Monday, October 25, 2010

Sleep Better with Google Tools

This post was originally created as class assignment #5 for MSU's New Media Driver's License course, and posted to the course website on October 25, 2010.

I was awake half the night last night thinking about Google Tools. Actually, that’s not exactly true. I was awake because my husband was snoring. But since sleep wasn’t likely, I got up, logged on, and explored Google Tools.

Are there Google Tools that could help me get a good night’s sleep? That might be asking too much, even of Google, so here’s a different question: If I came up with a way to stop snoring or help people sleep better, are there Google Tools that could help me build a successful business around it?

Insights for Search: Am I the only one who can’t sleep?
I suspect that lots of folks are challenged by a snoring partner, but to see if indeed there is a market for a non-snoring business, I turned first to Insights for Search, a tool that helps you learn more about what people are searching for.

It’s quite simple to query Insights for Search. I began by selecting a “Search terms” comparison, and arbitrarily trying a few snoring-related terms. Within the Filter category, I first selected a Web Search, focused on the U.S. (again, arbitrarily – it doesn’t mean I don’t care about the sleepless in Singapore), and looked at searches that took place in 2010. I also focused the search on the Health category. Here’s how that query looked:

Turns out, snoring is just a subset of the larger category of “sleep.” Sounds obvious, but that insight could prove important when determining the focus of my sleep-related business, and developing ad messaging, choosing keywords, and even planning blogposts (assuming this new business will employ all three). Focusing on sleep as a health concern, rather than just snoring, might be a smarter marketing strategy for this hypothetical business.

The top searches and rising searches associated with Sleep, another analytic tool available through Insights for Search, provide still more insight into what sleep-related issues are hot on consumers’ minds right now.

Google Analytics: Is my business putting people to sleep?
If I were to start an online business related to sleeping better (and why not? I have plenty of time, since I’m not SLEEPING), Google Analytics could tell me all about visitors to my site:

* Who’s new to the site and who’s returning (assuming those returning visitors are really sleep-deprived)
* Are they sticking around or leaving quickly (“bouncing”)?
* What sites and searches drove them to the site? This info can help me identify the keywords I should be choosing, and Google Adwords can be easily incorporated into Google Analytics to track the performance of paid search efforts too.

Without having an actual site to analyze, I couldn’t play with Analytics, but I’m anxious to. There’s SO much data to crunch here, it could help any business work smarter (and any insomniac sleep better!) Seriously, the sophistication of the data you can include on your dashboard is impressive.

I’m just beginning to explore the benefits of these and other Google Tools. I could use Google Blogs to see what sleep-related topics are being discussed in the blogosphere, using either Google Alerts, a Google blogsearch gadget on my homepage, or a blog search feed through Google Reader. And I haven’t even explored how I might use Google TV advertising to target people when they can’t sleep – that’s another great option!

I’ll be spending much more time working with Google Tools down the road. But right now, I think it’s time to try and get some sleep!

photo credit:  sign by dmjarvey

Monday, October 18, 2010

5 Reasons to put Copyblogger on your must-subscribe list

This post was originally created as class assignment #4 for MSU's New Media Driver's License course, and posted to the course website on October 18, 2010.

Are you reading Copyblogger? If you’re serious about developing your online copywriting and content marketing skills, and you want to enjoy yourself along the way, I’m here to convince you to start today.

But why should you take my word for it? How do you know if Copyblogger, or any blog for that matter, is worth your time? When it comes to digital marketing, there’s a ton of information and two tons of opinions out there; it’s hard to know how to get to the good stuff. For what it’s worth, here’s a tip that’s working for me: When investigating a blog for the first time, I start out skeptical and let the blog win me over. And this is one place where it’s ok to allow yourself the luxury of impatience: If you don’t pick up at least one useful nugget of info in the first 2 posts you read, move on.

I found I couldn’t get through the first paragraph of the first post I read on Copyblogger without jotting down notes, and it’s been that way ever since. I hope you’ll have a similar experience, and that, like me, you’ll appreciate the many ways this blog is worth following:

1. You’ll write more good better. Copyblogger’s name defines its priorities: This is first and foremost a copywriter’s site. Sure, you’ll learn how all the social media goodies can help get content noticed on the web, but always within the context of strengthening your copywriting skills.

2. You’ll think like a blogger (while still feeling and writing like yourself). Copyblogger believes in the talents and writing voices of its audience. They’re not out to change your voice; just to help your voice to be heard.

3. You’ll feel right at home talking back. Copyblogger has a huge, loyal, smart, engaged audience, and the comments they make do more than compliment the blogger, they complement the post. Most Copyblogger posts have over 100 comments (many I’ve seen have 300+), and it feels like a conversation you can be a part of, not a clique of insiders.

4. You’ll hear multiple voices in one place. I could sing the praises of Copyblogger’s founder and very frequent contributor Brian Clark all day. He’s a superb writer and a very good explainer , and if he authored every Copyblogger post I’d still be a loyal reader. But one of the big pluses of Copyblogger is that it has so many other wonderful contributors, all of whom make their living communicating in the digital space. One who recently shared some great advice for beginning bloggers is Pamela Wilson. Although she’s probably forgotten more about blogging than I’ll ever know, she still remembers what it’s like to be learning this stuff for the first time, and her post provided me with real inspiration to keep blogging.

