Lions and Tigers and Bears and Guest Posts…oh MY!

Fear is a natural thing. It often keeps you safe. However, unnecessary fear can be stifling – which is sad, because it is unnecessary. And in today’s very interesting SEO landscape, fear is making decisions for many people every day.

It is not their fault – fear is coming from above. FUD – fear uncertainty and doubt – are tools used by leaders to manipulate the masses. I can think of few such fine examples of FUD as the effect of one blog post last week, from Matt Cutts, head of Google’s anti-spam crusaders.lions-tigers-bears-guest-posts

Mr. Cutts says if you are using guest posts as an SEO strategy, stop it. Which is what he should say, given his position. He says:

“So stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it’s just gotten too spammy. In general I wouldn’t recommend accepting a guest blog post unless you are willing to vouch for someone personally or know them well. Likewise, I wouldn’t recommend relying on guest posting, guest blogging sites, or guest blogging SEO as a linkbuilding strategy.”

Is he saying it doesn’t work? Or are we filling in that blank for him, using all the fear uncertainty and doubt caused by the implications of his statement?

And if we are doing the latter, how many times has it been the case over the last few years of incredible changes from Google?

Don’t Get all FUD’d Up Over Nothing/Everything

This reminds me a lot of the meaningless question of whether you wear a white or black hat, whether you are a good witch or a bad one. Which is another distinction that has little to no bearing on whether or not you are actually being successful online.

It also reminds me of witch hunts, of pure panic, and of babies in pure crytsalline bathwater sailing over white picket fences. Nothing good.

Personally, Matt’s edict does little to nothing to anything I will do for any one of my clients- I will still use guest posts as often as I ever have in the strategy of promoting a site. I am not blasting guest posts out of a firehose – that is not a strategy my clients have ever had in place. So the edict from on high does not affect me, that way.

What I do see happening though, is it will be increasingly more difficult for guest posts to be accepted. FUD will make webmasters scared that accepting a guest post is gonna anchor them down – or worse. That is, if they care, and are listening to what Google is dictating these days. Many webmasters don’t pay any attention at all to the statements from the ‘Plex – they are too busy, or don’t depend on organic to support them.

And bulk work will be a thing of the past.

Mostly is, and has been anyway: but this FUD should twist the knife just enough to stop the twitching.

What Is Really Happening?

Google just can’t keep up.

The web is growing so quickly, it seems sometimes like they are much stronger at the ‘Plex than they really are. Maybe a lot more than sometimes.

The whole thing with disavow and that nonsense, is you are helping Google sort out what they alone, caused. So each time you do this, you are kneeling to Google and helping them to clean up a mess that they continue to earn from…while they simultaneously make it increasingly harder for you to do likewise.

And so, just stop it.

But don’t take my word for it- 2 of my favorite bloggers ever have chimed in, and say it really well. Rae Hoffman, in a Rant from Bitchland, has a brilliant take on Google Propaganda – and my good buddy Aaron Wall had a blisteringly complete article on disavow and what it truly means. As long as you are on SEOBook, stop over and read Peter DaVanzo’s great post too, on properly measuring business benefits. (I swear, I wrote this before reading those!)

The Algorithm Is Fallible: Google Gets Lots of Things Completely Wrong

But case in point? Let’s say you are a business owner, pretty ignorant  of anything of this nature, but are looking for some good web writing to add to your efforts. You want to follow best practices, so want to find a professional to help you (you are a business owner, not a copywriter, right?).  You go to Google, type in “Web writing services” and look what Google says is the most important site on the web for that phrase – Fiverr, where you can be assured your $5 is buying only the finest web writing:

Web writing in Google

So before you go flying off into Webmaster Tools, and start maniacally disconnecting your site from everything on the web, maybe you should ask yourself: isn’t there something more productive you can be doing? Like writing a great guest post to increase visibility in your industry?

Oh wait…

Where’s the Long Tail?

long tail of SEOIn 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?

(not provided)

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.

 

Interview with S.R. Johannes

SR JohannesI have been lucky in my travels to come across some great writers to work and talk with. One of them I have known both personally and professionally is the author S.R. Johannes – or as I know her, Shelli.

