Tag Archive | "Think"

How Wrenches Changed the Way I Think about Digital Tools

About a year and a half ago, I made up my mind to rebuild a motorcycle. I had no mechanical…

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Why You’re Missing Crucial Opportunities if You Think You’re ‘Not Creative’

I can’t stand hearing people say they’re “not creative.” That happened to me recently, after I sliced a finger and wound up in Urgent Care. When the doctor heard that my fiancé is a graphic designer, he launched into a well-rehearsed monologue: “Oh, my mom is a graphic designer; she’s so creative! I do some
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Do Content Writers Really Need to Think about SEO?

In my experience, creative writing pros have an endless appetite for writing advice. How to add more color and texture to your writing, storytelling techniques, endless discussions about the serial comma and finer points of usage. Elements like copywriting and conversion strategy? That tends to start to divide people up. Some writers want to pick
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Why Informative Content Will Make You Think Content Marketing Doesn’t Work

You might want to take an extra sip of coffee before you read the next paragraph … We’re going to start with a brief geometry lesson today, but I promise it will be gentle.

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7 Real-World Ways to Think Like an Artist for Better Content Marketing

"We make good sentences by starting with awful sentences." – Sonia Simone

Earlier this year, I wrote that I believe art plays a critical role in content marketing.

But what does that actually mean? When you think about it, what does that word “art” really mean?

“I’ll know it when I see it.”

– Random critic

For the purposes of this conversation, I’ll define art as an expression that can’t be made by an algorithm. It’s the creative spark, the unusual choice, the flare of personality, the moment of real human empathy and connection.

I believe it’s a serious mistake to think that marketing and art are somehow separate.

As Brian Clark has said for years:

“People who think art is sacred and marketing is dirty tend to be terrible marketers and marginal artists.

People who think art is irrelevant and marketing is about tricking people into buying shit they don’t need tend to be terrible marketers and worse human beings.”

– Brian Clark, ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ and the Art of Phony Marketing

While I’m defining art, let me go ahead and define marketing: It’s what we communicate that allows us to work with others. Advertising, social strategy, SEO, funnels, automation — they all need to serve that function.

Somewhere along the line, we got the idea that marketing was another word for lies. Don’t buy it.

Smart marketers don’t accept the excuse of “It’s just marketing” to hide the truth or produce crummy work that benefits no one.

Wise marketers embrace art as integral to what they do, as much as strategy and execution are.

Here are some observations I’ve made over the years about how artists work and how anyone can adopt a more artistic mindset.

1. Artists geek out over craft

“Creativity occurs in action: It is not a trait; it is something you do.”

– Bert Dodson

Get a group of writers together and you’ll hear a whole lot of geeky talk about structure, language, word choice, metaphor, and the serial comma.

Art is about your unique and personal expression of the world you see around you. But you can’t express what you see and feel until you master your chosen craft.

As a content marketer, you make a living with words. Dive into the disciplines that will teach you how to stitch words together in ways you haven’t tried before.

Study poetry. Study screenwriting. Study short stories. If you’re a podcaster, take an acting class or voice lessons.

The reason an artist’s life is so interesting and rewarding is that you never stop learning. When you master your craft at one level, new levels reveal themselves. The game gets ever more complex and interesting.

Any study of creative writing will benefit you as a content marketer. You’ll learn how to show, not tell. You’ll think more carefully about word choice. And you’ll learn the nuances that make for superb storytelling.

A writing workshop can be a great start, but there are also lots of wonderful books on writing well. Here are just a couple of suggestions — this is far from a complete list.


2. Artists protect their productive time

If you pick up a book about the work habits of creative people (I’m a bit obsessed with this topic), you’ll notice something striking.

Nearly all great writers, musicians, painters, and other artists tend to work in well-defined work cycles.

They nearly always have specific times of day set aside for creative work. They protect this time with a ferocity that can border on cruelty.

Often, this time is strictly reserved for what writers call “draft” — the messy, sometimes ugly part of the creative process where we take new ideas and work through them with as much craft as we can manage.

You need to be a bit brutal about protecting this time. That’s more important than it ever was, thanks to the seductive call of so many distractions.

Because, to be honest, a lot of days, this isn’t the fun part. This is the moment when all of those lovely dreams and ideas get turned into unsatisfying reality — on the page, the canvas, or the screen.

It’s where you face the dreaded, “The words on the screen don’t sound like they did in my head.”

The only way most of us ever manage to get anything done is simply to be rather robotic about getting to work. Uninterrupted creative time needs to get blocked into your calendar. You need to defend it — against your own resistance as much as anything else.


There are lots of excellent apps that help you defend your productive time. I like the Freedom app to protect me from my own worst habits.

Mason Currey’s book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work is a fascinating look at how different artists have used their time.

3. Artists embrace bad art

If we’re spending time every day creating something that doesn’t match our creative vision, how do we push ourselves to keep showing up?

Artists know that the way to create good art — maybe some day even great art — is to make a whole lot of bad art.

We’re looking for what painters call “brush mileage.” You’ll never be able to paint well until you pull a paintbrush through a certain amount of paint and onto a certain volume of canvas or paper.

We make good sentences by starting with awful sentences.

Writers, in my opinion, have it lucky. We can keep working on a piece until it doesn’t suck. Try that with a watercolor; you won’t be happy.

If we keep working on material that’s appropriately challenging, we’ll keep getting better. At first, your pieces may need a lot of editing time. As you mature creatively, your rewrites might get faster, but you’ll still find that genuinely good work needs the discipline of multiple rewrites.


In my experience, there’s no substitute for a thoughtful critique of your writing. Critique groups can be helpful, if (big if) the right people are in them. A well-qualified writing teacher or freelance editor is probably the gold standard.

If that’s not in the budget for now, find a friend or fellow content creator whose writing you admire and barter in-depth critiques for a task you’re terrific at.

