Three Ghost Blogging Concerns We Hear From Clients

Some people have issues with ghost blogging. We’ve got clients who use it on a regular basis, and love it. Other times, we have run into some people who can’t wrap their brains around it. They’re not sure they want to do it, and they have trouble accepting our help. These people tend to fall into one of three categories.

  • They don’t think they have a high-enough position to need a ghost writer. They don’t think they’re that important to “deserve” it. They think their company needs to be bigger, or they need to have a more prestigious position. I saw this a lot when I was doing speechwriting for a Congressional candidate in 2004. It’s not a matter of prestige, it’s a matter of having the time to do it.
  • A ghost

    Okay, that's kind of creepy.

  • They feel they need to “earn” the words by doing the work themselves. These people have a very strong do-it-yourself ethic, and think that they should be able to and know how to do every aspect of their business. They don’t want someone to do the things they should be capable of doing themselves, and they feel like they’re slacking when they don’t. But a lot of people can’t write quickly or efficiently — they take a couple hours to write a single blog post. That’s a problem when their time is worth $250 an hour, like a defense attorney. Why spend $500 of your billable time, three times a week, when you could hire someone to do the ghost blogging for you?
  • They think writing is so easy that anyone can do it. “After all,” they reason, “I learned how to write in school, so I can just take the skills I learned 20 – 30 years ago, right?” This is like saying, “I know how to work a table saw, so I ought to be able to make my own custom cabinets. Look, we all learned how to communicate via the written word, but that doesn’t make you a writer. A professional ghost blogger has been trained on how to write tight, concise copy that will inform, entertain, or persuade. While some people are able to do this without training, those people are few and far between. Don’t risk turning off your audience with less-than-professional writing that rambles on, is filled with errors, or just plain doesn’t make sense. (Not so surprisingly, these are the same people who demand that every position in their company has experience in their industry, including the accountant, the IT person, and even human resources staff.)

Ghost blogging is one of those services that companies need to maintain an online presence, but don’t have the time or resources to do it. It’s for the people who are too busy to write on a regular basis, no matter what “level” you are in your career. It’s for the people who struggle with writing, or are basically too expensive to do anything that doesn’t directly result in bottom line revenue for their company or firm.

Photo credit: starfish325 (Flickr)

Use Communication Theory to Boost Search Engine Optimization

The persuasion theory behind celebrity endorsements is the same theory behind Google’s new social media search.

It’s called Balance Theory, and when you understand the essence of it, you start to understand why Google is putting so much stock into Google+. And how Google+ can enhance your own search experience.

Balance Theory and Celebrity Endorsements

Without getting into all the scientific language we used when I was in graduate school, balance theory basically says this:

  • I like Celebrity A.
  • Celebrity A likes Product B.
  • That means I should like (and buy) Product B as well.

(Fellow philosophy majors will also recognize this as the 2 premises/1 conclusion logical construction.)

In other words, I like Eminem. Eminem likes Chrysler. Therefore, I should also like Chrysler. (The danger is that if I don’t like Celebrity A, I’ll purposely not like Product B just to restore that balance. It’s why a lot of sponsors drop celebrities who get into trouble.)

This is what marketers are counting on when they put a celebrity’s name and face on a product or company. It’s why Eminem is schlepping Chrysler on the Super Bowl. It’s why Reebok is clamoring for contracts with the NFL. It’s why Nike puts famous basketball players on its shoes.

This is the same basic idea that goes into Google’s personalized “My World” search results. If you’ve used Google lately, you’ve noticed that a lot of your friends are appearing in those results. That’s because Google is relying on Balance Theory to help improve your search results. (Maybe not intentionally, but that’s what’s at play here.)

Here’s what they’re doing with it:

  • I like Douglas Karr.
  • Douglas Karr has talked about corporate blogging.
  • That means I should check out what Douglas has said about corporate blogging.

And if I like what Google has shown me, I’ll continue to use Google.

Google's Personal Results for Corporate Blogging

These are the PERSONAL results for "corporate blogging." But that is not really Jason Falls in the 2nd picture from the left.

How Can You Use Balance Theory in Search Engine Optimization?

If you’re building your personal brand, or you’re doing social media marketing for your company, the best way to use Balance Theory for your search engine optimization is to use Google+, and develop relationships with key decision makers at the companies you want to do business with.

