Sunday, September 7, 2014

Understanding the basics of search engine optimization


Last week I was a guest on the Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat with Melinda Emerson, the "SmallBizLady." I answered questions about the basics of search engine optimization.

Here's the transcript.

SmallBizLady: Many people have heard of search engine optimization (SEO). How would you define SEO?

Brant Skogrand: According to Search Engine College, where I became a Certified Search Engine Marketer, SEO is “the use of search engines to draw traffic to a website. It’s the technique of attaining a higher ranking in search engines and directories via alteration of website code and copy to make it more search engine compatible.”

SEO is divided into two categories: organic and paid. The Search Engine College definition mainly refers to organic SEO.

Paid (or pay-per-click) SEO also is important, because it can provide instantaneous visibility and be very useful for online marketing campaigns of a specific timeframe. Examples of pay-per-click SEO programs include Google AdWords and Bing Ads.

SmallBizLady: Why is SEO important?

Brant Skogrand:  Think about your own web search habits. I know that even if I’m really searching for something, I don’t usually go past the fourth page of Google. I’m the exception, however. According to HubSpot, 75 percent of users never scroll past the first page of search results.

Getting onto the first or second page of search results for keywords that are relevant to your organization can make a big difference in visits to your website – and very likely in your business results.

There are approximately 200 ranking factors that go into Google’s algorithm, ranging from keywords to social signals to tags and beyond. Having an understanding of those ranking factors can help your website rise in the search results. It does take time as well as a fine balance between optimizing your website and over-optimizing your website, which the search engines frown upon.

SmallBizLady: Why are keywords important to SEO?
seo consulting
“Key With Keywords Text” courtesy of Stuart Miles /

Brant Skogrand:  Keyword research is probably the most crucial element to SEO. The search engines are looking to connect users with the most relevant sites. Keywords are more than just single words; they are the terms that potential site visitors would use in search engines to find your product or service.

Hopefully you already know who your target customer is. If not, start thinking about your target customer to move forward with your keyword research. Where do they live? What is their age range? What is your target customer’s gender?

Start writing down a “seed list” of keywords to choose from. For instance, a Minneapolis-based florist might start out with phrases that include the words “flowers,” “florists,” or “gifts.”

Those are pretty general terms though. Continuing on with the example of the Minneapolis-based florist, qualifying the terms will help you get closer to the phrases that visitors might actually use, such as “send flowers Minneapolis,” “florists Minneapolis,” “wedding bouquets Minneapolis,” “Valentine’s Day gifts Minneapolis,” etc.

This final list of keywords is important, because you will want to use them throughout your website: in the text, in headers, in the title of your website, and more. Most webpages can only be optimized for a maximum of two to three keywords or phrases. So, if you have a 10-page website to optimize, you’ll need approximately 30 keywords of phrases to target. You probably would want to come up with more words than that, though. It’s always good to have more keywords to choose from.

Some of the best resources that I have found to determine the actual traffic for various keywords include the Keyword Planner tool on the Google AdWords website, SEMrush and Raven Tools.

SmallBizLady: What role do tags have in SEO?

Brant Skogrand:  The title tag in particular is very important. Search Engine College defines the title tag as “a descriptive name of a page that is shown by browsers as the page name in the browser window.”

After the overall content of a webpage, the title tag is considered the single most important on-page SEO element.

Search engines prefer when your website has a unique title for each page, and may even ignore pages that have the same titles.

Search results limit the number of characters that they show for page titles. The best practice is to keep page titles to a length between 10 and 70 characters.

Use your keywords in your title tag. Put the most important keywords first, as search engines read from left to right.

The meta description tag also is important, as search engines often display this short, helpful summary of your page’s content. Searchers also use the meta description tag to decide which result to click on. A general best practice is to keep the meta description tag to a minimum of 50 characters and a maximum of 156 characters.

SmallBizLady: How can photos be optimized for SEO?

Brant Skogrand:  Since search engines are visually impaired, flashy webpages aren’t as useful as ones that have an appropriate level of text to help the search engines with appropriate context to understand the content and its quality.

Best practices recommend at least 250 words of text on each webpage.

I like to take advantage of any optimization possibility, however, and each photo has the opportunity for associated text. Both ALT text and title text for a photo provide search engines with useful information about the subject matter of an image. The search engines in turn use this information to determine the best image to return for a searcher’s query.

SmallBizLady: SEO is constantly changing. How can people keep up?

Brant Skogrand:  Several websites are very useful that track search engine updates, including: Search Engine Journal, Search Engine Watch, Moz and Search Engine Land.

Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s Webspam team, also has a blog with very useful information.

Many search engine updates, such as Google’s recent announcement that websites that automatically encrypt their services will be boosted in Google’s ranking formula, are covered in the mainstream media.

SmallBizLady: What were the effects of the most recent Google updates?

