You’ve probably heard about SEO—search engine optimization. If not, the (very basic) description is that it’s a set of evolving best practices to “optimize” your web presence (usually at least your website) so that it ranks higher on search engine results based on “your” key words or phrases. For example, if you own a dog grooming business in Dallas, one of your key phrases is probably “dog grooming Dallas”. Potential customers Google (since Google is the most popular search engine in the US) “dog grooming Dallas” and you want to show up as high on the Google search results as possible. Studies have shown most people only check out the first few links of a search, and most people never look beyond the first page of search results.
However, being an SEO writer is just one of many skillsets an SEO agency or self-described expert should have. There are many aspects to SEO from finding and analyzing keywords to making a website mobile ready, responsive design, page load speed management and so on.
That being said, “Content is king” is the rally key of many SEO pros. Without good, organic, high quality written content with natural keyword placement, SEO just can’t happen.
No Jack of All Trades Will Do
It would be great if you could hire a single person to “do all your SEO”, but that person doesn’t exist. There are creative aspects to SEO, technical aspects, and plenty of mingling in between. It’s very unlikely that you’ll find a high quality SEO writer who’s also an SEO professional who can make your site mobile ready. Those are two very different skill sets—and SEO requires many more than just those two!
Hiring an “SEO Writer” is also different from hiring other types of writers, even including Web Content Writers. SEO writers have a gift of taking keywords and phrases and fitting them seamlessly into quality content. There is an ideal “keyword density” for SEO text that SEO writers can achieve.
The great news for SEO writers, or a writer who wants to become one, is that there is serious job security. Every single business and person with an online presence wants or needs higher SEO rankings. Plus, “their” SEO keywords are always changing. This means virtually endless work that needs to be updated on a regular basis.
And they said you’d never get a writing job with that English degree!
This blog isn’t about Kimye. Cue either relief or disappointment (but if you really need your Kardashian fix, check out Hollywood Life).
Here’s the thing about clickbait: You kind of need to do it, because otherwise even the best content won’t get as many clicks, as much exposure, or as many shares. That being said, there’s a big gray area when it comes to clickbait. There’s sensationalism, and then there’s marketing standard highlighting. Obviously if you choose a title like, “Kim Kardashian Releases New Sex Tape” and the content is jibberish, a sales pitch for a hair transplant company, or features a clip of Kim K. talking about her efforts to get pregnant again in her new season, you’re not just committing libel. You’re also seriously taking “clickbait” too far.
It’s a catch-22 because your clients (and your SEO rankings) want your headlines to draw people in. Unfortunately, in an era where news is reported in real-time and the idea of breaking a story has pretty much died, how can you come out on top? Yes, you need a catchy headline with SEO elements, but what else? Getting someone to click on a link is just part of the process. If you’re offering up offensive clickbait, you’re also going to get a slew of bouncebacks. Ultimately, your SEO won’t improve from such a shortcut.
Walking the Line
Writing great headlines and titles have a lot of “rules” or best practices. You want it short and sweet enough that it won’t get cropped in search results (both on major search engines and on whatever website the story is being hosted on). For awhile people loved lists, even dubbing them listicles. Now a lot of people hate them, so you have a 50/50 split. You also need to create or curate images that are high quality, have SEO elements themselves, and won’t get you into trouble (copyright infringement, anyone?).
Unfortunately for those looking for a shortcut, they simply don’t exist. You might experience short term gains with clickbait and other gray hat tricks (since some clickbait strategies aren’t quite blackhat), but it won’t last forever.
Plus, the average content consumer is getting savvier with clickbait, and they know how to identify it and what it’s called. If you get “caught” by one viewer, your credibility and reputation may get marred. Leave the hyperbole to your fiction pieces. It’s a world where news happens and is reported nearly simultaneously, so it’s not a race to be first or the most outlandish. It’s a competition to see who can offer the best, most thorough, fact checked, edited content with (legal) complementary images.
I created The Jessica Tyner Scholarship Fund before MehtaFor became a full-fledged business. However, the importance of giving back and social responsibility has always been at the heart of MehtaFor. That’s why the Scholarship has always been featured on the website, and I encourage clients and non-clients alike to apply (if they qualify) and to help spread the word.
