Are You a Bad Guest Blogger?

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Who doesn’t love guest blogging? You get to write about what you love. You can reach brand-spankin’ new readers. The exposure can’t be beat.

Not to mention, being asked to guest blog is an incredible honor. Someone is telling you, “I love your stuff so much that I want to share it with my readers.” What a huge compliment!

But you know how some folks take a compliment and throw it back in your face? There are some “bad bloggers” who (perhaps inadvertently) do the same thing. Because of their blogging missteps, they make themselves look bad, drive editors insane and cause all sorts of extra work (assuming the post runs at all.)

Here are 5 of the most common “bad guest blogger” types…

    1. The “My Muse took me in a different direction” guest blogger. It’s true that a writer’s Muse can be extremely fickle. One second, a post idea will sound absolutely fabulous. The next minute – not so much. It’s OK to be Muse-driven – but it’s not OK to switch gears and turn in a whole ‘nother post than what you discussed with the editor. Once you’ve decided on a post topic, you need to stick with that decision. Going in a different direction may seem like you’re “writing in the flow,” but the blog editor will see it as “changing your mind and messing up her editorial calendar.”
    2. The “nobody’s perfect” guest blogger.  Sure, we all make mistakes. Typos happen. But “making a mistake” doesn’t mean “turning in a blog post full of grammatical errors, disconnected thoughts and funky typos, costing the editor one hour of her life cleaning it up.” Just because you’re blogging for exposure doesn’t mean that you can turn in so-so work. If you know that your writing style can be a tad..challenging…hire an editor to check your work before you send it out. Or if you don’t have time to write a really good guest post, wait until you have the ability to focus and do it right. Besides, what would happen if the editor posted your article –  uncorrected –  just to teach you a lesson.  I wouldn’t take that chance…
    3. The “look at me” guest blogger. Don’t be too sexy for your own blog post. Like the slimy guy at the singles bar, every word this blogger writes is geared to gain attention…to his own stuff. There’s rarely a shred of useful information. Instead, it’s all about him – how smart he is. Who he knows. Other fantastic posts he’s written. The sad thing is that nobody really cares – and pushing a “look at me” post screams “I don’t have anything worth reading.” Here’s a tip – if your bio is longer than your blog post, you’re a “look at me” guest blogger. Dial it down, dude.
    4. The “share the love” guest blogger. This person thinks, “I’ve written such a fantastic blog post. Why shouldn’t I syndicate it everywhere I can, as soon as I can.” Yeah, that’s a bad idea. According to the super-smart Ann Smarty in her article, What Guest Posting Is Not: Getting It Right, “DON’T do it. You’ll just screw the relationships with powerful bloggers and influencers in your niche and achieve nothing.”
    5. The “deadline, what deadline” guest blogger.  This is the scariest type of blogger. This person promises “Yes, I’ll have your post by noon on Friday.” When noon on Friday rolls around, this same blogger is surprised that the blog editor is upset that there’s no post – and a big hole in her editorial calendar. If you’ve promised a blog post by X, treat it like you would treat a client gig and don’t miss the deadline. Remember, the industry is small – and people do talk. Missing deadlines is a sure way to mess up a valuable connection.

It’s easy to be a great guest blogger. Turn in your blog posts on time (or early, if you really want to impress an editor.) Slice the self-promotion. Write a fantastic article. With just a little work, I guarantee that you’ll have more guest posts that you can handle – and editors will love working with you.

Do You Really Need to Write for Google?

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I talked to a prospect the other day who asked, “Do you have to include keyphrases and write for Google? Would it be cheaper if I asked for “regular” online writing services instead?”

And I thought, “‘Regular’ online writing services? In my mind, online writing and writing for search engines (otherwise known as SEO copywriting) are almost one and the same.” Hmm…

Here’s why I think that:

If you’re hunting around for online writing information, you’ll see a lot of forums, training classes and books promising to teach you how to “write for the online market” and “drive traffic to your web site.” That’s great – it really is. It’s important that copywriters and site owners understand the online writing basics, such as:

  • How to create scannable text that’s easy to skim and assimilate
  • How to ruthlessly edit your writing so you’re not saying more than you need to – and making your copy hard to read online
  • How to develop benefit-rich headlines and subheadlines that instantly capture your reader’s attention
  • Proven ways to tell a compelling story online
  • When to split your writing into multiple pages
  • How to use layout strategies, like bullet points, to break up lists and make them easier to read (oh, wait…) :)

But there’s more than just that (although “just that” already encompasses a lot of writing “stuff.”)  In short, if you want to be found when prospects are Googling for your specific products or services, that means “writing for search engines” – not just “online writing.”

