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How to Create Better SEO Content

In last month’s blog, I shared some thoughts from SEO and PPC freelancer Jenny Munn about the state of SEO copywriting in 2017. Jenny is one of the sharpest SEO experts I know — if you missed the blog, click here to read it now.

Based on the feedback I got, SEO definitely seems to be top-of-mind for many of you. So I called Jenny again to pick her brain some more. This time, I wanted to get some practical, hands-on tips for improving SEO copywriting and content creation.

“First-page Worthy” Content

Jenny says the first step in creating what she calls “first-page worthy” SEO content is expanding your focus beyond just “writing awesome content” so you’ll rank on page one of Google.

“What we know and what we do are often two different things,” she said. “Also, you might work with a boss or coworkers who have different ideas about what it takes to rank high in the search engines.”

With this in mind, Jenny gave me 7 hands-on tips for creating “first-page worthy” content that Google wants to rank:

1. Be the expert. Most customers want to work with a company or service provider who is an expert in their particular field. This expertise should be clearly communicated via the content that’s produced — whether it’s articles, blogs, whitepapers, case studies or whatever.

“You can’t just write general information,” Jenny told me. “Your content needs to be specifically targeted to your industry and demonstrate your subject matter expertise. Writing two or three paragraphs of obvious, generic information that’s pulled from Wikipedia doesn’t communicate expertise.”

2. Focus on your readers. Put yourself in your readers’ shoes and ask yourself how you can create content they want to see and present it in a way that’s easiest for them to read? Hint: They don’t want to read about how great you, your company and your products and/or services are.

Try to identify your readers’ pain points — the things that keep them up at night — and present solutions to their problems without promoting yourself or your business too heavily. “Also, use infographics, cinemagraphics, bullets and other visuals to appeal to all learning types,” Jenny suggests.

3. Publish fresh new content regularly. Websites today must consistently be refreshed with new, relevant (read numbers 1 and 2 again) content in order to rank high in the search engines. There are no if’s, and’s or but’s — this is non-negotiable.

“A site that was built three years ago and hasn’t been updated since is simply not going to rank today,” Jenny says. “It might rank for the company name, but ranking for high-traffic keywords will go to sites that are updated and refreshed regularly.”

4. Cite other experts as well. While you definitely want to position yourself and your company as the go-to subject matter expert, it’s also helpful to include references and links to quality content published by other experts. “You may be an expert, but you don’t know everything,” Jenny says. “You have an obligation to your readers to present the best information you possibly can.”

This article is a good example. I’m happy to share insights from an expert other than myself in order to provide my readers with the best information possible, while also boosting my website’s SEO results.

5. Make it easy to find your contact information. Spammer websites are notorious for making it hard to find real contact information — because often they aren’t even real businesses. “Don’t give the search engines any reason to suspect that your business isn’t real and your website is just a spammer site,” Jenny warns.

6. Keep your website clean and your site visitors safe. Make sure your website anti-virus software is always kept up-to-date to protect visitors from phishing scams, pharmahacks and the like.

“Google expects you to operate your business professionally, which includes keeping your website visitors safe from viruses and malware,” Jenny stresses. “This is one of the reasons Google is continuing to emphasize why securing your site with https is so critical.”

7. Don’t do shallow, spammy things. As recently as a few years ago, you could still get away with doing shallow things like keyword stuffing and ignoring a website riddled with technical issues. But not anymore. “Now the game is real,” Jenny says. “Spammy tactics like this usually backfire now.”

You also need to go well beyond simple, basic SEO tactics if you want to rank high today. “Don’t think Google is going to love you just because you used your keyword in the title,” says Jenny. “SEO content creation takes a lot more sophistication than this nowadays.”

SEO is Just the Start

Jenny concluded with a reminder that every business owner and online marketer needs to hear: SEO alone won’t make a lackluster business rank well.

“If you’re boring offline and failing to generate any attention for your business, the same thing will happen online,” she told me. “SEO’s true job — and by ‘job’ I mean strategic activities for users and search engines — is to amplify a great website that already exists.”

The State of SEO Copywriting in 2017

Among all the different types of marketing out there today, I think that search engine optimization (or SEO) marketing and copywriting are the most misunderstood. Ironically, they’re also the type of marketing that many people think they know a lot about.

The field of SEO marketing has been around for awhile now, and it has changed drastically since the words Google and Yahoo first became part of the lexicon two decades ago. In fact, SEO marketing changes so fast that the successful SEO marketers I know never sit still when it comes to staying abreast of the latest SEO trends and developments.

One of these successful SEO marketers is SEO and PPC freelancer Jenny Munn. I talked to Jenny recently to get the scoop on what’s happening in the world of SEO marketing, specifically as it relates to SEO copywriting.

