Back when I started copywriting for a living, I had to use a phone book to find leads. Cold-calling, 101. I was convincing people that they wanted to bring their businesses to the web: and yes Virginia, it is a conversation that I had back then, daily. I used to have to explain what SEO was, and why it was important. I am Old Man River, like the tired old guy in the pic above.
Luckily for all you young writer pups out there, this is not the case any longer. Work is now simply a screenshot or an email away from you, always.It is pretty wonderful, comparatively.
And work, that was something I once had to explain to potential clients is now more prevalent than ever. Platforms are springing up that all require some form of communication and copywriting to effectively maintain. Blogs, feeds, Press Releases, features, interviews and more await the able scribe of today.
The role and importance of a copywriter in a successful corporate environment may have a slightly different assumption (online proficiency) swaddling it today, but the copywriter has not lost any footing as the years tumble by.
So the question then becomes, how do you find work as a copywriter in today’s climate?
Find The Source
One thing that is the same-same, always, is finding the true source of the work. You need to locate the people who actively hire writers and then try to understand a bit about why they are looking for strength in their ranks.
If you have companies you admire or want to be a part of, these are actually what I consider to be the best targets. A natural passion to be a part of things is easy to see, even from a distance, and can sometimes be the extra juice that carries you into the first client meeting.
But if not a personal target, there are often professional reasons to pursue one type of copywriting more than another. As an example, I personally have a specialty in alternative finance from years of doing it, so I tend to start there. However, I have passion (and experience) in education, SEO, music stuff, and dog-related writing too…so you can see in just a matter of a few minutes, I can narrow down the places where I am aiming. I should be increasing my chances of success as well, as I am going where I am stronger.
You might be surprised at how many larger/successful businesses use freelance copywriting to bolster their efforts. The diversity offered by “proper online application” feels almost limitless. Certainly they hire for specialized pages (like SEO stuff or expertise), but many businesses will also hire for more routine blogposts/site pages. Why? Because their own staff is often overwhelmed with conflicting agendas, so newer things get pushed back – or, maybe they need the spark of a new voice to warm up their cold, tired copy. Maybe they need a professional steering the effort to keep it moving.
There are many reasons why a business might look to outside help to strengthen their efforts. Your job, immediately, is to become an unconscious option for them to consider when it is time to get busy.
I am assuming too, that the area of expertise that you are after is one where you have both work samples and satisfied clients under your belt. These things certainly make it easier to have potential clients perk up on the value of your services – expertise in both a specific niche AND a foundation of better-than-general writing (seeing it as an art form), works together incredibly well.
Target the places/niches where you have shined before, and it is ALWAYS easier to suggest why this is a trend you can replicate. Cherish every connection made; be quick, available, and to the point – you never know when the person you are dealing with becomes the one who needs help or makes a decision on future project specifics.
Keep your communications VERY brief, and right to the point. Understand that the only things folks REALLY want to know, is 1.Are you capable of the work and being self-sufficient, and 2. When will the finished product/next milestone be ready? Not to say clarifying points are not welcomed (they almost always are greatly appreciated), just that the more you understand clients are seeing only the project and associated timeline, the more your communications stay focused on the point.
Who, Exactly Do You Try To Find?
So who actually hires copywriters? Usually, in medium to larger organizations it is the marketing team…but it is not limited there by any means. In one company I worked, we did direct mail, lots of website (company-focused) material, had a bustling Intranet, HR-fodder and a wide range of consumer-focused stuff…yet the marketing department was where most of the creative originated. I soon became the gatekeeper for all corporate messaging – a position I hold in a lot of places I work. Over the years, I have been thru intense legal reviews and have developed an eye for detail that makes me pretty valuable in language control.
If a business is smaller, they won’t have a whole department for marketing, but someone in there will surely be responsible for it. These types of situations are actually easier to find work – though it is usually harder to get long-running contracts out of smaller businesses. They simply don’t have the cash flow and budgeting options you’ll find in a larger place, but they are often more harried and stretched thin, so may be more eager to find writers to help ease the strain and drive the agenda. My personal focus has been more with web developers, so I look in forums and places where multi-site owners seek-out people like me.
