Do you see your customers as flat demographics or as real people?
If you are too caught up in creating a “client avatar” you may be missing the chance to connect with the real humans behind those numbers.
What is a client avatar?
Sometimes called a persona or ideal client, this is just an idealized version of who you want your clients to be. Most client avatar worksheets focus on you seeking and understanding your clients’ needs (or “pain points” which might be one of my least favorite terms ever). While it can be helpful to tease out your clients’ demographic information for yourself – especially when considering something like Facebook advertising (which has impressive ad targeting abilities), it is equally as valuable to approach it from a perspective of which clients are the best fit for what you offer.
For example, if you sell couches, you could say “I can sell to anyone! Everyone needs a couch!” This is true in an extremely broad sense. Most of us DO need couches at some point. However, you can’t sell to someone who doesn’t need a couch, doesn’t like the kind of couches you sell, or is opposed to couches entirely, and thinks only chairs are suitable for sitting.
By eliminating a few types of people, we’ve just narrowed down your audience a bit, right? Now you can say “I sell couches to people who need the kinds of couches I sell.”
Now we’re getting a little closer, but that still isn’t terrifically helpful to you.
But if we dig deeper, we can move closer and examine the kind of ideal client you are excited to see. At this point, take a look at which clients make you happy, energized, and thrilled to do the work you do. What common elements do they have? What is it about working with them that makes you happy? Which customers make you leap out of bed in the morning because you can’t wait to work with them?
Continuing our couch example, let’s look at the types of people who would be interested in buying a couch AND who would also be your ideal client:
Are they young families looking for something durable, yet comfortable? Maybe you love working with families and helping them find something in their budget.
Are they people who love interior design? Maybe helping people pull together all the pieces of home décor is fun for you.
Are they someone looking for unique furniture? Maybe you are most excited to work with someone looking for the perfect piece regardless of cost.
Are they someone who asks lots of questions? Maybe educating clients is something you love to do!
Obviously, your answers will vary depending on what you sell and your own personality. They may even change over time!
We can also flip this around and look at the types of customers you aren’t excited to see. What kinds of customers drain you? What types of interactions aren’t worth a sale to you? Which customers make you want to crawl back into bed and pull the covers over your head?
Are they someone who is consistently rude to you or your staff?
Are they someone who drags out the sale process, but never decides?
Are they someone who makes demand after demand?
By avoiding those kinds of clients (or sending them to someone else), you can enjoy your work more as well as leaving space in your schedule for clients you are excited to see!
Yes, it can feel scary to set boundaries and stand up for ourselves, our time, and our business. Deciding there are some clients who aren’t a good fit for us can feel scary. What if we refer them to someone else and no one comes to take their place?
The next time you are tempted to segment your clients into little boxes, turn it around and look at it from the perspective of “who do I want to work with and what do I want to do” rather than “who will give me money” (and don’t get me wrong – money is awesome!).
Are generic client avatars helpful? They can be! But you don’t have to know every detail of a fake person’s life to connect with real people. Strictly following a client avatar worksheet may also inadvertently cause you to miss a great client because they didn’t fit into your predetermined client mold.
Do I have to blog to succeed?
No. Nope. Not at all.
End of blog post? Not quite.
No, you don’t have to have a blog on your business website. Lots of businesses don’t.
But before you leave thinking “Gwen says I don’t have to write blog posts,” I want to talk about the benefits of blogging for your business.
Communicate with Current and Future Clients
Blogging gives you a chance to speak to your audience directly AND gives you a chance to speak to an audience you haven’t met yet. I have no idea who will read this blog post. I don’t know where it will be shared or how often. Which means, I may be speaking to someone who needs my help with their marketing, even though we’ve never met and they’ve never heard of me before (if that is you, welcome!)
Write about topics that are important to you and and your clients
You get a chance to go in depth with ideas and topics your audience would find useful. Many of my blog posts are instructional. My SEO 101 series and my Periscope 101 post are great examples of this. I’m able to provide information that is useful and relevant to the people who could benefit from my expertise.
This is my blog so I could talk about my favorite cookie recipe (best cookies ever!), my obsession with Hamilton (no shame here, I adore it), or my volunteer work with a local animal shelter and other non-profits. Instead, I prefer to talk about things my clients (and potential clients) would find helpful as they navigate the world of digital marketing.
