November 21, 2014

Guest Post: Google’s Panda Update Good News for Writers

panda bearBy Thomas Stone

I went into college with dreams of becoming a journalist or even an essayist, but by the time I graduated, it seemed like the industry-side of publishing was going extinct. Printed matter, I’d been informed by numerous authoritative sources, was on its way out. Not only did this strike me as tragic – What was happening to all the books and magazines I had grown up reading and loving? – it was also incredibly anxiety-producing. What was I going to do with my life?

As has often been the fate of English majors, I first found a job in traditional marketing and sales. But then in 2009, like a lot of people across the country, I fell victim to a company-wide layoff. I got ‘in-between’ jobs just to pay the rent, but my debts were stacking up and I was living on a pauper’s budget. It was taking a long time to find a ‘real job’ like the one I’d had coming out of college, which did a number on my self-esteem and confidence. At one point, I even turned to a resume service for help, hoping that I had been overlooking a simple curriculum vitae no-no that was preventing me from getting hired. I simply had to accept that nearly 10 percent of the population was also competing for employment. While it took longer than I anticipated finding a ‘real job,’ something did finally come my way in April — and it came as a surprise. I ended up finding a full-time job doing the last thing I expected to be paid to do: writing.

Not for a newspaper or a magazine, as I’d once expected to do. The new writer boom is happening on the web, fueled by an algorithm update that happened earlier this year.

In February, Google upended the search engine optimization industry and a major recruitment of writers began. Perhaps, like me, you assumed that what you read on a given website was fresh, new, and not published elsewhere. Turns out, this isn’t always true. Google started cracking down on websites that had published content that could be found somewhere else online. The change was a result of Panda, an update to Google’s search algorithm whose purpose was, among other things, to suss out plagiarized and ensure that people who go searching for original content will find it. This, perhaps predictably, has created a huge surge in demand for fresh content–and that means lots of work for writers.

I was, for a long time, one of those people who believed that being paid to write was a myth – unless you were a famous author or blogger. Freelance assignments were few and far between and though the practice was paramount to my development as a writer, it did not pay enough to live on. Thankfully, Google’s improved standards of quality made that living a reality. The need for writers with a unique voice has made the thing I love to do best into a valuable commodity.

So: what kinds of jobs are becoming increasingly available since the Panda Update in February. I’ll list off three of the main types of jobs that are popping up, though there are many shadings and subdivisions of these jobs that appear:

  1. Onsite content-author/Copywriter

    This is the person who actually sits down and does the hardwork of filling the blank page—or screen as it were—with words. ‘Onsite’ content authors write the text that visibly appears on their clients websites—generally speaking title-tags, meta-descriptions and HTML heavylifting remain the province of SEO’s and Developers. Content authors may follow direction from SEO’s and content-managers, or they may merely submit their copy to higher-ups for optimization.

  2. Content-editor/Content-Manager

    A content-editor does not ‘merely’ correct the grammatical mistakes of the content-author. No, the editor’s job is now much more complicated than that. The content-manager must now also make sure that… a) The copy is true to client’s brand, and that the voice matches the tone that they want to project to their customers b) The copy is ‘optimized’–it contains the necessary keywords and contains text that is generally relevant to both that keyword and to the client’s brand.

  3. Offsite Content Manager

    Offsite content is a wily creature and it involves creating relationships with brands other than your client’s, and providing articles or content to others which refers to your client, thus cementing their reputation.

While writing pages of never-before-seen content can be intellectually challenging, it’s also a thrill. Knowing that a checks-and-balances system is in place to keep people from falsely inflating their search engine rankings makes my job just a bit easier. It also makes me feel better as a person who turns to the Internet to research subjects of personal interest. I can now read articles with a bit more confidence, knowing that the content is trustworthy, not automatically generated by some kind of program, and not published elsewhere under a different heading. I can now back up a source with more confidence, both as a writer and a researcher.

For the time being, the ‘Panda boom’ ensures that writers remain in high demand. The trick is to find a way to get plugged into that demand: start by marketing yourself as a copywriter or content-manager to web companies in your area. For once you can feel confident about what you have to offer, rather coming as an obsequious supplicant hoping to be given a chance: a writer’s skill, original voice, and ability to authoritatively research and report back on a topic are ‘commodities’ given the current landscape of search ranking factors—and smart web-dev companies know it. No longer will a fancy cut-and-paste job or changing a few keywords get the job done. Lest the urge to get lazy bloom, keep in mind that Panda is watching.

Thomas Stone is a content-author and a contributing writer for technected.com.

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Image courtesy of PANPOTE / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Guest Post: Working Through Freelance Writer Burnout

By Denene Brox

Two years ago this month I went full time as a freelance writer. I quickly found that there’s a big difference between freelancing part time and writing full time. I often wondered how full time writers manage to get everything done.

I came out of the gate running fast – working all day long and into the night. I quickly found out that it’s easy to get a bad case of writer burnout. I knew that I needed to take a break from the grueling schedule I was keeping and re-evaluate my writing business.

I’m happy to say that I no longer feel extreme burnout. I’m looking forward to new projects. Here are the ways that I worked through my writer burnout.