I have also seen a trend in the last few years where more businesses are bringing in lower level copywriters and “media kiddies” to handle ongoing efforts. Not unusual for me now to plot out a long range direction and get the first few pages written as a guide – then the business hires someone else to take it over, more cheaply, in-house.This should alert you to the opportunity here – it is real.
For example, in smaller businesses or for the webmasters/web lords I tend to work with, I have been that answer for them in ongoing relationships…remember above, when I suggested becoming the unconscious choice for copywriting needs as they arise? I am that guy for many business owners I know, and though their needs are not always as regular as a larger company, I can be the answer time after time, which all just adds to my own small, but constant stacks.
Once you have targeted a few businesses in the niche(s) where you are experienced, look at the corporate structure of the companies. Many sites have a “Meet the Team” page where you can get a feel for the hierarchy…maybe even get the name of the person you want to reach out to. Look for Creative Directors, Marketing Managers/Directors, and Online/Web Teams. If a company is smaller, you can target the owner – dictatorships in small business are the norm, so one guy will make more of the important decisions.
It’s your job to take the time to make your first impression a solid one…don’t use an email blanket and mass-send it. A template is fine, but modify it to be a specific pitch to the place you are reaching-out to. If you are polite, eager, talented, and experienced, it is pretty hard to go unnoticed. Remember too that people talk, so every relationship is gold, even when all you see is the shaft.
Bring Your Own Party
As media diversifies across many channels, sometimes copywriting gigs today have an additional promotional or audience-generating aspect to it. Meaning, it may not be enough to be able to create something noteworthy: you may also need the skillset, time, audience and/or resources to promote it after it is published.
Personally, I find this a blessing and a curse. I am a ghost writer, so my name has not often been attached to anything I have written. I simply can’t bring an audience with me as so many other writers are able to do. However, I am well versed in promoting content through outreach and other means, so my lack of visibility can become a strength, as I am able to more nimbly and aggressively go after the prize.
If you are in the earlier stages of your career, whether to be a ghost writer or to consciously build your own following is something important to consider. Your ability to create and maintain an audience who listens to your writing can lead you to things where you do not rely as heavily on client work. You often develop a more powerful sway on your own. I have seen this work very well for people – but personally, I have never regretted being a ghost either.I have questioned it occasionally for sure, but over time am remaining very happy where I am going.
It is more of a personal choice these days, whereas I felt it was definitely more strategic for me in the early aughts to be the ghost, the invisible support businesses were seeking. There is a different feeling today, and the web/internet often brings its own levels of celebrity. I have seen shrewd copywriters turn their attained celebrity into personal earning power…it’s up to you. Building a following is not like falling off a log or anything, but passionate voices emerge every day, and a strong message can find followers more easily and quickly than ever before.
The main point being though, assuming you understand how things are shared/promoted online, if you can include that as a value-add or part of the gig itself, it is super attractive to potential clients. Know too, that clients today can see how well something works more clearly than they ever could. Writing projects with no decent measure of success are a thing of the past – analytics and tracking have become adept at seeing the true efficacy of each effort, often in realtime.
Nothing sells success like previous success, or the promise of an engaged audience for every post written. If you have the people or the skills to bring this outreach/connectivity to each project, your perceived value increases greatly over run-of-the-mill copywriters.
I will warn though, see promotion (at least in budget/billing) as a totally separate thing from the copywriting part – because it is. Though tightly related, they really involve 2 different skillsets, and each should be compensated justly. I have done promotional jobs that were tied to outreach success rates – however, I tend to go for jobs that are more black-and-white based on outputs, because it is hard to predict how people will react. Just saying, you don’t want to bundle the services of writing and promotion and not get paid decently for each – they are definitely separate areas of subject matter expertise.
Get Out There
The other main difference between when I started and today, is the ease in getting something self-published. You can start a blog or a website, contribute to someone else’s or offer opinions/catch attention in ways that make my old phone book and a cold call seem archaic, indeed. So maybe the best plan, like it always has been, is to get out there and work.
