Below is a transcript of the Internet Marketing for Smart People Radio show titled What Works With SEO Right Now and Why No One Does What You Want.
The original podcast aired on Friday, September 23, 2011.
Please note that this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and grammar.
Robert Bruce: When was the last time either of you used a pen and paper to write something?
Brian Clark: I had to write my wife a check.
Sonia Simone: Oh, that needs the big pen.
Robert: A check.
Robert: Okay, no, let’s rephrase this question. When was the last time you wrote something substantial with a pen and paper?
Brian: I had to write my wife a check.
Sonia: I can’t match that, I’m sorry. I cannot top that. I have never written anything that substantial.
Robert: This is Robert Bruce. I’m here with Brian Clark, Chief Executive Officer of Copyblogger Media, and Sonia Simone, Chief Marketing Officer of Copyblogger Media. Guys, how’s it going today?
Brian: You make us sound so important.
Sonia: I know. Can I change my title to Chief Kumbaya Officer?
Robert: You’re on this title changing kick.
Sonia: I am.
Brian: I tried to make you Chief Content Officer and you squarely rejected that.
Robert: Why was that rejected, Sonia?
Sonia: I don’t know. It’s just not fun enough.
Brian: It’s like Credence Clearwater Officer.
Sonia: Yeah. See, that’s a major fail. That’s unacceptable.
Brian: The joke or the title or both?
SEO Lessons from Steve Jobs
Robert: All right, Wayne Barker over at SearchEngineJournal.com wrote an article last week titled, SEO Lessons from Apple’s Steve Jobs.
He takes what could be called a very old school approach to SEO. It’s an approach that actually most publishers followed long before Google, keywords and anchor text existed. Brian, what’s he talking about here?
Why is SEO so much more than good math?
Brian: Because it’s about content. Really what you’re saying is people have been publishing online with quality content.
For example, the New York Times, I remember when they first started serving alternate title tags to Google because they became aware of the amount of traffic that they were leaving on the table by not doing simple SEO stuff with their titles. They started with high quality content, some of the highest quality content around, offline or on.
So that’s where we’re at. That’s really what the point of this piece was other than a great link baity, Twitter sharing type title, which we love. That’s really what he’s talking about here, which is a very good Apple analogy.
Apple makes everything fabulous and sexy and it’s the epitome of why Seth Godin says, “The product is the marketing.”
Sonia: I really liked this post because even though the big SEOs get it — and as Wayne Barker says,
When I say modern SEO I’m not talking about the spammy, repetitive strain of meta keywords and directory submissions. I’m talking about creating great content, beautiful sites, link building through real relationships and the creation of new brand names.
I love that because traditional SEO moved away from that for this kind of blip period where everybody was trying to outsmart the robots, right? Everybody was trying to outsmart the algorithm.
Eventually, the algorithm had gotten smart enough to deliver what Google wants to deliver, which is they don’t want to deliver crap. He has an interesting point here.
I wish more people would think about this when they optimize content. You have to feel the content you create belongs on the first page of Google. I think that’s intensely powerful.
Keywords are the language of your audience
Brian: The prominent SEOs are now white-hat SEOs of course.
They focus on content. There is no way around it. That’s why when we designed Scribe you start with the writing and with the writer, who is not typically thought of as an SEO, and then you give them the information they need to gently tweak it as opposed to starting with some keyword focus.
Now, of course, you can take this too far. Some people in social media talk about keywords like it’s not language.
Brian: Like it’s not the language of the audience.
It’s amazing to me, and some of these people are just lazy, they are prominent one way or another and they don’t want to bother with SEO because that’s not what gets them in the bookstore or on the speaking trail.
For the rest of us, who are in the business of creating content and wanting people to see it because that generally leads to more revenue in our business models, it is important.
Dating back to Gene Schwartz, this is the language of your audience. This is how they speak. Keyword research is just a boon of free understanding that those guys didn’t have. They used to have to read trashy magazines and Popular Mechanics and stuff like that to try to get a feel for how people were actually speaking.
Robert: Keyword research, I mean, even more applicable to your average human being, more so than search engines?
Sonia: Even if there is no way you could ever rank for your topic, and you probably can rank for your topic if you localized it or if you create a niche, but let’s say you can’t rank for your topic, for some reason you just can’t do it, knowing the keywords lets you speak the language of your customer, the specific language of your customer. When you know what they type into the search engine to find out about what you do, you can speak to them more directly. Even if you never get a single hit from search, it’s still beneficial.
