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Beanstalk's Internet Marketing Blog

At Beanstalk Search Engine Optimization we know that knowledge is power. That's the reason we started this Internet marketing blog back in 2005. We know that the better informed our visitors are, the better the decisions they will make for their websites and their online businesses. We hope you enjoy your stay and find the news, tips and ideas contained within this blog useful.


January 25, 2010

How to Write Engaging Blogs People Want to Read 

Thomas Edison famously remarked that genius was “1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.” For bloggers this means that if you put your effort into it, you can create a blog that gathers a following. If you look at a group of bloggers, one with a worldwide following and the rest with small audiences, the former will not necessarily be the best writer, the funniest, the smartest or even the one with the most inside info or useful tips. The great bloggers you follow yourself could have varying amounts of these characteristics.

So what separates the good bloggers from the ones with larger followings? Many call it the “x factor.” Since this is a bit amorphous we’ll touch on it later. You can take your first steps toward creating an engaging blog that builds a loyal following by following some simple guidelines. There are definitely tips, techniques and tools that will get you there and equip you to compete in the blogging big leagues. We’ll return to the “x factor” after getting you to that starting line.

Audience as foundation

Know your audience. Marshall McLuhan observed almost 50 years ago that the world was transforming into a “global village” through mass communication. The global village is here. People don’t log on to the Internet to be lectured. They log on for information, but also for intelligent dialogue – for exchange, for discussion, for sharing – with people like themselves. Know your audience and the information and conversation they are looking for. You need to engage your readers and speak directly to them with a personal touch, a sense of inclusion, and even a hint of intimacy. Blogs are about relationships, and relationships are about discussions and dialogues of all kinds. The “Monologue Era” is over. Your blog will succeed to the extent that you connect with your audience.

In our Dialogue Era, if you offer people something useful you can become a resource. People bookmark resources and return to them repeatedly, expecting more of the same. Once you have defined your audience you must set about adding value to their visits. Provide information helpful to your audience. Write clearly and don’t try too hard – be natural but concise, instructive but conversational. Produce useful, supportive and brief pieces that people can apply – today, tomorrow, whenever. That will show they can return for more information without wasting their time. Blogs are not articles, so keep them to the point, but do not enforce an arbitrary word limit. Your length will depend on your topic and your audience – make every word count.

Draw them in, move them along

To engage an audience in the first place, craft interesting headlines that invite readers in and use subheads to move them along and allow them to scan for the specific information they are looking for. The flow is enhanced if you keep sentences shorter rather than longer, and active rather than passive. Don’t posture, pretend, boast or brag, and always maintain a healthy skepticism and sense of humor. You are not writing great literature, your helping your neighbor. Finally, always review your output and rewrite where necessary. During this process, make words “pay their rent” by weeding out unnecessary ones.

You have many things to consider, a number of bottom lines – plural. Bottom line: You need to read about writing, learn how to edit and refine your technique over time. Bottom line: You need to learn the particular writing techniques that have evolved around blogs, like how to craft good bullet points, when to use them, how to use the page layout to your advantage and so forth. Bottom line: You have to continue reading your competition and your colleagues, often one and the same, and analyze what works and what doesn’t. Bottom line: There are a lot of bottom lines in blogging.

Go forth and blog

Coming full circle, then, let’s consider that “x factor” again. Although it’s not possible to define it quite precisely, we know where it is located. It is in you. It is your personality, your spark, your unique outlook. Be yourself, not what you think they want you to be. In that jigsaw puzzle that is “you” there are many traits and abilities, opinions and truisms, dreams and fears, and the sum total of them all is what adds up to “you” – and no one else – and your own real personality coming off the page is often what engages people. How can you inject “you” into your writing? There’s only one way to draw it out, of course, and that is to write.

Since you are forming relationships, do what Dale Carnegie advised about 80 years ago and ask small favors of your readers. Invite their comments. Ask for their opinion. Encourage them to express their point of view. This tells them you value what they think. More importantly, it engages them and makes them a valuable active participant (instead of a passive visitor), a member of your community, and part of an ongoing and growing dialog. This is what will lead many of them to make the all-important cognitive leap that will have them bookmark your blog, link to your posts, tell all their friends about it and continue the dialog. The leap occurs when readers stop thinking of themselves as readers, and start thinking of themselves as “stakeholders” – readers that interact with you.

If you can convert readers into stakeholders, you’re on your way.

SEO news blog post by @ 2:20 pm


 

 

November 16, 2004

Ten Steps To A Well Optimized Website – Step Four: Content Optimization

Welcome to part four in this search engine positioning series. Last week we discussed the importance of the structure of your website and the best practices for creating an easily spidered and easily read site. In part four we will discuss content optimization.

