Outreach gets people to your meetinghouse / Hospitality keeps people returning.

Over on Twit­ter feed came a tweet (h/t revrevwine):

seo - Google SearchTo trans­late, SEO is “search engine opti­miza­tion,” the often-huckersterish art of trick­ing Google to dis­play your web­site high­er than your com­peti­tors in search results. “Usabil­i­ty” is the catch-all term for mak­ing your web­site easy to nav­i­gate and invit­ing to vis­i­tors. Com­pa­nies with deep pock­ets often want to spend a lot of mon­ey on SEO, when most of the time the most viable long-term solu­tion to rank­ing high with search engines is to pro­vide vis­i­tors with good rea­sons to vis­it your site. What if we applied these prin­ci­ples to our church­es and meet­ing­hous­es and swapped the terms?

Out­reach gets peo­ple to your meetinghouse /
Hos­pi­tal­i­ty keeps peo­ple returning.

A lot of Quak­er meet­ing­hous­es have pret­ty good “nat­ur­al SEO.” Here in the U.S. East Coast, they’re often near a major road in the mid­dle of town. If they’re lucky there are a few his­tor­i­cal mark­ers of notable Quak­ers and if they are real­ly lucky there’s a highly-respected Friends school near­by. All these meet­ings real­ly have to do is put a nice sign out front and table a few town events every year. The rest is cov­ered. Although we do get the occa­sion­al “aren’t you all Amish?” com­ments, we have a much wider rep­u­ta­tion that our num­bers would nec­es­sar­i­ly war­rant. We rank pret­ty high.

But what are the lessons of hos­pi­tal­i­ty we could work on? Do we pro­vide places where spir­i­tu­al seek­ers can both grow per­son­al­ly and engage in the impor­tant ques­tions of the faith in the mod­ern world? Are we invi­ta­tion­al, bring­ing peo­ple into our homes and into our lives for shared meals and conversations?

In my free­lance days when I was hired to work on SEO I ran through a series of sta­tis­ti­cal reports and redesigned some under­per­form­ing pages, but then turned my atten­tion to the client’s con­tent. It was in this realm that my great­est quan­tifi­able suc­cess­es occurred. At the heart of the con­tent work was ask­ing how could the site could more ful­ly engage with first-time vis­i­tors. The “usabil­i­ty con­sid­er­a­tions” on the Wikipedia page on usabil­i­ty could be eas­i­ly adapt­ed as queries:

Who are the users, what do they know, what can they learn? What do users want or need to do? What is the users’ gen­er­al back­ground? What is the users’ con­text for work­ing? What must be left to the machine? Can users eas­i­ly accom­plish intend­ed tasks at their desired speed? How much train­ing do users need? What doc­u­men­ta­tion or oth­er sup­port­ing mate­ri­als are avail­able to help the user?

I’d love to see Friends con­sid­er this more. FGC’s “New Meet­ings Tool­box” has a sec­tion on wel­com­ing new­com­ers. But I’d love to hear more sto­ries about how we’re work­ing on the “usabil­i­ty” of our spir­i­tu­al communities.

DiMeo Blueberry Farms & Nursery

DiMeo Blueberry FarmsThe DiMeo fam­i­ly owns and oper­ates sev­er­al of the largest blue­ber­ry farms in the world, right here in the “blue­ber­ry cap­i­tal of the world”: Ham­mon­ton, New Jer­sey. They have an exist­ing web­site that is hand-edited. We cre­at­ed a sec­ond site using WordPress.
On launch it has much of the same con­tent as the oth­er site, but arranged into posts and cat­e­go­rized and tagged for search engine vis­i­bil­i­ty. It also high­lights the DiMeo Blue­ber­ry Farms’ Face­book, Twit­ter and Youtube out­lets. I’ll be inter­est­ed to see how it gets picked up by search engines and how vis­i­tors start to use it

See also:
DiMeo Blue­ber­ry Farms on Mer­chant Cir­cle, Youtube, Face­book and Twit­ter.

What to look for in SEO consultants

This is part of my Beyond SEO series where I look at the myths and real­i­ties behind search engine opti­miza­tion, with prac­ti­cal tips about pub­li­ciz­ing your site and build­ing your per­son­al brand. Read all of my Beyond SEO arti­cles.

