Thursday, January 23, 2014

Three Keys to Writing SEO-Friendly Content That Inspires People to Share

SEO has always been about creating easily-discoverable content. For years, SEO specialists and Internet marketing firms have focused upon quality content as well as keywords and link-building to generate browser discovery, and to increase a site's visibility on search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing.

Inspired by the rise of Facebook and Twitter, easily-sharable content is a relatively new realm of the SEO world. And yet, with Google's latest algorithm, we're now discovering that the relative "shareability" of a site's blog posts or articles can greatly influence a site's visibility.However, creating easily-discovered and easily-shared content is only part of the battle.

Quality content is essential for both discovery and sharing. But even quality content might not be enough to tip the SEO scales. According to a recent study cited in the New Yorker, beyond quality, the true measure of content's shareability is its positive emotional appeal and psychological arousal. As the New Yorker article, aptly titled "The Six Things That Make Stories Go Viral Will Amaze, and Maybe Infuriate, You," says:

"After controlling for online and print placement, timing, author popularity, author gender, length, and complexity, [the study authors] found that two features predictably determined an article’s success: how positive its message was and how much it excited its reader."

The article goes on to list several more determinants of a viral story, at least according to one of the study's authors, Jonah Berger, the author of a new book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On:

Social currency: "Something that makes people feel that they’re not only smart but in the know. People love to share insider information that makes them feel as if they're part of an exclusive group.

Stories that you stick in your memory: well-written, easily-remembered stories are much more likely to be shared than well-written stories that do not stick in the brain. For this one, outrageous stories might work as well as stories that offer practical advice, especially in list form.

A good story: As the writer Philip Pullman says, “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”

So how can this information help you compose SEO-friendly content that inspires people to share? With the above determinants in mind, try to let the following key principles guide your writing experience.

How do you inspire people to share your content? [Photo Source]

1. Make it Personal: Whatever you sell, though, make it personal. By relating your own story to your product's story, you will inspire others to see the humanity in your business. Please note: Here (and below) the term "product" can mean any specific good or service that you sell, from your own brand to surfboards. Whatever the product, though, it should inspire a personal connection within you.

The very first post on The Organic SEO Blog--"How I Became an SEO Specialist"--is a short biography of the blog's sponsor and founder, Alex Stepman. Alex began with this post because he wanted his blog readers to see how deeply inspired he is about SEO and the success of his client's websites.

If you sell surfboards, then, talk about your connection to surfing. If you sell widgets, talk about your love of cars, or the people who drive them. No matter what you sell you should be able to easily find an intimate story that will touch others. Otherwise, why are you selling the product?

2. Make it Personal For Others: Try to imagine your ideal customer. How would your product benefit your ideal customer? How would your product potentially change your ideal customer's life? It doesn't matter what you sell. A particularly effective hair product can change a person's life. Jeans can be life changing.

If you truly believe in the power of your product, try to make other people feel that power. Discover your angle. Even nuts and bolts can inspire a connection. After all, without nuts and bolts how would we put cars together--the cars that drive us to work, and school, and to the hospital late at night when your wife is in labor!

3. Make it Positive: As the study above notes, people share positive articles more readily than negative articles (unless, perhaps, the negative article is sufficiently outrageous). But you will do well to frame your product in the most positive light with the most positive personal story.

And that's the point: tell a good story.

Can you product help one overcome a personal struggle? How did your product change your life, and how can it change other people's lives? Think about stories of heroism and triumph, and learn how to write in a way that makes people feel. Of course, this is easier said than done, but if you maintain focus on your story and the product you truly believe in you will have all the material you need to create a masterpiece. Then you just need to begin. As William Hutchinson Murray says in this famously inspiration (and often misattributed quote):

"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now."

In the spirit of this quote, we urge you to attract the customers you deserve by writing the best story you can: your story

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The #1 SEO Goal for 2014: Create Easily-Discoverable and Easily-Shared Content

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you won't be surprised to hear: we believe the top SEO marketing trend of 2014 will be content. Google's new algorithm is changing the way browsers discover content. If you're not aware of the changes, and you do not improve your content to meet the algorithm's new demands, you might find your once-popular site slipping in the rankings. So what do you need to know to keep your content up-to-date?

