Some see SEO copywriting as a dirty term. Here at Siege Media, we fall into that camp and so does our esteemed guest, Joel Klettke.

Joel, founder of Business Casual Copywriting and Case Study Buddy, comes from a search background and has moved into a CRO one. As someone who frequently works with writers and also was an “SEO copywriter” himself, there’s no better person to talk the intersection of search and content.

In this episode we talk TF:IDF, how to hire writers, ranking for “What is X?” keywords without writing 4,000 words, 10x content, service page copy, and a whole lot more.

Show Agenda & Timestamps

1:25: What’s your opinion of “SEO Copywriting” as a term?
7:22: How you can have success without TF:IDF
12:14: What SEO rules do you give writing teams? How do you train them?
14:20: How to evolve your thinking past word counts
16:09: Do you nudge writers at all to write longer posts?
18:41: How can you rank for “What is X?” without having super long posts?
22:10: Why the thought that people don’t read is wrong
26:32: Why 10x content is actually the wrong way to think about things
29:35: How to write a compelling service page that also ranks well
38:05: How to hire great SEO-focused writers
47:05: The importance of doing customer surveys

Show Notes:

If you need a case study or otherwise, some great sales copy, Joel and his team have my top recommendation. He brought some great insights to this interview and how to think outside the SEO-template box.

Video Transcription

Ross: Hey, everybody. Welcome to Content and Conversation. I’m excited to be welcoming Joel Klettke of Business Casual Copywriting and Case Study Buddy. Joel is really respected in the SEO world for his copywriting expertise, his conversion skills, basically is the go-to for everything that in the sphere and he might not tell you that, but he’s really well-respected for that and I’m excited to be talking about SEO copywriting with him today. Welcome, Joel.

Joel: Thanks for having me.

Ross: Joel, excited to have you here today. Obviously, I think in the SEO world, and I’m curious to know the split of how many people come to you, but there are so many SEOs and copywriters, etc. in our world that just don’t get copy or copywriting, and you’ve stood out in that way as an expert and so many people are poor at that. You’ve done a great job of being a go-to there.

For anyone who doesn’t know, I really respect the work Joel does. I mean, we have great writers, and designers, and etc. on staff, but Joel and his conversion team, I know that they really get stuff and we’ve used them for case studies. I highly recommend them for that kind of work.

But specific to SEO copywriting, which you’re here for today, I’m just curious what your thought is about that term, what it says to you, what you think about it, and what that means for you.

Joel: Yeah. So, I mean, I just want to preface it by saying, I came out of the SEO world. My first job was running SEO campaigns and so I was there to watch kind of as the whole industry started really paying attention to content as being important and really kind of tapped into it. I hate the phrase SEO copywriting. I really don’t like that as a descriptor because I think inherently, when you start looking at content so narrowly through the lens of SEO, you miss so much that’s important.

At the end of the day, content is really communication. And so, with SEO, there are things that are super important, obviously, to SEOs, you know, you need to have content to earn those links, you need to have content to drive that traffic. But the tendency is to look at SEO copywriting as its own field aside from all other types of copywriting. That just doesn’t work.

SEO has to be a consideration, a part of that process but it can’t be its whole own thing. It doesn’t deserve to be its whole own thing. And when we make it its whole own thing, it really starts to suffer in some tragic and terrible ways.

Ross: Yeah. I imagine and you’ve probably seen and maybe you’ve even done a ton of cleanup for sites where basically, some SEO analyst has done all their copy themselves, and then you go back and you look at that and it sounds so robotic and terrible, and then you’re the artist to clean it up in a real way.

Joel: Yeah. I think the challenge too is like, people use SEO as a crutch. People want a set of black and white rules for putting together copy that guarantees it to work. So, I mean, we see this type of thing all the time in recommendations where it has to be 2,000 words and we have to have keywords in the title and, you know, we have to have this certain density.

So I think that’s part of the problem is SEOs want to have this rule book for what makes copy work, what makes content work, when in reality, those are nice guidelines, but you have to pick and choose. Sometimes one thing has to be sacrificed for the sake of the other. Sometimes not having the keyword in the headline means you can have a more compelling headline which means more people are going to click, and read, and engage with that in the first place.

So, I think the danger when I’m looking at, you know, as you say, coming in to clean something up, some of the things I see all the time are these really dense, you know, poorly formatted things where it’s like, “Well, we had to hit that density. We had to get it all together.” They ignore the format over their function and what they want the copy to do, as opposed to what that content says to the people who are meant to take it in.

Ross: That makes sense. All right. Thinking through as you express all these good thoughts of things I’ve thought about that tactically allow these goals to coexist. We have a specific client who has a setup where I think editorially, you’re completely right. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to put the keyword in there and they’ve even pushed back from an SEO point of view. They’re like, “If you put the keyword in there, no one’s going to click this article because it sounds boring, robotic, etc.”

I do think a decent way of walking that balance is maybe you have the URL as a keyword, and then the title, short term on their homepage where people, hopefully, come back and want to click things and come back, they’ll have the compelling title, short term, and people click that and share it, etc. and then maybe it starts getting some links, rankings, and then after the fact, six months, even three months, you can potentially change the title back to SEO-optimized keyword inclusion. Assuming it doesn’t break the focus of the article. I don’t know what you think.

Ross: Yeah. No, I totally agree. I had a meeting once when I was in an agency and I was so disheartened because this person, I was the SEO across the table and they were the content person that said, “Oh, SEO, you mean the death of the English language, right?”