Use Keywords to Help People Find You
Including keywords and keyword phrases in your blog posts helps your potential audience find you.
When someone uses a search engine they enter a specific word or set of words. If I have a craving for dim sum and I live in Portland, I enter the phrase "dim sum Portland" - this tells Google both *what* I'm looking for and *where* I'm looking for it. In many instances, I don't need to specify Portland because Google already knows where I am via location tracking on my phone or laptop.
For local businesses, blogging can be enormously important as it can educate, inform, build trust in what you do, and focus on your specific location in a way that attracts potential searchers to your blog page.
Once upon a time, Google relied on specific keywords to tell it what was on a page, but now it looks at other words that are in the same topic family or should be associated with those words. In my dim sum example above, Google might also expect to see the phrase "Chinese food" and maybe the names of specific dishes.
If you were doing an internet search for your business, which words and phrases would you use? What questions do your customers need answered? If your business is highly technical or specific, and your client base is the general public, remember to use words that *most* people would use to search for your business.
Earn Links from Other Websites
Links are becoming increasingly important as Google and other search engines find ways to provide both value and context to their users. By providing good, useful, interesting content that someone might want to share with others you create the opportunity for linking. Quality websites sharing links to your website will affect not only your website traffic, but also your overall ranking on search engines. Thanks to social media, links can spread quickly.
Creating Your Own Content to Share
Speaking of social media, blogging allows you to create your own content to share and reference again and again. This means you are able to share your own work and connect with people, rather than sharing another persons thoughts and ideas. I'm a fan of mixing it up on social media and sharing your own posts and posts that inspire you.
Many of my blog posts are inspired by questions I'm asked frequently. Rather than rewrite the same thing over and over, and possibly missing an important detail or distinction, when I write a blog post, it is an easy to find and reference piece of information when the topic comes up.
Which means the next time someone says "Why do I have to blog?" "What is the purpose of blogging?" or "Are you really going to make me write a blog?" I can send them here where they can process and think about blogging and how it applies to their business.
If you want to learn more about best practices and how the look of your blog can help you reach more readers, you can read my Anatomy of a Blog Post. If you're stuck on what to write about or how to do it in a way that feels right to you, email me and we'll chat!
I love digging into the different facets of marketing to learn more about how and why they work. I believe modern digital marketing tools like social media and websites should be an extension of how we interact with each other in person.
Right now, I want to talk about some annoying marketing trends I can’t wait to see go away:
Too many emails
Sure, you want to stay in touch with your audience, but does that really need to be daily?
Emails with no value or just links back to their site
If you are taking up space in someone’s inbox, you owe them the courtesy of providing something of value. A fluff-filled email wastes your reader’s time.
"Six figure” anything
Money is awesome! I love money! But the “six figure” crap needs to go away first.
Trying to make me feel bad for not signing up for "the thing"
Don’t guilt people into doing things. That’s rude.
Downplaying the importance of hard work
Owning a business is hard work. Marketing your business is hard work. Balancing life and work and everything else is REALLY hard work. Some things will come easy to you, and you’ll struggle with others. That’s normal.
“Passive income” (especially when coupled with photos of the beach or a hammock)
This is the big daddy of “look how easy it is”. Just create a thing, sit back, and watch the money roll in. And, by the way, if you pay me thousands of dollars, I’ll show you how to do it. Yuck.
The idea that each email has to have a yucky (I mean "effective") subject lines
Last chance, You'll be sorry, Oops, we made a mistake, You'll never believe this, You MUST do this today – do any of these make you feel good? Are you sick of seeing them in your own in box?
Awful freebies (either no value or poorly put together)
Is there anything worse than signing up for a freebie that sounds interesting, only to have it be worthless or riddled with typos? And now you are on someone’s mailing list.
Any video or music that auto plays.
No. Don’t do this.
Webinars that are a waste of time
Someone is giving up time to watch your thing, you owe it to them to be good, helpful, and useful.
“Branding” is a hot word right now and I'm seeing it applied all over the place to describe a variety of different things.
Depending on who you are talking to branding can mean:
How do I brand myself
How to brand your website
How to create a brand through photography
How to create a brand through awareness
For example, when I say “branding” I’m usually talking about the voice you use when writing blog posts, the types of things you share on social media, the general feel of your website, and the experience your customers get from working with you:
I’m a marketing person, so when I talk about branding, I’m talking about it from an overall marketing perspective.
