Tag Archive | "Lessons"

13 Timeless Lessons from the Father of Advertising

In 1962, Time magazine called David Ogilvy: “The most sought-after wizard in today’s advertising industry.” During his years as an…

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3 Big Lessons from Interviewing John Mueller at SearchLove London – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by willcritchlow

When you’ve got one of Google’s most helpful and empathetic voices willing to answer your most pressing SEO questions, what do you ask? Will Critchlow recently had the honor of interviewing Google’s John Mueller at SearchLove London, and in this week’s edition of Whiteboard Friday he shares his best lessons from that session, covering the concept of Domain Authority, the great subdomain versus subfolder debate, and a view into the technical workings of noindex/nofollow.

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Video Transcription

Hi, Whiteboard Friday fans. I’m Will Critchlow from Distilled, and I found myself in Seattle, wanted to record another Whiteboard Friday video and talk through some things that I learned recently when I got to sit down with John Mueller from Google at our SearchLove London conference recently.

So I got to interview John on stage, and, as many of you may know, John is a webmaster relations guy at Google and really a point of contact for many of us in the industry when there are technical questions or questions about how Google is treating different things. If you followed some of the stuff that I’ve written and talked about in the past, you’ll know that I’ve always been a little bit suspicious of some of the official lines that come out of Google and felt like either we don’t get the full story or we haven’t been able to drill in deep enough and really figure out what’s going on.

I was under no illusions that I might be able to completely fix this this in one go, but I did want to grill John on a couple of specific things where I felt like we hadn’t maybe asked things clearly enough or got the full story. Today I wanted to run through a few things that I learned when John and I sat down together. A little side note, I found it really fascinating doing this kind of interview. I sat on stage in a kind of journalistic setting. I had never done this before. Maybe I’ll do a follow-up Whiteboard Friday one day on things I learned and how to run interviews.

1. Does Google have a “Domain Authority” concept?

But the first thing that I wanted to quiz John about was this domain authority idea. So here we are on Moz. Moz has a proprietary metric called domain authority, DA. I feel like when, as an industry, we’ve asked Google, and John in particular, about this kind of thing in the past, does Google have a concept of domain authority, it’s got bundled up with feeling like, oh, he’s had an easy way out of being able to answer and say, “No, no, that’s a proprietary Moz metric. We don’t have that.”

I felt like that had got a bit confusing, because our suspicion is that there is some kind of an authority or a trust metric that Google has and holds at a domain level. We think that’s true, but we felt like they had always been able to wriggle out of answering the question. So I said to John, “Okay, I am not asking you do you use Moz’s domain authority metric in your ranking factors. Like we know that isn’t the case. But do you have something a little bit like it?”

Yes, Google has metrics that map into similar things

John said yes. He said yes, they have metrics that, his exact quote was, “map into similar things.”My way of phrasing this was this is stuff that is at the domain level. It’s based on things like link authority, and it is something that is used to understand performance or to rank content across an entire domain. John said yes, they have something similar to that.

New content inherits those metrics

They use it in particular when they discover new content on an existing domain. New content, in some sense, can inherit some of the authority from the domain, and this is part of the reason why we figured they must have something like this, because we’ve seen identical content perform differently on different sites. We know that there’s something to this. So yes, John confirmed that until they have some of those metrics developed, when they’ve seen a bit of content for long enough, and it can have its own link metrics and usage metrics, in the intervening time up until that point it can inherit some of this stuff from the domain.

Not wholly link-based

He did also just confirm that it’s not just link-based. This is not just a domain-level PageRank type thing.

2. Subdomains versus subfolders

This led me into the second thing that I really wanted to get out of him, which was — and when I raised this, I got kind of an eye roll, “Are we really going down this rabbit hole” — the subdomain versus subfolder question. You might have seen me talk about this. You might have seen people like Rand talk about this, where we’ve seen cases and we have case studies of moving blog.example.com to example.com/blog and changing nothing else and getting an uplift.

We know something must be going on, and yet the official line out of Google has for a very long time been: “We don’t treat these things differently. There is nothing special about subfolders. We’re perfectly happy with subdomains. Do whatever is right for your business.” We’ve had this kind of back-and-forth a few times. The way I put it to John was I said, “We have seen these case studies. How would you explain this?”

They try to figure out what belongs to the site

To his credit, John said, “Yes, we’ve seen them as well.” So he said, yes, Google has also seen these things. He acknowledged this is true. He acknowledged that it happens. The way he explained it connects back into this Domain Authority thing in my mind, which is to say that the way they think about it is: Are these pages on this subdomain part of the same website as things on the main domain?

That’s kind of the main question. They try and figure out, as he put it, “what belongs to this site.” We all know of sites where subdomains are entirely different sites. If you think about a blogspot.com or a WordPress.com domain, subdomains might be owned and managed by entirely different people, and there would be no reason for that authority to pass across. But what Google is trying to do and is trying to say, “Is this subdomain part of this main site?”

Sometimes this includes subdomains and sometimes not

He said sometimes they determine that it is, and sometimes they determine that it is not. If it is part of the site, in their estimation, then they will treat it as equivalent to a subfolder. This, for me, pretty much closes this loop. I think we understand each other now, which is Google is saying, in these certain circumstances, they will be treated identically, but there are circumstances where it can be treated differently.

My recommendation stays what it’s always been, which is 100% if you’re starting from the outset, put it on a subfolder. There’s no upside to the subdomain. Why would you risk the fact that Google might treat it as a separate site? If it is currently on a subdomain, then it’s a little trickier to make that case. I would personally be arguing for the integration and for making that move.

If it’s treated as part of the site, a subdomain is equivalent to a subfolder

But unfortunately, but somewhat predictably, I couldn’t tie John down to any particular way of telling if this is the case. If your content is currently on a subdomain, there isn’t really any way of telling if Google is treating it differently, which is a shame, but it’s somewhat predictable. But at least we understand each other now, and I think we’ve kind of got to the root of the confusion. These case studies are real. This is a real thing. Certainly in certain circumstances moving from the subdomain to the subfolder can improve performance.

