by Jargon Writer

Writing my way to becoming a freelancer

Hitting Send

My boss has commented once or twice, when looking over pieces he wrote in older issues of the magazine, “I wrote that? Damn I’m good.” When I do the same, I always feel the exact opposite–”I wrote THAT?!?! And they published it?” Almost every piece I work on, I fret about getting it right. And I have a problem–I can’t edit my own work. Every time I edit something I wrote, I end up starting from scratch.

Take exhibit A as an example: My boss constantly praises the writing of one of our editors; so today I decided I would take a closer look at one of her articles (see it here) her style of writing and figure out what about her writing impresses him so much. The first thing I noticed was her soft lead. So I decided to see if I couldn’t achieve something similar. So I tried it.

And now I’m a nervous wreck. My boss won’t even look at the piece for at least 2 more weeks–I still have to do several interviews and all I wrote today was the introduction–but I’m worried he’ll think my attempt to copy her soft lead is silly. It really felt like I was taking a risk.

This is how I feel almost every time I submit a freelance article for publication.

Most of the time when I finally finish an article and hit send, I immediately wish I could call it back. I worry that the person on the other end isn’t going to like it, or is going to want to edit it to smithereens and will hold back because they don’t want to hurt my feelings (or that they won’t hold back, but instead just won’t use me again).

My suspicion is that my insecurities go back to what I talked about a while ago or, more recently– that I’m faking it–that I still haven’t gotten to that point at which I consider myself a writer so I constantly worry about being exposed. I’m hoping that when I get my website up and functioning this weekend that that will begin to change. Then, when I finally order business cards and begin introducing myself AS a writer, that it will set in even more.

But only time will tell.

April 8, 2010 Posted by | Freelancing, in practice, writing | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

What’s it Worth?

One of the things freelancers just starting out commonly ask about is pricing. How do you set a fair price?

One of the few shows I watch fairly frequently (I don’t have cable – I use Hulu.com for all my Tv needs) is House. In a recent episode (5 to 9 – though it expires soon) Dr. Cuddy renegotiated the hospitals terms with a leading insurance company. And the main question in the episode boils down to “What’s it worth?” What is your clients’ business worth to you, and what are your services worth to them?

On House, Dr. Gregory House offered Dr. Cuddy (his boss) this word of advice when she doubted she was in the right to demand better payment for the hospital – he told her to crunch the numbers.

In order to figure out what you should be charging for your services, the first step is to do the math. What must you be making on a monthly basis in order to make ends meet? If you have a partner or someone else who can temporarily help out great – but figure in your share of the bills, so your final number makes sense.

Add together all your miscellaneous bills – your cell phone, rent, food costs, child care – whatever bills you have to pay on a monthly basis. If you’re going to continue working at another job, part-time or full time, you can deduct the amount that you make there from you total. The number you are left with is the amount of money you will NEED to make on a monthly basis, if freelancing is going to be feasible for you.

So: Rent + Cell phone bill + rent or mortgage payment + Food Bill + Cable & Internet + any other bills – stable monthly income = amount needed per month from freelancing.

Now, figure about how many hours a week you’ll be able to dedicate to your freelance business. For me, it’s a few hours a day (ab. 15-20 hours / week). Figure that you’ll spend about 80% of your time marketing and looking for work and about 20% of that time actually working. So, for my 20 hours / week, I’d spend 4 hours working on paying gigs (this percentage will likely change as you become established in your market, but that’s about right for a start-up).

For those who don’t remember how to do that math (it’s been a while since grade school) :

MULTIPLY the number of hours you will work by 20, then divide by 100 for the number of PAID hours you will have.
20 x 20 / 100 = 4 hours.

That is the number of hours in a month that you will (likely) be working on paid work. Now, divide your original number (the amount of money you need to earn per month) by that figure. My eventual goal is to make $500 per month freelancing part-time but my start-up goal is $400 (since I work full-time this is my goal vs. the amount of money I NEED to be making). $400 / 16 =  $25 <— this is what I charge as an hourly rate.

