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Five ways to become a more efficient web writer

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

If you’ve been around writers or business owners involved in search engine optimization and/or web development, you’ve probably heard by now that “content is king.” It’s a phrase so common that it feels like cliché now but it’s consistently used because it’s so true.

User engagement is everything these days. To impress search engines like Google and to keep users on your site, your content needs to be both fresh and relevant. In other words, you have to write often and you have to write well. The thought of accomplishing both scares some people, so I’d like to share a few tips on how to write efficiently and effectively (in random order).

1. Do your homework.

High-quality content is very much about coming across to readers as an authority on a given subject. If you already know a lot about your business or website’s subject matter, you’re ahead of the game. If not, do your homework. Read books, articles and forums. It will slow down your writing process at first but it will greatly benefit you in the long run.

Not only will your online copywriting be more authoritative and appealing to your audience, becoming more knowledgeable about a subject makes it far easier to write about it. If you’re an expert on something, you tend to have a million things to say about it!

2. Make your computer’s operating system work for you.

An overlooked way to increase your efficiency is to properly utilize your computer’s operating system. If you’re referring to other source material while you write, for example, it’s difficult to constantly click back and forth between windows.

New computer operating systems, whether you’re using a Mac or Windows 7, are designed to turn your computer into a real work station. They let you work in multiple windows side-by-side, giving you easy access to whatever research materials you need as you write. If you master your computer’s OS, you’ll be surprised at how much time you’ll save.

3. Good outlines help articles and blogs write themselves.

The actual writing of a blog post or article often isn’t the hard part. The key is formulating your argument and making sure your thoughts are organized. Once you build an outline, the rest of the work should flow easily.

4. Motivate yourself with a reward system.

If you have a case of the Mondays, feel restless or just don’t want to work, consider rewarding yourself for hitting critical junctures. For example, “If I get to 300 words, I get to take a coffee break.” Rewarding yourself can be a nice motivator.

5. Write often.

Practice makes perfect. The more you write, the easier it will become for you, the faster you will do it and the fewer mistakes you will make.

6. Don’t edit while you write.

I’ve debated this strategy with my copywriting peers for years. But, to me, the key is to do the heavy lifting first and the tinkering second. Get the bulk of your thoughts down as quickly as you can. Then, you can review and make necessary changes.

I’ve seen people try the reverse strategy, thinking that editing along the way saves time, and the results can be infuriating. If you keep second-guessing every sentence you type, you may never finish your work, as you’ll never be satisfied!

The ranking of your business, service or product in Google’s search results is critical to your success. Toronto-based content and expert  web writer Ray Litvak understands the art and science of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and using the right words in the right way to increase your rankings. Discover how greater exposure on Google can drive more traffic, increase leads and grow your business. Many of Ray’s clients consistently rank on Google’s first page of results and have grown their business as a result. You can do it too – and it doesn’t have to be expensive. Call Ray locally at 416-226-8676 for a free assessment of your specific needs today. You’ll be glad you did!

Keep your language plain and simple

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

The United States government recently announced a new mandate demanding that federal agencies toss the jargon out the window and write in “plain language” so that bills and rulings become more accessible to average citizens.

While I don’t see the Harper government making a similar decision in Canada any time soon, I see an opportunity for businesses to follow suit here. And that includes any content development company, search engine optimization firm or, really, any business that deploys SEO.

Note that I used the term “search engine optimization” before diving right into the acronym SEO. If I didn’t spell it out, I’d be putting the concept in a very exclusive manner, literally excluding anyone who wasn’t familiar with the acronym. It’s an extremely bad habit. Not using plain language may target more of a niche audience but it absolutely shrinks your audience and, more importantly, greatly limits your chance of attracting new readers or “laymen” potentially seeking out your services.

Think about an industry like search engine optimization. How many TLAs – three letter acronyms – and buzz terms do we throw around today? PPC instead of pay-per-click. ROI instead of return on investment. CTR instead of click-through rate, bounce rate, and so on.

But SEO-oriented businesses aren’t the only culprits. Businesses of all sorts make the same mistakes, using too many “insider” terms. From a search-engine perspective, any company that does that is shooting itself in the foot. Think about how many layman users out there may want to learn more about your company’s offerings but only type in layman-type search terms when they use Google or Bing. If you don’t have enough plain language on your own site, you won’t have plain-language keywords – and people won’t find you in organic search results!

A counter argument could suggest that using insider keywords would attract a more knowledgeable type of user who is more likely to engage your site, click through and possibly purchase your products or services. But it’s not a one-or-the-other thing (wanted to say mutually exclusive but stopped myself!). You can have both plain language and expert terms on your site. Just make sure you ease readers into the more advanced content by explaining things clearly first.

So, ladies and gents, if you want to greatly increase your web traffic, whether or not you’re writing for SEO purposes, keep the language plain and simple!

The ranking of your business, service or product in Google’s search results is critical to your success. Toronto-based Content Writer and Local SEO Expert Ray Litvak understands the art and science of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and using the right words in the right way to increase your rankings. Discover how greater exposure on Google can drive more traffic, increase leads and grow your business. Many of Ray’s clients consistently rank on Google’s first page of results and have grown their business as a result. You can do it too – and it doesn’t have to be expensive. Call Ray locally at 416-226-8676 for a free assessment of your specific needs today. You’ll be glad you did!

