Julia McCoy: “I never create blogs below 2,000 words, if my goal is to rank.”
Julia McCoy doesn’t need much introduction in the SEO and content marketing world. She’s a successful entrepreneur, best-selling author and an industry thought leader.
Here at Mangools, we’re big fans of Julia’s work. So when we decided to start a series of interviews with notable SEO people, her name was one of the first to pop up.
She was very kind to find some time in her busy schedule to answer our questions. Here’s the result:
Let’s start with an obligatory question: What is your favorite SEO hack?
There is no one SEO hack I can point to as THE hack that changes the game. (I know, I know. Not what you wanted to hear.)
The best “tactic” to earn those coveted top organic search engine results is a long-term, consistent approach of building true brand authority in SERPs.
Want to win in SEO? Try going all-in, hack-free, and play the long game. Build a great website. Commit to great content, consistently. The dividends you’ll reap will be completely worth it.
As a content marketer, what do you think about the popular claim “content is king”?
The better, truer claim here should be “the audience is king, and content is the castle.”
It’s all about the audience. You need to ditch, avoid, run away from anything that doesn’t serve your reader. Your audience is the true royalty, the real king that sits on the throne, if you want to be real about what it takes to earn influence and profits. To win the king’s trust, you need to focus on what it takes to serve them.
Great content plays a big part in serving the “royalty”. The better your content, the better your audience’s experience. It’s like entering a beautiful castle and getting “wowed” by everything inside.
Think of your content like that castle. Build beautiful content, and your audience – the real king – will want to stay within your castle walls.
What is the biggest change you’ve noticed in the content marketing industry since you started?
The shift towards quality content in the industry – SEO blogs and website copy especially – has been massive, over barely a half-decade. I’ve seen it all change in the biggest ways, and I first ventured out into content marketing less than eight years ago!
The largest part of this change has been Google pushing and enforcing EAT (expertise, authoritativeness, trust) as a real standard in ranking content, driving marketers to realize that thin, stuffed content won’t cut it anymore.
In pre-Panda days, you could get away with ranking your website and winning organic traffic with bare, keyword-stuffed content. Not so much post-2012.
Content marketers actually have to write (or hire a copywriter to write) substantial, awesome, audience-focused content, for that content to go anywhere. And that trend for high-quality, high-caliber content is only continuing.
As the search for “amazing” content writers is heightened, the actual knowledge of what it takes to produce this kind of content is decreasing. It’s bad. Seriously. There’s a massive void.
In my content agency, we complete 200-400 content projects a month; years ago, I was narrowing down writing candidates to 20% of applicants hired. Today, less than 2% of our writing applicants make the cut! AP English and college essay-style writing must be un-learned to succeed with the online reader.
I created a course in late 2018, The Expert SEO Content Writer, to try and help combat this, specifically teaching online writing with SEO (and even teaching step-by-step how writers can use modern, must-have keyword tools like KWFinder).
I am brainstorming a third writing-specific course in 2020 to continue to try to fight this epidemic. It’s a massive, underlying problem in our industry.
Many studies suggest that writing long-form content (1,500 words and more) is the best way to rank in Google. What’s your experience?
I 100000% agree with this. Over the years, I’ve read all the studies that came out on content length and SEO rankings – real studies from serpIQ, Hubspot, Backlinko – and all of them consistently revealed that the top rankings in Google averaged content length at 1,500+ words. Many, 2,000+ words.
Today, I never create blogs below 2,000 words, if my goal is to rank for a focus keyword.
In fact, to prove this myself, I launched a brand new site, Content Hacker. It was my “content length” experiment. Could I rank with only 11 blogs for at least a few dozen keywords, if those blogs were “mega-blogs” at 5,000 words each?
In less than three months, we ranked for 2,500 keyword positions. Most of my 11 blogs are already ranking in Google for their focus keyword. How crazy is that?! I wrote a case study on this on the Write Blog – go check it out.
The thing is that as an author, you can’t “bluff” your way through 2,000-5,000 words on your topic. And to earn those rankings – to nail that “EAT” qualifier from Google – you must be a subject matter expert.
Content length and comprehensiveness basically checks that “expert” box. Again, there’s no shortcut. You must be an expert on the topic you’re writing about, and you must prove it when you write content.
Guest blogging is still one of the most popular link building techniques. Do you guest blog as part of your marketing strategy? What works best for you?
I do guest blog, and have since the beginning. It works very well for me to pull in continual inbound leads. I’m one of the rare guest bloggers that actually looks at guest blogging like writing for another audience – and I focus on the writing part, and that alone.
I forget about links, completely. In fact, I’ve never looked at “guest blogging” as a link-building tactic. I think that’s why it works for me so well.
I only write for 4-5 publications/month now (Search Engine Journal, G2, MarketingProfs, CMI are a few), and focus on creating the best content I can for their audiences and their platform.
My guest blog content often makes it to top-read/top-shared, so I must be doing something right!
What type of content has been the most effective for you?
