Word Up! Changing Our Blog Vocabulary

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We recently had a laugh regarding the hubbub made over Flocabulary, the language program that uses hip-hop to teach students new words and grammar. The program came under fire when it was proposed for use in Oklahoma classrooms. Folks from the Panhandle State were concerned about the lyrics of Flocabulary, which referred to some of our country’s founders as old white men – gasp!

So in lieu of helping Oklahoma teens who desperately need assistance with grammar and pronunciation, the state decided this week to hold off on using Flocabulary. The fuss strikes us as silly, not because there is anything particularly funny about a nation of teenagers who can’t read or write, but because of the utter ridiculousness of attacking anything that can possibly expand a young person’s vocabulary. After all, as marketers and small business owners, we can appreciate assistance with helping pick the right words for our blogs.

When we talk blog vocab, keywords are the first thing to come to mind. Keywords as important as they are can also be creatively and cleverly used. We’ve heard from SEO gurus over and over again that using keywords in our titles and opening sentences is a great strategy to help in the search engine treasure hunt. We agree – and we also think it doesn’t hurt to place our keywords into an intelligent conversation or even use them to dish about a related news story. Also, our blogs don’t have to be dumbed down for our readers and clients. In fact, challenging our readers with some well-placed words and fun facts can surprise our audience rather than bore them. It is a new day in Blogland, where smartly-written pieces can actually end up in newsfeeds and in linkable heaven. Forcing ourselves to up the ante with great content pays off time and again.

When all else fails, we can always look for help beefing up our blog language. While there is no old skool rap program for adults who need vocabulary assistance, there are great resources online to help inspire better word use. We’re big fans of the Ultimate Vocabulary blog, which not only discusses new words but also blogs on smarty-pants topics like the latest words added to the Oxford English Dictionary. They also sell a fancy software package for wordsmiths who may need additional help. Throw Grammar From the Train is another informative word blog that ponders punctuation, etymology and grammar with humor and good-natured snobbery. If more structure is what you’re seeking, the AP Style Book is now available for iPhone and iPad.

Unlike the kids from Oklahoma, we have the choice to change and improve our blogging language for the better. The blogosphere can be a richer and more intelligent place when content is used that respects our readers and clients. Word!

6 Essential Questions For Marketers To Ask SEO Pros

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In this second checklist in our two-part series, we cover the questions important to ask SEO professionals before hiring.

6.) What is it that you do, exactly? This simple yet crucial question will separate the snake oil salesmen from the real deal. If you’ve sat down with someone who can clearly explain to you what services they will provide and what to expect when you get the invoice, you’re in the presence of a winner. If they answer with a bunch of promises of huge success without really explaining how they’ll achieve said miracles, quickly show them the door.

5.) Could you show me some clients you’ve worked with? By asking to see their current list of clients and their websites, you’ll get a clear idea of what caliber of clients they’ve brought in. The clients should show growth and the SEO expert should be armed with numbers, facts and exact services they used. Feel free to ask for client references so you can get their feedback. Again, if the customers and their websites are suspicious or out of order, don’t be afraid to holler out “next!”

4.) Can you guarantee a top ranking on Google? We admit it. This is kind of a trick question, as nobody – and we do mean nobody – can make such a promise. Yet this question will serve as the ultimate BS detector. The best SEO pros will acknowledge this request and politely explain to you the techniques and tools they can use to improve your ranking while not promising you’ll become the next Amazon.

3.) What do you think about our website? Here’s a great getting-to-know-you question. Hopefully, your SEO expert has taken a long look at your company and come up with creative ideas spurned by tireless research. In addition to technical know-how, SEO ninjas should be armed with dozens of secret weapons designed to make the most out of search engine optimization for your business.

2.) What tools will you use? Does the hopeful rely on keywords? Do they favor article marketing? What tracking devices do they use? Finding out what is in their bag of tricks will ultimately help you decide if they are the right match for your business.

1.) Do you offer a variety of packages for me to choose from? This comes in at No. 1 for a couple of reasons. First off, if your SEO dude only offers one big, flashy pricey SEO package not tailored to your specific needs, he’s probably not going to work out. Secondly, a variety of properly-explained services to choose from means there’s most likely an SEO package tailored to fit even the tiniest of budgets.

6 Steps for Marketers to Take before Hiring an SEO Pro

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This is part one of our two-part checklist series on hiring an SEO professional for marketing and creative professionals. Wednesday’s list will cover 6 Essential Questions to ask SEO professionals.

6.) Phone a Friend: Before sitting down with an SEO pro, ask trusted friends in your field or fellow small business owners their thoughts on SEO utilization. Dig for the dirt on their success stories as well as their horror tales. Find out what to look for as well as what to avoid. See what’s worked for folks whose success you admire and don’t be afraid to”¦

5.) Ask for a Recommendation: Meeting with an SEO genius with a proven pedigree is preferred over simply just grabbing the first name that comes up on Google. Your colleagues will most likely be happy to share this info with you, but if they don’t have a good recommendation”¦

4.) Do Research: Take the time to thoroughly read over the online portfolios of prospective SEO pros. Bookmark the pros whose clients you recognize and avoid the ones with patchy or vague information, as well as those who’ve worked for companies that no longer exist. Once you’ve picked your hopefuls”¦