In the past, many SEO specialists and online marketing firms focused on keywords and link building to drive traffic to their client's sites. With the emergence of social media in the past few years, however, this paradigm has shifted. And now with Google's latest algorithm, the new content rules are clear: to attract an audience you must create engaging content that is both easily discovered and easily shared across the web.

This means that your work does not stop once you've posted your content online; indeed, this is when the work begins! In the new paradigm, sharing your work on social media and inspiring others to share your work is the key to an elevated search rankings.

Hopefully you already share. By now, sharing content on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ is a mandatory part of any successful marketing campaign. But sharing alone is not enough. How do you ensure that people actually click on your link? And how do you ensure that, once-discovered, your site "hooks" visitors.

In order to attract the audience you deserve, we suggest that you focus on three important tasks:

1. Create Great Content

We've said this before, again and again: quality content is the key to SEO. This is the number one, eternal rule of content. If you do not follow this rule, now more than ever, you will be totally hosed.

To create quality content, you must first ensure that your language is mistake and error free. No one wants to read an article riddled with language and/or grammar mistakes. Errors turn readers away from the very beginning.

Second, you must create unique content. Ask yourself: What am I adding to the conversation? If you're not saying something interesting, or new, or worse, if you're simply duplicating content, you're simply populating the web with needless words. We all have a unique perspective: every writer; every business. Speak from your unique perspective and you will attract an audience.

Third, remember, quality always trumps quantity. It is much better to create one well-written article of blog post than three slapdash pieces. Take your time to artfully craft each piece of writing. Compose a rough draft. Then rewrite. Then edit it for language and grammar mistakes. You might revise your work at least three times before posting.

2. Use Social Media to Your Advantage

There is so much well-written content on the web that you have to work beyond the writing to truly attract an audience. Social media provides the perfect venue for sharing and promoting your writing. But you must remember, the number one characteristic of social media: it's social!

As much as possible, participate in the conversation. Read and share other people's content. Talk to your followers. Don't just pop in to post a link then pop out. That's selfish! When you're truly a part of the community, people will be much more likely to click and share your links.

On the other hand, do not annoy your followers with too many posts. Just like content, quality always trumps quantity. Do not offer more than one link to your own brand per day. Quite frankly, too much, "look at my stuff" posting gets annoying. It's far better to spend most of your time interacting with other people's posts. If you do so, you will be surprised by the attention afforded your posts.

3. Optimize Your Posts for Conversion

Attracting an audience is great, but you want to make sure that you're also converting visitors. Conversion is the key to a successful online marketing campaign. Whether you write a blog or sell welding alloys, the difference between your visitors and converted visitors will define the success of your online enterprise.

As we wrote before in our post "How to Convert Website Visitors into Customers," conversion is the "percentage of visitors who browse a site and perform a desired action."

This desired action is different for different venues. For a blog like The Organic SEO Blog, for example, the desired action might simply be clicking on multiple posts, writing comments, or following a link to our sponsor: the best-in-the-business organic website optimization company, Stepmans PC. For an online business, the desired action might be the purchase of a product or service. For Facebook, the desired action might be a like, comment, or share.

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As we move into the New Year, the atmosphere of renewal presents the perfect opportunity to re-evaluate your online marketing strategy. Of all the tools at your disposal one reigns supreme: content! Follow the three important tasks above and you'll be on your way to a wildly successful 2014. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

New Year's Resolutions: Are You Afraid of SEO?

This blog is the second of two on the psychology of New Year's resolutions. Last week, with reference to a recent New Yorker post, we asked the question: "Why do so many business owners have such a hard time making the decision to begin an SEO campaign?"

We tried to answer this question in terms of relapsed resolutions, and the three key reasons Maria Konnikova's post suggests resolutions often fail: Overestimating abilities. Underestimating time and effort. And an exaggerated view of change.

This week we'll try to answer the question from the perspective of "loss aversion"--the idea that humans strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains. In another intriguing post from the New Yorker, Adam Alter writes of a game he offered gamblers on the Atlantic City boardwalk:

"I would toss a coin. If it came up heads, I would give them ten dollars; if it came up tails, they would give me ten dollars. This is a perfectly fair gamble—fairer than many casino games, which are designed to favor the house—but the appeal of winning ten dollars wasn’t enough to overcome the potential pain of losing ten dollars. Almost all of them said that they would prefer not to play."

