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In this episode, I welcome Kristi Hines, a full-time freelance blogger and writer for some of the most influential and authoritative marketing brands online. Kristi has written for Moz, CrazyEgg, Hubspot, KissMetrics, Search Engine Journal, Search Engine Watch, Social Media Examiner and more.
Kristi stops by the share her journey to creating 1,000 blog posts, generating over 700k social shares and 100k Facebook fans. Including tips on content topics to write about, how to write content that visitors will actually read and share, how to manage a blog editorial calendar and how to turn copy into money.
Mark Thompson: Welcome to today’s podcast. I am joined here by Kristi Hines. Kristi is a freelance writer. She’s been writing for years now. She’s written over 400 blog posts and had been published on over 60 different publications. She’s a writer for some of the top industry marketing blogs out there. She’s generated over 300,000 social shares. She knows how to write content that is engaging and that shares. That’s exactly what we’re going to be talking about. Kristi, thank you for coming on.
Kristi Hines: Oh, thanks for inviting me.
Mark Thompson: Before we get started on kind of tips and tricks on writing content, just tell me a little bit about how you got started as being a full time freelance writer?
Kristi Hines: Full time freelance writing, it was kind of accidental actually … It wasn’t like accidental. I just didn’t go searching for it. My first client came to me. They had found me guest posting on sites like Search Engine Journal and Social Media Examiner. They basically invited me to write on their site. They said, “We’ll pay you to write the same kind of content for us.” I thought, “I’m already blogging. I’m already writing about the subject. Sure, why not?” I was working in an agency at the time and it was kind of a nice little side gig. That’s really how I started. Then more people started inquiring about the same thing and eventually, it just kind of became a full time job.
Mark Thompson: Okay. How long did it take you to go from working just as a part-time gig to a full-time?
Kristi Hines: I would say it took about a year. It just got to the point where I started having to say no to the freelancing inquiries because I didn’t have enough time. Then I just realized that I could start saying yes to more freelance inquiries if I didn’t have a full time job and it made more sense to do it that way.
Mark Thompson: Okay. How did you start picking up new gigs? Did people just see your content on the web?
Kristi Hines: That was really how it worked. My first client, they were paying me. They were letting me use my by-lines. People were basically seeing my portfolio as I was distributing more content.
Mark Thompson: That was actually going to be one of my questions was, so being a freelance writer, what type of things do you have in place so you can extend your reach, extend your visibility so you can pick up bigger, better writing contracts if you will?
Kristi Hines: Basically, it’s just about making sure that I do have my by-line on some of the content I write. I did do ghostwriting for people so that way they can get their name out there and build their own authority in their industries and everything. I do writing for myself so that way people could kind of see what I do and see the content I create. They’ll hire me based off that. I make sure that every profile I get out there says that I’m a freelance writer. That way, they know to kind of inquire more if that’s what they’re looking for.
Mark Thompson: In terms of the way that you charge, do you charge on a per post basis, on a number of words basis?
Kristi Hines: I go per post per basis, by word count just because if I went hourly it would be too varied just because some days I can write really fast. Some days I’m a little bit slower. I don’t think it’s fair to punish the customer based on that kind of thing.
Mark Thompson: The topics that you’re writing about, do you generally stick to marketing or do you write about anything?
Kristi Hines: I can write about anything. I typically stay away from like really deep medical, or legal, or insurance topics just because I’m not a medical, legal professional, and kind of things like that. I mostly do business and marketing, but I have done stuff with outside of those areas; just personal interest and things like that. It’s good to have some variety just to kind of break things up and get the brain kind of thinking outside the box.
Mark Thompson: One of the hardest things that I found as a writer and I know other marketers struggle with this, is coming up with relevant topics; that you know when you write a piece of content, people are going to want to share it and actually read it. What do you in terms of coming up with your ideas?
Kristi Hines: It depends. A lot of my clients will just give me specific ideas because they already know their audience and what’s going to convert for them. That like for all my clients it’s usually pretty easy. For myself, I spend a lot of time in social media groups on Q and A networks. I just look at what people are asking a lot of questions about. I know if people are asking questions about something, if I write a post that’s going to answer those kind of questions, then I know it’s going to be popular. There’s also great tools like BuzzSumo, and Impactana, and stuff like that that you can kind of research the topic and see what’s going to be popular based on social shares, and back links, and things like that.
Mark Thompson: In terms of the formatting of your content, there’s a big difference between writing a press release versus an article, versus a blog post. I know you mainly focused on blog posting. Is that kind of your main expertise if you will?
Kristi Hines: Yes.
Mark Thompson: Okay. How does a blog post formatting differ from say a press release or an article?