This is perhaps the single most important aspect of ranking your website highly on the search engines. While all of the factors covered in this series will help get your website into the top positions, it is your content that will sell your product or service and it is your content that the search engines will be reading when they take their “snapshot” of your site and determine where it should be placed in relation to the other billions of pages on the Internet.

Over this series we will cover the ten key aspects to a solid search engine positioning campaign.

The Ten Steps We Will Go Through Are:

  1. Keyword Selection – October 24, 2004
  2. Content – October 31, 2004
  3. Site Structure – November 7, 2004
  4. Optimization – November 14, 2004
  5. Internal Linking – November 21, 2004
  6. Human Testing – November 29, 2004
  7. Submissions – December 5, 2004
  8. Link Building – December 12, 2004
  9. Monitoring – December 19, 2004
  10. The Extras – December 28, 2004

Step Four – Content Optimization

There are aspects of the optimization process that gain and lose importance. Content optimization is no exception to this. Through the many algorithm changes that take place each year, the weight given to the content on your pages rises and falls. Currently incoming links appear to supply greater advantage than well-written and optimized content. So why are we taking an entire article in this series to focus on the content optimization?

The goal for anyone following this series is to build and optimize a website that will rank well on the major search engines and, more difficult and far more important, hold those rankings through changes in the search engine algorithms. While currently having a bunch of incoming links from high PageRank sites will do well for you on Google you must consider what will happen to your rankings when the weight given to incoming links drops, or how your website fares on search engines other than Google that don’t place the same emphasis on incoming links.

While there are many characteristics of your content that are in the algorithmic calculations, there are a few that consistently hold relatively high priority and thus will be the focus of this article. These are:

  1. Heading Tags
  2. Special Text (bold, colored, etc.)
  3. Inline Text Links
  4. Keyword Density

Heading Tags

The heading tag (for those who don’t already know) is code used to specify to the visitor and to the search engines what the topic is of your page and/or subsections of it. You have 6 predefined heading tags to work with ranging from <H1> to <H6>.

By default these tags appear larger than standard text in a browser and are bold. These aspects can be adjusted using the font tags or by using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).

Due to their abuse by unethical webmasters and SEO’s, the weight given to heading tags is not what it could be however the content between these tags is given increased weight over standard text. There are rules to follow with the use of heading tags that must be adhered to. If you use heading tags irresponsibly you run the risk of having your website penalized for spam even though the abuse may be unintentional.

When using your heading tags try to follow these rules:

  • Never use the same tag twice on a single page
  • Try to be concise with your wording
  • Use heading tags only when appropriate. If bold text will do then go that route
  • Don’t use CSS to mask heading tags

Never use the same tag twice on a single page. While the <H1> tags holds the greatest weight of the entire heading tags, its purpose is to act as the primary heading of the page. If you use it twice you are obviously not using it to define the main topic of the page. If you need to use another heading tag use the <H2> tag. After that the <H3> tag and so on. Generally I try never to use more than 2 heading tags on a page.

Try to be concise with your wording. If you have a 2 keyword phrase that you are trying to target and you make a heading that is 10 words long then your keyword phrase only makes up about 20% of the total verbiage. If you have a 4-word heading on the other hand you would then have a 50% density and increased priority given to the keyword phrase you are targeting.

Use heading tags only when appropriate. If bold text will do then go that route. I have seen sites with heading tags all over the place. If overused the weight of the tags themselves are reduced with decreasing content and “priority” being given to different phrases at various points in the content. If you have so much great content that you feel you need to use many heading tags you should consider dividing the content up into multiple pages, each with its own tag and keyword target possibilities. For the most part, rather than using additional heading tags, bolding the content will suffice. The sizing will be kept the same as your usual text and it will stand out to the reader as part of the text but with added importance.

Don’t use CSS to mask heading tags. This one just drives me nuts and is unnecessary. Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) serve many great functions. They can be used to define how a site functions, looks and feels however they can also be used to mislead search engines and visitors alike. Each tags has a default look and feel. It is fine to use CSS to adjust this somewhat to fit how you want your site to look. What is not alright is to adjust the look and feel to mislead search engines. It is a simple enough task to define in CSS that your heading should appear as regular text. Some unethical SEO’s will also then place their style sheet in a folder that is hidden from the search engine spiders. This is secure enough until your competitors look at the cached copy of your page (and they undoubtedly will at some point) see that you have hidden heading tags and report you to the search engines as spamming. It’s an unnecessary risk that you don’t need to take. Use your headings properly and you’ll do just fine.