3. Noindex’s impact on nofollow

The third thing that I want to talk about is a little bit more geeked out and technical, and also, in some sense, it leads to some bigger picture lessons and thinking. A little while ago John kind of caught us out by talking about how if you have a page that you no index and keep it that way for a long time, that Google will eventually treat that equivalently to a no index, no follow.

In the long-run, a noindex page’s links effectively become nofollow

In other words, the links off that page, even if you’ve got it as a no index, follow, the links off that page will be effectively no followed. We found that a little bit confusing and surprising. I mean I certainly felt like I had assumed it didn’t work that way simply because they have the no index, follow directive, and the fact that that’s a thing seems to suggest that it ought to work that way.

It’s been this way for a long time

It wasn’t really so much about the specifics of this, but more the like: How did we not know this? How did this come about and so forth? John talked about how, firstly, it has been this way for a long time. I think he was making the point none of you all noticed, so how big a deal can this really be? I put it back to him that this is kind of a subtle thing and very hard to test, very hard to extract out the different confounding factors that might be going on.

I’m not surprised that, as an industry, we missed it. But the point being it’s been this way for a long time, and Google’s view and certainly John’s view was that this hadn’t been hidden from us so much as the people who knew this hadn’t realized that they needed to tell anyone. The actual engineers working on the search algorithm, they had a curse of knowledge.

The curse of knowledge: engineers didn’t realize webmasters had the wrong idea

They knew it worked this way, and they had never realized that webmasters didn’t know that or thought any differently. This was one of the things that I was kind of trying to push to John a little more was kind of saying, “More of this, please. Give us more access to the engineers. Give us more insight into their way of thinking. Get them to answer more questions, because then out of that we’ll spot the stuff that we can be like, ‘Oh, hey, that thing there, that was something I didn’t know.’ Then we can drill deeper into that.”

That led us into a little bit of a conversation about how John operates when he doesn’t know the answer, and so there were some bits and pieces that were new to me at least about how this works. John said he himself is generally not attending search quality meetings. The way he works is largely off his knowledge and knowledge base type of content, but he has access to engineers.

They’re not dedicated to the webmaster relations operation. He’s just going around the organization, finding individual Google engineers to answer these questions. It was somewhat interesting to me at least to find that out. I think hopefully, over time, we can generally push and say, “Let’s look for those engineers. John, bring them to the front whenever they want to be visible, because they’re able to answer these kinds of questions that might just be that curse of knowledge that they knew this all along and we as marketers hadn’t figured out this was how things worked.”

That was my quick run-through of some of the things that I learned when I interviewed John. We’ll link over to more resources and transcripts and so forth. But it’s been a blast. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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7 Lessons Copywriters Can Learn from Simply Listening to a Really Good Conversation

The easy part of this process is following the seven lessons below. It’s much harder to find a good conversation. The sad truth is, most of us are terrible at holding even a half-decent conversation. We’re in too much of a hurry. We’re too anxious to get our own points of view across, and we
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What Do Dolphins Eat? Lessons from How Kids Search

Posted by willcritchlow

Kids may search differently than adults, but there are some interesting insights from how they use Google that can help deepen our understanding of searchers in general. Comfort levels with particular search strategies, reading only the bold words, taking search suggestions and related searches as answers — there’s a lot to dig into. In this week’s slightly different-from-the-norm Whiteboard Friday, we welcome the fantastic Will Critchlow to share lessons from how kids search.

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Video Transcription

Hi, everyone. I’m Will Critchlow, founder and CEO of Distilled, and this week’s Whiteboard Friday is a little bit different. I want to talk about some surprising and interesting and a few funny facts that I learnt when I was reading some research that Google did about how kids search for information. So this isn’t super actionable. This is not about tactics of improving your website particularly. But I think we get some insights — they were studying kids aged 7 to 11 — by looking at how kids interact. We can see some reflections or some ideas about how there might be some misconceptions out there about how adults search as well. So let’s dive into it.

What do dolphins eat?

I’ve got this “What do dolphins eat?” because this was the first question that the researchers gave to the kids to say sit down in front of a search box, go. They tell this little anecdote, a little bit kind of soul-destroying, of this I think it was a seven-year-old child who starts typing dolphin, D-O-L-F, and then presses Enter, and it was like sadly there’s no dolphins, which hopefully they found him some dolphins. But a lot of the kids succeeded at this task.

Different kinds of searchers

The researchers divided the ways that the kids approached it up into a bunch of different categories. They found that some kids were power searchers. Some are what they called “developing.” They classified some as “distracted.” But one that I found fascinating was what they called visual searchers. I think they found this more commonly among the younger kids who were perhaps a little bit less confident reading and writing. It turns out that, for almost any question you asked them, these kids would turn first to image search.

So for this particular question, they would go to image search, typically just type “dolphin” and then scroll and go looking for pictures of a dolphin eating something. Then they’d find a dolphin eating a fish, and they’d turn to the researcher and say “Look, dolphins eat fish.” Which, when you think about it, I quite like in an era of fake news. This is the kids doing primary research. They’re going direct to the primary source. But it’s not something that I would have ever really considered, and I don’t know if you would. But hopefully this kind of sparks some thought and some insights and discussions at your end. They found that there were some kids who pretty much always, no matter what you asked them, would always go and look for pictures.

Kids who were a bit more developed, a bit more confident in their reading and writing would often fall into one of these camps where they were hopefully focusing on the attention. They found a lot of kids were obviously distracted, and I think as adults this is something that we can relate to. Many of the kids were not really very interested in the task at hand. But this kind of path from distracted to developing to power searcher is an interesting journey that I think totally applies to grown-ups as well.

In practice: [wat do dolfin eat]

So I actually, after I read this paper, went and did some research on my kids. So my kids were in roughly this age range. When I was doing it, my daughter was eight and my son was five and a half. Both of them interestingly typed “wat do dolfin eat” pretty much like this. They both misspelled “what,” and they both misspelled “dolphin.” Google was fine with that. Obviously, these days this is plenty close enough to get the result you wanted. Both of them successfully answered the question pretty much, but both of them went straight to the OneBox. This is, again, probably unsurprising. You can guess this is probably how most people search.

