Monday, May 31, 2010

Out on a Limb: Having Opinions That Aren't Approved

I'm coming back with an excerpt from Saturday's post:

Don't be afraid of opinion.

As P.R. says: "...It's my belief ... that one of the big reasons consumers don't trust companies is that companies often strive so hard to be 'PC' that they lose a sense of culture and personality...."

Think before posting something - but when you do post, say something.
(from "Patricio Robles, via Econsultancy (May 27, 2010); micro-reviewed in this blog (May 29, 2010))
Patricio Robles may not have had someone like me in mind when he wrote that. My daughters have told me that it's hard not to tell what I think and feel about something. In person, and in my writing. They're probably right.

My guess is that P. R. was thinking of the common (in America) idea that someone in business should never discuss politics or religion - or pretty much anything else that a potential customer might have an opinion about.

It's not the worst idea, in a way. There's no sense alienating someone who is convinced that the Cubs will win the World Series this year, by opining that the New York Yankees will come out on top.

But What if They'll Find Out You're a Yankees Fan, Anyway?

I'm not a Yankees fan - or a Cubs booster - so I don't need to worry about anybody discovering that I'm a closet fan of some particular team. I am, however, a practicing Catholic. Yep: One of those people.

It's not the sort of thing I can keep a secret, since one of my blogs is A Catholic Citizen in America. Sure: I could have kept quiet about my beliefs. But the bottom line is that even without that blog it would have been a struggle - and probably an unsuccessful one.

Like my daughters observed: I don't hide things well.

So, I've decided to let what I believe come up in posts - where they're relevant to the topic. Like home schooling. Yep: I'm one of those, too. (May 20, 2010, in another blog)

Don't worry, though: I've no intention of being heavy-handed about it. Except maybe in that one blog.

It'll be an interesting experiment. And, I hope, a successful one. My guess, based on a few experiences, is that there are a whole lot of folks out there who really don't mind a blogger who's got religious beliefs.

Of course, I could be wrong.

Related post:

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Sincerity: Once You Learn to Fake That, You're Set

That's not the message of a post I read a few minutes ago:

"Five ways to maintain authenticity with social media"
Patricio Robles, via Econsultancy (May 27, 2010)

"Over the past several years, businesses have flocked to social media. Many have done so because they want to, and many more have done so because they think they have to.

"The increasing use of social media amongst businesses reflects the fact that social media is important, even if its value can be somewhat difficult to define and quantify. But social media is just a platform, and realizing value from its use requires the right type of use.

"Businesses have been flogged over the head with the advice about being 'authentic' when using social media. But what does that really mean? Here are five tips for being authentic and maintaining authenticity with business social media use...."
To avoid just copying the whole post (a dubiously-ethical act), but not take up too much of my own time, I'm repeating Patricio Robles's headings - with a heavy paraphrase of the text.

Make it personal.

Faceless corporate groupthink won't cut it online. Personality does. Have a real person who can make his or her own decisions run your social media.

Keep it real.

No, really. Learn what social media sorry is - and don't do it. But admit it when you goofed.

Sooner or later someone won't like what you do. That's their problem. Being principled and decisive isn't a bad idea.

Don't be afraid of opinion.

As P.R. says: "...It's my belief ... that one of the big reasons consumers don't trust companies is that companies often strive so hard to be 'PC' that they lose a sense of culture and personality...."

Think before posting something - but when you do post, say something.

Focus on interactions, not followers and fans.

Just because you can count them, that doesn't mean they're important. You want to interact with people who are going to do something.

Keep the distribution of traditional marketing messages to a minimum.

"NOW, WITH MORE INGREDIENT X!" doesn't work. Don't do it.

Old-style press releases aren't recommended, either.

News Flash! Some People You Meet Online are - People

I do some of those 'traditional marketing messages' on Twitter - giving the name of a post and its URL. At 140 characters, that's all I've got room for, when I want the folks following me to know about a new post.

But that's not all I put on Twitter. I also respond, from time to time, when someone makes a remark about what they're doing, or what their current situation is. It's the sort of communication, very condensed, that I'd engage in, if I were in the same room with them.

Which I think is a good way to think about online communities. They're communities, made up of people. I'll grant that you'll run into the occasional AI, spouting quips at intervals. But if you make a point of engaging people in conversation - I think you'll find that there's a breathing human being at the other end of the connection.

And, unless you're in the habit of shouting 'Sale! Three Days Only!' at folks you know - don't do it online.

A tip of the hat to , on Twitter, for the heads-up on this post.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Easy Griller: "Grilling for the Rest of Us" Website Upgrade

I launched the Easy Griller website about five years ago. Quite a few websites discuss what I'd call the high end of outdoor grilling: involving lots of equipment; elaborate recipes; and words I had to look up, like "marinade."