Kristi Hines: I like to break mine up with a lot of headers and a lot of images if possible. Sometimes, it just depends on the topic. Some topics don’t lead to like having a lot of images naturally, but I still like to have a lot of headers throughout. That way you don’t end up with like just like one solid chunk of text, that’s just like one big paragraph, or lots of little paragraphs. Sometimes I just feel like if people can easily scan it that just kind of makes it easier for people to digest the content.
Mark Thompson: Yeah, that’s one thing I’m a stickler about is when people are on the web reading content. If it’s just a big like one long paragraph, it can be overwhelming to someone. That’s one of the things I love about your content is it’s so easy to read that it’s like short bullet points, numbered list. Lots of images that just makes it much more engaging. Do you ever have issues with that fight between, “Hey, I’m the freelance writer. I’m the expert.” Then going back to your client, did you ever have a battle with, “Hey, this is how the article should be written”, but then the client says, “Well, we want it written this way.”
Kristi Hines: Sometimes, but ultimately they’re paying for the service. If that’s their choice, I always tell them, “In my experience I’ve seen this work, but if this is how you choose to do it then that is your decision.” I just kind of I let it go. It was very tough when I first started out, but ultimately that’s just the thing I have to kind of say like, “They are paying for this. They are the customer. I could give them my advice, but it’s ultimately their decision.”
Mark Thompson: How much emphasis do you placed on SEO? I know SEO is kind of gotten modeled over the years in terms of having to make sure you have key words in there. Now it’s a lot about social sharing. Do you have a kind of a strategy in the back of your mind for each piece of content that you write?
Kristi Hines: For me, the focus is more on the reader first because I find if the post is attractive to people, then it’s going to get a lot of SEO value naturally. People are going to link to it. People are going to share it. People are going to talk about it. I write the post based on people first, but I make sure that like I find a really great keyword phrase for it in the end and make sure that that’s on the title. I make sure it’s in the images. I make sure it’s peppered throughout the actual body of the content. I do make sure it is optimized at the end. I mean as long as the keyword phrase is in the title, it’s ultimately going to be in the links. It’s going to be in the shares. [inaudible 00:07:41]
Mark Thompson: Yeah, so just basic on page SEO principles, nothing too crazy?
Kristi Hines: Exactly, yeah. Then I do some outreach sometimes too. If I know that like there’s bloggers or other sites that like they’re doing the kind of the roundup post or stuff like the Marketing Day or the SearchCap and stuff like that. If it’s there, I’ll send them an email and say, “Hey, I did this really great post. I think you guys might like it.” I can do outreach like that too. That’s kind about the link building site. That tends to help.
Mark Thompson: Is that kind of an add-on service? If you say, “Hey, I’ll write this post for X amounts.” Then say, “Hey, I want you to do some social sharing or outreach.” Is that kind of an add-on service for you?
Kristi Hines: I include social sharing but I do like if somebody request like a special like, “I want you to really reach out to all your contacts.” I’ll do that as an additional service as well.
Mark Thompson: Okay. How do you go about charging for something like that? Do you just kind of say, “I’ll share it on my Facebook group”, or how do you break that down?
Kristi Hines: It’s kind of a case by case basis just depending on who the client is and how far they really want to go with it because some people will just be like, “Oh, just email it over there.” Some people will be like, “Here’s a list of like a thousand people I want you to send a custom email to.” It really all depends on exactly what people’s expectations are. Everybody’s really different.
Mark Thompson: Sure, it sounds like that’s a really nice way to kind of differentiate yourself. As if not only can you be a writer, but also have a network on different social outlets; so that not only can you write the post but you can disperse and get it distributed and people can see it. Is that kind of what you’ve tried to do? Kind of position yourself as not only can I write it but I can also get eyeballs on the content?
Kristi Hines: Yeah. That’s usually one of the reasons people hire me is they know that I’ve got a large audience. They know that at least somebody’s are going to see their content. It’s not going to just go out there and that will be it.
Mark Thompson: Do you do any paid advertising to your content at all or even your clients?
Kristi Hines: Not that much. I don’t really do very much in the advertising department.
Mark Thompson: Yeah, I noticed. When you write content, is it 100% for clients? Do you actually write content for yourself and try to promote your own internal products or programs?
Kristi Hines: Right now, I would say probably 90% for my clients. I am working on a course that eventually I’m going to promote for myself. Right now, it’s mostly just for clients.
Mark Thompson: Okay. I always found that interesting because I noticed you do some of the best writing I feel on the web. I always wonder because I know you do have a book that you wrote. I think you released it last year?
Kristi Hines: It’s been a couple of years actually. That’s what I’m doing the course on actually. I’m expanding basically the book into a course.
Mark Thompson: In terms of people who are interested in writing, whether it’s on a freelance role, or just they want to start their own blog. What do you recommend? They’re starting fresh. They don’t have any post under their belt. What do you recommend are their starting points?