“Oh, what’s a cephalopod?” The path from distracted to developing

So there’s a OneBox that comes up, and it’s got a picture of a dolphin. So my daughter, a very confident reader, she loves reading, “wat do dolfin eat,” she sat and she read the OneBox, and then she turned to me and she said, “It says they eat fish and herring. Oh, what’s a cephalopod?” I think this was her going from distracted into developing probably. To start off with, she was just answering this question because I had asked her to. But then she saw a word that she didn’t know, and suddenly she was curious. She had to kind of carefully type it because it’s a slightly tricky word to spell. But she was off looking up what is a cephalopod, and you could see the engagement shift from “I’m typing this because Dad has asked me to and it’s a bit interesting I guess” to “huh, I don’t know what a cephalopod is, and now I’m doing my own research for my own reasons.” So that was interesting.

“Dolphins eat fish, herring, killer whales”: Reading the bold words

My son, as I said, typed something pretty similar, and he, at the point when he was doing this, was at the stage of certainly capable of reading, but generally would read out loud and a little bit halting. What was fascinating on this was he only read the bold words. He read it out loud, and he didn’t read the OneBox. He just read the bold words. So he said to me, “Dolphins eat fish, herring, killer whales,” because killer whales, for some reason, was bolded. I guess it was pivoting from talking about what dolphins eat to what killer whales eat, and he didn’t read the context. This cracked him up. So he thought that was ridiculous, and isn’t it funny that Google thinks that dolphins eat killer whales.

That is similar to some stuff that was in the original research, where there were a bunch of common misconceptions it turns out that kids have and I bet a bunch of adults have. Most adults probably don’t think that the bold words in the OneBox are the list of the answer, but it does point to the problems with factual-based, truthy type queries where Google is being asked to be the arbiter of truth on some of this stuff. We won’t get too deep into that.

Common misconceptions for kids when searching

1. Search suggestions are answers

But some common misconceptions they found some kids thought that the search suggestions, so the drop-down as you start typing, were the answers, which is bit problematic. I mean we’ve all seen kind of racist or hateful drop-downs in those search queries. But in this particular case, it was mainly just funny. It would end up with things like you start asking “what do dolphins eat,” and it would be like “Do dolphins eat cats” was one of the search suggestions.

2. Related searches are answers

Similar with related searches, which, as we know, are not answers to the question. These are other questions. But kids in particular — I mean, I think this is true of all users — didn’t necessarily read the directions on the page, didn’t read that they were related searches, just saw these things that said “dolphin” a lot and started reading out those. So that was interesting.

How kids search complicated questions

The next bit of the research was much more complex. So they started with these easy questions, and they got into much harder kind of questions. One of them that they asked was this one, which is really quite hard. So the question was, “Can you find what day of the week the vice president’s birthday will fall on next year?” This is a multifaceted, multipart question.

How do they handle complex, multi-step queries?

Most of the younger kids were pretty stumped on this question. Some did manage it. I think a lot of adults would fail at this. So if you just turn to Google, if you just typed this in or do a voice search, this is the kind of thing that Google is almost on the verge of being able to do. If you said something like, “When is the vice president’s birthday,” that’s a question that Google might just be able to answer. But this kind of three-layered thing, what day of the week and next year, make this actually a very hard query. So the kids had to first figure out that, to answer this, this wasn’t a single query. They had to do multiple stages of research. When is the vice president’s birthday? What day of the week is that date next year? Work through it like that.

I found with my kids, my eight-year-old daughter got stuck halfway through. She kind of realized that she wasn’t going to get there in one step, but also couldn’t quite structure the multi-levels needed to get to, but also started getting a bit distracted again. It was no longer about cephalopods, so she wasn’t quite as interested.

Search volume will grow in new areas as Google’s capabilities develop

This I think is a whole area that, as Google’s capabilities develop to answer more complex queries and as we start to trust and learn that those kind of queries can be answered, what we see is that there is going to be increasing, growing search volume in new areas. So I’m going to link to a post I wrote about a presentation I gave about the next trillion searches. This is my hypothesis that essentially, very broad brush strokes, there are a trillion desktop searches a year. There are a trillion mobile searches a year. There’s another trillion out there in searches that we don’t do yet because they can’t be answered well. I’ve got some data to back that up and some arguments why I think it’s about that size. But I think this is kind of closely related to this kind of thing, where you see kids get stuck on these kind of queries.

Incidentally, I’d encourage you to go and try this. It’s quite interesting, because as you work through trying to get the answer, you’ll find search results that appear to give the answer. So, for example, I think there was an About.com page that actually purported to give the answer. It said, “What day of the week is the vice president’s birthday on?” But it had been written a year before, and there was no date on the page. So actually it was wrong. It said Thursday. That was the answer in 2016 or 2017. So that just, again, points to the difference between primary research, the difference between answering a question and truth. I think there’s a lot of kind of philosophical questions baked away in there.

Kids get comfortable with how they search – even if it’s wrong

So we’re going to wrap up with possibly my favorite anecdote of the user research that these guys did, which was that they said some of these kids, somewhere in this developing stage, get very attached to searching in one particular way. I guess this is kind of related to the visual search thing. They find something that works for them. It works once. They get comfortable with it, they’re familiar with it, and they just do that for everything, whether it’s appropriate or not. My favorite example was this one child who apparently looked for information about both dolphins and the vice president of the United States on the SpongeBob SquarePants website, which I mean maybe it works for dolphins, but I’m guessing there isn’t an awful lot of VP information.

So anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this little adventure into how kids search and maybe some things that we can learn from it. Drop some anecdotes of your own in the comments. I’d love to hear your experiences and some of the funny things that you’ve learnt along the way. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Marketing Lessons Learned from 16 Years of Building Moz – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

The lessons Rand has learned from building and growing Moz are almost old enough to drive. From marketing flywheels versus growth hacks, to product launch timing, to knowing your audience intimately, Rand shares his best advice from a decade and a half of marketing Moz in today’s edition of Whiteboard Friday.

Marketing Lessons Learned from 16 Years of Building Moz

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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we are going to chat about some of the big lessons learned for me personally building this company, building Moz over the last 16, 17 years.

