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Top Nine Ways to Enrich Your Business Blog in 2012

So you want to inform the people in your targeted market about your industry and increase traffic to your website by adding a blog. You already know that this is a great way to showcase your talents and authority within your niche and gain the trust of your potential clients/customers and peers alike. The question is, how do you attract the right kind of reader and what will keep them coming back for more? Although most of the answers are tried and true methods, some may be things you haven’t considered before.

Keep It Relevant

The most important way to attract and maintain the right readership is to keep your focus true to your niche. You may be a polymath, but if you’re not providing your readers (aka potential purchasers) with the relevant information they’ve come looking for, they’re going to go somewhere else to find it.

Use Compelling Titles

Could anything be worse than writing a great blog post complete with all the appropriate resources and a brilliant how-to video embedded in it only to have it be invisible in the SERPs? Readers want their information quick and easy to discern, ie. how-to…, top ten ways…, best of 2012…, etc. The KISS principle definitely applies here, keep it simple, direct and on-point. The most efficient tactics for creating compelling blog titles are being used again and again because they work.

Provide Quality Content

Two key things that help determine the quality of an article or blog post are credibility and actionability. Are your sources credible and can the reader act on the information you have provided?

Credibility – Write about subjects that you are passionate about, are an authority on or have experienced personally. Take the time to research your topic thoroughly and provide quality references where applicable.

Actionability – Give your readers something to come away with that they can take action on. For example, by providing product knowledge, the reader can come away feeling they have the ability to make an informed decision on their purchase or have gained a useful resource to pass along to others.

Thank Your Resources

As discussed above, using high quality resources are a necessity for enhancing your credibility. But have you ever considered that your resources could also be one of your best means of promotion? By giving credit where credit is due and informing your resource that you have referenced them you can almost always count on a complimentary link back to your post. Not only that, but it can open the door to a continued relationship allowing for the possibility of guest posting opportunities and the sharing of other resources.

Write Whitepapers

At this point your readers have found your beautiful blog, read your quality content, checked out your knowledgeable resources and determined you really do know your stuff. Now they want to share what they’ve learned with their peers.

One of the most effect ways to share your knowledge with the masses is to create a Whitepapers category on your blog and have the papers available as a downloadable PDF document. Readers can then print out these informative guides and use them as a reference during meetings or seminars and also pass them along to their colleagues.

Convert Your Posts to eBooks

Once your blog is well established and full of fantastic posts in a few different categories you will have all the content you will need for a great eBook. However, before you can publish an eBook you will have to optimize your posts for offline reading, group together post with similar topics and creatively tie them to each other. A couple of popular conversion tools are Anthologize and Zinepal.

Video, Images and Infographics

“Every picture tells a story, don’t it?”

We all know pictures sell, so use them to your advantage in every post, but be sure to vary the type of media you use to keep your readers interested.

Short, informational how-to videos incorporated into your post not only provide information, but also give your readers a face behind the posts to connect with. Embedding a customizable video player like Vitomy can also give you the opportunity to tie your brand to your message and yourself as an authority.

Images are a great way to introduce your topic and let the reader know visually what the piece is about as well as break up large bodies of text and support the content of your post. Varying the position of your images on the page can help make the text flow smoothly and keep the reader interested while reading longer articles.

Good infographics, or visual representations of information, make a big impact and travel quickly across the internet. A lot of information can be packed into one infographic, from text to graphs and images including your brand name! Who wouldn’t want that to go viral?

User Subscription

Your content is important not only to you, but to the readers who look forward to seeing your next post. The first option for subscribing is via email alerts of new posts. You can also give

your readers the option to receive special offers and promos. However, some potential subscribers may be wary of handing out their email address for fear of the dreaded S-word (spam). An RSS feed is a great option for them.

Most blog posts are being compiled in an RSS (really simple syndication) feed containing your post title and a brief summary. These feeds use a standardized XML file format which allows for information to be published once and viewed by a variety of different programs. Readers can easily subscribe to your feed and receive instant updates as soon as your fresh content comes out.

Promote Your Knowledge

How do you get the word out there that you’ve imparted your words of wisdom for the masses to learn from? You have to promote it, just like your brand name or your product you need to put it in front of people to create an awareness. This is where social media and blog database sites come in.

Using your professional social media accounts you can write a brief intro to your blog post and link to it for others to read the full post. On Twitter you can use #hash tags to draw in people looking for specific topics. If you post happens to relate to a trending topic, you could have thousands of eyes on your blog in a matter of hours. Another way to attract readers to your blog using Twitter is to do a search for a term that relates to your post and mention specific users interested in your topic by @name in your tweet linking to your post. Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ provide you with the option of selecting a thumbnail of an image that appears on the page that you are suggesting a link to. This is great for capturing your ‘friends’ attention and promotes your post visually.

Adding your blog feed to a site like Blog Flux can give your posts much more visibility. Sites like these have thousands of users who are looking for up to date blogs, news and events. These sites are organized into categories and allow users to search for specific topics, products or people. Submitting your blog homepage and RSS URL to a site like Ping-O-Matic will update major search engines with your fresh content, getting your posts crawled faster and therefor become visible in the SERPs sooner.

SEO news blog post by @ 9:54 am on January 6, 2012


 

SEO for Blogs – A Starter

In a perfect world, your well-written, useful and refreshingly original blog would rank well in search engine results just because it’s good. But that’s not reality. Great content is the foundation of a good blog, but it doesn’t guarantee high rankings. There are some search engine optimization (SEO) things you simply must do to increase the chances that your blog will be found – and read.

Before we get to how you should SEO your blog, remember that your first and primary goal should be to create the most informational blog in your industry. Keep things simple, and make your goal to have first-rate, original and useful content on specific topics with the best, most current advice and information. You could have the best SEO, but your content is junk no visitor will ever return. You must fill it with great content that is helpful to your demographic. Once you have started down that road, there are a number of things you can do to increase your visibility.

Basic On Page Needs

Much of on-page work revolves around utilizing keywords intelligently – the best keywords, in the right places, done the right way. The first order of business is to do comprehensive keyword research to select strong keywords to begin with.

Good keywords are not just about what searchers type most often in the search box – you need to have a full understanding of what they are truly looking for. You have to understand their intent and their real end-sum desires. Integrate this better market understanding into your keyword research.

Then analyze the search engine results pages (SERPS). If there is information out there similar to yours, what keywords find it? Look at your competitors – what keywords are they targeting, and how successful are their efforts. Where are they doing right and wrong? When your run searches on your chosen keywords, what results come up and why?

Once you have developed the optimal keyword list, you want to use these keywords in a number of different, interrelated ways on the page. At minimum that they should be in the:

  • title of the post
  • title tag (if different from the title of the post)
  • heading tags (not just h1, either)
  • internal linking
  • links to the post’s permanent link
  • outbound links
  • URL
  • alt tags

Keywords also need to be sprinkled throughout the copy. “Salted” – not too much, not too little, and in the right places. Make sure you main keywords are in the first few sentences. Don’t overdo it by cramming in the same term(s) again and again. Be wise, use related and relevant keywords to break things up and give Google and the other search engines the variety that they expect from normal, organic, real-world communication.

