Copy Weekly

#20 How Anna Crowe of Search Engine Journal Creates Powerful SEO Strategies for Clients

Brad Smith
February 18, 2020
78 minutes

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Implemented a guerilla marketing campaign for Jimmy Buffett.

Landed a role at Search Engine Journal.

Moved to Switzerland to work for top SaaS companies.

Sounds, crazy right?

Well, for Anna Crowe, it’s just another day in the life.

With vast experience in implementing successful digital marketing campaigns and writing killer content, Anna is a content marketing savant (read: badass).

Anna serves as the Assistant Editor for Search Engine Journal and Content Strategy Lead at Leadfeeder. She has implemented SEO strategies for both small startups and fortune 500 companies.

And she has a good time while doing it. Anna has learned a lot as her whirlwind career continually pushes her out of her comfort zone.

In this episode, Brad and Anna discuss the challenges of the content writing world from finding talented writers to dealing with short-sighted clients.

They also delve into Anna’s career history, discuss how the SEO and content spaces are evolving, and even touch on Margaritaville.

Tune in for this helpful (and hilarious) episode of Copy Weekly.

You’ll Learn

  • How Anna navigates the role of liaison between writers and clients as an editor.
  • The rare and valuable trait that Anna looks for when hiring writers.
  • What Search Engine Journal did to reach 2 million page views, without creating a single new piece of content.

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Brad: (00:00)

Anna thanks so much for joining us today. Can you please give a little quick intro about your background?

Anna: (00:05)

Yeah, thanks for having me Brad. So I’ve been working in the SEO community for a little over 10 years now. Started in the social media space. I worked with Mailboat records, so I got to be the voice of Jimmy Buffett and a few reggae artists. I got to manage McDonald’s my first year out of college. So that was pretty interesting and scary. And then as you know, social media and SEO works so well together that an agency brought me on in Australia and taught me how to do SEO, starting with the whole backlinking and building links. And then my career just kind of led into more of a content-focused perspective when I started to work with search engine journal. Um, they hired me four years ago now and it’s changed my career forever. I’ve gotten so many opportunities to work with you, um, to work with, moved to Switzerland and now to work with other amazing SaaS companies. So that’s me in a nutshell.

Brad: (00:59)

That’s awesome. Did you get to actually meet uh, Jimmy Buffet?

Anna: (01:03)

Yeah, I did actually. Um, we had to fly up to Atlanta and do some guerrilla marketing and figuring out how to sell like the last 300 concert tickets he had.

Brad: (01:13)

Uh, did you just like, I don’t know. I don’t know why. I just feel like Jimmy Buffet must be like just drunk all the time. Is that true?

Anna: (01:21)

Uh, no, he’s definitely not. But um, we definitely had a lot of margaritas at the show.

Brad: (01:26)

Yeah, for sure. No, isn’t he like a billionaire from like the restaurants and stuff?

Anna: (01:29)

Oh yeah. Orlando like Margaritaville they eat that up.

Brad: (01:33)

Yeah, I mean Orlando, Margaritaville it seems pretty like synonymous. That’s awesome. So what’s, uh, when you first joined the agency in Australia, what type of, like did they specialize in anything? Did you see like the full scope of like, you know, everything, like all the random stuff that usually agency SEO people deal with, like pet food websites and then like an insurance broker, just everything, you know?

Anna: (02:00)

Yeah, it was interesting. So when I first got there, they specialized in the travel industry. So we worked with a lot of hotels like Marriott, Hilton, IHG, Crowne Plaza, um, all over the world. I remember having to do a backlink audit for a Marriott site in Japan. So all the backlinks were in Japanese. So that made for a really interesting backlink audit.

Brad: (02:23)

A lot of Google translate translating. Uh, that’s awesome. Hotels are fun. I feel like especially in the marketing space cause it’s like so easy.

Anna: (02:33)

So much easier.

Brad: (02:38)

Yeah it is. I remember we used to do like promotions where we’d get bloggers and just like, we’d get people to pitch in free stuff. So like free hotels, free car rental free, whatever. And then we would like have the blogger, you know, people go do stuff and then just report it and then they give you content. So you’re like, you’re not like paying for anything. Everyone’s into it and you’re getting free content out of it. It’s like no other space.

Anna: (03:01)

I know. I feel like that was the best way to get involved in like learning how to build banks. Cause this was like during the prime era of guest blogging, like everyone was guest blogging. We created so many fake profiles, like so many gray hat shit that you should not do anymore. But yeah, the travel industry definitely made it a lot easier to deal with like personal injury lawyers or SaaS or anything like that.

Brad: (03:25)

Yeah, for sure. How did you first get introduced to search engine journal or how did you start like actually working with them initially?

Anna: (03:33)

So I just saw a job posting. I didn’t know anyone at the company and I applied for it and I interviewed with Kelsey who was editor at the time. Now it’s Danny Goodwin. Um, but I interviewed with Kelsey and Janece who, um, owns search engine journal and I don’t know how, but they had like hundreds and hundreds of applicants, but they chose me and it really like set me apart and pushed me to do stuff I wasn’t comfortable with yet.

Brad: (03:56)

That’s awesome. What was your, what was your role there when you first started?

Anna: (03:59)

So I was a features writer, so I was required to write 10,000 words a month. And I had never written, like I’ve done like guest blogging before, um, for the Marriott companies, but I never was committed to writing like 10,000 words a month. Um, and I remember my first article I wrote is still like one of the number performing articles of the entire site on search and in general today. So I’m pretty excited about that.

Brad: (04:25)

That’s so cool. Actually, I remember reading one of them that I was super impressed with that was like an interview too. Do you do a lot of interviews?