The Google blog asks for user input into what makes a good SEO and reports that they’ve just rewrit­ten their page that warns against rogue SEO artists and gives rec­om­men­da­tions about what to look out for. It starts with their definition

SEO is an acronym for “search engine opti­miza­tion” or “search engine opti­miz­er.” Decid­ing to hire an SEO is a big deci­sion. Make sure to research the poten­tial advan­tages as well as the dam­age that an irre­spon­si­ble SEO can do to your site. Many SEOs and oth­er agen­cies and con­sul­tants pro­vide use­ful ser­vices for web­site owners.

The blog asks “how would you define SEO? What ques­tions would you ask a prospec­tive SEO?” I’ve been doing a lot more opti­miza­tion for clients late­ly. What’s par­tic­u­lar­ly fun is run­ning across the work of the SEO scam artists their com­pe­ti­tion have brought in. I’ve seen many instances where the oth­er SEO firm has stepped over the bounds of fair prac­tice and been penal­ized by Google.

Google’s job and our job

I’ve always tak­en the approach that it’s Google’s job to give people
the most use­ful and rel­e­vant return for their search and our job to
make sure we have use­ful and rel­e­vant mate­r­i­al and arrange it in such a
way that Google can access it.

SEO is impor­tant but only in the
con­text of smart web design and a coher­ent and well thought out
inter­net mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy. Firms that claim to do SEO
with­out check­ing the ana­lyt­ics data and con­sult­ing with the client
about their busi­ness strat­e­gy will not help the site in the long run.

What your SEO expert should be doing

I would agree with most of Google’s rec­om­men­da­tions of what to look out against. But what to look for? A quick list would include:

  • A SEO con­sul­tant that looks at ana­lyt­ics data before mak­ing any changes. If the client doesn’t already have Google Ana­lyt­ics run­ning on the site I install it and wait a month before doing any­thing. I do that because you want:
  • Quan­tifi­able results. You should be able to see shift­ing use pat­terns if the opti­miza­tion is work­ing. The inter­net gives us pre­cise fig­ures and it’s often very easy to demon­strate the val­ue of the work you’ve done. Clients should have full access to the ana­lyt­ics and be trained enough to be able to inde­pen­dent­ly ver­i­fy the results.
  • A con­sul­tant that fre­quent­ly answers ques­tions with “Hmmm…, I don’t know.” No one knows what Google is doing. You try some­thing, then you try some­thing else. Any­one who claims to know every­thing is scam­ming you.
  • Some­one who looks at your entire busi­ness mod­el and asks hard ques­tions about your inter­net strat­e­gy. What do you hope to accom­plish with your site. Are there spe­cif­ic goals that we can measure?
  • Think about your Inbound and Out­bound strate­gies. Google will send peo­ple your way if you have use­ful mate­r­i­al so think about what com­pelling con­tent you can offer the uni­verse. And once peo­ple come to the site you have to make it com­pelling for them to stay a while, sub­scribe, etc. 
  • The SEO con­sul­tant should make you sweat: any­one who says they can sig­nif­i­cant­ly boost your site with­out you hav­ing to lift a fin­ger is fool­ing you. You will almost always have to add com­pelling con­tent and it will take you com­mit­ting staff time to the project (a good devel­op­ment team will look for ways to make this fit into your exist­ing staff rou­tines so that it’s as pain­less as possible!). 

Any oth­ers sug­ges­tions for what to look for in poten­tial SEO consultants?

Talking like a Quaker: does anyone really care about schism anymore?

Over on my design blog I’ve just post­ed an arti­cle, Bank­ing on rep­u­ta­tions, which looks at how the web­sites for high-profile cul­tur­al insti­tu­tions are often built with­out regard to nat­ur­al web pub­lic­i­ty – there’s no focus on net cul­ture or search engine vis­i­bil­i­ty. The sites do get vis­it­ed, but only because of the rep­u­ta­tion of the insti­tu­tion itself. My guess is that peo­ple go to them for very spe­cif­ic func­tions (look­ing up a phone num­ber, order­ing tick­ets, etc.). I fin­ish by ask­ing the ques­tion, “Are the audi­ences of high brow insti­tu­tions so full of hip young audi­ences that they can steer clear of web-centric marketing?”

