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What SEO Means in 2015

04 September

I get asked, at least once a week if we ‘do’ SEO. This is my experience with SEO:

seomeme

Typically, it’s used as a d-bag intimidation tactic to get people to simultaneously 1) feel stupid and 2) give them money.

To me, SEO is ongoing work that happens when you’re doing online marketing, maintaining a well built website, and mixing that in with other avenues (maybe a mix of paid ads, offline events, and more). Like how when you watch what you eat and exercise, you get more energy and sleep better. It’s a great byproduct but not one you’re necessarily concentrating the hardest on.

This is what I always want to say in response when someone asks what I think about SEO:

SEO means building a website correctly.

To me, most SEO problems can be prevented by building a website correctly. This means:

  • having unique page titles and descriptions for each page.
  • having words on the page people are looking for.
  • interlinking content so it’s easy to browse.
  • making items easy to share on social media.
  • more common sense stuff people shouldn’t have to ask me for as a professional.

I personally don’t believe in charging people $X to do things one mediocre way and a higher amount of $Y to do things the best way I know how. Part of building a website is doing the small things that add up and make a difference. It means building the site thinking about search engines.

(A note here: Do I think adding, say, a sitemap will make a crappy website rank number one in search for a certain key phrase? Not so much but having some things in place to make life easier for The Google usually helps your cause.)

SEO means thinking of mobile first.

A kind of big idea that summarizes SEO in the last two years is ‘mobile first’. So what does that mean?

More than 50% of website visitors are coming from a mobile device, which makes mobile visitors (for most websites) are the majority.

The mobile version of your website doesn’t get to be a crappy, pared down version of the desktop version of your website anymore. If you have to decide between a website that is mobile friendly and a website element that is pretty, you should be picking mobile friendly.

To overly simplify, thinking mobile first means:

A) a responsively designed website (one that looks good and works well on all screen sizes)
B) a fast loading website (we don’t all have five bars of cell reception 100% of the time). Don’t make your website visitor look at this:

loading

If you need examples of terrible websites: http://www.webpagesthatsuck.com

SEO means maintaining your website.

If you think once you’ve designed your website you never have to touch it again, think again.

Search engines want up-to-date software and new content. They want people linking to the website. If you haven’t looked at your website in three weeks, why do you expect Google, or the blogger you want to link back to you, to care more than you seem to?

A website, like your house, will constantly need cleaning, repairs, redecorating, etc…. because people are using it. And that’s what happens when people use things regularly: they find ways they want to make it better.

SEO means making choices.

So it’s very hard (ok, I’ll say it, impossible), on one website page, to optimize for ‘rental property’, ‘rental home’, ‘house for rent’, ‘residential rental’, etc. If you try to put all those words on your site, you’ll sound like a synonym generating robot. If you keep changing what term you are using, the page will feel inconsistent.

seokeywordstuffing(Ewww example above via: https://www.accelebrate.com/)

And this is where we get tough, people. You can’t be all things to all people. You have to pick. Who is your audience? What words do they use? What do you need them to get to on your website?

Doing SEO well means making choices. Bigger (and some smaller) websites are collecting data on us for a reason: so they can offer a customized experience. Amazon doesn’t try to design one website to make everyone happy: it selectively shows information depending on who you are.

Your website can be collecting information about visitors to some degree (check out the concept of ‘remarketing’ if this interests you) but most of us folks with smaller websites need to pick who we are, and who we are not, and think about attracting people via search accordingly.

As you see, I’m not telling you I don’t care about search engines or building websites that search engines like. I am just advocating for all of us stepping away from this idea of ‘doing’ SEO and instead thinking of SEO as a happy byproduct from good websites and online marketing campaigns.

 

Tech Thursday: Is it Advertising or Marketing?

03 September

Apparently this is a slippery slope. Nicole and Kassie tackle the question by discussing several scenarios:

Scenario 1: You take out Facebook Ads for your business.
Scenario 2: You put your event on your blog, in community calendars, send out a press release, and make a Facebook Event where you invite your friends.
Scenario 3: You get an event cosponsor who also helps promote your event with you.
Scenario 4: You buy a small video clip that plays in before news clips on a local news website.
Scenario 5: You send out an email newsletter with a coupon code in it.
Scenario 6: You give away t-shirts at a parade.

So, what do you think? We have similar ideas about marketing vs. advertising, so we’re interested to hear from others!

