TheWayoftheWeb quoted in Econsultancy article on SEO

It’s always nice to be able to contribute to respected websites and publications, particularly when it means I’m quoted alongside some people who I respect a lot in the marketing and search engine optimisation world, such as Rishi Lakhani, for example.

Econsultancy

The  article is a response to Google encrypting even more organic search queries, and features responses by myself alongside Rishi, Andy Heaps, Neil Yeomans and Kevin Gibbons. It’s well worth reading for both the insights in the article and also some good contributions in the comments regarding something which has been seen as a bit of a bombshell for the SEO industry, despite signs it was coming for a long time.

I won’t quote from it too much, but there was one answer I gave which I intend to expand on in a future article:

Could it be good for SEOs, in that it makes it harder for amateurs?

It won’t massively affect larger agencies and companies who can afford the additional time and cost.

But it will damage small businesses, including agencies, who now have an additional challenge to building their businesses, and I think eventually this will hurt both search results and indirectly impact on search usage, as the incumbents for any term become much more entrenched.

I don’t believe making search engine optimisation less accessible is a good thing – the majority of SEO outsourcing isn’t a question of intelligence, but generally one of training, resource and cost, and this continues that trend. I don’t believe that’s good for small businesses in particular, I don’t believe it’s good for consumers who have their choice limited, and I don’t believe it’s good for Google if it is perceived to be closed to all but the big players who can afford enterprise tools.

We work with a wide range of clients, from individual consultants and small businesses to large global manufacturers, and there are great things about working with each size and type of company. The idea that cost will become a restriction to the entry level for quality SEO measurement isn’t a pleasant one.

 

The difference between SEO and Spam…

There’s occasionally some confusion and complaints about SEO as being the cause of spam on the internet with irrelevant content being returned in search results because of unethical techniques. The problem is that within any industry you’ll get good, ethical people who work hard at what they do, and bad, unethical people who use tricks to get quick results and run with the cash.

But if you’re still concerned about spammy SEO and you should be optimising what you do, a new video by Google’s Head of Web Spam Team, Matt Cutts should help:

Good SEO takes time, effort and skill to ensure that relevant content and products are correctly returned for relevant search terms. Bad SEO promises to get you to #1 on Google by using every trick in the book.

And I’ll always practise and recommend good, ethical ‘white hat’ SEO practices for one simple reason – they give better, more cost effective and longterm results. By following the best practice recommendations of search engines, you don’t have to worry about getting found out, or getting your spam technique negated by an update, and having everything wiped out or penalised overnight. You’ll also have a solid foundation to build your business on, and as part of the work you’ll be improving the content and results in related areas, such as conversion rates and social media engagement.

And if you ever need advice, feel free to get in touch!

Algorithms rule our lives for good and bad

Sometimes the closer you are to technology, the easier it is to overlook how revolutionary it is. Whereas 3D Printing continues to make my jaw drop, it took a link to the following video from SEO goddess Nichola Stott (@nicholastott) to reconsider exactly how much power and influence algorithms have in our lives – beyond ranking webpages or suggesting books and films we might like. If you’re at all involved in technology, mathematics or physics, take 15 minutes to watch Kevin Slavin:

Given that I spent a fair amount of my day looking at how changes to Google’s algorithm affects the ways in which I make a living, and that one of my relatives is indeed a former physicist now in the financial sector, you’d assume I wouldn’t be shocked when I stop and think about algorithms and how they rule our lives.

They’ve obviously had a well-documented impact in finance, and there’s a lot of algorithmically-generated art available to admire. In gaming, the area in which Kevin works, and I have a keen interest, they shape the worlds which we explore and the rewards which we strive for. At their most basic definition, they’re step-by-step procedures for calculations. And Wikipedia has a handy evolution of the term from Babylonia to ‘an effective method of solving certain sets of problems exists if one can build a machine which will then solve any problem of the set with no human intervention beyond inserting the question and (later) reading the answer’ (J. Barkely Rosser).

