Content creation

2

Feb 2011

Top 5 mistakes in SEO-optimised content made by small businesses.

Posted in Business tactics, Content creation | 0 Comments

It’s been a while since I’ve written a list here, probably close to a year, but I think it’s nice to summarise some tips in short-sharp form, whilst simultaneously granting yourself license to snap at those who keep making the same mistakes.

SEO-optimised content is what it says on the tin – web content that’s optimised for a search engine. However, many people assume that, rather than taking the SAS Commando route, they’d rather play at being James Bond and run in, guns blazing, painting everything a horrible shade of keyword with highlights of link. It’s horrendous, and you’re going to not only suffer the indignity of looking like a website designed by someone who’s usually hanging out in a padded cell rather than the local Starbucks, but you’re also going to put potential consumers off ever visiting your site again.

So, without further ado – here’s the top five biggest mistakes I see being made on small business websites.

1: Content saturated with keywords. Everyone loves a good article, and of course, over the course of an immersive bit of writing you’re going to cover a fair few topics to ensure you’re ranking highly enough in the ole’ SERPs. But when your content reads “John Doe loves SEO, social media, social networking, using social media websites, Facebook, Twitter, and tweeting,” instead of just “John Doe loves SEO and social media,” you’re going to look a little manic. Write naturally, but instead think about how to write concise sentences that use simple language that will turn up in Google searches more often rather than spamming your latest screed with every high-ranking word or phrase farted out by Google Analytics.

2: Links being overused. I run a couple of sites, and they both have pages with link-lists on them. I also have a few links in the sidebar of one, too. But what I don’t do is link to affiliate sites all over every single page. It’s fine to link to one or two sites within an article, or in your sidebar, but keep it to a minimum. Sites with more blue, underlined text than average-Joe-black is going to give people the worry that if you’re keen to show them every site but yours, yours can’t be that good at all.

3. Not hiding over-tagged posts. If you’re going to tag stuff to high heaven, rather than three or four times, you’re going to hide those, right? No? well, in that case, get ready for people to roll their eyes and not bother to comment. I tag like crazy when writing for certain sites, but those sites have tag clouds, rather than displaying the tags themselves. You don’t need to show people the fifty different international spellings of the niche product you’re selling – just categorise well and use a cloud – clouds will also eventually give both you and your readers a better idea of what your focus is.

4. Not quoting your sources. Seriously, I know it’s hard to sometimes link to a bigger, better site because they’ve got the skinny and you want to look like you have, but unless it’s widespread already, you must link to world exclusives. Not doing so implies one thing – that you’re a bad journalist. And, sadly, though you may not even realise it, blogging is simply a more modern form of journalism. The more you say “hey, this person said it first, but here’s what I think,” rather than “hey! I know something! No one told me, I just know! Isn’t that incredible?” is bad form and you’ll find yourself blacklisted in your own industry soon enough, whether you notice it or not. No point in people sending you press releases or news tips if you’re a plagiarist.

5. Failing to include any call to action. A call to action, in SEO terms, is simply a way of phrasing content titles or the final paragraphs of an article (or even using parts of your user interface design) to encourage people to get involved with your site’s content. Blog posts that use titles as a way of asking the site’s visitors a strong, opinion-dividing question cause debate, and even social drama. That’s fine – use it to your advantage. If you can provoke debate, then good! More traffic, more retweets, and more attention to the fact that you want people’s opinions as well, rather than endlessly spouting your own pseudo-neutral waffle.

So there you have it. Trust me, sites do tend to write that sort of stuff, and it drives me up the wall. If you’re trying not to be The Man, then don’t act like your only focus is traffic (I know it is, but the art of SEO is making it clear that that’s not really the case as far as the user’s concerned). Don’t let AdWords make you all stupid when it comes to putting fingers to keyboard (sorry, “pen to paper”), and focus on what makes your site the best possible experience for your visitors. Like Hemingway once said – “the first draft of anything is sh*t”. It’s never too late to edit old posts or revamp your content attitude. So go do so.