This blog post is a great example – I don’t write it for people to read it necessarily, I write it because it helps me in some manner to get to my next place. But who knows who sees it, and what they think or do with it – I did my part in getting it out here. And if there are some nuggets to glean, awesome.
More to the point, is I am writing because I like to write – it helps me work for others, to write whatever I want to first. It doesn’t always have to BE something, as much as it has to be.
I came up with an acronym to keep my writers focused: AICHOK. Ass In Chair, Hands On Keys. I consider it like a soup base in cooking – generally makes the rest come easier, and brilliance is perhaps in the offing. You can’t be brilliant if you aren’t typing, and you won’t typically find work either. However, being active and passionate about whatever it is that floats your cakehole, you will often be pleasantly surprised at the results.
I like, and am moving to Web Hosting Buzz for hosting sites of mine, or to answer the needs of my clients.
I have been with Bluehost and others for many years, but am eager to change, and I will tell you why.
When I first got Bluehost, in like 2008, it was much more of an issue then to have the right hosting provider for your sites. As it is now, there are many languages to achieve any specific thing…but these languages, coding and platforms used to fight a lot more back then than they do today. It polarized hosts to be one team or the other. And things like cPanel and even Linux for a while were not universal, like it is today.
So at the time, Bluehost made things I needed simple and cheap…I could get stacked Windows or Linux hosting, with an uncluttered cPanel, and not worry on it to much- so I did.
I financed it, by becoming an affiliated sales rep- I sold it, as soon as I embarked. My first sales paved my way for years-of-hosting, and it continued to pay for itself, and a little more.
I truly liked it for a while, too – it was a clean, quick host, uncluttered.
Yet over time, the things I liked about Bluehost were replaced by examples of corporate bloat. The service and support I liked on entering, were eventually melted into a 3rd world, phone-it-in kind of thing, every time. Got to where I always knew more than the support person, which sucked.
As they grew bigger, their customer support became weaker overall but it was always kind of nebulous… you might find great help or nothing- no telling which-and all of it took more time to deliver in the years progressing, every time I had to tap support for anything.
I was also experiencing some technical issues, like slow speeds, hacked sites, and down time – none of it explained to me. Ever. No central feeling here, whatsoever- every call was a new walk in the park. There was even a day when all of my sites went down for about 5 hours with only a very feeble explanation as to why.
Things were getting pretty nutty out there, but I had questions about what was happening in hosting and only one guy was constant, always, with the goods- a guy in a forum I knew named Matt Russell.
Every time there was a burble in hosting services, Matt (who runs Web Hosting Buzz, as well as Namecheap and god knows what else) would tell us all (in the forum) what happened- while Bluehost remained mute. Remember when I mentioned where all my sites in there went down for about a half day, and I was freaked? Matt privately said to me what was happening, and after a short time, it proved exactly true. Did not fix it, or assuage my freaking out then (they had to fix the servers), but it helped knowing why, and I even emailed Bluehost to fix it…and it made me realize I was getting the shaft in my hosting…I was a number to Bluehost. Everyone is.
I wanted service that was smart and dependable- like what Matt always offered. Like what I used to get from Bluehost, but saw less and less of as time went by.
I think Bluehost SUCKS.
I started moving things over to Web Hosting Buzz, and I will actively support them as my new and improved hosting option.
Immediately, the interface is SOOOOO much faster, and uncluttered by sales pitches. I also had a support thing already (I signed up like an idiot) and they answered me within an hour, and solved it for me, immediately. They also offer a service – free – to move over cPanel accounts.
Let that sink in.
Yep – they will move all your Bluehost sites out, free.
I have a bunch in Bluehost, so I am going to take them up on it. [LATER NOTE: did, it was amazing…so nice for a host to offer this-ml]
I will round out any obligations to Bluehost without seeking refunds, but I am not impressed by what growth did to a company I liked. I no longer like Bluehost, and will stop offering it as a reliable, cheap option.It may be these things for other folks, but to me, it has been a cheapie-PIA, that always seems to get worse. I quit, as an affiliate.
