Category: Let’s Get Down to Business (Page 2 of 9)

How I Build My Personal Brand

Research on Iran. by Negar Mottahedeh Social M...

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It’s been awhile since I’ve written about personal branding, but it seems like now is the perfect time to do so. After completing the #Trust30 Challenge and writing a few reflective posts, I’m ready to get back into marketing, social media, and branding. It’s what I know best and feel most passionate about.

In previous posts and in some of my guest posts, you may have read about ways to strengthen your presence on LinkedIn, blog successfully, or utilize social media tools like Facebook to grow your brand, either as an individual or an organization. In this next series of posts, I’m going to share a behind the scenes look at what I use to grow my own personal brand, both online and offline.

Here’s what you can expect to hear from me:

  • Why I keep things PG-13 on Facebook
  • What social network I’m still exploring
  • Why I have two Twitter accounts
  • What’s in my portfolio
  • How I pay it forward
  • How I was a guest poster even before I got into blogging
I’m not a celebrity in social media by any means. What I’m writing about isn’t gospel, but it’s what’s working for me right now. I’m just sharing my perspective. Other opinions and points of view are welcome!
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Starting a Digital Writing Support Group

I got out of bed to write this post. Let’s hope it’s a good one :)

Two weeks ago, I started rereading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. For those of you who might not know about her, Gretchen is the kind of person who makes you smile. Although I’m not nearly as organized as her, I can appreciate what she has to say in relation to happiness. Her best-selling book, The Happiness Project, details a year of happiness. Not the Eat, Pray, Love kind of happiness where you run off to an island paradise and have too much sex. The Happiness Project was a quiet but impactful year that was spent at home, in the environment where most of your happiness is found anyway. When I read it the first time, I loved it. I lent the book to friends. I wrote about it. But I needed a few reminders about happiness, so picking up her book was a balm.

A few minutes ago, I was in chapter 3: Aim Higher. This is the part of the project where Gretchen started her blog and resolved to work smarter. As I read over her start of a writing group, I had a thought. Maybe I should have something like this.

God knows that I could be more organized and having accountability to keep me blogging is a damn good idea. Words tend to run dry for me when I’ve spent a day working on freelance projects plus my day job, leaving little time for me to write for myself. I make too many excuses. I send myself too many email reminders but forget to act on them. It’s a cycle of suck.

Accountability as a writer is key. There aren’t many bloggers that I know of who can put a crap ton of content out there, stop, and then expect the blog to still be just as popular. Alright, there are a few, but I know I’m not one of them…yet. NEPA Blogs is planning on doing meetings locally, but with my schedule right now, it’s difficult to make them. Maybe I can set up something on the interwebz, independent of location and a bit more free with scheduling.

Anyone interested in starting a digital writing support group? The classified ad would go as such.

 

BLOGGERS & WRITERS WANTED

(say you’re a guru and you can keep walkin’, tiger)

20-something blogger seeking fellow writers for mutual accountability.

Friendly discussion, ideas, and brainstorming will abound. Group bitching likely.

Supportive environment for all bloggers, all subjects. Flexible scheduling.

Meetings monthly or bi-weekly on that screen you’re sitting in front of.

Interested parties: leave a comment.

 

Seriously. Leave a comment.

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Guest Post Round-Up: 9/13/2011

I’ve been busy guest blogging since my last guest post round-up, so I thought I’d update you all and shamelessly self-promote my creations :) . Check out some of my latest posts from around the interwebz.

My 7 Favorite Swipe File Tools

3 Summer Styles of Writing You Should Practice

It Ain’t Easy Being SEO Copy

Toss Out the Essay: The 7 Alternate Styles for SEO Copywriting

Your Relationship With the Muse: A Writer’s Intervention

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Is Ripoff Report Banned from Google?

UPDATE: Search Engine Land is reporting that Ripoff Report was not banned from the Google index. A Google spokesperson says the site is not banned, but was removed after Google received a request to do so via Google Webmaster Tools. There’s now some speculation on the reasons why, but either way, it’s been interesting watching this unfold. Opinions have been shared on here, on Twitter, on Facebook, and countless other sites. If there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that many people have opinions when it comes to Ripoff Report.

Stay tuned – I know I will be.

****************************************************************

 

Search Engine People  deserves all the credit for noticing this. Their Facebook page is the first place that I’ve seen any report of Ripoff Report being banned from Google, so I decided to take a look for myself (site:ripoffreport.com). As of 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, August 9, 2011 – they are not in the index. Will they come back? We’ll have to wait and see.

