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SEO for content marketing

SEO for Content Marketers: 7 Ways to Make Your Content Stand Out

SEO for Content MarketersPicture this: Day in and day out you shed blood, sweat and tears over your content. You rack your brain for timely, relevant topics. You research diligently to ensure you deliver genuine value and not just fluff. You cry over every comma, and re-Google The Oatmeal to make sure you’re using your semicolons properly.

And what do the gods of Google do? They laugh. They deliver measly traffic so low it’s not even worth A/B testing your headlines. What’s a lonely content marketing director to do?

Recently Jay Baer published this excellent post explaining that in a world awash in content, SEO is more relevant than ever. True enough.

So if SEO is still essential to content marketers, how do you do it? Isn’t SEO just a moving target? Actually no. Last week, I sat down with Seattle-based SEO expert, Mark McLaren, and he filled me in on what the pros are telling their clients these days. The following is based on our conversation.

  1. Content is your best SEO weapon

As Mark explains it, “There are two parts to SEO, the content part and the technical part.” That’s because Google has gotten so much better at search.

The Panda update and the Penguin update were specifically designed to weed out the garbage and they both do a really good job. These days, you need great content. 5 years ago, that didn’t use to be the case. Google has just gotten so much better at finding people that are trying to game the SEO system. 

So if your content is good, you’re already way ahead of the hacks churning out junk, because Google is sniffing out those puppies like a K9 working for the FBI.

  1. SEO is not a mystery

Every two years MOZ (formerly SEO MOZ) surveys leading search marketers and publishes their opinions on the top eighty or so factors they believe Google values most. Is this the gospel direct from Google? No, but it’s pretty damn close. Most SEO experts agree that by consistently following the top priorities on this list – at least those that are within your control, and not all are – your content will increase in rank and traffic over time.

But eighty is a lot, right? A LOT. Don’t panic. Luckily, Mark has summarized the most important ones:

  1. In-Links are the key to pagerank

As Mark explains it,

“Far and away the most important thing for your pagerank is the number and quality of links pointing to your website. And your pagerank is the biggest factor in whether your post shows up on page 1 in Google search results.

There are different ways those links can be related. But the bottom line is the site with the most high quality links pointing to it wins. And high quality is key. In the old days people could get away with a lot of nonsense in terms of getting in-links but the Penguin update put an end to that.”

How do you get more links? The most obvious and natural way is by creating good content. Think of sites like The Oatmeal. Or even Buzzfeed. I know, Buzzfeed can be annoying but people love their content. It’s funny, it’s quick and it’s topical. Or even WebMD. It’s dry, but people read it because it quickly gives them the information they want. Period.

So start with great content, but be strategic too. Write about someone or some company well-known in your industry and they are highly likely to link back to you. And if you have genuinely good content it never hurts to ask.

  1. When it comes to links, choose quality over quantity

Not all in-links are created equal. Google has gotten smart, so just a few in-links from highly ranked sites will help you more than thousands of links from obscure sites. This is a good thing, because it means you can focus your efforts on getting just a few quality links.

One of the easiest ways to do this Mark explains, is to focus on getting links from sites that end in .edu, .org or .gov. That’s because Google (mostly correctly) assumes that since non-profits and government sites have no economic incentive to push a particular product or service their links are less subject to manipulation.

You can take advantage of this by brainstorming ways to get those links. Are there any government or non-profit agencies that would be interested in your content? Make them your target. Ask if you can write a guest blog post, or send them links to your content and ask them to share it. Even one or two of these will go a long way to advancing your own site’s rank, thus raising the rank of ALL your content.

The bottom line: spend your precious time and money getting a few really powerful links rather than hundreds of weak ones.

  1. Out-links can help, and they’re easy

Okay, so maybe it’s going to take a while to build up some quality in-links, but you can add some excellent quality out-links right now. As Mark explains, “Write posts that include a link out to an authoritative site in the first paragraph. From Google’s standpoint they aren’t going to penalize you for out-links, and it definitely increases your post’s credibility.”

  1. Structure matters

Okay, here we get a little technical, but bear with me, because this stuff really matters. There are a lot of aspects to structure, but on this point Mark is emphatic, “The Title Tag is #1. It’s more important than anything else on a webpage. If you don’t get the title tag right, don’t bother.”

