How to Get Blogger Reviews [Real Outreach Examples]

by Peter Attia on April 11, 2013

One of my favorite ways to get some solid links is by going after product reviews on other blogs. Not only do you get a link, you end up with a full page testimonial of your product infront of another blog’s readership.

You have to give the bloggers your product for free for them to review, which makes your production costs a deciding factor. Other than that, it’s free.

Is This Black, Grey, or White Hat?

I’ve heard different opinions on this, but it boils down to how you approach it.

The black hat point of view:
You’re giving compensation (you’re product) in exchange for a review. Therefore it’s a paid link/review and is going against Googles guidelines.

The grey hat point of view:
No actual money exchanges hands and the review isn’t written by you, therefore it’s ok.

The white hat point of view:
The post is written genuinely by the site owner – good or bad – and any links gained are entirely organic since you never asked for a link (you asked for a review).

All in all, it’s a silly argument. It’s a tactic that works as long as you don’t do something dumb like blast an email to 500 people at once.

Finding Bloggers and Managing Your Outreach

I’m not going to dive too deep into this, as I mostly just want to go over some outreach examples. If you want a full run through check out my previous post on finding guest bloggers.

Basically, you want to find someone with a good social presence. This is more about getting your product infront of the right audience than getting a link. I recommend using Followerwonk to dig for relevant profiles. As an example, with their bio search you can search for “recipe blogger” if you’re trying to get reviews for kitchenware. From there you can sort by number of followers and start going down the list. However, make sure their followers are genuine and not artificially gained, otherwise there’s little value.

You’ll also need a way to keep track of everyone you’re contacting. The worst thing you can do is contact the same person repeatedly or contact two people from the same blog. The easiest tool I’ve found for something like this is BuzzStream. You can completely sort and manage your contacts through their interface.

If this is a small or temporary project, a simple spreadsheet will work. However, you have to be really good about keeping track of when you message someone, wether they responded, wether you followed up, their name, their email, etc.

After that, it’s about how to construct your email. I’ve heard long elaborate emails work, but I’ve never been able to get a long email to work better than a super short one. I always keep it to 2-4 sentences and make sure something is mentioned that’s specific to that blog. So, on to some examples!

Email Outreach Examples

Here’s the fun stuff and the main point of this post. I apologize for all the markup, but it’s there for obvious reasons.

Example 1

This is a good one. I noticed she had a solid youtube following, so I mentioned it in the opening email. This shows I did more than email the first address I came across. It also, gave me an opportunity I wasn’t originally seeking.

This is also a good example of how important the follow up can be, as she didn’t respons for several days until I followed up with her.

youtube blog review

Example 2

This one is pretty straight forward, except I had to talk to the bloggers representative instead of them directly. It still flows the same way, except responses are typically slower and you may have to be more detailed than usual about what you’re looking for.

blogger review

Example 3

This one turned out fine, but I actually messed up on a couple things. First, I assumed the author that would be receiving the product was a woman. I think it was because I was communicating with a woman, but nonetheless, it shouldn’t have happened. Secondly, I had to follow up again to ask for the authors email address. I was used to having it, because I usually discuss directly with the person that does the review. Even though these things are minor, you always want to keep friction to a minimum.

blog review

Things to Consider

I used a company email when doing this outreach, because I was targeting high profile people with more time consuming opening letters. However, if you’re going to email 50+ people quickly, I would recommend using some sort of dummy email. This way if you make a mistake like contacting someone twice or contact someone that hates your product, you have nothing to worry about.

If you don’t have the time, you can just set up a gmail account. If you do have extra time and will be using your email for a while, you should set up a dummy site. The site has to make sense with your product though. For example, in the past I set up a site that acted as a PR front for a very specific niche. That way if people looked at the site, it was still relevant to the niche, but not what would seem like a competitor.

Conclusion

All in all, I contacted about 10 people and 6 were successful. I could’ve gotten a couple more, but the blogs made requests I didn’t feel the need to fulfill. Either way, this is a much better acceptance rate than asking for guest posts. It’s also shows the power of doing a little research and writing a decent outreach letter.

Hope this helps you guys out with your outreach in the future!

{ 8 comments }

How SEO Changed My Life

by Peter Attia on March 13, 2013

Like most people, I fell into SEO by complete accident. I never planned on doing anything even slightly related. I’d never heard of search optimization or pondered how search engines curated results. Now, however, I’ll never be able to look at the internet the same way again. I almost miss the the blind ignorance I had of thinking search result were completely natural.

That was about 7 years ago. Recently, I’ve accepted a Director of Marketing position at a startup in Austin. The company was a client I’d been working with since the beginnings of their launch and it took off. Within just a few months the company went from a staff of 2-3 to 30-40. As much as I’d love to claim this was solely due to my valiant marketing efforts :) it’s much more than that. They found a product people love. This sparked a newfound enjoyment for me. I found myself spending more time working on this one client than anyone else, so when an offer was made, the decision was easy.