4. Artists seek flow

Most of us have heard of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book Flow, even if we need to refer to Google any time we have to spell his name.

It’s all about that “creative state” — the mental point where time stops and we feel pure creative focus.

For us to find flow, whether it’s in rock climbing, flower arranging, or writing, we have to keep ourselves balanced on the edge between “too hard” and “too easy.”

When it’s too hard, we’re frustrated all the time and our thoughts get cramped. It’s hard to create anything new when you’re just angry with yourself.

When it’s too easy, we either become hacks, cranking out the same tired crap, or we get bored and start to become self-destructive.

The life of an artist is about constantly looking for that edge, and climbing back onto it again and again.


Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

(By the way, my best sources for how to pronounce his name say “Me-high Cheek-SENT-me-high.”)

5. Artists ask a lot of questions

Craft is about how skillfully you can express an idea. Art adds interesting questions to that expression.

Craft makes the work pretty. Art makes it meaningful.

Is that the best way? Are there other options we could explore?

It truly doesn’t matter what your topic is. If you ask questions — lots of them — you’ll start to come up with interesting answers.

Questions lead us to new places. They build cathedrals and pyramids and space stations.


Some of the most powerful questions you’ll ever answer will come from your audience. You’ll never outgrow the need to listen closely to your audience’s questions.

But in addition to those, consider these:

  • Why does the world look the way it does today?
  • What haven’t we thought of yet?
  • What’s standing so fully in our way that we can’t even see it?

6. Artists value pragmatism

“Creativity is a lot like happiness. It shows up when you’re thinking of something else.”

– Bert Dodson

In my experience, the stereotype of the “flaky artist” who’s out of touch with reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

If your vacuum cleaner breaks? Don’t throw it into the landfill; call your artist friend. She’ll know how to rewire it, she can resolder the piece that broke off, and she’ll tweak the switch so it’s easier to use.

Of course, she may also paint it deep red with a filigree pattern of pale yellow and silver polka dots, and add a sound system.

Art presents endless opportunities for recycling, rethinking, and pragmatic problem solving.

Lots of us quit the formal practice of problem solving when we stopped doing word problems in math class. Artists solve new problems every time they sit down to work.

Artists understand that it’s not enough to have some grand idea. We have to figure out how to translate that into something other people can see or hear or touch.


Our monthly content challenges are designed to give you pragmatic exercises to improve your craft and your creative output. You still have time to complete our creative challenge for January here:

January’s Content Excellence Challenge Prompts

And look for February’s challenges on the blog next week.

7. Artists actively seek an audience

Art begins in self-expression. But at a certain point, we have a deep desire to find an audience for our creative work.

There’s nothing wrong with making art to please yourself. It’s a satisfying way to spend your time.

But when we “go pro” — when we seek an audience — we begin to walk the tightrope between what we intend and what we actually communicate. Between our expression and how the audience sees that expression.

It’s a bit of a zen paradox.

Art is not about you. Also, art is about you.

Some art works well for a small number of people. Some art works well for millions. It’s your job as a creative professional to find the ones who get your message, then find some more people like that.

That’s why it doesn’t make you a “hack” to want to build the audience for your work. When you tell great stories, your stories become your audience’s stories. If a story is powerful enough, it picks up and walks on without you.


Helping you find a bigger audience is one of the reasons we’re here. You can snag a juicy library of free content marketing training here, including lots of resources to help you grow your audience and community:

The Copyblogger free content marketing library

And for the rest of this month, we’ll be talking a lot about how art (and craft) will serve your work. February will be a rich month of tutorials, techniques, and inspiration to elevate your content. We’re all looking forward to seeing you in the coming weeks!

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5 Dang Good Reasons Why Writers Should Think of Themselves as Content Marketers

content marketing's bright future

Perhaps you are a journalist by trade, dreaming of working in a big, bustling city like Seattle or a cozy college town such as Athens, Georgia.

Maybe you are a die-hard copywriter, having cut your teeth on direct response campaigns through snail mail, but you’re looking for a faster-paced challenge.

Or maybe you are like me: an English Literature graduate from the Midwest who wanted more out of life than days waiting tables and nights working on poems no one would read.

No matter which category you belong to (or maybe you defy all categories), you know you are a writer because you love to write. You love thinking about writing. You love to have people read your writing …

And, more importantly, you’d love to get paid to write.

The bad news is you won’t find “writers” on the list of the fastest growing careers. The good news is, I think that’s going to change pretty soon.

Why? Simple: the rapid and powerful rise of content marketing.

Because of the content marketing boom, we are now living in the age of the online writer.

Who exactly is the online writer? What does she look like?

She is a person who has an:

  • Average understanding of SEO
  • Average understanding of usability
  • Above average understanding of social media
  • Outstanding understanding of copywriting
  • Above average understanding of storytelling
  • Average research skills
  • Average caffeine appreciation
  • Above average combative work ethic

You can carve out a pretty satisfying career as a web writer if you have all of these skills. If you do, congratulations. However, I want to encourage you not to stop there.

The rewards of evolving into a content marketer

I want you to go further and turn yourself into a content marketer. A content marketer is a person who has an:

  • Outstanding understanding of content strategy
  • Above average understanding of SEO
  • Above average understanding of social media
  • Average understanding of subscription assets
  • Average research skills
  • Average understanding of conversion skills

As you can see, there is some overlap between the two lists.

If you already have all the qualities of a web writer, that means you are ahead of the curve. You just need to bone up in a few other disciplines, and you’ll be on your way toward becoming a full-fledged content marketer.

Some of you might have a little farther to travel: you don’t have all of these skill sets yet. But don’t fret. We all start somewhere.

The good news is that if you keep going, striving, learning, and practicing, you’ll build the natural authority that makes you an in-demand content marketer.

But no matter how far you have to travel, a little encouragement never hurts. Besides, for those who have a longer road to travel, encouragement makes the journey more enjoyable.

