How can I blog if I can't write well?

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How can I blog if I can’t write?

I hear this a lot, especially from people who run their own businesses. They might be plumbers, doctors, or geeks — no matter. They’re usually successful at their work, but don’t feel confident in their writing.

I give these folks a lot of credit. They already recognize the importance of blogging. They know that if they blog, they’ll be adding rich content to their web sites, and that Google “spiders” will like that and increase their ranking in search engine results pages (SERPs). Google flat-out likes web sites that continually add new content — in most cases, Google figures you’re  helping people understand your product or service better, and that’s a good thing. Stagnant sites rank low by comparison.

You can still blog if you can’t write. And by doing so, you’ll still add rich content to your web site, and you can do it every single day if you like.

Here are some suggestions:

1. Reblog. A service called Zemanta lets you take someone else’s content and “stick” it to your web site. You’re not violating copyright, either — you are simply creating a link to the story or article or blog. You can write a few words of introduction — or not. This little plug-in also helps you add helpful links and photos to any blog — Zemanta is a free plug-in for browsers such as Firefox and Safari.

2. Link to news or trade content. You can simply link to a website that offers news that you think your audience might find helpful. For instance, if you’re a landscaper, you could link to stories that get customers interested in their yards. You might offer stories from your local cooperative extension service, or a gardening club, or someone who blogs about lawns and gardens. It’s helpful if you add an introductory sentence or two, but not absolutely necessary.

3. Pay or barter with someone to blog for you. You’d be surprised at how well this will work for you — sit down with a writer and tell him or her what kinds of things you think your audience will be interested in, and perhaps your writer will have some ideas as well. What will sell your products or services? Consider a long-term arrangement, which will probably make more financial sense to you both.

4. Make lists and publish them. Making lists isn’t so scary, is it? If you’re a plumber, you can make a list of 10 things homeowners should check every year — or have checked (hint, hint), or 10 tools every homeowner should have on hand in case of a drip, or a flood. The important thing is to be useful. If people see that you’re concerned about houses and your community, and not just $65 an hour, they’ll respond. You’ve become human to them, and people would rather deal with humans than with web sites.

5. Be sure to set up tracking for your web site. This is the only way you’ll be able to measure the results of your blogging. If you’ve never used a web analytics program before, now’s the time to begin. You can measure the success of your key words, links, and other marketing efforts. The web makes ROI not only possible, but fairly accurate.

The important thing is to get started. Your business world is only going to become more competitive. It would be nice to start understanding now how to make progress in it, yes?

Let me know how you do!

Write how your (web) audience writes

a chart to describe the search engine market

Image via Wikipedia

No, I don’t mean sloppily or with bad grammar. For pity’s sake.

I do mean that you want to infuse your web site with the kind of verbiage your potential customers use when they look for your services. If you think they enter “great motel within walking distance of downtown,” then that’s the copy you need to put on your web page(s). “Near downtown” or “close to the mall” won’t do it if that’s not what your audience is searching for.

This news always seems to come as a surprise to my clients. I tell them, if you want to be found, write how your audience writes.

A couple of months ago one of my clients sent me a heated email. “You don’t write a headline as a sentence!” he snipped. Well, maybe not. But maybe you do if it helps you get customers. And in Google‘s (the 600-pound gorilla) world, writing the sentence “I need help with my taxes” in a headline counts for more than the same exact phrase in body copy.

And, note that this copy is written in the first person. People don’t search for phrases such as “Do you need help with your taxes?” Their searches are about THEM. So if you want to come up high in the search engine results pages (SERPs), pay some attention to THEM and their concerns.

In the copy I’d written for my client, I had said something like:

*****

“I need help with my taxes.” (headline)

Is this something you say every year around April 15?

*****

You get the idea.

But don’t overdo it.

You wouldn’t want to write something like this: “Every year, people say to themselves, “I need help with my taxes.” If I needed help with my taxes, I’d call a professional. Because when I need help with my taxes … (etc.).

Your copy has to sound natural, or you’ll lose your audience.

How do you determine your best search phrases? A good place to start is with your (successful) competition. If you have software that checks on key word placement, use it. The results may surprise you, and in a good way.

Happy keywording!