So what is the title tag? Basically, it’s the text Google reads first to decide what your content is about. It’s also the text that shows in blue in search results pages to tell searchers what your content is about too. Here’s what it looks like for another post I wrote:

Title Tag in Google Search

If you use a blog publishing platform like WordPress, ask your web developer to add an SEO plug-in that allows you to edit the title tag to make it as SEO and click-friendly as possible. As long as it accurately reflects the content of your post, you should absolutely take advantage of this by using the keywords most likely to drive traffic.

  1. Common language is powerful

There’s a whole science related to keywords and what people will search for, but the basic rule is this: Write in the language most commonly used by your target audience. Not in your own jargony-jargon. Not in the language you think sounds the most “professional” and corporate. Not in the words you just made up last week to describe your niche product. Just the common everyday language of your customers. Because guess what? That’s what they are Googling.

An easy way to check if the terms you are using have SEO value is Google Suggest. Here’s how: Pick a term you want your page or post to rank well for and start typing it into Google. Google immediately starts filling in some suggested terms for you. If YOUR term doesn’t show up, it’s not frequently searched. Rewrite your content to use one of the terms that does show up instead. Don’t want to? Sorry Charlie! Google doesn’t care, and neither do your searching customers. So change it.

Mark shared this excellent example: “Take “facebook marketing”. You can see in Suggest that “facebook marketing tips” appears before “facebook marketing ideas”. The suggestions don’t appear alphabetically; they appear in order of search volume, so we know that “…tips” is searched more often than “…ideas”. Nine times out of ten, it’s best to use the one that’s searched more often, especially in a title tag or heading. Note that something like “facebook marketing thoughts” doesn’t show up. So you can rule that one out.”

How to use Google Suggest

So there you have it. Seven powerful things you can do right now to make your outstanding content stand out. Go forth and conquer.

*photo credit:

Find Your…New Tagline?

 By Catherine Captain


It seems everyone these days wants us to find something. Corona wants us to find our beach. Nike wants us to find our greatness. Macy’s wants us to find our magic. Expedia wants us to find our story. And now Kohl’s wants us to find our yes (huh?). So what’s behind all this searching and seeking? Why are brands from such varied sectors compelling their audiences to get out there – or look within – and find, find, find? In the case of these brand nudges towards exploration, it all starts with story.

You see, the brands that transcend the cacophony these days are doing so by connecting with their consumers on an emotional level and the communication device that awakens hearts is story. The familiar pattern of a story instantly locks into ancient, well-worn story grooves in our brains. [The neuroscience is well documented and quite fascinating. Check out this Fast Company article summarizing a research study showing that when subjects love brands more than people (!!!), story was playing cupid.]

As humans, when we spot heroes and villains out in the world, our brains whir and our hearts leap. We’ve heard this one before, but we always want to see how it ends. There will be obstacles and mentors along the way. That hero will leave their ho-hum world for a greater, life-altering experience. Clever brands tell us these tales and in the process they win us over, sometimes completely.

Which brings me back to Corona, Nike, Macy’s, Expedia and Kohl’s. Why the “find your…” zeitgeist? Are we really so utterly lost these days? Are each one of us flailing aimlessly, leading a purposeless life without our beach, our greatness, our magic, our story and our yes? Actually, these brands are tapping the oldest plot around, the hero’s journey. (All hail the master, Joseph Campbell, who documented the monomyth from ancient mythology to modern day stories.) The journey is beautifully and succinctly explained in this great TED Ed video.

In this cycle, the hero is called to adventure and eventually crosses the threshold to a special world that will change them forever. In brand journeys, YOU, the consumer, are the hero. (Hint, marketers: the consumer – not your product – is almost ALWAYS the hero, natch.)

