How to Land Almost Any Job on Upwork

How to Land Almost Any Job on Upwork

For the past decade, I have consistently been one of the highest grossing freelance writers on Upwork (formerly Elance and oDesk), the largest freelance job site around. In four of those years, I was the #1 individual in the world for the writing category, and I can only describe those times as a true snowball effect.  I literally went from being slow in the spring of 2004 to having more work than I could ever possibly handle by that summer.  Then in 2005, I had an entire team of writers working with me and countless invitations bombarding my inbox every single day.

In fact, when Elance was transforming over to Upwork, I was the very first freelancer on the entire paltform that they reached out to for feedback.  It may sound silly but I’ve always worn that interaction like a badge of honor.  I can tell you firsthand that the talented people behind the scenes at Upwork really care about you and their clients.

Of course, I’m not saying all of that to brag- I just want to illustrate that I am incredibly good at landing jobs on Upwork.  With some luck, I’ll teach you here today how to replicate my success.  Fair warning though- this isn’t a “get rich quick” or “scam the system” type of guide.  I can teach you how to land virtually any freelance job, but there’s also going to be a lot of work involved as well.

So where do you start?  Let’s find out…


Creating a Professional Image


If you wanted to be a lumberjack, then you’d have chainsaws, axes, blade sharpeners, gas, oil and all the other tools of the trade, right?

So if you want to be a freelance superstar on Upwork, you need to acquire those same types of tools.  For instance, take a quick tour of my website- look at the branding, content and calls to action on each page.  This appears to be a huge company, right?  But it’s not, it’s just me and a couple of part time folks that help out.  So whenever someone asks for an example of a site I’ve worked on, you’d better believe that this is the very first place I send them.

Think about that- my best portfolio piece is my own business.  Can you see how that would make sense to a client?

Now, that doesn’t mean that you need an expensive looking website to impress people.  But you shoud have at least a full portfolio laid out somewhere online- even if it’s on Google+.  You need one place where a client can take a look and think, “Oh wow, this person is the real deal.”  This will be your #1 sales tool throughout your career BY A LONGSHOT.

Tools of the Freelance Trade

Likewise, you want to have the other tools of the trade as well.  That means getting certified by Google for development, AdWords or analytics.  Then head over to HubSpot and get certified in Inbound Marketing, design, content marketing, or wherever your expertise happens to be.  Moz also offers an SEO course on Udemy so you can get up to speed there- these are steps that most amateurs won’t bother with.

Then there are the skills tests on Upwork itself- clients actually pay close attention to these kinds of things.

Finally, there is your Upwork portfolio; it should be 100% completed with awesome content.  That means linking to your previous work, providing full descriptions, sharing why you’re the perfect candidate for the job and what to expect when working with you.  My Upwork profile still earns me at least 1 or 2 invites a week from people who find it in Google search engines.

One other thing you need to have in your arsenal- if you send clients SEO/analytics reports, wireframes, work summaries or anything else outside of the regular chat, you need to create branded documents with your logo and business/portfolio info in the headers and footers.

If you don’t have a logo yet, then design one on Canva for free.  It’s the most no-nonsense place I’ve found.



Making an Awesome First Impression

When a client posts a job on Upwork, Freelancer, iWriter or any freelance paltform, it’s almost like a fishing expedition.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve posted an ad to hire an extra writer and every sinlge application was just boring.  Here’s what 99% of all freelancer place in a proposal-

  • Their name and how long they’ve been in the biz
  • A few generic sentences about how they’re an expert
  • The price they’d charge for the project
  • End with something like, “I hope that we can talk soon!”

As a client, when you see 15-20 proposals that look exactly the same, it’s almost impossible to distinguish one applicant from another.  And when that happens, the client either decides to not hire anyone or they pick either the highest or the lowest possible bid…depending whether they’re searching for quality or value.  Most of the time though, they just walk away because they’re not impressed.

This also goes back to your portfolios as well (on Upwork and on another website).  When all the proposals stink, then the client will sometimes browse through the freelancer’s job history to see what others have said.  And if you’re not shining in that aspect, then it’s almost impossible for you to ever get hired for anytihng…except crappy jobs for low pay from crappy clients.

Writing a Killer Proposal

Here’s how I write a proposal on Upwork-

1)  I look through the client’s job history, click on a past job, and find the client’s username (You can’t see it in the current job page until after you apply- this is a quick little workarond.).  Then I Google that username to try to get a clue of who they are, what they do, etc.

2)  If I can find out what the business is, then I’ll visit their website and look at it critically.  What could they do better to impress customers?  Where are they losing out on a great call to action?  Are there awesome graphics, videos, and other stuff to make the page engaging?  How easy is their navigation to use?  I look at all of that stuff.

3)  From there, I use the business website to figure out who posted the ad.  Then I’ll look them up on Facebook and LinkedIn to see if we have anything in common.  If not, is there something there I can use as an ice-breaker?

4)  Finally, I’ll make their job requirements almost an afterthought in the conversation by focusing on what the client really needs.  NOTE- that’s way different from what they want to hear!

What does that mean?  

Let’s say that a client is looking to hire someone to create an email marketing campaign or sales funnel.  In my proposal, I’ll actually tell them NOT TO hire anyone because their website is not optimized for people.  Why would you let a client spend a thousand bucks to get people on their website when it’s not going to help them sell?  You always optimize the website and the calls to action first.  