Back in February, I left the company full-time. I’m still the Chairman of the Board and contribute in some ways, including an occasional Whiteboard Friday here and there. But what I wanted to do as part of this book that I’ve written, that’s just coming out April 24th, Lost and Founder, is talk about some of the elements in there, maybe even give you a sneak peek.

If you’re thinking, “Well, what are the two or three chapters that are super relevant to me?” let me try and walk you through a little bit of what I feel like I’ve taken away and what I’m going to change going forward, especially stuff that’s applicable to those of us in web marketing, in SEO, and in broader marketing.

Marketing flywheels > growth hacks

First off, marketing flywheels, in my experience, almost always beat growth hacks. I know that growth hacks are trendy in the last few years, especially in the startup and technology worlds. There’s been this sort of search for the next big growth hack that’s going to transform our business. But I’ve got to be honest with you. Not just here at Moz, but in all of the companies that I’ve had experience with as a marketer, this tends to be what that looks like when it’s implemented.

So folks will find a hack. They’ll find some trick that works for a little while, and it results in this type of a spike in their traffic, their conversions, their success metrics of whatever kind. So they’ve discovered a way to game Facebook or they found this new black hat trick or they found this great conversion device. Whatever it is, it’s short term and short lasting. Why is this? It tends to be because of something Andrew Chen calls — and I’ll use his euphemism here — it’s called the “Law of Shitty Click-through Rates,” which essentially says that over time, as people get experienced with a sort of marketing trend, they become immune to its effects.

Marketing Lessons Learned from 16 Years of Building Moz - Whiteboard Friday

You can see this in anything that sort of tries to hack at consciousness or take advantage of psychological biases. So you get this pattern of hack, hack, hack, hack, and then none of the hacks you’re doing work anymore. Even if you have a tremendously successful one, even if this is six months in length, it tends to be the case that, over time, those diminish and decline.

Conversely, a marketing flywheel is something that you build that generates inertia and energy, such that each effort and piece of energy that you put into it helps it spin faster and faster, and it carries through. It takes less energy to turn it around again and again in the future after you’ve got it up and spinning. This is how a lot of great marketing works. You build a brand. You build your audience. They come to you. They help it amplify. They bring more and more people back. In the web marketing world, this works really well too.

Marketing Lessons Learned from 16 Years of Building Moz - Whiteboard Friday

So most of you are familiar with Moz’s flywheel, but I’ll try and give it a rough explanation here. We start down here with content ideas that we get from spending lots of time with SEOs. We do keyword research, and we optimize these posts, including look at Whiteboard Friday itself.

What do we do with Whiteboard Friday? You’re watching this video, but you’ll also see the transcript below. You’ll see the podcast version from SoundCloud so that you can listen to the text rather than watch me if you can do audio only for some reason. Each of these little images have been cut out and placed into the text below so that someone who’s searching in Google images might find some of these and find their way to Whiteboard Friday. A few months after it goes up here, hosted with Wistia on Moz, it will be put up on YouTube.com so that people can find it there.

So we’ve done all these sorts of things to optimize these posts. We publish them, and then we earn amplification through all the channels that we have — email, social media, certainly search engines are a big one for us. Then we grow our reach for next time.

Early in the days, early in Moz’s history, when I was first publishing, I was writing every blog post myself for many, many years. This was tremendously difficult. We weren’t getting much reach. Now, it’s an engine that turns on its own. So each time we do it, we earn more SEO ranking ability, more links, more other positive ranking signals. The next time we publish content, it has an even better chance of doing well. So Moz’s flywheel keeps spinning, keeps getting faster and faster, and it’s easier and easier. Each time I film Whiteboard Friday, I’m a little more experienced. I’ve gotten a little better at it.

Flywheels come in many different forms

Flywheels come in a lot of forms. It’s not just the classic content and SEO one that we’re describing here, although I know many of you who watch Whiteboard Friday probably use something similar. But press and PR is a big one that many folks use. I know companies that are built on primarily event marketing, and they have that same flywheel going for them. In advertising, folks have found these, in influencer-focused marketing flywheels, and community and user-generated content to build flywheels. All of these are ways to do that.

Find friction in your flywheels

If and when you find friction in your flywheel, like I did back in my early days, that’s when a hack is really helpful. If you can get a hack going to grow reach for next time, for example, in my early days, this was all about doing outreach to folks in the SEO space who were already influential, getting them to pay attention and help amplify Moz’s content. That was the hack that I needed. Essentially, it was a combination of the Beginner’s Guide to SEO and the Search Ranking Factors document, which I’ve described here. But that really helped grow reach for next time and made this flywheel start spinning in the way that we wanted. So I would urge you to favor flywheels over hacks.

Marketing an MVP is hard

Second one, marketing an MVP kind of sucks. It’s just awful. Great products are rarely minimum viable products. The MVP is a wonderful way to build. I really, really like what Eric Ries has done with that movement, where he’s taken this concept of build the smallest possible thing you can that still solves the user’s problem, the customer’s problem and launch that so that you can learn and iterate from it.

I just have one complaint, which is if you do that publicly, if you launch your MVP publicly and you’re already a brand that’s well known, you really hurt your reputation. No one ever thinks this. No one ever thinks, “Gosh, you know, Moz launched their first version of new tool X. It’s pretty terrible, but I can see how, with a few years of work, it’s going to be an amazing product. I really believe in them.” No one thinks that way.

What do you think? You think, “Moz launched this product. Why did they launch it? It’s kind of terrible. Are they going downhill? Do they suck now? Maybe I should I trust their other tools less.” That’s how most people think when it comes to an MVP, and that’s why it’s so dangerous.

Marketing Lessons Learned from 16 Years of Building Moz - Whiteboard Friday

So I made this silly chart here. But if the quality goes from crap to best in class and the amplification worthiness goes from zero to viral, it tends to be the case that most MVPs are launching way down here, when they’re barely good enough and thus have almost no amplification potential and really can’t do much for your marketing other than harm it.

If you instead build it internally, build that MVP internally, test with your beta group, and wait until it gets all the way up to this quality level of, “Wow, that’s really good,” and lots of people who are using it say, “Gosh, I couldn’t live without this. I want to share it with my friends. I want to tell everyone about this. Is it okay to tell people yet?” Maybe it’s starting to leak. Now, you’re up here. Now, your launch can really do something. We have seen exactly that happen many, many times here at Moz with both MVPs and MVPs where we sat on them and waited. I talk about some of these in the book.