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This entry was posted on Monday, May 30th, 2011 at 6:28 pm and is filed under Plain Language WritingSEOWeb Writing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

What’s in a title? A lot, actually

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

And you thought mattress tags mattered.

Sure, mattress tags are important. So important that we’re afraid we’ll go to jail if we remove them. But any web copywriting enterprise or expert will tell you that some other tags – title tags and meta tags – are infinitely more important.

So much of search engine optimization boils down to the same crucial principle: making sure searchers can find your site in the first place, preferably on the first page of Google and other search engines. But there’s more to it. In the case of title tags and meta tag descriptions, having users find your site in organic search results may not be enough. If you want the right users to click on your page – or anyone, for that matter – your tags should be written to properly reflect exactly what product, service or content you offer.

Partially because of the way many website and content management system “dashboards” are structured, it’s easy to take these tags for granted. The little boxes where we enter the extra information aren’t part of our main content “body,” so they can feel like afterthoughts, right?

It’s important not to treat them that way. In the case of <title> source code, it’s crucial not just to put the title of your company or site, but to include a descriptive tagline or call-to-action with it. “Award-Winning Bakery in Toronto – Tommy’s Bakery” will give searchers a much better idea of what and where they’re searching than simply inserting “Tommy’s Bakery” as the home page title tag. Remember, if you don’t fill out the space, a search engine like Google will try to fill in the gap for you and likely won’t do it was well as you could.

It’s not as common in web content development circles to completely forget a title tag; description meta tags are the fields that get neglected more often. Once again, it may feel like an afterthought, but the information that appears under your title in search results pages is crucial.

Think about your own experiences as a user. Excluding established juggernaut sites like ESPN or CNN, how often do you click a search result that has no information below the title? We much more commonly choose the one full of rich and useful information and tells us more about what we’ll find if we click it. Meta tag optimization is key.

So, what’s in a title? Quite possibly, the difference between high click-through ratesand low bounce rates.

The ranking of your business, service or product in Google’s search results is critical to your success. Toronto-based Content Writer and Local SEO Expert Ray Litvak understands the art and science of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and using the right words in the right way to increase your rankings. Discover how greater exposure on Google can drive more traffic, increase leads and grow your business. Many of Ray’s clients consistently rank on Google’s first page of results and have grown their business as a result. You can do it too – and it doesn’t have to be expensive. Call Ray locally at 416-226-8676 for a free assessment of your specific needs today. You’ll be glad you did!

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 7th, 2011 at 12:23 pm and is filed under Google Best PracticesSEOWeb Design Tips. You can follow any responses to this entry through theRSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

In Praise Of Plain Language

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

What is plain language?

Plain language or plain English is understood by a reader the first time they read it, allowing writing for a more specific audience. The three main goals of plain language are that the reader will find what they need, understand that information quickly, and then use that information to meet their needs. Clear and concise writing is however a little bit more than short sentences, simple words and logical organization as you will see down below.

Why use plain language?

Studies have shown that the majority of readers online are more inclined to scan a new page first rather than read it word for word. Increasing your content’s appeal is pivotal to increasing your web site’s readability and catching the eye of these “scanners”. After all, what’s the point of attracting traffic to your web site if they don’t read what it says?  Plain language encourages effortless reading, and when something is easy to read and understand, people will continue reading it. Show visitors your webpage is worth sticking around  by employing some of the following tips.

Plain language tips and techniques

•    Use the word “you”.
•    Use about half the words typically seen in conventional writing.
•    Use bulleted lists and highlight important keywords by bolding or colouring them.
•    Stick to one topic per paragraph.
•    Write understandable subheadings.  An example of this is the popular headline “Kids Make Nutritious Snacks”.
•    Write your articles in the inverted pyramid style: Try to get as much of the important information in the beginning of the text, leaving the least important aspects at the end, or “tip” of the inverted pyramid. If readers don’t have the patience to read an entire paragraph, they will come away having absorbed the most important things you had to say.
•    Using the active voice. The active voice is your more common, comfortable ordering of words, for example: “cats eat fish”, as opposed to “fish are eaten by cats”. The object (fish) receives the action of the verb (eat).

Plain language in everyday life

Plain language allows for much easier communication and understanding by users in a much shorter time. Many government and business professionals are beginning to realize the benefits of plain language and are changing their content to gear it more towards average readers and those whose first language may not be English. The days of impossible to muddle through technical jargon are coming to an end as complex writing can sometimes only create more questions and lead to misunderstandings.

About Writing Web Words Inc:

Based in Toronto, Ontario, we are a full service Content Development and Web Writing Company that helps small and mid-sized companies maximize the potential of their websites via Search Engine Optimization (SEO), SEO Copywriting, Social Media Marketing and other leading edge interactive marketing services.

The Irony: Great Content, Low Rankings

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

There are many aspects of search engine optimization (SEO) and page ranking that are not directly impacted by the content of a website itself. So if you’ve got great content but still have a low search engine ranking, there might be a few more things left to take care of.

What is a page ranking?

Page rankings are numerical values that depict how important a page is in the eyes of Google. The mathematical algorithm used to determine these rankings is dangerous to look at directly and may result in a migraine, but an easy way to visualize it is by imagining pages casting votes for one another. When one page links to or “votes for” another, it can affect page ranking, but the importance of the page doing the voting is also taken into consideration. In general, more votes from powerful pages makes for higher page rank. Google prioritizes its search rankings by considering both on-page optimization and off-page optimization factors.