By not actually bidding on the project, I accomplished something that 99% of all freelancers goof up- I proved my value without ever having to brag.  I also showed that I was loyal to them and not the money.  Clients will reply almost 100% of the time in those situations and they’ll ask me to tune up their website…then they’ll have me do the email marketing campaign afterwards.

Learning to Break the Ice

If that’s not an option, then I’ll use one of those ice breakers to show that I did my homework.  For instance, I sent a proposal the other week that started with, “I see that you just got back from vacationing in Orlando…did you happen to go to Disney Wolrd?”  Of course, I know they did because there was about 50 pictures with their kids and Minnie Mouse.  That’s how you break the ice though…you find something to start a conversation with.

The lesson here is to make sure that you’re completely different from every other applicant by paying attention to the client’s needs, writing a personalized proposal and tying in anything that the average person won’t bother to look up.  You’ll be amazed at how many doors will open for you quickly.


Always Over-Deliver

Want to hear about how I landed my first Fortune 500 client on Upwork?  I absoluely love this story.

About seven years ago, I hopped on Elance late one night just to see if anyone on the West Coast was posting a project before bed.  I’ve learned that if you can get your proposal in before anyone else and it impresses, then you have a decent chance of landing the job on the spot without any competition.

So I would check the job feeds fairly often back then- usually 3-5 times a day minimum.

Anyway, I see a project for writing a post card for an upcoming charity event with a budget of fifty bucks.  And I’m thinking a post card?  That’s almost not even a job.  I have a policy of never charging charities anything if I can help it but at the time, the minimum bid on Elance was $25 if you didn’t want to get penalized.  So I bid $25 for a series of five postcards, with visual cues for the front and the copy for the other side.

Now, the client didn’t ask for any of that…she only wanted the writing.  But it was for a good cause so I tried my best to go way above and beyond in any way that I could.  Even so, I spent maybe 30 minutes total on this project before sending it back to the client.  She was absolutely thrilled.

About a week later, the same client emails me and says, “Have you ever written a video script?  I work for <massive, huge company>  and I need five scripts for one of our major clients- I could pay you up to $1,000 if you could complete them within the next 3-4 days.”

Naturally I was blown away- I had no idea who I had volunteered for.  But it made sense; highly sucessful people are more likely to be involved with big charities.  And I happened to get on this person’s good side over a simple $25 project.

Over the last 7 years, I have billed this one client in excess of a half million dollars.  She’s also referred me to two others on the Upwork platform that add up to an additional $175,000 in freelance work.

The Art of Landing Small Projects

Personally, I love bidding on small projects that can show off my abilities because I know for a fact that the client will come right back to me the next time they need something.  So while others only bid on the jobs with $500 or $1,000+ budgets, I don’t pay any attention to the numbers part of the equation.  I just look for users with a history of projects and good feedback- if they have that, then I’ll spend two minutes researching them and try to get them on board.

Here’s the thing though- if I had delivered $25 worth of postcard copy, then that client may have never reached out to me again.  She loved me because I went above and beyond for a complete stranger…that’s how you prove your worth.

So remember this- there’s no such thing as a lousy job on Upwork.  If you earn great feedback and get the chance for more work later on, then it’s a win/win situation.  And you can always decline recurring projects down the road if the money is not adding up.  That feedback and making a great impression is literally priceless though- I initially built my Elance profile $25 and $50 bucks at a time.

The Joys of Scam Artists

In fact, I remember an early job- maybe the worst project I ever accepted on Elance.  It was for a “short eBook” on the driving laws in Australia, and the client said that he would be fully involved with the project and do all the research.  The proposal said to write around 15 pages and he was offering $300.  So even though the money was lousy, I said what the heck.

Only, the client completely lied- he didn’t share any research at all.  In fact, he didn’t do anything but make additional demands.  He changed the page count to 25 pages and then 35…all while promising me a hefty bonus at the end.  The end product was 42 pages AND I did all the formatting for it.

But all of a sudden, the client wouldn’t respond.  I could see that he was logging into Elance, yet he wouldn’t reply, release the payment or talk about that huge bonus he promised.  So I’m contacting customer support and screaming bloody murder…this crook ripped me off!  They did initially get the $300 released to me though since the client was non-responsive.

Nightmare job, right?

Of course it was.  Yet, I received an invite for an eBook job about seven months later from a really, really good client.  This person happened to like my profile and then he noticed that project, which convinced him to reach out.  So even bad projects pay off if you deliver quality work.


Parting Thoughts on Upwork

I’ve saved the best (or possibly the worst) for last since this is something a lot of people won’t want to hear.  To succeed on Upwork, you only have to do one thing well- impress clients.

Throughout this article I’ve given you almost everything that you need to shoot up to the top of the ranks…there’s only one little thing missing.  Your work ethic.  Are you willing to go above and beyond for evey client?  Have you created an awesome portfolio, stationery and all the other tools of the trade?  Can you guarantee that you’ll never miss a deadline?  Will you research clients inside and out before applying (with a custom proposal)?

These are all the things that the best of the best do on a daily basis.

Over the years, I have literally trained hundreds of writers, digital marketers, SEO professionals and copywriters at all stages of their career.  And if there was one thing that the vast majority were lacking, it would have to be an amazing work ethic to consistently go above and beyond.  They wanted to put out minimal effort and receive great pay…that’s just not how the freelance world works.

If you’re really committed to your craft though and you’re ready to take the freelancing world by storm, then Upwork is certainly a place that you can do that.  The best advice I can give you is to be yourself, work hard and always overdeliver for your clients.  Focus on building actual relationships as well- that’s what clients are ultimately looking for.  The last thing they want to do is scan through dozens of postings every week, they’d rather just hire that last person who did such a great job.