Once you have determined the minimum you need to charge hourly in order to pay your bills, it’s time to see if the market will bear that price. One of the things I discussed last week was conducting market research; in my survey questions, I included one that asks small business owners (my client base) what price they believe is fair. If someone responds that they don’t know, have numbers ready and ask them if they would pay x amount (the amount you came up with above) for those services. If you’re number is a weird one (25.68 or something) feel free to round-up for the survey – who knows? Maybe you’ll find the market will bear much higher than the minimum you need to charge.

If every person you talk to says, yes, they’d pay your asking price, your price is probably too low. If no one will pay it, it’s too high. Ideally, approximately half the clients you talk to should consider it a fair price (note: I made that part up; that’s my own personal belief).

NOTE: There are a lot of factors that go into whether or not you will actually be able to make that amount per month. I’m basing this off of my own experience and the experience of freelancers I know and trust. If you have no experience or very, very, little the 80/20 ratio may be a bit off for you – you may have to do even MORE marketing to land those first few gigs. If you are particularly poor at marketing, it may take longer to achieve these numbers.  By no means is this formula an absolute, and I ALWAYS recommend before you understand freelancing as a career choice that you have enough money set aside to pay all your bills for at least 3-6 months.

March 22, 2010 Posted by | Freelancing, in practice, writing | , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Part II: Q&A With Ty Unglebower

This is part 2 of what will be a multi-part Q&A with Ty Unglebower. See Part 1 to find out how Ty got his start freelancing and a little about the kinds of projects he works on.

Jargon Writer: What about the idea of freelancing drew you?

Ty Unglebower: Practicality at first–my luck with the 9-5 work force has been poor to the point of laughable. I can’t tell you how many jobs I have been turned down for over the years for reasons that I confess just escape me. I have had odd jobs (gardening, dish-washing, selling radio ad-time), but nothing with true staying power within my spirit (Not to mention nothing I spent all that money on a college degree for). So it all came about partially as a result of my deciding to pull out of the conventional rat-race for a bit. A race I was very much losing.

Practicality aside, I am drawn to the independence, as I imagine most freelancers are. And not just in the sense that I can work in my pajamas and email a story while traveling, if I so chose (when I can afford it). But the independence that is afforded to my reputation. There are honorable people working in all kinds of places all over the country, and I don’t mean to suggest otherwise. But as a freelancer I can, in a very conscious, deliberate manner, weave the name “Ty Unglebower” with such concepts as quality, passion, and integrity. As I do in every other facet of my life, I can project my values into my work in an instant, direct capacity, whereas within a nebulous company, that chance may not have presented itself so readily. I would have been part of the background of a bigger institution’s mission.

JW: How long have you been working freelance and either: A) What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome? or B) What has your greatest success been thus far?

Ty: If we go by the standard of writing independently for a third party who sought out my skills, the number is 9-10 years. If we go by the very first time I technically was contracted as a writer and received a paycheck for same, it would be closer to 5.

There have been all kinds of obstacles (like starting to build the portfolio, research, dealing with interviews), but I think I have to say the biggest obstacle I overcame was within my own mind–Giving permission to myself to actually call myself a writer and to declare the intention to offer those services in serious, methodical manner. I am still working on perfecting the method part; the business plan angle of it all, but that will fall into place eventually with trial and error.

But to actually say to myself, “I have a skill. Some say a gift. And I don’t have to wait until some undefined date in the future, wherein I have marked off a specific checklist of accomplishments or made a certain amount of money to call myself a writer. I AM a writer, I DO get paid to do it sometimes, and I will again. I have every right to let the world know it.”

This was significant because despite a lifetime of using writing as a crucial part of myself, for which I had always received praise, I couldn’t for the longest time justify calling myself a writer. It was a title I had not earned. A dreamer’s flight of fancy, and I ought to go learn to fix cars somewhere, and be miserable like the rest of the workforce, and leave the writing to people who deserved it.

Overcoming that would probably count as the greatest success thus far, but for the sake of spreading things out a bit, I will say that my greatest success so far is to have had my name and my writing proceed me, as it did for one local magazine editor. She literally had read my blog, and knew she wanted to ask me to pitch something for her publication. It’s not the pay or the notoriety of the magazine, both of which are smaller. It is knowing that by writing my blog the way I wanted, about things I was passionate about, I was able to catch the attention of a professional. I hadn’t had to give up anything to be seen as worth it. And if it could happen once, it could (and has) happened again.

