Member Profile: Lantern's Amanda MacArthur Knows SEO, Google and Best-Selling Cookbooks

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Amanda MacArthur is the co-founder and content director of Lantern Content Marketing Adventure Company. Because she is quite the expert on SEO and Google, we took advantage of her knowledge for a slightly longer Q&A.

SIPA: You've worked with Mequoda for 10 years. How does that relationship work now that you're off on your own?
AMANDA: I feel grateful that I still work with the forward-thinking team at Mequoda on a daily basis; they keep me fresh and motivated to do good work. While a large portion of our work at Lantern is with non-publishers, my relationship with Mequoda gives me the opportunity to work with their clients to recycle archive content into search-optimized web content, so I still feel very much part of the team as I always have been. The added joy is working with my husband who produces video for our clients, and lives in the technical side of SEO while I hang on the editorial side. 

Speaking of which, how can publishers best optimize their content?
My most basic advice is that if you want to rank for a keyword phrase, make sure it's in the article. Google is pretty good at interpreting language, but it can't add words into your articles that aren't there. The title (h1), subhead (h2), section heads (h3) and the first paragraph are especially good places to use your targeted keywords. If you pay for Google Ads, even with a small $100/mo budget, they will give you access to keyword volume data and you can find out exactly how many people are searching for different phrases.

And then you can search for those terms in Google?
Yes, that will show you how many pages are competing for that exact term. By looking at the results, you can also see what types of pages Google wants to rank for a term. For example, if your keyword is "tire change" you'll find that Google wants to list mechanics. If your keyword is "how to change a tire" you have a better chance of your article ranking because Google wants to display how-to articles. Google's latest focus is on intent, and they want to serve up the type of content they think the user is looking for when they type in a term.

Although most publishers have moved on from print, can a print mentality be hard to move past?
Users are already long past the print mentality; they read the web all day long and pay for digital content. They enjoy print but having an issue to hold isn't required for purchase anymore, just like consumers are happy to dish out money to Apple and their cable providers for music and movies that all live in the cloud. It's publishers that are still hanging on to the print mentality hardest, and who can blame them? Print is easy on the eyes, smells good, and unlike the internet, can be started and ended in one sitting. Unfortunately, it can't be tracked, and its not as accessible as information online, so while living in ignorant bliss has worked for the print industry until now, it isn't the growth mindset necessary to stay in business for the long-term.

Do publishers "forget" their old content too quickly?
I don't think publishers are forgetful—maybe too over-protective. Mequoda's rule is that you wait at least 90-180 days before releasing any content from behind your paywall. After that, the content can become much more valuable when you make it free. Articles can be optimized for search, and you can begin to send new traffic to your website with each article you release. A website with 100,000 free articles is going to attract more visitors and convert them into subscribers better than a website with 100 that keeps all the good stuff behind the wall. The real tragedy is when publishers keep their best content locked away and get frugal creating the free content. You want the content in front of your paywall to be as good as what's behind it. Your free content should be a shining example of what readers can expect when they pay for content; if it's not, why would they want to pay?

How do you respond when ROI for social media comes up?
The ROI of social media is SEO. Sure, retailers make a ton of money through social channels and even a few major magazine publishers, but the main return on your investment is that the articles you promote will rank higher and send more targeted traffic when they do.

Do you have a favorite social media strategy?
Yes, I've dubbed it the 12x12x12. For each new post, our team will write 12 unique social posts in 140 characters or less. We have 12 formulas we use, so for example one post might invite the user to comment on the post, another might tag someone mentioned in the article, and another might simply just be the subhead. We schedule those posts out on Twitter once per day for the first 12 days, and then one per month for the next twelve months. On Facebook, LinkedIn and Pinterest, we schedule on the first day, six months later, and sometimes again 12 months later.

Sounds like a lot of work.
Yes but we've found that this keeps posts at the top of search engines for longer periods of time. The social proof is that whenever we have a popular post that stops sending traffic, we run it through the 12x12x12 again and it almost always pops right back up in search results.

How about blogs? Do the more pages you have on your website give you more you can rank on?
Yes. I feel sorry for businesses that aren't publishers and need to rely on a homepage, an about page and other informational pages to get found in Google. In fact that's why my husband and I started Lantern. We wanted to bring the power of SEO though blog publishing to software companies, which requires publishing at least one blog post a week, preferably more. Publishing with regularity means that Google knows to keep indexing your site, too. [Otherwise] Google won't crawl your site as often which means when you do put the effort into SEO, you may have to wait a month or longer to see any results.

What about archived content?
Luckily publishers have the benefit of old archives, and you don't need to be creating new content all the time. You can simply recycle older content and optimize it for the web and SEO. To tell if content is effective, we live in Google Analytics and a variety of other tools to see where new traffic is coming from, and whether it's staying.

Any more tips on getting the best from Google?
They are always looking out for their users, and they want to give them the best results possible. Trying to game the system means they'll catch and punish you in a future algorithm update. Publishing high-quality content regularly is your best strategy. On top of that, Google uses a number of indicators to determine whether to rank a website or an article, but they don't want you to try and game the system, so they'll never tell you.

Interesting. So what matters most then?
The consistent factors that seem to matter are organic, contextual inbound links from other sources (like those you can get from guest blogging on a reputable site); the click rate on articles when they do rank an article (which can be improved by writing better, more clickable headlines); and the quality of your content (ask yourself – would I share this? Is this so good that someone will want to read to the end?). There are other factors, but these are the three that seem to impact results most.

And finally, tell us about The Wicked Good Ketogenic Diet Cookbook! How did it come about?
I started a blog called many years ago to keep track of the ketogenic-style recipes I was creating. Ketogenic is more or less a low-carb paleo approach to eating. After casually checking into the website one day, I realized I was getting a substantial amount of traffic and a lot of comments, so I threw up an email collection bar from HelloBar and sat on it. About a year later, after only adding recipes here and there, I had 3,000 email subscribers and about 20,000 unique visitors per month. Weird!

What happened then?
I decided I should do something with it and started blogging with SEO in mind a little more and sending email newsletters regularly. I grew to 36,000 email subscribers and about half a million visitors every month. Then I started selling monthly sponsorships on the site. Due to the popularity, a publisher reached out and offered me a cookbook deal, for The Wicked Good Ketogenic Diet Cookbook, which published last June and has sold 35,000 copies so far. It was recently bought by Barnes & Noble to re-package and sell under their own imprint. It's kind of just a fun story of a hobby turned into a side hustle thanks to good food, and good, old-fashioned SEO. I'm currently working on the next one, which I'm planning to self-publish.


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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…