MVPs, great to test internally with a private group. They’re also fine if you’re really early stage and no one has heard of you. But MVPs can seriously drag down reputation and perception of a brand’s quality and equity, which is why I generally recommend against them, especially for marketing.

Living the lives of your customer/audience is a startup + marketing cheat code

Last, but not least, living the lives of your customers or your audience is a cheat code. It is a marketing and startup cheat code. One of the best things that I have ever done is to say, “You know what? I am not going to sequester myself in my office dreaming up this great thing I think we should build or I think that we should do. Instead, I’m going to spend real time with our customers.”

Marketing Lessons Learned from 16 Years of Building Moz - Whiteboard Friday

So you might remember, at the end of 2013, I did this crazy project with my friend, Wil Reynolds, who runs Seer Interactive. They’re an SEO agency based here in the United States, in Philadelphia and San Diego. They do a lot more than SEO. Wil and I traded houses. We traded lives. We traded email accounts. I can’t tell you how weird it is answering somebody’s email, replying to Wil’s mom and being like, “Oh, Mrs. Reynolds, this is actually Rand. Your son, Wil, is answering my email off in Seattle and living in my apartment.”

Marketing Lessons Learned from 16 Years of Building Moz - Whiteboard Friday

That experience was transformational for me, especially after having gone through the pain of building something that I had conceptualized myself but hadn’t validated and hadn’t even come up with the idea from real problems that real people were facing. I had come up with it based on what I thought could grow the company. I seriously dislike ideas that come from that perspective now.

So since then, I just try not to assume. I try not to assume that I know what people want. When we film a Whiteboard Friday, it is almost always on a topic that someone I have met and talked to either over email or over Twitter or in person at an event or a conference, we’ve had a conversation in person. They’ve said, “I’m struggling with this.” I go, “I can make a Whiteboard Friday to help them with that.” That’s where these content ideas come from.

When I spend time with people doing their job, I was just in San Diego a little while ago meeting with a couple of agencies down there, spending time in their offices showing off a new links tool, getting all their feedback, seeing what they do with Open Site Explorer and Ahrefs and Majestic and doing their work with them, trying to go through the process that they go through and actually experiencing their pain points. I think this right here is the product and marketing cheat code. If you spend time with your audience, experiencing their pain points, the copy you write, what you design, where you place it, who you try and get to influence and amplify it, how you serve them, whether that’s through content or through advertising or through events, or whatever kind of marketing you’re doing, will improve if you live the lives of your customers and their influencers.

Whatever kind of marketing you’re doing will improve if you live the lives of your customers and their influencers.

All right, everyone. Hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday. If you have feedback on this or if you’ve read the book and checked that out and you liked it or didn’t like it, please, I would love to hear from you. I look forward to your comments. We’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

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11 Lessons Learned from Failed Link Building Campaigns

Posted by kerryjones

We’ve created more than 800 content campaigns at Fractl over the years, and we’d be lying if we told you every single one was a hit.

The Internet is a finicky place. You can’t predict with 100% accuracy if your content will perform well. Sometimes what we think is going to do OK ends up being a massive hit. And there have been a few instances where we’d expect a campaign to be a huge success but it went on to garner lackluster results.

While you can’t control the whims of the Internet, you can avoid or include certain things in your content to help your chances of success. Through careful analysis we’ve pinpointed which factors tend to create high-performing content. Similarly, we’ve identified trends among our content that didn’t quite hit the mark.

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In this this post, I’ll share our most valuable lessons we learned from content flops. Bear in mind this advice applies if you’re using content to earn links and press pickups, which is what the majority of the content we create at Fractl aims to do.

1. There’s such a thing as too much data.

For content involving a lot of data, it can be tempting to publish every single data point you collect.

A good example of this is surveying. We’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of not only sharing all of the data we’ve collected in a survey, but also segmenting the data out by demographics — regardless of whether or not all of that data is super compelling. While this can give publishers a large volume of potential angles to choose from, the result is often unfocused content lacking a cohesive narrative.

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Only include the most insightful, interesting data points in your content, even if that means tossing aside most of the data you’ve gathered.

One example of this was a survey we did for a home security client where we asked people about stalker-ish behaviors they’d committed. The juiciest survey data (like 1 in 5 respondents had created a fake social account to spy on someone — yikes!) ended up getting buried because we included every data point from the survey, some of which wasn’t so interesting. Had we trimmed down the content to only the most shocking findings, it probably would have performed far better.

Furthermore, the more data you include, the more time it takes for a publisher to wade through it. As one journalist told us after we sent over an epic amount of data: “Long story short, this will take too much time.”

Consider this: It shouldn’t take a publisher more than 10 seconds of looking at your project to grasp the most meaningful data points. If they can’t quickly understand that, how will their readers?

2. Turning published data into something cool doesn’t always yield links.

If you’re going to use data that’s already been reported on, you better have a new spin or finding to present. Journalists don’t want to cover the same stats they have already covered.

A great example of this is a project we created about the reasons startups fail. The majority of the data we used came from CB Insights’ startup post mortems list, which had performed really well for them. (As of the time I’m writing this, according to Open Site Explorer it has 197 linking root domains from sites including BBC, Business Insider, Fortune, Vox, CNBC, and Entrepreneur — impressive!)

It worked well once, so it should work again if we repackage it into a new format, right?

We used the startups featured on the CB Insights list, added in a handful of additional startups, and created a sexy-looking interactive node map that grouped together startups according to the primary reasons they went under.

While the content didn’t end up being a failure (we got it picked up by Quartz, woo!), it definitely didn’t live up to the expectations we had for it.

Two problems with this project:

  1. We weren’t saying anything new about the data.
  2. The original data had gotten so much coverage that many relevant publishers had already seen it and/or published it.

But of course, there are exceptions. If you’re using existing data that hasn’t gotten a ton of coverage, but is interesting, then this can be a smart approach. The key is avoiding data that has already been widely reported in the vertical you want to get coverage in.

