What’s Up With Social Media Marketing Heading Into 2018?

Unless you’ve been living underneath a rock the past few years, you’re aware of the prevalence of social media in our world. Almost everyone today participates in some kind of social media activity, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram or one of the other ubiquitous social platforms.

Of course, marketers have taken notice of this trend. A few years ago I was writing articles about whether or not businesses should participate in social media marketing. Today that’s not even a relevant question — the question now is how do you create a social media marketing plan?

Eye-Opening Stats

I just ran across some stats from Hootsuite that confirm what we already know about social media usage and drive home the importance of using social media as a marketing tool.

First, practically everybody who uses the Internet (and that’s practically everybody who’s breathing) can now be reached via social media. Specifically, 98% of Internet users age 16 to 64 visit or use at least one social network monthly. Four out of five of them access social media using a mobile device.

This probably isn’t surprising to learn when you see so many people walking around like zombies with their eyes glued to their phones. At the gym yesterday, I watched a guy do a set of reps, look at his phone, do another set, look at his phone again, and on and on. Geez, can’t we put our phones down for an hour while we work out???

Sorry, I digress. Digging deeper into the stats, Hootsuite found that four out of 10 social media users access news via social media platforms. Hence the national obsession over so-called “fake news” that tends to permeate social media. And out of every 3 minutes Internet users spend online, one minute is spent on a social media platform.

But here’s the stat that blew me away: Social media users spend an average of 2 hours and 15 minutes every day on social media. This rises to 3 hours and 2 minutes for mobile social media. Read those stats again and let that sink in for a minute.

Pay Attention, Marketers!

Here are some stats from Hootsuite’s report, titled Social Media Trends 2018, that should resonate with every business marketer who is finalizing marketing plans for 2018:

• More than one out of four (28%) Internet users use social media for online product research, up from 25% last year and 23% the year before.

The Hootsuite report anticipates that this percentage will continue to rise in 2018. Therefore, businesses should adjust their search engine optimization (SEO) strategies with this in mind, says the report.

• Among 16 to 64 year olds, social media is now the second most-used tool for product research (41%), just behind search engines (52%) and ahead of consumer reviews (35%). Social has actually overtaken search engines for product research among 16 to 24 year olds.

The Hootsuite report concludes that with so many people now using social media for product research, it’s just a short leap to buying products directly via the social platforms. Therefore, businesses should start thinking about how they can enable customers to transition to social commerce, says the report.

• Ad blocking is becoming more prevalent even as social networks serve up more advertising. About one out of 10 (11%) Internet users block ads, while four out of 10 (41%) Millennials do.

The Hootsuite report says that the rise of ad blocking should serve as a warning to business marketers that consumers still resist broadcast marketing tactics. Instead, businesses should strive to use social channels to build genuine audience engagement and personal relationships, says the report.

I’m No Longer Surprised

When I last wrote about social media marketing two years ago, I admitted that the rise of social marketing had caught me by surprise. Well, I’m not surprised anymore.

It seems pretty obvious now that social media represents the latest new frontier for marketers. Businesses that ignore this fact do so at their own peril.

8 Copywriting Tips to Improve Your Writing

I’m very blessed to have been a professional writer for my entire 30-plus year career. I knew early on that writing was my God-given natural talent, and I also really enjoyed it. So it’s pretty cool to make a living at something that I’m not only good at, but also like doing.

But what’s really cool is seeing that my daughter Natalie has apparently inherited my writing gene. I spotted this when she was in high school and I’d read her English papers. Now she’s studying Mass Communication at Georgia College and her writing is as good as or better than a lot of professional writers I work with.

In college, her writing load has ramped up considerably and I’ve been reading her papers and offering suggestions. I’m proud to say that she’s well on her way to becoming a professional writer herself if that’s what she wants to do.

The Basics of Good Copywriting

As I’ve been coaching Natalie, I’ve refocused myself on some of the basics of what constitutes high-quality copywriting. So I thought now would be a good time to share a few helpful copywriting tips.

Here are 8 copywriting tips that can help you become a better writer:

1. Use the active voice. Writing in the passive voice happens to be one of my biggest pet peeves as an editor. Passive writing severely weakens your copy so you should write in the active voice in almost all instances. There are some situations where the passive voice is called for when writing marketing copy, but this is the exception, not the rule.

2. Read your copy out loud while you’re writing. It’s amazing how much this helps me when I’m writing. I constantly find myself reading what I’m writing out loud (ask my wife!) in order to get the right rhythm and flow to my copy. Go ahead, give it a try!

3. Tighten, tighten and then tighten some more. Good copy — especially marketing copy — is tight and concise. Remember: Less is usually more when it comes to copywriting.

After you’ve written a draft, go back and start whittling away unnecessary words and phrases. You should be able to cut the length of a draft by at least 10 or 20 percent with some judicious tightening. If necessary, ask someone else to tighten your copy for you — sometimes it can be hard to tighten your own writing.

4. Critique your copy visually. Make your copy easy to read not only from a language standpoint, but also from a visual standpoint. Noted copywriting expert David Garfinkel says your copy needs to have “eye appeal.”

For example, shorten long paragraphs to make them look less intimidating. And use subheads and bullets to break up long copy blocks into snackable bites. This will also make it easier for readers to easily skim your copy to find what they’re looking for.

5. Don’t use jargon. Different industries tend to have their own jargon words. In the business-to-business writing world that I live in, I have my own list of jargon words and phrases that make me cringe. These include synergies, best practices, deep dive, baked in, solution oriented, action item, push the envelope, and alignment, to name just a few.