On-page optimization

This usually involves formatting and emphasizing (bolditalics and underlining) certain words, using keywords properly, correct spelling and grammar and internal linking, just to name a few factors that are in your control.  The meta tags – also called hidden text – that search engines looks at include title tags, description tags and heading tags as well as the keywords that may be found in the url, content, and the alternative text of images.  Depending on the search engine, keyword tags may also play a role.

Off-page optimization

If you’ve gone to town with keywords and other on-page elements already mentioned, but your page rank is still suffering, than off-page optimization should be your main focus. For the most part, off-page optimization looks at links, links and more links, including links to and from social networks, from high ranking and authoritative publisher websites, one-way inbound links using keyword-rich anchor text, and niche directory backlinks – website directories devoted to only one specific topic – can help to boost your search engine and page rank, especially for those in highly competitive online categories.

Quick tips for more back links:

  • Develop an e-zine or newsletter which can be submitted to e-zine directories resulting in a free link.
  • Join forums specific to your web site’s subject matter and place your URL in your signature. This will build your web site’s presence and have visitors reference your site.
  • Submit to search engine directories – it’s another free link.
  • Create and publish articles with your URL in them and submit these to blogs or start your own blog. If it contains high quality and/or unique content, than other blogs may begin to pick it up and back link to you
  • Offer to guest blog on related industry sites with a back link to your site.
  • Buy and/or rent high quality links.  But be wary of this method, as the search engines are often able to identify which links occur naturally and which ones have been bought; placing a low or no value on bought links.
  • Offer to promote other website owners’ products/services on your site in exchange for a linkback.  Oftentimes, you have to give something to get something.  Just make sure that your website is in a related category.

There are other ‘linking strategies’ out there but your goal should be twofold: first off, to acquire and secure quality backlinks.  Second, to  ensure that the site’s linking to you are relevant and useful to both you and your audience.  After all, what’s the point of getting a clickthrough to your site only to have the end user find nothing of value at the other end?

Happy Linking!

About Writing Web Words Inc:

Based in Toronto, Ontario, we are a full service Content Development and Web Writing Company that helps small and mid-sized companies maximize the potential of their websites via Search Engine Optimization (SEO), SEO Copywriting, Social Media Marketing and other leading edge interactive marketing services.

How to Add Fresh, New Web Content

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

Fresh.dot vs. Neglect.dot: How to Add Fresh, New Web Content

Adding fresh, new, relevant content to websites helps draw traffic. Compare a website with fresh, new additions to a stale, neglected website. Then see how to add fresh content.

Many websites are created, launched, and… nothing. Their owners and makers leave the websites alone to wither and die. Let’s call these owners and makers “Neglect.dot.” What does Neglect.dot do?

Neglect.dot acts as though…
•    websites simply, magically draw visitors
•    Neglect.dot can tick “website” off its 5-year plan and then get back to its “real” business
•    stale, unchanged websites continue to attract hits over months and years
•    the web, Neglect.dot’s market, and its competitors will simply sit still—unchanged by current events, new opportunities, and fresh challenges
In fact, Neglect.dot wastes its initial, valuable investment in building a website and squanders the site’s business potential.  The odd visitor might wander over to Neglect.dot’s website (1) because Neglect.dot is the ONLY business in its field, in the world, or (2) to confirm that Neglect.dot still exists. But, how likely is #1 or #2 in 1, 2, or 3 years?

Fresh.dot
In contrast, imagine a website created and maintained by “Fresh.dot” – a website that…
•    offers fresh, timely, relevant content that draws new customers
•    existing customers bookmark so they can visit regularly
•    these loyal customers recommend to more potential customers
•    confirms repeatedly that the people at Fresh.dot really know their business and offer a great product or service
How does Fresh.dot do it?

Do Like Fresh.dot – Add Fresh, New Web Content

1.    Build for change. When you plan or review your site, design for at least one area of regularly changing content—a blog or “articles” or “recent news” feature.
2.    Make fresh, new content a responsibility and priority. Hire a pro and work with the pro. Choose a point person to know the website thoroughly and take ultimate responsibility for keeping the site fresh, focused, and coherent. Schedule for new content. As an organization, make a fresh website a business priority.
3.    Define your core and stick to it. Add new content that…
– complements your core business
– draws visitors interested in what matters to you both
– showcases your relevance to them
Adding new content does NOT mean jumping on the latest bandwagon, commenting on this national crisis or that star gossip, or plunking in hot new key words that draw only people who will never, ever become your customers.

Add fresh, new content that is relevant to your business, your potential customers, and today. For example:
– A headhunter could weigh in on the value of ethics in business success and how to identify high ethical standards among job candidates.
– A corporate teambuilding consultant might piggyback on Olympic fever with lessons learned from team and solo sport wins.
– An elevator company could update on new requirements for workplaces accessible to employees with disabilities.

Fresh.dot gets the gist and the content.  Now, for Neglect.dot…

Writing Web Words Inc:
Based in Toronto, Ontario, we are a full service Web Content Development Company that helps small and mid-sized businesses  maximize their online potential via SEO Copywriting and provenSEO Services.

Local Search Engine Optimization

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

Local search engine optimization
Local Search Engine Optimization is critical for businesses that want to attract local search engine traffic and local customers online.