The villain is your horribly mundane life. Imagine: No beach! No greatness! No magic! No story! No yes (wait, what?)! And who is the mentor in these tales? Ahhh…the brands. These brands descend from on high to show you the way into the light, right to the special world. “Find your…” is our call to adventure, my friends! It’s an invitation to start our journey, the beginning of our story, our “once upon a time…”

Just one little problem: I have exploration overload. Find fatigue. Discovery discontent. How can so many brands within just a few years be sounding the exact same clarion call? Don’t tagline copywriters at ad agencies triple-check for this stuff? Or maybe even watch TV themselves?? This is, at best, copycat communication and, at worst, lazy marketing. Don’t get me wrong, these brand stories can be enormously powerful. This Nike ad is one of my favorites of all time. I weep openly in this Expedia spotCorona claimed beaches, forgodssake! And I’m shouting the dramatic benefits of storytelling from the marketing mountaintops. But hey all you “find your…” marketers, we cry “uncle”!! Find your new tagline. Please!

UPDATE: And there’s more! Find your Fit from Fitbit and Find Your Park (National Park Foundation), Find New Roads (Chevrolet). Stop the madness!

Catherine Captain is a partner at Rumble Marketing and adjunct professor teaching “Story-Based Marketing: Using the Power of Story to Achieve Business Success” at the University of Washington’s Communication Leadership Master’s program. 

Put Some Tough Mudder #Badass in Your Brand

A week ago the Tough Mudder team brought their unique brand of muddy fun and obstacle course racing to the Seattle area. Founded in 2010, Tough Mudder Inc. has zoomed to $75 million in revenue in just 4 years with over 60 events held per year worldwide.

With growth like that, it’s worth taking a peek at what’s working to spread the Mudder Nation brand so fast.


Tough Mudder saves a fortune in marketing costs by giving participants a reason to spread their brand. By completing an event you earn bragging rights to a story in which YOU are cast as the hero.

I know what you’re thinking, “Sure, but that’s easy for them. Bragging rights are inherent to an endurance sports event.

Not true. How many triathlon brands or marathon brands can claim Tough Mudder levels of loyalty and love? How many can you even name? Maybe Boston or New York, and maybe the Ironnman in Hawaii. But that’s it. There are hundreds of companies running thousands of extremely demanding sports event all year long, and most toil in obscurity. In contrast, the Tough Mudder succeeds in turning participants into brand evangelists in a way these other events don’t.

So how do they do it? First, they reinforce their brand story – and cement loyalty to it – with language. Mudders aren’t “participants”, they are “Mudder Nation”. They don’t just get a T-shirt or that signature orange headband  – they earn citizenship into the toughest nation on earth. Beat THAT for bragging rights.

Note how using the word “nation” conveys all kinds of beneficial nuance to our understanding of the brand: loyalty, integrity, honor, fealty. This is the language of heroism and the language of belonging.

Look further and you’ll see more savvy language choices that drive brand inclusion and reinforce this heroic brand story. If you run a Mudder more than once (read: repeat customer) you become part of a “Legion”. But you can’t buy it, you have to EARN it:

This language actually treats being a repeat customer as a privilege. How’s that for smart marketing?

How can you emulate this bragging rights strategy even if you don’t electroshock your customers? Think about what your product or service does, and find ways to make it feel like a uniquely qualified or special community. A B2B SaaS tool seems pretty boring, but the folks at Hubspot pull this off quite nicely, calling anyone who works with them “Hubspotters”, and the agencies that contract with them “Partners”. Like the Tough Mudders, the Hubspot folks deploy a language of inclusion to make customers feel like they are part of a larger movement.


The Mudder team needs to attract their target audience away from traditional endurance events they already know and have budgeted for. A more conservative marketer might be afraid to alienate people with tough talk, but not the Mudders. They have the guts to position themselves against other endurance events like marathons – even though they know many of their target audience may have completed one.

In their fact sheet (see image below) Fact #2 is “Marathons are boring”.

Sure they could worry about whether this copy decision might cost them some marathon-loving prospects. But taking that risk ultimately reinforces their unique selling proposition (spontaneous fun over predictable tradition) and in the end entices plenty enough marathoners too. In taking a stand they make the purchase decision easier by giving the target audience an obvious reason to choose their event over the competition.

The lesson here is this: Be bold in your use of whatever sets you apart from your competitors to win more business over time.


All too many companies water down their brand when dealing with officialdom, while the Tough Mudders stick to their guns no matter who is on the other side of the table,  For example, the Cartoon Network recently sent out this press release and video of Attorney General Eric Holder to support their anti-bullying campaign.