Site owners and agencies requiring anything less than SEO copywriting are playing a dangerous game. What they’re asking for is for their writer to create a web page without any “signals” to help it be easily found in the search engines. They may think that this strategy allows them to save costs across the long-term. Or, they’ll go back and optimize the page later. But really, as my father would always say, they’re “cutting off their nose to spite their face.” It’s not a smart tactic.

I also think that some copywriters are guilty of offering a choice without explaining the pros and cons. They’ll tell their client that it’s $X for “regular” online writing and $Y for “SEO copywriting.” If a client doesn’t really know the difference between the two options (and really, who would unless they’re in the industry) which one are they going to choose? You got it – the cheaper one. Which is typically “regular” online writing.

What’s sad is that people may love the page when they hit it. But if the page wasn’t written with SEO copywriting best practices in mind, there are many, many folks who will never see the page. Instead of having a chance to position, the page will sit there, all lonely and dejected, in Google’s and Bing’s database. It will be like the wallflower at the dance – everyone else will be having a fun time, and no-one will notice the silent page sitting in the search engine corner.

There are three exceptions to this rule:

  • If you’re writing a long, direct-response sales page for a microsite – and the only goal is to to drive sales  – SEO copywriting won’t do you any good. You won’t have enough content “meat” with a one-to-five page site to get any search engine game. That’s fine.
  • Same if all you want are leads, and your page is a form geared to capture names, addresses and phone numbers – and that’s it. In that case, it’s more important to focus on direct response rather than SEO.
  • Finally, if your content is behind a password-protected firewall that the search engines can’t access (such as a membership site) writing for search engines is useless. In this case, consider writing abstracts that are keyphrase-rich and spiderable (that is, they appear in the “free” area of your site.) That way, folks can see what great content you offer for a fee – and will be more inclined to sign up.

The good news is – writing for search engines can snag you some social media love, too. A hot keyphrase-rich article can generate scads of incoming links. It can be commented upon in blogs and forums. It can have a life outside your Website.

But not if people can’t find your web page first.

What say you? Are there any other times when “writing for SEO/Google” is less than appropriate?

Here’s Why You Should Check Out Your Competition

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Do you know what your competition is doing, right now?

“I don’t care,” you may say.  “I’m too focused on making money to worry about them.” And in a way, you have a point – you shouldn’t look to your competition as a way to determine your entire marketing strategy.

But — and here’s a reality check:  No matter how good you are, your prospects are checking out your competition. Every time they visit your website, they are measuring it against all the other competing sites they’ve seen.

If you don’t know what your competition is doing, how can you do it better?

Real-life example: As a reaction to the economy and competitor advertising, Starbucks Coffee Company changed their entire marketing campaign to focus on providing “value at a less expensive price.”  Now, Starbucks offers special “coffee and meal” pricing in an attempt to compete with McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts. This helps them maintain their market share (and helps prevent people from going to a less-expensive competitor). Researching their competition and current trends helped them form their new pricing model.

Once upon a time, before the Internet, “research” meant time-consuming and grueling work. You’d have to call your competition, pose as a prospect and beg for a brochure (praying all the time that you wouldn’t be found out). The library would be your new best friend, as you spent days combing through trade journals, newspapers, and articles.

Now, much of that information is just a web search away. Instead of calling for a brochure, you can simply check out a website. Rather than heading to the library, you can do a Google News search. What took days now takes hours. It’s as simple as that.

Here’s how to do it.

Your first mission is to review your competitors’ websites. To get started, go to your favorite search engine and type in general search phrases that relate to your product or service.  Voila!  In less than a second, you can quickly review your top competition.

It’s not enough to notice the sites on the SERPs (search engine results pages.) Be prepared to spend some time clicking into the sites and making notes. Things to notice are:

  • Do you like the writing? Why or why not?
  • Would you want to buy from that company? Why or why not?
  • Who is their target market? Is it the same as yours?
  • What do they offer that you don’t? Conversely, what do you offer that they don’t?
  • Does the site “feel” authoritative? If so, why do you think that is?
  • Are there articles, blogs or product reviews?
  • Is the company profiled on review sites like Yelp? What are their customers saying?