And as a writer, that like really hurt me. Like no, we can be on the same team. You can. I think SEO has a really important and critical role to play on the strategic side. That’s part of what I love about the way Siege does things, is you use SEO like a weapon to identify areas you can exploit. Identify things that you know your client can rank for, capitalize on. But the great thing that you do after you do that is not make that the only informant, not make that the only way that you go about tackling that.

And so, SEOs have a great opportunity to operate in a strategic role to advise on. The opportunity is here. We can tackle this. We have the data to suggest we can capture this. But at that point, if you follow the SEO rulebook to try to do that, counter-intuitively, you’ll probably fail. Because as you know, it’s about more than just pulling all the right SEO levers. A truly great piece of content has to do more than just tick Google’s boxes.

And it’s the cliché, you know, right? For people not for bots, we hear that a billion times and it used to be the entire thesis of people’s presentations at conferences. So, we’re tired of hearing that.

It’s about mastery where you have all these… You describe it really well. You have all these things you know are important. It can go in the URL, it can go in the headline, we can earn links, and it’s a matter of figuring out, “Okay, where can we, like what do we have at our disposal to exploit and where do we need to relent to let other things like conversion take the wheel?”

So, it’s not about abandoning it, it’s not about saying, “We just don’t care about any of it.” It’s just a matter of, “Okay, we have lots of tools and lots of factors we can play with and picking and choosing where and how you execute for that situation.

Ross: Yeah. That makes sense. One thing I hear a lot about, and we’ve played with it ourselves is the idea of TF:IDF and things like that, term frequency, inverse document frequency for anyone who’s not familiar with it. But generally, it’s like co-occurring terms that occur on certain keywords and stuff and there is that advanced copywriting piece of it. And honestly, even though we’re a content marketing shop, we play with including that, and things like that.

We’ve delivered great results without really ever implementing that, because I believe one, if you do search result analysis and do those basics as you mentioned, like get the keyword in the title, get in the URL, if it needs to be in the title that second or you do it later. And then you just make something that’s so amazing that’s link-worthy, share-worthy, etc. and users want to click, and share, you don’t necessarily need to do that. It sounds like you’re on the same page as me, but in terms of those advanced like term TF:IDF, etc. how do you think that falls into the SEO copywriting, or should it?

Joel: Yeah, I mean similar to you, for me, it’s not a consideration at all. It’s not that I don’t think it’s important, but for me, if we think about it in terms of amplifiers, right? The importance of if you, let’s say you really nailed TF:IDF, right? What’s the amplifier on that? What multiple is that going to impact your outcome versus to me, the human factor is the biggest multiple there is.

You can have something that doesn’t, again, check that TF:IDF box or isn’t perfect from that SEO viewpoint. But if it clicks with people, that’s really what we’re trying to do. When we talk copy, when we talk about content, what we’re really talking about, and I think people miss this even though it sounds obvious, it’s communication. It’s having a conversation.

We’re trying to share an idea, communicate viewpoint, get people engaged with something. If you focus on the mechanics of that versus the actual conversation you’re having, you miss, probably, the biggest multiplier. Did it land with people? Were they excited about it? Did they want to share it? Did they want to link to it? And I don’t know if you agree – I still think links are the biggest factor. Once you have them, you can shape the content a little bit more, but without those, you’re not going anywhere.

So, if you focus on that first and is this something that people are going to want to link to? Is this something that people are proactively going to want to share? If it’s not, again, like I said, you might be ticking off the smaller multiplying and go, “Yeah, we nailed it for search,” but you’ll never gain the traction on the other pieces that focused on that human conversation. You’ll never match them.

Ross: Yeah, I agree. I think there are those percentages and you mentioned like if you get to perfect for TF:IDF, but you come up short on the creativity/excellence aspect, no one wants to share that. You won’t get the 10 links that if you had been in the 50% of that range you would have because naturally, you’re thinking about communication, titles, the excellence of that copy that really someone who is deeply focused on that thing rarely does.

I think that can make up for that. And as you mentioned, it’s like, obviously, all of these things factor into a combinatory equation that work into success or not and I think that makes a big difference.

Cyrus: I mean, if there was one thing that people watching this that I wish they could take away, because I hear horror stories of this all the time, and, you know, like I’m not as much on the content piece of things, the blog post piece of things now, but I talk to a lot of copiers all the time and a lot of groups and I get all kinds of posts where they’re talking about you know, some well-meaning SEO has installed the Yoast plugin and they demand that it meets a certain, you know, measurability of like that’s their barometer.

And if the writer doesn’t hit that, they’re like, “No, we need to revise it.” If there’s one activity I wish we could get rid of through this video, it’s that. Like that is not the way to evaluate whether or not a writer has hit the target for the piece you wanted to put together. That, like nice little red, or orange, or green metric, that’s not your barometer for, “Is this thing good for SEO?” That’s such a simplistic way of looking at it.

And that’s kind of what we were talking about earlier is, yes people who are good at what they do understand the rules and the environment they operate in. People who are masters at what they do know how to bend and break and when to apply them and how to do it differently. And so, the great SEOs, the great companies, you know, SEO companies doing content, they understand the value of the rules and also the value of knowing when to break them and what to obsess about and when to go, “It’s just not that as important.”

Ross: Yeah. I mean, one thought I had as you say that, and I would just be curious your opinion on this, is I totally agree on knowing when to break yokes, so break those best practices and etc. But how do you think about scale? So, I imagine for example the New York Times. I doubt all of them can be prolific SEOs and know that baseline. So in some ways, having some constraints like that sometimes might help nudge them.

