SEO copywriting Q & A from my Writer’s Digest Webinar

pens for writing seo contentYesterday, I had the pleasure of running a Webinar for Writer’s Digest. The presentation ran ten minutes overtime, so I promised  audience members that their questions would be answered in today’s blog post.

If you were on the Webinar – thank you so much! And if you’re a freelance (or in-house) writer wondering if SEO copywriting would be a smart skill set to have, read on. You may find the answers to your questions here!

Have a question that I didn’t address? Please feel free to contact me. I’m happy to help!

Q: How often does a new Google algorithm come out? Does every new algorithm mean you change your copywriting style?

Google is constantly tweaking their algorithm. Some are minor updates – and some are pretty far-reaching (such as the Panda update.) However, that doesn’t mean that you need to change your copywriting style. Focus on your readers first, and follow SEO content writing best practices.

Having said that, it’s very important that you keep up with what’s happening in the industry. You may learn that you need to handle certain situations differently (such as hyperlinking keyphrases or using synonyms in your content.) You won’t need to spend hours a day digging into the latest SEO news. But do plan to spend some time every week reading the trades.

Q: When choosing a keyphrase, as on Google keywords, is there an ideal number we should look for? How much weight should we give the “high” competitive terms? What if we need to go after those terms?

This depends on a lot of factors. For instance, an authority site that’s been up for years has a better chance of scoring a competitive keyphrase than a brand-new, small business site. Additionally, it’s always nice when you can go after the keyphrase “sweet spot” (highly trafficked keyphrases that aren’t as competitive.) For instance, the keyphrase [freelance writer] may be tough to position for. However, the phrase, [lab supply freelance writer] will be much easier.

You may want to check out the Writer’s Digest tutorial for more information about keyphrase research.

Q: How do you access the Google keyword research tool.

Easy! You can find it here.

Q: How does the SEO Certificate program work (cost, length, etc.)?

Thanks so much for asking. You can learn more the SEO Copywriting Certification training here.

Q: I’m hearing a lot of rumbling that search is changing dramatically because of mobile, and that within a couple of years Google will be moot, because everyone will be using mobile apps. True?

Ah yes. This is a variation of the “SEO is dead” conversation that happens a couple times a year. :) It’s true that mobile is changing the game – but people still use Google (and Bing) on their Android devices, iPads, iPhones, etc. And even if Google did suddenly go away (doubtful,) whatever solution would be left would still be providing answers based on content.

Search has been “changing dramatically” since I’ve been in the business. And actually, that’s one of the fun things about search. If you like working in an industry that’s ever-changing, SEO copywriting could be a great career choice for you!

Q: Does hyperlinking around two different keyphrases in a blog post help or hurt your SEO?

You should optimize for two to three keyphrases per page. Hyperlinking is fine – the key is to do it intelligently and mix up your anchor text. If you’re hyperlinking every instance of “cashmere sweaters,” that won’t help your SEO (it could actually hurt it.) Here’s an interesting article about how Google’s Penguin update impacted hyperlinking the keyphrase.

Q: Do you have any recommendations for raising your ranking for seasonal sites (like Christmas only) since they’re only seasonal, they aren’t updated as often, even though it’s formatted as a blog (santa’s elf’s blog for children).

Ideally, you’d create content year ’round. If you’re just looking for seasonal traffic, PPC (pay per click,) may be a better marketing avenue. You may also consider building a social media campaign to drive traffic (say a Facebook or Twitter campaign.)

Q: Approximately how many days/weeks, fulltime, of SEO training and beginner’s work would it take for an experienced writer/journalist to reach a level of competency to work professionally with corporate clients for $100-plus/hour?

It depends on the type of “issues” you want to deal with. If you’re a great writer and understand SEO content, you could accomplish this in a few months. If you want to work hand-in-hand with the IT department, consult on content changes and deal with more “hairy” issues, you’ll need a year (or more) of increasing experience under your belt. Having said that, one of the big issues that writers have is charging what they’re worth. Case studies and testimonials will help showcase your value (and congratulations for thinking ahead – that’s great!)

Q: Are there ways to include key phrases as hidden text?

Yes, but Google will spot it and punish you with a spam penalty. The “hidden text” trick is an old one that has been around as long as I’ve been in SEO (and that’s a really long time!) Anytime you’re thinking of “hiding” text (or including light grey text on a white background so it’s less noticeable,) you’re walking on very thin ice. It’s better to focus producing quality content instead.