SEP Facebook Posting

Go to Google. Search for Ripoff Report. Surprised? So was I.

Whether you’re happy or sad about it, it’s important to remember that this is big news in online reputation management. Many businesses seek out help to combat a Ripoff Report and there’s a lot of money that goes into managing one’s online reputation. SEO services, PR firms, and even software has been utilized to battle the damaging affects of a Ripoff Report showing up when one Google’s the name of your company. Think about it – if you were a company and the first result for your company name was a Ripoff Report, what would you do?

I have mixed feelings about Ripoff Report. On one hand, many consumers go there to see a clearer view of a business. It’s a public forum to voice concerns about a particular company and usually, those concerns ranked well in the engines, causing companies to take action to resolve the claim. Google created a sense of urgency when it came to delivering better service or any service at all. In many ways, that’s a good thing.

However, there’s a darker side to Ripoff Report and it’s one that I’m not particularly fond of. Consumers are allowed to post their complaints on the site free of charge, yet when it comes time for a business to make a rebuttal, dollar signs start flashing.

According to Ripoff Report’s own site, a business can post a rebuttal for free, but when it comes down to removing a resolved complaint or taking false information down, it’s not free. Yes, I said FALSE information. A business can’t have a lie or a complete made up claim about their business removed without whipping out a wallet.

Ripoff Report offers something called a VIP Arbitration Program, where a business can prove that a claim against them is false. Here’s how it works (as noted on the official site):

You submit a written arbitration statement identifying the false statements in the report, or explaining that the report was posted by a competitor pretending to be a customer. You are also given the opportunity to support your position with documentary evidence and/or sworn affidavits. There is a filing fee of $2,000 to pay for the arbitrator’s time and for administration of the program. The author of the report is then given the opportunity respond and you are given the opportunity to reply (source: http://www.ripoffreport.com/).

What happens if the author never responds? Does nothing get resolved? How about small businesses? How can they pay thousands of dollars to have a false claim removed? This isn’t even counting their paid Corporate Advocacy program.

For a small business, it seems like an unfair fight. Few small businesses have the chance to have a negative comment removed. Yes, they can respond using the free rebuttal option- but that response is pushed down to the bottom of the page. Below the irate capital letters, exclamation points, and incomplete sentences that usually make up the claim. Below the last nail in their reputation’s coffin.

Why should a business have to pay for the ability to defend itself against someone who was disgruntled that day? Or a competitor? Or someone who just made something up? In my opinion, Ripoff Report should make a business’ rebuttal more visible and allow for false information to be disputed without having to pay a $2,000+ arbitration fee. But again, that’s a different discussion.

Don’t get me wrong. There are businesses out there practicing, well, bad business. They’re dishonest and they don’t value the customer. Sometimes they’ll flat out lie in their rebuttals. But for other types of businesses, the honest ones, Ripoff Report presents an unfair problem. But that’s another issue here. We’re talking about disappearing from the index.

From what I’ve seen in SEO, it takes some shifty work to get banned from an index. Sometimes it happens accidentally. Other times, it’s the result of shady SEO tactics that are best left dreamed up by the spammers and the black hats. I’m strictly white hat and when I see a business doing something unethical, it usually turns me off to doing business with them. Granted, some sites don’t know what they’re getting into, but most of the time, they do. They know they’re doing something they shouldn’t. There’s no report of why they’re missing. Maybe they’ll come back in an hour. Maybe they’ll be back by the time I finish writing this post.

Back to online reputation and Ripoff Report. As this Search Engine Land post notes, the options of dealing with a claim on Ripoff Report are basic and usually expensive. You can:

  1. Post a rebuttal to the report.
  2. Pay Ripoff Report for VIP Arbitration.
  3. Pay Ripoff Report to join its Corporate Advocacy Program.
  4. Sue the original author of the report.
  5. Sue Ripoff Report (with very little success).
  6. Get Google to delist the report from its index (as shown in this post).
  7. Hire an online reputation management firm to bury the Ripoff Report in the engines.

If you chose option #7, you’re not alone. Most online reputation management companies thrive on burying Ripoff Reports as well as other postings on customer advocacy or complaint sites. Sometimes these complaints are unfounded. Sometimes they are completely true. But either way, it means money for an online reputation firm.

