How Google’s Recent Changes Affect the Online Content World

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There’s been a sea change in the world of search-engine optimization in the past year, thanks to Google.

In February 2011, Google changed its “Panda” search algorithm to penalize sites that focused on low-quality, poorly researched content. “Content farms” that pump out hundreds of articles each day saw a huge drop in search traffic. Mega-sites like About.com, Demand Studios’ network, and Yahoo’s Associated Content were all hugely affected.

More recently, Google launched its social network, Google+, which displays search results that friends have “liked” above organic results.

Elements such as duplicate content on multiple pages, empty content page, articles that repeat the same information, a high ad ratio, and auto-generated content are all subject to Panda penalties, according to SEOMoz. Chances are, such content won’t get a “+1” from Google+ users, either.

Both these changes mean that sites with well-researched, high quality content—such as that provided by professional content writers—are likely to gain more traction in search results. Does it also mean the end of SEO as we know it?

Not necessarily, says Rich Brooks, owner of the web marketing agency flyte new media in Portland, Maine. “While Google+ and personalized search results are part of the mix on a search engine results page, they only flavor what’s already there, and only on specific searches,” says Brooks. “For now, you still need to focus on good SEO if you want to be found on the web.”

Social media is important as well. Brooks recommends that writers should focus on building up their own social media platforms by attracting followers on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube, and their personal blogs in order to become more attractive to online publishers.

“Most writers will tweet or otherwise share their stories with their audience, and even ask for comments and feedback,” he says. “That will definitely drive more traffic, and improve the social/search algorithm publishers need.”

In terms of the types of content that will rank well in today’s Google searches, there’s space for both news-driven blog posts and original long-form reporting.

“Companies like Mashable (multiple, news-worthy, short shelf-life posts) and Social Media Examiner (one longer, researched, “evergreenier” post a day) are both successful in their own right,” says Brooks.

What’s most important is creating compelling content that will attract links from authoritative, highly ranking sites. A focus on high quality work—with some attention paid to SEO keywords and social media outreach—will help your content climb to the top of the search results.

Image courtesy of KROMKRATHOG / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How Freelance Journalists Can Use Facebook’s New ‘Subscribe’ Button

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When it comes to breaking news, Facebook has got nothin’ on Twitter. Twitter’s rapid fire interface, and news ticker feel makes it the perfect place to get up to the second updates on what’s happening in your world and beyond. But today, Facebook has launched their new “Subscribe” feature, which seems to merge the content control of Google+ with the fast pace updates of Twitter. The gauntlet has been thrown down. But will Facebook be a more effective tool for journalists?

From the Facebook overlords:

Facebook users can now visit another user’s profile and subscribe to receive the person’s public updates in their news feed, without being “friends.” The feature lets Facebook users broadcast public messages to subscribers, like Twitter does, while also keeping their private network of friends separate.

With the Subscribe button, we’re making it easier to do both. In the next few days, you’ll start seeing this button on friends’ and others’ profiles. You can use it to:

  1. Choose what you see from people in News Feed
  2. Hear from people, even if you’re not friends
  3. Let people hear from you, even if you’re not friends

Still wondering how this would work for journalists? Jeff Sonderman at the Poynter Institute provided 5 things journalists need to know about new Facebook subscription feature.
Here are a few highlights of Sonderman’s piece:

1. First, you have to opt-in. You must visit this Facebook page to enable subscriptions to your account. Only then can other Facebook users visit your profile and subscribe.

2. Many journalists may find they no longer need a separate Facebook Page. Pages had two primary advantages over profiles: People could subscribe to page updates (by liking them) without being your Facebook friend, and there was no limit to the number of fans you could have.

…There are two possible reasons you might want to keep your Facebook Page: You already have such a strong following there you don’t want to disrupt it, or you need to use the apps and extra tabs that Pages allow you to add.

3. Facebook continues to encourage publicness. By creating a distinct audience for public updates, Facebook is motivating users to share more things publicly.

People who have a lot of subscribers may feel pressure to share most things publicly, and just keep a few personal updates private for friends and family. If that happens, Facebook Search will become a more useful tool for journalists and others who want to search public posts like they do on Twitter.

4. Each subscriber controls how much they see from you. This could be a good thing or a bad thing for journalists and web content writers. But each person can choose to see all of your updates, most of your updates or only the “most important” as determined by Facebook.