Kristi Hines: I would definitely say when you’re starting out to blog to kind that you start off with like at least 5 posts on your site before you start kind of reaching out and connecting with people. That way when they come to your website, they can kind of read your content, kind of get to know you. It gives them a reason to actually subscribe your blog, follow you on social media. I’ve seen some people who are like write one post and then they start trying to promote it. Then like people they come, they read that one post but they don’t really have a motivation to sign up for anything because they don’t know what else is going to come next. I would say like start there, and then kind of go out and network, promote all the content. You got to go from that point.
Mark Thompson: Do you recommend having kind of a bucket list of ideas so that way you’re not kind of scrounging around for topics to write about?
Kristi Hines: Definitely, I keep a trailer board that’s just blog post ideas. I just kind of throw like anytime I have an idea, I just kind of throw a topic in there, or that way. The next time I’m just in a mood where I can’t come up with an idea, I could kind of look in that board and just be like, “Oh, I thought about that a long time ago. That sounds good now.” That’s definitely something. It’s like if you work for a company, you can tell all your employees just to be like, “Hey, the next time you think of an idea, even if you don’t want to write it just throw it in there.” In that way, you can kind of just collect a lot of great ideas.
Mark Thompson: Do you have a certain amount of like a frequency or editorial calendar where you say, “Hey, we’re going to be blogging once a week.” Do you have a certain amounts that you blog every week or every month?
Kristi Hines: Personally, I don’t just because I’m writing for so many other people. It’s hard to write for myself. In general, a lot of the ideas I have go to my clients. My clients are kind of they’re all over the board. I have clients who post twice a day. I have some people who post just once a week. I have people who post once a month and just kind of all depends. I always tell people do whatever posting schedule that you can make sure that every piece is quality; not just try to be like get something out there, just to get something out there.
Mark Thompson: Yeah. It doesn’t really matter if it’s once a week or once a month. Do you recommend just having a consistent schedule?
Kristi Hines: Not necessarily. I mean I think on my blog I posted like 3 posts last year. I got a ton of traffic just because they were 3 really good posts. I just promoted the heck out of them. That’s what I focused on. It’s just like it was probably 10% of actually writing the post. Then 90% of actually promoting it.
Mark Thompson: More of having not necessarily quantity but quality. Maybe something that’s 5 to 10,000 words? Something very thorough?
Kristi Hines: Exactly. Something that you could just kind of continue to promote forever, and ever, and ever. It will just always drive traffic for you.
Mark Thompson: Okay. Are you always thinking of kind of what’s the end game of these posts? I know, one of our strategies for our blog is to get people to the site. Then, get them to opt in to one of our free reports. Is that kind of the end goal? Do you always have call to actions at the end of each of your post?
Kristi Hines: I do. I always tell clients that they need to know that in advance like I always ask people like what is your specific goal for content? Is it to just to get your business name out there? Is it to get leads on your email list? If it is, do you have a lead magnet? Is it to get people to like sign up for your product, a 30-day free trial? In which case you need to have a banner for that at the end of your post and on your side bar. I’m always trying to tell people like you need to have a specific goal. If you have that goal, you need to have something on the blog post that makes sure that’s aimed towards that goal, or the call to action basically.
Mark Thompson: Are there any tips or tricks that you use to get people to engage and leave comments?
Kristi Hines: Definitely ask like at the end of the post. I always like to say like, “Which tip do you consider the best? What’s your experience with using this?” Ask a question if that’s kind of your main goal is to get comments, is definitely to do that. I find it like if you kind of prompt people, they’ll let you know. If you think this is a good thing, do you think this is a bad thing?
Mark Thompson: Yeah. Do you normally manage those comments as well for the post that you write, or do you ask your clients to do that?
Kristi Hines: If I’m a ghostwriter, I usually tell the client to do it because if I’m answering the comments, it’s going to make it obviously look like I wrote the post.
Mark Thompson: Yeah.
Kristi Hines: If I wrote the post, then I usually try to come back and answer the comments. A lot of it just depends on whether their systems are going to notify me or not because with the volume of content I write, it’s hard for me to kind of go around and check to make sure whether I’ve gotten comments or not. If they got a system that’s going to send me emails, then obviously I’ll come back in and check on them and everything.
Mark Thompson: Okay. Yeah, got you. Then in terms of who the authors are. What percentage of your writing is doing it under a ghostwriter? Then what percentages under your name?
Kristi Hines: Right now, I would probably say it’s about 50-50.
Mark Thompson: Okay.
Kristi Hines: I do have a lot of people who would like to kind of have their site look like we’ve invited a lot of guest bloggers. This is one of them. That way, they don’t have to always hire freelance writers. They could just eventually have guest posters come on versus some people, just to have had everything under their name. That way, they look like the authority on whatever the topic is.
