The Trick to Writing for SEO

Writing can be difficult for a lot of people. Even those of us gifted with a passion for wordsmithing can often find ourselves hitting walls when it comes to creating the right copy for the right occasions. This perhaps happens most often in the world of SEO copy.

For many, SEO copy is a difficult beast to wrangle. Not only does it involve checking off all the boxes of any other writing (easy to read, good grammar, economy of words, etc.) but it also needs to include the kind of content that will catch the favor of search engines. A lot of writers tend to get hung up on that last part, sacrificing their normally stellar writing styles for a difficult-to-read, keyword-stuffed tome that could only be enjoyed by search bots.

The one thing that a lot of people don’t realize about creating search engine optimized copy is that it doesn’t need to be approached much differently than one would normally approach their copy. With a few small tweaks and a solid plan, you can easily strike a balance between engaging content and SEO-friendly content.

Here are a few ways to create great SEO copy that will be loved by spiders and humans alike.


Keyword Research

As with many SEO-related tasks, you’ll want to start with a solid keyword research plan. There are a lot of ways you can do keyword research. Using SEMrush or Ahrefs are good options, but they costs money. If you’re coin purse is feeling a little light (especially if a certain coronavirus has crushed your business and budget), try Keywords Everywhere (which is mostly free) or Keyword Keg, which offers some free options and some very affordable paid options.

Once you have a list of optimal keywords, it’s time to brainstorm. Pick a handful of the most relevant and highly-searched keywords and jot them down. Next, begin thinking of synonyms and related terms. Feel free to use a thesaurus, if you like, or a free online tool like KeywordTool.io or the Google Keyword Planner. Once you have some related terms, put them aside—we’ll come back to those in a minute.


Organize Your Thoughts

You likely already have a pretty strong idea of what you want to write about. And while jumping head first into writing may seem like the next best step, consider making an outline first.

An outline not only helps you stay focused during the writing process, but it also allows an opportunity to contextually organize what you want to say. Why is this important? Because search engines, Google in particular, are all about context and relationships these days. Just like a human would, spiders often figure out the purpose of a page by comparing its content against itself and against the content on the rest of the site.

For instance: Before smart phones really took off, people used to search with single words or concepts. For instance, someone looking for a local pizza joint might type something like “pizza place” or “pizza place in Philly.” But because mobile searches and voice searches have gotten so popular, the average person has evolved to the point of asking Google questions instead, such as “What’s the best pizza place in Philly?” or “Which pizza places in Philly sell beer?”

To take advantage of this, you need to anticipate potential questions a reader may have and fashion your content towards that. This can be difficult, however, a quick brainstorming session can go a long way.


Don’t be afraid to go long

It’s no secret that Google tends to rank longer-form content a bit better than shorter content. This isn’t because Google is “rewarding” higher word counts, but usually because those longer pieces are more comprehensive and answer more potential questions for users.

So, when creating your copy, consider writing something a bit more long-form that covers all the possible topics that could relate to your theme. By doing this, you’re essentially casting out a larger net and may end up ranking for more relevant searches than you might with a shorter piece of content.

That said, you don’t want to add words to a document just for the sake of it. Adding fluff doesn’t help readers, so it likely won’t help in Google’s eyes, either. Always practice “quality over quantity.”


Don’t use too many keywords (or use certain keywords too often)

You have your keywords, you have your outline, you have all the topics you want to cover—you’re ready to write. But unfortunately, this is the part where a lot of people get hung up. The reason? Keywords.

As mentioned earlier, the right keywords are essential to a successful SEO campaign, however, sometimes we put a little too much emphasis on them. When this happens, we often end up with hard-to-read, keyword-stuffed content that borders on nonsense. Not only does this suck for readers, but it sucks for search engines, too—and they’ll show you how much it sucks with lower rankings.

The best way to combat this? Be yourself! Put the keywords aside and start off by writing as you normally would, using the verbiage you normally would. Once you get a draft committed to paper, go back and think about places where keywords could organically fit into the copy without affecting readability. By being yourself and not thinking about keywords, you may find that you’ve already done this naturally!

The trick here is to be careful not to use a keyword too much. Instead, bring out those synonyms we discussed earlier. Part of Google’s charge toward understanding context included understanding the relationships between words (for instance, Google likely knows that a hoagie, a sub, and a grinder are all the same thing). Take advantage of this by using some of those synonyms you found earlier in your copy. This could potentially help the content rank for a wider range of searches as it could potentially answer a wider range of queries.


Layout matters

To varying degrees, search engines take readability and usability into account when ranking a page. To take advantage of this, you’ll want to make sure your post isn’t just a giant block of text but is instead broken up in a way that makes it easier for a reader to consume.

One of the easiest ways to do this is by breaking up your content into sections—similar to how you did earlier with the outline. Make sure each section is designated with its own subhead line, and that said subhead line is contextually relevant to the section it’s introducing (also make sure you’re judiciously using keywords to create it).

Also try to take advantage of numbered and bulleted lists, if it makes sense for your copy. Not only does this make it easier for users to process the copy, but Google tends to favor these as well.


Final Thoughts

There’s a lot to process in the above steps, but if I can impart one primary lesson it’s this: Stay true to your writing! While it’s tempting to write copy for rankings, what’s most important is the message you’re trying to convey and doing it in a way that resonates with readers. If you write great content, great rankings are likely to follow!

This post originally appeared on BlogPaws.com

“Some of the best things in life are free.”