Consider doing a quick SERP competition check ever six months – more if you’re in a fast-moving industry. The more you know about your competition (and how they’re changing their site,) the better you can strategize your ongoing content campaign.

Is Your Marketing Collateral Screwing Your Brand?

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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 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 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.

How to Find Your Content Marketing Focus

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One of the most most exciting things about SEO content marketing is that there are so many possibilities. Companies can start blogs, create white papers, produce an e-book, tweak their Titles, revise their content and tweet to their corporate heart’s delight.

Feel overwhelmed yet?

I realized that with all this talk about, “see how many ways your company can leverage content marketing,” there’s not a lot of talk about what to do when. I’ve seen too many companies with half-assed content marketing campaigns because they’re doing everything rather than the one really important thing. Instead of baby-stepping their way into a a robust content marketing campaign, they throw everything against the virtual web wall and sees what sticks.

Sound familiar? Take a deep breath and see if your site fits into the following categories. Here’s four typical scenarios for “what to do when”:

People are visiting your site, but they aren’t converting. This is a writing/usability issue (there may be some SEO elements in there as well, but they probably aren’t the primary cause.) What this is suggesting is that your target audience doesn’t “like” your pages. Maybe it’s because they can’t figure out how to take action. Or maybe it’s because the writing turns them off. Google’s Website Optimizer is a great way to A/B split test your pages and develop content that helps people convert like crazy.

And for goodness sake – if you’re writing to sell (or hiring someone to do it for you,) do it right. If you’re wondering why direct-response copywriting skills are crucial, this post explains it all. And if you’re a B2B company, here are some SEO copywriting tips just for you.

You company owns a catalog/retail site, and your product page rankings suddenly plummeted.

You may have been caught in Google’s May Day algorithmic dance (for more about May Day, watch Matt Cutts’ video  and Dave Davis’s perspective from “the other side.”) One of the takeaways: Additional product content could provide a lifeline. If you’ve been relying on the “stock” manufacturer product description – and you haven’t enhanced your pages with reviews, additional value-added content and even video – now is the time. Brookstone is a great example of a company that’s doing it right – fantastic product descriptions, customer reviews and smartly optimized text. If you’ve craving more catalog marketer-focused information, check out 10 stupid things catalog marketers do” and these successful SEO copywriting tips.

In the meantime, consider other options. Google is a demanding mistress, and she will always withhold her ranking affections from time to time. Instead of relying solely on Google, consider other traffic-driving options such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. I just spoke with Greg Jarboe from SEO-PR today, and I’m reminded why he’s the YouTube master. If you haven’t read his book, “You Tube and Video Marketing: An Hour A Day,” check it out.

You need “fast” results.

Who doesn’t love instant gratification? At the same time, a content marketing plan is a long-term endeavor – and getting rankings is rarely achieved “instantly” (although, when it works, it sure seems like it!). Although I’ve said that there is no “quick fix” in SEO copywriting, it is true that there are some quick ways to “spruce up” your content. Keyphrase editing (where you’re adding keyphrases into existing content) and optimizing page Titles can have a (fairly) quick effect. Once you see a faster win, you can revisit your messaging, create Titles that garner a higher click-through rate, and rewrite your copy with a better conversion focus.

You’re not seeing the rankings you want – and you never, ever have.

This is one of those times when an expert’s outside opinion can make a huge difference. You may think you’re doing everything right from a SEO perspective. But, there’s (obviously) something that’s hurting you. And if you haven’t figured it by now – and please know that I mean this with the utmost respect – what makes you think that you’ll “figure it out eventually.”

Even if you do, how much money are you willing to lose in the meantime?

You can purchase SEO content marketing evaluations from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars – depending on how deep you want your consultant to dig. Heck, you could even consult with a content marketing strategist for a few hours and figure out your options.  Plus, the strategist could give you a “sneak peek” on other future content marketing opportunities. The key is – don’t just wait for things to magically fall into place. Get help. You’ll make more money – faster – if you do.

