Updated: May 19, 2020
How do you know that the person you’ve hired to help your website rank on search engines really knows what they’re doing? After all, they know more than you about search engine optimization (SEO), have an arsenal of fancy terms, and work in the seemingly nebulous world of Google.
You know you should ask what industries they’ve worked for, if they have testimonials, and if they possess basic business acumen. From an SEO writer's perspective, here’s your guide to the other questions you should ask when picking a website content writer.
How do they stay on top of trends?
SEO is changing all of the time. Literally. And what worked for your site six months ago may not be the most effective strategy today. Don’t be afraid to ask your content creator what steps they take to stay on top of current best practices. They should be able to point to blogs they subscribe to, journals they read, and experts they follow. Check out those resources for yourself. Are they credible? Do they seem to provide relevant information? If you’re already working with this person, do you recognize any of the expert recommendations in your partner’s strategy?
If your content creator, or the person you’re considering, can’t quickly identify several resources they actively use, it’s likely they aren’t investing as much time as they should into staying up-to-date on current SEO guidance. Keep in mind that this is a simple conversation, not a “gotcha” moment, to confirm that the person you’re trusting to optimize your website copy has the resources at their disposal to stay current on a topic that is constantly changing. Lyfe Marketing agrees: “Staying on top of SEO trends and staying aware of the landscape will give you an edge in the market.”
How do they communicate with you?
There are hundreds of definitions and acronyms within the content optimization world, but your website copywriter should be able to speak to you in plain language. If you don’t understand why they’re changing your strategy to maximize SERP placement while boosting CTR and snagging a featured snippet, then they’re not communicating with you in plain language that’s easily relatable to your business’ success.
A successful partnership with an experienced website content creator relies on that person’s ability to clearly explain why a certain strategy has been built, how it is going to be deployed, and how it will impact your business. You should feel completely comfortable with their decisions and the reasons behind those decisions. A quick test? If you can explain your SEO strategy to someone else so that they, too, understand it, then your content creator has done an excellent job of communicating it to you.
Be very cautious of guarantees. Yes, some people will guarantee that they can get your site to rank in the number one position. And, yes, they very may well achieve that. What they don’t tell you, though, is that they’ve successfully ranked your website for a search that no one ever performs. You want visibility, and ranking for unpopular keywords isn’t going to get you there. (More on keywords below.) If someone pitches SEO guarantees, ask to see what kind of volume those searches are getting.
Indeed, leading SEO organization MOZ affirms that “Many of the SEO companies that do still guarantee rankings have taken the clever tack of guaranteeing a certain number of keywords that they themselves choose. In this fashion, they can select primarily non-competitive terms and have a fairly high rate of success. Whether those keyword rankings provide any serious traffic is another matter altogether.”
Another critical piece of communication revolves around how well your content partner knows your audience. What questions have they asked? Are they curious about your customers, what they buy, where they work, their shopping habits? This is all valuable intel for a content creator. Knowing your customers will be important in writing relevant copy.
What kinds of keywords do they target? What about intent?
Keywords are those phrases that SEO-optimized content is built on, the types of questions people are typing into Google or Bing for answers. Your content needs to include keywords to be visible within those search results; they are one of the foundations of SEO.
Your content needs to include keywords to be visible within those search results; they are one of the foundations of SEO.
In a very simple nutshell, keywords can be broken down into two categories: short tail and long tail. There are factors including competitiveness, cost, and volume that impact both types of keywords and your content partner should be able to easily articulate which keywords they target and why. It’s easy to type a query into Google and see what people are searching for, but your website copywriter should have access to tools to help them determine exactly which keywords to target.
If the strategy they’ve built focuses too heavily on short tail keywords, your website is at risk of being lost in thousands of search results. If you’re creating paid ads on Google based on those keywords, your cost per click could end up being exorbitant because the competition for those keywords is so high.
Long tail keywords have less search volume but also less competition. In other words, fewer people may be searching for them but fewer websites are optimized for those keywords. With fewer sites trying to rank for that search, it is more likely for your page to be seen and convert.
It is important to note that optimizing for long tail keywords is vastly different than the guaranteed ranking mentioned above. When I say fewer people are searching for long tail keywords, I’m still talking thousands and thousands of searches. People who guarantee rankings are focusing on searches that may only be a handful to a couple hundred. The tools your content writer uses for keyword research should tell them the search volume; don’t be afraid to ask for those numbers.
SEO is in the midst of another big swing, though, and whomever you partner with should be able to speak about the importance of search intent. Writing for intent could potentially replace keyword optimization as the prime tool for helping websites rank.
Search Engine Journal quotes a leading Growth Consultant: “Google has taken a huge leap forward into making search really about intent matching rather pure string matching.” This means that your content partner should already be thinking about how to adapt your strategy.
The new shift to intent means that your content partner should already be thinking about how to adapt your strategy.
How do they manage your content strategy?
Content is nothing if not ever-evolving, and your content strategy can be neither a set-it-and-forget-it approach nor a constantly changing one. Content marketing, including the copy on your website, must be built for the long game. Changing it too often disrupts the journey you’ve started website visitors on and doesn’t give the content you’ve built to educate, inform and inspire trust time to lead to conversions. On the other hand, never reviewing your website copy means old, outdated and irrelevant content may be languishing on your site.
When you are deciding to partner with someone, find out how they manage website content. How often do they review and refresh old content? How do they determine which content to delete, and can they explain potential SEO ramifications of deleting content? How do they plan to review and communicate this with you?
Website copy is just one piece of your overall content marketing strategy. If you select someone who will focus primarily on your website, ask for their input on how to integrate their work with other aspects of your marketing. They should be able to suggest ways to pull website content for use in social posts or email campaigns, perhaps even a landing page.
Finding a partner to help your business maximize its website is an important investment. Take the time to understand who you are working with and whether their skill set aligns with what you need.