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Green Notes

5 SEO Copywriting Safety Nets

January 3rd, 2013

With Google rolling out two major algorithm changes it’s safe to say that 2012 was a turbulent time for SEO and all of us who ply our trade online. However, throughout all of the upheaval that was experienced there was one point that stood out more than most – and that was the importance of good quality original copy on your website.

Here are five tips that can effectively serve as copywriting ‘safety nets’ when you’re writing for your website. Applying these approaches to your daily copywriting can be the difference between a website that sings to the customer and flies up the rankings, and one that has little appeal for visitors and languishes on Google.

1) Quadruple check
No-one likes the nauseating feeling of spotting a typo in their published copy, but the good news is that it’s entirely avoidable with a little care and attention – and this is best applied by proofing your copy four times over.

Read it aloud, print it out, even use a ruler to isolate lines – whatever works for you is worth trying when it comes to checking what you’ve written.

Be sure to give yourself breathing space between the process of writing and checking. They’re two different jobs, and can be strangely incompatible when carried out one after the other. Take at least a few minutes after you’ve finished writing before returning and starting your first proof.

2) Wait until tomorrow
This is a proof-reading point that deserves a mention on its own. If timescales allow, leave your copy overnight and return to it the next day for a final proof before publishing. Try it. You will be amazed at what you see fit to edit, and here’s the thing – it’ll be better quality copy.

3) Teamwork on editing
If you have the advantage of working as part of a creative team then you should really use your colleagues in the editing process. Send them your copy and ask for feedback. If nothing else it forces you to look at your work closely.

4) Know your audience
Agency copywriters generally have more than one client and each of these requires an appropriate voice and copy approach – but most writers have a preferred style that they default to. It’s important to always remember who you’re writing for and what the ultimate purpose of the copy is. Have the confidence to step out of your comfort zone and you’ll not only get better results for your clients but you’ll develop as a more flexible copywriter.

5) Don’t neglect the technical points
When copywriting for websites with a view to SEO it’s crucial to not only produce good quality original content but also remember some little technical details that are needed for ranking performance. Think about H1, H2 etc tags, page titles and sufficient keyword references in your final copy. Of course you’re always writing for the reader, but by remembering these finer technical elements you’re making sure that the reader will be able to actually find your content.

Christmas and New Year 2012… and thanks

December 21st, 2012

Just a quick note to say that Green Media will be closed from Friday 21st December, returning Wednesday 2nd January.

We’d like to sincerely thank all the customers, suppliers and industry colleagues who we’ve worked with during 2012, and we wish you all a very happy and healthy festive period.

See you next year!

Good SEO protects against website faults

November 23rd, 2012

It is not unusual to see a blog post appearing in the Google search results within a matter of hours of it appearing online, sometimes even quicker, but how quickly does Google react to other bigger site changes?

In the past we have seen new site launches and re-launches being picked up in a matter of days with Google replacing the old pages with the new ones in a very short time period. However, because we usually take a lot of care over such procedures, we haven’t had much data about how quickly Google reacts when something isn’t done correctly.

With this in mind we decided to do an experiment to find out what happens when a website is ‘broken’ and how quickly Google notices with the aim of seeing how Google reacts and how that might affect the search engine optimisation of websites.

After some recent house keeping on one of our servers we found the ideal subject to test – a site that had been long since abandoned, that was no longer used but, importantly, still ranked in Google for some terms.

The first step was to see where the site stood with Google. Using the Google Web Master Tools we could see that the site was getting around 1000 impressions per day in the search results so with that as a bench mark we decided to ‘break’ it and see what happened.

The parked domain name returned 200 OK for every page

The parked domain name returned 200 OK for every page

After some discussion we decided to go all out and remove the site, pointing the domain at a ‘parking’ page.  Importantly this meant that each page still returned a ‘200 OK’ even though all the content had been removed.

After 5 days there was an expected drop in the number of impressions the site received in Google, a fall of roughly 40-50%. Unexpectedly impressions didn’t go down any further. Crucially the site remained on the first page for some reasonably competitive terms for the next 20 days.At this point we decided to intervene again and removed the parking page so that the domain name no longer resolved to an IP address. Google noticed this and notified us, via the Webmaster Tools, that the site was inaccessible within a day but the search results remained for a couple more days.

