The Problem with Carefully Crafted Headlines

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013 at 9:46 AM | Category: Blogging, Books, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 8 comments

My youngest showed me a bookmark that listed the 20 Texas Bluebonnet nominated books. “Mom, I’m going to read all 20 of these books,” he said.

Needless to say, I did cartwheels and back flips in my mind. (The only place it can happen as I haven’t done a decent cartwheel since the ’80s.) A child who wants to read? My oldest was average about reading. The middle one despises it.

A little background. The Texas Library Association runs the Texas Bluebonnet Award program, a reading program that encourages children in third through sixth grades to read more books. They must read at least five nominated books to be able to vote.

We reviewed the list to find his next read. Then I did what I should know better to do. I started judging books by the title. An interesting thing happened. The synopsis of the titles that interested me sounded like books worth reading. And those with blah titles didn’t.

After my son finished “Benjamin Franklinstein Lives!” I picked it up. Good title, right? I don’t like monsters or anything, but I knew it wouldn’t be scary since this is for kids. Here’s the synopsis:

Victor Godwin’s orderly life is upended when he discovers that Benjamin Franklin never actually died. In truth, he was put in suspended animation and hidden away for more than 200 years in Victor’s basement.

Intriguing, right?

I didn’t like it.

Bad Headlines Live!

That’s what happens when I come across a headline that interests me. I click through only to find a disappointing article that doesn’t deliver.

There are jillions of articles about writing headlines for blog posts and online articles. They give advice, tricks and formulas for crafting a super duper catchy one that hypnotizes people into reading.

Please stop. Just stop.

It happens often enough that I quit visiting a few websites that let me down again and again and again. Everyone has an off day. Of course, I didn’t stop visiting after one over-hyped or perfectly crafted headline. These sites were notorious enough that I started remembering how they wasted my time too often.

Sometimes it’s not so obvious. Some headlines say they’ll show you how to create a plan or strategy only to be vague without helping you.

Back to Basics

A simple headline that describes the article beats out another using a formula that over promises and under delivers. The same goes for email subject lines. I open plenty of email newsletters with basic subject lines that tell me what the issue is about. They don’t always have a benefit or add a sense of urgency. Some even use the same headline such as: “Newsletter name: Title of key topic or article.”

Just say what’s in the email and make sure the content in the email matches the landing page. Bryan Eisenberg shares great examples of how an email promises one thing and delivers something else. (Check it out. It’s unbelievable how companies overlook something so basic.)

 The Problem with Carefully Crafted Headlines The Problem with Carefully Crafted HeadlinesNow when I review the Bluebonnet list, I look up the book’s summary and read well-written reviews. I also ask around for recommendations. 2013-2014 nominee “Walls Within Walls” caught my eye. And guess what? The school librarian loved it. And my son is already hooked. (Bonus points: the book takes place in New York, my dad’s hometown.)

For 2012-2013, my son voted for “Aliens on Vacation.” If I could vote, it’d be “Wonderstruck,” which left me — like its title — wonderstruck after reading it.  (Its author, Brian Selznick, wrote “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.”) At my son’s school, “Wonderstruck” received the most votes. “Postcards from Camp” won the 2012-2013 Texas Bluebonnet Award.

Are headlines becoming a problem for you in your Internet travels? Do they live up to your expectations? What can we do to write better headlines?

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The Ugliness of Comment “No Follow”

Thursday, June 14th, 2012 at 9:50 AM | Category: Blogging, Meryl's Notes Blog 7 comments
comment The Ugliness of Comment No Follow

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Most blogs allow readers to add a link to their own websites. This gives the blog’s owner and other readers a way to connect with that reader. However, most content management systems (CMS)  and blog apps like WordPress add “no follow” in the code. This prevents search engines from rewarding commenters’ link back to their websites with search engine optimization juice. What happens is these apps add “no follow” in the code preventing search engines from following those links.

I used to have a plug-in that linked to readers’ latest blog entries. That went away because of problems. Because I appreciate every single person who stops by to read this blog and leave a comment, I investigated the possibility of removing the “no follow.”  In a perfect world, it’s a great way to reward people who take the time to read a post and share thoughts.