  • Connect with the decision makers at the companies you’re trying to reach.
  • Write blog posts about the key areas and problems they’re dealing with at their company. You can find that out just by paying attention to their conversations on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+.
  • Continue to share important articles with them related to those same areas and problems. (This is all part of that “be a valuable resource” stuff we’ve talked about before.)

Then, as these people search for those particular keywords, your blog posts and your articles will rise to the top of their search engine results page. End result? “Hmm, this person seems to know an awful lot about this topic. I wonder what else they can help me with?”

However, this is not a reason to connect with everyone you can find on Google+ or to spam the bejeezus out of them with all kinds of articles and blog posts. You do that, and you’ll most certainly be blocked and ignored by everyone you’re trying to reach. Just write about what you want to write about at an acceptable pace, and connect with a reasonable number of people on a level that doesn’t seem creepy, desperate, or spammy.

With a little effort and just by following some common sense, you can use the Balance Theory — something usually only used by marketers with millions to spend — to start winning higher search engine rankings on your chosen keywords.

Who Should Sponsor Your Blog?

Should you have a sponsor for your blog? Is it worth the effort? Or are you selling out your soul by accepting filthy lucre for a company to have a say in your blog’s content and tone? And which company’s filthy lucre should you pursue?

(Yes, yes, not really, and it depends.)

I’ve been DMing with Mark Eveleigh, a first-class travel writer, book author, and photographer who takes some gorgeous photos of those places you’re never going to see before you die, about whether he should blog (he should) and if he could get a sponsor (he could). He also owns a freelance photography assignment agency where several other outstanding outdoor photographers are available for hire.

Mark Eveleigh

Mark Eveleigh. Petty jealousy and raging insecurity make me want to not help him. A guilty conscience makes me do it anyway.

Mark has an interesting situation, because a sponsorship for his personal branding blog makes a lot of sense. As I see it, he would appeal two basic categories of readers: travel enthusiasts and photography enthusiasts.

The experience levels in these two categories may range from “I wish I could do that” to the serious amateur to the consummate professional. And because Mark is a specialized travel writer and photographer — trips to remote locations to take beautiful pictures — he is most likely attracting readers who want to do similar activities, or at least learn more about it.

Why Sponsor a Blog?

Travel writers have a special niche that can appeal to a wide range of readers — from people who like to travel to people who like to read about travel — who have self-identified as loyalists and users of a particular special interest. That’s a valuable niche for marketers to tap into. Anyone who sells products to travel fans should take advantage of sponsorship opportunities.

So who should sponsor Mark’s blog?

If he wants to appeal to the travel readers, he should talk to large travel agents that specialize in adventure travel, airlines that travel to out of the way locations (think Brazil, Thailand, South Africa), adventure travel gear manufacturers, and publishers of travel guides for the adrenaline-addicted.

On the photography side of thing, he should reach out to makers and online dealers of high-end camera equipment, camera bags, and other photography-related businesses.

(Frankly, Mark’s camera manufacturer, Nikon, should be begging him to throw their logo all over his blog, and include him in their ads.)

In exchange, Mark can write include basic mentions in an occasional article, review a sponsor’s service or product, and allow some ads on his site.

Sponsorship doesn’t always have to include money though. It can also include goods or services. For someone like Mark who travels constantly, it could be free flights for a year, or an expensive new lens to review and keep.

Prove Your Value First

Of course, pursuing sponsors also means being able to prove the value of the blog itself. It means knowing the number of readers, what their interests are, what kinds of influence they have, and even who they are.

Using tools like Google Analytics for web traffic (where they came from, what they read the most), Klout for influence (your readers’ and your own), and even what your network is interested in (using Twellow.com or Gist.com) can help bloggers show where their readers are coming from and what they’re interested in.

I think that as blogs grow in popularity and blog owners are able to show something newspapers have never been able to demonstrate — accurate and up-to-date reader stats — we’re going to start seeing more marketers get involved with real bloggers who can deliver on both great content and valuable readership.

Dear Social Media Haters: Social Networking Isn’t Going Anywhere

Business blogging and social media can be effective in helping products or services find an audience to generate conversations. Business blogging is the hub of any social media campaign. Yet, how do you move large segments of the population to evangelize your product or service like a preacher can move a congregation?

Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society. 

This has played out recently with the events that have happened in Egypt, Syria, Libya and Tunisia. By accounts, small segments of the population were able to use Facebook and Twitter to steer their ideas into a majority which resulted in what has become known as the “Arab Spring”.