But I’m not a physicist (given the choice at school I actually preferred Biology as a potential route to psychology), and after school my interest in Mathematics tragically declined for a long time. (Still kicking myself for that one!).
Flock of Birds

So what do Algorithms mean for normal people?

What’s a day like when it’s ruled by algorithms? Well, it’s pretty much like the day you’re having now. I’ve probably missed a few off the list, so add your suggestions in the comments (and this isn’t necessarily accurate in terms of timings)

  • 9am – catch up with news on the internet. I don’t pay attention to Content Farms as a rule, but I do read articles from some large media companies that definitely use algorithms to suggest the topics they cover in relation to search demand – e.g. the likes of AOL and Yahoo (In addition to human curation).
  • 10am – Catch up on Twitter and Facebook. Who appears in my Facebook news feed? Those deemed to be most relevant via Facebook’s Edge Rank.
  • 11am – Head to local supermarket to stock up for lunch. The combination of a loyalty card and warmer weather means they’ll know I’m more likely to be tempted by fresh fruit or ice cream on a sunny day, and they can automatically be adjusting for this without human intervention.
  • 11.30am – Back to working on the latest changes to Search Engine Optimisation, paying close attention to any rumours or evidence that Google has changed the way it ranks websites.
  • 1.30pm – Quick lunch break – checking out what Youtube has recommended I might want to watch while I snack.
  • 1.50pm – Treat myself to a purchase from Amazon. More automatic recommendations, and also automated pricing.
  • 2.40pm – Interrupted by an automated call from a financial services company that has had me brought up as relevant for one of their products on the computer system.
  • 2.45pm – Having told them to go away, I’m working again.
  • 5.00pm – Get in the car to pick up the family – passing through automated traffic light systems. And avoiding speed cameras which will automatically send out my punishment in the post.
  • 6.00pm – Recycle some direct marketing mail, check out the latest update on my mortgage, and look at whether to switch insurance providers.
  • 7.00pm – Watch a DVD sent via Lovefilm, or sit down and relax with some Xbox. Not only are their recommendation calculations in my DVD choice, but even whether the film is made or not. And who I game with in matches, and how well I do is controlled by algorithms to hand out the right rewards to keep me hooked.

That’s a hypothetical example just listing the first things that come to mind, but even if you don’t work in a technology industry, it’s easy to see how much of what is available to you is controlled by automated calculations.

Then there’s the physical implications of locating server farms and laying cable to reduce transaction times by milliseconds. And in the everyday world, I know of several people besides myself who factored in the distance from the local internet exchange when buying a new house – that could increasingly have an effect on house prices in the future, along with the availability of faster internet speeds.

Can we all be reduced to ’42′?

The legendary sci-fi author and genius Douglas Adams once wrote that the answer to life, the universe and everything was the number ’42′.

Algorithms can be incredibly useful, can be incredibly frightening if you consider that your life may be somewhat determined by the numbers assigned to your lifestyle choices, but aren’t going to go anywhere given the demand by business in particular for what they see as numerical certainty in logical decision making (Which often goes wrong, or gives rise to churning out the wrong numbers for the sake of it).

Most of them are closed and private for justifiable reasons in terms of business and to try and protect their integrity, but also mean that we have little or no methods for even knowing any errors relating to ourselves, or being able to correct them.

 

And given the varying beliefs around religion and the purpose of humanity, perhaps we’re actively trying to prove there’s a logic and higher purpose to our existence with the belief in reassuring logical systems?

Meanwhile the code has evolved to the stage where very few, if any people, can claim to understand it entirely. And that still leaves the question of Black Swan events pretty unanswerable by logical planning and thought.

So what can we do?

I think we’ve got a bit of a job to do as potentially more tech-savvy people in learning and educating ourselves, and sharing that in an accessible way with the society around us to get away from the idea of inaccessible algorithms predeterming our fate.

I’m not suggesting that businesses should be forced to open up all of their algorithms, but I do think that the more understanding of the principles of them which are non-proprietary would mean that perhaps we’re all better prepared when dealing with them on a daily basis to be able to accept or correct their judgements.