What is local search?
Finding an authoritative definition for the term ‘local search’ is challenging.  A loose definition could be ‘local businesses run by locals for locals’.  Put simply, let’s call a ‘local business’ one that’s in reasonable driving distance of where you live.

Why is local search engine optimization important?
A 2006 report conducted by Nielsen/NetRatings and WebVisible titled, ‘I Searched, I Clicked, I Contacted…I Transacted‘ revealed that:

  • 70% of Internet users report using search engines to find a local service;
  • 68% said they would use the phone number on the website to contact a vendor;
  • 35% had saved the phone number;
  • 27% searched a second time;
  • 23% has bookmarked a service vendor’s website;
  • 5% used a phone book to find the service vendor;
  • 59% verbally recommended the service to a friend or family member;
  • 38% e-mailed a link to a friend or family member.

In more recent times, a 2007 report by Nielsen/NetRating and WebVisible titled, ‘Message to advertisers: Search engines, not phones‘ noted that “search engines are where people are going most when doing shopping research—74 percent said they use a search engine to look for a local retail or service business.  That beats the number who still use the yellow pages (65 percent), Internet yellow pages (50 percent), local newspaper (44 percent), white pages (33 percent), television (29 percent) and consumer review Web sites (18 percent).”

How do people use local search?
By the time someone needs a product or service, there are usually 2 types of searches they’ll conduct; the first may be for a specific business name (perhaps they’ve used that business in the past, or it came via word-of-mouth): the second being more generic, perhaps a search for a product, service, or brand.

It’s important to note that at this point in the process, consumers are ready to make a buying decision, giving you ‘permission’ to market to them. This is rare, especially in an age where Anti-Advertising Legislations – Anti-Spam LawsNational Do Not Call Laws and popular Ad-Blocking Technologies – are on the rise.

For a consumer in ‘local search mode’,  a popular option may involve the use of a business-to-consumer directory; also referred to as ‘directive or directory advertising.’  Directive advertising is a form of ‘permission marketing’ and includes:

  • Yellow Pages Print Directories;
  • Internet Yellow Pages; and,
  • Search Engines.

Traditionally, ‘directive advertising’ has been dominated by The Yellow Pages Print Directories.  It is difficult to discuss search – especially local search – without giving mention to The Yellow Pages, which is synonymous with search.  It could even be argued that The Yellow Pages was the first Search Engine.

Local search – A brief history
The concept of local search has been around for 100 years: the first business-to-consumer print directory (The Yellow Pages) was published 1908.  Its longevity is based on relevance; more to the point, the fact that it delivers what consumers want – fast and relevant local business information.

How does local search work?
The local search process is similar whether using a print directory or search engine.

To break it down, Yellow Pages Directories sell ‘headings’ (known as ‘keywords and phrases’ in geek speak) and ‘markets’ (known as ‘geo-targeting’ in geek speak).

For example, a business may provide a service [insert your headings and/or keywords here] within an area [insert your market(s) here] that may be covered by multiple directories.  In order to reach consumers in each directory, an advertiser would need to advertise in those individual directories.

To be the first ad, or get on the first page, an advertiser will usually need a display ad; depending on the competition, the bigger and more colorful the ad, the better placement and visibility it will receive.

In addition, once an advertiser inserts their business information in the print directory, it is mirrored – to a degree – in the Internet Yellow Pages, under the same heading and market.

This advertising model has been very successful for TheYellow Pages, benefitting consumers (able to find local businesses); advertisers (able to choose which markets to advertise in); and The Yellow Pages (able to cross-sell and monetize multiple headings and markets).

Prior to the Internet, Geeks, and Search Engines, chances are you simply ‘Let Your Fingers Do The Walking’ when you needed to find a local business or service.  The fact that it has over 90% brand awareness helps make The Yellow Pages one of the most recognizable brands in North America.

The commercial web
Things have changed since 1908; other advertising mediums; print directory competition; and the biggest change for ‘local search’ yet – and Yellow Pages – the Internet.

Like The Yellow Pages, Search Engines also offer ‘directive advertising’ and business-to-consumer information.  But how do The Yellow Pages and Search Engines like Google compare on a local search level?

Despite growing search engine usage, The Yellow Pages are still with us and still relevant; even as other print media usage and ad revenue numbers continue to shrink. In fact, The Yellow Pages and Internet Yellow Pages (IYP) usage and ad revenue outlook, according to the The Kelsey Group, is rosier than its print media cousins.

The Yellow Pages have always focused on print and display advertising – some would say at the expense of their Internet Yellow Pages.  On the other hand, recent online competitors did not have the luxury and stable revenue streams offered by an established print directory, thus; were forced to focus solely on their exclusive web properties.

The results speak for themselves, with the rise in the 1990’s of Internet juggernauts like Google, Yahoo! and MSN.

Also around since the mid 1990’s – but taking a backseat to print – are the Internet Yellow Pages, which have lacked the visibility and reach of major search engines; rather, depending on print ad revenues to provide shareholder and corporate value.

In comparison, competitors like Google have gained online visibility and reach, but have lacked local search content. One of the early knocks against search engines like Google was exactly what people liked about the Yellow Pages – relevant and local search results.

The early days of search
The early days of online search often produced frustrating results.  For example, a search for [Pizza in Toronto] could return random results.