Brant Skogrand:  Google changes its search algorithm around 500 to 600 times each year. Most of the changes are minor, but sometimes there’s a major algorithmic update – such as Google Panda or Google Penguin.

Recent updates include Pigeon (updates to local search algorithms), Panda 4.0 (part of an update to prevent sites with poor quality content to get into the top search results), changes to Google Authorship, and Payday Loan (an anti-spam update).

SmallBizLady: How can SEO be measured?

Brant Skogrand:  Hopefully it ties to business results.

While you can look at where your website ranks in the search results, there are more measures to look at by having Google Analytics installed on your website, which can track site usage and visitor behavior.

With Google Analytics, you can set a goal conversion – meaning that if people visit a certain page, request an appointment, buy an item, etc., you are meeting specific goals for your website.

Other measurements in Google Analytics range from bounce rate (the percentage of visitors who enter the site and “bounce” (leave the site) rather than continue viewing other pages within the same site) to the geographic location of site visitors to the most popular content and more.

SmallBizLady: What role does social media and public relations have in relation to SEO?

Brant Skogrand:  Earlier this year, Google’s Matt Cutts said, “But as far as doing special specific work to sort of say ‘you have this many followers on Twitter or this many likes on Facebook,’ to the best of my knowledge we don’t currently have any signals like that in our web search ranking algorithms.”

There’s value in having an active presence on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks (like Google+), however, because it can be a way to drive traffic and visitors to your website.

Having a blog on your website also can be valuable as a way to demonstrate thought leadership.

Search engines also reward sites that frequently refresh content, which generally can be accomplished by having a blog.

There’s also value in obtaining media coverage through public relations outreach. The resulting articles could drive traffic to your website and increase the popularity of your organization. In addition, media websites often link to the websites of companies that they cover, which can be a boost to your organization’s SEO efforts.

SmallBizLady: How can entrepreneurs learn more about SEO?

Brant Skogrand:  I found the Search Engine College program very helpful. Their curriculum covers topics ranging from organic SEO to pay-per-click to copywriting and beyond. It’s on online program, and tutors grade your assignments.

Google also offers free online courses through Google Analytics Academy to help people improve their Analytics skills. There also are Google Partners certifications, including the AdWords certification, to demonstrate proficiency.

SmallBizLady: Why did you decide to write the 19 Tips for Successful Public Relations book?

Brant Skogrand:  Many organizations struggle with how to successfully integrate public relations into their marketing mix.

Because of the numerous demands on entrepreneurs’ time and money, many small business owners neither are able to learn public relations on their own nor hire an outside public relations firm.

My goal with the book is to help entrepreneurs learn small business public relations through straightforward tips and by analysis of real-life examples – and then be able to apply public relations strategies and tactics to help achieve their business goals.

SmallBizLady: Are there any other tips for SEO that you can give to startups and developing businesses?

Brant Skogrand:  As you probably have noticed, there are a lot of factors that go into SEO and it can be tough to keep up with the changes.

Even though you can do it on your own, the results generally are better when you hire an outside professional.

Be wary of people who guarantee results. Since we don’t run Google or Bing, we can’t guarantee that your website will rank at the top of the search results for specific terms. By using our knowledge and experience, however, your site should see optimization improvements.

For a collection of more public relations tips, insights and reflections, buy the book "19 Tips for Successful Public Relations: Insights on Media Relations and Reputation Management" from!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

What makes a video go viral


clouds the song
Screen grab from YouTube
While there doesn't seem to be a formula to guarantee that a video will go viral, researchers have found some commonalities among hits across the Internet.

In a recent article by Natalie Kitroeff of the New York Times, she highlighted the following findings from researchers:
  • Emotion is key. The video can cause either a happy or sad response, but is more likely to be passed along the more intense the emotion it causes.
  • Uplifting content is shared more frequently. On the list of stories that are e-mailed most among New York Times readers, depressing content is not shared as often.
  • Ego comes into play. Just like a library with unread books just to look well-read, many people share links and videos just to get more likes, clicks or to evoke laughter or other reactions.
 It takes more than cats and cute babies to become a viral sensation online.

For a collection of more public relations tips, insights and reflections, buy the book "19 Tips for Successful Public Relations: Insights on Media Relations and Reputation Management" from!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Hello, Springfield!


Approximately 200 public relations practitioners recently converged in Springfield, Mo., for this year’s PRSA Midwest District Conference.