Blogging, beyond a doubt. I’ve built a company that has lasted for eight years and brought in over $4.5M in revenue, and guess what our #1 marketing avenue has been?
Content marketing, specifically through consistent, excellent, comprehensive blog posts written around SEO long-tail keywords, and published on our agency’s Write Blog.
It’s tied into a simple email campaign – I send my blogs out to my readers through email each week, nothing fancy. My standards are very high, I don’t accept a single one of the paid guest post author bylines I’m pitched every single day, and I author every single one of our blog posts.
For eight years running, we’ve never taken a vacation from posting a blog every single week, and I’m 3-4 weeks ahead, on average. Here’s a case study I’ve done on our blogging ROI for more.
You also teach SEO writing courses. Could you give one specific writing technique/tip/strategy from your course exclusively to the readers of our blog?
One of the areas I cover in my Expert SEO Content Writer course include thoroughly addressing those weird, random questions that pop up when you’re an SEO copywriter – like how to write content for obnoxious keywords that don’t have proper grammar.
For example: “loose weight”. Can you believe that it’s actually a highly searched keyword phrase? Or, “truffle chocolates red”, another highly-searched weirdo keyword (perfect for a Valentine’s Day blog, if only it read well).
I’ll give you the answer I give my course students for this burning SEO writing question.
The fact of the matter is that if you do write that term into a sentence as-is, it could absolutely diminish you or your client’s credibility as an expert or authority in the field when you go to publish the content.
Some potential customers may not care about being grammatically correct when searching the internet, but if you can’t spell a basic industry term properly, I can bet it will cause you to lose some respect with them.
But how can you use and integrate these “wild card” SEO keywords, please your client, and avoid sounding as if you failed English in high school?
Simple: Place strategic punctuation directly inside of your awkward keywords. Search engines don’t put any ranking weight on punctuation!
This is great news for SEO copywriters. This means that instead of this awkward-sounding “optimized” sentence:
This year for Valentine’s Day give her truffle chocolates red to help her get in the spirit.
You can write:
With spring just around the corner, the perfect gift for Valentine’s Day is a box of truffle chocolates. Red is the color of love, so why not get a box of the most delicious-looking truffle chocolates in romantic red shades for your special lady?
See how we did that?
We added a period after “truffle chocolates” and started a new sentence with “red”. Google’s semantic, topical search standards will still see and recognize that you used the term, and your reader won’t hate you for life.
What are your 3 most favorite content marketing tools you use frequently?
My must-have, everyday content tools would have to be these three:
- Mangools’ KWFinder and SiteProfiler: The best dashboard I’ve seen for keyword research and insights into terms that people search on Google. I use KWFinder every other day. (Not saying this because I’m being featured on this blog, haha. I totally mean it!)
- BuzzSumo: The perfect tool for content data analysis into most-shared content on your site, on the sites you guest blog for, on hot topics in your industry, relevant influencers to follow, and so much more!
- AMI’s Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer: A very simple, completely free, no-B.S. tool that tells you on a scale of 1-100 how valuable and impactful your headline will be to your audience. I use this all the time for my blog titles, email headlines, and YouTube video headlines!
Who would you recommend following in the content marketing industry? Who are your heroes?
My top content marketing heroes and inspirations as we close 2019:
- Mark Schaefer (@markwschaefer)- The OG in the content marketing/marketing industry. Mark knows and promotes the best of best practices. Listen to everything he says.
- Jon Morrow (@smartbloggerhq), his team, and the guest contributors at SmartBlogger, one of the top-read blogs in the world right now. Geniuses at blogging.
- Aaron Orendorrf (@AaronOrendorff) – A legend in content marketing. He knows, practices, and promotes great content. Anything Aaron says, you should be listening to.
- Ryan Robinson (@TheRyanRobinson) – Newer on the scene but amazing at content. You’ll learn a lot from his blogs and podcasts.
What blog post made you “wow” recently?
This 10,000+ word mega-monster guide by Jon Morrow on SmartBlogger: How to Start a Blog in 2019 (+ Resources on EVERYTHING!)
Blew my socks off.
Finally, let’s play a little game. Never have I ever:
- Sent an outreach email with a wrong recipient’s name in the greeting
- Published a post I am embarrassed about now
- Bought a backlink
The first one is a “never have I ever.”
Yes, I am guilty of publishing content (in my newbie 2011 days) that I’m not proud of. And yes, I tried buying a backlink once – also in my newbie 2011 days!
Luckily, those days are behind me. We all learn a few lessons the hard way in life!
Julia McCoy @JuliaEMcCoy
Julia McCoy is a content marketing influencer, author, and entrepreneur.
She grew her content agency, Express Writers, from nothing to over $4M in revenue in just seven years, and was named a thought leader in content marketing by Forbes in 2018. Today, she’s the author of two bestselling books, founder of The Content Hacker, and she’s getting ready to publish her third book, a narrative nonfiction memoir of her life.
Julia lives in Austin, Texas with her daughter and husband.