I’m excited to announce the 2015-16 Selection Committee! Last year, the selection committee was comprised of established fiction writers and poets. This year, I sought out another niche of the literary world, and arguably the most important: Book lovers and readers.
Please welcome Niyomi Mehta, Erin Smith and Alex Smith who have volunteered their time, efforts and unique perspective to help select the 2015-16 recipient(s)! Niyomi is studying Interior Design in Mumbai, India and knows first-hand the challenges facing today’s students. Erin spent years teaching at the university level in Abu Dhabi, and is now pursuing her PhD in Math Education in Columbia, MO. Her husband, Alex, is pursuing his PhD in Special Education.
Without the selflessness of selection committee members, no scholarship (including this one) would exist. Here’s to a successful year…bring on the applications!
When I was in graduate school (for writing, of course), the department head shared a story of when he used to make big bucks ghost writing books. His anecdote went something like this: “Well before ‘vanity publishing’ was a household phrase, ghost writers were scraping in lofty incomes playing to egos. As a ghost writer, I would always ask the client to meet me in a public place like a small coffee shop. I got there early and set up at a window. My fees for ghost writing a book were the same as the cost of their car. Every time, clients would show up in something like a new 5-series BMW. If they’re willing to spend $50,000 on a car, they won’t think twice about spending $50,000 to immortalize themselves.”
Today, ghost writing isn’t just for books (although that’s still a huge market!). There are ghost writers for blogs, articles, white papers and even social media posts. The majority of my income comes from ghost writing. That’s why I have very few live links featuring my genuine byline—and that’s perfectly fine with me. However, what I find interesting is that, apparently, it’s not acceptable to a lot of writers.
When I’m first negotiating with a new client, the trepidation in their (written) voice is nearly palpable when it comes to bylines. They’re almost always apologetic that my real name won’t be used. Sometimes I’ve even been asked to create a fake bio for pseudonyms (“Larry” was my favorite) and I write as Larrys, Evelyns, Joes and Barbaras. Personally, I don’t care. I’m not getting paid or sought out for my name. I’m getting paid for what I deliver.
When a client pays me for a product or service, the end result is theirs to do with as they wish. This isn’t like writing or publishing poetry, which is what I consider my passion project. The work I get paid for on a daily basis isn’t “my baby” because, quite frankly, I’ve sold that baby to someone else. I was simply a surrogate.
Is Ghosting for You?
Unfortunately, not all writers are ready to “give up the ghost” and they prioritize having their name attached to their work. There are a myriad of reasons for this, and none of them are wrong. Maybe they’re attached to their work and can’t bear to let someone else take credit for it. Maybe they’re trying to build their reputation as an expert in search engine optimization, social media, or circus training. Maybe they just don’t think the fees they’re getting paid are worth the value of their words.
However, bear in mind that (much like contracting), you can probably get more money if you let a client use their name (or whatever name they like). What’s more important to you—the income or the credit? It could vary from piece to piece and client to client, but until you’re a thought leader in XYZ field, your worth is likely higher for your writing rather than your name.
Breaking up is hard to do, whether it’s with a love interest or a business client. People tend to hold on to things longer than they should. They cling when the relationship isn’t benefitting them, when it’s not fitting either party, and when it’s obvious ties should be severed. Nobody likes to have “the talk”—and it can be even more nerve wracking when you feel indebted to the other party. I’m no exception.
I’ve continued working for clients even when they still paid me at a rate 50 percent less than my standard. I felt indebted to them because I had worked for them for so long. There was a time, years ago, when our agreed upon rate was fair for my experience. Maybe they gave me a chance in an industry that I didn’t know at all. It’s likely that I “liked” the client and let emotions get involved where they didn’t belong.
As a writer, whether freelance or with your own business, there will come a time when you need to break things off with a client. Don’t linger. The Band-Aid approach is best.
Here are a few clues that the relationship is dead. The sooner you snip off that dead weight, the sooner you open yourself up to more, better, and more lucrative opportunities.