Ty is a 32-year-old freelance writer living alone in Frederick County Maryland. In addition to keeping his own blogs he is a regular contributor to Showbizradio.net and The Brunswick Citizen. He has also contributed recently to FiND iT FREDERiCK Magazine’s Spring 2010 issue. When not contributing to those publications, he is searching out others to which he may contribute his work, creating ghost-copy for private clients, or engaging in writing his novel. When he is actually not writing, Ty spends most of his free time making use of his Minor from Marietta College by performing as an amateur actor on various local community stages. He has thus far made no direct use of his bachelor’s degree, which was in political science.

Stay tuned for Part III: A Q&A with Ty Unglebower, coming soon!  In the meantime, check out Ty’s blogs, Always Off Book and Too XYZ.

March 20, 2010 Posted by | Freelancing, in practice, writing | , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Marketing Vs. Selling : Go to Market

“Marketing is what you do to make the sale possible — before your first contact with the prospect. Selling is what you do to make that contact and close the sale,” Parker writes.

Both of these are an important part of starting a business. But for many freelancers, marketing is an almost insurmountable task.

According to Parker, there are two primary reasons writers fail at marketing. First, she says they try too hard. That as writers, we expect to come up with the “perfect” marketing pitch – something unforgettable, something smashing.

The truth is, you have to be in it to win it. Or as the instructor of a marketing class Parker took said, If you’re there, you’ll get your share.

Chances are good you don’t suck. I mean, you may, I haven’t personally evaluated your work, but so long as you don’t completely suck, if you put yourself out there you will do some business. But you won’t do any business if potential clients don’t know you exist.

Second, Parker says that writers fail because when they get busy, they focus on the client work and fail to continue marketing themselves. When we’re swamped, like in up past our ears so that all that peaks over the piles of paperwork on our desks is our eyebrows, the last thing we want to think about is finding more work. But guess what? If we don’t, when we finish wading through that pile of papers, there won’t be another one waiting.

In order to make sure you don’t end up in a dead zone, with work behind you but none in front of you, it is essential that you develop a marketing plan and that you stick to it. This is not nearly as daunting of a task as it may seem.

The fist step is to do some market research. At the most basic level, marketing research is figuring out who your clients are and what they want.

If you know a few people who fall into your target demographic, invite them over for pizza and beer and tap their brains. If not, do what I’m doing.

Today, I began doing the preliminary work for my own market research. I put “Astoria” and “Chamber of Commerce” into Google and hit the search button. After realizing that there are a lot of places named “Astoria,” I refined my search and found the Queens Chamber of Commerce website. Listed there are a ton of local businesses.

I began by scrolling through them looking for likely prospects. I believe that my services will be more in demand among service vendors than among retailers; there may also be some demand from manufacturers. In addition to looking for potential clients / contacts, I checked out local small business events on the site’s event calendar and scanned the list for potential competition.

My next step will be to compile a list of contacts and contact information. I will write up a few questions (Do you hire a writer for your marketing materials? Would you? Why or why not? What would you pay for said services?) and then call, tell them I’m starting a small business and would like to ask them their opinion on a few things.

I’ll ask about what these people read, where they look for services, and what kind of small business events they attend.

Recording the answers for a dozen or so calls will give me a pretty good feel for the potential demand for a writer in the area. It may turn up potential competition. If I need more information, I make more calls, until I feel like I have a good idea how to reach the clients that I want to work for/with.

The next step will be deciding what steps to take based upon this information.

March 16, 2010 Posted by | Freelancing, in practice, research, writing | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Being a Bit Of A Deviant

Sometimes it’s important to step outside our daily routines and reexamine our way of doings things. When you’ve fallen into a pattern, sometimes breaking the pattern can lead to valuable insight. I try to do this whenever possible.

I did it today. My habit after work is to so go straight home, make a cup of tea and relax for a bit, do some freelance work for a few hours, write a blog post and go to bed. Instead, tonight I had a few errands I had to run (it’s my cousins third birthday this weekend and I needed to buy a gift) and I decided to turn it into a deviation from my set routine. It let me de-stress and when I got home I was in the best mood I’ve been in all week. I felt relaxed.