That’s why I want to share five reasons that will encourage you to think of yourself as a content marketer.

1. The demand for content creators is still growing

What’s driving this demand? According to a late 2015 update to a previously published Forrester report, research suggests consumers demand more content (if it’s good):

“Marketers who create valuable content and stories that attract audiences … build valuable relationships with customers and generate positive business outcomes.”

In this digital age, consumers are in control of the purchase process and want information before they make decisions. Any company that relies solely on traditional advertising tactics will likely struggle.

According to Content Marketing Institute’s research report, B2B Content Marketing – 2016 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends – North America, 76 percent of B2B companies said they’ll increase content creation (slide 14). And to accommodate this increase, 51 percent of companies said they’ll increase their budgets (slide 26).

As a result, businesses will need more writers with a flair for content marketing.

2. Ad blocking will increase content marketing budgets

Late last year, the number one most downloaded app was for ad blocking.

This fast adoption of ad blocking software has caused publishers to spin out of control. According to an often-quoted Adobe and PageFair study, ad blocking software was estimated to cost publishers $ 22 billion in revenue during 2015.

That’s a lot of money.

But a bloodbath for independent media is probably overstating the case. More than likely, publishers will shift gears and adopt a content marketing strategy over a traditional advertising one, with a particular focus on content distribution.

As a result, businesses will need more writers with a flair for content marketing.

3. More companies will invest in content distribution

As Contently stated in their 2016 State of Content Marketing report, 70 percent of content marketers spend less than $ 1,000 on content distribution.

That percentage is expected to change once companies realize that the most successful content marketers spend a higher portion of their budgets on content distribution (like sponsored content) than their less-successful peers.

As a result, businesses will need more writers with a flair for content marketing.

4. More SEO budgets will shift towards optimizing content for discovery and conversion

In the last five years, Google has aggressively focused on rewarding high-quality content. A by-product of this intense focus is that we no longer think of SEO as a standalone practice.

Instead, consider Sean Jackson’s phrase “OC/DC” (Optimizing Content for Discovery and Conversion). OC/DC encapsulates the idea of amplifying the overall reach and results of content creation.

Yes, great content may well result in traffic from Google, which is important. But a more holistic strategy pulls in traffic from a variety of sources — social media, related blogs, content distribution (see section 3), and so forth.

Optimizing content for discovery and conversion requires a writer to think like a content marketer — the person who, as I listed above, has experience with social media, subscription assets, republishing, and conversion copywriting.

As a result, businesses will need more writers with a flair for content marketing.

5. More social sites are becoming publishing platforms

First it was Medium, a social site that gives people an unlimited space to write (even if it’s not original content). Then LinkedIn opened its publishing platform to everyone.

Since then, Facebook released Instant Articles, which allows publishers to share content directly inside the Facebook app — last year to a limited group of brands. They’re slated to open it up to everyone soon, even your grandma.

And longer tweets may be coming soon to Twitter.

While social platforms may encourage content syndication, there is also an opportunity to tailor content for an audience on a specific platform. BuzzFeed is one such pioneer.

As a result, businesses will need more writers with a flair for content marketing.

Avoid digital sharecropping

I should point out, soon-to-be content marketer, that if you set up your content marketing strategy properly, it doesn’t violate our long-time advice not to overbuild on someone else’s land.

Rather than building mini-empires on other platforms, focus on creating definitive articles on your own site. Once that’s in place, use social platforms to drive traffic back to you.

You’ll optimize your related social media content for each specific platform where you publish, but all roads lead back to you and your original authoritative content.

Who’s hiring content marketers?

These five reasons suggest that the demand for content will continue to increase. But who’s actually hiring content marketers? Here are a few places:

And of course, Copyblogger has a certification program that finds, trains, and promotes highly qualified content marketers.

Are you ready to capitalize on the rapid and powerful rise of content marketing?

Take the next step to sharpen your content marketing skills

To discover how to create in-demand content marketing, check out Authority, our training and networking community designed to help you become a superb content marketer.

Enrollment is closed for now, but put your name on the Authority interest list by clicking on the button below. We’ll let you know when doors open again.

Join the Authority interest list

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3 Surprising Steps to Help You Think Outside the Content Marketing Box

content marketing where you least expect it

Let me tell you a fascinating story about John. 

He’s a fictional character but a good example of the type of people I help every day. In fact, if you pay close attention, you might realize you relate to him in more ways than one.

John is a developer. He writes code day in and day out for a large company.

He doesn’t think of himself as a copywriter. He essentially just codes, all the time. But John also has a strategy up his sleeve. In fact, he uses content marketing every day.

What John might lack in overt marketing skills, he makes up for with an ongoing list of small side projects. He spends hours of his free time building small code snippets and software. Then, he makes them free to download on the popular code-sharing site GitHub.

One day, John wakes up to hundreds of emails in his inbox — job offers, questions, and positive feedback all yell at him through his still-groggy eyelids. He might not be on his third cup of coffee yet, but John is smiling wide.

However, he isn’t surprised by his now-packed inbox; it was just a matter of time.

So, what really happened?

Recently, a big-time developer noticed one of John’s code snippets and decided to share it with his own audience.

This led to thousands of visits and additional links to John’s work, which exposed him to a larger audience, drove traffic to his website, and then resulted in a plethora of potential clients, fans, and leads.

John simply utilized content marketing in a fundamental way:

He provided free solutions to common problems.

Content marketing is more than just writing

Content marketing and copywriting are certainly a powerful combination.

But you can also find content marketing in unlikely places — produced by people who don’t touch the marketing department of a company.

When you offer a free solution to a problem and invite further dialogue by providing a way to contact you, you have the possibility of attracting previously unattainable business opportunities.

And this illustrates one wonderful truth: content marketing strategies can be applied by anyone.