While storms in the Chicago area delayed those flying through O’Hare Airport, travelers persisted and were rewarded with excellent learning and networking opportunities.
The conference, with a tagline of “Firm Foundations/New Horizons,” featured three keynotes:
  •       Minnesota’s James Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA, spoke on “Gaining Influence: How to Have a More Important, Powerful, Influential and Fulfilling Career.”
  •       Joe Cohen, APR, the national chair of PRSA, discussed PRSA’s strategic plan, the evolving
    PRSA Leadership
    PRSA National Chair Joe Cohen, APR, addresses QuickStart attendees.
    role of public relations professionals, and the “seven deadly sins of PR.”
  •       Missy Maher of Edelman shared her insights on marketing to the modern family.
More than 25 breakout sessions provided plenty of choices for attendees. Topics ranged from content marketing to social media measurement to chocolate addiction and beyond.

Approximately 20 PRSA members either already involved or interested in PRSA leadership participated in the conference’s QuickStart session. They learned how to focus their leadership qualities for chapter success from Regina Waters, Ph.D., of Drury University, discussed best practices from around the Midwest District, and heard from Cohen on the role of PRSA National.

While a printed program provided an overview of the conference, attendees also were able to download the Guidebook app to create a personalized schedule and be updated about schedule changes on the fly.

The app proved its use when two sessions were scratched due to the cancellation of the speaker’s flight from Chicago.

In addition to networking opportunities throughout the day, attendees hit downtown Springfield for dinner at a restaurant of their choice and ended the evening with a gathering at Springfield Brewing Company.

The annual Midwest District Platinum Award, the district’s highest individual honor, was given to Debbie Harvey, APR. She was president of the Chicago chapter in 2012 and championed and led development of the 2012 Midwest District Conference in Chicago. Harvey works for the American Medical Association as the vice president of change strategies.

Thanks to the Southwest Missouri PRSA chapter for providing an excellent professional development opportunity!

To see tweets from the conference, search Twitter using the hashtag #prsamdc.

For a collection of more public relations tips, insights and reflections, buy the book "19 Tips for Successful Public Relations: Insights on Media Relations and Reputation Management" from!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The art of the apology


Authentically saying "I'm sorry" can be a very challenging action to take.

Last week, however, Jonah Hill delivered an excellent apology on "The Tonight Show." While Hill was on the show to plug his new "22 Jump Street" movie, he insisted on clearing the air first regarding the circumstances in which he was caught on video using a gay slur directed at a paparazzo.

Hugh Grant also delivered a skillful apology on "The Tonight Show" in 1995 for his dalliance with a prostitute. Grant effectively summed it up by saying, "I did a bad thing, and there you have it."

Finally, David Letterman was deft in his apologies related to having sexual liaisons with female staff members.

How come these three apologies worked? They were sincere. They were timely. Above all, they essentially said, "I screwed up and I'm sorry."

For a collection of more public relations tips, insights and reflections, buy the book "19 Tips for Successful Public Relations: Insights on Media Relations and Reputation Management" from!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Removing links from Google


removing links from google
What goes on the Internet stays on the Internet, right? Yes -- except for in the European Union now.* Thanks to a recent ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union, Google and other search engines now also are in the business of being caretakers of people's reputations.

Here's how it works with Google:
  • Europeans can visit this page to complete a form requesting that search results be de-indexed from Google's listings.
  • The results must be “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed.
  • Google will "assess each individual request and attempt to balance the privacy rights of the individual with the public’s right to know and distribute information. When evaluating the request, Google will look at whether the results include outdated information about you, as well as whether there’s a public interest in the information—for example, information about financial scams, professional malpractice, criminal convictions, or public conduct of government officials."
  • A copy of a valid form of photo identification is needed to complete the form, in order to "prevent fraudulent removal requests from people impersonating others, trying to harm competitors, or improperly seeking to suppress legal information."
  • Lawyers or other authorized agents may submit a request for someone they represent.
Google processes an estimate 90 percent of the searches in the European Union, a 28-nation bloc of more than 500 million people.

*In a USA Today article, Eric Schiffer of Reputation Management Consultants in Irvine, Calif., said, "There's nothing that you do on the Internet that can truly be erased. Even this Google ruling—it's the equivalent of destroying a library index card, but the book still exists."

For a collection of more public relations tips, insights and reflections, buy the book "19 Tips for Successful Public Relations: Insights on Media Relations and Reputation Management" from!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

How to write a tip sheet

Guest post by Sandra Beckwith

A tip sheet is a news release that offers advice or tips in a bulleted or numbered format. It’s one of the hardest working and most useful tactics available for generating publicity. Use a tip sheet to generate short column notes in a newspaper or magazine or to interest a reporter, editor or producer in a feature article or talk show interview on the tip sheet topic.