The message isn’t wrong per se, but coming from the Cartoon Network it could be so much stronger. Just think how much better, more powerful, and brand appropriate it would have been had they used a cartoon to tell this story!

Now contrast the Cartoon Network’s weak message with this press release from the Tough Mudder folks:

The profanity isn’t for everyone, but it is a perfect fit for their brand.

Even sponsors are not spared. Look at this copy from the Tough Mudder website page on sponsorship.

They use the page to differentiate themselves by contrasting their brand punch with the safe image other well known brands like Joann Fabrics and Bed Bath and Beyond. The message: we have balls, and our sponsors do too.

How can you use this lesson for your own company? Stay on brand in all contexts. You will attract far more attention for being recognizably consistent than by trying to be all things to all people.


The Tough Mudder takes storytelling to the next level by infusing everything they do with a higher sense of purpose. The pre-race pep talk is about working together, about people struggling to overcome health crisis or battle injuries. The website encourages Mudders to raise money for Wounded Warriors, and service members are at each event cheering teams on and thanking everyone for their efforts. In stark contrast to marathons and triathlons, this race is not about how long it took or finishing first, it’s about finishing together.

Races are not timed, so everyone is free to help everyone else, whether on their own team or another – and they always do. In this way, the product and the message are in perfect harmony and as a result Mudders are free to create their own great stories.  Because as we all know, the strongest stories are ones in which humans show their best naturesputting aside the rush to the finish, and stopping to help others achieve their own greatness.

How can you create memorable stories like this for your own brand? Think about your ultimate purpose. Why does your company exist beyond just making money?  Use that noble purpose to find your own customer stories, and you will be well on your way to creating your own Mudder-like success.

All screenshots and images courtesy of ToughMudder Inc.



5 Marketing Words We Can Stop Using Right Now

man stopping arms

Stop the overuse madness

Words can be a lot like workout clothes, marvelous when you first start using them, but pretty stinky after years of overuse. After reading three emails in one day that contained the same tired hyperbole, I decided that we owe it to our readers to do better.

Now I confess to being as guilty as anyone of using at least some of these words in the past, but after years of valiant performance I believe these (and probably many others) are ready for a break. So the next time you catch yourself reaching for one of these words, how about taking a few extra minutes to come up with a fresher approach.

  1. Killer. I personally love this word, but it’s been used beyond exhaustion. Let’s give it a rest, shall we?
  2. Massive. You know what’s massive? The Pacific ocean. Or the amount of particulate matter floating in the galaxy. You know what’s not massive? The amount of credibility your product or service still gets when using this word in pitches.
  3. Super Pumped. Unless you’re selling fitness equipment or services, this phrase is done.
  4. Awesome. As an American, I am especially loathe to give up this word. After all, what’s more awesome than our god-given right as Americans to overuse the word awesome? But it’s time.
  5. Secret. Please note: if you just wrote about it in a blog post, it’s probably not a secret. So let’s call a spade a spade… and not a secret.

Got any overused marketing words you’re ready to be done with? I’d love to hear ’em!

Photo credit: Photo by Ambro.

The Oatmeal: Why the BuzzFeed Story About Matt Inman Got It Wrong

By now Jack Stuef’s inflammatory post on BuzzFeed attacking Matt Inman, the creator of the stupendously successful website, The Oatmeal, has made the full rounds. I wasn’t even going to dignify it with a response until I saw that Inman himself published a reply. So here’s why you should ignore the BuzzFeed piece and go right back to enjoying the Oatmeal:

1. It’s written in attack mode

You can always tell when someone is out to slash and burn when they use loaded language to take someone down. Here’s the very first paragraph in the Buzzfeed piece: (Note: all emphases are the author’s, not mine.)

Matthew Inman boasts that his site, The Oatmeal, has received over a billion page views since he launched it in 2009, making it one of most widely read comics in the world. But Inman bears little relation to his lumpy everyman profile on the site, and the disconnect between that cheerful profile and his actual identity — an edgy comic and unapologetic online operator — collided this week after a rape joke made its way into his typically safe comic.

Notice the terms “boastful” and “unapologetic online operator”? These are labels designed to instantly brand Matt as unlikeable. And that’s just in the first paragraph.

