Theft by headline — and the $6 mouse that roared

Illustrations have become increasingly important as people find blog content through image-friendly links on Facebook or online periodicals like Seattle Women Daily.

It’s ironic that today’s issue of Kathy Gill’s Seattle Women Daily leads off with a story about importance of great headline writing. That story (a blog post by Nick O’Neill) explains how a New York Times’ article with a run-of-the-mill headline was ignored while the Forbes summary of the same story garnered 680,000 page views. The difference, notes O’Neill, was that the Forbes headline writer “cut out the crap and got to the real shocker of the story.” (You’ll have to read O’Neill’s post to see how that was done.)

The irony was that the same issue of Seattle Women Daily also has a story I wrote, reporting on another site’s reporting of a subscribers-only Nature article about a breakthrough discovery of the mechanism by which exercise may increase longevity. What distinguished my summary from the pack, and won it a place leading the Health section, was not the headline I wrote, but the photo I used —  of a lab mouse who appears to be doing yoga.

The $6 iStock yoga mouse

I’m a firm believer in the value of photos for enhancing the readability and linkability of a blog post. Illustrations have become increasingly important as people find blog content less through search engines or news readers and more through image-friendly links on Facebook or online periodicals like Seattle Women Daily.

This low-res mouse photo, from iStock, was more expensive than the usual photos I buy to illustrate my blog posts — $6 instead of $2. But, oh, so totally worth it!

Welcome to my Macworld | iWorld 2012 friends

Greetings to all the folks I met at Macworld | iWorld 2012 in San Francisco last week!

Greetings to all the folks I met at Macworld | iWorld 2012 in San Francisco last week!

You’ll find my writing about the iPhone (and Macworld) at and my writing about social media and web content here on the Writer Way blog.

What’s next for tech blogging?

Look for YouTube channels to replace blogs, and for successful bloggers to offer how-tos and paid content (my contribution to the predictions for tech blogging started by Jeremiah Owyang).

In End of an Era: The Golden Age of Tech Blogging is Over, Jeremiah Owyang pinpoints the four trends that signal a shift in blogs that cover electronics technology and the tech industry:

  • Indie tech blogs acquired by corporate media
  • Key tech bloggers exiting from major tech blogging sites
  • Audiences wooed away by channels with shorter, faster, messages: Twitter, Facebook, Google+
  • Fewer tech bloggers making a living via blogging alone

My own predictions for 2012:

  • Corporate-owned tech blogs will increasingly adopt the tools of business blogging (better keywording and other SEO elements).
  • It will be increasingly difficult for new tech blogs, even those by well-known individuals, to gain traction — especially if they focus on offering opinions rather than tools or information.
  • Some new influencers will rise to the top using YouTube channels (in conjunction with Facebook and Twitter) rather than blogs. (Check out what Chris Pirillo has been up to recently.)
  • Successful blogs will feature online education (how-tos), including video; they may offer click-throughs to inexpensive ($1 – 5) paid content modules — from online quizzes to ebooks — that expand on the blog posts.

When corporate blogging makes no sense

Once you start treating a company blog like a PR vehicle (posting twice a month, filling it with self-congratulatory press release material, and saving time by ignoring the SEO tools) it quickly becomes ineffective as a marketing tool.

Corporate blogging makes no sense — from the viewpoint of traditional corporate public relations. In fact, if you look at blogging through a traditional PR lens, it’s absolutely counter intuitive.

I raise this point because I frequently talk with public relations professionals who are getting ready to scuttle or let die a corporate blogging program that was established by a previous communications executive or outside consulting firm. To many traditional PR folks, devoting resources to blogging makes absolutely no sense and they can’t imagine why the company started doing it in the first place. They point out that there are much better ways to get out your story to the media and investors — such as the traditional press release or media placement, Twitter, or the company’s Facebook page.

And they are completely right.

However, they are also missing a key point. Corporate blogging is not good PR. It’s good marketing.

Odd as it may seem from the PR viewpoint, business blogs are only secondarily about telling the story. They are primarily tools for helping potential customers locate a company online. Done right, over time, a corporate blog can be as effective at attracting website visitors as paid online advertising. A skillfully done corporate blog lets potential customers know that a company can provide the products and service they’re searching for.

