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Content, ANY Content, is King

16

If you were having any doubts that content indeed truly is king, look no further than the new brouhaha revolving around Demand Studios and its successful debut with an IPO that not only opened higher than initially expected, but ended 35% higher. To further cement the fact and add a big fat exclamation point, Google in turn immediately makes public that it is all of a sudden so concerned with the quality of the content it is returning in its search results that it is going to be changing its algorithms to address the problem of content mills. Apparently content is not only king but it is in and of itself, regardless of its quality, enough to build an entire $1.4 billion dollar company around. There lies the problem as it’s not the quality of the content that’s made this possible but its sheer volume. It’s almost enough to make a web content writer forget all about substance. Almost.

Despite Demand Media’s successful first outing, there is a huge question mark of whether or not this content er, company *cough cough* has a sustainable model. Demand’s CEO, of course, in disputing the unattractive content mill label his company has been saddled with is quick to point out all the great plans for expansion his company has. But the truth is Demand Media has yet to show a profit, which has caused many would be investors to question whether Demand is even viable as a business model. Sure Demand can rake in the traffic, but at this point in time Demand appears very much like a paper tiger. They can make a lot of noise and pull in a lot of traffic, but once you get past all the theatrics the substance is hollow and disappointing.

In an interesting peripheral development, Google’s Matt Cuts less than two days after Demand’s successful outing announces Google’s plans to begin aggressively dealing with the problem of content farms. Now, Demand Studios has been around for six years and in the last 3 or so has pretty well buttoned up the top slots in Google with its Ehow and Answerbag sites. What is interesting about this is the fact they have done this with what must be honestly called poor content. Oftentimes, very poor content. If you have any doubts about this, I invite you to have a look at this list put together last year by Jeff Bercovici. It’s enough to make me want to do penance considering I’m an “approved” Demand writer. I’m fortunate I stuck almost entirely to simple fact lists and never wrote about how to put on a pair of eyeglasses or anything equally asinine.

What Demand has done is nothing more than exclusively exploited Google’s own expressed interest in promoting fresh and consistent content. While many of us were busy building the BEST possible content we could, Demand threw quality to the wolves and went full bore after producing a lot of fresh content on a regular basis that was targeted to some of the most common search terms currently in demand; a whole LOT of content. We are talking anywhere from 3,000 to 7,000 new articles a day. What this amounts to is nothing less than a brute force attack on Google’s fondness for fresh and relevant content. More importantly, it exposes the weakness in the Google algorithms by showing us that far from quality being as important as Google has repeatedly stated it is, simply dumping tons of content regardless of quality will cement you in the top rankings and make you an ad revenue hero. I can’t help but imagine that some of the Google bigwigs must be feeling somewhat chagrined to find that not only has someone revealed just how little importance Google really places on content quality, they demonstrated this by creating a 1.4 billion IPO around it.

As you can probably see, it’s not surprising Google would now decide the time is right to address the “problem” of content farms. This is annoying because there are a lot of damn good writers out there turning out some amazing content, yet they are consistently buried in the SERPS because several others have decided to load tons of well optimized garbage into a site. Many of us have known for years that the true value of quality content lies in its ability to form the bedrock of your online presence. It establishes your skill, your knowledge. It builds your network and authority. Building ranking though? Not so much. That’s better done addressing search engine algorithms and feeding the search bots. It’s almost ironic that little startups like Blekko with little presence or chance of dethroning the big guys like Google and Bing have already added controls allowing their users to block results from some of Demand’s outlets from their search results.

  Once again, Google is behind the curve and only shows real concern when we catch a glimpse of the man behind the curtain.

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SEO Voodoo

7

I like to write. I can sit with a simple idea and within a few minutes find myself sitting in front of over a thousand words. Watch what happens with this post if you need proof. Good for production, bad for just about every practical application of web text. Despite this natural proclivity and willingness, writing alone has turned out to be only a fractional part of the job.

