Oh no, someone’s asked me to write a blog post ~ or ~ How to write a blog post if you’re not a writer.

Sooner or later it happens to everyone. We’re all being asked to write blog posts for someone. Why? Because search engines prefer sites with new content over sites with old content.

Those of us who work with words for a living are happy to punch out a five hundred-word rant on any topic you care to mention. But most people would prefer to stand in a crowded train carriage at peak hour with a stage-two hangover.

mum

Of course, you could just hire a reasonably priced copywriter (cough) to write your blog for you. But it’s only a blog piece. Why don’t you just grasp the nettle and write the thing yourself? It’s really not that hard.

Here is an easy step-by-step guide to help you write a short piece you’ll be happy to link to on Facebook or Twitter. You might even send it to your Mum when she asks you how work’s going.

 Pick your subject and your topic (not the same thing).

What’s the thing you’re pretty good at that most people don’t really understand? That’s your subject area. Now pick your topic. Your topic is the thing you’ve got a strong opinion on in your subject area, the thing you like to talk about when this subject comes up in conversation.

It’s even better if your experience in the subject area means you can provide your readers with some real insight that they can’t get elsewhere.

“The great thing about audio production [subject] at the moment is the improvement in technology. You can capture a studio-quality recording while standing in an alleyway [topic].  The real challenge now is stopping the audio from sounding clinical or lifeless [insight].”

cowinlane

Make it interesting.

It’s the Internet. No one wants to read anything long or boring. Write about your topic like you’d talk about it at a dinner party. Simple, short and if you’re going to use jargon make sure you explain what it means.

Add in some images.

The Internet is a visual medium. Illustrate the points you’re making with pictures.

Don’t post it straight after you’ve written it.

Once you’ve finished, let it sit for an hour. Maybe even overnight. Then re-read it. Make sure it makes sense. Get someone else to have a look at it and ask them if they understand what you’re trying to say.

Then do a re-write. Why? Because every first draft needs work.

Remove all the first person personal pronouns – the I’s and me’s, the we’s and us’s. Then see if you can say what you’re trying to say with less words.

One last point…

You don’t have to do all these things at once.

This is the reason writers carry notebooks. Coming up with a topic you’re happy with, thinking of sentences that neatly capture a particular thought, crystalising an insight – these things usually happen after you’ve thought about your subject, jotted down some notes and then started doing something else.

Then, once you’ve finished and it’s posted, send a link to your Mum. She’d like to know what you’re up to.

How to make Google ‘like’ your website ~ or ~ Why good copywriters are a vital part of SEO.

Google cares about three things in a website:

Is this website relevant?

Is this website popular?

and

Is this website current and up-to-date?

SEO is really about convincing Google that your website is all three. If you do it successfully, you’ll end up on the front page of a Google search.

There are a few basic rules.

1. Convince Google your website is relevant.

Here’s an important insight into how the Internet works: the words that people type into search engines are not the same as the words people write on their websites.

You can use this disconnect to convince Google your website is relevant. It’s a three-step process.

  1. Find out which words and phrases people commonly type into search engines when they’re searching in your specialty area: the “keywords”.
  2. Go through these keywords and phrases and select the ones that describe what you do best that aren’t being used by other websites.
  3. Use these keywords on your website.

Then when people search for those words and phrases, because no one else is using them, it helps your website come closer to the top of the search results.

This leaves you with two challenges: find the right keywords and then weave them subtly into the copy of your website.

How do you find the right keywords?

The “commonly searched for” part is easy. Lots of places on the Internet will tell you that for free like Google’s Trends. The challenge is finding the words that no one else is using. There are freebie tools such as Adwords Keyword tool to help you with this, but they’re not designed specifically for website keywords.

So you’ll get no more than a “close approximation” of what words will work for you. They’re better than nothing but nowhere near as accurate as paying an SEO specialist to use their sophisticated software to provide you with the good stuff. 

How do you weave the keywords subtly into the copy of your website?

Hire a good copywriter.

2. Convince Google your website is popular.

Now your site has all the right keywords on it. So do twenty others. Or fifty. Or a thousand. How does Google decide which of these sites goes on the front page? They choose the site that’s most popular.

How do they determine if your site is the popular one? They look at how many other sites have linked to yours. The jargon term for this is “link juice” as in “wow, dude, your site’s really popular. It must have a lot of link juice.” If your site’s got the most link juice it becomes the site with the best search result.

I know. Link juice: it’s gross. This is what happens when you let engineers have access to the dictionary without proper supervision.

How do you get link juice?

There’s a good way and a bad way. The bad way to get link juice is you pay some guy in India or China who owns a link juice farm (I’m not making this up) who will provide you with as much link juice as you’re prepared to pay for. Google do not like this. This is not how they think the Internet should work. Someone is getting rich from search and it’s not them. If they catch you (and they will) you suddenly won’t be appearing on their search results anymore.

The good way to get link juice is to create a strong, informative website with interesting content that everybody likes to quote on their blog or post on Facebook and twitter. Google likes this.

How do you create a strong, informative website with interesting content that everyone likes to quote and create links to? Hire a good copywriter.