That approach to grilling is fine: for someone who is willing to invest time, effort and money in pursuing the culinary arts as they pertain to the outdoor grill.

Me? I like to put burgers on the grill and then eat them.

I figure that there are quite a few folks like me: and now we've got a website and a blog dedicated (mostly) to simple, effective outdoor grilling techniques.

I'll admit that I've strayed a bit from the "simple" thing. But that's still the main focus of Easy Griller.

Today, I finished a long-overdue upgrade for the Easy Griller website. The navigation should be 'friendlier' now - and I've changed some of the content.

Now that the site architecture is improved (I hope), I intend to start working on the content: More pictures; streamlining the text, that sort of thing.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Twitter, a Frantic Duck, the Carson Mansion, Macbeth, and Branding

I've read that Twitter is a good place to establish a 'brand:' helping people associate your name, or the name of your company, with a product, service - or at least a topic.

Today, I've posted about a frantic mother duck, the Carson Mansion, and Macbeth: in one blog, Apathetic Lemming of the North. My other blogs aren't as - eclectic? - as the Lemming, but they don't cluster very well either.

The blogs and website I'm focusing on right now have to do with outdoor grilling (Easy Griller); being a Catholic in America (A Catholic Citizen in America); and - as noted - everything, in the Lemming.

Since I Tweet (post one of those 140-word remarks) about posts on these blogs, anybody following me on Twitter will see quite a hodgepodge of topics. I'm not sure that's what 'branding' is all about.

One solution would be to have a separate Twitter account for each blog or website - but keeping track of those would be a trifle awkward. And a bit more time-consuming than handling one account. Time isn't something I've got in huge quantities right now.

I'm going to keep Tweeting on Twitter - but I'm also going to keep thinking about what I'm doing there - why - and how I could improve.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Psychology and Web Design: This Introduction isn't At All Bad

Micro-review in another blog:

"...Bottom line? This isn't a 'must-read' post. There aren't many of that sort, in my opinion. But this is a 'worth reading' post: There are more of this sort, but they're rare enough to be worth highlighting. The resource list at the bottom goes a long way to making this post worth the time it'll take to go through it.
A tip of the hat to LogotypeTV, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this article.
Here's the post I micro-reviewed:

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Simple 'Secrets' for Affordable SEO

The post isn't a must-read. You and your business may succeed if you never follow the link to "5 Content Marketing Goals for Your Website & Blog - and One Big Challenge, Patsi Krakoff, Writing on the Web.

By devoting a few minutes to signing up for the next get-rich scheme, instead of reading Patsi Krakoff's post, you may even make your in-home business into a multi-trillion-dollar global megacorp. But I doubt it. Very much.

I read the thing and - confound it - now I'll have to think about something besides creating content for my blogs and websites. I really need a marketing team. And a technical department. And an executive secretary. And a seaside office complex. No, I don't "need" all that.

What I really need is a break - which I'll take, as soon as I finish this post.

Getting to the Point: 5 Content Marketing Goals

Here's what got this post started:The five content marketing goals are the sort of thing that are 'obvious' after you've read them, maybe not so much before. Here's what P. K. says you should want your blog and/or website to do:
  1. Impress visitors and showcase your business expertise
  2. Engage, educate, entertain & persuade visitors to short-list you
  3. Capture interest and convert visitors into leads
  4. Generate new business from current clients
  5. Attract visitors from search engines
Sounds good. And, more importantly, practical. In my view, unless you're just out for the thrill of having something online: you'll need to have a goal in mind, to justify the time and expense you're sinking in the thing.

Point 2 - and particularly 3 - tell me that Patsi Krakoff has a fairly traditional business in mind: one that started with a brick-and-mortar presence and has a presence on the Web as a sort of add-on. No problems with that, but it's not what I'm doing. I'll get back to that.

SEO: Search Engines and Being Smart

Then there's #5, about SEO. I'm not entirely on the same page with the author, but she made pretty good points. And, for someone who apparently thinks that what I'll call 'artificial SEO' is a good idea, she's remarkably candid:
"...There are those who say 'forget SEO, just write a lot of content for the people who's problems you can solve.' The search engines will catalog your keywords and you'll rank high based on 'organic search.'

"This can be true to a certain extent. I am living proof of that. This blog has been blessed with quality traffic and ranking and search results based on a long history of publishing plenty of content using a few keywords...."
(Writing on the Web)
Or, in my case, writing plenty of content using a whole lot of keywords. Not all in the same blog, of course.