It turns out that this aversion to loss also applies to income gains and losses. For many, when making financial decisions, the fear of losing money far outweighs the potential gains.

This fear speaks directly to our purpose in writing The Organic SEO Blog. By trying to demystify the process of natural website optimization we've hoped to make SEO more accessible to more people--especially small business owners.

Many SEO blogs write for other SEO specialists, and are full of technical jargon that confuses the average business owner. We've written this blog for those who don't care to know the difference between a meta tag and and a widget. We do this because the decade-long experience of our blog's sponsor, Alex Stepman, has proved that business owners are often: 1) fearful of making the investment to build a website 2) and doubly fearful of making the investment to optimize a website.

In the first case, business owners simply cannot see past a $999 investment to the demonstrable advantages of joining the world of e-commerce. If you sell a unique, worthwhile product at a fair price you deserve customers. A physical location might attract customers, but a specific location is not the best way to attract specific customers. Rather, a website tailored to your  unique customer-base can expand your reach exponentially. With a website, you are not bounded by geography. A website is a world-wide business.

In the second case, business owners simply cannot see past the initial investment to the clear long-terms advantages of SEO. Yes, with SEO, the advantages may not be readily apparent--not in the first few weeks or months. But over time, SEO, if performed correctly, always provides a demonstrable advantage. In reality, it is an intuitive and inexpensive form of advertisement that reduces your operating costs.

Loss aversion, then, is a crippling problem for business owners who refuse to invest in SEO. Inevitably these business owners will lose more money by refusing SEO. Without SEO, a website will lag behind other websites in the same industry--websites whose owners understand that organic SEO, if performed correctly, is no risk at all.

As we enter 2014, you have the opportunity to fruitfully analyze your business. How can you improve? Are you lagging behind the competition? Why?

Often the answers to these questions have less to with the quality of your product or service and more to do with fear. Loss aversion might just be keeping you from making the decision to catapult your business to the next level.

So what can you do? Adam Alter's post suggests "broad-bracketing", which is "...a good way to think about life decisions." Alter writes:

"It’s unwise to focus on each financial decision in isolation when you’re constantly drawing from the same pool of funds. Instead, it is better to consider the effect of each decision on the others, and how these decisions affect you cumulatively over time."

In terms of SEO, it might be helpful to think about all of your business expenses. Marketing is essential to all forms of business. How do you currently market your product or service? In what ways do you spend money to let others know about your business?

At The Organic SEO Blog, we hope to teach you about the advantages of organic SEO. As Alex Stepman says, "If you build a website that is well designed and optimized for search engines, you will not have to look for your customers—your customers will look for you."

So what are you waiting for? Don't let fear blind you to the clear competitive advantage of organic SEO!

Friday, January 3, 2014

New Years Resolutions: Is Now the Time for Organic SEO?

The New Year is a time of optimism and hope. Just visit your local gym. You'll be sure to see a crowd of New Year's "resolutionists"--as exercise fanatics like to call them--courageously weightlifting, cycling, and running their way to the new, healthy person they'd promised to be.

Unfortunately, we know from our own experience as well as scientific studies that most of these people will relapse into bad habits. As The New Yorker recently noted:

"When the psychologist John Norcross researched New Year’s resolutions, in the nineteen-eighties, he found that more than fifty per cent of Americans made some sort of resolution. After six months, only forty per cent had stuck with it. When Norcross followed up two years later, the number had dropped to nineteen per cent."

So why do we feel so compelled to make New Year's resolutions--and why do we so often fail?

Two recent posts from The New Yorker offer some intriguing insights into the nature of resolutions--insights that also speak to the matter at hand, at least for us: organic SEO.

You see, over the past year of writing this blog, we've seen the power of organic SEO first hand. As our sponsor, Alex Stepman of Stepmans PC, writes here:

"With a successful Search Engine Optimization (SEO) campaign, your website will maintain a top position on the major search engines without extra cost, helping you stand out among your competition across the Internet. A well-optimized web sites is visible on the front page of major search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing, as well as social media sites like Facebook."

