Wellspring Digital Chats – Maddy Osman, SEO Content Strategist & Founder at The Blogsmith

Today we have a fellow word junkie and an expert on SEO content strategy. She writes the posts I always read on Search Engine Journal and is a dedicated soldier in the battle for more quality content.

We get deep into some SEO content strategies, specifically, we discuss…

  1. Why content is still so important
  2. The Maddy Osman writing process
  3. Why Google E-A-T should matter to everyone
  4. The power of interviews in content marketing
  5. Using AI tools to write

As usual, there is tons of great info in here. Enjoy!

Digital Transcription – Edited for Readability

Introductions

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Hi, I’m Jon-Mikel Bailey. I’m with Wellspring Digital. And this is the Wellspring Digital Chat where we go out and we kidnap marketing experts, we dissect their brains, we go inside, we find all the good information, we extract it and we share it directly with you.

Maddy Osman: I didn’t sign up for this.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: No marketers were harmed in the making of this video. So today, we have a fellow word junkie, pretty excited about this one. She writes all the posts that I read in the Search Engine Journal and is a dedicated soldier in the battle for more quality content. I emphasize the word quality there. So Maddy, please go ahead and introduce yourself to these fine, folks.

Maddy Osman: Yes, thank you for that lovely introduction. So I’m, like you said, Maddy Osman and I run a B2B Tech SEO Content Agency, can reverse the order there. But yeah, we work with B2B tech brands, especially, you know, in the SaaS space, especially brands that work with WordPress in some regard, like hosts and plugins and, and to what Jon was saying – do you prefer Jon-Mikel?

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Jon is perfect.

Maddy Osman: Okay. So, to what Jon was saying, it’s all about creating awesome content that helps my clients connect with their target customer via search. But again, it’s not all about making sure that, you know, we’re marking it up in ways that people find it, it’s just as important for the end reader to have a good experience, you know, even more important, I would say, than Google having a good experience with it. And we have to respect our robot overlords, too.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: They are everywhere, they’re watching and listening, taking probably listening right now.

Maddy Osman: Oh, I guarantee you.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Alright, so, like I said, I’m excited about this one, because I’ve been reading all your stuff for quite a while now, I’ve never met you before. So it’s great to finally meet you and pick your brain about some of this stuff. I want to get deep into all the good content marketing stuffs. So let’s do this.

Maddy Osman: Let’s do this.

Why Content Is Still So Important

Jon-Mikel Bailey: So as marketers, since we’ve been talking about content since the dawn of time, which is, which was sometime in the early 2000s, I believe some somewhere right around that that was the dawn of time. So yeah, my question is, why are we still talking about the importance of content after all these years?

Maddy Osman: Yeah, well, if we did want to take it back a little bit, like, you know, the dawn of time, cave paintings, that’s, I think that’s the way that Neanderthals made sense of their world, right, or try to pass knowledge on to future generations. And then, you know, in between that dawn of time, and the 2000s, I’m not actually sure the exact date or time range.

But one of the first pieces of true content marketing was the Michelin Restaurant Guide, which now, we know as being kind of an authority on the top restaurants across the world, a good guide to use if you’re trying to find truly excellent cuisine, and, you know, people who really care about food and, you know, the restaurant experience.

And so it’s like, it kind of just evolved from that. And what’s really cool to me is like, I think that the medium that I’m in right now, SEO content writing is something that’s going to change a lot evolve a lot, and it will probably, I’m sure, it will eventually, you know, not be a thing at some point. Google will evolve, or maybe we won’t use Google anymore, you know, any number of potential futures could happen as possible.

But the good news is that the idea of communicating with people is something that has always been a thing. And, you know, thankfully now we have written language to make it easier to communicate with people and to be more consistent in our communications. But it’s just interesting to note that the essential skills that are a part of this field I’m in and you know, many other marketers, it’s never going to go away. But actually, I’ve totally lost track of what the question was.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: What is the importance of content after all these, why is content still important?

Maddy Osman: Yeah. So just kind of goes back to the idea that that’s how we communicate with people. It’s a medium with which we can spread ideas and get understanding. And I think with a lot of the clients that I’m working with, who are, you know, more in that tech space where, you know, developers are the ones who are writing the release notes and things like that.

And it’s like, well, how do we? How do we write an update for people about new features, or the applications of our tool or something in a way that a customer who you know, isn’t at that developer level, who isn’t in the weeds with the production of it so that they can understand? So I think that’s the importance of content is creating understanding between two different people, two different departments, two different, you know, companies, whatever.

