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

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!

KellyABOUT 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, kellyschuknecht.com.

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

Over the last few weeks, I’ve explored some of the benefits of tapping into social networks (read those blog posts here, here, and here) for self-published authors.  Even for beginners or newcomers, there are ways to take advantage of the complex tools now at our disposal.  And social media is just the beginning! 

This week, I’m going to launch a series of blogs to provide a primer to––or a launching point for future discussions about––another means of augmenting your digital presence: Search Engine Optimization (or SEO).  What does this somewhat obscure term mean?  Simply put, SEO is a constellation of processes that boost your visibility on the internet by making your digital content––whether book page listings, or blog posts, or book trailer videos––easier for the average internet user to find.

But first, a touch of necessary background:

These days, it’s much easier to find information online than it used to be.  The internet has gone through a number of changes, but if you hopped onto a computer in the early 1990s, you will remember just how different the experience was.  If you didn’t have a specific website address to type into your browser’s navigation bar––well, good luck finding anything other than an error message!  Lucky for us, we now have access to search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo.  All you have to do is enter a couple of keywords into the search box, and a complicated algorithm takes those keywords, chews them over, and spits out thousands of websites that contain relevant information.  This search process has become so easy, and so subsumed into our everyday activities, that it seems both natural and obvious to hop online to answer even the easiest questions, including ‘what’s the weather like today?’ or ‘what time does the grocery store close?’

We tend to think of search engines as democratic tools, as likely to spit out one piece of relevant information is it is another, equally relevant piece.  All blogs dedicated to self-publishing should get their chance at the top of a list of search results, right?  Wrong.  The first thing you need to know about search engines is that the results they provide are strategically ranked.  Paid advertisers on Google, for example, spend a considerable amount of money to guarantee that their websites are at the very top of every list.  The second thing you need to know about search engines is that there are some extremely simple––and entirely free––steps you can follow to take advantage of, or optimize your digital content for, these algorithms.  That’s where this blog series comes in––we’re here to help!

Step 1: Optimize Your Keywords

Functionally speaking, a keyword is a word or expression that you and your readers both use to collect together related material.  The best keywords are not just those that show up often, statistically-speaking, in your book or in conversations surrounding your book.  Articles, pronouns, and ‘be’ verbs remain the most common words in the English language, so a truly effective keyword will be just common enough to occur in a substantial number of related texts, and just specific enough to exclude truly irrelevant material.  As an author working to amplify your presence online, it’s important to remember that you’re not just looking for more users to stumble across your website; you’re looking for the right sort of users––those users who will stick around long enough to fall in love with your written voice and, hopefully, your book!  Incorporate keywords in your website (or blog, or YouTube video) titles, meta tags, bodies or descriptions, and in your link profiles.  As Google converts to Latent Semantic Indexing (more on that in future posts!), make sure to identify and incorporate LSI keywords throughout your written materials.

[ For more free resources specifically related to keywords, check out Google’s AdWords indices, Wordtracker, and the Bing Ads Intelligence homepage. ]

Keywords are only the tip of the iceberg!  Next week, check back here for the next installation of this blog series.  I’ll be addressing matters of content––and how can you use the actual raw stuff of your digital presence to bolster your SEO.

Check back every Wednesday to read more about the art of self promotion!  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!

KellyABOUT 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, kellyschuknecht.com.

Navigating the Network | The Art of Self Promotion (part III)

Three weeks ago, I sketched out a few of the challenges facing self published authors looking to build their brands in the digital marketplace, and I made specific note of how great social networks can be as tools of self promotion.  Last time I blogged, I looked at the second and third of my top five points to keep in mind regarding self promotion, and recommended cultivating your physical network as well as developing physical promotional materials.  This week, I’m going to wrap up my top five points with a few words that count both as caution and encouragement––simultaneously!

To get right to the point:

4. Self promotion of any kind takes time.  And energy.  And constant attention.

Perhaps this is my caveat.  As I mentioned earlier, you’re not just in the business of self-promotion––as someone who’s interested in self-promotion, you’re actually in the business of writing.  So when weighing the pros and cons of starting a Twitter account or creating a blog on Tumblr specifically with the goal of promoting your book, consider the learning curve.  Consider the fact that the time it takes to establish a presence and reach your audience through social networks is directly proportional to how much time you put in, and that there’s a considerable element of pure luck involved.  Most tweets languish in the ether unread, and most Tumblr posts are not reflagged, and most Facebook followers are dormant, or run by bots.  So while all of these networks have potential to launch you into instant and global success, they are often high-maintenance and low-reward.  And they are habit-forming

As with all other forms of promotion, you must be deliberate about your use of social networks, carving out time on a regular basis to devote to building your brand.  Thirty minutes a day, three days a week, or every day during your fifteen-minute break between work shifts––whatever it takes, but not much more.  Because let’s face it: As someone who’s interested in self-publishing, you have other things to do.  You need to not just leave time for the other facets of your life––writing, working a job, working three jobs, family, and so on––but be able to throw yourself into them with passion and energy.

5. Everything changes.

If the rise of self-publishing and the ebook has demonstrated anything about the publishing industry, it’s that nothing can stand still for long.  This may be a disquieting fact for traditional publishing and the markets that rely on it, but opening up one’s options to change can also be a diversifying, enriching, and rewarding experience.  The digital and self-publishing revolutions are beginning to reach maturity, but on the whole they’re keeping a weather eye out for new changes, and new opportunities.  Perhaps the most key feature for success in self-publishing (and self-promotion) is a willingness to take advantage of them.  Keep asking questions.  Figure out what options work for you, and what feels comfortable for you, and what is too frustrating or too complicated or taking too much time––and adjust your daily practices as necessary.  Keep interrogating your options.  If a new technology becomes available, or a new acquaintance walks into your life, or a new story drops into your mind, don’t hold back.  After all, this is a business built on dreams.

This was just a primer!  You can find the first and second posts of this series here and here.  Check back every Wednesday to read more about the art of self promotion.  Over the coming weeks, I’ll be diving deeper into the how-to details of managing both social and physical networks.  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!

KellyABOUT 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, kellyschuknecht.com.

Alternative Marketing Methods at BEA

Yesterday, one of the events at BEA was “Surprising Marketing Practices from Around the World and What We Can Learn from Them“. We have been discussing these for the past two weeks with our Alternative Marketing Methods Series. Learning about each of these methods will help you and your book stand out from the crowd.

Though I didn’t attend BEA this year, I do want to share some interesting marketing methods that we will be discussing over the coming weeks:

  • Post an ad on Craigslist. Craigslist is a fairly under-utilized marketing tool available to authors. Posting an ad is relatively simple, free, and gives you quality exposure to potential readers.
  • “Host” a YouTube reading/signing. You can read your book in a brief video and post it to YouTube. You can then put up a PayPal link so that readers can purchase the book for a discounted price. You can send them a signed copy of the book when they order.
  • Host a Webinar. Everyone is an expert at something. Why not share your expertise with the world and gently guide them to purchasing your book? These can be planned for and hosted at any time. There are many free webinar services available that can be found using a Google search.
  • Have a Twitter party for your book. If you are active on Twitter, this is a fun and creative way to promote yourself and your book. Pick a #hashtag, plan the time/date, and tweet away!

Do you know of any other creative book marketing strategies? Did you attend the BEA and get information about new strategies that you are focusing on implementing? Please feel free to share them in the comments.