Special Text

“Special text” (as it is used here) special is any content on your page that is set to stand out from the rest. This includes bold, underlined, colored, highlighted, sizing and italic. This text is given weight higher than standard content and rightfully so. Bold text, for example, is generally used to define sub-headings (see above), or to pull content out on a page to insure the visitor reads it. The same can be said for the other “special text” definitions.

Search engines have thus been programmed to read this as more important than the rest of the content and will give it increased weight. For example, on our homepage we begin the content with “Beanstalk Search Engine Optimization …” and have chosen to bold this text. This serves two purposes. The first is to draw the eye to these words and further reinforce the “brand”. The second purpose (and it should always be the second) is to add weight to the “Search Engine Positioning” portion of the name. It effectively does both.

Reread your content and, if appropriate for BOTH visitors and search engines, use special text when it will help draw the eye to important information and also add weight to your keywords. This does not mean that you should bold every instance of your targeted keywords nor does it mean that you should avoid using special text when it does not involve your keywords. Common sense and a reasonable grasp of sales and marketing techniques should be your guide in establishing what should and should not be drawn out with “special text”.

Inline Text Links

Inline text links are links added right into text in the verbiage of your content. For example, in this article series I may make reference to past articles in the series. Were I to refer to the article on keyword selection, rather than simply making a reference to it as I just have it might be better to write it as, “Were I to refer to the article on keyword selection rather …”

Like special text this serves two purposes. The first is to give the reader a quick and easy way to find the information you are referring to. The second purpose of this technique is to give added weight to this phrase for the page on which the link is located and also to give weight to the target page.

While this point is debatable, there is a relatively commonly held belief that inline text links are given more weight that a text link which stands alone. If we were to think like a search engine this makes sense. If the link occurs within the content area then chances are it is highly relevant to the content itself and the link should be counted with more strength than a link placed in a footer simply to get a spider through the site.

Like “special text” this should only be employed if it helps the visitor navigate your site. An additional benefit to inline text links is that you can help direct your visitors to the pages you want them on. Rather than simply relying on visitors to use your navigation bar as you are hoping they will, with inline text links you can link to the internal pages you are hoping they will get to such as your services page, or product details.

Keyword Density

For those of you who have never heard the term “keyword density” before, it is the percentage of your total content that is made up of your targeted keywords. There is much debate in forums, SEO chat rooms and the like as to what the “optimal” keyword density might be. Estimates seem to range from 3% to 10%.

While I would be the first to admit that logic dictates that indeed there is an optimal keyword density. Knowing that search engines operate on mathematical formulas implies that this aspect of your website must have some magic number associated with it that will give your content the greatest chance of success.

With this in mind there are three points that you should consider:

  1. You do not work for Google or Yahoo! or any of the other major search engines (and if you do you’re not the target audience of this article). You will never know 100% what this “magic number” is.
  2. Even if you did know what the optimal keyword density was today, would you still know it after the next update? Like other aspects of the search engine algorithm, optimal keyword densities change. You will be chasing smoke if you try to constantly have the optimal density and chances are you will hinder your efforts more than help by constantly changing the densities of your site.
  3. The optimal keyword density for one search engine is not the same as it is for another. Chasing the density of one may very well ruin your efforts on another.

So what can you do? Your best bet is to simply place your targeted keyword phrase in your content as often as possible while keeping the content easily readable by a live visitor. Your goal here is not to sell to search engines, it is to sell to people. I have seen sites that have gone so overboard in increasing their keyword density that the content itself reads horribly. If you are simply aware of the phrase that you are targeting while you write your content then chances are you will attain a keyword density somewhere between 3 and 5%. Stay in this range and, provided that the other aspects of the optimization process are in place, you will rank well across many of the search engines.

Also remember when you’re looking over your page that when you’re reading it the targeted phrase may seem to stand out as it’s used more than any other phrase on the page and may even seem like it’s a bit too much. Unless you’ve obviously overdone it (approached the 10% rather than 5% end of the spectrum) it’s alright for this phrase to stand out. This is the phrase that the searcher was searching for. When they see it on the page it will be a reminder to them what they are looking for and seeing it a few times will reinforce that you can help them find the information they need to make the right decision.

Final Notes

In an effort to increase keyword densities, unethical webmasters will often use tactics such as hidden text, extremely small font sizes, and other tactics that basically hide text from a live visitor that they are providing to a search engines. Take this advice, write quality content, word it well and pay close attention to your phrasing and you will do well. Use unethical tactics and your website may rank well in the short term but once one of your competitors realizes what you’re doing you will be reported and your website may very well get penalized. Additionally, if a visitor realizes that you’re simply “tricking” the search engines they may very well decide that you are not the type of company they want to deal with; one that isn’t concerned with integrity but rather one that will use any trick to try to get at their money. Is this the message you want to send?