So become that person who always leaves clients with a smile on their face.  Then the frelance world will literally be your oyster.

By the way, I LOVE netowkring and comparing notes!  If you’ve had a different experience on Upwork or see anything that I’ve missed, feel free to share it in the comments section below.


Use Content to Build Links & Your Brand in 2018

Use Content to Build Links & Your Brand in 2018

Content isn’t just something nice to have – it’s one of your most tangible brand assets. Use content to build effective backlinks that are going to stick, and actually benefit your business and brand. Content-oriented link building is some of the most effective link building you can do, but it doesn’t come for free and takes real commitment. Here some ways in which you can use the power of great content to propel your online brand.

Build a content asset


Invest in quality content on your domain to boost relevancy and authority.

Asking for a link or a mention is a lot easier if editors and website owners have got something awesome to link back to – not just a boring commercial page with minimal user value. A content asset depends on your niche– it could be a mega guide into a niche topic, an in-depth how to article, or a humorous take on something affecting your industry.

  • This is an investment – it will take time and money to do a content asset properly. Don’t think that you can just throw up any old content in a day in an effort to be ‘influential’.
  • Think about what would really appeal to your audience. Do in-depth keyword and audience research and use content research tools like BuzzSumo for inspiration.
  • Don’t forget to promote your content through all channels available to you. Got something really great? Your content could be of interest for people doing industry roundup posts, or maybe an influencer you’ve mentioned may want to know about what you’ve created? Send out friendly emails or social media posts. Use the power of great social media promotion to give your content the edge.
  • Now you’ve built your asset – leverage it to help you build links and impress editors.

Get creative


Don’t be held back by any format – there are literally thousands of different types of content assets out there you could build on your domain.

  • Visual content like SlideShares, memes and GIFs can all be used for link building.
  • Image attributions mean that you can attract backlinks by publishing high quality images and image galleries online.
  • Video content is super engaging and people love to share online videos.
  • Custom development means you could even create a custom calculator, a browser tool or interactive quiz – the sky’s the limit.

Sponsored content


Not everyone’s favorite, getting sponsored content spots from bloggers and websites is an easy way to raise awareness, but content quality varies and advertorial posts tend to get less engagement.

  • Certain industry publications, magazines, and directories will give you a spot on their publishing platform if you are a signed up member. This can be a great way to share relevant content with your peers, or update potential clients on new business developments.
  • Bloggers work with brands and businesses over sponsored content, and some offer a lot of value, but others aren’t always such a good opportunity. Product reviews and giveaways are some of the most popular forms of blogger collaborations, but content also comes into in the form of sponsored posts.
  • Tread carefully with this link building tactic, it can potentially get you in hot water if not managed properly.

Guest posting


Really good guest posting adds value, bad guest posting is basically spam.

To build effective and long-lasting links and to raise brand awareness, it’s always best to focus on quality over quantity. Reach out to sites you admire and approach sites where you know you can add a lot of value.

  • Be selective about the sites you go for – invest your time in finding high-quality, relevant sites.
  • Good guest posting starts with figuring out where the crossover lies between your site and theirs – find that relevancy hook and go for it with a well-timed and relevant guest post email. Keep it simple.
  • There are various different levels of difficulty here – depending on editors and their guidelines. Generally posts that are sloppy and obviously just made for link building efforts won’t be appreciated by anyone.

Ego bait


Everyone likes to know they’ve been mentioned online, right? Think about it – if you’ve been recently interviewed for a publication or mentioned in a post, wouldn’t you in turn share (and link to) that content? Creating content that includes other people and uses their expertise is a great way to help you build links.

  • Expert roundups are very popular because people love to hear what challenges other people have had and how they have overcome them. Getting people to answer a simple question is a great way to get the attention of a busy influencer – just make sure you ask the right question! Spend loads of time brainstorming your initial outreach request.
  • You can also do more traditional roundups if you don’t fancy asking people to contribute – “the best B2B business writers to follow on Twitter”, “my favorite wedding bloggers” etc.
  • If your site has relevancy and authority, you can even create a badge saying “I’ve been featured on X” that people can use on their sites. This works best if you feature junior to mid career people who are more likely to include this in their professional portfolios.
  • Reaching out to the real leading lights of the industry is risky, but it may be worth it if they get back to you!

Do it better


You have all the research tools out there to help you find out what content other people are linking to and finding compelling – so why don’t you go up a level and outdo your competitors?

  • If something has been successful once it shows there is an appetite and a desire for that content – use that knowledge to your advantage. Try to go for different variations on the same theme and use a backlink analysis tool like Majestic to start building a list of potentially interested sites.
  • This isn’t about blindly parroting stuff that’s already been done – but about genuinely improving and adding value to content that has already proven popular with people.

Open up your blog


Bring relationships into it.

If you fancied nurturing some content talent on your blog, you can let budding writers and other industry experts write for your blog. This opens up an avenue for natural collaboration and synergy – which both often lead to links.

  • Exchanging views over reciprocal blog posts should be a natural process – not something you see as the default. This isn’t just about building links – it’s about building a brand.
  • Getting to know people (both offline and online) is a worthwhile exercise that yields results in surprising ways. Many great links and pieces of content have started out as a simple ‘hey’.

Finally – don’t forget your on-page content


Think of it like this, if you are asking for big authority website to work with you on content, whether that is linking back to you or working on a guest post, wouldn’t you want them to see a site that impresses, not scares them?

  • Spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and thin and poor content will turn off editors and reputable websites.
  • Make sure your website is well-formatted and updated and that you are following all the latest web & SEO practices. People these days are careful who they link to – don’t mess up your chances of a fruitful partnership with a poor website.

Still not sated? Here are some more content marketing lessons your brand should take on board (including how to write authority articles and clean up core content).

Gareth Simpson

Gareth Simpson

Freelance Contributor– Technical SEO & Startup Founder

Gareth has worked as an SEO for almost a decade now and has recently started his own content agency whilst also freelancing as a technical SEO. His SEO specialisms are content and blogger outreach…and he likes green tea. You can follow him on Twitter @SimpsonGareth.

Does Modern Design Destroy Your Content Flow?

Does Modern Design Destroy Your Content Flow?

When a person visits a website, they are almost always searching for a very specific piece of information.  

As writers and domain owners,we are always quick to assume that we know what that one thing is- people are here because they want to buy our products and services.  However, that’s rarely the case…at least not initially.

For instance, you stumbled across this blog post while navigating the Upstate Synergy website.  Does that mean you have your checkbook in hand ready to become one of our clients?  

Of course not.  You want to see who we are as a brand first, how well we know the digital marketing realm and what solutions we offer.  And even then, that doesn’t mean you’re here to buy anything.


Again- you’re looking for some type of specific information.



So in order for us to have any kind of chance at turning you into a paying customer, our first and foremost goal is to figure out what kind of information you’re really looking for.  The truth of the matter is that it could be almost anything- the possibilities are virtually endless.

That tells us that in order to have great website content, we need to foresee just about every possible need our customers could have when they visit us.  We try to do that by-

– Closely watching our website’s metrics and seeing how visitors travel through the site

– Posting contact forms on almost every page to make it easy to get fast answers

– Using FAQ sheets and other compact layouts to get lots of information in small spaces

– Studying feedback in email and surveys to see what info visitors can’t find easily

– Straight-out asking for direct feedback from our current clients

And guess what?  We still have large bounce rates at times.  That’s because you can’t account for every possible scenario that would cause someone to visit your website.  The best you can do is to keep asking questions and study your visitors to have a more complete picture of their needs.



Discovering Roadblocks in the Buyer's Journey

Now, you may be wondering why we go to such lengths- don’t we know our own business and our customers?

Of course we do.  That’s not the real problem here.

The real problem is that we know our business too good.  And you have the exact same problem.  You’re so close to the everyday operations that you can’t fully see the buyer’s journey from start to finish.

Let’s work through a practical example- 

A visitor arrives at your homepage.  This person falls into your ideal demographic, they can afford your product and they actually need it.  They’re an ideal customer in every sense of the word.

Yet, this person doesn’t enter your site on a product or information page- they happen to catch a link in search to your homepage.  So they’re looking at your header image, links to different categories and some type of headline.  Maybe there’s a few other pictures worked in there or a call to action as well.

The reason this ideal customer came to your site, however, was to see if they can make an online purchase/deposit with a credit card and then receive one of your products/services through a non-standard way.  Maybe they want to have a co-worker come by to talk to you about the purchase before making a final selection or set a delivery date sometime in the future.

They look on your homepage for that info.  It’s not there.  Then they visit your products page.  The info isn’t there either.  Next they try your FAQ, your contact page and a few more areas- the information they want is nowhere to be found.

So what does this ideal customer do?

While we’d love to think that they’d just call us and ask, modern consumers usually find their backspace key instead.  They’re off to another website with the same question.


Spotting the Content Dilemna

You may have noticed these days that major brands are actually using a lot less content on their main pages.  This is actually for two reasons-

1) Short, bold statements really stand out to the average consumer.

2) Modern search Optimization focuses heavily on visitor actions.

However, if you look at some of our pages closely, you may be surprised at how much content we packed in there while still keeping a minimal look.  For instance, our Lunch w/ Friends page has almost 800 words of content, but most of it is hidden in the accordian section.  We achieved similar results on the homepage with sliders, multi-layer text areas and other formats.

Now, you may think, “Nobody ever reads that stuff.”  

That’s not true though- almost nobody ever reads that stuff.  And we’re fine with that, as long as the one unique person with a specific question can find their answer quickly…or spot our contact form on each page that talks about legendary fast response times.

Along those same lines of thinking, every single page of your website should have a “Learn More” button included in each section.  While you or I may get excited over the small summary paragraph, we don’t want to alienate those who need more information and aren’t ready to reach out yet.

That means your website’s sitemap should look like a pyramid where every main page starts with a major category and then branches out for every specific need/problem.  Every time you introduce something new, then you should also provide 2-3 additional pages to talk about the different aspects of it.

The Modern Content Layout

Do you see that sexy hunk of modern muscle car above?  It pained us to put a sub-header over it because it is so darn beautiful.  That’s the new 2017 Mazda RX7.

Let’s knock out a quick examle for using Mazda USA and an example-

The home page would has some great hero images with  snappy text.  We’d also see our standard product pages, an about us (Why Mazda), a dealer page, shopping tools and a link to some testimonials.

We already know that the average buyer is going to be looking for things like fuel efficincy, overall horsepower, available colors, etc.  So they did well by working all of that information in on the homepage or the first landing page for each vehicle.  That’s essentially where the pyramid starts- going from the homepage to the eight different models that Mazda sells.

