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Discover the ideal length for your online content

July 26th, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

Schizophrenic advice about the length of online content

Ideal Content Length

We often get asked, “How long should my blog post or article be? What’s the best length?” There is, however, no magic number. Instead, it should be as long as necessary to provide the quality needed in today’s competitive online world.

With online content, here’s the reality: you need to make the call about optimal length by taking into account what Google rewards, how people read in 2014 and how people are consuming (or not consuming) content on your site.

Here you’ll find:

  • Five advantages of writing longer content
  • Five advantages of writing shorter content
  • Ten recommendations on how to walk the content length tightrope
  • What to do when you’re between a rock and hard place

Five advantages of writing longer online content

1)   Because of all of the online competition and noise, it’s virtually impossible to dash off a quick piece that’s better than what’s currently available online.

2)   In August 2013, Google began rewarding and highlighting in-depth content, each of which is typically 2,000 to 5,000 words in length.

3)   These highlighted in-depth pieces are not being pushed down the search engine results pages as Google adjusts rankings. Instead, they remain on page one.

4)   Google spiders read text, not images; so, even though images are great, text is crucial.

5)   Google rewards sites where visitors have longer on-page time and lower bounce rates, something you can achieve with engaging longer content.

Five advantages of writing shorter content

I’m so overwhelmed!

1)   People are skimming and scanning content now more than ever before.

2)   People are clicking off content faster than ever before, reading only 20 to 28% of a post.

3)   When content is longer, it’s easier for readers to lose sight of the main point.

4)   You can often write more posts in the same amount of time that it takes to write one longer post. More posts help to feed into Google’s need for fresh content.

5)   Shorter content is easier to consume and therefore may be read by a greater number of people.

Ten Recommendations

1)   Do not sacrifice quality simply for the sake of shortening content. However, write the quality material in the most succinct way possible.

2)   Structure your content so that it’s easy to scan.

3)   Use clear headings and subheadings.

4)   Use bullet points and numbered lists whenever relevant/possible.

5)   Add eye-catching images, charts and graphics. Original is best.

6)   Include useful authoritative outbound links whenever they would help your readers. Avoid putting them early in the post; instead, give your readers time to become engaged in your copy before linking out.

7)   When adding external links, make sure that the linked-to webpage opens in another window so that readers can easily return to your post.

8)   Monitor the success of each post in Google Analytics to see which posts are most popular. Does a certain length seem more appealing to your readers?

9)   Monitor the social sharing of each post. Does a certain length seem more appealing to your readers?

10)               Consider finding skilled beta readers who will review your posts before they are lived. Did a post drag somewhere? Do some cutting. Did the post have information gaps? Fill them in.

Rock and a hard place

Sometimes one of the suggestions given above will conflict with another. Given the two realities (Google rewarding longer content with online visitors increasingly scanning and skimming), there is no perfect answer – but here is a useful way to balance the two:

1)   Write engaging and relevant content to captivate readers and entice them to read the entire blog post.

2)   Put attention-catching material near the top and fill in with supplementary info later on; that way, people who want more info can choose to read on while those who are skimmers can still get the best of what you offer.

3)   Follow the ten recommendations listed above whenever you can.

4)   If there is an ethical reason why you need to break a recommendation – say, to provide a link early in a piece to avoid appearing to take credit for someone else’s idea – ethics wins, every time.

5)   If breaking one of these recommended rules hurts the clarity of the piece, then choose clarity.

How do you determine the best length for a blog post of article? Leave a comment below. 

12 ways that clarity is the heart of SEO

July 22nd, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

12 Ways that Clarity is the Heart of SEO

Heart of SEO: Clarity

1)   Before you ever begin to “SEO” your site, you will need a crystal clear business plan and set of business goals. While search engine optimization can help your site gain visibility and traffic, it can’t create a business for you.

2)   Ensure that your site has logical structure and navigation paths. This makes it easier for prospects and customers to find what they need – and earns you thumbs up from Google.

3)   Make sure that you use the most relevant terms and structure for your URLs.

4)   Place right-sized content on the right pages. For example, if you sell widgets, gidgets and gadgets:

  1. Your home page should include high-level content about all three products
  2. Individual category pages should provide high-level content about that particular category of products; for example, your widget category page should provide high-level content about that type of product and link to gidgets and gadgets category pages (each of which also has relevant high-level content and logical internal links)
  3. Individual widget pages should describe what’s unique about a particular widget and make it easy for prospects to find other widgets that they might like as much or better; likewise for each individual gidget and gadget product page

5)   Content should contain keywords used by prospects. Yes, this attracts targeted search engine traffic, which is great – but, more importantly, you’re speaking in the language of the people that you want to communicate with and please.