Your SEO will have the best chance for success if it is balanced, realistic and natural. None of your strategies overrules the need for good, useful, original content that people will read and recommend. Natural, intelligent keyword usage in your content will guide the search engines; quality useable information in the content will encourage people to link to you, tremendously boosting your SEO efforts. Never kill good content by keyword spamming. Readers won’t like it and won’t return, other sites won’t link to it, and both of those will doom your efforts. Respect all readers and make them partners, not targets of clever schemes. Readers are not pawns to move around a chessboard—it is much better that you consider them your advertising department.

Link Love

Among the most important factors affecting your SEO results is the number and quality of links that point to your blog. The better your content, the more people will reference it. Google essentially looks at inbound links as “votes” for the value of your blog and its individual posts – if you have a lot of quality links, your content must be good, thus they should move it up the results.

So generally speaking, the more people that link to your blog the better. That being said, higher quality links help more. The more powerful the site linking to you is, the better (i.e., links from the Wall Street Journal are better than links from some random hobby site). The more relevant the site (and page) linking to you is to your topic, the better. Links with good, relevant anchor text – especially when they occur inside the body text of the page that’s linking to you – are better. Get all the above and you’re golden. Or at least the link is.

Just recognizing a good link doesn’t get the job done – you have to have a link strategy. The best strategy by far is putting your energy into creating useful, first-rate content that people will read, use, link to, and recommend to others. You can contact people for links, use link-building programs and services, or even (gasp!) buy some, but the best approach is still to build inbound links the old fashioned way – by earning them with good content.

To give your linking efforts a jump-start, you can notify other bloggers and site hosts that you’ve written something they or their readers may find useful. Sometimes people that would like your content don’t know you exist. Do NOT ask them for a link – just let them know about the post(s). Don’t spam them, just send a nice note making them aware of content they may like. Make each note custom. People can tell when you have written a template you are sending to many people.

You can still get some mileage out of directory submissions, but confine it to the quality directories like Best of the Web and avoid the overused, “spammy” ones ignored by the search engines. A good rule – if the directory offers free listings, run away.

Link out. Yes, I said it. Although linking out to external sites carries the risk of steering people away, the benefits of being associated with high-level content should outweigh any negatives. Would you really expect others to link to you if you don’t link to anyone else? Are you really a good authority if you don’t reference anyone else’s good information? Link out usefully and shrewdly, and don’t overdo it. As always, moderation works best, and make sure you are linking to solid, reputable sites and content.

Internal Linking Strategy

A comprehensive internal linking strategy is hugely beneficial, yet often underutilized. It helps the bots easily navigate your site, makes it easier for readers to find what they want, and is significant for SEO. No-brainer.

Yes, group your posts into categories so that it strengthens topical authority and relevancy by grouping related articles together, but that is just the beginning.

If in one post you reference a concept covered in another post, link to that other post – and do it from within the text, using the best anchor text possible. Each post should have a list of related posts. This will help guide the reader to related information, and the related posts’ titles contain keywords (right?), giving you good anchor text there as well.

Don’t use the default links “Next Post” and “Previous Post,” instead substituting the actual titles of the next and previous posts. This again gives you an opportunity to have relevant keywords in anchor text. For the same reason do not use the defaults “Read more…” or “Continue reading…” to link to a post’s permalink page. Again use the title of the post (for instance “SEO for Blogs continued…”)

Of course, every page should have links to your homepage and a sitemap, so every page on your site can be reached in just one or two clicks.

Content Considerations

Now, about that “great content,” there are a few ways to make sure you are creating it the right way. A post should only cover one topic. If you cover more than one topic in a post, the search engines don’t know which to rank you for. If your topic is long and involved, break it up into a series with each subtopic getting its own post. Again, don’t keyword spam. Focus on making your point, not on keyword placement. If you make your point eloquently, the keywords will find their way into the right place. Don’t try to stick a keyword in every or every other sentence. If you find yourself having to do that, maybe you are not covering the topic in adequate detail.

Most importantly, update often. This does not mean changing already-published posts, but writing new ones consistently. Publishing content regularly is incredibly undervalued. Search engines love new content, so the more frequently you post the more frequently they will return. This simultaneously gives you more indexed pages faster, more opportunities for the bots to follow your well laid out links, and more chances the search engines to see what great content you have.

Tying It Together

Now that you know that great content is the genesis for so many good SEO factors, have learned a few ways to get the word out and are starting to think strategically, just what amount is the “right” amount?

If your content is good, then more is better. The more good content you have on a subject, the more the search engines will see you as an authority on that subject. The operative word is “good.” Don’t write useless drek just to fill space. It won’t strengthen your content foundation – on the contrary, it will dilute its focus and authority. Authority is like respect – it is built up by repeated quality. Publish good useful content daily, and in time you will have a foundation of authority.

Don’t be in a hurry, and don’t look for shortcuts. Your blog is about quality and balance – conceiving it, writing it, promoting it, optimizing it for search engines and all the rest. You will make mistakes and make progress just as in any other enterprise, so the main thing is to keep learning, keep trying, and keep track of what you’re doing. Once you start seeing certain actions creating certain results, you are on your way to developing your own, customized method for developing and implementing the best search engine optimization for your blog.

On To Part Four >

SEO news blog post by @ 3:24 pm on August 27, 2010


 

What Type of Blog Will Benefit My Business the Most? Business Blogging: Part 2 of 4

In Part 1 we broke down for you why it is just good business for a business to have a blog. Now that you’ve decided that having one is beneficial to your company, Part 2 explores what type of blog will benefit you the most.

Now that you know how blogs can benefit your site, you might think that if one is good, two would be better. Or more. You would be right. However, it takes a little more than simply registering with Blogger or WordPress and throwing some verbiage into the void. You need to seriously think about what approach would benefit your company the most. If you take a well thought out planning process, your blogs will accomplish their mission—establishing you and your company as a useful, expert resource that motivates people to revisit your blogs and do business with you.

Remember, blogs can either reside right on your site, or they can be independent domains all to themselves. The advantage of having your blogs on your site is that it powerfully connects everything in them to you and your firm, which is a strong branding and ID play. Developing offsite blogs gives them a little more freedom, both perceived and real, and the “buffer” lets you be a bit more controversial or experimental than you normally might be. The blogs can be official or unofficial.

The executive blog

Every company, in every industry, can have at least two blogs. One, an “executive blog”—and a second, “news” or “insider info” blog. The executive blog should not be the CEO posting about where he ate lunch or his new Blackberry. It should show that the executive, and thus the company, is at the leading edge of the industry. This blog should cover industry and world news and events, items of particular interest to the firm’s industry or region, and company news—anything relevant, with the emphasis on relevant, not on anything—and offer intelligent, insightful comments.

Sharp analysis and insights will demonstrate up-to-date, intimate knowledge of industry trends and true expertise about the industry as a whole. This shows that your company has the sharpest people around and instills confidence in those who are considering doing business with you. All of this is accomplished in a way that helps the reader, so the value propositions of your firm come forth naturally, absent marketing blurbs or sales talk. Blogs are incredibly valuable communications tools, as people don’t automatically raise their defenses against your message.

