Unpopular Opinion: Why I Don’t Have an Email List

Why I Don't Have an Email ListIf you spend any time at all doing, researching, or thinking about content marketing you hear people talk about the importance of the list. Almost of all of the best marketing blogs sing the praises of the email list as a crucial component of building a successful business.

Copyblogger says: “Every successful online marketer we’ve talked with agrees — email readers are more responsive, they have a tighter connection with you, and they buy more stuff. ”

In an ebook thoroughly devoted to the subject, Hubspot says: “The size of your email list is a demonstration of your reach and thought leadership.”

Danny Iny from Firepole Marketing says: “Sure, Twitter, Facebook and RSS can be nice, but there’s just no comparing them to the raw power that comes with invited access to your prospect’s inbox.”

Joe Pulizzi, the very man who coined the term “content marketing” says: “There’s no Holy Grail to content marketing, but if there was one, it would be the email subscriber.”

If you google the term “the money’s in the list” you get page after page of articles from expert marketers insisting on the importance of building an email list.

As a content marketing copywriter, I know all the “rules” – the widely regarded best practices we’re all supposed to be following. Yet you’ve almost certainly noticed by now that there’s no email sign-up box in the sidebar. This is one of the golden rules of content marketing and yet I don’t personally follow it.

So….Why?

I don’t believe any of those quotes I cited up above are wrong. Those are some of the best minds in the biz and I’d be quick to share similar advice with many clients.

The reason I don’t follow this advice myself isn’t because I think it’s bad advice, it’s because it’s just not right for my business.

We’re All Different

Every business has distinct goals and priorities when it comes to content marketing. And every business must make choices when it comes time to decide where to spend time and money.

Like every other marketer and business owner in the world I have a loooooong mental list of different techniques and tactics I’d love to try for my business if only there were endless hours in each day. Like everyone else, I know I can’t accomplish them all and have to prioritize.

How I Prioritize

I’m just one person and my goals for the future of my business don’t include growing it beyond one person. That puts some serious limitations on the time I can spend on marketing, so I have to stick with the most efficient tactics for my purposes. These include (but aren’t necessarily limited to):

  • Networking. Both locally, at conferences, and online.
  • Guest posting to raise my online profile and demonstrate my abilities to a new audience.
  • Participating in social media with the goal of making new connections there.
  • Writing posts (like this one!) on my own blog to share my knowledge with readers and demonstrate my abilities to anyone who visits my site.

It’s a short list but, combined with my responsibilities to clients, it sure keeps me busy.

At the end of the day, all content marketing tactics come back around to the goal of making connections. The way you do it matters less than the results. For me, the activities I listed above work for what I want and need (and can accomplish) in my business.

The best strategy for your business will necessarily be different.

9 Expert Content Strategists on How to Be a Better Content Writer

Be a Better Content Writer

Content writers know the importance of trying to get inside readers’ heads to tap into what matters to them most, but that penchant for empathy doesn’t always extend to those other people we’re doing our writing for. We can’t read the minds of the people who are hiring us, but the simple solution to that is a willingness to ask.

With content marketing one of the fastest growing and most lucrative industries for professional writers to work in today, many of us are increasingly likely to find ourselves answering to people with the newly familiar title of “content strategist.” In the interest of tapping into what’s going on the heads of these content strategists (without trying to read minds), I’ve asked a few of them just what they value most in a content writer.

Here’s what they had to say:

9 Expert Opinions on What Makes a Great Content Writer

1) “I appreciate writers who have a clear understanding of their skills, strengths, and things they’re not as good at.

I love when writers ask smart questions upfront and ‘group’ their questions when they have to ask during the project. It’s so much easier to field than one email after another.

The most organized writers anticipate an editor or content strategist’s needs. They proactively research organic search terms, they craft concise pitches and cite expected sources, and they reach out on a regular basis (once a quarter is ideal) to see what they can help with.”