Anna: (04:33)

No. So that was, um, that was like, after like three years into it or two years into it, but, um, they were trying to do something really interesting where they were interviewing people within the industry and like learning about their back story and how they got into this industry. Um, but it just didn’t take off. Like the article that I wrote, like really didn’t get a lot of reads. Um, people just weren’t really interested in that type of content for search engine journal.

Brad: (04:56)

Yeah. We, uh, so I did a bunch of interviews and I tried to like exactly what you’re describing. I was like, Oh, these are awesome. Like people are going to love these. And then I started trying to pitch them to sites. No one wanted them. I was like, these are free. Like these are really good. I spent so long on them and they’re free and nobody could give a shit about any of these interviews. And I was like, Oh sorry. It’s not another fucking list post about social media, the 10 social media plugins that’ll make your life fucking awesome.

Anna: (05:23)

If I hear another listicle again. Oh my God.

Brad: (05:27)

Yeah. They literally were like turning these like really awesome in-depth feature like magazine features down. That’s in my mind I was like, Oh these are awesome. Like people will love these. No, everyone hated us. No one read them, no one wanted them. I couldn’t give them away.

Anna: (05:42)

I know. That’s how I felt. I was like, Oh my gosh, this is like my first real piece as a writer, I feel like I’m a reporter. People are going to love this. No, it was a total bomb.

Brad: (05:50)

Yeah. Screw you marketing industry and your stupid list posts for social media plugins. That’s so funny. Yeah, that was okay. But so we worked together, uh, when I was going through your stuff that was one of the ones that stuck in my brain.

Anna: (06:06)

I remember that.

Brad: (06:07)

Yeah. I was like, this post is really good. I was like, you don’t really. You see a lot of the same shit. Like when we see articles like this and lists post, I usually just like skim over. Uh, but I read that and I was like, Oh this is awesome. Like this is exactly the kind of stuff and the person that I think would be like a really ideal fit for, you know what we’re trying to do.

Anna: (06:26)

Yeah. You know, that post took me three months to write.

Brad: (06:29)

Yeah. It’s not easy. Those are not easy.

Anna: (06:32)

Yeah because I had to interview Brent like multiple times. Like we chatted every other day, I think, and I just recorded him. And then I kept listening to our recordings over and over again as we were, as I was writing. And it was just like, it was a really difficult experience. I don’t know how people do that for like their day to day jobs.

Brad: (06:48)

Yeah. I don’t know either. I thought it was really good and like I said, that was like the one that’s stuck in my brain and I was like, Oh, we have to work with her. Because she’s like, this is really, I think this is amazing. Even though like, you know, probably got zero traffic and whatever else. Yeah. So we, um, so how long were you at search engine journal before we started working together?

Anna: (07:07)

I think it was maybe two years.

Brad: (07:10)

Okay. Were you always the feature writer that entire time or did your role change a little bit?

Anna: (07:13)

Yeah, so then I think after a year of working there, my role changed, um, to just run their email marketing. And then, um, now it’s kind of, I’m an editorial assistant, which means like just do whatever needs to get done. Uh, which is fine. I love working with search engine journal. They’ve been so good to me that I don’t mind. I love doing whatever they need. Um, and so like now we’re running their email marketing. Um, and now we’re going through like a whole change. We just switched from me, AWeber to MailChimp. Now we’re moving from MailChimp to Active Campaign potentially. So that’s a whole, I haven’t really gotten into email marketing until like this later part of my career. So that’s been interesting.

Brad: (07:50)

Yeah. Active Campaign is really good. I actually just talked to Benyamin. He’s the content director there? Uh, like yesterday or two days ago. Yeah, it’s, active campaigns is really good. Well that makes me laugh though cause when I was like getting into all this stuff, uh, I feel like every blog known to man in the space was talking about AWeber. Um, cause they had this like little shitty, shitty affiliate program. And then I tried it one day and I was like, this is the worst fucking email tool I’ve ever used in my life. People are recommending this. And then I realized like, Oh this is how affiliate marketing works, you just push shitty products on people. Uh, I use like MailChimp after that. And I was like, why are people talking about AWeber when MailChimp is like so easy?

Anna: (08:34)

I know I do not get it. But that was my first like task when I joined doing email marketing for SEJ. I was like, no, we have to move away from AWeber.

Brad: (08:43)

Yeah. And this was in 2017. No, I’m just kidding. That’s so cool. So what, so now you’re just like a dabble, a little bit of everything. Like they send something. They’re like, Hey, fix this intro this writer sucks.

Anna: (08:56)

Yeah. So I pretty much manage like all the eBooks that you see come out, all their email marketing. And then I’m usually, if there’s a hot topic like the C, um, the new California lawsuit or regulations that came out, like something like that’s hot like that, they’ll be like quickly write this.

Brad: (09:12)

Did you guys do something about that already?

Anna: (09:16)

Yeah. I think we just published it last week, late last week.

Brad: (09:19)

It has some big ramifications, right. In the writing space cause there’s like you can only do so many pieces per whatever year.

Anna: (09:25)

Yeah. It’s pretty interesting. I’m gonna, I’m interested to see how this affects like PPC too.

Brad: (09:31)

Yeah. That’s a good point. I never thought about that. It’s, I mean it’s too bad in that like that law was designed for like the Ubers of the world and yet it’s going to hit high income earners, consultants, freelance writers in California. Cause even like our company, when we vet new writers now we, we have to ask them like, where are you located? Are you located in California? And then before even like trying them out, we have to make a decision, is it worth potentially worth hiring a person full time? Because if not, then we’re not going to hire them even as a contract. Like we have to, we’re not gonna be able to like get deep enough to actually like, you know, understand. Um, if we’re going to be a good fit, it’s like, well let’s just skip them and go to the next person.