How problem-solving creates profitable opportunities

While the above story of John the developer is inspirational, it might be difficult to understand how it relates to you and your own endeavors — especially if you’re not a developer!

In light of that, I’ve broken down this principle into three steps. Use this process to leverage content marketing to your advantage and grow your audience.

Step #1: Seek out problems

First, develop a list of problems you know people struggle with.

You could survey customers, run polls, or research your target market.

But there’s another tried-and-true method: take note of the problems you face each day.

I know, you’ve already got 50 problems in mind. It seems we humans have a surprisingly efficient ability to complain.

Once you’ve clearly defined a problem, ask your audience for feedback — even if that’s just your family members.

Here’s an example:

I recently had an idea for an application I wanted to build. It was a perfect opportunity to both solve a repetitive task I found myself doing and learn a new JavaScript framework.

So, the first thing I did was jump on Twitter and tweet out a poll. I asked if anyone would find the idea useful.

The answer? Eighty percent thought the idea had already been done.

Sure, my idea was likely not worth pursuing — but I got instant feedback and saved myself a lot of trouble.

Keep doing this, all the while keeping these ideas in a safe place. Eventually, you’ll stumble upon a few problems that get a resounding, “Yes, please!”

Step #2: Eliminate the expensive and time-consuming

The second step is to review your new list of problems and decide which ones you have the ability to solve.

Throw away the ones you don’t know how to solve (or save them for later) and create a revised list with the ones you do know how to solve.

With this process, you need to decide which problems you can solve absolutely free of charge.

At this point, you might be thinking about all of the free time you don’t have to produce free solutions.

But if you are strategic and smart with your time, you’ll be surprised by the value you can provide — it just takes focus and diligence.

Now, select one problem that:

  • You have the ability to solve
  • Doesn’t require an unreasonable amount of time and resources to solve
  • You can give away for free

This will be your baby. You’ll nurture it at every free moment you can spare. (I have three hours before work every morning dedicated to side projects like my newsletter for web designers.)

This problem, which you hate, should now be your favorite thing in the world.

Step #3: Solve the problem and provide the solution for free

Developing a solution to your problem is the shortest step in the process but undoubtedly the hardest and most crucial.

Solving problems is hard. Solving problems with excellence is even more difficult, as any entrepreneur will tell you.

But solving problems is the essential ingredient to success, and the quality of your solution will be what markets your capabilities.

Finally, once you’ve solved the problem — and double-checked that the solution is excellent — you’re ready to provide it for free.

With this process, don’t ask for anything in return, but don’t be a stranger either — always offer ways to connect and an easy way to get in touch with you.

Remember the inviting further dialogue part I mentioned earlier?

Make yourself available. Inviting further dialogue is your call to action.

Content marketing anyone can do

By following this system, you not only benefit your industry and community, you will also indirectly build authority.

John was just a typical developer before that morning of email bliss. He was regarded as the “company guy,” rather than a content marketer or entrepreneur.

Yet, over time and as a result of consistency, prospects recognized him as a trustworthy resource they wanted to do business with.

By following this process again and again, you’ll not only benefit everyone who cares about the problems you can solve, you’ll also gain loyal customers who trust you. They’ll respect you, support you, and market your expertise and products for free for years to come.

The best part of it all? Absolutely anyone in any industry can do it.

You just have to start.

Additional reading: If you found this article useful, you may also like How to Decide Which Content to Sell and What to Give Away for Free.

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Stop the Local SEO Tunnel Vision & Think Beyond the Basics

Posted by Casey_Meraz

“Local SEO is just too hard.”

Those were the first words of a conversation I had earlier this week coming from a potential client we’ll call “Luke.” Luke had been working on building his own local SEO presence internally for his dental office for over a year and had not seen the results he expected in a popular top 100 US city. We talked about citations, his trouble getting reviews, and how hard it was for him to get links. He told me he had followed the best practices but had not seen the kind of #1 ranking results he was looking for. Luke was a bit defeated, so I dove a little deeper and asked him more specifically what he’d done. He told me that he had done the following:

  • Optimized his Google My Business profile
  • Gotten a handful of reviews
  • Built the basic citations
  • Removed the citation issues I found
  • Gotten a few links
  • Posted new localized content from time to time

So I prodded a bit further and tried to get some details about his competition. I asked Luke what his competitors had done. He told me that they had done the exact same things he had done. He told me that he watched them and tried to just “replicate” on his own site what he saw from the top performers. This perked my interest and caused me to ask him a real-world question.

“Luke, if you’re doing the same things as everyone else, why do you deserve to be rewarded or ranked higher than them? What makes you better?” – Casey Meraz

This basic question had major implications and he finally understood why I’d started asking about the rest of his website’s health. As an SEO, it’s easy to make assumptions as to what’s causing ranking gains, but keep in mind you can never really know the whole picture. We don’t know what links they disavowed, and we sure don’t know which links Google sees but that other link detection tools are not picking up.

It’s time to break free from local SEO tunnel vision.

In this article, I’m going to talk about some tactical things you can do to market your business and increase your local SEO presence. To do so, we have to break free from our tunnel vision a bit and bring in new strategies on a constant basis. But why should we do this?

With the recent local pack shake up and 2016 around the corner, I think it’s time that SEOs and marketing managers start to look to the future.

What do I mean? Almost any post you read online pertaining to local SEO is quick to point out that you need the basics, such as a strong citation profile with no duplicates, quality links, and some local on-page optimization. But does it really stop there? Should it stop there? Or should we be looking at the signs Google’s been giving us? It’s no secret that Google has been moving towards taking on more organic signals. What does the future really hold for us and how should we be advising our clients?

What I’m going to be covering can be broken down into three main sections:

  1. Don’t ignore the basics.
    While I am telling you to think outside of the box, I’m not saying you should ignore the basics. Having a strong basic foundation to local SEO is key to your long-term and short-term SEO success.
  2. Think more about traditional organic ranking factors.
    We are going to do a deep dive here where we’ll talk about the reasons and implications of having a solid website with more of an organic SEO mindset.
  3. Don’t stop believing in citations and links.
    We know that links are important both for local and organic SEO. Why stop with the basics? As long as they’re healthy, keep trucking along.

