Unlock the Secret Art of SEO

SEO (search engine optimization) has a reputation as some kind of mystical black art, with all kinds of arcane divinations needed to placate the great and mysterious Google.

Some folks believe that you need to pay giant dollars to a specialized wizard consultant to burn the right kind of incense and play the right kind of games that will put you on page one of Google. Conveniently for these wizards consultants, Google changes its rules constantly, so a good wizard consultant spends a lot of his time casting runes and squinting into Magic 8 Balls to see what the rules look like today.

Other folks will tell you that SEO is all snake oil. There's no such thing as effective SEO, you just live with a pure heart and noble intentions, and Google will find you. In this worldview, Google is so smart that they will always learn to pick out the spam from the real stuff. If you have real stuff, you will be bathed in eternal Google love and go on to live happily ever after.

Both of these camps are dangerously wrong.

Content comes first

We all know it, but it bears repeating (and repeating). If you want to do well in the search engines, it is a very smart idea to pull together some really good content.

Your content has to be useful. It has to be relevant to what people are looking for. And you probably have to have a bunch of it. (It also helps if you update it frequently.)

Google likes Baby Bear, in other words. But Baby Bear alone doesn't necessarily rise to the top without a little technique.

SEO is just a set of techniques

Not magic beans. Not games. Not super secret tricks you have to spend thousands of dollars to learn. Just some straightforward techniques that put you in the best light and that let the search engines know what you're doing.

Playing games with Google is like playing games with the IRS.* If that's your idea of a good time, ok, but I'm a little more risk-averse than that.

But the right kind of SEO is just like maximizing legitimate tax deductions. Play by the rules, play within the system, but don't be a damned chump about it. Fortunately, there's a lot of simple white-hat SEO (that's SEO that doesn't depend on spammer tactics) that is about 10,000 times easier than finding out how much childcare you actually get to deduct this year.

(8/9/08 edit: SEO School is no longer available, but I'll keep the post up in case it gets reinstated one of these days.)

My friend Naomi Dunford over at Ittybiz figured out that there was a lack of simple, straightforward SEO advice out there, so she put together an eBook. It's written for normal people–you don't have to be a techie or a marketing geek. And it's full of advice you can act on right away.

You can find out more about it on Ittybiz, or you can go right to the order page. It's pretty cheap, and it looks like if you enter the coupon code "MovingDay" before July 1st, you get it even cheaper.

No Magic 8 Ball required.

* For my readers who don't live in the U.S., the IRS is our beloved national tax agency.

Why Mom Was Right About Success

By Sonia Simone

your mom was right about success

Let’s face it, moms know everything. (Of course, now that I have a child, I realize how pitifully incorrect this is. Never mind.) Mom had it right on the big stuff, anyway. And she had it right because she loved you, and love is smarter than anything.

So as a last-minute mother’s day present, here are 6 (ok, 5) mom-approved tips for your own personal and professional success.

1. Just be yourself. If people don’t like it, they aren’t real friends anyway
There’s no worse waste of time, energy and money than trying to do work for clients who aren’t right for you. In the first place, it won’t work–you’ll go broke trying. And in the time you waste, you could have been connecting with dozens or hundreds or thousands of clients who would love and appreciate you.

Assuming you aren’t a sociopath with halitosis, spend as little time as possible dwelling on what you do badly. Focus on being unbelievably great at what you do well.

Consider constructing a 12-foot tall neon sign about anything you’re a little insecure about. Hot pink is a good color. (Mine reads: "World’s Least Competent Cold Caller.") This will, perversely, read as confidence, and the people who already liked you will start to put much more trust in you.

2. If you can’t say something nice . . .
I realize this somewhat contradicts #1, especially if you happen to be a snarky, edgy type of person who can hone an insult sharper than a San Quentin shiv.

Let’s face it. There are few pleasures that compare to trash talking, especially if you’re really good at it. That delectable shiver of superiority as your arrow hits the mark. The boom of approving laughter. Well-honed snark is a mighty, mighty drug.

There’s almost nothing about my life I would change, except for the times I’ve hurt people with something I have said. Even if the person you’re going after is Ted Bundy, you’ll do some collateral damage. Some nice, interesting, quiet person (who might have had something really remarkable to contribute) will be angered and hurt by what you’ve said, and you’ll never even notice.