Anna: (10:14)

Yeah. I know I’m, I’m a part of all these different Facebook groups of like freelancing people. Like sharing gigs or like needing requests. And I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen. It says in the little like last line, if you’re from California, please do not send me your information. I cannot hire you. Or people that are like, Oh, I’ve had to get rid of my graphic designer cause she lives in California ever since this came out so like people are losing jobs more than it’s actually helping them.

Brad: (10:37)

Yeah. Uh, I’m from California originally and it’s like most California thing ever. It’s like literally the most California law ever. Like how, how they came up with it and it’s like, it has good intentions, but they like totally fucked up the implementation, execution of it. So California, you go there and it’s like the roads don’t work. Public transportation doesn’t work. The schools, like all the teachers are trying to quit cause they don’t get paid enough money. It’s like, it’s so like perfectly California. Uh, it’s like, it’s like ivory tower. Like this is how the world should work. Uh, no, no guys, you’re just screwed over all these people you were not intending to screw over.

Anna: (11:13)

That is very California of them. How long did you live in California for?

Brad: (11:20)

I grew up there. I grew up in Southern California, uh, and I got to travel a lot with soccer and stuff. We share that in our backgrounds many years ago. Um, and so I got to travel a lot and I realized like, okay, California is pretty sweet even though I was making fun of it. So I stayed there for college and then my wife’s from Minnesota and we met in California and got married and stayed there and then I got to like age 30 and I was like, I gotta get outta here. Like I got up, I got to like see other stuff now. Like I’m so sick of this place with traffic, I’m sick of the people. Like I mean I feel like most people feel like that towards where they grew up to a degree. It kind of like experienced everything and it’s like all right, now what got to try something else.

Anna: (12:10)

No move to Minnesota?

Brad: (12:12)

No, it’s too cold there. Yeah. Denver is like a happy medium where you get seasons and you get snow, but it’s not like 40 below. It’s not winter for six months. It’s winter for like two months, you know, and it’s nice again. So

Anna: (12:28)

Kids aren’t dying in the cold going from class to class. I feel like I hear about that every winter in Minnesota.

Brad: (12:34)

Yeah. Yeah. So the first, this is totally off topic, but I just moved to Denver and I went downtown to meet someone who was coming here and I rode the light rail and again, I’ve never, I, this is my first time riding the light rail in the downtown and I get to union station, which is amazing. It’s beautiful. They restored it and there’s bars there and it’s like really cool. But I didn’t realize that when it snows here and it gets cold, homeless people could die obviously cause it gets, it does get cold at night. So there’s a snow storm. And then like when I was going to ride the light rail home, it’s a walk through this underground bus Depot thing and it was just packed with homeless people. Like this whole underground tunnel was packed with homeless people cause they let them all in.

Brad: (13:17)

But I just, I didn’t know what or why and I just walked down there and I was like, where the hell am I? It was like the walking dead or something. Yeah. It was like, it was like a zombie apocalypse movie. I was just like, wait a minute. I’m not prepared. Not prepared. I didn’t bring like my tools or my weapons. They totally threw me off. But yeah, I don’t know why I’ve got, I don’t know why I thought about, um,

Brad: (13:44)

Anyway, so, so search engine journal. We met, I love that piece you worked on, you worked with us for a little while. You were working, I know you were helping a lot with like working with writers and then also with clients. So you’re kind of in that like unenviable position of like having to translate what clients want back to a team of writers and vice versa.

Brad: (14:11)

Like what I could already imagine what like sucked about that type of role. Uh, and all the heavy editing and other types of stuff. But I mean, what, I guess my broader question is like how do you do that? Cause I, I personally am not a good editor. I don’t like editing. I’m not good at, I’m not good at like working with writers in that sense. I would rather just write and not talk to anyone, you know. So how, how did you balance that, those opposing forces at times?

Anna: (14:42)

That’s a really good question. Um, I think it takes a lot of patience, which was like something I really had to learn. I think I started doing yoga for the first time when I first started doing that.

Brad: (14:53)

It was the first time I started drinking heavily before.

Anna: (14:56)

I became an alcoholic. No big deal. Um, but yeah, so I think patience was key. But it really paid off because um, you know, like someone that I was really hard on, you know, whenever we first get a writer through it was really hard on them. The first couple of articles they would do, probably their first month I would tell like, okay, I’m going to go hard on you. And then this is going to be the game-changer. Are you going to quit or are you going to stay and push through it? Um, and usually the people that stayed and pushed through it by the second month, like there weren’t that many edits. We were, you know, by the time they sent me the article, it was 75% done instead of only 50% done. And then those people, whenever I actually stopped working with them, they would email me privately and say like how thankful they were that I actually took the time to edit their articles because it made them a better writer and now they have bigger and better jobs than they ever thought they would have. So it’s totally worth it.

Brad: (15:49)

Yeah, for sure. Uh, I saw this like amazing transformation to a degree where it’s like, um, people, it’s, it’s hard cause you’re taking people that may not have the experience quite yet or like the, the strong subject matter expertise and the other stuff you typically look for. Um, but you are able to like, get them to that point if you just like work through the kinks and if you work through and you have decent processes and if you’re, if you like, are in constant communication and yeah, everything got really good in a short amount of time I should say, which is probably not the right way to use the word good. But it was like a really, from the outside perspective, from my perspective, it was like a really seemed like a pretty smooth process even though, you know it’s not all the time.

Anna: (16:37)

Yeah, it was definitely, you know, people definitely got frustrated with me. I don’t think half of them liked me probably the first month we worked together. But you know, like you have to get to that point in your head where you’re not trying to be someone’s best friend. At the end of the day, it’s business and you have to deliver something quality to the client. And if that person can’t write the quality type of content, then it’s just not the right fit for either one of us. But the people that wanted to push through it and stick through it, like their content was amazing. Some of the best writing that I’ve still seen to this day. And so, you know, now they’re on to bigger and better careers.