3. It’s difficult to build links with videos.

Video content can be extremely effective for viral sharing, which is fantastic for brand awareness. But are videos great for earning links? Not so much.

When you think of viral content, videos probably come to mind — which is exactly why you may assume awesome videos can attract a ton of backlinks. The problem is, publishers rarely give proper attribution to videos. Instead of linking to the video’s creator, they just embed the video from YouTube or link to YouTube. While a mention/link to the content creator often happens organically with a piece of static visual content, this is often not the case with videos.

Of course, you can reach out to anyone who embeds your video without linking to you and ask for a link. But this can add a time-consuming extra step to the already time-intensive process of video creation and promotion.

4. Political ideas are tough to pull off.

Most brands don’t want to touch political topics with a ten-foot pole. But to others, creating political content is appealing since it has strong potential to evoke an emotional reaction and get a lot of attention.

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We’ve had several amazing political ideas fail despite solid executions and promotional efforts. It’s hard for us to say why this is, but our assumption has been publishers don’t care about political content that isn’t breaking (because it’s always breaking). For this reason, we believe it’s nearly impossible to compete with the constant cycle of breaking political news.

5. Don’t make content for a specific publisher.

We’ve reached out to publishers to collaborate during content production, assuming that if the publisher feels ownership over the content and it’s created to their specifications, they will definitely publish it.

In general, we’ve found this approach doesn’t work because it tends to be a drain on the publishers (they don’t want to take on the extra work of collaborating with you) and it locks you into an end result that may only work for their site and no other publishers.

Remember: Publishers care about getting views and engagement on their site, not link generation for you or your client.

6. Hyperlocal content is a big risk.

If you focus on one city, even with an amazing piece of content featuring newsworthy information, you’re limited in how many publishers you can pitch it to. And then, you’re out of luck if none of those local publishers pick it up.

On the flip side, we’ve had a lot of success with content that features multiple cities/states/regions. This allows us to target a range of local and national publishers.

Note: This advice applies to campaigns where links/press mentions are the main goal – I’m not saying to never create content for a certain locality.

7. Always make more than one visual asset.

And one of those assets should always be a simple, static image.

Why?

Many websites have limits to the type of media they can publish. Every publisher is able to publish a static graphic, but not everyone can embed more complex content formats (fortunately, Moz can handle GIFs).

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In most cases, we’ve found publishers prefer the simplest visualizations. One classic example of this is a project where we compared reading levels and IQ across different states based on a analysis of half a million tweets. Our Director of Creative, Ryan Sammy, spent a painstaking amount of time (and money) creating an interactive map of the results.

What did most publishers end up featuring? A screenshot of a Tableau dashboard we had sent as a preview during outreach…

8. Be realistic about newsjacking.

Newsjacking content needs to go live within 24 to 48 hours of the news event to be timely. Can you really produce something in time to newsjack?

We’ve found newsjacking is hard to pull off in an agency setting since you have to account for production timelines and getting client feedback and approval. In-house brands have a more feasible shot at newsjacking if they don’t have to worry about a long internal approval process.

9. Watch out for shiny new tools and content formats.

Just because you are using cool, new technology doesn’t automatically make the content interesting. We’ve gotten caught up in the “cool factor” of the format or method only to end up with boring (but pretty) content.

10. Avoid super niche topics.

You greatly increase your risk of no return when you go super niche. The more you drill down a topic, the smaller your potential audience becomes (and potential sites that will link become fewer, too).

There are a ton of people interested in music, there are fewer people interested in rap music, there are even fewer people interested in folk rap music, and finally, there are so few people interested in ’90s folk rap. Creating content around ’90s folk rap will probably yield few to no links.

Some questions to ask to ensure your topic isn’t too niche:

  • Is there a large volume of published content about this topic? Do a Google search for a few niche keywords to see how many results come up compared to broader top-level topics.
  • If there is a lot of content, does that content get high engagement? Do a search in Buzzsumo for keywords related to the niche topic. Is the top content getting thousands of shares?
  • Are people curious about this topic? Search on BloomBerry to see how many questions people are asking about it.
  • Are there online communities dedicated to the topic? Do a quick search for “niche keyword + forum” to turn up communities.
  • Are there more than 5 publishers that focus exclusively on the niche topic?

11. Don’t make content on a topic you can’t be credible in.

When we produced a hard-hitting project about murder in the U.S. for a gambling client, the publishers we pitched didn’t take it seriously because the client wasn’t an authority on the subject.

From that point on, we stuck to creating more light-hearted content around gambling, partying, and entertainment, which is highly relevant to our client and goes over extremely well with publishers.

It’s OK to create content that is tangentially related to your brand (we do this very often), but the connection between the content topic and your industry should be obvious. Don’t leave publishers wondering, why is this company making this content?”

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Learning from failure is crucial for improvement.

Failure is inevitable, especially when you’re pushing boundaries or experimenting with something new (two things we try to do often at Fractl). The good news is that with failure you tend to have the greatest “a-ha!” moments. This is why having a post-campaign review of what did and didn’t work is so important.

Getting to the heart of why your content is rejected by publishers can be extremely helpful — we collect this information, and it’s invaluable for spotting things we can tweak during content production to increase our success rate. When a publisher tells you “no,” many times they will give a brief explanation why (and if they don’t, you can ask nicely for their feedback). Collect and review all of this publisher feedback and review it every few months. Like us, you may notice trends as to why publishers are passing up your content. Use these insights to correct your course instead of continuing to make the same mistakes.

And one last note for anyone creating content for clients: What should you do when your client’s campaign is a flop? To mitigate the risk to our clients, we replace a campaign if it fails to get any publisher coverage. While we’ve rarely had to do this, putting this assurance in place can give both you and your client peace of mind that a low-performing campaign doesn’t mean their investment has gone to waste.

What have you observed about your content that didn’t perform well? Does your experience contradict or mirror any of the lessons I shared?

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An MP3 Website, Activist Community, A Craigslist-Copy Called Yaz.com.au And An English School – These Are My Failures And The Lessons Learned

[ Download MP3 | Transcript | iTunes | Soundcloud | Raw RSS ] Welcome to the EJ Podcast ‘Solo Session 2’, otherwise known as the Failure episode. The episode itself is not a failure, but features business projects that I created during my earlier years as an entrepreneur that did…

The post An MP3 Website, Activist Community, A Craigslist-Copy Called Yaz.com.au And An English School – These Are My Failures And The Lessons Learned appeared first on Entrepreneurs-Journey.com.