The approach a firm usually uses is one where you beat out the report by creating more content that will rank ahead of the report in engines. Owning your search engine results, in a way. Using a combination of PR and SEO tactics, online reputation managers will issue press releases, blog posts, social media postings, videos, and other content to either refute claims or to keep them well hidden.  When done right, it can be very effective.  With Ripoff Report missing from the index right now, I wonder how it will affect the online reputation management industry, even if it’s just today. (See the Facebook posting on Search Engine People’s wall for discussion).

Online reputation management is something every business should be concerned about. Whether you have a public complaint filed against your or not, everyone needs to recognize the power that lies within a search query. For many people, Google is the first place they go when they want to know about a business’ history, reputation, pricing, commitment to service, etc. Hell, they want to know everything about YOU. Employers will search for you. Students will search for you. Your neighbor will search for you. Everyone will do it – what matters is what shows up in those listings. My best advice? Be conscious of what you post online, both the good and the bad. It makes a difference. (For more information on online reputation management, check out Outspoken Media’s Online Reputation Management Guide. It’s one of the best resources I’ve seen on the subject.)

I’ll be curious to see why Ripoff Report is missing from Google’s index at the moment. Were their practices unsavory? Time will tell. But it’ll be interesting to see the rebuttal they’ll issue to Google. Free of charge and a VIP arbitration program, I’m sure.

 

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#Trust 30 Prompt 11: Divine Idea

Imitation is Suicide. Insist on yourself; never imitate. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Write down in which areas of your life you have to overcome these suicidal tendencies of imitation, and how you can transform them into a newborn you – one that doesn’t hide its uniqueness, but thrives on it. There is a “divine idea which each of us represents” – which is yours?

(Author: Fabian Kruse)

*****************************

When I first started writing, I wanted to be like everyone else.

I wanted my words to sound like those which came from the girl who sat behind me in English class. She got A’s on every paper. Teachers thought she could do no wrong. They thought she would go on to be a great writer. I, on the other hand, would be banished to an existence of A minuses and “Maybe writing isn’t your thing.” Yes, right. Fuck off. I’ll model her sentences and use the same transitional phrases. I was fiercely competitive; part of me still is.

Then, when I was in high school and fell into the hormonal release that was LiveJournal, I wanted to sound like other journal-ers. I whined, ranted, and philosophized myself through my teenage years. Surveys and lists were my poetry. What are you wearing today? What’s your favorite color? Last thing you ate? That was where creativity started and ended.

I got to college and wanted my words to sound like those of my professors. I trimmed language and became more direct. Active voice always. A professor said I could handle this whole academia thing because I could write for it. Page after page, citation after citation. I equated my intelligence with the lack of red pen on my assignments.

I started copywriting and wanted my class projects to be as brilliant as Volkswagen ads from the 1960’s. Lemon. Think small. I wanted to send powerful messages in the fewest words possible. Practice. Model. Yearn for the chance to go back in time and be a Peggy Olson. Put on a stiff upper lip. Intimidate with excellence.

I started writing in a journal. Poems. Adjectives, adjectives, adjectives. I had to be descriptive to be profound, right? I felt conflicted, caught between the mess of transitional statements, minimalism, adjectives, and active voice.

What was right?

What was GOOD?

I wanted to be good. I still want to be good. But I know that I can’t stress over what’s good and what isn’t. I can’t make everyone happy. I can’t inspire with every phrased. I can’t communicate effectively with every single person on the planet who decides to read something I’ve written. But I still want to fit into the category of “GOOD”.

Is that a bad thing?

Now, here I am. Blogging. A pledge to be useful, relevant, and engaging. Simple language, internet reader-friendly structure. Skim. Bullet points. Pointed statements. Eye-catching headlines.

I still don’t know what style I’m supposed to imitate. For most of my life, I’ve tried to imitate others so that I could be seen as something in particular. The smart girl. The copywriter. The wordsmith. The good friend. The perfect daughter. In some areas, I succeeded.

I’m glad this prompt came along. It was a nice reminder that as much as I love Malcom Gladwell‘s work, I don’t have to write like him. In fact, I don’t have to write like anyone to be considered “good”. I can just write and let that be the piece of me that gets put out there. You can pick apart my sentence structure, critique my grammar, and criticize my word choices. I’ll revel in it. The words are mine, no one else’s.

I don’t think that my imitation has been suicidal. If anything, it’s forced me to become better. Stretching range and changing style. Finding out what I felt most comfortable with. If I were to continue to sink into the temptation to only be like another writer, I may have killed a writing career. I probably would have killed this blog in the process. I would have taken all the joy out of writing and turned it into a chore. Wanting to be like someone else is a good thing in moderation. It makes us feel connected to another human being. It drives us to make ourselves better at something we feel passionate about. So if I model from time to time, forgive me. I’m human too.

