Christmas is Here Again | On Holidays and Happy Chaos (Part III)

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I have good news and bad news, and it’s the same news.  Should I ever face a film-worth scenario in which I have to choose, I will always choose to hear the good news first, so here it is:  Today is the 17th of December, which means Christmas is fast closing in––and I mean fast.  Christmas brings plenty of delectable morsels into our lives, as well as gifts and gift-giving, and––if we’re lucky––a blissful trip up and down memory lane with the people we love most in this world.  But here’s the bad news: Christmas is fast closing in.  You read that correctly!  As I mentioned, the good and bad news end up bearing more than a close kinship to each other. 

But how can Christmas ever be bad news?  Perhaps I’m overstating the fact, but here’s the truth of the matter: Christmas is crunch time for self-published authors, especially those hoping to launch successful holiday specials.  The holiday season is when authors are, along with the majority of small business owners, most likely to recoup or finish recouping their operational expenses for the year.  Maybe an author turned to a hybrid self-publishing company to design, print, bind, or help market her book.  Maybe an author burned a couple of tanks full of petrol in order to host his book signings, readings, and luncheons.  Whatever the case may be, even self-publishing has its attendant costs, and Black Friday is a magic day for everyone.  But the precious commodity constituted by the time left between Thanksgiving and Christmas is shrinking rapidly––so what can we do to make the most of it?

Thought #3:  Breathe.  Write.  Publish.  But mostly, breathe.  (Rinse & Repeat)

Most often, you’ll get tip lists around Christmas from self-publishing gurus, somewhere along the lines of “50 tips to launch your book this Christmas,” or “3 unexpected ways to promote your book over the holidays,” or even “10 steps to self-publishing success.”  I’m not here to tell you these tidbits of advice don’t work––some of them certainly will, and some of them are probably destined for failure.  I am here to offer you something a little more offbeat than a rote list of hit-or-miss ideas.

I’m here to tell you it’s okay to step away from the phone, from the bookstore, the library, and your Amazon book listing.  I’m here to tell you it’s okay not to push your book with some wild and crazy Christmas party, or by setting up a quiet reading at a classy booklover’s club.  But hang on one second––I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t promote your book (at all).  I’m telling you that there’s more than one way to break a glass ceiling.

Think about it for a second.  What’s the most effective way to promote a book?  Writing a book people love.  That one’s a no-brainer.  But what’s the second-most effective way?  Writing another book people love.  No matter how many readers you earn with your first book, you are practically guaranteed to win more with each book that follows.  Name and brand recognition play their parts in authorial success, as does the pleasurable possibility of the serial read.  Whether you write self-help books or genre literature or poetry or something else that is wonderful and wild and perfectly unique to you, your sales will improve as you publish more books.  You know how we all like to marathon whole seasons of Doctor Who or How I Met Your Mother, or drop by a sick friend’s place with Tylenol and the entire extended edition boxed set of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings?  Readers treat your books the same way.  Once they find an author or a series or a genre they like, they’re likely to read all the books that author has written (so long as they’re easily accessible).  And I’ll admit, I’m one of those readers who will wait in line for a signed copy of a new book, then hurry to the bookstore register to purchase all of the prequels, sequels, and tangentially related volumes I can find. 

So, maybe you’ve written just the one book.  Maybe that’s all you have in you right now.  That’s okay.  Don’t ever let anyone try and push you to conform to their expectations of what a writer’s life or method looks like.  As I’ve mentioned in past Wednesday blogs, there’s no one right or wrong way to go about this writing thing, or even this self-publishing thing.  It’s tough enough being a writer without feeling like you’re out of joint with someone else’s expectations.  This holiday season, take time to breathe.  Return to those ways and means that rejuvinate you.  Cherish the stories you’ve written, and the stories you have left to write, and live.

For the first blog in this series, navigate here.  For the second, here.  Look for my final holiday-themed self-promotional blog for the year next wednesday!  If you have a question about any of these tools for self promotion, would like to hear from me about something specific, or have other big news to share, please comment below!

 

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at http://kellyschuknecht.com.

