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What’s The Best Way For SEO, Topic Experts & Writers To Work Together?

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What's The Best Way For SEO, Topic Experts & Writers To Work Together?

In this edition of Ask An SEO, Zach from Wichita writes us:

“How would an SEO specialist write a content brief for an industry expert with very little writing experience?

Or how should my company structure our content writing process when we have an SEO person, industry expert, and content writer/editor?”

Great question, Zach. Before we dig into content briefs, I have a question: Why is someone with very little writing experience doing the writing?

Writing is a skilled trade.

Sure, some have a natural talent and affinity for it. But many people would rather get dental work without sedation than have to write an article, blog post, or some other form of content for their work.

Time and again, I’ve seen that forcing topic experts to write – even on topics they’re passionate about – fails on every front.

Your topic expert tends to spend way longer than a skilled writer would on the piece.

Maybe marketing asked them to do it. Maybe they’re semi-bought-in as they like the thought leadership potential but they’re still experiencing the frustration of the writing process.

They’re stressed out and can even become resentful as this is just another task on their to-do list.

So let’s tackle this piece first.

Setting Your Topic Experts & SEO Writers Up For Success

I’ve been ghostwriting for over 15 years. Here’s the first thing I always ask a new author I’m ghosting for:

“How can I make this easier for you? What do you want this process to look like?”

Then I’ll ask questions to figure out the best way to get their knowledge and topic expertise out of their head and into mine.

  • Have you already worked on an outline or even a rough draft you want me to run with?
  • Would you like to make me a bullet list of all the important information you want to see included?
  • Do you have 15 minutes to jump on a call and I’ll pick your brain?
  • Want to send me voice notes? A doodle? Smoke signals? Let’s do this.

The first thing you can do to set your topic experts and writers up for a productive, collaborative relationship is to give them the freedom to define their own processes.

I used to create content for a polar expeditions brand. For content generation purposes, I regularly interviewed their polar experts. Most of these people worked on Arctic and Antarctic expeditions a good chunk of the year.

Ever tried to interview a polar bear researcher in Russia who only gets to a payphone once a week?

How about a penguinologist (it’s a real thing!) who spends months at a time circulating Antarctica gathering penguin poop and feathers for DNA studies?

Here’s the thing: whether writing as polar experts, software engineers, C-level executives, SEO thought leaders, or real estate agents (to name just a few), I’ve found that every topic expert has their own preferences on how to share that knowledge.

Some experts get too nervous about being interviewed to do well in a face-to-face conversation about the topic.

Others love nothing more than to chat about their area of expertise.

What’s important is that your topic experts understand a few key things about this relationship.

Here’s what you as the leader of this initiative need to convey to the expert, and also build into your shared process:

1. Trust that the writer is here to help you.

Dear Sir or Madam Expert: This isn’t going to be an exposé. We’re bringing on a writer(s) who specializes in crafting optimized content to tell your story in the best possible way.

Their goal is to write a post befitting your level of expertise.

They’re literally here to make you look good.

They’re going to save you time and help us get all of that super important topic knowledge out of your head and onto paper in a way that search engines and readers alike can discover and appreciate it.

2. You choose how we work together.

Do you want to send an outline, forward some articles or research that’s inspired you, schedule an interview, share previously published works? Let’s do it.

Or do you need project management help, a video conferencing platform, or assistance with scheduling?

We’ll put the resources in place (budget permitting) to facilitate you telling your story.

3. You get the final say on everything.

Yes, it can be scary to give permission to have someone else write as you.

What if they make you look bad?

Don’t worry: you as our topic expert get final sign-off on anything that goes out in your name.

And for you as the leader of this process: make sure that review and approval are actually built into your editorial workflow so this essential step is never missed.

A Few Quick Notes On Process

If we were to boil this down to a step-by-step process, yours could look something like this:

  1. Research the topic and consult your topic expert and SEO team in creating the brief – more on that in a minute.
  2. Assign the brief to the writer.
  3. Arrange for transfer of knowledge from topic expert to writer.
  4. Writer creates first draft.
  5. Topic expert reviews to ensure the content quality, depth, and all important information is there.
  6. If it’s not, there may be a revision at this point.
  7. Once writer and topic expert are satisfied, it goes to the Editor for review.*
  8. Any other revisions requested by the Editor are completed.
  9. Go time.