I looked at some blogs that follow reader links. What I found was ugly. Lots of nonsensical or hollow comments along the lines of “I agree” and “This is a great post!” A comment of value rarely showed up. Most of these “do follow” blogs have subpar quality.

Few — I mean very few — “do follow” blogs had posts worth sharing that could evoke great discussions. Not a single one of these better quality blogs managed reader (fake readers, really) comments that were laden with comment spam. All that comment spam ruined the experience, which hurt the quality of those blogs. Furthermore, it wasn’t clear how Google and other search engines view blogs that don’t have “no follow” on comments.

It was those few good quality blogs that compelled me to leave the “no follow” in place. Even if I control every comment that is or isn’t published, I don’t want to attract the bad element.

Obviously, there’s no benefit in removing “no follow” from comments. So how can bloggers reward the readers who care enough to join the discussion? I visit their blogs to leave a comment or I tweet their latest blog entry.

What if all apps turned off “no follow” in comments? How can bloggers reward readers who post valuable comments?

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The Secret to Writing about a Popular Topic

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012 at 10:21 AM | Category: Blogging, Meryl's Notes Blog, Social Media, Writing 1 comment
crowd The Secret to Writing about a Popular Topic

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Before reading Margie Clayman’s Avoid the temptation to write something popular, I saw articles on how to get ideas for blogging and how to write a bunch of blog posts quickly. These tired topics introduce nothing new. Same outfit, different color and style. Blog there, done that.

I’d rather not blog than rehash something that others have said many times, many ways. Like Green Eggs and Ham — these articles have been delivered so many ways possible … on a boat, with a goat, in the rain, on a train.

Is there any hope for writing about popular topics? Yes. Even about Pinterest. Already, every kind of article on Pinterest has shown up: round ups, lists, advice, and so on. Many of them good reads.

Good things about writing about a popular topic like Pinterest:

  • Add fresh content to the blog.
  • Reach newcomers. (Users join Pinterest daily, so they may have ignored past articles on the topic.)
  • Share my experience. (No one can be me.)

Blogging isn’t just for driving traffic. It’s for loading the website with fresh content to keep search engines happy. Because of this, blogging always pays off. Traffic is a bonus.

Yes, there’s a way to make a post on a prominent topic like Pinterest stand out. Although it means reaching a smaller audience, the search engines will love it. The secret: Write about Pinterest with a focus on a narrow topic.

Examples of Pinterest articles with a specific topic:

  • Ways to use Pinterest in the oil and gas industry.
  • How to make Pinterest work for your professional services business.
  • Pinterest for a forklift company? Yes!
  • How a luxury car dealership uses Pinterest.
  • 5 ways to promote your help desk department with Pinterest.

Get the idea, yes? Not many people will be looking for articles on forklifts and Pinterest, but you’re feeding the search engines by having the keywords in the headline and link, such as http://www.helpdesksoftware.com/blog/5-ways-to-promote-your-help-desk-department-with-pinterest.html (This link is fictitious. Any resemblance to real links, living or rotted, is purely coincidental.)

This link  provides more keyword power for “service desk” especially if the company’s other content already uses those keywords in the headlines. While few may look for “service desk pinterest,” “service desk” appearing in the headline and link will help the site pump its keyword muscle.

You may wonder if adding obvious keywords into an article like these has a phoniness about it. As a writer, I’m extra sensitive to keyword phoniness in web content. In this case, you treat those specifics as your example.

Be careful, though. Try to write these articles without mentioning your company, product, or service. Why? A client needed articles on how to evaluate help desk software. Go on and give it a shot. Search for “evaluate help desk software” and see what you find. Most of the time, the search engine produces few results. And when they do, the article mentions the company’s product.

Lost. Link. Opportunity. The company needing these articles doesn’t want to link to articles mentioning its competitors’ products. This also makes an argument for having a company blog under a separate URL. Even if the competitor doesn’t mention its products, the company wouldn’t want to send prospects anywhere on the competitor’s site.

What do you think? Should bloggers and writers stop writing about the popular topics? Do the niche thing? Something else?

