29 August 2010

Rescue, Reuse, Recycle

Earlier today I found myself window shopping in chilly weather, which turned into a casual hunt for some fall additions to my wardrobe. I walked in to a few second hand shops, as is my habit to do. I am now the proud owner of the following not-new items: a beige-grey leather bomber, a light long coat with embroidery and awesome Aum buttons, and two pairs of pointy pumps that actually fit my tiny feet.

I normally buy used clothing on principle, because I feel there's simply too much waste in the world. And I like to support independent clothing stores, especially when I do buy new. But sometimes I also buy designer brand names second hand; never because of the brand, but because I like the article of clothing.

Today, I bought the light long coat because I fell in love with it, not because of the designer label. But every time I buy a trendy brand second hand, I wonder if it's the same thing as wearing faux fur. Sure, it's not really the original, but you're still supporting the aesthetic.

I recently read a thought-provoking post in one of the Etsy forums. Although the theme of the post revolves more around the personal customer service independents can offer, it reminded me how strongly Etsy sellers (and buyers too) often feel about big brands.

Etsy Success Reading List and a Thought About Big Brands

Are big brands part of what's wrong with the world? Should we wear them at all, even once the purchase price doesn't go into the mega designer's corporate coffer? Is it enough to think about where our clothes come from as often as we think about our food?

18 August 2010

Switching gears to SEO

This post will be the first time in many months that I'm mentioning gears without talking about trashion or steampunk. What I am talking about is my recent day-job shift from the marketing and communications writing I've done in the past to an SEO and pro blogging focus. Just in case you haven't heard of it, I mean writing for Search Engine Optimization.

Marketing strategies are still relevant, so I've been catching up on my reading from trusted favourites like Copyblogger, FutureNow, and Marketing Sherpa - along with daily doses of Seth Godin and Mitch Joel. That's all been fun reading, but I'm on the steady hunt for SEO-specific pointers.

SEO expertise isn't hard to come by, but much of what I've found is full of spin, buzz, and lots of hype. I'm looking for concrete suggestions and useful answers without having someone try to sell me consulting services.

What kind of keyword density should I aim for in body copy? One term per paragraph? Per sentence? What is the threshold for your text to be considered keyword stuffing, especially in cases where you're working with a limited selection of keywords, but still need to generate a certain volume of text?

Do keyword phrases need to be duplicated exactly or can you shuffle them a bit for grammar or flow? Does it matter if Title and H1 copy use the same keywords or is the effort redundant? Is Boolean logic still relevant in understanding search algorithms?

If some of the jargon above doesn't make sense, you might not be ready to tackle SEO projects. However, many writers with some SEO experience are sitting where I am, with just enough knowledge to be dangerous.

Even though I definitely don't have all the answers, I thought I'd share some simple plain-language notes on what I've picked up. I'm hoping to spread the good karma to writers who, like me, aren't personally interested in hiring an SEO firm just to learn a few things.

Work keywords in where and when you can
  • SEO can be intimidating, but it's important to write naturally, regardless of the terms you need to weave in. Think of it like a wordsmithing game and you'll get a kick out of how many keywords you can use.

You're not going to get a rule book
  • Unless you work for a company with a style guide for the web, you'll find that you have to wing it a bit. Different search engines use different search algorithms and none of them are passing around pointers. Google isn't posting articles like, "How to be the top result for blue metal widgets" or "Great strategies for prioritizing keyword phrases", so you'll have to get a feel for what works through trial and error.

Work with an in-house SEO expert
  • Trial and error is a lot easier to deal with when you have guidance. Having someone on your team do the research on which keywords should be applied to your subject, service, or product is invaluable. Your SEO expert will also be able to recommend the select most important keywords to focus on and suggest revisions if traffic doesn't improve.

It's okay to be a writer first and a marketer second
  • Those of use who've been working in the marketing world for any length of time know how much clout gurus, experts, and visionaries can command. The SEO niche is no different. So I'll say it again, SEO can be intimidating. You might be tempted to pass the buck and not tackle the optimization of web copy because you were trained as a journalist or creative writer. But trust me, you've already mastered more difficult forms than SEO writing.

Tell a story with your SEO writing
  • Statistically, it's unlikely very many users will sit down to a fresh cup of coffee and read your SEO writing they way they would an article. Sure there will be exceptions, users that ready your work in full. But mostly, your copy will either be ignored or skimmed for nuggets of information. For SEO assignments, the primary purpose of what you write is to improve the volume of relevant traffic (getting more visitors, but those actually looking to buy blue widgets rather than just anyone). Still, you don't have to settle for creating boring bad writing. Tell a story - even for those select few - and you'll have more fun with your work.

EDIT: Since posting the notes above, I spent a bit more time digging around on Copyblogger and found a really helpful guide – for free!

01 August 2010

Goodbye Victoria summer tour

I'm getting ready for a move to Vancouver and naturally I'm sad to leave Victoria. But rather than just wringing my hands over what I'll miss in my everyday life, I decided to make a point of getting around to visit spots I've never been to or places I haven't seen often enough.

Next time you get a chance to visit BC's capital, put some of these stops on your must-see list if you haven't already.

Bamberton Provincial Park
After visiting several Provincial campgrounds over the years, I must say, if you've seen one camp site, you've seen them all. But what makes Bamberton special as a park is the location. The park's secluded, warm, shallow beach has a great view of the peninsula across Saanich Inlet. This campground is also right next to a preserved mining site which is always cool.

Fresh groceries, excellent restaurants, funky boutiques and eclectic art characterize Canada's oldest Chinatown, just a block from the waterfront. (HDR image)

Christ Church Cathedral
A quiet, shady park on one side, and a charming brick labyrinth foot path on the other, this Quadra Street cathedral is a great place to take your lunch. (HDR image)

Hatley Castle
To have a wicked-awesome monument in your own city and not check it out is silly. But when it's a castle featured in X-Men movies, Smallville, and many other films and television shows, you're really dropping the ball if you don't visit. So I did - on my way out of town - but it still counts.

Johnson Street Bridge
Part of what makes Victoria such a great city is it's walkability. The Johnson Street Bridge is no exception, with a separate pedestrian path. A great spot to view the Inner Harbour.

Oak Bay Marina
A great place for seal spotting, the Marina also has a gourmet restaurant.

Ross Bay Cemetery
Located in Fairfield, this large seaside cemetery is filled with beautiful carvings. Lush lawns and ample trees make for a green setting year-round.

Royal London Wax Museum
As soon as I found out the Wax Museum was slated to close around mid-September, it popped onto my must-see-before-leaving list. And now I know why wax figures creep people out so much. About fifty per cent of them are so realistic that you can't look for long before it feels like the statue will say "boo" or lurch towards you. Also creepy was the layout that took you from the horror scenes directly to the Disney characters.

Silk Road
I've been a Silk Road customer since I discovered their tea back in 2005. Shortly afterwards, I realized they had a spa in the basement and I became an avid fan. For a quality spa, their prices are on the affordable side. But don't let that fool you. Silk Road has attentive, professional and skilled staff with excellent natural products.

Stadacona Park
I used to live around Oak Bay Junction as a student (three different apartments over the years) and hardly ever went to the park. I also didn't smell any roses anywhere in the city. But I've always remembered what a great space it is, so I went back for some quiet reading.

The Superior
I'm not one to play favourites, but I'll make an exception for The Superior. Where else can you get a fig, prosciutto and goat cheese flatbread with local gin, alongside live burlesque, blues, or jazz - all under a real life shoe tree? Nowhere. Well, nowhere I've ever been, but I'm working on that.