Brad: (17:12)

Yeah. Isn’t that weird how much of a role attitude plays in it?

Anna: (17:16)

Yeah, a lot. It’s really interesting,

Brad: (17:19)

Like when you, I feel like people talk about writers, like some, there’s some innate talent or skill and it’s like kind of like, not really though like a little to a degree. Like you need to enjoy it to do it, otherwise, you’re just going to hate life. But I’m like, even still today we’re looking for more, as much the right fit as we are for writing ability.

Anna: (17:40)

Yeah. Do you have, I noticed like the last couple of years I’ve been trying to hire writers, um, I’ve been like,

Brad: (17:47)

Good luck.

Anna: (17:50)

First of all, good luck. but it’s really hard to find writers that like, I’m okay with them not having the technical ability because that can all be taught, but it’s really hard to find, um, writers with personality. You like, it’s all been said, it’s all been done. But like now, like everyone’s bored now we want something edgy or we want something funny. Um, and I don’t, I can’t find that.

Brad: (18:12)

No. Uh, I don’t know why either. I think it’s, I mean, I, I agree. I find we find the same thing. I think to a degree, uh, people are taught not to write that way.

Anna: (18:25)

Yeah.

Brad: (18:25)

I think school plays a big role in that. Like the whole essay writing process and throughout high school, college I got a little shitty MBA that hasn’t helped me to this day. But going through all those steps, they teach you to write like a boring robot. Any personality is like frowned upon and they just want to obsess over like, well, did you format, you know, did you format it based on, you know, whatever bullshit. Like yay or whatever. Yeah, exactly. Like they kind of teach you. So it is almost something you need to like unlearn, I think to a certain degree

Anna: (19:00)

That is true. You have to train your brain that it’s okay to be funny and have personality.

Brad: (19:05)

Yeah, for sure. And then I think to a degree, again, some clients don’t like it either. So like there’s been so many clients where I’ve written something for, uh, and they hate it cause there’s like, cause I say a bad word or cause I use like a sentence fragment or something. I was just like, well yeah, I’m trying to make people like real people read this. That’s why I’m writing this way, not just to be like an asshole, but like trying to make it somewhat interesting. Cause like you said, especially anything in the tech space, there’s like a million articles on every topic. So yeah.

Anna: (19:33)

How do you, like I’ve been struggling with this too, um, and I struggled with it in the past. Like how do you find that fine line between like giving the client what they’re asking for? Um, but giving the client what you know they need?

Brad: (19:46)

Yeah, that’s a good question. Um, let me think. It’s difficult in content because it’s subjective. So it’s kind of like web design and I experienced a lot of website redesign projects. Uh, in my past. And it’s like, it’s the same concept problem where like an insurance broker tells you how to like design a website and like pulls your file into Photoshop and like tries to like redesign your wire frame and you’re like, really, you’re an insurance broker and you’re telling me how to design a website right now. I think it’s tricky. Part of it is working with good or better clients. Part of it is being willing to set expectations and then walk away. So we tend to get very specific in terms of now anyway, in terms of like, here’s the type of feedback we want and encourage, here’s the type of feedback we need to hear to get better.

Brad: (20:41)

We need you to deliver it in a certain way. And if they don’t abide by that, then we don’t continue working with them. Uh, and so having that ability to do that though is not always easy or fun. Working with smarter clients helps too. So the more experienced some clients tend to be in some of this stuff, um, the better they are to work with cause they’re not caring about dumb stuff or they’re not trying to control like how you phrase something or just stupid stuff like that. Other things too, like I always ask for in the content space, I always ask for style guides pretty much no one has one, but it tells you like the agreement I tried to get to with people is like, okay, well let’s, let’s sit down and let’s have like a style guide that says this is how things are going to go so that it’s not your opinion or my opinion or your editor’s opinion or whatever else.

Brad: (21:35)

We created a feedback form that I could send to you after this, but it has like I think I tried to break it up into like structure, like, so there’s questions around overall structure, uh, paragraphs and sentences, voice and tone, images, links, other formatting. And so after the first article, if they don’t have a style guide, for example, we send them this and we tell them, look, it’s gonna, it’s gonna suck. It’s gonna take you 20 minutes to go through it. But like, give me specific examples for how you want each of these things done and then we’re going to take that and then we’re going to build this like working style guide document.

Anna: (22:11)

Oh, that’s a really, really good idea.

Brad: (22:14)

Yeah. So the idea is like if you hop on the phone with a client to go over content, they’re just going to talk like in all of all these vague expressions and very generic and like, Oh, it just doesn’t feel right. You’re like, okay, that doesn’t help me.

Anna: (22:28)

That does nothing for me.

Brad: (22:31)

Yeah, exactly. So, so, uh, that helps too. Um, we tell people to leave comments directly on documents. Uh, yeah. I don’t know. It’s not easy. It’s like there’s just like a few different things we try to pull together, you know what I mean? So, yeah. Also too, one thing that we’ve learned and I’ve learned, uh, we try to align our work now and our services and our positioning, company positioning more with SEO and growth. And that helps a lot because what it means is that you’re dealing primarily with SEO and growth people who have an end result in mind and their goal or metric of the project success is traffic, leads, sales. In my experience, they tend not to get hung up on all the intangible stuff that’s really hard to define and, and whatever. So I don’t know, does that answer your question? To a degree?

Anna: (23:46)

Yeah. No, that’s super helpful.

Brad: (23:46)

I mean it’s still not easy. Like it’s still, I don’t know, it’s just one of those things. I don’t like working with, uh, company owners or founders.

