Elise Dopson began her content writing journey aged 12 with a personal Tumblr lifestyle blog. But it was when working at a marketing agency a few years later that she realised two things:
1. Content marketing is better when you enjoy it
2. Churning out short-form articles of little value offers no long-term benefit to a business
Buoyed by those realizations, Elise was able to go it alone, building a six-figure freelance business that serves clients including CoSchedule, Conversion XL, and Content Marketing Institute. Now, she helps other freelancer writers do the same through her community Peak Freelance.
In this post, I breakdown the key takeaways from our chat with Elise on Maker Mixtapes. Here, Tom talks about how to execute content refresh campaigns, tips for improving your content, where to find blog ideas, and simple ways to strengthen your writing.
If you want to harness the power of content to generate more traffic, increase your authority, and boost conversions for your business, this post is for you.
Way back in 2011, Google announced that its algorithm was changing to “better understand how to differentiate the level of freshness in your feed.” In the decade since, the search engine has continued on that journey of better understanding, constantly evolving to offer a human user experience.
Google knows that, even if you don’t specify it in your search, the chances are you want results that are relevant and recent.
For example, if you’re researching “Facebook ad examples”, you want to see ads from brands that have had success in the last 6 to 12 months. Or, if you’re looking up an annual marketing conference, you expect to see results from the most recent event.
It’s often assumed that to satisfy Google’s thirst for fresh content and rank highly, you need to consistently create new content. This is a resource-intensive exercise that’s hard to maintain.
But fresh doesn’t mean new. It means up-to-date. For companies who don’t have the resources to plough into creating a conveyor belt of new content, Elise suggests opting for a content refresh:
“A content refresh is basically taking a piece of content that you already have and making it better.
“[It] bundles up all of that time that you've already put into something. Spend maybe five hours tweaking it and you get extra results on top of the ones you've already got.”
So how does it work?
Elise goes down one of two routes:
“I go into Google Analytics, look at the landing page report, filter by organic traffic and compare over three months.
“I look for pieces that have gone down in organic traffic, which means something is beating it [in the search rankings] or it doesn’t fit the keyword anymore.”
If a piece is particularly outdated or decaying, a rewrite may be required. Statistics, sources, and keywords may need to be overhauled.
But for anything up to two years old, small tweaks can make a big difference:
“I doubled organic traffic for one piece, just by rewriting the title and description.”
“Sometimes you’ll find that there are two, three, or a handful of similar posts that are going down [in organic traffic]. That might be because you’re cannibalizing the keyword.
“So, if you’re targeting ‘content marketing strategy’ and ‘B2B content marketing strategy’ on two different pages, they basically mean the same thing if your audience is B2B.”
In this case, Elise suggests merging the pieces to create one comprehensive piece that works as a single resource covering everything a reader needs to know about a particular topic:
“Creating a long-form piece from scratch can take up to 25 or 30 hours, depending on the topic, the complexity, the word count, etc. But updating it can probably be done in five hours.”
One tactic that can be used to great effect in new or refreshed content is expert insights. Influencers and thought leaders add credibility to your content and their input can help you to increase brand awareness and reach new audiences.
For example, say you were writing a piece on local SEO and you got a quote or insight from John Mueller — Google’s Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst. John’s expert insight can work to pique the interest of your followers, John’s own fans, and industry publications that follow John’s work.
When the piece goes live, John may also want to share it with his own followers on social media, putting your work in front of a much larger audience.
To get experts on board, Elise recommends creating a list of people you might want to interview, then go ahead and ask them:
“I say, ‘Hey, we’ve written this piece. Is there anything you can slot in that we’ve missed?’
“I then quote them, because that helps add new, unique content to the piece. And they can share that because they’re involved.”
While content refreshes are a great way to breathe new life into older content, they do rely on you having a bank of content to fall back on. In fact, Elise has been successful in driving traffic to her own websites through content marketing, including growing an affiliate site to over 7,000 monthly visitors with fewer than 25 posts.
To achieve similar results with your website or blog, Elise says the first thing you need to do is focus on a niche or topic you enjoy:
“Find something that you’re interested in, and writing about it doesn’t get boring.
“You will be writing about it a lot and if you’re not interested in it, you can’t create the best stuff on the topic.”
But with passion there must also be a need. There’s no use creating a guide on something that nobody cares about other than you.
Elise found her niche after searching for information on Springer Spaniels, finding little content available other than what people were posting in Facebook groups. And those groups remain a source of inspiration when coming up with ideas for new niches and subjects to write about.
She also measures demand for a topic by looking at:
When you have that central topic (and associated keywords), you can begin to develop a wealth of valuable content:
“Say you’re a B2B startup and you [sell] accounting software. I would create an ‘Ultimate Guide’ — the biggest and best piece on the topic of ‘how to manage B2B accounts’.
“Then I would create spin-off pieces from that. For example, ‘How to pick the best accounting software’ [or] ‘How to manage tax’.
“By doing that interlinking strategy, it proves that I’m an expert on this topic. I’ve got all of the pieces to back it up.”
Once you’ve discovered a topic you’re passionate about and people are keen to read about, you can begin to create content that will delight them.
Whether you’re outsourcing to a freelancer, partnering with an agency, or writing the content yourself, it’s important to know exactly what needs to go into a piece before you start. For Elise, this involves having a client complete a content brief that includes:
The brief helps to provide a clear understanding of what the content needs to do and provides the foundation for the framework.
To build the framework, Elise has several go-to resources:
Following this process of going as in-depth on a topic as possible—while securing original insight—not only helps content rank, it means avoiding what Elise calls “parasite content” — lightweight content that ranks highly simply because it’s published on a reputable website.
As an agency that works with content writers, one of the questions we get asked most is “how can I become a better writer?”
Elise’s best tip? Always get feedback:
“Ask your editors. Ask your freelance friends. Even ask your Mum, ‘Do you understand what I’m talking about here?’”
As well as getting insight from colleagues, peers and family, Elise recommends writing:
“Write more. Do as much as you can. It doesn't matter if you publish it or not.”
And reading. For this, she utilises a swipe file to collect and organise anything she reads that can be used for inspiration, with sections on marketing, creativity, and writing:
“The swipe file is key for me. I always look at that and use it as a basis whenever I’m writing a new piece. I think, ‘what can I take from what I've learned?’ and put that into my writing.”
Maker Mixtapes is a podcast about the entrepreneurs, creators, and marketers building impressive things in their field. From content marketing to YouTube and growth, agency life to e-commerce and SaaS, this podcast aims to dissect and share lessons from their success.
Founder & CEO, Grizzle
Co-Founder, Peak Freelance