So, here’s a quick guide for my public relations friends who are puzzled by corporate blogging, focusing on why it’s done differently than PR communications:

Frequency. Unlike press releases, which go out when there’s news about the company, blog posts need to go out on a regular basis. Google’s search ranking algorithms continue to reward fresh content. Blogging frequently (a least twice a week) is a great way to get links to a website to appear near the top of search results.

Keywords. Unlike public relations, which is all about getting your own name out there, marketing blogs are all about getting the generic keywords out there — on the web, you already “own” your company name. Suppose a company called Thompson Metalworks sells bakeware to large bakeries. The important keyword phrase is not “Thompson Metalworks” — it’s “bakeware” — or perhaps “baking sheets” “industrial baking pans,” or “non-stick bakeware.” (NOTE: Keywording is not intuitive, even if it looks as though it should be. A good SEO firm can run analyses that show what keywords and keyword phrases people are using when the look for a company in the context of its industry, its region, and its competitors.)

Timeliness. The best way to get a blog post — with its links to a your website — high in the search results is to post about a breaking news story that’s related to your products or services. This does not mean issuing a full corporate analysis, vetted by experts and attorneys, a week after the news event occurs and people have stopped talking about it. It means issuing a simple, innocuous blog post (without any need to insert a corporate spin or go through legal review) within 24 hours of the event occurring. A great example (for our friends at Thompson Metalworks) would be a blog post about music fans baking a 6-foot-wide cake and delivering it to a pop star’s hotel. Or a quick mention of a Wall Street Journal article about an industry trend, such grocery stores expanding their bakery sections.

Use of sophisticated SEO tools. Notice how in the PR world, online press release services have begun including SEO tools in their packaged services? They learned this from marketing. Effective corporate blogs make use of SEO keywording tools (such as excerpts, titles, edited permalinks, tags, and image names) and social media tools (such as links to and from partner sites, and publishing to Twitter and Facebook). This is why crafting a blog post involves more than simply writing and copy editing it. Learning these tools, and using them correctly, takes time.

Basic common sense. Only a small percentage of the visitors attracted to a corporate website by a blog post actually read the blog post itself. Many click quickly through to a product page. Of course, the post still needs to be well written and informative. But, unlike news releases, the ideal blog post is as much about the reader’s interests as it is about the company writing it. Again using our friends at Thompson Metalworks as an example: A post could cover the benefits of registering products, provide information about a sale on a discontinued product line, walk readers through a how-to for upgrading a company product, or simply point out some interesting bit of industry news (such as the Wall Street Journal article mentioned above).

The irony of PR’s disconnect with corporate blogging is that once the corporate communications department starts treating a company’s blog like a PR vehicle (posting twice a month, filling it with self-congratulatory press release material, and saving time by ignoring or misusing the SEO tools) the blog quickly becomes ineffective not just for PR but for marketing as well. At that point, of course, devoting company resources to it…makes absolutely no sense.

Corporate bloggers: Stop competing against Perez Hilton

Stop competing against Perez Hilton. Instead, start using the power of a corporate blog to compete against your actual competition.

There’s blogging…and there’s corporate blogging. Today I’m going to talk about the difference.

Individuals, news organizations, and political groups blog for blogging’s sake. And those blogs live and die by their content: Quality of writing; freshness of information; originality (or outrageousness) of ideas.

Quick — name three individual blogs, news blogs, or political blogs.

Easy: Huffington Post. Robert Scoble. The Unofficial Apple Weblog. Perez Hilton. Gizmodo.

Now name three corporate blogs.


Not so easy.

Just because they aren’t wildly popular doesn’t mean that corporate blogs don’t have their place. Done properly, they can be extremely powerful tools to drive traffic, drive sales, and enhance recognition of a brand, products, or services.

What’s difficult to grasp is that, unlike non-corporate blogs, corporate blogs don’t accomplish these things through great writing, fresh information, or original or outrageous ideas.  They accomplish these results through hard work and smart SEO. Here’s how:

1. They consistently put fresh content on the top tier of the company’s website (which improves search rank for the whole site).

2. They use carefully researched keywords and keyword phrases in headlines, blog text, links, and excerpts. This eventually positions the company near the top of search results for those frequently searched keywords.

3. They link appropriately to other highly ranked websites.

4. They harness WordPress or other user-friendly blogging software to automatically send (keyworded) excerpts with links (think of them as teasers) to the company’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. This makes the resources invested in the blog post go much further.