They won’t/can’t meet your current standard rate
I’ve posted about this before, but I highly encourage writers to only charge per word or a flat rate per project based on average word counts. Never charge per hour—but make sure you have a personal “hourly rate” that you “need” to meet in order to grow your business. If it takes you 20 minutes to create a $20 piece, that’s $60 per hour. For some writers at certain points in their career, that’s a reasonable amount.
However, if you have a client or project that ends up paying you anything below $60 per hour, it’s time to call it quits. Otherwise, you’re stalling your career and your revenue.
You dread their projects
There will always be times when you don’t want to write at all, or you don’t want to write for a certain client. However, if this happens every single time you have to write for a specific client, that’s a red flag. You’ve reached burn out and there’s only one cure: Letting them go. Only you can ask yourself if the pay makes it “worth it”. For example, if your minimum hourly rate is that $60 but this client pays $100 per hour, you might think it’s worth sticking around. Or you might not—that’s your call, and only you know what your hour is worth.
They’ve been complaining more often than usual
In my experience, it’s very rare for a client to complain or ask for re-drafts after your initial learning curve. Of course, some clients are more demanding than others. Personally, if a newish client has continual requests for changes, I usually end things right there—it’s clear this isn’t a good match for either of us.
On the other hand, if an existing client starts suddenly requesting more changes, has more complaints, or otherwise is taking up more time than usual, read between the lines. This means one of two things: Either there’s a new manager somewhere in the mix you’re not meshing with (and likely never will), or you’re nor performing like you used to because you’re burned out. Either way, it may be time to move on.
So, how do you break up with a client? There are as many ways to break up with a client as there are to break up with a significant other. Be professional, be clear, and don’t leave any wiggle room. You can certainly come up with an excuse if you like, such as a mysterious new project that will take all of your time, but avoid bridge burning. After all, you never know when that client might come up with a new project that’s more in line with your passion—and pays handsomely.
I know things have been quiet on the blog front for awhile. I’m in India until February 16 for a formal engagement ceremony (and the Wi-Fi, at best, is ornery!). However, I’m happy to announce that my first bid request for a new project just rolled in on the MehtaFor site! I’ll be hitting the computer clacking when I’m back in the US thanks to my current and potential projects.
Some of you know that MehtaFor transitioned from my “old” website that, quite frankly, was a holding place until some behind the scenes paperwork/deals/etc. were made.
Thank you to everyone who helped make the soft launch of MehtaFor successful. I plan to roll out the “official” launch by the end of February!
As an entrepreneur, small business owner, freelancer-writer-who’s-actually-making-money, where your business is established (or where your permanent residency is) matters. A lot. In the US, there are various pros and cons state by state. There are a few states with zero income tax at all—which means you only pay federal tax (not state). This can make or break a small business, especially when you compare the nine percent income tax in Oregon to the zero percent in Washington State (for those of you not in the Pacific Northwest, Portland, Ore. and Vancouver, Wash. are just a few minutes away. It’s also why my residency is in Washington).
There are other states like Nevada and Delaware that offer the same zero-tax allure. However, it’s not just income tax rates (or lack thereof) to consider. The “richer” a state is, the more support for entrepreneurs you’re likely to find. California, even with Silicon Valley hanging on for dear life, is a notoriously broke state with high income taxes. The cost of living in startup-rich areas is also through the roof. Then there’s the sales taxes (as an Oregonian, I have to toot our “no sales tax” status here).
Planting Business Roots
I’m just using California as an example, and this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider the Golden State for your startup. Maybe it’s necessary that your tech-based startup is close to some of the best talent in the industry. Perhaps your partner is finishing a graduate program, has a geo-based job they adore, or you’re committed to taking care of an aging parent. Where you establish your business/residency should be a priority—but it’s not the only one.
However, for the entrepreneurs with few strings and commitments, there’s also the option of moving abroad. I personally have enjoyed “foreign income exemption” three times in my life while living in the UK, South Korea and Costa Rica. This is a means of legally avoiding the majority of federal taxes and income taxes via becoming an ex-pat. Of course, there are rules.
Traveling Abroad? Try Living Abroad!
The US has agreements with a number of countries in order to avoid doubly taxing American business owners. The idea is that you pay taxes in your adopted country (the rates, means of doing so, regulations and details are up to you and your CPA to figure out), which takes the place of most US federal taxes.