3. Convince Google your website is current.

Congratulations. You’ve got a site with all the right keywords and a lot of link juice. And so do thirty other sites. How does Google choose between you? Currency. They look to see who has got the most up-to-date content on their site.

This is why we’re all writing blogs now and Sally is hosting this one on her directory. Hi, Sally 😉

Of course, any new bit of content on your site adds to your currency, but this is where rules one and two come in again. Is this new content relevant and popular? Is the content full of keywords and phrases that are frequently searched for but are not frequently used on other sites? Is the content of sufficient quality that people will link to it from their highly regarded websites (think government or higher education), their blogs or post it on their Facebook or Twitter accounts?

How do you continue to produce new content that’s relevant and popular?

Hire a good copywriter who understands SEO.

Muchos gracias to Chris Talbot from The Reactor Digital for being a SEO Yoda and fact checking. 

If you want to join the conversation, you’ll need a voice.

I like to think of the Internet as being like a person. It’s an analogy that plays out, believe me. But I don’t want to talk about how it was conceived behind closed doors or how when it was born everyone wanted to see it and look like they cared. I want to look at what it’s become.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the Internet has grown up. It’s gone through its awkward teenage phase and moved out. It’s smarter than us and it’s having conversations that we can’t follow in languages we don’t understand.

Yet there are still a lot of companies (let’s, for the sake of the analogy, call them distant cousins who are only just coming up to speed) who are still treating it like they need to change its nappies.

Now, this isn’t true for the average business. But like all averages, the mid point exposes you to a bunch of people that are significantly better and an equal amount who, for whatever reason, don’t.

The biggest problem is, and it’s most likely one you’ve already mentally registered, is that the Internet isn’t a person at all. It’s people.  Billions of people. With different attitudes, likes, dislikes, tolerances and, yeah ok, I’ll go there, fetishes.

Yet businesses still try to talk to this mass of people like a child. “Do this. Do that” they’ll say. “Eat your greens. Don’t play with that.” The strangest part is, they get annoyed when their instructions fall on deaf ears.

These grown ups, some of whom have never known a life without the Internet, expect to be listened to. If they’ve got an issue with your business, they’ll tell you – often in the form of a snarky tweet or Facebook post, but they’ll passively-aggressively be hoping it hits the intended target right between the eyes.

In the days before the Internet, businesses could get away with advertising, for the most part, in a linear fashion. Each campaign followed on from the next, giving you a chance to build a story and paint a picture over time.

Today, businesses/organisations/brands that exist in the online world are advertising all the time. To survive, make sense of it and flourish, it has never been more important to know who you are and how you talk.

This requires a certain level of bravery and self-assuredness that doesn’t come naturally to a lot of businesses. These institutions are used to being in control. They’re used to having a corporate face they can put on when they address the public. It used to be all wonderfully stage managed  – “We’re talking now because we have paid to talk to you. You will now listen like good consumers.”

But now, the people on the other side of the glass are talking back. And more than that, they’re initiating conversations –some of which you wish they’d have kept in private.

But that’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s the transparent world we now live in. People are allowed to call bullshit on businesses that are being dismissive. It’s the new sword that companies should expect to live and die by. If you know who you are and how you talk, if you know your ‘voice’, then you’ll know how to respond to almost every situation the Internet throws at you.

And once you start speaking with that voice, you’ll find out who is attracted to you and who isn’t. It’s like people at a party: you’re not expected to get along with everyone, but if you’re going to put yourself out there, you need to be ready for rejection as much as you are acceptance. The more you try to be everyone’s friend, the less likely you’ll be to make a lasting impression on anyone.

* This article first appeared on The Brownbill Effect Blog on 19/02/2013

Radio needs to be a friend, not prey on the weak.

Here’s a question. Is there still a place for an anti-social medium in the age of social media?

I know it’s tragically unhip of me to say so, but I used to love ‘the’ radio. Growing up, it was usually always on in my house. The advent of the Walkman and headphones made it even more personal and each engagement gave you something special; cool music, news, advice, or information.

But technology did as technology does, and before you could say troglodyte all those things became available elsewhere and the ‘non-rusted on’ listeners were enticed away. So old-faithful began a slow, painful reinvention. Everything got a little bit meaner; first the ratings, then the shareholders, then the budgets, now the presenters.

The tragedy from the weekend should have a lot of people in radioland questioning what they’re doing and where this old train is going. If it hasn’t, then it’s possibly already too late. But while there’s a pulse, those with a vested interest in its ongoing success, and fans alike, should all be hoping they use this as an opportunity to reassess radio’s place in today’s society.

In the UK, the transformation to digital radio was meant to be the dawn of a new era. It wasn’t. It was the same old stuff coming out, only you could hear it better. Plus, one of the product’s biggest strengths became its greatest problem: more channels equaled more choice and loyal listeners sought greener pastures.

Unfortunately, Australia didn’t learn from the UK’s experience. We too introduced a product into a troubled marketplace that further fragmented a diminishing audience.

Instead of preying on the weak with mindless pranks, radio stations might do well to play to their strengths again. Be there, be immediate, be intimate and personal, be a friend. In a fragmented social media landscape, commercial radio has resorted to becoming things that not only don’t suit the medium, but don’t suit the zeitgeist.