Who says that cannot be done for a product or service? Look at Facebook, which is used by nearly half of the US population (170 million US users), or Twitter, which is used by 14% of the US’ adult Internet users.

But to be a part of this trend, you have to participate in social media first. If you are not even engaging in conversation online, then your brand or competitor could be eating your lunch.

As one of our clients said, “If you’re not tracking Twitter or Facebook, your brand could get destroyed. People can be really mean.” So participation is key. Because the 10% rule can go both ways. It can work for you or against you.

Why? Consider this, Generation Y has now surpassed Baby Boomers as the largest population in the United States. They don’t watch television like Baby Boomers still do. Generation Y is online, texting and watching Youtube. If you want to reach Generation Y, television and newspapers will not do it.

If you want to move them and become a majority product in their circles, you will have to participate in social media to make it happen. It’s scientifically proven that it only takes 10% for a movement to move like fire.

Paul is the President of Professional Blog Service. PBS works with clients making strategic investments into business blogging, social media and search engine optimization.

Three Reasons Why Your Blog Needs to be Well-Written

If you can’t write, you won’t show up on the search engines.

That’s because Google is now looking at user experience as its primary ranking factor. That means, they check whether people are sticking around on your site, reading the great content you provided.

They also know when people leave your site because it sucked.

According to a Google employee, Wysz, on the Google Forums, Google uses a number of different signals to find low quality sites, including shallow or poorly written content. Here’s what Wysz says:

Our recent update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites, so the key thing for webmasters to do is make sure their sites are the highest quality possible. We looked at a variety of signals to detect low quality sites. Bear in mind that people searching on Google typically don’t want to see shallow or poorly written content, content that’s copied from other websites, or information that are just not that useful. In addition, it’s important for webmasters to know that low quality content on part of a site can impact a site’s ranking as a whole.

This can be a bit of an ego blow if you actually create your own content. I mean, it’s one thing to try to trick Google with a bunch of crap copy that got puked out by an article spinner. You shrug your shoulders, say “it’s a fair cop,” and then figure out another way to peddle your penis pills.

But if you’re not trying to trick Google, it has to be the worst feeling to find that Google dinged you because your writing was shallow and poorly written.

While Google isn’t getting into the literary criticism business or making moral judgments about you as a person (that’s what Facebook is for), Google wants you to write good copy that uses proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Here’s why:

  • People spell and use grammar correctly when they search. That’s because Google will correct their spelling in a search. “Did you mean _____” appears at the top of the search engine if you typed in a word incorrectly. Or if they think you’re really stupid, they just ignore your word choice and do a search for the correct spelling, giving you the option to click the less desirable, incorrect choice.
  • People share awesome. Scott Stratten said this once, and I’m stealing it. If you write some great stuff, people are more likely to share it. That means people are more likely to link to it in their own blogs, which builds backlinks, which helps your Google juice. But, more importantly, Google is starting to tailor your search results, not with the “official objective” results, but with the results you are more likely to be interested in. For example, you Google “Moleskine notebooks.” Instead of getting the regular search results for Moleskines, you’ll see a blog post I wrote about the little black notebook in your results. You’ll either see it because we’re connected socially, or because someone in your circle shared it, tweeted it, or even left a comment.
  • Google is getting better at semantic search. That means, Google knows what you meant, rather than what you said (see #1). Combine that with the fact that programs like Microsoft Word can check your grammar, and I can see a day where Google uses a grammar checker in their indexing to weed out not only the shallow, poorly-written copy used by spammers, but start dinging the poorly-written copy from people who just can’t write to begin with. After all, Google is about providing the best user experience. So that may start including ranking “good” writing higher and “bad” writing lower. While I can’t see them using an Amazon.com review system to rank sites, I can see them pushing all the lunatic ramblings, misspellings, and drunken love poetry off the top pages.

If you’re a writer, this is one more reason to work on improving your craft. If you’re not a writer, this is a great reason why you need to improve. And if you’re a business trying to rank high in the search engines, this means you need to consider hiring a ghost blogger or other professional copywriter who actually knows what they’re doing.

Photo credit: Leo Reynolds (Flickr)

Your Blog Openings Suck

I truly don’t care why you wrote your blog post.

It doesn’t matter that you were sitting in a coffee shop with your friend, Joe, when you were discussing some amazing idea. I don’t care that those of us who may know you may know that you’re committed to saving the manatees. I don’t care that you’ve been reading Gary Vaynerchuk’s new book, “And The Horse You Rode In On.” (Not a real Gary Vaynerchuk book.)