1. Don’t ignore the basics in local SEO.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time covering this, but it’s important to reiterate it. Local SEO is built on a strong foundation of best practices. These include everything from having consistent and non-duplicated citations — which consist of your NAP (Business Name, Address, and Phone Number) on the top directories and data aggregators — to ensuring your landing pages are properly optimized.

Worry about the basics first, then move onto step 2 — traditional organic ranking factors.

To get an idea of what I mean when talking about “the basics,” read these cool resources:

How to Perform the Ultimate Local SEO Audit

Website Optimization Basics for Local SEO

Local Search Ranking Factors for 2015

2. Think more about traditional organic ranking factors.

Google really loves their traditional organic ranking factors. How do I know this? Well, whether it was Pigeon, Mobilegeddon, or other updates, you can see that Google is trying to provide users with the best online experience. They don’t want to show non-mobile-friendly results when a user is searching on their phone.

It’s no secret that Google’s algorithm is getting more sophisticated every year. As they do this, it becomes clear that they want to provide a great search experience, as well as a great user experience.

This is why we need to take a step back, shake our heads, and start looking around. If you want to be competitive for your clients in the long-term, it would be wise to start taking steps toward the future now.

Below are a list of some of the most common issues I see. For a full list of items to audit, check out Steve Webb’s SEO audit here.

Common on-page errors that hurt or hinder local SEO efforts

  1. Not having a mobile-friendly website
    Ok, seriously. You’ve heard of Mobilegeddon (which was a bit over-exaggerated). But if you’re taking your time and still haven’t built a mobile site, you need to fix that ASAP. With so many searches being mobile now and with Google caring more and more about organic ranking signals, don’t be surprised if you’re not rewarded in mobile search results if you don’t have a mobile-friendly website.
  2. Using a bulky and non-SEO-friendly theme
    The problem with buying a website theme without testing it for speed considerations first? Page load time. We’ll talk more about that in just a minute, but it’s a real problem. The reason that websites range from as low as free to thousands of dollars is typically because great websites require a great deal of work. Minifying the code and ensuring that every element loads quickly and properly on browsers is essential. Check out this handy web developers cheat sheet to get a better grasp on the factors that are most important.
  3. Having slow site speed
    Recently I was consulting for a client in the dental field who had atrocious site load times. Google cares about the user experience — if your site takes forever to load, you can bet that will have a negative impact on you. Not to mention, this might mean the Google crawlers will spend less time checking out your website.
  4. Having a lot of 404 errors
    Log in to the Google Search Console and run a site crawl with Screaming Frog to figure out where 404s exist on your website. If you have a bunch of broken pages, you’re both missing out on their link juice and you’re showing that you’re not taking good care of your website. Show that you care about your site and clean these babies up.
  5. Using 302 redirects
    302 redirects from the outside in aren’t passing that valuable link juice you need. Since we know link equity is a ranking factor, we need to keep as much of it as we can. Do not use 302 redirects for permanent changes. Fix these and update them to 301 redirects.
  6. Using 301 redirects internally
    If you update a link on your website and it creates a broken link, don’t take the easy way out and just create an internal 301 direct. I see a lot of issues with these where, over time, webmasters will lose sight of them and multiple redirect levels will take place. Use a tool (like Screaming Frog) to identify these errors and their source. Make sure to clean them up to prevent issues. Remember, if your links are taking multiple hops, you’re diminishing their link value.
  7. Missing title tags
    If you’re using WordPress, you can easily add title tags in a number of ways. I prefer the Yoast SEO Plugin. It’s solid, it’s regularly updated, and it works to easily update title tags on your pages. Make sure all of the pages on your site are taking advantage of title tags and localized title tags.
  8. Missing H1 heading tags. Seriously, check this.
    Not having local-centric H1 tags is a common problem I see with local pages. One of the problems is that you might think you have H1 tags on your WordPress theme, but in reality they’re not coded that way. Sometimes there are disconnects between developers and SEOs, and this sort of thing occurs frequently. Use a tool like the MozBar browser plugin and page analysis tool to quickly point out if your web page is using an H1 tag. Make sure they’re localized, too. :)
  9. Not having enough hyper-local text content
    Remember that Google is very granular on location detection now. If you list that you serve or do work in surrounding local neighborhoods, you’re going to get some benefit out of creating content around these areas. It really proves that you know the community and you’re a part of it, as well.
  10. Not taking advantage of hyper-local images and videos
    Hyper-local content is not just text on a page. It can be a localized video or photo, as well. If you’re serving a specific geographic area and creating content around it, you can tie local visitors into the content and get them to engage further if you’re using photos of places they recognize. Localized photos are a great way to create unique content that’s relevant to your local audience.

Common off-page errors that hurt or hinder local SEO efforts

  1. Citations using 301 redirects to other 301 redirects to…
    I feel like this is a pro tip, but it really isn’t. This is an interesting one that I actually find is commonly overlooked. Let’s look at a common scenario for this one:

    A common issue is when your citation or link sources were set up years ago, yet you’ve changed your website landing pages at some point since then. In this case, you probably would have created a 301 redirect so links from your citation sources redirect and pass link juice to the appropriate page. However, what if you’ve done this several times? What if you built strong links to these old URLs and then redirected them multiple times? It’s a link value loss and it needs to be rectified.

    The solution is to update your links and citations to point to the proper landing page URL when possible.

  2. Stop adding new citations due to their citation value alone
    Everyone is quick to tell you that the top citations carry the most weight. I don’t disagree with that. But I also think there’s not a hard-and-fast decision that says you need to stop building citations. Most citations also have a link source to add a link. Nofollow links seem to help local SEO. Why ignore them? If you find quality directories, localized websites, or other places that you can get listed on, be sure to take advantage of them.