Christmas is Here Again | On Holidays and Happy Chaos (Part II)

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Last week, I launched a series of blogs in conversation with the 2014 holiday season now rapidly drawing to a middle, and I began by addressing one of the common fallacies of holiday marketing for the self-published author––that is, I attempted to debunk the problematic concept of the Book-As-Gift (or B.A.G.).  So, if attempting to sell our books to new readers in the name of holiday spirit isn’t an automatic success story, what is? 

Thought #2: Not All Gifts Are Created Equal––Some Are More ‘Equal’ Than Others

What I mean to say is, while we can’t count on our existing networks to magically expand into much larger ones by asking our readers to purchase our books and slip them under the Christmas tree, we can hope for something much better.  We can dream much, much bigger dreams––and one of the ways to dream bigger is to build more durable networks by investing in our readers.  It is the holiday season, after all, and a time of year marked by a profound generosity of spirit.  To transform this intangible gift into a bankable profit may seem self-interested, but it doesn’t have to be. 

What, you might well ask, am I actually saying?  I suggest launching a holiday reading campaign.  It’s simple, and better still, it’s a gesture of good faith that benefits everyone involved.  How to begin?  [1] Look up the contact details for ten, fifteen, or twenty influential figures in your existing network––coordinators for your neighborhood 4-H club, presidents of your regional cycling club, board members for your local library, and so on––and compile them into a single list.  [2] Send each of these forces of nature a signed copy of your book, along with a truly genuine letter touching on both your desire to connect relationally and on the nature of your book.  You may or may not choose to mention that your book makes for a good holiday read––keep in mind that you’re not actively trying to sell your book, but rather establish and cultivate a social network that will get behind you in any and all creative endeavors you attempt from here on out.  [3] Make sure to include your contact information and a note saying you’d love to get in touch with them if they enjoy your book.  It’s not a bad idea to mention your status as a self-published author, and hint that you’re looking to build a support network or team to help spread the word that your book is out there in the world.  [4] If you’re hosting a reading or other event at which you and your book will both be part of the conversation, make sure to invite your gift recipients.  Keep the sense of obligation to a minimum, but assure them that you are truly––authentically––interested in connecting with them, whether in the public setting of an event, or the private setting of a small luncheon or coffee.

It is vitally important that you remember one thing: books don’t sell books––people do. As with all other ways and means of effective marketing––but especially around the holidays, a time set aside for family and friends and generosity––a holiday reading campaign must be centered on the people you want to reach, rather than just the product you want to sell.  As I mentioned last week, there’s a lot of canned advice out there, and there are a lot of people who ‘phone it in’ when the holidays roll around.  But if you truly love your book, and you truly love your readers, a holiday reading campaign may make for one great way to show that love and make effective use of the holiday fervor, as well.  You don’t have to sacrifice sincerity for sales figures.  Your readers will know you care if you take the time to make personal connections.

How effective are these sorts of campaigns?  Well, without a rigorous controlled study and resulting data sets to consult, I can’t quote you numbers.  But an anecdote: just this morning, a local author got in touch with the Head Librarian at my favorite library an—within the space of two brief phone calls over the course of an afternoon—set up a seminar and book reading.  This author doesn’t know our Head Librarian personally, but he did gift a copy of his book to a board member of our City Council, and that board member became a natural bridge between author and library––without the author ever having to ‘push’ the book on an unwilling reader.  The no-strings-attached nature of a holiday reading campaign is powerfully attractive in this world of many strings.

Why not give it a try?  If you do, please drop me a line here to let me know how it goes!

Check back every Wednesday as I continue my blog series on the happy chaos of self-promotion during the holiday season.  If you have any questions, would like to hear from me about something specific, or have other big news to share, please comment below!

 

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at http://kellyschuknecht.com.

Christmas is Here Again | On Holidays and Happy Chaos (Part I)

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With Thanksgiving now in the rearview mirror, it seems like everyone is ready to pull out the tree skirt, boxed ornaments, and Mannheim Steamroller albums––if they haven’t already!  Out comes the fine china, the spiced cider, and the box of spare fuses for the Christmas lights you plan to wrap around the front porch.  Out, too, come the annual holiday-themed blogs, the admonitions that you too can take advantage of the sales frenzy that begins over leftover roast turkey sandwiches and concludes with the sound of a tape dispensor licking over the last cardboard box of holiday decorations, shuffled off to storage for another eleven (or ten, or nine, or eight) months. 

