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How To Find, Train & Retain Top Talent

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How To Find, Train & Retain Top Talent


For most, the benefits of using freelance writers for your digital marketing agency or business far outweigh the challenges.

One of the greatest pros is the higher ROI you may enjoy as a result of not having to hire a full-time writer in-house, especially when content volume doesn’t call for it.

However, you may experience challenges around timeliness and getting freelancers to follow your outlines and direction.

There are other challenges, such as training them for growth and retaining them for the long haul, too.

And then there’s the most challenging situation of all – ending the contract with a freelance writer who just isn’t working out.

Outsourcing content creation comes with risks, as bad hires can damage your company image by plagiarizing content or spreading harmful gossip.

In this article, you’ll find tips to help avoid these potential pitfalls and make the most of your freelance writer relationships by learning how to find, train, retain, and even let go of freelance writers in the best possible ways.

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How To Find Online Writers

Successful agencies have clients across various niches and can’t expect one writer to be an expert at everything for each client.

In fact, I’ve met only a few writers who write proficiently for every client.

Those types are difficult to find, and if you do discover one of these “factotum” writers, it’s best to retain them.

These freelance writers have the endurance to consistently turn out quality work.

They possess the desire to learn, and the discipline to follow instructions on things like formatting, citations, style, etc. that improve your content quality.

But these factotum writers are tough to find.

Recently, a long-standing client in the aftermarket auto industry asked us to ramp up content output.

This client needs over a year’s worth of product descriptions – more than 20,000 SKUs among a few agencies.

The writing requires a deep knowledge of the world of aftermarket automobile accessories within a few different model types, from quarter-mile muscle cars to off-roading.

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I had two auto experts on my freelance staff but needed a lot more.

I launched some LinkedIn ads that were very specific regarding the subject matter.

It was clear that if the freelance writers didn’t understand the niche, they shouldn’t apply.

That didn’t happen. Just 2 out of every 10 applicants had the skills and knowledge required.

With that being said, here are a few tips to help you find the right freelance writers for your project online.

For Targeted Niches, Seek Journalists First

LinkedIn has been my go-to for the past five years when searching for freelance writers or other employees.

The more targeted the niche, the more you’ll need to search for a subject matter expert who can actually write. This is where journalists are great targets.

I work with many journalists across various top-tier publications within their niches, from finance to motorcycles.

Full-time writers within smaller niches are typically hungry for money.

Read the top publications and reach out to the writers via email or social media.

Some may be under contract or don’t want their name published.

Simply sign an NDA with them (I have loads of these, especially for my freelance ghostwriters in granular niches).

Another wise place to check is HARO (Help A Reporter Out).

You can create listings there as a business or agency looking for a specific type of expert journalist.

Also, Search Where Your Target Subject Matter Experts Hang Out Online

Thousands of forums exist online. Find one that speaks to the subject you’re writing about, and simply ask if any freelance writers are there.

You may be surprised.

Be Super Specific In Ads

Don’t just say you’re looking for an automotive product description writer.

Say you’re looking for a product description writer for “interior, body panels, and engine parts for first-generation Ford Mustangs.”

Have fun with it, too. You could say something like, “If you don’t understand the difference between a 1966 and 1967 Mustang, continue your search.”

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Ask For Samples, Not Resumes

I know writers with zero writing education who create better content than those with an MBA in Creative Writing. Schooling doesn’t tell the story. Samples do.

Don’t discuss pay within ads. But do discuss money within the first email thread. This will keep you and the applicant from wasting any time.

Do quick research before responding. A quick Google search of the applicant’s name and a look through their social media profiles can reveal much.

If you’re looking for a freelance motorcycle writer whose social media feeds don’t show one motorcycle, it may be wise to move on. But with that said, some of the best writers have no social media presence at all.

Create a template for responses. I create templates for every response to interested freelance writers.

I also personalize each message after a quick bit of research on them or how they personally respond to the outreach.

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My ultimate goal is to find freelance writers who have intrinsic value now, plus the ability to grow and prove themselves within their work.

