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8 Free Courses For Writers & Content Marketers

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8 Free Courses For Writers & Content Marketers


Increasing online competition and advancements in search technologies mean that writing content is about more than just having a solid grasp of the English language.

Great content that performs well takes into account a variety of marketing factors that not even the most seasoned writers are necessarily familiar with.

Before beginning to write content, you’ll want to consider:

  • How you’re going to optimize the piece with keywords, topical relevance, internal linking, and more.
  • How you’ll write for a diverse audience.
  • How you’ll ensure all of the writing has a consistent tone and style.
  • Whether you should hire writers who are experts in the subject matter, or writers who are experts at writing online content. In certain industries, it can be tough to find both.
  • How much will you pay your writers?
  • How many articles you are able to write and publish per week.
  • Who is going to manage the content when it comes to responding to comments, making sure links are not broken, etc.
  • In terms of marketing, which analytics reports you are going to use to make conclusions about the success or failure of each piece.
  • How you will incorporate different content types – video, infographics, ebooks, polls, reviews, interviews, etc.

It’s safe to say that if you want to write successful content that gets a lot of attention, it’s probably a good idea to get some training on both writing and marketing.

Fortunately, getting the training you need doesn’t have to mean shelling out a lot of money from your budget.

There are tons of free online courses that can help you learn everything you need to know to get the links and shares your business needs.

Read on for some favorites from myself and friends!

Top 8 Free Online Courses On Content Marketing & Writing

Disclaimer: I have not taken all of the courses listed below, but I have taken a few, and I know at least one person who has recommended the others.

They’ve also received numerous positive reviews from the hundreds of others who have taken the courses.

Without further ado, below are some of the best out there.

Skillshare Courses

Skillshare allows you to start free for 14 days, and then after that, it is a yearly fee of $96.00.

Once you pay for the membership, all of the classes are free within Skillshare.

If you don’t want to purchase a membership, the courses below can be purchased separately for anywhere from $10-20.

Still, I’ve added them to the list because you can get quite a few courses done for free during your 14-day trial.

1. Content Marketing: Blogging for Growth 

This course is taught by Eric Siu, CEO of Single Grain and Founder at Growth Everywhere.

This 80-minute class will teach you various blog-writing styles, how to brainstorm a topic, and then develop your notes from a brainstorming session to a full-on blog post. He even goes into detail on how to create an engaging headline and feature image.

This is a beginner course perfect for business owners and marketers, and it has a 95% positive review rate.

At the end of the course, you’ll have written an original blog post to share, which hopefully will be the first in a successful content marketing strategy!

2. Become a Better Blogger: Content Planning

This is a course by Andrea Goulet Ford of Corgibytes, a team of expert developers who not only offer maintenance services, but courses to boot!

Ford was an unknown name to me, but her loyal followers seem to swear by her advice, so I gave the course a try and was very impressed.

She has worked with government agencies, Fortune 500 companies, and many more across the board.

This subject matter seems fairly simple, but planning can be very intricate. She helps you create a resource library to refer back to in the future, AND she makes sure that you walk away with three months’ worth of online content all planned out.

Udemy Courses

Udemy is probably the most popular avenue for online marketers when it comes to taking free classes.

They have free options (all mentioned below) as well as paid options and offer more than 32,000 courses, 18,000 instructors, and 80+ course languages.

3. Content Marketing for B2B Enterprises

This course is best for B2B companies, but it’s worth mentioning because it’s one of the few good Udemy classes that are free.

The course is by William Flanagan, CEO and Founder of Audienti, and it’s great because it uses actual scenarios that Flanagan has dealt with in his own business as well as of his clients.

There are six sections to the class, including Creating Interesting Relevant Content, Publishing Content for Conversion, and Getting Content in front of Your Audience.

4. WordPress for Beginners: Create a Website Step by Step

This might seem unconventional, but part of content marketing is knowing how to take advantage of all WordPress has to offer.

This is important for SEO as well as user experience.

The course covers posts vs. pages, the Content Editor, media files, categories and tags, content widgets, and more confusing little options you have.

It’s a basic course and best for beginners, but necessary if you have any questions about what WordPress can offer.

Coursera Courses

Coursera courses are on the rise.

The education platform partners with top universities and organizations worldwide and makes it easy for anyone to sign up (similarly to Udemy, except it’s a bit pricier and works with colleges and universities).