My needs, though kind of demanding at times, are small. I am willing to put my money on the fact a guy like Matt only does business one way…I think his company answers my needs much better than Bluehost has been doing in the last 3 years or so. Absolutely held true so far.
Web Hosting Buzz is a reliable, trustworthy and safe host, fast and easy to work with. Cheap, too. Their support rules so far.
I felt for a long time, griping was not the thing to do – either do it, or change it. But I had prepaid for 5 years at Bluehost, so was simply letting it be.
I don’t like Bluehost anymore though, not at all, and I want professional distance. In the past couple weeks, an issue occurred where automatic updates to WP installs (which is a preset in most updated sites) had a conflict with a folder permission default, so it whitescreened the sites. I had 6 of them go – but by the 3rd one, I started doing a quick update, which turned out to fix it every time. It took me hours – and I mean hours – on the phone with BH support finding the issue, and fixing it in one site – and it was me who suggested the fix. The tech was simply doing his job, but he didn’t have enough in the toolkit to help me. I helped him instead- and that is silly.
I also had a site that was having issues, so I logged into the cPanel to see what I could see – and the files literally started to disappear on me…until the entire site was gone. We (me and 2 support techs) fished a copy off a mirrored backup, but I never saw anything like that in all the years I have hosted sites. No explanation, apology or otherwise- but I spent good hours fixing that mess which turned out to be 100% on them.
Just shaky service, overdone sales pitches, and all kinds of crap I don’t want to sidestep every time I admin my accounts.
Conversely, Web Hosting Buzz seems to be a great fit—all of the service and scale-ready technology I want, at a price point I can readily afford. Love it, so far.
[NOTE: Later add: loving WHB, still, months later. -ml]
Been a while since I have talked about how to find good copywriting gigs- be they for SEO or otherwise. But of late, I have been talking with writers emerging into it all – all the splendor and the glory – so thought I would do a post to be more of a conceptual overview of finding work…how to think about and approach it.
Assumptions here for proper perspective, do include that you are not pursuing writing in a part-time or full-time position in a specific place: you are approaching it from a more standard issue freelancing POV. I may do another post later, about the benefits of going in-house…because different times of your life may find different things attracting you one way or the other. Today though, we are focusing on independent freelancing.
So let’s just dive right in, shall we?
Step One: Identify the Work, and Your Own Power To It
This one, is really dependent on where you are in your career. Much more important to you when you are just starting out- but certainly something that you will consider multiple times as you march through the perpetual madness of professional copywriting. You need to target a type of writing, and see why you have power to bring it.
If there is a specific type of writing or a niche in which you are prolific, this makes the most natural and reasonable starting point. You have to be reasonable – if your passion is model airplanes, it is going to have a smaller range of professional options than if you are into women’s fashions or marketing. But passion always drives a tough bargain, in most areas…don’t discount your own power through passion.
Maybe you have a few years experience in shipping, or customer service and can write about it – or spent some time in a restaurant (much more common). In any case, you can use most any kind of experience and flip it into a more powerful position to find writing gigs. Since I spent a number of years in restaurants, we’ll use that one here as our example du jour.
Let’s say, you worked in a restaurant for 8 years- both back and front of the house. Then you went to school and started writing. Or maybe you got a degree in English, or had a knack for writing and the degree never quite panned out, so you went to restaurant work, and just stayed there. In either case you are emerging with no true experience (but talent and training) as a writer, and lots of relevant industry experience in restaurants and hospitality work.
To find reasonable work then, you are not going to focus on the weak point, being your lack of pro writing experience…you are going to build more on your strengths as a knowledgeable industry insider and ability to weave the power of professional writing under it. You offer perspective the audience will see immediately, but your voice is better trained to communicate than most. So build up the portfolio while also getting more entrenched in your niche.
