Kat McKinnon’s agency, CopySmiths, produces hundreds of blog posts per month for, mainly, ecommerce clients. She’s developed a formula of sorts for getting those posts ranked in Google’s search results.
“You need between 1,000 and 1,500 words for a blog article,” she told me. “Definitely not 600. Avoid 800, unless you’re literally just answering a short question. You need a heading that includes a keyword. You need three to four subheadings, H2s. And then within those H2s, you need three to four H3s. H3s are very important.”
I spoke with McKinnon recently about CopySmiths, search engine optimization, and producing lots of content. What follows is our entire audio conversation and a transcript, edited for length and clarity.
Eric Bandholz: Tell us about your business, CopySmiths.
Kat McKinnon: It’s new. For years I ran an online marketing business here in Sydney, Australia, doing Google Ads, marketing campaigns, advertising on LinkedIn, and maintaining people’s websites. One of the things that I loved was blogging. We were producing hundreds of posts every month for our clients.
In March we lost all of our clients because of coronavirus. Our agency shut down. I had to lay off people and put some in furlough. So I said, “Blogging is what I love, and it’s what I can do.” So in the last six or seven months, we’ve built a team of maybe 25 writers and a support staff of four or five people. We’re up to about 30 clients. That’s CopySmiths.
Most of our clients are commerce, but we have affiliate sites as well.
Bandholz: Is search engine optimization dead?
McKinnon: SEO is far from dead. What we do is simple. We answer people’s questions. Say someone asks, “What is a martingale collar?” We’ll write an article that answers that question. We do all the basics. We include a checklist so people can easily read the answer.
We’ll insert a quotation or some social proof that says, “Well, this person really enjoyed this martingale collar because it helped them with their dog.” What’s the average price of it? What’s the length? What are the dimensions of a martingale collar? How do you use it? And so we provide good content.
Bandholz: How long do these articles need to be? What should they include?
McKinnon: There are certain tools that we use to get the exact numbers. You need between 1,000 and 1,500 words for a blog article. Definitely not 600. Avoid 800, unless you’re literally just answering a short question like how to cook rice. But if it’s, “What is a martingale collar and how to fit it,” then maybe 1,200, 1,400 words. You need a heading that includes a keyword. You need three to four subheadings, H2s. And then within those H2s, you need three to four H3s. H3s are very important.
And with the H3s, try to answer a question that someone is asking on Google and include a keyword. Keep your paragraphs to one to two sentences. Three sentences at the absolute most. If you’ve got more than three sentences and paragraphs, chop off one, the last sentence, and put another paragraph.
Include one ordered list and one unordered list. Include one quotation or social proof, such as, “Sally said that the martingale collar was the best she’d ever had.” Include one of those per 1,000 words. So if you’ve got an article of 2,000 words, put two of them in. And link to an authoritative source.
Wikipedia, HuffPost, Business Insider — none of those are authority sources. You have to go to page four of Google to find an authoritative source. Those big publications like HuffPost are all just automated bots that churn out generic stuff.
Bandholz: Let’s talk about the authority of the website. If you’re just creating content, you’re not doing any link building. How is your site going to get any kind of authority?
McKinnon: It takes a long time. But Google has a high tolerance for websites that don’t have a lot of links. As long as you make it easy to crawl and write for the reader, it does get traction. It just takes time. And people give up way too soon with content. They do 10 podcasts and stop, or 20 YouTube videos and stop, or 10 blog articles.
Bandholz: What about headlines? How do I create a title that gets people to click?
McKinnon: We focus mostly on the keyword. But the headlines are very important. We use tools that test headlines and title tags in terms of what people are clicking on. But most of the organic search traffic to a blog isn’t based on the title.
One of the main tools we use is Ahrefs. It’s got the coverage for keywords, and it gives us good data on what competitors are ranking for. A great feature in Ahrefs is called the Content Gap. It’s an easy way to find what competitors are ranking for that is above 3,000 monthly searches. Then write on those topics. We use that all the time.
Another helpful tool is PageOptimizer Pro. We can choose a keyword, such as “martingale collar,” and PageOptimizer Pro will produce all related keyword variations to write on. We can choose the 10 ranking competitors. It does an analysis and says, for example, “Based on these 10 competitors, you need to write 1,356 words, and you need to include these 73 keywords, and you would need to include these four subheadings.” So it gets quite specific.
Surfer does the same thing as PageOptimizer Pro. But Surfer tells you the keywords to use, the subheadings, as well as the word count. It also tells you where to position the keyword.
We stopped using PageOptimizer Pro, however, because the interface was too difficult for our writers. So we now use Surfer exclusively. It integrates with Google Docs. So we can give a Google Doc to a writer.
Bandholz: I assume you charge per word.
McKinnon: Sometimes. We’ll charge clients that need a specific type of content 15 to 20 cents per word. But we’ll usually charge $180 per article. Because, again, we write to what the search engines want. If it’s 1,200 words, that’s what we do. If it’s 800 words, that’s what we do. We find that $180 is straightforward for people to understand. And sell in batches. We don’t write one article for someone. It takes us too long to gear up.
Bandholz: Who decides what to write about, you or the client?
McKinnon: Some of our clients know SEO and have a vision of what they want. Others rely on us to generate ideas and keywords. But we’re all making it up as we go along because the algorithms are so complicated.
Bandholz: How can listeners learn more about you and reach out?
McKinnon: Copysmiths.com is the website. I’m on LinkedIn, too, @KatrinaMcKinnon.