Coursera also has one of the largest libraries of classes in all different categories, so this is one of my favorite platforms.

5. Content Strategy for Professionals Specialization

There are four parts to this course: “Engaging Audiences,” “Managing Content,” “Expanding your Content’s Reach,” and “Ensuring your Content’s Impact.”

The course ends with a final capstone project where you use the knowledge you’ve gained in the prior four courses to design a content strategy package.

The course says that it is designed for entry-level, for-profit, non-profit, volunteer, and government enterprises, and it’s a great way to learn some of the basics of content marketing and how it can relate to a business strategy as a whole.

It’s a beginner-level course, and if you spend approximately two hours per week on the classes, you will finish in about four months.

The best part is it’s completely free, although you do have the option of getting a Verified Certificate from Northwestern University for completing the course for $49.00.

6. High-Impact Business Writing

This is the only course on the list that isn’t free, but it’s only $35 for eight hours of videos, readings, and quizzes, which is pretty inexpensive for a Coursera course from the University of California, Irvine.

This course is unique because it’s one of the few options that put a heavy focus on the actual act of writing as opposed to content marketing.

It teaches you how to write and communicate effectively in the business world.

Naturally, a lot of this is writing for an online audience and online publications (although it does get into writing business proposals, memos, etc.). If polishing up your writing skills is what you’re after, this single-course is a great option.

This course is part of a 10-course series called Career Success Specialization, which you can opt to take from the link above.

General Website Courses

If you keep an eye out, you’ll notice different agencies and businesses around the web oftentimes offer courses taught by their professionals. Below are two of my favorites:

7. HubSpot’s Inbound Certification

This course doesn’t focus on writing or content marketing specifically, but it’s worth mentioning if you’re interested in how those two areas help an online strategy as a whole.

You learn everything from creating landing pages, closing sales, and more.

HubSpot is one of the leading marketing resources on the web with some of the best content featured on their five blogs, so their course is no doubt top-notch.

Once you pass the course, you get a personalized badge and certificate that you can display on your website, email signature, LinkedIn profiles, etc.

8. Online Marketing Institute: Content Storytelling Rules for the Digital Marketer

Much like Skillshare, the Online Marketing Institute offers a free trial that allows you to try any courses you wish.

They have 70 different content marketing classes to choose from all sorted by Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced level.

The Content Storytelling class is pretty unique because it helps you understand storytelling fundamentals and how you can get creative so your content is more engaging.

Creativity is something that many businesses are lacking, so this is a cool course if you’re looking to step outside of your comfort zone.

Conclusion

Good content writers are in high demand, and we don’t see that changing any time soon.

It’s even possible to make a full-time income just through content writing if you take the time to learn the ins and out of the business.

The list above is a great starting point if you’re looking to expand your content writing skills, but it’s by no means an all-inclusive list.

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How to Block ChatGPT From Using Your Website Content

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How to Block ChatGPT From Using Your Website Content

There is concern about the lack of an easy way to opt out of having one’s content used to train large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT. There is a way to do it, but it’s neither straightforward nor guaranteed to work.

How AIs Learn From Your Content

Large Language Models (LLMs) are trained on data that originates from multiple sources. Many of these datasets are open source and are freely used for training AIs.

Some of the sources used are:

  • Wikipedia
  • Government court records
  • Books
  • Emails
  • Crawled websites

There are actually portals and websites offering datasets that are giving away vast amounts of information.

One of the portals is hosted by Amazon, offering thousands of datasets at the Registry of Open Data on AWS.

Screenshot from Amazon, January 2023

The Amazon portal with thousands of datasets is just one portal out of many others that contain more datasets.

Wikipedia lists 28 portals for downloading datasets, including the Google Dataset and the Hugging Face portals for finding thousands of datasets.

Datasets of Web Content

OpenWebText

A popular dataset of web content is called OpenWebText. OpenWebText consists of URLs found on Reddit posts that had at least three upvotes.

The idea is that these URLs are trustworthy and will contain quality content. I couldn’t find information about a user agent for their crawler, maybe it’s just identified as Python, I’m not sure.

Nevertheless, we do know that if your site is linked from Reddit with at least three upvotes then there’s a good chance that your site is in the OpenWebText dataset.

More information about OpenWebText is here.

Common Crawl

One of the most commonly used datasets for Internet content is offered by a non-profit organization called Common Crawl.