On the other hand, a search for [Pizza in Toronto] in The Yellow Pages Print or Internet Yellow Pages would – and still does – serve up a wide selection of local Pizza Parlors [in Toronto] with convenient contact information.  Just what the searcher ordered.

It is only within the last few years that Yellow Pages has promoted the local search value of its Internet Yellow Pages; dubbing itself ‘The Find Engine’ and running a number of targeted television commercials, radio spots and other media to emphasize the point.

As for Google, it strives for ‘Relevance’.  The more relevant the search result, the higher the usage, which translates into higher and more profitable ad revenue.

In essence, Yellow Pages wanted what Google had (a wide and powerful online distribution platform and audience), and Google wanted what Yellow Pages had (a rich database of local search and relevant businesses to bolster local search results), and in 2004, the first deal of its kind was struck.

Google goes local
In March 2004, Google introduced ‘Google Local’, confirming what Yellow Pages had known and played off for years; that when it comes to searching for businesses, products and services, people prefer to search and transact locally.

As Marissa Mayer, Google’s director of consumer web products notes, “A lot of times when people are looking for something, they want to do it on a local level.”

Google’s local search strategy
As part of its strategy to deliver relevant local search results, Google leveraged third party business information providers able to deliver local search content; one of these being Yellow Pages.

In a September 21, 2004 new release, Yellow Pages Group(YPG) announced “a strategic agreement with Google that will make its business listings available on Google Local Canada, a new local search service that can be found at http://local.google.ca. As part of the agreement, YPG’s 2.4 million Canadian directory listings will be available on the new Google site, helping to provide users of the service with comprehensive local search.”

What does this all mean?
It seems that the bigger and more popular Google has gotten, the smaller it has gotten.  Smaller in the sense that its algorithm can now help a searcher pinpoint to within a very short distance the name, phone number, address, directions and more for a ‘local business search.’

As for Yellow Pages, not only does their information now have wider distribution vis-à-vis the Google deal, but they can also enter into other cross-promotional deals with Google.

For example, on October 9, 2007 Yellow Pages Group (YPG) announced that it had entered into a new strategic agreement with Google to become the first Canadian based reseller of Google AdWords™.

This leaves the door open for both companies to leverage and strengthen each others existing technology and distribution platforms.

For the time being, a basic business listing in Google’s local search platform is free, as is a basic business listing in The Yellow Pages and Internet Yellow Pages Directory.

Note: Part 2 of this article will deal with local search engine optimization and how to optimize your site for Google’s ‘local search’ platform.

Google’s Local Search

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

GOOGLE LOCAL SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION
For those unfamiliar with ‘Google’s Local Business Centre’, this article will provide you with a basis for using it in order to reach local consumers while generating more qualified leads.

GOOGLE LOCAL SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION – HOW TO
Before getting into the nuts & bolts of  ‘Google’s Local Search Platform’, it’s important to know the different types of search results that may appear on a Google search query; namely:
1. Sponsored Links
2. Local Business Results
3. Organic Search Results

1. Sponsored Links (also known as Pay-Per-Click (PPC)- usually frames the top portion (shaded) and/or right hand column of a Google search results page and is clearly identified by Google as being ‘Sponsored’.  This is paid advertising and as such, you can pay to be on the first page for your category.  Pay-Per-Click is an excellent way for new sites to gain immediate search engine exposure.

2. Local Business Results – usually appearing below the top page portion of sponsored links – up to a maximum of 10 listings per first page results – and is accompanied by a Google Map, Title, URL, Address and link to additional information.  This is a free service.

3. Organic Search Results (also known as ‘natural search engine listings’) – usually appearing below local business results with a maximum of 10 listings per page.  This is also a free service.

(Note: Not all Search Engine Results Pages contain ‘Sponsored Links’ and/or ‘Local Business Results’).

Unlike ‘Sponsored Links’, Google’s ‘Local Business Results’ and ‘Organic Search Results’ are free services and as such, Google is under no obligation to list a site in either.

Google goes to great lengths to protect its ranking algorithms for both its ‘Local Business Results’ and ‘Organic Search Results listings’.  At times, the same listings may appear in both ‘Google’s Local Business Results’ and ‘Organic Search Results’, sometimes on the same page.

The following local Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tips will help to get your site better visibility in both ‘Google’s Local Business Results’ and ‘Organic Search Results’ pages, in addition to learning what you can do to influence them.

GOOGLE LOCAL SEO TIPS
Google seeks out clues in determining a websites regional relevance; the more clues you provide Google, the better chance you’ll have of targeting and reaching your local audience.  Some of the following clues that will help Google determine regional relevance include:

1. Top Level Domain (TLD)
Google will consider your domain name in assigning regional relevance. A site with a [.ca] suffix provides a clue to Google that the site is Canadian, and likely targeting a Canadian audience. A url with the actual location/region built into it (e.g. www.toronto[service].ca) should provide another region-specific clue.

2. IP Address
Google will consider where your site is being hosted from.  For example, if it resides on a Canadian server, Google will have found another clue as to the regional relevance of that site.