Usually people only say that to help them forget that they can’t afford that one awesome thing they’ve always had their eye on (I’ll have you yet, iPad Pro!). But in the world of online marketing, not just some but many of the best things are free. Software, tools, plugins—you name it. But out of all those free resources, one reigns supreme: Google Analytics.

What is Google Analytics?

Google Analytics is one of the most powerful data collection and tracking tools available, and it’s literally a must-have for almost any website. Just about any activity that a person may do on your website—visit a page, jump across multiple pages, click on a button, submit a form, and so on—can be easily tracked with a Google Analytics account. We could create an endless list of reasons why data like that is valuable to just about any webmaster—particularly those that plan to monetize their sites.

Along with “free” and “powerful,” you can also add “easy to use” to the list of Google Analytics’ myriad benefits. It only takes a few minutes and minimal tech skills to unlock a world of actionable traffic data. It’s so easy, in fact, that you can do it by just following these simple steps.

Please Note: This is just a bare-bones, straight-to-the-point explanation of how to set up Google Analytics. The more detailed stuff will be explained in a follow-up post.

Step 1: Create a Google account

Before you get started, you’re going to need to set up an account with Google—in other words, a Gmail account. A basic Gmail account is an all-access pass to most of Google’s products, so having one is imperative for anyone aiming for a successful web presence.

If you already have a Gmail account, you can use that. Same goes for G Suite or any of Google’s small business solutions. If you don’t have any of those (or you’d rather create a new account dedicated to your Google Analytics activity) then you’ll want to create a new account by going here. <link: https://accounts.google.com/SignUp>

sign-up

Signing up is pretty straight-forward. Fill out all the information asked of you and click the submit button. When doing this, though, be sure to use your primary phone number and an email account you check often. If you ever lose your password—or worse, get hacked—these will be your lifeline.

Once you’ve submitted your info and accepted terms and conditions, you’ll land on a page full of options for customizing your account. You can ignore that for now as none of it is directly connected to Google Analytics. But definitely take the time to come back and check it out later!

Step 2: Set up a Google Analytics account

Once your Gmail account is set up, you’ll be ready to set up your Google Analytics account! The first step is to go to the login page: https://analytics.google.com. There are several different flavors of analytics that Google offers on page; we’re only interested in the one labeled “Analytics.” You’ll see it as the first option when you click the “Sign In” button. Once you click on it, enter in the login credentials to your newly created Gmail account and you’ll land on the account setup page.

new-form-complete

On this page, you’ll find three primary fields to complete: Account Name, Website Name, and Website URL.

Account Name is the label for your entire account. You can set up Google Analytics for multiple websites under just one account, and the name you choose here will be the name for that umbrella account.

Within each account, you’ll have several properties. If you have multiple websites you want to track, each website would have its own property within your account. For this walkthrough, though, let’s assume you only have one website and therefore only need one property. This is where the Website Name field comes in. You can name this whatever you’d like, such as “YourSiteName.com” or “Your Site Name” or just about anything else. My suggestion is to use a name that’s similar to your website so it’s easy to associate.

(Note: You may want to familiarize yourself with the hierarchy of Google Analytics. You can do that by checking out Google’s documentation.)

Finally, we have the Website URL field. Here, you’ll list the actual URL of your website. Make sure you specify whether your website is an “http” or “https” site, as entering the wrong one could cause tracking errors. The same thing goes for www. If set up correctly, your site should automatically redirect to either a “www” version (http://www.example.com) or a non-www version (http://example.com). Make sure you enter the correct one in this field to ensure accurate tracking.

Beyond these fields, you’ll see a bunch of sections with check boxes. For the sake of simplicity, I suggest leaving those checked in, as recommended. When you’re done, hit the “Get Tracking ID” button—we’re almost finished!

Step 3: Add your tracking code

Now that you have your account set up, it’s time to add the tracking code to your site.

code

You may be asking, “What does this code do?” This code is how Google Analytics knows your site is…well, your site. Every time a page on your site loads it will trigger this code, which then sends information back to Google Analytics to report back to you! That’s an oversimplification, but it covers the gist of it.

So, how do we make sure this is implemented correctly? It needs to be added to the <head> of every single page on your website. Not sure what the <head> is? That’s OK! There are a number of ways to easily implement the tracking without touching a line of code on your site.

If you’re using a WordPress site, one of the easiest ways to do this is by adding a plugin. One of the most popular is MonsterInsights. It’s free, easy-to-use, and doesn’t require technical skills beyond knowing how to copy and paste. Simply install the plugin, follow the directions, and you should be golden!

If you’re not using WordPress or you’re not comfortable with adding plugins, don’t worry: Many hosting providers—such as GoDaddy, BlueHost, and Host Gator—offer easy ways to add this for you so you don’t have to do it yourself. If your hosting provider doesn’t offer that service, then a developer could help you with it. And if you don’t have access to a developer, then email me and I’ll be happy to help (it usually only takes a minute or two, so I don’t mind).

All done!

And that’s it! That’s all there is to installing Google Analytics. Now that you have it in place, you’ll have a wealth of actionable traffic data at your fingertips.

Of course, setting it up is just the tiny tip of the iceberg. There is a ton of other simple tricks and fixes you can do to get even more detailed information about your site, and we’ll be covering that in a future post. In the meantime, have fun!

This post originally appeared on BlogPaws.com

I have an enterprise client that retains me as a consultant. In a nutshell, I help them anytime they have an SEO question.

