Archives for October 2009

Falling Down

There's been a lot in the papers these past few days about internet addiction – the story of the woman who decided to go on holiday and who resolved not look at her emails. She lasted two days. What if someone was trying to contact her? What if something had happened?

I have had my own mini version of being uncontactable when a telephone pole in the field next to our house fell down last Sunday, taking with it our phone line and ADSL. A few gusts of wind or maybe a collision with a truck and our connection to the outside world was suddenly broken, the two wires trailing on the ground a reminder of how fragile the link we take for granted really is.

At first I was bereft, adrift, scratchy. I felt rudderless. But I also got a lot of work done, freed from flitting from site to site like a demented cyber butterfly instead of focussing on what I was supposed to be doing. And then I felt liberated. Like the old days, you remember? Before emails and URLs and networking.

Our connection is back now, courtesy of a surly Italian Telecom worker. But I hope the lessons stay with me.

When the Writing Flows…

One of my ghostwriting projects at the moment is a fantasy novel for an Australian client. As well as the outline I have a copy of the first book he wrote so that I can get a feel for his style and extensive notes on the world he has spent twenty years creating. Other than that, I have a free hand to expand his ideas to book length.

I have been astounded at how the words are flowing on this one. I am definietly 'in the zone' when I write for him and new characters keep appearing out of the ether and taking on their own lives in the text. I haven't had this happen to the same extent before and it's really very exciting. It reminds me of that famous Michelangelo quotation where he says: "I saw an angel in the block of marble and carved until I set him free."

I'm not comparing myself to Michelangelo (I wish!) but the concept that the art, sculpture or story is hidden there and we as artists are carefully extracting it is a captivating and motivating one. Stephen King returns to this idea in his excellent book On Writing. He says: " Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer's job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible."

Back to the excavating…

Some SEO Tips

I’m a
ghostwriter but I’m also an SEO writer (that’s search engine optimisation, or
optimization if you use American spelling!)and so I try to keep up with all the
latest trends. Judging by some of the forums I visit, SEO experts are a very
clever, lively and knowledgeable bunch but they are often in disagreement about
what techniques to use to achieve good rankings.

 

By ranking,
in this case, I am referring to where your website comes on Google’s results
pages, not the PageRank. Basically if your site isn’t in the first ten results
for a key word or phrase then you have failed. Most people never look beyond
the first page.

In SEO, as in life, I am in favour of keeping it simple. I think things can get
incredibly confusing if you follow all the latest twists and turns of the
Google algorithm. There are about 100 different factors that search engines use
to determine rankings. I have to look at a LOT of sites on a daily basis. Many of these have
terrific products or great information, but they are not ranked. Being a bit of
an anorak where the internet is concerned I tend to ask people about their
sites. 'Do you have keywords or key phrases in mind?' and 'How did you choose
those?'  I'm quite surprised that IF people  have given key words and
phrases any consideration have often arrived at them by, say, brainstorming a
list with friends and family or colleagues at work. This is fine, but they then
don't take the next step. My next question is usually 'So how do you know
people are actually looking for those words?'

This is a key question. It doesn't matter how many words and phrases you can
list if no-one is actually looking for them. And people do NOT look for the
things you think they do. You'd be surprised at the kind of search terms people
type into search engines.

So what conclusion can we draw from this? The keywords 101 if you like. OK
let's sum it up like this:

  • You need to target just a FEW key words or
    phrases for each page, maybe just one or two. This means your site may end
    up with more pages, but they will be more targeted.
  • Try to use your keywords in the page
    description, the title and the first line of your text. Don't go mad and
    use the phrase a million times as you'll get penalised. Write natural
    useful text in which your target phrase appears no more than 5% of the
    time.
  • If you have photos then rather than upload
    them as xyz564.jpeg write a text description using the alt tag. This is to
    help visually impaired people, so make sure the text describes the image! You
    can add  keywords but just once on a page is fine as Google and other
    search engines are allocating less value to this and even penalising sites
    that overdo the keywords in alt text technique.
  • You need to make sure people are actually
    looking for these phrases! A very useful free tool is Google’s adword
    tool.
  • Don't forget that many people search by
    using phrases and questions rather than just single words. In fact, I read
    somewhere it's estimated that nearly half of all searches are 'unique' and
    use phrases or questions.
  • Misspellings are good sources of keywords.
    A good example is the Italian city of Siena, which is often spelled Sienna
    in the UK.
  • People also type badly or too fast. (I'm
    so guilty of this!)'SEO copywriting' for example may end up as 'SOE
    copywritting'.  I'm not saying you should necessarily work these into
    your text, poor spelling and typing look unprofessional, but if you have a
    blog or readers comment page then it is quite a good idea to let
    misspellings and mis-typed words stand.