The tricky part is, for some of us, this really is where our gifts lie. Some of us are Molly Ivins, or Bill Hicks. If that’s you, be sure to choose your targets wisely. Go after Google, or China, or network television. Remember the traditional journalist’s credo: afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.

3. If you’re that bored, go clean your room
Feeling stuck? Can’t move forward? Spinning your wheels and making no progress?

I’ll lay odds that somewhere, there’s some uncomfortable business that you need to attend to, but you’re putting it off. Maybe it’s getting over your number-phobia and talking with a bookkeeper. Maybe it’s coming to terms with your fear and loathing of marketing. Maybe it’s just a half-day of errands, running around to get your PO Box and business checking set up.

The things you put off not only mutate to ten times their natural size, they also start creating weird unconscious blocks in other parts of your life. Somewhere, where you can’t quite hear it, there’s a tape (I suppose these days, this is now an MP3) running that’s saying, "if I can’t even get it together to set up an email newsletter, there’s no way I can actually succeed at this business/project/fundraiser."

I don’t know what "clean your room" will mean for you, but you do. It popped into your head about four seconds ago. Write it down, right now.

(Waiting for you to write it down.)

OK, now before you can think about it too much, just go get it done. If you can physically get off your ass right this minute and get it finished, do that. If not, scribble on a post-it the next thing you need to do to make this happen, and then figure out exactly when you’re going to do that. Before the end of this week, please.

You’ll be happily surprised by how much energy this frees up. That same MP3 player will start playing a new tune, something more like, "huh, I guess I’m kind of a stud after all. Now that I’ve got that done, I’m going to do this other thing right now."

Sounds hokey, but it works. Like so much of mom’s advice.

4. Look with your eyes, not with your hands
OK, I wracked my brain and can’t figure out a way to translate this one to success. It just cracks me up when I hear myself telling my own kid this. Sorry.

5. If your friends jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge, would you do it?
Never mind that the true answer to this is usually sure I would. Mom was trying to teach you that the right answer is no, and that’s good advice.

What works beautifully for Skellie or Clay or Caroline may not be the right choice for me.

My version of a great Copyblogger post (I thought the naked one was pretty good) looks significantly different from Brian’s great posts, or James’s, or Dean’s or Roberta’s.

Being inquisitive and paying attention and learning by observation are all terrific. God knows I built this blog on the foundation of a pretty transparent role model. (I believe Brian’s term for the early days of remarcom was "a shrine.") I can heartily endorse copying someone really good for a little while. But you do it to learn your own voice, your own obsessions, and your own unique contributions.

If you’ve ever bought something just because the ad or sales letter was irresistible, try to find that ad and copy it out by hand. Do that with any written ad that really pulls you. You’ll learn a surprising amount.

Copy wisely, copy from the best, then set copying aside and do your own thing. You really can conquer the world that way.

6. Look where you’re going
When all else fails, pay attention. The more lost you feel, the more curiosity you need to cultivate about where you are and what’s going on right this instant.

There’s a ton of advice out there about just about anything. Irritatingly, each of us has to build our own version of the map. We construct it with 10,000 jigsaw pieces in front of us, only 4,000 of which fit the puzzle we’re working on. Horribly inefficient, but it’s the only way to make something real.

Keep paying attention. The path will appear. Make sure your shoes are tied and you’ve got clean underwear, a kleenex and enough money to get a taxi home if you need to. You’re going to do just fine.

(P.S. What’s your own favorite bit of advice from mom? Let us know in the comments, please!)

Flickr Creative Commons image by basykes

Is Your Tactic Remarkable, or Just a Gimmick?

identical easter eggsPutting a dollar bill in your direct mail advertising was a great gimmick when people started doing it. There’s a lot of energy in physical money, and for awhile it was a terrific way to attract attention. Some marketers even used $20 bills for certain highly targeted campaigns. One high roller is reputed to have used $100 bills, sent via FedEx, in a mailing to CEOs.

$100 bills probably still work. (And if you have the perfect message for the perfect list, it might be worth it.) But at this point, $1 bills tell your prospects "this is junk mail." They pry the bill loose and the rest of your piece goes into the recycling bin. $1 isn’t enough to make a piece of mail remarkable any more. On to the next gimmick.

Are gimmicks intrinsically wrong? I don’t think they are. Gimmicks are used to get our attention, and in the world of information superclutter, a good gimmick is not to be despised.

Seth Godin has a nice quick post about the difference between something remarkable and something that’s just a gimmick. Godin says that "if a product or service adds value for the consumer, it’s not a gimmick," although I might have edited that to say "it’s not only a gimmick."