Now, what we have found again and again is when you do it right and when you focus on the reader, when you focus on quality and when you focus on what you’re talking about and, again, creating great content, the search engines will find you.
When you don’t care about the “search engines” the search engines love you more. It’s kind of like the real pretty girl in high school. We’ve seen that born out again and again where when you sort of act like it doesn’t matter, that’s what creates the authoritative content, not the really crummy looking stuff that we’ve all seen that’s all stuffed up with keywords.
It’s got weird stuff in hidden tags. It’s got like keywords in white text on a white background and all these lame tricks. That did used to work, but it don’t work no more.
The world post-Panda
Brian: After Panda especially, the major update to Google. We’re still wondering if it’s a function of the algorithm or something that’s outside of it.
The interesting thing, Sonia, that you picked up on, more and more it is important to have a tight editorial focus.
Again, that was kind of a consequence of Panda. All these big authority sites were trying to write about everything and they were ranking for it just brute force tons of thin content, long tailed keywords, whatever. What Panda really did was say, “If this isn’t what your site is about and what your site is about isn’t getting links and shared and other indicators, you’re not going to rank.”
That’s it, simplified.
Those who have kind of been following the Copyblogger model all along didn’t even notice Panda because to rank for a keyword phrase you have to be writing about that a lot. That’s been generally true, but now it’s more true than ever.
Even a high authority site like Copyblogger with a ton of links coming into it is not going to rank for something random that is not something we write about all the time. Google has gotten smart enough to understand.
This is why thinking like a publisher or a media company is more important than ever. Media companies don’t just spew out random garbage — unless you’re Demand Media. They actually have an editorial focus, right?
Anyway, that’s my two cents.
So is SEO easier or harder now?
Robert: Could you make an argument that Google and other search engines are simplifying SEO? Outside of the basics of SEO which can be handled by our own Genesis framework, you know, clean code, on-post SEO, title tags, meta descriptions — outside of those basics could you argue that Google is really simplifying this down in light of this article?
Brian: No. I think it used to be simple back when you could just repeat a bunch of words. Now you have to make something great. Okay, so that’s simple, but it’s not easy.
Robert: Okay, so that’s simple.
Sonia: It’s simple, but difficult.
Robert: Yeah, right.
Sonia: Yeah. It used to be complicated, but kind of not hard. It was brute force. You just apply enough crappy links, buy enough bad links and make enough spam blog comments and you would be okay.
Now, it’s simpler and I think for the good writer I think it’s simpler. I think it’s easier. They don’t have all that crap to compete with. Now, they’re on a playing field that they own, which is why good copywriters need to spend really, guys, it’s like 45 minutes learning about what really works with SEO copywriting. It’s just a small handful of things, technical things and start putting yourselves out there as SEO copywriters.
That is now the killer app, the ability to actually write something somebody actually wants to read.
A Food Pyramid for Content Marketing
Robert: What’s everybody having for lunch?
Sonia: Something incredibly high protein and good for me.
Robert: Okay. Sonia, you answered so I’m going with you.
We’re talking about food. Tracy Gold wrote a little article/infographic over at ContentMarketingInstitute.com titled, A Food Pyramid for Content Marketing.
Tracy breaks this food pyramid down into three parts — curation, creativity and coordination. What’s this all about and how is it helpful to online publishers?
Sonia: This is a really cool post because it gives you an immediate big picture of what a content strategy looks like.
Just like different people find different ways of eating healthful, this pyramid might not be your pyramid. Your pyramid might kind of move some tiers around or you might put things in a different place. But knowing what your pyramid should look like, what works for you, your audience, your business, super, super useful.
I like her base. So at the base that means everything has to rest on this. If you don’t do this, then the rest of it you’re going to have a tough time with.
For her, it’s curation, creativity and coordination. So it’s three C’s — alliteration is always good.
Curation being, in her words, and you’ve probably heard content marketing referred to as thought leadership, which is an interesting insight, this is basically just the point that you now have to know your topic.
If your topic is something that gets lots and lots of blog posts, then you probably have to read the big blogs and kind of know what people are saying. Just understand what’s going on in your topic.
