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Monthly Archives: October 2015

Six things that you can do to increase your website or blog’s SEO (search engine optimisation)

Graphic showing an increasing numberSEO or Search Engine Optimisation is one of those mysterious areas of knowledge – like setting up a website – that people like to keep to themselves. If you’ve been involved at all with a website or blog, you will know that people tend to almost prey on newbies, offering to increase their SEO if they work with this or that company.

The impetus for this post came from offering some help to a community organisation I’m helping out with. They don’t have the money to spend on expensive consultancy, so I’ve put together this guide for them – and you – to help clarify the myths and provide you with some advice to help you build good SEO.

What is SEO / search engine optimisation?

SEO means making sure that search engines like Google and Bing find your content and present it to people who are searching near the top of the results (just below the adverts).

Although they obviously work for a profit and want to make people advertise with them, the search engines do want to get reliable, decent and useful information to their users – otherwise those users will go elsewhere. They go to a lot of trouble to weed out spammy and dodgy sites that will put users off and don’t provide useful and relevant information (if every search you did on Google only gave you results on how to improve your SEO, when you wanted to know about Halloween outfits for dogs, you’d soon get bored and use a different search engine).

Therefore, we need to make sure our blogs and websites have the right information and content that will prove to Google that we’re legitimate sites full of useful content that it’s good to show their users.

There are various technical and writing related ways to do this and I’m going to cover the simple ones that you can do with, for example, a free WordPress.com website or blog and no coding skills.

I’ll note here that there are more detailed and technical things that you can do, to do with the coding of the actual site – this will however give you some simple tools that I’ve used to get good viewing figures and good SEO.

My blog post referrersWhy do I need SEO?

You want people to read your stuff, right? Well, although many people will find your content, services, products, etc. through social media, recommendations, blog readers, etc., the majority will find you through search engines.

Have a look at the statistics pictured. This was on a day when I published an article that was shared quite a lot on social media. Where did I get all my hits from? Search engines. So it’s really important to make sure that when people search for keywords to do with my blogs in the search engines, they find my blogs and find their way to me, so they can buy my services / be helped by my informative posts / buy my books.

How do I improve and maintain my SEO?

1. Publish useful, relevant, original and “natural” content

This is my number one top tip. The search engines are always looking for ways to stop people gaming the system and this is a clear example – we’ve all found websites which just have lists of keywords, etc.

I’ve got good results from the fact that the text on this site is useful, it’s relevant, as in it fits in to various categories and has information on those categories (Word, business, social media, etc.), it’s original (all written by me) and it’s written in natural language that looks like it’s been written by a human, not a robot or machine translator or spammer. This will always outweigh everything else.

2. Publish content regularly

Search engines like material that’s updated regularly, as it’s indicative that the site is still live and up to date. Try to post at least once, if not twice a week – it doesn’t have to be massive long articles, but something twice a week is better than five posts in one week then none for a month.

3. Use keywords wisely

There are some “rules” about the keywords that you want to use to attract readers. Here are the ones that have worked well for me, as far as I can tell:

  • Place the keyword / phrase in the title of the piece – so, here I have used “Increase your blog or website’s SEO” in the title.This automatically adds is to the “metadata”, in this case the URL of the piece. There is more you can do with metadata which is outside the range of this article.
  • Place it in an H1 or H2 level heading – here, I’ve used it in top-level headings.
  • Use it in the description of an image – the image above has the words “increase SEO” in the description field.
  • Use it early on in the text and in the final paragraph.
  • Scatter it throughout the text – but NATURALLY. A good aim is to have the keyword / phrase represent no more or less than 5% of the whole of the text (so if your text is 100 words long, you need the keyword to appear around five times.

4. Use questions in the title and headings

Many people search using questions these days – have a look at your statistics if you can and see how many question phrases appear.

So, use questions in your title (this one doesn’t have a question, but many of my blog posts do), and in your headings. These may well echo the exact phrases that people use to search, boosting you higher in the results.

5. Use categories and tags or whatever your blogging platform offers

Categories, tags, whatever your blogging platform calls them, will be searched by search engines, increase the validity of your site and improve your SEO. Use them wisely, using general (reading, writing) and specific (WordPress, copyediting) ones to help your visibility and to help your readers navigate around your site and stay on the site for a longer time.

6. Make judicious and careful use of backlinks

Search engines like to know that a site is reputable and well-respected by peers. Therefore, they put a high premium on the sites that link into your website or blog (i.e. they include your URL / website address on their own site). Of course, a good way to build these is to reference other well-known and well-respected blogs and websites on yours.