Question: In what ways has SEO copywriting changed the most recently?

Jenny: SEO copywriting hasn’t changed much in the past year or two, but compared to 5 to 10 years ago, it’s night and day different (thank goodness!). Back then, SEO copywriting was so formulaic — who remembers keyword density? — and icky.

Today, SEO copywriting means adhering to some basic foundational principles. Beyond this, the authority, quality, substance, creativity, personality and context to the copy matter more than ever. We’re past Google rewarding bad SEO copywriting, which means bad practices like keyword stuffing and link schemes for the most part have faded out. I still see bad practices, but they’re thankfully few and far between. It’s just not worth it to try and get away with anything that crosses the line anymore.

Not only are Google’s algorithms very sophisticated, but Google is making it easier for people to “out” you and report websites for spam or paid link schemes. Also, Google is taking into account so many other metrics that indicate whether a site is truly high quality or not. The bottom line is that gimmicky tricks turn readers off and the metrics will reflect that accordingly.

Question: What are some of the most common SEO copywriting mistakes you see marketers making today?

Jenny: Mostly, I see marketers who generate blah, generic copy and wonder why they aren’t getting results. Gone are the days when you could pay a generalist writer to do some basic research, draft a blog post and hope it ranks well. The marketers who get the best results employ thought leaders to make sure their copy says something different and authoritative and stands out.

Also, a little personality in your content goes a long way. In today’s world of instant gratification, nobody’s going to stick around and read something that is boring.

Oh, one more huge mistake I’m surprised to still see today: Many marketers are just guessing at their keywords and making them up. They would be so much more empowered if they knew how to work their way around the data and reports in Google Analytics and Google Search Console, especially the SEO and traffic reports. They’d be able to find great keywords to create content around, as well as report back what’s working and what’s not.

Question: What are some common misconceptions about SEO copywriting that many marketers have?

Jenny: One of the biggest is that Google is still a mystery and it changes all the time. At this point, it’s not necessarily a mystery what Google wants and which types of sites rank high. Consistently doing the right SEO activities that improve results on a month-to-month basis is the much harder part.

SEO copywriting is a critical skill, but there are many more things at play nowadays that contribute to how high you can get your content to rank on your own. There are more than 200 signals that contribute to the complex business of search engine ranking.

Question: What are a few of your top tips for SEO copywriting?

Jenny: Marketers should stay informed about the other factors besides SEO copywriting that contribute to high rankings — things like social media, link-building and technical architecture. Even if you’re not the tactical person doing these things, it helps to have a basic understanding of the other parts of SEO.

I also recommend specializing in a niche or industry if you can. You’ll get much better results if you can write with authority on a topic and be able to optimize the content and select appropriate keywords.

Finally, remember that the basics are still the basics. Don’t forget to write thoughtful and keyword-rich title tags and meta descriptions; to optimize your images, videos and media; to use keyword variations, format your copy, link internally and use subheads to break up the copy. And above all, don’t forget to include a call to action.

Content Repurposing: Don’t Let Your Content Go to Waste!

I hate waste. I guess you could say this is one of my personality idiosyncrasies. If I don’t finish a meal at a restaurant, I’m definitely asking for a doggie bag — and not for my dog!

And around my house, they call me the “leftover king” because I’m always coming up with new ways to reheat leftovers for a quick meal. I’ll also turn the shampoo bottle over to make sure I get every last drop before throwing it away, and I always roll up and squeeze that toothpaste tube tight to try to try to get enough out for one more brush.

My disdain for waste carries over into my business as well. But I’m not talking about reusing old file folders until they’re dog-eared or pulling paper clips off old papers before throwing them away (though I do both of these things, of course!).

I’m talking about content repurposing. To me, putting the time, energy and resources into writing and posting a blog — and then not doing anything else with that blog content — is as wasteful as walking out of a seafood restaurant and leaving a half-eaten lobster tail on your plate.

Filling the Insatiable Content Need

Companies that are serious about content marketing have an almost insatiable need for quality content on a consistent basis. The good news is that there are more different ways than ever to repurpose your content to meet this demand.

My friend Gordon Graham, aka That White Paper Guy, is as passionate about content repurposing as I am. In fact, he wrote a series of articles that talk about the benefits of repurposing white papers and how to do this.

In his career, Gordon has worked on more than 250 white papers and he says that maybe 2% of them were ever repurposed. “Only a tiny handful of my clients ever even thought about repurposing, and even then, usually only after I mentioned it,” Gordon says.

The most obvious benefit of content repurposing is that it stretches your marketing budget farther. “It’s also more sensible than starting every new piece of content from scratch,” says Gordon. You can profit by reusing the same research and valuable marketing materials you’ve already paid to create. “After all, it’s wasteful to trash things you could use again,” Gordon adds.