Here are five must-have qualities in freelance writers:

  • They’ll never plagiarize. Ever. You don’t want to see a whiff of “borrowing” the work of others in their samples.
  • They’re highly specific and accurate. No research, you’re out!
  • They respect deadlines. Three strikes and you’re out.
  • They pay attention to directions/outlines. All of my freelance writers are provided “SEO Content Templates” for each piece of content they write. These are basically outlined for both content creation and SEO. The steps are clear, typically orderly, and always include the exact subtopics to use. They must follow directions, and the simpler the output, the better.
  • They make only minimal grammar mistakes/typos. Writers make mistakes. That’s why I mention “minimal” here. And every business or agency should also have copyeditors on staff, even if it’s just another set of eyes from a non-writer in the company/agency.

Now it’s time to train them so they can grow and prove themselves constantly within their work.

How To Train Freelance Writers To Keep Them Growing

Agencies or business owners tend to either overthink this piece or disregard it entirely.

Training your freelance writers to keep them growing will not only benefit you but build a respect-based relationship that will also benefit the writers, as well.

And when your writers are satisfied in their work, feeling respected and fulfilled, they not only stick around but tend to put out their best work.

Here are two tactics that have worked for my business over the years.

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Constant Education On Writing And Subject

A portion of my full-time employees’ weekly workflow is reading five hours weekly about their subject matter.

This is a tough ask for a freelance writer who is not obligated to do anything but the writing task. So the solution is to provide them with a consistent flow of education.

The simplest ways are sending books on writing and the subject matter they’re covering, paying not only for online seminars but also for their time to attend them, and sending them to conferences within their niche.

Challenge Writer Growth With Out-of-niche Content Creation

I was hungry when I began as a freelancer. The more work I got, the more money I made. I realized quickly how much faster I could learn by deeply researching a subject and then writing about it.

Writing is the ultimate learning tool, not only for the subject matter itself but the actual writing process.

When a freelance writer is comfortable writing content within their expertise, the challenges are minimal.

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But challenge them with a topic out of their niche, and they’ll grow. Be wise here, though; only delegate the entry-level work to begin with.

Many writers who have done this for me are now writing for a few different subjects, and some grew passions for the respective subjects over time, becoming SMEs there, as well.

How To Retain Freelance Writers

First, remember that people have different creative peak times. For example, nearly all of my top freelance writers submit content to me after midnight.

This is common for creative types and is based on what professionals call chronotype.

As ABC News journalist Diane Macedo simply puts it in The Sleep Fix, chronotype is:

“What time your circadian rhythm hits its daily highs and lows and is what determines whether you’re naturally inclined to fall asleep or wake early or fall asleep and wake up late.”

Most of the writers I know are the proverbial night owls, and I don’t expect to hear from them in the morning hours.

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Even if they prefer to work during the day, creativity requires focus and constant interruptions can hinder the writing process.

Give realistic deadlines and don’t micromanage. You’ll earn more respect, and the writers will certainly stick around longer.

The rest of the retainment process comes down to monetary and educational incentives.

If I have a top producer, I’ll add extra money to the invoice as a quick thank you/performance bonus when warranted.

Nothing crazy, but just enough every so often to let those writers know I respect their time and energy.

A good target is 10% of an invoice every few months.

Taking on a much bigger project requiring many writers instead of one, such as my auto product description above? Amplify the top producer’s unknown bonus to 20%.

It may cut into the profit margins slightly, but that slight decrease will increase overall revenue in the long term because those writers will be more incentivized to do more quality work.

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Another incentive includes adding to their personal growth factors, such as sending them to conferences, online writing seminars, or the latest books on the subject.

I also know the personal interests of my freelance writers, so if I’m sending them a book on writing development, I’ll send a book on their favorite interests.

Also, and this is as big as the bonuses and education – never overwork quality freelancers or exert nonsense pressure about deadlines.

They’ll either drop you or provide horrible work that will cost you more to fix in the long run.

Pressure for deadlines is typically the project manager’s fault. You can’t load up a freelance writer with 12 hours’ worth of writing work and expect them to turn it around in a day.