By being outside the US 330+ days per year, it doesn’t matter if you live abroad and 100 percent of your clients are in the US. You’re considered an ex-pat with residency in another country, and the only federal taxes you have to pay are Social Security and Medicare (there’s absolutely no getting around these) up to a certain point.
Nothing Certain in Life but Death and Ta—Actually, Just Death
There’s a cap on how much of your total income is exempt with this maneuver, but in 2014 it was $94,500. That’s a pretty big chunk of your income to avoid the majority of taxes. Plus, play your cards right and you can find a country that’s paradise to you with seriously low cost of living. With the influx of virtual offices, you can earn an American salary (with US clients) while taking advantage of a cost of living on par with what your parents recall from their childhood.
No matter where you establish your business and/or residency, don’t let convenience dictate what you do. Do the research, consider the possibilities, and work with a reputable CPA to map out the best plan for you.
“Mobile readiness” is more than just a 2014 buzzword—and it has a lot more staying power than its counterparts like “on fleek”, “bae” and “thot”. Really, it’s just a name given to a movement that’s already arrived, and it’s just what it sounds like. Mobile readiness means that your website or business is “ready” for any mobile device. It sounds pretty simple, but it’s actually a big beast to tame.
Consider how many mobile devices are out there, from smartphones to tablets, and how many will be launching this year alone. Then think about all the mobile devices used around the world, like those multi-million dollar gold-plated phone behemoths in the United Arab Emirates (I’m speaking from astounded personal experience here).
But What the Heck is It?
Ask different experts what “mobile readiness” is and you’ll get a bevy of different responses. However, I’ve found that it generally falls into two categories: A mobile version of a website, an app, or both. I’m also of the camp that considers mobile readiness a sub-category of responsive design (RD). RD is also just what it sounds like: Making sure a website is “designed” so it “responds” quickly and well no matter what device or platform a person is using.
Obviously you want your website to load quickly and display appropriately no matter what. However, that’s getting tougher and tougher with new mobile devices seemingly popping up every day. Plus, mobile users are even more demanding than desktop users! Google researchers recently found that mobile users won’t wait a blink of an eye longer than they deem necessary for a page to load.
Instant gratification. It’s the MO of the mobile world.
So…Am I Mobile Ready?
Maybe. Remember that just because your website looks great on your various gadgets, that doesn’t mean it’s true for everyone else. Try checking out your website on your Chrome browser vs. Internet Explorer (or any other combination) and you’ll easily see there are big differences—and that’s on the same device with the same Wi-Fi! Just imagine how your site might appear to someone with a totally different device using Firefox and relying on dial-up in rural India. Suddenly the need for mobile readiness makes a lot more sense.
There are a few ways to tackle mobile readiness:
Make sure your website is designed for mobile readiness. Obviously, right? The good news is that platforms like WordPress automatically include responsive design. If you rely on a web designer, you need to have the RD/mobile readiness discussion pronto and find out what they’re doing to ensure a good user experience.
Check your web host. There’s only so much you or your web designer can do to offer fast loading times. Your web host also plays a role. A lot of people go with the default web hosting option offered when they register their domain. There are thousands of web hosts out there—shop around. (I also write for Hosst, which offers some great tips on web hosting selection).
Get your images in check. This falls into the overall mobile readiness/RD design aspect, but images that are too big can wreak havoc on your load time. Plus, they might not necessarily be displaying well on mobile devices with small screens.
What About That App and Mobile Website?
Here’s the deal: Not everyone (and every site) needs an app or a mobile version of their website. Only you can determine that, preferably with research and asking your audience what they want. If an app won’t benefit you and nobody will use it, why waste the time and effort on developing one? If a mobile version of your website isn’t more convenient than the “regular” version, why bother?
Responsive design is a must. Mobile readiness is an option. Start with RD, then ask yourself whether mobile readiness will benefit you, your business and your audience.