How (Good) SEO Writing Helps People Connect With Your Brand

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Let me put it out there right now: I used to hate Crocs.

Actually, Crocs (and their ugly footwear twin, Vibram Five-Fingered Shoes) are one of the few things my husband and I used to argue about. Every time he’d put on his Crocs, or his Vibrams (which have been described by his co-workers as “creepy toe shoes”) I’d encourage other shoe choices. Or going barefoot. ANYTHING but the Crocs.

Confession time: I don’t think that the (cuter) Crocs are that bad. And I even have a pair of Vibrams (and there is photographic evidence of me wearing them, too.) Why did I have such a fashion-backwards change of heart? Turns out, by being “everywhere” Crocs and Vibrams actually seem more attractive.

Let’s talk about why that is.

In the book Buyology, Martin Lindstrom discusses how “mirror neurons” influence our buying decisions by making us mimic other people’s buying behavior (and yes, he used Crocs as an example.) If we see cool, sexy people wearing Crocs, our unconscious minds go into overdrive. We think, “Maybe if I wear Crocs, I’ll look cool and sexy too.” And suddenly, what seemed like an unthinkable purchase (Really…Crocs?  Really?) now because a must-buy. As Lindstrom says, “Just seeing a certain product over and over makes it more desirable.”

And this got me thinking about SEO copywriting and how good writing can make a company seem more “desirable.”

Today, companies have multiple online content marketing channels. You can create a video. You can send out snappy tweets. You can distribute a newsletter, write a white paper – or heck, even optimize your site content for better rankings. All of these channels allow you to be “found” a different way.

Now imagine, a prospect who is looking for a product or service like yours. Maybe they see one of your brilliant tweets, which causes them to investigate your company. Then, they see an article your CEO has written. Then, they find your company in the search results. Once they reach your site, they watch your video and sign up for your newsletter.

The cool thing is, in this scenario where your content is everywhere, your prospect is being encouraged to “like” you a little bit more. Your company seems more desirable.

The psychological concept of “familiarly fosters likability” states that we tend to like people (or companies), when we are continually exposed to them (this only applies if the information is useful and provides value.) So, to a prospect, your informative tweets, how-to white paper and newsletter would be highly valuable information – and every time they “see” your company again, the prospect is reminded, “Hey, I know these guys. I like these guys. I should read this.”

(At the same time, if your content is crap and your tweets are more sales-focused than sharp, you’ll actually turn off your readers.)

In terms of a SEO content development play, it means that the more places your (quality) content can “live” online, the better.  In a brilliant blog post by Dr. Rachna Jain, the author explains, “you should syndicate your content widely and be out in front of your target audience every chance you get. As people see you ‘everywhere,’ they start to pay more attention. And as they pay more attention, you become more familiar.”

What does this mean to your company? Two things:

  • Quality content is key. Although it’s tempting to kick out low-quality articles just to get search rankings in your virtual door, resist the urge.
  • Just because you’re everywhere doesn’t mean people will like you (hello, Jesse James.) They’ll only like you if you give good content.

NOW is the time for a SEO content development strategy. Not later. Not when you have time. But NOW. If you know that folks are clamoring for content that helps solve a problem – and they’ll “like” your company the more that they’re exposed to your content, isn’t it time to get moving?

Good content is more than just “search engine fodder.” It’s about ensuring that your prospects see your brand when they are searching for a solution to their specific problem. The more your company is “out there” with compelling, problem-solving content, the more positively you’ll be perceived…

…Now, if you excuse me, I have some Vibrams to put on…

The Dark Side of Facebook Fan Pages

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Picture this: I’m working away in a cramped London hotel room. I’m there for SES London, along with many other of my geeky SEO friends.

Suddenly, I get a Facebook fan page request from a person who shall remain nameless.

And then I got another. And another. All from the same person.

At the end of the deluge, this person had sent out about eight “become a fan” requests (it could have been more, actually,) all within five minutes.

A few minutes later, I head downstairs for dinner. One person checks his iPhone and groans about all the “become a fan” requests. Another person checks his email and makes the same comment. We compare notes and realize, yup, these requests were:

  1. All from the same person, who was…
  2. In our industry, so he was probably…
  3. Setting up Facebook fan pages for his clients (most of which were local to this man, and therefore, we had never even heard of the companies)  and…
  4. Sending out bulk “become a fan” email requests to everyone in his Facebook network on behalf of his clients. You know, the companies that none of his Facebook friends had ever heard of.