But how would you think about educating a team, training a team, knowing when to break those rules at scale for a big publishing team?

Cyrus: I think there are some things that will remain constant no matter what. I think there are rules that you can teach to writers that no matter what they’re putting together, you know, you can help them understand the concept of, “Okay, for example, what goes in the URL?” That’s always going to be an easy win. You know, that’s always going to be something that it’s never going to change.

If you can get the keywords in the URL, that’s not going to be a make or break. Teaching them meta-description. So, if you have your writers writing meta-descriptions, teaching them to focus on that being compelling and baking in the target phrase in a natural way. That’s a constant, that’s never going to change.

And so, you can teach certain elements to the writers to have them apply. Helping writers understand at least the concept of writing around a semantic theme and getting them to consider, you know, you can give them a keyword list, you can say, “These are the things we’re targeting,” and kind of say, “These are the phrases surrounding this that if there’s a natural way to work in,” and that stuff happens, not so much in the initial writing phase, but in the editing phase.

So, when you look back and say, “We’ve got a solid piece. Here are the small changes we can make to incorporate,” versus “Here are the things we need to incorporate,” and then trying to edit in personality and stuff after the fact.

It doesn’t work that way. So I think there are consistent things you can teach to a writing team. Consistent guidelines, but they’re waypoints, they’re not the objective or the directives. You’re saying, “When you write something like this, make sure you incorporate something in this way,” versus, “Hit a 25% keyword density,” which is ludicrous and impossible for us. It’s not on a writer’s radar to do that naturally, but other things you can teach them.

Ross: You had an interesting point there that it sounds like, and I think I agree with you in terms of the timeline, is you can change, like incorporate some SEO elements into copy. And, obviously, set it up front in terms of the topic and things like that, but should you do that before or after? Like you have to be 2,000 words, but you said more so maybe we can add those elements afterwards versus force them in before as a rubric of something to hit?

Cyrus: Yeah. The word count thing drives me crazy because your length should be determined by how much is there to say. Not, “Okay, we have this arbitrary keyword count that we need you to hit because Google says so.”

I mean, there are certain conversations that warrant 2,000 words. They’ll be compelling and interesting for that whole 2,000 words. But the minute that you take a concept that’s the size of a pea and try to blow it up into this huge thing, it doesn’t work that way. And so, I think what’s exciting for me now seeing a change in the industry is a whole idea of pillar pages and having these central hubs of deep content, authoritative on a topic, and then having these offshoots that allow the offshoots to be really focused and targeted on just that idea.

And they all work together. They all pull together. You’re considering the whole content ecosystem as opposed to just one off piece on this, one off piece on that. And so, I think when you have kind of this broader, more holistic look at it, you’re allowing your content to do its job instead of saying, “Okay, 2,000 words from the beginning.”

So, back to your question. There are certain things you can edit in later. I think you can have the SEO piece of it inform the strategy for why that piece is being put together in the first place. But something like a word count, I don’t think I’d ever want to go back and say, “Well, you only wrote 500. We got to beef this up to four times that.” It’s just, that’s not the way good conversations happen. If you can get an idea across in a compelling way, in less space, do that.

Because, again, that human amplifier, if I can get the core of the idea in 280 characters, maybe that belongs as a tweet and not a 2,000-word blog post.

Ross: Yeah, that makes sense. I guess I’m curious, is there any nudging on that perspective? You say no word count. Could you say, “We ideally want this 1,000-plus.” Does that even make sense? Or you just use your recommendation saying, “Go write about what is content marketing, whatever you think is the outcome is the outcome.”

Cyrus: If you step away from the word count as the goal and say, “Okay, what does a piece about for example, ‘What is content marketing?’ What does it have to communicate?” I think coming up with a skeleton and outline, “Here are the ideas we need to cover,” give them as much space as they’re due. And so, let’s say, for me, I’m writing a piece on how to write a case study. That could be, you know, a checklist, like step one, interview your customers, step two… and that can be the whole piece.

But for that to be valuable to people, if we’re thinking through it, we know that to answer that question well, we need to give people more detail. Whereas something like, what was the score of the Browns game, we don’t need to give them a 2,000-word document because they’re coming for a very concise piece of information.

So, I think it’s more about defining how much detail does the audience need for this. So, I do think, yes, you can give a guideline and say, “Ideally, we want it to be an in-depth piece. We want it to cover these pieces in detail,” and give the writer the use case. Is this a guide? Is this a quick guide? Is this something someone should be able to consume in two minutes?

You can define that. And I think when you define the objective and the use case and you make a logical skeleton of here’s what we want to cover, the word count takes care of itself. They’ll write to the level of detail they need to to cover that. But where a lot of companies and I think people fall on their faces, is if you’ve got one idea and it’s well explained and then its like, “Shoot, well, we got to beef this up, now to 2,000 words.” Why? Right?

So, I’m not saying like throw caution to the wind and just hand it over and say like… “Go for it, figure it out,” I think skeletons, and briefs, and some concept of what you want to get out of it is good. I would just say if someone comes in at, you know, 1,600 words, don’t send them back to do 2,000 unless there’s more you can add to that conversation by doing so.

Ross: That makes sense. So, on that wavelength, I also think about one thing we task our team and our writers to do is to make the best thing on the search result. So, there is that balance of, and I’m sure that comes into some people’s mind and they misapply the skyscraper technique of like they need to make the best thing so they equate length to best in this scenario.