Some people have really strong opinions about New Year’s resolutions—kind of like the Oxford comma, Valentine’s Day, or the best way to make a grilled cheese sandwich (it’s with that really cheap, sliced, fake American cheese in case you’re wondering). For me, the New Year can be used as a reminder for getting back on track, re-approaching goals that haven’t been achieved yet, or simply an excuse to reflect (after all, you’re probably not able to do much else in that holiday food-induced coma). Call them reminders, resolutions, or anything else you like. As writers, I think there are a few things we should commit to focusing on year-round.
Obviously, these “reminder-lutions” are very specific to me as a writer, but I hope you can use some of them, too. Modify them, advance them, use them as a springboard or count yourself lucky if you’ve already achieved them. Here’s to a fruitful, word-filled year!
The more eyes, the better
Our brains are so incredibly savvy that we self-correct, fill in the blanks, and do anything else possible to “fix” a typo in our heads—without actually doing it on paper. In my experience, writers and editors are complementary professionals, but from very different camps. You’re probably a better writer than editor, or vice versa. However, when it’s your piece on the chopping block, there’s no such thing as too many eyes on the paper (or too many editors).
Publishing isn’t validation
Getting published doesn’t actually validate your worth as a writer. Neither does winning a Pulitzer, or having more bylines than anyone else. You’ve heard it before—a lot of the world’s “great writers” were turned down numerous times. Consider this: In the world of literature (or blogging, or anything else writing-centric), exposure, publishing, re-posts and the like are what many people think makes someone a “real writer”.
The opposite is true in music. An artist who’s in the Top 40 or a pop (ahem, popular) artist is often seen as a sellout who doesn’t make “real music”. The “real music” is in the underground. If that same perspective was embraced for writers, think of all those underdog, unpublished, struggling, broke “real writers” we’d be celebrating!
If validation is your driving force as a writer, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Write because you have to, you want to, you have something to say and written words are your medium of choice.
SEO isn’t going anywhere, so learn to love it
If your writing appears online, SEO matters. Learn to follow the best practices, love them, and use them as a tool for getting your pieces seen. The purpose of SEO is to connect readers with the best, most relevant content they’re searching for. SEO isn’t out to get you. If that means proper keyword placement and density, so be it. A good writer will be able to create organic, SEO-rich content without losing any of their style or value. Rise to the challenge.
Accept that some people won’t like your writing (or you)
There’s no such thing as writing (or a person) that appeals to everyone. You’ll get rejected (sometimes numerous times) and have some harsh criticism tossed your way. Writers need to have thick skin for self-preservation, but unfortunately many sensitive types are attracted to writing. Don’t get me wrong, sensitivity is a highly desirable trait that has many upsides, but it can also make you vulnerable to some severe self-esteem blows.
I have two experiences to share with you. I published my first book of poems in 2014, “The Last Exotic Petting Zoo”, via a traditional print press. One of the poems included was previously published in a poetry journal. However, it was rejected by another journal first—complete with a lengthy “criticism” (around 1,000 words in length) that wasn’t criticism at all, but rather an attack. The piece was called “clichéd”, “weak”, “disappointing” and other unhelpful things with no direction on bettering it. This particular poem was later nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and included in the book. Not everyone will love what you write, but know the difference between constructive criticism and someone taking things out on you.
The other example was with a past client. Each writer had an editor (although we never “mixed” and none of us even knew the names of our editors—the projects all passed through an internal system). By mistake, my editor accidentally emailed me as well as the managers/owners of the company with a long list of why she didn’t like me as a person (not my writing). It started out, “Jessica just isn’t likable”.
The reminder-lution? Stay professional. Work on thickening your skin while preserving the good stuff about being sensitive. And remember that if a remark is more attack than constructive, it’s about them—not you or your writing.
You don’t have to be a stereotype
All great writers are drunks. Depressed. Suicidal or self-harming. Self-involved to a narcissistic level. Sex starved or unable to be in a healthy, committed relationship. The stereotypes about writers run rampant—and everyone has their demons or struggles. I’ve had friends tell me “You should try writing drunk.” Luckily (for my liver and life in general), I’m a terrible writer when I drink. You don’t have to be self-destructive, have a torrid past, or have dangerous vices in order to be a fantastic writer. Material is all around you, so there’s no need to create a surplus.
These are my reminder-lutions for 2015 and beyond. How are you going to be a better writer in the next year?