The graph below shows the time line with impressions show by the blue line. A indicates the day the content was removed, B the day the parking page was removed and C the final day of any rankings.

Impressions in the Google Results over time

Impressions in the Google results over time

So what can be learned from this?

Firstly, creating good content matters. The site had a lot of good quality content, built up over a few years and had earned a number of good incoming links. Although the number of impressions in Google dropped crucial rankings remained. Importantly Google kept the page previews and snippets for a number of key pages for over 20 days after the content had been removed. This suggests that the historic authority of the page carried some weight. As with most things SEO related, creating consistent, quality content could help iron out ranking bumps caused by other issues.

Secondly, always check that the Google Bot can access your site and is receiving the expected status code (200 if the page is there, 404 if it isn’t). As demonstrated by the installation of the parking page, Google still knew the pages existed and continued to rank them despite the drastic change in content. As soon as the site became inaccessible (and not just returning 404 not found headers) the pages very quickly dropped out of the index.

Thirdly, if you make a mistake on your site don’t panic, Google seems to notice changes very quickly but takes a couple of days to act on them. Unless you have made your site completely inaccessible – in that case you should fix it as soon as possible but probably still avoid panicking.


Social Networks for SEO

November 14th, 2012

Using social networks for your business is a great way to create brand awareness, communicate with your customer and generally present yourself as an active and vibrant company, but it’s also increasingly important for SEO.

Shared content is at the heart of most social networks, meaning that they provide a ready-made platform for the organic distribution of information. This fact, unsurprisingly, hasn’t been lost on Google and other search engines, and they’re increasingly viewing social network performance as an indicator of worth on the web.

How does all this relate to SEO?

Organic SEO is based on search engines determining the best, freshest and most appropriate websites for any given topic and search term, and the complex algorithms that search engines are founded on are tasked with filtering an array of factors that indicate such qualities. This is why, generally, the best quality websites appear highest up the search rankings.

The various types of social network activity – sharing, ‘liking’, retweeting and many more – are increasingly considered to be ‘signals’ for search engines, suggesting popularity and value to web users. So, in short, the more successful you are on the major social networks, the more relevant and high quality you’ll appear to search engines.

Look at it like this:

Lots of shares, likes, tweets etc = good quality content

Good quality content = higher authority in the eyes of Google

 Higher authority in the eyes of Google = better organic SEO performance

Social networks as a replacement for link building

From a technical perspective, some types of social network activity effectively constitutes link building, as it delivers the same ‘vote’ for your site content as a traditional link would.

However, it’s actually much more than that.

Social network users are named, identifiable and recognisable people. They’re not faceless directories or link farm sites. So, when your website content is shared on a social network it’s a real person doing it, and they’re accountable for their choice to their followers and friends. There’s an inherent human trust in this process that makes social network sharing far more indicative of content quality than link building ever was. Google knows this, which is why social signals are being considered for SEO, and also why they’ll become more and more important in future.

In short, social networks have gone mainstream just in time to take the place of link building in SEO.

Getting in on the ground floor

Despite the ubiquity of Facebook and Twitter these days, they’re actually newcomers looking at the web as a whole, and haven’t actually been around for very long. Google was developing search algorithms and SEO was a thriving pursuit years before any social network was even at the drawing board stage. So, the issue of social signals and ranking factors for SEO is actually in its infancy. But it’s undoubtedly here to stay and will only become more and more important over time.

By adopting the following simple steps you’ll help to ensure that you’re active and relevant across the social networks right now, and you’ll be able to reap the organic SEO rewards more effectively when they’re firmly established as major ranking factors.

 1) Create great original content that users will benefit from reading. If you haven’t got a blog or news section where fresh content can be regularly published, create one.

 2) Make sure that your website has the requisite tools for users to easily share your content – social network specific buttons to ‘like’, tweet etc.

3) Create and maintain company accounts on the major social networks – providing they’re relevant to your business and target audience.

4) Monitor your social network performance through Analytics. Check traffic and usage information to see what has been successful, then refine your approach as required.

Link Building and the Changing SEO Landscape

November 7th, 2012

Google’s major – and minor – algorithm changes in the last twelve months have come down hard on various elements of SEO, but perhaps no more dramatically than on link building.