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Your web site is alive

Your web site is aliveYour web site responds to attention and nurturing just like any living being. The more attention you give it, the better your search engine rankings.

You see, Google (and this is the 400-pound gorilla to pay attention to) figures that the more attention you give your web site, the fresher your information and the more useful your web site will be to people.

So, if you do nothing else to your web site other than spruce it up once a week, you’ll rank higher in search engine results than your (similar) competitor who hasn’t tweaked a page all year.

Here are some easy things you can do to freshen up your existing web site:

  1. Revise wording. Trim wording and make sure the important content is within the first couple of sentences. Use subheads with your keywords. Pick a blog and make sure it’s up to date. Things change, and maybe your understanding of a subject changes. Maybe keyword popularity changes. I have a client who’s a landscaper and hardscaper. There’s always something new we can tweak re: technology or plants. Or something else.
  2. Add SEO-friendly wording. A look at your competitors’ web sites may give you an idea of words and phrases that work. Or go to Google AdWords and run your own test. If you have questions, call me. I can make this process easy for you. 410.404.5559.
  3. Upload pictures. Pictures will also help to keep people on your web site (we also call this “stickiness”).
  4. Include additional downloadable information. Google looks very favorably upon .pdfs, for instance. When it sees you offering .pdfs, Google figures you want to help educate people, and education is tops on Google’s list.
  5. Start a blog. If you have a wordsmith on your staff, this is a no-brainer toward higher search engine results. Just address industry topics in simple, understandable terms. If you don’t have a wordsmith, you can still blog. Quote industry publications (giving credit, of course). Upload photographs of your products. Take questions from your public, and answer them.

There is plenty more that you can do to continually freshen your site. For now, aim to do a little something every week. And watch your stats go up. Oh, you do have a free Google Analytics account, don’t you? And a Google Business page?

Web harvest — some random items

A Picture of a eBook

Ebook

Today’s web harvest: some random items

People wonder what I do at my desk all day, when they see me pop up on Facebook and Twitter.

Research, I tell them.

And today’s harvest has been remarkable:

  • A WordPress widget that can turn your blog into an electronic book. Really. It can’t tell good from bad writing, of course, but it can help you format it professionally and get it ready for sale on Amazon.
  • Anthologize, made by George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media. Bravo.

What have you found on the Internet today?

How to keep a viewer’s attention

3D movie audienceSuppose I asked you to graph your attention level while viewing a very interesting film. For a good show, people often answer that their attention level is high throughout — a flat line in the upper quadrants of the graph.

Not so. Even while watching the most engaging of stories, your interest typically waxes and wanes — kind of like a roller coaster in shape.

How do you keep a viewer’s attention?

As you watch a video — a good video — the action, words, sounds, and music spark memories and associations that feed into your experience of the video. In a well-done video, that’s a good thing. Hooking a reader’s personal emotions can do a lot of work for you.

Also, most people don’t focus steadily in a passive activity such as watching a video. The mind typically wanders during any presentation, whether it’s a feature film, a play, or a YouTube clip. Full attention returns when you create a new turning point — a plot change or new information, for instance.

So, when you craft a video presentation of any length, you want to be mindful of these “mental breaks” that will occur. And, if you’re good, you learn to manage them by carefully doling out important data in a time-release fashion, building on each “release” to a final climax. It’s really very much like how a feature film is carefully crafted.

For instance, at the beginning of a video you have just a few seconds to keep viewers who aren’t a captive audience. (Some say the attrition begins in the first second). So the beginning needs to be bold, surprising, unique, or otherwise attention getting. After that, you create peaks and valleys to continually reward your viewer for staying with you. Each peak builds on the last, and each valley provides supportive information for its peak, or the next one, if you will.

Plus, everything I’ve just said about keeping someone’s attention is exponentially more challenging every day, as you and everyone you know encounters hundreds of media messages every day. We want our information, and we want it fast.

USA Today hit on a novel idea back in the 70s by releasing bite-sized news, and received a lot of flak for it. But they were right. And today, as other newspapers flag and fail, USA Today still circulates more newsprint than any other newspaper in the United States.

Video is a lot like USA Today. You want to introduce memorable information and keep your audience’s attention throughout. In a well-composed video, you can do just that by thinking through your turning points. More on how to figure those out in another blog!

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