Blog in 10 2013.
‘You know about computers, right?’
‘Yes...’ I say. And the dread has already started.
‘What do you know about SEO?’
Ah. I’ve had that question a lot, especially when friends I know are making a new website. Every time, they seem to think they need to do something special when writing for the web. That to make their site searchable they need to come up with a bunch of keywords and plonk them in their website willy-nilly. But it’s actually a lot simpler than that. It comes down to one very easy-to-remember rule.
It’s all about the reader.
It’s always been about the reader. It just got forgotten about because some clever-clogs figured out how search engines were looking for good content. But now Google’s announced it’s going to hide what you’re typing in from the world (if you’re logged in or make an effort to go to the right site). Which means site owners will get a lot less information about what words people are using. And that means it’ll be harder for naughty black hat sites (ones that try to cheat their way around search engines with lots of ‘keywords’) to abuse the system.
So how do you get noticed?
Remember that it’s people who are going to read your site. So when you design it, just think about what the most important information is and get that up front, on your home page. Make sure every page has a link to it. That your readers can share and comment without needing to trawl through a labyrinth. Make it so people can use it. Sort out your navigation.
When it comes to the words, you don’t need to do anything special. Just write decent content. Make it useful. Make it helpful. Make it something that people want to read, and will hopefully bookmark. If you want people to link to your website, write about the things people will actually want to link to. And if you write naturally, in the way you talk, you’ll inevitably do all the good things you need to.
‘Even if you do kind of brain-dead stupid things and shoot yourself in the foot, but have good content – we do want to return it,’ says Matt Cutts, one of Google’s engineers. ‘First and foremost we care about trying to get the stuff that people really will like – the good, compelling content – in front of them.’
So remember, it’s Google’s job to send their customers to the sites they want. Not yours. Yours is to make interesting content that people will want to share.
The results from the Youth 100 are in.
It’s a survey to find out what young people like in brands. And what they don’t like.
It turns out they think there’s just too much waffle.
And they love brands like YouTube, Google and Facebook. Who just shut up and get out of the way.
Get out of my face. Quit over-talking. Save me from the sales spiel.
So we’ve kept this blog short.
For the kids.
Every so often Argos enters my life. Occasionally I enter Argos for the full-shop ritual, complete with betting-shop pens, Fisher Price keypads and strangely ‘benefit office’ queuing experience. But mostly it’s the vans. They flit across my cycle route just long enough for me to see the words on the side: Delivering value. And every time I smile, if only inwardly.
Who came up with that? Did they know how good it was? The vans are literally delivering value to people who either didn’t do the store ritual or couldn’t carry a three-piece suite home.
But the line is (or perhaps isn’t) also a send-up of one of the biggest buzzword evils in business language. Throw a brick at the average bit of business discourse and you’ll hit the word ‘delivery’. Outcomes, efficiencies and of course value are all being delivered, 24/7.
Throw 20 bricks and you’ll hit the even-bigger bullseye: ‘delivery vehicle’. A delivery vehicle can be many things (a project, an initiative), nearly none of which the reader will understand. But it’s almost never a good-old-fashioned metal box with an engine and four wheels. Which is why that line on the Argos vans is such a killer.
If only for that reason, my next big-ticket purchase may just be from there.
Storytelling is everywhere in the business world at the moment (once upon a time, The Writer even held an event all about storytelling). When it’s done right, it can bring your big concepts to life, really explain and humanise your brand, and engage your audience. But for that to happen, the stories need to be authentic. And your audience needs to be able to relate to them – because the whole point, after all, is to build a connection with the people buying into your brand.
So when Alistair Macrow, the vice-president of marketing at McDonald’s, gave storytelling a go recently, we were left slightly bemused. He told two stories, both from his personal life, to highlight McDonald’s focus on customer service and brand experience.
The second story struck a chord with most of us: the family camping trip. The rude customer. The polite, patient, unwaveringly professional barman. We saw a scenario we recognised, service we could appreciate, and it seemed like something that shouldn’t be a million miles away from what McDonald’s aspire to. Overall, not bad.
But the first part of this article was a different story – literally. Now, I don’t know about you, but even when I’ve been served my Big Mac with a side order of wonderful customer service, there are still a couple of things that have never crossed my mind. One of these things being: ‘Ah yes – this really reminds me of being a wealthy VP of a global company, sunning it up at a luxury resort in Barbados. This is the life.’ And when I think about the many millions of people worldwide who’ve eaten at McDonald’s, I struggle to compare their ‘diverse requirements’ to those of a British father, mother and daughter, ordering a meal from a small Caribbean restaurant.
Put simply, it doesn’t work. At best it’s just too try-hard, at worst it’s almost patronising. Either way, it certainly doesn’t make me feel like I can now really relate to Alistair. Or McDonald’s as the brand he’s representing. I don’t doubt that the story is true – but trying to join it up with ‘excellent McDonald’s customer service’ forces it to take on a meaning which isn’t really there.
And the moral of the story? Choose yours carefully.
The tube during rush hour isn’t a great experience. If you work in London, even if you’re not a tube commuter I bet you hear a new tube moan from your colleagues every day.
‘He didn’t move down inside the carriage.’ ‘If she took her bag off her back, I could’ve got on.’
‘He carried on reading his paper, even though, when he turned the page, it caught my nose.’
But Transport for London (TfL) have launched a new campaign to tackle tube etiquette and make journeys more bearable.
Poetiquette is a week-long campaign where poets perform in stations across London, plus a wider marketing campaign of posters and billboards. Their aim? To get people to think twice before dropping rubbish, holding the tube doors open for their mates, and anything else that holds up the smooth running of trains.
Anything that tries to change the tube for the better has to be a good thing. And I love poetry. But I’m not convinced.
Here’s one of the new posters going up in stations around London.
Isn’t this a bit patronising? It sounds like something from a bad birthday card – not like something anyone would ever actually say.
And if you scratch below the surface, TfL are saying things like: ‘Heavily loaded commuter services deliver higher social benefits than lightly loaded regional services.’
I’m fairly certain that no-one has ever said, ‘I don’t know about you, but my train was really heavily loaded this morning.’
Their tone is swinging wildly between industrial cattle haulage and a book of nursery rhymes. Is it any wonder we aren’t paying attention to their advice?
Would people change how they act on the tube overnight if TfL started talking to us like responsible human beings? Probably not. But I bet we’d be more likely to pay attention to what they have to say.