I spent several hours shopping and wandering around the city. I picked up a book and sat at a sandwich shop I like and read and ate dinner, by myself. The quiet time let me think and it let me look at my life with fresh eyes.

I think this is also important in writing. It’s one of the reasons I believe in doing guest posts – they force you to write about something outside the topic you plug along about everyday on your own blog. They give you a chance to examine topics other than your own and to show how they intersect with your beliefs.

I’ve done two guest posts in the last two weeks. I did a post on PR, “From an Editor’s Perspective” for Hello. {Work}, posted last Monday. Then, today, my post on the perks of working with Gen-y went up on SX Gen Y.

A lot of people do guest posts because they think it will help draw in new readers – and it may indeed do that. But that is not the only, nor in my opinion, the most important benefit to writing guest posts. Yes, it creates a link back to your site, which helps with SEO (for more on that see here or here). But in my mind, the biggest benefit is writing about something different.

I may just be drawn to the idea of writing about different subjects on a regular basis – the chance to write about a wide variety of topics is one of the reasons for my decision to work freelance. Yet, despite this prejudice, I think it makes the writer push his or her boundaries, and that’s one of the primary ways that a writer grows. And, unless you think you’re already perfect, growing means better writing, which will draw more readers.

So, if you want a look at my opinions on something other than freelancing, or just to get to know a bit more about a different side of my multi-faceted personality and my diverse interests, check out the guest posts. And if you think you’d like to guest post here, let me know. I’m open to the idea.

March 12, 2010 Posted by | in practice | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Network Your Butt Off

Being a good writer means being a good business person. Which means knowing how to deal with clients and potential clients at each stage of your relationship – from meeting them (networking) to managing and working on their job to following up with them afterward.

If there is a good book out there on all this, I have yet to read it. But since I know it’s something important, I keep an ear and an eye out for tips at all times and take them where ever I can find them. This first one comes from Ugly Betty.

See, Betty was new to networking and wasn’t very good at it. So she gets some tips from her friends on how to make contacts at a networking event.

They gave her a four step process. First, introduce yourself. Walk up to a likely looking person, stick out your hand and say something along the lines of, “I don’t believe we’ve met, hi I’m (your name here).” Then they say to follow your name up with something memorable about you – which will create an association in that person’s mind and make them more likely to remember you. If it has something to do with your business great, but it’s more important that it be something really memorable. In the episode, they suggested that the memorable fact didn’t even necessarily have to be true, but I’d recommend you pick something that is (ie. “Can you believe I met the hostess of this party when she was naked? She was dating my roommate at the time”).

Now, Betty’s friends stressed the importance of not wasting too much time on any one person – that the idea of a networking event was to meet multiple people, (step 3) trade some info and then (step 4) beat a timely retreat (ie. “Oh can you excuse me?”). However, the lesson in the episode is that the real connections she made when she didn’t listen to their advice (she spent the first half hour talking to the janitor, making a real friend) helped her out more in the end than the “contacts” she made following it.

So my advice, derived from a combination of the two, is to introduce yourself, and if it isn’t going well don’t be afraid to cut your loses and move on to the next possible contact. Yet if you start to make a genuine connection to someone, take the time to explore it. Making lots of contacts is important, but making real connections is too.

This next tip has come up multiple times in multiple places. But I hadn’t heard it until I started to read business topics aggressively, so I thought I’d share it here – always hand out 2 business cards to every person you meet. One for them, and one for them to pass on to a friend. It’s a great trick, that I plan on using … as soon as I get my business cards printed (which will happen as soon as I decide on a company name).

At the end of chapter 4 in Parker’s book, she interviews a writer named Jan, who gives us our next killer tip.
“At the end of the project,” she explains, “I always say ‘Thanks for the business, and now that we’ve worked together and you know what I can do, is there anyone else you can refer me to?”

This policy is a GREAT business tip – there are businesses out there who rely on it as their sole source of new contacts. One example is Cutco – the knife company. My best friend years ago worked for them for a while and my other half’s little sister is looking into working for them now. They have each sales person make a list of people they know who might be interested in buying knives. Then that person goes around to each of those people and does their “cutting through a penny” trick to show how great the knives are. Some people buy, some don’t, but at the end they ask the “customer” for a list of anyone they know who might be interested – and their contact information. It seems to work pretty well for them!