Before they hired me, this client hired a vendor to help them with some technical implementations. As part of their service agreement, the vendor offered an SEO audit. My client asked me to review this audit for them. They weren’t hiring this company for their SEO services, but they still wanted a trained eye to see if the audit held any water.

The audit was fairly sound, but it suggested tactics of little use. There were some good suggestions within the audit for sure, but it was entry-level stuff that would barely move the needle.

This was all coming from an enterprise-level business, one that serves other enterprise-level businesses. This is a company with the strength to offer innovative, advanced strategies, and it came out of the gate offering basically the kind of thing that comes from a free SEO audit tool found on about a bazillion different websites these days.

This got me thinking. There are plenty of these SEO audit tools out there, right? And some even provide a clear view of a site’s technical strengths and weaknesses. Best of all, most of them are free to use (within reason).

My client could have just as easily used a reputable SEO audit tool and received the same (if not better) information they got from this big agency. In fact, if they used one of these free tools, they would have more information about their site’s technical issues and a better understanding of technical SEO as a whole so that when we spoke next, there would be less of a learning curve when discussing new strategies.

Free SEO Audit Tools: Your New Teaching Assistant

Free audit tools have been around for quite some time. I know because I used some of these tools to train myself on the basics of technical SEO. While there’s a wealth of primers, guides and tools out there, I’ve always found that free tools offer a dirtier, more hands-on approach that takes technical SEO and applies it to a site that lives and breathes on the screen in front of me.

In fact, a lot of the free SEO audit tools served as the gateway drugs that pulled me out of the comfortable, accessible realm of title tag and H1 optimization and pulled me into the grasp of bigger, sexier concepts like crawl budgets, indexation and so on.

If they helped me like this, why couldn’t they help others?

Think of it this way: Clients pay a professional to consult and guide them through the weird, weedy jungle of changing search algorithms and ranking factors. Clients pay them to be not just an expert, but a guide who can help them learn more about this evolving industry. Basically, they’re looking for an expert to teach them more about SEO, so they have a stronger understanding of how it can benefit their business.

SEO audit tools can go a long way in explaining what, to some people, could seem like technical mysticism. As I mentioned earlier, the fact that these tools take what can be confusing practices and applies them to an actual website makes for an extremely practical, accessible learning tool for those who need a casual understanding of technical SEO.

In short: When clients can speak more intelligently about the SEO strategies professionals develop for them, everyone wins.

Things to Keep in Mind

Let’s share a few more words before jumping into some free SEO audit tools to share with clients.

  1. First, it should go without saying that if you are going to open a client’s eyes to the world of free SEO tools, you should first make sure they’re totally onboard with the idea. While most people will likely be excited to learn more about the techniques used to improve their online business, it’s also likely that the whole reason they hired you is so they don’t need to worry much about it. So always feel out the client and make sure you’re on the same page.
  2.  Not all free tools are created equal. The same could actually be said for paid tools, too. The point is to make sure you only recommend a reputable tool that provides only accurate information. This should go without saying, but your recommendations are a representation of your skills, and recommending a bad tool won’t work in your favor.
  3.  Using these free tools is by no means a replacement for a thorough SEO audit. I start literally all my engagements with a comprehensive audit customized to the design and needs of each specific site, and, frankly, you should too. That said, once you’ve done that and have provided the findings to your client, these tools are a nice way to supplement your work — not replace it.

The Right Free SEO Audit Tools for the Job

Below is a list of some of my favorite free tools available on the web. I’ve made this list based on some pretty basic criteria:

  1. They’re totally free (at most, they may require an email address).
  2. They present the information in fairly straightforward terms with a basic explanation and actionable advice.
  3. They’re pretty to look at.

OK, let’s dig in.

Varvy SEO Tool

The Varvy SEO Tool is arguably one of the most comprehensive free audit options out there and it’s a great learning tool for just about anyone, really. Not only does it break potential issues into clean, summarized little pieces, it also provides quick links that expand on each issue, providing a truly useful SEO learning experience. Plus, there’s something for everyone on here, even a seasoned developer with exposure to technical SEO may find something new to learn on here.

SEO Site Check-Up

The SEO Site Check-Up Tool has been one of my favorites ever since I got into this business. It’s great because it not only gives a wealth of data — a decent amount more than your average audit tool, in fact — but it delivers it in a very granular way. This approach makes it easy to focus on (and learn) more specific facets of technical SEO, such as page speed. One of the nicest features, though, is that it provides a “How to Fix” button which gives a quick explanation on how to fix the problem and where you can find more information if needed.

Website Grader

HubSpot’s Website Grader is arguably one of the prettiest, most user-friendly audit tools on the web. Not only is the tool quite thorough in the points it addresses, it’s also beautiful to look at and easy to process. Like any tool worth its weight in bytes, Website Grader not only gives a quick breakdown of the issue but also provides a link to posts and tutorials that will help you remedy the problem. One of the nicer features that puts this tool over the top is the prioritized “What Should I Do Next” list offered at the end of each report.

Honorable Mentions

While the three tools listed above are fantastic, there are plenty of other tools out there that work great as learning resources. The ones listed above strike a great balance between providing useful info and being newbie-friendly, but there are plenty of other tools out there worth considering. Though they tend to be geared towards those with a more technical background, tools like Pingdom and GTMetrix are great for finding and explaining some of the more technical SEO issues.

There’s No Replacement for a Good SEO

While these sites make awesome learning tools for those new to the SEO game, there’s still no substitute for hands-on experience. SEO is a pretty tricky animal and getting it just right takes time and expertise. But with the tools above, you can help demystify it a little bit for clients or anyone else new to the world of search.