Good writing requires time for writing and taking breaks in equal measure, the latter allowing a writer’s mind to refresh and edit with clearer thoughts.

I have a 10–15 day turnaround time for most of my writers for pieces.

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I typically work a month ahead for campaign clients, and if a client asks for something that needs a quick turnaround, I reach out to the freelancers before responding.

A few other factors that will help you retain your freelance writers include:

  • Constant communication. Plan weekly or monthly meetings, even if only a 15-minute catchup call to discuss workflow. Also, email/text them at minimum weekly to ask if they’re struggling with anything or need a hand with work. I email each freelancer every Monday, asking them if they are on target for deadlines and need any help.
  • Pitch new content. This is why it’s wise to understand your writers’ personal interests (passions are even better!). If another client or product/service line arrives, pitch the content to the writers you have already trained. I also found a foodie through the auto description writer hunt, which added serious value to content creation for a new client. This saved me much energy and time finding and training a new writer.
  • If local, schedule a surprise lunch or dinner. I work with dozens of freelance writers, but a few are local. So sometimes I’ll just email them asking them to meet for lunch or dinner at one of their favorite places. Not local? Read on.
  • Send lunch or a food/beverage care package. For those freelance writers that are not local, surprise them every so often with a food or beverage. A quick note from experience: don’t send meat to a vegetarian (or booze to a recovering addict).

How To Let Go Of Writers

Unfortunately, not all writers will make the cut. Some may have freelanced for your business or agency for years but suddenly became tardy or their quality slips.

The sooner you recognize a problem freelance writer, the easier it is to let them go.

For newbie freelancers, I typically give the standard three strikes. This is after I worked with them and trained them to match the voice of the client or clear up any confusion.

Longer-term freelancers each present their own unique set of challenges.

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Sometimes family or personal issues surface. I’ve learned to always have a backup writer in case of emergency.

However, the problem is that SMEs who can actually write are extremely difficult to find (remember the auto product description example above).

Here are two quick tips on letting go of a freelance writer regardless of the situation:

  • Pay what’s owed. Even if it’s $10, pay them for work they completed.
  • Explain why they’re being let go, in detail. A quick email with bullet points as to what went wrong will not only be beneficial to your sanity but also the writer’s ability to learn from their mistakes. That writer may turn things around and you may run into each other on a client account or even end up working together again. That email may have done more than you know.

Always try to keep the relationship in good standing.

Humans make mistakes, whether it be minor grammar issues or more serious ones like plagiarism.

The ultimate successful freelance writer for a company or agency will have two main qualities: subject matter expertise and writing skills.

When both are present, your business will flourish, and your profit margins will increase because you’re using freelance writers.

The first problem is finding successful types.

The second problem is training and retaining them.

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The third, which hopefully you’ll never have to experience, is terminating their contracts.

These tips were designed to ease these issues and save you much time that could be better spent growing your business.

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Google’s Gary Illyes Answers Your SEO Questions On LinkedIn

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Google's Gary Illyes Answers Your SEO Questions On LinkedIn

Google Analyst Gary Illyes offers guidance on large robots.txt files, the SEO impact of website redesigns, and the correct use of rel-canonical tags.

Illyes is taking questions sent to him via LinkedIn direct message and answering them publicly, offering valuable insights for those in the SEO community.

It’s already newsworthy for a Google employee to share SEO advice. This is especially so given it’s Illyes, who isn’t as active on social media as colleagues like Search Advocate John Mueller and Developer Advocate Martin Splitt.

Throughout the past week, Illyes has shared advice and offered guidance on the following subjects:

  • Large robots.txt files
  • The SEO impact of website redesigns
  • The correct use of rel-canonical tags

Considering the engagement his posts are getting, there’s likely more to come. Here’s a summary of what you missed if you’re not following him on LinkedIn.

Keep Robots.Txt Files Under 500KB

Regarding a previously published poll on the size of robots.txt files, Illyes shares a PSA for those with a file size larger than 500kb.

Screenshot from: linkedin.com/in/garyillyes/, January 2023.

Illyes advises paying attention to the size of your website’s robots.txt file, especially if it’s larger than 500kb.