And maybe we need to remember that machines aren’t something we can absolutely rely on to replace our judgement and critical thinking about what we really need.

 

The best tips for online writing with reference to famous celebrities (Article for training purposes)

Writing online, optimising for search engines and marketing your digital content via social media isn’t rocket science. In fact, the basics of digital journalism, SEO and getting seen on Facebook or Twitter are really simple, but it’s the rigorous application of them that can prove problematic for a lot of people. But you can learn how to nail your blog posts, get ranked first on Google and become a social networking expert by learning from generic celebrity X.

Yellow Journalism

 

Discovering, sourcing and verifying articles:

There are a number of ways for online journalists to discover promising new stories. In addition to building contacts the traditional way, it’s possible to use social networking tools such as Twitter Search or Google Trends to monitor for a sudden surge in traffic for a term or phrase. And social networks can also be incredibly useful for finding people to quote or interview, in addition to specific tools for journalists, such as Newsbasis or Help A Reporter Out.

Using data in this way can be a temptation to emulate a content farm, but can also be useful for quality, investigative journalism and great content.

 

SEO

Delivering online journalism and SEO content:

Make sure your articles are written for people first, but ensure that search engines are also included in your audience with a few basic steps, such as including your keyword early in your article, ideally with a link to a relevant part of your site and the desired anchor text. And don’t forget to put your keyword first in your short and relevant headline.

Research variations on your keyword or phrase to avoid repetition, and don’t be tempted to just stuff your content with the same keyword over and over again as it won’t increase your ranking, but will annoy your readers. If you’re looking for relevant keywords, you can use Google’s keywords tool to find which are the subject of popular searches, whether for global or local audiences. You can also use H1, H2 and H3 tags on your site to ensure the right sections are highlighted.

Social Media Day

 

Social Media and inbound links

Social Media won’t necessarily help you rank higher in Google, but it can drive traffic to your site, and also help to get content indexed more quickly by the search engines. You can post links to your content to Twitter, Facebook and Google+, and you should find that it appears in search results faster, particularly if it is repeated by popular Twitter users.

You can also gain inbound links by posting comments on relevant blogs in the same subject area as your article, as long as you leave genuine and interesting comments and your article is relevant. You can also email the bloggers and website owners who run sites in your area of expertise and ask if they’d be interested in linking to your article, quoting from it, or even offering to guest post for them.

The important thing is not to spam either your social networks or fellow bloggers, and not to worry too much about whether links are DOFollow or NOFollow – a natural ratio of incoming links includes both, so you’ll look like a spammer if you only have one.

 

Quora with video – marketing dream and user nightmare?

The value of question and answer sites has long been shared by SEO specialists in terms of linkbuilding, and to some extent in social media for relevant traffic. But Quora may have just gone a step further in terms of allowing marketing material to be provided in answers.

The site is now embedding Youtube videos in answers, and converting any previous links to Youtube videos into the embedded version.

Quora includes video

Quora includes video

In some ways that’s a good thing, considering the value of relevant videos in answering the right questions. For instance, when the question relates to music, or sport. And being able to share a Youtube video explaining a technical point could be rather useful.

But at the same time, it also means an additional amount of content for Quora moderators to try and look after to keep the quality of their site up, and an additional way for anyone wanting to quickly push out a load of irrelevant spam videos to get some extra views. After all, the big reason why Google claims Youtube needs to post-moderate videos is that noone could ever manage to watch the huge amount of content being uploaded, and then decide what can and can’t be posted.

Now if enough spammers start flooding Quora with irrelevant videos, the much smaller start-up will have a similar problem.

It also means that you might struggle to load a page with 60+ embedded videos in it if you’re on a slow connection, but that’s probably something we’re just going to have to come to terms with as every site rushes to include video due to the huge rise in both video viewing and growth in video advertising…

SEO – Always worth revisiting the basics…

I’ve been offering SEO as a service to a growing number of clients for a while as both a standalone product, and also as part of everything I do in terms of content marketing and social media. Jumping into blogger outreach, social networking or blogging without a strategy which includes targetting relevant keywords and encouraging inbound links wastes quite a lot of the potential benefits and misses out on the chance for content, social media and SEO to amplify each other.