This may seem like a standard job move for anyone else advancing in their career, but to me it meant a lot more than just a good opportunity.

Before SEO

I wasn’t dealt the best hand growing up. My childhood was spent in Newark, NJ where we lived in the basements and attics of family’s houses; My mother was mentally ill; my early teens were spent traveling with my dad who was running from law enforcement; and my high school years were spent in a low population redneck “old fashioned” town in the middle of West Virginia (This was right around 9/11 and I’m a short middle eastern guy). I would never take anything back and I have no regrets, but it made life difficult to say the least. I don’t think I lived in one place for more than a year or two until the age of 14.

I spent most of my teen years at home working on computers and playing the banjo (I mean come on, I was still in West Virginia). Then when I turned 17 and finished school, I did what I was used to and moved. I went to college in Pittsburgh for a while, but it just wasn’t for me. My father who worked hard for his degree, disowned me (we’re fine now). Ultimately, I spent the next several years moving to a new city about every 3-6 months. I slept in my car, stair wells, and the couches of kind strangers. I worked whatever job I could find: I sold art, I was a bartender, I did design work, I cleaned rugs, I repaired computers, I sold fruit, I set up music shows, I dug ditches, anything. I had no long term plan. I just wanted to aimlessly wander around with my backpack, my dog, and my banjo.

peter-attia
(me back then)

New Acquaintances

I got good at meeting people from moving around so much, so I was always able to get by and make friendships quickly.

About 4 years later I was working a construction job and while I was out of town, my foreman quit unexpectedly. This meant I no longer had a job, so I decided to just stay in the town I was visiting; Greensboro, NC. This is where I met Jay Young and Julie Joyce.

jay young and julie joyce

Jay has spoken at several conferences and Julie frequently writes on Search Engine Land and other popular SEO blogs. I first met Jay at a neighborhood pub where we both brought our dogs. both dogs enjoyed playing together, which naturally led to us conversing. We began discussing tech and computers and eventually he mentioned he was starting an SEO company, Link Fish Media. This is the first time I’d ever heard of SEO and I was instantly intrigued.

Soon after, I started working with them as a link builder. I was one of the first hires, so there wasn’t much training to be had. I had to do a lot of research on my own and the more I learned, the more fascinated I became. I spent long nights just reading about search marketing and learning how to maintain a website. I started working on my own projects and tests. Anything I could do to learn more, I did. I found something I was good at and something I really enjoyed.

I also loved the people in the industry. It sounds a little embarrassing now, but anytime I heard an SEO was coming to visit, I would get overly excited. I think the first two I’d ever met were Tony Spencer and Rob Kerry. Something about the industry just seemed to spit out amazing people and I saw a uniqueness in the SEO community that I never found anywhere else.

All of this was overwhelming and exciting for me. I hadn’t found something I was passionate about since I was a child.

I Changed

I no longer felt like I had to move around for no reason. This lead to me living in Greensboro for a full 3 years. It may not sound like much, but staying somewhere that long seemed impossible to me at the time.

It gave me the chance to make real friends again and become a real person in society. And for the first time in my life, I had a real apartment! Not a one bedroom with 6 people living in it or a mattress in a garage. I had a real fucking apartment! It was an empty apartment and my bed was a sleeping bag, but I didn’t care!

These changes in my life spiraled into me always reaching for more. I didn’t just want a better place or nice furniture, I wanted a career. I needed to prove to myself that I had the capability of excelling at one. I eventually felt as if I’d hit a wall in Greensboro and there wasn’t much more I could do. I needed to move again, but this time it wasn’t aimless. I had a reason for moving.

I decided the only real choice I had was to go to Seattle. That’s where SEOmoz and Distilled were and it seemed like my best shot. However, through an odd set of circumstances, I accidentally ended up vacationing in Austin. I immediately fell in love with the tech and startup scene there and well… I didn’t leave. Shortly after, I started working at uShip, which was my first in-house position. I think this planted a seed in me that got me attracted to in-house roles. I enjoyed collaborating with other departments, which can be hard to find in an agency setting.

After that, I realized I still had a lot to learn and began working freelance jobs with startups around Austin. I enjoyed it and since I had no “boss restrictions”, I was able to be a little picky about what clients I took on. I held out for the ones that sounded the most fun. This may not seem “economical”, but it gave me the most motivation to accel.

Moving Forward

My move to Austin was about 3 years ago and now I couldn’t be happier. I’m exactly where I want to be in my career and in a city that’s perfect for me. I completely attribute it all to SEO. It may sound ridiculous, but I truly believe I wouldn’t have gotten nearly as far in my life without my first gig as a link builder. Something I’ll be grateful about for a long time to come.

Since I just started this new gig, my time is a little strapped. I still plan on keeping up with the blog, however, less frequently. I’m hoping I’ll soon have some good case studies to share with you guys.