Each major category page also has content that’s light any airy.  We love the negative space to make each photo the star, plus they have some handy tools to learn about the specifics.  The layout of each vehicle page matches the exact process a salesman would present the car inside a dealership- so that’s perfect for the buyer’s journey.

However, you can’t forget about the car fanatics of the world either.  They want real information.

For instance, what’s the rear differential on the Mazda 3 sedan?  What’s the recommended mileage for changing the transmission fluid?  Does it require premium unleaded?  

One the Mazda USA site, this problem is loosely handled by providing product brochures, spec sheets and numberous other resources at the bottom of the homepage.  But is that the best way to ensure that the customer sees it?  

Definitely not.  It personally took me over eleven minutes to find answers those three basic questions.  

So while Mazda did well with “read more” and “learn more” buttons for each section, the information shared is simply too generic to meet all customer types.  We hit four different dead ends trying to answer basic questions and had to completely start our search over in other areas of the site.

Don’t forget, we’re talking about a specific car from a specific company that we’re already in love with.  If this was an example for printer paper or life insurance, we would have given up after 10-15 seconds of looking.  

Nobody earns 11 minutes of patience in cyberspace- not even Mazda.  After all, he new 2017 Ford Viper is even more gorgeous.



What’s the moral of the story here?

While your website may be beautiful, it’s probably not optimized for customers anywhere near as well as you think.  That’s a huge problem that can’t be fixed through design, navigation or different layouts- it takes real content that gives specific answers to questions that we may not have even thought about yet.

If you take one thing away from this article, it’s to find new ways to listen to your customers about what’s really important to them.  Then find logical ways to complete the buyer’s journey from homepage to contact, and remember that each of us will likely want to take a different path during that process.

Websites are not meant to be “one size fits all.”  That’s called a sales pitch, not a brand experience.

Be sure to let us know if we can help.



The Death of Keywords in 2018

The Death of Keywords in 2018

I need to ask you an important question here- and be honest.  How much do you really focus on keywords these days?

Well, I’m going to let you in on a little secret, and you have to promise not to tell anyone about this.  Not even those self-proclaimed SEO gurus that fill our LinkedIn feeds with daily content…especially not them.  Because I’m about to ruin the scam of the century for an entire industry that’s filled with snake-oil salesmen, con artists and self-promoting idiots.

Are you ready for it?  Keywords are officially dead in 2017.

And just so we’re clear here, I’m not saying that there’s no such thing as keywords anymore.  Keywords are just some words placed together with other words…so obviously they still exist.  But they’re just not important.

Take this website, for example…and this very blog.  We all know that to properly optimize a page under SEO standards, we have to get the keyword in the title, in the very first sentence and again in the first subtitle.  Yet I haven’t used any of my site’s primary keywords.  And look down the page- there are no subtitles either.

But guess what?  You’re still reading this…and visitor engagement has surpassed silly things like meta-descriptions and keywords a long time ago.  Google has said so like a billion times.

Heck, “engagement” is probably Matt Cutt’s middle name by now…and he doesn’t even work for the search engine giant anymore.

Now, you may be pondering, “But what does it all mean?  How can the Earth survive without things like keyword density and anchor text?”  Before we get to that, I think it’s important for all of us to remain calm.  Go pop a Valium if necessary, because this feeling of utter hopelessness will pass by the end of this article.  I promise.

And just ask my kids- I may exaggerate all the time, but I never lie.  A promise is something worth keeping.

The truth is that keywords have actually been dead for quite some time now and in most cases, they’re completely unnecessary.    After all, the search engines have a very clear picture of what your website is actually about and one more blog post won’t tip the scales in your favor.

Now, you may come from the school of thought where you’d say something like, “Well, keywords definitely aren’t hurting my website, so why should I stop focusing on them?”

That’s a great question.

But unfortunately, you’ve been so obsessed with keyword stuffing for so darn long that you’ve completely forgotten what a keyword or a key-phrase is in the first place.  It’s just a series of words people- every single word on this page is a keyword.

Well, okay…maybe not all the “the, and, our, but, it” and words like that…but the rest are certainly keywords.  And if they are located next to other words on the page, then you have a bunch of key-phrases forming as well.

Before I make this too confusing, maybe I better give a practical example.  I’ll use my website once again.

For those of you that follow me, you know that I’m a copywriter that knows a thing or two about online marketing and search optimization.  And I live in Spartanburg, South Carolina, so naturally by most important key-phrase would be something like, “Spartanburg Copywriter” or “Copy writer in Spartanburg,” right?

Wrong.  Those are horrible keywords.  And I can prove it.

When I tell people around town what I do for a living, about 1/3rd of them assume a “copywriter” is a person who issues patents.  Or someone who creates laws.  They have absolutely no idea what I do for a living unless they actually have ties to the marketing field.  And that means when they look for someone like me, they almost never type those phrases, even though Google AdWords says that they’re my best bet.

So let me ask you a question- what would my main keyword be then if it’s not “copywriter”?

Well, it could be anything that people type into the search engines these days to find someone like me…and that’s a pretty darn long list.  I see everything from content creator to digital analyst to brand manager on job boards, while your average Joe searches for a blog writer or social media professional.  Some even use “wordsmith”, even though that’s technically not a word.

Do you see the problem here?  I can’t just pluck a few nifty keywords out of thin air and properly reach all of my potential clients.  In fact, I probably couldn’t reach all of them with a thousand targeted key phrases.

That’s why keywords are officially dead in 2017… they died long before you ever took your first lesson in SEO.

