What’s an SEO Writer?

You’ve probably heard about SEO—search engine optimization. If not, the (very basic) description is that it’s a set of evolving best practices to “optimize” your web presence (usually at least your website) so that it ranks higher on search engine results based on “your” key words or phrases. For example, if you own a dog grooming business in Dallas, one of your key phrases is probably “dog grooming Dallas”. Potential customers Google (since Google is the most popular search engine in the US) “dog grooming Dallas” and you want to show up as high on the Google search results as possible. Studies have shown most people only check out the first few links of a search, and most people never look beyond the first page of search results.

I tried being a "rickshaw wallah" in Mumbai, but it wasn't my calling. (Photo: Personal).
I tried being a “rickshaw wallah” in Mumbai, but it wasn’t my calling. (Photo: Personal).

However, being an SEO writer is just one of many skillsets an SEO agency or self-described expert should have. There are many aspects to SEO from finding and analyzing keywords to making a website mobile ready, responsive design, page load speed management and so on.

That being said, “Content is king” is the rally key of many SEO pros. Without good, organic, high quality written content with natural keyword placement, SEO just can’t happen.

No Jack of All Trades Will Do

It would be great if you could hire a single person to “do all your SEO”, but that person doesn’t exist. There are creative aspects to SEO, technical aspects, and plenty of mingling in between. It’s very unlikely that you’ll find a high quality SEO writer who’s also an SEO professional who can make your site mobile ready. Those are two very different skill sets—and SEO requires many more than just those two!

Hiring an “SEO Writer” is also different from hiring other types of writers, even including Web Content Writers. SEO writers have a gift of taking keywords and phrases and fitting them seamlessly into quality content. There is an ideal “keyword density” for SEO text that SEO writers can achieve.

Job Security

The great news for SEO writers, or a writer who wants to become one, is that there is serious job security. Every single business and person with an online presence wants or needs higher SEO rankings. Plus, “their” SEO keywords are always changing. This means virtually endless work that needs to be updated on a regular basis.

And they said you’d never get a writing job with that English degree!

Why Mobile Readiness for Your Site Matters (or Does It?)

Mobile readiness doesn't mean what it used to. (Personal photo, my dad and I).
Mobile readiness doesn’t mean what it used to. (Personal photo, my dad and I).

“Mobile readiness” is more than just a 2014 buzzword—and it has a lot more staying power than its counterparts like “on fleek”, “bae” and “thot”. Really, it’s just a name given to a movement that’s already arrived, and it’s just what it sounds like. Mobile readiness means that your website or business is “ready” for any mobile device. It sounds pretty simple, but it’s actually a big beast to tame.

Consider how many mobile devices are out there, from smartphones to tablets, and how many will be launching this year alone. Then think about all the mobile devices used around the world, like those multi-million dollar gold-plated phone behemoths in the United Arab Emirates (I’m speaking from astounded personal experience here).

But What the Heck is It?

Ask different experts what “mobile readiness” is and you’ll get a bevy of different responses. However, I’ve found that it generally falls into two categories: A mobile version of a website, an app, or both. I’m also of the camp that considers mobile readiness a sub-category of responsive design (RD). RD is also just what it sounds like: Making sure a website is “designed” so it “responds” quickly and well no matter what device or platform a person is using.

Obviously you want your website to load quickly and display appropriately no matter what. However, that’s getting tougher and tougher with new mobile devices seemingly popping up every day. Plus, mobile users are even more demanding than desktop users! Google researchers recently found that mobile users won’t wait a blink of an eye longer than they deem necessary for a page to load.

Instant gratification. It’s the MO of the mobile world.

So…Am I Mobile Ready?

Maybe. Remember that just because your website looks great on your various gadgets, that doesn’t mean it’s true for everyone else. Try checking out your website on your Chrome browser vs. Internet Explorer (or any other combination) and you’ll easily see there are big differences—and that’s on the same device with the same Wi-Fi! Just imagine how your site might appear to someone with a totally different device using Firefox and relying on dial-up in rural India. Suddenly the need for mobile readiness makes a lot more sense.