I won’t bela­bor the point, but I won­der if some­thing sim­i­lar is hap­pen­ing with­in Friends. It’s kind of weird that only two peo­ple have com­ment­ed on Johan Maurer’s blog post about Bal­ti­more Year­ly Meeting’s report on Friends Unit­ed Meet­ing. Johan’s post may well be the only place where online dis­cus­sion about this par­tic­u­lar report is avail­able. I gave a plug for it and it was the most pop­u­lar link from Quak­erQuak­er, so I know peo­ple are see­ing it. The larg­er issue is dealt with else­where (Bill Samuel has a par­tic­u­lar­ly use­ful resource page) but Johan’s piece seems to be get­ting a big yawn.

It’s been super­seded as the most pop­u­lar Quak­erQuak­er link by a light­heart­ed call for an Inter­na­tion­al Talk Like a Quak­er Day put up by a Live­jour­nal blog­ger. It’s fun but it’s about as seri­ous as you might expect. It’s get­ting picked up on a num­ber of blogs, has more links than Johan’s piece and at cur­rent count has thir­teen com­menters. I think it’s a great way to poke a lit­tle fun of our­selves and think about out­reach and I’m hap­py to link to it but I have to think there’s a les­son in its pop­u­lar­i­ty vis-a-vis Johan’s post.

Here’s the inevitable ques­tion: do most Quak­ers just not care about Friends Unit­ed Meet­ing or Bal­ti­more Year­ly Meet­ing, about a mod­ern day cul­ture clash that is but a few degrees from boil­ing over into full-scale insti­tu­tion­al schism? For all my brava­do I’m as much an insti­tu­tion­al Quak­er as any­one else. I care about our denom­i­na­tion­al pol­i­tics but do oth­ers, and do they really?

Year­ly meet­ing ses­sions and more entertainment-focused Quak­er gath­er­ings are lucky if they get three to five per­cent atten­dance. The gov­ern­ing body of my year­ly meet­ing is made up of about one per­cent of its mem­ber­ship; add a per­cent or two or three and you have how many peo­ple actu­al­ly pay any kind of atten­tion to it or to year­ly meet­ing pol­i­tics. A few years ago a Quak­er pub­lish­er com­mis­sioned a promi­nent Friend to write an update to lib­er­al Friends’ most wide­ly read intro­duc­to­ry book and she man­gled the whole thing (down to a total­ly made-up acronym for FWCC) and no one noticed till after pub­li­ca­tion – even insid­ers don’t care about most of this!

Are the bulk of most con­tem­po­rary Friends post-institutional? The per­cent­age of Friends involved in the work of our reli­gious bod­ies has per­haps always been small, but the divide seems more strik­ing now that the inter­net is pro­vid­ing com­pe­ti­tion. The big Quak­er insti­tu­tions skate on being rec­og­nized as offi­cial bod­ies but if their par­tic­i­pa­tion rate is low, their recog­ni­tion fac­tor small, and their abil­i­ty to influ­ence the Quak­er cul­ture there­fore min­i­mal, then are they real­ly so impor­tant? After six years of mar­riage I can hear my wife’s ques­tion as a Quaker-turned-Catholic: where does the reli­gious author­i­ty of these bod­ies come from? As some­one who sees the world through a sociological/historical per­spec­tive, my ques­tion is com­ple­men­tary but some­what dif­fer­ent: if so few peo­ple care, then is there author­i­ty? The only time I see Friends close to tears over any of this is when
a schism might mean the loss of con­trol over a beloved school or camp­ground – fac­tor out
the sen­ti­men­tal fac­tor and what’s left?

I don’t think a dimin­ish­ing influ­ence is a pos­i­tive trend, but it won’t go away if we bury our heads in the sand (or in com­mit­tees). How are today’s gen­er­a­tion of Friends going to deal with chang­ing cul­tur­al forces that are threat­en­ing to under­mine our cur­rent prac­tices? And how might we use the new oppor­tu­ni­ties to advance the Quak­er mes­sage and Christ’s agenda?