This post originally appeared on Relevance.com.

For most marketers, email outreach involves prospecting for journalists and thought leaders who might be interested in their content and politely asking them to share it among their network. For a lot of people, outreach feels like an invasive shout into the darkness, one that simultaneously disrupts the sanctity of another person’s inbox while still not getting their attention.

It doesn’t have to be though. Outreach can be a valuable and—dare I say it?—fun experience, but it’s all about how you approach it.

The Art of Outreach

Writing an outreach letter is one of those things that is both an art and a science. It not only requires creativity, but it also requires data, analysis and some traditional research. Because of this, everyone has their own way to approach email outreach, their own success stories and their own flubbing failures. I like to equate it to making pizza, in that there is really no definitive right or wrong way to go about it as long as it tastes good (although I’ll be damned if you try telling me eggplant belongs on a pizza).

With that in mind let’s examine some of the consistencies I’ve found that often lead to valuable links, new sources for qualified leads and—best of all—budding relationships with the kind of people who can put great content in front of the right people.

Be Short

For the most part, long emails suck. Unless it’s an update from an old friend, nobody wants to spend five minutes (or longer) reading one email when there are likely thousands of others waiting desperately for a click.

Typically, shorter outreach letters tend to get more love and attention than the longer ones. My personal rule of thumb is to keep the letter to 150 – 200 words (though, if possible, I try to go even shorter).

In my experience, I find the following structure works best:

  • The Intro: Start with one or two sentences explaining who you are, how you found this person and why you’re emailing them.
  • The Pitch: Follow up with three or four sentences expanding on the content you’re pitching. Focus a sentence or two on why it’s worth their attention and then a sentence or two on why you’re the best person or organization to create such content.
  • The Close: Finally, end with two or three sentences that bring it all home. This is when you offer to help in anyway possible while thanking them for their attention and being explicit about what you want them to do (your CTA).

As you can tell, this pattern doesn’t waste much time with a long intro or middling details. In fact, it doesn’t waste much time with anything. It spits the point right at the reader so they can scan it and move on with their life (which hopefully includes spreading the word about your content).

Be Honest

Of course, it’s not just enough to have a snappy, easy-to-scan outreach letter; the words you use will mean more than the word count any day of the week. Because that word count is limited, however, you want to make each word powerful, resonate and, most importantly, honest.

Honesty—or rather a lack thereof—is one of the leading causes for outreach letter deletion, in my experience.

In my days as a journalist, most emails I received from marketers began with some variation of “I’m a big fan of your work, in particular your piece titled <ultra specific headline>,” and I would always respond by clicking “Mark as Spam.”

Now, maybe all those marketers reaching out to me really were fans of the specific articles I wrote, but you and I both know that the only reason they brought it up was to try and butter up my ego before they made their pitch. And that’s the inherent flaw in this approach. Most journalists and thought leaders are savvy enough to know that you’re a marketer pitching them on something, so why hide behind forced pleasantries and fluffed-up small talk?

Instead, get straight to the point. Let them know your pitch, let them know your contacting them because they’re uniquely qualified to spread your content and, finally, let them know that you want them to share it. There’s nothing wrong with using total and utter honesty in your outreach letters—the people you’re approaching feel this way, so should you!

Be Enticing

Finally, the last point to consider is probably the most obvious but also the most difficult to pull off: Make your outreach letter (and the pitch within it) so enticing that the reader will have little or no ability to say no.

Yes, this gets to be even more difficult when you consider the different personalities and tastes each of your outreach prospects may have. Despite that, though, there are a few things to consider when creating an outreach letter enticing enough to make them forget about the “delete” button.

Speak Their Language

You wouldn’t necessarily write to an editor at Scientific American as you would to an editor at Sports Illustrated, right? Each of these editors work in a field that has it’s own language, personality and jargon, and if you want any of them to take your outreach seriously, you’ll learn to craft a letter that speaks to them on their terms.

Note I said “learn” to speak that language and not “pretend”—this goes back to that whole “being honest” thing. If you’re going to speak the same language as your prospects, make sure you put in some time researching their industry so you actually know what you’re talking about.

Speak to their Needs

Let’s talk brass tacks: if someone does pick up your pitch, it’s most likely for one of two reasons: Either they legitimately love your content, or they’re looking for some quality content to post before their fast-approaching deadline.

Because the latter is a very common need among journalist and bloggers, take advantage of it. There’s nothing wrong with checking out an editorial calendar before making a pitch or flat out asking a prospect what kind of content they’re looking for and when they’ll need it. In fact, doing so could save both you and your prospect some time – something both of you can appreciate.

Make Their Life Easier

The best way to entice a journalist into using your content is to make it as easy as possible for them to share it. With that in mind, it’s always good to send along as many additional materials as possible. Not only should you send along the content, but also pass over any embed codes, press releases, images or other materials that will make their life easier. The less they have to do to share your content, the more likely they are to do it!

No matter what combination of these tactics you use in outreach, it’s imperative that each step be rooted in research. Don’t send the pitch if the recipient isn’t targeted and in an industry that’s highly relevant to the content. Being succint, honest and enticing all boil down to not wasting their time. When dealing with deadline-driven journalists and publishers, transparency and brevity can go a long way and should always govern your correspondence with them.

This article was originally posted on Relevance.com.

