Time to Revisit Your Content Strategy?

by Alan Eggleston

Happy New Year! The change in calendar year is often the trigger to revisit your content calendar and your whole content strategy. If January or February is a down time in your organization, this is a perfect time to do one.

Does your current content work?

Photo by Victor1558 by Creative Commons license.

Photo by Victor1558 with Creative Commons license.

Many web editors often do a sweep of their content at this time and decide any big changes. This may happen at other times of the year or more often than once a year, such as at change in fiscal calendar or concurrent with annual share holder meetings, but often New Years is a convenient trigger. Maybe now is when you decide when that time should be and plan for it.

A more useful strategy is to revisit your analytics at least quarterly and adjust your content strategy based on site performance. Online publishing is amazing for its quick turnaround –  make that work for you.

What does your data tell you?

A deciding factor for changes in content direction is website performance. Take a look at analytics and decide what your stats are telling you – is your current content working and thus worth continuing, or do the numbers tell you that readers want something different? Are visits down or perhaps never really up in the first place? Do visitors stick around or do they come in and get out quickly? Do they visit a lot of pages per visit or do they hit where they enter and leave? Do they arrive at the home page or come in to the site in-depth? Where do searches bring visitors and what do they do when they arrive? Are purchases up? Have you experienced growth in any of those numbers? Analytics can provide you with a ton of great strategic information.

What is your search performance?

Another decision, and one where many web editors historically have been weak, is about search performance. How does your site do in a search? How many of your visits are from searches and how many from people who simply know how to find you? What search terms are they using, and are they the search terms you were expecting (and upon which you base your optimization strategy)? Which search engines are driving the most traffic to you? How many come to you by outside links or by social media and what does that say about your link and social media strategies? What is your search strategy and is it working (do a search audit to find out), or should you rethink that as well? If you don’t have a search strategy – a strategy to improve how your site is found in a search – now is the time to start working on one.

Search performance is often tied to search engine policy. Have you read and followed search engine guidelines or are you unwittingly running afoul of their rules and being punished for it?

What are the search engines telling you?

If there’s any possibility your site isn’t performing well in a search – and, thus, not driving traffic to you – it is worth your time and energy to register for and use search engine webmaster tools. First determine which search engines are driving the most traffic to your site. It may not be Google like you think. However, Google in particular will provide you a lot of feedback if your site is doing something wrong – if they can’t index your pages, for instance; if you have troublesome links; if you aren’t measuring up to their standards. And Google will often suggest changes to help you meet their needs and allow you to resubmit your site for indexing (a “reconsideration request“). If they’re penalizing you, finding out why and doing something about it is a great benefit. Explore the other search engine webmaster tool sites to see what they can tell you and help you fix if they are key to your search strategy.

Google introduced major changes to its algorithm the past couple of years that may have affected your search performance. Are you aware of them and how running afoul of them could affect your site performance?

  • Google Panda* – filtered for poor quality content such as unreasonable duplicate content.
  • Google Hummingbird – entirely rethinks search to add nuance, handle questions, and adjust for mobile search.

*Panda and Penguin were folded into Hummingbird.

Panda could affect your search performance if you run a lot of duplicate content or if your content is of little value in Google’s eyes. Google is OK with duplicate content for globalized sites where different versions of a site contain regionalized versions of the same content. But to aid sites, they introduced the “canonical tag” for URLs to distinguish original content.

Penguin could affect your search performance if your content contains low quality links, including link farms or doorway pages and spammy content and links in your comments sections, such as in blogs or news sections.

If any of these algorithms may have dampened your search performance, now is a good time to rethink how to revise your content to remove the penalties. For instance:

  • More actively administer blog comments to eliminate comment spam, which is rampant.
  • Recode content to add the canonical tag for original content.
  • Make sure writers create only original content and that editors filter for duplicate content (run a search on segments of content to look for duplicates).
  • Eliminate gratuitous link trading and external links that don’t make sense for your content.
  • Revise major current content to build more nuance to improve search performance.
  • Strategize how to build nuance into your new pages to improve search performance.
  • Ensure your site is designed to handle mobile, which Google has also said is now important.

Growth is about improving the search

Today, content is about more than providing interesting text on a page for readers. It’s also about how you attract readers to your page and sustain readership. It’s as much about how you build the page and work with search engines as it is about publishing itself. As you rethink your content calendar – now, at New Years, or at any other time of the year – think about how you bring the reader to you.

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Why You Should Write for Us

by Alan Eggleston

We need more editor writers for this blog. It’s not that you don’t have anything else to do, but you do have things to share as an editor or as a writer for editors.

Photo: Rusty Clark, creative commons license

Photo: Rusty Clark, creative commons license

You may have things to say that are difficult to share elsewhere that can be addressed on a professional blog. You may have ideas that have nothing to do with your work or that won’t work for your organization but could work elsewhere. You may just have a wealth of experience and you want to pay back to the profession. All these are great reasons to write for the Web Editors Blog.