Q: Is it true that Google is putting less emphasis on inbound links, and penalizing sites for having link wheels, etc.?

Google has certainly cracked down on spammy link campaigns. Gaining quality inbound links is still important – and the key word is “quality.” Submitting your content to random article sites won’t help you.

For some great advice on link building, check out Debra Mastaler’s site Alliance-Link (and sign up for her newsletter.) You’ll learn how smart link building is more about smart PR and marketing than “I’ll link to you if you link to me.”

Q: How do you find out about the algorithmic changes?

Here’s a fun way to learn more about the “weather” patterns of Google’s algorithm. You’ll also want to pay attention to the trade sites such as:

Search Engine Land

Search Engine Watch

Search Engine Roundtable

Matt Cutt’s blog (Matt works for Google and is known as “Google Guy.”)

Q: My google analytics usually blocks the keywords that people have typed in to get to my site – is there any way around this, as I’d like to know how people find me.

Ah, yes. That is irritating, isn’t it?  If folks are logged into Google (and a huge number of folks are,) their keyword data won’t show in your analytics. Here’s a way around it, compliments of Jill Whalen (I would recommend signing up for her newsletter, too – it’s a good one!

Thanks to @writersdigest for inviting me to speak!

Are you looking for a fast, low-cost way to learn about your SEO content opportunities and problems? Check out my new SEO Content Site Review.



Is learned helplessness screwing over your SEO content?

Last week, I wrote a rant-filled post about an SEO firm filling up their client’s site with crappy blog posts because “that’s what Google wants.”

It was one of my most popular posts ever.

I started thinking about this from the client’s perspective. The content obviously sucked, so it’s not like the SEO could pass this off as “quality.” And I couldn’t figure out why the hell the client wouldn’t fire the SEO – or at least say that they were no longer in charge of sourcing the content.

And then, while I was doing pushups during my morning bootcamp class, it hit me.

Learned helplessless has way too many companies by the balls.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard…

…We want to write more content, but we’re afraid that we’ll do something wrong.

…We’re not sure if this is the right content, but our SEO company says it’s working – so it must be OK.

…I don’t have time to measure content effectiveness. I’d rather just pay $20 or so per page. That way, if it sucks, I’m not out a lot of money.

…We want to create more content in-house. But we don’t know what to write about or how to set up a workflow. And who has time to figure it out?

Sound familiar?

I understand. I really do. With the 1,000 other things on your plate, it’s easier to “set it and forget it” than really dig in to your SEO content plans.

But here’s the thing:  You are  leaving money on the table by NOT having a content plan in place. And if your writing doesn’t connect with your reader, it’s not doing you any good.

Unless you want things to stay where they are, you need to take action. Now. Right now. Quit screwing around and get yourself the help you need.

…If you have the capabilities to bring your content in-house, get your writers trained in SEO copy development best practices.

Yes, this has an upfront cost. But over the long run, it will literally save you thousands of dollars. Hell, even over the short run. Plus, you’ll learn how to create content that positions well and gets more social shares. You won’t piss Google off if you learn exactly what you should do.

…You should never have to settle for stinky content. If your SEO company (or SEO copywriter) is writing crap content, find someone else to write it.

There are many firms that specialize in SEO content development (mine included.) An excellent writer will ask you questions about your customer persona, your benefits, your brand “voice” and your competition – and craft what your readers want to read. Here are some questions to ask – and some red flags to avoid – if you want to hire a Google-savvy SEO copywriter.

…If you plan to dominate the world with your so-so  $20/page for 1000 words of content, get over yourself.

As I mentioned last week, your site doesn’t need more words – it needs the right words. If you need someone to write a kick-ass sales page – or research and write a blog post – that’s going to cost you more money. The good news is that it will also make you more money too. Again, if you find a firm that you love and trust, the additional fee you’ll be charge will be way worth the ROi.

…If you want to create content in house, but you’re not sure what to write about – hire a consultant.

I’m working with more companies in this capacity. I may not write a word of copy, but I do make content recommendations, set up an editorial calendar, teach the marketing team how to find topics and help measure effectiveness. With a good plan in place, those content marketing initiatives start screaming along.

It’s time for you to take control of your SEO content. You wouldn’t settle for a so-so salesperson. Or a customer service rep who didn’t perform. The same goes for your content.

The moment you stop settling is the moment that you’ll start seeing the results you really want. It will take some work and effort on your part, sure.

But it will be worth it. And you’ll be able to break free of the learned helplessness trap.