I want you to impress the hell out of me and make me want to read your post. And frankly, telling me that you were discussing the importance of light bulb recycling over a non-fat lemon chai with ginger sprinkles — which is Doug Karr’sfavorite drink — doesn’t impress me at all.

Houston Chronicle

Want to write good leads? Study newspapers.

(I will admit that I am still guilty of these kinds of leads sometimes, but have committed to never do them again.)

An opening sentence in a blog, also called a lead — or lede if you’re a newspaper traditionalist — is supposed to grab your readers’ attention and fling them to the next paragraph (graf, if we’re still going old-school newspaper). The goal of that graf is to propel people to the one after that, and so on.

But you’re not even going to get out of the starting gate if your lead sucks.

When I took my Intro to Journalism class way back when newspapers were still thriving, our professor drummed the importance of writing good leads into us for weeks. “It’s the most important sentence in the entire article,” he would tell us. “Your lead tells people exactly what happened, but it does it with drama and flair.”

In short, your lead doesn’t blather about coffee shops and books. Your lead needs to grab people and intrigue them, or it needs to provide information, or both.

My lead — the fact that I don’t care about why you wrote your blog post — is a true one. I really don’t. Or if I do, I don’t want it to be the first thing you tell me. Drop it in later, if you want to give me the background. It can almost be an aside, but it shouldn’t be the thing you start with.

I think we get into storytelling mode when we write blog posts. We’re so used to “Once upon a time” that we think it’s important to our blog writing as well. Believe me, I love a good story. I love telling stories, hearing stories, reading stories. But when I go to a blog, I want to be educated and informed.

Chances are, your lead is buried under 3 – 4 paragraphs. You could get rid of the opening couple of paragraphs and be all set, although some writers will tell you — maybe a little cynically — that most people could get rid of the first half, and still be fine.

So when you write your blog post, start it any way you want. But then go back and start deleting paragraphs until you get down to the most important point in the whole piece. Lead off with that. If you need to add the old paragraphs back in for background information, do it. But do it later on in the piece.

As you get better, and your leads begin to surface sooner, you’ll reach the point where you’re writing that stellar opening lead right off the bat, getting your readers’ attention earlier, and propelling them all the way through the post. Time on site will go up, conversions will go up because people made it all the way to the end, and you’ll look like a genius.

And you can tell me all about it over a cup of coffee.

Photo credit: JudsonD (Flickr)

Who Would You Hire, the Rookie or the Veteran?

I’m occasionally asked by clients whether we have a writer with a specific background. Are/were they in IT, in finance, in animal husbandry?

I can usually find someone with a skill set that matches what the client is looking for, but it’s not always possible. But, it’s not always necessary either. We have two things going for us that make it unnecessary to have a solid background in the client’s industry:

    1. The client provides us with all the information first, and then they approve the final post. If anything is incorrect, they find it before it gets published.
    2. Our writers are smart enough and spend enough time working with a client that they get pretty good at the client’s issues, their value to the client’s, and the features that make the client’s business so awesome. They become marketing copywriters for that company.

So this presents an interesting problem for us. Do we hire a good writer who is smart and can learn the product, or do we hire someone from the industry and fix their writing?

Think of it this way: You’re a baseball coach, and you need to sign a hitter to your team. You have a choice between a rookie who can run from home to 1st in 3.5 seconds, and a veteran who run the same distance in the same time. Who do you pick?

Most people will pick the veteran, because he knows the game and is a proven talent. But the best pick is going to be the rookie. If he can run to 1st in 3.5 seconds right now, think of how great he’ll be if you can hone his technique and teach him a couple tricks to make him run faster.

That’s how we choose our writers. I prefer to work with writers who don’t have the industry skills, because I can teach them about the industry, and help them become better “runners.” But hiring the industry veterans who have reached their writing peak is problematic. I can’t teach them anything new. They’ve gone as far as they’re going to go as writers, unless they dedicate themselves to becoming better writers. (That’s not to say that these adults can’t become writers. It’s just that they have to make a major commitment to improving and becoming better, but I don’t have time to wait for that.)

Who would you choose? Would you go for the industry rookie and teach him or her the ropes, or would you get the industry veteran who has a wealth of knowledge on the topic? Leave a comment and let me hear from you.