Matt Bailey is a bestselling author, digital marketing expert, and global corporate trainer. The owner of Site Logic Marketing, Matt recently sat down for an interview to showcase best practices in SEO, email marketing, and writing quality content.

Q: How can SEO be maximized in content marketing without looking obvious?

A: The best practice for SEO is to use natural language that answers people’s questions. When you write it in a way that people won’t recognize which keywords you’re targeting, you’ll naturally get the keywords you want. You’ll also build the associations and alternative words for that keyword. People often get wrapped up in SEO and the number of times a word needs to be repeated, but that’s not the way Google does things. It’s looking at related words and topics. If you’re writing an article on Wi-Fi, for example, you’ll naturally use words like a router or as well. Writing this way is effective because it means you wrote the content for a human, and a human will be the one reading it.

Q: What’s your best keyword study secret?

A: There’s no secret; it’s just hard work. But I do love Word Tracker. It’s one of the best tools available, especially when I want to start with the breadth of the keyword universe. My secret is to act then like it’s Thanksgiving by diving in and accumulating as many keywords as possible on my plate. From there, I’ll split things up, organize and regroup them, and then reorganize and regroup them again to find the various ways keywords work together. It’s mainly based on what questions people are asking and what content they want. The more you focus on understanding your audience and what people want, the more likely you are to find the words and answer the questions they’re seeking. Keyword research can be a two- to three-day process, but it’s worth it because you’re more likely to find the gold. This is the thing no one else is doing or the thing your competitors are doing but not well. When you do this research, you also become an expert in the keywords, as well as your business and audience. This is what enables you to write better content by answering the questions people have. It’s market intelligence.

Q: And of course, talk to your customers. Look at your Google Analytics.

A: Absolutely. I was recently saying that your best channel might not be digital. I worked with one company where we sent them to the mall with a clipboard of questions. They came back excited.  They would have never imagined it because usually, companies think of their brand first. They don’t usually think of the customer’s problem first.

Q: How can e-commerce sites avoid content penalties?

A: When it comes to e-commerce, you’re selling things that a lot of other businesses are selling. Most sites will use the manufacturer’s information to describe products, but it ends up becoming the same content across all sites. To fix this, change the content–or add to it–with better product descriptions. What’s the personality of your brand? What’s your angle? If you want to be a socially responsible and sustainable brand, write product content related to sustainability. Another perspective can be humor. Whatever it is, add new content that reflects the personality of the type of company you are or want to be. The next step is adding reviews. This is where you allow others to give their opinion. They can add their own words and pictures, and can even demonstrate the product in a video. It’s an investment, but it’s worth it because it’s your business. When I say this to clients, they usually start thinking about all the time they’ll have to put in. But if you want to distinguish yourself, this is how you do it.

Q: How can businesses avoid posting what’s considered by Google to be low-quality content?

A: Low-quality content is content that’s repetitive on your site and across the Internet. To avoid this, don’t copy and paste content or only change a few of the words. Develop original content that answers people’s questions. That’s the first and foremost guide to content development. You can do this through words, infographics, video, or manuals. It doesn’t have to be paragraphs of content. That's where people get discouraged. They hear content, and they think words, but that's not always the case. You can get creative. The worst thing you can do is post someone else's content and only change a few of the words. That's thin and low quality.

Q: Right. Google even has guidelines on things it considers low quality, like clickbait headlines or obvious hate speech. So it's really about making your content, making it original, and not making it spammy. 

A: Yes. We’ve gotten to this promotional age where websites are using clickbait to get the click. That's one thing that will undoubtedly reduce quality. It's all about what you're promising in your headline. If you don’t deliver, then that's low-quality content, back up what you promised.

Q: That's the perfect definition of it. A lot of people have asked what clickbait is, and I think it's really when your headline doesn't match your content, even if it's not meant to be a sensational headline. If people don't get the answer they want from the headline you had, I imagine that will bring your quality score down.

A: Yes. There's even a place online called SavedYouAClick, where users who find clickbait content post information on what you’ll find in the link. There’s a bit of a rebellion against clickbait going on, so if you’re going to write an article promising something, you’d better back it up.