There’s nothing wrong with a little friendly competition. But, what if that competition is kicking your butt all over the Internet with highly shareable content? We have all been there and thought to ourselves: “What is it about the stuff on their site that makes them so special? How can I make my content stick like theirs?” This competitive content audit will show you how.

What goes into a Competitive Content Audit?

Know thy enemy. This is the underlying basis for a competitive content audit. Put simply, this audit takes stock of the content your competition is using, how they’re using it, and why it’s making such an impact with their target audience. More importantly, it can give you valuable intelligence to leverage when making your own content better – even better than the competition’s.

Warning: It’s possible to spend hours upon hours auditing the competition’s content, depending on how big they are. You don’t have the time for that, though.

Fortunately, you can gain a strong understanding of the competition in a few short hours with this quick n’ dirty competitive content audit that evaluates two primary factors:

  1. What content the competitor has published
  2. How well their content is doing

By evaluating these factors, you can get a much stronger understanding of the kind of content dominates your market.

Evaluating the Competition

To begin a competitive content audit, you’ll need to understand the kind of content they have. This includes looking for and understanding how the competition is using the following types of content:

  • Articles
  • Guest posts
  • Images & Infographics
  • Videos
  • Surveys

You could do this the old-fashioned way: by combing through their site and social media accounts and reading/evaluating all of their content. Fortunately, there are some tools to help you save time, as this can be the most time-consuming part of the audit process. All of these tools below have a free trial and paid version.

  • You can use Screaming Frog to crawl their entire site and give you a snapshot at what the pages looks like and how well they have been optimized.
  • BuzzSumo gives a snapshot of your competitor’s main content pages and how well they’re performing socially (which we’ll cover more in a bit).

 

Buzzsumo Competitive content audit

 

  • Rival IQ enables you to look across multiple competitors at one time and view the top engaging content across six social networks, so you can see immediately what’s working for them.

 

Competitive Content Audit Facebook

When viewing your competitor’s content, take the following into account:

  • What kind of content is most prevalent on their site? Do they use mostly text-based content? Do they focus heavily on video?
  • Does their content strictly fall in line with their main product/services, or do they go for more of a mission marketing approach?
  • What themes or concepts tie all their content together, if any?

Evaluating How Their Content is Performing

While gaining an understanding of what the competition’s content can be an education in itself, you can learn even more by understanding how their content is performing throughout the web. With that in mind, check the following metrics:

1. Backlinks

The kind of backlinks a site has can be a clear indication of it’s strongest content. By using a tool like Open Site Explorer, you can export the backlinks for your competitor’s entire site. By evaluating these backlinks, you can see not only which high-authority sites are linking to your competitor, but you can also see which pages those high-authority sites are linking to most often. This can give you a good idea of what content on your competitor’s site is getting the most attention from other sites.

OSE

2. Social Relevance

Like backlinks, social shares are also a signal of your content’s strength. By evaluating how well a piece of content has been shared socially, you can gain how well said content resonated with the target audience. As mentioned earlier, BuzzSumo can show how often a piece of content has been shared, however, tools like Rival IQ, can offer a more detailed breakdown on not just how often a piece of content has been shared, but also how successful your competition’s social presence has faired overall.

3. Search Rankings: 

You can use SEM Rush or Rival IQ to check how your competition is ranking organically for various keywords. This can be invaluable when it comes to seeing how well, and for what terms, their content is ranking in search. More importantly, this data can give you an understanding of the terms for which your competition is not ranking (and maybe you are NOT), providing a better idea of what may be missing from their content strategy and where you could potentially swoop in for the win.

Tying it All Together

After following the above steps, you should not only be well-informed about the kind of content your competition is creating, but you should also understand which of their content is hitting the mark with your target audience.

With that knowledge, ask yourself:

  • What kind of content (articles, video, etc.) gets the most links and social shares with your target audience?
  • Does your target audience prefer more on-the-nose content that relates directly to the products/service you offer, or do they prefer something else?
  • How (and how often) does your target audience consume/share this content?

Now that you understand their content and how well it resonates, you can create your own content that blows theirs out of the water! You might also follow this great advice on conducting a competitive communication audit, which ensures your positioning and messaging is both relevant and differentiated in the market!

Thanks to rapid-fire news feeds, constantly changing user interfaces and shifting promotional policies, social media sites are constantly making it more challenging for digital marketers to connect with their followers. Because of this, creating eye-catching, show-stopping social media content is more important than ever.

It’s easy to admit the importance in posting only the best content, but all too often digital marketers tend to throw content spaghetti at the wall and watch with bated breath to see if it sticks. Instead of counting on guesswork to figure out if your content is going to connect with the audience, why not take a few extra minutes to find out exactly what your followers want to see? By combining some traditional SEO keyword research with five minutes of legwork, you can see what your audience is searching for and how to create the kind of content they’re most interested in consuming.

The 5-Minute Process

To kick off this speedy process, we’ll need to establish our offering. For the sake of this example, I’m going to pretend we work in the brewing industry.  To find out what kind of content my audience is interested in reading, I need to figure out four key things:

  1. What topics are the target audience discussing?
  2. What about these topics interests them?
  3. Which of these topics are the most popular?
  4. How do I create engaging content on this topic?

Once we figure those out, coming up with the right kind of content will be easier than crafting an American Pale Ale (which is actually quite easy, from what I hear!)

What are hot topics with your audience?

There are a lot of ways to find out what your audience is discussing, but one of the best methods for doing this is with the one-two punch combo that is Google and Quora. For those of you not in the know, Quora is one of the largest, most reputable Q&A sites on the web and Google is…well, Google.