3. Web Content (On Page Information)
The text on your website is yet another clue that Google – and your audience – use in determining regional relevance, and includes a number of considerations, for example:

  • Contact Information: Google may cross-reference location information posted on websites against trusted third party sources (i.e. Local Telco’s and Directories).  As a result, it’s important to list this information on your site.  At the very least, this information should reside on your ‘Contact Us’ page, for the benefit of Google & visitors and should include the following elements:
  • Address
  • City/State
  • Postal Code/Zip Code
  • County
  • Area Code
  • Local Phone number
  • Location and keyword usage: Build ‘geo-modifiers’ and spelling variations of those areas you want to target, including:
  • Neighborhoods
  • Suburbs
  • Towns
  • Cities

Searches for the same region may be conducted differently.  For example, those searching for something in ‘San Francisco’ might search using any one of the following ‘geo-modifiers’: “SF”, “SFO”, “Bay Area”, “North Beach”, “SanFrancisco” and “San-Francisco”. Those searching “Toronto” might also use “Greater Toronto Area” and/or “GTA”.

As well, some countries share the same city names:  For example, Cambridge (Massachusetts and United Kingdom), London (Ontario and United Kingdom) and Paris (Texas and France).

In a nutshell, consider short-forms, abbreviations, synonyms, alternative spellings, misspellings and region-specific references when optimizing content for local search engine optimization.

4. Title and Meta Tags
It’s vital to include location information in your title tags when optimizing for local search.  That said, Google is getting better at sussing out regional-specific indicators via on page content – good news for sites with poorly written title tags:  still, there’s no substitute for well crafted title tags and, to a lesser degree, description tags.  Taking care to do both will let Google and your audience know who you are, what you do and where you do it.

For example, a Web Writer (yours truly) that wants to attract clients from their local area (Toronto) may go about creating any one of the following 3 title tags:

Poor:
<title>Welcome</title>

Better:
<title>[Writing Web Words] [Web Writing Services]</title>

Best:
<title>[Writing Web Words] [Web Writing Services] [Toronto] [Ontario, Canada]</title>

Note: It is always a good idea to include both City and Province/State for local search engine optimization efforts.

5. Google’s Local Business Centre
A relative new comer to the world of ‘local search engine optimization’, Google’s local business centre is one of the most powerful weapons in any SEOs arsenal.

The most effective method of getting your site included in this directory is by submitting it to Google’s local business centre, also known as Google Maps.  Some sites acquire listings in this sub-directory without physically submitting their sites:  in these cases, Google populates Local Search Results with business listings from third party directories: To maximize your Local Listing, it’s best to do it yourself; or better yet, having someone familiar with this tool to do it for you.

Once you register with Google Local, they’ll confirm your listing by contacting you. Part of this process requires that you set up an account with Google.  Following that, you can start buidling out your Google Local Business Centre Listing.  In order to ensure that you are providing relevant information, Google will have you complete information relating to your business’ products and/or services.  This is where things can get tricky; entering the incorrect the information can result in improper categorization and lost opportunities.

There are 7 fields you will be asked to complete:

  1. Basic Information Including:
  • Country
  • Company/Organization
  • Address (City, Town, State, Province, Postal Code/Zip Code)
  • Phone
  • E-mail Address
  • Website
  • Business Description

2.    Categories:

Google’s Local Business Centre lets you enter up to 5 categories.  When doing so, consider keyphrases relevant to your business.  Getting this part right is crucial to local search engine optimization success.  Also, while some categories are pre-programmed (most likely drawn from business directories like Yellow Pages and Superpages), Google does allow you to customize some of your search terms and phrases.

3.    Hours of Operation:

This field is optional: You can choose to either display hours of operation or not.

4.    Payment Options:

Google offers a number of payment options that can be displayed.

5.    Photos:

There is also an ‘upload photo’ option (up to 10 images) should you wish to profile your storefront, logo and/or images of your products.

6.    Videos:

Google allows other listing enhancements such as videos (up to 5 videos per listing).

7.    Additional Details:

You can also include additional business information such as Parking, Brands Carried etc…

Once your website and business information have been submitted and accepted, it should take approximately 7 to 10 business days before you get ranked and listed in Google’s Local Search Results.  Shortly after going live, visitors will be able to post reviews which, according to some SEOs, may also help your ranking and visibility, as well as give visitors more reasons to contact you.

IN CONCLUSION
A number of factors are making Local Search Optimization and Advertising more attractive to consumers, especially for ‘service-related businesses’.  Considering the rising cost of gas and studies pointing to the fact that local consumers prefer to purchase locally, it’s a no brainer.  As for how much longer it will continue to be a free service has yet to be seen.

Happy Local Searching!

Ray Litvak
www.writingwebwords.com
Website Writer Toronto

How to Become a Professional Web Writer

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

Wikipedia.org defines the term professional as, “An occupation, vocation or career where specialized knowledge of a subject, field, or science is applied. It is usually applied to occupations that involve prolonged academic training and a formal qualification.”

Although ‘specialized knowledge’ is required to become a ‘professional web writer,’ there are no well recognized governing bodies that bestow such an accreditation.

One can take courses – mostly online – that are offered by web writers and self-proclaimed gurus; but again, none of them carry universal recognition.

Colleges and Universities are starting to offer courses of this nature, but they tend to be one-off courses, rarely providing certification and that sought after professional designation that would and could separate the amateurs  from the professionals.

So, how does one become a professional writer?  How do you determine a professional web writer from an amateur and what is a professional web writer worth?

Becoming a Professional Web Writer
Yours truly has had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with others making a living as web writers and the consensus is in – most are self taught.

Like anything worthwhile, it involves trial and error and in some cases, baptism by fire.  But it can be learned.