Besides, what good does it really do anyway to target the same keywords over and over again?  Google is dead-set on normalizing the search results so you can’t appear in multiple spots for the same phrase.  Either your website doesn’t have quality content and it will never rank for your terms, or it is already ranking well and you’re being repetitive anyway.

Either way, it’s wasted money if you follow conventional SEO logic.

Again, that brings us right back to finding a true definition of a keyword.  But the dictionary won’t help, because the only opinions that truly matter here are your actual customers.  After all, they control everything when it comes to the success of your brand.

Are you with me so far on this?  I promise- a big revelation is just seconds away.

If your main goal is to connect with more customers (and let’s face it; that’s the only reason you do any of this crap), then your main focus is not going to be on a single key-phrase.  Or even your top fifty.  Instead, you’re going to throw the SEO book straight out the window and casually use every possible combination of industry-related jargon you can think of.

And that, my friends, means that there are no such things as keywords anymore.  It’s almost like the Matrix- everything is a keyword, and you don’t even have to take the blue pill.

The morale to this lesson here is to completely forget about keywords except when it comes to your back-end meta stuff, because that’s the only place where it still slightly matters.  But to connect to actual people and to convince them to trust your brand, you’d better be talking in their language…and normal humans don’t say the same phrase six times in a two minute period.

That’s just weird.

So your content marketing goal in 2017 is to simply focus on what matters to your potential customers and to deliver your messaging in plain-Jane English that they can relate with…and then do the exact opposite of keyword targeting.  Instead, try to use every possible variation of what your customers might type across your next 10-20 blog posts.

Guess what?  There’s a term for that as well- it’s called great writing.  And that’s been the #1 ranking factor of the search engines since the early 1990’s.  The best overall content always wins.

So moving forward, forget about those silly keywords and just focus on putting a smile on a potential customer’s face.  As long as you’re doing that, Google will see your value.  That’s all that really matters anyway.

Creating a Powerful Content Marketing Plan in 2017

Creating a Powerful Content Marketing Plan in 2017

One of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to search optimization is that it takes mass amounts of content in order for a website to rank favorably.  To this very day, I still see businesses taking the quantity over quality approach…even though they’re getting poor results and very little customer engagement.  So maybe your content marketing plan for 2017 should be a little bit different.

As I’ve said at least a hundred times a month to my clients, “Content is King.”  It always was and it always will be…it is the #1 ranking factor on any website for a reason.  Because when people perform a Google search, they’re looking for very specific answers; either your content answers their questions or it doesn’t.

And when your content fails, then the user is off to find a different website that can help them.  You’d better believe that the search engines notice as well, and that’s why customer engagement is the #2 ranking factor.  Google ultimately doesn’t decide which website’s content is the best- you and I do through our actions when searching.

Why Does Quality Content Always Win?

Perfect ApplesLet’s say you go to a farmer’s market and one particular stand is selling apples for three dollars each.  These aren’t just any apples, mind you; they are beautiful, flawless pieces of fruit that are fit to be served at a royal engagement.  Their sweet nectar and crispness are like nothing you’ve ever tasted before, and they’re easily the best apples you’ve ever eaten in your life.

Naturally, there are dozens of people crowded around that vendor’s fruit stand because he has the best fruit at the whole market.

As you approach to make your purchase though, you notice a young boy standing in an alleyway with a huge basket.  He’s holding a sign that says, “Special! 25 Apples for a Dollar!” and you have to admit, they look pretty darn tasty from afar.  But once you approach the boy, you see that many of the apples are rotten and darkened with age, plus there are several worms and other insects crawling through the mass of apples.

Focusing on Content that Really Matters

what really mattersSo as a website owner, would you rather have one piece of golden fruit that everyone seems to want?  Or do you want a large variety of unappealing fruits that can be found almost anywhere?

Well, let me let you in on a little secret…Google wants those perfect apples.

Each time you post new content to your website, the search engines study it for hundreds of specific metrics.  Everything from word complexity to formatting to customer engagement is studied under a microscope to find the perfect blend, and there is absolutely no way to “cheat the process” in 2017.  Either your blog posts are interesting to people or they’re not…there’s really not a middle ground.

The Basis of a Winning Content Marketing Plan

writing a content planSo when we start to create a content plan for your website in 2017, the LAST THING that I want you to focus on is the number of articles you’re going to post.  Instead, you need to focus your energy on finding out what your website’s visitors really want to learn about when they search for a brand like you.  Those are the things you should be writing about…both in your blogs and on your core website pages…because that’s what will ultimately turn visitors into customers.

Take this website for example- look at the main navigation up top.  If you click on any of my main links, I give you a quick snapshot of the services I offer and how they can help you.  But you’ll also notice that every single page has a link to “learn more” or “find additional information”, because I never want someone to not be able to find a specific answer.

Most of my blog posts are further extensions of the services that I offer to my clients, but I’m not posting this to try to sell you anything.  Instead, I’m showing you that I really do know what I’m talking about and that I don’t mind helping you out some, for free.  And in a nutshell, that’s how you build trust on the internet.  You show that you’re an expert and a helpful person, and then your phone starts ringing from new clients.

Cleaning Up Core Content

cleaning up contentWhat does that mean for your website?

For starters, your homepage needs to touch on every product/service your company offers…or at least mention the broad category.  Because if folks can’t figure out whether or not you’re qualified to handle something for them within their first few seconds of visiting, then it’s already game over.  So nail down that homepage with great quality content…even if it’s just a few sentences per section.