Link building has always been a sensitive area of search optimisation, mainly because of the relatively straight-forward way in which it could be used to manipulate the system. Of course, we’re a long way from the early days of linking when sheer volume was king, and simply outsourcing a link building job could accrue thousands of incoming links within weeks that would result in the receiving website experiencing a jump in rankings. Volume has long been demoted in favour of attributes such as PageRank, anchor text and subject relevancy among others throughout the years, and indeed these factors have also experienced fluctuating fortunes themselves. While the goalposts have been moved over the years, link building simply evolved and adapted to retain a place in the SEO mix.

Until now.

So, what’s changed and what should website owners and SEOs be doing with links at this stage?

Well, looking at the fundamentals of linking and how Google ideally prefers link activity it’s quite simple – nothing has changed. Google has always, always, used links as a way of suggesting authority on the principle that a link exists as a way to direct web users to relevant information on a given topic. Links are guideposts for users as they navigate the internet. In basic terms, when a website has an incoming link it is seen as a vote for that site on that particular topic, and contributes towards how it is judged from an SEO perspective. While this requirement has stayed the same, Google’s checking and assessment has been dramatically tightened up, which is why websites that have been manipulating the system with bulk links and dubious acquisitions over the years have been hit the hardest.

Since links still have value, it stands to reason that link building should be kept in mind to some degree when developing an SEO strategy. But how? Isn’t it just a minefield that’s too dangerous to cross now?

The best way to manage link development at this stage is by producing good quality content that attracts links organically. Forget about devoting time towards actively acquiring links and use that resource to create link-able information. You will need to spend time investigating how well you’re doing, how many links you’re getting and where they’re coming from, but this is easier and more rewarding than ever with today’s analytics software packages. Drilling down to goal conversions – whether they are sales, contact forms completed or any other desirable activity on your website – is real, usable data that can give an actual value to your efforts. It’s undoubtedly a more effective and tangible way of working for businesses, as you can monitor which types of content are most successful and shape your message.

The core of this approach isn’t link building or an attempt to manipulate the system in any way, shape or form – it’s simply doing what the web was made for; providing useful, usable, enjoyable and enlightening information, and what Google was made for; getting people to that information when they request it.

Luckily, and not entirely coincidentally, some of today’s most powerful and widely-used websites are available to assist with this process. Twitter, Facebook and to a lesser extent Google’s own Plus network provide the perfect platforms to get your content out into the world and show search engines that your message is popular enough to achieve a growing authority and – ultimately – better organic search engine performance.

We’ll be discussing how to use social networks as the base for your linking strategy in the coming weeks, check back soon or get in touch on Twitter at @greenmediax to share your thoughts in the meantime.

Hurricane highlights Twitter marketing issues

November 5th, 2012

The recent hurricane in the United States highlighted a number of issues that people often overlook when using Twitter and other forms of social media.

In the aftermath of the storm a number of large businesses sought to drum up some extra sales with marketing messages that caused storms of their own. US clothing chain American Apparel sent out an email to customers in the storm ravaged states offering them a 20% discount “in case you’re bored during the storm.”

This was, understandably, met with a wave of criticism on Twitter as people expressed their views on the retailer trying to capitalise on the natural disaster. Needless to say, the majority of people found the email in rather poor taste.

The reaction highlights how important it is to get your marketing message right when people have to react to it instantly. What seems to be a great idea can soon turn out to be the exact opposite when you haven’t considered how it will be received in the eyes of others, resulting with you being left in the eye of your own storm.

Elsewhere, many people allowed their desire to share the latest pictures of the storm to by-pass their better judgement. As reported by Mashable and others, many of the most shared images of the recent storm were not of Hurricane Sandy at all. Some weren’t even of real storms, having been taken from films such as the Day After Tomorrow, while others were Photoshopped or from storms in the previous years that looked dramatic but were not as destructive.

This is a perfect example of two things – good content can go viral very quickly in the right circumstance, and, just because something is being shared a lot doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check your sources.

As with the spur of the moment marketing message, if something seems particularly amazing (or indeed plain dull) you should still check the source. On the other hand if you are trying to get a message across some Photoshop skills can go a long way – just choose your topic carefully.

