Friday, October 25, 2013

What to Blog About Next, part 4

Look, you can't just jump into part 4 of something without at least a cursory click on parts 1, 2, and 3. (I'll wait.) OK. Thanks, and welcome back. Now, part 4 beckons...

And then, there are those magical moments -  the blog posts that write themselves. Two things to you have to do when that happens: 1- grin from ear to ear and 2- hit 'publish.'

This one's a content creator's dream: Nieman Storyboard's roundup of 150 - Iknowright?!! I nearly hyperventilated, ONEHUNDREDANDFIFTY!! -awesome tips and storytelling techniques. Blow off your next meeting, I'm telling you, reading this is gonna be way more productive. 

Ahem. Look I'm not usually one to recommend blowing off a meeting but if you do, it'll be your turn to grin (an evil grin), 'cus your fellow writers will be all, "Where'd you'd get all these great ideas?" and you'll be all, "I dunno, sometimes they just write themselves."

Happy blogging.

~Diane Stresing

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Press Releases Had Value Before SEO Existed (and they still do)

Let's say you want to get the word out about your product, invite the world to your website, give current customers a reason to talk about your business, and generate a little buzz in the media. Are press releases worth the time? Twenty years ago, the answer was YES. A total no-brainer.  

Because, of course, the fundamental purpose of a press release was to generate awareness among potential prospects.

Today, the Fundamental Purpose of a Press Release Is... 

Then web 1.0 arrived and we started stuffing keywords into places we'd rather not talk about now. A few (bajillion) revisions of SEO rules and Google updates later, it's worth asking again: Are press releases worth your time? 

The answer might be, IT DEPENDS. On your marketing strategy and the success of your other lead-generation tools. IT DEPENDS on the news you have, the audience you've identified as most receptive to your release, and other means you have to reach them. 

However, my answer, generally, is still YES. It's a no-brainer.  

Primarily because, of course, the fundamental purpose of a press release (still) is to generate awareness among potential prospects. 

What PR Experts Say about Press Releases and SEO in 2013

"Press releases are more than simple SEO tools. Press releases [still] reach journalists, influencers and consumers.  ... Press releases drive social interaction.  They meet financial disclosure.   In short, they drive broad discovery of your message.  None of this has anything to do with linkbuilding and SEO. This is all about building awareness."
-- Sarah Skerik, writing in Beyond PR

In spite of Google's latest changes to link weighting and algorithms, press releases (still) can include inbound-link-building, but Google will penalize you for trying to pre-build the inbound links. Instead, the link-building will have to develop organically. 
In other words: In fact, the only true potential SEO benefit of press releases is if a journalist or blogger thinks the content of the release is compelling enough to write about and links back to you naturally. This also means that, as I said, the content of the release needs to actually be compelling." 
-- Pamela Vaughan, writing for Hubspot

All of which brings me back to my initial assertion - the point of a press release, really, is to generating interest among qualified leads or at least well-identified prospects. 

If you've got news to share, by all means, a press release is in order. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

What to Blog About Next, 3

 A picture really is worth a thousand words. 

With apologies to Pinterest and Tumblr, personally, I think the photo-blog thing is a bit over-done and less effective (in most cases) than most photo-bloggers would like to think. Darren Rowse's outstanding site DPS runs hundreds of obvious exceptions, but let's remember that DPS stands for digital-photography-school, OK? 
By the way, Rowse welcomes guest bloggers, so if you've got a post in mind that's built around some awesome images, by all means, click on over and create one of those exceptions. Brag about it and send me a link, and I'll probably blog about you.

Blog with Wrong Image = Bad Blog? 

When blogging, the right picture is worth more than a thousand words. Note the qualifier. The right picture adds so much to your (related) blog post, you can probably keep the post down to 100-200 words - regardless of topic!

The wrong picture isn't really much of a problem - if your blog is strong. That said, don't be that guy.
You know, the guy who sets up his blog template to have an image of a certain size in a certain spot and it's pretty obvious he didn't spend a lot of time thinking about how the image improves the message. Worse, it's so obvious that the image detracts from the message. Do that a few times and your credibility and readership will start to suffer. 

