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In today’s episode, Danny Goodwin of Momentology joins SEJ Executive Editor, Kelsey Jones, for a discussion on how a journalism background makes you a better online writer and editor. They also discuss where to find good industry content to keep you current, as well as their best advice for pitching and getting published in major publications.
Here are a few transcribed excerpts from the discussion—make sure to listen to the podcast to hear everything:
Danny’s Journalism Background and His Role in Momentology
You need your audience to trust that what you’re saying is fair and accurate, and that it has an impact on what they’re doing in their lives and things they need to know about.
Of course, there’s no worse feeling, too, as a writer, when getting something wrong. Nowadays, it’s easy. It’s like, “Okay, we’ll just correct that online,” but when it was in print, it was just there. You couldn’t fix it.
One of my first roles at the newspaper was writing obituaries. If you make a mistake on an obituary, you’re going to hear about it from the grieving family, and it’s not pretty. Those experiences stay with you. As I always say, your greatest failures are stepping stones to your greatest success, so thankfully I didn’t make a ton of mistakes, and when you do, you can’t dwell on them either. You just have to sort of shake it off, you know, Taylor Swift style.
Back in the day, you couldn’t make it in writing if you couldn’t be trusted or you couldn’t write well, so I think trust and the ability to write are two of the biggest things that journalism has taught me the importance of.
Dealing With Criticism
I always actually took the really nit-picky stuff as a compliment because it made me think, “Well, people are really reading us. They care about us.” That’s a really good sign in my opinion. You have passionate people that think a lot of what you do. They have high standards of you, so you have to have even higher standards for yourself.
I mean, you can’t always match them, but you want to, as the old saying says, “aim for perfection and catch excellence”. That’s one of my favorites. You can never be perfect, but you can always be excellent.
Feedback is part of the thing, too, with journalism. If you don’t get feedback, you can’t really grow. Nobody just gets a trophy for showing up when you’re trying to put out a great publication. You have to earn it. There’s no awesome, unique snowflakes given by default here.
That’s the good thing about writing. There are rules. There’s a certain basic standard for writing that you have to meet.
How to Stay Relevant in the Online Marketing Industry
I did Google Reader, but once that went away, I moved to Feedly. When I was at SEW, that was just starting, so I think at one point I probably had a list of, I want to say like 300 or so publications in my feed. When I was at SEW, we were very news-focused, so every time I would find a story from somewhere, they’d go to my RSS feed.
When I was first putting my list of RSS feeds together, two places I went to start that was Google News and also SearchCap from Search Engine Land because SearchCap sort of recaps some of the top stories from around the web. You’ll find some really good websites from that. That’s where I get a lot of my RSS feeds.
I think TopRank has this really amazing, but somewhat now outdated, page of 200 or so marketing sites. You’ll have to weed through some of them because a few of them no longer exist, but I’ve found some real gems in there.
Nowadays, my focus is more on the digital marketing rather than the search, so I have reduced my daily output of stories. I think I went from getting 1,000 headlines a day down to like 200.
The other interesting thing I’m doing: I’ve sort of moved away from the RSS thing right now. I’m trying an experiment where I’m just doing Twitter lists. I’ve created a list of all the brands that I like, so it’s everything from Adweek to Ad Age to SEJ to some of the smaller places, the blogs like Convince and Convert. There’s just so many different ones that I couldn’t even name them all if I tried.
It’s sort of in my opinion now, if you’re not tweeting it, it’s not important. I’m seeing if that actually works, but it’s been kind of interesting so far.
Handling Outside Contributors
I guess the hardest thing is there are days where it feels like you’re herding cattle and just chasing people all around.
I don’t know what it is about the column, but it makes people just not deliver on time. In all fairness, this isn’t a paid gig. They’re doing this because they love to do it and they want to be known. You just have to put up with the deadlines.
We did have one issue at SEW where a writer for one SEO tool, which I will not name, wrote another article in which he basically bashed and made a bunch of claims that weren’t true about a competing tool, and that made it through the editorial process by some fluke. Yeah, that was probably one of the worst things. It wasn’t a huge disaster, but anything like that that slips through is never a good thing. You know, that was probably one of the biggest failures from editing that I remember.
When you get to the point where you’re managing 20, 30, or more people every month, there’s always the concern of duplication. It varies, but usually I do try to take a more hands-on approach with writers and just say, “Hey, what are you thinking about writing?” because I want to make sure first that they’re not redoing something that’s already been done on the site or something that somebody else is already working on, but there’s no central hub where everyone just posts their topics that they’re writing, so you have to be the quality control there. You know, I consider it wasting people’s time because you don’t want two people doing the same thing; that’s terrible.
The other toughest part probably, for me, is actually when you lose great writers because of time constraints or whatever it is. It’s sort of like a mutual relationship where you want to make them look good because they make you look good. It’s like losing a family member in a way.
In terms of being controversial, it doesn’t necessarily have to be something outrageous. It could just be taking an idea that’s batted around as Gospel and saying, “Maybe we should rethink this idea.” That’s a tough one to do. You have to be really talented to pull it off, but I think more people could do that and should do that. There’s no reason to just keep repeating the same essential information slightly different over and over again. Make people think.
On Writing for Momentology or Other Big Publications
First thing, sort of think of it from the publisher’s side. Their goal is not to help you. Your goal is to help them. Do some research on the topics they cover, look for content holes, and make sure something you want to write about is a fit for them, they haven’t already done it a bunch of times, and you have something unique to offer.
In terms of the actual writing, write the way you talk. Use short words, short sentences, and short paragraphs. Try to avoid jargon words because those are the hallmarks of a pretentious ass. This one is harder to ballpark in terms of what we do with editing for a publication, but their advice was never write more than two pages on any topic.
I know there’s a lot of talk that you should have longer or bigger content, but I think we’re going to see a switch away from that, where we’re going to go to shorter and better, especially with how mobile is. A lot of people are consuming content on mobile, and they don’t want really long content.
You want to just make sure you’re putting out the best content and making sure people can find it, no matter how long it is; just be the best answer. Whether it takes you 500 words or 1,000 words, just be the best answer.
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Think you have what it takes to be a Marketing Nerd? If so, message Kelsey Jones on Twitter, or email her at kelsey [at] searchenginejournal.com.
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