The Internet of Good

01 September

“Life is full of ups and downs, you know that. But please take a deep breath, I can’t understand what you’re saying right now”- my mom.

And she’s right, I do know that, and so do you (the ups and downs, anyway)- it’s something we’ve all been told at some point or another. Over the past couple weeks, it seems the world (or the world according to me) is collectively experiencing the down. Some people are saying it’s the moon, but I’m not entirely convinced. It feels like every day, we wake up to more stories about data breaches, violence and terrorism, death, illness, and ongoing issues (drought out west, Ebola in Africa) that I’ve forgotten about because of the newer threats we’re presented with.

But, you know what? There’s always going to be a disaster or craziness. As I became increasingly overwhelmed (and called my mom, because she always doles out the facts of life when I need them), the notion of “you see what you look for” popped into my head. Basically, if you’re looking for something bad, you’ll find it. So, I thought it’d be refreshing to actively look for ways that people use social media and the internet to demonstrate kindness in all shapes and sizes.

Using Internet fame for a cause. Singers and actors are often praised for their charitable actions, but there are quite a few internet famous people who contribute to causes. You may have heard of certain memes using their notoriety for a cause. For example, all proceeds that Lil Bub (the cat) generates go toward animal sheltersThe girl behind “Overly Attached Girlfriend” created a fundraiser that donates to a different, predetermined charity every month. There’s also people who are famous in certain circles, like the gaming world. YouTube famous World of Warcraft player Athene created a charity called “Gaming for Good” after realizing tens of thousands of people regularly view his videos.

Kid President is another example of internet fame for a cause. He spreads his positive messages through short videos and social media in the hopes that it encourages kids and adults to work together to make the world a better place. His pep-talk video is one of my favorites:

These are all people (or cats) who have decided not to rest on their laurels of internet fame, but decided to use it to make an impact besides general hilarity.

Sharing the tough stuff. We’re all on a journey, right? While most people (myself included) share only their highlight reel on social media, some people share their difficulties as a way to raise awareness and/or help others who are also going through difficult times(like the “It Gets Better” campaign). These stories, wherever they are shared, are demonstrations of courage that encourage others to start a conversation.

Yesterday I saw this article about a girl on who has been on a difficult road to recovery since 2012, when she received  up paralyzed from the waist down. In spite of complications along the way, she started a fundraiser for the Multiple Sclerosis Society and documented her recovery process-the good, the bad, and the ugly, on Imgur (a site I admittedly know nothing about).  You can check out the original post hereI’ve also read a lot from those recovering from addiction, abuse, and eating disorders (here is one I read this morning). Even when these stories are submitted anonymously, they comfort people who, like me, tend to internalize their struggles.

A website built around sharing stories of everyday people, Humans of New York , shares stories of those who live in the city. Just the people you walk by on the street. The mini-profiles remind us that there’s always more than meets the eye.

hony

Reading these stories reminds me that a) everyone is experiencing their own adversity, and b) it’s pretty amazing that we can identify with people we’ve never met before.

Losing and Finding. This is probably the most common type of post I’ve seen, and a lot of times, it can be the most heart-wrenching. Any time a local pup gets lost, I’m amazed at how responsive people are on social media. People band together in interesting ways during moments of loss, including loss of tangible things. I guess the amazing part is that things get shared by strangers who have no connection to the people who have lost something- they’re just passing a message along and hoping for the best. No investments or ulterior motives, just people trying to help each other out.

This man found a wedding ring while scuba diving and shared it on Facebook, and after diligently wading through false claims, was able to return the ring to its rightful owner. Little did he know, the couple had been enduring an incredibly difficult time with the deaths of loved ones (on both sides), so the return of the ring served as a reminder “‘there are a lot of good people still out there.'”

Inviting Participation. People have created Facebook groups and websites dedicated to recognizing acts of kindness and general connections with humanity. It’s basically a way to pay it forward. I’m part of an “Awesome Acts of Kindness” Facebook Group, and basically people share the acts of kindness that they’ve either witnessed or experienced and want to share with others. There’s also “Giving Tuesday” and other funding related efforts. Inviting others to participate can mean sharing a photo, using a hashtag, making an online donation, or asking for physical volunteering help.

As a final thought on “The Internet of Good,” I couldn’t ignore Marcel the Shell, who always looks on the bright side (and is the best use of YouTube I’ve ever come across).