It helps to have a penchant for writing, research, a love of the Web and a curious mind.  It involves continuous learning, the ability to spot trends and patterns and more importantly, doing it day in and day out.

In short, the best place to learn to write for the Web is the Web. There are a number of credible –and not so credible – online sources and resources that will help you get started.  For instance, search engines have ‘content quality guidelines’ that tell you what they value in terms of content and what will get you flagged; or worse, banned.

Forums are another excellent resource.  Try to align yourself with a well established forum that has been around for a while and has a section devoted specifically to your area(s) of interest (i.e. Online Copywriting, Search Engine Optimization etc).  One of the better ‘Online Copywriting Techniques’ forum is Jill Whalen’s, found at http://www.highrankings.com/forum/.

Web writing authorities do exist.  These authorities acquire and maintain their status by publishing insightful articles, studies and observations about web writing.  One of these authorities is Jakob Nielsen:  If you research the world of web writing, chances are good that you will stumble upon Mr. Nielsen’s website – www.useit.com.

In addition to Jakob Nielsen, other popular – and veteran – authorities include Roberty Bly, Bryan Eisenberg, Steve Krug, Rachel McAlpine, Gerry McGovern, Janice (Ginny) Redish and Nick Usborne, to name a few.

Ironically, many ‘web writing authorities’ also produce print publications.  It would seem that a number of people still consume information via the printed word; be that as a result of habit, online readability issues, carpal-tunnel-syndrome-prevention, or all of the above.  As much as yours truly tries to live a paperless lifestyle, the printed word is still the preferred mode of information gathering, especially for longer reads.

What Should a Professional Web Writer Know?
Becoming a professional web writer involves knowledge of a number of web and writing related elements, along with the ability to combine and make order of them – all of this while still writing with your audience and search engines in mind. A professional web writer may be considered someone with a deep understanding and knowledge of:

  • Web page design and technical guidelines;
  • Search engine (SEO) quality guidelines and best practices;
  • Keywords and keyword relevance;
  • Proper grammar and usage;
  • Web content writing; and,
  • Web copy writing/persuasion.

And yes, there is a difference between a ‘web content writer’, ‘web copy writer,’ and just to add to the confusion, a ‘seo writer.’

For instance, web content writing is about answering your visitor’s questions; namely Do You andCan You questions.  Examples of web content would be your
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s), About Us and Contact Us pages, to name a few.

Web copy writing is that copy on your web pages that gives your reader a reson to take take action, whether it be to contact, subscribe, register, download
something or reach for their credit card.

Copy Writing has been around since Sears published its first print catalogue in 1888.  The main difference in this case is the medium, but the message remains
the same – providing reasons for people to act.  Some examples of web copywriting elements would be the following calls-to-action:

  • Free Trial Offer
  • Save 10%
  • While Supplies Last

Most e-tail websites measure success based on conversions: also known as sales in the bricks and mortal world.  Effective web copy should and could help
increase conversions, turning browsers into buyers.  And when it comes to e-tailing, no one does it better than Amazon.

So, if web content explains the person, place or thing you are promoting, web copy should help to persuade yoru visitor to find out more about that person, place or
thing and take the next step in the process.

But before any of the above happens, a visitor must first be able to find your website online: this is the role of seo writing.  Although you write for your audience
first, search engines look for and value relevancy and to be indexed, ranked and found, your site must be relevant.  A large part of this process is determining
the ‘search words’ or ‘keywords’ that your audience uses and strategically building them into your copy.

A professional web writer should know how to write for a website audience AND search engines while also building readability, searchability and persuasion into
web pages.
What Does a Professional Web Writer Do?
Suffice it to say that not all web writers offer the same services.  Some will offer straight writing, while others may offer ala carte services.  For instance, some will require you to provide your own keywords and in some instances, your own copy which they will convert to web friendly documents.

Simply put, a professional web writer writes web content and/or web copy.  More to the point, web content and web copy that consider a number of elements including ‘on page content/copy’, ‘meta data’ and ‘writing’.  Someone offering a complete service would most likely include the following:

  • Page Theme – as a rule, one page should deal with one thought;
  • Page Goals – what is the purpose of the page (i.e. sell, inform);
  • Category and Topical Research – what information will the page contain (i.e. citations, statistics, references, quotations);
  • Keywords Research and Analysis;
  • Metadata development – (i.e. Title, Description Tags, Keywords Tags);
  • URL’s – (i.e. Optimizing and Organizing);
  • Crafting Compelling Headlines and Headings – (H1 Tags);
  • Page Formatting – (i.e. Readability, Scannability, Usability);
  • Call To Action;
  • Editing and Proofreading.

When it comes to web writing, the devil really is in the details.

Challenges in Establishing a Web Writing Career
One of the biggest challenges you’ll have is promoting your services.

Once you’ve determined that you have the desire and basic writing abilities, you’ll need familiarity with the following:

  • Marketing skills – knowing who your audience is and how to market to them;
  • Sales skills – knowing what your services are worth and how to sell yourself;
  • An Entrepreneurial attitude – necessary to manage administrative duties;
  • Creativity; and,
  • Tenacity.

These skills will serve you well; especially at the beginning and until you can build up referrals and a regular client base.

At the outset, a professional website will be your most effective marketing tool.  Your customers will expect you to have a high quality and effective web presence

Those that sell sign products use the following axiom: “A business with no sign, is a sign of NO business.”  A web-based business without a website is akin to
a business with no sign online.  Consider a high quality website that profiles your work as an investment and example of the high quality work you can and will deliver.