But there’s a problem, and it’s the same problem you face at every other time of year: How do you know which advice to listen to, and which tips to follow?  How do you know if the benefits of a holiday-themed special will pay off for you, the self-published author?

Let’s face the facts:  A lot of holiday-themed advice seems canned.  The same tips come rolling back around every year––offer a holiday special!  host a holiday giveaway!  throw a holiday-themed party!–and they do so for one of two reasons:

  1. They work, or
  2. They’re easy.

It’s hard to know which is which, but I hope to help you find your way through the confusion, whether you’re a newly self-published author, or a veteran who’s looking to try something new––and whether you’re working to plan something last-minute for Christmas of 2014, or thinking ahead to future years.  I’ve road-tested many of these strategies myself, and I hope my experience will prove a help to you.

the ultimate B.A.G.

Thought #1: Not All Gifts Are Created Equal

One of the first things you’ll be told as a self-published author is that you should try and promote your book around the holidays as a gift item; I’ll call this the B.A.G., or Book As Gift.  In fact, the B.A.G. is probably the most common of all recommendations for self-published authors around the holidays, period.  The basic idea is that you ought to ask your friends, family, and social media followers to purchase B.A.G.s to give away, to build a more diverse reader base. 

So, what’s the efficacy of the B.A.G.?  Well, in my experience, it’s rather a mixed bundle.  First of all, a book sold is a book sold, and every B.A.G. contributes to your paycheck.  Great!  But there’s a difference between having people give B.A.G.s and having your book reach your ideal readers, and the line is sometimes more distinct than you might realize. 

Think back to the B.A.G.s you have received––which ones did you actually read, and which ones did you put on the shelf for a rainy day that never came?  One Christmas, I received eight B.A.G.s from family members, and I read a grand total of two of them––the same two that said family members purchased after they saw me lingering over them in the bookstore.  The previous Christmas, I received only three B.A.G.s––all of them surprises, but all of them in a narrowly-defined genre that the gift-givers knew I loved––and I read them all.  I have on occasion enjoyed a B.A.G. that I never would have picked up in a bookstore, and had never heard of, but I can honestly say this is not the norm

The truth of the matter is that many B.A.G.s never get cracked open over one knee, a cup of cider balanced in hand and Mannheim Steamroller blasting from somewhere nearby.  It’s tough for B.A.G.s to compete in a market where so many books are available for such little expense––a market where I can load up my Kindle or Nook or iPad or other smart device with hundreds of free or inexpensive ebooks that I know are titles that I’m going to like.    We sometimes hear the term ‘time-poor,’ and the concept is simple enough: There are only so many spare hours in a day, and we tend to spend our dedicated reading time pouring over old favorites, classics, and other books we already know we’re going to enjoy.  Some B.A.G.s just aren’t destined for happy endings. And that’s okay.  Why?

the ultimate B.A.G.

Because you are interested in finding your ideal reader, and you already know that doing so is a years-long enterprise.  You already know that getting your book into a new pair of hands is just the beginning of a relationship, and that you have to woo a reader’s interest with more than just a dash of holiday spirit––you have to capture the reader’s eye with a clever cover, the reader’s attention with the weight of physical presence, the reader’s participation through interactive challenges and campaigns, and the reader’s imagination with your prose.  In short, you know the B.A.G.’s benefits and limitations, and you’re not about to put all of your eggs in one basket.  (Or is that a poorly-timed Easter metaphor?) 

So, what’s my advice, in a nutshell?  Go ahead and ask your existing network of readers to give your books as B.A.G.s, but see what you can do to hybridize your B.A.G. promotion with other efforts.  If possible, link your B.A.G. with materials, whether digital or physical, that help introduce you to these new readers.  Keep an open mind––and an optimistic outlook.  Develop a marketing plan that goes beyond holiday gimmicks.  Think big.  Holiday promotions are one tool in your toolbox, but they aren’t the full set. 

Check back every Wednesday as I continue my blog series on the happy chaos of self-promotion during the holiday season.  If you have any questions, would like to hear from me about something specific, or have other big news to share, please comment below!

 

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at http://kellyschuknecht.com.

Rising Through the Ranks | A Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization (Part V)

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And so it begins––my fifth and final post in this series detailing some of the main tips and tricks of the trade when it comes to Search Engine Optimization, or SEO.  In a moment I’m going to dive into a final grab-bag of tidbits that will help boost your SEO ranking, but first, I wanted to take a moment to think back to the five steps I’ve already described:

Step 1: Optimize your keywords.