By using some basic Google operators <LINK>–in particular, the “site:” operator– you can easily search Quora’s wealth of topic-specific forums to find exactly what people in your target audience are discussing. One of the easiest examples is “<topic idea>” site: quora.com. This site combs through Quora and lists all the questions that have been posted on that topic. You can see the search I did based on this formula: “beer recipes” site:quora.com.
google-for-beer-recipes

In the above example for “beer recipe,” we can see that the topic has come up in the form of a number of different questions. From here, we have a great basis for our research. Simply jot down some of the variations from the results or, for extra credit, check out the post and try to cherry pick even more terms. These basic concepts will work as the seeds for your content research.

What are they really talking about around that topic? 

Combing through forums can help you see directly what people are talking about, but it provides a limited scope. After all, you’re only looking at specific topics. What’s really going to help you find more ideas is to expand your efforts into more long-tail topics, and there are few ways better to find long-tail topics thanUbersuggest.

One of the best free tools you can find on the web, Ubersuggest takes any keyword or phrase you give it and returns a wealth of long-tail options that are pulled directly from Google’s autosuggest, which, in turn, is pulled from actual search queries. In other words, Ubersuggest takes your key phrase and gives you alternate suggestions based on what people are actually looking for.

ubersuggest-beer

What’s great about Ubersuggest (other than it’s super suggestion abilities) is that it lets you check off suggestions you like, add them to a list and then copy them all at once. After you have a nice list of keyword suggestions, you can figure out…

What does the data tell us about the topic?

Now that you have a ton of useful keyword ideas, it’s time to see just how many people are actually interested in those ideas. This is when we bring in the ol’ standby of the digital marketing industry: Google Adwords Keyword Planner Tool.

For those who have never tried it, the Adwords Keyword Planner helps you determine the value of certain keywords by providing a number of metrics. One of the most valuable pieces of data it provides is a estimation of just how many people are entering that term into Google. Though the number is just an estimate, it can be used as a barometer to see just how much interest a particular topic idea.

adwords-planner

Simply paste in all the phrases you pulled from Ubersuggest and BOOM! You have some quantifiable data to show you just which concepts are being searched for on the web. This is powerful information that could easily help you not only decide if a certain piece of content is worth creating, but also determine new ideas that you may not have thought of previously.

How do I make sure my new content will engage?

You have your topic, your long-tail search terms and your data from adwords. Now you’re ready to actually start creating great social media content. The last step is making sure this new content will actually engage. You know the topic is right, but there’s more than one way to bake a cake, and you want to make sure your audience finds your cake absolutely delicious.

This is where Rival IQ comes in. With this online tool, you can create a Market Landscape of companies in your market, especially your competitors, since they are most likely going after the same target audience as you. It not only shows you metrics like number of fans, social activity and other trending data, but also pulls the top posts sorted by engagement across six social networks. Since we are using Beer for our example, I created a Landscape of four beer companies. And since they are mostly targeting consumers, I looked at Facebook content.

First, I analyzed what types of posts were getting the most engagement, and which days they were getting that engagement. Clearly, I need to include photos or videos in my social media content for Facebook, and Tuesdays and Fridays seem to be the best days for engagement.  Maybe that’s when my target audience is thinking about having a beer versus actually at the pub drinking a beer!

landscape-beerNext, I dug into the actual content. What I learned was my posts need to be simple, fun, conversational – and include awesome photos of BEER! In looking at the past week’s posts, there was a clear trend of tying into the New Year.  This report was just for the past 7 days, but I would probably run a deeper analysis of at least 90 days to really understand what content was working.

beer-grid

The other thing that’s cool with Rival IQ is you can create multiple Landscapes, so I could also create a group of companies going after my same target audience that I don’t compete with to see what kind of content they are creating that really engages.

Ready, Set, Go

It’s important to find a balance between totally guessing when writing social media posts and laboring over data for hours on end to craft the perfect message. This method helps you make an informed, data-driven decision in a time-efficient manner. Remember to repeat the process often, too, because hot topics on social media change as often as the direction of the wind. And, go!

Let me start by getting personal for a moment: I love content. I love it so much, in fact, that I kind of hate calling it “content,” as I think the term makes it too easy to generalize and commoditize the amazing work that comes from the writers, artists and developers of the marketing community. Make no mistake about it: content has (or at least should have) its roots deep within the creative arts.

Because content is such a creative, artistic endeavor, it’s so easy to screw it up. Yes, content should be a creative venture. But it should still be a profitable venture, too. Sometimes, that can make for a tough balancing act during the content creation process—something I’ve learned from experience over the past few years.

Leaning too far to one side of the creation/profit camp or the other, you (and by extension, your team and clients) open yourself to a host of issues that could very easily derail your entire content creation process—which could in turn derail your entire content strategy, and maybe even your marketing goals as a whole.

The following is a list of some of those derailing factors that I’ve encountered in my content creation experience, as well as the lesson I’ve learned from said derailments. Some of these may be no-brainers, some of them may not be—either way, I’ve learned from the challenges these experiences have brought upon me, and I’m hoping you can as well.

Setting An Unrealistic Timeline

Like I mentioned, content is often a creative venture and any creative venture worth doing requires time to breathe and bloom. Because of that, it’s important to make sure you have the time needed to properly dedicate you and your team to a project. By time, I mean not only billable hours, but literally the calendar time needed to properly build and execute content.