For everyone I’ve gotten to know over the years, both face to face and electronically, thanks for being so amazing. I have no idea where or how I would’ve ended up otherwise.

Cheers,
-Peter

{ 39 comments }

How to Build Your Presence With Reverse Guest Posting

by Peter Attia on February 13, 2013

Everyone has been going on the “just create great content” kick lately, when referring to growing your online presence. While this is great advice, for a brand spanking new website, it’s just not that easy. Great content is completely worthless if there’s no one there to see it.

One way to do it is through reverse guest posting. Basically, instead of blogging on other sites (which you should do as well), you get other sites to guest blog on yours.

How does that help me grow my presence?

The basic concept is simple. When someone guest posts on your blog, they’re going to promote the article. Their followers will see the article, their followers will comment on the article, their followers will share the article. It’s a way to instantly tap into a community you previously had no reach in.

Who do I ask?

This is fairly straight forward, especially if you have experience guest blogging yourself. You want to ask mid level, industry relevant, social bloggers. What I mean by mid level, is someone popular, but not overwhelmingly so. For example, in marketing you can’t just ask Seth Godin to guest post (and believe me I’ve tried); however, the CEO of an up-and-coming agency? Sure!

You want to find a balance between their social following and industry relevance. The more niche specific you go, the less followers you’ll reach. At the same time, those people will have more interest. More importantly, your contacts should be bloggers. These guys will already have a social following, they’ll already have a community, and their fans connections are more likely to share their work.

This also allows you to ask if they have any peers that would be interested in guest blogging as well.

How do I find them?

There are a few ways to go about this, but if you’re new to outreach I would suggest using Followerwonk. Basically, this allows you to search through peoples twitter bios so you can pinpoint specific interests.

I’m not going to go to deep into this, because Anthony Pensabene already wrote a great post on finding outreach targets with examples from Followerwonk.

Here’s a quick example using biking as the niche. First I did a search for “bicycle blog” with Followerwonk’s bio search.

Followerwonk search

Right off the bat, the second result seems pretty ideal. He’s a bicycle blogger with a nice following and has sent several tweets.

twitter user search

A quick look at his twitter profile shows that he actively tweets to his followers and is a genuine twitter user. It also provides a link to his blog where you can see that he blogs often and hasn’t abandoned it.

bicycle blogger

This is a perfect target and I found them in two minutes. Using this method you can build out a list of potential contacts and start doing some outreach.

How do I ask?

This is the hardest part, especially for your first few guest posts. I recommend writing a handful of posts to show the blog is active. You’ll have a hard time finding respected bloggers to write on a blog that has no legitimate posts. If the blog is active, you’re chances of success are much higher.

Secondly, when you’re doing outreach, I recommend starting with a question about their blog. Look through their posts and something you can relate to or something you can carry on a conversation about. Something specific that shows you actually read their blog. This will help you build a foundation and a starting relationship. Here’s an example:

“Hey Hugo,

My name’s Peter. I was reading your post about commuting on your bike and you mentioned you were using a speedometer. Is there a specific brand you’d recommend? I don’t have a whole lot of knowledge about bike speedometers, but I’ve been interested in getting one for some time. Any info would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks,
-Peter”

This will give you a much higher chance of getting a response and that’s one of the most important aspects of doing outreach. If you get that first response, your chances of success increase ten fold.

This doesn’t mean you immediately ask them for a guest post right after. Use your time to start these small conversations with lots of bloggers at once. After the conversation is over, give it a week and reach back out.

“Libby,

Thanks for your help on figuring out a quick route for commuting last week. It’s saved me a ton of time. I wanted to ask if you’d be interested in writing a post for our shop’s blog. We sell bicycle parts and while we don’t have a huge following, we’re eager to get it off the ground. Any help would be greatly appreciated and I’d be happy to compensate you for your time.

Thanks,
-Peter”

This is where you have to be real. Don’t oversell your company, don’t write a huge pitch, don’t act like you’re doing them a favor. Act like you’re asking your neighbor to write on your personal blog. I wrote a post about outreach a while back if you’re looking for more examples.

Also, people have different opinions about offering compensation. For the first handful of posts, it helps to offer $100-$200 for a post. Remember, they’re helping you. At this point, you’re not able to offer a whole lot back. Once you get the first few posts rolling, you won’t have to offer compensation. You’ll be able to reach out to people within their community and grow a small guest posting network. Your network’s peers will be happy to post on an associated blog.

How do I manage my outreach?

This is going to be different for everyone. I recommend you try lots of different things and find what you’re comfortable with. Don’t do something, because there’s some SEO celebrity that preaches about it.

One thing I will recommend is making sure you try and keep track of as many details as you can: the date you sent out your original email, the post you commented about, their email address, their first name, the email you contacted them from, their dogs name (I’m not joking. If you find a personal queue, write it down). This will keep your conversations natural, even when you’re talking to lots of people at once. It’s easy to mix people up and having detailed notes will help you manage your correspondence.