For reasons too complex and varied to go into here, few companies are willing to admit that their blogs are simply a tool. And, as a result, they miss out on the powerful results that tool can accomplish.

There’s no way that the carefully screened, days-old corporate information or flattering customer stories that make up corporate blog posts can compete with Perez Hilton or Engadget for readership. Few people read them; all people will ever see of those posts is excerpts on Twitter or on a page of Google search results. (And yet, properly written and keyworded, those excerpts can be very effective in conveying a company’s branding to thousands of viewers.)

To make the situation even worse, many companies fail to invest in the sort of professional SEO analyses that would tell them which keywords to use in their blogs (and on their websites). Instead, they guess about keywords — and often end up emphasizing keywords they already “own” via Google (such as the unique names of their products) rather than the phrases prospective customers are using to try to find their products and services. In the non-intuitive world of keywording, it can even be beneficial to violate the old taboo against mentioning the competition. By mentioning your competition or a competing product on a webpage or blog, you can end up with visitors who started off looking for the competitor’s product but got search results that lured them into viewing your product, on your site, instead. (Chances are your competition is already doing this.)

Bottom line: Stop trying to compete against Perez Hilton! Instead, start using the power of a corporate blog to compete — against your actual competition.

Twitter? (yawn) Don’t bother.

Advertising? Twitter has jumped the shark and is diving for the bottom with the fail whale hot on its tail.

My clients are, of course, anxious to get the most mileage out of their blogs by teasing their posts on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

By looking at statistical analyses of the blogs, we can see which of those teases are actually attracting readers. It’ll be no news to anyone that in most cases, the Facebook referrals are on the way up. Referrals from Google searches remain strong, and LinkedIn referrals are stable. But Twitter?

Young businesswoman sitting at desk yawning at Twitter
Are we tired of Twitter? (Photo: iStock)

Hello? Hello? Is anyone using Twitter any more?

I realized with a shock that I’d stopped using Twitter myself. I spend more time scanning (“social news evolved”) and newsletters (sent to me by email) and visiting Facebook (for community and social information) and LinkedIn (for hardcore professional networking news).

What’s going on with Twitter?

News that in two months Twitter will be injecting un-removable advertising posts into my Twitter stream was the signal that, for my purposes, Twitter has jumped the shark and is diving for the bottom with the fail whale hot on its tail. Enough users already are degrading Twitter with 40 posts a day of meaningless marketing babble that managing a Twitter stream has become a royal pain; stuffing advertising into the mix will soon raise stream-quality levels to unacceptable.

The social media strategist’s guide to the Geosocial Universe

This profile of the current geosocial universe will help you plan your social media strategy.

Here’s something to think about as you plan your social media strategy and think about how to invest your time and other resources for online communication. It’s from data visualization expert Jess Thomas via TechCrunch:

Check out JESS3 for more on the Geosocial Universe.

May 18: Ignite Seattle inspires

There are only three excuses for not keeping up with your blog. They are:

  1. You’re dead
  2. You’re working
  3. You’re working yourself to death

Let’s just say I’m not dead. Movin’ right along…

May 18 is the next Ignite Seattle at the King Cat Theater downtown (7 p.m. start time). The list of 5-minute Ignite-format talks is shorter than usual, but there’s a promise that something wonderful and “science fiction related” will follow the talks at the end of the evening. And these folks keep their promises.

I can’t say enough about Ignite Seattle. The talks not only enlighten and amuse, but inspire members of the audience to put together presentations and share their own insights at the next Ignite.

What could be better?

See you there.

Is your website ready for 2011?

Six quick and easy tweaks that can take your website or blog from looking sloppy and out-of-date to savvy and professional.

The start of the new year is one of the best times to touch up your website, blog, or LinkedIn page. I’m not talking about a big, expensive overhaul or redesign: I’m talking about quick and easy tweaks that can take you from looking sloppy and out-of-date to savvy and professional.