News blogs and others

A news blog, obviously, will comment on news stories concerning your industry. It is probably wise to refrain from turning the blog into an op-ed. Just provide facts and figures—and others’ opinions. This way you can bring up controversial subjects without the risk of alienating readers. There are many other types of blogs that you can do, depending on your vertical and the defining characteristics of your target readers. By their very nature these are helpful and supportive, without the slightest risk of offending anyone.

Beyond executive and news blogs, many companies are at a loss for what kind of blog might help them succeed. Sometimes the solution is obvious, and other times it takes a little creative thinking.

For example, if you own a retail site that sells many products and you created a blog that just tried to sell a different product every day, it might come off as self-serving and clumsy. However, let’s say instead you created a pair of “cool product” blogs, one male-focused and one female-focused. Each could highlight cool, trendy products, but more from the approach of someone recommending something really great to a friend, or from the approach of an insider. It is a subtle difference, but if done right making them more recommendation-based instead of sales-based can come off much better and more successfully. On the other hand, retail sites selling few products could have a blog that discusses inventive ways to use the products, or invites third-party stories about unique, thoughtful product usage. Every site should consider blogs that offer insight into how different sub-demographics within their customer base can use or benefit from various products.

Unique firms, unique blogs

In the “B2B” universe, staffing companies could blog about staffing needs in various important times, like expanding, opening new offices, corporate transitions, planning for holidays or tax time, and so forth. Accountants could have a “tax tips” blog, or write about various issues of financial planning for executives and employees. Lawyers in virtually any law area could explain legal concepts and situations in their specialty in layman’s terms, comment on the legal ramifications of current events and analyze high-profile cases to give expert insights. Mortgage firms could target the many different demographics looking for refinancing or home equity loans, from newlyweds and couples with children to seniors, first-time buyers and people in mortgage trouble. Each group has different reasons for refinancing, giving you limitless fodder for endless blogging.

Companies in the food industry—from organic farmers and bakeries to the corner restaurant—can have recipe blogs that utilize the products they sell. A spice manufacturer could offer recipes using its ingredients, or an organic foods purveyor could offer tips on cooking and eating right in addition to a multitude of health-conscious recipes. Really, any blog could similarly tie into the company site and its products or services. Kitchen or cooking supply firms could offer cooking tips and processes that involve their products. Or they could answer technical “what is this?” and “what’s it for?” questions, and offer “stories from the front” relating real-life kitchen experiences, including important safety reminders.

Affiliates—and everyone else

Blogging is important for all firms, but can be enormously beneficial to affiliates. Every idea related above is just as relevant and powerful in the affiliate world, if not more so. Many affiliates keep their sites spare, just desiring to get the visitor through the site to get the sale. But by creating a highly informational and helpful blog in any industry, they can drive affiliate traffic and sales organically with high conversion. Anyone who wants to be a successful affiliate can use any of the above blog ideas as an affiliate to an industry.

Clearly, blogs are extremely valuable in the right hands. It may take a few tries to get your particular formula working smoothly and consistently, or to come up with just the right approach for your situation, but it’s time well spent and the ultimate results will be good for business. If you keep a service mentality and put yourself in the reader’s place during both the development and the writing phases, you will stay on track and your company will reap the benefits.

On To Part Three >

SEO news blog post by @ 3:28 pm on May 1, 2010


 

Yes, Your Company Really Does Need A Blog

The term has become so common that most people don’t know that “blog” is a condensed version of “weblog.” It is not a new form of communication, by any means. People have been blogging since man began painting on cave walls, really; it’s just that the tools have changed and the definitions of writing styles have evolved a bit (but just a bit). When the Internet was still without its graphic interface, the World Wide Web, there were the bulletin boards and file-sharing services that allowed the distribution of text files.

Even though the Internet traces its roots way back past Al Gore to the DARPANet (Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration) in 1969, not every article in that era was a description of biological weapons or a flight-simulator log. People would rant, discuss, argue and hold forth on any number of topics. The term weblog seems to have started, some folks say, with one Jorn Barger, who would “surf the net” (not his phrase) and keep a log of what he found interesting, then comment on some of it. As words have a way of doing, “weblog” became “blog” and now they’re everywhere, and everyone has one.

Why don’t you have a blog?

The fact that there are so many blogs is perhaps the most compelling reason that your company should have one. It is no longer noteworthy to have a blog; today people will wonder why you don’t have one. You probably know a lot of reasons why you should have one for your firm, whether your business is plastic extrusion, audio engineering, IT consulting, or anything really. What you need to focus on are all the benefits you are forgoing by not having a blog that represents your product, service or organization.

One immediate benefit is that you are validated as being up to date, a 21st century cybercitizen. If no one knows a thing about your firm except that you have a blog, there is a lot that can be surmised from that one fact. It signifies being computer literate, technology savvy, thorough, and communicative. As mentioned before, it seems odd now when companies don’t have a blog. It was well over a decade ago that having a Web site became an absolute must for businesses, and for a time it was de rigueur for individuals, as well. Now, folks can have a blog instead of a Web site and maintain just about the same level of “cool factor”—but you, as a businessperson, need both.

Quick connections, extended reach

Up-to-the-minute information is no longer good enough. Things change by the second, which is why texting and Twitter have become parts of the communications toolkit, too. A sense of immediacy, the need for updates on a continuous basis, has driven the development of these technologies. However, these are bandwidth-limited and one-dimensional. A blog, on the other hand, has most of the benefits of your Web site—it can carry text, display images, stream media and link to other destinations—but is easier to manage and update. You can make changes at any time without calling the IT department or waiting on your webmaster. This business benefit is immediacy—of contact, information delivery and feedback, all crucially important to any business.

Extending Your Network

Another big benefit is the same thing realtors talk about all the time—location, location, location. You’ve got another location that will be indexed, spidered, cataloged and listed in special blog directories. It can become a side door to your main Web site, or a completely separate site altogether. In any case, the network of links, in both directions, will both differ and grow independent from your business site’s links, too, so you’re capturing more (and more varied) visitors—a business benefit we’ll call “extended reach.” A blog increases the range for your corporate message: it allows greater flexibility of presentation, and has a “personal touch” that makes it friendlier, thus making your message more accessible and absorbable than a business site.

Dialogue with customers (and fans)

Regular, consistent and consistently high-quality blogs will attract a readership that will learn to trust you. As trust is established, your visitors will give you more than just brief feedback. They will engage you in discussions that could result in both of you (as well as your other readers) learning something quite valuable. There is no telling what might happen when you are out there in cyberspace meeting and greeting new people. A blog gives you the opportunity to teach and learn, another broad and valuable benefit.

Finally, because of the less formal look, feel and operation of a blog, you can take chances you might not take with your business and/or e-commerce site. You can try focused promotions, test new marketing ideas, gauge the effect of a new advertisement—and you can be right up-front about the fact you are doing these things. It’s a blog, after all, so you can ask things of visitors that you would not ask a Web site visitor that you’re trying to convert into a buyer. You can be more casual than you could at your business site.

Use common sense and go for it

None of the foregoing should be interpreted to mean that you can just cut loose and rant about politics, religion or your in-laws in any offhanded manner that you choose. If your business name is on that blog, you are still representing the firm and its interests. Yes, you can post personal photos and take the occasional tangent, just as you can commend an employee for a job well done or offer discount coupons for a spur-of-the-moment sale. If it’s a business blog, however, there is a reasonable standard of decorum expected of you and everything that carries the company name.