Shelli and I go back a long time – though we don’t see too much of each other any more. In the decade or so that I have known her, she has worked on some projects with me and was a fabulous writer who was always dependable. However, doing the corprate stuff was not her goal, and she was busy working on her own fiction as well as bringing up her 2 beautiful kids.

SR Johannes is now an award winning author, always receiving high accolades from multiple sources about her work. But more importantly, her audience LOVES them even more, and it is an audience that just continues to grow – her Nature of Grace series has rabid fans singing her praises and clamoring for more. They can’t seem to get enough of spunky character Grace Wells and all she encounters…allowing Shelli to create two more thrilling installments after her popular first offering hit the streets in 2011.

So You Want to be a Writer?

As a proud KSU alum, I get asked by writing classes every year to shed some light on what it means to be a writer, to me. Dr. Margaret Walters has a great class over there that opens up budding young minds to new possibilities, and interviewing a writer is part of it. I am always happy to help – the students are wonderful.

At the beginning of this year, I approached Shelli and a couple other friends who wrote in different ways, looking to create a series of interviews called So You Want to be a Writer? and addressing some common questions I hear from the KSU students. It is meant to look at some of the ideas we have as students about what it is to be a writer, compared to the actual nuts-and-bolts of the daily grind once you “arrive” (if anyone ever does) – sweat stains and all.

While my whole project idea may not have had enough steam behind it to keep going, Shelli’s answers were great, and it was a shame to be sitting in my desktop, unseen…so here you go. Dedicated to the ongoing classes of Dr. Margaret Walters at Kennesaw State University and the interviews they do – keep them at it, Margaret!

HUGE thanks for Shelli’s patience and candid answers, and apologies it did not get out here sooner…I am indebted to her once again. 🙂

———————

At what point did you determine you had a knack for writing?

I always wrote when I was little. Poems and short stories. I won a writing contest in Elementary school. But as I moved into high school, I stopped. For reasons unknown. I think business was pushed more than the arts.

Since I got a degree in marketing – I’ve always done business writing in creative ways. Ads, employee newsletters, etc. But in 2004 when my daughter was born, I read Harry Potter and got inspired to write a Fairy series. got great feedback from editors and agents but no one ever picked up the book. I knew then I could write and I’ve been writing ever since.

Who encouraged you? How?Untraceable by SR Johannes

At first, editors and agents gave me feedback around “this story stinks but you can really write.” Then, writing buddies and critique partners. Of course my family was very supportive as well, helping me find time to write.

Who discouraged you and how? How did you overcome this?

Editors and agents are discouraging in general when they give rejections. You just have to know rejections – many of them – are natural for most authors. Learn from them and don’t take it personally. Also know you are one person away from a yes. This business is subjective. It took me until my first book come out until I realized that I was good enough. That my book was good enough to sell. Before that , I took their words and criticisms as law.  Keep in mind – agents and editors are always focused on what sells big. Not necessarily quality first.

What were important turning points or milestones for you, mentally or otherwise, once you decided to pursue writing more directly?

When I got an agent, I knew I was good enough to publish. Unfortunately I didn’t sell with that agent and left her. But you get nuggets of inspiration and encouragement along the way. You have to look for them though. For example: a personal note from an editor is encouraging. A fan letter from a teen saying how much she connected to your book. A writer contacting you about how much you inspire them. Or a winning a contest/award unexpectedly.

Did you go to college for writing? If so, did it help? Did it slow you down at all?

No. But I study craft by reading books, getting critiques, attending conferences and workshops. There are several writing groups SCBWI is for children book writers, Thrillerfest is for thriller writers, and RWA is for romance writers . There are groups for any genre – get involved and learn. In Georgia, there is the Atlanta writers club and the Georgia writers association.

Did you hold any writing-related jobs? Do you today?

I have a marketing degree and worked in corporate America. So I have always been a copywriter and kept busy writing even if it was business writing. I still do that now as I do fiction writing on the side.