Cool stuff vs. cheap tricks
I was at a copywriting workshop last night (I realize I have a weird idea of fun) and the presenter was going through a stack of large-format postcards he’s received from real estate agents. I don’t know who the vendor is who provided them, but they all looked pretty well exactly the same. Front of the card, large format stock image with some kind of an attention-grabbing point. Back of card, photo of agent with contact info and maybe a tag line.

The presenter ran through the stack, evaluating whether the front was interesting enough to cause you to turn the card over, and then whether there was anything on the back that conveyed benefits to the reader. Fair enough.

But the larger point is, when you see one or two of the same postcard every day, it turns into wallpaper pretty quickly. It barely matters how good the gimmick is on the front of the card. If you use the identical tactic everyone else does (because the vendor did a marathon telemarketing campaign to you and your competitors last month, or bought your name on a list with 50,000 other people in your line of work), there’s no talk value.

A purple cow isn’t remarkable if it’s in a purple herd
If marketing sin #1 is "don’t be boring" (I’d probably put it at #2 or #3, but it’s right up there), then a boring gimmick must be the greatest sin of all. Cheap tricks need to be interesting or they’re just cheap.

A remarkable gimmick, if there can be such a thing, is relevant, useful, and interesting. If you’re spending dollars on materials that don’t live up to that standard, Quit.

Blog Action Day

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You might have noticed that you’re seeing a lot of environmentally-related posts around

the blogosphere today. Today is Blog Action Day, coordinating tens of thousands of bloggers

to create posts on one broad topic: the environment.

Why I support The WILD Foundation
My favorite environmental group is The WILD

Foundation up in Boulder. They have an interesting focus–both on the importance of

preserving wilderness that is essentially untouched by humanity, and by humanity’s need for that

wilderness. They take the need for unspoiled wilderness as a human right and human

necessity, and they always look for the human connection.

I recently made a donation to a project they’re supporting–Umzi Wethu, a pilot project

that benefits South African wilderness, AIDS orphans, and South Africa’s ecotourism

economy. Wilderness Foundation South

Africa (which WILD supports & fundraises for) took a smart idea and grew it into a

powerful little project that, with some funding and support, can be grown to create

tremendous real benefit to both people and wilderness.

Here’s the pair of problems that led to this solution. South Africa has a growing

population of children orphaned by AIDS.  AIDS has taxed–and in fact, often broken–the

traditional African extended family system, as families bankrupt themselves trying to care

for the sick. Children living on the street, severely traumatized by losing both parents and

abandoned by society, fall prey to  prostitution, street crime, and disease. Over a million

children in South Africa live in this desperate circumstance, and the number is expected to

climb to almost five million in the next 10 years.

At the same time, perhaps rather bizarrely, ecotourism is booming in South Africa.

According to WILD’s figures, tourism has grown 10% a year since 1994 and is the country’s

third largest industry. Ecotourism is a growing source of good skilled employment. But many

of the industry’s trained employees have also fallen to AIDS, and training is hard to

come by.

A remarkable solution
The Umzi Wethu project married these two problems to create a rather beautiful solution.

They train orphaned children for good jobs in game reserves and parks, paying more than

virtually any other work these young people could hope to attain.

The crux of what makes the program work is that the training includes five days every two

months in wilderness. (I was surprised to learn that black city children in Africa typically

never go to the wilderness. "Camping" is not the norm, and black South Africans rarely visit

the country’s reserves or parks. In fact, a child living in the U.S. is far more likely to

have ever seen a zebra or lion than a child living in Africa is.)

The children’s education is supported by training in long-term health, self esteem, and

personal growth. These things make life more enjoyable for those of us living comfortable,

materially rich lives in the West. They’re a stark matter of survival for a child struggling

to create a healthy adult identity without family or support. When WILD founder Vance Martin

spoke to a small group here in Denver about the program, he stressed the way that this

experience in wilderness heals psychic wounds that I might not have thought could be healed

at all.

There probably aren’t 4.7 million jobs in ecotourism, no matter how quickly the industry

grows. But the goal is to develop the Umzi Wethu approach of practical employment training

combined with nurturing and a profound healing experience in wilderness. The approach could,

conceivably, create real change in South Africa for any number of organizations and business

sectors. South Africa must solve this problem–they have tremendous resources, but this is a

monumental challenge to their still-new democracy.