  3. Not getting enough reviews
    It’s cool to rank in the top three results, but our click test studies have shown that many users will bypass the first or second result and click on the third if the number of positive reviews is greater. You need to have a solid review strategy in place in 2015. If you’re running a great business and don’t have a program for online reviews, then you need to get your act together.

    If you need a review solution, check out Get Five Stars — it’s a review platform that allows you to easily acquire customer feedback and encourage online reviews.

  4. Your competition is spamming you in Map Maker
    In this post, Linda Buquet over at the Local Search Forum pointed out one way that businesses were scoring a Google One Box by cheating. Basically, either intentionally or through a data update, businesses were taking advantage of the Google Map Maker Alternate Names tab and keyword stuffing them with localized keywords, as you can see in the example below. If you see this, be sure to report it and get them addressed. You can search for these in Google.com/MapMaker by viewing the alternate names.

Something you need to overcome

Keyword-rich domains
They can be “exact match domains,” “similar match domains,” “keyword-rich domains,” or whatever you want to call them. The reality is that if your competition is beating you because of this little trick, you need to step up your game. There is no denying their benefit in local organic SEO; you need to create enough signals to overcome them. Below, I’ll discuss how you can do this. With some hard work and elbow grease, you can beat out your competition in this area.

3. Don’t stop building citations and links.

So you’ve taken care of all the SEO best practices and you’re still not winning? Where’s your elbow grease? Do you think your competition stopped? Do you think they stopped because you’re winning? If so, you’ll be up for a rude awakening when they surpass you. It’s far easier to maintain superiority than to fight to get it back after you’ve lost it.

This is one of the most common SEO mistakes I see resulting from tunnel vision. As a marketer, when you start thinking, “Well, I’ve done everything I need to and it’s working, so I’ll just sit back and relax,” all I can say is no, no, no. This is a detrimental mindset to both you and your clients’ success. Always keep building the exposure and the brand. Never stop. Please don’t stop believing, and please don’t ask me to sing that at karaoke… because I will.

Now, let’s get tactical with some things you should be doing outside of the usual.

  1. Don’t forget video creation & its benefits
    Did you create a video or two and lose steam? Did you forget how powerful videos can be and how easy they are to make? You can get a legitimately good video made on Fiverr for $ 50 that will blow your clients’ minds. The key to this is doing your due diligence and not taking shortcuts. Create the outline, write the text, and order a well-made video. Whether you have a news announcement or want to just repurpose content on your website, video is a great medium. Good video will help your site flourish; don’t produce crappy video.

    So, what can you do with a video? You can upload it to a number of sites like YouTube, Vimeo, and DailyMotion, earning a cool-looking citation and links to your local landing page.

  2. Don’t stop with competitive citation analysis
    Competition analysis is easier than it ever has been. We have tools like Whitespark, Brightlocal, the N.A.P. HUNTER Extension, and Places Scout to easily identify competitors’ citations. There is no reason not to keep a running list of these and a small commitment of, say, 10 new additions per month based on your top ten competitors in a space.

    If you don’t have access to the tools listed above, you can also just do a Google search and see what listings come up for the competition that you don’t have.

  3. Start getting new links & don’t stop
    Luke mentioned during our conversation that “getting links was too hard.” Let’s think about that statement for a moment. If links were easy to get, wouldn’t everyone go for them? Or perhaps they already earned the easy links. Of course, you can always gain links the traditional way by seeking them, for which I’ll show you a couple of good resources below. However, some of the best companies are always newsworthy.

    The attorneys Sutliff & Stout ran a drunk driving campaign for the holidays. It got them on local news stations complete with real interviews, great links, and a very positive impact on their local visibility. These were real business actions they were taking that resulted in media attention.
    If you need ideas, here are some you can take home with you right now. I suggest reading these posts and making a schedule or a goal. Go after a couple a week. But don’t just stick to one link building idea. Diversify, and be careful with your anchor text.

    11 Ways for Local Businesses to Get Links – Written by yours truly on the Moz Blog

    35 Sites Which Increase Your Domain’s Trust – Shared with me by Adam Steele

    52 Link Building Ideas from Point Blank SEO

    Building Links with local events from Kane Jamison

    8 Local Link Building Tactics Beyond Business Listings – Whitespark

    Get Five New Links a Week (Lawyer-centric) – Juris Digital Blog

  4. Integrate your offline marketing and your online marketing
    How many times have you participated in an offline initiative, but didn’t coordinate it with your online efforts? Real companies tend to be active in the community or have a presence. Whether that means they sponsor a Little League (link opportunity), they host an annual event (event link building), or they get local TV station interviews, these efforts and signals should be coordinated to have the maximum SEO benefit.

And finally… Set realistic goals for your efforts

If you’re quick to promise results, make sure you can deliver on your timelines. I work mostly in the legal field with personal injury attorneys. In this field, you’re competing with some of the best SEOs, people who have been doing this a lot longer than many of the “fly-by-night” guys. This means that, even though we’re doing the right things and following best practices, we still need to be promoting the business everyday. Even taking this approach, the results will take time. It’s a long-term investment and you have to stick with it. Set realistic goals up front with your clients and make sure they understand the competition.

With this knowledge, time, and power, you should have the resources you need to think outside of the box and dominate local SEO.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

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Why Creating Your First Blockbuster Online Product Is Easier Than You Think

chocolate cupcakes with white frosting and rainbow sprinkles

Imagine you’ve just launched your first product.

It’s a short little course, just a few weeks long, that teaches the “DIY” version of the topics you help people with every day. You built it once, delivered it online, and now it works for you while you’re off doing other activities you love.

This online course has been a transformative force in your life.

You’ve found financial freedom, because you’re no longer constrained by the economics of trading time for money. And you’ve multiplied your impact, making the world a better place for dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people.