There are a few ways to tackle mobile readiness:

  • Make sure your website is designed for mobile readiness. Obviously, right? The good news is that platforms like WordPress automatically include responsive design. If you rely on a web designer, you need to have the RD/mobile readiness discussion pronto and find out what they’re doing to ensure a good user experience.
  • Check your web host. There’s only so much you or your web designer can do to offer fast loading times. Your web host also plays a role. A lot of people go with the default web hosting option offered when they register their domain. There are thousands of web hosts out there—shop around. (I also write for Hosst, which offers some great tips on web hosting selection).
  • Get your images in check. This falls into the overall mobile readiness/RD design aspect, but images that are too big can wreak havoc on your load time. Plus, they might not necessarily be displaying well on mobile devices with small screens.

What About That App and Mobile Website?

Here’s the deal: Not everyone (and every site) needs an app or a mobile version of their website. Only you can determine that, preferably with research and asking your audience what they want. If an app won’t benefit you and nobody will use it, why waste the time and effort on developing one? If a mobile version of your website isn’t more convenient than the “regular” version, why bother?

Responsive design is a must. Mobile readiness is an option. Start with RD, then ask yourself whether mobile readiness will benefit you, your business and your audience.

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5 Reminder-lutions for Writers

Where's 2015 taking you as a writer? (Photo by Chintan Mehta, Oregon backroads 2014).
Where’s 2015 taking you as a writer? (Personal photo, Oregon back roads 2014).

Some people have really strong opinions about New Year’s resolutions—kind of like the Oxford comma, Valentine’s Day, or the best way to make a grilled cheese sandwich (it’s with that really cheap, sliced, fake American cheese in case you’re wondering). For me, the New Year can be used as a reminder for getting back on track, re-approaching goals that haven’t been achieved yet, or simply an excuse to reflect (after all, you’re probably not able to do much else in that holiday food-induced coma). Call them reminders, resolutions, or anything else you like. As writers, I think there are a few things we should commit to focusing on year-round.

Obviously, these “reminder-lutions” are very specific to me as a writer, but I hope you can use some of them, too. Modify them, advance them, use them as a springboard or count yourself lucky if you’ve already achieved them. Here’s to a fruitful, word-filled year!

  1. The more eyes, the better

Our brains are so incredibly savvy that we self-correct, fill in the blanks, and do anything else possible to “fix” a typo in our heads—without actually doing it on paper. In my experience, writers and editors are complementary professionals, but from very different camps. You’re probably a better writer than editor, or vice versa. However, when it’s your piece on the chopping block, there’s no such thing as too many eyes on the paper (or too many editors).

  1. Publishing isn’t validation

Getting published doesn’t actually validate your worth as a writer. Neither does winning a Pulitzer, or having more bylines than anyone else. You’ve heard it before—a lot of the world’s “great writers” were turned down numerous times. Consider this: In the world of literature (or blogging, or anything else writing-centric), exposure, publishing, re-posts and the like are what many people think makes someone a “real writer”.

The opposite is true in music. An artist who’s in the Top 40 or a pop (ahem, popular) artist is often seen as a sellout who doesn’t make “real music”. The “real music” is in the underground. If that same perspective was embraced for writers, think of all those underdog, unpublished, struggling, broke “real writers” we’d be celebrating!

If validation is your driving force as a writer, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Write because you have to, you want to, you have something to say and written words are your medium of choice.

  1. SEO isn’t going anywhere, so learn to love it

If your writing appears online, SEO matters. Learn to follow the best practices, love them, and use them as a tool for getting your pieces seen. The purpose of SEO is to connect readers with the best, most relevant content they’re searching for. SEO isn’t out to get you. If that means proper keyword placement and density, so be it. A good writer will be able to create organic, SEO-rich content without losing any of their style or value. Rise to the challenge.