Blogs may not be where you go for curation, but you have to keep yourself informed. You have to know what you’re talking about. You have to know your field and you have to stay up to date and you have to have your own take. So it’s not really that interesting if you’re Wikipedia and you just spit out what everybody else says.
Thought leadership and authority
Brian: That’s interesting. I agree with her concept of content marketing as thought leadership. I mean, we talk about content marketing as a way to build authority.
What really is authority? It’s becoming a leader, right? Of course, since it’s content based, it’s thought leadership.
The only thing that I kind of take issue with was that you have to know what everyone else is saying and then add something to the conversation. Usually when you think of a thought leader they say something and everyone else starts talking about it. That’s the basis of attracting links and all that. I would play with that just a little bit.
Then when you are in that thought leadership or authority position, sharing related content from people, who can even be conceived of as your competitors, just shows confidence in your position, right? So I don’t fundamentally disagree. I just think there is a little nuance there.
Sonia: Her second C is content creativity. So this is one that is an eternal question for people who are creating content.
How can I create something people really want to read? How can I come up with a fresh angle, a new way of putting things?
Very often the basics don’t change much. Since we’re all dealing with human being and human beings don’t change much, very often the basics in any topic or even the nuances of any topic are very grounded in the same principles again and again. So how do you find the fresh angle, keep yourself interested, excited, find creative new ways to express it? So that’s a key element.
Then coordination, this is one that is a little bit hidden. It’s a backstage issue.
You need to take all this content, all these ideas and you need to be conscious about how you’re putting it all together. So you have to know where you’re going to distribute it. You have to just do your homework finding your images.
If you have guest writers, managing your writers, making sure that your content is kind of well distributed. You don’t bunch up one kind of post too much. It’s definitely an ebb and flow. It changes all the time, but there needs to be somebody making decisions about your content program, somebody with an editorial vision, somebody with a big picture.
So who should sign up for Internet Marketing for Smart People?
Robert: Speaking of making decisions, Brian, who should sign up for the Internet Marketing for Smart People 20-part course?
Brian: Well, you know, anyone who is basically looking for a structured step-by-step approach to a lot of the stuff that we talk about.
Our blog posts are our foundation, the second step of the pyramid just like Tracy has here. Yet blogs are inherently chaotic and scattered and you don’t know what happened last year because you weren’t around.
So Sonia did a really good job putting it together, not only with brand new, never seen before content in the 20 part lessons, but also referencing back in a very organized and sensible way all the supporting material that’s really important to understanding.
If you’re intrigued and you want to get going with online marketing — specifically with content — then this is a way that’s organized and well-paced to get your head around.
Okay, here is what I do and here is what I do next and here is what I do after that. I think anyone who wants that kind of orderly style, that’s what this course is as opposed to a blog.
Get over there and drop your email address into the little box and click the red button that says, “Sign me up.”
Writing tip of the week
Time to move into the writing tip of the week, guys.
Do you remember that old advice, “If you want something, you need to ask for it?” This tip is how to write a call to action.
It really is as simple and as difficult as that old advice. I don’t know what it is, but we have this huge capacity to overlook or ignore the most basic truths about how people work when we’re writing.
So, Sonia, how important is a call to action?
Sonia: Well, it’s not important at all if you don’t care what people do. If you actually want to get a particular result — you want to sell something, or you want to get signups for an email list, or you want somebody to share your content on Twitter — then you have to tell them what you want them to do.
I always joke around that this is like my ninja super-secret copywriting tip because it is the easiest thing you can do to make your copywriting work better. Not many people do it. You’ll even see some people with big-budget ad campaigns forget it.
The reason people forget it is it’s what makes an ad look like an ad. Often you’ll hear people say, “Oh, you know, if I tell people to call now it sounds like an infomercial.” That’s right because everything in an infomercial is there because it works.
So, a call to action is telling people in simple, clear language what you want them to do. Brian wrote a totally fascinating post about when you really want to get clicks on something, for example, you want people to click through to a landing page for a sales page let’s say for a product. The words, “Click here to learn more.” Even though every web usability expert is bursting into tears right now.
Brian: (laughing) They’re just gnashing their teeth going, “No! Don’t go there!”
Sonia: They’re going to be storming the gates, because it goes against what every usability expert will tell you. The fact is when you say, “Click here.” People click more.
Brian: Yeah. Here is the test the Marketing Profs did. Why did so many more people click it if it’s so horrible? Well, it’s ugly.