So, how do you solve for that?Do you have any tips for or if you have a short definition on what is content marketing, how or do you have it co-occur, where it’s the best thing, it’s short if it needs to be short, etc.?

Ross: Yeah. This is hearkening back. I did a talk for Moz ages ago about this very thing. So, this is bringing back all the memories putting that together. I think it’s about finding your angle. Like for example, best opportunity might be take the same topic, but approach it in a different way or for a slightly different audience, go for a smaller audience who’s really, really going to care about that.

For example, in speaking with a copywriter this week, they’re trying to break into the wellness niche. And there are so many people publishing things and a lot of the information feels the same, but the English she’s found, that she’s passionate about is framing this through the lens for women of color in the space who are super underrepresented.

And so, it’s a smaller audience, but it’s a really active, really passionate audience where if something good comes across the table, they will link to it, they will share it, they will get excited about it, maybe more than the broader audience who’s being blasted to all the time.

And so, there’s strength in you might get a bigger response from a smaller group by narrowing down. So, I think something like that, it’s about finding your angle, finding, you know, can you bring something to the table that hasn’t been done? So, if the best piece in the space right now, let’s say it’s all writing, which, you know, is close to my heart, but let’s imagine, maybe a video or maybe adding in some visual elements here or maybe we can beat them just on our design.

I mean, the way that information is presented has such a huge impact. If you look at even say like KlientBoost, you know, another agency in the space, part of what they’re so good at and so strong on, and I believe like their first hire was a graphic designer, and their content looks incredible. Right? And same at Siege, your content looks incredible.

It looks the part of the best in class resource. And so, because you’ve got this team of people that can bring icons, bring elements, bring custom design, that piece is more enjoyable to consume because there’s these little Easter eggs and flourishes. There’s icons, and pictures, and things that the information might be on par with what’s out there, but the experience of that information is so much better than like a WordPress static theme and, “Okay, the info’s good, but it’s not fun to consume.”

So, I think part of what you guys do very, very well and what I think other people are missing is, again, content and copy. My job as a copywriter isn’t just to understand what I need to communicate, but to work with designers and work with people on how that’s communicated because it makes a huge difference.

So, just separating yourself on the quality of the design and the experience of that content, like I said, I think that’s something you’ve done really well and other people can learn from.

Ross: I appreciate that. And I love also that even though you’re probably a copywriter at the core, it almost sounds like at the core, you’re really a communicator. It’s like, it doesn’t have to be copy, it can be communicated in design, in video, in whatever the route is, and really it’s about communicating the most compelling format that there is, and sometimes that’s not copy.

And I agree with that thought process and we also say, like copy, obviously, is a huge part of it, but a lot of the time in today’s fragmented world where no one wants to read anything, you need design, you need scannable setups and etc.

Cyrus: There’s an element of truth to it. I do think our attention spans are shorter, you know, but I also think it’s a huge misnomer. So, I think people don’t want to read stuff that sucks, but, you know, there’s the never-ending battle between, “Well, should it be short? Should it be long?” And we see that in SEO, we see that in conversion, especially like, “Should we have a long sales page? Should we have a short sales page?”

And people mistakenly assume, “Well, if we have a 6,000-word sales page, nobody’s going to read that.” And yet, routinely, we’ll see in some tests, you know, this big long thing did way better or this really short thing did way better. And so, well, what’s behind that? If we unpack that a bit, people need to read something that meets them where they’re at. So, let’s say that I’m super aware.

I’m a super-aware prospect or I already know a lot about the issue or the problem. I don’t need to get as much from you to make a decision, or to be engaged, or to be entertained, I just need to jump to the heart of it. And so, if I’m a most aware type of prospect, you just need to tell me the deal and that can be done really quickly.

Whereas if I’m less aware, I don’t fully understand my problem or I don’t fully understand even the solutions that are available. And this is in terms a of sales page, not necessarily, a piece of content.

Ross: Right. That makes sense.

Cyrus: But if I, you know, need more educating on my own need and your solution for that, then, yeah, having a longer conversation is natural and it makes more sense to do that. So I think what it comes down to is people do read but it has to be something they care about. You have to give it to them in a way that keeps them going.

People still read the papers. People still read long reads and people still go through like, I don’t know if it was Sportsnet or who it was, but they had this huge long read that took multiple hours to get through, this really interesting thing about football and the future of football.

People loved it and they still consumed it and that piece did a fantastic job of hooking you in and keeping you there and walking you through. So, I would caution people from falling back too heavily on the thought that people don’t read anymore. They do, but it has to be something that applies to them, and they care about, and helps them.

Ross: Yeah. The standards are higher and higher too. Llike they’re getting saturated with a lot of things to read, so you have to hit them quickly up front and set those expectations. And one thing I think with like what is content marketing, and it is just like a side thought. I do think you can make something great there with copy, and experience, and etc. I do think there is, to an extent, it’s still only so far you can go with a definitional, quick answer type thing and in those kinds of situations, I think, sometimes you win actually on the credibility of who it’s coming from.

And it’s like if you have that best experience where you still do the amazing thing, but you’ve also done it 200 other times, that’s where you become The New York Times or The New Yorker where you’re clicking that article, even though it’s the exact same definition of what is content marketing or whatever. You don’t care that’s still very punchy because it’s from The New Yorker or it’s from The New York Times. You trust it.