But, I’ll try not to all the time. I’ll continue to stretch and model, but never lose sight that these words are my own creation. I’m responsible for the form they take and the impact they produce. And that’s a good thing. It’s perfect, actually.

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Google Search Results

Google, NPR, and Why You Should Vary Your Marketing, Part 2

Google Search Results

In my last post, I talked about what the Google Panda update meant for most sites. This post is going in a somewhat different direction.

Let’s talk collateral damage, or, the sites that got hit. Whether or not they should or shouldn’t have isn’t the matter at hand. Google’s official position on the matter is that no algorithm is perfect, but in this SEO’s eyes, I think there’s a little bit more that we can take away from here.

Search Matters

Google controls the lion’s share of search in this country and we all know this. In fact, most of us utilize Google as a tool on a daily basis. We search for movie times, gifts for our Mom, directions to a vacation destination, or even just that totally random information that gets stuck in our heads. You know what we do. We surf. I do it a lot, especially when Brent makes the declaration that he thinks a famous movie actor is dead and I have to show him that he is, in fact, alive and making movies.

Anyways, back to search. We use it on a daily basis and as a result, it’s become a powerful place for people to do business. A lot of money can be found in the search and online retailing industry. Consumers searching for something to buy can usually be found trolling Google for product reviews, prices, different color varieties…you get the picture.

So, it’s no wonder that so many people put their marketing weight into search in order to compete. It’s a tough marketplace out there and certain industries can be downright cutthroat. Money, time, and/or effort has to be spent on strengthening search presence. But when it comes to choosing WHAT strategies are actually worth investing in, this is where things get tricky. I’ll get to that in a bit, but first, let’s look at what makes doing business online different.

It Pays to Be Different

Let’s say you’re a site owner that sells hand carved coconut shells. You make them yourself and started this business first as a hobby. In fact, you used to carve coconut shells with your grandfather every weekend. After some time, friends and family started requesting orders for coconut shells and BAM! Suddenly you’re a business owner. So you take yourself online. You’re not the greatest copywriter of them all, but you’ve got a pretty interesting story behind your brand, so you write authentically about why you started your business. You tell people how you carve your coconuts and what inspires you. You share your successes and appreciation for their business with every Facebook status update and tweet. You don’t do a high volume of transactions yet, but people who buy from you tend to be repeat customers. Your selection is really small and the prices are a little high, but in your mind, people are getting something special.

Now, picture this: you’re now another site owner with thousands of products. You don’t actually make them, but instead, you’re a drop shipper. Those product descriptions telling people about your products? They came from the manufacturer. It would have taken too long to write something unique. And the story behind your brand? Well, you’re not quite sure how it all started, but one day, you decided to open an online store and it’s been a wild ride ever since. You don’t really do Facebook or Twitter – you’re not really sure what the point is. But you’re big and affordable and you sell a lot of products to a lot of people.

Now tell me: which site would you rather do business with?

Getting Into Business

I’ve seen people getting into online retailing for all of the wrong reasons. There’s a sad number of people who believe that once you put up a site, people will come. This isn’t the .com of dreams. It’s a real business. It has a storefront. It has a brand. It requires work. But most importantly, it requires marketing to make things happen.

BOTH the coconut carver and the drop shipper are examples of the collateral damage the Panda update caused. Business owners (yes, people like you) who had websites of all different shapes, sizes, and types were affected. Just check out the Google Forums and you’ll see everyone from large , ecommerce furniture stores to small, holistic medicine information sites were affected. Some of the reasons why were discussed in my last post (thin content, duplicate content, spammy SEO tactics, etc.) but I think it’s more important to take a look at what the sites were doing before Panda. Did they have a marketing strategy? Were they putting too much stock in SEO?  Were they even trying to market at all?

Varying Your Marketing

Now with the two site scenarios we described above, we saw one that had a lot of products and one that had a great story behind it. The cool thing about marketing is that BOTH sites can end up being successful if the right approach is taken. It would take some time and strategy, but it’s doable. Now, with Panda, we saw sites taken down some notches. Some only got knocked down a few results. Others got buried. As for who is surviving, only time will tell, but I tend to think that sites with varied marketing approaches are holding on a bit stronger.

