The Wise Content Marketer’s Guide to Sensible SEO

"Some of us would rather eat a bug than try to figure out what 'headless crawling' means." – Sonia Simone

Search engine optimization — SEO — is one of those “you love it or you hate it” topics.

Some get a charge out of the challenge of keeping up with those wily engineers at Google.

Others would rather eat a bug than try to figure out what “headless crawling” means and which redirect is the right one to pick in months that end in R.

I have to confess, I’m in the bug-eating camp on this one.

Fortunately, although technical SEO is still important for some sites, there’s a crazy-powerful optimization technique that people like me can get really good at.

Yes, it’s content. (You already knew that, because you’re smart.) Yes, it has to be good content. And yes, I’m going to talk about what, specifically, “good” means.

But first, I’m going to talk about my most important search optimization rule.

The great rule of SEO

My first and primary rule, when thinking about search engines, is never to do anything for the sake of SEO that screws up the experience for the audience.

That cuts out some downright dumb behavior, like overstuffing your content with keywords.

But it also helps you evaluate new advice that comes along. If it makes your site less useable, if it makes your message less effective, or if it alienates or confuses your audience … you should probably skip it.

Here are nine SEO recommendations that also work to make your site experience better for the human beings who read your content, listen to your podcasts, and actually pay for your products and services.

#1: Answer actual audience questions

Want lots and lots of people to visit your site, and stick around once they find you? Answer their pressing questions, and you’ll get your wish.

People fire up a search engine because they have unanswered questions. If you’re smart and knowledgeable about your topic, you can help with that.

Tutorial content is wonderful, but also think about questions like:

  • Why is [the thing] so hard to get started?
  • How competitive is [the thing]?
  • How can I get motivated to do more of [the thing]?
  • Is there a community of people who want to talk about [the thing]?
  • Where can I share my own stories about [the thing] and read other people’s?

#2: Use the language they use

Hand in hand with answering real audience questions is using your audience’s language.

That brings us to our friend keyword research. (Check out Beth’s post tomorrow for more on that.)

It’s too bad that some people still think keyword research means looking up a bunch of word salad that makes sense to rooms of computers in Silicon Valley.

Keyword research means figuring out the language that real human beings enter into search engines to find your stuff.

There are great tools out there for finding those turns of phrase. You can also add in some smart social media listening and pay attention to how people talk on the web about your topic. (This is also a good way to find more of those “problems people care about” I talked about in the last point.)

By the way, you don’t have to feel chained to a narrow set of word combinations that you found with your keyword research tool. Use the keyword phrases you find, absolutely, but don’t use them so much that it gets weird. You don’t have to do an in-depth study of latent semantic indexing — just use synonyms.

(Kind of like a real writer does. Golly.)

Use metaphors and analogies. Use a few big or unusual words (if they’re natural to your voice). Flesh out your list of keywords with all of the fascinating and creative things that writers and artists do.

#3: Cover topics comprehensively

Content and SEO experts love to write articles about precisely how long your content should be. Over the years, the recommendations have gone up, and then down, sideways, and any other direction you might think of.

My advice: your content should be as long as necessary to make your point.

Some ideas can be expressed quickly, with punchy, interesting little posts.

Some ideas need more time to develop fully. They deserve a longer format or a content series that gets published over time. You could even dedicate specific months to covering a subject in more depth, like we’re doing this year on Copyblogger. (Have you noticed? Three guesses what March’s topic theme is …)

A strong series can be repurposed into ebooks (or a whole ebook library, once you have a solid archive), podcasts, infographics, SlideShares, videos, and premium products like courses.

Stop falling for the myth of the “goldfish attention span.” Twenty-first-century audiences have plenty of attention for the things they care about, as long as you make the content easy to consume. Which brings us to …

#4: Create a user-friendly experience

It doesn’t matter how brilliant your content is — if it’s published in walls of tiny gray type, without subheads or line breaks, most users will skip it.

It’s actually really simple to take a strong piece of writing and make it much more accessible by formatting it well.

Make sure everything on your site is easy to read, watch, or listen to. Give everything a clear call to action, so people know what to do next. And establish clear paths to the outcomes your users want … using smart content marketing strategy to present useful options at every point along the way.

While we’re on the subject, if your site looks like it was published in 2003, you need a makeover. Immediately. Premium WordPress themes are a massive bargain for the design expertise (and clean back-end code) they give you in a turnkey package.

Also, users and search engines share a hatred of hacked websites. Use secure tools, including reputable themes and quality hosting, and a good monitoring service like Sucuri to make sure nothing funky is going on.

#5: Write about the whole picture

Covering your topic comprehensively matters, but it’s not just about going deep.

There’s also a real benefit to looking around and going wide with your content.

What’s the context for your topic? Who else is publishing about it? What are the trends? What’s changing? How is the larger environment shaping what’s going on? Who do you agree with? Who do you disagree with?

What do people need to know before they dive into your thing? Where do they start? Where do they go next?