2. The logic isn’t sound

In the very first sentence, Jack Stuef accuses Inman of bragging about a having huge audience, and in the next sentence, he accuses him of pretending to be an everyman. Which is it Jack? Is Inman a boastful jerk or an everyman pretender? If you’re going to accuse him of both, you might want to at least separate the claims by a few sentences, so we won’t notice.

The logic in the section about Matt’s history with SEO and Reddit is tricky at best. According to Stuef, Redditors were pissed at Inman for his tactics, but in the end he concedes that

…Reddit, apparently unable to resist a webcomic from a sharp traffic guru aimed squarely at them, resumed serving as a major source of traffic.

What did he do, hypnotize them? No. He created irresistibly GOOD CONTENT. The poor suckers.

3. Stuef is flogging a dead horse

Everyone agrees that Inman’s rape joke was a mistake, and his defensiveness about it compounded the error. But who among us has not made a mistake, been called on it, and then backed ourselves into an even worse corner as a result?

In the end, Inman apologized. And when someone has as much good karma as Inman does buzzing about the internet, he more than deserves that we accept his apology and move on.  Maybe he’ll screw up again later and then it’ll be strike two. But for now, enough is enough.

4. It reeks of jealousy

No one doubts that Inman has been enormously successful. Stuef seems to be angered by this. He writes:

Inman’s transformation from a reviled search-engine-optimization expert and marketer to a beloved comic artist was less dramatic than it sounds. Inman has described The Oatmeal as a kind of continuation of his Internet marketing work. He’s still making cartoons and quizzes carefully configured to go viral, but instead of doing it for clients, he’s now lining his pockets directly.

Again, watch the language. Since when are SEO experts “reviled”? Last I checked, they are well-paid professionals, who are an integral part of any smart digital marketing campaign. And as for “lining his pockets”, how is this different from “getting paid”? It’s not.

As a copywriter, I gotta hand it to Stuef; he did a great job of leading you down the path of doubt in this piece. It’s a well-executed hatchet job if I ever saw one. Stuef has a real future in politics.

5. He never bothered to interview Inman

Any good journalist – at the very least – owed him a call and a chance to tell his side of the story.  The fact that he didn’t bother to get Inman’s input is an inexcusable journalistic oversight.

6. It’s picking on the admirable

Stuef appears to complain that Inman (who has some very successful comics about grammar) uses an editor to make sure his grammar is correct.

Why is this bad? If ONLY everyone on the internet who passed himself off as a writer bothered with an editor! Stuef also says,

Unlike that of most successful webcomic artists, Inman’s work was not originally a labor of love, a slow process of honing one’s voice, developing an original perspective and take on the art form, and eventually building an audience. It was always business, always a play to known sources of Web traffic, whether for clients or for himself.

Yes, unbelievably enough Stuef is upset that Inman had the nerve to try to make money for his clients and – gasp – for himself. Oh, the horror!

Then he goes on to say,

When given the opportunity to speak in front of business-minded audiences, however, the former SEO mastermind has been unable to hold himself back. Speaking before a tech conference audience at Gnomedex in Seattle in 2010, Inman delivered a 27-minute presentation explaining his process for creating a comic or quiz for his website. His comics, the slideshow says, are created according to a formula aimed at pandering to the broad tastes of the Internet and social media, based on six core principles:
– Find a common gripe
– Pick things everyone can relate to
– Create easily digestible content
– Create an infographic
– Talk about memes and current events
– Incite an emotion

Wow Jack, first Matt is a “mastermind”, but then a “panderer”? Which is it?

I actually attended the Gnomedex conference in 201o that Stuef cites, and Inman’s presentation was the best one of the day. (I bet you can already tell that by the bullet points from Inman’s presentation that Stuel so helpfully included in his excerpt. I left them in there so you can borrow them too, because they are all great tips.)

After Inman spoke, I got a chance to chat with him briefly (no he doesn’t remember me, and we’re not friends on Facebook, although that would be pretty cool). The “mastermind” turned out to be a totally genuine guy, who had absolutely no way of knowing that his interaction with me that day would one day be reflected in this post.

7. The logic isn’t sound, redux

Stuef accuses Inman of owning a “sprawling retail business” in the same paragraph in which he reveals that Inman employs family members. Yes, that’s right, family members. Last time I checked, Wal-Mart is a sprawling retail business, and a mom and pop is a shop where you employ your family members.