Joel: Totally. I mean, there’s thousands, and thousands, and thousands of resources on, you know, for freelancers, for example, how to price a project. But the differentiator isn’t, “Okay, I’ve got the most complete…” For some people, it’s like, “I’ve got the most complete piece on this.” But really, in the space, people look for leaders. They look for someone to listen to. And so, if that comes from Paul Jarvis or if that comes from Joanna Wiebe, it’s got an instant advantage because of the source.

And I think that’s something that’s not really considered, you know, in a lot of space as well, is how do we, over time, deliberately turn ourselves into an authority? How do we deliberately, over time, deliver something in a way that they care about, not just the subject matter, but who it comes from? Becay publish, their audience will read and react to it because of who it is.

And that’s harder to do. I think it’s harder to do, especially in a corporate environment because you need some sort of, you know, figurehead or person it comes from. It’s really difficult to become a company as a whole that people turn to for a certain type of information. And you do see a lot of, you know, like really successful people or companies like The Motley Fool, for example, has done that.

Or, I don’t know. There’s myriad examples. There’s companies who have done that successfully, but it’s more difficult, I think, certainly for being an individual and that’s where having that standard of excellence and bringing all those elements of design and having some really things that you can’t account for in SEO like having a personality, and a voice, and a certain take on things. And that’s where those things really come into play as a differentiator.

You can pull all the SEO levers, but without that human piece of the way it’s communicated, you’ll miss out.

Ross: Yeah. That makes sense. And it’s funny, we have 10X on our mural here and this is obviously a common SEO term is that 10X content and I think that’s how people end up doing 2,000 words on what is content marketing, but I really think it’s like a lot of times, 2X content done over, and over, and over again. Maybe it’s not even really 2Xs more like 1.2 more realistically, you know, I mean, New York Times, and The New Yorker are probably better than 1.2, but they’ve done that one post 90 times. And that’s those same voices you talk to you I’m sure have done 1.2, 1.5 thousands of times. If it’s not Twitter, it’s a post, etc. and that’s why people click in.

Joel: Yeah. I mean people put way too much stake in moonshots that like if we can just nail this one big content piece, we’ll be set for life. I mean, that… For a long time, I think that was the guiding principle of a lot of SEOs. It’s just like find a big idea, execute it in a really, really big way, but then nobody was solving for the then what? Okay, what do we do next? Like once we’ve done this once…

Ross: And your whole site’s horrible and then pre-converted and…

Joel: Right. Like I don’t think I’ve ever really subscribed or like sometimes like I’ll get on an email list because of this one big thing. Right? But it’s rare that I stick around if they don’t then follow that up with stuff of similar quality and level… And so, you can put together this one big asset. You can have it be a moonshot and go crazy and bring you all kinds of traffic and links.

If you have no battle plan for after that, if that’s not really who you are, like if your agency puts out this brilliant guide to SEO and it’s interacting incredible and then your next blog post reads like it came from Fiverr, like mission’s blown…

Ross: You lose that impression… Exactly.

Joel: Yeah. You lose because you’ve done the one big thing, but it’s like you say, it’s I think it’s better to be consistently jabbing over time and doing sustainably great things over time than to be just constantly shooting for moonshot after moonshot. Because the moonshot, there’s only two ways it can go. It either pays off in spades or it totally flops and now you’ve got this huge, you know, sunk cost and why didn’t this happen versus, you know, consistency over time.

You have room to fail, you have room to learn, you have room to make mistakes, you know, and grow out of that. So, I really agree with that philosophy of, you know, maybe let’s do less 10X and move more towards how can we just be consistently better. Whatever your better is for you.

Ross: I guess I should also say it is possible to do the moonshot consistently. I think of, maybe it’s not quite moonshot. It might be a little under 10X, but Brian Dean, he puts out like a post a month, but he ranks for it every single time because he executes really, really well and he does put them out it seems like every month or so.

So, at least he’s resonating, he’s making another impression. And the next impression isn’t bad, like you mentioned. It’s good. So, I think it’s a good transition point to one thing you helped us with, which is our link building and services page. And I think for SEOs, as of today, published a month or two or go, I think we’re starting to get traction. We’re close to bottom of page one, etc.

It’d be good to sell, but secondarily, we’d like it to rank for link building services as well. We offer that as a service through content marketing. You helped us one, be aware of the SEO element of that and also write compelling copy that will, hopefully, serve both ends. So, I think it’d be useful for people to hear your thought process, especially for the SEO world, how you walked through that, how to do that and how you might recommend other people to do that as well.

Joel:Yeah. So, there is literally a blueprint for those watching this. If you want to go read about how I put that together on my blog, I wrote a piece about how to write a services page that converts. So, you know, that’s there, but to talk through it, I came… Like I mentioned, I came from the agency world. I know link building, I know those pain points, but I think there’s a dangerous comfort in thinking that you know it all.

And there’s a dangerous comfort again in taking, “Okay, we know we want to rank for this thing and making that your whole focus. And so, when I was putting together the Siege page, yes, the SEO side was definitely important. It’s non-negotiable. This thing has to rank. I get that. And so, for me, as the writer, I’m looking for what elements do I think Siege can pull and where, you know, where can I…

You know, as we talked about earlier, where do I focus, what do I relax? So, I knew, “Okay, this, this is so competitive that I have to find a way to naturally bring it into, you know, the hero section of the page to get it close to the headline, if not in the headline, I know those types of things, but as I’m putting together the page, in the back of mind, my mind, I’m thinking, “How do I make this so much different or better when it is out there,”you know, and other people and I looked through, I’ve read the top 10 results, all of them end to end the top 10 results for link building services, link building agency.