Step 2: Optimize your content.

Step 3: Optimize your title.

Step 4: Optimize your tags.

Step 5: Optimize your use of Google Analytics.

As you can see, many if not most of these points are geared towards altering what you do on what I like to call the “micro” level.  The idea is that, if you can fine-tune your material down to the sentence or the briefest keystroke, you’ll suck in the readers who might have eluded you up to this point.  And this is true!  … to an extent.  There’s no such thing as a perfect fix when it comes to SEO, particularly for the struggling blogger or audacious self-published author.  It’s tough to compete with corporations and rival blogs and authors in the same field or genre, when they can afford to pay a company to “link-build” or otherwise generate rank-boosting digital content for the paying customer, especially if you’re one of the many writers struggling to make ends meet, whether financially or in terms of the time and energy you have available to dedicate to your own SEO process.

The good news is, all of the steps I have described are easy to replicate, or involve tweaking your already-existing habits to include an extra step.  Crafting and using keywords, for example, should only add thirty seconds or so to your usual blogging time.  Google Analytics, on the other hand, might soak up an hour of your time––but only once a month, or once every six months, depending on how often you find it useful to employ.  The key is, as always, to pick the steps that you can incorporate into your routine, and that actually help you achieve your vision for your own materials.

With that thought in mind, I thought I’d round out this five-blog series with five final––and brief!––thoughts on how best to maximize your SEO process.

Step 6: Optimize connections between your own materials.  Many search engine algorithms are smart enough to exclude internal links, so providing a list of links to my own blog posts as I did above won’t automatically boost my SEO.  But what it does do is make it a whole lot easier for my readers to navigate my material, and browse from blog to blog––and reader behavior does boost my ranking.  Make sure your digital content is easy on the eyes and easy to navigate, and also make sure that your readers can find your other platforms––whether Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, or Tumblr, or some other––with as few clicks or keystrokes as possible.

Step 7: Optimize external opportunities for links.  Your SEO is most powerfully influenced by links from external and respectable sources, like .edu and .org websites.  The higher the search engine ranking of the website that refers to your digital content, the greater the effect on your own ranking.  Don’t forget to be ambitious when it comes to asking websites to list a link to your content––as my mother tells me, the worst thing someone can say is “no.”  And if you host an event such as a reading or a book signing, make sure every email and piece of promotional material that goes out lists your email and website (or websites) in full.  That way, if you’re quoted in a newspaper or a blog, the link is right there.

Step 8: Optimize your page speed.  This one just makes sense, right?  If your website loads slowly, readers may grow impatient and simply move on, particularly if they’re trying to read on their mobile devices.  Search engine algorithms are smart enough to take this loading speed into account when they generate your ranking, so don’t underestimate the value of a streamlined, elegant, and speedy interface.  (You can check your current page speed using Google’s handy page speed tool.)

Step 9: Optimize your goals.  It is possible to sabotage your attempts at SEO, as with many other things, by attempting to do too much at once.  You don’t want to reach a point of burnout, when you’re so sick of trying to keep a hundred balls in the air by sheer willpower, and you’re not enjoying the process of creating your own digital content any longer.  Baby steps, baby steps.  Your readers know when you’re not having fun, and when you’re no longer writing for them but rather for a set of 1s and 0s.    The truest secret to creating masterful, authentic, and valuable content is to really love what you do.

Step 10: Optimize your optimism.  SEO can take time, and energy, and money, and perhaps a chunk of your peace of mind (if you’re not able to follow step 9, that is).  But SEO is not the enemy, and low web traffic doesn’t have to be a problem. It’s a start. You’re only going to learn more, and grow your reader base, from here.

Keep in mind that SEO isn’t magic, and it isn’t deliberately trying to be difficult.  It is, instead, the natural byproduct of human attempts to best utilize a system––a mathematical algorithm––and to stand out in a crowded marketplace.  You may just need a little boost.  SEO is a rocket engine powering through the clouds of material obscuring your voice from your readers.  With a little time, and a little care, you can master the basics of SEO!

Check back every Wednesday as I begin a new series.  If you have a question about any of these tools for self promotion, would like to hear from me about something specific, or have other big news to share, please comment below!