Need help setting up a workflow and editorial calendar? I can train your team in best practices, set up your editorial calendar and make sure that you’re set up for SEO content success. Contact me for details.



Hey, @GordonRamsay01 – what about the Hotel Hell Websites?

Hotel Hell is my new television addiction.

Maybe it’s because I travel so often, and what I see confirms my worst fears (now my husband understands why I never use the comforter.) Maybe it’s because I love Gordon Ramsay’s in-your-face method of business consulting. Whatever it is, I find the show addicting.

If you’ve never seen Hotel Hell, Ramsay visits hotels around the U.S., and transforms them from “hellish” into “heavenly.” After he’s done, the property is beautiful, comfortable, modern and bug-free (ugh, bugs….)

I enjoyed a Hotel Hell marathon over the weekend. After the episode aired, I would visit the hotel’s Website to see if they were “Ramsay’ed” as well.  After all, he stresses how important it is for the hotels to provide a lasting (and positive) good first impression. A hotel Website should do the same thing.

The properties may be beautiful, but the sites could use some improvement. Here’s what I mean:

When I went to view the guest rooms at the River Rock Inn, there were no pictures – none. There was copy outlining that every room had a “private bath” and air conditioning, but there weren’t any images that helped me get a feel for the property. Instead, there was a numbered list of the type of bed and the rate. The copy literally says, “A Queen sized bed – $110.”  Yeah, that doesn’t really sell me…

The Roosevelt Hotel has a page dedicated just to weddings (smart move.) Instead of telling a story and using the content to promote how unforgettable the wedding would be, only the features and prices are listed. Granted, the photos are beautiful. But the copy needs to be equally stunning and tell a story.

The Juniper Hill site also has a dedicated weddings page. But if the copy reads a little too “optimized” to you – well, you’re right. The headline reads “Classic Vermont Wedding at Juniper Hill Inn” (hmm, I don’t know what a “classic Vermont wedding” is, but I can certainly guess the keyword!)  When I clicked on a hyperlinked keyword, it took me to New England Bride Online…WTF?

The Keating Hotel actually does a fairly good job with their site – and I like their home page Title. However, the copy that describes the rooms is short and full of features (not benefits.) It’s great to read “Oversized walk-in shower with overhead rain fixtures.” But what would really wow the reader (and help them picture themselves staying at the property,) would be something like, “Step into your oversized shower and melt your stress away with two powerful rainfall shower heads.”  (Notice the use of “you” in the revised version?)

(And I’m not even mentioning the scads of SEO opportunities that these sites missed.)

One hotel did get a site makeover, which modernized the design and made it possible to check guest in online. But I would have taken it one step further. Ramsay talks about how the reception area sets the stage for the rest of the hotel experience. I would argue that every page on your site should do the exact same thing. If the Website doesn’t wow the reader, why would she bother checking out the property on Trip Advisor or Yelp? Especially when other sites do it better?

Hotels (and other businesses) need writing that’s customer-centered, persuasive and personal. It should draw the reader in and help them think, “I need to book here now.” Pretty pictures are great. Pretty pictures paired with fantastic content is better.  If you don’t have that going for you, you could be losing conversions without even knowing it. And causing your own “Website hell.”

And, Gordon, I’m available next season as your “Website content expert.” Just ask. I, too, can creatively swear like a sailor – especially on camera. And I am unbelievably blunt. Call me. :)


Want to learn how to make more money without writing until your fingers bleed? Now, you can save 70% on the Copywriting Business Bootcamp. Very limited spots available – apply today!

Seeking a talented SEO copywriting intern!

Looking for one-on-one SEO copywriting mentoring? I need an intern – and you may be the perfect candidate!

I’m looking for a super-smart SEO copywriter who can help me 5-8 hours a week. This is a great position for a new copywriter who is looking for hands-on experience within the SEO copywriting industry.

The position is unpaid, but the payoffs in terms of exposure, making invaluable industry connections, and learning the day-to-day realities of managing a high-visibility, online SEO copywriting blog are truly priceless!

I will be giving preference to SEO Copywriting Certification students/graduates.

Besides possessing excellent writing skills and a passion for SEO copywriting, it is imperative that you have the following qualities down:

  • Spelling, grammar, punctuation, and syntax
  • Spelling, grammar, punctuation, and syntax (yes, I wrote it twice)
  • How to link to sources, e.g., SEO Copywriting
  • The importance of deadlines (x2)
  • WordPress: Uploading documents, editing, and adding media
  • How to write tight, compelling headlines and post descriptions
  • Working knowledge of the SEO and content marketing industry
  • A healthy sense of humor

Add double bonus points for knowledge of AP Style, and triple bonus points for common sense! :)

Does this sound like something you’d love to do? If so, please email me a brief letter of introduction describing why you think you are the perfect candidate for the internship, along with two recent samples of your writing (either links or better yet, Word.doc or pdf attachments to your letter):  [email protected].