Within five minutes, this person was “unfriended” by five people. Probably more – I’m sure we weren’t the only folks in his network to feel this way.

Folks, I am all for Facebook fan pages.  I think they offer businesses a fantastic way to reach customers and engage in a two-way dialogue. Heck, even I have a SEO copywriting Facebook page.

But when it comes to promoting your fan page (or your client’s), please, please use some common sense. Sending out client fan requests to everyone on your friend network is just plain irritating. How could I have any kind of “connection” to a company that’s across the U.S. from me? How is that targeted? It reflects poorly upon the marketer and poorly upon the company.

If you’re cringing a bit because you’ve done the same thing, I know you meant well. You really did.  I’m sure the guy who sent out all the Facebook notifications meant well.  I’m sure he wanted to build up his client’s fan network and show some initial success.  The thought was nice. But there are other ways to reach that goal.

So, before you send out “bulk-fan” notifications, ask yourself:

1. Does my friend have any connection to the company that I’m promoting? If you’re promoting your own company, it may be appropriate to email more folks within your network. But if you know that your friend lives in California, and you’re asking them to become a fan of a small, local Vermont-based business, you probably aren’t going to get much play.

2. Do I have a page that’s worthy of fandom? If it’s a brand-new fan page without much interaction, consider bulking up your content before trolling for fans. Otherwise, you’re asking folks to fan (otherwise known as “recommend”) a page that’s not even ready for prime-time.

3. How would I feel if I received this fan request? Just because people can easily ignore a request doesn’t mean that you should make them spend the time to do so. If you’re on the fence, don’t send it.

Friends don’t let friends send spammy Facebook spam requests, m-kay? Think about it.

Why Some SEO Firms Don’t Employ Copywriters

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Last week, I heard from a very frustrated prospect.

This nice man had been working with a SEO firm for a few months. The firm had been doing all the back-end stuff that needed to be done: Cleaning the code, creating new Titles, building links and generally sprucing up the site. In general, the company did an OK job making the site more visible to search engines.

But here’s the thing: The prospect comes from a marketing background. He knew his existing copy didn’t “pop.” And he knew that better writing would equate into higher conversion rates.

When he expressed his concern to the SEO firm, they handed him a list of “SEO copywriting best practice guidelines” and told him that they “didn’t do SEO copywriting – he’d have to write the copy himself.”

His question to me was: “Shouldn’t all SEO firms employ SEO copywriters? Isn’t it such an important part of SEO that they’d want to have that part covered?”

Well, yes and no. It depends on the SEO.

Many SEO firms are technically focused, meaning that they are masters at untangling the most ugly bits of code, making it easy (or easier) for search engines to access the site. A savvy technical SEO shop can work wonders with a site – and a few technical changes can unlock the positioning floodgates.

However, technical SEO firms aren’t filled with marketers. Their job isn’t to help your copy convert better. Their job is to make your site better for the search engines.

There’s a difference.

Other SEO firms work with copywriters, but the copywriters mostly add keyphrases into copy and create new Titles. Granted, keyphrase editing (or what some firms call “on-page optimization”) is very valuable to the SEO process. But the focus again is to make the existing copy “better for search engines.” They aren’t addressing the conversion aspects of the page. That’s not their job.

This is a challenge for clients who really need writing help. After all, if your copy wasn’t converting before it included keyphrases, adding keyphrases without changing the copy won’t magically help. It won’t make your writing “pop” to the user and entice them to read more (or buy more.) It’s just that the page is better for search engine positioning.

This is where asking the right questions before you sign with a SEO firm comes in…

If you know that your conversion rates are low (or maybe you’re not sure – but you know that your copy is dirt-dull boring,) ask the SEO firm about their approach to SEO copywriting. They may say that they don’t handle the copywriting. Or that they “edit” copy – but they don’t rewrite it. In that’s the case, you have some options:

1. Handle the writing in-house, and give the new copy to the SEO firm. If you have smart in-house copywriters, they can learn how to create top-converting and keyphrase-rich copy. There are also resources such as (shameless plug) the SEO Copywriting Certificate Program that will teach you the ropes.