6)   Highlight your products and services in the best way possible while still being 100% truthful. In other words, belief-proof your content.

7)   In most instances, avoid jargon. Jargon is typically so vague that it adds nothing to a conversation and can confuse prospects. (Here is one exception to that rule.)

8)   Use A/B or multivariate testing to make sure that you’re providing the best conversion pathways; in other words, clear away conversion roadblocks.

9)   Set up appropriate KPIs in your analytics program so that you can clearly see what strategies are working for your site – and which ones aren’t.

10)               Offer multiple methods for prospects to contact you so that you can answer their questions and clear up any confusion or misconceptions.

11)               Craft succinct targeted title tags.

12)               Create compelling and clickable meta description tags.

How else is clarity the heart of SEO? Leave a comment below. 

Transformational case study examples: use the magic of “because”

July 15th, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

Transform case studies with the magic of “because”

Moment of transformation

Let’s say that I’m writing for a health and fitness blog with this audience: women who want to start working out but need motivation.

I therefore decide to share the following experience: When I was in high school, our gym teacher told us to jog through nearby neighborhoods for 30 minutes. My friend and I, though, had a better idea. We trotted half a block to her house and then drank lemonade on her front porch, timing it so that we returned to the school at the right moment, slightly out of breath. A few years later, though, I realized that exercise was important and I found out that I actually enjoyed jogging.

So, how’s that for a testimonial? Non-exercising women could relate to the lemonade strategy and would be encouraged that all was not hopeless.

Well, you could use it. But, it’s not ideal. In this anecdote:

  • Two things happened:
    • In high school, I didn’t exercise
    • As an adult, I do
    • But these two things are not directly related

What if the scenario had been different?

Let’s say that:

  • When I got back to school that day, my teacher somehow knew that we’d spent our jogging time sipping cool drinks.
  • He told us that missing one day of exercise certainly wouldn’t hurt but added that regular exercise helps to prevent heart attacks, strokes and diabetes.
  • I inwardly rolled my eyes and headed home.
  • When I got home, I saw an ambulance in my neighbor’s driveway.
  • Overweight, he’d just suffered a heart attack – and didn’t survive.
  • At that moment, I totally got what my gym teacher was trying to tell me.
  • So I committed to a regular workout program.

In other words, I started to exercise regularly because of what had happened that day and I continue to enjoy a healthy lifestyle today.

So, because of those events:

  • I changed in a fundamental way.
  • I had an epiphany.
  • I had a transformational moment.

And that is the core of the most compelling case studies: capturing the precise moment of transformation, the moment when the light bulb finally turns on.

Starting en media res

Fiction writers are often told to start their stories “en media res,” meaning “in the midst of things.” In other words, start the novel or short story:

  • with the moment that your main character empties his mailbox and hears a package tick suspiciously
  • when a woman slams the door in the face of a sheepish-looking male, shouting, “I told you I wouldn’t tolerate that behavior anymore!”
  • when a woman looks at the results of her pregnancy test and bursts into tears

In each of these cases, we don’t need to know someone’s life history to know that something is wrong, just like you didn’t need to hear my life’s story from birth on to know that, pre-lemonade day, I didn’t have the best attitude about exercise. A well-told story can start en media res and readers can catch on quickly without extraneous details.

Using en media res in case studies

Using techniques in case studies

If you’re a bank wanting to encourage more savings, you could share the story of the woman who looked stunned at a cash register. Her credit card was denied and she had no other way to buy her son presents for Christmas.

Let this woman share how this disaster caused her to rethink her spending habits and begin to budget her money. You could start your case study at the cash-register moment, without needing to share unnecessary back matter.

But where do I get all of this material?

Through case study research, which is nowhere near as complicated as you might imagine.

You need to talk to your customers. Lots of them. The reality is that not every customer you chat with will have a life experience that translates well into a case study. But, if you talk with enough customers; if you talk with them often enough; and if you truly listen to what they have to say, then the cream will rise to the top.


1)   Talk to customers – lots of them – often.

2)   Train yourself to become attuned to listen to stories that will translate well into the best case studies.

3)   When writing up a case study, share the event that leads to an epiphany that causes a shift in how someone thinks or lives.

4)   Capture that moment of transformation.

5)   When done well:

  • You can start en media res
  • You won’t even need to suggest products and/or services in your copy because the point is clearly made through storytelling

And that’s the real beauty of case studies. Presented well, THEY make the case for products and services, which makes for very compelling marketing, indeed.

Have you tried this type of case study research and writing? How did it work for you? Please leave a comment below.

StoryBranding takes a fresh look at brand marketing strategies

July 9th, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

StoryBranding: a fresh look at brand marketing strategies

What brand marketing strategy should your company use?