How long did you work on your first published book? Were there others before it?

I started in 2004 and wrote a middle grade at 100,000 words. That book didn’t sell. For Untraceable which is my first published book it took 3 years. That book went through so many revisions, I think I technically wrote about 3 different books during that time.

How much of your book was complete when you started seeking someone to help publish/promote it?

All of it. Publishers and agents wont look at partial books or outlines. You need to write the book to sell it.

How many different publishers did you appeal to?

Many – I could not even count. I queried anyone who seemed like a good fit – agents or editors. Use the writers market guide to find publishing houses, editor names, and what they are looking for. You can use agentquery.com and querytracker.com to search for an agent by genre.

Were there a great number of rejections to get through? If so, how did you stay motivated?

TONS. I probably have over 150 rejection letters. You have to look for the personal rejections and hope the rejections give you feedback. If they are generic- you need to go back to square one – something is wrong. If they are personal, that means you have something special but something is missing. Use the rejections as learning tools on how to fix your manuscript. And again, know every author gets rejections. Even Stephanie Meyer (Twilight) received many rejections. After her book was bough for 6 figures, she got a rejection in the mail saying it sucked.

What made you choose the publisher that you did?

After years of trying to get published, I decided to self publish. I researched online and bought books on self publishing and marketing. Self publishing is HARD and a lot of work. But at the time it was the right decision for me. I would not recommend it for everyone and I won’t do it for every book.

Did you have another job while working on your book? Do you have another job now? If so, how easy or hard is (was) it to balance both work schedules? (share any tips for staying on track)

Yes never quit your day job until money comes in regularly. You can be on top one month and then get nothing for a period of time.

Was the editing process what you had imagined it to be?

Editing is hard. My book has gone through many rounds of edits from beginning to end. And it sucks every time I have to revise. After I write a first draft, I send it to my critique partners. Once they read it, I revise it and send it to a few more. Usually in the traditional publishing process – agents and editors also provide edits. IN self publishing, I hired editors for content and copyediting.. So expect edits. They are a part of the process.

How much do you feel outside editors influenced the finished work?

I would say 20%. You have to know when to listen and when to follow your gut. I can’t explain it but I know when I see a comment if it fits or not. I don’t get upset at criticism and I don’t take it personally. I think that is hard for most writers.

How long did it take from the time you had a publisher, to the time you had a finished manuscript? Is there anything you suggest as a way for others to make this time spent more efficient or less stressful?

Manuscripts should be done when they get bought. But the editorial process can take 6 months to a year. Waiting for long periods of time when nothing is happening is part of this business and it sucks. Just write something new to keep your mind off it.

Did you have input into the cover art and jacket design?

Yes but I’m self-published. I chose my cover designer and had input into the book. The concept was all mine and exactly what I pictured. Most authors do not have any input unless it is James Patterson.

What was the moment that you finally said to yourself, “This is a finished book, written by me.”

When I saw it on the shelf! 😛

Was there any promotion of the book on its release?

Yes, tons. Mostly online. Blog tours, online ads, contests/awards, reviews etc.

How was/is it being promoted after the fact? How much do you find you are promoting it personally?

All the time. I do marketing every day. Whether it is social networking, guesting on a blog, price changes, talking to readers, setting up signings. Etc. I don’t think you do as much marketing as a traditional author.

How many books have sold to-date?

Maybe about 20,000

Are you receiving a significant part of the earnings? Is there a break-even point? What constitutes a measure of success beyond the sheer number of books sold?

Yes. But again, I’m self-published so I get 70% of everything. In traditional publishing, you get royalties on sales and an advance but it is all dependent on the publisher. There is no magic number. It depends on what the book sells for and how many you sell.

Has the process been what you expected or how/where has it varied?

Harder. Self publishing is hard. It is a one man show. I wasn’t ever expecting this side of publishing. I spend a lot of time marketing and less time writing that I wanted.

Are you writing a book right now? What lessons from the first experience are consciously in play?

Yes, I’m always writing books – I’m an author. 🙂  My lesson, is to just write and know everyone’s  path is different. I have to focus on my own paper and not worry what everyone else is doing. My lesson is to just write.