Kirsten Longnecker
Content Strategist, BancVue

2) “I most appreciate content writing that reminds me of my academic roots in creative writing and analysis. I am looking for a voice that pops off the page — an intellectual heft, an analytical rigor, and the kind of word choices that will stick with me long after I’ve left work for the day. It’s all possible in the content world, but only when writers, editors, and content developers lead the way.”

Leah Levy
Content Strategist and Copywriter, Just Start Storytelling

3) “Adaptation.  This is really broad and can apply to many different situations. Whether it’s taking feedback and adapting content accordingly, seeing a blog post fall flat and adapting the headline/tone/format the next time around, or taking something that’s complex and technical and adapting it for a more general audience — the ability to mold and shape content is absolutely necessary.

Curiosity. Ask questions! When I work with content writers who ask a lot of questions, the end product is usually a better, more performant piece of content. Writers should be asking “who is the target audience?,” “at what point in the buying cycle will someone be exposed to this piece of content?,” “how much should I assume they know about this topic?,” “how will the target audience benefit from reading this piece of content?,” “what is the intended call to action after reading this?”

Hannah Simon
Content Strategist, Fastly

4) “One quality I find indispensable in a writer is curiosity. The best writers are incurably enthusiastic and want to learn as much as possible about the subject of their writing. I’d rather read a curious neophyte writing about a technical topic than a complacent expert! Curious writers unearth interesting facts and make insightful connections. And their energy is infectious.”

Melanie Seibert
Content Strategist, Razorfish

5) “Coming from the magazine world and into content development, the most important things for me are the age-old elements. Know your audience and know the voice of the site. Certainly, great writing is great writing but if that writing fails to take into account the brand persona and audience, then you’ve just lost an opportunity to connect and convert.”

Lara Zuehlke
Account Supervisor, Pierpont Communications

6) “The quality we most appreciate in the content writers we work with is their willingness to learn. We want to develop long-term relationships with the writers who develop content for our clients which means we play a very collaborative role in creation. Being willing to learn all there is to know about the client and their business, accept feedback, and then of course apply what has been learned to future content is a huge benefit to everyone in the relationship.”

Mack Fogelson
CEO, Mack Web

7) “For me it’s a little bit of a two-pronged approach and trying to find a balance between them.

I used to value writers who excelled at audience engagement – creativity and passion and being able to really get inside the mind of the persona – even if their process was chaotic.

But as we move to a more structured approach to content, I’m really finding that I value content writers that can also organize their thoughts clearly, deliver outlines in advance of drafts, who know how to research and footnote material. It’s no longer just about engagement – the structure and process are critical as well.

Jenny Magic
Principal/VP of Content Strategy, Sitegoals

8) “When I hire writers – I do so because I want to bring their view of the world to an issue that I or my client is trying to communicate.   Alignment and agreement is important – but so is (in many cases) disagreement and (in almost all cases) a unique perspective.

So many times writers want to ‘write what they think the client wants’ instead of bringing their unique talents and point of view to the table.  Certainly there’s a place for writing in a different voice (e.g. ghost writing) and trying to match tone and perspective. But, most of the time what I appreciate and value about a content writer is that they have the ability to tell a story in a unique and differentiated way.”

Robert Rose
Chief Strategist, Content Marketing Institute

9) “Given the space I work in: the ability to clearly communicate fresh ideas.

I’m all for pretty prose, but in content marketing it’s all about educating customers; this places priority on clarity over articulacy, and demands an ability to argue unique perspectives. In other words, I mostly value a writer’s ability to think clearly and then put those thoughts to page over their ability to ‘write well.’ Perhaps they are one and the same, though. :)”

Gregory Ciotti
Content Strategist, Help Scout

Edit: Bonus Tip!

One strategist got back to me after the post went up, but I didn’t want to deprive anyone of her great advice.