That said, remember what the benefits are—validation, immediacy, extended reach, flexibility, accessibility, dialogue, teaching and learning, experimentation and test marketing—and use your blog to benefit your business, its Web site and its future. Go forward with the desire to offer as much as possible, and you may be surprised at how much you receive in return.

On To Part Two >

SEO news blog post by @ 3:34 pm on April 9, 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 on January 25, 2010


 

How To Write For Search Engines

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) writing, as a distinct style, was born in the Internet era and has matured before our very eyes in a relatively short span of time. Although it is evolving and maturing still, and will continuously do so, we can define some of the tried and tested steps of content optimization to help unique pages place at or near the top of search engine rankings.

Some experts go on to say that the goal of SEO is two-fold, with the first objective to put out the appropriate “bait” for search engine spiders and the second to serve up useful information to people who want and need it. Debates about priorities continue among SEO professionals, but it is never a good idea to devalue the human factors in any success formula. The singular goal, then, would be to develop, position and refine content in such a way as to satisfy all visitors to the page and/or site, both human and bot alike.

Rethinking search engine content terms

“Content is king,” goes the old saying – and not only is good content king, it is becoming more important with every passing day. But the term content is best taken in its broadest sense. Content is not simply the written copy placed in a document, assembled on a page, or aggregated at a site. It includes all this, of course, but content actually comprises titles, headings, tags, intra-site links and external links, as well.

All of these components need to work together and form an interconnected whole so that both search engines and humans find the right things, come to the right conclusions and, most importantly, make the right decisions. Good writing is always targeted to the audience, and you are writing for an audience of two readers, human and software. Remember these two components of the audience and find creative ways to reach both of them at the same time.

First things first

Titles are critically important – they are usually the first thing read by both real and virtual visitors. A title is the “primary topical identifier” and, as such, has an invaluable function – again, a dual-purpose one. It must contain keyword targets at the individual word level while stoking interest in potential readers at the phrase level.

When a person performs a search, the title is both their first indication of your relevance to their needs and your first opportunity to compel them to click through. Search engines, more clinical and objective, give the title importance because they see it as an indicator of the page’s main idea.

Yet many pages on the Internet have no title at all, or share “Home” and “Untitled” with several million others. There is no excuse for this oversight. The ignorant cousin of these mistakes, making the company name by itself the title of every page, is just as bad. Keywords relevant to the page should be part of every page’s title.

Heading tags carry some importance too. Simply put, heading tags define the headings and subheadings of your article to both readers and spiders. By default they appear larger than normal text and are bolded. While not a magic ranking bullet, they are looked at with more importance than average text and are an opportunity to show spiders the themes of your content and what keywords you wish to rank for.

The H1 tag is the main heading of your article and carries the most importance, like a headline in a newspaper article. It should clearly convey the article’s topic to the reader and main keywords to the search engines. H2 tags are one level down in importance and structure. Use them to define subtopics under your main topic, and again use keywords where descriptive and useful. If you needed to break down your article to sub-sub-headings, you would use the H3 tags, and so forth.

For both human and robotic readers, it is vital to keep page content focused. The “one topic per page” rule is an unwritten one, certainly, and it’s followed by most professional content developers. This has less to do with the intelligence of the readers (either kind) than it does with several other considerations. For one thing, search engine “crawlers” have algorithms that tend to work best on one concept at a time, and most humans work best this way, too.

In addition, limiting the focus eases the task of placing keywords in the meta descriptions, page title, body copy, tags and links. Finally, dealing with more than one topic necessarily means using more verbiage, which dilutes the potency of a site-wide SEO program and may negatively impact ranking. Better to give these other topics their own content, strengthening your site’s overall informational authority.

SEO copywriting balance

Much ink has been spilled and many pixels propagated in discussing SEO techniques, analyzing strategies, teaching “web content” writing, and chasing changing algorithms. Mentioned less but encompassing everything is that SEO copywriting, like all SEO, is about balance.

While articles such as this one can be helpful, it is important to understand that SEO will always evolve, change, adapt and improve. Study and implement tested techniques, but remain flexible and nimble. Writing for search engines and people at the same time is tricky and challenging at best, and can be frustrating and time-consuming, too. Approach the challenges in a businesslike fashion.

SEO content writing at its best balances art with science, blending the craft of engaging the reader with the dispassionate analysis of keywords on a page. Follow best practices, but fill each article to the brim with information useful to your demographic.

In simultaneously targeting a subject, an audience, and an algorithm, a great deal of creativity must take place to get effective SEO results. And, of course, it all has to happen in an environment that encourages short attention spans and constantly tries to lure people elsewhere. It is a major challenge to craft article titles and copy so compelling as to make people stop and read – or, better yet, stop and then click where you want them to.

Basics, opportunities, and consistency

The basic approach to writing for such a dynamic, ever-changing environment is to get to the point quickly. The “USA Today” news style – which relies on short headlines, descriptive sub-headlines and a few concise paragraphs – is perhaps the best analogy for good SEO writing. The important points (keywords) should appear early and often, and within a short period of time the human readers should know what they are supposed to do, while the search engines should be able to tell what the page is about from a consistency between your page structure and your body copy.

In the eyes of the search engines, everything that it can possibly see counts. That is, using image alt-text not only helps blind readers and people using phone- or text-based browsers, it also gives you another opportunity to add more descriptive strength to the overall page for the search engines. Do not miss any opportunity to further empower and refine your content.

And always remember when writing for search engines – keep writing. Write write write. Search engine bots gorge on new information, and if you consistently update your site with fresh content they will come around more often. While this gives you more opportunities to display your value, more importantly it builds the foundation of information that obviates it.

There’s a lot to do, and it all needs to be done well. Use your numbers, metrics and analytics to point you in the right direction for creating more content. That’s some science. Your creativity and amount of useful information, on the other hand, will point site visitors and search engines in the right direction. That’s a touch of art. When both aspects of your SEO program are firing on all cylinders, you should soon be marching up the search engine rankings.

Next Week

Next week we’ll be releasing Part Three of the series –Writing For Conversions.

SEO news blog post by @ 3:20 pm on July 15, 2009


 

Writing For Conversions: Part 3- Testing New Content

Our exploration of utilizing content to increase conversion rates began with analyzing statistics to uncover opportunities for improvement, followed by how to create and implement good content to compel visitors to take action. The natural next step is testing.

Unless you do some sort of controlled, measurable testing, you will never know what changes in copy, titles, calls to action, color schemes, layouts, etc. increase your conversion the best. Simply put, you should test variations of your content elements in different combinations to see what achieves the highest conversion overall.

It may be helpful to picture the structure of journalism, the formula for writing a news story – “who, what, when, where, how and why.” When you are testing new content elements, defining and controlling for the first four W’s (and the H) just might offer you the answer to the last one – “why” your changes get the results they do.

The elements of change

Before we look at the elements individually, you should get a feel for the number of variables involved in this undertaking. First of all, of course, there is the copy itself. You will need to consider not just the individual words in the copy, but its tone, purpose, goal, and of course audience.

