Quick Questions with Emory Rowland

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Emory Rowland is an Atlanta-based SEO consultant and founder of Leverable. As he puts it, he's been around "a long time in search engine years." I first came across him when writing for Clickfire.com, where he put together a fun approach to generating content that was (and still is) refreshing. Recently, he was nice enough to take some time out and answer my questions about SEO and content generation:

Q: You started in SEO in the 1990s and have been through some massive changes. What do you think has changed most since then?

EMORY: Wow, that’s a long time in search engine years.  One of changes that come to mind over the past 20 years would be the move from ranking pages by keywords on the page vs. by inbound links. The PageRank era lasted a long time and links are still with us today. But, in the early days, links could be everything.

The other thing that comes to mind is just the ability of Google to try and “understand” the content that it is sending visitors to instead of the more easily gamed guessing of the past. Semantic search, that is.

Q: If you were advising a new blog how to go about generating organic search traffic through its content, where would you tell them to start?

EMORY: What has worked for me is focusing on the content first, basically overdoing it, going crazy and getting all the details perfect – written 10 times better than competitors, expert point of view, formatting, images, etc. Then promote it and try and get links as much as time and budget allows. That’s my bare bones SEO strategy: great links to great content.

Q: Is there a single content strategy you think is most effective for generating SEO results? If you had to limit yourself to this one thing, what would it be?

EMORY: I like taking a big problem within a niche and writing a detailed long-form post describing the solution. Not many people seem to do that these days, not sure why, especially if you’re writing for a small business. You’ll often be the only one with knock down drag out content.

Q: Do you think there’s an area of SEO where companies today waste too much of their time? If so, why?

EMORY: Very much so on disavowing links after Penguin 4. SEO software companies continue to try and scare people who don’t know better into thinking that their site is about to be vaporized by a link in the corner of the Internet that Google doesn’t care about and has long filtered out.

Q: What do you think most people don’t get about SEO today?

EMORY: It’s really simple. Great links to great content. Just don’t mess up anything with technical SEO. Put the noise and expert pontifications aside and start thinking of great ideas for content – that will get you much more than anything.

Q: How do you find yourself managing client expectations when you start a new project?

EMORY: I have to make a list and start cranking. It’s for my sake and the clients. We at least start out by tracking everything in Google sheets so the client can check in and view what’s happening.

Q: What online tools do you find yourself using every day?

EMORY: I’ve been using SerpStat a lot lately for keyword research and loving it.

Q: What offline tools do you consider “must-have” for staying productive?

EMORY: I would probably check myself into a facility somewhere if Screaming Frog ever went away.

Q: If you could go back and talk to Emory from the 1990s about the future of the Internet, what would you most want to tell him?

EMORY: Reserve business.com instead of clickfire.com!

Seriously, I’d say build fewer sites, but higher quality.

Quick Questions with Kiera Abbamonte

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I first came across Kiera Abbamonte through Grasshopper, where her exceptional work as a content editor helped me to write some of the pieces you’ll still find in my portfolio. Then, Kiera took the leap and became a full-time freelancer, writing for sites as wide-ranging as KISSMetrics to Help Scout. She recently took the time to tell me about her freelancing advice, networking with other writers, and how it’s important to budget if you want a puppy any time soon:

Q: What’s keeping you busy lately?

KIERA: I’m really focused on a few things right now: building community with other writers, building out my project calendar, and reveling in the variety of work I get to do. I loved managing Grasshopper’s blog, but it feels fresh and exciting to write on so many different topics now.

After three and a half years, pretty much all of my words came out in Grasshopper’s voice. I love doing the research and learning about new things, and I get to experiment a lot with form and finding my own voice.

Q: How has the transition to working freelance been?

KIERA: Bigger and better than I even dreamed. It’s a scary, exciting time but I’m so fortunate to be surrounded by kind, like-minded people with oodles of experience and a willingness to share.

I’m loving the variety of projects and topics I get to write on, too, and the space & flexibility I have to pursue my own writing projects outside of client work.

Q: What’s been your biggest challenge since branching out on your own?

KIERA: Right now, I’m feeling like I’ve reached critical mass on clients. I have several that keep me busy, but I still have the occasional empty space in my work-week, and I’m not yet at that point where I have projects lined up for the next 2-3 months. That’s where I’d like to be – makes scheduling and budgeting a little easier with a better sense of what I’ll be bringing in next month. (Budgeting is only important so I can buy a puppy.)

I’ve reached out to most of the companies I think I’d like to write for and I’m hitting that “okay, now what?” stage.

Q: What’s been the best benefit of working on your own?

KIERA: Without a doubt, the flexibility. My leap into freelance was well-timed in that I was able to get a few projects under my belt and then pretty much unplug completely during the holidays, which was an amazing feeling.

Q: Is there anything you would do differently if you had to start the leap to freelancing all over?

KIERA: I’d make more of an effort to get projects lined up before leaving my full-time job. I spent a lot of time perfecting my website and setting up Wave and bugging my brother to make me a logo, but…not so much time lining up work.

I was fortunate to have some clutch referrals, but the lack of regularity in those first few weeks kind of sucked up my momentum. I’m a little more zen about it now, but in that moment, not having anything to do on a given day was terrifying.

Q: How do you focus on building community with other writers?

KIERA: One of the biggest things is just being open to it. Engaging on Twitter, reading what other writers have to say, reaching out with my own questions. I’m also focusing on giving back a lot. As I mentioned, I’ve been spoiled with help and advice and support from all around. Now that I’m settling into freelance, I want to give that back as much as I can and share my, albeit limited, experience so far.