Next Week

Next week in part five of our “Ten Steps To an Optimized Website” series we will be covering internal linking strategies and best practices. This will cover everything from image links and scripts to inline and basic text links.

SEO news blog post by @ 3:12 pm


 

 

November 1, 2004

Ten Steps To A Well Optimized Website – Step 2: Content Creation

Welcome to part two in this search engine positioning series. In part one we covered the importance and tactics for choosing the keywords and keyword phrases that will provide the highest ROI for your optimization efforts. In part two we will discuss how to properly write content for high search engine positioning.

Content is the key to search engine rankings. While there are numerous factors involved with the search engine algorithms, content remains a constant in stable rankings for a number of important reasons.

Over this series we will cover the ten key aspects to a solid search engine positioning campaign.

The Ten Steps We Will Go Through Are:

  1. Keyword Selection – October 24, 2004
  2. Content – October 31, 2004
  3. Site Structure – November 7, 2004
  4. Optimization – November 14, 2004
  5. Internal Linking – November 21, 2004
  6. Human Testing – November 29, 2004
  7. Submissions – December 5, 2004
  8. Link Building – December 12, 2004
  9. Monitoring – December 19, 2004
  10. The Extras – December 28, 2004

Step Two – The Importance Of Content

There are many aspects of your content that are of key importance to your search engine rankings and for a variety of reasons. That said, they can be broken down into their three main benefits. The three main things you should be targeting with your content are:

  1. Unique and well-written. The search engine spiders are looking for unique content and your visitors are looking for well-written content.
  2. With articles come links.
  3. With quality content comes even more links.

As long as you keep these three main purposes in mind while you are deciding what you want on your website and how it should be worded, you will fill this area nicely.

Unique & Well-Written Content

The importance of unique and well written content cannot be overstated. This is the backbone and purpose of your website’s existence and it deserves the time it will take to create. When you are considering what content you want on your site (or what content should be on your site if this is part of SEO or a redesign) you will want to make a few considerations.

  1. What does your audience want to find?
  2. Will you have to do additional research?
  3. Are you an expert writer or do you have one on staff?

What Does Your Audience Want To Find?

Assessing your potential visitors wants does not require a crystal ball. If you have completed and spent quality hours on Step One of this series, fully researching your keywords, you are already well on your way. Delving into those keywords you will often find hints that will push you in the right direction.

If you have an acne site and you have found a number of people searching for “acne treatment” and “natural acne treatment” and have thus chosen these as your targeted keyword phrases you already understand your visitors current situation and more importantly, their desire. Similarly, if you are a real estate agent and have chosen “los angeles real estate” as your phrase you know more than simply characters strung together and dropped into a search box. You know that you are dealing with people wishing to purchase or sell a home in Los Angeles. In both scenarios you know what your visitors want and, assuming you are already successful in your industry, you know what you have to do to convert that desire into a client.

Now what has to be done is to create solid, compelling content that will both grab your visitor’s attention and at the same time, make them want what you have to offer. This is not the same as selling to them when you have the opportunity to speak to them face-to-face. You are working without the benefit of watching their expressions, speaking to them about their objections, or even understanding whether they are looking for information for a friend or if it is they themselves who require your services.

This leaves you with a lot of room for content. In the online environment you have to deal with every question before they ask it, and make every person feel that you can help them even though you’ve never met.

What does your audience want to find? They want to find a solution to their problem. How do you provide that? By supplying them answers to the questions that they don’t have the opportunity to ask and may not want to give you their email address to find out. FAQ pages are good but often used as sales pages, which is fine so long as you are still providing good content that your visitor isn’t reading as “sales” but rather “solutions”. Perhaps create pages of replies to emails you have received. Perhaps place a related “fact of the day” on your homepage with a link to an archive of facts related to your industry, product and/or business. You might even want to add a blog to your site. Regardless, give your visitor the answers they’re looking for and keep this information updated as you get new information and you will stand a much better chance of keeping that person surfing through your website. The longer you can keep them on your site, the greater the chance that you will build trust and once you’ve got that, you can help them with the solution to their problem.

Will you have to do additional research?

For many business owners the gut instinct to this question is “no”. Of course not, you are an expert right? Well you may be, and so is Professor Stephen Hawking, however my bet would be he still does his research.

