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How to Conduct & Create Content from Expert Interviews

Pat Marcello

Most of you know me as an SEO, but in a former life, I was a book author. Yep. I have 11 books published by some big publishers, mostly biographies. So, you can imagine how perfect it is for someone like me to know that SEO is driven by killer content. Yay!

This is one thing my company does for SEO clients. We produce great content and spew it all over the Web. I’m talking unique content, of course. No more than one article in one place. So, the process is rather expensive, but the results for my long-term clients have been outstanding. We’ve been testing this system and theory for four years now, and have had some pretty stellar results.

interviewWhy? Because we know this is what the Big Dog wants. Google wants all of us to BE professional writers. They want us to clean up our own Web.

I’m actually all for that. Remember the days when any piece of garbo could be uploaded anywhere a million times and get you ranked for whatever keyword you were pursuing? It used to drive me CRAZY! Grammar, spelling and punctuation are very important to me and some misuses can actually drive me into apoplexy. Swear.

But let’s say English isn’t your first language. Or, maybe you were texting (or writing notes if you’re my age) to your BFF while the English teacher tried to help you learn to write well. It happens.

Never ask me to pinpoint Kamchatka on a map of Russia, please. I only know what I learned playing Risk. I hated geography, but have made it a point to improve as an adult. Guess what? You can do it with writing, too.

Anyway, let’s say you have an aversion to writing or really don’t have a clue about where to begin… That’s normal. Lots of folks are just afraid to start. So, for all of you who really despise writing anything, even your own name, I have a solution!


There you have it. Simple. Find someone in your niche with some clout (or Klout, which is better), and ask him or her if you can do a 30-minute, 10-question interview. Then, write about the experience. There are lots of ways to use an article from an interview like that.

People love this stuff! And, if done well, you will too.

Here’s how:

Rules for Finding an Expert in Your Niche

1. Type the topic you want to cover into Google or another search engine. These days, with Google making big brands king/queen, you should be able to find some good authority stuff right on page one.

2. When you have selected a few likely candidates, make a list in a spreadsheet. Find contact information through a search engine, Domain Tools or another domain info site to get their phone number and/or physical and email address. Enter any of that information you can into your master document.

trust me i'm a doctor3. Go to Klout and check each expert’s score. Are they respected in your niche online? This is VERY important. If you find a college professor, that will work, too, but a college professor with clout is much better. People will be excited by the interview before they even begin to read because they already know the person involved.

For example, I read most stuff from Matt Cutts, Danny Sullivan, on and on, and anyone at SEMrush. (Of course!) I already know I want to read what these people have to say about SEO, right?

Who are the people in your niche that are well-known online? Those folks will be your best interview subjects.

Query Your Idea

1. To get the best backlink to your website, it’s best to publish in major online publications, not to guest blog on a low-authority site. So, you should have some samples of your writing to show editors. If you have a blog, cool! If you don’t, just be certain you have some published materials on the Web for editors to review, and be sure that whatever you send them to is done well.

2. Be sure the online publication you want to submit your interview to has not interviewed the subject you plan to interview within the past 12 months. You can usually get that information just by searching the person’s name and seeing what comes up.

3. Study the publication’s style. Is it light and fun? Serious as a heart attack? Do they even publish interviews? (If they don’t, it still shouldn’t stop you. If you have a real celebrity interview, they may decide it’s OK anyway.) Just be sure you can write in the style the publication presents.

4. Prepare a query letter. You can find a complete outline of how this is done properly at my writing site: http://PatMarcello.com/1206/writing-killer-query-letter/. This is important. Without giving a good query, you’ll be hard pressed to get a professional site editor to accept your idea.

5. If you query this idea to several websites and none are interested, you probably need to find another expert or boost your writing skills. There are scads of books to help you. Some of my favorite writing books are like not reading writing books at all.

Stephen King’s "On Writing" is excellent, as are several writing books by mystery writer Lawrence Block. But Stunk & White’s "Elements of Style" is still key for nonfiction. The "AP Style Guide" and "Chicago Manual of Style" are important, if you plan to make your writing professional. You really should take some time to learn to write well. I don’t want to frighten you, but that’s how the Web is moving. If you’re producing content, you need to prepare yourself now.

Rules for Contacting the Expert(s) You Found

  • Send a formal business letter to the subject first. This usually makes a better impression than an email. I have always gotten interviews this way, from Gloria Steinem to Ralph Nader. I first wrote to their office, mentioned why I wanted to speak with them and them asked them to contact me.

This usually elicited a response. And don’t be intimidated! No one can see you hemming and hawing in the mail from nervousness. So, make it the best, most to-the-point letter you can.

Email often is interspersed among spam, and might be deleted the instant it hits someone’s inbox.