 

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at http://kellyschuknecht.com.

Rising Through the Ranks | A Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization (Part IV)

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Welcome back to my five-week series on Search Engine Optimization (or SEO)!  I’m back this week to speak to the specifics of Google Analytics and what it can do to boost your digital platform.  Three weeks ago, you’ll remember, I launched this series with a brief history of search engines and an inquiry into the necessity of SEO.  I investigated a few ways in which we can better employ keywords.  Two weeks ago, I dedicated an entire blog post to talking about matters of content.  Last week, I opened up the possible Pandora’s Box of metadata by showing some of the benefits of maximizing your SEO through the use of carefully curated titles and tags.  

Analytics, on the other hand––Google Analytics is its own unique creature, and unlike the other SEO tips I’ve already described, Analytics exists outside of your material.  It is a third party, so to speak, and consulting a Google Analytics report is a little like consulting a book review written by an independent literary critic: sometimes, it’s hard to know just what to do with the material.  In this blog post, I hope to unravel some of its many mysteries for you.

Step 5: Optimize your use of Google Analytics

What is Google Analytics, in the first place?  As you will already have guessed, it’s an offshoot of––or a service provided by––Google for producers of digital content.  If you own or otherwise run a blog, that’s you.  Google Analytics tracks the traffic to your web pages, particularly the number of times individual (or “unique”) internet users access (or “hit”) your pages, how long they stay on a given page, and their general demographic data.  Best of all, it’s free!

In order to set up Analytics, you first need to have a Google account (if you have a Gmail address, or use Google Documents, you already have one).  Then, you log in to the Google Analytics home page by clicking the “Access Google Analytics” link in the top right corner.  If it’s your first time using Analytics, Google immediately provides a handy and relatively intuitive tutorial on how to set up your websites to be tracked.  In simple summary, for any website platform other than WordPress, you will copy a short digital code that Analytics generates for you and insert that code into the HTML of your blog’s template.  (WordPress provides a handy plugin that does this for you, with a little tweaking.)  If you’re not familiar with HTML, that’s okay!  You can type “How do I use Google Analytics in Tumblr” (or any other platform you can think of) into a search engine, and find several step-by-step tutorials.  The trick is not to be daunted by the fearsome language of code!

Once you have successfully set up Analytics for your blog, you need to give the service a good span of time to collect information before checking back.  Google Analytics only tracks content going forward from the date it is installed, so it can’t retroactively give you information on the traffic to your website.  I recommend giving yourself about a month before logging back in––a month will give you a good chunk of useable data.

And then?  It’s as simple as clicking a link to view the compiled reports.

So, how are Google Analytics reports useful to the self-published author?

What Google Analytics really does––what it really boils down to––is it sheds light on how users behave once they access your digital content.  You will quickly see what material is popular––more people will “hit” that material, and stay on those webpages longer––and you can easily measure what impact your decisions have on your readers.  Did you adopt a few of the SEO tips I’ve talked about in previous weeks?  Google Analytics will show you if they’re working.  Did you alter what content you provide?  That’s easy to track, too.  Did you host a reading at a local bookstore, or promote your book using a seasonal discount on social media?  The “audience” reports on Google Analytics will show you just how effective that outreach has been in boosting traffic to your blog.  You can use the “Content Experiments” feature to test the efficacy of specific changes––whether you shake up your website design, or start using meta tags, or adopt some other change to your method.  There’s even a specific report you can run to view details about traffic directed to your website by search engines (check out the “Acquisition” tab, then the “Search Engine Optimization” sub-tab).

Essentially, the benefits of Google Analytics to SEO are manifold.  I could go on and on about how much I love using the Analytics interface, and how I used to watch in real-time as my blog posts were accessed in various cities and regions across the globe.  Google routinely updates the features offered by its Analytics service, and every year (sometimes, every month!) I stumble across some new and great application it provides.  Google Analytics is the ultimate resource to help those of us who are striking out on our own to tailor our digital content to our readers!

Once again, I find that I’ve run out of room—check back here next Wednesday as I wrap up this five-week series on SEO.  I have a few final tips and tricks to help you maximize your digital platform, and you don’t want to miss a single one!

 

If you have a question about any of these tools for self promotion, would like to hear from me about something specific, or have other big news to share, please comment below!