Social media is the medium of transparency and honesty. You can’t hide from your critics and you can’t hide from the truth. Broadcasters can embrace this mantra and get back to using radio’s inherent intimacy for good. It’s not about cash giveaways and free tickets to One Direction. It’s about community, knowledge and progress.

Radio can be as live and current as Twitter. Yet more and more stations are opting for prerecorded content to save money. Radio can be as personal as your Facebook timeline. It can involve you in a conversation as well as any online forum can. Yet, more and more presenters are talking at the audience, not to them. The issue isn’t the medium, it’s the way it’s being used.

Surely the opportunity exists to seduce a whole new generation with radio. The generation who grew up with 32bit computer games and more channels on TV than you can poke a stick at. After all, everything old is new again, isn’t it? Radio lets you wear big headphones. Radio lets you play vinyl. You can talk to strangers about topics you control and block them if they’re annoying you. It’s like the new MySpace and Facebook rolled into one. Maybe programmers can’t see the forest for the trees?

Look at the big names in commercial radio and you get the feeling it has become the anti-heroes medium, where bullies can hide behind a golden microphone. Well, right now, radio needs heroes.

Radio can rise again, for no other reason that it is just too good to die. It just needs brains, trust, time and a big injection of passion. Do stations need to rethink the format? Maybe take a lead from what’s working elsewhere. Call it Pint-ear-est, Insta-phonogram, Hearddit, and remember that Hamish and Andy can’t solve everything. The answers won’t be easy to find. But the wider industry needs to start asking questions if it’s not already too late.

* This article first appeared in Mumbrella on 10/12/2012

My friends the idiots.

I have around 375 friends on Facebook. It’s not a huge number, but it’s manageable. Some are best mates I’ve known for years, some are mere acquaintances I’ve met less than a handful of times. And some of them are so stupid I’m beginning to wonder how they function in normal society on a daily basis.

Ok, so maybe that’s a bit harsh. What’s a more appropriate word…um, naïve? No. Reactionary? No, that’s not quite right either.

What the Facebook privacy scam revealed about Facebook users: theyre gullible idiots    Screen Shot 2012 11 28 at 11.41.35 AM 234x275

The Facebook warning spread by the temporarily stupid

But if I was a lawyer representing them in court, I’d plead guilty for them on the grounds of temporary stupidity. “I’m sorry, Your Honour, they received a post detailing a loophole in Facebook’s privacy settings. They simply had to post it to their wall without thinking for the good of the nation. I promise, this act of wanton imbecility is totally out of character.”

15 of my Facebook friends. Fifteen. One-five people, who are of at least above average intelligence re-posted that Facebook Privacy loophole statement to their wall on Monday. There were probably more, but I was saved their blushes by Facebook’s “yeah you probably don’t need to see that” matrix.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the need to be the first on your wall to share a seemingly vital piece of Internet gold. We’re all human and we’ve all got Klout scores to maintain. But have we seriously reached a point in out lives where the need to be ‘first’ with shared information overrides our need to be right?

Now, any one of my friends unlucky enough to find themselves stuck in the vortex of asinine ephemera that I smear onto my Facebook wall will attest to the fact that my standards are pretty low. But they do exist. I rarely get political, I rarely do causes other than to push my own barrow and I rarely, if ever, pass on third party legal statements that promise absolution from potential, imaginary, bad-court-thingies.

Ok, so maybe by now I’ve got a few less friends, but if I’m losing the kinds of weak links that lack the common sense to know that the page you had to like to watch that video of a “naughty schoolgirl being caught by her father doing something” is going to plaster itself all over your newsfeed, then I’m probably not losing much.

The same goes for those “1. Click the picture. 2. Type “I’m a moron” in the comments. 3. See what happens!” posts. You know what happens? All your friends slap their foreheads and second-guess whether to just hide your activity or straight up un-friend you.

These are all different kettles of fish, of course. But the thing that irked me so much about the Facebook Privacy Scam post was the way people were willing to freely share something they clearly knew so little about, yet trusted implicitly.

What made everyone believe this? Was it the relative trustworthiness of the person who first posted it to their wall? Was it the fact that it quoted some legal sounding thing and a law with a long, impressive looking number attached to it? Or was it simply the allure of the being the first to post within their wider friendship group that deactivated the safety switch that normally stops us replying to emails from Nigerian Princes to divulge our bank details and mother’s maiden name?

Or is it simply because we’ve all accepted that many terms and conditions and End User License Agreements without reading what we’re agreeing to that we’re all completely oblivious to our actual rights and responsibilities online? Are we so scared of the imagined consequences we ignored when we signed on that we’re willing to chuck in our credibility for a hoax?

It’s nothing new. In fact, it would appear my usually clever, brilliant, hilarious and lovely friends have simply fallen for the oldest sales trick in the book. Fear, Exclusivity, Greed, Guilt, Need for approval.

The social media landscape is littered with hoaxes. All designed to make us look fegg’n stupid. It seems some people are forgetting to tread carefully.

*This article first appeared in Mumbrella on 28/11/2012