Q: Voice search is becoming more important these days. How can you do smart-speaker optimization for voice-activated searches?

A: It’ll be interesting to see how this works out because how people use a smart speaker in their homes is different from how they use voice search on their phones. I recently searched, and one of the first results was a text box with instructions from a specific website. It answered my question, but I never went to that website because the content on Google’s search engine results page (SERP) was enough to answer my question. Unfortunately, that website owner has no evidence that my question was answered, yet I found their content helpful.

Q: This is like Google snippets, right?

A: Yes. This is Google’s ultimate goal: to keep people on Google. Rather than having users move off to another platform or website for answers, Google is keeping them on Google by adding this box. They don’t care if you go to YouTube for answers because they own it. The problem with voice-search results is not specific where they’re coming from. For example, I’ve found that most search results come from Wikipedia when I use Amazon Alexa. When looking for something local, this is where Apple’s Siri and Alexa will take a lot away from Google. The problem I see here is that content producers and website owners may be left out. To get your result read, you need to anticipate and answer people’s questions. In a way, we’re going back to what we were doing in the 1990s and early 2000s by using a frequently asked questions (FAQ) page. Writing content in the context of answering questions can enhance your ability to be heard.

Q:  Would it be helpful to have an FAQ page on your website that has questions?

A: Absolutely. Your questions are like headlines. They’re part of your keyword group. By having an FAQ page on your website, you’re showing that not only do you have the answer, but you also have the question. It helps with relevance. The implications of this from a website owner standpoint are unclear, though. FAQs may cause issues with algorithms, favorability, and monetization.

Q: And of course the effect Yelp has in all of this. I can’t Google anything now without the first results being Yelp, Wikipedia, or Pinterest.

A: This is a product of Google’s algorithm. It’s power-law dynamics. The content at the top of the heap must be the most popular, so that’s what will be fed as top content. Because it’s at the top, people are more likely to click on it. When Google runs its algorithms, it will see this and keep the top content at the top. The results at the bottom never move.

Q: With the increasing use of social media and mobile marketing–where users are enthusiastic about graphics, immediate results, and one-touch purchasing–do you think email marketing is still relevant today?

A: I do. The companies that are using email well–those that are not just sending a newsletter every month but those that are developing unique, personalized content– are communicating and marketing to people who already know their business. For this reason, email marketing can’t help but be one of your best channels. Even companies that aren’t doing it that well are still getting business from it. It can be more personalized, which you can’t do with social or search. It’s a different channel, and it is key to understanding your audience and what they want. You’re figuring out how to create an email that speaks to them.

Q: So it comes down to personalization and segmentation rather than generic email blasts. Know your customers, target them, and get the right messaging to them.

A: And you can add rich content like graphics, video, and more media to the email. There’s so much you can work with and develop using email marketing. If you’re sending a typical annoying email, you’re going to get typical boring results.

Q: What are your tips for findings on A/B and multivariate testing, whether it’s for email, landing pages, or on-site SEO?

A: Start small. When people think of split testing, they often believe they need to be scientific about it. But you’re only testing a few things that are easily within your control. If you have a few thousand people on your list, send 1 percent of your list one version of the email and 1 percent another version if you have a mailing list with 20,000 contacts, segment about 2 percent of the file and then increase it from there. You could also get a conversion-rate assessment from a professional to help you prioritize. You’d be amazed at how many things you can quickly fix just with an evaluation. You’ll get your return out of it.

Q: With testing, it’s always good to repeat the process because there are so many external factors to consider. The more chances you get to look at your numbers, the better.  You certainly don’t want to chase down the wrong metric.

A: Definitely. What’s nice is that email platforms like MailChimp have these features built-in already. You can easily design an A/B test that MailChimp will run for you. It will let you know which version won, and it will give you a confidence level based on the amount of data produced. The first thing to try and test is the subject line of your email. That’s probably 20 percent of performance.

Q: Also, don’t try to test too many things at once. Otherwise, you won’t know which factor affected it.

A: Exactly. Test one element at a time!

Are you trained enough for the SEO exam? Well, try answering this SEO Online Test and find out yourself. 

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Want to get in touch with Matt Bailey? Email or find him on Twitter at @mattbaileysays.

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