Computer Science Is Not Just Coding

28 August

My friend is a teacher at our local high school and for the first time this year, she is going to be offering a computer science course. She’s gone to two summer workshops to help her prepare. One workshop was basic, a bit more about how to teach it (‘get in small groups and discuss what a computer is’- I paraphrase, I wasn’t there). The other was a Harvard coding workshop which involved problem sets and otherwise sounded really intense. The aim for her would be for a class somewhere in the middle, but leaning very heavily towards coding.

I told her the computer industry wasn’t all about coding: there really was a lot of ways people could be involved in IT/computer science without necessarily learning a programming language or two fluently. She told me her class had signed up for the class expecting coding. (The benefits of a small school: teachers knowing who you are.) I admitted to her I would have never taken a coding class in high school (full disclosure:of the 20 students in her class, one is female).

And all that got me to thinking…

There’s all these initiatives getting students to code. One of my programmer friends just helped at a camp for 7-12 year old kids with these skills. I can only picture what fun things a 7 year old could program (I’m thinking dinosaurs). And there are coding camps in the summer, after school programs, and classes for mainly middle and high school kids all over the US (and likely the world). Adults are paying thousands to learn to code in short periods of time so they can get better paid jobs. Coding is so hot right now.

Coding is so hot right now! Love Zoolander.There is no doubt computer programming skills are valuable, even if the language you learn is no longer in wide use when you hit the work force (I can throw most of my Visual Basic knowledge out the window in a general way but the principles still work). You learn problem solving, logic, and other knowledge you can apply to all kinds of fields.

There seems, however, to be an emphasis on coding almost to the exclusion of other parts of the computer world. Sure, programmers are well paid and very in demand but where would they be without sales people, teachers, integrators, designers, animators, editors, marketers, copywriters, technicians, database and network admins… in other words other complimentary fields?

I’m not advocating for getting rid of these amazing coding programs. I’m just saying let’s broaden our definition. Let’s introduce these other computer science fields and how they are involved in tech in addition to coding. It’s hard to want to be something when you grow up if you don’t know it exists after all.

I’ll use myself as an example of why this larger world view may be valuable (then I’m not putting anyone else on the spot). My credentials are weird. I am entirely self taught. I’ve hand coded three HTML sites (thankfully none of which are still online as they were UGLY). I’ve been working in Joomla and WordPress for seven years relatively regularly during my 60ish hour work weeks. I have worked on about 300 websites and probably of those built half from scratch.

And yet I would never call myself a coder.

Why? Well a few reasons:

1) I know so many people who know so much more than I do. I joke sometimes that I spend 2-3 hours of my work day feeling completely stupid. It’s all relative I suppose!
2) I don’t know how to do things by memory. I often know what things are called or the desired result I want to get… but I often need Google to tell me a couple steps to put me in the right direction.
3) I’m very very slow at things like CSS, which is why I typically work with others. I can only modify existing PHP, not write it from scratch. Ruby on Rails sounds cool but building my own framework seems exhausting… you get the idea. There are gaps in my knowledge I recognize.

So yeah, I’m not a coder. But I live in a coding world and work in the computer science field. And if someone is taking a computer science class, shouldn’t these students have at least a brief idea of the different kinds of jobs/opportunities that are available? That people like me exist and are not only complimentary to coders but help create work for them?

I think so. And I think my teacher friend does too.

To those of you preparing to talk to your kids about careers, or to teach a computer science class this coming school year, you can assure students lots of us in the computer science world do some coding entirely unintentionally… and in addition, we bring our gifts and contribute to the computer science world. And if they do want to be straight up coders, they’ll be working a lot with people like me. I’m happy to talk, in real life and virtually, with your classroom as I’m sure are some of my computer science friends.

Coding is so hot right now, and I’m happy to be a part of the larger movement of this computer science field. Education has come very far with offering these kinds of courses to students but broadening the focus would make them even more valuable.

 

Tech Thursday: Data Breach

27 August

Hacks on hacks on hacks.

You’ve probably seen the latest “big breach” in the news: Ashley Madison’s user list got hacked and tons of people’s emails were released to the public. Yikes. But, even if you’re just trying to buy your college textbooks online, you never know when something might go wrong. Breaches are cool on whale watches, but not on websites!

Hey, What’s the Blog Idea?

21 August

Told with some help from Will Ferrell.