Google’s crawlers only process the first 500kb of the file, so it’s crucial to ensure that the most important information appears first.

Doing this can help ensure that your website is properly crawled and indexed by Google.

Website Redesigns May Cause Rankings To Go “Nuts”

When you redesign a website, it’s important to remember that its rankings in search engines may be affected.

As Illyes explains, this is because search engines use the HTML of your pages to understand and categorize the content on your site.

If you make changes to the HTML structure, such as breaking up paragraphs, using CSS styling instead of H tags, or adding unnecessary breaking tags, it can cause the HTML parsers to produce different results.

This can significantly impact your site’s rankings in search engines. Or, as Illyes phrases it, it can cause rankings to go “nuts”:

Google’s Gary Illyes Answers Your SEO Questions On LinkedInScreenshot from: linkedin.com/in/garyillyes/, January 2023.

Illyes advises using semantically similar HTML when redesigning the site and avoiding adding tags that aren’t necessary to minimize the SEO impact.

This will allow HTML parsers to better understand the content on your site, which can help maintain search rankings.

Don’t Use Relative Paths In Your Rel-Canonical

Don’t take shortcuts when implementing rel-canonical tags. Illyes strongly advises spelling out the entire URL path:

Google’s Gary Illyes Answers Your SEO Questions On LinkedInScreenshot from: linkedin.com/in/garyillyes/, January 2023.

Saving a few bytes using a relative path in the rel-canonical tag isn’t worth the potential issues it could cause.

Using relative paths may result in search engines treating it as a different URL, which can confuse search engines.

Spelling out the full URL path eliminates potential ambiguity and ensures that search engines identify the correct URL as the preferred version.

In Summary

By answering questions sent to him via direct message and offering his expertise, Illyes is giving back to the community and providing valuable insights on various SEO-related topics.

This is a testament to Illyes’ dedication to helping people understand how Google works. Send him a DM, and your question may be answered in a future LinkedIn post.


Source: LinkedIn

Featured Image: SNEHIT PHOTO/Shutterstock



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Everything You Need To Know

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Of all the many, many functions available in Google Ads, I have a few that are my favorites. And sitelink assets – previously known as sitelink extensions – are at the top of my list.

Why? Because they’re so versatile. You can do almost anything with them if you think through your strategy carefully.

For example, you can use the mighty sitelink in your advertising to:

  • Promote low search volume themes.
  • Push lagging products out the door.
  • Maximize hot sellers.
  • Highlight certain product categories.
  • Answer common questions.
  • Handle PR problems.

And that’s just a start! Sitelink assets can almost do it all.

Best Practices For Using Sitelink Assets Extensions

If you truly want to get the most out of your sitelinks, you need to think about your intention.

To help you with that, I’m going to lay out a few sitelink guidelines.

1. Get clear on your objectives. Before you start, you need to think about your goals. What are you trying to achieve with these assets? Are you advertising products or services? Will the asset work well with both branded and non-branded keywords? Your answers to these questions will help determine if your sitelinks are versatile and useful to the searcher.

2. Use sitelinks as part of your larger strategy. Don’t think of your sitelinks in isolation. You should also consider the accompanying ad, landing page, and other assets. Make sure they all work together in service to your overarching strategy.

3. Use a mix of sitelinks. Sitelinks can serve multiple purposes, so make sure you’re using a variety. For example, you don’t want to use every sitelink on an ad to promote on-sale products. Instead, use a mix. One could promote an on-sale product, one could generate leads, one could highlight a new product category, and one could direct prospective clients to useful information.

4. Create landing pages for your sitelinks. Ideally, you want to send users to landing pages that tightly correlate with your sitelink instead of just a regular page on your website.

5. Track sitelink performance and adjust. It’s not enough to set up sitelinks. You should also track them to see which links are getting traction and which ones are not. This doesn’t mean that all sitelinks should perform equally (more on this below), but it does mean they should perform well given their type and objectives.

Why it’s Better To Use A Mix Of Sitelink Assets

Let’s dive deeper into this idea of using a mix of sitelinks by looking at an example.