As a web content writer I’m finding myself dealing more and more with the SEO aspects of content rather than the construction of the actual content itself! Depressing and a damper on my plans for world domination through media control of the masses yes but alas, one does what one must. So, I spend inordinate amounts of time sifting through SEO data and implementing it into my client’s content in an effort to give them as much value as possible. Sure fresh and interesting content is supremely important, but when you also consider links, anchor text, relevancy, titles, keyword placement and all the rest and the great deal of authority that search engines seem to place on them, the importance of the content itself becomes diminished.

 There are those who will even tell you to forget about grammar and substance as long as you can get all the SEO aspects correct and to be honest, they are right to a point. Simply using every SEO trick in the book and using them correctly, it is possible to build some incredibly fast ranking with some incredibly poor content. Not something I would recommend, however, if you intend to have a web presence that lasts more than a few months and does more than generate a temporary run of click-throughs. A content writer can certainly be successful making SEO his main priority, but without maintaining content quality, the job becomes much more difficult.

I’ve come to feel this is because writing is by itself simply not beholden to outside algorithms and internet fickleness. You won’t write something today and find it obsolete six months later. This is fortunate since I imagine it would be pretty hard to produce any classics of literature if every six months some outside element decided your work was now relegated to the ashes of history, never to be important again. Certainly it can be a bit difficult for the uninitiated to read original Shakespeare for the first time; the construction evolves over time, but the writing remains true. A writer today could construct stories in a similar fashion and find himself regaled as an authoritive voice of literature. Try promoting an old SEO tactic like link stuffing or hidden text today though and you’ll be instantly and rightly branded a blithering idiot.

In order to be effective, you have to meld effective content with effective SEO.  The result is that the web changes the rules of writing.  The simple fact is, writing alone is not enough for the web. You can’t just tell a story, you have to “sell” it to the search engines as well as the masses and anyone who owns a website, runs a blog, or relies on the web for exposure is subject.

When it comes to SEO it seems everyone either believes themselves to be knowledgeable, or they feel it’s just so much voodoo and won’t touch it. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of middle ground. This is likely because of the amount of importance SEO carries and the sheer terror of being revealed a bumbling fool if your advice or beliefs are seized upon and used, then summarily result in the death of an entire promotional program. At the other ends of the spectrum are those who will swear to every SEO belief that sounds good and promote their opinions as gospel; this is usually accompanied by a link to their website offering their web services. Many of them are well intentioned, yet few really have the weight of authority behind them. I cannot tell you how many times I have read discussions about SEO and watched as participants wrangle back and forth with their own statements of authority and professed knowledge, only to find with a little research that their own websites are buried in the SERPs for the best relevant text. I don’t claim to be a guru, but I can at the least be satisfied with my targeted keywords consistently landing me on the first and second pages of a Google search in a fairly competitive niche.

When assessing the authority any source of SEO claims or advice holds there are two things to keep in mind.

  1. SEO is not static.

Search engine optimization is a constantly evolving and almost ephemeral process. The tiniest appearing changes to how search engines view links or text can have a massive impact on their effects. Because of this, anyone making SEO part of their professed repertoire must literally be constantly on the watch for new developments and changes. Knowing what works right now is no great accomplishment; there is a wealth of reliable information available for the reading. Knowing what is coming, what new developments mean for SEO, and how to make the most of them is where true authority lies.

  1. None of the search giants tell us the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

For obvious reasons, Google does not tell us everything there is to know about their search algorithms. Google really doesn’t tell us much at all in concrete terms unless it serves their purposes and poses little chance of giving anyone the opportunity to game their systems. This means that there are in reality NO SEO “experts”. Some are better than others, some are really damn good, and still others only know that there is money to be made by adding SEO to their repertoire and simply want to ride the bandwagon and garner a few profits from those unwilling to deal with the whole thing. The experts are the ones setting the algorithms that define how SEO is practiced, the ones setting the rules for the game.

The rest of us are only players.

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Updating Themes and Site Improvements

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After a week of work the dust is finally settling and some semblance of order is being restored here on Writingfourmylife*. Although I’m not quite ready to lift martial law just yet, I’ve determined that it is safe to once again post and allow visitors to peruse through the rubble. Please make sure your tetanus shots are up to date and avoid the rest rooms if possible. The footer area is still in flux and there may be some exposed wiring in the sidebar, so keep an eye on those areas if you choose to enter. Oh, and there are a couple empty rooms like the Samples page; I’m still getting all the furniture moved in you see.