SEO is a huge part of getting found online and I can bet that most ecommerce store owners put at least some thought into what they should be doing for SEO. But I don’t think it’s wise for a site to put all of its marketing weight behind one tactic, especially if it’s an established business. If you were a brick and mortar store, would you throw all of your advertising budget into just doing print ads? Marketing has to be varied and targeted. You just have to see what works and where you’re getting a return on investment. SEO can be tough in that aspect. Tactics like PPC have a much better chance of getting the attention of a customer who is further along in the buying cycle. SEO may attract the larger numbers, but there are some less qualified visitors coming in too. Not to mention, calculating ROI on SEO can be a bit of a challenge.

But what if a store owner only has a limited budget? What if it’s not economically viable to invest in multiple tactics? Some businesses may only be able to start out with focusing on one tactic. I guess in this case, I would say that if you absolutely must do only one thing, make sure it’s the right thing and then be disciplined enough to use some of those early profits to diversify marketing as soon as you can so that you’re not relying on one tactic forever. Knowing the right thing is the tough part, but I think if a business understands its audience well, finding that right tactic might be easier than one thinks.

It’s About Paying Attention and Being Flexible

My two cents? If you’re an ecommerce store owner that was affected by Panda, I think it’s time for you to examine your overall marketing strategy. Where could you be spending smarter? What areas have been neglected? Where do you need boosts? The most successful businesses are mindful of the needs of their audience and the health of their marketing efforts. Using that knowledge, successful businesses are flexible in mindset so that they are more nimble and responsive to changes than any other competitor. Ultimately, it’s not just being flexible that counts; it’s what you do with that mindset.

Panda is a wake up call to businesses that have dabbled in marketing but have never fully committed. It’s a reminder that you have to be focused, organized, and willing to put in the effort to be different.  It’s also a sign that it takes more than a storefront to do business online. You need:

  • Content that engages and offers value.
  • A trustworthy brand.
  • A presence in the search engines as well as social media.
  • Varied marketing efforts.
  • Flexibility.

I put flexibility as the last point because it’s the one that I’d like people to walk away from this article with. Being flexible makes your business sustainable. Whether you sell furniture or carve coconuts, you need to be flexible to the changes in the business environment. Maybe change will come in the form of an algorithm update. Maybe it will come from a shift in public perception. Maybe it shows up as a law. There’s one thing for certain: change will come and you have to be ready for it.

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Why Your Blog Should Be More Like Mr. Darcy

Detail of a C. E. Brock illustration for the 1...

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I was pimpled, bespectacled and totally hormonal when Pride & Prejudice came out. So, there I sat, popcorn in hand, watching Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy‘s love story in the Cinemark surrounded by 50+ high school literature students.  We sighed, giggled, and nearly fainted with anticipation at the first kiss. Now THAT was romance.

Fast forward six years later:  I’m still bespectacled and yes, still totally gaga over Mr. Darcy. There’s just something about him that makes me coming back for more. I can watch the movies (Matthew MacFadyen and Colin Firth are both F-I-N-E) and feel totally entranced by this brooding, beauty of a man. But why?

The list of reasons why we love Mr. Darcy could go on for ages. There are countless sites dedicated to decoding our love for Darcy. Just say it out loud: “Mr. Darcy”.

We’ve been in love with this man for centuries and we look for him in our own partners. As a blogger, I’d also say that we look for him in other blogs.  Maybe not by name, but definitely by type. Characters like Mr. Darcy are appealing, and so are storytelling approaches that remind us of him.

Bloggers: you need to get to know Mr. Darcy. In fact, there’s quite a bit that you can learn from him when it comes to your blog.

Do me a favor. Go rent “Pride and Prejudice”. Sit down and just watch. Enjoy it. And then, come back to this post and see why your blog should be more like Mr. Darcy.

He is Loyal

Our dear Fitzwilliam fell in love with Elizabeth and stayed true, even after getting shot down. That takes guts – and so does updating your blog regularly with great content. If you want your readers to swoon, be sure that you keep to a schedule. Post fresh content regularly; they’ll always come back wanting more.

Also, don’t get discouraged if the readers aren’t signing up to your subscription feed in droves. Building a presence like Mr. Darcy takes time and effort. You’ve got to build relationships with your readers. Listen to their feedback. Be responsive. Don’t make empty promises.

He has the Perfect Combination of Arrogance and Aloofness

You can’t help but adore his snark. That handsome facade. Biting wit. *Melt* The point is that Mr. Darcy’s got it going on and he’s not afraid to show it – but not too much.