Like everyone else in the marketing world, I’ve tried my hand at using infographics as the backbone of a content strategy. On the surface, infographics seem easy: you have some facts and copy laid out over some pretty graphics. You have a copywriter and designer on your team—this should be done in a day or two, right?

Wrong. Surprisingly, a lot goes into an infographic. For one, you don’t just need copy; you need interestingcopy—often in the form of facts or statistics. Facts and statistics require research, which requires time. Know what else requires time? Building a dozen unique vector images to accompany each point laid out in the infographic.

Lesson Learned:

No matter how simplistic a content piece may be, it’s going to take time to do it in a way that stands out above the competition. Communicate with your team to get a better idea of just how much time each player needs to create their absolute best work. Once you have that time estimation, increase it by 25 percent to cover any incidents or revisions that will inevitably occur.

Not Setting Up Regular Milestones & Meetings

I listed these first two derailments next to each other for a reason: setting adequate time for a project is the first half of the equation, while setting up milestones and meetings within that timeframe is what makes it work.

I’m a firm believer that the creative mind works best when it’s unhindered by the realities surrounding it. That’s my flowery way of saying that if you want a creative to hand in their best work, you need to leave them alone and let them do what they do best.

That said, one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made was following this philosophy to a fault. By not keeping up with copywriters and designers, it’s not only easy to lose track of the project’s progress, it’s also nearly impossible to catch any errors that may occur during the content creation process. Next thing you know, the project deadline is a day away and you have 10 pages of copy on the wrong topic because the copywriter misunderstood an aspect of the project.

Lesson Learned:

In a perfect world, creative minds would get to work in the kind of vacuums they need to develop the best possible work. But it’s not a perfect world and mistakes happen—in fact, they happen all the time. To prevent that, build frequent milestones and meetings into your timeframe.

This is sort of a no-brainer, but most people hate meetings, which make them easy to shrug off in a crunch. By planning milestones and scheduling meetings to discuss said milestones, you ensure that a project is still on track while there’s still time to handle any problems that may crop up.

Biting Off More Than You Can Chew

By and large, ambition is one of the best things about working in the creative space. It’s a potent, volatile fuel that burns hot within the creative mind and forces it to push out the kind of work that transcends simple “content” and pushes it closer to being a piece of art.

Unfortunately, ambition can be every bit as dangerous as it is advantageous. I was recently reminded of this when tasked with creating—what else?—an infographic. Where others saw the opportunity to create a by-the-numbers infographic, I found the opportunity to go bigger by creating an animated infographic that would truly express the content while stimulating the imagination of its viewers.

Had I ever created an animated infographic before this? Nope! Was I going to let that stop me? Of course not! I’ve created regular infographics before; How hard could an animated one be?

So, I promised the client an animated infographic in a relatively short amount of time. What could go wrong? Spoiler alert: Everything.

Aside from taking way longer than I should have to establish a workflow and research the information needed for the copy, I also burned through an embarrassing amount of time while trying to master the basic mechanics of the animation. Even after figuring out the process, the actual implementation caused me to push back the deadline repeatedly (something that could have been avoided if I had been mindful of the first derailment).

Lesson Learned:

There is no shame in having limits. In fact, recognizing and appreciating your limits—whether they’re creative or something else—is the first step to surpassing them.

With that said, it’s not really a good idea to test your limits on the client’s dime. It’s not fair to them and it puts you in a terrible position, especially if you fail. If you’re going to push yourself (and your creative team) past your limits, make sure it’s something reasonable and attainable.

Losing Track Of Goals/KPIs

By now, it’s pretty obvious just how much I view content as a creative endeavor. Marketing, of course, is a natural fit for those of us in the creative field, as it provides a lucrative way to do what we love for a living. Unfortunately, that love can sometimes cause projects to derail, especially when creativity runs out of hand and leaves the original goals and KPIs in the dust.

The fact of the matter is, the whole reason a content piece is being created in the first place is to reach some sort of goal and, ultimately, profit from reaching said goal. It may be link building, it may be opening up a new traffic channel, it may be getting more contact forms filled out—whatever the goal is, it’s the sole reason for creating a content piece.

As much as we creative types believe it’s about making artistic and stunning content, the fact remains that it’s ultimately going to be used as a marketing tool. It’s when that fact is forgotten that problems arise such as missed milestones, missed deadlines or delivering a final product that looks much different than originally planned.

Lesson Learned:

Don’t let creativity run out of control. While it may be more enjoyable to let creativity reign supreme over any content creation project, it offers more opportunity to stray from the original, metric-based goal of the content in the first place. Finding that happy place between creative harmony and marketing success is really the key to any successful content marketing strategy, and striking a balance between the two is paramount.

Not Holding Your Clients Accountable

A lot of people feel that the content creation process goes like this: A client hires you to do something and you do it for them. That process is very true to a degree, however, pedantically following that rationale is going to leave both you and the client holding a half-assed piece of content that may never perform to its full potential.

This fact bit me hard a while back. After creating what was a great content piece to use as linkbait, we handed it back to the client as planned. In order for this content to build links as it was intended to, the client needed to be involved in various promotional tactics such as posting it on their site, sharing it through their social networks, creating press releases and more. Instead, they sat on their hands (and the content) and didn’t do much of anything with it.

The content went largely unseen and the client never saw a return on the time and money spent creating it. In retrospect, this all could have been avoided if we had held the client more accountable. When a client hires you to create content, they’re entering into a partnership with you. That partnership should be dedicated to creating the best possible content and making sure it drives in the best possible results. If they’re not holding up their end of the deal, the success of the campaign could suffer for it.