5. You’ll take away something you can use today. A wise teacher recently encouraged new media newbies like me to “imitate before you innovate.” The more I dig into Copyblogger, the more I find to imitate, and the more inspired I am to adopt their suggestions to improve my writing.

In fact, I’m doing my darndest to use many of the techniques I’ve seen on Copyblogger within this very post! Leave a comment to let me know how many you notice. (Hint: that was one.)

photo credit:  desk, telephone, typewriter by SheepPurple

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Web Site Optimization: Get On Base With Great Content

This post was originally created as class assignment #3 for MSU's New Media Driver's License course, and posted to the course website on October 11, 2010.

When it comes to search engine optimization (SEO), the goal is to get your site or blog to a coveted spot at or near the top of the page on a search. In baseball terms, that’s hitting a home run.

It’s easy to get caught up in trying to “swing for the seats” by creating some magical, perfect recipe of keywords to instantly catapult you to the #1 spot, and keep you there.  If SEO was that simple, every Google search, regardless of the topic, would return my blog at the top of the list (and I'd be Mrs. Derek Jeter).

But back to reality: every search result returned on Google (or Bing or Yahoo) is the result of choices made in real time – some that are yours to make (like the keywords or phrases you choose to use, and sites you choose to link to or comment on), and many that aren’t (like who chooses to leave a comment on, or link to, your site, or the search engine’s algorithm).

So where do you start?  Maybe it’s good to head back to the rules of baseball: It’s not a home run unless you touch all the bases. With that in mind, what’s “first base” in SEO?

Many experts will tell you, the starting point is the content you create. David Meerman Scott, for one, says “the best thing you can do to improve your search engine marketing is to focus on building great content for your buyers.”  It’s sort of that “if you build it, they will come” idea (oh no! another baseball reference!), but it’s more than that. 

Aaron Wall at SEOBook feels the same way (and I highly commend his video to all newcomers to SEO -- it's zero sizzle, all steak). He points out that the more you try to manipulate or force traffic (through duplicating content or including poor quality links, for example), the less Google will reward you with a higher placement.

A better approach in the long run (but one that requires diligence and patience) is to put your well-written ideas out there and use the social power of the web to get people talking about them.  And once again, those social media tools will only work their magic if your content is worth reading.

A related point to keep in mind, courtesy of Brian Clark at SEO Copywriting:  Your content is more than what you write on your own site or blog. Every time you comment on someone else’s blog, you’re authoring content.  As Clark discusses in his blog post “Is Commenting on Blogs A Smart Traffic Strategy?” if you comment simply for the sake of marking the territory, or to try and be the first person to comment (and therefore, to occupy the first comment spot to garner links back), even when you have nothing to add to the conversation, you won’t get the result you’re looking for.

Does that mean that if you write great stuff there’s no need to worry about optimizing your copy?  No. Back to baseball again (last time, I promise), if content with value for your audience gets you to first base, then the other tools, like well-conceived optimization strategies and social media traffic-drivers, have a better chance of “scoring” a better search result ranking. 

But we'll leave those topics for another day, and another analogy.

photo credits:  World's Largest Baseball Bat by basheertome; Bucket of Baseballs by laffy4k 

Monday, October 4, 2010

Let the blogging begin!

Welcome graffiti -- photo by alborzshawn

This post was originally created as class assignment #2 for MSU's New Media Driver's License course, and posted to the course website on October 4, 2010.

Welcome to Freelancia!
This is the inaugural post of my inaugural blog, the beginning of what I hope will be a long, creative and productive relationship with today’s social media tools, and with everyone who reads and comments on my posts.

What can you expect from this blog? My goal is to create a platform for newcomers to new media to hear from the experts in the blogosphere, like David Meerman Scott, Chris Brogan and many others. I’ll be citing and commenting on the knowledge they share in their own websites about how to blog, what to blog and when to blog, as well as how to use new media techniques like search engine optimization (SEO) and popular social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Along the way, I’ll be sharing tips of my own as I scamper up the learning curve, helping myself and my clients to communicate more effectively and build and execute more impactful marketing strategies.

This blog is for anyone who feels that the new media train is leaving without them. In particular, this blog is for my fellow freelance writers, who are skilled in the tried-and-true, but perhaps not so proficient in the networked-and-new.  If you’re an independent MarCom pro like me, your clients count on you to get their messages across -- in letters, press releases, direct mail, presentations, training materials – all sorts of marketing communications – and you deliver for them. But are they also asking you to help them get noticed on the web?  Are you afraid they might ask any day now?

If you're like me, you want to be ready to answer that question with confidence. Your clients trust you with their brands because they value your talent and expertise. You owe it to them and to yourself to learn a new skill set (one that will complement, not replace, your existing one) and get their message ---your content -- noticed. So I invite you to join me on the learning curve.

I’ll admit that for now and likely for a long time to come, this blog will likely take much more from the online conversation than it contributes to it. I have everything to learn, and this space and all points connected to and from it will be my classroom. The impetus behind starting this blog is the New Media Driver’s License course I’m currently enrolled in through Michigan State University.  I thought my formal schooling ended years ago (at the state’s other Big Ten powerhouse), but none of these marvelous new media tools existed way back then, so it’s back-to-school for me. 

Classroom circa 1950, photo by Nationaal Archief / Flickr
 I feel lucky to have the opportunity to learn from some real pros, and I hope this blog helps, in some small way, to pay it forward.

Again, thanks for visiting Freelancia – hope you’ll stop by often.