Furthermore, the knowledge you have gained during your web writing research will help you to write and optimize your content, ensuring that it gets indexed and
ranked by major search engines.  If developed properly – and in time – your website should yield leads via those searching for your services online.

What Is a Professional Web Writer Worth?
This depends on a number of things; one of which is the value you bring to your client.  There are clients who place a low value on web content development, choosing instead to write it themselves, use print brochures and/or hire cheap labor.  Sadly, there are people who will write for pennies-per-word and low-dollars-per-page.

There are also clients who require high quality content from expert writers familiar with a particular niche, or are willing to educate themselves on certain
subjects, products and services.  These clients know that high quality content is what maintains and attracts existing and new visitors/customers to their web
properties, builds site authority and in turn, advertising revenue.  Clients who value your services are to be cherished: They will pay for your services and
appreciate the value derived from them.  In essence, charge what YOU are worth.

Determining What Your Web Writing Services are Worth
Again, it comes down to value; or, the perception of value.  For instance, some clients view writers as providers of words on paper or in this case, words
that are rendered on someone else’s computer monitor.

Other clients view writers as providers of:

  • Higher search engine rankings;
  • Targeted traffic;
  • Sales; and,
  • Advertising revenues.

Both writers may offer a similar service, but which writer would you rather hire? In essence, talk – or write – in terms of the benefits that your web writing
skills will deliver. Anyone can write.  But it’s the rare individual that can help grow a business.

Ray Litvak
www.writingwebwords.com
Professional Web Content and Copy Writing Services – Toronto

Using and Optimizing HTML Title Tags

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

Using and Optimizing HTML Title Tags for Search
An HTML Title Tag is a snippet (short text preview) of HTML that provides details about a web page:  It is primarily used by Search Engines for indexing and displaying sites in SERP’s (search engine result pages).  Title Tags help search engines and searchers determine the nature, importance and relevance of your web pages.

For search engines, title tags are the most important piece of text on your website and usually the first text to be crawled and categorized.  A well-written title tag defines the topic of your web page and influences your site will rank.  For searchers, the title tag is the first copy viewed relative to a particular search result as well as the link to your website from SERP’s.  A well-written title tag
is compelling, and should encourage readers to click-through to your website.

Data about online information seeking behavior shows that many searchers choose to view nothing else but the title tag – the first line on a SERP. If well-written, they help with conversions, so they should be written with care.

Identifying and Viewing HTML Title Tags
Title Tags can be viewed a number of ways including:

  • search engine results pages, as blue hyperlinks
  • at the very top of your browser’s window title, on the left hand side
  • a websites source code, also referred to as hidden content*

*hidden content is ‘Meta Information’ found in a website source code.

To view a websites ‘Title Tag Information’, do the following:

1. Using Internet Explorer, click on the ‘View’ button
2. Next, click on ‘Source’, the tenth button from the top
3. By clicking on ‘Source’, you should now be able to view that websites ‘Title Tag’, surrounded by HTML tags:
<html>
<head>
<title>Insert Title Tag Text Here</title>

The text inserted between the title tags is what will appear in the search engine results pages as hyperlinks to your web page(s).

Title Tag Examples
Search engines allow limited space for title tags in search engine results pages; Google shows about 70 characters, including spaces and punctuation.  Other search engines may show more before being truncated – cut off.

Writing a compelling title tag within the allotted space can be challenging.  Along with a compelling message, you may also want your title tags to communicate:

  • who you are
  • what you do
  • where you do it

For examples of good – and not so good – title tags, see the following fictional web design company examples:

Not good:
<title>Welcome</title>

Better:
<title>Web Design Home Page</title>

Best:
<title>Web Design home page | Web Design services for small and medium sized business</title>

Avoid doing this (may be seen as spam by search engines):
<title>Web Design web site design web-site designs commercial corporate industrial professional small medium large business custom web design web development</title>

Google says:

“Make sure that your TITLE tags are descriptive and accurate.
Your title tags contain important information that Google uses when indexing your site. Descriptive information will give us good information about the content of your site. In addition, text contained in your title tag can appear in search results pages, and useful, descriptive text is more likely to be clicked on by users.”

Title Tag Uses – A Marketing Perspective:
Along with telling search engines and searchers what your web pages are about, title tags can also serve to:

  • brand your company, products and services online
  • inspire a call to action
  • geo-target (let searchers know you serve a specific region)
  • help gain a competitive edge – you can view competitor site title tags

10.5 HTML Title Tag Writing Tips:

  • every web page should have its own ‘unique title tag’
  • avoid duplicate title tags
  • use keyword-rich text, leading with your most important words first
  • treat title tags as you would headings
  • ensure title tags can stand alone, independent of your web page
  • omit adjectives and fluff words (i.e. Welcome) – space is limited
  • keep title tags to about 70 characters, including spaces and punctuation
  • if your business is local, be sure to insert the region (i.e. Web Design services in Toronto, Canada) in your title tag
  • although some use automatic title tag generators, we recommend customized title tags for best results
  • your web pages title tag text should also be reflected in the body of that web pages content

Note: For more visibility in SERP’s, CAPITALIZE the first few words in your title tag
Ray Litvak
www.writingwebwords.com
Web Writing and Online Copy Writer – Toronto

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