Over the past year, we've seen Stepmans PC transform the performance of websites by using the organic SEO approach outlined in this blog. We've talked to many business owners who have seen their own online business benefit tremendously from search engine optimization. Some have even seen their profits triple in a short period of time!

We've also talked to many business owners who believe in the benefits of organic SEO but have yet to commit to a natural website optimization campaign. It is this group of business owners whom we find fascinating. These business owners often have the cash flow to afford an SEO campaign, and often see the necessity of such a campaign, yet still cannot make the final decision to commence. "Why?" we wonder.

The New Yorker offers several answers.

In her post "Why We Make Resolutions (and Why They Fail)", Maria Konnikova writes about timing and optimism. Apparently, as Konnikova writes, "The beginning of a week, a month, or a year forms what the psychologist Richard Thaler calls a notational boundary"--a turning point, or new beginning. The beginning of weeks and months inspire optimism for many people, and the beginning of a new year inspires extreme optimism for most people.

Unfortunately, this optimism is hard to sustain throughout the week, month, and year. And so many people end up failing. Why? Well, too often we're "too positive." We set unreachable expectations, and condemn ourselves to failure. As Konnikova writes,

"Many backsliders relapse because they have overestimated their own abilities, underestimated the time and effort involved in staying the course, or have an exaggerated view of the effect that the change would have on their lives."

Overestimating abilities. Underestimating time and effort. An exaggerated view of change.

All of these reasons for failure apply directly to our question above: "Why do so many business owners have such a hard time making the decision to begin an SEO campaign?"

Overestimating abilities: Far too often, SEO specialists oversell their abilities. Many SEO-reluctant business owners actually have tried SEO--and have been burned by poor performance. As we've written before, "A poorly-optimized website can be presented to a website owner in a way that makes the website appear as if it were performing very well, and even outperforming all other websites in its industry."

Please read: "Don't Be Fooled: How to Really Check Your Website's Performance on Google."

Underestimating time and effort: Business owners often have unrealistic expectations for their SEO campaigns. These expectations are encouraged by the same SEO specialists who oversell and under-deliver. Real SEO takes time. Only a genuine and honest SEO specialist will reveal this information. Alex Stepman says it best here:

"SEO can be a time consuming process. For most websites, it can take at least six months to be ranked by major search engines. Proper website optimization can create results within a week, but the most important result—the result that will benefit your product or service, and will triple traffic to your web site, inspiring profits, will occur within six months. However, an SEO campaign is worth the wait: a higher ranking will help maintain your web site at a top position. Naturally-promoted websites might take longer to become visible online, but when optimization is complete, your website will maintain a durable spot on the first page of the major search engines."

An exaggerated view of change: This is often the hardest truth for some online business owners to accept--but it is certainly the most important. Quite frankly, many online businesses do not offer a quality product. If you sell a high-quality product at the right price, you deserve customers. And by "product" we mean the actual material good or service and the customer service and marketing. Unfortunately, too many online businesses offer sub par products. Often it is not the exact product that fails but the execution of customer service and marketing.

Of course, SEO can help a business refine its marketing approach. Please read: "How SEO Can Help You Clarify Your Business Offering." But problems arise when online business owners expect an SEO campaign to make up for product deficiencies. A dishonest SEO professional will take your money without any consideration of the quality of your product. But an honest SEO professional will tell you what is best for you--and often that means getting a better product before you begin an SEO campaign. Believe it or not, our sponsor, Alex Stepman, has turned down work from online businesses who were simply not ready for organic SEO.

A resolution can inspire dramatic results, but only if the resolution is made with a clear estimation of a business' available abilities, the time and effort required to make a change, and a clear view of the dynamics of the change. Now is the time to think about change. Now is the time to think about hiring a high-quality SEO professional. If you're interested in learning more about honest organic SEO work performed with integrity, please call Stepmans PC: 215-900-9398.

In next week's blog, we will discuss the second of the two New Yorker posts referenced above, which talks about the "loss aversion," and why people are so afraid of losing money that they often make poor decisions that might actually cost them money. Stay tuned...