Naming Your Business for SEO

Today, someone asked me: “Is the name of my business important for SEO?”
Increasingly, search engines are being designed to try to think the way humans would. They want a search to bring up answers that would be relevant to a person searching. (Otherwise, no one would use search engines).
So, if you name your business something that would make sense to a person, you should do fine with search engines. At the same time, you don’t want the company to sound like one of those names you see painted on the side of a dirty white panel truck.
Here’s a fictional example to illustrate – Three women are opening a music store and they decide that they want to call it “Harmony Stones.” It’s evocative, it has a musical term in the title, and the word “Stones” brings up all sorts of cool, musical, cultural connotations. The only problem is, the name is so nonspecific that it could be a music store, a spa, a rock band, or any other of a number of businesses. Neither Google nor a person would know that this business is a music store.
They settle on “HS Music Store” but now the name is so unmemorable that people end up calling it “the music store across from the donut place, no the big one, but the small one.”  A good compromise would be something like “H. Stones Music,” “Harmony Musical Gear,” or something similar.

Are Free Tools Really Free?

I just read a great blog post on HubSpot about using Trello’s free tools to manage your relationships with contacts. While I don’t think that this is a substitute for a full-featured CRM like Salesforce, it’s a great example of how free tools can be hot-rodded to do the same things as “big business” users are doing with their expensive systems.

While I’m a big fan of free tools, there are some cautions to consider before using one.

Sometimes the free or cheap tools actually perform better than their costly counterparts – but aren’t scalable, or lack key functionality. Website builders like Squarespace and Wix make absolutely fantastic websites, but if you decide to abandon that platform (or the platform fails, as some do) you are stuck with some really hard-to-work-with HTML code. Excel creates great charts, but you can’t make them into EPS’s, and if you want to make beautiful graphs in a professional tool like Illustrator you need to jump through hoops.

These kinds of drawbacks are extremely frustrating to a freelancer who might use a more standard, professional set of tools, because it’s hard to explain the risks to someone who just wants a “really cool website, fast.”

There’s also a danger in using too many free tools. If you own your own small business, you’ll be tempted to adopt a free tool ‘because it’s there.’ But then, you either need to become an expert in using the tool yourself, or you need to find an expert in using it. Suddenly, you’re spending time on the tool or on a problem caused by having adopted the tool, instead of on running your business.

One freelancer reported that to succeed with one client, she needed to be an expert in MailChimp, Wix, and WordPress, Unbounce, and integrations between Unbounce, eBay and Amazon. Doubtless a large agency could have done this, but my client was exactly the type of client that these ‘free tools’ appeal to – a small client with a low budget, so by definition they weren’t hiring a large agency. She said, “I used to be concerned about scope creep – now I’m concerned about tool creep.”

Here are some questions to ask yourself before you hop on board with a new free tool:

  • What’s my plan for integrating this tool with the others I already use?
  • If it’s a design tool, how will I keep my branding on-point if my current designer can’t or won’t use it?
  • How much time is it going to take me to learn to use the tool?
  • Is it really going to solve my business problem or am I adopting it for the gee-whiz factor?
  • What is the risk of the tool “going away” in a few years or months, and if it does, how will that affect my business?
  • What happens when I exceed the terms of “free” – can I afford to pay for the tool?

A few of my favorite free tools are Box (I use it to store professional certificates, study materials, downloaded eBooks, etc.), Evernote (Recipes!) and Brainscape (I’ve been using its free flashcards to learn Finnish). What are yours, and what are the risks you think about when committing to a free tool? Please add your thoughts in the comments.


Argh! Your Email Went Out With A Mistake

One of my favorite customers always finds mistakes in my marketing email, so I have an extensive list of the mistakes you can make. Wrong date, missing link, old subject line . . .  My favorite one? I misspelled my own last name in the “Reply-To” field. I picture this guy (he’s in a different time zone) spending his evenings combing through my emails, clicking every link, and topping off his glass of red wine with a smirk when he finds an error.

I’m sure this has never happened to you, but if it has, read on.

Anecdotal evidence (probably along with some studies) shows that your “Oops” email may actually get more attention than the original email. Why is this? As any good salesperson knows, people like to feel “better than” you. This is why presidential candidates try not to act like smarty-pants (smarty-pantses?) and why a popular selling system coaches its trainees to borrow a pen from their prospects.

Depending on your company culture, you may be able to inject some fun into the subject line. My favorite of all time came today: “Argh! GRB Hubba Hubba Gala – Address included” . . . what made it so funny is that “GRB” (the company’s acronym) actually sounds like an extension of “Argh!” and then “Hubba Hubba” . . . OMG. I bet the open rates went through the roof.

Don’t go doing this on purpose, but if you do make a mistake, send out an “Oops” email and move on. You may be pleasantly surprised.


His shirt was white and so crisp-looking I imagined I could hear the hiss of the steam iron; his suit, equally perfect, a somber charcoal color. He stood tall on an expanse of dewy grass, in an early spring chill, cranking three flags down to half mast – to honor the victims of the attacks in Brussels.

Everything about this man spoke of respect – from the way he dressed to greet his customers and colleagues to his assumption of the morning’s first duty – something he could easily have delegated to one of his staffers. His appearance and actions made an indelible impression upon me. And this impression associated itself in my mind with his company’s brand – Northern Bank.

As the company’s three flags flew at half mast, and I continued my walk to work, I saw another company across the street that hadn’t bothered to lower its flag even as the death toll climbs past thirty.

Everything your employees do both inside and outside your company, reflects on your company’s brand. Curious, I Googled Northern Bank and one of the first articles I saw mentioned it had been rated one of the Boston Globe Top Workplaces. This didn’t surprise me at all – it takes a good company culture to reinforce a company’s brand.