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5 Lessons Learned from a SaaS Home Run

laura roeder - a customer-first approach to software

Laura Roeder is known for putting together agile companies that put the customer first — including her current hit, Edgar, a SaaS (software as a service) product that hit a million dollars in revenue in its first year in business.

She excels at “keeping it simple” — maybe because she ran ultra-successful online education companies for five years. She turned around and put those lessons into a software business — and she’s crushing it.

Laura leapt out on her own as a freelancer at 22, without giving it a lot of thought. As she laughingly put it in her Unemployable interview with Brian Clark, it was:

“… probably the worst way to do it.”

You can find that interview here: From Freelance Designer to SaaS Superstar

She hadn’t done any prep, she hadn’t lined up any clients … she didn’t even know what a proposal was.

Lesson #1: You learn by doing

While I don’t particularly recommend that approach for most of us, it underlies a key principle of starting a business:

You learn the real lessons by doing.

(If you’re looking for a lower-risk way to learn those lessons, the “side hustle” — a part-time business you can run in your spare time — is a fantastic middle road.)

Educating yourself is important — and you can find lots of techniques and strategies here on Copyblogger and our sister site, Digital Commerce Institute.

But education is the initial, back-of-the-envelope sketch. It’s when you actually start building a project, product, and business that you really make that learning come to life.

And you can start small — with experimental products and services that don’t require you to “bet the farm.”

Speaking of which, that leads us to one of the most common misperceptions about people who launch businesses …

Is it true that entrepreneurs are extreme risk-takers?

Laura definitely has a bold, optimistic personality — it’s what led her to take that leap at 22.

But there’s a big difference between “bold” and “foolhardy.”

Smart digital entrepreneurs launch controlled, low-risk offerings, sometimes called the minimum viable product model, until they find the perfect mix of product and market.

Laura’s software business, Edgar, grew out of the needs of her online education company. And unlike a lot of software development (raise millions of dollars, spend a year writing code, then see if you can get some buyers), she was able to deploy Edgar quickly to find out if it would interest her market.

Her development costs were light enough that the tool was worth developing even if they only ever used it in-house. But instead, Edgar turned out to be a home run.

Lesson #2: Reduce risk through experimentation

One of the things that makes business interesting is the need to constantly pay attention to shifting landscapes and patterns. And that allows you to notice what’s working — even if it’s subtle — and to figure out how to do more of it.

It also helps you notice what isn’t working, so you can correct the issue.

It sounds simple, and sometimes it is, but of course that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. But this type of careful observation is the best business teacher around.

Lesson #3: Look for the bigger picture

“At our company … one of the things we [ask employees] is, ‘Are you killing it?’”– Laura Roeder, from her interview on Hack the Entrepreneur

Laura values ownership in her company, giving each team member the information they need to make smart decisions without a lot of micromanagement.

How do they decide which decisions are smart? The ones that contribute to growth and excellent user experience — recognizing that success comes from the combined efforts of multiple teams and roles.

Rather than focus on one or two “KPIs” (key performance indicators) for each position, Laura recognizes that selling online is a matter of creating smart customer paths — and that requires a more holistic way of looking at teams and how they work together.

Her question to employees — Are you killing it? — makes room for a wider view of how the business is working.

Lesson #4: Focus on what you’re excellent at

Most founders, particularly in the early days, think of themselves as “chief cook and bottle washer.” In other words, they try to fill every single role in the company.

Laura, on the other hand, has always been strongly aware of her weak spots … which has allowed her to leverage her strengths.

As she said in her Hack the Entrepreneur interview:

“Something that I’m especially bad at is customer service.”

But rather than allowing that to create an expensive blind spot that “customer service isn’t that important,” it led her to value her support team that much more.

In fact, Laura wrote a fascinating article with that point of view here: Stop Insulting Your Team by Making Everyone Do Customer Service.

A key aspect of entrepreneurial creativity is figuring out how you’re going to work with the gaps of your own weaknesses — whether that’s by hiring someone, partnering, or some other creative solution.

Lesson #5: Think like a marketer

Because of Laura’s background, she thinks like a marketer — which gives her a monster advantage as a business owner.

She’s open to new ideas, but she doesn’t fall in love with them — until she sees how they can serve the needs of her audience and expand out into a wider market.

That lets her start planning a new product, project, or company with the right question:

What audience problem is this going to solve? How will this delight the audience I’ve pulled together?

This customer-first thinking is the cornerstone for most successful business, and it’s an antidote to what I call “Inventor’s Syndrome” — grinding away to push an interesting technical idea that buyers just don’t share your enthusiasm for.

Her million-dollar business Edgar came out of an education product called Social Brilliant, which taught Laura’s methodology for social media.

Edgar was a natural evolution that came at the intersection of what Social Brilliant was doing well (advice on social media strategy) and the audience’s needs (better, simpler tools to implement the techniques).

Keeping her eyes open and her attention focused, she realized the need — then discovered from her Ruby-on-Rails programmer fiancé that creating an automation tool was totally doable.

(His assertion that “I can do that in a week” did turn out to be a bit overoptimistic. Welcome to software development!)

Hear more about Laura’s journey to SaaS founder

We’re excited that Laura will be joining us this October at our live Digital Commerce Summit in Denver, Colorado on October 13-14.

Laura’s going to spill the beans about her journey, starting as that cocky 22-year-old freelancer, becoming a high-profile information entrepreneur, and now heading a hot SaaS that hit the million-dollar revenue mark its first year in business.

Her talk is called Leveling Up: How I Went From Infoproducts to SaaS, and will take you behind the scenes to see exactly how a non-technical marketing mind used the skills she developed in online courses to quickly become a major player in a whole new industry.

Join us for a focused, single-track curriculum that will teach you how to level up to the next phase of your business — and will load you up with action steps that you can start moving on before you even get on the plane home.

Claim your spot and get the best price on tickets here.