*Zach, I did notice that you said, “content writer/editor” in your question, and I hope that was a typo. These are not the same person.

Your content always needs a second set of eyes before publication.

The editor will fact-check the writer’s work, run copyright checks, optimize for search, ensure the content is in keeping with your brand’s style guide, and edit for use of language, tone, structure, and more.

In large organizations, the editing process might involve separate editors for mechanical editing, substantive editing, copyediting, and proofreading.

Or, a few types of edits might be handled by one person.

What matters is that your company understands what’s involved in the publishing process and that each of these checks is built into it at some point.

That’s what it takes now to win in competitive SERPs where expertise, authority, trustworthiness, accuracy, and other qualities of top-performing content are table stakes.

Now, to your question about how the SEO specialist will create the brief.

Tips & Tricks For SEO Content Creative Briefs

I’m going to tell you a secret that an awful lot of people get wrong.

No one cares about what you need to say; it’s all about what your audience needs to hear.

Too often, the writer is handed a brief that’s little more than a laundry list of things the expert (or more often, their colleagues in marketing and PR) want to say.

  • Tell them all of our features.
  • Make sure you mention these selling points!
  • Don’t forget we won those two awards last year.
  • Can you drop this quote from our CEO in there?
  • Here are two case studies you should mention.

This is how content created by well-intentioned companies becomes that guy at the party who corners you and talks about himself and how awesome he is until you fake a washroom break and go home early.

Don’t be that guy.

A good content brief includes a bit of that “here’s what we want to say.”

But it also incorporates:

  • The purpose of the piece; what goal you want the reader to achieve or problem you want to solve.
  • Notes on the author’s style and tone of voice, with examples if possible.
  • The intended format and length of the piece and whether that’s flexible.
  • Who your audience is and why they care about this topic.
  • What their learning outcomes or next steps are going to be.
  • SEO insights into how people are talking about this topic, what questions they have, who else is ranking on it, and more.
  • Identified opportunities for achieving featured snippets or multimedia placement in the SERPs with content formatted or structured in specific ways.
  • Reliable sources of information for background.

Your writer can take this understanding of what you’re looking for, who it’s for, and what it needs to look like and add in all of that rich insight the topic expert has to share.

That’s where the magic happens.

Bringing It All Together For SEO-Friendly, Expert-Led Content

If I had to wrap this up in a single sentence, my answer to your original question would be this: Get each person involved in your content creation process doing what they’re best at.

Don’t force your topic experts to fret over a blank screen if they have no desire to write.

Don’t expect your writers to inherently know SEO; invest in those who do or in training yours up.

Don’t ask writers to read your expert’s mind or write PR fluff.

If you want to produce top-quality, expert content at scale, treat your content workflow as a publishing operation.

Make sure all parties have the necessary input; that your SEO insights, company goals, audience needs, and expertise are reflected in a clear brief for the writer.

Then let them do their work.

Support your content creators with an editorial process that will prevent any headache-inducing issues around copyright or other mistakes that could harm your brand.

The results are worth it when you have a steady stream of well-written, expert-led content optimized for discovery and conversion right out of the gate.

More resources:


Editor’s note: Ask an SEO is a weekly SEO advice column written by some of the industry’s top SEO experts, who have been hand-picked by Search Engine Journal. Got a question about SEO? Fill out our form. You might see your answer in the next #AskanSEO post!

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Google Quietly Ends Covid-Era Rich Results

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Google Quietly Ends Covid-Era Rich Results

Google removed the Covid-era structured data associated with the Home Activities rich results that allowed online events to be surfaced in search since August 2020, publishing a mention of the removal in the search documentation changelog.

Home Activities Rich Results

The structured data for the Home Activities rich results allowed providers of online livestreams, pre-recorded events and online events to be findable in Google Search.