When people ask us if they should have a blog on their website, they aren’t usually expecting to hear “Well, it depends.” Do I think blogs can be beneficial to businesses and websites? Absolutely. But, not all businesses have the resources- that is, time- to blog consistently and run the business. Like anything, if you know that you don’t have the time/energy to commit, then it’s best to leave it alone. Sticking to a consistent schedule (even if it’s only once a week) is kind of important for followers. Recently, I’ve gotten hooked on this awesome podcast (it’s actually 70% of why I watch the Housewives in the first place), and it only took me a week to decipher the schedule (not that it was particularly difficult). Every Wednesday on my commute home, I look forward to listening to the podcast that discusses Real Housewives of Orange County. And, because Ronnie and Ben have a consistent schedule, it’s become part of my weekly routine. Wednesdays are my favorite days of the week. It’s going to be tough when the season ends.

But if you can commit to something consistent and relatively frequent (once a month probably won’t cut it), then yes, a blog can do wonders for you. Here are some unique ways that a blog can do wonders for your business:

Prove you know things.

"...People know me."

“…People know me.”

I don’t mean this in a “I’m kind of a big deal…People know me” way or by spontaneously shouting things like “I party with John-John Kennedy!“, to go back to the Housewives (get it together, Sonja). Sharing industry knowledge shows that as a business, you know what’s what (even if, like Sonja, you may not always know who’s who). Employ the Internet has an excellent, easy to digest article all about this subject. If you’re in the tech industry, sharing information about new releases, recalls, or innovative ways for people to use devices demonstrates that hey, you know a thing or two about this whole technology business. Plus, you’re even willing to share that knowledge with other people.

But hey, won’t people just take my information and do their own thing? There is always that possibility. But, most of the time, people will read your blog and feel a bit daunted about going out and winging it on their own. Or, feeling confident with the wealth of information they’ve acquired, they roll up their sleeves and realize “Oh wait…this isn’t nearly as easy as I thought.” Either way, they’ll most likely remember you as the original source of their information and contact you for help.

Who knows, you might totally blow people's minds with all your knowledge.

Who knows, you might totally blow people’s minds with all your knowledge.

They aren’t just a “one and done” deal. You may think that nothing on the internet is permanent, but as this lesson in Twitter shows, old content that you may thing has disappeared isn’t necessarily gone forever. A more relevant example comes from our own blog. The posts that gain the most attention are those that were written a couple years ago (and this is without any extra sharing or extra promoting on our part). Nicole’s 2010 post on Mailchimp vs. Constant Contact is still in our top 10 most visited pages. This particular breed of posts (referred to in this Hubspot article as “compounding blog posts“) are basically golden eggs of a blog. While they may not directly be making you any money, they have a snowball effect that picks up as time goes on. That being said, blogs are not necessarily the place to go for instant gratification. Compounding blog posts start off handheld snowball size- you aren’t coming out of the gates with a boulder sized snowball.

Not all of your blog posts are going to compound. According to Hubspot, 1 in 10 blog posts will compound rather than decay. Generally, a compounding blog post has a title that mimics something people would search for (think about it: people trying to decide between Mailchimp and Constant Contact are probably going to search for something like “Mailchimp vs. Constant Contact” in a search engine) and cover topics that are “evergreen.” There should be a balance between hot topic ideas (those that are highly relevant now but will probably fizzle out within a month) and those that’ll withstand the test of time.

Mugatu-So-Hot-Right-Now

But will he be hot next season?

People feel like they know you already. Curious people visit websites to do some research prior to making a purchase. In fact, according to this article from Forbes, 33% of millennials consult blogs before purchasing decisions (unclear whether this is a blog written within a business itself or by third parties offering reviews). According to this article from Hubspot, blogs are in the top 5 for trusted online sources. As time goes on, people view advertisements as quick stories or clips, while blogs are seen as more authentic, like a peek behind the mask. When in perusal mode, a blog is often something potential customers use to put out feelers for a business. Speaking from personal experience, I’m usually on the lookout for things like tone (Is it friendly or didactic? Does it match what one would expect for their particular industry? Do they seem like they’d be approachable in real life?), topics (Do they write about the same thing all the time? Are they providing helpful material?), frequency (When was their most recent post?), and of course, the writing itself (words, syntax, the whole nine yards).

bestfriends

I like to imagine that this is how people feel when they read our blog.

We’ve gotten emails from people saying “Hey, we’d really love to work with you on X. I read your blog, and you seem like you’re fun to work with!” Oh…and we know what we’re doing. My point is, many of these people have never met us in real life, so they went to our blog for recon.

No matter what your industry, blogs can bring in business. You just have to think a little outside the box…and be patient.