This checklist will point you in the right direction:

  1. Check dates. If you’re talking about something happening in 2010 in the future tense, or if you’re featuring a 2010 event on your “upcoming events” page, fix it — fast.
  2. Watch out for use of the word “new.” My ebook Take Control of iPhone Basics came out in October, 2010. I can probably get away with calling it “new” for another or month or so and then it’s simply “my ebook.”
  3. Check photos. If your website has pictures of your storefront taken three years ago, when the awning was a different color and you had a different sign out front, it’s time to get a new photo. Same with your own photo — you may have been cuter and slimmer five years ago when it was taken, but everything from the haircut to what you were wearing is probably dated.
  4. Scrutinize your client list and list of recent projects. This is the time to add the new capabilities you offer, list your most recent clients, and perhaps remove from the list former clients under new management, or who no longer use your services.
  5. Clear out the clutter — especially in your sidebars. Check your blogroll or links lists to make sure these websites are still active (you may be astonished to find out how many changed URLs or ceased operations). If you’ve added links to several videos, books or images, take a hard look at the page and prune it down to the one or two you most want people to visit.
  6. Finally, test all your links. It’s the Internet; things change.

I wrote it! Wait, now you want me to talk about it?

This MacVoices radio interview was a delightful, if unexpected, part of promoting my new ebook.


The new ebook Take Control of iPhone Basics, iOS 4 Edition


This summer I wrote a 138-page book for new and intermediate iPhone users. Take Control of iPhone Basics, iOS 4 Edition, is part of the Take Control series of ebooks (also available in print editions) published by Adam and Tonya Engst at TidBITS Publishing. I’d edited two books for them, and was thrilled when Tonya asked me to take on a writing project myself.

The writing process is iterative: You outline, you research topics, you write sections, you get technical and editorial reviews, and you rewrite. At the end it was tweak, tweak, tweak — plus another round of research and writing to cover the updated operating system for the iPhone.

Maybe you’re not supposed to say this, but I totally enjoyed writing the book.

I also enjoyed, as the writing gave way to editing, developing a modest marketing plan for the book. I didn’t want to find myself in the place where I’ve seen so many authors land: The book goes live, but there’s no support material. Fortunately, Take Control does a fabulous job of creating a book/author page and sending out targeted press releases. But I knew I needed to do much, much more.

A Blog

In July, as I was researching the book, I started the iPhone 4 Tips blog. I used it to write about iPhone accessories, apps, news, and research that didn’t quite fit into the book. Now it includes some information about the book itself — plus the updates to the ebook that Take Control will be issuing. (A huge “thank you” to the makers of the magical DoubleTake software I used to stitch together multiple screenshots to create the graphic for the blog’s header.)

Business Cards

I ordered business cards for the ebook. The problem with using my own business cards is that most prospective customers for the book don’t want to reach me — they want to buy the book. Making them email me, or go to this website — or even to the iPhone 4 Tips website — and hunt around for a link to the ebook is obviously not the way to make sales. The card has the URL for the Take Control sales page. I’ve since met several fiction authors who use book business cards, complete with graphics from the book’s cover.

Social Media

My marketing plan included a list of my existing social media identities: Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, and some specialized professional lists. I drafted little blurbs for each that I used, with a bit of modification, when the book came out earlier this week. I’m still working my way through that list, crafting blurbs that are appropriate for each list. It’s difficult not to feel that I’m spamming people, so I’ve carefully studied the way that each community handles this type of announcement.

My partner, Tom, is an established member of two major web communities; his postings about the book on those sites, using short budURLs I created, have been more effective than mine in generating click-throughs.

The Unexpected

Now we get to the interesting part: What went, not wrong, but not at all the way I’d expected?

First, I sprained my ankle the day before the book went live, which meant that I was implementing the PR plan while alternately in severe pain or pretty thoroughly drugged. I used a proofreader.

Second, there were radio interviews. I’d been lining up some speaking engagements, but somehow overlooked the radio and podcast world. I found out that Take Control authors get invited to be on some of the major technology shows. The irony here, of course, is that my book is less for geeks than it is for the people who pester geeks when they can’t find their email.

Chuck Joiner, of MacVoices, made my first radio interview a delightful experience. You can stream or download the interview.

Audio interviews require earphones and a microphone, I discovered. Fortunately, I have top-of-the-line noise-canceling earphones. I was not as well prepared on the microphone front — deep in my closet I found a box labeled “audio” that contained an ancient, cheap USB mic with a flimsy plastic mic stand. Fortunately, it worked (taped firmly to the desk), even when the cat leaped on the desk in the middle of the taping and began gnawing on it.

As for the content of the radio interviews, I’m realizing that I need more preparation. More on that, later.

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