If you are a good writer, you can do the writing yourself. If you are not, then get a professional to assist you. Even if you feel you can do it yourself it may profit you more to hire someone else to do it. Not many business owners or employees have an extra 1-2 hours in their day, nevermind 4-6 hours, to write the content needed to succeed. Plus there are large opportunity costs – time spent writing is time stolen from focusing on core business objectives.

There are lot more elements to test than just the copy and more kinds of “copy” (words) than just the main sales message. Besides the main copy you will have title tags, article titles, headlines, subheads, calls to action, etc. Besides the sales message there is informational content to help visitors educate themselves to their decision. A change to any one of these is a separate test.

What you’re testing

Making copy variations might include changing the wording to create more engaging phrasing or language, changing the format from short description to comprehensive information, or changing the tone from hard to soft sell or from technical to layman terms, etc. It depends on your situation and industry. Headline and subhead variations may involve wording, placement, font, even color. With the calls to action, you may be rewriting, or repositioning, tweaking aesthetics, or all the above. If you cannot define what you are testing, you simply cannot test. Determine which elements are relevant to your situation and goals.

After you have defined your points, there is one crucial point to always, always keep in mind: only change and test one thing at a time. If you change more than one thing it is impossible to know which change actually impacted the results.

How now?

You should decide up front whether you are doing open- or closed-end testing, that is, testing that is always ongoing versus testing done for a certain period of time. Although, generally speaking, you always want to be testing and improving, it doesn’t have to be one, long, unending one. You may get better results doing a sequence of short-term tests.

Before you change or test anything you need to establish a control and a baseline. Put together what you feel is a solid page to be your control, then gather statistics on it for a period of time to get a baseline number from which you can judge your progress.

The number of elements and their variations you are testing will help decide which what testing method you use. Let’s take a look at two testing approaches: A/B testing and multivariate testing.

In A/B testing you compare alternate versions of an element against each other to see which one is more effective. If A/B’ing one element you can see which version works best and move forward. If A/B’ing only a few elements with limited variations, combining and testing them against one another is pretty straightforward (e.g. two elements, each having three variations, gives you six possible combinations). If you are testing multiple elements that each have multiple variations, you are going to have a huge number of combinations, so you will have to be very methodical about making one change at a time and tracking the results.

A/B testing is good because you can typically do it in-house with resources you have on hand, and it doesn’t require complicated data analysis, so ease and low expense put it within the reach of most companies. However, testing multiple elements requires diligence and significant time expenditure.

Another way to test multiple elements is multivariate testing. Multivariate testing involves blending multiple variations of multiple elements in various combinations, then collecting and analyzing the data to see which combinations work best. Different elements impact conversions in different ways, so multivariate testing helps you see both which specific elements impact conversions the most and which combinations produce the highest conversion rates overall.

Multivariate testing requires more technical savvy, planning, and upfront work, but can save you time and cover more ground by testing more items in a given testing period. It also gives you a very scientific approach to your conversion improvement and establishes a system for open-ended testing. On the downside, it focuses on one page at a time and doesn’t take into account the pages before or after your test page that may significantly affect conversion rates.

The “who” matters, too

You probably have at least a few demographics, and each demographic contains various subdemographics. Certainly you can test with your visitor population as a whole, but it may benefit you even more to target specific people with specific recipes to see what works best with each particular audience. You can do this using identifying markers, such as IP addresses, referring URLs, unique IDs, etc., or behavioral characteristics, such as frequency of visits, pages viewed, time between return visits, previous purchases, and so forth.

Some visitors you really want to pay attention to are the search engine spiders. When you are doing A/B split testing or multivariate testing you don’t want the search engines to see a different page each time they come by. Be sure your system can identify the different spiders and show them the same consistent page. After you have finalized your changes, remember to channel them to the new page.

The “when” of it

You could do an A/B test of your body copy, with Copy A for a month and Copy B for a month, and accrue and analyze those figures. Or you could set up A/B split testing, whereby Copy A and B are called up on successive page landings. Split testing is efficient because you can run the test in half the time and you lessen the impact of seasonality in the comparison. Whether doing A/B or multivariate testing, you want to make sure you allow enough time to gather sufficient data to draw useful conclusions.

Timing is also important in establishing controls for your testing, particularly when making a succession of changes in A/B testing. Put the best, most creative effort first, which often (but not always) means the new body copy. As you monitor performance over a set amount of time and proceed from change to change, having a regular timing schedule will put you in a better position to tell what change had what effect.

Also, be mindful of any seasonality when it comes to your industry. For example, if you sell flowers, data spikes around Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day will naturally skew your results, so you have adjust for them or avoid those times. On the other hand, if your business can allow for it, you may want to target those days for specialized testing precisely because the high volumes and focused environment give you excellent data.

The “where” factor

It is not just the makeup of your elements that effects conversion rates, but also their position the page. Where is the copy most effective on the page? Do you place your lead form or products above the copy, below it, in the middle, or somewhere along one of the sides? It all depends on your industry, your situation, your audience, and what you want visitors to do. You have to try different formats and layouts to see what works best.

The “where” factor may affect the call to action more than any other element. Whether it is a button to click, a product to buy, a lead form to fill out, or something else, the placement of the call to action and how many times it appears on the page can impact conversion rates tremendously.

Don’t be shy about putting it in several places on the page. The call to action has both incentive and convenience aspects. You want it to be compelling enough to entice people to take action just by viewing it. But you also want it in several places so that no matter where the visitor is on the page they can take action if your copy compels them to do so.

Another “where” is where the test page exists on your site. The pages that visitors saw before they got to the test page will impact your conversion. If the pages pointing to your testing page have misleading messages, no amount of changes on your test page will give you a clear picture, fix your problem, or give you the optimal conversion rates you want.

Summing up

The wildcard in all this is that your visitors are becoming more sophisticated every day, that is, they are constantly changing. You are working with a moving target. In addition to all the other business reasons, this in itself is reason enough to be continuously testing and improving.

There is an art and science to all testing: an art in composing creatives and changes, a science in analyzing the data, and both in making the adjustments. The fact remains that you are dealing with humans and human emotion – how people perceive your pages (and thus your site) and whether they are compelled to follow your call to action. What visitors do may be tracked statistically, but why they are doing it is based on very human factors.

Despite the qualified, quantified results you will get from testing, never overlook your own instincts and insights. Don’t go horoscope on it; just remember that your mind works in more ways than you know. While you are testing, test your own hunches about copy, placement of page elements, title tags, or calls to action. When you consider results, you must also allow yourself the freedom to make unexpected connections among data points, as well as the leeway to challenge preconceived notions about what the results “might have” or “should have” been.

Gather and analyze the hard numbers and facts, but also include the art and psychological side, because it is emotion that drives people to take action (and thus convert). Remember, we are dealing with human beings, not robots, and people are nothing if not unpredictable, fickle, and confounding. Control your tests as closely as you can, identify and define your elements, run clean and clear tests, review the results, analyze the data, but also use your insight and intuition to figure out how to trip those emotional switches in people. Don’t use statistics only to force human emotional response into tidy rows, neat columns and pre-defined boxes. One of the advantages of “thinking outside the box” is that you won’t paint yourself into any corners.