Do you look at writing the same way you did before publishing?

No I didn’t know how hard it was to get published. I just thought you wrote a book and someone bought it and put it on a shelf. But now I know it’s possible to do it so I focus on that by writing daily.

Is it time to quit the day job yet – or when does that finally happen?

When I make enough a month on a consistent basis to do only writing. My goal is by 2014. 🙂

Something tells me, going into fiction full time in 2014 won’t be much of a problem for SR Johannes.

My thanks to Shelli, and my wishes for a long and happy career doing what she does best.

Be sure to visit and catch-up with the author SR Johannes socially, and on the web:

Rest In Peace, Tedster

Just wanted to offer my condolences regarding the passing of a true SEO heavyweight – tedster (Warren “Ted” Ulle) passed away last week, with family nearby.

I am not a frequent flyer over at webmasterworld any more, and never crept from the shadows when I was in there, but there were certainly times throughout my years doing this where I was referencing something in there, or comparing my ideas to the ones shared in places like that. Tedster’s opinions were always the kind of comments you would pay a little extra attention to – not that you had to agree with him, but simply that the man obviously knew what he was commenting on, and had insights worth sharing.

It is obvious by the outpouring of messages continuing to flow into the announcement on WMW that this was an unexpected, and awful thing for the SEO community, and the world in general.

I personally, did not know tedster, but that is simply because I never reached out to him directly, from what I see. Every message there referring to him, comments on the time, the patience and the guidance he willingly offered to those in need – always. It was how he was seen, because it was how he behaved.

Again, though my personal experiences did not include any time with tedster directly, I definitely paid attention to his comments, and listened to what he had to say. I do know what the SEO community is losing with his passing, and offer my condolences to his family and many many friends…cheers, tedster: thank you.

The Big Pretend

We learn, growing up, that there is truth.

It is what helps bond together family               community                  societies                                              and more –

but it was carved from the idea that we had to and effortlessly could, fit into a collective single answer.

Unity: A socialized myth, ever-struggling for incarnation.

Truth is often a lumpy circle. Pushed back and forth in playful games, it hides, grows, or shrinks from you.

Truth grabs compassion and lies to you, by convincing you that all ideas matter. It’s all good.

I am getting older now, and only ask you to please release me from the big pretend.

Most ideas are shit. We simply spend too much time politely ignoring this fact.

It certainly doesn’t mean to stop encouraging ideas – it means: edit.

Truth hides as pearls within the piles of our roughest drafts.

But there is no singular truth that will bond us all –

And yet, you still have plenty of time

To search, and to fail for truth

and to finally find

You

 

10 Years of Web Writing

I’ve been lucky enough to stay busy doing corporate web writing for over ten years. I started SEO focused writing in 2002, and have been able to see it change over the years due to what Google wants.

You could argue that Google always want the same thing: quality. I think that is too broad a stroke hiding behind too blindingly white of a hat. Don’t drink the kool-aid – it’s spoiled.

My client base has been pretty diverse during the last decade so I have seen what works in different niches and talked to others every step of the way, too. We all usually agree, ranking is simply not that easy and hasn’t been for years – the best sites don’t just rise to the top. And quality is much too cerebral of a concept for an algorithm anyway…it’s a large part of why they relied so heavily on links.

It made me start considering what Google’s influence has done to the niche industry it pretty much created…the one I have been in, happily, all this time.

I started thinking about it all in terms of milestones, and randomly picked four year chunks to grab a little insight into how things have changed, at least as I have seen it go whizzing by from down here in the cave.

2002

When I started, Google was only four, and hardly well known. Not yet a verb. I had been using it since ’99, when a librarian’s aid at college gushed about it, and I too, was a quick devotee. It was awesome.

One of my early copywriting clients at this time sold restored vintage Vespas, and I made his site rank and maintain a top 2 for “Vespa” with very little effort, fighting with Piaggio’s International site for the top spot and often winning it. That I was doing it mostly on-page against a big company was something I noticed immediately (they had a mostly Flash site – ha!), and I began testing the limits of what I could do with it. I was link-stupid, too, which didn’t help…rather, it made me believe that content was king. Because it was.