  1. Accept that some people won’t like your writing (or you)

There’s no such thing as writing (or a person) that appeals to everyone. You’ll get rejected (sometimes numerous times) and have some harsh criticism tossed your way. Writers need to have thick skin for self-preservation, but unfortunately many sensitive types are attracted to writing. Don’t get me wrong, sensitivity is a highly desirable trait that has many upsides, but it can also make you vulnerable to some severe self-esteem blows.

I have two experiences to share with you. I published my first book of poems in 2014, “The Last Exotic Petting Zoo”, via a traditional print press. One of the poems included was previously published in a poetry journal. However, it was rejected by another journal first—complete with a lengthy “criticism” (around 1,000 words in length) that wasn’t criticism at all, but rather an attack. The piece was called “clichéd”, “weak”, “disappointing” and other unhelpful things with no direction on bettering it. This particular poem was later nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and included in the book. Not everyone will love what you write, but know the difference between constructive criticism and someone taking things out on you.

The other example was with a past client. Each writer had an editor (although we never “mixed” and none of us even knew the names of our editors—the projects all passed through an internal system). By mistake, my editor accidentally emailed me as well as the managers/owners of the company with a long list of why she didn’t like me as a person (not my writing). It started out, “Jessica just isn’t likable”.

The reminder-lution? Stay professional. Work on thickening your skin while preserving the good stuff about being sensitive. And remember that if a remark is more attack than constructive, it’s about them—not you or your writing.

  1. You don’t have to be a stereotype

All great writers are drunks. Depressed. Suicidal or self-harming. Self-involved to a narcissistic level. Sex starved or unable to be in a healthy, committed relationship. The stereotypes about writers run rampant—and everyone has their demons or struggles. I’ve had friends tell me “You should try writing drunk.” Luckily (for my liver and life in general), I’m a terrible writer when I drink. You don’t have to be self-destructive, have a torrid past, or have dangerous vices in order to be a fantastic writer. Material is all around you, so there’s no need to create a surplus.

These are my reminder-lutions for 2015 and beyond. How are you going to be a better writer in the next year?

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5 Truths about Working from Home (or Wherever)

Working from home, in Costa Rica circa 2011, in the backyard hammock.
Working from home, in Costa Rica circa 2011, in the backyard hammock.

Working from home and running your own business is worlds away from being allowed to telecommute as a permanent employee. There are a lot of myths about it, rumors swirling, and envious glances when you can make that 10am spin class that nobody else can swing. Is it a dream come true? When I think back to my own days of the daily grind as a worker bee, definitely. I haven’t worn slacks, a suit, or hosiery in years. However, that doesn’t mean working from the couch is always glitters and unicorns, either.

Of course, every small business owner, entrepreneur, and telecommuter will have a different experience. Here are a few of my daily realities—for better or worse:

  1. The whole yoga pants/work on the couch thing is true

I actually do work from a couch (sorry, ergonomics) in yoga pants most days. In my defense, I’m also a certified yoga teacher and practice on a regular basis. I just don’t get into the whole home office thing. Working from a desk and in an “office chair” just makes it feel too much like I’m working for someone else. Perhaps it was all those years of conditioning that turned me off “an office” for good.

  1. There’s no such thing as an alarm

The only time I set an alarm is when I have an early morning flight. Otherwise, I’m naturally a morning person, complete with pepperings of insomnia from time to time. My work day usually starts between 5 and 6am and ends around 4 or 5pm.

  1. Yes, the TV’s on

However, it’s on mute and it’s more for “company” than anything else. Seeing flickers of people and colors peripherally keeps me out of tunnel vision. Plus, I know I should be done with Client X’s work of the day by the time Frasier segues to How I Met Your Mother. And if I don’t have Client Y’x stuff done by the time Grey’s Anatomy is over? I’ll be pulling double duty that day.