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Is a Blog Right for Your Business Update

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012 at 8:50 AM | Category: Blogging, Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech No comments
black notebook Is a Blog Right for Your Business Update

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Although I wrote Is a Blog Right for Your Business? in 2007, people still mention the article or contact me with questions after reading it. Blogging has changed a lot since then, but one paragraph remains true.

Some people like to read blogs, others like to read newsletters, still others like to rely on feeds and some read a few or all of them. No matter the method the information is distributed, each medium has one thing in common: content. Having a blog connects your newsletter, your website and your business with all of these readers.

More people probably ask whether they should start a blog for their business today in a world where we have zillions of blogs and social networks vying for our tired, information-overloaded eyes. In my original post, I say the biggest factor in starting a blog is how often you can update it.

I don’t believe that anymore. I’ve been updating this blog once or twice a week for a long time as I’ve gotten busier with clients and volunteer commitments. I’m not going to throw up a blog entry just to keep up my “blog X times a week” quota. You don’t have time to waste and I’m not going to take advantage of your time by posting garbage.

If you can post a valuable post, do it. Even if it means you can only write a post once a month. It’s a way to give your website fresh content, something search engines love to gobble up. You may not have much traffic, but at least your site won’t look too static. If you’re active in Twitter, it may help to add a Twitter feed to your website. This adds more freshness to your website to keep it looking alive.

Part two of the blogging for business article discusses the use of blogs to manage a website. My my my. We’ve come a long way. When WordPress added “Pages,” it simplified using the blogging app as a website content management system. Many other blogging apps followed suit adding website features for easier management. Many of those blog apps don’t call themselves that anymore. They say they’re good for creating blogs and websites.

How has blogging changed? What do you think of blogging for business? How often should blogs be updated, or does it matter?

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Look for the Nuggets

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011 at 11:05 AM | Category: Blogging, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 1 comment
state fair big tex Look for the Nuggets

OK, so you can barely see us... but gotta have the traditional photo with Big Tex

The State Fair of Texas organizers have announced the winner of Big Tex Choice Awards — aka fried food wars. (Yes, the one with fried bubble gum, fried Coke, fried butter, etc.) It’s not a fried food contest, but rather a new and unique food competition for the fair’s concessionaires. One of the finalists is the Walking Taco, not a fried food item. However, that’s the only one I can recall in the history of the awards.

The Fried Food Nugget

Fair organizers knew that food was one of the top reasons fairgoers came to the fair. According to the State Fair website, Fletcher Corny Dogs debuted at the State Fair of Texas. “1942: Neil and Carl Fletcher come up with a new fast food product – corny dogs – which they offer to the public for the first time during the summer midway operation.”

In 2005, the fair organizers came up with a brilliant marketing idea to take its food theme to another level when it started the Big Tex Choice Awards. Thus, the fried food games was born. Eventually, the organizers added the slogan of “Fried Food Capital of Texas” leading people to associate the fair with fried food. The website even includes a map showing the location of the concessions for each fried food finalist and winner. (Some past food winners like fried cookie dough are available at the fair.)

No focus on the giant Ferris wheel, auto show, animals, shows or other attractions. It’s all about the fried food. The smart marketers found something that intrigued people and exploited it. Fried food became the magic nugget.

Using Nuggets to Write Stories

I write about many brands and models of cars for one client. At last count, I’ve written over 70. How many ways can you describe how fast a car goes from 0 to 60? Besides, when will you ever need to hit 60 mph in an instant? (I’d like to think most of you wouldn’t have a need to run away from cops.) In reality, this kind of info grips some buyers.

Nonetheless, I need more than just the magic number for hitting 60. The trick to writing a story about a car comes in finding the little nugget and creating a story around it. I study the car’s marketing materials ignoring luxury, comfort, sporty, safety references. Eventually, I find one word or phrase that stands out and capitalize on it.

This works great for coming up with articles and blog posts. You can look at past articles and find an idea or nugget that deserves its own article. How many articles have you seen touting the benefits of Twitter? Yet, they continue to come out daily with a different focus. Just look at the previous posts on Twitter. (8 Steps to Start Strong in Twitter and 5 Clues Affecting Twitter Follow back.)

Have you made the most out of a little nugget? How did you turn the nugget into a pot of gold?