That was the way it worked then – websites were all built by hand, no real impact from open source yet, so no blogs.  Dreamweaver3 was the newest toy and still horribly inconsistent and wrote bloated code. FrontPage sites were all over the place. The ability to rank a site was pretty much synonymous with the ability to build one, which took days or even more.

I cry now, remembering how easy it was to rank…you simply had to have it in the page. If you had competition, a lot of times, you could simply have more instances of the keyphrase, and win – density actually did matter, for a minute. Or, you could use meta tags, titles and copy better than them, and win, which was easy because most sites were built by tech guys who guarded their code ferociously but didn’t care about Google, so biffed it.

It was harder in competitive verticals of course and links were already necessary there – but long tail (still an un-coined term) was amazing, and that included local then too.

No one knew much about the re-born corporate internet. The first bubble-burst was still in the air, many smaller businesses were actually reluctant to get on the web. Money was great (vendors were few and far between), and you could write almost anything and make it work.

In 2002 the web and its technologies were weak but the people in it were generally passionate, so the quality was strong. I was having a blast, personally. I was an official white-hatted Google-phile then, too: a card-carrying sign waver, dyed in the wool and frothing with praise at the mere mention of them.

I was just starting to call myself an SEO copywriter, and no one much knew what it was.

2006

Aging faster than a dog, the web and the writing in it was exploding exponentially. By 2006, two important things were changing everything: ads, and the blogs now holding them.

Open source code made blogging platforms a free way for anyone to get online, and ads made even hollow copy suddenly valuable. A match made in Google’s heaven.

The effect this had on the trade was that the bottom fell out of the market – you could almost hear it whistling past you on the way to the basement. When still virtually anything would work on a page and pages were suddenly free to build, suddenly everyone became an SEO copywriter, too.  Lots of them would ferociously undercut norms to get the projects-or simply didn’t know any better and undercharged, because they did it all wrong. Per page and project prices fell thru the floor almost overnight, as did the ability to trust someone brandishing this professional title. Quality was harsh.

Clients started becoming suspicious, because cheap writers were also super aggressive marketers. Seeing pages going for a fraction of normal market prices made lots of business owners blanch, or question established providers (like me!). Cost structures everywhere started to change….affected by the rise of easy.

A page of content was typically boiled down to be just that: a page. Expertise was a tougher sell, because price was immediately understood, quality and depth were more esoteric concepts that were generally only realized in time. Bulk was working a charm in Google, as were more strategic domains (needing filler content), so a lot of people were getting on the web and hiring writers to get them going.

SEO copywriting gigs were most often based on pages churned and words counted, with keyphrases expected in specific densities. Mechanically measured bulk work. That keyword density had already become negated as a true impact was lost on the general public, and many people were using density as a sole measure to determine a page’s value. Ugh.

It was the time of the SEO rockstar, where people were talking about making money everywhere. And they were, even though some claims were no doubt inflated.

Work was everywhere, but suddenly so were self-proclaimed SEO copywriters. Market and quality standards were all over the map. There were still great paying gigs and challenging stuff – but it definitely got harder to find. Word of mouth gigs became cherished because everything public was becoming a zoo, and the monkeys were real turd-flingers.

The web was getting filled by a content is king strategy gone awry. Instead of seeing it as I did, that it meant quality and depth of content trumps all, people applied it with a more-is-better brute force mentality. And Google never stopped them – instead, making it super easy for next to nothing to suddenly start paying ad revenues.

This would continue for years, and the mechanical aspects of deriving web content were proliferating. In this time, it was mostly spun content and mash-n-scraped stuff of a very primitive level, because many people could see that simple noun+verb was all it took to start earning money.

It is fair to say as well, that there were ALWAYS people willing to approach things in a reasonable, clever and calculated way that knew they were never going to find that in a $5 page. But I can also say $5 pages can be stacked into $50/hr jobs, as I saw it done quite often.