Q: How much does communicating with other writers factor into your day?

KIERA: It ebbs and flows with my client work. I try to supplement my slower weeks with lots of conversation and really digging in to the community. I’m a bit of a Twitter addict, so I probably spend way too much time interacting there!

Q: What’s one freelancing tool or software that you find yourself using every day?

KIERA: Trello! We were big into Trello over at Grasshopper, and now I’m addicted. Having all of my clients, projects, and pitches displayed visually makes it crazy easy to keep track of everything. I also love the calendar add-on for scheduling and managing deadlines.

Q: How about a physical tool?

KIERA: Honestly, I’m in love with my desk – I actually miss it when I’m out of town. I used to have a smaller one without any storage, and the cluttered workspace really did not work for me. I also recently invested in an external monitor that actually cooperates with my MacBook – only had it for a few days so far, but life is already easier.

Q: If you could tell a client only one thing to get them to improve their content, what would it be—and why?

KIERA: Focus on quality. This is something I notice a lot of clients already starting to do. We used to be so set on churning out content 3, 4, 5 blog posts a week, but now we’re seeing people slow down and put more emphasis on fewer, better pieces of content. Those are the clients I see finding the most success right now.

 

How to Dominate (and Destroy) Your Email Inbox with Extreme Prejudice

I don’t like a full email inbox. It feels messy. Unclean. Like a giant “to-do” list that won’t go away until you slay the dragon once again.

But it’s not just a matter of feeling. Too much email also ruins your:

  • Productivity: The average person wastes about 28% of their productive day on email.
  • Focus: It takes about 64 seconds for you to recover the attention you lost from a fresh email.
  • General peace of mind: Researchers found that “limiting email access dramatically reduces stress levels.”

Since I’m a man who likes things simple, I prefer as simple a process as I can handle. I think I’ve put together as efficient an email management system as possible.

(Think you got me beat? Have a look at my flow chart below and tell me if you’ve got a simpler one. I’m listening.)

Discovering the KonMari Method of Tidying Up

My email management is similar to the KonMari method, made famous by Marie Kundo. It’s designed for keeping a simple, clean lifestyle around your house—but you can imagine the impact it will have on the way you handle email.

The basic steps are as follows:

  • Look at clutter.
  • Ask yourself if clutter makes you happy.
  • If it does, store clutter.
  • If it does not, destroy clutter WITH EXTREME PREJUDICE.

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating. Maybe I’m butchering the entire process. But you have to admit it’s simple: an object either improves the quality of your life (computer) or doesn’t (stack of Dorito’s bags next to the computer). You proceed forthwith.

The Email Flow

After some years and several million emails—I’m not sure if that’s an exaggeration or not—I think I’ve got this email handling thing down to a science.

It looks like this:

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Here’s an explanation of each step:

  1. Is this email actionable? Open the most recent email. Ask yourself if the email is actionable—do you have to respond or create a calendar item? If so, great. Do so. Save any relevant information you need, then delete it. If not, proceed to step 2.
  2. Respond, turn into calendar item, or de-prioritize. The way I see it, an email in your inbox has one of three outcomes: it either (1) requires response (2) requires action and/or (3) doesn’t require either. If (3), delete immediately. If (1) or (2), take the required action, save information you need, and move forward to step three.
  3. Delete.
  4. If, by some miracle of procrastination in which you were unable to delete the entire inbox after all of this, it might be a problem of “letting go.” Which means it may be time for you to go nuclear.
  5. DESTROY INBOX WITH EXTREME PREJUDICE. Warning: only do this if you’re sure you won’t lose vital information, in which case you should return to step 1. But if you’re mainly worried that you’ll miss out on Jim Bob’s vacation videos, it’s time to click “select all” and move it all to the trash.

Congratulations. You’re the proud new owner of a clean inbox.

But Wait! Shouldn’t I Organize Emails into a Million Folders? Isn’t that Easier?

I, too, have gone the email folder route. And while it’s better to organize your emails by subject than not at all, I’ve found that it’s better to delete old emails and save only the relevant information as you go.

Tools for Further Email Inbox Domination

You don’t have to scan 1,000 separate emails to tackle this flowchart all on your own. There are email tools that you can (and should) use to maintain your sanity:

  • Unroll.me unsubscribes you from all of those…things you’ve signed up for trying to get the free download of the “10 Ways to Unclutter Your Email Inbox” eBook. Oh, the irony…
  • IFTTT: The app for making much of the above process automatic. Be careful with this one. If you’re a minimalist you may find it sometimes makes you want to add more than you really need, if only to automate it.
  • SaneBox email cleaner. You have to pay for this one, and I don’t recommend doing that when a good, old-fashioned email nuking will solve your problems. But if you’re working with insane levels of email volume, then you might need the extra dose of sanity.

The Key Insight

Probably the most important part of this post? Aside from the fancy infographic I made in about five minutes?

The key insight that if you were to suddenly delete every single email you have in your inbox, your life won’t fall apart.

I know what you’re thinking: if you delete every email you have, you’ll lose touch of those glorious golden opportunities that otherwise would have swung your way. Friends will abandon you. That email from the state lottery telling you that you won a million dollars will get missed.

But none of that really happens.

If you lose something, you can always ask for it again. If you forget something, you can ask for a reminder. The most important part of this post is to realize that the ultimate goal of work is to get back to zero. Just as your goal when cleaning is to get back to zero, the same should apply with your digital life. Even if that sometimes requires extreme prejudice.

Like what you're reading? Want something like it for yourself? Then schedule a consultation with me.