SEO Myths II: Content Content Content, the Secret to SEO

I talk with fel­low web design­ers, the issue of “SEO” invari­ably comes
up. That’s techie slang for “search engine opti­miza­tion,” of course,
that black sci­ence of mak­ing sure Google lists your site high­er than
your com­peti­tors. Over the years a small army of shady char­ac­ters have
tried to game the search engine results.

I’ve always thought such tricks were pathet­ic and bound to lose over
the long term. Search engines want to fea­ture good sites. It’s in their
best inter­est to make sure the sites list­ed are the ones peo­ple want to
see. A search engine that returns unsat­is­fac­to­ry results quickly
becomes a has-been in the search engine com­pe­ti­tion. So as soon as a
site such as Google notices some new SEO trick is skew­ing the rank­ings they tweak their secret search algo­rithm to fix the SEO loop­hole.

Just Give Google the Content It Loves

In the­o­ry it’s easy to make Google, Yahoo, MSN and
the oth­er big search engines hap­py: give poten­tial vis­i­tors site
they’ll want to vis­it. For­get the tricks and spend your time putting
togeth­er an amaz­ing site. Search engines like text, so write, write,

I’m look­ing to join a web design house, which means I’ve been
inter­view­ing with slick web devel­op­ers late­ly and when­ev­er they ask me
the best way to increase SEO for their
clients, I tell them to start a blog. They look at me like I’m an idiot
but it’s absolute­ly true: two blog posts a week will end up being over
100 pages of pure con­tent. All of these sites full of Flash animation
get you nowhere with Google.

Just a note that any kind of text-rich web sys­tem can achieve many
of the same results – blogs are just the eas­i­est way yet to get content
on your site.

Presenting What You Already Have: Blog your Water Cooler Chat

When I talk to peo­ple about start­ing a cor­po­rate blog they quickly
start telling me how much work it will be. Bah and Hum­bug – your
company’s life is prob­a­bly already filled with blog­gable material! 

I used to work in a book­store where I did most of the customer
ser­vice, much of it by email. About two or three times a week I’d get a
par­tic­u­lar­ly intrigu­ing query and would spend a lit­tle time researching
an answer (most­ly by look­ing through the index­es of our books and
search­ing the arcane sites of our niche). This research didn’t always
pan out to a book sale, but it marked our book­store as a place to get
answers and gave us a com­pet­i­tive advan­tage over Ama­zon and its ilk.
Each of my email answers could have eas­i­ly been refor­mat­ted to become a
blog post. By the end of a year, I’m sure the vol­ume com­ing from these
obscure search­es would be quite high (see yesterday’s Long Tail Strategy
post on the Hit­Tail blog for an account of how atten­tion to search
engine’s one-hit-wonders helped achieve a wide­spread key­word dominance).

When­ev­er some­thing new hap­pens that breaks you out of your routine,
think about whether it’s blog­gable. At the book­store, a new book would
come in and we’d spend ten min­utes talk­ing about it. That conversation
reached half-a-dozen peo­ple at most. In that same ten min­utes we could
have writ­ten up a blog post say­ing much the same thing.

Last Spring a con­tro­ver­sial arti­cle appeared in the local newspaper
that tan­gen­tial­ly involved my employ­er. That morn­ing my workmates
gath­ered togeth­er in the recep­tion area for the bet­ter part of an hour
trad­ing opin­ions and wise­cracks. After about five min­utes of this, I
slipped back to my office and wrote my opin­ions and wise­cracks down
into my blog. I hit post and came back to the recep­tion area – to find my
work­mates still blath­er­ing on, natch. My post reached hun­dreds and took
no more time out of the work day than the recep­tion pontifications.

Humans are social ani­mals. We’re always blog­ging. It’s just that
most of the time we’re doing it ver­bal­ly around the water cool­er with
three oth­er peo­ple. Learn to type it in and you’ve got your­self a
high-volume blog that will add invalu­able con­tent and SEO mag­ic to your site.