It’s OK for you to tout what you know. In fact, being confident in your skill makes it easier for you to get your point across and build trust around your personal brand. If you show yourself as an authority and then prove it with your work, celebrate it! Let people know! Show ’em what you’re working with.

But don’t get overly cocky. Being humble balances out the badassedness and makes you more human and appealing to your readers. So go ahead and say you’re awesome…but don’t beat it into our brains over and over. Be a little whimsical too. The ladies LOVE whimsy.

He is Intelligent

Darcy is smart, but it doesn’t necessarily have to do solely with his education. Every word he speaks, every action he takes is carefully considered (in most cases) and usually has a purpose behind it. While at first we may not understand why he does what he does, with time, we come to know that there was a reason for it.

Consider each word of your blog post as Darcy considers each word he writes or speaks. Be clear and concise. Please, oh please, check for spelling and grammar. If you’re a high class guy like Mr. Darcy, you wouldn’t be caught dead mixing up “your” and “you’re”.

He Reevaluates

We all know that Mr. Darcy is stubborn and we see that throughout the story. He seems prideful and arrogant – until he gets the right feedback. When Elizabeth rejects Darcy’s proposal, he takes a step back and realizes how he is perceived by others. He reconsiders his actions and his motives.

As a blogger, you should be doing the same thing. Keeping a blog static and unresponsive to reader feedback is a perfect way to get lost and ignored. Instead, listen to your readers. Take their feedback into consideration. See what you can do to make your blog better for them – and you.

He is Sexy

Yeah, yeah, yeah, there’s all that beauty in the eye of the beholder business, but truth be told, if it looks sexy, sounds sexy, and feels sexy, it’s DAAAHHHMMM sexy. Mr. Darcy screams sex, although it’s not in an over the top way. He’s subtle about it. A slight touch of the hand. A lingering gaze. Slow but purposeful dialogue.

You’ve got to make your blog (and brand) scream sex too, but subtly. Have content that’s awesome and easy to read. Have a design that reinforces your message and fits well with your personality. Include images (good ones) in your posts. Make the navigation simple. And for god sakes, don’t forget about the personality. Mr. Darcy works because he’s a good character. He’s got depth and a mind of his own. His personality is unmistakable. Yours should be too.

Just take a look at RedHead Writing. Her blog is SUPER sexy. She even has a porn category for her most popular posts.

We All Fall in Love With Him

I can tell you one thing about that AP English field trip  to the movies: every single girl in there went “AWWWWWW” when they finally kissed at the end. Every. Single. One. When you see something that good, you can’t help but love it. The same thing goes for your blog. If it’s good, your readers will notice and fall in love, just like we did with Mr. Darcy.

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Google How To

Google, NPR, and Why You Should Vary Your Marketing, Part 1

In the past few weeks, the SEO world (and even NPR) has been buzzing about the Google Panda Update. Also known as the Google Farmer Update, Panda was an algorithmic change that impacted a huge number of sites. The main target? Content farms that were clogging search engine results with thin, low quality (i.e. crap) content. While the user experience seems to be much better, there was some collateral damage done.

Google How To

The NPR piece, Google’s Search Tweak Puts a Company At Risk, describes the challenge of an online furniture retailer being impacted by the Panda update. Many online businesses live and die by search engine results pages. If they capture a coveted spot on the first page, they have a much better chance of making a sale. Disappear into the first few pages and beyond and it’s really tough to achieve that average 1-2% conversion rate. Yes, 1-2% of all visitors actually make a purchase. This statistic alone should drive a site owner to want to target and attract qualified visitors who actually WANT to make a purchase. Those prospective customers have to be reached authentically and in a space that’s comfortable for them. They have to be persuaded and romanced by striking photos, unique copy, and a design that’s easy to navigate. They also have to like what you sell.

Picture this: you’re on Google looking for oh, I don’t know, let’s say…stainless steel cookware. You like to cook and have been meaning to get a new set, but you haven’t be able to find what you’re looking for in the local stores. After putting in “stainless steel cookware set” in the Google search box, you’ll get a results page that’s filled with people who want nothing more than to get your eyeballs on their page. They tease with catchy meta descriptions that invite you to click that link and find that cookware set you’ve been searching for. The hyperlinked result, the meta title, looks like something you’d be interested in. So you click and….you end up on a page that’s boring. With sucky, uninteresting copy. No product images. Really bland looking design. Spammy links all over the footer. Wow. Huge let down. Browser back button.