However, this is a tricky area that is used very heavily by spammers, too. So here are some dos and don’ts:

Do:

  • Place guest posts on other people’s blogs that are relevant and useful to both your audiences. You should be given the opportunity to include a link back to your website.
  • Offer people in your industry guest posts on your blog (or run interviews with them, etc.) and ask them to link back to the piece on their social media and website.
  • Get yourself in well-renowned and useful / appropriate listings – for example I’m in a Find a Proofreader listing and one for a professional discussion list I belong to.
  • Carefully comment on relevant articles and blog posts, with a relevant and useful comment. As an example of another blog, I comment on book bloggers’ review posts if I’ve read the book or have something to say about the book they’ve read, and include the URL of my own book review blog in the URL field. That way, a network of links builds up.
  • Use whatever reblogging facility you have on your platform (WordPress has a reblog button) to share interesting and relevant content on your blog (I don’t do this myself, but I’ve been reblogged a lot). This will publish a snippet of your blog and a link on the reblogger’s own page and direct readers to you and reassure the search engines that your content is useful.
  • Publicise your blog posts on social media (you can do this automatically) to increase the number of places your web address will appear.

Don’t:

  • Randomly ask to place guest posts on unconnected blogs – you might well get accepted but it’s not going to do you much good long-term.
  • Accept random and unconnected pieces to place on your blog, even if they say they’ll pay you – it’s not worth it long-term, as your readership will suspect it and anyone visiting your website for Dallas real estate and finding the rest of your articles are about crocheting will not stick around.
  • Put random comments full of your own links on people’s blogs that are not in any way connected with yours. Again, some might let these through (I delete any comments like this on my blogs) but it’s not going to look great, as many people will spot what you’re doing and it’s artificial, not natural, so may well harm you in the future.
  • Copy other people’s blog posts wholesale and paste them onto your site – search engines take a dim view of exactly duplicated content and will tend to push both examples right down the results screen. If you want to share something, share a snippet and a link to the rest of the content on the site where it was originally posted
  • Sign up with a company that offers to increase your SEO without checking very carefully whether they do this kind of thing – many of the rogue random comments and links I get on here obviously come from third parties unscrupulously throwing their customer’s URL all over the Internet

These dos and don’ts are to do with being decent, honourable and ethical. I’ve done it this way, and my blog is pretty successful. I will probably write about this in greater depth, but this should help as a handy guide.

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OK, that’s six things that you can do with your next blog post to help improve your website or blog’s SEO or search engine optimisation. This article itself has been optimised following my rules, and I hope you can pick out what I’ve done now. Do let me know if you have questions or comments using the comments option below, and please share using the share buttons if you’ve found this post useful.

Other useful posts on this site

Reciprocity and Social Media – how to negotiate social media kindly and politely

10 reasons to start a blog – why you should do it now!

Is it worth having a website for my business?

WordPress 1 – the basics – joining and setting up a blog (links to all the other WordPress tutorials)

Resource guide – blogging and social media

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2015 in Blogging, Business, SEO, Social media, WordPress

 

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What is prosopagnosia and how does it affect the self-employed person?

Cartoon expressing the experience of prosopagnosiaI read an interesting article in the Guardian newspaper this week about prosopagnosia (or “face blindness”).This is a condition I suffer from (not in the most severe way, but it does affect my life – and my business life), and I haven’t found much else about prosopagnosia and the businessperson. So, I thought it might be useful to share some information about what it is, how it affects me, as an example, and some coping strategies I’ve worked out for it. I would love other prosopagnosics to share their experiences and solutions, too, and I have added links to some useful resources at the end.

I know this is a long piece, but I didn’t want to be all teaser-ish and leave the coping strategies to another blog post. Feel free to jump down to those, though, if you want to!

What is prosopagnosia?

Prosopagnosia is also known as face-blindness, and this key term really explains what it is. Someone with the condition can see another person’s face OK: they can usually identify it as a face. What they can’t do is recognise who it is, tell the difference between similar-looking people, recognise familiar people in a different context, etc. In severe cases, people can even be unable to recognise their own family members, in whatever context, apart from knowing “If it’s a man in my house, it’s likely to be my husband”. Many prosopagnosics have complicated workarounds to help them to recognise people – their gait, glasses, common items of clothing – but this isn’t always fail-safe.

A side-effect of this can be an inability to distinguish expressions and emotions on people’s faces.

Where does it come from? You can pick up prosopagnosia from a brain injury or stroke, but most people acquire it as what the experts call a ‘developmental disorder’, i.e. it’s a connection that doesn’t get made at the right time when your brain is developing in early childhood.