  1. There’s no such thing as leaving work at the office

Even if I had an actual office, this wouldn’t be the case. I have clients around the world. My contact in Thailand regularly sends me requests during her normal work hours, which is the middle of the night for me. When you have a backlog of requests nagging at you on a weekend and you have some down time, it’s easy to think you’re “getting ahead” by squeezing in just a few more articles. In three weeks, I’ll be taking three weeks off (forced without Wi-Fi thanks to rural India). It will be the first time I don’t work for more than one day, consecutively, in five years.

  1. I set my own schedule (for the most part)

Of course there are deadlines, but here’s the thing: Writers are notoriously flaky (I know, I’ve gone through a laundry list when hiring them myself). That means clients often give me way more time than necessary. Thus, I work when I like, can take any gym class I want, shop in the middle of a weekday, and never have an issue squeezing in appointments.

In the end, there are pros and cons just like any work situation. I don’t miss the commute, the “having” to get ready every day, or the staring contest with the clock when you’re working by the hour. However, the work from home lifestyle isn’t “easy”, either—luckily for me, I just happen to be cut out for it. It’s about finding the best environment, career path, and work style for you (and if yoga pants fit into the picture, that’s all the better).

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4 SEO Resolutions for 2015

No matter how you ring in the New Year, make sure it's spiked with SEO.
No matter how you ring in the New Year, make sure it’s spiked with SEO.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a critical part of any business with an online presence. Unfortunately, the majority of small businesses in the US have no website—even fewer have SEO in place. SEO is an ever-evolving set of best practices that help your website get ranked higher on search engines like Google based on “your” keywords or key phrases. For example, a dog groomer in Portland might have “Portland dog grooming” as one of their key phrases. When someone types that into Google, there’s a reason certain websites come up as the first hit and others come up on page three.

Studies have shown that almost nobody looks beyond the first page of search results. Few people even look past the first few hits. There are many items included in SEO, but content is king. SEO algorithms “want” high quality, unique content with just the right amount of keyword density. There was a time when keyword stuffing (sometimes to such a degree that the content read like nonsense) was a shortcut to boosting your SEO ranking. Those days are over because algorithms are better, and it’s now considered a “black hat trick” and might even result in a Google penalty.

Does your website have the SEO-rich content and other strategies necessary going into 2015? Here’s a checklist to be sure:

  1. Ditch the black hat tricks

Some website owners embrace black hat tactics and don’t even know it. Others hire an SEO “professional” who try to get away with it. If you get caught by Google, it’s tough to get back in their good graces. Learn the basics of black hat tricks so you know what not to do.

  1. Revere quality, SEO-rich content

Just like it’s not easy to be a premium website developer or graphic designer, it’s not simple to be a skilled writer with SEO know-how. It’s not enough to just have quality content on your website. You need SEO-rich content to help move up the rankings.

  1. Speed things up

One of the SEO ranking factors is speed, and there are many factors to consider. Maybe your web developer needs to re-format the images or videos, maybe you need to change web hosts, or maybe responsive design isn’t being taken care of. Google researchers have shown that the average person won’t wait even a blink of an eye (literally) longer than they feel is normal for a site to load. They’re quick to back click.

  1. Optimize for Amazon

For years, “SEO” and “SEO for Google” have been used interchangeably because Google is the most popular search engine in the US. Even though Google is notoriously secretive about their algorithm, guru-employees like Matt Cutts also dish up plenty of SEO advice. Chances are high that what’s good for Google is good for Bing, Yahoo!, or any other search engine.

But now there’s Amazon. If you’re an e-tailer or you’re connected to Amazon in any way, it’s time to start optimizing for this shopping search engine as well as Google. People search differently on Amazon and have different objectives. Your SEO needs to reflect this.

The best way to do this? Hire a reputable SEO agency. You get what you pay for, especially with SEO. If you have a website that’s not optimized—and you’re on page two for all your keywords—you may as well not be online.