I personally do most of this through spreadsheets, because I’m detail oriented anal. However, I don’t recommend my method. It’s just comfortable for me and I’m trying to break out of the habit.

If you’re new to large scale outreach or looking for something more user friendly, I suggest taking a look at Buzzstream. They have a decent prospecting tool:

buzzstream prospecting

The Results:

buzzstream prospecting results

They do a good job of extracting as much contact info as they can, like emails, social profiles, etc. They also allow you to quickly mark prospects as good or bad, which is nice for weeding out irrelevant stragglers. They even pull in RSS data allowing you to quickly read through post information without leaving the tool.

buzzstream prospect

The most helpful part, however, is the ability to sort and manage your contacts. You can organize different prospect lists, email them directly from the tool, create templates to save time with outreach, add notes about your prospects, and see your previous correspondences through different channels.

buzzstream email

If you want want a more detailed overview of Buzzstream’s features, I recommend checking out Paddy Moogan’s post about using Buzzstream for outreach, because I’m really not doing it as much justice as it deserves.

On a side note, you should also reach back out to people with a follow up email if you haven’t heard back from them in a week or so. A great tool for this is Boomerang. Basically you can set up alerts to remind you to reach out to people if you haven’t gotten a response within a specified amount of time.

What do I do after the post launches?

After all the correspondence is complete and you have a guest post, you want to make sure it gets promoted properly. I don’t mean tweet it and post it on Facebook. If you’re a brand spanking new site, your follower count will be low. Primarily you want to make sure your social sharing icons are perfect.

  • Make sure you have social buttons that are easily visible. People expect your buttons to be at the top, bottom, or side of your posts. Don’t expect people to tweet a post just because it’s “that good”. People are remarkably lazy and may not share it if there’s no button.
  • Dont oversaturate your buttons. Just because people expect them at the top, bottom, and side, doesn’t mean they need to be at all three. The last thing you want to do is distract people from the content itself. Test out different variations and see what works best.
  • Use counters. For whatever reason, having buttons that count the amount of shares, helps. If you have the resources, do a test and see what performs better. If not, use icons with counters as a default as they typically outperform.
  • Don’t push too many social networks. Promote what you’re good at. Don’t promote Pinterest just, because you think it’s the thing to do. Focus on the networks you have a foothold in. The ones that make sense and the ones you’re comfortable working with. Having too many options can actually push people away from sharing
  • Test all your buttons. DO IT!
  • Make sure you reference your own handle when people tweet your post. For example, “via @twitterhandle” at the end of your tweet. I’ve heard that using “RT @twitterhandle” at the beginning of posts performs better, but I personally find this annoying. It would be worth testing if you have the resources
  • Don’t forget about email and RSS. Make sure you have some sort of email subscription set up, as these can be difficult to grow out. Also, make sure people have easy access to your RSS feed and make sure it works. It’s shocking how many sites lose out on readers, because the feed is either hidden or broken altogether.

You also need to be adamant about checking your comments and making sure they’re going through properly. For a new blog, comments can get stuck in a pending status until a user is approved for the first time. You should also check your spam filters, as they’re not 100% accurate.

If you notice comments going through and the original author isn’t responding, don’t be afraid to notify them. If they’re not used to guest posting, they may not consider the fact that they may not receive email notifications.

Lastly, you want to make sure your guest author is getting full credit. Make sure you have a bio from them with their avatar image and social profiles. Set them up with a Google author tag if you can. You’ll get a lot more respect from them if you go through the effort and possibly a link back from their Google+ profile.

Don’t be a ghost, join the conversation.

Keep track of the mentions you’re getting online and respond when appropriate. Even a simple “Thanks for sharing!” goes a long way. Remember, you’re new to the community and you need to show you want to be a part of it.

The easiest way to be active about this is through twitter. Especially with Tweetdeck, as it allows you to set columns for different searches. Here’s an example, where I have a column for the websites name, the name of the blog post, the blogs twitter handle, and the authors handle:

tweetdeck columns

Out of these four columns, these were the tweets that have response potential:

tweetdeck prospects

So the last column was a dud, but the first three columns are all filled with people you could possibly respond to. This is a good way to start building up your twitter follower count and also just build some social relationships.

This gives you an idea of how well you can stalk your guest post and become a part of it. Yes, communicating on twitter can be a little awkward if you’re new to it, but it’s something you need to get over. There’s no need to be shy, being awkward is better than being invisible.

Return the Favor

This may sound like a task, but it’s a benefit. If someone guest posts on your site, they’re not going to shun the idea of you guest posting on theirs. This is a good way to reinforce your notoriety with their followers and show you’re not a “one hit wonder”. There’s a good chance they saw your blog when reading that persons prior article (on your site), so now they see you writing on theirs as well. It shows you’re active and a “real” person.

Just like before, you want to make sure you’re proactive about mentions on twitter and comments on the post. A post on another site requires just as much effort from you as a post on your own site.