Mark Thompson: Sure. I was kind of curious. One of the things that we do with our blog is we do have a few writers that help contribute to the blog. They’ll write the majority of the content, but that will publish it under different names. One day it might be under me. One day it might be under my partner. Do you find that a lot of companies do it that way?
Kristi Hines: Yes. Some do just so they could kind of build up the experience or the authority level of everybody at their company and be just to give it some variety. Some people like to have the CEO as the expert of everything. Then some people like to have their salesperson or their customer support person. Different people have that.
Mark Thompson: Yeah, so it’s different with every organization and just depending on what your goals are and who you’re looking to kind of put in the limelight if you will?
Kristi Hines: Exactly yeah. Usually if it’s a client, I just ask them to let me know in advance like who they plan to put as the author. I could kind of think appropriately going into the post.
Mark Thompson: Okay. I would assume 90, was it 98% of blogs are powered by WordPress? Are there certain plugins or themes that you like to install if you’re just starting out a brand new site?
Kristi Hines: Definitely Yoast SEO for WordPress because that seems to be … It handles all the SEO for you and it also handles the social media Open Graphs. You can make sure that your posts look really good when they’re shared on Facebook, and with the Twitter cards, and things like that.
Mark Thompson: Interesting. Okay.
Kristi Hines: Definitely that. Make sure if you’re going to have comments, make sure you activate the Akismet. I don’t know how to pronounce it, but that and the [GrowMap 00:17:57] anti-spam comment plugin. It basically adds a checkbox to the comment forms. People have to check it before they submit the comment. It helps kind of reduce the spam.
Mark Thompson: Interesting. Okay.
Kristi Hines: Those are the ones I usually suggest right off the bat.
Mark Thompson: Then, how about in terms of outreach? I may have a brand new blog. I put 5 or 7 new posts on there. I don’t really have a lot of clout in the space. How do you even get people to share your content?
Kristi Hines: Typically you just want to look around for people who have shared similar content to yours. Then just kind of reach out to them personally and just say, “Hey, I noticed you shared this person’s post about this. I just created an updated version that’s got a lot more information. I thought maybe you’d be interested in sharing this with your audience too since they really liked it.” Kind of sell it, not as I need you to share this for me because I’m with you; but sell this, “This would be a really great benefit for your audience.”
Mark Thompson: One of the best posts that I did on my old blog was I think I got the most shares, and back links, and that kind of stuff was 100 Marketers to Follow on Twitter. All I did was I just took a screenshot of every one’s avatar and their Twitter profile. Then put a little summary about them and their link to their site. I did that for 100 people. I’d say about half of those people actually re-tweeted it, and sent it out to their network of people just by mentioning those people. People love that. It’s kind of like a little ego trip if you will.
Kristi Hines: Ego bait.
Mark Thompson: Yeah, a little ego bait if you will. Just by mentioning other people that have authority in your space seems to be a pretty easy way that’s like hopefully kind of attach your name, or their influence to your blog. What else I was going to ask? If I’m a company and we have our own blog, do you recommend a certain percentage of time and effort to go towards guest blogging just to help drive initial traffic back to your own blog?
Kristi Hines: I do. It all depends on what industry you’re in. What publications are out there that accept posts and everything. Obviously in the marketing industry, there are tons of … Especially SEO, there’s tons of blogs you could be contributing to, to kind of build your authority up. You definitely want to balance it out to where you’re not just guest posting or just posting on your own blog. You kind of want to do a little bit of both that way when people find a guest post on Search Engine Watch. They could come back to your blog and find a lot more and find a reason to subscribe to your blog too.
Mark Thompson: Do you have a tip or a piece of software that you use to help find guest posts opportunities?
Kristi Hines: I don’t really use software. Usually if you’re in a specific industry, you should know which blogs are popular within that industry just because people are sharing their content. You want to find the sites that are like the contents being shared. The content’s being discussed. It should be a matter of like, “Oh, this site’s [inaudible 00:21:05] authority or page.” It should be like sites that are actually getting traffic and getting engagement with your target audience.
Mark Thompson: Right. Thank you so much for all these tips. If anyone wants to follow your writing and what’s you’re doing, where should they go to follow you?
Kristi Hines: Best place to go would just be kristihines.com.
Mark Thompson: Yeah. I’ll have a link underneath the show notes below so you can follow her. I will say Kristi, you’re one of the best in the industry when it comes to content writing. Anybody listening, make sure you follow her. You’ve been on search engine lands, I mean a lot of the search engine and marketing blogs out there. Just the way that she formats her content, writes it, you’ll notice almost every single post that you do Kristi is like getting an insane amount of sharing and going viral. It’s a pretty cool to watch what you do. Thank you so much for coming on.
Kristi Hines: Oh, thank you.
Mark Thompson: All right. Take care. Have a good one.
Kristi Hines: All right. You too.
Mark Thompson: Bye-bye.