SEO news blog post by @ 3:16 pm on May 28, 2009


 

How To Create Good Copywriting For Conversions: Part 2 – Creating the Copy

In Part 1 of our series on Creating Good Copywriting For Conversions, we covered using stats and analytics to research and guide your efforts.

In Part 2 we break down steps you can follow to help you develop a personal procedure to create effective copywriting.

You have gone to a lot of trouble to get the right kind of people to your website. You now face the task of informing and persuading them well

enough to turn them from a temporary visitor into a customer. Creating the content to do so may take a few minutes or it may take much longer, and you

need to cast as wide a net as possible without overreaching. Your goal: Convey a message, primarily with words but not exclusively, that will turn

both impulse buyers and discerning shoppers into new (and loyal) customers.

There are copy and conversion experts all over the virtual (and real) landscape, and plenty of good opinions and ideas. Still, the best lessons are

from the real world, from approaches that have worked and are working today, rather than a PowerPoint slide or a white paper. You need to accomplish –

without the benefit of body language, eye contact or other in-person persuasive techniques – the same thing that a good salesperson accomplishes in a

store or any other person-to-person encounter: give the visitor the useful and helpful information they want to help turn them into a buyer.

Persuade and motivate

Think of yourself as a salesman writing copy, not a copywriter making sales. For your website content you have a very simple objective. You want to

persuade and motivate. Persuade the readers that your product or service uniquely, distinctively fulfills their practical needs and emotional desires,

and motivate them to take the action you want. Naturally there are various approaches, from informational to “hard sell,” but the goal remains the

same. Persuade and motivate.

Before you start to write, go through a thorough preparatory regimen. You need to get in the right frame of mind, first of all, and then you must

“arm yourself” with the right tools. Besides setting yourself up for efficient copywriting – with your dictionary and thesaurus and perhaps a

strong cup of coffee – you need to wrap your head around the project with some strategic thinking.

Before you write

You just can’t sit down, cold, and dash off the first clever things that come to your mind. That can work for slogan writing or comedy sketches, but

your task is a serious, targeted one. You have to do your research first, defining the product in straightforward terms and finding a way to

communicate both features and benefits to potential buyers in a quick, clean fashion. If you don’t know the product or service well, don’t even think

of writing yet. Talk to users if you need to. Evaluate the item as a consumer would. Put yourself in their shoes.

You also need to position the product, both broadly and narrowly, in relation to similar ones. Compare features and benefits and note what makes

your product a better one than its competitors. This will help you to define your particular target market (or markets). The strategic thinking you do

in your positioning and target market planning will help you tailor your copy to the real-world taste and style of the readers. Are they students,

software engineers, or 60+ year-old seniors? Stay-at-home moms, penny-pinching business owners, fashion-conscious young women? Think in terms of your

demographics and their specific needs.

Preparing to write

Going through the preceding steps should have resulted in your developing a marketing strategy. Based on your knowledge of the target demographics,

you should be able to determine whether to use an informational approach, try “assumptive close” methods, go the hard-sell route, or combine

a few different techniques into a customized “hybrid.” Of course, you can also use a sequence of different approaches, although that takes a

little finesse.

It can be somewhat difficult to reach a decision on the precise length of the copy. Don’t write more words than you need to add “heft” – people

don’t have time to waste and fluff makes you look bad – but if you need 500 words to sell the product or service, write 500. But less is more – use as

few words as necessary to get your point across. Vigorous writing is concise. Conveying points efficiently displays intelligence and mastery of the

subject or industry, increasing trust and faith that you are the best choice.

From the very start, remember that you have to reach people not just in their heads but their hearts, too, and even their souls if it makes sense to

do so. Every action/purchase is emotional on some level. You need to connect with the readers and make it both safe and necessary for them to become

buyers.

Writing the copy

Don’t forget the overarching goal – persuade and motivate. You are not writing an op-ed for the paper or an essay for a class. Use your most

natural, unaffected voice, and don’t use “two-dollar” words just to impress rather than communicate. Do not write in the passive voice,

either. Stay active, use action words, and maintain a good pace without bogging down in detail or detours.

Do not embellish, make false claims, or invent facts or figures. Always be truthful while emphasizing your strong selling points. Stay with

demonstrable facts, and be specific with them, too. For instance, don’t say your auto air filters work with “most American cars,” tell the

reader they work with ” GM, Ford and Chrysler products.”

Keep going forward

When you are organized and prepared to write, things should flow well, and only in one direction, forward. Every paragraph should proceed logically

from the first sentence to the appropriate conclusion. Don’t clumsily refer back to a preceding paragraph when repeating a point, just simply repeat

the statement if it’s important enough to bring up again. Go forward, and take the reader with you.

In fact, you should not be hesitant to repeat yourself. This is one of the easiest, most direct ways to get the reader to remember what you want

them to remember. Don’t be afraid to do this when it seems the right thing to do. One good technique is to take the good, repeatable selling point and

couch it in different ways to reach people in their minds as well as their emotions. In other words, repeat the point but approach the reader from

different angles with it. The emotional connection is key. Never forget that.

Clarity and depth

Stylistically, you will want to avoid long sentences and complicated structures. You don’t need semi-colons, double dashes and parenthetical

phrases. Nice, direct, declaratory sentences punctuated with commas and periods will do nicely. Be yourself, too. If you are not funny, don’t try using

humor. Your goal is to persuade and motivate, not get people to laugh or like you. Plus, you may come off as disingenuous.

The “depth” of your message means many things, and not just editorial. The page design itself can be key in your copy challenge, so always

be prepared to do a new design to accompany new writing. Don’t let your design be a hurdle to getting your message across. The pages in your site are

there to grab the reader and not let go, so use all the graphic and editorial techniques available to do that. You can draw in the reader with graphic

shapes pointing them where you want them to go just as easily as you can use well-traveled attention-grabbing terms like “Free” or

“Stop”.

From interest to action

Whatever methods you use, you want to move your reader along. You have their attention, so deliver on the promise. Don’t get ahead of yourself and

dive in to YOUR product or YOUR business or YOUR autobiography. It’s not you that most people are interested in. It’s how you can help their own

current interest, which usually revolves around themselves.

Now comes the next step, which means motivating the readers to take whatever action you desire. Give them the facts, describe the features and then

concentrate on the personal benefits, both practical and emotional. The readers are actually looking for, and hoping to find, reasons to buy the

product or service you offer. If the product is going to save them some money, say so, and be specific about how it will do so. If it will save them

time, say that. Saving money and time are not just practical but also emotional needs. If your products will make people feel a certain way, appear a

certain way or be appreciated by others, feed into that emotional desire and run down those particular benefits. And do it all in regular, person-to-

person vocabulary, without sales-y terms like “mega” or “super” or “incredible.”

The call to action

You are ideally leading a reader on a short, sweet, helpful journey. You have to tell them what you expect them to do when they reach the

destination, whether it’s a form or a link or a “Buy” button. Even if the goal is to have them sign up for your newsletter that still

requires the same “persuade and motivate” copy that any other sale does. Whatever you do, make the call to action a prominent one (even use

multiple calls to action so visitors can take action from several places). Never put obstacles in the way of visitors who want to become buyers. Don’t

distract them, and don’t make them have to search for what to do.