Staying reasonable, means knowing the potential of your reach. The well established, leading voices in the industry are not going to listen to you (as a rookie), unless you have something truly remarkable to share. That is really, really rare- and not something you plan for or can build upon. So maybe consider it a long term goal for reaching the top dogs- and never any harm in thinking like that, but do properly count the eggs you are putting into that basket. You should not expect to jump into a field and be at the top of it simply because you have industry experiences.
Yet the restaurant industry has so many diverse parts to it and it offers a very rich and thriving community both online and offline. Sticking to the example: if you have the restaurant experience and drive/skill to write about, find the places where people are publishing about restaurant issues. Right? Simple stuff.
It might be wine service, pairing foods and beverages, managing liquor costs, handling drunk clientele, hiring wait staff, doing fun promotions, menu planning, scheduling – there are a wide range of options for you to explore, and use as search queries. It would start with your own expertise or desires, and be loose enough to follow the paths illuminated by your queries. Refine, rinse and repeat.
By the time you go through this kind of free-thinking research a couple times, you will tend to find a direction coming out in your notes if it was still murky to you. And of course, you should be writing daily – if you want to get paid for it, you’d better start doing it.
Step Two: Identify the Places and Faces Publishing Work, and Buzzing
Knowing we are looking to write about our restaurant experience, we find the publications, websites, forums, online groups and anything else where they are talking about the things that interest us and allow the expertise to shine. Keep track of it- use something online, even as simple as a text file or spread sheet, where you can keep URLs, links and other notes of the community research.
In addition to finding the specific places where restaurant experts are discussing pertinent issues, we will find certain folks who are sparking discussions in certain parts of the topics- idea leaders, typically with passionate followers. Plug in to the ones that make sense here- start becoming more active within the community in which you hope to become a writer. Follow them. Key idea here, is to go out softly…and carefully, and truly add to the discussions. Become a part of the groups where you feel comfortable and can add value.
While you are gently but affirmatively participating within your communities, you are going to be able to see and follow (through links and referrals) different folks within them. Here are the seeds of networking- and getting your work out there. If someone has a great share, go see what they do in their own world- chances are good, you will find more things you like. Not always of course, but it can open up more diverse and active thinking in your subject matter.
The important thing is to not go after the top folks and push your pieces on them and ask for review – they get that a lot, and don’t pay any attention to folks who present their work that way, believe me. I have seen it- and it is sad, because the writer always has an earnest heart: just no experience. I did the same thing to Joyce Carol Oates once- she sent me a very nice postcard, and I learned not to do that again. You can nip it sooner than I did, haha.
Better is to study them- see how they interact, how they communicate and work- and why they are leaders. Emulate them, don’t inundate them. Don’t force your art on someone. Put your work out there for sure: but let them find it, not be backed into evaluating it on-the-spot. The top folks will see anything in their niche, so you simply need to make it good enough to be better than most all of it, and the rest often handles itself. They will tend to come to you, if you write right.
While you are studying the top, and long term planning the reach of it, you need to keep busy. Plus, you need to be building up that portfolio, so when the top dogs do turn to look at you there is something there for them to see. We’ll assume you have a bunch of written stuff, and are looking to get it placed. We’ll also assume you have a little site with some samples or ways to get work in front of clients, and booked – because a freelancer needs that.
The type of work you are submitting and trying to get published matters a good bit here. Online work is much different than offline stuff and the folks who process it are typically different in the marketing department, depending on the size of the business. Let’s say you want to start blogging about restaurant work, but get paid to do it.
The target now, narrows further and you find the blogs and forums and websites chattering away about it all. You may even already be involved in some of them as your gentle community-joining outreach continues, but now, you begin to seek out the places where a LOT of work and a LOT of writers seem to be cycling.
As an example, I went to Google and typed in “Restaurant industry” and got a few good ideas in the first page alone. The NRA is an association of restaurant professionals – thru its site, you could find paths to more, similar minded sites and writers for sure. Or, aim at the NRA – they are a huge organization, and there are many places they will be needing fresh content and ideas. It may not be a place a rookie finds an easy in, but it likely depends on where you are trying to get in there. FohBoh was up there too, and had a ton of featured blogposts about all kinds of industry topics.