The original documentation has been completely removed from the Google Search Central webpages and now redirects to a changelog notation that explains that the Home Activity rich results is no longer available for display.

The original purpose was to allow people to discover things to do from home while in quarantine, particularly online classes and events. Google’s rich results surfaced details of how to watch, description of the activities and registration information.

Providers of online events were required to use Event or Video structured data. Publishers and businesses who have this kind of structured data should be aware that this kind of rich result is no longer surfaced but it’s not necessary to remove the structured data if it’s a burden, it’s not going to hurt anything to publish structured data that isn’t used for rich results.

The changelog for Google’s official documentation explains:

“Removing home activity documentation
What: Removed documentation on home activity structured data.

Why: The home activity feature no longer appears in Google Search results.”

Read more about Google’s Home Activities rich results:

Google Announces Home Activities Rich Results

Read the Wayback Machine’s archive of Google’s original announcement from 2020:

Home activities

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Olga Strel

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Google’s Gary Illyes: Lastmod Signal Is Binary

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Google's Gary Illyes: Lastmod Signal Is Binary

In a recent LinkedIn discussion, Gary Illyes, Analyst at Google, revealed that the search engine takes a binary approach when assessing a website’s lastmod signal from sitemaps.

The revelation came as Illyes encouraged website owners to upgrade to WordPress 6.5, which now natively supports the lastmod element in sitemaps.

When Mark Williams-Cook asked if Google has a “reputation system” to gauge how much to trust a site’s reported lastmod dates, Illyes stated, “It’s binary: we either trust it or we don’t.”

No Shades Of Gray For Lastmod

The lastmod tag indicates the date of the most recent significant update to a webpage, helping search engines prioritize crawling and indexing.

Illyes’ response suggests Google doesn’t factor in a website’s history or gradually build trust in the lastmod values being reported.

Google either accepts the lastmod dates provided in a site’s sitemap as accurate, or it disregards them.

This binary approach reinforces the need to implement the lastmod tag correctly and only specify dates when making meaningful changes.

Illyes commends the WordPress developer community for their work on version 6.5, which automatically populates the lastmod field without extra configuration.

Accurate Lastmod Essential For Crawl Prioritization

While convenient for WordPress users, the native lastmod support is only beneficial if Google trusts you’re using it correctly.

Inaccurate lastmod tags could lead to Google ignoring the signal when scheduling crawls.

With Illyes confirming Google’s stance, it shows there’s no room for error when using this tag.

Why SEJ Cares

Understanding how Google acts on lastmod can help ensure Google displays new publish dates in search results when you update your content.

It’s an all-or-nothing situation – if the dates are deemed untrustworthy, the signal could be disregarded sitewide.

With the information revealed by Illyes, you can ensure your implementation follows best practices to the letter.


Featured Image: Danishch/Shutterstock

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How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs Evolve

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How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs Evolve

There’s one thing standing between you and several days of SEO, socializing, and Singaporean sunshine: your boss (and their Q4 budget 😅).

But don’t worry—we’ve got your back. Here are 5 arguments (and an example message) you can use to persuade your boss to send you to Ahrefs Evolve.

About Ahrefs Evolve

  • 2 days in sunny Singapore (Oct 24–25)
  • 500 digital marketing enthusiasts
  • 18 top speakers from around the world

Learn more and buy tickets.

SEO is changing at a breakneck pace. Between AI Overviews, Google’s rolling update schedule, their huge API leak, and all the documents released during their antitrust trial, it’s hard to keep up. What works in SEO today?

You could watch a YouTube video or two, maybe even attend an hour-long webinar. Or, much more effective: you could spend two full days learning from a panel of 18 international SEO experts, discussing your takeaways live with other attendees.

How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to AhrefsHow to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs
Evolve speakers from around the world.

Our world-class speakers are tackling the hardest problems and best opportunities in SEO today. The talk agenda covers topics like:

  • Responding to AI Overviews: Amanda King will teach you how to respond to AI Overviews, Google Gemini, and other AI search functions.
  • Surviving (and thriving) Google’s algo updates: Lily Ray will talk through Google’s recent updates, and share data-driven recommendations for what’s working in search today.
  • Planning for the future of SEO: Bernard Huang will talk through the failures of AI content and the path to better results.