The Maddy Osman Writing Process

Jon-Mikel Bailey: So we talked about, you know, creating all this content, writing all this content, and, most people get that content, you know, scares the crap out of them. I like to write, but I have a horrible writing process, that most writers would be like, “dude, it’s amazing you get anything done.” But that’s me, not you. So I was wondering if you could, you know, for people who are kind of struggling with writing a little bit out there, can you just describe your writing process, and maybe some tips you’d give to a struggling content marketer?

Maddy Osman: Sure, yeah. One thing that’s super top of mind is I just read this book, I’m trying to remember the author. Roy something (Roy Peter Clark), but it’s called Help! for Writers. He’s, he’s like a professor at the, I’m gonna say this wrong, the Poytner Institute in Florida. It’s like a journalism school.

Anyway, he wrote this book, it’s called Help! for Writers. And it goes through a lot of the situations during the writing process where, you know, you’ll get writer’s block, or you’re having trouble coming up with ideas. It’s just like, like everything from writing to editing. how do you handle these situations where your brain is blinking.

So that’s, that’s one resource. Even though it’s more news journalism focus, I would recommend it for really any type of writer, because it’ll help you create a system around those points of where you’re struggling. But as far as my process, I’m a huge advocate of doing different steps on different days, because it will make your writing better because every day you get a new perspective.

And the more time you give for, like a concept, or an idea to marinate, the more you’re gonna bring to writing about it because your brain is just gonna make more connections, or, you know, you’ll just notice stuff in the news that you’re consuming regularly, that’s clickable and things like that.

So my writing process and the writing process that people on my team use, actually start with keyword research. So we don’t do anything until we’ve done the keyword research to validate an idea. And also to basically come up with related topics. So the keyword research kind of helps to structure that initial outline, and how to go about writing a topic in a way that would answer the questions that most people would have about it or that, you know, they just tend to have in general.

So the outlining happens on a different day, the keyword research happens, you know, first, and then the outline. So we’ll take the keyword research and just give it a structure. Start formatting it, start fleshing it out with things like statistics, quotes from experts, and the supportive material that you would need to flesh out that point.

So the idea is that you’re going into the drafting stage, and like, nothing’s gonna be totally new to you. You’re basically just piecing those things together, now, because you’ve done the research. You’ve done the keyword research, you have all the inputs. So now it’s making them sound good, pretty much and formatting and doing, you know, your spellcheck, and all that good stuff.

But during the drafting stage, I’m not concerned with editing, at least not until the very, very end, like I think that drafting is one stage. And then self-editing is a totally different stage. And I would even break down the self-editing stage into multiple steps. So you have that step where you check for grammar, spelling agreement, formatting, issues, stuff like that.

And then you have at least I would say one other step where you’re going in and I like to use like either reading something out loud, so that you can hear it that helps with agreement. You’re going to miss it if you just like read it on the screen like in your own mental voice. What else was I gonna say?

You can also, if you don’t want to read it out loud, you can use a text-to-speech tool, I think Google has one built-in. But if not, there are other free options out there. And another way that you can kind of trick your brain when you’re self-editing is like change the text to another font that you don’t normally use. You could also change the color.

So there are different ways that you can solve that. In my process, that’s not where it ends, we also have an editor go in, and we have a style guide. So it helps to have something to refer back to in terms of like, “how do we do headings? How do we handle links? You know, what are the rules of how to include imagery? Are there certain sizes? Do they need to be accompanied by a caption? How do you add attribution if there’s a source?”

So stuff like that is also important. But yeah, the idea of having a style guide so that you can refer back to both the writers, the editors, even clients, I share it with them. Sometimes they want to see that. They might be developing their own and kind of want to know, what those standards are from which to branch off.

And something I’ll say is, if you don’t have a style guide, I really recommend starting with the AP Style Guide. It’s just like, a huge, I mean, it’s like 600 pages. So it really gets like into the weeds like you wouldn’t want your team. I mean, if you’re a journalist, right, you should probably have a good familiarity with that.

If you’re a content writer, you don’t have to memorize it, but you should have access as a reference. So I’m not sure if there is a free version of that online. But it’s something like 20 bucks a year to have online access to it, which if you’re a content creator is totally a fair expense, I would say.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Sorry, I just wanted to ask. You talk about a style guide. But what about voice? Do you think voice is important?