Let’s say that is not turning up what you want- add “blogs” to your query to refine the results, and boom – lots more to look at, and evaluate. You now find individual blogs in addition to more organizations – so the rest should be a matter of trial and error to find great, active places to target.
Step Three: Join In the Conversations
OK- now you have a variety of industry-related places where people like you get things published. By people like you, I refer to someone with the experience and training necessary to be considered – just because you WANT to write, is not enough reason for them to ALLOW you to write for them. Not for the better targets, anyway. You are better than that; you are above the rabble.
But start paying attention to your thought leaders, and watch how they are presenting ideas. See which of them have sparks that ignite deeper discussions. Join in when appropriate, and comment- but again, be wise here and add depth and meaning to the discussions. If you have nothing to add, just read.
In many places, the commentors actually have wonderful insights, and get their own traction from being a part of it all. I can speak to that from personal experience- I have both followed folks and had folks come to me, due to comments somewhere. Very, very powerful thing if you are not abusive with it. I think most of the folks I respect today, I found thru a comment somewhere. Or rather, a bunch of comments that helped illustrate deeper things they believed.
If you have a site, which as we said for an aspiring freelancer is not really an option, you can link to it in your comments. If you are adding value, people will follow the links, and look at your site. This makes a very subtle way to bring prospective clients to you- organically, as it should be. You are not actively trying to get the clients, per se, rather, you are simply being involved, honestly, in the discussions in the industry. If you have a strong voice and solid opinions you will be noticed much in the same way you are noticing others.
Granted, a passive approach like that may not be getting you work though, at least not right away, and this is in fact the goal. So you again, just count the eggs you put here, in this one basket. It is one strategy and pretty passive, but not the only effort you are gonna do.
Dig a little deeper on the sites where you are finding the best conversations and activity. Find out more about them and their editorial policies. Many times, there is a page or some content dedicated to explaining how they handle outside submissions, sometimes there is simply a contact form- sometimes there is only an organizational chart and you have to do a little sleuthing to figure it out.
You can often reach out to the successful leaders in the niche too, and ask them for any tips. If you are not an oaf, this can be very effective, depending on the people leading your niche. Simple rules of etiquette include to respect people’s time, and be to the point. They don’t have to give you any help, so don’t act like they owe you and you will find most people respond very favorably to being asked how they did something well.
Rinse and Repeat
The idea now, is to be landing some exposure on one or more of the sites you found, so your own voice can start to ring out more. Your activity and comments should have seeded the clouds well, and if not, then a more direct approach in the content of the site (not the comments) helps it to rain.
I would not look at this task as one where you are seeking the paid part of writing as your only goal. More, this is the means to find exposure, and bring new and interested people to your work, which is actually showcased better on your own site. You simply want to be heard, and put forth your ability to write/blog well about related topics. Your site holds the page(s) with the pitch so you don’t need to worry about having it in your work, which should be standing on its own merits.
This kind of interaction then, will simply continue for you- you will be putting out pieces showing your experience and insight, and have a site of your own to present work options to new clients.
I am not going to sugar coat it: these earliest times are financially tough. But you are building up your portfolio, increasing your trust and visibility in a niche so be reasonable. If you want to get paid to blog about restaurant issues, you have to prove you can do it before anyone will offer you compensation for the efforts.
However it is not all bleak, either. If you are entering a niche for which you have a true passion, your ability to write about it is a natural extension of your passion. Putting a saddle on that, is not always easy but if you persevere, and keep on writing it can work out for you for sure. I see it happen all the time.
Writing is about communicating, so if you want to do it for a living you have to get involved in it and build up experiences. The first ones may not pay much if anything, but they have a purpose because no client likes to be the first one you have. Showing them (not telling them) how you have worked in the past, helps you show your value and helps you hammer the keys for cash more often.