Here’s how to create an effective tip sheet:
  1. Use a press release format. The biggest difference between a tip sheet and a traditional press release is that the body of the tip sheet will include your tips or advice in a numbered or bulleted format.
  2. Start with a headline that mimics those on magazine covers – “5 ways to lose weight before June” or “Top 7 mistakes shoppers make.” Here’s an example from a tip sheet promoting a women’s health and nutrition book to newspaper living sections:
    Expert offers 10 nutrition tips for New Year’s resolutions
  3. Write your first paragraph so it explains why the tips are necessary. The first paragraph and introductory text for the nutrition tip sheet was:

    As any health club owner knows, “taking better care of myself” tops New Year’s resolution lists each year. Yet, many people – particularly women – don’t know exactly what it means to take better care of themselves.
  4. Present a quotation in the second paragraph. This should provide more detail about why the tip sheet is necessary and establish the subject’s credentials. Here’s the second paragraph in the New Year’s resolution tip sheet:

    “Traditionally, women have been caretakers of others in their lives – friends, family, neighbors, coworkers,” explains Susan Calvert Finn, PhD, RD, FADA, the architect of the American Dietetic Association’s Nutrition & Healthy Campaign for Women. “More and more busy women are realizing, however, that before they can adequately care for others, they must first care for themselves. It is clear that they must take charge of their own health. Nobody is going to do it for them.”
  5. Set up your tips with a sentence – “Here are Smith’s tips for saving money at the supermarket” – or a short paragraph, as we have here:

    Dr. Finn’s new book, The American Dietetic Association Guide to Women’s Nutrition for Healthy Living, provides women of all ages with nutrition information they can use immediately to eat right, maintain their health and prevent disease. Here are her top 10 suggestions from the book for women who need a healthier lifestyle this year:
  6. Then list your tips with bullets or numbers. When tips are listed this way, rather than in traditional paragraphs, editors can quickly scan them to see if they would be useful to readers – or not. Make sure you write your tips in an active voice with strong verbs. And make sure they provide advice, not reasons to do something or product features. Here are a few of the tips in Finn’s release so you can get a sense of how this works:

    Make an appointment with a registered dietitian (RD) for a nutritional checkup. Call the American Dietetic Association at 800-366-1655 to locate an RD near you.

    Switch your thinking from “ideal” weight to “healthy” weight. Remember, you are unique. Your healthy weight may differ from your neighbor’s – even if she is your height and age – because of other variables such as genetics, fitness level and overall health.

    Look for “aerobic opportunities” every day. Park farther out in the lot at the mall. Take a brief walk at lunch or dinner. Think of the stairs as your friend.
  7. Finally, add the concluding boilerplate paragraph that you put on most press releases. Here’s the paragraph for the nutrition book:

    The American Dietetic Association Guide to Women’s Nutrition for Healthy Living, published by Perigee Books, is available in bookstores nationwide for $14. Book proceeds benefit nutrition research by the ADA, a national organization of 70,000 nutrition professionals, 98 percent of whom are women.

    Look for ways to include tip sheets in your publicity plan; you’ll soon see how easily they generate results.

Sandra Beckwith, the author of Streetwise Complete Publicity Plans: How to Create Publicity That Will Spark Media Exposure and Excitement, teaches the online “Book Buzz” class for Freelance Success. Learn more at

Monday, May 5, 2014

Public relations case study: Nestle infant formula


Infant formula is one of the products that helped create food conglomerate Nestlé when, in 1867, Swiss pharmacist Henri Nestlé mixed together a liquid food from cow's milk, wheat flour, and sugar for a neighbor's baby who wouldn't nurse.

nestle baby formula controversy
Infant formula also is the reason for a boycott against the company, launched in Minneapolis in 1977.

The roots of the boycott started in 1974, when the British organization War on Want published a booklet called "The Baby Killer." The booklet was widely distributed and translated into several languages. As a result, many church-related groups joined against Nestlé.

Nestlé responded by suing the publisher of the German-language translation, Third World Action Group, for libel. While Nestlé won the two-year trial, the defendants were fined only $400 and the judge told Nestlé that it "must modify its publicity methods fundamentally."

The topic of analyzing the marketing of breast milk substitutes in developing countries continued to gain traction with a U.S. Senate public hearing as well as WHO and UNICEF hosting an international meeting.

In 1981, The New York Times published a lengthy article on infant formula use in developing countries.

Problems when mothers of infants in developing countries switch to formula include: disease because of contaminated water; lack of means to sterilize water; and diluting formula to make it last longer.

Around the same time as the 1981 article, research demonstrated that breastfeeding is healthier for babies.

Nestlé met with boycott coordinators in 1984, and the boycott was suspended when the company agreed to adhere to the World Health Assembly's International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. However, the boycott resumed in 1989 when the International Baby Food Action Network alleged that formula companies were providing free and low-cost supplies to hospitals in developing countries.

Even though Nestlé issued guidelines for mothers on how and when to give babies formula as well as revamping its marketing materials, the boycott still exists today and even has expanded. 

For a collection of more public relations tips, insights and reflections, buy the book "19 Tips for Successful Public Relations: Insights on Media Relations and Reputation Management" from!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...