Now You've Got the Picture

Unless your blog format requires an image, it's better to not include one if the only one you can think to include is a distraction rather than an addition. 

Case in point? You get the picture - I couldn't think of one. 

Blog on, my friends.

Update 10/22/13-- hey, do you think Social Media Examiner is riffing off my stuff? Yeah, well, I don't really think so, either. But it's a sweet coincidence

~Diane Stresing

Did you miss part 1 or part 2? Well, click and read already ;]

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Beyond the Keyword Stuffing Discussion

When drafting copy for a client's site as it was in the wireframe stage* I asked what's the 'ideal' length & style for ALT image tags. Nobody seemed to have "the" answer,* so I read a few articles on the subject, many of which contradicted each other. A couple rang true, notably one by Chris Rand and another from the University of Washington 

Alt Tags and Animal Mix-ups

While both articles were written before Google released its Pandas and Penguins (but after Apple released its Lion, oh my) I suspect (ok, guess) the advice is still pretty sound. Here's what I gleaned:

  • The ALT image tag should describe the image AND what it means to site navigation (e.g., would you like to design a bookcase like this? something taller? click to use our free bookcase designer.)
  • KW stuffing is bad. Very bad. 
  • Accessibility readers generally agree the focus is on the first 125 characters (not counting spaces). For humans (who never agree) the tag should be a max of 7 words long, not more than 12 words long, 16 words of 7-8 characters each, and as long as it needs to be. Don't worry, there won't be a quiz later. There will, however, be infinite changes to the rules. 

Definitive Word on ALT Tags? 

Anybody want to offer the definitive word on the subject? Wanna guest blog about it? I'd love to hear from you! Twitter is one of the best places to reach me. 
*In case you're looking for a good exercise in frustration and general confusion, writing copy while a website is in the wireframe stage is a great place to start. Creativity is running high, the possibilities seem endless, and it's almost impossible for anyone to make a decision and stick to it for more than 10 minutes. At that point in the process, I find it's best to keep a "leftovers" document, full of good ideas bound to fall during the editing process. Later, that "leftovers" document is a gold mine, where you can dig up oodles of blog posts, fodder for landing pages, and other content that didn't quite fit on the site - at first. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

What to Blog About Next? How 'bout Now? part 2

I heart evergreen posts. Now and always.
Blogging got off to a suspicious start. Even auspicious, maybe. But I'm not blogging about run-of-the-mill, run-off-the-mouth blogging. I'm blogging about corporate/business/ghost/marketing content blogging.

Which means your blogging efforts will probably require meetings. Schedules. A plan. 

Yeah, I know. Borrrrr-ing. But do it right and you'll be hearing ca-ching!

Here's the good news about planning your blog posts: it doesn't have to be hard, they don't have to be long, and variety is the spice of blogging.

In other words, sometimes you can blog about what you're doing right now.

We're having a sale! is a great way to start a blog post.
Hurry to renew your contract before the price increase! works too. 

Seasonal tips make for great blog content. Got a landscaping business? Why not blog about liability as it relates to snow plowing contracts?

But wait, it's not exactly snowplow season, you're thinking. And we're not having a sale this week. So what do you mean, blog about "now?"

I mean, time is of the essence. You will have to spend some time planning and writing and scheduling your posts to make sure they're always timely. Get it? Blog about now means now, AKA your publish date. You want your content to be very timely ... or very evergreen. And sometimes, in-between.

I'll address evergreen posts (I love evergreen posts!) later, and tweeners too. Meanwhile, if you're wondering what to blog about now, I suggest you plan now to blog about something that will feel like you wrote it just now when the reader reads it... later.