I went and I looked at and I made a list of what are the claims everybody’s making? And how are they making them? And how are people talking? And really quickly, you see, “Man, a lot of these read identical.” Like you could swap the names of the companies and you wouldn’t know who was who. None of them were really standing out. None of them were being bold in the way they talked about it.

Nobody really had this candor of, you know, like kind of breaking the fourth wall where it’s like, “We know you’re worried about these things. We’re just going to talk about it directly instead of dancing around it.” And so, what I did was take all of that and say, “Okay, here’s how everybody else is talking about this and positioning this.” And there’s some things we have to have in common. We have to use some of the same language.

But then there’s some things we don’t have to do the same. We can talk about this differently. And the big goal there is both in, you know, the way that I published about it after, the goal is that people start looking to this page as a model for how do we do a link building services page? How do we do a services page in general? And so, in putting that together, the tone and the candor that I took was very much that whole idea of, you know, we get links from sites you’ve actually heard of.

When’s the last time you saw an agency just say it that way, that plainly to somebody on the other side who’s not excited about things like, you know, the most ethical white hat tactics? They’ve heard that a billion times. You can say something similar by saying, “Sites you’ve actually heard of.” Right? Instead of, you know, Joe’s, you know, Joanne’s directory from 1996. And so, it’s a balance of, yeah, take the factors you have to use, you know, take the constraints you have, but then be creative within those constraints.

I think constraints can breed creativity. So, find a new way to say an old thing and to bake in some of the old with a lot of the new. And I think that’s something that we were able to accomplish, you know, large and in part, because you guys were willing to say, “We don’t have to be like everybody else. We don’t have to say the words white hat tactics. We don’t have to talk about the fact that, you know, this could wind up getting you penalized.”

Like, again, we address that idea but we did it a different way. We didn’t say, you know, like, “Oh, doom and gloom, get this wrong” and you’ll be on, you know, the wrong side of a penguin. Like we were able to say, “Link building shouldn’t feel like gambling.” Right? That’s a relatable metaphor. For somebody sitting in a VP marketing chair or a founder chair, they get that. They go, “I don’t want to send my money to a company that I don’t know what they’re doing and what the outcome’s going to be.”

And part of what we’re able to do is play off your strengths and say, you know, “We’re really scientific and systematic about the way we do this.So, it’s not gambling. It’s not really a question of if it’s, when we’ll hit something that works for you.” So, yeah, it’s like I mentioned, like find your constraints and then be creative in them. Communicate in a way that, you know, go look at your competitors, read what they’re doing, find all this stuff everyone else is saying and just find a new way to say it.

Ross: So is that, you’re assuming typical bottom funnel page like link building services that you do for other clients. Is that your exact same process?

Joel: For the most part. I mean, there’s so much context, right? Like for some services, it really is just a matter of who gets found first gets hired first, right? Like for a less sophisticated client, it really can be all about you show up there and as long as you’re halfway decent, you’re probably going to earn their sales. So, for example, you know when we talk about something like a driving test, right? You can have a terrible site, but if you are the first practice tests people find, they’ll engage with that, right?

So, there’s something to that. That’s not the be all end all, but there’s something to that side of it. But when I’m working with a client, a big part of my job is understanding the context with which somebody’s going to look at them. For you guys in particular and for other clients, we know they’re comparison shopping. Someone searching link building services probably isn’t stopping at result one. They’re probably going on saying, “Okay, this is a big deal for us to find the right person.”

They’re probably window shopping and looking at a few people. And so, my job is really, I have to… Whatever I put together for that client has to look and feel and sound entirely, like I said, their own. Like, so you can’t swap out some other company’s name and go, “This could be the same person or the same company.” And so, that is a big part of what I’m doing.

I think another big part of what I I have to do in those situations is understand, we talked about awareness earlier and how much for bottom of funnel or even, you know, wherever in the funnel I’m working on, let’s say I’m working on a marketing site, my job is to understand how aware is the typical lead who’s hitting this page or what is the context and circumstance? Are they window shopping? Are they trying to be educated? How much do they know about their pain?

How much do I have to educate them on that? And so, for me, it’s about establishing context and then having the right conversation in the right order with a lead. So, another thing we did really deliberately on your page, for example, is it systematically answers questions that a lead’s going to come in with. So, “Okay, what is this thing? Is it for me? Why should I choose them?Who else has chosen them? Where’s the proof?Okay, if I believe you, now what?”

That’s a logical conversation, whereas, again, a lot of companies go, “Okay, we’ve got this big call-to-action,” and then they’ll just randomly chuck stuff. It’s like, “Here’s a bunch of proof.We can do what we say we can. Here is, you know, a testimonial because we heard those were good. Here’s a big list of our process because you should probably know that. Here is this, and that.” And so, they make this like, it’s all the right ingredients, but mixed together the wrong way.

And so, for a lead, they’re reading through that, like, “Okay, that’s the right answer, but for the wrong question.That’s not the thing I needed to know and understand to be able to even care about what you’re telling me next.” And I think depending on where you’re on the funnel, a lot of companies get that wrong, too. So, the classic is a lot of sites, whether it’s agencies or software that I deal with a lot, they do a fantastic job of answering the “what” brilliant job of answering the “what.” “We do this great.”

What they do a miserable job of is why? “Why should I care? How is this going to help me?” So, they say, “Okay, time tracking software for entrepreneurs with no why.” Like what makes you different or better? Why should I keep reading this homepage? What’s your differentiator? And so, they stop at that and they go, “Great, we’re done.”