“I need people who are super curious and constantly educating themselves about all the different areas of content strategy, particularly UX and metadata basics. Great writing only goes so far! :)”

Kristina Halvorson
Content Strategist, Brain Traffic

One thing that quickly becomes clear through these answers is that not every content strategist has the same priorities when it comes to finding a great content writer, which goes to show that much of being good at your work is finding the employer or client that’s a great fit for you.

There are a few key themes we see emerge though:

 

  • Curiosity

 

      – A good writer has got to be a great researcher and that’s a skill that usually comes from having a driving curiosity to learn new things. The best writers

like

      that process of digging up new information on a topic and becoming a mini-expert in every little thing their readers want to know about.

 

  • Creativity

– Good writing is not formulaic, it brings something unique to the table to help keep the reader interested. While that curiosity-driven research takes care of the background work, creativity is what makes for greater skill in the writing process itself. Choosing the best possible words, finding the right voice, bringing some humor into a piece ­– these are some of the kinds of creative skills that really set content writers apart.

 

So there you have it, the things content strategists care about the most when it comes to the work you do for them aren’t those nitty gritty values like meeting deadlines or crafting the right headlines (although I’m sure they’d all be quick to say those matter too). It’s more about the most basic personality traits that drove many of us to become writers in the first place: the desire to continually learn new things and stretch our creativity muscle.

12 Things Every Non-Expert NEEDS to Know About SEO

important SEO basics

For those of us who spend hours each week reading about different facets of online marketing, there are many SEO facts and best practices that seem obvious to us that still aren’t understood by your average business owner. Dedicated, experienced SEO professionals have way more knowledge about the nitty gritty particulars of what makes for effective SEO than is covered here (and most know loads more than I do personally), but you don’t really need to know all that stuff anyways.

If SEO isn’t your personal specialty, but is something that matters to you and your business, these are the key things you absolutely need to know to avoid making decisions that could hurt your company.

1) SEO factors can be divided into two categories:

On-Page SEO Factors

This is the stuff you can control. You can optimize your website for SEO by making sure the site design is intuitive, the pages load quickly, and you strategically place keywords in the main parts of the page that are noticed by search engine crawlers:

  • Title tags
  • Headings
  • Image alt tags
  • On-page copy
  • Meta descriptions (doesn’t influence rankings, but good for encouraging clicks)
  • Page URLs

You can find a few more details on this part of the process in the SEO Basics presentation here.

Off-Page SEO Factors

This is the trickier part and where some businesses get in trouble. Search engines try to gauge how trustworthy a site is based on off-page factors like how many other sites link to it, how authoritative those sites are, the authority of authors who write on your site and share your site, and some various other complicated factors that help the search engines decide if people really like you.

2) SEO takes time.

SEO is a long process

Image via Corey Leopold

You’re not gonna see results tomorrow. Or next week. Or the next. It takes time for Google to pick up on changes, and even more time for SEO efforts to start to add up into something tangible. There may be some slight changes to your rankings in a short period of time (especially if you start off ranking very low and are pursuing SEO on your site for the first time), but good SEO is a long game and results take time.

3) SEO is a long-term process.

Related to #2, but still its own point, you can’t make a few tweaks to your site once and figure you’ve got SEO taken care of. It’s not a one and done deal. SEO is a continuous process that requires:

  • Fresh content
  • Regular tweaks to your site
  • Ongoing efforts to raise brand awareness and encourage legitimate links, and
  • A continual tracking of analytics to determine what’s working.

If you get yourself up to a nice high rank and figure you’re good and can stop, your competitors will take advantage of that false sense of security to unseat you.

4) Bad SEO can hurt you. 

Bad Seo

Google and their ilk hate spammers. The people out to game the system to get low-quality sites ranking higher than they should are precisely the enemies search engines are trying to take out with every new update to the algorithm. If you hire those people – even if you do so innocently, thinking they’re legitimate professionals who know what they’re doing – you risk hurting your business.