Anna: (23:46)

I have felt similar.

Brad: (23:46)

They need to have like a dedicated marketing person and possibly also a dedicated like content person or dedicated SEO person. So team size budget. Like the bigger the budget, like the less of a pain in the ass. They tend to be a lot of cases weird, really weird. So it’s, it’s just like a bunch of these little things that we’ve learned over time that based on what I think we’re good at trying to align that with those types of clients. And then when you can do that, a lot of the other problems start to fall off a little bit.

Anna: (24:16)

Yeah, that makes sense. I know I’ve been trying to like work more with enterprise level clients just because working with business owners one-on-one, it’s just, it’s too tedious. They usually don’t understand the direction you’re trying to push them in, which will be greater good for their growth and SEO and all that fun stuff. So yeah, I feel you on that.

Brad: (24:38)

Yes, it’s tricky. Um, I mean do you like what is, so what are your role, let’s fast forward to today. Like what does your role look like today? Cause I know you dabble, you’re kind of over, like you’re still doing a lot of SEO, you’re still doing a lot of like overseeing content strategy plus SEO. What is your, what is your role and, and like some of your stuff look like today.

Anna: (24:58)

Yeah. So it’s a really big mix of SEO and content. I didn’t really see my career like moving into the content direction, but honestly the last four years I’ve gotten so much content work that I don’t know what to do with. So I just ride the wave. Um, so I’d say right now it’s like split like 70% content and then the rest is SEO. So like I’m doing technical SEO audits, that then lead into a content audit that then lead into me developing the content for them after that content audit. So it just depends on the client. Usually, I’ll work with them for the first three months on those audits. And then, um, after that, if they want to go and run the content themselves or do whatever they want with it, they do it or they usually just hire me because they’re like, we don’t want to do this. So you do it.

Brad: (25:42)

Yeah. And you just mentioned you’re trying to hire writers and like all, with most clients, are you trying to like put writers in place so that you can kinda edit, oversee and not have to like do all the creation yourself?

Anna: (25:53)

Yeah, exactly. So, um, I really do enjoy writing, but I’ve just found, I run out of time now. So I just, I’ve helped build teams of writers and I build their process of writing, I build them, you know, outlines or creative briefs of how things should look. And then, um, we’ll use tools like Grammarly or Hemingway app to like give them a grade point of like what you should aim for before you send me something. And then, yeah, and then we kind of just build it from there. But then it’s nice because I found a lot of feedback from my clients is that they don’t have someone that knows the content side that also knows the SEO side. So they said in the past they’ve hired someone to do their content, but none of it was like mapped with key words or you know, did the whole siloing thing, you know, so just really didn’t make sense and there was a lot of good content just not formatted correctly.

Brad: (26:42)

Yeah, sure. 100%. That’s, that’s why we’re in business. Um, what, what is your biggest pain point with hiring writers?

Anna: (26:56)

That’s a good one. Um, there’s so many of them and there’s so many good ones. So it’s just, it’s a lot to sift through. And then, um, and then I think consistency too. You know, like I try as a writer myself, I like to have a pipeline of what’s coming. So I try to give them like three to six months of advanced of here’s your pipeline so that they can expect a certain income. They can get ahead or they can stay behind. I don’t care. Just deliver it by this due date, but I find a lot of people that whenever you give them that flexibility, they take advantage of it and then they don’t deliver on due dates. And I’m like, Hey, I gave you three months notice. Like, you know, it’s due this day.

Brad: (27:32)

Yeah. Yeah. That sounds so familiar. What are your typical methods? Like let’s say you’re going to do client. Are a lot of your, a lot of your clients are tech clients now I think you said?

Anna: (27:44)

Yeah, a lot in the SaaS space.

Brad: (27:46)

Okay. So can you reuse the same writers on different accounts or do you have to like go find new ones constantly?

Anna: (27:52)

Um, it depends on their, I prefer to work with the same writers, but a lot of them, um, depending on the budget that my clients are working with, you know, a lot of them will charge like 800 to 1,000 or 3000, sometimes too. I got one that was 6,000. I’m like, man, I’ve never even charged that, um, for ghostwriting. So it’s just, um, it just really kind of depends on the budget and the writers that I have. I think I’ve got like a pool of maybe 10 writers that I try to pluck from depending on budgets.

Brad: (28:20)

Gotcha. Isn’t it interesting too how like, uh, as especially software has become more evolved, you have to find experts for writers in like each little area? So even like, yeah. So you would think like, Oh, uh, you know, if someone has experienced in like,

Brad: (28:42)

I dunno SEO, then they should be able to write about like marketing automation and you’re like, no, no. Like in theory, yes. But in reality, unfortunately that’s not the case.

Anna: (28:52)

Yeah. Not at all. And it’s like I’ve had a couple, um, like I think with you, we worked on a few finance clients together too. That was super interesting and difficult to find writers. I think you ended up plucking like someone that used to be an accountant or something, right?

Brad: (29:09)

Yeah. So actually, uh, Jessica still works with us on another finance client and she, her background, she, I think she started writing marketing content for us, but then we discovered her background. She was like an MBA and she’s a CPA and we’re like, Oh, like this is exactly actually what we need over here.

Anna: (29:25)

Yeah, I know. I’m wondering, um, I tried to do that little trick too sometimes. Like I’m like, okay, well you worked in this position, maybe you can write about it. But it’s very bizarre to me that some people that like their whole like say you were a firefighter, you know, for 30 years, but a firefighter could not write about what they do on a day to day basis.

Brad: (29:46)

I was just going to ask you, do you look for subject matter experts who have actually done the role but aren’t experienced at writing? Or do you look for writers who have some passing experience with the topics they’re writing on?