And much of good SEO practice starts with the basics, which is one reason why I really appreciated an invite to a day with SEO PR Training, who specialise in explaining the art of SEO to PR professionals, and the equally mystifying art of PR to SEO professionals. As someone who has worked with people in both camps, I can vouch for the fact that mutual understanding is unbelievably more effective for all concerned and can really give great benefits.

As a taster event, the attendees ranged in experience, so the training had to cover everything from a pretty basic level upwards, but the SEO PR duo of Claire and Nichola did a really good job of going through the building blocks really effectively (and with some nifty learning methods to make it quite fun), and then going into a lot more detail for the more advanced/geekier attendees. Ironically I ended up partnering with an old social media acquintance, @farhan, which meant we were instantly seen as the techies after an early exercise to list what things we do on our own sites regarding SEO – mainly because we ran out of space on our paper…

A couple of people asked why I’d come along if I already work in SEO, and I figured the reasons were worth sharing:

  • SEO is constantly changing, and it’s easy to get so involved in working on client sites and my own that it’s always good to get outside confirmation that Google hasn’t decided the sky is pink or Bing has gained 99% of the search market while I’ve been busy building keyword lists.
  • As someone who works to educate clients on best practice, it’s always good to see the training techniques being used in workshops in a more formal setting. I’m not suggesting I’m going to replicate Claire and Nichola’s exact exercises, but it definitely reminded me that learning/teaching SEO can be more fun than it sometimes appears.
  • One area which can get expensive is signing up and evaluating all the tools available for monitoring and analysing every element of digital marketing, and I’m always fascinated by what services other people use, and how they rate them.

Two elements of the day really stood out for me – one was a live attempt to rank for a specific phrase, based on an article published just before we broke for lunch. Utilising existing assets and social media, it was in the top two results by the time we came back after eating, which was a great way to provide a realtime example of both what’s possible, and what elements went into it.

The other stand-out was the analysis of an example site. In this case, one of mine! The good news for me and my clients is that it did pretty well in terms of keywords and links, and the recommendations that followed were things I’d been aware of, but hadn’t found time to sort due to my daily workload – but it was a great reminder that even my spare time projects need to follow the same structured approach that I apply to client website development and SEO, particularly if prospective SEO clients find me via those sites instead of client references!

So thanks again to the SEO PR Training team for a really useful and enjoyable day, and also a really good chat in the pub afterwards which gave me a chance to go into full geek mode! The follow-up emails with a jargon buster and a full list of all the useful tools mentioned on the day are also a handy touch…

Don’t write for SEO and social media marketing from the start…

That may seem an odd headline for someone who sells digital marketing alongside writing for the internet, but stay with me. I’ve just spent an hour or so reading through my 22-year-old copy of ‘Searching for Robert Johnson‘, a fairly short book by Peter Guralnick about the legendary early blues musician who was supposed to have gone to the crossroads at midnight and sold his soul to the devil to have become so talented, and who was then murdered at an early age, passing into myth and legend for songs like ‘Hellhound on my Trail‘.

Having been blessed with an obsession for music and reading in a just pre-internet age, I’m a big fan of all the Peter Guralnick books I’ve read and owned – he’s covered the history of the blues, soul, and country, as well as works about Sam Cooke, Robert Johnson and Elvis Presley (The Presley ones are the only ones I haven’t read). There’s a pretty good list on Amazon, and as a music writer I’ve read, re-read, and long admired, I wondered what he was doing at the moment – and thanks to Google, found some invaluable quotes on what makes his music writing so brilliant, especially when he writes with more succinct clarity than the likes of Lester Bangs, for example. And they explain why I believe that optimisation for SEO, tailoring content for social media etc all comes second to creating something really brilliant in the first place.