If you look at branding as “how the world sees you”, you’ll see it can pertain to almost anything in your business. Which can be overwhelming at first, but also valuable for finding ways to make your overall brand stronger because lots of little things add up.
Branding and graphics
Take a look at this Target ad, for example.
You know Target, right? The red and white bulls-eye? Watch the video and look for all the ways they are incorporating their colors and circles. Notice how there are no hard edges? Everything has a rounded feel to it. Would that ad be as effective and as immediately identifiable as “Target” if it was filled with hard-edged blue and orange rectangles? Or if every time you saw a Target ad, the colors and fonts were different?
Or, if you feel like getting a little nostalgic, take a look at how 25 brand logos have evolved over time. The next time you see an ad for one of those companies, notice how the colors and fonts generally remain similar across all platforms.
Emily at Fresh Paper focuses on showing entrepreneurs how to make the most out of their visual branding, even without a logo. I chatted with about her class a few month's ago for a blog post. You can read it here.
In her class, Emily covers things like fonts, colors, and consistent graphics with a focus towards truly representing your business and helping attract your ideal customers – which is something I hadn’t considered before meeting her. Obviously, I knew the visual aspects of branding were important, but hearing her talk about them in depth made me realize how vital and enduring the visual side of branding could be.
Branding and Business Cards
Business cards are the workhorses of marketing. Almost everyone needs them, and they do their job admirably. But today’s business cards can go beyond name, address, and phone number.
My first set of business cards came from Vista Print. I wasn't quite sure what I needed, but I knew I needed business cards. So I found a design I liked, entered my information, and received a box of business cards. I didn't love them, but who loves business cards?
About six months ago, I realized I'd grown, my business had grown, and my business cards weren't going to work for me anymore. So I went with Moo because I'd heard amazing things about their quality and service.
I adore my business cards now. They are fun, eye-catching, and represent how I approach my work (with humor and fun). And that "Yay!" sticker actually comes on the box of Moo cards.
I have seven different designs on the back of my business cards. I could have had 12 individual designs, but I decided to only use the ones that spoke to me.
The little orange monster and the quote "That's why we're here - to make a dent in the universe" is what made me fall in love with this set. Why? Well, first, I believe that. Second, I'm a huge Doctor Who fan, and that sounds like something Ten would say.
I love the cards Emily designed for Selena Maestas (Love You More Project). Round business cards!
If you look at Selena's site, you'll notice the colors and fonts are the same. The experience is seamless between the online world and the physical world.
Branding and photography
For many modern online entrepreneurs, our faces and personalities become a part of our brand. This can be uncomfortable, and forces many of us out of our comfort zone. But it is also important to remember that as humans we connect with faces, and seeing a friendly face can immediately build trust.
While it can be free or extremely inexpensive to have a friend or family member take some quick photos with their smart phone or basic camera, investing in good quality head shots is important if creating trust and connection is part of your business. People want to purchase from people they trust, and a clear, inviting photo shouldn’t be overlooked.
Professional head shots used to be limited to boring photos against a plain backdrop, but that isn’t the case any longer. Today, head shots can be done indoors or outdoors, and against a variety of backdrops. Mine were taken by Shayne Berry at Portland’s Cathedral Park in the rain. Luckily, the bridge provides perfect cover, and it is a popular destination for all kinds of photography!
Julie of Traveling Julie Portraits photographs not only fresh, modern head shots, but also “in action” photos of her clients at their place of business. This means, not only is there a basic head shot, but also images that show off the business and their brand in action.
Annika Bielig Bussmann focuses exclusively on female entrepreneurs and helping them create their branding via photography.
Normally, you don't get to see side by side head shots of the same person taken by two different photographers, but Emily happens to have been photographed by the two photographers I mentioned above. So you get to see side-by-side examples!
Clearly, both Julie and Annika capture Emily's personality and sense of style. When it comes to choosing a photographer for your head shots, choose someone you feel comfortable working with and who understands the look and feel you are looking for in your photographs.
Branding and Your Website
My first website was a mess.
It didn't reflect who I was or the type of clients I wanted to work with. I'm always revising and refining my work, so it makes sense that my website has gone through a few (OK, more than a few) face lifts.
I tried kind of a flower/garden idea for awhile (it seemed like a good idea at the time).