Next, I want you to have your webmaster take a look at your website and see where the vast majority of your visitors leave.  Try to identify the worst performing 5-10 pages in Google Analytics, and make these a top priority for revamping in 2017.  But before you can do that, you need to figure out what was wrong with those pages to begin with…why did the customers leave?

Here are a few things to look at-

  • No direct answers to the customer’s most common questions
  • Vague product and/or service descriptions
  • Poor formatting on the page…it’s all one big mess
  • Too much content…it just seems to go on forever
  • Too many ads on the page (huge turnoff)
  • Far too many hyperlinks and other distractions
  • A lack of relevant photographs and video

If you can’t identify the problems of your worst pages by using the list above, then here’s a very easy test to figure out the issue.  You know that jerk friend that you hang out with sometimes that you don’t really like but associate with anyway?  Call up him/her and ask them why people don’t like that page.  They’ll be happy to tell you all the problems they see.

Or you can call me, I’ll be happy to tell you as well.  In fact, that may be easier and a lot less embarrassing.

Anyway, you want to proceed through your entire website and beef up the content where you’re currently doing poorly…that’s priority #1.  Don’t even think about a paid ad campaign or more blogs until your core site is set up to convert.

When to Start Blogging

blog writingBlogs are a great tool because they allow you to rank for your site’s relevant keywords, plus they allow readers to see a little more about what your company stands for.  So when you make a content plan for blog posts, you want the focus to be solely on your customers…what will they actually want to read?

And before we go any further, let me give you some ideas-

  • How-to tips, guides, and walkthroughs
  • RELEVANT company news and events
  • A deeper analysis of what you do for clients
  • Case studies showing your successes
  • Local charities, community events, etc.
  • OCCASIONAL information on sales and promotions

Notice that I went all caps with two words there- relevant and occasional.  It’s nice to post a blog about winning an award, opening a new store or doing something nice for the community, but people will be quick to stop listening if all you do is brag about yourself.  The same goes for sales promotions- they only belong on your blog when it’s truly newsworthy.

After all, if you’re spamming some type of sale every single day…then there’s no reason to pay attention.  That means everything always on sale and the urgency to buy is 100% gone.

Learn to Write Authority Articles

writing authority articlesAs I’m typing this sentence, I’m quickly approaching the 1,300 word mark.  And so far, everything here has been actionable information that applies directly to your website, which is exactly how a great blog is supposed to be written.  It’s what you’d call an authority article, and it will likely rank on the first page of search for various terms.


If you perform a Google search for “creating a content plan”, most of the examples out there are things like, “Five Tips for Creating a Great Content Plan” or “Write Better Content in 2017.”  But the problem is, they all give the exact same generic advice-

  • Deliver great content
  • Post consistently
  • Use images and video
  • Share on social media
  • Create email alerts

And once you get into the “meat” of the content on those sites, there’s really nothing of value that the bullet points didn’t summarize.  That’s a common article that anyone could write whether they have knowledge on the subject or not…and stuff like that rarely ranks well for long.  Because as soon as someone posts an updated version and gets a few hundred page views, their article becomes more popular than yours and Google promotes it.

So if you’re going to talk about something on your blog, then you need to go all-in and give your readers in-depth advice that applies directly to their specific situation.  A good example would be a blog I posted in November about online marketing for restaurants.  It’s about 1,000 words total and it’s the only time I ever mention the word “restaurant” on my entire site, yet it ranks #1 for every variation of the key-phrase “Restaurant Marketing Spartanburg.”

So just off an hour of writing, I gained awesome visibility for a complete industry within my market…and I’ve done the same thing for dentists, car dealers and many other segments.  There’s no reason why you can’t do the exact same thing with the right strategy.

Drafting your Actual Content Marketing Plan for 2017

content marketing checklistLet’s recap real fast.

Your first goal in 2017 is to update all of your website’s main content on any pages that aren’t converting well.  Your new layout will give brief answers on the main pages and in-depth analysis on each sub-page.

Next, you’re going to start writing blogs that address specific things that your ideal customers are wondering about.  These posts should be industry specific whenever possible and laser-focused on who you’re trying to target.  And figuring out the number of articles you need for each topic is easy- you keep writing super-high quality content until you take the #1 slot for your area.

Also, your most important key-phrases should have much longer articles that go really in-depth about the subject matter.  Just Google these phrases before starting to see what’s already ranking well on Google- your article has to be better than those already out there.  If you’re not willing to put in that level of effort, then don’t write it in the first place…focus on something else that’s easier to rank for instead.

Finally, you are going to mix in a few blog articles that show your company culture.  For example, I occasionally write about NFL football, family vacations and/or community events, because these are the things that matter to me.  And by opening up and showing who I am as a professional, my clients get a much better sense of who I am as a person.

Parting Words of Wisdom

One Perfect AppleThe only other piece of advice I can give at this point is exactly what I started with- always focus on superior quality writing that actually helps your customers.  You’d be far better off writing one awesome blog post per week over writing 10 so-so pieces, so try to remember the analogy I gave about the apple vendor.  You only want to serve content that’s fit for a king, yet written well enough for the masses to easily digest.

If you need any additional help drafting a content plan for 2017 or you need the services of a nifty creative writer, please do not hesitate to reach out to me through the contact form or by giving me a call.  I’m always happy to give free consultations and help you find the best path forward BEFORE you’re actually on my client list.



Does Online Marketing Work for Restaurants?

Does Online Marketing Work for Restaurants?