It can be really distressing to be like this. I’m a reasonably friendly and warm person who likes to help other people. I have a horror of offending people or being rude. How horrendous to find out that you’ve repeatedly blanked someone in the street or to ask someone what they do, only to see a shocked expression and realise that they told you all about their business last time you met.

There’s lots of information and the scientific stuff on a handy University of Bournemouth website.

My experience with prosopagnosia

I didn’t know I was prosopagnosic for years – but I discovered the term in my 30s and breathed a HUGE sigh of relief. It was “A Thing”. I wasn’t just weird (well, not in that way, anyway). Other people had it!

I don’t have the most severe form of the condition. I can usually recognise family members and close friends. But it’s not like that thing where you know you know someone but can’t remember their name. I will see someone I spoke to last week – yesterday, even – and if they’ve not “taken” in my mind, I will not have any idea that I’ve ever met them before. Until they walk up to me, know my name, and know things about me, that is.

experience of prosopagnosiaSo, I have trouble recognising people or knowing that I’ve ever seen them before. I will walk past people I know quite well. I have developed coping strategies – I joke that I got together with my husband because he had a distinctive hairline (he had a widow’s peak, not some weird curlicue business) and a goatee and has a distinctive gait. This is only partly true. But I do get very discombobulated when he changes his beard, and I am well-known among my friends at parkrun for having real trouble picking him out in a crowd of runners – even if he has his special hat on.

I’m also not good when watching new TV programmes with lots of people (Strictly Come Dancing can be difficult in the early weeks), such as soaps and reality shows. This sounds funny, but it can REALLY annoy the person you’re watching with. I am known for mixing up pairs of people who I genuinely think are the same person (Matthew Broderick and John Cusack for example). They may not look identical to you, but if they have similar coloured hair and body shape, they’re the same person to me.

I don’t THINK I pick friends based on them having very definite looks or features, but I wouldn’t put it past me. I know I recognised one friend from her shoes rather than her face or hair when I saw her on the high street once (phew, got away with it).

Two things that I find particularly difficult are:

  • Changes in context. Give me someone from running club in running kit on club night or, within reason, in normal clothes and a similar hairstyle, volunteering at parkrun and I’m fine. Present them to me on the high street, in town, on a train, at the airport – not so much. I met someone in the gym the other day who recognised me from one meeting, when I scanned her barcode at parkrun a few weeks before. She knew she knew me from somewhere – not something that I’d manage to achieve!
  • Changes in look. I am constantly amazed that someone I know from said running club can recognise me not in flourescent gear and with my hair down rather than in bunches. To me, that’s a different person, someone I don’t know. How do they do that?

I’ve actually reached a point where I just explain it to new people I meet who I might meet again. I didn’t do this when I started networking for business, and I really wish I had. I certainly remember asking a “new woman I’d never met before” her name and being horrified to realise I’d met her twice before, and had quite long conversations with her. I wish I’d explained my condition then, and I will be sharing this post with her!

The good news: I do eventually get used to people and recognise them pretty well immediately – but it takes more meetings than it will for the average person. I’m also quite good at telling identical twins apart, maybe because I’m used to doing the checking of extra details that non-prosopagnosics don’t have to worry about.

Prosopagnosia and business / self-employment

Business revolves around recognising people. Even if you craftily have a job where you don’t have to deal with your clients face to face (hello, editing and transcription!), you tend to end up doing events, going to networking, etc. All of that can be a minefield. It’s all about who you know, and meeting, liking and trusting people – difficult if the person you’re speaking to seems to think they’ve never met you before when you had an in-depth conversation about widgets last time you met.

If you’re an introvert, by the way, this can make business encounters and networking even more exhausting than they already are!

I’m going to share some coping strategies that I’ve used in my business life (or should have used sooner). If you have this issue, too, I would LOVE you to share your experiences and coping strategies in the comments below!

Coping strategies for the business owner or businessperson with prosopagnosia

Tip 1: Be honest about it

I really wish I’d always done this. When I meet new people who I might meet again, I now pretty well always say, “Just to let you know, I have a condition called prosopagnosia, or face-blindness, which means that I have trouble recognising people. If you see me out and about, please come and say hello and remind me who you are!” It breaks the ice a bit, and I’ve not found anyone so far who’s reacted badly to this (why would they? Would you want to meet someone who did react badly again?)

Tip 2: Use the features of networking to your advantage

Networking events often feature badges and usually feature business cards. Hooray! You can at least make a note of people’s names and check their badges next time. I am good at recognising words and so I’ll commonly collect business cards from people I’ve met, then look out for those names next time. If you can’t read the badge from a distance, make a conversation about it: “Oops, my badge is peeling off,” “Where did you get your name badge from?” (this one only works at the beginning, obviously). Moving around the event and re-meeting people, a quick glance at the badge will reassure you as to whether you’ve met them before.