Robert: Why is this on kind of the outer limits of what works, knowledge of what works? Why is that not more widely known?
Sonia: Well, I think it’s because ad agencies are populated with people who don’t feel comfortable with selling anything.
Brian: Which is irony to the highest extreme, right?
Sonia: They want to create beautiful advertisements that win advertising prizes.
Ads agencies are full of creative people. Many small businesses just haven’t run across it before. Again, it makes people feel uncomfortable.
You have to get a tiny bit outside your comfort zone to say, “If you like this post, please retweet it on Twitter.” In fact, let’s talk about a call to action from social media that made people wildly uncomfortable.
There was all this discussion about how icky it made people feel, which is in a Dan Zarrella post that shows that posts that use the words “Please RT”, which stands for please retweet, get more retweets than tweets that don’t say that.
Brian, you have some thoughts on that, because Zarrella posted this data, “Okay, here is what the data is saying. The tweets with this phrase in them get more retweets.” It’s just black and white. A million people said, “Well, I don’t care. It’s just gross and desperate. I’m not doing that.” What’s your take on that?
Robert: “Please ReTweet” gets four times more retweets than a post that does not state that.
Brian: Dan is right, because he can identify a discreet phrase that results in more retweets, yet I don’t do it except maybe twice a year.
It’s usually for a charity or a good cause and not my content or something like that. So I am one of those people who think that if you did that all the time it would lose effectiveness. Occasionally, yes, it works quite well because it’s a call to action.
What the data doesn’t show though is that a lot of things that get retweeted a bunch cannot really be deemed a competitor to please retweet because they’re headlines or they’re a unique combination of language.
I found that the things that get retweeted the most generally depend on the headline.
I’ve noticed some other things, like when Chris Brogan retweets something of ours and gives it a personal recommendation it goes crazy because that’s the kind of relationship he has with his audience. So how do you quantify that exactly? Do you see what I’m saying? There is no stock language outside of please retweet.
So, the data is correct. If you want something to get retweeted and it’s important, occasionally I would use it. But your best bet for getting your content retweeted is to write great headlines and/or get someone with a huge audience to say, “Hey, go check this out.” Preferably both.
Robert: Even in social media, even in the kumbaya, let’s all get together and be in social media together environment, generally, we’re seeing this call to action actually working, being effective and not causing people to lose every single follower that they’ve ever gained in the last 10 years.
Sonia: No. I think people have to realize that it feels awkward to them to write. Often it’s not awkward to read. So, no, please don’t put “Please RT” on every tweet you post, then you just sort of look like an idiot.
This is not Internet Marketing for Idiots
Brian: This is not internet marketing for idiots.
Sonia: Yes, it’s not marketing for idiots.
Brian: I just wanted to clarify that in case some stray got on the call.
Sonia: There are many, many venues where you can find that. This is Internet Marketing for Smart People. So, yeah, don’t look like an idiot and please use it effectively.
ProBlogger — that’s @ProBlogger, Darren Rowse — used it just the other day because he has a cool new eBook out. I swear it’s worth it just for the beautiful pictures. They’re so gorgeous. He used it for that, but very judiciously.
I mean, I would say that he probably doesn’t use please RT more than one time in 500. So use it judiciously if you’ve got something special you want to bring people over to. Or as Brian said, you have something else you really want to bring some attention to.
I will tell you that actually asking yourself, “Would I retweet this?” is a great headline tip. If you look at your headline for your blog post and you say, “Well, if I saw that would I retweet that? If I saw it and I didn’t know what the post was about, would I go ahead and click?”
That’s a nice little headline test that can sometimes help boost your social media share ability, not just in Twitter, of course, but Facebook, LinkedIn, wherever your people are.
Robert: All right, guys, let’s wrap this up and get out of here. I need a sandwich.
Thanks for listening everyone. Remember, if you want more of this type of thing, but in a very systematic, useful — and did I say totally free? — 20 part course, please do sign up for the Internet Marketing for Smart People email course.
It’s like getting the best of the best of Copyblogger in 20 easy shots. To sign up just go over to Copyblogger.com/IMFSP or click the link you’ll see in the show notes of this post.
Brian, Sonia, thanks for bringing it.
Sonia: Thanks, dudes.
Brian: Thank you, sir and lady.