A bit after that excerpt, there's this:
"...Search Engines Are Stupid, You're Smart

"I don't want to be a nag, but I'm going to repeat myself from here until Wednesday: search engines are stupid, so if you're a smart professional, you can learn how to attract search traffic to your blog and web pages. Forget throwing money at the problem. This is something you can and should be doing yourself...."(Writing on the Web)
And then, promotional copy for an upcoming online/phone seminar. It might be worthwhile: but do your "due diligence" before signing up.
Search Engines, Artificial Intelligence, C3PO and Street Smarts
Okay, let's start with that heading: "Search Engines Are Stupid, You're Smart." It's true, as far as it goes. Search engines are AI developed by some of the better programmers on the planet, but their intelligence is artificial. We're still quite a long way from a convincing equivalent of HAL 9000, Skynet, and C3PO. So, yes: search engines are "stupid." At least in the 'street smart' sense of the word.

And, by comparison, just about anybody is, in the 'street smart' sense, smarter than a search engine. Honestly, it doesn't take much.

On the other hand, I think it's debatable whether your typical entrepreneurial wannabe is smarter than the search engines' programmers.
Being Clever isn't Being Smart
Part of my position, or attitude, comes from my memories of the 'good old days' of SEO, when experts (just ask them: They knew everything) told folks that the smart thing to do was load your keywords tag with every naughty word you knew; cloak parts of your website; and - a favorite - put lots of those naughty words right on the page, in a font that's the same color as the page background.

I still run into that advice, from time to time. It strikes me as being 'clever,' rather than smart. It takes a certain amount of technical know-how to figure out how to scam the early search engines. Whether it's smart to be that clever - I don't think so.

I know: today there are people who have spent a great deal of time establishing the image of someone who knows the 'secrets' of SEO. They've probably got some useful skills, since they keep getting contracts from big companies. That implies that there are measurable advantages to using 'professional SEO.' On the other hand, big companies can do stupid things. Remember the Big 3 Automakers meltdown?
I'm No "Expert:" But I've Learned a Little
I'm no "expert." I'm just some guy in central Minnesota who spent two decades in a small publishing company's marketing department: one as an advertising copywriter/graphic designer the other as the list manager. And, when the company (finally) got a website, I was the website's designer.

It's not all that impressive, since the company downsized - drastically - a few years ago; and I got an opportunity to explore other career goals. Best thing that's happened to me in a long time, in terms of 'career,' by the way.

So, I'm no expert - but I do have 20 years' experience in marketing (it was a small company, and I had opportunities to share and present ideas) - and have been spending part of my time, since then, learning how to promote myself on a shoestring budget.

And I think I am smarter than a search engine.

Which is why I won't try to be 'clever' with SEO. I've got reason to believe that search engine programmers are interested in connecting their users with pages that the users may be interested in - not in funneling traffic to some hotshot expert's page.

SEO: It's Brains, Not Bucks

So, SEO is useless?

Not at all. But I think that, at least for sole proprietorships like what I have, smart SEO is what I can do on my own, following a few principles. I didn't come up with these: they're a sort of distillation of what I've learned by testing - and by reading articles by people who seem to know what they're doing.

This probably won't seem very 'smart,' and almost certainly isn't 'clever,' but I think it works:
  • Write tight
    • Tell the reader what you're writing about
      • In the title
      • In the first paragraph
    • Eschew obfuscation
      • Use simple words
        • Unless your subject demands complex, technical terms
      • Keep sentences short
        • And simple
    • Stay on topic
      • This is a hard one for me
        • I tend to wander when writing
        • On the up side, I've gotten separate posts written that way
        • I'm being tested for ADD this fall
          • See what I mean?
            • Back on-topic
    • Use keywords as you write
      • If you're writing about cars, say 'cars' when appropriate
      • Don't struggle with synonyms
        • Unless you think your readers would be bothered by the 'car - car - car' repetition
      • Use keywords in your headings
  • Code smart
    • Keep your code simple
      • It's easier to debug
      • Short code loads faster
        • Your visitors like that
        • Scuttlebutt is that search engines are biased for fast-loading pages
    • Use the "Keywords" tag
      • Scuttlebutt is that search engines aren't using it anymore
        • There was too much abuse by 'clever' SEO 'experts'
        • Scuttlebutt can be wrong
          • And adding the keywords tag takes - what? five minutes tops?
    • Put your verbal content in text format
      • Scanning in that brochure and using the graphic
        • May look nice
        • Could be faster than creating a text/graphics page
        • Can't be 'read' by search engines
          • Remember: search engines really are stupid
          • They only read text
            • So far
I don't subscribe to the 'build it and they will come' philosophy of website SEO. On the other hand, I don't see the wisdom of spending thousands of dollars - which I can't afford - on 'SEO professionals,' when I've very good reason to believe that a combination of remember-your-readers writing techniques and no-nonsense website design can have a similar outcome. Without the expense.

Getting intelligently 'chatty' on social networking sites like Twitter helps, too.

But that's another topic.
A tip of the hat to Steveology, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this post.

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