2. Find a technical SEO firm that does employ SEO copywriters. They are out there – you just have to be very specific about what you need (content marketing services.) If you do go this route, it’s important to gain writing samples from the writer who will be handling your account. That way, you can request another writer if the original writer’s work doesn’t “speak to you” (and don’t worry – the original writer won’t take it personally. Different writers “click” with different clients, so it’s OK to be picky.)

3. Work with your “technical SEO” and hire a SEO copywriting and content marketing agency for your content creation. This may seem clunky at first, but it’s actually very workable. The technical SEO worries about your site architecture and links – and the SEO copywriter focuses on your customer persona and your conversions. Since good SEO copywriters are also SEOs in their own right, they can easily work with other SEO providers. Plus, both firms get to focus on what they do best.

Whatever option you choose, you can easily have the best of both worlds – a technically-savvy site and top-ranking copy that converts like crazy. Once your copy and site are top-notch, you’ll truly enjoy the power of “good SEO” – and you can start building on that success.

8 Ways to Handle the Haters

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I remember it like it was yesterday.

15 years ago, I was working for a small-press publisher. After months of begging, I finally got my chance to write my first back-jacket blurb – you know, the promo paragraphs designed to snare you into buying the book? What’s more, it was for a well-known author in the self-help field. Needless to say, I sweated and slaved over every word.

A week after I turned in the copy, the publisher called me into her office. Apparently, not only did the client NOT like the copy, he felt compelled to break down why he didn’t like it on a line-by-line basis. The letter ended with (and no, I’m not making this up,) “I don’t know who this Heather Lloyd-Martin woman thinks she is…”

I was devastated. Looking back, I’m amazed I stayed in the industry. But I did – and this experience taught me a lot.

The reality is, some clients are going to hate what you write. They won’t be satisfied. And they will tell you in no uncertain terms.  Here’s how to handle it:

  • Calm your heart rate. I don’t care how many years you’ve been in the business, reading “I’m not happy with the copy” sends ice shivers down your spine. Immediately, self-doubt kicks in. “Was the writing that bad? Did I totally miss the point? What’s wrong with me?” Or sometimes, all you feel is anger. “Do they realize what I went through to write it? Those &*##@*^.” The more you panic, the less you’ll be able to appropriately react. And react you must do, for the next step is to immediately…
  • Email the client. The best step you can take after receiving a nastygram is immediately respond to the client. Don’t explain, don’t defend, don’t sound angry. Just tell them that you received their email and appreciate their comments. Keep in mind that most clients don’t like sending nastygrams. It’s as hard on them to write as it is on you to read. When you ignore their email because you’re freaked out, the only message you’re sending is “I don’t care about your email.” And that’s the last message you want to send to an unhappy client.  Remember, how you handle the situation is incredibly important, and can mean the difference between keeping the account and letting it go – so this is no time to hide.
  • Schedule a time to talk on the phone. Scheduling a phone chat gives you two advantages. One is you can talk through the copy changes rather than relying on email back-and-forth. Many times, a 10 minute conversation is all it takes to give the client exactly what she wants.  The other reason for a phone conversation is to assess how unhappy the client really is. Email won’t tell you if you need to tease out additional objections and do additional damage control – but a phone call will.
  • Own your mistakes. Did the client catch a mistake and that’s what’s making them cranky? For goodness sake, just own it. Don’t try to explain why it happened, or talk about how many deadlines you’re juggling. Guess what – the client doesn’t care. All they want to know is how you will fix the problem. (As a side note, if it is the client’s fault, it does no good to point out, “Hey buddy, this is your hit, not mine.” Handle situations like that with extreme care.)
  • Send an email immediately outlining the changes you agreed upon. Yes, this is a CYA move. But this also helps prevent “scope creep.” A quick email outlining the changes – and insisting on the client’s written agreement before you proceed – will make your life easier. Otherwise, you run the risk of the client saying after the second draft, “Oh yes, we didn’t like this part either…I know we didn’t mention it before, but we need you to change this” – and you’re stuck in a constant editing spiral.
  • Make the changes immediately. This is the time to clear your schedule, make the fixes, and turn the copy around fast. Don’t schedule it for “when you have time.” Do it right away. Quick action will impress your client and show that you care about the account. Taking your sweet time to turn around the copy will do nothing but alienate them further.
  • Follow-up again by phone. Once your client has your second draft, there is nothing that will impress them more than a quick call making sure that all is well. And if it’s not well, make their changes and send the copy through again.
  • If it’s not clicking – and both parties have tried – let the client go. This rarely happens if you’ve really listened to your client’s needs – but it happens for various reasons. Sometimes, it’s just not a good copywriting “click” and nothing you write will make the client happy. Sometimes, the client is facing behind-the-scenes political pressures and that’s why nothing is working. It’s OK. It’s not fun, but it’s OK. Just give them their money back, refer them to other smart SEO copywriters and wish them well. I’ve had this situation happen three times in 12 years. Two of the clients eventually came back because they liked the way I handled the situation. And guess what – there were no future client issues.