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10

Aug 2010

Can blogging make millions?

Posted in Blogging, Business tactics, Content creation, Online PR, Social Media | 0 Comments

It seems like such a ridiculous goal, doesn’t it? To make an incredible amount of money from something as simple as a blog about, say, writing white papers, or about social media. But there are a few who blog and rake in an impressive revenue each year, and one of those few is Michael Stelzner.

Reading the incredible account of his meteoric rise to internet fame and economical success via the blogging medium, it got me thinking. Why aren’t we all doing this? I’m a copy-writer, and I’ve written millions of words relating to every subject you can think of over the few years during and after university.

But it takes social media knowledge to drive traffic in. People aren’t going to bother visiting a site unless one or both of the following two conditions are met: a word-of-mouth recommendation, or a larger online social media campaign. But how do we achieve these two goals? Social media, social media and social media.

Firstly, if you’re aiming to grow your fan-base with a loyal cult following, then the foremost thing to consider when attempting to start it off in the first place is your network of colleagues and friends. Everyone knows that when a colleague or a friend makes a new website, you’ll all visit, have a poke around. Some will even return regularly, provided it’s interesting and updated often.

However, that’s only a few, and you’re going to have to work hard. No one enjoys having a friend push their blog at them purely for the sake of the site’s hit-counter. But people do like the odd nudge in the right online direction by someone who knows someone who’s writing some really funny, smart stuff on a daily basis.

However, if you’d like to take the more formal route, or you’re a solitary warrior writhing in existential agony and feeling like you’re one of the army of unread bloggers , then you’re going to have to consider social media as your best, and only option. In this day and age, newsletters are not read like they used to be, and we’re probably not going to visit another news site by seeing an advert for it on the one we’re already reading.

However, we might just have a quick peek if the site turns up on somebody’s Twitter account, or regularly forms a part of someone’s Facebook profile. Of course, when they visit and enjoy your content, there’s the small chance of the gold-dust re-tweet, and once that happens it tends to spread like wildfire through people with similar interests.

Take last week, for example – I had someone spontaneously find this article, read it, and tweet about it. I don’t know them personally, and two of their followers re-tweeted the link to this article. There was no prompting, no request at the end of my blog asking those who enjoyed my work to talk about it: it was free advertising for writing someone enjoyed.

These kinds of digital thumbs-ups are important, because eventually you’ll find your way onto the “must read” list of someone big, and that list often now finds its way onto the web. When I first started to write for a publication called Resolution Magazine, I wrote a long screed about the simulation of cultural identity. It was something I’m proud of to this day, but not half as proud of that as what happened to it.

Kieron Gillen, founder of New Games Journalism and arguably one of the best in his field, included it in his Sunday Papers post that listed his favourite bits of writing during the week. To be endorsed by such a major face had a serious impact on my confidence and the success of the article, and the fact that we got a fair amount of traffic simply by repeatedly turning up in his list.

It’s not impossible to become the blog to end all blogs – you’ve just got to utilise the same method that started political revolutions, the Renaissance, and Twitter – word of mouth. If one person says your site is fantastic to a room of ten people, and they in turn do the same, in a day’s time you’ll have 100 more unique visits. Things multiply if you keep the quality up, so do so, and thrive.

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6

Aug 2010

Does your business speak social media?

Posted in Business tactics, Content creation | 0 Comments

This week, Mark Thompson of Stay on Search was discussing content and the way in which it relates to social media and aggregate sites. “One of the best ways to know what type of content has the best chance of going viral is by being an active member in each community.” Personally, I think that most businesses using social media may not have the time or the budget to employ a social media guru to do all their writing, tweeting, digging and other social media verbs for them.

Viral content is an extremely effective way of pushing your company to the top of the online public awareness sphere. Though you may only be flavour of the month, if you churn out more new flavours than Walker’s Crisps during the World Cup, you’ll succeed in the long term. This is a credible strategy, but it begs the question – when you’re a business that deals in solutions, products and services that don’t appeal to the online or tech-geek community, how do you go viral?