You cannot make rash decisions when it comes to your site’s SEO, you have to seek out white-hat SEO professionals who really know what they’re doing and won’t put you at risk.

5) SEO evolves.

As the search engines update their algorithms to foil the spammy SEO perpetrators addressed above, what works best for SEO changes. This is another reason it must be treated as a long-term process. What works best today might not be what works best in 6 months, so you have to stay on top of the changes and be prepared to adapt.

6) Search engines prefer sites that prioritize people over search engines.

It might sound counter-intuitive, but it’s true. If your site seems more designed to please the search engine deities rather than your actual visitors, it’ll be bad for your business (who’s gonna stay on a site that’s not useful, much less buy something off it) and bad for your rankings. Search engines consider things like how long visitors stay on a site and whether they ever bother to come back, so they can get a sense of whether or not the people stopping by actually like the site.

7) Keywords matter.

You have to be careful not to overdo it on the keywords – a keyword focus can’t outweigh the importance of making sense and writing content that’s easy to read – but keywords do matter in SEO.  Keyword research helps you understand what people in your industry and, more importantly interested in your industry, are talking about. That lets you know what kind of things to write about on your site, what kind of questions to answer, and what terms to use. You should pick different target keywords for each page on the site and include them in all of the parts of the page listed in the On-Page SEO Factors section in #1.

You want to choose keywords to emphasize based both on how popular they are and how competitive they are. If a small business decides it wants to dominate for a broad, popular keyword like “bathing suits,” it’s never gonna beat the likes of Target, Victoria’s Secret and the other huge brands sitting at the top of the search results for the term. But something more specific, like “vintage style plus size bathing suits” (what those in the biz call a “long-tail keyword”) will be a  more reasonable goal.

8) Content matters.

Content only ever seems to become more important to SEO as time passes and search engines evolve. Content provides value to site visitors, gives them a reason to stay on the site longer, answers their questions, and can help in the process of turning visitors into customers. Content is valuable to businesses beyond its role in SEO, but its importance to SEO can’t be discounted. Fresh content is one of the factors search engines take into consideration in site rankings. More importantly though, good content fuels the shares (read: links) and return visits to the site that signal authority and trust to the search engines.

9) Analytics matter.

Pay attention to what people do on your site. If you have pages that have high bounce rates (people that only stay on them for a second before leaving), they’re not doing you any good in terms of future sales or SEO. Weed out what’s not working and identify what is. Your SEO strategy should be regularly refined based on what your analytics tell you.

10) Traffic should not be your primary goal.

seo traffic

It’s not all about traffic

As previously mentioned, if you’re getting people to your site who don’t stay there, that tells search engines something about the value of your site and can hurt your rankings. Any increase in traffic is at best a temporary win if you aren’t giving people something they value once they get there.

Empty traffic doesn’t just end up hurting you from an SEO perspective though, if you get a billion visitors who never buy anything how much are they really worth? If the point of your website is to make money, you need visitors who will turn into customers. That needs to be your primary goal.

11) You are not Google’s* priority (not as a marketer or business owner anyways).

There’s no use complaining about it. If you get a penalty and/or fall from page 1 to page 142, you can feel like Google’s done you wrong and they owe it to you to fix it, but what reason do they have to care?

Their priority is to provide useful results to the people performing searches. If it looks like your site’s guilty of the manipulative tactics that result in lower-value search results, your business gets lumped in with the bad guys.

They’re a business with their own priorities and fixing your problems (even problems caused by your rank in the almighty Google search results) don’t rank high on the list.

*Insert any other search engine name in place of Google in this section and the idea’s the same. But let’s be honest, we’re mostly talking about Google.

12) Never trust an SEO company that guarantees a #1 spot. 

Remember when I mentioned back at the beginning that there are certain SEO truths that are super obvious to those of us in marketing? This ranks high on the list. The idea that there are still many businesses that buy into this line is baffling to those with some knowledge or background in SEO.