5. Facebook is positioning itself as the social network for everything and everyone, by incorporating the most distinctive features of Twitter and Google+.

Now Facebook takes on Twitter with the new Subscribe button (there’s also a feature to send all your public Facebook posts to Twitter). And earlier this week Facebook announced new ways to build and share with lists of friends, similar to how Google+ circles work.

 

 

What do you think? Will you be using Facebook’s new subscribe button? Do you think it will help journalists? Let us know in the comments!

Best Foot Forward: How Freelance Writers Can Make Unforgettable Introductions to Editors

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As a new freelancer, you may be more concerned with getting your first clips than developing ongoing relationships with editors. Just keep in mind that everything you do from your first contact with an editor will make an impression, good or bad. While editors don’t remember every sloppy query, from the time a pitch catches her interest, you have a relationship going.

For example, early in my freelance career, I pitched a number of ideas to Marie Claire, a market I really wanted to write for. After collecting several rejection slips, an editorial assistant called. “I just wanted to let you know that we can’t use the story you pitched, but my boss likes your ideas and wants you to keep pitching,” she said. I polished another query, and sent it—and this time, the editor herself called to assign a story.  My persistence in pitching ideas paid off—and led to additional assignments from the same editor.

How else can you make a positive first impression with a market that’s new to you?

Pitch the right person. Not sure which editor handles a section of the market you’re querying? Call or email the publication and find out. Double-check the spelling of her name, and get her title correct. You’re already ahead of the writers pitching “Dear Editor” or emailing the wrong person.

Demonstrate your expertise. Every query you send should show the editor that you’ve done some background research on the topic. Don’t just pitch an idea on the link between laughter and health; mention a recent study that suggests a connection. Suggesting a profile? Do a quick interview with the person so you can include some live quotes in your query. You want the editor to think you’re smart, informed, and a tireless researcher—which I am hoping you are.

Strut your stuff.
Don’t just explain your idea and how you plan to approach it. Tell the editor why’re you’re qualified to write the piece. Freelancers almost always undersell themselves in queries. Don’t make this mistake. Highlight your relevant background and experience when you pitch an idea and make a compelling case for why the editor should assign the story to you. (That doesn’t mean you won’t rely on experts and/or anecdotal sources to write the piece, but all things being equal, personal experience with a subject is likely to get you an assignment over a writer who knows nothing about the topic.)
Reveal you “get” her market. I always tell writers to suggest what section the story they’re pitching belongs in. (For example, “Interested in this piece for your ‘Healthy You’ section?”) This tells the editor you’ve read her magazine—you wouldn’t believe how many freelancers pitch “blind,” or without ever looking at the publication they want to write for. Better yet? Mention a recent article or two, especially if they’re the same type of stories you’re pitching—and don’t be afraid to compliment a story. Editors like praise like anyone else.

Ask questions. If you have the opportunity to have a one-on-one with an editor at a writers’ conference or other event, consider it a conversation, not a pitch. Yes, you can share your great ideas with him; that’s why you’re there. But make sure you ask the editor about his vision for the magazine, what types of ideas he’s looking for, or what he loves to see in a story. You’ll impress him with your desire to give him what he wants, and will come away with the meeting with invaluable information for future pitches.

As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Make a positive one every time, and you’ll be more likely to get as assignment, even if your first pitch doesn’t sell.

What are your tips for making a good first impression with an editor? Have you ever had a first introduction nightmare? Let us know in the comments!

Should U.S. Freelancers Be Worried About Competition Overseas?

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Like typewriters and evening deadlines, many of the staples of print journalism have gone the way of the dinosaurs. Stories are now uploaded, optimized, tagged and tweeted on a never-ending news cycle. With 266+ million website out there, the demand for content is endless.

That’s both good and bad news for freelance writers and content producers. It means more work, but it also means more competition from foreign writers willing to work longer hours with shorter turnaround time, for less pay.

Terry Aldershof, an Illinois-based freelancer with more than 20-years experience called the trend, “the biggest travesty to hit freelance writers since the inception of the industry.”

“It’s essentially turned freelance writing from a pay per word, to a bid-for-service industry,” Aldershof said. “It’s a losing proposition when you are bidding against someone in India or the Philippines where 1 USD is the equivalent of 70 USD in their country.”