The ideal method to leap this particular marketing hurdle towards the revenue finish-line is simple: make yourselves mysterious. Don’t put your product on a white backdrop, on the homepage of your website. Experiment. Use silhouettes, use YouTube camcorder videos, and place adverts on sites that most people wouldn’t imagine being there in the first place. The more you stand out, the more consumers will become curious about your attitude and therefore whatever you’re offering to them.

Don’t serve up information on a plate, but don’t withhold either. This sounds a little paradoxical, but what I mean is this: list specifications, list capabilities and results, but allow the information to trickle out through the community, then confirm via the press. Doing so means that once the geek community has absorbed and discussed your move on the industry chess board, you can either confirm it to the press, or change something the community deems undesirable and side-step a potential venture failure.

If you take a look at the trending topics, numbers and words on Digg, there’s a few obvious results. Words like “the” and “of” turn up frequently, but this is a given – don’t be disheartened by the obvious. Taking a closer look at the list, “movies”, “games”, and, rather poetically, “time”, pop up too. This raises another interesting question – to “top # [product/form of entertainment] of all time” articles fare better online than a press release from a huge corporation?

Largely, yes, because the internet is a social animal, more so than it was ten years ago, and this is furthered by the simple fact that you don’t talk shop at parties. People love discussing films, games, music and books, because it’s not related to the rat race. But they also discuss politics, the mortgage and their student loans, and this is a niche of viral content that still isn’t being exploited. “Top 5 ways to manage a heavy mortgage and a student loan simultaneously” is something that I’d read, and I’m not even in the home-owner market yet.

Why would I read it? I, like many an English graduate before me, have a student loan to pay off, and it appeals to me due to the fact in the title. The fact is the number 5. Thompson claims that the use of numbers is a fair more visually appealing method of communicating statistics to people than writing the number out. “Five” sounds formal, “5″ sounds quick and sharp, and that’s the two main aspects o viral bit of content – it spreads quickly, and it’s smart.

When you’re next launching that large insurance policy, look at how you’re marketing it, because Reader’s Digest, post-working-hours television and the odd mention on your own website won’t cut the mustard. To hit the consumer where they’ll respond (with their mind and, hopefully, their wallet), you need to craft your titles. Blog a little, and Digg those blogs. “Top 5 ways not to go broke”, and be proud of your company, but be subtle.

Also, think about using a by-line. “George has been the CEO at Insurance, ltd. for 10 years, and you can find the many ways he’s helping people through the recession [here].” Make people enjoy your content, enjoy you, and the work is done. One link by a non-company individual on Facebook, Digg, or Twitter, and you’re laughing, because you might just be the next big thing. David After Dentist should be a good enough example.

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26

Jul 2010

News automation: bad for business?

Posted in Blogging, Content creation | 0 Comments

Skimming along the waves of the world wide web a wee while back, I chanced across a rather disturbing idea, for anyone who’s ever watched Terminator: robot news. By this I don’t mean a live blog of R2-D2′s address to the American people – I’m talking about using StatsMonkey; an automated bit of software made by Intelligent Information Laboratory to create journalism from baseball statistics.

For me, this hits uncomfortably close to home. I’ve been working in journalism since I was seventeen, beavering away on subs at the Financial Times. It was hard graft there, and even more so when you were on the phone to Dow Jones, hoping they took you seriously with a high-pitched, quivering voice. But the experience was solid, and it helped me further my interest in bringing the news to the people.

However, if I was to suggest that financial journalism, the most statistic-laden, number-driven form of documenting current events, was to be automated, they’d have laughed me out of the office. “You can’t document the world of finance with a bit of code,” they’d claim. “You need real people, with real experience and talent.”

But how talented are we, really? I’ve seen robots play the piano, and though many claim it sounds lacklustre, without knowing better they’d think it was Mozart himself. There are many programs that can actually converse with you, they respond to what you’ve said with pre-programmed syntax strings and match your concepts to their comments.