When you think you’re finished writing, you’re not. You have simply finished that phase. You have revisions to make now and editing to do. Carve the

message down to its basics and get rid of fluff. Then do it again. When you finish a few rounds of rewriting and refining, read the copy out loud and

listen to how it flows. Make sure your voice and your tone are consistent throughout the copy, especially if you have a large site and/or you are

writing copy over a period of days or weeks. Review your work one last time before you post it, and ensure that it is reaching both the readers’ minds

and emotions with the message you want them to own. The whole idea is to lead them along and have them think that they are, in fact, discovering you,

not the other way around.

Next Week

Next week we’ll be releasing Part Five of the series: Testing New Content.

SEO news blog post by @ 3:12 pm on May 19, 2009


 

Copywriting For Conversions, Part 1 – Stats

In the next three articles in our series on Using Copywriting for Better SEO and Marketing we will look at how content increases conversions. Each article will focus on a different aspect of improving conversion: stats, content creation, and testing new content. This first article covers the basics of stats and analytics.

SEO has a crucial role in the success of your Internet venture, but SEO by itself is not the “be all and end all” or only factor in that success (– gasp – the SEO said what??). SEO is an absolute must, but increased rankings and drawing more visitors is only the beginning…

…Now that you have people where you want them, how do you get them to do what you want them to do? How do maximize conversions, turning more visitors into actions?

The plain truth is that it is not any one thing. What you really want to understand and analyze is how well all the various page factors work together to create conversions. Once you see how all the factors work independently and interdependently, you will better see how (and what) tweaks of each can increase your success.

There are the variables you can measure more easily: numbers of visitors, where they come from, where they go, how many pages they view, how long they view each page, etc. But then there are the ones that can remain inscrutable and hard to quantify: the architecture and design of your site and pages, the value of your graphics – and the things about your copywriting that convince people to click through and buy.

When considering how to increase sales from your traffic, you are generally thinking in terms of conversion optimization. To increase conversions you must have a clear understanding of what your site visitors are actually doing – this you can get from statistics. But you also need to see your site from their perspective – this will tell you what those stats are reflecting. Only after you view your site through the eyes of a visitor can you fully assess what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong. Then you will have a clearer picture of how to increase those conversions.

What to look for

Your stats are going to be different than anyone else’s, just like the various challenges you face. As you get deeper into your stats and analysis you will discover that certain aspects are more important than others for your specific situation. However, there are some common factors that must be considered by every site owner/operator. A few of those universally applicable measurements that just about everyone should be looking at are:

Keywords: You may know how your site ranks, but to discover what that really means and use it to your continuing advantage you need to dig a bit deeper. Good, easy to digest keyword stats can tell you just how much traffic specific keyword rankings are actually producing. This will both tell you what keywords are the most valuable and expose opportunities for improvement.

Visitors: Naturally you need to know the number of unique (and repeat) visitors you get over a certain period of time, and of course you want to increase it. Unique visitors by itself will not directly assist you to increase conversions, but it is valuable in showing how your rankings and inbound links affect the amount and nature of your traffic. Repeat visitor statistics on the other hand can help increase conversions. For one, return visitors may be returning to buy from you, so their actions and how you are converting them are to be greatly analyzed. Secondly, sites with better content naturally engender a greater visitor return rate due to visitors returning for more good information. People usually don’t just do a search and buy from the first site they land on, they typically visit a number of sites. When they are ready to buy, they often return to the site that gave them the most helpful information. Use your content to turn them into buyers when they come back.

Referrers: Where your traffic comes from is also key. How much traffic is coming from the search engines vs. inbound links vs. ads? Which search engines are sending you the most? These kinds of figures have been called “word of mouse” referrals. Which sources convert the best for you?

Exit Pages: Few statistics are as crucial as this, particularly as you work to increase conversions through the understanding, and potential manipulation of, visitor behavior. When you pin down the pages from which your visitors depart your site, you can then address one of the most serious failings of your site, its architecture, its design – and the copy. Analyze deeply and objectively – why are they leaving from this page??

You are not amassing piles of data just to have it on file. You need to assemble what you are learning in a way that you can then use to improve the copywriting for increased conversions. Don’t forget the aim of the whole exercise, and try to keep the information clear, straightforward and, therefore, usable. It’s all about making each site component the most effective it can be, and copy is among the most important ones.

Using the data you get

The stats and analytics you are developing (on a continuing basis) need to be mined in different ways to discover different things. Remember that the task before you right now is to create content that will aid in conversions. All the analyses of keywords, traffic, visitor paths, exit pages and so forth should find its way into your new, improved way of creating compelling copy.

You certainly need to check your stats regularly, though you don’t need to study them daily. A weekly review, at minimum, will be necessary to keep you abreast of what’s going on and fluctuations of where traffic is coming from, where it’s going, and whether or not your visitors are doing what you want them to do (answering the call to action).

One of the simplest way use stats to craft better copy for increasing conversions is comparing sites that do both well and poorly in your own industry. While you won’t have access to their nitty-gritty details, it is not difficult to find out the general view of their stats and who is succeeding with conversions, so comparing various approaches can give you some good direction.

There are so many variables, so much to do and keep track of, that you can easily get lost in a maze of numbers and percentages. Remember, you are working on copywriting now, so the first quality you want to study in a successful conversion setting is which copywriting approaches are working and which are not. Tone, style, presentation format, vocabulary level, and interaction with calls to action – these are all highly important variables, and require you actually to go and see sites to discern them. The other data, thankfully, can be accrued using various tools, even free ones.

Tools of the trade

Webalizer & AWstats: Your web hosting provider most likely offers some kind of free stats/analytics program, perhaps Webalizer, AWstats or something similar. Although these statistics programs are somewhat elementary and lack the in-depth information-gathering capabilities of others, they are simple and do not require special training to use. It is either difficult or impossible to customize the information you get and how you see it, but if you are new to stats (the online kind or any other) then these are a good start. The better you get, the better tools you can begin using.

Google Analytics: Called by some “the upgraded Urchin,” this program gives you the information collected by Google in a simple, easy-to-read format. As opposed to some other no- and low-cost tools, Google Analytics can customize the data presentation and allows you to establish “targets” to track precisely who is landing on which specific pages. One possible downside, at least at the beginning of your optimization efforts, is that all of your own information is now displayed to Google. It may be wise to get your site “in gear” and moving up the rankings before you decide to share your own stats with the Google universe.

ClickTracks: This is the favorite of a number of analytics people because of the virtually limitless number of ways you can customize it. With its heavyweight features, such as the ability to calculate ROI and generate user-defined reports, it is a solid and valuable tool. Although it is not free, it is priced appropriately for the amount of power it affords. It would be well worth it for anyone to take a test drive with the free, trial version.

You may have to fight the urge to keep digging, keep mining, and keep generating more and more stats and reports. It can get addicting, and if you’re not careful can lead down the path toward white lab coats and mad scientist-ism. You have to balance the information gathering and analysis with taking remedial steps with the copywriting that is of core importance to your site’s business. Resist the temptation to overanalyze, and stay focused on the task at hand. One thing no tool or program can do for you is to create an efficient timeline for doing the work and recasting your site’s copy to increase conversions. You have to figure that out for yourself. Just remember, these are changes that you want to implement as soon as you can, not study to death.