So why not sign up for the Web Editors Group on LinkedIn and then the Web Editors Blog Project subgroup and let us know you’re interested in contributing? We will let you know what to do from there.

What’s in it for you

There are lots of reasons this would be good for you.

Networking. For instance, executive coaches often suggest joining professional organizations and networking through them. Writing for the Web Editors Blog will get your name out in front of all the Web Editors Group Members as often as you publish an article. (We post the article on the Group page, too.)

Professional Resource. Just as you would refer and link to your LinkedIn profile as a professional resource, each article becomes a linkable resource both to you personally and, potentially, to your organization. If you have a personal blog, a Facebook fan page or Google Plus brand page, or a Twitter business page, you can link to each article as you publish, also. Why not set up a search under your name on the blog and create a link to that for any of your pages as well? Of course, you can link your article byline to any of your pages as well.

You may set up a byline to link to Google Plus Author to boost your search optimization opportunities, to your LinkedIn profile to aid networking opportunities there, to your Twitter account to promote social networking, or to anywhere else you would like.

Career Booster. Articles about professional topics are good career boosters. You can promote what you have written to your colleagues, to professional audiences, on your LinkedIn profile, on your resume, and anywhere else you promote your experience, skills, talents, and knowledge. Attending a conference? Promote your Web Editors Blog articles to show your bone fides. Joining a professional blog or forum discussion? Reference your article as further reading.

Boss Pleaser. Writing for a professional blog – an online professional journal in essence – on your own time shows initiative and enterprise and should impress your bosses. An email to them announcing the newest article, tying in any organizational references, should impress.

What’s in it for us

Growing Quality Content. This isn’t a paying gig – we don’t have an income stream for the blog. But together we provide an audience of web editors who read the blog and are looking for quality information on their profession.

Steady Flow. There is no set frequency of submission; it’s up to your willingness to publish. But the more often you can post the better our readers will become familiar with your work and look forward to reading you. We would love to have you post at least once a month, but it isn’t required.

Targeted Content. There are no established topic lines, but there are general topic categories to help guide. Of course, the topics should relate to web editing and web writing, and sometimes they are even more general than that about writing or editing, which still apply to the Web. It’s probably obvious that we should tailor the content to the audience.

Topic Categories you can currently choose include:

  • Content
  • Design
  • Editing
  • Graduation (typically May issue)
  • Management
  • Miscellaneous
  • Mobile
  • Professional
  • Profile
  • Project Management
  • SEO
  • Social Media
  • Strategy

Typical publishing standards apply.

Won’t you join us?

We have a great group of editor writers who contribute now. You will be joining them in creating a superb blog associated with professional quality and talent. Associate your name with that growing list. If you’re a web editor, please join us!

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle on the Web

by Alison Lueders

Happy Earth Day! I encourage you to take action today – however small – to make our planet healthier. Many small actions can have a big impact.

As I was thinking about today’s post, I wondered how I could possibly tie Earth Day to web editing. One of the mantras for Earth Day is “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” In fact, that’s very relevant to web editing.

Reduce – use fewer words

This point was driven home to me at the Nielsen Norman conference last month. Fewer words aids reading speed and comprehension for ALL readers. Web editors have the skills to trim the words while retaining or enhancing their meaning. We also know that saying something in fewer words is often harder than saying it in a lot of words. “Less is more” on the web, but “less” does not mean “easier to write.”

Reuse – share the ideas

It’s a no-no on the web to write something once and post it verbatim in multiple places. But as a green business owner, I know that many people are unaware of why operating a business sustainably matters. Repetition is one way to educate people, So I may blog for my website and then re-work the same set of ideas into a client newsletter. Same ideas, different words.

Then I use the web to spread the word. I may share my original blog post through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and so on. I want the idea to get out broadly, without running afoul of the “original content” police.

Recycle – when words become wisdom

Sometimes, an idea or a set of words is so true and so powerful that it stands the test of time. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” or “Be kind” or the Gettysburg address. These words are repeated and passed on and remembered. They are words that guide us in tough times and see us through to better times. These words eventually become known as something else – wisdom.

Web editors – as shapers of words and ideas – help share wisdom with the rest of the world. I think that’s pretty cool.

So, I find that “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” fits just fine into my web editing toolkit. What do you think?

6 Tips for Managing the Content Chase

Web editors usually edit other people’s content. Depending on your particular business, that content may come from people for whom producing content is not the primary focus of their job. In fact, it may be 84th on their list of 10 things to do today. But for you, the web editor, the publishing deadline is approaching and without the content, your blood pressure is rising.

Does this sound familiar?