So what makes these cocky programmers think they can master the craft of the written word with numbers and bits of fiddly code? Well, being a journalist, I went and had a dig around, as getting hold of these mad journo-scientists seems to be harder than curing the common cold (not that I’d know where to start, bar recommending ice cream, movies and a few days of rest).

The first piece I saw was Wired. Honestly? I thought they’d be massively against it. Surely using sports data to compile a story is no more difficult than doing the same with new technology? Cross-referencing previous scores/specifications, talking about other teams/brands, and comparing them to the  matches/devices of legend.

But I was wrong – they embraced the idea and openly stated it would be cheaper. There was more talk of software writing a Pulitzer-Prize-winning book, but let’s stay out of science fiction predictions for now. The realistic side to this development is this – journalists, and especially news journalists, are simply regurgitating facts in a certain format.

This is highlighted by National Public Radio’s interview with one Kristian Hammond, co-director of Intelligent Information Laboratory. When asked about documenting Little League games, he responded:

“We could literally write a game story for every single Little League game that is played in this country. That means every kid, every dad, every family, every grandma would see the story of what their kid is doing.”

The potential of this technology is huge. The ability to document every sports game, every bit of company progress – essentially, anything involving data, is mind-blowing. I’ve had instant-message chats with a computer, and it works to a point. But news? News is formulaic.

You can call me on it all you want, I’ve done my time in journalism – news with nothing but facts is news. News with opinion is a column. News with StatsMonkey, however, might be the reason none of us have a job in ten years. Medical degrees, anyone?

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1

Jun 2010

The Aggravations of Aggregate Sites

Posted in Blogging, Business tactics, Content creation, News, Online PR, Social Media | 5 Comments »

Have you ever submitted your well-written, thoroughly-researched article through to an aggregate site and watched it flounder as endless top-tens and ridiculous controversy soars to the top of people’s reading lists? I can identify with you if you’re one of the many suffering from what I’d like to call “aggregate aggravation syndrome.” It’s a tough disorder to crack, but with the right content and the right attitude to summarising and pitching your content to a global, news-hungry audience, this can all change easily enough.

Realistically, it’s just a case of making sure your article looks more interesting than all the others, and I’m sure we’d all love to think it was as simple as that. Unfortunately, it’s not. Your article remains a needle in a haystack, and it’s your job to make sure it reaches the eyes and ears of every single industry-related party and all the genre-disinterested browsers it can. It’s a tough gig but there are possibilities you may have overlooked, and of course, contraversial strategies you may be using that are, much to your shock, having the opposite effect.

Bigger than Elvis

So, say you’ve written a long, sprawling article on SEO, and it encompasses research, interviews, and a level of writing rarely seen since The Guardian was released that morning. You’re happy with the work, MS Word is letting it go without so much as a single squiggly red or green line, and you’re so into your own work that sharing it with the world seems like the only viable option. So where to go from here? Why, to an aggregate site, of course!

Let me explain this logic with a sobering fact. If you’re blogging, right now, on a WordPress.com account, there are over 300’000 new posts today alone. That’s somewhere in the region of thirty new books full of articles, and you know at least one of them is likely to be similar to yours over the course of the week. Three hundred thousand. Let that sink in for a moment. What chance does yours have, even with tags and that awesome graph you made in Excel? Not many. In fact, one of my highest-traffic articles of all time on my personal blog was a random rant about a LEGO version of a Harry Potter videogame. A year or more later, and it’s ranked thousands of hits, and it was never submitted.

The point I’m making is that the internet is a seriously fickle thing. Take a look at the front page of Digg and tell me what you see. Today, for example, there are a range of articles, but most of them focus on three key elements of global-appeal news: danger, drama and pictures. If we drift into the technology section, as this is where you’re far more likely to turn up (or browse – all news bar the exclusive is, to some degree, regurgitation), then we begin to see a different pattern: humour, heated debate, and leaked intel on new tech. The reason the pattens change is because as news and articles become more specialist, more niche, readers are absorbing writing whose mindset, tone and texture more closely reflect their target audience.