Then I tried something super modern. It looked pretty and utterly unlike me.
Right now, I love the look of my website, but at some point I know I'll evolve and it will need updating (again).
When you are thinking about your branding and your website, think about the business you have now and where you want it to go. Think about your customers/clients and how your website can help you connect with them. Think about the overall feel you want your clients to have when working with you.
Need inspiration? Go look at the websites I've linked to throughout this post. Each is a fabulous example of lovely websites coupled with their personalities and who they want to work with as businesses.
Your Brand and Change
One thing you may have noticed that has come up over and over in this post is evolution. Your brand and your focus will likely change. That is completely OK and normal. Those first business cards, websites, and elevator pitches are just the beginning.
You'll change direction. You'll grow into some things and outgrow others. You'll discover a new path that is even more exciting than the last.
Have fun with it!
I'll admit it.
I came late to the Instagram party.
You post pictures?
And you can't share them?
Although my understanding was a little rudimentary at first, once I saw the way it could showcase products and connect with customers who weren't necessarily on Facebook or Twitter, I was hooked.
At its most basic, Instagram is all about pretty pictures and finding creative ways to show off your world. But beyond that, like all social media, it is about building community around shared interests and passions. But instead of using words, you use images.
Instagram, and the expectation of beautiful product photos, is changing the way businesses present their products and also changing the way they talk about products. If a picture is worth a thousand words, which words do you still need to use? That is where informative, helpful captions come into play.
Let’s assume you’ve already set up your Instagram account, and it has the same name as your business. Why? To make is easier to find you! If your business’ name is already claimed, you may need to get a little creative, but try to stay as close to your actual business name as possible so customers can find you.
You’ll want to completely fill out your profile and add a link to your main website. The link in your profile is the only place links work on Instagram. In captions, on photos, or in comments, they are just text and not clickable.
Let's also assume you are already planning on watermarking your photos in some way (I like the Phonto app, but there are others), and you already know that Instagram is designed to be used from your smart phone/tablet and know there isn't much you can do with it on an actual computer.
How to use Instagram for Business
Instagram for businesses works on three levels. Each are equally important.
The first level is the ability to showcase your products in beautiful, fun, and engaging ways. Sure, you can hold your product up and take a picture. Or you can lay it on the floor and take a picture. Or prop it up against a decent background. But what if you could use your photo to show how amazing and wonderful your product is? The right lighting, a good angle, and some basic props can really make even a simple product shine!
If you need inspiration, search for magazines and social media accounts that are within your niche. Don’t copy (because that would be rude), but pay attention to how they are using light, props, angles, and textures to create interesting photos.
If you’ve never taken photographs designed to be seen by customers and the general public, it can be a little intimidating when you start! I really like this article about how to take better photos. Also, don’t be afraid to get close up, you might sell something that has gorgeous detail – show it off!
Once you take the photo and you are happy with it, it is time to think about the caption. If you are selling a product, I like the idea of listing the price within the caption. Why? One of the drawbacks of Instagram is that you can’t link directly to a product page, so there is no easy way for a user to learn more about a specific product in a photo. So why not give them all the information they need in the caption?
The second level is discovery via hashtags. The correct use of hashtags is crucial for viability and growing a following. If you aren’t clear on the purpose and use of hashtags, think of them like a giant filing system. Everything image using a specific hashtag gets “filed” in that drawer. Pretty easy, right?
There are a few things to keep in mind:
Singular vs. plural hashtags – There is a difference, so make sure you are using the one you intended.
Misspelling – If you misspell a hashtag it gets filed all by itself (or sent to live on the Island of Misfit Hashtags).
Volume – There are some hashtags that are wildly popular and everyone uses them. Which means you can use them (preferably during peak hours so you get more views), but it also means the competition is fierce and your photos will have a harder time standing out. On the other hand, there are some hashtags that have low volume. Which means you might be using a hashtag no one is looking at or even one that one user has used 2,000 times over four years.
Keep these in mind as you research hashtags. You are looking for a mix of hashtags that includes both semi-popular and very specific (but widely used) hashtags. If you are a local business, use your city as a hashtag. If your location is in an established neighborhood, use that as a hashtag.
If, for example, I was a book seller in Portland, I would want to use hashtags like:
#Portland (3,959,925 posts)
#pdx (2,561,982 posts)
#bookstore (487,390 posts)
#amreading (103, 280 posts)
As well as using the author and the name of the book as a hashtag. I'd also spend some time looking for Portland and book-related hashtags with under 10,000 posts.