If you write about social media marketing, write about people who have given up on it. Write about people who haven’t started yet. Write about how the larger culture and worldview are changing social media … and how social media is changing the world.

Every topic takes place in a larger context. If that context interests your audience, it should be part of your content mix.

#6: Cultivate your community of topic experts

Link-building is one of the most important topics in SEO.

Here’s a secret:

Link-building is community-building.

Even if your competitors aren’t into the whole “co-opetition” idea, there’s a larger community that cares about what you do.

My friend Jim is an orthopedic surgeon who creates YouTube content about surgical procedures. Other surgeons might (but probably won’t) link to him, because he’s a true competitor — you only get your knee operated on once. (We hope.)

But runners would link to him. Skiers would, too. And sites about staying athletic as you age.

Think about the community of web publishers who have the audience you want. Develop relationships with them. Support each other.

This isn’t, of course, about spamming people you don’t know and begging them for links. It’s about making yourself a valued participant in a larger ecosystem.

One terrific way to build amazing connections (and the links that go with them) is to publish guest content on excellent sites. Try it in a lazy, cheap way and it’s spam. Put the effort in to craft genuinely excellent material that serves their audience (and invites them to come check you out), and it’s a winning strategy.

#7: Keep things organized

Good technical SEOs know all about creating a logical site structure that’s easy for search engines to parse.

As I may have mentioned, I in no way resemble a good technical SEO. Instead, I rely on the Genesis framework and common-sense tags and categories to keep my site properly organized on the back end.

But it pays to keep yourself organized on the front end as well. That means making sure your navigation makes sense for what your site looks like today, not two years ago. It means you take your most valuable content and get it somewhere people can easily find it. And it means you link to your best content often, so your audience naturally continues to find and benefit from it.

#8: Quit being so damned boring

You can do everything “right” for SEO and still get no traction.

Why? Because no one links to you, no one visits your site, and no one recommends your content — it’s too similar to a thousand other sites. It’s boring.

If your niche is incredibly narrow and no one else can write about it, maybe you can get away with boring. Even then, it’s risky.

Be interesting.

#9: Don’t rely (solely) on SEO

And the final SEO tip?

Don’t try to make the search engines your only source of traffic.

Relying on one source of customers for your business is unacceptably risky.

Relying on a monolithic megacorporation as your one source of customers is insane.

Google doesn’t care about your business. Not even a tiny bit. Not even if you give them a lot of money every month for ads.

Make sure there are lots of different ways that potential customers can find you. Keep your eyes open for new opportunities. A platform that was a dud for you last year might offer a lot of promise today. And keep growing your email list, so if you do have a traffic hiccup, you still have a way to reach your most loyal audience.

So … let’s talk search engines

While search engine optimization shouldn’t be the only way you get traffic, it can be an important way for great people to find your site. So this month, we’ll be talking about smart ways to optimize your site for search … without messing up what you’re doing well.

Where are you on the SEO spectrum? Do you enjoy it, maybe even geek out about it, or are you in the eat-a-bug category? Let us know in the comments. :)

Image source: Jill Heyer via Unsplash.

The post The Wise Content Marketer’s Guide to Sensible SEO appeared first on Copyblogger.


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[Podcast] Marketing Land Live #46: Snap’s IPO, YouTube TV and more

In this week’s show, the Marketing Land crew talks about where Snapchat is headed now that its parent company has gone public. We also discuss the video ad implications of YouTube’s new OTT TV offering and what advertisers can do about fake news and hyperpartisan sites on the Google Display Network.

Please visit Marketing Land for the full article.


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Stumped for Growth Ideas? Use Customer Support Data to Drive Revenue

Awful feeling, isn’t it?

You’re struggling to find new opportunities to increase growth this quarter.

But no worries. The solution to your problem is staring you in the face.

Customer support data holds the answer to earning more revenue. It’s an effective tool for identifying gaps in your customer service and uncovering when to upsell in the sales cycle.

“Every support team answers customers. Great support teams use data to discover trends, make the business case for fixing big problems, and improve the customer experience,” writes Simon Ouderkirk, support team lead and happiness engineer at WordPress.com.

Don’t stay in a growth rut. Here’s how customer support data helps the bottom line.

Learn More About Your Buyers

Analytics is useful for understanding your consumers’ behaviors and interests. And with support data, your team can learn what matters the most.

Support tickets reveal the inner thoughts of your customers. Based on their questions, you’ll grasp not only what they need, but also their expectations for your service.

For example, customer support data may show that buyers prefer finding a solution via a knowledge base rather than sending an email and waiting 24 hours for a response. And that’s likely, because 76% of US online adults used FAQs on a company’s website in 2014.

If a knowledge base improves customer success, your team must take action to provide consumers with quality answers to their questions. Create a step-by-step instructional guide or produce short video tutorials to walk them through the process.