So even though tips sometimes come from the strangest places, pay attention. You never know where the next indispensable piece of advice will come from – but if you catch it, it might make all the difference for your business.

March 6, 2010 Posted by | Freelancing, in practice, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Because it happens to the best of us…

We all have bad days. And sometimes, those bad days become bad weeks. On rare occasions those bad weeks become a bad month. I’m not ready to trash this month yet, but I am totally over this week. At work right now I have a lot on my plate and have been fairly stressed out.

Then, this week, things got stressful at home, because I had several freelance project deadlines this week. I was pretty ready to pull out my hair. I even started thinking that maybe I was crazy to undertake a new business while still working full-time – Okay, maybe I am a little crazy. But I was thinking that maybe it was a bad kind of crazy.

When my life gets crazy, my natural reaction is to want to hide. I get so stressed out about how much work I have that I stop being able to actually accomplish anything. I freeze. Projects that should take a few hours stretch into days. Let me tell you, this is a BAD response to stress.

One way I’ve come up with over the years to get myself out of my own head and back into a productive frame of mind is by focusing on something that is completely unnecessary. One way that I do that is by delving full-fledged into a book. Unfortunately, that generally results in me reading as much as or more than doing work. And it results in me getting even less sleep, because I tend to get so into books that I can’t put them down. So, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

This week, when things got bad I did something different. It just so happened that my bad week peaked yesterday. You know how some people sometimes say they feel like they’ve been hit by a bus? Well, I felt the way the wicked witch of the east must have felt after the house fell on her.

Well, yesterday was also the day that my monthly book club got together to review our most recent book (Rumspringa, if you’re interested). I really enjoy book club for a lot of reasons, but mostly just the idea of sitting down with literary people and discussing literary work appeals to me – and actually tends to live up to my expectations. I almost didn’t go yesterday because I knew I still had several things to finish up and wasn’t feeling great.

But last minute I decided I would go after all.

It was refreshing. Focusing on and discussing the book, which I had already read, had the same effect that reading normally does. It let me forget everything that I was stressed out about. I enjoyed hearing everyone else’s points of view and opinions on the book. I shared mine. It was a small group (five people last night) but it turns out it was exactly what I needed.

After recharging my batteries I came home and went right through two assignments in no time. I think they both came out really well, and I no longer felt that the pile of work was insurmountable. Then, today at work I stayed an extra half and hour and finished some of the assignments there that I had hanging over my head. Tonight, I feel much better. I actually have time to relax a bit, answer the emails that have been in my inbox all week and I might even watch a TV show.

I remember why I’m doing all the craziness that I’m doing – because I love these things, want to be doing them and feel passionately about this writing-thing. Maybe I should write that down so I don’t forget it again.

March 4, 2010 Posted by | Freelancing, in practice, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Resources for a New Freelance Writer / Sm. Biz. Owner

At least once a week I want to share links to some of the great articles I came across that week. Check them out – there are some great pieces here!

4 Measures to Put in Place so Your Freelance Writing Clients Won’t Rip You Off
Contracts, kill fees, late fees and deposits help make sure you don’t do the work and then never see your money.

And from the same site …. Do You Know What You’re Selling? Successfully Marketing Your Online Freelance Writing
This piece talks about how important it is for a writer to define their own business – after all, if we can’t put our own company into well written words how can we expect anyone else to trust us to do that for their company?

Work Smart: Increasing Productivity & Efficiency – I would love to write for this site at some point in the future – but this is a great piece from Young, Fabulous and Self-Employed. We all have enough distractions – the key to being a successful entrepreneur (and, as a “freelance writer” that’s what I am) is to prioritize and set up systems to get things done.

February 22, 2010 Posted by | Freelancing, research, writing | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Writing a Sales Letter – or cover letter or query letter…

The idea of a sales letter is to convince someone to buy a product or service. A query letter is a letter written normally to a magazine editor proposing an idea for a column or article. A cover letter generally accompanies a job seeker’s resume during the application process.