Here are 6 tips for managing the content chase:

  • Use an editorial calendar – Create it, publish it, and keep it front and center with your content producers. You shouldn’t hear “I didn’t know” from a content source. The best result to to never have to chase people in the first place.
  • Send reminders – Being polite but persistent is a pre-requisite for being a web editor. Reminders shouldn’t sound like nagging or threats because most people are just really busy. Give them the benefit of the doubt and remind them. I occasionally use the words “Friendly Reminder” in the subject line of an email for such a situation to set a positive tone.
  • Be an accountability partner – This is a much more evolved version of reminding. If possible, establish yourself as a partner who is helping your clients succeed. Producing good content on time is a building block of their success. It can motivate more responsiveness from your sources if they see what’s in it for them.
  • Have a backup plan – If your content producers are routinely late, it pays to have alternative content that will work regardless of time frame. Then again, if you have announced to the world that the “blitzheimer gadget” will be launching on date certain, and key content fails to appear by then, you can’t talk about the weather instead. Have a realistic Plan B.
  • Call the boss – In my knowledge manager days, there were rare instances when lack of timely content could potentially damage the firm or waste significant money. These situations can be delicate, but if you are down to the wire with missing content, clue in senior management. One phone call from the “right” person can magically produce content in minutes. Don’t blame anyone, empathize with everyone – and get the content out!
  • Recognize good behavior – From a simple “thank you” to a short note to the content source’s supervisor to a monthly “Content Hall of Fame” report to senior management, there are many ways to reward content sources when they come through. Yes, it takes extra time, but it also builds relationships and can be a simple way to make someone smile. Those are opportunities you should seize every day.

Is the content chase an issue for you? If so, how do you avoid or address it?

When a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

As I reflect on my web editing work this year, I note that some clients are asking for pictures to go with the written content I provide.

While I think of myself as more of a “words” person, I want to be responsive to my clients. So I’m asking you, my fellow web editors:

Do you usually provide pictures with your written content, or does that responsibility lie with someone else? If you DO, then in your experience:

  • What are the best sources of photos online? 
  • What’s the simplest way to wrangle them into the text? If I have to copy, save, crop, resize, etc.is there one particular tool for that or several? Are my Microsoft Office tools sufficient for that, or should I really consider using another tool?
  • What are the “gotchas” of working with pictures? Are there technical constraints to consider? Are there permissions to worry about? Are some file formats (.jpeg, .png, etc.) better than others for the web?
  • What is the best source of information about using pictures on the web? It may be a book, webinar, YouTube series or something else.

In the spirit of reciprocity and collaboration, what is your biggest web editing question or challenge from 2012? What areas would you like to explore with the help of this group? Thanks in advance for your input, and if there’s a web editing topic I can help you with, I am more than happy to share.

It’s been a treat writing these posts this year. I hope you have found something of value. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and I look forward to continuing the conversation in 2013!

Removing Roadblocks to Quality SEO

One of the unsung rules of search engine optimization (SEO) is: First, put up no roadblocks to efficient indexing. Of all the things you can do to optimize your website, the thing you have the most control over is how easy you make it for search engines to index. This article is about the most typical roadblocks and whether you choose to set up or tear them down.

Heavy Programming Before Any Content: Look at your source code: If there is a lot of code – multiple lines of code – before any headlines and body text, you have a roadblock. It’s usually java script or CSS programming, which can be written in a separate file and referenced as a single line of code for the browser to find instead. Doing that doesn’t involve a significant delay for the browser and it improves SEO significantly.

Content Positioning: The best SEO occurs when the first thing a search engine spider sees after the <head> tag is content. Move your headlines and body text as close to the top of the page as possible. Insist programming and CSS code be separate files referenced as single lines of code to alert the browser and then get to the content.

Flash Programming: A major roadblock to SEO is Flash. It looks nice on the page, but search engines do not index Flash, and if that’s where your message resides, no one will be indexing it – or finding it in a search. Overrule designers and go for the indexing instead of the sex appeal. (Yes, search engines can index text in Flash, but most Flash does not involve text.)

Graphic-Heavy Pages: A page of graphics and images or a page heavy in graphics and images instead of text is not indexable. A search engine needs text to index your site. Designers like to build graphic-rich pages and place images high on the page for the visual impact, but they won’t do you much good if no one can find you! (And words in a graphic or image are not indexable text.) Alt tags with keywords for each and every graphic and image will help but are not adequate substitutes for body text!

Drop-Down Navigation: Navigation done right provides good internal linking, but drop-down navigation built with java script is not easily indexable and is a roadblock. Again, it looks sweet but it won’t serve you well in a search. There are other ways to build drop-down navigation without using java script.

Inadequate Content: Search engine spiders like at least 250 characters of body text to determine keyword relevancy. Can you use less than that on a page? Certainly – but it’s a roadblock to optimization. Do yourself a favor and provide enough content to index.