Just by taking a look at our own user experience, it’s easy to see why we Google made this change. It’s rewarding sites that take the time to be interesting and valuable to the user. Granted, the chief target of the Panda update was the eliminate content farm clog, but it seems that ecommerce sites are the most widely reported collateral damage. While no one knows the exact reasons why ecommerce sites may have been hit harder (hey, it’s Google, you know that algorithmic change stuff is double secret probation style), there are theories. In general, ecommerce sites tend to have a lot of duplicate or “thin” content issues based on the way they’re structured. Were all ecommerce stores effected? No. Were ecommerce stores with thin content and spammy SEO tactics affected? Darn tootin’. Dr. Pete of SEOmoz gave a really awesome rundown on some “thin” content problems that the Panda update brought attention to. Any ecommerce store owner should take a look at his blog post and start developing strategies on how they’ll make their site stand out from the pack.  The first place to start is with content. I feel very passionate about this. Good SEO-friendly copy is really hard to come by. It takes time, effort, and skill to develop and in a lot of cases, it can reap rewards in the form of increased conversions, longer time on site, more eyeballs, and better search ranking.

As quoted in the NPR article:

“The sites that do put a little bit more individual care and attention and work into the content of their site — whether it be a product description, or a blog post,” says Matt Cutts, Google’s lead engineer on the Panda update, “those are the ones that users tend to prefer a little bit more and appreciate.”

Good copy matters and it’s worth investing in. People like it. You like it. Site owners who surf the internet regularly like it, sometimes without knowing it. We’re all part of the user experience and we give our thumbs up through Facebook likes, click throughs, and scanning multiple pages. Wouldn’t it be worth it to keep us happy? Wouldn’t you want to make your site as useful and engaging as possible?  Just look at Woot! and their amazing copywriting. It paid off.

Yes, it may seem a daunting task to update thousands of unique products with content that actually matters. Sucky descriptions and copy & paste manufacturer’s text just won’t cut it anymore, and actually, I think that’s a good thing. It raises the standard for doing business online. I know it makes things difficult for the store owner and I know it’s a lot of time, effort, and energy expended into writing good copy, but think of it this way: if the Internet could be filled with stuff that was appealing, stuff that actually was valuable and interesting, wouldn’t that be an Internet that you’d want to be a part of?

This is part 1 of several (still working on the other components). Feedback is appreciated! Where would you like to see this series of posts go? What questions do you want answered?

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Shrinking

midland painted turtle hatchling

Image by alumroot via Flickr

It’s hard practicing what you preach, especially when others look to you for guidance.

So what do you do when faced with something that’s incredibly scary but thrilling at the same time?

Shrink.

In my case, this is usually my gut reaction. I shrink back. I, like a turtle, pull my neck into my cardigan and snuggle up in that little bit of security that I think I have. Little do I know that I never really had that security in the first place. After all, I chose to publish.

Putting yourself out there online isn’t scary at first. Actually, it’s really exciting. You’ve got this fresh, blank slate to work from and you love the chance to create something. Yes, you’re creating. And it’s real. And it’s out there. And there are consequences.

I recently had a post published on Search Engine People. I’ve been guest blogging over there for awhile now and it’s been a great experience. I’ve produced some great work, and hey! My name is out there, which is also exciting. But my most recent post on storytelling and SEO wasn’t like my other guest posts. It was bigger than that.

The post you’re reading now isn’t about how my storytelling guest post got a lot of hits. It’s also not about how it got a solid Post Rank and was popular. It’s also not about how the post was tweeted by Brian Clark of Copyblogger. No, it’s not about that. It’s about knowing that something is very real and that your actions have consequences.

After the post went live, I was noticed, even if it was only by a few people. That’s something that comes with the act of choosing to publish online. Some people don’t think about that when they hit update or click “OK” on something. Not everyone considers that every act, every published status, and every comment has a consequence: you can be noticed. I see it all the time with people my own age, baffled by the fact that they can’t get jobs yet amused by the most recent posting of photos from last night’s kegger. I also see it with people much older than I, crying for attention with a constant stream of negativity between Farmville updates. It’s a bit baffling, but it’s also part of our nature.

We like to tell stories. We live to do it. In fact, we’ve been doing it for thousands of years. People love to create a world that they understand and they exercise control over that world through communication. Maybe it’s through art, music, words – it doesn’t necessarily have to be a particular medium. The point is that when you put something out there, it’s a direct reflection back to you and back to the image you’ve created of yourself and your world.