Oh, and by the way, anyone who gets along with, let alone EMPLOYS their family members, gets good guy kudos in my book.

8. It takes issue with Matt’s exercise routine

Wait, what? That’s right Stuef is actually annoyed that Inman is a marathon runner while his main character is drawn as a couch potato. What’s he supposed to do? Draw his cartoon with a six pack and smirk? I’m betting Inman uses all that time running to develop his ideas, honing them and whittling them down to their very best before he ever puts pen to paper. (Yeah, I know it’s a computer, but work with me here.) If only everyone online spent that much time thinking through their posts.

9. More picking on the admirable

Stuef concedes that Inman gives to charity, but sneers even at that effort, because Inman was publicly gleeful about beating back a ridiculous lawsuit earlier this year. At least Stuef had the decency to concede that the lawsuit against Inman was baseless.

That’s great use of another persuasive copywriting trick, by the way. Always concede something to the competition so as to bolster the reader’s trust in your argument. I told you Stuef had a future in politics.

10. It leaves out critical detail

And what of Inman’s spectacular fundraising effort on behalf of the Tesla Museum? About this, Stuef is mum. Apparently, he couldn’t think of anything bad to say about Inman’s rescue of Nikola Tesla’s memory for the non-techie public. So he just didn’t mention it at all.

So, let’s recap. The real reason Stuef is pissed is because Matt Inman is young, smart, funny, fit, (somewhat) rich, famous-ish, and exceedingly successful in his chosen field. Hmmm, come to think of it, if I wasn’t so busy lining my office walls with Inman’s hilarious comics, I’d probably hate him too.

Copywriting That Sells: Or, I Don’t Care About Your Passion

Here’s a tip you can use to write just about anything better: Your customer doesn’t give a rat’s ass about you. Or your passion. Or your company’s mission. Your customer only cares about himself. Really.

So take a look at your website, brochure or any other marketing copy you are using right now. Do you have a sentence, or worse, a paragraph or page describing why you love what you do, or how passionate you are about your chosen career ?

Strike it out immediately. Now re-write it forcing yourself to answer WHY your customer should care. Voila, your copy is already 100% better.

Doubtful?  Check out these examples:

This is the FIRST paragraph of a website selling — get this — sales consulting services:

Howard writes about the art of selling. When not writing, he is consulting, teaching, or coaching business owners and professional service providers how to sell their expertise using the New Media Reality. He has been an Entrepreneurial Junkie since the 1960’s and is passionate about helping YOU sell more.

Now let’s see. The first sentence is about… Howard. The second sentence is about… Howard. The third sentence is about .. well, you get the idea. But, wait! Howard does want to help you, and you know that because he’s PASSIONATE about it. Are you sold yet?

(Howard also mentions a New Media Reality, which must be pretty important to him since it’s in Capital Letters. But since we have no idea what that is, it just sounds like jargony jargon to us.)

Too bad, because Howard looks like a nice guy, who probably knows more than a little bit about the art of face-to-face selling. But he waited until the very last words of his very last sentence to talk about you. Worse, even then, he didn’t give you any reason to believe him.

Ok, that’s an individual, now let’s look at a company website:

GreenPages Directory connects people seeking healthy options in their social, economic and physical lives with inspired innovators, conscientious entrepreneurs, innovative products and services, and the most current information, all aimed at making our world a better place.

When we focus on sustainable solutions together, we can begin to heal our planet at the same time we pursue profitable and ethical business opportunities.

Are you still awake? This writing provides excellent competition for Ambien, but it does absolutely nothing to convince a green business WHY they should pay the directory for a listing. Which, after all, is the whole purpose of this site.

If I run a green business on a tight marketing budget, the FIRST thing I want to know is how many more customers this listing will drive, how affluent I can expect those customers to be, and what kind of results other listers have experienced. It’s entirely possible that information is buried somewhere in this site, but I don’t care, because I’ve already bounced away to something else.

Each of these websites could do a much, much better job of winning new customers, just by telling the people who visit how the service will deliver what the reader wants – RIGHT AWAY.

Try it.

Then come back here and let me know how it turned out.