Common Crawl data comes from a bot that crawls the entire Internet.

The data is downloaded by organizations wishing to use the data and then cleaned of spammy sites, etc.

The name of the Common Crawl bot is, CCBot.

CCBot obeys the robots.txt protocol so it is possible to block Common Crawl with Robots.txt and prevent your website data from making it into another dataset.

However, if your site has already been crawled then it’s likely already included in multiple datasets.

Nevertheless, by blocking Common Crawl it’s possible to opt out your website content from being included in new datasets sourced from newer Common Crawl data.

The CCBot User-Agent string is:

CCBot/2.0

Add the following to your robots.txt file to block the Common Crawl bot:

User-agent: CCBot
Disallow: /

An additional way to confirm if a CCBot user agent is legit is that it crawls from Amazon AWS IP addresses.

CCBot also obeys the nofollow robots meta tag directives.

Use this in your robots meta tag:

<meta name="robots" content="nofollow">

Blocking AI From Using Your Content

Search engines allow websites to opt out of being crawled. Common Crawl also allows opting out. But there is currently no way to remove one’s website content from existing datasets.

Furthermore, research scientists don’t seem to offer website publishers a way to opt out of being crawled.

The article, Is ChatGPT Use Of Web Content Fair? explores the topic of whether it’s even ethical to use website data without permission or a way to opt out.

Many publishers may appreciate it if in the near future, they are given more say on how their content is used, especially by AI products like ChatGPT.

Whether that will happen is unknown at this time.

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Featured image by Shutterstock/ViDI Studio



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Google’s Mueller Criticizes Negative SEO & Link Disavow Companies

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Google's Mueller Criticizes Negative SEO & Link Disavow Companies

John Mueller recently made strong statements against SEO companies that provide negative SEO and other agencies that provide link disavow services outside of the tool’s intended purpose, saying that they are “cashing in” on clients who don’t know better.

While many frequently say that Mueller and other Googlers are ambiguous, even on the topic of link disavows.

The fact however is that Mueller and other Googlers have consistently recommended against using the link disavow tool.

This may be the first time Mueller actually portrayed SEOs who liberally recommend link disavows in a negative light.

What Led to John Mueller’s Rebuke

The context of Mueller’s comments about negative SEO and link disavow companies started with a tweet by Ryan Jones (@RyanJones)

Ryan tweeted that he was shocked at how many SEOs regularly offer disavowing links.

He tweeted:

“I’m still shocked at how many seos regularly disavow links. Why? Unless you spammed them or have a manual action you’re probably doing more harm than good.”

The reason why Ryan is shocked is because Google has consistently recommended the tool for disavowing paid/spammy links that the sites (or their SEOs) are responsible for.

And yet, here we are, eleven years later, and SEOs are still misusing the tool for removing other kinds of tools.

Here’s the background information about that.

Link Disavow Tool

In the mid 2000’s there was a thriving open market for paid links prior to the Penguin Update in April 2012. The commerce in paid links was staggering.

I knew of one publisher with around fifty websites who received a $30,000 check every month for hosting paid links on his site.

Even though I advised my clients against it, some of them still purchased links because they saw everyone else was buying them and getting away with it.

The Penguin Update caused the link selling boom collapsed.

Thousands of websites lost rankings.

SEOs and affected websites strained under the burden of having to contact all the sites from which they purchased paid links to ask to have them removed.

So some in the SEO community asked Google for a more convenient way to disavow the links.

Months went by and after resisting the requests, Google relented and released a disavow tool.

Google cautioned from the very beginning to only use the tool for disavowing links that the site publishers (or their SEOs) are responsible for.

The first paragraph of Google’s October 2012 announcement of the link disavow tool leaves no doubt on when to use the tool:

“Today we’re introducing a tool that enables you to disavow links to your site.

If you’ve been notified of a manual spam action based on ‘unnatural links’ pointing to your site, this tool can help you address the issue.

If you haven’t gotten this notification, this tool generally isn’t something you need to worry about.”

The message couldn’t be clearer.

But at some point in time, link disavowing became a service applied to random and “spammy looking” links, which is not what the tool is for.

Link Disavow Takes Months To Work

There are many anecdotes about link disavows that helped sites regain rankings.

They aren’t lying, I know credible and honest people who have made this claim.

But here’s the thing, John Mueller has confirmed that the link disavow process takes months to work its way through Google’s algorithm.