Conclusion

This is the basic idea of how you can squeeze your way into a new community and become a part of it. One thing I didn’t mention that should be noted, is you should feel out the community that makes sense for both your company as well as your personality. There is no point in chasing a community that better suits your company if you’re not comfortable socializing with them. You either need to get comfortable or find a group that makes sense for your companies persona (you).

{ 22 comments }

How to be Your Agency’s Favorite Client

by Peter Attia on January 30, 2013

We all know it’s important to keep clients happy. A good relationship means your clients will talk about you in a positive light and refer you to other companies. However, I think it’s often ignored that it’s just as important to be a good client. It motivates the people working on your projects as they know their work is being appreciated. If you expect the best out of your Agency, then they need the best out of you. So, for anyone that is client side, here are some tips.

walter and gus

1.) Be Quick With Project Materials

This is one that personally bugs me. If there are materials or information that are necessary for a project to be completed, be quick on providing them. The longer you wait, the less time your agency has to complete the project on time. You may not realize it, but you may be causing a few poor souls to work an 80 hour week to catch up. If the materials were timely, they could’ve completed the projects in a more consistent and thought out manner.

breaking bad materials

This isn’t just helping out your agency, you’re also getting full attention on your project instead of a handful of people scurrying to complete it.

2.) Budget Recommendations Can’t Always be Trimmed Down

This is one that can be hard to grasp. If you ask your agency for an estimate for a project, keep in mind that estimate is for optimal and timely work. If you trim down the budget, not only are they trimming down resources, they’re trimming down scale. Sometimes this isn’t a huge deal, you pay slightly less and the outcome is slightly less effective. However, sometimes this can affect properly measuring results.

walter white cutting budgets

A great example is PPC. You need a moderate budget to start a campaign and start growing out. Otherwise, the numbers aren’t large enough to properly perform bid adjustments with confidence. Also, for several niches most of the profit in PPC comes from a small percentage of the entire prospected audience. This means a small budget limits the number of buckets you can test out, leaving you with a lower possibility of positive return.

Smaller business tend to think they can just throw a couple hundred dollars at a PPC campaign and scale up if there’s an ROI. If you try to start a PPC campaign with a couple hundred dollars, you’re most likely going to see a $0 return. There are exceptions, of course, but this needs to be kept in mind when discussing with your agency.

3.) Trust Your Agency More Than That Random Article You Read

You’ve just invested into an online marketing agency and you’ve been spending your free time reading up on this whole SEO thing. It’s fantastic that you’re showing so much interest and it will help your communication with your agency. However, keep in mind that a lot of stuff online (no matter what industry) is complete crap.

saul goodman

If you’re constantly questioning or resisting your agency, you’re limiting their efforts. Depending on the situation, you can even make them hesitant to expand into new channels. This can cause them to steer towards something you’ve recommended and stay in that bubble in order to keep you happy.

If you’re especially concerned about your agency’s efforts, get a second opinion from a professional. They’ll be able to evaluate and give you an unbiased opinion.

Note: Not to overcomplicate things, but if you get a second opinion, make sure it’s not someone trying to take you on as a client for themselves.

4.) Don’t Expect Concrete Results From Organic Methods

  • “How long will it take to rank #1 in search if we spend X amount of dollars a month on SEO”
  • “How many links will we get from promoting an infographic”
  • “How many unique visitors can we expect from starting a blog”

While all these are great questions, there is no exact answer. That being said, you should never expect exact results. When you start to push for exact numbers, you can pressure your agency into using lower grade tactics to “top off” their numbers and reach a goal.

breaking bad results

I see this a lot in link building especially. If they’re expected to fulfill a number, they will use good quality tactics to aim for that number; and if they fall short by the time reporting comes around, they’ll use a link vendor for the last few.

Instead try to aim for a range and balance it out each month. If numbers are a little low one month, aim for a higher number next month. This way the report isn’t considered “incomplete” until the numbers are fulfilled, which eventually causes them to be late. Now not only do you have a happy agency, but also timely reporting!

5.) You Can’t Always Expect Immediate Results

This is a common occurrence for business owners who are new to investing in agencies for ongoing efforts. If you’re taking the leap and hiring an agency for a long term project, you should commit to at least six months. It can take time for real results to come to fruition, especially when there’s a lot of planning and strategizing to go through.

breaking bad kids

Make sure you discuss what you can expect at what time with your agency. That way you have an idea of a timeline before committing to anything. That way there are no surprises and your agency can focus on the project.

6.) Good Communication

This is important in a variety of situations. If there’s even a hint of a change that could relate to a project your agency is working on, inform them.

jesse and walter fight

Here are some examples:

    • If you’re working with an SEO agency and you’re redesigning your site, tell them before it’s done. They’ll need to look at the design and functionality to make sure everything is working appropriately. Otherwise you could end up with either a site that needs rebuilt, or a site that is lacking on the SEO front.