  •  If your potential subject doesn’t respond right away or you can’t get an office address? Email. Mention the snail-mail letter you sent, and that you haven’t had a response. Sometimes, people are too busy to respond right away, but this actual letter puts a silent obligation on them to respond one way or the other. If they’re interested, they’ll no doubt email you back.

mail box

  •  If you don’t get a response to your email within seven days, email again, even forward the first message you sent to show you indeed tried before. Email is lost, too. Don’t allow one lost email to squelch your momentum.
  • If you sent two emails and still have had no response, call the person’s office. State clearly what you want and why. Yes, be a pest. Squeaky wheels and all that.
  • If none of this works, move on to the next expert. When you find one willing to play, it’s time to create 10 questions for your interview.

The Process

Creating Your Interview

1. Remember just because you know something doesn’t mean that all readers will. Never take anything for granted. If you’re writing about “autoresponders” because you’re interviewing Tom Kulzer from AWeber, for example, don’t assume your readers know what an autoresponder is, how it works or anything else about AWeber. Give people a quick paragraph or introduction.

2. Start with easy questions, then move to harder ones.

3. Make sure your questions are clear in meaning. You don’t want to waste your 30 minutes explaining what you mean. Read the questions to someone else before asking your expert.

4. Include one controversial question. This will assure that you’ll have readers.

When I interviewed Ralph Nader back in 2002 and he was running for President, I asked him, “What would you say to people who say you’re too old to be President?” It’s almost confrontational, but isn’t. I knew Nader would be able to defend himself easily.

You don’t want to ask questions that really piss people off, unless you’re very brave and intend to never get another interview with that person again. However, if you could interview Barack Obama, imagine the stir you could create, no matter what you asked!

Questions that are too combative or touch on something personal your subjects might not want to discuss? They will tell you. But don’t be afraid to ask anything. You’ll never know whether they will or won’t answer until you try.

The Interview

1. Always interview while recording. In many states, you need to ask permission to record first, so be sure to follow your local laws regarding disclosure.

2. Use a reliable recording service to capture the audio. I have used Free Conference Call for years and the service works very well, but there are many available. Before that, I used a Radio Shack gadget that allowed me to record calls right into my personal tape recorder. That works, too.

3. Remember, this is a conversation. Your questions might fly right out the window with the first question because the person has answered everything that fast. Don’t panic. Just talk. Ask for expansion on topics they covered. Go in another direction. Just pretend the person is your friend and you’re discussing the niche. Ask for answers to questions and solutions to problems that everyone in your niche is looking for.

After the Interview

1. Have the interview transcribed. You can do it yourself, but it will take a while to get it all down. In lieu of that, think about hiring a transcription service.

2. Be sure to clean up the transcript. Even the best services make mistakes.

Putting the Article Together

1. Review the answers to your questions and see which are best to start with. Usually a statistic or some interesting tidbit or a story about your niche or the interview subject is going to be the best.

puzzle pieces2. If you truly hate to write, you can create an introduction paragraph for the interview, and then, go the “You asked, they answered” Q&A route. Write a paragraph at the end to sum it all up and BINGO! You have an interview piece you should be able to place easily, if you concentrate on that open and close. Simple! But if nothing else, the interview will make a killer entry or even several entries in your blog.

3. For those of you who are more advanced writers? You can get lots of mileage out of one interview by taking each question and making each the topic for a different article. If you do that, you can write background information and some of your insights about the topic, peppered with quotes from your expert. This would be the type of “in-depth” article Google is looking for.

The Bottom Line

Writing great content that produces positive effects for search goodness may be just a few steps away. If you notice lately, there’s been a box at the bottom of Google’s results pages that says, “In-Depth Articles,” where they throw “big brand URL” articles your way. If you can get into that section, you’re golden. Think about it… If you only do one of these a month, and do it well, you may have 12 great in-depth articles to share each year. Just be sure to bolster your article with some research, and expert quotes. In tandem, those will make all the difference.

Content production isn’t about spouting the same party line anymore or regurgitating stuff we’ve heard over and over again as aficionados of our niches. Come up with some cool interview articles that other folks just aren’t doing and you will see a difference in your authority, too.

But when all else fails…

Hire someone to create great content for you, including the interview process. The Web really is moving to a more professional tone and style. Just be sure you hire the right people. You can pay for garbage content, too. Ask yourself: Would I read an article like this in the New York Times or in Esquire, Parenting, or Reader’s Digest magazine? If your answer is no, your article isn’t ready for prime time, either. Go back and learn to be a better writer or pay more. Professional content is the way of the “New Search Order.”

All images (aside from image 1, which is personal) are from MorgueFile.com

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Pat Marcello is President and SEO Manager at MagnaSites.com, a full-service digital marketing company that serves small- to medium-sized businesses. Follow her on FacebookTwitter or Google+. Pat’s last article for SEMrush was "Google's Fetch and Render: Why It's Important."
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