In a new client account, we created four different types of sitelinks:

  • Two sitelinks are product-focused (as requested by the client).
  • One sitelink connects users with an engineer to learn more about the product (“Speak to an Engineer”). It has more of a sales focus.
  • One sitelink allows users to learn more about the products without speaking to an engineer (“What is?”).

The “What is?” sitelink is outperforming the “Speak to an Engineer” sitelink when we measure by CTR. While we need more data before making any changes, I predict we’ll eventually swap out the sales-y “Speak to an Engineer” sitelink for something else.

The fact that the educational link (“What is?”) is performing better than the sales-y link (“Speak to an Engineer”) isn’t too surprising in this case. The product is a new, cutting-edge robot that not many people are aware of, yet. They want more info before talking to someone.

sitelink extensions - performance exampleScreenshot by author, January 2023

By using a mix of sitelinks, and assessing the performance of each, we gained a lot of valuable information that is helping to guide our strategy for this account. So going with a mix of sitelinks is always a good idea. You never know what you’ll discover!

Sitelink Assets Examples

Now, let’s look at some specific examples of sitelink assets in Google Ads.

Example 1: Chromatography

Sitelinks extension - Chromatography exampleScreenshot from Google, January 2023

Application Search: This ad is for a highly technical product that can be used in a wide variety of applications. (Chromatography is a laboratory technique for separating mixtures.) So putting “application search” in a sitelink here might make sense. It helps prospective clients find what they’re looking for.

Sign up and Save Big: A good sitelink for lead generation and potential revenue.

Technical Support: I’m not a big fan of putting technical support in sitelinks. Tech support seems more targeted to current users rather than prospective users. But who knows, maybe they really do want to help current users get tech support via their advertising.

Guides and Posters: Again, this sitelink is a bit unusual, but it might be appropriate for this product. Perhaps people are downloading branded posters and posting them in their workplaces. If so, it’s a great way to build brand awareness.

Example 2: Neuroscience Courses

Sitelink Extensions - Nueroscience courses exampleScreenshot from Google, January 2023

I love everything about these sitelinks! The advertising is using them to reach people in all phases of the buyer journey.

For people not ready to commit:

  • Study Neuroscience: This sitelink is broad and informational. It’s helpful to people who have just started to explore their options for studying neuroscience.
  • Get Course Brochure: This sitelink is also great for people in the research phase. And while we mostly live in an online world, some people still prefer to consume hard-copy books, brochures, etc. With this sitelink, the school is covering its bases.

For people getting close to committing:

  • Online Short Course: This is the course the school offers. It’s a great sitelink for those almost ready to sign up.

For people ready to sign up:

  • Register Online Now: This is the strongest call to action for those ready to commit. It takes people directly to the signup page.

Example 3: Neuroscience Degrees

Let’s look at another example from the world of neuroscience education: this time for a neuroscience degree program.

Sitelink extensions - neuroscience degree exampleScreenshot from Google, January 2023

In contrast to the previous two examples, the sitelinks in this ad aren’t as strong.

Academics Overview: This sitelink seems more appropriate for a broad term search, such as a search on the school’s name. If the searcher is looking for a specific degree program (which seems like the intention based on the term and the ad), the sitelinks should be something specific to that particular degree program.

Scholarships: Just as with the above sitelink, “Scholarships” doesn’t seem very helpful either. The topic of scholarships is important—but probably doesn’t need to be addressed until the person determines that this school is a good fit.

Example 4: Code Security

Next, let’s look at two Google search ads for code security products.

Sitelink extensions - code security exampleScreenshot from Google, January 2023

 

The sitelinks in these two ads look like typical assets you’d find for SaaS, cloud-based, or tech companies. They click through to a lot of helpful information, such as product plans and success stories.

I particularly like the Most Common Risks sitelink in the second ad. It leads to a helpful article that would be great for engaging top-of-funnel leads.

On the flip side, I’m not a big fan of the Blog sitelink in the first ad. “Blog” simply isn’t very descriptive or helpful.

Still, there are no right or wrong sitelinks here. And it would be interesting to test my theory that blog content is not a top-performing asset!