I had an interesting conversation with a local restaurant owner in Costco the other day as he tried to push his enormous cart of mozzarella, spices and tomato base towards the checkout counter.  As a former Italian restaurant owner myself, I knew his story without even having to ask- his vendor undoubtedly messed up and good old Costco is always a solid last-minute bail out for our kinds of businesses.  I could instantly feel his pain since I was in the exact same position myself dozens of times.

After sharing war stories for a few minutes about incompetent delivery drivers and the perfect blend of cheeses for pizza, the owner asked me if I knew anyone that would be interested in buying his restaurant.  He explained that while the business was still profitable, it seemed like his customer base had continually shrunk over the past five years even though he’s remained highly competitive on his pricing and delivered a great product.

Then I told him what every restaurant owner needs to hear- online marketing is essential for every restaurant in the Spartanburg area, regardless of how big or small they are.
Why?  Think about this for a moment.  How do you order a pizza these days?

For my family, we hop on our smartphones, look at the current specials and then submit our order online…and that’s how over 70% of America does it these days.  That means if you’re still handing out flyers, placing newspaper ads and using other forms of traditional marketing these days, only 3 in 10 people are even noticing you.

For example, my family loves Sidestreet Pizza over in Tryon.  Besides the long wait times, I honestly couldn’t say a single negative thing about it.  The service is great.  The food is great.  I love the atmosphere.  Yet, I haven’t eaten at Sidestreet in at least 4 years.  But I’ve ordered from Dominos, Papa Johns and The Pepperoni Express in Inman dozens of times since then, all because they have a solid online presence and I can see their specials quickly.
Are franchises like Pizza Hut better than Sidestreet?  I don’t think we even need to dignify that with an answer.  But the big chains are making a huge effort to cater to today’s consumer and that simply makes them more relevant.  People will literally settle for food from an inferior brand simply because that’s what they see in the search engines.

And as I explained this to this restaurant owner in Costco the other week, he sort of hung his head in defeat since he didn’t know anything about internet marketing.  Even if I built him a great website, he said, there was no way possible that he would be able to keep up with updates and things that would make him stand out.

He also mentioned that cost was a major issue…and I realized that he wasn’t just trying to sell his pizza restaurant; he was on the verge of going out of business completely.  That’s the only reason why I’m not sharing his name or his location (yet).  Stay tuned for updates though, because I am actively working on his search optimization as we speak.

Now, I could completely relate to his situation.  When that bad ice storm hit Spartanburg back in 2003 and my restaurant was without water/power for over a month, I had no idea how to get my customers back fast enough for it to really make a difference.  I was underwater in debt and the idea of a website would have been laughable for me just like it was for this person.  But then again, I didn’t know back then what I know now…and you can’t ignore that 70% of all consumers perform a Google search before heading towards a local restaurant.

Since I definitely don’t want any other local restaurant owners to feel this way, here’s a quick cheat sheet of simple things you can do to drastically increase your online presence on a tight budget-

  • Build a Facebook and a Google Local business page, and start a campaign for people to like your page. My favorite for restaurants is giving customers a $3 off coupon or a free side item for following you on social media…and you’d be amazed how quickly it will be shared and deliver traffic to your doorstep.
  • Take the time to register on at least a dozen directory sites like the Yellow Pages, Zomato (formerly Urban Spoon), TripAdvisor, etc. Create complete profiles there and offer a special unique to each website, and be sure to add some photos of your mouthwatering food.
  • Ask your best customers to leave reviews for you on those directory sites in-house for an instant $1 off their check total per person (per review). If you’re doing this regularly, then you can simply raise your menu prices by $1 and all the reviews are free.
  • Build a restaurant website using one of the free online tools or contact me to create an affordable website for you. Then add the essentials- great photos, a full menu, daily specials, directions via Google Maps, a food blog, etc.
  • Use the same tactic to get customers to opt into your email marketing campaigns; just give them a great one-time special to share their email addresses.
  • Once you’ve completed the social sites, directory sites and your own personal website, start sharing fun facts about Spartanburg, cool photos, daily specials and other information people wouldn’t mind reading.
  • Likewise, every time you post a blog or a new special, share it straight to your social sites for people to see it. Then send out a weekly email recapping what you’re doing for customers.

Now, you may be thinking that most of those things are far outside your comfort zone, which is exactly what the restaurant owner inside Costco told me as well.  But then I asked him- how many times a night do you have to tell your younger employees to get away from their smartphones?  Fifty?  A hundred?  Every one of them is a social media genius- they just don’t realize that their talent for wasting time online can actually become a massive resource from a business standpoint.

And honestly, I do not recommend the free website builders like Weebly since they are hard to customize and rank effectively.  But if you have to choose between doing nothing and launching a basic website…go the free route every single time.  While it certainly can’t hurt, the help it could deliver is enormous.

So if you can’t afford to hire me right now, then put your youth to work knocking out the above list and improving your online presence.  You will be absolutely amazed at how quickly it makes a difference…I’ve seen restaurants go from on the verge of closing to being on track for $50k+ months in a matter of weeks.  It just takes a substantiated effort of communicating with your customers and giving them reasons to pay attention to you online.

If you have any questions about how to market your restaurant online or you need a little more guidance on making your location profitable; then feel free to contact me through my online form to set up a consultation.  Since restaurant management will always be in my blood and I love having the chance to make a difference here in Spartanburg, the initial consultation will only cost you lunch.  Hopefully you know somewhere good to eat.  =)