~Diane Stresing

Monday, October 7, 2013

What to Blog About? What to Blog About Next? And After That? Part 1

What to Blog About is a three- or four- or five- or 50-part series about - well, duh - what to blog about. Not sure what to blog about? or if you should blog? Please, read on

This series was inspired by and has grown out of a series of a-ha! moments I've had recently about content. See, I've been writing about writing and blogging about blogging for longer than I'm willing to admit. And of course, it's all content. So is copywriting. As are catalog listings, white papers, spec sheets, sell sheets, and tip sheets. But not satin sheets. That's slippery stuff. Anyway, downloadable games, quizzes, reviews, and surveys, heck, it's all content. The whole blogosphere brouhaha about the importance of content, frankly, is very old news to moi. 
Hello! Moi knows content is king
Moi? Why Moi always knew content was king!

Now. I will not entertain any comments about how very old it might be, smartypants. Let's just say I knew Miss Piggy before she kissed her first frog, and leave it at that.

The most recent a-ha! moment bringing this to my attention was a conversation with an old friend, now the owner, founder, and a C-level bigshot at a pretty cool company that sells a very nifty bunch of software tools any design engineer would be happy to have. (Hi, Frank!) The conversation went something like this:

Me: Hey, I think I've got a blogging opp for you. (Yes, I really talk like that.) I've been working with a tech firm that's open to guest bloggers. Want me to introduce you?
Him: Thanks for the offer, but I don't know a lot about Blogging so I really don't see the value.


Whether you heard nails on a chalkboard or somebody slamming the breaks on the possibility of reaching a whole lotta new customers, you're right.

So. I let Frank off easy - hey, I like to think that's why we're still friends - and decided to blog about it.

Part one in the bag. Stay tuned to find out What to Blog About Next.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

You & Your Source: Different Interview Perspectives

PR Daily is good at asking questions, and How far should you stretch in an interview? is a good question.

In the case of this particular question, author Brad Phillips concludes that there's no right or wrong answer. I beg to differ.

As a writer, I've been on the deadline end of the wrong answer, and it stinks (to put it politely).

On Being a Good Source 

My answer to would-be sources is this: don't stretch for an interview unless you're really, r e a l l y going to stretch and actually become a good source.

Trust me, a prompt, professional response that you're not able to authoritatively address the specific aspects of the assigned topic will be appreciated.

Do you worry because you "hate to turn down a media opportunity?" Don't. Generally, a prompt, professional response of any kind will be enough to get you on the list of "people to call" for future assignments on any related topic.

As a source, the second-worst thing you can do is stretch a little. If you stretch enough to talk around the topic, but are unable to offer any real insight into the topic, you've wasted not only the writer's time but the readers' time as well.

The Worst Source

In my opinion - as a writer and a reader - the worst thing a source can do has nothing to do with stretching. It has to do with bending.

Sources who bend, twist, or turn their responses, or who stray so far from the topic that their comments are useful only to themselves and/or their brand, are the worst... when you're prepared, that is.

Sometimes - rarely, but sometimes - a "bad" source can, like a lost sheep, be worth following. The trick is knowing when.

Don't Get Lost, Get Lucky

Following a wayward source is worthwhile when you have enough time to appreciate the detour as part of the education process. Managing your work so that you can have "enough time" is a challenge every writer knows too well - and most know it depends on having a lot of discipline and even more luck.

To increase your chances (I'm talking to writers now, you source-types are free to leave) I've found it helps to identify potential sources as early as possible in your research phase. I've lucked out a few times by contacting those potential sources before I understood the topic well. In those cases, I suspect my totally honest approach improved my luck.

Contacting Sources Too Early Can Work

When contacting potential sources before I've had a chance to develop good questions, I say something like, "I'm researching X topic and would like 10-15 minutes of your time while I begin to understand how Y and Z are affecting X. Before you agree I should tell you this interview would be considered background only - in other words, no attributable quotes at this time. If you're willing to speak to me, please call..."

Obviously, when using this approach it helps to cast a wide net (or look for a lot of sheep). And it helps to have a long lead time - something almost always out of your control as a writer.

What is under your control as a writer, and what you must remember during the interview and writing process, is that you and your sources approach the interview from completely different perspectives. Put another way: as long as you understand that the question How far should you stretch in an interview? is one sources must routinely consider, it's probably unlikely that you'll be led too far astray.