I’d just like to say a few words

Every time you write a new article, think of how you’d pitch it as a freelance piece. I’m serious. I know no one wants to voluntarily pitch freelance pieces ever again if they can avoid it, as it’s something of a humiliating, degrading, grinding process that kills the soul and maims the ego. But it’s also a brilliant acid test – if you could pitch your article to me in ten words, using as much or as little jargon as possible, I can tell you whether or not it’ll work. Let’s take a look at a few high-ranking examples of more opinion-based pieces.

Now, to start with, I found an article that I think is relevant to anyone who works on websites that use Adobe’s wonder-project, Flash. The title is “Is Flash Dead? The Future of Adobe’s Plug-In.” Now, this is a fairly controversial thing to say, but what’s clever is the question mark placed after the opening statement itself. This is key – if you’re debating something about social media, and you had the choice between “Twitter is Pointless” and “Is Twitter Pointless?”, choose the second option. The reason for this is you’re posing as a neutral party, even if this isn’t the case. The decision as to whether or not to invest ten minutes reading an article of considerable depth and debate, and then responding in the comments thread, is often one made in the opening few moments of reading an article’s title and subtitle. By phrasing the controversial statement as a question, it invites debate without inviting wrath or apathy and zero click-throughs from offended parties who see you as a prejudiced commentator.

The second example I’d like to give as a great example of effective aggregate-site-management is “Fortune 100 Companies Leveraging Social Media (Infographic)“. Now, this may seem a tad deep and a little too serious, but this is currently the top Digg article on a search for “social media”. Social media’s a relaxed sport, at best, and not something you can cover without being a little relaxed. This is also a graph site, which suits that industry perfectly – anyone using FaceBook and Twitter is going to want new-age ways of communicating information, and nothing does this better than indicating to them that all they’re in for is a slick diagram rather than 1000 words of prosaic musing on the subject.

It also has stick figures.

Seriously, though, it’s a great way of dragging people in. Entertain them. Tempt them. Make them curious or make them mad, and let them click through to shower you with praise or hatred. One of the most irritating sites in the universe, in my games journalism days, was also one of the most successful, because it kept encouraging heated, angry debate between Sony loyalists and Microsoft fan-soldiers. With social media, why not talk about the advantages of Twitter over Facebook, or why Bebo’s a lost, pointless art? Tempt them in with your tag-line the same way you would if you were designing a film poster, and watch your Diggs soar.

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17

May 2010

Our Great, Traffic-Surging Nation

Posted in Business tactics, Content creation, Social Media | 2 Comments »

This week I thought I’d take the discussion in a direction inspired from one of last week’s comments. They implied that, in the world of SEO coverage, there’s not a lot of musing about SEO and social networking topics that take place in a UK-specific environment. I couldn’t agree more; we’ve heard the American success stories, we’re aware of the SEO consultant giants across the pond, but what can SEO do for companies in the UK, and what benefits does focusing on your home soil yield for you as a company?

This one’s for queen Liz

I’m going to start with an example you’ll find fairly obvious. Google are a site that love their geographically-focused top-level domains. If you’re in Russia, it’s .ru. If you’re in China, unfortunately, it’s probably a rather unstable .cn, but there in its heavily-censored form regardless. It would seem so obvious to stick with .co.uk if you’re a company or person based within the United Kingdom, but you’d be surprised at how many people don’t do it. I’m a victim of my own criticism – my blog is a .com URL, and I did this for traffic reasons, in my days as a domain and SEO neophyte, when traffic stats and Google Analytics were simply complex terms and strategies that were too far out of my online comfort zone.