It’s a pretty picture, isn’t it?

But you and I both know it isn’t so easy to achieve.

In reality, most people with big dreams of product creation end up spending months, or even years, investing time and money that they can’t afford to lose into a project that will probably never see the light of day.

It’s a sad reality, but the good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Let your audience direct your product development …

What the creators of most blockbuster products have figured out is how to completely avoid that situation by allowing their audiences to guide product development.

This is one of the areas where Copyblogger has always excelled. They first discussed the concept of a minimum viable audience back in 2012:

Build an audience through content marketing. Let them tell you what they want. Build products and offer services based on their desires and needs. Prosper.

By putting the audience first and letting them tell you what you should create, you don’t have to wonder what they want or make assumptions that lead you in the wrong direction.

You begin by listening to your audience.

Let go of assumptions and pay careful attention to what your audience says, in their own words.

There are a few ways to do this:

  1. Study your blog posts that get shared the most and those with the largest number of comments.
  2. Notice the email and newsletter subjects that your audience responds to with the highest levels of urgency and emotion.
  3. When your audience emails you “just because,” collect the questions they ask and the problems they mention.

As you interact with your audience, take notes about the most common problems and questions.

But what if you don’t have an audience?

The good news is that you can listen the same way even if you don’t have a large audience yet, or even any audience at all.

By engaging with your future audience where they hang out online, you can still gather the same type of data.

Copyblogger describes this as “being an integral member of your own market.”

For example, you can listen in on your target audience wherever they happen to be. By looking at comments that they leave on blog posts and forums around the web, you will start to see repeatedly asked questions.

You can also eavesdrop on and join in conversations on social media. By finding interest groups on LinkedIn or Facebook and taking part in the discussion, you can explore the topics discussed the most often, or you can observe the interactions between a market leader and his Twitter followers.

Now you know how to begin to engage an audience in your product development.

Moving forward from there, you can gather even more in-depth data whether or not you have an audience.

One way to do this is to create a simple survey, asking the respondents about their biggest challenge.

Or, to go even deeper, you can conduct informational interviews with either members of your audience or the people who responded to your survey.

These interviews can be conducted over the phone or by video chat. During the interviews, you can ask specific questions about a certain topic or problem.

These methods of delving into the problem language of your intended audience will pay off in an overflowing stack of raw data.

But before that data is really worth something, you have to sort it and figure out what it all means.

By sifting through the data, you are likely to uncover patterns that will show you the problems you can potentially solve for your audience.

For example, a writing coach might gather data from her audience of aspiring writers and observe that half of the respondents have questions about Scrivener, and that another 10 percent have asked about what type of writing software they should use.

The writing coach would then see a pattern as she sorted through her data: Her audience wants to use time-saving software, and teaching a course on Scrivener might be a way for her to solve their problem.

Once you get an idea of what your audience might be willing and eager to pay for, you still have a crucial step before you can start creating that product: validation!

What’s the best way to validate that your audience will buy your product?

Answer: sell a pilot version of the product.

How to rapidly assemble and deploy your pilot offer

Much like listening to your audience to determine what you will offer them, you will also involve them in creating the offer.

To assemble your pilot offer, follow this structure:

  1. Collect information. This includes the steps that we have covered so far.
  2. Reach out to your target audience. Present your offer as a response to their demand — a solution to the problems they’ve discussed. Describe the offer, and include the story of how they brought your product into existence.
  3. Listen to their answers. Are they interested in the product now that it exists? Are they not really responding? If this is the case, go back to your research to see what should be changed or improved.
  4. Tell them your plan. Explain the motivation behind your actions by saying, “You asked me to do this, so I’m doing it.” Give them a preview. Let them know roughly what material will be covered, the structure of the course, and other relevant details. This step is important, because you don’t want to surprise your audience later with, “Hey, here’s this thing I never told you about. You should buy it!”
  5. Open a brief registration window. Once you start accepting new customers, send follow-up emails, with escalating urgency as you get closer to the date and time that the cart will close. Answer any questions that your audience asks and give them any additional information they might need. Then, close enrollment.
  6. Deliver the course!

The truth is: this process is a lot of hard work up front, but it’s totally worth it when your pilot product presents you with a ticket to success.

Getting your first cohort of customers

So, let’s imagine again:

  • You’ve become an integral member of your market.
  • You listened to your audience, paying attention to their exact words.
  • You created a product that your audience was practically begging you to build.

And, you just successfully sold your first product.

Imagine it working for you in the background, fueling and funding the life you want to lead. Imagine the impact you have achieved, making the world a better place.

Now, stop imagining.

Your audience is anxiously waiting for you to co-create that blockbuster product with them. So do your market research to see what they want.

Then reach out to them, and sell that pilot offer — and if you need help, check out our free templates that you can use to breeze through the sales portion of this process.

From there, the rest will be history.

Now go make it happen!

And let us know over on LinkedIn how you plan to get started …

Flickr Creative Commons Image via sunshinecity.

About the Author: Danny Iny is the co-founder of Firepole Marketing and creator of the Course Builder’s Laboratory. For a limited time, he’s giving away a massive “Done For You” swipe kit of email templates that you can adapt to sell your own pilot course.

The post Why Creating Your First Blockbuster Online Product Is Easier Than You Think appeared first on Copyblogger.


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Outdated SEO Concepts People Still Think are Reality

Posted by katemorris

Blaise Alleyne

It’s on the internet, so it’s true.

The bane of the existence of all search marketers is old or incorrect information given to clients at
any point in time that they still hang on to. This post was inspired by an interaction with a client’s co-workers, people that are not thinking about SEO on a regular basis. This is not to knock them, but to bring to the attention of everyone that there is a continual need for education. These concepts have a way of hanging around.

And this isn’t about just clients either. This is about friends, parents, and partners. Does anyone else still get asked if they make pop-up ads when they try to explain what they do? (Just me? Crap.)