Maddy Osman: Yeah, I think so. Because voice is what distinguishes you from another brand. And so it’s helpful. Like another part of my process, we go back a bit is to have an intake process and an intake form. So I’m asking all my clients to answer questions about things like them and their personality, their brands, questions that help them describe to me how they describe themselves, essentially.

So just different questions that prompt them in different ways, and I think every brand needs to share some level of information like that when they’re working with really any type of marketer, right? Because we need to know, things about them, we need to know about their competition, we need to know more details about their audience.

So any sort of like persona information they can send over is always useful. I also like to ask questions about things like, what’s worked in the past? Or what hasn’t. Where have you had those wins, and where have things not gone as well. And things about their social presence, like what, how does this fit into the big picture is also very important to know.

Because that helps to determine how to go about writing a piece of content and, and what the goal is, and how you’re going to try to convert people, whether that’s, you know, just getting them to engage with the brand or getting them to buy from the brand, or maybe somewhere in between.

Why Google E-A-T Should Matter to Everyone

Jon-Mikel Bailey: So, I want to talk a little bit then, as kind of an extension of that about E-A-T, which is expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. I don’t know why Google has to make everything so complicated. And anyway, so Google has this thing called E-A-T. And Google has recently said that E-A-T content is crucial for YMYL websites, which is your money your life.

I’ll post a link to all that stuff, all those acronyms in here, but, you know, you’ve said that you specialize in B2B tech content. So for those companies, you know, and maybe they’re selling to like a manufacturer or they’re selling to some end-user where it’s really you know, it’s boring jargon-filled content is the norm.

Does E-A-T still matter? I mean, how does E-A-T play into all of that type of content because those aren’t really your money your life?

Maddy Osman: It’s like your company’s money and their longevity.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Yeah, exactly.

Maddy Osman: I guess it could affect you too, right? Because if your company runs out of money, then you’re out of a job. So it is kind of your money or like it all bleeds out. It’s a good question.

I think that whenever Google hands down, you know, some sort of rule or guideline and E-A-T and YMYL both come to us from the Google search quality rater guidelines, which I decided to read through in their entirety, like last fall, and it took, like, so many different settings to get through it, because it’s, it’s dense, like 175 pages.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Oh, and it is not a good not an easy read either.

Maddy Osman: No, but I will say it is full of gems, like, if you want a direct line into what Google thinks about quality content, how they would define it, there. It’s worth it. If you’re a content creator, or you know, any sort of SEO who interacts with content at all, which is probably all of them, you should probably read it, even though it’s gonna be painful.

Just get your favorite drink and snack or something, I guess. Yeah. Good luck to you. So I feel like whenever they hand down a directive, even when they’re saying you should focus on this for YMYL I feel like the next version is going to say, do it for all of them, right? It’s like, we’re going to kind of get you used to this concept by, you know, making it relevant to this thing, because of these reasons.

And it does make sense, right, because the YMYL stuff is about getting a job or going to college or making financial decisions. And these are all things that really could affect somebody’s life if they’re taking your advice at face value, but you’re not actually a trustworthy authoritative expert.

So I think it’s safe to say that that’s the way it’s going, where we do want, you know, the author bio to be somebody who has some sort of expertise in the field, or you have some sort of association with the topic, even if it’s like everyday expertise. This just means that you might not have 10 years of experience or something, but that you have familiarity because it’s a hobby for you.

Or they talk about everyday expertise in terms of, you know, you might not be a medical professional, but if you went through liver cancer or something you are qualified to talk about your experience, with, you know, obviously the disclaimer that that was my experience. Um, so yeah, I guess to answer your question, I don’t see why it wouldn’t be worth it. If you have the resources, and you have experts on your team, use them as the byline for the content you’re creating.

And that’s what I’ve been advising my clients who are, you know, primarily in that space, like, don’t use my byline for this particular thing because I’m not the expert. And I might be interviewing them. They are the expert. It’s there, you know, insights. But it makes more sense to put their name on that content. Because I think long term there will be a Google lift for that.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: I think where a lot of them fall down is the T the trustworthiness, they, you know, they can establish the expertise and the authoritativeness. But the trustworthiness just kind of falls flat, because, you know, they’ll beat them over the head with jargon, or they’ll talk down to them or something like that. They’re not making that real connection. I mean, do you agree?

Maddy Osman: Yeah, no, totally. I mean, it’s easy to fall back on that jargon. And so like, one thing in my style guide is every time you introduce a term that even has the chance of not being understood by that audience, like SEO, I’m probably not going to give you the whole acronyms for that.