Like, “We’re going to rank so well for this.”

Ross: Got the keyword in there.

Joel: And then people come and…

Ross: Don’t buy.

Joel: Right. They don’t buy because you haven’t given them a reason to care. And whether it’s content like blog posts, whether it’s a marketing site, whether it’s a landing page, the biggest question you have to answer so, so fast is the why. If you hold off on the why, I think there’s this big tendency, especially in blog content, but everywhere to want to do this grand reveal where it’s like, “And here’s why you should care and like, here’s the impact of this thing.”

Whereas if you don’t get that across like right away, and Brian Dean does this brilliantly in his own stuff. He’s like, “Here’s how I’ve used this tactic to get X result.” And that’s his why. And that’s his hook and it doesn’t matter how long the post is after that, people want that result so they’ll read it. Right? So, you have to communicate the why and do that fast no matter what situation you’re in.

Ross: Nice. Yeah. Kind of going tangent off of that. And maybe I’m selfishly interested in this because we do hire a lot of writers. We probably angle it differently than you. We hire content marketing specialists. They’ll be tasked to be great writers and also marketers.

And writers should be a good marketer, so that’s something. But I’m curious how you’d recommend hiring writers, how you do that, what’s your process, etc., etc.

Joel: Yeah. I think the biggest blind spot for a lot of companies is you should definitely look at the portfolio of work, you know, ask them to provide you with samples they’ve already worked on. I had a big conversation on Twitter this week about but don’t ask for free samples. Don’t try to get them to like write you something custom for free like that is so, so shady and you’re putting the cart way before the horse.

So, I always start with process and I get them on a call and I talk to them and I get my impression. I ask them, “When you’re thinking through a piece or whatever it is, a case study, what’s your approach? How do you do that?” And I compare the way they’re talking about what they intuitively know to do versus the thing that we’ve spent time refining.

And I’m looking not for them to be perfect, because if you find somebody who can just nail your voice and tone, and process, straight out the gate, never let go of them, ever. Because that’s not the way… You know. We talk about how this is communication, right? You’ve got a way you like to communicate, your brand likes to communicate, you’ve got a way that you like to put things out there. You don’t realize how much of that is not intuitive.

It takes time to learn your expectations. So, I start by talking about their process and then trying to educate them a bit on ours and how we do things and then it’s a matter of if I feel the candidate, I look at their work, I might talk to some references and I ask questions about not so much, again, their end product, but just ask questions like, “Did this go through an editor?”

Right? So, I need to understand, am I seeing their work or am I seeing their work on the other end of somebody’s frantic editing? You know, I ask about,” Were they punctual?Did they deliver on time? Did you get a sense that they asked a lot of questions and really cared about getting it right?” A good writer ask questions. If you get a writer who doesn’t ask questions, doesn’t, you know, takes no interest in in that and just is, “Yup, send me a brief.

Send me a brief,” not a great fit, probably because a good writer wants to nail it and they know they can’t without asking questions. Or if you send them a brief and they don’t come back with, you know, any, concerns at all, it’s a little bit of a red flag for me. I’ll wait to see, but it’s a little bit of red flag when they’re not interested…

Ross: Asking questions.

Joel:…in asking questions. So, you start with process, you look at their work, talk to some references if they’re able to provide that. And then when I’ve narrowed down the candidates where I get a good feel for you, then I’ll do small paid test projects. So, I’m not saying, “Client work.” I’m not saying, “Okay, we’re going to do a 3,000-word case study,” but I’ll give them… For example, what I’ve found helpful for us is I’ll give them an assignment we’ve already done and that way we’ve got a benchmark that they can see, “Here’s what we were comfortable publishing and here’s what you gave us.”

And it changes the conversation from being, you know, just wasn’t good enough to being, “Okay, here’s where we would like to see you move or adapt. Here’s the things that are important to us that you missed.” Or, you know, sometimes you can say, “Hey you, you’ve actually come really, really close to our end product.” And that’ll give you the truest sense of okay, how close are they? Once you’ve identified someone, I think the biggest thing that I would advise companies is you have to have a degree of patience.

It’s like, I mentioned, if they nail it straight out the gate, fantastic. Never let go. But more realistically, it’s going to take them multiple projects. For me, I account for it. There’s going to be a three month period probably where there’ll be close, but no cigar. They’ll get most of it right, but I’ll still need to edit.

Ross: So, where’s that like breaking point? So, I imagine you’re vetting a lot of writers. It sounds like you’re very patient, but couldn’t you allow these people fail on… And some of these must be, hopefully not, but failures in some way or just not great for that position.

Joel: Yeah. There’s certain things that, you know, you do have to… When I say three months, I’m not saying give them that tenure to, you know…

Ross: Just to mess up forever.

Joel: But, you know, there’s certain things that are red flags that they’re just immediately out. Like if they don’t respect deadlines, it doesn’t matter how good a writer they are, they’re not going to be useful to you. You can’t manufacture or give a shit. You can’t teach somebody to really value their own work and care about the standard they’re held to. So, at any point, if you get the sense that like if they don’t ask questions, they’re not a good candidate. if they can’t hit deadlines, they’re not a good candidate.

If they don’t care about like if they throw a tantrum when you send them revisions, they’re not a good candidate. Those are all red flags you can recognize much earlier. And short leash, you know, if any of those things pop up, there’s no need to give them a three-month tenure, like cut them loose. They’re not the person. But if you see a spark in them, if you see that they’ve got the right work ethic and that they want to get it right and they’re genuinely interested, they just need some help understanding your expectations, your standards, they’re most of the way there, then do be patient because where’s the cutoff point?