Doing research for this post, I noticed there are a ton of SEO misconceptions out there, and people are talking about them regularly, but many are related to content marketing or online marketing overall. I’m not covering all misconceptions, but those concepts that seem to be stuck to the idea of SEO and will not let go. Then I’ll give you resources to help educate the people that believe these misconceptions and alternate solutions to give them.

Hiding Cat by Aftab Uzzaman

Putting text behind an image

The inspiration. The client is struggling with balancing revenue and content on the page. There is a large image on the page now and we suggested editing the page to add content about the product. The question was asked if we could just put the content behind the image and solve both problems.

My client stepped in and answered the question wonderfully, but it brought to mind how many times I’ve seen overstuffed alt text attributes and content in a noscript tag that doesn’t match what’s in the Flash.

Additional resource

A Comprehensive Guide to Hidden Text

Alternate solution

In this instance, we recommended putting text below the fold for the users that wanted the information and keeping the current image for returning users. Balance that satisfies both user needs and the business goals.

Copying a competitor’s actions

This isn’t as obvious as hiding text, but it’s something that companies refuse to stop doing. It’s the concept that if a competitor is doing something, it must be worth doing. This goes for competitors ranking above a business, but it also covers competitors that the business just dislikes. We all have those competitors we want to “beat” and sometimes that makes us do things that are not fully researched and planned.

Amazon.com is my biggest annoyance. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard the reasoning “but Amazon does it” by major brands that other businesses look up to. Amazon, like most major companies, tests many things, and there is a different person behind each test. If you work for a large company, you understand what I mean.

Additional resource

Stop Copying Your Competitors, They Don’t Know What They are Doing Either

Alternate solution

Everyone is on the hunt for the best results and bringing in new customers, retaining current customers, and making other stakeholders happy. The way you beat competitors is to listen to your stakeholders (customers, clients, partners, employees, investors) and make decisions based on their feedback as well as what is going on in the market.

Sheer number of links equals ranking

This has been debunked so many times it makes my head swim. That doesn’t change how many people still think that the total number of links (as reported by a third party tool like Moz, Majestic, or AHREFs) is the sole factor in ranking. Want to do better in SERPs? Well, we need to hire someone to build us some links! I’m going to leave one screen shot here (Search: “insurance”) and then we’ll get into resources and solutions for when you have to face this.

Additional resource

Moz Search Ranking Factors

Alternate solution

This is more of an “additional solution,” as links and mentions are still very important, but as seen above, it’s far from the only factor in ranking. It’s best to explain the different ranking factors like content relevance to the query, some social data, query deserves freshness, local, news, personalization, and all of the other things that can impact ranking. Focus on a marketing strategy that will not only result in links, but also send new customers through those links and engage the customers into lifelong evangelists.

A loss in traffic means you’ve been penalized

The next two are focused on the issue of penalties. So many people are afraid of being penalized. I think this goes back to the days of black marks in your school record. That or people are worried about losing revenue. Maybe that.

The media gets involved with SEO when there is a penalty and so that is what most people hear about. FTD and Overstock types of situations. Then disaster strikes and revenue falls unexpectedly. After some digging, they find that website traffic is down. This paired with emails business owners get at least once a quarter (in a good year) from fly by night SEO companies telling them they can help with SEO, promise the moon and warn of penalties.

The only logical conclusion is a penalty! We have all seen it and most reputable agencies pipelines are filled with leads from companies in this exact situation. The thing is that we never know if there is a penalty unless we dive into the situation, but I have seen times where there is no penalty.

Many things could have happened including:

  • A developer added a noindex tag to a section of the site when meaning to add it to one page or they disallowed that section.
  • The site was redesigned with URL changes that can drop the traffic coming into many sites if not done correctly.
  • PPC traffic stopped due to a corporate card expiring and not being updated.

Additional resource

Guide to Common SEO Penalties and How to Recover From Them

Alternate solution

Rather than paying the first person that will call you back, first look into what part of the site lost traffic and where that traffic was coming from in the past few months. Did you lose traffic from organic search, paid search, referral traffic, or social media? Try to narrow down what happened and figure it out from there. If you’re sure it was organic search, look into the date and ask your developers if anything changed about the site. If nothing did, check Google Webmaster Tools for any messages from Google about a penalty. If you’re sure it’s organic search and there are no messages, that’s a good time to contact a reputable agency. 

Duplicate content can incur a penalty

Penalty by Daniele Zanni

I did a talk on this very topic a few years back at Pubcon. So many people don’t take the time to understand what duplicate content is and how to fix it. More importantly, there is a misunderstanding that duplicate content can cause or is a penalty. 

Most clients assume that having duplicate content will incur the “search engine gods’ ” wrath, and that just isn’t true (for the most part; I mean, if your whole site is a copy of someone else’s site …). Duplicate content is a hindrance to site performance most of the time, but most likely not the cause for a substantial drop in traffic and definitely not a penalty from the search engines. 

Additional resource

Google’s Guidelines for Duplicate Content

Alternate solution

Don’t fret. Take the time to visit Webmaster Tools regularly and check out your duplicated title tags and meta descriptions for an easy look into what might be causing duplicate content or crawling issues on your site. Maintenance is the best medicine!

A call to educate

Education by Sean MacEntee

We sometimes live in a bubble where we think people know everything we do and take for granted information like everything above. If someone asked you how to create a P&L Statement, could you? Maybe, maybe not, but you get what I mean. Take the time to answer questions, whether from clients or colleagues if you are in-house. You would be amazed how much more YOU can learn from teaching others. 

So what are your horror stories? Let me know in the comments below!

Photo credits (all images are linked):

  • Internet Open by Blaise Alleyne
  • Hiding Cat by Aftab Uzzaman
  • Penalty by Daniele Zanni
  • Educate by Sean MacEntee

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