But if it’s like CRM (customer relationship management), or CTA (call to action), we got to define that, not just spelling it out, but, what the heck is it? And so even though the audience that I write for is primarily digital marketers, I make no assumptions. You could be a beginner, you could be advanced, if you are, you can just skip that part. But, um, but yeah, I think that, okay, I’m losing the original question again. Just

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Just that trustworthy worthiness is where a lot of the B2B tech writers tend to fall down and I think you answered it beautifully, I think. Yeah, I mean, don’t talk down to them. Don’t use acronyms and jargon that they’re not going to understand or assume that, you know, they will understand. I think that’s huge, hugely important.

Maddy Osman: And I was just gonna say to work with a professional. If you’re having trouble translating tough concepts, or if you’re coming across as not being trustworthy or being overly jargony. Like, that’s where a writer can really help you.

And like I was saying before, you probably have all this great information in your head, like, I want to talk to you as part of my process, right? So I want to get that because I don’t know that. And that can really lend like, a lovely, unique angle to an article to have a subject matter expert that you can just bounce stuff off of until you get it right.

So like, that person should be involved in the content creation process, but maybe they’re not the writer or that final editor, at least.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: That makes sense.

The Power of Interviews in Content Marketing

Jon-Mikel Bailey: So I wanted to ask you also about interviews. So obviously, I see the power of interviews, because I’m interviewing you right now. But you know, okay, so I want you to preach here.

Can you outline the power of content interviews, because I see light bulbs go off in marketing directors and VPs of sales and whatnot when I start talking to them about the power of interviews and using interviews, and it’s amazing to me that that this is this might be the first time that someone has suggested this to them?

And I think it’s, you know, I’ll link to your blog post about interviews, because I think it’s a great post, but I’m just amazed, and I kind of want you to get on a soapbox and just preach about the power of interviews because I think it’s underutilized.

Maddy Osman: Totally. Yeah, I think people just don’t think about it. It’s not like all the articles about how to write an awesome article or whatever, you know, it’s just like, not part of this, the standard writing passes because it does add extra steps. You have to coordinate with somebody, you have to come up with questions so that it’s a productive use of both of your time.

You have to go back through that recording and, you know, grab the sound bites and use that to structure an outline. But I think in many ways when you’re doing that interview, even though there’s more work involved in the prep, and even the after the interview stuff, it does make writing a lot easier.

Because you’re not having to go out and do all the research, you have somebody here who is an expert, who’s telling you like it is, and who knows their stuff. So you can, as long as you do your prep, the rest of the process is going to be so much easier. But I’m yet to get more into, like the importance of it.

I think the other thing is, a lot of people go into the content creation process with a lot of idealistic thoughts in terms of like, “yeah, I’m gonna write, you know, 2000 words a week” or whatever, they think that they have time for this. But without a good process, it’s just gonna keep getting pushed off, just like marketing agencies.

And like, I’m guilty of this too. We neglect our own marketing, for the sake of just doing the client work, right. And so it becomes that thing without a process, or even just without the practice of writing on a daily basis, where you just keep pushing it off, and then it never gets done. And you have all these great ideas. I’m not denying that I think a lot of people probably would be very great writers, but it’s about more than ideas.

It’s about just sitting down and doing it pretty much. And if you’re a busy business owner, you just don’t have the time. So, yeah, I think that it is important to do those interviews. And the other reason is because people keep talking about copycat content where you know, you’re going in, you’re trying to like, edge out the people at the top of search, I think Brian Dean calls the like skyscraper content, right?

Like, just make it a little bit better or something like that. And it’s like, okay, but if we’re all doing that how are any of us gonna rank. And so by utilizing the opinions and, whatever from these interviews that you’re doing with people, that’s how you make it unique.

That’s the easiest way to add value to a sales topic, in addition to all the other things that you’re going to do to try to make it better than whatever is already ranking, add an expert interview, and it’s just a whole different thing. And you might find that when you do that interview, you want to take that content in an even completely different direction than you thought because that person gave you some unique insights that you’re not going to find on Google because they’re not there.

The person didn’t write it, you know, because they don’t tend to write. But they do have time to probably get on a 20-minute call with you, where you just run through your questions. maybe ask a couple that come up based on what that person is saying to you. And yeah, I mean, it’s just like, besides interviews, you could also do stuff like working with HARO, which is helped a reporter out, right.