3.) Schedule Multiple Appointments: Much like trying on a pair of jeans, finding the right fit for the job is going to take some time and plenty of options. Make the meetings for no more than an hour and don’t commit until you’ve gone through all of your options. Before the meetings happen, don’t forget to”¦

2.) Learn All You Can about SEO on your Own: Don’t sign a thing or hire a soul until you’ve taken time to learn as much about SEO as you possibly can. Use a dictionary to look up all the technical mumbo jumbo you don’t understand or bribe your IT guy with donuts in exchange for some translation. There are some great books on the topic, but for firsthand knowledge, go right to the source and read blogs written by SEO professionals. We’re big fans of the entertainingly-written but easy to understand SEO blogs SEO Chicks, Graywolf’s SEO Blog, Search Engine Land and, of course, the premier SEO expert Matt Cutts of Google’s blog is a must-read. It’s essential to know exactly what you’re getting into and what to expect so you can”¦

1.) Write a List of Thorough Questions: This last step is crucial. Having your concerns and questions down in black and white will help you remember to ask for exactly what you want. The questions will keep you from being distracted by shiny promises and sparkly sales pitches. Also, sticking to your script will keep the meetings short and to the point.

Is Instant Always Better?

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The short answer to the question above is “no.” To support this response, we would like to present the following instant items as evidence: instant coffee, instant oatmeal, instant gratification, Carnation Instant Breakfast. Instant replay notwithstanding, the whole concept of being able to get anything worthwhile within a matter of seconds is a suspicious one indeed. So when Google Instant launched last week to a chorus of opinion, we started to wonder: Is faster really better?

Having never thought that Google was too slow or that it took too long, the idea of Google Instant seemed a tad unnecessary. Yet here it was. Without warning, the little search engine appeared at first to be scanning our minds and knowing what we were looking for before even we did ourselves. We Google all day long; to be frank, Instant hasn’t really made things easier – but it’s not annoying, either. While many have warned that the new feature will further fuel our collective need to have answers instantly, others have worried that it could be the end of SEO marketing. But perhaps it goes even deeper than that.

An article in Advertising Age this week declared the press release as officially dead (watch for a future blog discussing the annoying trend of declaring this or that as dead simply to get people to link your article). The piece claims that thanks to Twitter, companies and personalities can get their message out much faster than the old-fashioned press release, which traveled aimlessly through dozens of channels without certainty. Duh. But let’s calm down and remember that social media isn’t the end-all and be-all of PR. Like the thinking behind Google Instant, we’re being prompted to believe that if it doesn’t happen at the speed of light, it must suck.

Yes, Twitter has changed the speed of our messages reaching our desired audiences and Google Instant is an ingenious addition to an already invaluable tool. Still, neither of them promises we have to work less to receive results faster. Quality campaigns take time to develop, time to implement and time to catch fire with the public. Less time than 10 years ago? Maybe. But there are now dozens of marketing avenues that are essential, all of which take hours and manpower to properly utilize. Sure, tweeting your latest product requires less than five minutes, there’s still your Facebook page to be updated, your blog that needs to be written, videos to produce and traditional advertising to tend to. The point is lightning-like goodies aside, online marketing and branding still require work. In many ways, they require even more work than a decade ago.

What do you all think? Are we an instant-addicted culture? Has Google Instant changed how you research? And lastly, do you send old-fashioned press releases anymore?

Does Simon Cowell Use SEO To Make Criticism Disappear?

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The American Idol publicity machine is much like a runaway freight train. It barges its way onto the front pages of entertainment magazines, television talk shows and gossip websites like no other entertainment franchise. So it is no wonder that recent rumblings of how former Idol judge and executive producer Simon Cowell uses search engine optimization (SEO) to control his image may not be simply the stuff of celebrity conspiracy theory.

The New York Daily News ran a piece online last week which accused Cowell of hiring UK SEO super firm Reputation Management Consultants to assist in yielding positive search engine results when innocent Googlers look up Cowell online. The Daily News claims that said searches for Cowell pull up 20 or so pages of positive stories about Simon Cowell such as “Wayne Newton writes fan letter to Simon Cowell.” Critics of Cowell say that they have a nearly impossible time finding their biting pieces about the judge we loved to hate online.

Hans Ebert, a former music industry exec who served time at EMI and Universal, says his blog entitled “Why “˜American Idol’ is Better Off Without Simon Cowell” has all but vanished from cyberspace. The blog, published August 5th, ripped Cowell a new one by stating he is the “Sarah Palin of music.” Ebert discovered not long after publishing the critique that his blog had been “de-activated” by WordPress, the host of his blog. 12 hours later, the blog was reinstated; Ebert did some digging and found a trail that led right to Reputation Management Consultants, who are known to represent several UK celebrities in their London office. Not surprisingly, Cowell’s peeps have told the press that the accusation is pure hogwash and the paranoiac stuff of Internet nerds with nothing better to do.

This story doesn’t seem totally out of the realm of believability to us, as we know what a powerful PR tool SEO had become. Cowell wouldn’t be the first (or the last) brand to manipulate SEO to conjure up nothing but good stuff in a search tied to his name. It does bring up questions about how SEO can be used for personality marketing and what the future of SEO may look like for folks with the right amount of money and connections to make it work for them.

But what say you, dear readers? Is this Cowell SEO story a glimpse of things to come with brand management? Or is the story itself another cog in Cowell’s hard-working PR machine? Let’s dish about it in the comments section below!