They’re from InsideVandy.com, Vanderbilt University’s student news website:

‘I started writing about music when I was probably about 20, and I started writing purely to tell – I was writing fiction, short stories novels, I still write fiction – but the nonfiction, I just wrote solely to tell people about this music that I thought was so great, it was almost entirely the blues, and I did it at a time when there were almost no outlets where you could even put down the name Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf, Lightnin’ Hopkins, James Brown, it was such a thrill. I wrote these things telling people how great they were. It wasn’t for money, there was no money; it was just to tell people.

I’ve never written a single piece about anybody or anything that I haven’t chosen myself and hasn’t been out of my admiration for their work. It would be inconceivable for me to write something about a subject that I wasn’t totally invested in.

There have been growing debates about the need for PR and Marketing in technology – the suggestion is that by building something amazing, you remove the need for promotion, which I think is mistaken and disingenuous. A great product should be your focus as it makes Marketing, PR, Advertising etc all easier and ways to boost the natural interest.

And by the same token, SEO, targetting social media etc are all extremely useful, but they boost interest, links etc to great content and writing.

You can argue that plenty of truly great works have never achieved mainstream success, but that’s down to a number of factors, including marketing, timing, and luck. But those great works continue to endure, even if it’s in a small way.

Meanwhile there’s plenty of crap that has become amazingly popular due to well-oiled publicity efforts, but it’s always tended to result in fleeting success at best, despite the work and effort that’s gone into promotion.

And particularly if you’re trying to build a business around content, or by utilising content, it’s better to get a smaller number of truly passionate and evangelistic people who are likely to part with their money or attention on a longterm basis, than to hit a huge number of people who just pass through and move onto something else in seconds.

That’s why I suggest forgetting about SEO and marketing when you first start writing something. If not, you’ll spend hours or days in fear as you build up the worries about putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. And when you finally do, it’s likely to appear faked when you’re shoehorning in keywords and sticking on an irrelevant linkbait headline. Far better to create something incredibly powerful and optimise with a light touch. It’s why the need for copy editors and sub editors remains, but that need evolves into editors skilled in marketing and search engine optimisation alongside more traditional skills.

And it’s why I’m still enjoying, and recommending, music from the 1930s and books written about it which I first enjoyed as a pre-teen.

My 10 essentials for a new PC

With a new PC it can be hard to avoid installing every single game, program and app which is suddenly available. But at the same time, there are definitely certain things which are pretty much essential for me. I’m assuming you already have internet security and anti-virus software as it’d need an entire in-depth post of it’s own. All of the following links are free, and non-affiliate links. They’re just bits of great software I couldn’t live without…

Toolbox by SorenSiim

Toolbox by SorenSiim on Flickr (CC Licence)

Firefox: Competition has been a great thing for browers. Internet Explorer 8 is much better than previous versions and Google Chrome definitely has it’s uses. But for me, Firefox is my default browser – partly because I’ve used it for years, and partly becuase of the following Add-Ons which I always install:

  • Aviary Talon Screen Capture – great Firefox add-on for capturing screenshots, whether it’s a full page or just a section. Aviary also provide a really good online image editing tool.
  • Diigo Toolbar – With the recent rumours Delicious could be closed or sold, I’m really glad I started using Diigo a while ago. Not only does it provide an easier way of autoposting to blogs (If you don’t want to play with the Delicious API code), but it also allows you to automatically send anything bookmarked in Diigo to Delicious anyway, meaning you have two copies, and therefore an always-current back-up if either service fails.
  • Stumbleupon Toolbar – I’ve always loved Stumbleupon as a way to discover content I’d have never found elsewhere. I’ve also seen the very beneficial effect if can have on blog traffic, and if I really like something and want to send traffic to it, Stumbleupon and Reddit are the two choice which always really work.
  • SEOMoz SEO Toolbar – Incredibly useful for any SEO work, and makes research and analysis so much quicker in the toolbar.

Spotify: Music is incredibly important to me while I work, either to block out the ambient noise created by my son, or to evoke the right mood (I have a playlist of classical and soundtrack selections for relaxed working, and some loud punk and metal when deadlines are close!) The free option is now limited to 20 hours per month, and I’m upgrading now I’m working from my laptop 24/7. (Note to American readers – you have Pandora, we have Spotify).