Sitelink Assets Are More Than An Afterthought

I hope I’ve convinced you of the usefulness and versatility of sitelinks when created with specific objectives that align with your broader strategy.

So don’t create your sitelink assets as an afterthought.

Because if you give them the careful consideration they deserve, they’ll serve you well.

Note: Google sitelink assets were previously known as sitelink extensions and renamed in September 2022.

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How to Automate Dull SEO Tasks

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How to Automate Dull SEO Tasks

Some SEO processes involve repetitively clicking things on a screen. Not the best use of your time.

With the right tools, however, you can automate various SEO processes—and free up resources for tasks that need more creative, human input.

In this post, I’ll share two examples of how I automate SEO tasks. 

Example 1. Record and email article assignments to writers

Imagine being able to record and email article assignments to writers in seconds using a simple form like this:

Airtable article assignment form

Let’s look at how to set this up.

1. Set up an Airtable database for your writer and article data

Sign up for Airtable and create a new database with a table called “Writers.” The table should have columns for your writers:

"Writers" table in Airtable

In the same Airtable database, create a separate table called “Articles.” 

Set up columns in this table for your:

  • Article titles.
  • Article outline links.
  • Article due dates.
  • Assigned writer (set this column up as a linked record to your “Writers” table so that Airtable can retrieve data on your writers from it).
"Articles" table in Airtable

You’ll also need to add a lookup field to pull the writer’s email address from the “Writers” table. 

Add Airtable lookup field

2. Create an Airtable article assignment form

Next, create an article assignment form for the “Articles” table. You’ll use this form to add new article assignments to the “Articles” table.

Create Airtable article assignment form

3. Set up a new Zapier automation with a “New Record in Airtable” trigger

When you submit your details on the new article assignment via the Airtable form, Airtable will automatically record the new article assignment in your “Articles” table. So that’s the first step of the article assignment workflow sorted.

Demo of how Airtable automatically records new article assignments when the article assignment form is filled out

Now, we’ll use the Zapier workflow automation tool to automate the next three steps in the workflow—namely:

  1. Create a shared Google Drive submission folder for the article.
  2. Create a Google Doc submission document in the shared Google Drive folder.
  3. Use Gmail to email the writer the article title, outline link, due date, and link to the shared Google Drive submission folder.

Sidenote.

Instead of Zapier, you can also use any other workflow automation tool, such as Make, as long as the tool supports the automation triggers and actions you’ll need.

In Zapier, create a new automated workflow (also known as a “Zap”) with:

  • Airtable as the trigger app.
  • New Record as the trigger event.

With this trigger, your Zap will start running when you add a new record to Airtable (such as by submitting your Airtable article assignment form).

Trigger step: New Record in Airtable

4. Add a “Create Folder in Google Drive” action step to your Zap

Next, add an action step with:

  • Google Drive as the action app.
  • Create Folder as the action event.

For the action step’s “Parent Folder” field, select the Google Drive folder in which the new submission folder should be created.

Also, provide a name for the submission folder in the “Folder Name” field. You can map the article title data from Airtable here to name your submission folder after the article’s title.

Action step: Create Folder in Google Drive

5. Add an “Add File Sharing Preference in Google Drive” action step to your Zap

The Google Drive folder created by your Zap will have its sharing permissions disabled by default, so let’s add an action step to grant folder access to anyone who has the link to the folder.

This action step should have:

  • Google Drive as the action app.
  • Add File Sharing Preference as the action event.

Map the file ID of the Google Drive folder created in the previous action step to the “File Id” field of this action step.

Map file ID of Google Drive folder to "File Id" field

In addition, set the “Sharing Preference” field to “Anyone on the internet who has the link can edit.”

Set "Sharing Preference" field to "Anyone on the internet who has the link can edit"

6. Add a “Create Document from Text in Google Docs” action step to your Zap

Now, let’s set up the Google Doc that the writer will use to submit their draft.

We’ll have the Zap create this submission Google Doc in the shared Google Drive submission folder. And since the Google Drive folder will have general access enabled, anyone with the link to the Google Drive folder—and this includes you—will also automatically get access to the Google Doc.