Arrgh, that was painful just typing those words!

6. Don’t be boring. This reminds me of what Natalie used to tell people when she was a kid if they asked her what her dad did for a living: “He writes boring business stuff.”

Hearing this has actually been helpful for me. Because while a 10 year old isn’t the target audience for anything I write, it reminds me that I always need to make whatever I write as interesting as possible — even if it’s about the difference between defined contribution and defined benefit retirement plans (yawn).

7. Proofread your copy carefully. In my college journalism courses, if we had one single typo or misspelled word in a paper or assignment, it received an automatic F — period. No questions asked, no negotiation and no debate. And this was back when we wrote on a typewriter without automatic spellcheck!

If this rule applied in the professional world, I think a lot of writers would be out of work. I don’t claim to be 100% perfect all the time, but that’s definitely what I shoot for — and so should you.

8. Strive for simplicity and clarity. As a business-to-business writer specializing in financial services and IT, I write about some pretty technical stuff. But that isn’t an excuse for my copy to be unclear or overly complex.

In fact, my biggest challenge is usually writing about complex topics in a clear, easy-to-understand way. Ask someone else who isn’t in your industry how clear and simple your writing is. If they don’t easily understand what you’ve written, you’ve got some work to do.

How to Search Engine Optimize Your Blogs

search engine optimize blogs

Ranking high in the search engines is the most important marketing task for many companies, especially those that rely on Internet searches and online traffic to generate leads, customers and new business.

Google “boost my website SEO” or something similar and you’ll get millions of results — 3,070,000 to be exact. Instead of making you wade through all of these in search of something helpful, I’m going to share a few tips to help you search engine optimize your blog posts.

The Importance of Blogging

Although I didn’t visit each of the more than three million websites out there that purport to help me learn how to boost website SEO, I’d be willing to bet that a good number of them stress the importance of publishing and updating relevant content. And the best way to do this is to write a regular blog.

At least half of my freelance writing work consists of writing blogs for my clients. Whitepapers, case studies, FAQs, Q&As and the like are other forms of content that can be used to boost SEO results.

If you commit to writing and publishing a blog on a consistent basis — I discussed blog frequency in this article — you’ll be doing more than the vast majority of other businesses out there when it comes to boosting SEO.

Go Farther: Search Engine Optimize Your Blogs

But you can take this a step further when you search engine optimize your blogs. Here are 6 ways to do this:

1. Limit the number of keywords you optimize in each blog. When it comes to optimizing keywords, less is more. Not too long ago, marketers and copywriters tried to include as many keywords as possible in each blog, a practice known as keyword stuffing.

But this often resulted in poorly written copy that didn’t include any information you’d actually want to read. So the search engines refined their algorithms and now your content can actually be penalized for keyword stuffing.

In general, you should focus on optimizing one or two long-tail keywords per blog. These are keyword phrases of three or four words — like “freelance financial writer,” which is what my website homepage copy is optimized for. Using long-tail keywords enables you to rank high for very specific search phrases, which tend to be used by more qualified prospects.

2. Make sure these keywords are optimized in all the right places. Your keywords should be optimized in at least four areas: the blog’s title and title tag, body copy, URL and meta description.

For starters, include your keyword within the title’s first 65 characters. Once you get into the blog content, include it naturally throughout the copy so it doesn’t feel forced. You’ve probably read blogs where the writer went overboard with keywords and the copy just sounded weird.

When you post your blog, you’ll have an opportunity to write the URL however you want. Make sure it includes your long-tail keyword. For example, this is the URL for my last blog for which I optimized “better SEO content”: http://www.donsadlerwriter.com/create-better-seo-content/

Similarly, you can also write your blog’s meta description — or the copy that appears on search engine results pages letting searchers know what your blog is about. Like your body copy, your meta copy should work in your long-tail keyword in a natural, reader-friendly way.

3. Include images with your blog and optimize them. Search engines can’t “see” photos and images like a human eye can, at least not yet. But they can see copy that’s attached to images. Known as alt text, this copy can be added to image tags when you post your blog. So be sure to include your long-tail keyword when writing your image alt text.

4. Include internal links in your blog. One of the great things about blogging is that over time, you’ll build up a library of blogs on your website that can serve as a valuable knowledge resource center. Once you’ve built this blog library, you can link back and forth between these blogs to send readers to other content that they might find useful.

You’ll notice that I did this twice here in this blog. Linking internally like this not only gives readers access to more value-added content and helps keep them on your site, but it surfaces other relevant content and website pages to the search engines.

5. Take advantage of free Google tools. One of the most valuable Google tools is the Search Console, which contains a Search Analytics Report. This tool will help you analyze the clicks to your blog that come from Google search results.

This, in turn, will show you which keywords searchers are using to find your blog. Data like this is invaluable when it comes to measuring the results of your search engine optimization efforts and planning future SEO campaigns.

6. Make your blog mobile-friendly. According to Google, more web searches now take place on mobile devices than computers. In light of this, Google’s algorithm now gives precedence to mobile-friendly websites over sites that aren’t optimized for mobile devices with responsive design.

Websites that use responsive design have only one URL for blogs, instead of separate URLs for computer and mobile searchers. This will improve your blog’s SEO, since inbound links to your blog will not be divided between two different URLs. As a result, it will be easier for Google to recognize and rank your blog.

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.