Tweetdeck: My most subjective choice is using Tweetdeck as my standard Twitter client, as there are a lot of viable alternatives. But having used it for quite a while, and appreciating the power and flexibility of it, I definitely think it’s one of the easiest and most effective ways of managing multiple accounts. One tip I do have if you’re working with lots of your own and client accounts is to have one desktop client for personal accounts (e.g. Tweetdeck), and one for client accounts (e.g Seesmic), and that way you’ll have to try even harder to get the two confused!

Windows Live Writer: Producing content for a number of client sites alongside my own means that I really can’t afford time when I can’t be writing. Live Writer allows you to not only write offline, but after a first verification, it’ll pull down all your tags and categories from your blog, allow you to format images etc in your post, and generally do everything that it’s possible to do without an internet connection, so all you need to do is connect and click ‘Publish’. Handy if your shortsighted train service limits you to 15 minutes free internet access. Plus it’s got some handy timesavers like automatically linking key phrases.

Skype: It may have recently had a major outage, but Skype is an awesome bit of communication tchnology which happens to be well integrated into my Nokia smartphone, meaning that it’s far more useful than other IM technology. And being able to save on telephone charges is important when you’re a small business, as well as having IM as an answering machine!

Dropbox: The only link on the list which benefits me in any way (If you sign-up and install Dropbox from the link, we both get a bit of extra free space). We all know how we should be constantly backing up – and we also all know know often we forget. Or find ourselves in a remote office without the file we need.

Dropbox allows you to not only store fairly large files online (Up to 2GB is free as standard), but also allows you to either sync your whole desktop or selected folders automatically. And you can access your folders via the web from anywhere, so even if you’re borrowing a computer, you can get hold of that presentation you needed. It’s saved me several times in the past, and also means that in addition to physical back-ups, important documents also exist online. I’m a big believer in the 3 copy rule – one copy on the computer, one on a physical back-up, and one in the cloud in case a thief, a fire or something similar takes out both physical stores.

There are loads of other applications which can come in handy, such as a good FTP client, but those are a lot focused on specific tasks, whereas those 10 essentials above cover most general PC usage, and make life so much easier.

I’d really love to know what applications you can’t live without, and whether you have alternatives to mine that you prefer? The one application I’m sorely missing is OtherInbox Defender, which recently switched from a standalone product to integration with Gmail. It’s still useful, but if you know of a standalone alternative, I’d be really, really keen to know about it!

Two results for December already!

Having written about how I was going to work flat out in December, it’s nice to be able to share a couple of examples of it working already.

Firstly – I’m pleased to say that a recent pitch has been successful, and I’ve now got a couple of new clients to work with. Happily news of my availability appears to be resulting in a steady growth in demand for my services – which is brilliant news both for me and my bank manager. And a big part of that has been down to the fantastic response by a group of wonderful people I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with over the years – your assistance continues to be invaluable, and without naming you individually, I just wanted to say a big thank you for all your support and more!

While I’m thanking people – every blog comment, link to my sites, reweet, like on Facebook, @ message, DM, recommendation to a social bookmarking site etc – these are hugely appreciated and they all have an effect on me personally as well as helping to improve everything I’m doing – so thanks to everyone reading this, whether it’s on the site, via RSS, a social network….

Secondly – I’ve been thinking a lot about the potential concerns clients may have, and finding solutions for them. One potential concern might be that by hiring what is essentially me on my lonesome, they might encounter some risks if I get abducted by aliens, or that I might not be able to offer the range of services that a larger, full-service operation might be able to provide.

So, I’m pleased to say I’ve been speaking to a small number of the very best people I know in various areas. That means that I’m not only able to plug-in respected experts to cover in the event of an emergency, but I can also offer project-managed delivery of various additional services, whether it’s a design for a social media profile, or a complete website or mobile application build.  So you really can go from nothing to a complete website, social media presence, and have content supplied whilst only ever dealing with one person!

Not a bad start for the month!