In all three cases the letter is trying to convince its reader to take a specific course of action – to buy a product or service, to pay a writer to do a story or to hire the applicant, and all three types of letters have a lot in common.

The First Step – Research
Before you put pen to paper or type the first letter into that word processing program you need to know what tone to take, background information about where you are sending the letter and who (as specifically as possible) will be reading it.

For a sales letter, you need to know information about who the letter is representing (assuming you’re not writing it to represent yourself and your company) and about who that company’s target demographic is; for a query letter you need to know who at the magazine you’re writing to, what the publication’s audience is and the tone (formal vs. informal? friendly vs. expert? Slang vs. Jargon? How-to vs. general interest?); with a cover letter you should know who you’re contacting, who that company’s primary clients are, what kind of services or products they offer, any recent news they may have released or have gotten press coverage for (ie. you should have Googled them) and, if possible, some information about the company’s culture (formal vs. informal?).

The Hook
Once you have all that information, it’s time to start writing. Your goal with your first paragraph is to hook your reader and create a desire in them for the goods/services/article/job seeker you are writing about without actually directly mentioning the thing you are pitching.Instead, you show the reader why they have a need for the unique thing you want them to be interested in (unique angle in a story, unique features in a product, unique skills or talents for a service or in a job seeker).

example 1: Achieving just the right look for your business is important. Your look is the first thing potential clients will notice about you. It’s what will create that lasting first impression. Do you have the right look for your business? (Sales letter for a graphic designer).

example 2: Is this letter a waste of paper? Yes – if it fails to get the desired result. In business, most letters and memos are written to generate a specific response, close a sale, set up a meeting, get a job interview, make a contact. Many of these letters fail to do their job. Part of the reason is that business executives and support staff don’t know how to write persuasively. (Query letter lede used by Robert Bly pitching a piece to Amtrak Express and included in his book Secrets of a Freelance Writer.)

example 3: A masters in publishing requires learning about the publishing process as a whole and having a through understanding of the different steps it takes for a book to go from idea to physical product. A general knowledge of the overall process would be invaluable for a production assistant responsible for moving the book through each step of that process.(Completely made up lede for a cover letter, applying for a position as a production assistant at a book publishing house).

Your lede paragraph should point out a need the reader didn’t know they had, but that now they want a solution to. And that’s where the second paragraph comes in.

The Line
Now you offer the good/service/job seeker/article as exactly what the reader needs to fill that previously unknown gap. Take our cover letter example – now the hiring manager wants someone who has knowledge of the general overall process of book publishing. How many entrance level employees can offer that knowledge? Not many.

In this paragraph you answer “what/who/how” it is they need – what the article is going to be about (the solution is a process called AIDA – Attention, Interest, Desire, Action), who has that skill and how they got it (ie. I have a masters in publishing from Pace University or as a graphic designer for the last 5 years, I have experience developing the perfect look to represent a company…).

The Sinker
The last piece of a pitch letter is what writers who work on ad copy title the “call to action.” A call to action is a few sentences on what you want the reader to do next. With a sales letter the goal could be “call xxx-xxxx for more information” or “visit http://www.domainname.com&#8221; or even “place an order by x-y-z-ing.” With a cover letter, the next step is you want the reader to call you for an interview (if you’d be interested in further discussing how my experience can benefit xyz company, I’d be happy to come in for an interview. You can reach me at…), and with a query letter, it’s about following up and choosing to accept the article idea (I’d like to write this piece on xyz, if you are interested I can be reached at….).

February 20, 2010 Posted by | Freelancing, in practice, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

SEO – Giving yourself search results

What do you know about SEO?
The web plays a major part in almost every small business today. When establishing a small business, one of the first steps is creating a web presence so that when someone searches for your goods or services online, you appear. I’m not a web expert by any means. But, I had the good fortune to sit in on a SEO meeting for publishers last year and man did I learn a TON. So, since when I tried to do research on what SEO was I had trouble finding good pointers, I’m going to write some up for all of you.

Forgive me for doing this tonight instead of following along in my book, but I feel like it’s an important and useful topic.

The Basics
For starters, SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. This means optimized or made the best possible for search engines like Google and Yahoo. The idea behind a SEO is that when someone is looking for information on a topic that you’ve written about, they find your site.