Conclusion (and a new beginning)

This is the conclusion to this article only, not the conclusion to the process in which you will be continuously engaged for the duration of your site’s life. Here we may have covered all of 1 or 2% of what could be said about using statistical information to refine and empower your website copy so that it leads to more sales. Again, there are various components of your site that will participate in this effort – architecture, layout, graphics, etc. – but you want to make your copy do its job by compelling your site visitors to take the actions you want them to take.

Statistics are one essential tool, among many, to understanding how your site functions and how to make the most of that knowledge. Stats are, without question, key to maximizing your ROI from your website, and thus need to be reviewed on a continuing basis. There is a lot of help available in online articles, user forums, and the support documents that accompany the stats programs that you are (or will be) using. Still, if you run out of time or patience, or feel that you are in over your head, there are plenty of professionals, reputable and cost-effective, to help you create good copywriting to increase your conversions from on the stats you assemble about your site.

Next Week

Next week we’ll be releasing Part Four of the series: Writing For Conversions, Part 2 – Content Creation.

SEO news blog post by @ 9:36 am on May 8, 2009


 

SEO Copywriting Part One Of Five: How To Write For Publication

Many metaphors have been offered up to describe or explain the Internet, but calling it “an ocean of words” is as accurate as any other. In 1998 the first Google index counted 26 million pages, by 2000 it had reached the billion mark and by 2002 it had more than tripled again to over 3 billion. In July 2008 the company’s Web Search Infrastructure Team announced that it had counted 1 trillion unique URLs on the web at once. At an average 1000 words per page, that means the web contains an astonishing 1 quadrillion words. That’s 15 zero’s.

Obviously, writing for publication on the Internet and standing out from all the rest of the verbiage presents a seemingly insurmountable challenge. Yet web professionals know from the ever-improving metrics and analytics that certain articles and specific kinds of writing do, in fact, perform better at their assigned tasks.

And make no mistake – writing for publication means setting (and hitting) targets, not crafting a follow-up to The Great Gatsby or concocting clever rhymes. In fact, fiction and poetry together account for only some 15% of web writing, which means the overwhelming majority of articles in cyberspace are non-fiction, imparting knowledge to educate the world.

Intentions and aims of writing for publication

There are many reasons to write for publication, and the reader can be served well no matter what your motivations. You may want to “get your name out there,” or that of your company, for increased exposure. You may wish to establish yourself or your firm as the leading expert in a certain field.

You can easily load up your own domains with scores of great articles, injecting them with the authority of your knowledge of your vertical. The positive side of this is the creation and positioning of your own site as the informational go-to resource for your industry. The risk is that since you are writing for your own site, no matter how good the information is people may wonder if it is self serving, and you could be perceived as essentially “blowing your own horn.”

Another good option is placing an article on a popular blog, or in an e-zine that has attained a certain level of respect within a certain industry, or even in a popular print magazine. This third-party publishing can dramatically boost your perceived authority. You want to avoid appearing as a self-promoting windbag, and one way to do that is to have other sites and publications promote you instead.

Conversely, you will want to avoid certain venues, as well, to safeguard your reputation. Investigate the various “post your article” sites and avoid the ones that do not have excellent content up front, as people will generally not waste much time looking for something good on a mediocre site. For “good” content they will likely gravitate to sites they see as having “good” information.

How to stand out from the crowd of content

The overarching goal for writing web content is to be informative, entertaining, task-oriented, clear – and above all, useful to the demographic. Rankings in the search engines are a by-product of good, focused content, and should not be the goal. Frankly, it is entirely possible to serve a niche audience, and do it quite effectively with a high level of satisfaction, without setting any ranking records. But typically when you write an authoritative article full of information useful to your demographic, people will naturally cite it as good and link to it, thus helping your article move up the natural listings. Consistently write helpful, informative articles, and the effects of these citations will not just add up, they will multiply. But, again, this happens if your focus and goal is to reach and affect a target group, small or large, with well-written, concise and usable information.

Most people think of fiction when they hear the term “creative writing,” but writers know very well that writing for publication on non-fiction topics requires tremendous creativity. You do not simply “do research” in preparation for writing an article. Rather, you immerse yourself in the subject, study it from all possible angles, take it apart to understand how it truly works, then put it back together again and explain it to others in your own, unique way. The first step (of many) in learning to write content that reads well is “owning the topic” – knowing the subject inside and out. There is no other way to write with authority than to have, in fact, that authority.

Reaching the reader

Just as important as knowing the subject matter is knowing your audience. Not only do you have to understand the target reader’s point of view, of course, but you also need to speak in a common vocabulary. Equally as important as the content is the tone in which it is presented. A motivated reader, eager to learn, does not respond particularly well to condescension, and certainly does not want to be “talked at” or scolded.

In addition to speaking in their vocabulary, you have to choose the words that will motivate them to the goal of the article. Want them to walk away with knowledge that will help them? Choose language that will intrigue them to read more, and word your concepts so their brains soak them up like a sponge. Want them to buy something? Choose words and language that will elicit the emotional buying response. If you want to accomplish your goal, you not only have to use language they will understand, you also have to use language they will connect to.

In a sense, the reader should feel that you are working with them, approaching the material together. This is one of the most powerful ways to get the reader “invested” in the article and lead them, without seeming to, toward any possible call to action you might have at the conclusion.

You will find that you need to write various articles for various purposes, and although you may develop an identifiable style, on a practical level your writing will be meant to accomplish different things at different times. If you are writing to entertain, then keep it light and fun, and don’t lecture. If you are writing to educate, don’t bother with a “Sunday magazine feature” story introduction, but get right to the lessons. However, whether it’s for fun or for some other goal, being informative is not a side effect or a bonus – it is the very foundation of your writing.

The ultimate aims of publishing your writing

With the information you impart, you are seeking to change what readers think or how they perceive something. For the reader, it should be a journey, a process of discovery that proceeds deliberately and convincingly. Columbus did not make any side trips on the way to the New World, and you must avoid the temptation to digress, embellish or confuse matters. Do not pile on words, especially of the “10¢ variety,” in an attempt to impress (or increase arbitrary word count). Persuasive writing is lean without being mean, vigorous without being aggressive, concise without being dry and informative without being a mere list of factoids.

Yes, there is a lot to crafting a persuasive piece of writing for publication. It is both art and craft, requiring both creativity and skill. Every word must earn its place, do its job and contribute to the overall effect and meaning, or it should be deleted. If you can say a lot with a little, do so. Vigorous writing is concise. If you have done your best and still have a long article, just ensure the reader comes away with copious amounts of usable information.

Read and consider all feedback you get on your writing, as the only definition of success that counts is the reader reaction. The more you write, the better you will become, if you pay attention to what your audiences are telling you. Writing is a process, not a product, and is a tool for you as regards your business endeavors.

A note to non-writers

Even if you don’t write yourself, you should know how to assess writers who are working for you, since their output will represent you and your firm to the world. In fact, in this day and age, work-for-hire arrangements may result in your putting your name on an article you paid someone to write. This makes quality control even more important.

Next Week

Next week we’ll be releasing Part Two of the series –Writing For Search Engines.

SEO news blog post by @ 3:07 pm on May 3, 2009


 

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