From search to site through what you say

So I’m getting back into RSS browsing. I dropped it when Google Reader died, thinking that Twitter was really the only game in town for monitoring. But there’s a difference. Twitter is really, really fast and for that reason, I tend to use it for quickly getting an idea of what’s going on. I might retweet or favourite but honestly, do I read much of what flashes by? Not really.

It’s nice getting into RSS again, building up my feeds, this time in Feedly. Feedly’s pretty good with a nice interface but still doesn’t have keyword filters. Not to worry. I liken it to sitting down with a trade magazine and spending time going through what really matters. Flipboard and Google Newsstand are good, but you really do build your own Feedly from the bottom up.

Straight up, solid gold: Econsultancy, ever the publisher of sage advice, features a piece by the wonderfully named Lyndon Antcliff, explaining why an SEO should think more like a publisher. He defines an SEO as someone who gets as many people from a web search to a web page as efficiently as possible. The key to this is links. And the key to getting links? Content.

He then discusses attention, attraction, delivery, response. This is yet another variant of the marketing funnel (awareness, interest, desire, action) which I’ve used many times to illustrate content strategy.

Some people think the marketing funnel is dead. Others think it’s well and truly alive. Then again some people think PR is dead, while others think it’s thriving. Still others think Elvis is dead, the poor deluded fools.

I don’t think you can prove it either way but what I do believe is that it’s a great way to formalise your knowledge. I’m a fan of structured thinking, mainly because I find it hard. If it’s hard, it’s usually worthwhile and then, when you get the hang of it, the other stuff becomes easier.

So, looking at content through this structure you start to see that awareness is really about going to where other people live, so that you interact with them on their home turf. They’re not going to come to yours until/unless they’re aware of you. So awareness is about earned content, and you measure it by the amount of conversation you’re having with people out there. You make this work for you by identifying influencers in key topic areas and building structures through Twitter lists, Feedly lists and so on, making sure you interact with the people that matter.

Interest, then, is when people are curious enough about you to come and pay you a visit. Have a nice sit down and a cup of tea. Maybe a scone or two (yes, I’m British, it shows). This is where your owned channels are important, and you measure this by engagement. If you’ve made the right noises abroad, about the right topics, to the right people, then, when they come to you, if you continue to make the right noises, they might just shortlist you.

What of desire and action? Well, my take on this is that they’re really where your website works hardest. Visitors have surfed through the stratosphere of awareness and the atmosphere of awareness, and now they’ve landed on Planet You. This is your chance to validate their suspicion that you’re the person/team/agency/company for them, and where your case studies, awards and recommendations come into play. And action is really about conversion, so make it as easy as possible for them to get in touch.

Some people reckon the marketing funnel is circular now, with ‘retention’ feeding back from the bottom to the top, like the self-consuming serpent. I see that as a by-product of everything else you do, with maybe some specialist activities such as newsletters so they feel part of the club.

To get back to Mr Antcliff’s point, if you really want to make your content work hard to pull people from search to site, you need to think about publishing. And this is why you need to think about how your content can work for you. I remember in my early days I told people that really, I was a publisher. This blog is a publication. And as we all know, everyone is a publisher now.

Anyway, go and read his post on Econsultancy. He has, I think, a different take on the funnel but it’s broadly similar. Well worth a read.


Flanged bananas. Or: how to write a press release that works online too.

Do you write press releases? Do they work online? As in, can people find them? How do you know? Here are some ways to make your releases work as hard for you online as they do offline.


  • Use keywords
  • Make the title and first sentence look good online
  • Write the release first, then the first sentence, then the title
  • Make it trackable
  • Make it Twitter-friendly

I’ve written more press releases than you’ve had… whatever you’ve had a lot of.

A press release is like great big vat. At the top is a load of stuff that needs squeezing down, down, down – until a little drop comes out at the bottom. So you need to make sure that concentrated, pure essence is as effective as possible.

Often, this just means writing a good release. What’s the real news here? What’s the story? Who is it for and how can you make it as likely as possible that they’ll publish?

But now, the ‘who it’s for’ part also includes an online audience. This could be because you publish your client releases on your own blog (it’s a nice trick, try it sometime). Maybe you’re writing it specifically for one of those fancypants online release companies. Or it could just be that somehow, it just winds up online and you see it floating around months later.

So today, a good release also means something that ‘works’ online. This doesn’t need especially arcane or difficult skills. Here are some tips.