 

    • If an agency is designing your site, make sure you’re happy with it before you agree to it. Once they start building it a “simple redesign” can mean they have to start over. Any changes you may come up with after development starts needs to be mentioned immediately.

 

    • If you have a question, suggestion, or update, be very clear in your email. Re-read it and make sure that it would be understandable from an outside party. This is primarily important if you’re not quick at responding to emails, because if your agency has to ask a question and you respond days later, things can get delayed.

 

  • Regarding the above, respond quickly to calls or emails! For example, if a meeting gets cancelled and you only check your email or phone messages once a day, it’ll cause confusion and wasted time.

7.) Remember, You’re Not Always Right

You may want things to look one way or act another, because that’s how you like it. Owning a successful business doesn’t mean that you’re opinion is right in an unrelated field. You should be willing to accept your agencies suggestions even if it doesn’t make total sense to you.

breaking bad wrong

If you DO suggest something, because you’re certain it will work; remember that it’s not what your agency suggested. This means if you change a design on a page and it performs poorly, it’s not necessarily your agency’s fault. Granted, it very well could be, but you can’t know for sure.

If you’re having an especially hard time wrapping your head around a suggestion your agency is making, get a second opinion from someone in that field. This does not mean get an opinion from your sister’s, husband’s, friend who does something loosely related.

8.) Timely Payment

Obviously, no one likes getting paid late. It’s not a huge deal if it’s a week. If it’s a few months? It can cause a lack of care on your agency’s part, because they’re basically working for free. When it’s an especially long time they can also begin to worry if they’re going to get paid at all.

walter white money

Late payments can also cause work delays. For example, a link building agency may not start your next month of link building until they receive payment. If you’re a week late every month for four months, eventually you’ll be a month behind schedule.

Make sure you start any new agency relationship with some trust. Be very timely with your payments the first few times, that way if there is a delay for any reason, it’s not a big deal. They’ll continue work without delays and give you the benefit of the doubt. However, this doesn’t mean you can make a habit of being late after being on time.

Conclusion

Remember that the people working at your agency are just as human as your are. As cheesy as it sounds, give them the same that you would expect if you were in their position.

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Scaling a Successful Content Team

by Nick Eubanks on January 16, 2013

With content production exploding in every direction, scaling processes to maximize effectiveness is no longer just about efficiency, but has become a critical path item in terms of the profitability and sustained growth of businesses.

In this post I’m going to describe my personal process for hiring and scaling a successful content production team. Not an agency mind you, but a team for a content-focused project. Many of the identification, hiring, and onboarding approaches will be transferable, but not exactly, so you’ll have to put on your abstraction hat for this to be really beneficial.

My aim is to lay out an approach that hopefully provides some insight into the nuances of scaling content production while maintaining quality and acquiring high search engine rankings.

Content Development Priorities

prioritiesIt is never a good idea to generalize something as unique as priorities, but in my experience, most content teams tend to focus on at least these 4 aspects:

Research
This is the why and when. What are the reasons a piece of content should be produced and where does it fit in the grand scheme of content priorities. Research should dictate the structure of your editorial calendar.

Creative
The what. Once your research has provided you with reasons why you should be producing certain types of content, it is up to your creative people to help craft an idea around the topic(s). I have personally found it best to combine elements of established successful content with some nuances gleaned from your research. The key factor being make sure you always create something original.

Editing
The polish. Editing is so often overlooked or undervalued, yet things like typos, poor grammar, and formatting can make the difference between a good piece and a great one. The incremental additional time spent editing can guarantee that your content is ready for prime time, whereas content that is rushed through the production queue is not only obvious, but tends to significantly underperform against content that has been scrubbed and tightened.

Tip: Get a second set of eyes on your content, even if only to nod in approval, additional input from peers is invaluable in affirming that your content is indeed ready to be published.

Production
The how. Production doesn’t stop once a piece of content has been created. This is the entire lifecycle loop that happens after editing is completed including getting the content into your delivery system (or CMS), setting hooks in your other distribution channels; social, email, personal networks, etc. And finally, an idea I don’t see talked about very often (at all) is the notion of a contingency plan for revision should edits need to be made or additional content added at a later time. This is specifically relevant for pieces that do not have a finite life-cycle, a great example of this is SEOmoz Google Algorithm Change History.

Core Team Roles

strong foundationWhile the roles and responsibilities of each position are different, there is a base set of characteristics that I always look for:

  • Self-Motivated.
    Able to run with tasks or requirements until completion.
  • Problem Solver.
    Does not stop at speed bumps, not afraid to ask for help but only does so after making significant attempts to find a solution.
  • Creative.
    My favorite description of this also comes back to a bit of problem solving, if there is a fork in the road and option 1 is not the best option, but option 2 is closed, this person cuts a new road and creates a better option.