As you can probably tell, I’ve done some restructuring and a complete theme change. While some of the purists may find it annoying, I’ve decided to include advertizing spots. Nothing serious, just some banners, and I’ve no intention of selling out and turning every post into a promotion for the latest and greatest money making ploy. Besides, in order to be a sellout I’d have to be getting paid, and at this point in time getting paid is a rare animal indeed. No,my status as paid shill is still relegated to writing honest copy so you can relax.

With all the changes I’ve been making it occurred to me that there’s a post to be had from all this confusion. Most of us see only the pretty face put on the blogs we visit and rarely get to glimpse the greasy machinery and rusty gears churning in the background making everything grind along so smoothly. With that in mind, I’ve decided to shill, er, reveal some of the plugins I’ve been using for the past 6 months or so that I think you readers may find of use on your own blogs. I’m sticking with listing what has been working and demonstrating effectiveness, so if you decide to give any of them a try it’s a fairly safe bet you’ll get the desired results if you’ve done everything correctly.

Perhaps one of the best and least obvious plugins I have been using is the All in One SEO Pack. This nifty little gadget is great for the blogger who isn’t interested in a lot of manual SEO work and would like an edge they don’t have to think too much about. With this plugin you can easily set your blog title to hold your blog name and a few important keywords with it, just don’t be silly and load it with gibberish.

You can also set your blogs meta description which although not a lot of help with SEO per se, is good for enticing those finding your site in the search results to click on your link. It also has some features that can keep things like archives and categories from appearing to search engines as duplicate content which although arguable in importance, is probably at the least a sensible idea. You can also set it to automatically generate keywords from post content and existing tags, a plus when you’re pressed for time.

Here is one serious All In One Pack tip for those less familiar with manipulating your content for SEO purposes. This plugin has an option at the bottom of each add/edit post page in your admin area for adding keywords and titles. This can be quite effective for getting the pages you really want to push to rank well for specific keywords. The All in One SEO Pack is a very good plugin, but it does require you to change a few of its settings to get the most benefit from it. An excellent tutorial can be found here and I highly recommend reading it before making any changes to the plugin’s settings.

The Easy Contact plugin does pretty much what it says with a minimum of hassle, which if you’re like me and easily hassled due to having only one heavily frayed nerve left, is a blessing. Some of you are loathe to put your e-mail address on your site thanks to spammers (see above and “frayed nerve”) and others of us believe that it simply cannot hurt to have as many forms of contact on our site as possible. Easy Contact simply adds a very clean form to your site that allows visitors to contact you without the need to send e-mail or leave the site. All you need to do is download the plugin, create a new page called “Contact”, add the easy-contact short-code to the page and then any text you want to include below it. Voila, instant contact form. You can see it in action here on my site if you’d like.

One last plugin I use that some of you may like is WP-Ban. This nifty little gadget is great for those days when the poopheads just can’t seem to have anything nice to say to you and you’re tired of that one spammer who insists on leaving 125 spam comments every day. Simply install the plugin and activate it, go to your dashboard and record the ip numbers of the offending or offensive parties to be kicked out of the party, then go to the plugin settings and add their ip# to the ban list and update. In addition to being of some help in reducing spam, it also provides some feeling of satisfaction in knowing that you’ve managed to slam the virtual door shut in the face of those who have maligned you for the last time. BTW, if you’re feeling really frisky this plugin allows you to create a custom message for the banned party to read when they try leaving their usual offal at your blogs door. Just sayin is all.

Each one of these plug ins has been a great addition to my WP based blog and proven its worth. All In One SEO in particular I highly recommend, especially if you’re not that well versed in SEO and need all the help you can get. I hope they prove as useful on your own blogs as well.