But it still happens, so it needs to be said. If an agency or individual ever pitches you based on this promise, RUN. They are not legitimate professionals who understand SEO and they’re likely to do your business more harm than good.

 

Now if you ever talk to an SEO firm that’s annoyed when you tell them you want to rank #1 by next month, you’ll understand why. There just aren’t shortcuts. As in most things worth doing, SEO takes some real time and commitment to do it well.

How Bloggers Blog: The Survey

Do you blog?

The number of people that answer that question with a “yes” continues to grow.

Blogging can look really different depending on who’s doing it.  A blog that’s mostly meant as a fun way to work out your thoughts or track your experiences on vacation will provide a different experience than the blogs meant to help promote a business. Even within the latter category though, how people blog varies.

To get a clearer picture of what business blogging looks like, Orbit Media took a survey. What they found, as expected, is that there’s a wide variety in how bloggers blog. Even so, they were able to pull out a few key trends in the blogging process.

  • Most bloggers spend less than 2 hours on each post, but it’s not unheard of to spend over 6 hours.
  • Bloggers don’t keep normal business hours. They write whenever they can fit it in, or when an idea hits.
  • Most bloggers work from a home office.
  • Many bloggers publish new posts multiple times a week.
  • Few bloggers have editors.
  • The main blogging promotion tools used are social media and SEO.

Not too many of those surveyed were freelance bloggers, but the survey findings match my experiences pretty well.

There’s no one right way to blog. Anyone who works in a creative field knows that you just have to figure out what works best for you.

If you want your blog to succeed as a business tool though, there are a few key things you need to keep in mind.

For a more in depth look at what you need to do to build a more successful business blog, download the Austin Copywriter report on the subject.

So what about you? How do you blog?

 

Why You Should Be Promoting Your Content (Not Just Your Products)

By this point, most businesses know they should be creating content. The advice is everywhere. Talk of content content promotionmarketing and business blogging is all over business magazines like Inc and Entrepreneur. You’re much less likely to encounter a business owner today who has never heard of content marketing than you are to encounter one who has thrown up her hands and agreed to go along with the tide and start a blog or YouTube channel for her brand.

You’re probably thinking: well what possible downside could a freelance copywriter whose job it is to create content see in this?

That more businesses are embracing content marketing is mostly a good thing, but many are taking an incomplete approach to it. Every business that starts a blog, publishes once a week, and doesn’t get results tarnishes the idea of content marketing a little bit.

For your content to gain traction, you can’t just create it. You need to promote it.

This message has made its way into the realm of common knowledge for those who specialize in content marketing or content strategy. Nonetheless, for many businesses who have just done cursory research into content marketing, the idea isn’t as familiar.

Jay Baer popularized the concept that you should make content so good that people would pay for it. Making content that’s good enough to be a product is step one. Step two is promoting it in the same way you do your products.

Well, not exactly the same way. The process of promoting good content is a little different than product promotion (although there’s plenty of overlap).

We’ll get more into the hows of promoting content in future posts, since it’s too big of a topic to cover in one blog post. In the meantime, there’s a lot of good information on the subject already out there. Here are a number of articles that touch on both the value of content promotion and techniques for getting started:

There’s some overlap in those posts, but that just lets you know that the stuff that comes up multiple times is the stuff you really need to know about content promotion.

Lest you read this and think, “Of course she says this is important, she just wants us to buy more of her services,” content promotion isn’t actually a specialty of mine. I can provide some consulting to help you generate ideas for a content promotion plan, but I’d rather help you find someone else to execute it.

I do benefit from more people understanding the value of content promotion though. Blog posts, reports, whitepapers, ebooks–all those things I do specialize in–are all worth more to a company that has a plan to promote them. I’d rather make great content for businesses that people actually see and appreciate, than great content that goes unnoticed by all but a few people outside of the company.