Here are the roles that I believe to be at the core of a successful content production team:

Research
While this runs the gamut of content ideation, influencer identification, citation sourcing, this role also focuses heavily on keyword research.

I realize that may upset some people reading this, since I’m not saying that this is the sole responsibility of the SEO, but hear me out.  Your research person(s) person is analytical and generally very well equipped to process large amounts of information. These people are also often good with math and solving logic based problems, making them fantastic at building complementary and relevant keyword lists.

Content Creator
Usually a writer but also may have some graphic or aesthetic capabilities (which are preferred in my opinion). This person is process oriented and understands your target audience. It is very difficult to get this right when working in international scenarios where translation is required and often means that this role is split between 2 or even 3 different people.

Similarly it is also difficult for writers to get a good sense of their audience when working across a wide range of demographics.

Tip: Your writers are also some of your best link builders as they are often very in tune with your audience (at least they should be) and tend to be keen on who the popular writers/bloggers are in your space, often times having established relationships with these people causally through discussion.

SEO
I mean this in the more traditional sense of the term; this person’s sole responsibility is gaining search engine visibility for the target terms that are identified by your research team. They are informed of every aspect of the research and content development process but are not ‘in’ them, they instead interface with their production counterparts through communications like status reports, questions, and ideas which all flow to the SEO for feedback but the core focus of this person’s responsibilities is slightly more technical.

SEO’s within content production should be keeping an eye on things like canonicalization, URL architecture, content visibility, inbound links, press relationships, and any other factors that affect the visibility of your content within search engines.

Content Owner
This is my term for the editor. When appropriate I prefer to use titles that help define the responsibilities of the position. And in the case of the content owner, this couldn’t be more true. This person is has the final say and ultimate responsibility for the content being produced to spec, on time, and distributed according to the defined publication strategy.

Content Manager
This person is comfortable with HTML and working within your CMS. They understand that MSO code has no place in a website, and they know when to use <em>’s versus <i>’s versus <span> tags.

Shout out to the best content manager anyone could ever ask for, Yo-San Imaeda. Not to go too far afield but in only 18 months Yo has transformed from a content consumer to a serious content manager and producer, getting pieces features on popular publications like Yahoo! News, Androidken, and many other very popular Japanese blogs.

Experience Designer
This may confuse some people but I look at design, generally,  as taking a backseat to experience. The difference to me is that design tends to focus more on graphics, where experience has more to do with intuitive controls, engaging interactions, and very fast speeds.

A good experience designer can usually handle most design requirements (not graphics!) organizing information quickly – these people think logically about their customers and generally take the lead on designing information which can be used to inform the interface. Funny as it may seem often the best experience designers come from a background in customer experience or support. They design for the entire experience loop including interfaces, documents, and communications to maintain consistent brand display across all interaction media; search, social, press, web, email (both transactional and with team members)

An experience when architected successfully can build whole communities of users/fans/readers/followers; all synonyms for brand advocates.

Front-End Engineer
This person is well versed with HTML and CSS, has experience in Photoshop, and is able to at least read if not write Javascript. They will be slightly more autodidactic than the rest of the team (although to some extent they all should be too – so should you) less perhaps your developers, as these days the best developers are polyglots and get excited at the opportunity to increase their knowledgebase or sharpen their skills.

Developer
This is ultimately your right hand person. Depending on the requirements of your content you may only use them infrequently, but their contributions will always be of the utmost importance.

You will be no doubt leaning on the developer (if the team is larger than this might be an SEO Engineer, Experience Engineer, or CMS Manager) to implement all of those fancy server-side changes as dictated by your SEO.

Finding Talent That’s The Right Fit

perfect fitFor so many startups and companies in growth phases this is the most challenging part of building a team.

But to be honest, this is actually really easy if you know what you’re looking for and have a solid process for identifying talent that is a solid fit for your organization.

The absolute first thing you need to do before anything else is to define what an ideal candidate, or “A Player,” would look like for the position.

Contrary to what I’ve been reading the past few months on hiring and recruiting blogs, I have saved an exorbitant amount of time by designing a rigorous screening process, that goes something like this:

1.) As part of your job posting, include a link to a pre-screening test, here is the one I created for any SEO positions we were hiring for. Here is another questionnaire for a rails internship.The idea being make sure this person has the core competencies you absolutely require before spending the time to qualify them further. This tends to cut about 80% of the wheat from the chaff.

2.) Once candidates have passed any pre-qualification tests, next comes the email screening test. I use a series of 5 questions, each with multi-part answers; and this is key. For most of the roles within a content team, process-orientation and attention to detail is paramount; so test for this on the front-end.

The way this is done is laying out specific instructions and then paying attention to the details of the candidates execution. For example, one questions might be:

Please describe your 3 greatest strengths, 3 greatest weaknesses, and the biggest pro’s and con’s of your last 3 jobs.