No more frustration over writers forgetting to grant access to their Google Docs!

So add a new action step to your Zap with:

  • Google Docs as the action app.
  • Create Document from Text as the action event.

Map the article title data from Airtable to the action step’s “Document Name” field, and the folder ID of the shared Google Drive folder to the “Folder” field.

You’ll also need to include some default text in the Google Doc, such as “Write your article here!”

Action step: Create Document from Text in Google Docs

7. Add a “Send Email in Gmail” action step to your Zap

Finally, we’ll get the Zap to use your Gmail account to email the writer the article title, outline link, due date, and link to the shared Google Drive submission folder.

Add a last action step to your Zap with:

  • Gmail as the action app.
  • Send Email as the action event.

Map the writer’s email address from Airtable to the “To” field for this action step. Also, map the article title, outline link, due date, and Google Drive submission folder link in the email body.

I also recommend adding your own email address to either the “Cc” or “Bcc” field so you get a copy of the automated email (and can confirm it’s been sent).

Sample text for automated article assignment email

Once you’re happy with your Zap, hit the Publish button to activate your automation!

Example 2. Finding and verifying prospects’ email addresses for link building outreach

Finding email addresses for link building outreach can be a massive pain.

After all, most prospects don’t advertise their email addresses publicly. And even if you’ve managed to dig up their email addresses (or guess them using trial and error), there’s no guarantee they work.

But using Ahrefs’ Content Explorer, you can generate a huge Google Sheets list of link building prospects that looks like this:

List of prospects in Google Sheets

Then as you fill out the “Approve?” column for each prospect with data—such as “Yes” or “Approved”—a Zapier automation will automatically do all these for you:

  1. Find the prospect’s email address using the Hunter email lookup tool
  2. Add the email address to your Google Sheet list of prospects
  3. Verify the email address using the NeverBounce email verification tool
  4. Add the verified email address to the Woodpecker.io email outreach tool so you can start sending customized outreach emails

Here’s how to set this up.

1. Get your list of prospects

Launch Ahrefs’ Content Explorer and search for link prospects. 

For example, if you recently published a marketing survey with unique insights and statistics, you may want to look for marketing statistics pages to pitch. To do this, simply run an “In title” search for “marketing statistics.”

Report of webpages with "marketing statistics" in their title, via Ahrefs' Content Explorer

Next, filter your results to show only webpages that are:

  • In English (unless you’re targeting webpages in another language).
  • Live, as it’d be weird to reach out and say, “Hey, I found you through [this webpage that no longer exists].”
  • On websites with a Domain Rating (DR) of 20 to 80 because you want to prioritize pursuing backlinks from authoritative websites but also that your chances of getting backlinks from super high-authority websites are quite low.
Filtering for live, English webpages on sites with a DR between 20 and 80, via Ahrefs' Content Explorer

Add a last filter to show only one page per domain (since you want to reach out to only one prospect per website).

Ahrefs' Content Explorer "One page per domain" setting

Click the Export button to export your list of prospects in a CSV file.

2. Clean up your list of prospects

As mentioned, we’ll be using Hunter to help us find our prospects’ email addresses.

Hunter uses the first names, last names, and domains of prospects to find email addresses, so we’ll clean up our list of prospects to provide Hunter with the exact data it needs.

Import your CSV list of prospects in Google Sheets and delete all columns in it except for:

  • Content Title
  • Content URL
  • Author

Also, some of the prospects in the CSV don’t have author names, so it’s worth removing these rows from the CSV. To do this, just filter for rows with empty author names and delete them.

Next, use the SPLIT formula to split the author names into their first and last names based on the space between their names.

Using the =SPLIT() formula in Google Sheets to split author names based on the space between the first and last names

Finally, add two new columns to the sheet:

  1. Approve?: Adding data to this column will trigger the Zapier automation we’ll be setting up next!
  2. Email Address: This column will store the prospect’s email address (if found).
Adding of two new "Approve?" and "Email address" columns to Google Sheets

3. Set up a new Zapier automation with a “New or Updated Spreadsheet Row in Google Sheets” trigger

In Zapier, create a new Zap with:

  • Google Sheets as the trigger app.
  • New or Updated Spreadsheet Row as the trigger event.