I wonder if Gordon is the leftover king at his house?

What is Content Repurposing?

Gordon has a useful definition for content repurposing: Recycling existing content in different media for different audiences to access, in different ways at different times.

Take a white paper, for example. Not everybody wants to or has time to read a 3,500-word white paper. “But break it up into five or six short, snackable blog posts and time-pressed prospects will gobble them up,” says Gordon.

According to Gordon, a white paper can quickly be repurposed into at least seven to 10 more pieces of content, including:

  • Five or six blog posts
  • A press release
  • A slide deck
  • A webinar script
  • An audio version
  • A bunch of social media posts and tweets

As I noted earlier, a serious content marketing initiative requires a content pipeline that’s constantly being replenished. Repurposing is the most cost- and time-efficient way to keep your content pipeline full.

Reverse Repurposing

Content repurposing can go in the other direction, too. For example, I’ve created white papers for clients from blog series that I’ve written.

One of my clients recently asked me if we could use a series of blogs I wrote on a timely mortgage lending topic to create a comprehensive white paper that he could post on his website and hand out at trade shows. This proved to be so successful that we did another white paper from another blog series the next quarter.

Next, he created a monthly e-newsletter and used the slightly edited weekly blog posts as the newsletter’s content. In fact, that’s what I do: Each month, I repurpose the content you’re reading here as my e-newsletter. This way, I can “push” my content out to readers as well as post it here where the search engines will help web browsers find it.

The kind of content repurposing we’re talking about isn’t difficult — a skilled writer can easily do this for you. If you work with an outside freelance writer, ask what he or she would charge to do some repurposing like this. For white paper repurposing, you might spend $200 per blog post or per press release or $100 per slide for a slide deck.

Reduce Content Waste

You might not be as fanatical about waste as me, but you owe it to yourself and your organization to look into how content repurposing can help you reduce waste when it comes to your content pieces. Now excuse me while I go see what kind of leftovers there are in the fridge that I can throw together for lunch!

5 Tips for Improving Your E-Newsletter

One of the first things on my to-do list when I went full-time self-employed about eight years ago was to launch an e-newsletter. I’d spent my career writing newsletters, both print and electronic, so I knew first-hand how effective they were as a marketing tool.

Since I launched my e-newsletter The Writer’s Block in 2011, it has become my best lead generation tool. I also really enjoy taking a break once a month from writing for my clients to write something for myself and my readers.

A Bedrock Marketing Tool

I’m not going to bore you with data and statistics about what a great marketing tool e-newsletters are. Instead, I thought I’d talk about some of the things you can do to make your e-newsletters more successful.

I recently came across this article and info-graphic that details a number of different keys to e-newsletter success. It points out that even with the rising popularity of social media as a marketing channel, e-newsletters remain a bedrock marketing tool for most companies.

Here are 5 e-newsletter success tips from the article that I thought were the best:

1. Set goals for your e-newsletter. “Everybody else is doing an e-newsletter” isn’t a good reason to publish one. Neither is: “I read such-and-such article telling me we need to do an e-newsletter,” the article you’re reading now notwithstanding.

The most common e-newsletter goals for most companies are generating qualified leads, boosting awareness and building brand recognition. Note that I’m talking about e-newsletters, not e-blasts with more hard-sell offers that are designed to generate sales directly.

The best way to generate leads and build awareness and brand recognition with an e-newsletter is to publish quality, value-added and non-sales content on a consistent basis. This content should position you and/or your firm as knowledgeable experts in your industry. Then when recipients need whatever it is you sell, they’ll think of you first.

2. Build a solid e-mail distribution list. There are no easy shortcuts to building your e-newsletter list. The best lists are built one quality recipient at a time. Stay away from bulk email distribution lists offered for sale — they usually aren’t worth the money.

One good way to gather names and email addresses for your list is to offer additional value-added content to website visitors, like whitepapers and e-books, in exchange for their name and email address. In fact, using an e-newsletter, whitepapers and/or e-books in this way is a common content marketing strategy.

3. Craft your content carefully. There’s both an art and a science to writing effective e-newsletters. The most important thing to remember is that the main goal of your e-newsletter content is to educate and inform, not sell.

If you come from a sales background, this might sound counter-intuitive. After all, why wouldn’t you want to try to sell products and services with your e-newsletter? Isn’t that the ultimate goal?

Of course, making sales is the end goal of any marketing strategy. But an e-newsletter is best used to build relationships with recipients over time by sharing your knowledge as a subject matter expert with them.

This is sometimes referred to as “drip” marketing. Like dripping water on a stone, over time your e-newsletter will yield results in the form of qualified leads and higher business and brand awareness if you consistently deliver information that’s of value to your readers and don’t try too hard to sell to them.

