before I do. But I’ve talked to the founders of lots of these companies, and they’re focused solely on creating content that humans won’t do. For instance, they’ll write stories about Little League games and the Fortune 450 company because it doesn’t make sense for the newspapers to spend resources on that type of content. It’s also impossible for an algorithm to add color, irony, or even sarcasm. So, even if you use an algorithm to pull the data and science you need for a story, you still need to do the human part of it.

Well said, Gini! Thank you for spending time with us here!

You’re welcome! :)

Connect with Gini Dietrich via Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+

Photo credit to Garfield Anderssen | Flickr.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does Your Writing Make Your Clients Money? With Brian Massey

Rock conversions with A/B split testing!

Rock conversions with A/B split testing!

Brian Massey is known as “The Conversion Scientist” for good reason, beyond the trademark and his signature lab coat. He has immersed himself in the science of conversions-driving online content for over 20 years, founded on hard data gleaned from analytics and testing.

We caught up with Brian to ask him about A/B conversion testing, as well as how and why writers should add this skill set to their offerings. His responses are candid and rich with details – you’ll want to savor and bookmark this one!

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Talking International SEO with Gabriella Sannino

For international SEO, think globally but write locally!

If you’re at all familiar with international SEO, then you’re most likely familiar with Gabriella Sannino.

Gabriella is the owner of Level 343, an international marketing and SEO agency based in San Francisco. She has worked in marketing and multi media for over 20 years, starting out as a Web developer in 1994 when she founded Level 343.

In the ensuing years Gabriella donned many hats, including research and development specialist, brand strategist, and creative director before deciding to specialize in international marketing and SEO in 2005.

We were fortunate to grab some time with Gabriella to ask her about her experience with international SEO, and to share her insights into this somewhat rarified field.

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SEO Copy Manager Richard Hostler talks in-house SEO copywriting

SEO Copy Manager Richard Hostler answers in-house SEO copywriting questions.Brookstone SEO Copy Manager and Ironman (he completed the triathlon in July), Richard Hostler takes time out of his work, and workout, schedule to answer our in-house SEO copywriting questions.

Brookstone has such a great “voice” for product descriptions. How was this style developed, and what do you recommend to other in-house copy teams who are trying to determine their company voice?

We’ve come a long way from our early days of selling specialty tools via mail order. Back then, it was much simpler to communicate with customers in a single voice. As our product lines and business evolved, so too did our voice. Now we interact with customers across the country through our stores, catalogs, and email programs, and around the world via our website. Maintaining a single voice across all these channels can be tricky. We strive to keep all our copy informative and engaging, but most of all, fun. After all, we sell fun stuff. Our copy should reflect that.

Brookstone does SEO copywriting right. Do you have a formula down for creating your site content or tips for other copywriters to improve their style and technique?

One point I like to emphasize whenever I talk about SEO copywriting is that it has to be good copywriting first and foremost. Sure, you have to choose the right keywords and employ best practices in your site architecture, but that’s just loading the bases. If you want to score points with your customers or clients, you have to write interesting, informative and engaging content.

Since you aren’t the only one writing the copy, how do you convey the Brookstone style to your writers?

I encourage all writers to keep it simple. Advertising copywriters and SEO copywriters often overthink and overwrite their copy. Our writers need to find whatever is fun and unique about the product at hand and write around that. We have to get to the point quickly to catch the eyes of shoppers who are browsing online, but also tell an engaging enough story to keep the interest of customers who read all the way to the end. Once new writers understand how to keep their copy fun while writing short and long at the same time, they’ve pretty much got the Brookstone style.

What do you look for when hiring an SEO copywriter?

I look for three things. First, I look for a strong writer. This is by far the most critical trait. SEO is something that can be taught. Good writing isn’t. Second, I look for someone who understands the dual nature of SEO copywriting. We are writing for both the spiders and our human readers. Some people get tripped up here and have trouble communicating with both audiences fluently. Finally, I look for someone who really wants the position. I have interviewed dozens of writers over the years who haven’t researched me, my company or our products. If they won’t take the time to prepare for an interview, I have to question whether or not they will put in the research time necessary to be an effective SEO copywriter.

What advice do you have for writers (SEO or otherwise) looking for an in-house copywriting gig?

If a company has an in-house writing team, it will also have plenty of copy for you to check out. Whether this is print ads, catalogs, articles, retail signage, instruction manuals, technical pieces, emails, or any kind of web content, you can use it for two important purposes. First, you can decide if the company’s product set and/or style are a good fit for you. It’s very difficult to write engaging copy day in and day out about something that doesn’t interest you. Second, and this goes back to my answer to the last question, you can use the published copy to better prepare for your interview.

So, you asked me this question during my Brookstone interview. Now, here it is back atcha! What ís the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t take others’ criticism and editing personally. I had real trouble with this when I was getting started in my writing career. I would pour myself into a piece of ad copy or spend days on an article only to have it torn apart by someone higher up the food chain. It’s hard not to take that kind of beatdown personally, but that’s exactly what you have to do. Clients and in-house partners are often unclear when giving instructions for a project. I find that it requires a completed first draft before clear direction is given. Accept the perspective and criticism of others and don’t get defensive about your copy. After all, there’s plenty more (or at least there should be plenty more) where that came from.

Who is your writing inspiration?

My own special odd couple: Dr. Seuss and David Ogilvy. Dr. Seuss twisted, shaped, deconstructed and invented language to create stories that were fun to read and listen to but also touched on some pretty serious subjects. SEO copywriters do the same thing to some extent. We have to come up with creative ways to write around sometimes awkward keywords without offending our readers. David Ogilvy, on the other hand, was the father of advertising as we know it. He worked with big-time clients and wrote many iconic headlines. I have a Divid Ogilvy quote hanging on my office wall to remind me that I am a copywriter first and an SEO copywriter second.

What are the biggest challenges faced by in-house SEO copywriters and how do you overcome, or work around, them?

In-house work brings with it a measure of security and daily routine that can be equal parts benefit and stumbling block. It’s easy to settle in and lose touch with the latest SEO developments. It’s important to keep yourself informed and to constantly hone your SEO copywriting edge. SEO has a short and rapidly evolving history. It’s easy to fall behind.

Is there anything you want to add that our copywriting readers should know?

We have seen some major changes from Google over the past few weeks: all queries switching to “not provided” and the hummingbird update. As with most shakeups from Google, a certain amount of uncertainty has surfaced in the blogosphere. I, however, don’t believe this is a time to panic. In fact, I think it’s a great time to be an SEO copywriter. More than ever, Google is making content king when it comes to search. We may not have the same metrics we’ve relied on for years, but the nature of SEO is the same. Sites need rich, engaging content that feeds the increasingly important knowledge graph. As SEO copywriters, we are the ones who will write this content and help drive the future of search.

About Richard Hostler

Richard Hostler writes engaging copy that generates sales. He is currently the SEO Copy Manager at Brookstone, where he connects online customers with the best gadgets and gifts. When he’s not writing, Richard can be found training for and racing triathlons around New England. You can follow him through his website, LinkedIn or twitter.