Incidentally, WILD is a four-star charity, which means they’ve attained the highest

rating for organizational efficiency. (That means they’re putting the greatest possible

percentage of your donations into programs, rather than overhead.)

Donate a little, save the world

If you feel called to celebrate Blog Action Day with a donation to support the environment, and supporting human

populations is also important to you, I invite you to head on over to the WILD site, look over the list of projects, and make a

donation. Umzi Wethu is, amazingly, just one of the many powerful projects this tiny

nonprofit supports. WILD and its partners are the kind of organization that can make a real

difference in the health of this planet and its humans in the decades to come.

(You might easily miss the notice that Andrew Muir, WILD director and executive director of the Wilderness Foundation South Africa, was given an award in South Africa for environmentalist of the year. Here’s a PDF from WILD’s site that explains more.

(p.s., I liked this Blog Action Day post over at my beloved copyblogger on how to be a better butterfly. It’s easy to forget that small actions can have great consequences.)

Not Duh

My friend and colleague Michele says about Seth Godin, "You read his stuff and say Duh, but . . . not Duh, because you’re not doing it."

I love the expression "not Duh," and I love this smart post.

If it’s so obvious, why do we keep getting it wrong?

What have you learned this week?

Istock_000003729252xsmall I used to work with a CEO of a medium-sized company. They cranked out a medium sort of product in a medium way. I came into his clutches when our fast, dysfunctional and slightly amazing company got bought by his slow, nonfunctional and entirely mediocre one.

He was easily one of the most offensive people I have met in the business world. (He once told me, "Don’t get me wrong, you’re a very valuable cog in our organization." I later learned that this is a phrase he uses a lot with people he’s trying to encourage.)

Offensive can be ok. One of my favorite former bosses was highly offensive when he set his mind to it. You can be offensive and brilliant. This CEO was, unfortunately, the other kind.

At least once a week he’d say something like, "You know, thirty years ago I learned . . . " or "At my very first job I learned something that . . ."

What he never said was, "I learned something really surprising this week."

His medium company poured many millions of dollars in software development money down a rat hole. Just before we finally got within a few steps of the finish line, they sealed the rat hole up and pretended it had never existed.

The little software company’s unimproved product limps along to this day. It cranks out a medium sort of product in a medium way. The development money was written off, not too many people went broke. But nobody made anything worth making (including any real money).

What have you learned lately? If you don’t have a good answer, you need to create one.

Tumblr and the Thirty Day Slap

Apparently some interesting events at Thirty Day Challenge over the weekend. The 30DC is a well-publicized free Internet marketing training program run by an Australian marketer named Ed Dale, and from what I’ve seen of it, it does provide sound methodology and solid advice on Web 2.0 marketing strategy.

But as every educator knows, there’s a gap between what is taught and what is learned. A big group of hopeful potential entrepreneurs (and perhaps a few ethically-challenged people who were looking for advice on becoming more effective spammers), inspired by 30DC, created hundred-person gangs on Facebook to promote each other’s pages with minimal or crappy content. Tumblr, (which looks to me a bit like a blog version of Squidoo), gave a "Thirty Day Slap" (I think that’s how long it’s going to take for the marks to go away) and deleted a lot of 30DC-er content. The odds that some decent content was deleted are pretty good.

There’s a concept in criminal justice of a known associate. If you hang out with criminals, even if no one has actually caught you committing crimes, you become suspect yourself. We all remember the great line from Casablanca, "round up the usual suspects." If you participate in a Facebook group that exists to bookmark content that may be complete crap, even if you yourself aren’t being indiscriminate, you’ll find yourself blacklisted from useful sites like Tumblr or others.

Don’t promote crap.
I want to be very clear about this. Trying to pump Google, Stumble or De.licio.us steroids into unbaked or bad content is wrong. You’re stealing attention from content that is worthwhile. You’re stealing time from readers who don’t have enough of it. You’re stealing energy from the employees of companies like Squidoo and Tumblr that are trying to provide quality content, and who have to waste time cleaning up your garbage.

You’re trying to take something that you have not earned. It is bad behavior, and when it’s discovered, it gets slapped, and deservedly so.

More interesting lessons
To tell you the truth, I caught 30DC out of the corner of my eye in early August and decided not to participate because it looked like a workshop on spam techniques. From the follow up I’m doing, that wasn’t what it was, but the marketing had a puffy "this will blow you away" quality and no details.