If, in 1891, you were suffering from a “bilious” or “nervous” disorder, apparently all you needed to do was take Beecham’s Pills, the “most marvelous antidote yet discovered.” In fact, it would also take care of your weak stomach, sick headache, impaired digestion, constipation and disordered liver. Wow. What a deal!

Better yet, this miracle cure was “sold by all druggists” (which makes you wonder why they included a mailing address at the bottom of the ad to purchase the pills “if your druggist does not keep them” but, oh well). Or you could choose to take William Radam’s “Microbe Killer” that would “Cure All Diseases” with its formulation of sulfuric acid and red wine – a liquid that, taken in large enough quantities, was quite poisonous. Besides that, it just plain didn’t work.

Fast forward to the mid-20th century when advertising was, in theory, much better regulated and, hopefully, more well-thought out. However, when looking at that era’s ads, you’ll see:

  • Camels cigarettes boasting that more doctors smoke their brand than any other
  • Babies sealed in clear plastic with the phrase “The Best Things in Life Come in Cellophane” embossed over their images
  • A wife being unreservedly spanked by her husband because she’d bought “flat, stale coffee” rather than Chase Sanborn

It’s no wonder that marketing can feel . . . sometimes dishonest, sometimes desperate and sometimes downright sleazy in its attempts to grab the customer’s attention and get the almighty dollar. That’s why it was so refreshing to find an e-book titled StoryBranding: Creating Stand-Out Brands Through The Power of Story by Jim Signorelli that suggests a much better approach.

I have to admit that, when I first saw this book, I was skeptical. I’ve read so many books/e-books/articles/blog posts/white papers/whatever on content creation and seen so many shady and/or distasteful marketing tactics that I didn’t really expect a fresh and straightforward perspective – but I was quickly proven wrong. Read the rest of this entry »

To create more content, should you start working in your sleep?

July 1st, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

More content . . . better content . . . MORE CONTENT . . . BETTER CONTENT

Can you create content in your sleep? The Search Guru examines the possibilities

It’s as if Google was the super-sized cousin of the Cookie Monster, devouring more and more content while demanding better tasting copy with each chomp and gobble.

Yes. As mentioned in our post about writer’s burnout last week, the content treadmill can be exhausting.

It’s not surprising, then, that I’m seeing increasing numbers of articles about . . . yep. You guessed it. Creating while you sleep.

Strange as it may sound, it’s not a new notion. In fact, surrealist painter Salvador Dali would nap in a chair while holding a spoon in his hand. Underneath the spoon was a tin plate. When he’d fall asleep, he’d drop the spoon and the clattering noise would wake him up – and he’d hurry to capture the vivid images from his subconscious mind. Dali’s famous painting from 1931, Persistence of Memory, involved the artist recreating the melting clocks that appeared in his dreams.

It’s been reported that more than one of the Beatles used this technique, with John Lennon being inspired to write the chorus of the best-selling song #9 Dream from a dream. Meanwhile, legend states that Paul McCartney crafted the melody of Yesterday from a dream that he’d had in 1964. Stephen King admits to using dream material – and so did Edgar Allen Poe, the latter way back in 1839. So, the idea is definitely not new.

Perhaps these men deliberately intended to create while they slept or perhaps they’ve simply taken advantage of dream material – or maybe it’s a combination of the two. Regardless, it is possible to assign your subconscious brain tasks and then reap the benefits. Here’s more.
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Overcoming burnout: recognizing and dealing with symptoms of burnout.

June 24th, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

Overcoming burnout: tips and strategies for writers from around the web

The Search Guru talks about writer burnout and strategies to overcome it

When you’re excited about a new writing project, you’ll probably have so many great ideas that your fingers can’t type fast enough to capture all of your thoughts – but that’s okay because you’ve got lots of adrenaline to keep you going. Sometimes, when I’m eager to write, my wrists actually tingle.

You may find yourself writing late into the night, or before dawn or when you’d normally take a lunch break. You think about your fantastic idea as you fall asleep, and the notion even finds its way into your dreams.

Unfortunately, many of us have also experienced the lack of these feelings – disinterest, fatigue, lack of focus – which means that we may be experiencing symptoms of burnout. Job-related burnout is real phenomenon, recognized by places as diverse as Psychology Today magazine, the Mayo Clinic and Forbes and is a real danger in today’s “we need lots of quality content and we need it right now to please Google” world that we live and write in.

If you aren’t sure if you’re suffering from this condition, Cheryl Reifsnyder offers a short quiz in her post, Writers’ Burnout Quiz: Do You Need a Break?
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Belief-proof your marketing copy with these ten tips.