Sometimes things happen that are not related, no correlation. It just looks that way.

John shared how long it takes for a link disavow to work in a Webmaster Hangout:

“With regards to this particular case, where you’re saying you submitted a disavow file and then the ranking dropped or the visibility dropped, especially a few days later, I would assume that that is not related.

So in particular with the disavow file, what happens is we take that file into account when we reprocess the links kind of pointing to your website.

And this is a process that happens incrementally over a period of time where I would expect it would have an effect over the course of… I don’t know… maybe three, four, five, six months …kind of step by step going in that direction.

So if you’re saying that you saw an effect within a couple of days and it was a really strong effect then I would assume that this effect is completely unrelated to the disavow file. …it sounds like you still haven’t figured out what might be causing this.”

John Mueller: Negative SEO and Link Disavow Companies are Making Stuff Up

Context is important to understand what was said.

So here’s the context for John Mueller’s remark.

An SEO responded to Ryan’s tweet about being shocked at how many SEOs regularly disavow links.

The person responding to Ryan tweeted that disavowing links was still important, that agencies provide negative SEO services to take down websites and that link disavow is a way to combat the negative links.

The SEO (SEOGuruJaipur) tweeted:

“Google still gives penalties for backlinks (for example, 14 Dec update, so disavowing links is still important.”

SEOGuruJaipur next began tweeting about negative SEO companies.

Negative SEO companies are those that will build spammy links to a client’s competitor in order to make the competitor’s rankings drop.

SEOGuruJaipur tweeted:

“There are so many agencies that provide services to down competitors; they create backlinks for competitors such as comments, bookmarking, directory, and article submission on low quality sites.”

SEOGuruJaipur continued discussing negative SEO link builders, saying that only high trust sites are immune to the negative SEO links.

He tweeted:

“Agencies know what kind of links hurt the website because they have been doing this for a long time.

It’s only hard to down for very trusted sites. Even some agencies provide a money back guarantee as well.

They will provide you examples as well with proper insights.”

John Mueller tweeted his response to the above tweets:

“That’s all made up & irrelevant.

These agencies (both those creating, and those disavowing) are just making stuff up, and cashing in from those who don’t know better.”

Then someone else joined the discussion:

Mueller tweeted a response:

“Don’t waste your time on it; do things that build up your site instead.”

Unambiguous Statement on Negative SEO and Link Disavow Services

A statement by John Mueller (or anyone) can appear to conflict with prior statements when taken out of context.

That’s why I not only placed his statements into their original context but also the history going back eleven years that is a part of that discussion.

It’s clear that John Mueller feels that those selling negative SEO services and those providing disavow services outside of the intended use are “making stuff up” and “cashing in” on clients who might not “know better.”

Featured image by Shutterstock/Asier Romero



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Source Code Leak Shows New Ranking Factors to Consider

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Source Code Leak Shows New Ranking Factors to Consider

January 25, 2023, the day that Yandex—Russia’s search engine—was hacked. 

Its complete source code was leaked online. And, it might not be the first time we’ve seen hacking happen in this industry, but it is one of the most intriguing, groundbreaking events in years.

But Yandex isn’t Google, so why should we care? Here’s why we do: these two search engines are very similar in how they process technical elements of a website, and this leak just showed us the 1,922 ranking factors Yandex uses in its algorithm. 

Simply put, this information is something that we can use to our advantage to get more traffic from Google.

Yandex vs Google

As I said, a lot of these ranking factors are possibly quite similar to the signals that Google uses for search.

Yandex’s algorithm shows a RankBrain analog: MatrixNext. It also seems that they are using PageRank (almost the same way as Google does), and a lot of their text algorithms are the same. Interestingly, there are also a lot of ex-Googlers working in Yandex. 

So, reviewing these factors and understanding how they play into search rankings and traffic will provide some very useful insights into how search engines like Google work. No doubt, this new trove of information will greatly influence the SEO market in the months to come. 

That said, Yandex isn’t Google. The chances of Google having the exact same list of ranking factors is low — and Google may not even give that signal the same amount of weight that Yandex does. 

Still, it’s information that potentially will be useful for driving traffic, so make sure to take a look at them here (before it’s scrubbed from the internet forever).

An early analysis of ranking factors

Many of their ranking factors are as expected. These include:

  • Many link-related factors (e.g., age, relevancy, etc.).
  • Content relevance, age, and freshness.
  • Host reliability
  • End-user behavior signals.