 

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at http://kellyschuknecht.com.

Rising Through the Ranks | A Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization (Part III)

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As promised, I’m back this week to unpack some of the specifics when it comes to using titles and tags to boost your dividends during the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) process.  Two weeks ago, you’ll remember, I launched this series with a brief history of search engines and an inquiry into the necessity of SEO.  First, I investigated a few ways in which we can better employ keywords.  A week ago, I dedicated an entire blog post to talking about matters of content.  This is because keywords are often an important doorway, or entry point for many new readers––that is, the way in which they first stumble across or access your work––and content is the house you build behind that doorway, the material that absorbs new readers and gives them a place to settle into conversation with you. 

It might be tempting to view titles and tags as merely decorative––a nice piece of wall art to hang above your mantel, or a set of attractive but generic photographs to tuck into the guest bathroom––but this is far from the truth, and far from doing justice to the potential benefit that a knowledgable and strategic use of these tools can provide.  Titles and tags are highly functional components of your digital content.  Think of them as the windows, screen doors, and patio of this metaphor; they increase the visibility of your material.  Today, I’m going to lead you through two additional steps that may be of use to you as you get started with your own SEO.

Step 3: Optimize Your Title

Coming up with a title for your digital material can be every bit as difficult as creating the content that follows.  As other websites can tell you, search engines like Google and Bing have character limits on title tags.  This means that above and beyond considerations of readability on your website or YouTube channel or blog page, you have to consider an additional layer of presentation: will enough of your title show up on a search engine listing to pull new readers in?  To show you what I mean, I plugged “Rising in the Ranks” and “Self Publishing Advisor” into Google (top) and Bing (bottom), just to see how much of my own title tags are showing up after my blog posts are indexed and cached:

Google search listing

Google search listing

Bing search listing

Bing search listing

As you can see, Google displays the titles of my individual blog posts twice––first, in a larger typeface and a more eye-catching color, and then again in a smaller font.  The larger typeface only leaves room for 55 or so characters, and the rest is covered by an ellipsis (the “…” at the end of the line).  The smaller font below allows for my full titles to be displayed, along with the dates of posting, my screen name, and however many of my tags (more on that later) as can fit.  The shorter your titles, the more room there is for tags.

Bing, on the other hand, doesn’t repeat the titles and omits the tags altogether.  Instead, it provides an excerpt from my biographical information.  The moral of this particular story is: while most search engine listings will include the title of your individual posts, the rest of what they may show is up for grabs (that is, determined by different algorithms).  The only common denominator between search engine results is your title.

So, what makes for the best of all possible titles, when it comes to SEO?  A balance of simplicity with accuracy and description.  This may prove to be a bit of a tug-of-war, especially if you’re posting complicated and thematically rich material––but three quick rules of thumb are:

  1.  … keep your title concise, catchy, and grammatically correct,
  2.  … include one or more of your most relevant keywords, and
  3.  … try to stay below the 50-60 character limits imposed on the listings.

Step 4: Optimize Your Tags

I’ve already mentioned that tags boost the visibility of your digital content.  Google and other search engines will sometimes display your tags, or meta descriptions, on search results as a kind of preview to help readers to determine what your blog post or YouTube video or other digital content is actually about.  As with keywords, you want to prioritize what you include in your tags.  Tumblr, for example, only indexes the first 20 tags you attach to a post.  This sort of cutoff is fairly typical for both normal and micro-blogging platforms.

So, what do tags look like?  Here are just a few examples, posted with permission:

SelfPublishingAdvisor.com (WordPress) tags

SelfPublishingAdvisor.com (WordPress) tags

One of Tumblr's many tag display options.

One of Tumblr’s may tag display options

Another of Tumblr's many tag display options.

Another of Tumblr’s many tag display options.

One of Blogger's tag display options

One of Blogger’s tag display options

As you can see, each platform has its own ways of displaying tags, and sometimes a single platform will allow you to customize the appearance of said tags.  Even if you set up your blog to not display tags, make sure you do generate metadata for every post or page, since tags play a vital role in how search engine algorithms determine the relevance of your material to searches your target audience will be running. 