Looking back, it would’ve been better to go .co.uk. When someone visits your site – Amazon, for example – the first thing they’re going to notice is the fact that you’re on a UK domain. By this point you’ve already established two important aspects of your website to the consumer, in mere moments. One, there’s no risk of you running a pricing system in USD, as you’re quite obviously based in the UK. Two, you’re also quite happy to appeal specifically to a native market. With UK shoppers increasingly shifting to online shopping, it’s becoming an invaluable time for UK-based companies to look at building their online presence and targeting it towards the home market.

This doesn’t mean you have to ignore your linkbuilding and advertising efforts on overseas websites – by all means, keep this up, and if you’re based multiple countries, consider using IP-based top-level domain redirects – everyone who visits has their country represented. This may involve a few small content changes, however. If you’re writing content aimed at a UK market, you need to consider what language they’ll be expecting to read from you as a fellow user of the Queen’s English. Make sure you’re using the correct grammatical forms, as a UK customer seeing the word “color” repeatedly is rapidly going to see you as an American entity – not what you’re aiming for as a UK company.

Take this blog as an example. It’s a blog about SEO, and it’s specific to the UK. Oddly, it’s on a .com top-level domain, which instantly calls into question how focused on the UK market it really is. The posts have petered out almost a year ago, but only one post on that front-page is focused on a UK SEO market.  The UK SEO market is not as big as people seem to think it is, and this is a problem. We’re the English-speaking part of Europe, and we should be dominating searches on topics that relate to things that come from within our humble borders, our green fields and our smartphones whilst we sit on red buses looking out at Big Ben. Awash with stereotypes, I’ll admit, but still true.

Patriotism and the dot-com mindset

A recent study by NMA indicated that a lot of UK-based online marketing companies are making less and less money, per annum, from specialising in UK projects. This just confirms the obvious – the UK is never going to have as big an online presence as the omnipotent .com of America, and we’re not doing it any favours by putting less money into geographic specialisation. But it doesn’t mean we can’t cater to our domestic customers. For those of you running companies that have no franchises, no offices and no market presence outside the United Kingdom, but own a .com address – what are you aiming to achieve? Good linkbuilding, text adverts and keyword use is going to have the same positive effect on a .co.uk as a .com – the only difference being you’re also going to retain customers who see you as a supplier of products and services specific to their nationality. I’m happier shopping on a UK site than one that’s ambiguous due to a .com, and it takes a long time to get past the fact that someone’s definitely based within our borders when they’re Americanising their URL.

We’re rapidly emerging into an age where people are trending UK-specific topics like #welovetheNHS, and our national treasures are  pulling in bigger follower-numbers than some of the biggest US celebrities. People across the country are delving into Facebook, and we’ve also got the BBC iPlayer. We’re proud, and online. But we need to take bigger advantage of our unique position in Europe. Let me hit you with a few sound words of advice:

  • Consider switching to a UK top-level domain. The benefits of representing your company’s “home base” are present without the fear of losing traffic numbers.
  • Start thinking about your content and your social media presence – is your company Twitter-rep using hashtags to get involved with UK discussions? Obviously, don’t follow Habitat’s example, but consider this nonetheless. And if you’re a big company and haven’t got a Twitter-rep, then now’s a wise time to get one.
  • Are you aiming towards your UK customers? Link-building is a wise idea on global sites, but never forget that your domestic presence needs to be a key focus when thinking about keywords and site structure.

If you’re still thinking about this, then try googling “UK”. First page? BBC.co.uk, Amazon.co.uk, and atuk.co.uk. Three companies, at least two of whom are quintessentially part of the UK’s online mindset. The BBC is one of the most well known broadcasting corporations across Europe, if not the globe, and its focus on UK events is a given – it is the British Broadcasting Corporation, after all. But Amazon? An American site that was smart enough to start building separate sites for separate geographical demographics. It’s paid off in the long-run, and although most online shoppers are aware of Amazon’s presence in the UK, I’d wager not all of them know it’s an American company. Why? Correct spelling, UK marketing, and a top-level domain that doesn’t shut out anyone that isn’t part of Obama’s fifty states.

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