Dealing with unhappy clients can be scary, frustrating and maddening. But remember, if you handle the situation quickly – and take the time to really hear your client’s needs – you can save the gig. Plus – like what happened to me 15 years ago – you may even get more work because the client likes the way you handled the situation. What a great way to transform a stressful problem into a profitable, happy client relationship!

January SEO Content Marketing Challenge: Create an Editorial Calendar

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Happy New Year! By now, you are probably knee-deep in emails, phone calls and a to-do list that seemed manageable before the break. But now. Not so much.

Sound familiar?

As early as the first week in January, it’s easy to let our good intentions (and resolutions) fall by the wayside. You may have swore to yourself and anyone else who would listen that you’d post three blog posts a week. And now you’re thinking, “I don’t have time to write a blog post – much less figure out what I’d write about.”

And yet again, your content marketing plan falls by the wayside.

I get it. I really do. Heck, I don’t know how many times I’ve meant to write a blog post – and then a client calls, the day is wacky, or (and I bet this sounds familiar,) I just don’t feel like writing.

This year, 2010, is the year to get over it. Here’s the secret to making it happen: Create an editorial calendar.

I’ve waxed poetic before on the benefits of editorial calendars. Basically, what they entail is sitting down and planning what you’ll write about, who’s responsible for the writing, and when you’ll upload the work.

Editorial calendars force you to get your ideas out of your head and on paper. They force you to plan in advance (which is challenging for many “write by the seat of their pants” writers.) And they force you (or your writers) to be accountable.

After all, if you have a blog post on, say, creating editorial calendars due on Tuesday – and you’ve known about this deadline for awhile – you don’t have much of an excuse to say, “I don’t have time.”

Creating a calendar is simple. Some people use their Outlook calendars to plan. Other people use spreadsheets. Plan on spending at least an hour every month researching the latest and greatest information in your industry, reviewing your site for pages that need updating and developing content ideas.

Maybe you know that you’ll need to write at least two sales pages this month. Or you plan to create an article every week. The point is to get all plans down on paper so you can look at a calendar and immediately say, “If it’s Thursday, that means I’m writing the new home page.” Or, if you’re an editor working with multiple writers, you can instantly see who is writing what article and the associated deadlines.

The main kickback I get when I talk about “editorial calendars” is the time argument. If you are already time-strapped (and really, who isn’t,) spending an hour plus every month on “planning” can often make you feel like you should be doing something different. Say, responding to the 50 emails waiting for you. Or updating your Facebook status.

But the reality is, editorial calendars not only save you time – they can actually make you money. I’ve seen clients sit on old, stagnant pages for years because they “didn’t have time” to update them. However, the problem wasn’t one of time. It was overwhelm. Once they sat down, generated a content calendar and created a game plan, they could more easily integrate the writing tasks into their normal day-to-day.

The result? Piping-hot fresh content that helps drive traffic and – more importantly – conversions. Isn’t that worth an hour a month?

So for this month’s SEO content marketing challenge, create an editorial calendar. It doesn’t have to be fancy. You could literally take a monthly calendar, hand-write in the writing deliverables and deadlines, and zip it to other folks on your team. That’s it.

And hey, I’m taking my own medicine this month. Before I started writing this post, I printed out a January 2010 calendar page and scribbled in my blog post topics through January 28th. Was it hard to sit for an hour and plan? Yes. Do I feel much, much better. You bet. Organization can be freeing like that.

Go ahead, try it. And let me know how it goes. It won’t be as painful as it sounds. Really.