Because there is so much spammy and scuzzy content out there, you probably have to assume that any competently run Internet marketing campaign will meet with skepticism. What might have worked better for me would have been along the lines of, "if you’re a spammer and you don’t want to work, stay home. We have no interest in you and if we find you we will kick you out." That would have caught my attention.

There’s another interesting lesson, though. My attention was drawn back to 30DC after I’d dismissed it when I got an email from Dale this weekend. Ed Dale did excellent crisis management on this—he sent me the bad news before I saw it elsewhere, and when I clicked through, he had a robust piece created that presented his point of view. Not his excuse for what happened, but his philosophy on correct "white hat" techniques for creating value and marketing organically. You could do worse than study this for the next time the shit hits the fan for your own business.

Here’s a good video (badly produced in a rather endearing way, with quality advice and info) from Dale on appropriate uses of social bookmarking and some examples of bad practices that will get you slapped.

I’ll end with a quote from Ed Dale that closes the video above:

Here’s the great thing about Web 2.0, folks, you don’t have to game it. . . . Just use it how it’s designed to be used naturally, and do it with great content, and it will do the work for you. . . . You only need a little push, not a big shove off a cliff.

Pretty decent advice. I’m planning on checking out the rest of 30DC. If you see me going off on a wild hair and participating in something silly, slap me, will ya?

What are you communicating?

My local chamber of commerce has a good reputation among businesspeople, and I thought it might be a good idea to join. I’m a terrible networker who gets a little queasy at the thought of actually delivering an elevator pitch, but I do find that sometimes I drift into conversations and find the person I’m talking with can use exactly the services I offer.

Now their Web site is primarily intended to pitch the city to visitors, so I guess I can forgive it for taking me ten minutes to find the information for participating businesses. Hmm, where does it mention costs to join? Nowhere. So membership will cost me $10 or $100 or $1,000, but I don’t know which.

Aha, they actually have some kind of face-to-face meet and greet thing for prospective members. It’s free, as it should be. So I click to register (a full two minutes to find that link, which is on a weirdly remote corner of the page). Give my email. Give my phone number (why do you need that, exactly?). And now it’s asking for a credit card number. Hmm.

There’s a number I can call for questions. I call. Voicemail. No call back.

There’s a number I can fax. I fax. No response.

Eventually I do manage to get through to a teenaged-sounding person who giggles that, uh, yeah they got my fax but it sort of got put on the wrong desk. But everything is cool now, and I can show up.

Well thank goodness.

It doesn’t get much better from there—a presentation that blended prospects with new members, but without leveraging that in any useful way. Salespeople who were hard to chase down (and then annoyed me with irrelevant follow up a month later, presumably when they needed to make quota). This wasn’t a path to purchase, it was a gauntlet.

Guess what. I found a way to live without their product.

What are you communicating with your Web site, your customer service, your policies? Do prospective customers have to make a nuisance of themselves to get a quote, or to find out more how you can help them?

Declare war on anything that creates a barrier for your customers. Make sure your prospects know how you can help and how much it costs. We live in the information age—give out the damned information, already.

As an aside, don’t kid yourself that you can get away with hiding your pricing because your crack sales team is going to turn simple price inquiries into closed sales. Two-thirds of your prospects will simply go to another business that isn’t so cagey. The other one-third hate salespeople.

Sometimes it isn’t that hard . . .

We have a friend who’s a stay-at-home dad, like my husband is. He also happens to be a reasonably savvy businessperson, who’s always got his hand in something to keep himself busy.

He, and quite a few friends and members of his extended family, own condos in a nearby ski resort, which they rent out most of the time. Mike’s is booked between 80 and 90% of the time. The other owners consider it a great season if they can break 50%.

What’s the difference? When Mike gets an email query from their listing broker, he emails back right away—usually within 20 minutes.

His relatives get the email during the day, it sits there until 8 that evening when they get around to picking it up, and then they call their prospective renter.

"You call people who email you?" Mike asked.

"Sure."

"People hate that," Mike said. "If they wanted to talk to you on the phone, they would have called you."

So now the other owners in the building are paying him a hefty commission to book their units for them. He’s making a very nice side income on two or three hours a week of work, and the owners are happy because their units are actually being rented.

He felt bad for about five seconds, until he remembered that he told them how they could do it themselves.

Sometimes you don’t have to be all that remarkable to be remarkable.