Mix up your content: Tag Your Site

Last­ly, a point to web­mas­ters: it usu­al­ly pays to think about ways
to re-package your con­tent. My most recent­ly expe­ri­ence of this was
tag­i­fy­ing my per­son­al blog over at “Quak​er​Ran​ter​.org.” Every time I
post there a Mov­able Type plu­g­in fish­es out the key words in the
arti­cle and lists them after­wards as tags. These tags are all linked in
such a way that results send the term through the site’s search engine
to give back an on-the-fly index page of all the posts where I’ve used
that term.

Tags are like cat­e­gories except they pick up every­thing we talk
about (when we use them aggres­sive­ly at least, and espe­cial­ly when we
auto­mate them). We don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly know the cat­e­gories that our
poten­tial audi­ence might be search­ing for and tag­i­fy­ing our sites
increas­es our key­word out­reach expo­nen­tial­ly. My per­son­al blog has 239
entries but 3,860 pages accord­ing to Google.
It’s the parsed out and re-packaged con­tent that accounts for all of
this extra vol­ume. This doesn’t increase traf­fic by that near­ly that
much, but last month about 30% of my Google vis­its came from these tag
index­es. More on the mechan­ics of this on my post about the tag­ging.

Marketing and Publicizing Your Site

“Build it and they will come” is not a very good web strategy.
Instead, think “if I spent $3000 on a website but no visitors came, did
I spend $3000?” There are no guarantees that anyone will ever visit a
site. But there are ways to make sure they do.

Much of web mar­ket­ing fol­lows the rules of any oth­er mode of
pub­lic­i­ty: iden­ti­fy an audi­ence, build a brand, appeal to a lifestyle
and keep in touch with your cus­tomers and their needs. A sucess­ful web
cam­paign uti­lizes print mail­ings, man­u­fac­tured buzz, gen­uine word of
mouth and email. Finances can lim­it the options avail­able but everyone
can do something.

One of the most excit­ing aspects of the inter­net is that the most
pop­u­lar sites are usu­al­ly those that have some­thing inter­est­ing to
offer vis­i­tors. The cost of entry to the web is so low that the little
guys can com­pete with giant cor­po­ra­tions. A good strat­e­gy involves
find­ing a niche and build­ing a com­mu­ni­ty around it. Per­son­al­i­ty and idio­syn­cra­cy are actu­al­ly com­pet­i­tive advantages!

It would be cru­el of me to just drop off a com­plet­ed web­site at the
end of two months and wash my hands of the project. Many web designers
do that, but I’m more inter­est­ed in build­ing sites that are used. I can
work with you on all aspects of pub­lic­i­ty, from design to launch and
beyond to ana­lyz­ing vis­i­tor pat­terns to learn how we can serve them better.

Making sites sticky

We don’t want some­one to vis­it your site once, click on a few links
and then dis­ap­pear for­ev­er. We want to give your vis­i­tors rea­sons to
come back fre­quent­ly, a qual­i­ty we call “sticky” in web par­lance. Is
your site a use­ful ref­er­ence site? Can we get vis­i­tors to sign up for
email updates? Is there a com­mu­ni­ty of users around your site?

Making sites search engine friendly

Google. We all want Google to vis­it our sites. One of the biggest
scams out there are the com­pa­nies that will reg­is­ter your site for only
$300 or $500 or $700. The search engines get their
com­pet­i­tive advan­tage by includ­ing the whole web and there’s no reason
you need to pay any­one to get the atten­tion of the big search engines. 

The most impor­tant way to bring Google to your site is to build it
with your audi­ence in mind. What are the key­words you want peo­ple to
find you with? Your town name? Your busi­ness? Some spe­cif­ic qual­i­ty of
your work? I can build the site from the ground up to high­light those
phras­es. Here too, being a niche play­er is an advantage. 

I know lots of Google tricks. One site of mine start­ed attract­ing four times the vis­its after its pro­gram­mer and I redesigned it for Google. My sites are so well indexed that if I often get vis­i­tors search­ing for
the odd­est things. We can actu­al­ly tell when vis­i­tors come from search
engines and we can even tell what they’re search­ing for! Google
appar­ent­ly thinks I know “how to flat­ten used sod” and am the guy to
ask if you won­der “do amish women wear bras.” I can make sure your impor­tant search terms also get noticed by Google and the rest!