Using a cohesive voice for positive UX

July 20th, 2012

Although design and appearance often takes centre-stage during a website development project, written content is just as important in defining user experience, and one of the most crucial elements with your web copy is to achieve a cohesive voice. With a consistent tone on every page you can go some way to controlling how a visitor experiences the website – think of it as pages of the same book. When the tone slips or varies, the experience becomes jarring and unpleasant and you’re risking the visitor clicking away from the site.

If you’ve got more than one copywriter working on the project then it’s a good idea to develop a style guide, so everyone can write within the same parameters. Style guides should vary depending on the project and client.

Developing your Web Content Strategy

July 18th, 2012

Your web content strategy has always been important for SEO, but now, thanks to Google’s increasingly copy-orientated algorithm updates, it is probably the single most important element of your digital presence. In short, without a coherent content strategy you’re risking turning off your visitors and the indexing search engine. Not only do you need a coherent strategy to begin with, you need to stick to it over a sustained period of time.

Here are the key elements that should form the basis of any effective web content strategy:

Web Page Copy

Of course your site is made up of web pages, but what about the copy contained on them? Is it well-written, accessible and easy to read? Does it provide the information that the reader needs in a succinct and understandable way?

• Have one page on your site as the authority on the particular topic that it covers.
• Write naturally, and don’t be too concerned with issues like keyword density. When copy is written with a human in mind it tends to get on well with search engines too.
• Keep in mind the copy length – if it’s too long you’ll risk bounces.

Blogging & News Updates

Blogging is a great way to keep the content on your website fresh, and it provides benefits for readers and search engines alike. Think about it – would a reader want to return to a website that is rarely updated?

Don’t worry about having nothing to say. You can write about your business, your products and services, the wider industry that you work in, or how more general news might affect what you do. Once you start blogging, you’ll find that it becomes quicker and easier the more you do.

Social Media Presence

Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Pinterest – the list of social media sites that offer business benefits is well-established and growing all the time. Social media gives you an instantly accessible direct line of communication with your customers and clients, and it can be a great way to get a message out quickly and effectively.

Sharing on social networks has been found to contribute directly to SEO performance, so there’s a clear incentive to maintain an interesting presence.

However, it’s important to acknowledge that social media is complex and varied platform that isn’t suitable for every business. Look at response rates (replies, shares, clicks etc) to determine whether it’s a worthwhile endeavour for your particular company.

Analyse, analyse and analyse again.

Once your web content strategy is in place, make sure to check the site performance through Google Analytics or a similar stats package. This way you’ll be able to investigate lots of copy-related statistics, including;

• Which pages are the most popular and unpopular on the site
• How long visitors stayed on the site
• How visitors navigated throughout the site, and which pages they viewed in order
• Bounce rates

By analysing this type of data you’ll be able to refine and improve your copy continuously, and get the very best out of your content strategy.

The Result?

The result of a well-developed and well-executed content strategy that contains all of these elements is a website that real world users want to visit time and time again.

Mobile World Congress: A Snapshot of a Progressive Technology Market

March 5th, 2012

Mobile phones are now more than just a way of getting in touch with friends, exchanging text messages and phone calls; they are now an essential device that allows you to do almost anything from the touch of a button. They are our books, health monitors, tour guides, social connecters, diaries, email connecters basically our handheld personal assistant and with the introduction of Siri on the iPhone 4s your phone is literally a PA in your pocket. The Mobile World Congress (MWC) celebrates the current state of the mobile market and offers you a sneak peak into its possible potential for where it is going to lead.

This year the event was held in Barcelona, and as the dust settles around the MWC we can see some of the innovative and promising mobile phones that have emerged over the course of the last four days. The new and exciting technology demonstrates just how amazing our minds can be with faster processors, 3D displays and transformed appearances as the mobile giants battle in the market to become the latest trending smartphone. A small selection of introduced devices that caused a stir at the MWC:

The LG Optimus 3D Max
The updated version of the 3D phone made its big debut at the conference in Spain; it features a glasses-free autostereoscopic display for viewing 3D display. The updated handset is thinner and has a faster processor in order to keep up with its rivals on the market. The phone will also support LGs new Tag+ technology which uses NFC to set different profiles on your phone, if you walked into your office past an NFC reader it would alter your phone to silent mode. However the phone is not being upgraded to the new Android software just yet, which will disappoint many users.