No matter how much you know there is always more out there and your visitors are probably well aware of that. If you fail to address all their questions, your visitors may very well leave your site in search of the answer. Once they’ve left your site it becomes other webmasters who now have the opportunity to present the benefits of their products or services.

Find all the information that you can and make sure that you include as much as possible on your site. The additional benefit in doing this is that constant new information on your website will not only keep visitors coming back to find new information but the search engines spiders too. If your site changes often the spiders will pick up on this and will visit you more often. While this by itself will not improve your rankings it does give you an advantage. The more often search engine spiders visit your website the faster changes you make will be picked up. The faster these changes are picked up the quicker you will be able to react to drops in rankings. If you know the spiders visit your site every second day and you drop from #8 to #12 you know that with proper tweaking to your content you may be able to recover that loss in as little as two days.

Are you an expert writer or do you have one on staff?

When you need a doctor do you read a book entitled “Heart Surgery For Dummies” and buy yourself a very sharp knife. Of course you don’t and while your website may not be quite as important as your heart, it is how your company is being perceived online. This perception can be the make-or-break of all your online marketing efforts.

If you are committed to attaining high rankings, to making money online and/or promoting your business through your website, shouldn’t you also be committed to insuring that your conversions are maximized. High search engine positioning is important but so too is converting those visitors once they get to your site. You may be an expert in your field but if that field isn’t writing, and you don’t have a writer on staff, be certain to at least consider hiring one to make sure that your website is conveying the message you want in verbiage that your visitors will understand. Assuming you choose your writer well you will not only have a well-written site but you will also gain the advantage of having an outsider, who is more likely to write for people who aren’t experts, creating your content.

If you feel that you are qualified to write your own content (which you may very well be) be sure to have it proofread by someone from the outside. Find someone (ideally plural) from within your target market and demographic, and have them go through your content giving suggestions and criticism. Don’t take it personally, every change they recommend is earning you extra money. Whether you implement the changes or not you are learning something new about what people will want and expect to see on your site.

With Articles Come Links

Writing content is not just an exercise for your own website. We all know that inbound links to your site help rankings. Additionally, if those links can be ones that provide genuine targeted traffic you’re doing very well.

There are a number of methods for driving traffic to your site with paid advertising, PPC, etc. however one of the most cost-effective methods is to publish articles. Article writing is no simple task however the rewards can be enormous. Articles serve two great purposes:

  1. Increased Link Popularity – When you write an article and submit it to other websites to post, they will generally link to your website from the page the article is on. Here’s a completely legitimate, relevant, and quality link to your site.
  2. Exposure & Credibility – The added credibility that article writing lends to your business coupled with the added benefit of the visitors who come to your site directly from your article are invaluable.

When it comes to article writing there is little in the way of more effective advertising. You will have to find sources to publish those articles on, but once you’ve done this time-consuming task you can reuse the same list for future articles.

Get those articles on a number of quality resource sites and enjoy watching your stats and your rankings improve.

With Quality Content Comes Even More Links

Yet another benefit that derives from having a website with great content and writing articles is that, with time, your website itself will become a resource. If you provide great information that other people will find useful people will link to it naturally.

With so much emphasis in recent times on reciprocal linking some might think this is the only way to get links at all. Believe it or not there are still webmasters out there who will link to sites for no other reason than they feel their visitors will be interested in it’s content.

Build a good site with quality content, keep it easily navigated and create sections for specific areas (articles for example) and you will find that people will link to your site and may even link to specific articles or your articles index. Perhaps then your articles index is a good page to target an additional keyword phrase.

Next Week

Next week in part three we will be covering site structure and the importance it plays in your rankings and in visitor experience. This will cover getting a spider through your site while also giving your visitors an easy path to the pages you want them on.

SEO news blog post by @ 3:03 pm


 

 

October 20, 2004

Ten Steps To A Well Optimized Website Series

Due to the great interest and feedback we received from our article “Ten Steps To Higher Search Engine Positioning” we decided to cover each of the ten steps in greater detail in a ten part series.

Below you will find links to all ten steps of this series.

The Ten Steps To A Well Optimized Website:

  1. Keyword Selection – October 24, 2004
  2. Content – October 31, 2004
  3. Site Structure – November 7, 2004
  4. Optimization – November 14, 2004
  5. Internal Linking – November 21, 2004
  6. Human Testing – November 29, 2004
  7. Submissions – December 5, 2004
  8. Link Building – December 12, 2004
  9. Monitoring – December 19, 2004
  10. The Extras – December 28, 2004

SEO news blog post by @ 2:13 pm


 

 

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