Anna: (30:06)

Usually the first option. Um, what I aim to get, but I usually never find that whenever I put out like a, a job posting or a calling, usually it’s just writers that have been writers for their whole life and they just have developed a niche. So like maybe they write about medical articles all the time. I don’t know. Or maybe they only write about parenting articles.

Brad: (30:26)

Yeah. Cause I, I have found the same thing actually in that again, you think in theory like, Oh yeah, we’ll just find someone with like all this experience in the space and it’s like, yeah, it doesn’t work like that. Like getting words out of someone who doesn’t like to write or doesn’t think that they’re good at it is like pulling teeth.

Anna: (30:41)

Yeah. It’s, it’s pretty brutal. Um, and especially like, I dunno, I’ve realized this about myself too. Like I really can’t like work with boring niches. Um, it’s, well it’s also hard to find writers to write for those boring niches. Cause if you have to meet a certain word count, it’s just so much fluff filled in there. Whenever you have a writer that’s not an expert or that has actually worked in that field.

Brad: (31:06)

Yeah, yeah. I, uh, I always laugh when you get these random, really random like obscure use cases and then the person’s like, well, the writer has to have experience in this space. And I’m like, I think three people have experience in this space. Like you’re expecting me to go find one of them that also writes like fucking Hemingway.

Anna: (31:26)

A biochemist and Hemingway, it’s fine.

Brad: (31:30)

Good luck, dude. Like I don’t know what to tell you.,

Anna: (31:32)

I actually, I worked for a company a couple of years ago that made parts for BMW. But they were like, not a filter or an engine, like the part that builds the engine. So like super detailed and they’re like, yeah, just write, you know, 1200 words on this. And I’m like, I don’t know how this is built. I don’t even know where it goes on the car. Like how? But I did it. I made 1200 words. I don’t know if it made sense, but

Brad: (31:59)

I can’t even spell that word.

Anna: (32:01)

Yeah, no. I literally, there was a lot of copy and pasting.

Brad: (32:04)

Yeah, for sure. For sure. Uh, okay, so you get, let’s say you hire a writer but they don’t have a ton of experience, maybe in like something, you know, fairly like relatively technical. Uh, how do you, what’s your strategy to like onboard them and get them up to speed on what the, you know, the stuff they’re going to be talking about?

Anna: (32:27)

Yeah, so that’s a good question. So I usually try to work with them mostly on their outlines first and show them like how to research. These are like the sites you should be going to. This is where you can find information, sign up for these newsletters all this sorts of stuff. And I tried to like pad that into my time with them. So like maybe in the beginning, I’m just giving them one article a week instead of, you know, two or four, whatever our queue is. Um, just so they have that time to learn. Um, and then I can tell in their articles. So like after we go through the outline, like I will gut their outline and I’ll say, you know, this doesn’t make sense. Um, so then that way I don’t waste their time when it gets down to actually writing the article.

Brad: (33:06)

How, how many writers do you have to look at to find one good one?

Anna: (33:15)

Honestly I think it’s like close to 300 and I feel really bad too because I’m sure there’s maybe some amazing writers that I’ve passed up on, but you know, whenever they send me their pitch, I just like can tell if it’s in times Roman numeral or whatever that horrible font is or I’m like, we’re probably not going to be a good fit because we’re talking like most of my work is with SaaS companies. You have to have like some sort of technology background. Yeah. But yeah, like it’s, I can pretty much tell like by the bat that it’s not going to be a good fit and I don’t want to waste anyone’s time, but I do always try to reply to every single one that applies.

Brad: (33:58)

You reply to 300 pitches?

Anna: (34:01)

Yeah, I mean I have an automated template.

Brad: (34:03)

Okay. Holy shit. If you didn’t start drinking before then, surely you’re a lush now. How many, I think this is a big part of it though. How many of the 300, how many people just don’t follow basic directions that you included in the pitch?

Anna: (34:22)

Yes.

Brad: (34:22)

Like half? At least half, right?

Anna: (34:23)

So yeah, I’d say more than that, honestly. Like all, I try to put one of my favorite ones is one of the postings I put, like in one of the bullet points, I said please use subject line with a banana emoji called banana hammock from, cause I’m a Friends lover. I love princess banana hammock. And I’m like, that was such an easy one and like 70% of the people that didn’t even include that in their subject line. And so I’m like, I’m not going to look at you. And I probably missed out on a lot of great writers.

Brad: (34:51)

Man, that’s so frustrating. Um, so we use, I, uh, have become a lot less nice over the past few years. And so I don’t, I don’t reply to anyone if they are, they aren’t good. But uh, what do we automate that initial filter step? So we ask for specific things and if those fields are left blank or if there’s the wrong information, we use zapier automatically cut them out from even being considered or reviewed in the first place. So we don’t even like there’s so many things we put out the job board ads, we literally have like thousands of applicants and there’s so many that never even make it to like the first screen cause it’s just like they didn’t give me their LinkedIn profile or something like really, really basic.

Anna: (35:35)

So basic. Yeah.

Brad: (35:38)

Um, so Anna do you also try to scale out some of the other more SEO services you do? Stuff like you would research? Cause there’s, there’s almost like a fine line between needing some experience and expertise in that to understand how to like prioritize things or, uh, or, or whatever. So how do you, like currently with clients, are you still leading a lot of that initial strategy stuff on your own?

Anna: (36:01)

Yeah, so what I’ll do is I’ll usually create like quarterly content calendars essentially. Um, so it’ll be like three months of like, here’s our blog posts or webpages, eBooks, whatever we’re working on. And I queue them out for every quarter. And then all of that includes like strategy, keyword research, all that stuff. And that’s just kind of included in that budget. But then you only have to pay like the first month, say we’re only doing three months. The first month is like the most expensive, and then the next two months it’s just kind of working with the writers and editing. So it’s, it’s cheaper. But then whenever that fourth month comes around and we get to do it all over again, then it’s a little bit more expensive. I don’t know if that’s working yet. I played around so many times with doing pricing, I don’t know what clients, like just know I’m like, okay, well this is easiest for me.