Huawei unveiled ‘the world’s fastest quad-core smart phone’ and also produced what they claimed to be the world’s first 10-inch quad-core tablet. The Huawei MediaPad 10 FHD is going to excel in all of the entertainment capabilities including speed, power, web browsing, high definition display and audio, compressing everything into its neat, compact and portable form.

It was named the ‘hero’ phone and was another device that impressed many at MWC offering an amazing display; it uses Super IPS LCD2 which should provide users with brighter, clearer and sharper visuals than many other phones on the market, allowing customers to have a personal experience and become emotionally engaged with the device.

The MWC includes many components that you can participate in, a thought-leadership conference featuring visionary keynotes and panel discussions, a revolutionary product and technology exhibition, the best place in the world to find industry opportunities and networking, a place that is the centre of mobile apps – App Planet, the global mobile awards and the new mPowered brand programme which helps global marketers and agencies increase knowledge on mobile marketing and where they can connect with mobile giants to drive a vision into reality.

The event has introduced new and innovative technology across the whole market and allowed people to see what is going to be on offer as far as new mobile technology is concerned. However the conference is still a snapshot of what will happen in the technology market over the next year as smartphone and tablets get bigger and better battling it out to be the best.

Understanding SOPA and its Potential Impact

January 23rd, 2012

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) has been a hot topic of discussion over the previous couple of weeks. Hundreds of websites have voiced their disapproval of the legislation, while many media outlets and American politicians have stressed the need for tighter controls over internet piracy. The main argument against the legislative bill is that it endangers freedom of speech and will harm well-meaning websites more than those actively distributing illegal content. But what exactly does the bill propose, and what are the implications of such changes?

The History of the Bill So Far

The bill was first introduced to the House of Representatives on the 26th of October 2011, by Texas Governor Lamar Smith. While the bill, if passed, would be an American law, it would have wider implications for other parts of the world, due to the global nature of the internet.

The bill would allow copyright holders and the US Department of Justice to inflict much more serious penalties on websites hosting and distributing copyrighted material. The new law would potentially force search engines, such as Google and Yahoo, to stop linking to these sites, as well as forcing online advertisers to remove any content from the websites.

On the 18th January 2011, the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, the blogging platform WordPress, and hundreds of other websites staged a 24-hour blackout in protest of the bill, which they hoped would help represent the implications that the bill may have on these websites.

Support for the Bill

Support for the bill outside of the House of Representatives has primarily come from large companies who have suffered from websites using their copyrighted content without their permission. These businesses include NBC, Nike, Ford, McMillan Publishers and more. These companies have argued that online piracy is putting jobs at stake, because of the loss of income that is seen as a result of this piracy.

Media outlets and production companies have been the most vocal in their support for the bill, because online piracy has a direct impact on their business. Rupert Murdoch, CEO of News Corporation, has been particularly vocal about the bill, expressing his support over Twitter.

Opposition of the Bill

Opposition has been widespread, because many feel that the bill has potential for a much more widespread impact. Google and Yahoo are two of the biggest companies opposed to the legislation. This is because part of the bill says that search engines must not link to any illegal or pirated content. Google and Yahoo have argued that, with the sheer volume of links, it would be impossible to enforce this.

This was supported by Edward J. Black, who argued in an article for the Huffington Post that it is too easy for those distributing material to change domains. He said: “Ironically, it would do little to stop actual pirate websites, which could simply reappear hours later under a different name, if their numeric web addresses aren’t public even sooner. Anyone who knows or has that web address would still be able to reach the offending website.”

The Obama administration and the White House have also come out in opposition of the bill. A response from the White House stated that it “would not support legislation with provisions that could lead to Internet censorship, squelching of innovation, or reduced Internet security.” However, it did stress that it encourages all sides to work together to create a legislation that helps to stop piracy.

What Happens Now?

In recent days, support from the bill has waned considerably, and the bill was shelved on 20th of January to allow for a rethink. While this is good news for many opponents of the bill, there will very likely be a redraft. File-sharing website Mega Upload was shut down on the 19th of January by the FBI for illegal activities, which is a sign that the idea of copyright protection and privacy prevention is far from over.

The major concerns of the bill have been centered around the potential for putting a stop to the creativity and innovation on the internet, through fear of reprisals if a company falls foul of any potential bill. However, while opposition of SOPA is fierce, most of these organisations and individuals agree there is a need for clamping down on internet piracy, but stress that SOPA is not the way forward.