In SEO, one of the awesome things that happens is you connect to users who come in with many different queries. As your site grows and matures, it becomes a good answer for more of these kind of things, and you see that incoming searches start connecting things in ways you may not have intended, but might be very valuable. The long tail is, and always was a pretty fat place to be, if you saw it the right way.
However, in the past year or so, it has become increasingly more difficult to get an accurate read on the long tail activity coming in from Google. A big part of it, is the (not provided) keyphrases inching up in the percentage it holds – to now, where I see it over 75% on some of the sites I track. In one site, 35% of my incoming organic leads were behind (not provided). This means, I can see what they did once in my site, but I have no true read on how they entered, or why. Makes it harder to replicate.
Or does it?
Many SEOs are talking about the Hummingbird update, or the latest roll-out dates for the critter updates. But the way people are searching and the way we are collecting the data is changing completely: which is bound to affect the way lots of people build and promote websites.
One thing that we are mid-thigh in, is a switch from the desktop to the handheld device. This is not anyone’s doing – it is a general move, as handheld get better, and more capable. But with this added mobility, and different presentation it might suggest, the queries people enter in are going to be smaller, and shorter. This is very significant to SEOs – for with less words to determine true meaning, Google is doing the thinking, and the connections for the user – they have to.
Hints of it were here years ago, as Google Suggest started offering to complete your idea for you. And as more data was collected, the ability to display things using a less direct keyword correlation grew. The long tail started to vanish, both from the analytic data we received and from the incoming queries themselves, as a larger and growing subsection of visits originate in a handheld.
So strategies in SEO of the past, to mine your analytics to see what people wanted, is going to be different than it was, because there is less data offered to sift.
What does this mean to you then, as you look to try to get ahead? Do you aim higher, and attempt to get into the bigger, more competitive areas?
I don’t think the answers should be necessarily clear yet, though your direction should be.
Contextual Depth FTW
The direction to take your content development is no different than it was for the last however many years you have been doing this. The unsupported page barfing was slowed by Panda, and the tiny site propped by links stalled by Penguin. So depth is not being measured in the old, blocky kind of ways – mechanical (algorithmic) things are not going to be as effective, certainly not long-term, more than not.
I was taught early on, write for the eyeballs, tweak it to the engines. I don’t see that has changed at all.
I was very adept at taking an analytics profile and mining it to find content ideas-and though it is a bit harder in most sites because of the increased obfuscation of data from the ‘Plex, it still works. However, I am much less likely to go there now for inspiration like I did before – -I am much more prone to go to outside sites, and develop ideas based on what I see in the interactions of potential audiences. As the data became harder to track in my own site, I allowed the source of it to go elsewhere to give me the same direction.
Contextual depth is going to include long tail combinations. It doesn’t matter what they tell you – they are there when a page is created the right way. So even if you can’t base the creation/edits on actual incoming keyphrase data, the contextual depth of something does not have anything to do with Google, so who cares what they are telling you? Or not?
I think the tail is still there, but it is different than it was, seen from any angle: searchers type in less, engines do more and offer less, and our own sites are trimmed more than they may have been in the past…at least created more intentionally aware of NOT stringing out thin stuff. It’s complicated, but it has some very basic principles behind it…bedrock ideas that have not changed no matter what is happening out there in La-La land.
The direction in the future, is people will be typing less to find things and Google will be filling in the blanks for them the best they can. How you become the landing pad for these queries, is the same as it ever was in many ways: you simply write for audience connection, search stability and visibility, and increased contextual depth. This is still a safe formula- it simply won’t return such a rich spread sheet to you when it is all said and done.
The recent updates to Google make it silly. All of it.
But then again, it was silly before the last update – and pretty giggly before that, too.
You can call it inbound marketing, and try to distance your brand from SEO- the very thing that made it bankable. Stranger things keep happening.
But the end of the day sees it the same way – just old, same old: SE fricking O.
Search engine optimization.
It means, you make your site visible, and able to grab all it can before it gets blinked out in the next iteration of relevancy.
It means, you trust in conversions, not anything else, because lies prevail.