So for those of you who don’t know what HARO is, they basically send out like three emails a day, it’s organized by industry, and it’s just journalists are like, “I need a source for this topic.” And so that’s kind of a self-service way, a quicker way to do it, where you can just respond to whichever ones make the most sense. It’s totally a quantity game to some extent, because not every pitch that you send is going to get accepted.

But that is a good, in the background way to get in other people’s stories, which helps you build backlinks. But you can also use it on your end to send out those queries and get other people’s insights without having to schedule any interviews. So there are different ways you could go about it. But the reason is the same, which is to add a unique and hopefully expert, authoritative, you know, perspective to your work.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: I think it verifies the trustworthiness too when you actually see it from a real person. Yeah, covers that T a lot better, you know, I mean, I’m lazy. So this is great, this interview is great for me because I’m going to get, you know, 4000 to 7000 words of natural language content. Plus, you know, as I go through that, I’ll definitely get some ideas for some new blog posts. So, in essence, what I’m telling you is that I’m completely using you right now.

Maddy Osman: So I mean, you know, it’s like, I get something out of it too, right? Like exposure to your audience, I get to share my expertise, so that hopefully people see me as an expert. So we’re using each other.

Using AI Tools to Create Content

Jon-Mikel Bailey: So my last question is kind of philosophical. So in recent posts, you give an overview of Frase and Clearscope, which are AI content optimization tools. So let’s see if this question makes sense. So is it better to write using tools, or use tools to write and so what I mean by that is, what is more important, the reader or the data at the end of the day?  Deep thoughts by Jon Bailey.

Maddy Osman: So one way I’m interpreting this question is should you use an AI tool to generate text? Is that part of the question?

Jon-Mikel Bailey: To generate the topics for the text, to kind of dictate, you know, what you’re going to write and how you’re going to write it? I mean, you’re still writing it, physically writing it, but are the tools sort of driving your editorial process? Or? Or is it more important to kind of step back and say, “Okay, well, here’s what the tools are saying, but let me also think about the reader and maybe disagree with the tools?”

Maddy Osman: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s both, honestly. So it’s like, the data tells me where to start. And then you go and validate the data by taking whatever keyword suggestions that you’re getting from your keyword research stage, whatever, and actually typing them into Google and seeing what comes up to understand is this even the right keyword for the topic that like I’m talking about right now?

Because even though it seems like it’s related, I’ve been guilty of this in the past, trying to make a keyword work where it actually wasn’t the right intent or the right fit. But I’ve since learned that that’s just silly because I want to reach a certain person, and I want to reach them at a certain point in their buyer’s journey in their search journey.

And if I’m trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, I’m not going to be able to accomplish those goals, even if maybe I could rank for it. And maybe I could be ranked at the top and maybe I could get a lot of traffic from it. But what does any of that mean if it’s not the right person?

So yeah, I think I think those tools are really useful for giving you the stuff to think about, but you still have to use your brain to validate the data. And you have to, you have to use kind of what’s out there to see are we even on the same page in terms of what the customer or whatever wants by using this term?

Jon-Mikel Bailey: See, there you have it, everyone, your brain is still important. An important tool for you to use on a regular basis. All those teachers in school, they were right all along. Even before they knew Google, they knew I knew what was up there. Oh, we have a thing here at Wellspring, which is never trust the tools or trust but verify.

Maddy Osman: Oh, yeah, yeah. Yeah, for sure. The tools, they’re there to help you, right. Just like a power tool when you’re doing construction or whatever. It’s like it makes it easier, makes it quicker. But you still have to know how to use it. You have to use it. And you have to take a look when you’re done to make sure that you didn’t actually staple something to the wrong thing. That’s my that’s the extent of my knowledge construction.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Fair enough. Fair enough. Well, Maddy, thank you so much for doing this with me.

Maddy Osman: Absolutely.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: A lot of great stuff here. This is all really important. And hopefully, you know, I can get some eyeballs on it. Because this is all stuff that I think marketers and just business people, in general, need to know and understand. To succeed in this crazy topsy turvy world we live in. So yeah. So thank you so much. I really appreciate it and stay safe, everybody. And that’s it. We’re done.

Maddy Osman: Thanks for having me.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Absolutely. Anytime.

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Jon-Mikel Bailey is the Chief Development and Marketing Officer for Wellspring Digital, a full-service digital marketing firm specializing in SEO, PPC, Marketing Automation, and Content Marketing. He has been published in MarketingProfs, Business2Community, SpinSucks, {Grow}, Social Media Today, and more. He has spoken at the Digital Summit Series, MarketingProfs, ITE, Grant Thornton, and others.