Brad: (36:48)

Yeah. I mean, I think at the end of the day, especially like depending on how you want to work, that’s probably how you should do it. Like set it up to satisfy your own needs, your personal needs. I mean even we, like we don’t have an office cause I don’t like working in offices. Like it’s that simple. We’re a remote team and we always will be it cause I don’t like working with other people like that closely. So that’s just the way it is, you know, like, and then I don’t visit clients. Like I barely, I visit clients that I like, uh, and I visit clients when I can, but I’m not going to just like hop on, I’m not going to hop on the plane for like a fucking meeting or something. Like, no, I’m just gonna like you gotta like set it up for how, what’s going to suit you because ultimately that’s how you go to deliver a good service to people.

Anna: (37:35)

Yeah. Do you find, I know like whenever, everyone’s like, Oh, do you go to a coworking space? You should do that. And I’m like, no, I work from home because I want to be home. And I know like, I don’t know about you, but when I’m writing I can’t have any distractions. So like I’ve created like Dwight Schrute’s mega desk in one room in my house and that’s like my writing dome. And like, like my husband just knows like, Hey, don’t knock. She’s in the writing zone. Don’t come in but like when you work in an office, you can’t do that.

Brad: (38:03)

No. You have to be nice to people. That’s the problem. You have to be like, entertain, their dumb stories about homeless people and like whatever. Uh, no, I feel the same

Anna: (38:13)

Everyone hating their job. It’s just such a drag.

Brad: (38:15)

Yeah. Yeah, for sure. We had a little office back in the day. Uh, I hated it. Like you said, I’m like, I’m sure like most people in technology are A.D.D., So I can’t concentrate and write with other people around. Uh, there was a stretch of time when I was writing a lot where I used to get up at 3:00 AM no joke. I’d get up at 3:00 AM because I would write for like six hours before anyone else was around, you know, or woke up. And I’m the same way. I have young kids. And so like helping them and my wife is my priority, not like clients or coworkers. As bad as that sounds. I don’t know. Sorry. Sorry. Uh, so yeah, I felt the same and then I felt too in an office and even a coworking space. You’re like, I always felt bad or guilty if on the phone cause I’m being loud.

Anna: (39:04)

Yeah. Yup.

Brad: (39:05)

So it’s like, okay, I can’t come here to work and I can’t come here to like do phone calls, so why am I coming here then?

Anna: (39:13)

It’s like an excuse for me to socialize with people. I do think there are some people that need that, like social interaction. Um, but I’m an only child and I like being alone, so, yeah. Only child syndrome.

Brad: (39:27)

So that explains it. What other are you working on any other interesting kind of big projects right now with, are you allowed to talk about like some of your specific clients?

Anna: (39:37)

Um, I think right now the biggest thing that I’m going through with one of my clients is we’re going through, um, you know, the whole fad two years ago where everyone was like kind of gutting their content and like deleting a ton of it and then rewriting it? So I’m going through that project with two different clients right now and it’s just such a beast. And it’s tricky.I like stepping lightly because they were working with other content marketing agencies and then they bring me in to help bring it in house. And so there’s a lot of clashing of the heads for the content marketing agency is like, they made this and it’s so beautiful. But I’m like, Hey, it’s not ranking. It’s not driving signups. Like we’ve got to cut it or rewrite it. Soo I think that’s the biggest project that I’m working on. And I think because those are like year long projects, it, it’s hard to build trust with those clients to like, Hey, this will definitely pay off. They’re like, are you sure we’ve already paid for this? Like, how do we know our rankings are gonna increase? And unfortunately with SEO like I can give estimates but not accurate estimates.

Brad: (40:42)

Yeah, for sure. How do you deal with like short term fluctuations though? Cause I’ve done like site-wide content changes and there’s definitely drops initially. So how do you coach people through that coach clients off the cliff or,

Anna: (40:56)

Yeah, it’s really hard. I try to always, before I do anything like make sure I lay the groundwork of like, Hey, we’re going to see a drop in traffic most likely for the first three months after that, you know, we’ll start to see a slow incline by six months, we should be even steady.

Brad: (41:12)

Yeah. What, what helps with those kinds of calls? Are you able to like use case studies or results or other things to like help show the trough of sorrow?

Anna: (41:27)

I actually, Danny from search engine journal. We worked on it together to do that with search engine journal. Um, so that was like really great process for me. So now like I’m just doing the same thing for other people. Um, and like I think now I think in July SEJ hit 2 million page views or something crazy, for the first time. So like, and it was all because we edited and got it and got rid of this old crappy content.

Brad: (41:52)

That’s cool. How do you balance, uh, how do you balance that? Like pruning what you’re talking about versus like on a new site if you’re trying to build topical authority in a certain space, the strategy is the opposite where it’s like, and we’re testing this right now in a couple of projects where it’s like I’m trying to build topical authority in this one space, so I’m just going to do every long-tail variation I can find. Cause I gotta like build that up first so I can get my top pages ranking and then you just come in after and improve it. Like how do you balance the two opposing worlds?

Anna: (42:26)

So depending on the budget. But in our perfect world, I like to do it at the same time because a lot of the newer topics, if that I’m going for will help get rid of the old crap. Um, so like for example, like if we want to do, if they have a budget for 10 blog posts, I’ll do five new five old that month. Um, and we’ll just kind of go through that way. How do you guys do it?