Tip 3: For one-off events with a lot of circulating, concentrate on a non-facial feature

If you’re at a one-day conference or training day, people aren’t likely to change too much. If you know you’re not good with faces, concentrate on earrings, unusual shoes, an e-watch – any clue that you can pick up that will help you to match the person to someone you know when they come around again (you probably already do this, but just in case).

Tip 4: Try to have a role at events

Weirdly, having a role that means lots of people talk to you can make it easier. They probably won’t expect you to recognise them, so if someone’s chasing up their gluten-free lunch, they’re likely to say so, meaning you can context-match and have the appropriate conversation.

Tip 5: When you’re having a meeting, turn up first

If you’re already in the meeting place, perhaps sitting down in an open and friendly position but looking at your phone or gazing calmly around you, it’s much more likely that the other person will come to you. If a different person you know, nothing to do with the meeting, just happens to come in, you’re just going to have to hope they have very different attributes (different gender, age, etc.) to the person you’re meeting – but I’ve never had a mix-up.

This one works for dates and meeting up with a new friend, too.

Tip 6: Be super-friendly

If you can manage to be super-friendly and approachable with a “Hi, how are you?” you can often pick up hints as to whether the other person already knows you from their answer.

Tip 7: Have a friend with you

If you know you’re going to be doing a regular event, volunteering session etc. there’s no shame in enlisting the help of a friend. I try to take my husband when I’m meeting people at the railway station (so many faces!) and pal up with a known person who can give me clues and cues when I can.

Tip 8: Do a job where you can hide the prosopagnosia

My job, as I mentioned above, doesn’t involve me being face to face with clients. I really do not know how I’d do that, actually. If you do have that kind of role and this condition, I really would like to know how you manage, as it will help other people (pop a comment below or get in touch if you’d rather be anonymous). You can use the tips above to work out who people are, and if you have regular customers, you will start to recognise them in time. How do waiters and teachers manage it, I wonder?

Dealing with prosopagnosics

If you meet one of us and you know (because we’ve told you) or suspect that we are prosopagnosic, please bear with us! We do not mean to be rude! Of course, I’m better at recognising (ha ha) this in other people, and I have managed to reassure and inform a couple of people that it’s not them, it is A Thing, but if someone fails to recognise you a few times, reintroduces themselves to you when you think they know who you are, or has to ask your name when they’re ticking you off a list and they’ve met you a few times before, chances are they’ll have a touch of prosopagnosia.

Top tips for dealing with someone with prosopagnosia:

  • Don’t take it personally.
  • Do introduce yourself, just “Hi, it’s Liz the slow runner, we met at the back of the pack at last week’s run” will work wonders.
  • Don’t think they’re stupid, it’s just one aspect of them. We all have blind spots. I’m really good at recognising voices, for example.
  • Don’t suddenly grow a beard or dye your hair without warning them (that’s a bit of a joke of course, but if you’re close to a prosopagnosic, it’s best to warn them of any major changes in appearance coming up, and remind them afterwards).
  • If they ask you who someone is, or to help them spot their husband in a crowd – again – don’t sigh with exasperation, just try to help.

Resources

I hope this has helped anyone with prosopagnosia feel less alone. If you want to get in touch with me about it, feel free to do so via my contact form.

The Guardian article explains things very clearly and easily, with good examples.

If you think you have prosopagnosia, the Cambridge Face Recognition Test (CFRT) is the one to take.

Face Blind UK is an organisation dedicated to raising awareness and providing support

The prosopagnosia website is a bit more formal but ever so useful, and there’s a discussion forum, too!

And as I said, if you have anything to add or any help you can give or stories to share, please comment below. And if you know anyone this article might help, please share it using the sharing buttons below. Thank you!

PS: This was quite a difficult article and image that I wanted to get right. Thank you to the people who helped me out!

 
22 Comments

Posted by on October 8, 2015 in Business, Prosopagnosia, Skillset

 

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Aglet or ferrule?

DictionariesThis is a cheeky one. Of course you all know the difference between these two lovely words. But I like them, and it’s my blog, and you never know who might look things up (even “mandrel or mandrill” is quite popular).

An aglet is the little tube that you find on the end of your shoelaces, usually made of plastic but sometimes of metal. Sweetly, it apparently comes from the French for “little needle”, even though it doesn’t really look like or act like a needle in itself, but is used to help you thread the lace through the holes.

A ferrule is the little plastic or rubber cap that sits on the end of a walking stick or umbrella and prevents it from getting damaged.

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2015 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing

 

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