And if you are an SEO Copywriting Certification student or grad, be sure to note that in your email!

Thanks so much! I will be reviewing applications throughout the week, and will be the first to let you know if you’ve been selected for the position this Friday, September 14th!


photo thanks to andjohan (Andreas Klinke Johannsen)



The A-B-Cs of SEO copywriting

Today’s post goes back to the SEO copywriting basics. If you’ve been in the business for awhile, this will serve as a great refresher (and it’s a great post to share with your  clients, too!). :) And if you’re new to SEO copywriting, this post is a good way learn your SEO copywriting A-B-Cs. Enjoy!

Always test your content (or in the words of Brian Eisenberg “Always Be Testing.”) Yes, a piece of content may work “just fine.” But what if you could turn that content up to 11 and REALLY make it perform?

Be picky about the content that comes out of your company. “Thin” content written just for Google – or so-so content that’s not very good – reflects on your brand.

Content curation is a fantastic way to provide value to your readers, without having to write your own content. Beware – although this sounds “easy,” content curation is time consuming. Read Laura’s tips on how to do it well.

Don’t worry about keyword density. It’s been a myth for years (and even Matt Cutts has said the same thing.) Finally, it’s safe to let this one go. Really.

Examine ways that you can repurpose existing content. This is a great way to save time, extend the reach of your content assets and reach people across platforms. Here’s how to do it.

Focus on the benefits (what’s in it for your prospect) rather than company and product features. You’ll sell much more product that way (or capture many more leads!)

Get educated! If you’re writing SEO content, learn everything you can about SEO, copywriting, neuromarketing and consumer psychology. The more you know, the better your content.

Hire smart, talented copywriters – not the cheapest one you can find. Make sure they know exactly what they’re doing, and that they keep up with the latest SEO news. Here are some tips about how to hire an SEO copywriter.

In-house training is a super-smart investment if your company employs copywriters. Why outsource when your training investment can pay for itself in just 10 pages?

Just say “no” to making sure that your articles/sales pages/blog posts are a certain word count “for Google.” Google will not give you the keys to their algorithmic kingdom if every page on your site is  500 words. How long should your copy be? As long as it needs to be to clearly explain the topic and make the desired impact.

Keyphrases are still important. Some writers ignore this step, figuring “I know exactly how our readers are searching.” Quit fooling yourself. Unless your name is “Google,” you don’t have access to this information. Don’t fall into this trap.

Long-tail keyphrases are golden – especially for blog posts and FAQ pages. Learn why you should learn to love the long tail. 

Mine your analytics for cool content opportunities. As soon as you learn what kind of your content your readers love, you can make sure to create more of it!

Never spam Google figuring that you won’t get caught. Techniques like invisible text or link spam has been bad for many years (and yes, Google will catch you eventually!).

Optimizing Web pages is only half the battle. It’s one thing to make them “good for Google.” It’s another to make them great for your readers. Know the difference.

Personas are soooo important. After all, how can you write targeted content if you don’t know who you’re writing it for? If you haven’t created a customer/reader customer persona document, do it now (and here’s how!)

Quit obsessing over Google’s latest algorithmic change. You can “chase the algorithm” or you can write great content.

Rest is important. It does no good to crank out Web pages when you’re tired, hungry, cranky or just plain burned-out.

Title tags are exceptionally important. Well-written, “clickable” Titles get the clicks from the search engine results page. Plus, they help with positioning. Learn how to write Titles right.

Understand the difference between writing to sell, and writing for social media. They represent two different skill sets (and may require two different writers.)

Vary your keyphrases. Focusing your very large site on a very few keyphrases will cause you to miss opportunities. And yes, synonyms are OK, too.

Winning in SEO copywriting means more sales, more shares, happier readers and more money in your pocket. Focus your efforts around those elements – not what Google may do next.

You is an incredibly powerful marketing word. Use it in your copy. A lot.

Zzzzz is the sound your reader makes when your copy is limp, lifeless and drab. Put some personality in your copy (check out 37signals as an example. You’ll find that people will read more of your content (and even convert at higher rates, too!)