The great thing is I know a writer is ready when I force myself, I don’t look at their deliverable. So, after we’ve worked together for a while I say, “Okay, here’s the project.” And I give it to them and I give it to the client. And the client is the ultimate authority. If the client goes, “We love this and we’re happy,” I no longer need to work that close with that writer anymore. They’ve learned it. They’ve delivered something of a standard.

Because I think when you’re the writer, you have your own standard and you can, for me, I can be a perfectionist and if it’s not done the way I would do it, then I’m like, “Oh, I’ve got to change it.” But you have to realize clients, they don’t see it the same way. They have a standard but it’s not necessarily yours. And so, they just want something that fits and is good. So, for me, I know when they deliver something to a client, the client comes back and says, “We’re happy with this,” and, you know, minor changes, that writer’s ready and they can start taking it on on their own.

Ross: I saw that conversation you had on Twitter and I find it interesting. So, we walk a middle line there. So, what we do, we’re testing for our outreach process, primarily and within that vein, we see the writing skill. So, we do a test project of people they might reach out to and then have them write templates.

But what we do is we give a three-hour window. So, we’re not saying, “Do send 100 emails,” we’re saying, “Do this in three hours, set timeline.” And we don’t pay for that, unfortunately. I think we have realized in other centers we do the same thing on design. But I agree with your general thought process of, “Use the same benchmark, like use a benchmark for every single person.

We’ve now literally… I realize in some situations you might mix it up, but we’re using the same test for everyone, so now we have a reference point for this person that came in and that’s a rock star. We see what theirs look like compared to this person that I just interviewed. It’s relatively easy to tell. And we’re not using that work to actually make money in any way, it’s just to evaluate their process.

Joel: Yeah. I mean, there’s room for disagreement too. I think, for me, the big thing that I was trying to rally against there is there are companies that ask for production-level work straight out the gate. They say, “Go write us a 3,000-word post.” That’s totally inappropriate.

Ross: That’s ridiculous. Yeah.

Joel: Like to me, that just tells me that a company does not respect the value or the process. They don’t themselves understand the time, and energy, and effort it takes to get that right. Because for me to nail something for a client, it’s not just a matter of, “Sit down, keyboard, read another thing, write a post.” To get into somebody’s voice and tone, like, that’s hard to do.

Ross: Takes time. Yeah.

Joel: It takes time. So, I guarantee, you might be giving them a three-hour window. They’re probably spending more because to do it really well, they have to… I mean, once you’re setting them timing…

Ross: I mean, we only give three. That’s what we do.

Joel: Okay. So, if it’s actually that, that’s a little different. But I think there’s a reasonable scope, right? There’s a difference between, “Okay, do this thing that’s production-ready and we’re going to use and it’s going to take you a day.” Versus, “Here’s, you know, something small, and simple, and whatever. I think there’s room for disagreement. I think at the end of the day, though, my big thing is just there’s companies that want to test every writer.

They do no due diligence. They don’t do anything upfront to qualify them at all. They make the test the entire qualifier. And the thing is too, they could crush your test and be a miserable git to work with. They could miss deadlines. They could have a process that doesn’t, you know, they could ace that piece of it, but there could be red flags elsewhere. And so, for me, I think the thing I’m just trying to encourage agencies and companies to think about is do a better job vetting up front and then when you get to the point you’ve got a candidate you’re happy to test, I’m not saying pay them like your large big rate, but it’s nice, at least, compensate them in some way for that piece of their time.

Ross: That makes sense. Yeah. And I agree. I mean, I definitely agree and we’re about respecting their time and so, we as… To put a little ribbon on is we say, “Be ready at 9:00” or something or whenever they just set the time and then we send them the test then. They don’t know what’s coming and then deliver it by 12:00, hypothetically. But we have found, weirdly, obviously, the people that…

All right end up definite hires, they probably researched what our process was in that middle ground. So, they did spend time to do that. So, it makes sense. I totally agree with your thought process and in general, this has been great. I think great tips here. And I kind of would like to leave, put a…give someone something actionable or useful.

I think this has been useful and actionable, but if you have anything that stands out especially recently that you think is useful; a tool, or tip, etc. for SEOs or any writer, what would that be?

Joel: Whoa. That’s so broad. I mean, because my world is kind of conversion, but I think there’s crossover in SEO; everybody talks about knowing your customer. Very few people are actually willing to take the time to do it. I think if you’re a company who hasn’t spent the time to have interviews with clients, to run a customer survey, I think that’s where it all begins.

If you’re trying to reach an audience that you don’t understand, it doesn’t matter how good your SEO research is, it doesn’t matter how talented your writer is, you’re writing to an audience you don’t get. So, whether it’s trying to improve your SEO or not, whether it’s trying to improve your conversion or not, make the time to take action on actually getting to know your customers, not huddling around a board table dreaming up personas.

Ross: Okay. Nice. Yeah. Joel, I really appreciate your time. This was great. If you’re watching at home, give us a thumbs up and subscribe. If you’ve got a landing page you’re thinking about, I’m sure if you comment that, Joel might give you a comment or two.

He might ask for money, though, as the outcome from this, but regardless, leave us a comment and, you know, we’ll give you some feedback. And thanks, Joel. I appreciate you coming on.

Joel: Thanks so much for having me.

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