June 17th, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

Belief-proof your marketing copy

The Search Guru shares tips on how to ensure your marketing copy is believable

Our high school was putting on the musical, “No, No, Nanette.” While others vied for acting and singing parts, I knew exactly what I wanted: to be the pit orchestra’s only flautist. I was happy when that happened – plus, my good friend Megan was playing first violin. The two of us would create much of the musical’s background melody.

The orchestra practiced in the evenings and all was going well. Then, one evening, when we got a break, one of us – I don’t remember who, so let’s say Megan – came up with this idea: let’s use the air from the bathroom’s hand dryer so we look like those models whose hair blows in the breeze as they trot down a sunny beach.

Aiming streams of air towards our hair sounded easier than it was. When we sat beneath the dryer, we were too close to the gunk on the floor (eww), the air burned our scalps – and, yes. It also blew our hair straight down. So, we tried twisting the direction of the nozzle upward – but could only move it a smidge. Maybe, we thought, if we twist the nozzle AND sit on the edge of the sink counter – nah, that didn’t work, either.

Plus, we suddenly realized that we were late back to practice. So, we hurried to the auditorium, where the conductor stopped everyone else from playing music (without the melody, remember) and gave us that “where were YOU?” look that teachers must perfect on day one.

We started to respond but, before we got out, “Well, what happened was . . .” we realized how ludicrous our explanation would sound, even though it would be factual. So, we mumbled something like, “really sorry” before slinking back to our seats as the conductor sighed and rolled his eyes.
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Improve your writing structure by boosting the muddle in the middle.

June 10th, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

Improve your writing structure: fixing the muddle in the middle

The Search Guru discusses phone anxiety and how to overcome it when conducting interviews for site content

In 2006, I needed to start writing optimized blog posts for a client in the car sales industry. I wanted to write something better than what currently existed in that online space, so I looked for blogs from competitors and:

    1)   There wasn’t much out there.

    2)   The blog posts that did exist were only about 150 to 250 words long.

Fast forward eight short years, and we now have Google rewarding in-depth posts, which tend to be at least 2,000 words long – with some as long as 5,000 words or even more.

Yes. Content standards have changed, in large part because of the increasing amounts of competition. According to NM Incite, a Nielsen/McKinsey company, the number of blogs has increased in this fashion:

  • October 2006: 35.8 million blogs
  • October 2007: 61.4 million blogs
  • October 2008: 78.7 million blogs
  • October 2009: 127 million blogs
  • October 2010: 148.5 million blogs
  • October 2011: 173 million blogs
  • October 2012: 181+ million blogs

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Use Google Analytics demographic data to market to your audience.

June 3rd, 2014 by Jeffrey Mann

Get targeted demographic data at a great price – free – with Google Analytics

The Search Guru reviews Google Analytics Demographic and Interest Reports - and how to add the functionality to your site

Companies can spend thousands and thousands of dollars trying to get a good handle on their target markets and still not feel as though they have a true picture. Meanwhile, other companies don’t spent any time or resources getting to understand their audiences, perhaps because they feel the process is too expensive, beyond their budget.

Fortunately, there is now a tool in Google Analytics that can show you the ages and genders of your online audience, two key pieces of demographic info – and it’s free.

With demographics enabled, site owners and staff can not only segment gender and age data by all the traditional metrics found in Google Analytics such as sessions, sales, and bounce rate, but also new categories such as:

  • Affinity categories – to segment visitors into broad lifestyle groups
  • In-market categories – to segment visitors by market interest
  • Other categories – to segment visitors by the types of content they consume

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Tips for creating content that Google rewards, without phone anxiety.

June 3rd, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

Creating content that Google rewards – without (too much) phone anxiety

The Search Guru discusses phone anxiety and how to overcome it when conducting interviews for site content

In 2014, Google is rewarding quality original copy – and the reality is that, like it or not, one of the best ways to accomplish this is through one particular type of primary source: the phone interview, the cause of anxiety for many writers.

I’ve done literally thousands of phone interviews for articles and blog posts that I’ve written, but I can still relate.

Scariest phone interview to date

Back in the mid-1990s, I began writing author profiles – based on interviews – for the Writer’s Club on AOL. I’d already had a few years of newspaper reporting under my belt, where I interviewed local politicians. They seldom wanted to talk to me but, not wanting to seem unavailable to constituents, they’d speak to me – reluctantly.

The first few AOL interviews went well, and then AOL asked me to interview a woman whose book was on the NY Times Bestseller list, a woman I’ll call “M.” Her book was about doing work that you love and how it can enrich your life – and so I expected her to be upbeat and friendly. Not.

In fact, M refused to participate in what she called “voice to voice contact.” So, I offered to interview her by email, but she again said no. I finally asked her how she wanted to be interviewed – and her plan was as follows:
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