Support emails also can tell you more about a customer’s level of frustration regarding a specific issue. In the email below, you’ll notice my direct tone. This message was my fourth interaction with the company in three weeks about the same problem.

shayla-price-fourth-email

Studying customers equips your team to aggressively cater to their needs. Happy customers are more likely to continue purchasing from your brand than disappointed buyers who never got their issues resolved.

Business growth happens when your team is vigilant about customer satisfaction. Using signature happiness ratings in emails is one way to gauge your audience.

happiness-ratings-in-support-emailImage Source

A happiness rating encourages immediate feedback to help you fine-tune your service. Plus, it allows you to connect with customers on a human level.

Strive to learn more about your customers. Support data can lead to satisfied customers.

Identify Critical Issues

Customer support is a practical channel for spotting issues affecting your business systems. Without analyzing the data, you’ll remain stagnant and won’t know how to grow your internal processes.

For instance, how many conversations do you have with your customers every month? The total may indicate consumer growth and the need to hire new team members. Or it may highlight ongoing problems with your product.

Also, what’s your average response time? It’s important to know when customers are receiving replies from your team. A high response time may pinpoint gaps in your support staff’s efficiency. Or it may be an indicator of greater tech issues.

Support data offers relevant information to tweak product features and change your brand messaging. Collecting data helps your predict future behavior and notice shifts in consumer interests.

Analytics is powerful for anticipating when customers may need product assistance. It also gives you insight on when to contact future buyers before they even communicate with your team.

In-app messaging makes it easier for your brand to talk directly with customers. No more guessing how consumers think about your services. Instead, send them a message to gather their insights.

quuu-customer-email

In the example above, the social promotion tool Quuu uses in-app messaging to ask customers questions about a possible change in their service. What’s great is that it doesn’t involve typing out a long answer. Rather, the customer can simply give a thumbs up or a thumbs down.

Customer support data helps your staff detect internal challenges. Conduct your own analysis to improve your revenue growth.

Shape Your Content Resources

Content marketing continues to serve as a strategy to generate brand awareness and funnel qualified leads. However, failing to create the right content might stall potential revenue.

From customer questions and complaints, develop relevant content that addresses buyers’ concerns and offers a solution. It’s not enough to just post a generic blog post on your site, hoping that the audience gets value from it.

Create an editorial workflow that allows your customer success team to provide suggestions for future content. Do consumers need more details about a specific product feature? Are buyers struggling to understand how you compare to a particular competitor?

Content opens the doors to reducing buyers’ fears and quelling any hesitations hindering consumers from purchasing your product. Moreover, during the onboarding process, content reassures customers that they made the right decision.

Wistia provides a catalog of resources for its customers. Their team offers video tutorials on everything about video marketing, from selecting the music to choosing a microphone.

wistia-library

Also, consider updating content that receives a steady flow of traffic. Observe what’s attracting customers to the resource and brainstorm how your team can optimize the experience.

“If you see that one help page is being accessed far more than others, you should strongly consider optimizing that content so that you’re effectively guiding a user through this certain experience or even break the content into additional sections to address more specific issues,” states Kelli Simpson, marketing manager at DataHero.

Data leads to better content, and better content steers the sales funnel in the right direction.

Connect With Customers

Diving deeper into support data is an opportunity to connect with customers. In today’s market, consumers demand brand relationships that aren’t superficial.

Customers desire to build authentic relationships with their favorite brands. And because products are extensions of a buyer’s lifestyle, consumers want to feel comfortable about supporting brands.

Support data exposes what type of relationships consumers prefer. Similar to a friendship, some will only want occasional updates, while others will make an effort to talk to you on a regular basis.

But it all boils down to treating your customer with respect. In the Facebook thread below, notice how the Zappos support agent responds to the customer. The company wants to delight the buyer despite the unfortunate circumstances.

zappos-facebook-comments

Earn brand loyalty by using support data to develop personalized services. Customize the experience at every stage of the sales journey.

Segment your support tickets with specific tags to identify patterns. Then, incorporate that data into your services.

“A crucial part of customer service is being proactive and anticipating what people might need so they can use your product successfully. Would you rather have your customers think of you as a sommelier or a clerk at a quick mart?” says Jim Belosic, CEO and co-founder of ShortStack.

Build a bridge between your brand and the customer, and use data as a guide to strengthen the relationship.

Data to the Rescue

Growth is a priority for your business. To attain your sales goals, focus on customer support data as a solution.

Monitor customer interactions to learn their interests and needs. Use data to spot gaps in your sales cycle, and transform your content resources with customer insight.

Customer support isn’t just for the customer. Take advantage of data to grow your business.

About the Author: Shayla Price lives at the intersection of digital marketing, technology and social responsibility. Connect with her on Twitter @shaylaprice.


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Should you bother rewriting your ads?

Rewriting and testing your ad copy may not be the most glamorous way to improve your paid search campaigns, but columnist Jacob Baadsgaard points out that it can be an incredibly effective way to get more bang from your budget.

Please visit Marketing Land for the full article.


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