Barry Maurice, co-owner of Thought Mechanics, LLC works with clients who need everything from website copy, to content writing, to blogs for their websites. Having hired both US and foreign based writers for his website and his clients, he shed some light on the industry and the nature of competition American-based freelance writers face.

Q: What kind of writing projects are you tasked with finding writers for?

A: The biggest one is when the client wants a blog. A lot of clients like having a blog because of the search traffic it brings. Unfortunately, they don’t like to actually write the content themselves. In cases like that, we will usually use above average writers unless the client doesn’t have the proper budget, then we will find lesser quality writers.

Q: What are the key differences you’ve found between using US-based writers and writers from other countries?

A: Obviously North American and European writers are best. Indian writers are usually not necessarily “bad” writers as they have great spelling and technically are good writers. Unfortunately, they use that classic English-type writing. So they will write in ways that looks abnormal. For example, in their emails they will start off with “Dear Sir or Madam”. Which, there is nothing wrong with it, but it’s not common for people to talk like that.

As for Philippines writers, their first language is not English. So not only do they speak differently but nine times out of ten, they have at the very least mild, broken English.

Q: Is the main reason for hiring overseas because of the money-saving aspects, or are their other benefits?

A: Usually money. It’s also easier to get 500 x 500 word articles banged out super-fast if you are in a bind, by using people from India. They work hard and they aren’t afraid to grind hard.

Q: Can you give me an idea of the pay range writers overseas charge versus American writers for various projects?

A: You can get $2 per 500 words that is “decent” from overseas. My most-used American writer is $10 per 500 words. But I have paid well over $50 per 500 words before when I needed really super good content. And, there are certain sites and forums you can visit with “real” writers where they charge very high prices like $1-$2 per word which I would probably never pay.

Q: How do you go about finding writers?

A: These are pretty much all the places I use:

Need an Article
Digital Point
Warrior Forum
Wickedfire

Q: Do you think US freelance writers should be worried about the future of their field?

A: No, not the good writers who don’t mind working for a living. But I do see a lot of $1 per word type writers who are sitting around waiting for the New York Times to call. I’m not sure what they have in store down the road.

How Freelance Writers Can Tweet Better

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To tweet or not to tweet? It’s not longer a question for freelancers. If you want your articles read by the maximum number of people, you need to be promoting your articles through Twitter. Not only are you getting your own work out there, you’re also building a brand for yourself. But all Tweeters are not the same. Sean Platt of Ghostwriter Dad, has found that “learning from the Twitterati who have managed to make themselves heard among all the chatter of Twitter has helped me immensely.” He recently wrote up some of his observations on the Ghostwriter Dad blog about 7 Killer Tips For Writing Tweets (With One You Won’t Believe). Here are a few of his tips:

1. Optimised Timing Schedule your Tweets for times when your followers are reading them. Here I am use the help of Buffer a lot. I often read news early in the morning.

I then drop all my Tweets into my Buffer and the app posts them, spaced throughout the day at times when my followers are most likely to read them. And the App comes with browser extensions so I can add my Tweets from anywhere on the web!

2. Keep it short Yes, 140 characters is short already. Yet the highest performing tweets are almost always on the short side. And for good reason. First off, it’s easy to let others add your account when retweeting. The shorter your tweet, the more it’s likely to get passed around, and the more likely you are to get credit for it when it does.

Take a look at your Twitter stream, the short tweets are a cool water on your eyes after reading the 140 character monsters that usually swallow your stream. In case of Guy’s Tweets, looking at his past 50 Tweets, nearly all of his Tweets only count 50-70 characters.

3. Make it Unique Most blog posts are unique. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with tweets. Oftentimes, the headlines of posts are Tweeted hundreds of times. Give each of your Tweets original copy, and you can immediately upgrade the quality of your Tweets.

It shows your followers that you are fully engaged with the content, and that you have actually thought about this more than just hitting the retweet button. In case you think the headline is perfect already, try adding a short comment of opinion. This still shows more of a personal endorsement, especially for well-known content writers.

To read the rest of Platt’s tips, check out 7 Killer Tips For Writing Tweets (With One You Won’t Believe).

What are your tips for effective tweeting? Let us know what works for you in the comments.

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