Map the action step’s “Trigger Column” field to your Google Sheet’s “Approve?” column.

Trigger step: New or Updated Spreadsheet Row in Google Sheets

With this setup, you’ll trigger your Zap whenever you add new data—such as “Yes” or “Approved”—to the “Approve?” column for any prospect row.

Adding of the word "Yes?" to the "Approve?" column in the Google Sheets list of prospects

4. Add a “Find Email in Hunter” action step to your Zap

Next, add a new action step with:

  • Hunter as the action app.
  • Find Email as the action event.

Map the “Content URL,” “First Name,” and “Last Name” columns in your Google Sheet to the “Domain or Company,” “First Name,” and “Last Name” fields for this action step, respectively.

Action step: Find Email in Hunter

5. Add an “Update Spreadsheet Row in Google Sheets” action step to your Zap

The next action step will update your Google Sheet with a prospect’s email address if Hunter finds it. Use:

  • Google Sheets as the action app.
  • Update Spreadsheet Row as the action event.

Map the Row Number of the updated row in the trigger step to this action step’s “Row” field.

Map the row number to the "Row" field

Also, map the email address that Hunter found in the previous action step to the “Email Address” field of this action step.

Map email address to the "Email Address" field

Sidenote.

This email address does not exist. It is for demo purposes only.

6. Add a Filter action that lets the Zap continue only if Hunter has found an email address

Next, set up a Filter action that lets the Zap proceed only if the email address data found by Hunter contains the “@” symbol.

That’s because all email addresses have the “@” symbol. If Hunter happens to find an email address value that doesn’t include this symbol, we won’t want to waste time verifying it.

Filter action: Only continue if email address contains "@"

7. Add a “Verify Email Address in NeverBounce” action step to your Zap

Now, we’ll use NeverBounce to verify the validity of the email addresses that Hunter found. Add a new action step with:

  • NeverBounce as the action app.
  • Verify Email Address as the action event.

Map the email address that Hunter found to this action step’s “Email Address to Verify” field:

Action step: Verify Email Address in NeverBounce

8. Add a Filter action that lets the Zap continue only if NeverBounce returns a “Valid” or “Catchall” status for the email address

When NeverBounce verifies an email address, it will return one of four status text codes: Valid, Catchall, Invalid, and Unknown. Email addresses marked with the “Valid” and “Catchall” NeverBounce status codes have the highest likelihood of being valid.

So we’ll add a Filter action that lets the Zap proceed only if an email address’s NeverBounce status text code matches either “Valid” or “Catchall” exactly.

Filter action: Only continue if NeverBounce status text code is "Valid" or "Catchall"

9. Add a “Create/Update Prospect in Woodpecker.co” action step to your Zap

Finally, we’ll set up the Zap to add the verified email address to Woodpecker.co.

Create a last action step with:

  • Woodpecker.co as the action app.
  • Create/Update Prospect as the action event.

Map the verified email address to the action step’s “Email” field, and your prospect’s first and last name (as obtained from Google Sheets) to the “First Name” and “Last Name” fields, respectively.

Action step: Create/Update Prospect in Woodpecker.co

Hit the Publish button to turn your Zap on.

Now, when you fill out the “Approve?” column for prospects in your Google Sheet, your Zap will automatically do the heavy lifting of finding and verifying their email addresses using Hunter and NeverBounce and adding the verified email addresses to Woodpecker.co.

You can then customize your link building outreach emails in Woodpecker.co for each verified email address and, hopefully, snag yourself some backlinks!

Final thoughts

SEO automation takes some initial setup, but it’s amazing to watch your processes run automatically after that. It’s almost like magic.

And apart from the SEO processes we’ve shared here, there are probably plenty others you can automate.

Think of the apps you regularly use for SEO work. If you can connect these apps using Zapier or some other workflow automation tool, automating the workflows they support is likely more than possible.

Got questions? Ping me on Twitter.



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