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Links: Harry Potter Finale 2011 Edition

Friday, July 15th, 2011 at 12:02 PM | Category: Blogging, Links, Meryl's Notes Blog, Social Media 1 comment

It’s over. No more HP movies. No more HP books. (Supposedly.) Sure, Rowling created the Potterworld, but it’s not the same. Part of me has an inkling that Rowling won’t rest and she knows the marketing machine won’t roll forever without some fuel. The other part of me thinks all good things must come to an end. To continue something for too long will dilute it.

What do you think? Should Rowling start a new series with one of the characters? Should she create a new series revolving with the new students at Hogwarts? Or just forget it all?

Brain food…

For fun because we’re allowed…

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No Blogging Happens

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011 at 4:57 PM | Category: Blogging, Business, Life Tips, Meryl's Notes Blog No comments

I’m sure you haven’t been keeping tabs on how often I blog or noticed fewer blog entries lately. Most people don’t for most blogs, email updates and websites. We get so much information that we don’t stand by wondering where the latest update is from so ‘n so.

tornados game No Blogging HappensIt pangs me not to keep this blog updated much lately. But then I remind myself that I’d rather deliver nothing than something useless to you even if it affects search engines.

You don’t need a reminder of the advantages of consistent updates and blogging. What about making time for it? All the experienced bloggers tell us to make time for blogging and to stop making excuses that you don’t have time.

I do that for family.

I do that for volunteering and giving back.

I do that for clients.

I do that for exercise.

I do that for sleep.

If we “make time” for everything we want to accomplish, soon we’ll find ourselves losing sleep and overdoing it to the point that our brains feel overloaded. Speaker and author Jill Konrath wrote about this in The Year I Lost My Brain and How I Found It Again. Then today I read the top five regrets people made on their deathbed.

Multitasking is not always a good thing. It divides your attention, thereby sacrificing the quality of the two or three things you work on at the same time.

Oprah is right when she says, “Live your best life.” And that means sacrificing blog entries. If I work to accomplish all the things I’d like to do, it’d sacrifice at least one of the above and that would not be living my life. I’m not going to put off things just to make something happen.

I don’t want to regret not spending more time with my kids at every age. I already wish I had spent more time with my daughter who was growing up while I still had a corporate job and less flexibility. By the time my boys came along, I had the flexibility and fewer regrets.

In the past year, I’ve made time for things we hadn’t done together as a family. We saw the Harlem Globetrotters. We went to the State Fair. We went to the city’s International Festival. We went to the Texas Tornado hockey game. We went to LegoLand.

What will you make time for? What will you let go? How are you living your best life? How do you feel about blogging regularly or inconsistently?

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Guest Post Guidelines

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011 at 5:07 PM | Category: Blogging, Business, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 3 comments

If you do or plan to accept guest posts, it helps to have guidelines before you start reviewing requests. Too many folks have abused guest posting privileges. Besides that, guidelines help you ensure your blog has high quality, integrity and relevancy also known as “keer” or QIR. OK, I made that up icon smile Guest Post Guidelines

bridge Guest Post Guidelines

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These guidelines will be updated as needed.

Posting Guidelines

  • Read the blog before you contact me. The most unbelievable guest post request email came from someone who explained “guest post” to me. This happened within a week after I wrote the Dark Side of Guest Posts article.
  • Will there be a similar post out there? I had one guest blogger who had an almost identical post published the same day as it ran on my blog. My blog is not the place for rewritten articles. It’s not just about my credibility — but you and your site’s too. One guest blogger said she planned to publish the article on her site a few months later. I had no problem with that as long as it wasn’t word for word.
  • The article must have substance. Not just be a list of the top X whatever. One list type post described each item, but used very generic terms. The article turned out 75 percent edited. It took very little to expand on each one, so obviously the guest didn’t invest more than a few minutes putting it together.
  • Agree to let me edit as I see fit. Ensure silky smooth writing, fix typos, limit keyword links, verify substance, etc.
  • Targets business owners, marketing managers, techs and writers. Not very narrow, is it? This is the audience I work and interact with the most.
  • Teaches at least one new valuable thing. I’ve seen guest posts that fly at 30,000 feet sharing stuff everyone already knows like the sun is the closest star.
  • 500 to 1,000 words. Any longer and most of us will tune out. It’d have to take something special to justify 800+ word posts. One guest submitted a 1,300-word post. We turned it into a two-parter.
  • Solid bio. Yes, we’ll include a link back to your site / blog, but it also must include sentences about the author.
  • Discuss topics before writing. Why waste your time on topics that won’t fit the blog? The sooner we nail it, the fewer edits the article will need — saving time for everyone.