Inadequate Links: Search engines follow links and determine a site’s subject matter and authority based on its links, both internal and external, both inbound and outbound. Links are a roadblock when there aren’t enough to help build your site’s reputation. You don’t need a lot of links all at once – in fact, it’s probably best to build links over time.

Bottom Text Links: Search engine spiders read from the top of the site and from the bottom, so a set of text navigation links at the bottom help reinforce your internal links. In addition, if your navigation at the top features hypergraphics or java-script drop-down links or other roadblocks, bottom links can become the only way a spider has to follow content into your site and determine relevancy for your pages.

A subset of roadblocks to SEO are slowdowns to good SEO. They are comparable to having access to the Interstate highway and driving the minimum speed. Here are some examples that will help you drive closer to the maximum speed and make the most of indexing.

H Tags: Using H tags for headlines (H1 for the main headline, H2 for the next level of subhead, H3 for the next, etc.) helps not only establish the hierarchy of importance, they are also a signal to search engine spiders of the importance of the text in the headlines and subheads – like using the <strong> tag in the body text to highlight or bold important words. Not using the H tags represent a slowdown because these are tools you should be using that aid the indexing of your site.

Strong or Bold and Italic: Other tools you should be using to highlight keywords, this for body text, are the <strong>, <bold>, and <italic> tags. Using these with keywords is like waving your hands at the spiders and saying, “Here’s another important word on my site!” If you don’t use them – judiciously of course – you are driving in the slow lane.

Keyword Positioning: Search engines think the closer to the top and front of a page a keyword is, the more important it is to the page. So it will place more importance to that keyword when it has key positioning. In a race with a competitor in search results, the one with the best positioning (among other factors) will get the best ranking.

Top and bottom of the page: You should use your keywords as close to the top of the page as possible and again at the bottom, because that’s where the spider expects to see them and where it assumes your most relevant words will be.

Front of the paragraph: Use your keywords in the first paragraph as close to the front of the paragraph as possible to show search engines this is what your site is about.

Front of the sentence: If possible, begin your first sentence with your keywords. If not, use them as early as possible in the first sentence or within first couple of sentences – the sooner the better. Make it read naturally, of course, but bring it up quickly.

These adjustments, all considered “white hat” actions, should help you remove roadblocks and slowdowns so search engines get a better, quicker read of your site.

Lessons from a Blogging Success Story

I hear a lot about people trying to make a living through blogging, but rarely do I get to see an example. So it was great to be in the audience at a recent meeting in which owners of a successful blog were interviewed.

The blog is youlookfab.com, a fashion blog run by Angie and Greg Cox, who live in the Seattle area. Even for someone with little interest in fashion, it was fascinating to hear how they made this blog work.
They talked about how they:

  • got started
  • built a blog so successful it supports them both
  • developed a thriving online community—a real community

You can check out the site yourself to get a sense of what they do, but the short version is that they started in 2006 with no particular goal, developed the blog and an online forum, and eventually Greg quit his job at Microsoft to run the back end. Now they run the blog together. Angie also has a business consulting with clients as a fashion stylist.

Fashion is not my thing, but for bloggers and web editors who deal with comments, social media, and the like, I found a lot of clues about what led to this couple’s success.

Not a Casual Interest

By the time Angie began a blog, she already had nearly two decades of professional experience in the fashion industry—as a fashion designer, buyer, and stylist.
How does she come up with ideas for ten posts a week? She answered that she is thinking about it all the time. Really all the time: when she’s with a client, she notices things to write in her next post. And when she’s not working with a client, she’s still thinking about fashion and what to blog about.

Elements that Form a Community

Since marketing has zoomed in on social media, “community” has become a holy grail for companies (who want it for marketing purposes). It’s no surprise that communities online tend to develop organically around shared interests. But even with common interests some groups thrive and some disintegrate.

What sets youlookfab.com apart is that it is a fashion advice blog. Fashion blogs come in lots of different types: celebrity-following blogs, daily photos of the blogger’s oufit, photos of street fashion, gossip+fashion, etc. Angie’s blog is really about style advice and helping people with their own style.

Angie and Greg didn’t set up the forum on the site until the volume of questions Angie was answering demanded it. The forum was an almost instant hit: it transformed the dynamic from Angie helping readers to Angie and readers helping other readers. The more I thought about advice—asking for and getting help—the more it made sense that it’s a perfect foundation for a thriving community:

  • People who help other people are usually nice
  • Nice, friendly people attract other people
  • Groups of nice people have some built-in immunity to trolls, keeping things useful and pleasant

Angie mentioned something else that I think further builds on the foundation of nice people+advice: her philosophy. To paraphrase, when it stops being fun, you stop.

If I had to sum up in one word my impression of what makes Angie and Greg’s endeavor successful, it would be authenticity.

Comments welcome.
@EditorAM