Some sites also get preference (such as Wikipedia). FI_VISITS_FROM_WIKI even shows that sites that are referenced by Wikipedia get plus points. 

These are all things that we already know.

But something interesting: there were several factors that I and other SEOs found unusual, such as PageRank being the 17th highest weighted factor in Yandex, and the 19th highest weighted factor being query-document relevance (in other words, how close they match thematically). There’s also karma for likely spam hosts, based on Whois information.

Other interesting factors are the average domain ranking across queries, percent of organic traffic, and the number of unique visitors.

You can also use this Yandex Search Ranking Factor Explorer, created by Rob Ousbey, to search through the various ranking factors.

The possible negative ranking factors:

Here’s my thoughts on Yandex’s factors that I found interesting: 

FI_ADV: -0.2509284637 — this factor means having tons of adverts scattered around your page and buying PPC can affect rankings. 

FI_DATER_AGE: -0.2074373667 — this one evaluates content age, and whether your article is more than 10 years old, or if there’s no determinable date. Date metadata is important. 

FI_COMM_LINKS_SEO_HOSTS: -0.1809636391 — this can be a negative factor if you have too much commercial anchor text, particularly if the proportion of such links goes above 50%. Pay attention to anchor text distribution. I’ve written a guide on how to effectively use anchor texts if you need some help on this. 

FI_RANK_ARTROZ — outdated, poorly written text will bring your rankings down. Go through your site and give your content a refresh. FI_WORD_COUNT also shows that the number of words matter, so avoid having low-content pages.

FI_URL_HAS_NO_DIGITS, FI_NUM_SLASHES, FI_FULL_URL_FRACTION — urls shouldn’t have digits, too many slashes (too much hierarchy), and of course contain your targeted keyword.

FI_NUM_LINKS_FROM_MP — always interlink your main pages (such as your homepage or landing pages) to any other important content you want to rank. Otherwise, it can hurt your content.

FI_HOPS — reduce the crawl depth for any pages that matter to you. No important pages should be more than a few clicks away from your homepage. I recommend keeping it to two clicks, at most. 

FI_IS_UNREACHABLE — likewise, avoid making any important page an orphan page. If it’s unreachable from your homepage, it’s as good as dead in the eyes of the search engine.

The possible positive ranking factors:

FI_IS_COM: +0.2762504972 — .com domains get a boost in rankings.

FI_YABAR_HOST_VISITORS — the more traffic you get, the more ranking power your site has. The strategy of targeting smaller, easier keywords first to build up an audience before targeting harder keywords can help you build traffic.

FI_BEAST_HOST_MEAN_POS — the average position of the host for keywords affects your overall ranking. This factor and the previous one clearly show that being smart with your keyword and content planning matters. If you need help with that, check out these 5 ways to build a solid SEO strategy.

FI_YABAR_HOST_SEARCH_TRAFFIC — this might look bad but shows that having other traffic sources (such as social media, direct search, and PPC) is good for your site. Yandex uses this to determine if a real site is being run, not just some spammy SEO project.

This one includes a whole host of CTR-related factors. 

CTR ranking factors from Yandex

It’s clear that having searchable and interesting titles that drive users to check your content out is something that positively affects your rankings.

Google is rewarding sites that help end a user’s search journey (as we know from the latest mobile search updates and even the Helpful Content update). Do what you can to answer the query early on in your article. The factor “FI_VISITORS_RETURN_MONTH_SHARE“ also shows that it helps to encourage users to return to your site for more information on the topics they’re interested in. Email marketing is a handy tool here.

FI_GOOD_RATIO and FI_MANY_BAD — the percentage of “good” and “bad” backlinks on your site. Getting your backlinks from high-quality websites with traffic is important for your rankings. The factor FI_LINK_AGE also shows that adding a link-building strategy to your SEO as early as possible can help with your rankings.

FI_SOCIAL_URL_IS_VERIFIED — that little blue check has actual benefits now. Links from verified accounts have more weight.

Key Takeaway

Yandex and Google, being so similar to each other in theory, means that this data leak is something we must pay attention to. 

Several of these factors may already be common knowledge amongst SEOs, but having them confirmed by another search engine enforces how important they are for your strategy.

These initial findings, and understanding what it might mean for your website, can help you identify what to improve, what to scrap, and what to focus on when it comes to your SEO strategy. 

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