4. Decide on the right frequency. This will vary considerably depending on your goals and your industry. In some industries, weekly or even more frequent e-newsletter publishing is appropriate, while in others, monthly publishing is fine.

In my experience, I’ve found that a publishing frequency of once or twice a month is usually ideal in the business-to-business realm. In certain business-to-consumer industries, more frequent publishing can be effective. The most important thing is to decide on a publishing frequency and then stick to it.

5. Analyze e-newsletter reports and data. All e-newsletter publishing platforms offer a plethora of reports about your e-newsletter on everything from open and click-through rates to bounces and opt-outs. These reports are a goldmine of data that, if thoroughly analyzed and properly utilized, can help you tweak and improve future issues of your newsletter.

The open rate is probably the most important metric to gauge and track over time. Is it trending up, down or staying about the same? If it’s dropping or stagnant, try changing things up a little to see if you can get it moving in the right direction. That’s one of the great things about e-newsletters: You can always experiment and try new things to improve the results you’re getting.

No-brainers? Hardly

Some of these tips might seem like no-brainers, especially if you’re a marketing veteran. That’s kind of what I thought as I was writing them. But then I remembered all the e-newsletters I’ve seen that don’t do these things — including newsletters from big-name, Fortune 500 companies with e-marketing budgets of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

So print out these five tips and keep them somewhere handy. There’s a reason why they’re no-brainers: They work.

10 Tips to Improve Your Copywriting Skills

As a professional copywriter, writing comes pretty easy for me. But that doesn’t mean I’m not constantly striving to improve my copywriting skills.

So I really enjoyed an article my friend and colleague Gordon Graham, aka That Whitepaper Guy, wrote recently that detailed 10 tips to improve your copywriting skills. Gordon was summarizing tips that were shared at a copywriting bootcamp last year by keynote speaker Alexander Green, an accomplished business-to-business copywriter,

Before sharing his top 10 writing tips, Green emphasized three things that any professional copywriter must do to be successful:

1. Think clearly.

2. Write plainly.

3. Argue persuasively.

Wow, talk about hitting the nail on the head! I’m constantly amazed at how much copy I see that isn’t well thought out, plainly written or persuasively argued. If you don’t read anything else here, write these three things down and stick them on a note next to your computer monitor.

Top 10 Copywriting Tips

Here are Green’s top 10 tips for becoming a better copywriter:

Tip #1: Write, write and write some more. There’s simply no substitute for practice and experience. The more you write, the better writer you’ll become. If you want be a better writer, make it a practice to write something … anything … every single day.

Tip #2: Check your ego. This tip applies specifically to professional B2B copywriters. Here’s how Green puts it: “The idea when you’re writing copy is not to draw attention to yourself, to your own words. Your job is to see things from your client’s point-of-view and argue the best case you can possibly make.”

Tip #3: Believe what you’re writing. It’s hard to fake it as a professional copywriter. “Unless you believe in what you’re writing about, you won’t do your best work,” Green said.

Tip #4: Strive for pitch-perfect tone. In other words, make sure you’re using the right diction, the right phrases and the right arguments for your audience. “To keep your readers engaged, keep every sentence moving and strike the right tone,” Green said.

Tip #5: Remember that good writing is rewriting. Green uses the analogy of polishing a stone: Every time you polish your writing, it gets better. My caveat here: Know when it’s good enough so you can finish a writing project and move on to the next one.

Tip #6: Don’t reinvent the wheel. I really like this tip — it’s something I practice every day. Once you’ve mastered a certain style of writing, stick with the formula that has brought you success. You’ll increase your writing productivity exponentially.

Tip #7: Make a $5 investment. Green is referring to the classic writing book The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White. This was required reading for me as a 22-year-old editorial assistant and it should be for any professional copywriter, regardless of age.

Tip #8: Prioritize your day. I like this tip, too. If you have a writing deadline today, get started right away, first thing in the morning. This will relieve some of the deadline pressure and give you more time for rewriting and polishing.

Tip #9: Don’t multi-task. Multi-tasking is a misnomer. People say they’re good at multi-tasking when, in reality, they’re not really doing any particular task well. This goes double for writing: You simply can’t write well while you’re also trying to do two or three other different things at the same time.

Tip #10: Show, don’t tell. “The secret of A-plus copywriters is they tell a story and let the facts speak for themselves,” Green said. “You don’t want to tell people about the product — you want to show them.”

Good Writing … Is Good Writing

These tips are obviously geared toward professional copywriters. But Green said he doesn’t see a big difference between good, clear writing for editorial purposes and good, clear writing for promotional purposes.

I agree wholeheartedly. Whether you write marketing and promotional copy, fictional books and short stories, or journalism copy, you can glean a few tips from here that will help you become a better writer.