What kind of flag does your company fly?

We Are Teabags

This was the subject line of an email I recently wrote to a colleague. The email was about why it is a good idea for people from completely different departments in a business to exchange ideas and share information – because, like tea, their ideas about best practices can diffuse throughout the company.

But that is not the point of this post.

The point is, it started an email chain. The subject line “Re: We are teabags” has hit my in-box a few times today, and every time, I’ve opened that email first because the subject line is so weird that it jumps out at me.

I’m not recommending you write subject lines that are completely different from the subject matter. This is disingenuous, and while it may get higher open rates, it will also annoy the recipients.

My point is that a little creativity in subject line crafting goes a long way towards attracting extra attention in your recipients’ in-box.

This works whether you’re crafting a marketing email that will go out to a large audience, or whether you’re simply asking a colleague for a meeting.

What are your favorite subject lines? What’s your pet peeve with subject lines?


Of SEO and Parmesan Cheese

Magnifier image advertises that the topic of this post is 'search.'The jar labeled “Pimento Parmesan Cheese” sat on my kitchen windowsill for weeks. It contained brownish granules. I didn’t remember leaving it there myself and couldn’t figure out how it got there. I couldn’t imagine how pimento parmesan cheese had gotten brown but didn’t dare to open the container.

Ready to throw it out today, I looked a little more closely and realized that it contained finely chopped walnuts – a kind neighbor had brought over some of his surplus so I could use them in baking.

The essence of search marketing lies in two related concepts: First, label your content properly so that the reader can quickly understand what it contains. Second, make sure your content passes the “sniff test.” This post will give you two tips for labeling and sniff-proofing your content.

Why Search Engine Optimization?

As marketers, we tend to think of search engine optimization (SEO) as a way to drive more traffic to our websites. From a customer perspective, search is about helping readers find the content that they value – quickly. As much as we have qualms about how much information Google collects, it does a good job of serving up relevant search results. That’s because Google and other search engines are constantly trying to improve the way their searches perform from the perspective of the searcher. In the process, they reward honesty.

This is good news for marketers who suffered for years in a business environment that viewed content as a commodity. Your content needs to be informative, accurate, and helpful; your readers are your customers. Just as you “pay” money for goods, you “pay attention” to content.

An ethical and efficient approach to SEO makes search results advertise your content in a compelling but fair way.

Labeling Your Content

The Headline Before the Headline

A search engine result includes a page title and a description. This is the first part of your content a reader will see. It’s like the lid of my walnut jar – they will read this headline before they click.

So, make sure your page title and your description (in HTML, the title and meta tags within the page’s <HEAD> section) describe your content fairly. If you don’t create a description for your content, search engines tend to pull out the title or the first paragraph; someone searching for a walnut-based parmesan cheese recipe might be sorely disappointed if they find this post. (If you’re one of those HTML geeks who right-clicks to “view source,” you’ll notice I haven’t done that with this post yet. To make up for this failing, here is my favorite vegan walnut parmesan recipe).

Here’s how to use meta tags in WordPress and regular HTML (along with some more good information about meta tags).

Alt Tags in Images

An image ALT tag (short for “alternate”) helps tell the story behind the images to visually impaired audiences, including search engines and humans who happen to be looking at your content with images turned off.

If you hover over an image in a browser, you’ll see the ALT tag – try it with the image of a magnifying glass.

Because search engines look for text strings, ALT tags can help them by presenting valuable information about the content of a page. For this reason, many an intern wasted the late 1990’s stuffing alt tags with keywords. The honest SEO will make sure that the alt tags describe the images fairly and in a way that is useful to humans and search engines.

This doesn’t mean that the ALT tags must describe the images literally or refrain from presenting extra information; your alt tags can contain some keywords relevant to your topic or your marketing goals. For example, the alt tag in the image used with this post is not simply”magnifying glass sketch” — I used “Magnifier image advertises that the topic of this post is ‘search.'”

Here’s how to add ALT tags in WordPress and regular HTML, along with more information about how to use ALT text properly for a visually impaired audience.

Passing the “Sniff Test”

You’d best believe I sniffed the walnuts before sprinkling them on my cereal. Similarly, you should check your content before publishing, and make sure it meets two important criteria.

Actually Answer the Question

Are you ready to vote for a politician because he understands your pain? Has this misled you into thinking he will actually solve your problem?

Make sure that your content actually answers the question that your title and description promises. These days, where “content is king,” too many people are cranking out low-quality fluff designed to attract visitors to their site.

It’s true that you can’t sell aspirin unless your audience has (or thinks they have) a headache. But if they still have a headache after they’ve bought the aspirin, they won’t be back for another bottle.

Give your page an honest reading and ask yourself if it answers the questions or solves the problem that you are posing at the beginning. If it doesn’t, hold off on publishing the page until you have done some more homework.

Don’t Put Everything Behind a Form

If you’re a marketer, you are accustomed to writing content aimed at getting people to provide you their names and email addresses so you can continue to market to them.

There is nothing wrong with “gating” content behind a form. But do consider that if someone clicks on “23 Ways to Melt Belly Fat While Growing Your Career and Improving Your Love Life,” he is going to want to read at least two or three of them, and perhaps even test them, before subscribing to your marketing offers.

The same holds for anything else that interrupts the user’s ability to read the content she has been promised by your search engine results. Live chat windows, survey invitations, and ads are all okay as long as they don’t get between your user and the value you offer. Consider adding a delay of 60 seconds or more before popup windows appear, and make sure that the popups don’t detract from the credibility of your content.

After All, It’s All About Trust

If you take this approach to search, you will begin earning your audience’s trust right away. The more your content is worth what your audience “pays” for it, the better chance you stand of inspiring their curiosity, arousing their interest, and gaining their loyalty.