I should note that there’s a difference between the tags that are displayed alongside blog posts like this one and meta tags, which are the actual chunks of mostly-invisible HTML code that make up the architecture of your digital content.  It used to be true that if you wanted to build a website, you had to develop a working knowledge of HTML in order to take advantage of SEO.  Today, most of the big blogging platforms (like WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, and so on) allow you to input information in the tag field and they convert some or all of that information into HTML meta tags for you.  It’s not a perfect translation––but if I’m getting too technical here, remember that the point of SEO is to take advantage of as many simple tricks as you find feasible and translate those tricks into increased website traffic.  Not every trick is going to be one that fits your needs.  As with all other self-marketing methods, you must weigh the benefits against the costs yourself––and the main cost here is time: the time it takes to learn HTML may offset the actual net benefit, especially if you can take advantage of built-in features like tag fields

Well, I’ve run out of room this week—check back here next Wednesday to learn more about search engine optimization.  I’ll be addressing the matter of analytics!

 

If you have a question about any of these tools for self promotion, would like to hear from me about something specific, or have other big news to share, please comment below!

 

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at http://kellyschuknecht.com.

Rising Through the Ranks | A Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization (Part II)

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Last week, I launched a series of blogs to provide a primer to––or a launching point for future discussions about––one vital way to augment your digital presence: Search Engine Optimization (or SEO).  I argued that by making our digital content easier for the average internet user to find, we can boost traffic to our websites––and by extending the reach of our voices, expand our audiences.

I have already examined the specific benefits to refining the way we use keywords, particularly in our website or blog titles, tags, and so on.  This week, I’m going to turn to matters of content.  How can we better utilize the meat and potatoes of our digital content––the bodies of our blog posts, for example––to push our websites up through the ranks of similar websites that show up in search engine results? 

Step 2: Optimize Your Content

Even though traditional strategies for SEO (like keyword optimization) are vital and critical practices for the average blogger, the search engines of today call for even more sophistication.  Consider: in 2013, Google alone had already indexed more than thirty trillion individual web pages.  That’s 30,000,000,000,000 pieces of content vying for the top slot on any individual search.  Thankfully, search engine algorithms are fairly good at slicing away unrelated material, but you get the idea.  There is a lot of digital content, so you have to take certain steps to make yours stand out––and the best way to stand out is to create unique content. 

The basic notion is this: readers have access to plenty of useful data, but they are looking for something more than just another blog on a given topic.  They’re looking for the best blog on a given topic.  And search engines like Google are getting better at finding it!  According to blogger Sujan Patel, Google in particular looks for “longer content, images, videos, correct spelling, proper grammar, proper text formatting and […] both outbound links to other high quality sites and inbound links (and social shares) from high quality sources.”  You’ll note that this list implies a certain level of polish in respect to presentation (grammar and et cetera), but leaves room for you to play with subject and theme. 

If certain elements of SEO sometimes seem like common sense, that’s because search engines are getting better at shaping common sense into measurable data sets, and using those data sets to refine the search process.  It may prove helpful to consider search engines as just another ‘average’ reader, albeit a powerfully influential one.  So, how do you create content that hooks in the average reader or search engine?  By posting regularly, on diverse but thematically resonant topics, using means that are equally diverse and up-to-date as well as easily shared across social media platforms, and by tying your content to other websites using links, keywords, and meta data.  (As a matter of fact, Google does hire actual and real people to rate websites for quality of content.  The process is a fascinating one, and well worth a look.) 

As I mentioned last week, it’s important to remember that we’re not just looking for more users to stumble across our websites; we’re looking for the right sort of users––those users who will stick around long enough to fall in love with our written voices and, hopefully, our books.  We all have probably had some experience in stumbling across bloggers who are so good at making their content findable that they forget to make it readable, personable, or worthwhile.  Ultimately, your readers want to find a little bit of you in every blog post (or YouTube video, or tweet, or Facebook post) you put together.  You are what keeps them coming back, week after week after week.  Taking the time to craft quality content that reflects your personality is a practice that will pay dividends for a long, long time.

Check back every Wednesday for the next installation of this blog series!  I’ll be taking a look at titles and tags in a week’s time––and how can you use lofty ‘meta-data’ to bolster your SEO.  See you then!

If you have a question about any of these tools for self promotion, would like to hear from me about something specific, or have other big news to share, please comment below!

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at http://kellyschuknecht.com.

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