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Improving Alexa Rank: Should You and How

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Improve Alexa ranking

As a writer who produces text intended mainly for use on the web, I am always trying to learn more about how I can improve my work’s web effectiveness. Since text is content, and an obviously content related concern is SEO and everything that has to do with how well a site performs, I spend a deliberately undocumented amount of time figuring out how to gauge overall performance itself. I say deliberately undocumented because to tell the truth, I’m too scared to actually set down in hours how much time I’ve spent doing anything besides actual paying work.

 While most of us are concerned with how well our sites perform in the search engines, and rightly so, there are other indicators of site performance that also carry some degree of weight. One of the most well known of these indicators is Alexa rank, and that is the bear I am going to grab by the tail here tonight and hope doesn’t eat me when all is said and done.

To start, Alexa ranking is simply the ranking of a site compared to all the other sites on the internet as determined by Alexa.com.  The lower your site’s ranking number on Alexa, the better it is performing compared to other Alexa ranked sites. If your site is ranked at 1 million, then it means your site is the 1 millionth most popular site according to Alexa’s ranking algorithm.

The first thing to realize about Alexa ranking is that it is not determined simply by the amount of traffic your site is bringing in. Alexa rank is based on the traffic to all sites, and sites are then ranked relative to each other. This means that even if your site experiences a significant increase in traffic, there is no guarantee it will also experience an improvement in Alexa ranking. If the sites above or below you also experience an increase in traffic, since Alexa ranking is determined by ratio of traffic between sites, your own site could experience a drop in Alexa ranking despite showing an increase in overall traffic.

Alexa ranking also has very little to do with how well your site ranks in the search engines, how many links are flowing in to your site, or how much content you have spread around. Alexa is geared primarily towards reflecting site popularity based on Alexa’s own data, and so is based for the most part on how often the site is visited by users who have the Alexa toolbar installed along with other undisclosed measures of traffic and unique views. In 2008 Alexa changed its ranking parameters to include more indices outside of the Alexa toolbar data so it is important to understand it is no longer true that the Alex toolbar is the only source providing data.

Now, at this point you might be wondering why Alexa rank even matters if it has nothing to do with search rank and is a poor indicator of overall traffic. That’s a good question, and one that stopped my jumping around like Steve Martin in The Jerk when the new phonebooks arrived after I noticed my Alexa ranking finally dropping below 1 million.

Well, how important Alexa ranking is really depends on what your goals are. Probably the most common reason for trying to improve Alexa rank is the fact that many pay per review or ad sites like ReviewMe, Text Link Ads, and Sponsored Reviews decide how much you’ll be paid according to your Alexa rank. Some of these sites also use Alexa rank to determine how much a link will cost you, or how much one to your site is worth. There are also many companies and businesses that use Alexa rank to determine if purchasing advertising or promotional space on your site is worthwhile or not. Although it’s a poor way to gauge the true value of a site, many places still insist on using Alexa ranking in this manner so it’s not a bad idea to keep this in mind when trying to sell some virtual real estate.

As you can imagine, because Alexa ranking is used this way, it is popular with Marketers, Webmasters, Bloggers, and those people leaning more towards the monetary aspect of the internet. So, if you are a Marketer or a Blogger, develop or manage websites, or in some other way depend on the perceived value of web real estate, improving your Alexa ranking is probably a very worthwhile endeavor.

 You’ll notice that I say “perceived” value and not simply value. Well, although Alexa is used by some as a tool to determine and assign monetary values, the reality is that it is not very accurate when it comes to how effectively a site reaches an audience or how large that audience really is. Since Alexa draws data from what can only be described as a limited cross section of internet users, and this cross section is heavily skewed towards those who have the Alexa Toolbar installed, Alexa doesn’t really represent the true reach a site has or its traffic volumes. If you are looking for real performance from your marketing or advertising programs Alexa is not the way to go. If you are looking to market your site or services however, Alexa can be very helpful indeed.

Rather than continue into all the nuances of Alexa ranking and how it works, let’s go instead with assuming it fits in with our goals and that we want to improve how our site is performing.

There really doesn’t appear to be many proven ways to improve your Alexa rank. Although there are quite a few shady tactics involving script and bogus traffic generators geared towards artificially improving the numbers, I strongly recommend against these. Some are only temporary at best, and there are some instances where users have claimed to have experienced serious negative results after an initial boost. Just like with SEO, if it’s shady, don’t do it. So, what can we do then?