  1. I Took a New Job.

    It’s not something that I hear many freelancers complain about, but working at home all day long can be hard. I longed for more community.

    So I found a part time job a local college. Not only did getting a job give me some much needed breathing room, it also gave me the community that I was craving working at home alone.

    If you’re dealing with burnout and you’re a full time freelancer, look for volunteer, part time, or on-site opportunities. If you want to ditch some of your workload (see below) you’ll probably need to get a paid job to make up for the missed income.

    I don’t think my job makes me any less of a freelance writer. Instead, I believe it makes me a smart writer. The flexibility of freelancing is what I love the most. I can write around my job with no problems.

  2. I Got Organized.

    When you’re engrossed in client work, it can be hard to take a break and organize. Everything from my clip files to my receipt files were in disarray. So with my new-found breathing room I took some time to organize my home office. It was an eye-opening exercise because it gave me an opportunity to really look at all that I’d accomplished in my six years of freelancing.

  3. I Learned Something New.

    My job at the college has some cool perks. One of them is a discount on classes. I had wanted to learn web design for years so I signed up for HTML and Photoshop. I also took a digital photography class at an arts college in my city. Learning these skills has opened up many new opportunities to diversify my business as I’m now working on freelance web design projects. This can only mean great things going forward. I’m gaining many new skills to supplement my writing and loving every minute of it. Had I not taken a break from writing so much, I wouldn’t have had the time to explore my passion for website development. Now I have even more bankable skills to offer my clients.

  4. I Focused on Personal Projects.

    One of my website projects is a personal one. I launched Freelance-Write-Now.com, a site that focuses on freelance writing for beginners. I am enjoying building content that’s useful to others wanting to get started writing for magazines and online publishers. Again, I wouldn’t have all the time I now have to devote to this project if I was still engrossed in a lot of client work.

  5. I Let Go of Draining Clients.

    I let go a few draining or lower paying clients to free up my time to do all of the above. I think it’s important for writers to stop and assess who they’re writing for on a regular basis and ditch clients that offer very little ROI (return on investment).

Those are the major ways that I’ve battled burnout over the past year or so. I’m curious, how do you overcome burnout? Let’s discuss! See you in the comments.

Denene Brox headshotDenene Brox is a freelance writer based in Kansas City. She has written for 30+ online and print publications including Salary.com, AOL, Bankrate.com, and Heart & Soul. She is also the webmaster of Freelance-Write-Now, an informational website for beginning freelance writers.

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Guest Post: How to Interview Someone Famous

By Drew Tewksbury

So it happened. You have finally landed an interview with one of your favorite musicians/actors/directors/athletes and it’s the night before you go to meet them. Do you feel that? The nervous energy, the excitement, the trepidation? It happens to the best of us. Unfortunately, when you’re in an interview with someone famous, you can’t let your subject know how you really feel.

High profile people are professional interviewees, and they have spent a lot of time with journalists, so they can smell fear from a mile away. Trust me, I’ve been there. I’ve interviewed many high profile celebrities, politicians, musicians and actors, from Nicole Kidman to Zimbabwean political leader Morgan Tsvangirai to rapper 50 Cent.

Interviewing high profile is certainly a challenge. I’ve worked red carpet events in London and talked to Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake (right after they broke up!), went to the gym with Eric “McSteamy” Dane, and sat face to face with Jenna Jameson to discuss her terrible film, Zombie Strippers.

If you don’t want to have that deer-in-the-headlights look while interviewing a high profile person, here are five tips on how to conduct an interview with a high profile person without freaking out, and gaining new quotes and exclusive insights, not just regurgitated sound bites.

  1. Don’t. Freak. Out.
    Not freaking out when you’re interviewing someone famous is often easier said than done, but with a few techniques will help you get your interview done with as little hyperventilation as possible. Of course, that’s the first step. Breathe. Focus on your breathing and try to keep that heart rate down. You don’t want to have that wavery, nervous voice or break down in tears during your interview.
  2. Ask open-ended questions.
    There it is again, the oldest trick in the book. But if your nerves are getting the best of you, sometimes you can soothe your soul by letting your interview subject go on and on about something. If you ask just the right question, you can buy yourself some time to gain composure, and prepare for the next question that you are going to ask.
  3. Don’t obsess about the next question you are going to ask.
    This tip kind of goes against the previous piece, but obsessing about your questions will only hurt your interview. You need to listen, really, really listen to your subject, so that you can take the interview into territory that you never expected. If you stick to your questions, you can miss the best stories, and the exclusive stories. Let your subject talk about what they want to talk about, and steer the conversation with your questions, don’t drive it.
  4. Ask the same question twice.
    High profile people tend to have a small army of PR people and media coaches that have trained them to the fine art of creating sound bites. They will go back to the same old quote that you’ve read a million times from this particular person. If you feel like you’ve been given a stock answer, don’t be afraid to ask the question again. Try to word it a bit differently, and perhaps you will notice a change in the answer. When psychologists are trying to determine whether a person is being honest in a survey, they often include the same question multiple times to see how a person will react consistently. With high profile people, you can break them from their own routine by hitting them up more than once.
  5. Remember that they’re human.
    So often we are lead to believe that high profile aren’t actually people at all. We think that for some reason they exist on some other plane of existence that doesn’t intersect with our own. But the reality is: They’re human. On some level, high profile people experience the same emotions that we all do, only on a different scale. So to craft an interview that will resonate with a famous person, focus on the base emotions that all people feel. Famous people feel excitement and regret, or happiness and pain, just like the rest of us. If you tailor your interview to address real human emotions, rather regurgitating facts about their persona, you will connect with your subject on a deeper level and get those exclusive quotes.