See what I did there? That one question requires 12 answers to complete; let me break is down for you:

a. 3 strengths
b. 3 weaknesses
c. pro’s and con’s (2 answers) for last 3 jobs = 6 responses

This gives you immediate visibility into their abilities to take detail-oriented instructions, and follow a process. You would be amazed at how many people don’t get this.

3.) Next comes the phone screening. Similar to the screening questionnaire via email, this is 70% about process and 30% about content. Use multi-part questions and don’t cut any slack, do not move onto question 3 until they have provided a complete answer to question 2.

Give them some leeway at first, but pay attention to their mistakes, if they get caught up, if they stay on topic… remember this is an exercise in behavioral psychology and not a literary exam.

From here comes the more formal interview process, usually done in person – for this I’m not going to tell you how you interview (it’s so different for every organization) but I will let you know that I have used Topgrading extensively and very successfully.

Optimizing Process

One of the key factors in scaling any process is finding ways to increase efficiency.

Often times doing this means helping to develop your team members capabilities to allow them to be cross-functional across tasks.

One way we did this at Factor Media was to begin to combine the roles and responsibilities of our content team, so for example creating and publishing a new piece of content used to take 4 sometimes 5 people:

  1. Keyword and Content Research (Researcher)
  2. Content Ideation and Creation (Writer)
  3. Translation (Contract Translator)
  4. Graphic Design Support, when needed (Contract Designer)
  5. Implementation into Our CMS (Content Manager)

But as with the case with any autodidactic team within a culture of production, this has been optimized down to 1 person, 2 if we need design support.

This was done by investing the time heavily in training and building out a thorough internal knowledgebase and wiki. For internal education we used Bloomfire (which I’m a big fan of) but there are a number of knowledge management systems out there, and if the budget is tight – there are a number of themes available for Google Sites that can help minimize costs.

Developing a Culture of Production

I hear software firms all the time talk about their culture of engineering, which makes a lot of sense in a place where ingenuity and innovation tends to lead to better products and thrilled customers.

But how do you adapt this to a content team? It’s actually not that hard… just focus on what it is you’re doing; producing.

The best way I’ve found to keep everyone on the same page when it comes to managing content lifecycle (from concept to publication) is to create requirements that force your team members to work with one another.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to group responsibilities into buckets, so researchers are working with the writers, the writers are working with your outreach team and the SEO’s, the content owner and content manager both work with the developer or designer on final implementation; giving everyone a sense of ownership.

One other important aspect for developing this culture is 2-fold deadlines. Deadlines across functional departments should be both shared and incentivized.

This not only shares the responsibility to get your content shipped across everyone involved, but keeps everyone on the same page, motivated to get it done right and on-time.

Incentives do not need to be monetary, and in fact, I’ve found that they tend to work best when they’re not. It’s true that money is a motivating factor; but it’s not the most powerful.

As talked about in the best RSA animate I’ve seen, what motivates us more than anything else is a sense of purpose. So empower your content team with a sense of purpose; share the targets and goals you have for the content, and give them control (when possible) to make decisions.

Scaling Production

The trick to scaling production, beyond optimizing processes, is about making sure your content team doesn’t get burned out. The easiest way to do this is not to make them operate in a vacuum; involve them in the creative process for other types of content.
The second most important part in scaling your content team is to make sure you give your team members the opportunity to grow vertically into other positions…

Grow your writers into larger content management roles, groom content managers to become content owners, set your content owners on a path to be site managers…

This is all an exercise in operational management; groom them by having them coordinate the editorial calendar, work closely with content production and outreach teams, dedicated meetings with research and analytics to talk through trends and make decisions on vertical pivots when and as necessary…

Don’t push too hard or too fast, but start small with new tasks; splitting responsibilities among your team to develop new competencies in the short-run and proficiency within these competencies over time.

Working in Sprints

In case you are unfamiliar with the concept of working in sprints, it is the notion of working in 2-3 hour blocks of hyper-productive, hyper-focused production.

The reason this is so important within a production environment is it helps to maintain creativity, high levels of production, and more than anything else, sanity.

Humans are physiological beings; we were not designed to sit at a desk, in front of a computer screen, for 8+ hours a day. Hence our best work is not going to come as a byproduct of being shoehorned into this ‘corporate’ environment.

Sprints allow for a refresh. I tell my employees all the time that I do not want them working for more than 3 hours on something; as it tends to create diminishing returns.

Go take a walk, read a book, play some ping-pong, do anything except stay at your desk and look at your computer.

Sprints allow for mental variance and creativity, as sometimes the best thing you can do is go outside and do nothing.

In Conclusion

Like just about everything in business, there is no silver bullet.

The best way to scale anything is taking pages from the books of those who have successfully done so before you, adapting their processes to fit the nuances of your organization, and then testing and refining until it works.

Never be afraid to try something new or to throw out and start over.

If you enjoyed this post, if it inspired you, if you took anything away from it, please consider sharing it with your followers – as it may help others to get unstuck or find inspiration to try new things.

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