My post reflected me as a storyteller and a good writer. I was flattered by it because really, that’s all I want to do with my life. I want to communicate and tell stories – not in the sense of marketing false information but in the sense of being engaging. This is what I want to do and by publishing a post like I did, I set the precedence. Did you ever stop to consider that what you’re posting is setting the precedence for you? Or your business? Or your product? Or your service? It doesn’t matter. What you post is there and once it’s out, it’ll start making impressions. Choose carefully.

You see, when you get called on to actually live up to the online expectations you’ve set, you better be damn well ready to do so. You can’t shrink, as much as you may want to. It’s easy to be a hack. It’s easy to back down and stay silent. It’s also easy to puff yourself up, inflate your ego, and deliver failure. Danny Brown wrote a great post about this. There are a lot of people out there who choose hackdom because it’s easy and sometimes, it can lead to quick bursts of attention. Until people start asking. Or calling. Or questioning. That’s when your word goes against the rest of the world and you had better be confident that your word will hold up.

You can’t shrink from what you’ve created.

From now on, I’ll try not to.

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SES Swag

My Trip to #SESNY

SES Swag

This is my first time ever going to Search Engine Strategies, and I have to say, I was a bit surprised. Having been to the Web 2.0 Expo, I thought this was going to be a MASSIVE meeting of techies who couldn’t wait to give out their business cards and sell me on the next big start up :)

OK – maybe not really, but you get the picture. As I mentioned earlier, my experience at the Web 2.0 Expo made me feel a bit skeptical, but I was surprised by what I encountered at SES. The first thing I noticed was that it was a lot less busy on the expo hall floor. My guess was that a lot of people were in the sessions at the time. I also noticed that there wasn’t a whole lot of intermingling of attendees. Yes, there was a lot of interaction between booth and prospects, but I didn’t see a whole lot of prospect on prospect action (that sounded a bit dirty…). It was definitely a different experience, and I’m glad I went. And I did get something big out of it.


Here’s what I took away from #SESNY:

1.) Everyone has something to sell. I don’t think there was a booth I stopped by in the exhibition hall that didn’t have something to sell, which is pretty obvious, considering that it’s a convention. But that wasn’t what I remembered most about the experience. I remember the people I spoke with and what booths they were manning. I remember how they made me feel.

Some made me feel uncomfortable and were a bit pushy. Others were polite and really laid back. Either way, it got me thinking about how when we’re at these things, we’re not just looking to peddle our products. We’re peddling ourselves. We’re trying desperately to make new connections, meet new people, and show that we know what we’re doing. In a field like SEO, it can be tough to do, especially since SEO as a whole is constantly in flux. It’s really easy to throw around buzzwords and shiny metrics and sexy-looking software. It’s difficult to have a candid conversation – even though it’s those conversations that matter most.

2.) Friendliness makes a huge difference. I can’t stress this enough. If you’re friendly, I’ll approach you. If you look miserable or have your nose in the air, I won’t. I don’t care if you’re giving away a free XBOX or not. If you’re not showing your target audience that you’re approachable, why even set up shop?

I like what the narrorator has to say in Fight Club about single serving friends, because I think in all honesty, we all try to be single serving friends when we’re at these things. I’m going to just throw this out there, but I wonder how many people actually continue to keep in touch and share things after these events end. If so, for how long?

3.) Free stuff = good. Working for free stuff = even better. Orange Soda had a really cool idea for their booth and I have to say that I enjoyed stopping by to roll the dice and put a slinky to my forehead. Yes. I said slinky. To the forehead. I won a nifty bottle opener. In my mind, I’m associating Orange Soda with thinking outside the conventional convention booth, er, box.  +1 for Orange Soda.

4.) Don’t just tell me. Show me! There were a lot of booths with fancy sales sheets and pretty banners, but the ones I got the most out of were the ones that showed me what they had to offer. They engaged in a conversation. They attempted to relate to me, even though we both knew that they were just trying to make a sale. They also demonstrated what their service/product could do. Those are the details that make things stick and make us much more likely to trust in what you have to offer.

I guess what I’m trying to say in all of this is that SES NY taught me quite a bit about sales; about what people actually remember when they encounter you. Sales isn’t a huge area of focus for me and even though I did advertising sales for my college newspaper, I would never consider myself to be a salesperson. Though I am in a way. I sell myself – my personal brand – every day. I do it by the way I conduct myself online. I do it through this blog. I also do it through being helpful to friends and family members. I’ve built up a reputation for being helpful even though I wasn’t treating every interaction as a sale…even though that’s what it is at a pretty basic level.

So. Sales. What are your thoughts? Discuss.

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