When a site is designed based around some basic SEO principles it increases the number of visitors that site gets because that site comes up higher in the search results. For example: if you were to type SEO into Google – the first answer to come up is using SEO best.

Implementation
SEO is generally implemented on three levels: in the site architecture, in its editorial content and in what I’ll call “marketing.” Site architecture is building the site so it has a strong foundation; that is, so search engines can navigate it easily. Editorial content online is different than in print – search engines, while smart, are not clever. They require you to be literal (example: if your headline is “A marriage not made in heaven,” Google will not know that article is about a tech device). Marketing online, like marketing anywhere, is about exposure.

Site Architecture
How a site is built greatly influences how well and how quickly Google can look through it for relevant content when a user inputs a specific query, or search term. While, again, I am not a developer or web designer, here are some things briefly outlined so you know what to ask YOUR designer or developer about when creating your site.

Site Map – A site map is essentially an outline or flow chart of your site. It tells Google how to navigate your website and helps make sure that the search engine can access every part of your site.

Heading tags – When programming/designing a site, there are several heading levels that can be applied to different portions of the text. Normally, a heading one tag is the main title line for the article or what in print would be the “headline.” Then a heading two tag would be the dek (or subheading). Again, keep in mind the example with the tech device; if your headings are too clever, Google won’t know what you mean. Be sure to keep them simple. One technique that is used is the swapping of the heading one and heading two tags – so if you have a clever heading, it gets a heading two tag (so google sees it as less important) and you label your subheading or dek with a heading one tag, and make that content more literal.

Internal Linking – Internal linking is good. Link between articles whenever it is relevant. It encourages readers to browse your site further and increases the amount of time spent on your site. It also creates “incoming links” which I’ll discuss further in the Marketing section.

Meta Heads – The best way I can think of to describe Meta Heads is to tell you they are invisible words that are added at a programing level that tell Google what that page is about. They are not actually in your content, but are added to your site code (the coding that a web browser reads when figuring out how to display your website) and talk directly to the search engine.

Editorial Content
A word that gets thrown around a lot when talking about SEO is “Keywords.” Keywords are terms that people search for. That’s actually all that means. There are sites (some, like Wordtracker.com, offer a free trial) that track how many times a particular search query is input into a search engine. Keywords are normally words that are frequently included in these queries – words that search engines end up looking for often. The idea is that if you know what people are looking for (these keywords) and you include them in your pieces, your pieces will come up more often. For example: if you write about weddings, you choose as keywords “bride,” “wedding dress,” “matrimony,” “vows,” etc. because when someone is looking for information about weddings, those are words they commonly search for.

Directing more users to your site is not the only benefit of keywords however. When used correctly, with a proper understanding of specific search terms and how searches are conducted, keywords will help the right readers find your site – the ones that are actually looking for the kind of content you provide and are interested in your topic. Keyword density (how often a keyword is used in an article) is one of the things Google measures when determining search result ranking (the order the results will appear in). The more keywords that are in a chain (one after another) the more specifically the searcher’s term and your site match (example: black and white puppy might come up if you search for black puppy or for white puppy, but the user who looks for black and white puppy will find exactly what they’re looking for).

Marketing
After relevance, marketing is the next determining factor in how high a particular site is in the results a query returns. Essentially, this boils down to two things: domain domination and incoming links. Google knows The New York Times means business. So, a domain like The New York Times will come up higher than, say, a blog post. There isn’t much that you can do about this.

Incoming links, however, you can do a lot about. Google counts the number of incoming links in order to evaluate the quality of your content.  Furthermore, Google also searches the pages that link back to your page. The idea is that the more people who liked your work enough to link back to it, the more authoritative the piece must be. The more of those pages that are also about the topic the user is searching for, the higher it rates the quality of those incoming links. In a post later this week, I’ll discuss how to create / encourage incoming links in order to increase your website’s exposure.

Sorry all, that this post ran so long. Generally, I try to keep posts a quick read. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t do this topic justice without going in-depth. Let me know if you find it helpful!

*Taken from my notes on the SEO for Publishers seminar at the Publishing Business Conference and Expo 2009, hosted by Publishing Executive.

February 11, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment