Although I’ve been writing primarily about health, wellness and conscious/creative living, I wanted to do a short series of posts on search engine optimization. SEO can be gimicky, confusing and frustrating, so I’d like to help you out with some accessible but helpful tips that address your most pressing concerns. You can leave them in the comments, post them on my facebook page or just drop me a line. I’ll do my best to answer as many questions as I can this week.
I have a soft spot for the semicolon and its way of injecting a sentence with suspense. Although use of this punctuation mark is somewhat habit-forming, when properly deployed it creates a taut, tantalizing gap between related independent clauses. Periods, though often necessary, have a certain finality to them. The semicolon can perfect a paragraph when used on occasion; it announces that there is more yet to come. As someone who is constantly searching for additional information, I am delighted when I come across a semicolon, promising me that another juicy nugget is imminent.
Speaking on both colons and semicolons, author Lynne Truss compares these stops to internal springs, propelling readers forward towards new ideas. Lawrence A. Weinstein attributes the semicolon a noble, unselfish quality, offering “an unrequited gesture of amplification” by elaborating on preceding text. “It’s a sign of forthcoming, of being ungrudging in providing for the needs of others,” he writes.
Experts such as William Zinsser entreat writers to use the semicolon with discretion, thus contributing to its intrigue. Like a morel mushroom or an exquisitely rich piece of chocolate, a deftly handled semicolon is rare and must be savored.
 Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation (Great Britain: Profile Books, 2003)
 Lawrence A. Weinstein, Grammar for the Soul: Using Language for Personal Change (Illinois: Quest Books, 2008)
 William Zinsser, On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction (New York: Harper Perennial, 1990)
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of increasing visibility to your website or blog in search engines (such as Google and Bing, and ideally drawing more traffic and increasing sales. That’s the easy part that everyone knows, but it gets a bit more complicated from there. How do you increase *targeted* traffic–that is, people that will actually buy your product, come inside your physical store (if you are the owner of a brick and mortar store) or even just come back to keep reading your posts? And how do you do this in a way that doesn’t make you feel icky about it?
The answers to this question can be quite complex, since they depend on what you’ve already done to improve visibility (guest blog posts with backlinks and solid anchor text, pay-per-click ads), capture information (mailing lists, RSS feeds), interact with readers (through contests or posts), etc. as well as what you feel comfortable with and know about your own readers. Sometimes just an hour of information specifically targeted for your website, business and favored approaches is worth about ten hours of reading SEO e-books–many of which happen to be vastly outdated.
That’s why I’m practically giving away eight hour-long SEO phone consultations at only $25 a pop. Although SEO firms often charge around $250/hr, I am trying to raise money for this really amazing SAD lamp to help me get through the winter while also taking a bit of a break from my regular writing and editing assignments. The consultations (for anyone who hasn’t registered yet) will take place during the first week in February. Simply drop me a line (firstname.lastname@example.org) with some available times (ideally between 11-5 Central time) and I’ll get back to you to let you know if you’re one of the first 8 and we’ll go from there.
Otherwise, stay tuned in the coming weeks and months when I’ll post information about my favorite SEO e-books (free or paid) which you can apply to your business.
To build on yesterday’s post, Be Your Own Editor: Five Tips to Follow, I wanted to add an additional tip which is applicable to those working on an e-book that has many sections, or even some kind of product package with several components (such as video, audio and text).
You’ve likely put a ton of thought into the design of your product, so it can be tempting to weave that into your text. However, it can be distracting to the reader to hear about all the different components they’re not reading/watching/etc. at the moment. A blueprint page or a quick overview in the intro is sufficient. Avoid spending too much time discussing other places the reader should go so they can fully appreciate the section they’re currently reading, listening to or watching.
It’s close to midnight and the deadline for your article, manuscript or proposal is RIGHT NOW RIGHT NOW RIGHT NOW. You know your ideas are good, and want to make sure they get the attention they deserve… but you don’t know anyone who could look at it, and haven’t budgeted for a copyeditor or proofreader. What do you do?
Here are five suggestions which I use when proofreading or editing work for my clients, or if I have to (gasp!) have to proofread or edit my own work.
1. Give your work time to sit. I’ve looked back at articles I’ve submitted (or posts I’ve written) days or weeks later and been stunned by some very basic errors I made. Another set of eyes works best, but time is the next best thing. Even 24 hours can work wonders.
2. Give credit where credit is due. Although there is a plethora of “borrowed” material floating around online, it is good practice (and karma) to cite your sources whenever possible. This can also help if the information happens to be incorrect. And it goes without saying that you should put direct quotes in quotation marks instead of ripping off large chunks of other people’s work.
3. Check your spelling! Even if you do run spellcheck, often the recommendations given are inaccurate. And there could be words spellcheck misses. Do your very best to look up every word you think might be misspelled in the dictionary, and verify that you’ve spelled the names of people and places correctly.
4. Limit the buzzwords that you use if you are writing for a lay audience. Try to put yourself in the mind of one of your readers, who may be outside of your field or area of expertise. If you must use words they wouldn’t know, make sure to clearly define them.
5. Be careful about using passive voice too much. For example, “The material should be read by the student twice a day.” sounds sloppy compared to “The student should read the material twice a day.”
I’ll be back tomorrow with five more proofreading and editing tips, for those times when nobody else can review your work.