Brad: (42:50)

Uh, I don’t prune, I let other people prune because I try to stay in my lane is the short answer. So we tell, a lot of times we work with like an SEO agency or an SEO department or in house SEOs and we tell them upfront like we’re good at certain things. Um, but we usually don’t oversee. We don’t do that much strategy work is the short answer. Cause I found personally, uh, for me anyway, strategy is tough to scale. And I’m not like that smart. I can’t like work with every client, you know. Uh, and so we tend to focus more on the production side. So I tell, I tell clients upfront like, and there’s a couple of partners we work with and I would just like, I recommend them, like bring them in, have them do your strategy and tell us what to do.

Brad: (43:37)

And then we’ll kind of take the ball and run with it. Like if you need a scale but like hundreds of articles a month that are good and we’ll do it. Um, and we could do, we do like we focus on page search intent, all that kind of stuff. But outside of that, I try not to get involved in like site architecture, structure, technical SEO.

Anna: (43:55)

That’s my favorite.

Brad: (43:55)

I just, I throw my hands up and say I’m not smart enough for this stuff.

Anna: (44:04)

I just love doing it because I just, I feel like it’s the one way I can prove that the content is obviously like you can see page, you sign up some conversions and things like that. But I just really, um, I did a test a couple of years ago with this company called canopy insurance. I don’t think they’re around anymore. I think zebra like squashed everyone in that industry.

Brad: (44:24)

So that’s how good you did with them.

Anna: (44:26)

Yeah I did so amazing.

Brad: (44:31)

I did, I did so well they went out of business. I pruned everything. Then their ratio tanked. Then they ran out of money.

Anna: (44:31)

I think they actually got bought out. The agency that I was working for at the time they went bankrupt. So I woke up one morning and we didn’t have a job. So I don’t know really what happened with canopy insurance cause that was my client through them. But yeah, so we didn’t do any link building but we um, did internal linking through the site architecture and the styling and our blog posts were created around those topical themes that were in the silos. And it was just so cool to see like wow, in three months, just from internal linking, no backlinks, no nothing. Like we were able to get on page one for a lot of like really good terms. And then we were so good. I think they got bought out. I think that’s why because they were ranking so high and the competitors were like, Whoa, maybe I’m just lying to myself that they got bought.

Brad: (45:30)

No they for sure got bought out. Wow. You guys are so smart. How’d you do all this? I just lost my question. I was going to ask you with internal linking, Are you primarily trying to drive, I mean I know what you’re trying to do, but when you’re working with a client, like how do you wrap your hands around it? Are you trying to understand like what if there’s, if their architecture is a mess, like are you trying to go in and create pillars and clusters and silos? Are you trying to like reinforce it with internal linking? Like how do you even, you just start with like a big export of URL. How do you like go in and start to actually make sense of it all?

Anna: (46:12)

So I usually start with their products and services cause that’s kind of like, like whatever they’re selling. And that’s kind of like the main navigation area that I start with just because those are going to be like their money keywords. So all of our topic clusters are going to start as like that as the broad keyword term. And then I can build out long tail keyword terms from that, which will be our blog content. Um, but yeah, if they have like a shitty site architecture and I’m just doing content, I’ll explain to them like, here’s your current site architecture. Here’s what I would recommend. I don’t care what you do with it, but I’m just letting you know all this beautiful content I’m doing for you will be better if your site was better.

Brad: (46:48)

Yeah. That reminded me, this is my favorite question to ask SEO people. How many times do you scope when you sell a project or like, going in and fixing or updating Google analytics and then, and then how many times do you actually have to go in to every single client you get and fix or update their analytics before, before you could do any of the actual work that you’re getting paid for?

Anna: (47:21)

Every single one. I cannot tell you how many times, and I feel really bad about this too because I’ve had agency life, but um, a lot of Google analytics will get our companies that work with SEO agencies or other companies and it’s clear that like no other views were set up. Like they don’t even have like the HTTPS, they have HTTP still in there and I’m like basic stuff is not done. And like we don’t have conversions. I’m like, I have no idea if my content is performing well. Like I have to clean this up for you.

Brad: (47:48)

Do you, do you require it before you start working, acquire access before you start working with clients out? Or do you just like,

Anna: (47:53)

yeah, I have like a list of requirements that you need to get me before I will start with anything. Because I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve had. Like, Hey, where’s my article on this? I’m like, well, I still need access. I have, well, not a magician.

Brad: (48:07)

Oh, you’re not in your free time?

Anna: (48:09)

Chris Angel and I hang out on the weekends for sure.

Brad: (48:17)

Uh, that might be the oddest a magician you could have referenced. But I like it. Uh, well thanks so much and I really appreciate it.

Anna: (48:29)

Yeah, of course.

Highlights

How Anna’s tough approach as an editor led to the growth and success of writers.  (15:13)

The first couple of articles they would do, probably their first month I would tell like, okay, I’m going to go hard on you. And then this is going to be the game-changer. Are you going to quit or are you going to stay and push through it? Um, and usually the people that stayed and pushed through it by the second month, like there weren’t that many edits. We were, you know, by the time they sent me the article, it was 75% done instead of only 50% done. 

Why content creation without SEO leads to lackluster results (26:21)

But then it’s nice because I found a lot of feedback from my clients is that they don’t have someone that knows the content side that also knows the SEO side. So they said in the past they’ve hired someone to do their content, but none of it was like mapped with keywords or you know, did the whole siloing thing, you know, so just really didn’t make sense and there was a lot of good content just not formatted correctly.

The value of revisiting old content to revise and remove, even if it’s painful.  (41:35)

So now I’m just doing the same thing (content pruning) for other people. And I think now I think in July Search Engine Journal hit 2 million page views or something crazy, for the first time. So like, and it was all because we edited and got it and got rid of this old crappy content.

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