Lesson Learned

The fact of the matter is, nobody knows the audience the content is meant to reach better than your client. Because of this, they can not only offer great insight on the project, but can also elevate its success in the marketplace.

Just because they’re paying you doesn’t mean they should be hands off on the project. Keep them in the loop as much as possible—from conception to execution—and make sure they’re held accountable for their milestones just as you are.

Looking Forward (And Backward)

Whether you’re an independent contractor, working within an agency or part of an in-house team, there’s a lot that can go wrong in the content creation process. Ideally, most creative teams would have processes and practices in place to prevent the sort of issues listed above, but even if they do, it’s still possible to derail the content creation process by overlooking the tiniest of issues.

How do you avoid that? Once a project is done, take time to reflect on it before moving to the next one. Spend an hour brainstorming and writing down whatever thoughts about the project fill your head. Do it as a team if that helps. By taking a minute to breathe and look at the project after it’s complete, you can learn from past mistakes while preventing new ones from occurring in the future.

A rising number of people are enabling ad blockers and it’s the end of the free Internet as we know it. Lately, there has been a lot of talk on this trend in the digital marketing space, and it’s causing much concern.

Without going too deep into a topic you’ve likely read plenty about already, the rising number of people using ad blocking plugins and apps on desktop (and now, too, on mobile devices) is causing many to worry. As most people know, advertising is the necessary evil that keeps many of the Internet’s websites flashing bright. More people blocking ads means less visibility for those ads, which means less advertising dollars coming into sites that, in some cases, are already having trouble turning a profit. The “end of the free Internet,” as it’s popularly been coined, certainly seems to be approaching—even if we’re not entirely sure what form it will take.

I have a La-Z-Boy reclined in the front row of this event, as I work for a print publisher that relies on selling banner ads as a revenue channel. While we have yet to see any major ad blocker-induced hits, there is enough chatter on the topic in the mainstream to cause concern.

Despite that, we’ve opted to keep our “The End is Nigh!” signs in the closet for now and are using this challenge as an opportunity to actively seek solutions that can not only help us prepare for ad obsoletion, but also help us to strengthen (and in some cases build) revenue channels to make up for (or eclipse) the difference. Here’s what we’ve been looking at.

Surveys

An oldie but a goodie, we’ve been relying more and more on the tried-and-true survey as a method of figuring out what our audience wants and, more importantly, how they want to engage with our content.

Now more than ever, we’re focusing heavily on building out personas for our reader base—something that we’ve traditionally tried to do with more anecdotal data. Why is this so important for an ad-blocked world? Because it turns out that in the past we greatly misunderstood just how tech savvy (or, rather, not tech savvy) our readership is.

For instance, we’ve historically leaned heavily on device data courtesy of Google Analytics. But it turns out that just because people are reading our content on smartphones doesn’t mean it’s their preferred way to do so. In fact, the results from our surveys have opened our eyes to the fact that many of our readers prefer to read our content in every way but on their phones. This helps us to breathe a sigh of relief (as temporary as it may be), assuring us that maybe we don’t quite need to worry about people blocking ads through their iPhone at this point.

For our next round of surveys, we plan to find out just how tech savvy our readership really is. In the meantime, though, the surveys have helped us to build a solid base for personas. This effort is already informing us about how our content (and the ads sold against it) are faring. It also gives us a great idea of what they want to read.

Doubling Down on Classics

As I mentioned earlier, surveys really opened our eyes to how readers want to digest our content. One of the surprises was how many readers still prefer our print products to digital—which is nice, since those ads won’t be blocked any time soon. What was more interesting, however, were how many people stated that our email offerings are a preference.

This came as something of a surprise, especially when comparing that information to our modest open rates. After reviewing click rates in deeper detail, we were able to add a little more context to the information from our surveys to find out what our readers truly enjoy about our emails and give them more of it. This has led us to begin adjusting our email offerings as a whole—testing everything from frequency to content types to the content quantity.

By making these adjustments, we were able to develop a new deployment schedule, which left us room and resources to start building an offering we’ve long wanted to try but didn’t have the time to invest in: fully sponsored e-blasts. While this is a fairly common offering, it’s something that took some time for us to get off the ground. However, we already have advertisers onboard with the idea and are preparing to launch this new offering in the very near future.

Native Advertising & Special Projects

Like most publishers who deal in print and digital, we rely on native advertising and special projects—think along the lines of sponsored pamphlets and inserts—as a substantial revenue channel. For some, this can be harder to sell depending on the advertising budgets of potential clients who feel safer investing their budget where it can be tracked and quantified with hard data.

However, with ad blockers threatening to render such ads less impactful, publishers are in a much stronger position to sell products like advertorials. These types of offerings are attractive to advertisers because they read and look like standard content or microsites and thus give advertisers their own space to exemplify their value to readers.

If done right, this kind of content is a win-win-win: A win for publishers in the form of new revenue, a win for advertisers in the form of another way to engage potential customers, and a win for readers in the form of content specifically targeted directly to their needs.

Climbing Over the Blockade

So, yes, ad blocks are here, they are sticking around, and they are making things difficult for many publishers. But, like all major challenges, ad blockers present an opportunity to change—perhaps even a much-needed opportunity for change, in this case.

At my organization, we’re fortunate in that we can use this change to strengthen our other offers; some publishers may not have that luck. But opportunity is out there—all you have to do is listen to your readers and customers. And right now, they’re saying that they expect more from you than boring display banners and obnoxious auto-play ads.

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