You might think that something like #pdxbooks or #booksinportland would be a popular hashtag, but it isn’t. In this case, it might make sense it use those hashtags anyway because after 20-30 posts, you’ll be the dominant account using that hashtag – which can be great for branding, future contests, or gaining the interest of book lovers in Portland.
How many hashtags is too many? Everyone has a different opinion. I’ve seen articles that suggest posts with three hashtags get the best interaction, but I think you also have to take into account the size of the social media following. An established brand can use fewer hashtags because their reach and client base is already established.
On the other hand, 25 hashtags always looks excessive and in many cases it is overkill.
I like the balance of 7-15 hashtags, depending on what serves the photo and the audience the best. Experiment and see what works best for you.
The third level is community, or making friends. If you are simply posting image after image and not engaging your audience, then you are broadcasting instead of being social.
This is social media, which means this is your chance to interact with new people. That doesn’t mean being salesy and pushy. It means being a genuine human being and making friends.
You can do that by responding to comments left on your posts. You can use hashtags to find others who are interested in the same things you are interested in. You can use it to connect with other complimentary businesses and support each other.
This isn’t a comprehensive guide to using Instagram for business because there are always specific nuances and unique things to think about that apply only to your business, but I hope this has been helpful!
I first met Emily, the owner & artist of Fresh Paper Studios more than a year ago over coffee at Sellwood’s Blue Kangaroo coffee shop. I was immediately impressed with her energy and, of course, her fresh and fun stationery (you can take a peek at www.freshpaperstudios.com)
Now, Emily is taking her passion for helping small businesses brand themselves and turned it into an online course. The course starts November 16th and you can join here.
As she has said more than once, “Branding is more than a logo!”
Talking to Emily and hearing to her perspective has given me, a non-designer, new perspective on how many ways there are for a small business to put their own unique twist on every aspect of their marketing.
She was kind enough to answer some questions about what branding means to her and how important it is for a small businesses.
What does branding mean to you?
Your brand is the total experience your customers (or potential customers) have when they interact with your business. It’s not really a tangible thing (like a logo), it’s more like a perception people have about you.
So “branding” is what you do to create that experience or perception. Everything from your customer service to your packaging and your website copy to your graphic design--big things like mission statements, and little things like satin ribbon--these are all ways we brand our businesses.
Why do you think visual branding is so important?
People make snap decisions about who they’re going to work with and what they’re going to buy.
We’re visual creatures and--like it or not--we do judge books by their covers!
That’s just the way our brains work--we take in visual information before we even have time to read a description or listen to someone’s brilliant sales pitch. So creating a visual presence that’s both authentic and appealing is an important part of building a successful business!
If someone is thinking about starting a business, do they need to have a logo before they start?
Absolutely not! That’s the first thing I teach my students: your brand is not your logo!
Logos have their place--I’m not going to say they’re not important at all--but they’re certainly not the most important part of your brand. They’re not even the most important part of your visual identity. You can’t slap a logo on something and call it a brand--it needs to mean something.
So start with the inner work: your core values, your mission, your message, your strengths, your customer experience, the unique flavor you bring to the marketplace. Then work on communicating that visually.
Choosing one font that you use every time you display the name of your business. There’s your logo! You can always design a new logo later.
What is the one thing you wish businesses would do with their branding?
I feel like Danny Tanner talking to Stephanie in an episode of Full House with that advice, but it’s true. I think there’s a lot of noise out there about branding that makes it seem so much more complicated than it really is.
You don’t need to do an in-depth analysis about how your target demographic responds to the color blue. You just need to get in tune with yourself and your personality and let your visual presence express that. There’s always that one girl at the party who’s so totally herself, she just glows and everyone is drawn to her--be that girl! Authenticity is captivating!
Tell me about your upcoming class.
Oh I’m so excited for it! It’s a six-week online course where I’ll teach entrepreneurs how to design a visual brand identity that feels authentic, fabulous, and fun.
At the end of the course, students will graduate with a brand style guide that they’ve designed, including a color palette, font choices, photography style, and yes--even a logo! And my goal is that they also graduate with a new sense of confidence when it comes to sharing their business with the world because their visuals look great and are meaningful.
(Your readers can learn more about my class at bit.ly/designclass)
What will the focus of the class be?
We’ll focus on defining our core values, superpower strengths, and the unique flavor we bring to the world.
Then we’ll learn how to translate those into visual brand elements like colors, fonts, and photos! In a nutshell, we’re getting in touch with our inner magic, then learning how to express that visually.
Do you have to be a designer or artist type to take you class?
Not at all! I created this class for people with NO design experience.
Several of my students have come in saying, “I am soooo not a designer.” or “Design is really not my strong suit.” And then they leave with the best designs!
It’s really cool to see the transformation. One of my very first students cracked me up when she said, “I couldn’t give two flying flips about fonts before this! Now I’m SO excited to have a font that I can call MY font.” My goal is to make design accessible.
Other than this e-course, how else can someone work with you?
I offer one-on-one branding consultations and private design lessons.
The easiest way to get in touch with me about those is via email (at email@example.com) And I also design really fun invitations, personal stationery, and gift items, which you can find over at freshpaperstudios.com!
Emily has also created a FREE brand check up pdf - click here to download.
Emily's photo was taken by Julie of Traveling Julie Portraits.
Do you really need photos for your blog and social media posts? No.
Do photos make your blog and social media posts more effective and engaging? Absolutely.
So, you need photos. But where do you find photos you can use?
The answer is not “from anywhere on the internet I can right click and save.” Don’t do that!
Ok, let’s be more specific.
You need photos, but where can you find photos you can legally use?
This list only includes places that offer:
*100% free photos - you don’t pay when you download them and you don’t pay when you use them.
*They are attribution free - you don’t have to give credit to the photographer or website.
1. Death to the Stock Photo - This is a neat service that delivers a pack of 10 free images, all focused on a central theme, to your inbox each month.
I look forward to each 10 pack as if it is opening a present. They also get extra points for offering diverse photos (and it can be frustratingly difficult to find stock photos featuring humans that aren’t both white and male).
2. Unsplash - Unsplash will also send 10 photos to your inbox every 10 days.
3. Picjumbo - I purchased a premium pack of 600 photos for $14.99 a few months ago because I really like their photos and downloading them one by one takes a long time!
4. Pexels - When you sign up for their newsletter, you receive 40 free photos, but you don’t have to sign up to download single photos from the website.
5. Pixabay - Pixabay also has illustrations, vectors, and videos in addition to photos.
6. Stocksnap.io - This site is part of Snappa, Canva’s latest rival.
7. Splitshire - This is an ad-heavy site, which is understandable since they are giving away free photos. Just be aware of when you are clicking on a photo to download vs. an ad.
8. Life of Pix
So what do you do once you’ve gone on a photo downloading spree?
Organize them! Trust me! Having 300 stock photos to choose from is wonderful, but not if you can’t find the one you want because it is buried somewhere on your computer.
This is how I do it:
I have a folder on my desktop called “Stock photos” – the name isn’t creative, but that is on purpose. I used to call the folder “to use later.” Which was accurate, but I could never remember what I’d called the folder.
Within that folder, I have sub-folders such as:
Bodies of water
Sitting at a desk
Of course, my mental filing system might not match yours. But however you organize your photos, make it memorable to you.
Almost all of the sites mentioned have newsletters you can join to receive updates and get free images delivered to your inbox. This might be the fastest, easiest way to not only grow your collection, but also to remember to go back to the different sites!
How do I get more traffic to my site?
This is the question every business owner, blogger, and site owner asks themselves. I wish I could tell you the answer was simple, quick, and easy. I really wish I could tell you it is something you only have to think about once and then never again.
But I can’t do that.
I like to think of search engine optimization (the blanket term I use when describing how to attract people to your website) in two ways: a recipe and process similar to baking a cake AND a process similar to planting a garden. Yes, really. Bear with me.
Have your cake and eat it too!
Making your site both user friendly and search engine friendly is like a baking recipe. Too much of one thing and it doesn’t work. Too little of another thing and it won’t work. The goal is to find the balance where things work together to create a tasty end result.
If we’re baking a cake we need eggs, sugar, flour, milk, butter, and a few other things depending on the type of cake you are baking. Too many eggs or not enough flour and you might get something resembling a cake, but it might not be something you want to eat.
Of course, Google doesn’t give us the exact recipe to make your site irresistible to search engines but there indicators and ripples that point us in the right direction.
Plant You Garden and Watch it Grow
I love gardening. I love the research aspect and the chance to understand what each plant needs to thrive. Clearly, I’m a research geek!
If you plant a garden in hard, clay soil, the plants will have shallow roots. You’ll really need luck to grow root vegetables in hard soil (hello, stunted carrots!). If you toss up your website without doing a little research first, you’re basically planting in hard soil – and making it so much harder on yourself.
But what if you did a little research into how people look for your products? Which words they use? What kind of information are they searching for? All of those answers help you loosen the soil and make it more likely your site will thrive.
Both baking and gardening are all about mixing the right ingredients to get the right result. Driving traffic to your site is the same concept.
So what ingredients do you use?
1) Lay the Foundations
Onsite optimization including title tags, description tags, optimizing your images. I covered the five basics in my SEO 101 for Artists series
Install Google Analytics and Google Webmaster. These are free tools that will allow you to stay up to date and catch any glaring errors before they happen (or at least before they get catastrophic)
2) Talk about Yourself
You need to get comfortable with marketing yourself. You even need to fall in love with it a little bit.
Are you talking about your business online?
Are you using social media effectively?
Are you reaching out to other non-competing businesses to expand each other’s reach?
Social media is so much more than talking about yourself or shilling your product.
3) Be Useful and Helpful
Are you blogging? Are you sharing information and being helpful?
I know, I know. Not everyone wants to blog. If you hate it, don’t do it. If getting search engine traffic to your site matters, you really need to consider it.
Blogging adds more entries to your website, which means it gives you the opportunity to have more visitors. At home, if a visitor came in through a window, it would be a little bit odd. But online, the more entrances to your website the better.
However, like everything else, there are best practices when blogging.
4) Putting Your Name Out There
If you are a local business, have you claimed all of your local citations? These are things like the yellow pages, Yelp, and other online directories. It helps Google understand your business and your location.
Have you reached out to other businesses to share information and resources?
5) Planning for the long term
Attracting people to your website isn’t a quick fix or something that can be done once and never again. SEO is an ongoing process that is always changing and evolving based on how real users interact with your website. Ten years ago, who would have thought that mobile phones would be the go-to device for so many users? Five years ago, a mobile-friendly site was nice, but not necessary. Now, it is necessary if you want to be competitive and user friendly.
Things You May or May Not be Able to Control
Search engines (and users!) want fast websites. If yours is pokey, it could cause issues.
Age of your site
No, it isn't necessarily fair, but it is the way things work. Search engines tend to see older sites as being both more established and reputable. After all, a search engine stays in business by returning the best possible matches to its customer.
Things That Used to Work, But Don't Anymore
Do keywords matter? Yes (although, like so many things in SEO, there are qualifiers to this).
Does the "meta keywords" section of your website pages need to be filled out?
99.9% of the time the answer is no.
The thinking likely went something like this - if saying "perfect Hawaiian vacation" once works, then repeating it 10 times per 250 words must be the answer to fooling Google and getting to the top!
Once upon a time that may have worked, but now it can actually penalize your site. Also? That kind of writing is painful to read and provides zero value.
One of the factors Google considers important when looking at a website is who else is linking to it. The idea was that by paying a directory to link to your site, you could fool Google into thinking your site was more popular than it was. Don't do that. Earn your links.
Wrapping up, be a good internet citizen. Make friends, be helpful, and don't rely on any ONE method of marketing to be the solution.
Last week I downloaded the Periscope app and I've been playing with it ever since.
If you haven't heard of Periscope yet, it is a live streaming app. Which means what you say is being broadcast as you say it. Periscope is owned by Twitter (in fact, they liked it so much they bought it before it was even released!) Since it is owned by Twitter, you need a Twitter account to sign up.
When watching a Periscope video, you can tap the screen to make little hearts appear (which means you like it). You can also interact with the person streaming by asking questions. Which, in a way, makes it much more immediate and conversational than even Twitter.
The "trick" with Periscope is that it disappears from the app after 24 hours. You can save your own "Scope" to your camera roll when you are finished. When you do this, the hearts and interactive conversation aspects disappear and the video will look just like any other video. You can also use katch.me to save all of your scopes in one place. Mine are saved at www.katch.me/gmontoyapdx
There are similar apps and methods for live streaming. Google Hangouts and Meerkat are probably the two biggest names out there, but Periscope seems to be rapidly eclipsing them.
How it works
Once you are signed up, you'll see some different options:
The television icon shows recently finished "Scopes" by people you follow.
The globe icon lets you see what is live streaming now. You can see it as little numbers above countries or as a list.
To make your own periscope, tap the little Periscope icon. It pops up a window where you can caption your video. This is where a good, clear title and hashtags will help your 'Scope be found. Unlike other video apps, with Periscope you film vertically rather than horizontally. UPDATE 9/14/15: Periscope now allows you to film either way.
The final people icon along the bottom allows you to explore both people you already follow on Twitter (who have also joined Periscope) as well as popular Periscope users.
In the upper right corner, there is a single person icon - this is your own user information.
The periscope system has the camera default to the back camera, so you'll need to double tap the screen to turn it around once you start filming (which is weird to me and I need to work on my flipping skills). I've seen some users write the title of their 'Scope on a piece of paper and begin by filming that. I think that is very clever and gives a much better "cover" image than a floor or room.
As you broadcast people can join you. When I did my first quick Periscope, I honestly didn't think anyone would join me, so that was unexpected! The more you do it, the more you'll get the hang of it. I'm up to seven now and I feel much more confident than I did the first time. I'm still getting the hang of talking and reading and responding all in the same breath.
You have the option of pinpointing your general area or removing that information. I had a few troll issues when my area was pinpointed, but removing my location solved that issue. UPDATE 9/14/15: The general area comes within a few blocks of your location, so you may prefer to turn off the location option when you are at home.
Once you are done, you can save the video to your phone's camera roll. You can also share the link to your Periscope. But, here is the trick - your video will disappear from the app/online in 24 hours (it is like a self destruct envelope from Mission Impossible!!)
Periscope is a live streaming app, so it is a bit of a data hog. You might want to make sure you are connected to wi-fi before recording or viewing scopes to avoid using all of your monthly data at once.
Why bother with Periscope?
It is kinda fun and has some neat things going for it:
You can save and re-purpose the video to YouTube or Facebook or Instagram. Even your blog. It is your content.
It is neat to connect with people and take a look at what is happening in the world *right now* Fair warning - sometimes it is someone's dog staring at the camera or someone filming a street sign.
Depending on your business, it might make sense to use Periscope to stream a live event, offer a promo, or give video sneak peeks.
You can make the videos appear for only some people - offering a class or workshop? You can do it via Periscope or use it as add on support.
Super fast & easy to setup - so if you are in the "I'd do videos, but I don't have the right equipment" camp - that excuse doesn't work anymore!
Do you really need yet another social media platform to stress about?
But if you are comfortable in front of the camera (or want to practice), this could be a fun way to do it AND make new connections.
Is this going to flame out in three months? Totally possible - especially since Facebook is making noises about offering something similar. On the other hand, Periscope is growing like crazy and everyone seems to be curious about how it works and what it can do for them.
Who is this for?
Active Twitter users will likely get the most out of it since there is an option to auto-tweet a message when you are on Periscope.
I'm @gmontoyapdx if you want to follow me.
Art and SEO?Here are three things I've heard from my artist friends about SEO:
I’m not an artist (unless crude stick figures count), but I do understand SEO and I know that good SEO can help an artist’s site. Actually, I believe SEO benefits any website, but for this post, I’m just focusing on SEO for artist websites.
Before we start, this isn't meant to be a comprehensive list. My goal is to make SEO more accessible to artists and creative types.
You should also know I don't handle SEO in a typical way. I happily blur the lines between:
Now that you know where I'm coming from, let's get started.
Imagine the internet as a giant ocean, websites as little islands in the ocean, and a search engine as a plane flying high above it all. Think of SEO as a way to send signals to the plane that say “Hey! Hey! Over here!! Look here!!”
For this post, I'm going to use an imaginary artist named Sally who's passion is painting miniature pet portraits on duck eggs. I don't know if that's a thing or if there is a real Sally, but that's the example I'm using.
The most basic of SEO basics or The Five Things You Can't Skip
Part Two, Title and Description Tags
Part Three, Keywords and H1 Tags
Part Four, Images
Part Five, Social Media and More
Part Six, Wrapping it All Up
Musings about marketing, social media, and small business.