The relative ease that was still in the ranking mix made SEO copywriting a pretty coveted thing, and the corporate world started to pay attention to what SEO meant a little more. In-house positions were created, and healthy salaries attached to a lot of them. While there may have been more people claiming to be in the trade and trying for gigs, if you could prove it and handle a meeting or two to explain a spread sheet, you were definitely in demand.

The content in general though, was starting to get thin really fast, because it had better margins for the owner/publishers. It wasn’t limited to any niche or sector – this slow erosion in what went into the page was handed off silently from passionate site owner to opportunistic web builder, and was seen most anywhere, spreading quickly.

People were climbing over each other to get better ranking in Google. Web barons and service shops were proliferating at a rapid clip, and with them is always an opportunity for a writer to get some more work going…I never saw a dip in demand by any means.

2006 echoes to me, of blogs and ads, and the more-is-better concept driving almost everything. Really good time for work – finding it was easy, big fat paychecks were still out there in freelanced corporate gigs, and they even started creating jobs for us and respecting us a bit more. Content was definitely king.

Ironic too, because it coincided with the rise of truly lame, empty-effort webpages in much larger numbers than ever before, with non-writers actively making people start to really distrust a job title being flung around like monkey shit. But there was money changing hands as the cesspool grew, because ads from Google made it all possible. More than that: the money made it pretty attractive.

2010

By 2010, SEO copywriting was a pretty well known idea, even in more common areas. The rise of the job title in corporate circles lent enough credibility to make it a good career. The pay scale ranged based on experience, and a lot of freelance corporate gigs were sucked up by low level in-house SEO copywriters.

I think this was a good thing for most folks because they could get an in-house position where none or fewer had existed before. It made it easier to concentrate on the job itself if you didn’t have to worry about finding the next client, so writing across the web got better in spots as a result, for sure.

Problem was that it had been multiplying in so many places in so many ways, that the bad stuff far outweighed the meaningful stuff just about everywhere. Good sites were certainly out there and getting better all the time but they were typically drowned out by a glut of pushy, thin – but effective – pages spit out by someone trying to cash-in on the professional-in-his-pajamas bonanza.

Google was getting some grief for the rise of all this thin content (the same kindling that fueled their ad sales), so started ratcheting down. Long tail started getting more difficult as every algorithm update seemed to demand more than a thin page to do the job.

The cash flowing into Google was changing it at hyperspeed too – thru acquisitions and internal growth, they were now everywhere with tendrils in lots of pies. In 2002, they were still emerging in to the public consciousness, in 2006, were making an amazing amount of money, and by 2010 they were arguably unlike any company before it in terms of reach, impact, and influence.

Plus, they continually changed their SERPs, so the idea of having a webpage that effectively answered a query was no promise it was going to show above a video, a local result, paid stuff or something else Google put in there in place of the old-fashioned organic results. Complexity was getting even more complex every month.

In terms of the craft, there was of course still a lot of work to do. The onslaughts of cheap writers were still going pretty strong, yet demand for better-than-that was also in play, allowing the median price levels to stabilize.

This was really the last year of a lot of cheap efforts working, so there was about to be a pretty big shake-up…Panda was coming soon. But again, this time period was much like all the others, in that there were good jobs and cheap work out there to do, and you could find both pretty easily. Article marketing, emails, blog posts, ebooks – there was a lot of new types of copywriting coming into the norm, opening up many fun directions.

I did a phenomenal amount of work during this time. I was hooking up folks to gigs, and writers to ongoing client work – it was literally more than I could keep up with many times. It was wonderful though, as it was really kind of cresting – all of these different strategies, working in some degree. It meant lots of stuff to do every day.

I moved my office from my basement to the second floor of my house – and huge windows offering a spectacular view (comparatively) made a nice living analogy of what was happening to me, professionally. The amount of work in 2010 had me considering expansion, and more.

But the scale that everything was moving was soon to be thwarted by years of more intense Google changes – leaving the fate of the SEO copywriter a little less certain than in years gone by…that is, if you haven’t been paying attention.