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Indispensable Writing Lessons from 3 Historic Creative Thinkers

Copyblogger Collection - master writers share their secrets

Do you ever catch yourself romanticizing earlier time periods?

Thoughts like, “It was so much easier to establish authority with ebooks when they weren’t as common” or “I wish people still had longer attention spans.”

Before you get too bummed out, remember that digital content creators are currently well-positioned and previous generations had their challenges as well.

Even way back when long-form, romantic love letters were all the rage, a hastily scribbled note was the equivalent of today’s cursory, ambiguous text message.

But let’s see what we can learn from our creative forefathers — the ones who have made a powerful impact on contemporary writing and content marketing.

This week’s Copyblogger Collection is a series of three handpicked articles that will show you:

  • How to kill writer’s block and become a master copywriter
  • How to demand attention
  • How to energize your content with made-up words

As you work your way through the material below, think of the following lessons as a mini content writing course.


How to Kill Writer’s Block and Become a Master Copywriter in Only 3 Hours a Day

3-hours-day

Check out How to Kill Writer’s Block and Become a Master Copywriter in Only 3 Hours a Day for a profound tale about Eugene Schwartz’s dedication to excellence — and keep reading to learn a simple writing practice that can help you focus on producing your best work.

Robert Bruce breaks down the system that enabled Schwartz to be a powerful and lucrative copywriter.

No fancy tools or gimmicks needed. This technique appeals to those who value craft, hard work, and research.


10 Ways to Piss Off David Ogilvy (Free Poster)

ogilvy-copywriting-crimes

Demian Farnworth explains legendary copywriter David Ogilvy’s outlook on the advertising business:

David developed some firm views on the discipline. In fact, David repeated them so often in his lectures, interviews, and memos, you might call them themes.

Themes he wanted infused into his agency’s corporate culture.

Violate one of these themes and you just might find yourself on the receiving end of a stern memo or handwritten note scribbled on a scrap of paper from David.

Grab the full list of themes you don’t want to violate in 10 Ways to Piss Off David Ogilvy. Then, download the free copywriting crimes poster or share the graphic (complete with digital coffee stains)!


Shakespeare’s 5 Rules for Making Up Words (to Get Attention)

make-up-words

Demian is passionate about helping you write content that gets people to stop what they’re doing and become engrossed in your story.

As a bonus, after you read Shakespeare’s 5 Rules for Making Up Words, you’ll get Demian’s personal trick for inventing words.

Shakespeare wasn’t the first to create new words, and he certainly wasn’t the last. Discover how to take advantage of strange words, especially in headlines.

Push yourself creatively

Use this post (and save it for future reference!) as you review your content creation process.

Can you spot opportunities to improve the quality of your content and give your audience a more memorable experience?

About the author

Stefanie Flaxman

Stefanie Flaxman is Rainmaker Digital’s Editor-in-Chief.

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3 Editing and Proofreading Lessons to Help You Elevate the Quality of Your Content

Copyblogger Collection - build authority with careful quality control

Let’s compare bland content to plain bread.

Plain content bread isn’t going to build an authority sandwich for your business; it’s fairly easy to produce and many other places offer it.

Editing and proofreading are the peppercorn-crusted turkey and applewood-smoked bacon you need to layer on top of your plain content bread.

With peppercorn-crusted turkey and applewood-smoked bacon (and maybe even some Dijon mustard or horseradish mayonnaise), you’re able to craft an engaging experience for readers — something savory, a little spicy, and more robust than all the other plain content bread out there.

Building an audience is hard work because you have to offer people an experience they don’t get anywhere else. The winning details that make your content a go-to resource can emerge during the time you take to edit and proofread.

This week’s Copyblogger Collection is a series of three handpicked articles that will show you:

  • How to objectively review your own writing
  • How to transform your content into persuasive and shareable works of art
  • How to catch more writing mistakes with an underutilized proofreading trick

As you work your way through the material below, think of the following lessons as a mini editing and proofreading course.


The Traffic Light Revision Technique for Meticulously Editing Your Own Writing

traffic-light-revision-technique

I can give you an example of how editing played an important role when I wrote the introductory paragraphs above.

I originally compared editing and proofreading to “peanut butter and jelly.”

A draft of the opening section was complete with this analogy, but when I reviewed it, “peanut butter and jelly” didn’t contain enough details to support my point. I wanted to communicate a more vivid picture.

The Traffic Light Revision Technique for Meticulously Editing Your Own Writing will help you objectively review your work.

It outlines how to pinpoint portions of your text that you can develop further to create more precise and potent content.


15 Copy Editing Tips that Can Transform Your Content into Persuasive and Shareable Works of Art

copy-editing-tips

Next up, check out 15 Copy Editing Tips that Can Transform Your Content into Persuasive and Shareable Works of Art.

Once you’ve edited your draft to your satisfaction, copy editing further refines your writing so that readers effortlessly comprehend your message.

During in-person communication, you can rephrase your verbal speech if you observe a puzzled or clueless look on someone’s face. With writing, you don’t get the luxury of such feedback until after you’ve published.

At that point, you don’t get another chance to explain yourself; a reader will simply stop reading.

Your attention to detail demonstrates that you care about your audience’s experience — which sets your content apart from sloppy or convoluted writing.


Catch More Writing Mistakes with This Underutilized Proofreading Trick

smart-proofreading-trick

After you prepare your peppercorn-crusted turkey and applewood-smoked bacon authority sandwich, it’s time to present it to your audience to build the relationships that build your business.

But there’s one more step to solidify your efforts: proofreading.

While you may have corrected grammar mistakes and typos when editing or copy editing, proofreading is a separate activity that polishes your content.

In Catch More Writing Mistakes with This Underutilized Proofreading Trick, you’ll discover why proofreading is different from just reading and how this simple practice helps you publish professional content.

Stay tuned to Copyblogger …

We’re celebrating Thanksgiving in the U.S. this week, but we’ll have a fresh article for you on Monday!

If you’re not already subscribed to get updates that help you become a stronger content marketer, please join us.

Type your email address* into the box below and click “Join us!”

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About the author

Stefanie Flaxman

Stefanie Flaxman is Rainmaker Digital’s Editor-in-Chief.

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