(And attendees will get video recordings of each session, so you can share the knowledge with your teammates too.)

View the full talk agenda here.

There’s no substitute for meeting with influencers, peers, and partners in real life. 

Conferences create serendipity: chance encounters and conversations that can have a huge positive impact on you and your business. By way of example, these are some of the real benefits that have come my way from attending conferences:

  • Conversations that lead to new customers for our business,
  • Invitations to speak at events,
  • New business partnerships and co-marketing opportunities, and
  • Meeting people that we went on to hire.

There’s a “halo” effect that lingers long after the event is over: the people you meet will remember you for longer, think more highly of you, and be more likely to help you out, should you ask.

(And let’s not forget: there’s a lot of information, particularly in SEO, that only gets shared in person.)

The “international” part of Evolve matters too. Evolve is a different crowd to your local run-of-the-mill conference. It’s a chance to meet with people from markets you wouldn’t normally meet—from Australia to Indonesia and beyond.

How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to AhrefsHow to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs
Evolve attendees by home country.

If you’re an Ahrefs customer (thank you!), you’ll learn tons of tips, tricks and workflow improvements from attending Evolve. You’ll have opportunities to:

  • Attend talks from the Ahrefs team, showcasing advanced features and strategies that you can use in your own business.
  • Pick our brains at the Ahrefs booth, where we’ll offer informal 1:1 coaching sessions and previews of up-coming releases (like our new content optimization tool 🤫).
  • Join dedicated Ahrefs training workshops, hosted by the Ahrefs team and Ahrefs power users (tickets for these workshops will sold separately).

As a manager myself, there are two questions I need answered when approving expenses:

  • Is this a reasonable cost?
  • Will we see a return on this investment?

To answer those questions: early bird tickets for Evolve start at $570. For context, “super early bird” tickets for MozCon (another popular SEO conference) this year were almost twice as much: $999.

There’s a lot included in the ticket price too:

  • World-class international speakers,
  • 5-star hotel venue,
  • 5-star hotel food (two tea breaks with snacks & lunch),
  • Networking afterparty, and
  • Full talk recordings to later share with your team.

SEO is a crucial growth channel for most businesses. If you can improve your company’s SEO performance after attending Evolve (and we think you will), you’ll very easily see a positive return on the investment.

Traveling to tropical Singapore (and eating tons of satay) is great for you, but it’s also great for your team. Attending Evolve is a chance to break with routine, reignite your passion for marketing, and come back to your job reinvigorated.

This would be true for any international conference, but it goes double for Singapore. It’s a truly unique place: an ultra-safe, high-tech city that brings together dozens of different cultures.

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Little India in Singapore

You’ll discover different beliefs, working practices, and ways of business—and if you’re anything like me, come back a richer, wiser person for the experience.

If you’re nervous about pitching your boss on attending Evolve, remember: the worst that can happen is a polite “not this time”, and you’ll find yourself in the same position you are now.

So here goes: take this message template, tweak it to your liking, and send it to your boss over email or Slack… and I’ll see you in Singapore 😉

Email template

Hi [your boss’ name],

Our SEO tool provider, Ahrefs, is holding an SEO and digital marketing conference in Singapore in October. I’d like to attend, and I think it’s in the company’s interest:

  • The talks will help us respond to all the changes happening in SEO today. I’m particularly interested in the talks about AI and recent Google updates. 
  • I can network with my peers. I can discover what’s working at other companies, and explore opportunities for partnerships and co-marketing.
  • I can learn how we can use Ahrefs better across the organization.
  • I’ll come back reinvigorated with new ideas and motivation, and I can share my top takeaways and talk recordings with my team after the event.

Early bird tickets are $570. Given how important SEO is to the growth of our business, I think we’ll easily see a return from the spend.

Can we set up time to chat in more detail? Thanks!

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