Install the Alexa Toolbar

For starters, install the Alexa Toolbar. All you need are the basics. If you don’t want any extras or add-ons, simply choose not to include them in your installation. I’ve had the toolbar for several weeks now and can tell you that I have not experienced any problems whatsoever with its incorporation into my browser. In fact, it’s one of the least obtrusive toolbars I’ve ever used and there is no hidden adware.

 By installing the toolbar you are doing a couple things.

You will get credit for your own visits to your own site. The toolbar will also automatically show you the Alexa rank of every site you visit and makes easily available all the info Alexa has compiled, which is great when comparing your own performance to that of your competitors. However, ignore the yahoos who try to tell you to install it on a group of networked systems in the office or at home, and then to set them all to your site as the homepage or any such tomfoolery. Alexa only counts one visit per day, and multiple hits from the same location will add up to zilch. Also avoid advice to use redirects or buy visits. Neither results in honest numbers, and redirects can cost you greatly when it comes to SEO.

Encourage Others to Use the Toolbar

The next thing to do, and perhaps the most effective and important way to dramatically improve your Alexa rank, is to get your friends, visitors, forum members, group members, and any other network you belong to that adds to your site traffic to install the Alexa Toolbar as well. This is probably the only thing that is guaranteed to produce an immediate improvement in your Alexa rank. The more regular visitors you can get to install the toolbar the better, and they will benefit as well with improvements in their own Alexa rank.

Invite reviews

Alexa has an option for viewers of your site’s stats to write reviews of your page. Now, I have to be honest and tell you that I really can’t say if reviews will do much to help your site or not, but, I do believe there is a lot of potential for reviews in conjunction with improved Alexa rank to increase your actual traffic. Some of the sources I’ve come across suggest reviews do help improve your rank, but in my own opinion based on what I understand of Alexa’s workings, there would have to a somewhat arbitrary index included by Alexa for that to be the case. Alexa does state that they include other indicators so it is entirely possible that reviews can help, I just can’t promise you they will. At any rate, I would get the review widget like the one in my lower left footer and begin inviting reviews from your visitors in order to at the least give it a chance. Yes, that’s a hint dear reader. Also, when you copy the widget code or use your own, modify it to open in a new window to keep visitors on your site since it doesn’t have that option by default.

Target Alexa Toolbar Users

One other tip that I find makes sense is to frequent Webmaster, Tech, Marketing, and SEO related forums and begin including your link in signatures and posts where appropriate. Since the bulk of Alexa’s toolbar users are in these areas, it makes sense to have some presence there as well. You can get started with sites like Warrior Forums, Digital Point, Webmaster World, and Sitepoint. If you handle the nuts and bolts of your own site or are engaged in serious marketing you should be a member of these forums anyways as the knowledge and resources they offer are oftentimes invaluable.

Post About Alexa

One last way to improve Alexa Rank would be to write about it just as I have done here. Those interested in Alexa will be using the toolbar and looking for any good solid information about Alexa they can use, and if you can add something of benefit then you stand to gain both Alexa rank and organic traffic from their visits.

This pretty well concludes what I have to offer on improving your Alexa rank. I’ve tried to stick with only those methods I can reasonably endorse as effective while still answering some of the usual questions that come with discussing the subject. 

I’ve deliberately ignored a lot of suggestions I’ve come across because they simply aren’t practical or ethical. For instance; if you write about Marketing Strategies, it would make little sense to suggest you write about webmaster tools. Nor would it be ethical to suggest you pay people to promote your link in tech forums or write reviews.

 I would really like to hear any suggestions you folks might have, and even better, some summaries of your results after trying what I’ve suggested. As always, thanks for stopping in and good luck.

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My name is Paul Novak and I am a professional writer who speclializes in producing content for use on the web. I offer unique content of above average quality, the ability to write authoritively on a wide range of subjects, and excellent research skills which allow me to create unique and effective text on demand.

Read more about me or contact me to learn how I can put your message into words that work.

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