  • Use keywords. SEO may have been coughing up blood last night, but it’s not quite dead. Find a website that talks about exactly the same thing you want to talk about, copy its address, hop on over to the free Google Adwords tool for keywords and paste that address in. The Adwords tool will tell you what it thinks are the most likely keywords for that page and, by inference, what words you should be using. It’s a bit like a reverse search: instead of typing keywords and getting the page, you’re specifying a page and finding what the keywords might have been. Now, use them roughly 3-5 times every 100 words, especially in the title and first sentence because that’s where Google likes them. You just made your release more attractive to search engines because you’re using the words other people use online, not the ones you think you should use.
  • Make the title and first sentence look good online. Again, this goes back to how people might read your release. If they’re using RSS, then for example in Google Reader the title is cut off at 70 characters and the first sentence at 120 (this applies to Google search results too). So if you have nice, well-formed titles and first sentences that get the message across within those limits, people might be more likely to read you. It’s not exactly SEO – that is, search engines don’t prefer titles and first sentences within those limits – but humans do. Maybe we need to call this HSEO?
  • Do it backwards. Write the release first, then the first sentence, then the title. That’s how I write blog posts and as a result, it’s how I write offline too. Usually I have it all in my head after writing it, and find it easier to compress than expand.
  • Make it trackable. Use an unusual phrase in the title that you can then track, via searches, Google Alerts, RSS monitoring, dashboards, whatever. I added ‘Flanged bananas’ to this, which is of course ridiculous (I’m a ridiculous person after all), but it’s a safe bet that when I search for that phrase from now on, I know it’s this blog post (actually, it seems I just inadvertently created my very own Google Whack). If you do it, you’ll know it’s your press release. Especially if you’re writing about flanged bananas.
  • Make it Twitter-friendly. Add a 140-character-or-less pre-made sentence at the end that people can copy and paste, complete with a URL that you can track. Something like “Flanged bananas: How to write a press release that works online too. Brendan Cooper gives some tips.” You just made it much easier for people to spread the word – and you controlled the message and can track it too. Nice.

Note that the second, third and fourth points above could equally apply to any title and first sentence no matter whether they’re offline or online because they just promote the essence of good copywriting. Get the message across with as much impact and brevity as possible, and make it lodge in people’s minds. Don’t give me any ‘revolutionary’ or ‘world-first’, begone with your ‘cutting edge’ and ‘delighted to announce’. It just doesn’t cut it any more. Think flanged bananas.

I usually avoid the cheesy “So what hints and tips do you have” motif at the end of blog posts but, seeing as nobody reads my blog any more, I’m willing to try anything. So, what hints and tips do you have?


  • Use keywords
  • Make the title and first sentence look good online
  • Write the release first, then the first sentence, then the title
  • Make it trackable
  • Make it Twitter-friendly

If you liked that, tweet this: Flanged bananas: How to write a press release that works online too. Brendan Cooper gives some tips.

Business Blog: separate domain or on your website @ Better Business Blogging

One of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to setting up a business blog, and certainly one which I have been asked on a number of occasions recently, is whether it is better to have a blog as part of your website or to set it up as a separate site on its own domain.

I would love to be able to give a brief one line response to this, however, I don’t believe that there is one which will fit all circumstances. So, true to recent form, I have to say that the answer to this will depend on a number of different factors, all of which can contribute to the final decision.

And what are these factors, I hear you ask. Well, the main ones I would look at are:

  • Branding requirements

  • Intended use of the Blog
  • Target Audience
  • Focus of Blog
  • Domain Name Selection
  • Search Engine / SEO Requirements
  • General Marketing Requirements
  • Mark White is the author of this post, and it looks like he’s been asked the question too. He’s been asked it many times: me, just the once. I answered it from the SEO perspective – that is, it would be better to have it on a separate domain because you then get more links coming *into* your site rather than within it. Then I considered the branding issue, which implies that it would be better to have it within the site. But he really considers it from all angles and I’d say he’s pretty much nailed it. If you’re thinking of setting up a blog, read this first. I guess that, at the end of the day, you can actually change your mind later on, but it’s always better to think about these things first.

    Guest Post: Steve Meleka of Noble Meleka on SEO

    That's what I think anyway. Do you agree? Click image for source.

    That's what Steve thinks anyway. Do you agree? Click image for source.

    Preamble: Last week I posted my thoughts on SEO, after receiving a stream of great comments on Twitter that I thought were worth sharing. In turn, I’d posted because I was working on a project with a long-term colleague and friend, Steve Meleka. I worked with him at Imagination Technologies at the time we won the Sega Dreamcast contract, where I was the technical writer and Steve was the web designer. Now that I’m freelance, and Steve has his own web development company, we continue to collaborate on cool and interesting new projects.

    Following from my post last week, and the resulting tweets, it struck me that Steve has a lot to say on the subject – as someone who works on the ground, day in day out, getting results for clients. While there’s a tendency in the social media world for people to think they’re the latest and greatest, we need to be reminded that community and content are not everything. We need to remember the basics. So here’s Steve’s take on this…

    Good, effective copy is what sells a product or service to a real person. But, and it’s and extremely important ‘but’, the people who you succeed in selling to will always be a subset of the people who find you in the first place.

    If the content of your page generates 500 visits in its ‘un-optimised’ state, and you manage a 5% conversion rate then you’ve got yourself 25 sales. Give yourself a big hand.

    But, if you increase your traffic two or three times using SEO techniques while managing to retain your conversion rate you could manage 50 or 75 sales. If you’re selling large individual units – combine harvesters or something – that’s a fat wad of cash. Any don’t kid yourself for a moment tat the combine harvester outfit down the road aren’t trying to beat you to the top of the search results, because they are.

    Appearing at the top and even getting more visits is only half the story though. The saying goes we should work smarter, not harder, and SEO probably falls mostly into the ‘harder’ category. The smart money is in converting visits into sales, which means writing compelling sales copy for people, not search ranking algorithms.

    Tell me though, what use is one approach without the other? Pretty much a big fat zero. Like I said at the start, those people you manage to convert will always be a subset of those you manage to attract in the first place.

    I know very well that quality content is going to get linked to from many other places than just search engines, but most small business people don’t consider themselves ‘experts’ and many consider giving advice dangerous since it could give their competitors an edge. So in the end, at this end of the market it’s not the norm for clients to generate (or even commission, sadly) enough new content to generate interest.

    So what do I see the web doing for small & medium businesses now? Well, people said back in the 90s that the web was going to democratise business, and create a level playing field where Mom and Pop could compete with the conglomerates. In some cases that’s true, but only if Mom and Pop deploy their more limited resources in a new or novel way (see Mashable’s Small Business Success Stories to see what I mean).

    The reality is that the web has just turned into another tool in the marketing box, and often a bigger budget will win out. Want more visits? Publish more content. Looking for more conversions? Test more high quality a/b tested content. More, more, more. In the end, more costs more. (Guess this page will rank better for ‘more’ than anything else.)

    So at the coal face, working with small and medium sized companies, a strategy I’ve found to work is apply SEO in a palatable fashion to generate traffic into the site. At the same time, and ideally within the same content that ranks well in the first place, make the offer or suggest the solution to the problem the customer has and aim to convert them.

    It’s a tall order, I know, and it’s not one I can manage alone. That’s why I hire a kick-ass copywriter like Brendan to fuse the two together for me. It won’t always work first time, but hey, this is marketing, we should be endlessly rinsing and repeating anyway, just like we did with direct response print ads back in the day.

    Post-amble (is that even a word?): What do you think? Do we need to work harder, or smarter, or both? Is SEO dead, or live and kicking? Let me know.

    I don’t like SEO copywriting. Apart from anything I don’t think it has relevance any more. Comments?

    That's what I think anyway. Do you agree? Click image for source.

    That's what I think anyway. Do you agree? Click image for source.

    This is what I tweeted yesterday. Then I went away and came back an hour later – to lots of them. Comments, that is.

    So many in fact that I thought it was worth sharing them.

    First, the backstory. I’ve never really used SEO on this blog. That is, I don’t really identify keywords then deploy them strategically, for example in links or headings, or in my first paragraph. I also don’t try and achieve keyword densities, that is, placing keywords a certain number of times in a post. It doesn’t seemed to have harmed my stats.

    But I work with a very, very good web developer called Steve Meleka, and together we put together some very cool and unusual sites. So, we do employ SEO and keyword density, simply because it’s best practice.

    The only problem is – and Steve won’t mind me saying this – I hate it. It makes me want to cry a little bit, because I want to write nice copy, not copy peppered with keywords. I know I need to, but I don’t like it.

    Hence the tweet. It was more a cry of anguish and despair than a genuine request for comments. But the comments were really interesting, so here they are, together with my responses:

    @KerryMG (who incidentally is a lovely cuddly Porter Novelli person, totally digitised up): why do you think it doesn’t have relevance?

    My response: Because it’s more about who points to you with those words rather than what you say yourself. Communities rule. Plus it’s clunky.

    She came back with: yes & no, relevance of content is key and how you brand/describe yourself too, Plus link building needs those optimised words

    So, Kerry says it’s both. And, of course, she’s right. Probably.

    Four other responses seemed to me to be saying essentially the same thing, that it’s about quality of copy:

    • @PodMatt: surely the best SEO copywriting is just good-ol’ quality copywriting? Today’s web is/should be about quality content
    • @OnlinePRNews: SEO copywriting is relevant as long as it is high quality. Keyword stuffing – absolutely not. Strong, compelling text – yes!
    • @cbingaman: They have their place, but not as imp. as many think. I write for people, not search engines. Search engines aren’t clients.
    • @tonyfelice: re seo copy, thatls what we’re seeing too. makes way more sense to write naturally, and to the customer. density is dead.

    My response to @tonyfelice: Now that really is my take on it too. Density kills copy and I think it’s more about community – what other people say about you

    I thought these were kind of along the same lines, so I also replied to them all with: Agree with quality – but do we need keywords any more? I’m not sure we do.

    @cbingaman replied: They have their place, but not as imp. as many think. I write for people, not search engines. Search engines aren’t clients.

    So they broadly agreed: it’s about people, not computers.

    @thinkitcreative had a good, comprehensive response, no mean feat in 140 characters or fewer: Know & engage audience, have clear call to action, communicate w/ benefit-rich pro copy. Beats clunky SEOcopy every time.

    Then I put something to @thinkitcreative: That’s my take on it – but, just to play the devil’s advocate here, what about ‘the machines’? As in, Google etc?

    @thinkitcreative again replied: My take? Bots don’t buy things. People do.

    So again, it’s about people. But, just to show balance in all things, @OnlinePRNews had the final say: From a PR perspective, having a keyword in your title helps your release rank higher in Google News for that term. 🙂

    And, again, I guess they’re right (because there’s two of them, according to their profile).

    What does this tell us?

    • Keywords are quite important
    • People and communities are more important
    • It’s a right old pain in the arse copying and pasting Twitter threads back together to turn them into meaningful conversations

    But wait. The debate isn’t over. My mate Steve has a thing or two to say about this. I called him to chat about it. He agrees that yes, this is what Google say, especially about meta tags, and it’s what a lot of people say. But he’s finding – as someone working on this day in, day out, measuring traffic rates and getting the phone to ring for clients – that keywords do have an effect. So much so that he’s managed to increase a client’s response rates by 300 percent, through using good SEO keywords and meta tags.

    Is that the final word on the subject? Given that I was quite taken aback at the number of replies I got on Twitter, I doubt it. But then, as everyone knows, Twitter is the real deal nowadays and blogging is dead. And I only have three readers anyway. So I won’t get any comments to this post.

    Bing vs Google

    The following is cross-posted from Philip Westerman’s new blog about personal reputation management.

    De Leon Personal Reputation Management Ltd is involved in online personal reputation management (PRM). Unlike most reputation management companies on the Internet, we work almost entirely on promoting the positive – rather than taking the “defend your reputation” stance assumed by most other PRM companies.

    Therefore, we spend most of our time releasing information on the Internet, on behalf of our clients, for the search engines to find and rank highly in relevant search responses.

    Wrong Bing. Click image for source.

    Wrong Bing. Click image for source.

    The nature of our work is that we are looking to achieve high rankings with respect to web sites, profiles, articles, releases, presentations, videos, photographs and so on, in response to a personal name search on a client. As most of us do not have unique names, we then look at other additional “identifiers” that the searcher might add to produce more targeted results. Typically these will be things like the name of the company they work for, their job function, location, etc.

    Yesterday, I happened to read something about the site. I went to the site and, as you do, I entered Philip Westerman De Leon.

    The responses were very surprising.

    Bing did not return one single response for any Philip Westerman (and there are quite a few of us) on their first page – whereas Google had me (specifically me at De Leon) in the first five responses.

    In addition, Google showed details of other Philip Westermans after my entries. Looking at the results a little more closely, I could see that Bing had produced responses on all permutations of my search terms (i.e. Westerman De Leon, Westerman De, Westerman Leon, Philip Leon, etc) – but not one for the first two words i.e. Philip Westerman.

    Wrong Google. Click image for source.

    Wrong Google. Click image for source.

    So, in response to a search on Philip Westerman De Leon, Bing didn’t find anything incorporating all four search terms. Google did.

    On Bing, if I search Philip Westerman on its own, then it finds us all – but in no combination of all four words (i.e. Leon, De, Westerman and Philip) does it offer any Philip Westerman responses. Google does.

    Of course, Google has been around a lot longer than Bing, and given that Bing has the Microsoft muscle behind it then we should be keeping one eye on it at least. But, while this very personal piece of research is clearly not a definitive answer to the question “How good is Bing compared to Google”, it does make you realise that Bing has a lot of catching up to do.