Drew Tewksbury is a recovering entertainment writer and the editor of Ebyline’s Freelancing Blog.* Ebyline connects freelance writers with editors.

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Flickr photo courtesy of Daehyun Park
*Full disclosure: I write for Ebyline’s Freelancing Blog. All the more reason to check it out!

Guest Post: Keep Online Readers Interested

By Renee Bradford

Unless you offer updated news on a nuclear catastrophe or play videos of kittens being cute, readers will decide in about nine seconds if your website warrants their attention. In 2002, the BBC released a report saying that the internet has turned us into digital goldfish, with our attention spans going shorter and shorter.

In his article “What the Heck Happened to our Attention Spans?” blogger Josh Catone from Sitepoint.com details just how overwhelming it is to keep up in a community of literally billions. Working for an internet retailer of artificial Christmas trees has shown me that our attention spans have diminished significantly. You can be sure I would have skimmed that Catone article too if I weren’t so interested in the topic! In our line of work, coming up with ideas to make artificial Christmas trees relevant, interesting, and worth our customers’ time can be taxing. It’s taken years of working for this company to train me in getting and keeping a reader’s and thus, a potential customer’s attention.

Here are five basic tips on getting your readers to visit your site and stay there:

  1. Update regularly.
    Updating your website regularly is one of the most basic things that keep people interested. A blog, website or column that is seldom updated is like yesterday’s newspaper. It is uninteresting, old, and will often only annoy the loyal customer. Keep your website updated, looking fresh and exciting as often as possible. This way, customers will frequently check in to see what’s new. Regularly updating your site is also good for SEO (Search Engine Optimization). This could result in more hits for your website. SEO is its own game and thousands of articles, books, and blogs are dedicated to it, but by and large you need great SEO rankings to get the attention of a web surfer. To learn more, check out this link from SEOMoz.
  • Update for a reason.
    Like an annoying Facebook friend that updates her status with “I ate a sandwich”, nonsense updates just hog bandwidth and add absolutely no value to your site or product. Unless you’re a public figure, you should refrain from such personal updates. For e-commerce folks, inform your customers of upcoming sales or when new stock arrives. Writers, lecturers, and entertainers almost always use social networking forums and websites to announce a new event or tour. Rile up those customers and fans by posting announcements and news that are relevant, and have these up on the site as often as possible.
  • Keep it interesting.
    News and information isn’t usually all that exciting… But you can make them sound interesting! Put a creative spin on news. Relate to your target audience by featuring bloggers that have a lot of personality. Get your customers to check out even your most mundane information by presenting it with pizazz!
  • Web 2.0, Web 3.0 and beyond, just go with the flow.
    Even if your website was one of the first internet retailers of all time, the site should not look like it. Keep your website looking like it was made yesterday, with features that offer the best customer and reader experience that technology offers. Keeping navigation simple is helpful to every customer, from the technologically challenged customer to those who were born to surf… the Web. I’m not saying you should hire the most expensive graphic designers and developers in town. Just keep up with how the online market is competing and you will be fine.
  • Teach them something new.
    Insights from all over the world or news bits related to your industry go a long way. Feed customers’ curiosity. In our company, we present little news articles and how-to guides on our blog. From DIY Christmas ornaments to strange traditions from across the globe, our blog is a flurry of items that keeps readers and customers coming back for more. I recommend that you blog about everything, from different ways to use your items to eco-friendly methods on how to dispose of the product. Compile the always-popular Top Ten lists of information related to your company and its merchandise. Show record breakers and interesting personas in your industry. You can talk about absolutely anything! Just make sure to teach them something new and keep them curious. This way, you captivate your readers and motivate them to keep coming back to see what else you have to offer.

Now that you’re ready to start churning out that stellar content, here are some tips and tricks to live by:

  • Use a starting statement that is compelling.
  • Write clearly and simply.
  • Write like you’re talking to them.
  • Present information in bullet points or numbered lists so as not to overwhelm readers.
  • Keep it brief. Nobody likes to read things that ramble on. Add relevant photos to articles to keep them interesting and visual.

The internet is an overwhelming source of information, entertainment and excitement. To compete with the billions of other sites your reader may go to, you will have to be clever, compelling and most of all, consistent. Take these tips to heart and pretty soon, you will amass a captive audience that hangs on to your every word.

Renee Bradford works for an online marketer of colorful artificial trees. A wife and mother, she is teaching her children essential survival skills like self-reliance and preparedness to prepare them for life’s challenges.

Interested in contributing a guest blog post of your own? Check out the guest blogger guidelines.

 
Flickr photo courtesy of goXunuReviews