It means you define it as YOU define it: not shift, sway or paddle on public opinion…you lead opinions or do your best to ignore their effect.
It means, you optimize what they see, in terms of connecting potential search phrases to existing web content.
Or at least it did, when it mattered.
Not sure what it means, when the results you see, are shit, and where you click is not necessarily where you go.
I can’t teach you to be the lone kernel of corn in every pile of turds. But evidently Google can…it appears to be how they consider SEO.
In many ways, SEO copywriting is much like any old kind of copywriting. It is nuanced by more strategy perhaps, but in a lot of ways, you need it to work the same way you need any page to work for you. This creates some constants that will be in play no matter what happens to the algorithm, or what critter is next unleashed from the GoogleZoo.
The following are five things I find will make most any SEO copywriting effort more successful:
- Titles: Titles have SEO value, and really, so much more. Making them lopsided toward a search engine means you miss out on the one thing most people will read…and if you catch their attention, you win. Tickle ’em, kiss ’em, call ’em out on something – but use your title to pull in the reader as much as a search engine, and it will tend to do both for you anyway. Weaker pages might rely more on the power of a well crafted title, so write better pages and allow yourself the creative latitude to engage. Take full advantage of the fact you can have a page title, then an H1 – Google will use either as they see fit, based on the query. Strategy here is feather light and requires balance but this is a balance crucial to your success.
- Synonyms, and related themes: One of the main problems in SEO copywriting gone wrong, is hammering keywords to death. Maybe if you draft it like that, fine – but come back during the editing, and swap out some synonyms, and blend in related ideas. The semantic abilities of search engines to connect meaning, no matter how hamfisted they may be describing what meaning is, is still improving every year. So they don’t need you to repeat one word 30 or 40 times to understand the connection: baby’s all grown up. Spread your vocabulary’s wings and delve a bit deeper than the surface ideas of an idea.
- Bullets and lists: There are two good reasons to use lists/bullets: 1) breaks up the text, making it scan-able (the eyes can breathe for a minute) 2)pulls out details so the reader can skip thru it. Readers love bullets and lists and always will. As a copywriter, proper use of lists and bullets is a skill you develop and definitely improve on over time. You learn how to make them more effective simply in the way you present them and how you determine to use them. The skills for good bullets aren’t hard to learn – consider it simplifying concepts, consistently. Note how the bullets in this list are all going to be about the same length – that is an example of an intentional writing strategy for lists.
- Subheads: Subheadings are a lot like bullets, in the way they give the reader pause. They can be used to dramatic effect or as a great way to shift gears in the way you are writing. Say you want to move from one topic to the next, and a subheading is going to be the easiest, and generally the best way to do it. I tend to use them, knowing a lot of readers want to only look at these and only scan the rest of my babbling. If you have targeted keywords (kind of the point in SEO copywriting), subheads are a great places for variations or synonyms to be used. H2, H3, H4 tags and so on might have slightly more value than body text, and synonyms and variants increase your conceptual reach.
- Fire in the belly: Passion is really hard to fake. But the good thing is a passionate voice is forgiven misspellings, grammatical errors, vernacular and slang use and all kinds of things we’ve been well-trained to not do. A fire in the belly allows you to create messages that make people care: they love you, hate you, support and fight you. But when you take a stand it is hard for a reader to not react from their own guts – maybe guts have some kind of telepathic quality that is fired up by a well written page. Who knows. But engagement does not happen because you padded or even researched keywords and it is not established by your word count. It happens when you connect to a readers needs, and answer. This point should have been first, because all others pale when compared.
So there you go – it doesn’t matter what Google wants to do, these 5 things are still likely to work for you, because they did long before Google was in there calling the shots.
Tips and tricks to stay in the search engines are the very same things that get you in trouble eventually. SEO copywriting is not about the latest and greatest loopholes to exploit, it is about creating content that works today and (hopefully) tomorrow because it is not answering the needs of an always fussy and petulant algorithm; instead, it speaks to higher things in better ways…answering the needs of READERS.
Same old song, I know, but always worth repeating. 😉