Feel free to steal them and modify them for your needs. Please don’t copy and paste them into your blog and turn it into a blog entry. It hurts both of our sites when people do this.

What other items would you add to the guidelines?

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Links: Luck o’ the Irish 2011 Edition

Friday, March 18th, 2011 at 3:29 PM | Category: Blogging, Links, Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech, Writing No comments

My family doesn’t have ancestors from Ireland, yet Dad and I always wore green on March 17. Dad went to the extreme and wore a striped green suit to work. He also had a button that said, “Kiss me, I’m Irish” and a couple of others. (He wouldn’t get away with that kiss me button today with sexual harassment policies.)StPatricks2011b Links: Luck o the Irish 2011 Edition

My ancestry is tricky to trace as many of them came over from Europe and Russia in the late 1800s and early 1900s. However, Facebook connected me with some relatives on my mother’s father’s side. In ONE day, my family tree tripled. The top of this image shows the family tree before I found my cousins on Facebook and the bottom is what I added based on our conversations in Facebook.

familytree before after Links: Luck o the Irish 2011 Edition

Amazing, eh? Despite all of its flaws, Facebook is an incredible resource as so many friends and family members who aren’t social networkers actually use Facebook.

Brain food…

And for fun because we’re allowed…

Where are you from?

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The Dark Side of Guest Posts

Monday, March 7th, 2011 at 5:19 PM | Category: Blogging, Meryl's Notes Blog 6 comments

I don’t update my blog as often as I’d like. So I happily accept guest posts when people offer, right? Eh.

georgian door The Dark Side of Guest Posts

Photo from sxc.hu user gwozdek

Almost daily, I receive an email asking if someone can write a guest post for this here blog. 95 percent of the time, I don’t bother responding to these messages just like they don’t bother reading the blog before emailing me.

Signs of an iffy guest post request email

  1. Knows nothing about my blog other than the name “meryl.net” or “meryl’s notes blog.” One tries to fake it by saying, “I’ve been reading your blog and just love it.” A closer look at the email proved otherwise. Buttering up can have the opposite effect unless you’re genuine.
  2. Mentions their keyword-oriented URL. Obviously, they’re trying to rack up links to improve search engine results. When I check out their websites, I discover a template-oriented site overflowing with keywords and no uniqueness. They also rarely show anyone behind the site. A guest post from these sites reflects poorly on mine.
  3. Writes a generic email message.
  4. Offers no article suggestions or a spammy one.
  5. Fails to know what topic to cover. All you need to do is read the blog and website. Besides, why contact me without knowing this for your sake? You want to choose blogs that fit the audience you want. For example, if your website sells widgets, contact blogs that talk about widgets instead of blogs that talk about thingamajigs.
  6. Asks for a topic.
  7. Lists links to previous articles. All are spammy, keywordy sites. The article are also generic.

Yes, I’ve made the mistake of publishing a couple of these. I’m sorry for doing that to you. I’ve learned my lesson and have tightened the guest posting guidelines.

Once, a guest published a very similar post the SAME day I published the guest post. I’m still in shock that I found out about it. How? A Twitter tweet! What are the chances of my catching a tweet on the day of the post? This situation further turned me off to guest posts and added another requirement to the guidelines.

A guest post should be no different from entering a person’s home as a guest. Treat it with respect and leave the place better than when you entered it. Oh, it doesn’t mean you should clean it up. A simple sharing of a laugh will do it.

Not all guest posts stink. I’ve had some amazing guest postings here. Most were from folks I knew long before they wrote their guest posts. People like them are always welcome to “Be our guest.” You are, too.

What do you think of guest posts?

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