Wrapping It Up

The one constant I have seen over the decade plus I have been doing this for people, is that there is, and will likely forever be a need for someone who can write well, that also understands a thing or two about optimizing the work for search engines, especially Google. It makes a potent combination in any niche, serving every vertical. It’ll never diminish in value as long as there is some sway.

There is still a glut of folks that call themselves SEO copywriters simply because they have churned out a ton of pages for someone somewhere. And by definition they are – but they are not representative of what I consider an experienced SEO copywriter. They are aspiring copywriters who worked on an SEO project, but there is a big difference between that, and knowing why words should go where they do, or what to do with analytics or how things have changed in the last 18 months. The tactics need to be understood in a larger sense for the smallest pieces to fit.

Success in Google drives a majority of what clients need from an SEO copywriter…it always has, in the decade that I did this so far.  Quality is certainly one part of a solid, effective page – but the best written page is no guarantee. Google has also allowed different strategies to work at different times as they grow and change, so client wishes tend to follow suit.

What being an SEO Copywriter has come to mean today, loosely, is someone who can write about a variety of topics with an understanding of the strategies that go beyond burping assigned keyphrases every 73 words.  At a minimum, an SEO copywriter, to me, is someone who understands the use and necessity of analytics and power of synonyms, related words, and how to use writing to make an idea more inclusive and engaging.

The work is still here, just like it was when I was starting out in 2002. It may be more competitive, but great clients and challenging work still abounds. Google has never been crappier, and as a counter-balance my clients and my work have never been better.

Despite how it may sound, I was happy to see bulk efforts get the Google hammer because it was a waste of everyone’s time. I did not do a lot of it (But some favors were called on), but I did arrange it for folks…and it simply stopped being requested when the penalties ramped up in early 2011.

But funny thing is that as the penalties got stiffer, the work got better: people were more willing to listen to ideas that were not a pinpoint map of keyphrases and opportunities. The rates never suffered, because cheap work (scaled and stacked) was replaced again by less, but more intelligent work at better rates.

I have disagreements with friends of mine who are much smarter than me about content truly being king. They argue, without links and engagement, content can’t rank any longer – but I remind them, the content caused the engagement and links, not the other way around. We are both right, so it never gets far.

A great piece of content is not enough to rank on its own merits, I concur – too many examples of really bad stuff ranking, and awesome stuff not to make it that simple. But great content engages…the problem is trying to figure out ‘great’ in the eyes of your visitor’s needs, not Google’s. Creating a power that Google can’t ignore is the best long term strategy – and it has always been the same.

But try explaining this to a starving small business owner who sees their last chance as a handful of articles or a hopeful press release to bump up a page for a specific keyphrase. They read about these tactics on Google and need help…they always need help. They don’t want a long term strategy: they need an immediate way into the game, or long term is simply off the table.

It is easy to preach to not write for the search engines. It is simply illogical, if you want the work to do well in the search engines. The algorithm has always had a preference for certain types of writing, so thinking you can always ignore them and still show up where you wish is naïve.

Google, in my decade of doing this, has usually represented more than 70% of all organic incoming traffic to any site. This means, doing well in Google means doing well with the page – maybe even doing well in business. Thinking that an SEO copywriter does not need to understand and write to appease Google is also very naïve.

People using SEO copywriting don’t have to be launching seedy campaigns, where $3 pages are flying off the presses faster than people can dictate them. It is (or can be) about nuance, and strategy, and understanding more of the many parts that affect a ranking than simply noun+verb+earning intention, or a good idea scaled to the moon with the cheapest labor on the planet.

It is no longer easy or even possible to simply write a page, and have it rank. It certainly was, but it ain’t no more. But as always, this deceptively simple-seeming task makes a pretty sensible place for most people to start. Still. Always.

SEO copywriting will be around as long as there is a chance of one page organically ranking better than another one, based on some measure of value from above. Chances are pretty good that until I topple, my old ass will still be in the chair, hands on keys…looking for those answers.

 

Well this was fun. I’ll be sure to check back in in about nine years or so, and see how we’re coming along. 🙂