Connect to Then Cultivate Readers: Eight Steps to Rule Search Engines
by Kristen Lamb
The New Year is here, and the tough news is that The Digital Age Author is dead in the water without a viable online platform. Discoverability is a nightmare that will exponentially worsen as emerging markets open and increase competition. The Internet (and social media) is a lifeline to captivate and cultivate a fan following. But a lot of writers are wasting precious time and money with activities that yield dismal results.
If we don’t understand a tool, how can we use it effectively?
The great news is I’m going to offer eight tips to rock search engines. These tactics are free and take very little time, especially if we make them into habits. But first I’m going to give you a super-high-tech explanation of how search engines work.
How Search Engines Find Stuff
Search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) must be able to locate us or we have a greater chance of being abducted by terrorists than connecting to readers. If we don’t offer search engines any direction, this is akin to me saying, “Hey, come visit me in Texas. Just drive around until you see a red truck parked near a mailbox.” What are the odds you’d actually make it to my house? Or would you prefer to visit a friend who provided an address and maybe even driving instructions?
Think of search engines like a giant codependent genie whose sole purpose is to make us happy by delivering what we’re hunting for with lightning speed. Google the Codependent Genie not only wants to offer information quickly; it wants to serve up the best information quickly.
This is where tagging comes in. Tags are metadata, which is data about data. Huh? Okay, if I asked you to go into a garage and find me a screwdriver, and you had a choice between a garage that resembled the season finale of Hoarders or a garage that was neatly organized with labeled boxes, which would you choose?
Would you sift through piles of newspapers, broken bicycles and tangled electrical cords? Or would you choose the garage with bins properly labeled?
Thing is, search engines aren’t much different than we are. The Internet is essentially a giant garage where trillions of pieces of data are stored, and more “stuff” is added daily. Google will gravitate to the content (blogs, pictures, etc.) properly labeled with tags first.
This means I could have a fabulous article about how to train sea monkeys for global domination, but if other bloggers have similar content and they take the time to tag and I don’t? Their article will be favored ahead of mine. Why? Because Google could locate my competitions’ content faster than mine.
When we fail to tag, Google is forced to sift through the piles of digital old clothes, dusty digital issues of National Geographic, and Aunt Thelma’s bad digital Christmas gifts to find us something remotely close to what we’ve requested. It does this by searching the BODY of the content for the keywords we’ve typed in our search.
Thus, if we Google, “How do I train my sea monkeys to shoot lasers?”
Google will cough up anything with train, sea, sea monkeys, lasers located somewhere in the content…and then we get ticked sifting through articles about Discount Laser Eye Surgery and Sperm Whales.
But if the author happened to write about this internationally important topic and tagged it with: training sea monkeys for global domination, training sea monkeys, train sea monkeys shoot lasers, sea monkeys, lasers…
Guess where Google would take us first? Precisely.
These next eight steps will make search engines fall in love with your content. Now that you’ve made it through my super-high-tech explanation of how search engines work, you’re fully capable of doing what many “gurus” will charge you the cost of a 2005 Honda to do for you.
Tip #1—FOR THE LOVE OF CHOCOLATE, USE YOUR NAME
Readers cannot purchase a book by “Inky Muse” or “Red Hot Writer.” Unless you want to change your name to a cutesy moniker? Use the name that will be printed on your books. Your name should be the name of your website, your blog, and all social media. Tweeting as @FlirtyWriter is a waste of time…unless your parents hated you and that’s really your name. For anyone reading this named Flirty Writer, I apologize if I’ve offended you. YOU can use @FlirtyWriter.
The rest of you? YOUR NAME, please. If you’ve goofed on this (I did in the beginning, too) my book can help you undo the damage.
We covered this earlier. When it comes to tagging, always add your name and the name of your most recent book. Everything I post has Kristen Lamb, Rise of the Machines Human Authors in a Digital World in the tags, no matter the topic.
Hey, if we wrote/posted it, we should claim credit.
Tip #3—Limit Tags
Use no more than twelve to fourteen tags. In the old days, the more tags the better, then spammers started abusing this tactic. Thus, if we have forty-seven tags on our post? Search engines will assume we’re spammers and ignore our content.
Tip #4—Reuse Tags as Keywords
Try to use as many of the tags as keywords in the first paragraph of the blog (without sounding weird). Spammers are evil and search engines are looking out for our safety. If we search “Cuban Cuisine,” we expect not to be directed to a porn site rife with viruses. To combat Bot-Bait-and-Switch, search engines will crosscheck to make sure tags on the post match the keywords in the content (usually at the beginning because, like us, Google is lazy).
Thus, if you write a blog How to Train Sea Monkeys to Use Lasers, first, send it to me. Then tag, but then also make sure those words/phrases (sea monkeys, training sea monkeys to use lasers, etc.) are located in the first paragraph.
Tip #5—Search Engines Dig Images
Search engines give extra favor to posts with images. For images you can use without fear of being sued, please check out WANA Commons. I created this as a mass database for authors who wanted to blog, but didn’t want to end up in court for copyright infringement. Currently, we have well over 10,000 images you’re free to use hassle-free so long as you give credit to the contributor.
I even recommend using Pic Monkey to enhance those images, add text and spruce up an image to be perfect for your post. Pic Monkey is free and essentially Photoshop for Dummies (which is why I LOVE it).
Tip #6—Attendance Matters
Search engines don’t care if our content is worthy of a Pulitzer. They are very non-judgy that way. Search engines only count attendance. This is why I recommend blogging five days a week. Before you run for the closest liquor store, a blog is just a conversation starter. It can be an image, a meme (think Grumpy Cat), a funny YouTube video, an article, a favorite quote (placed artfully on a WANA Commons image using Pic Monkey). Again, simple.
Why is attendance important?
If a friend came in from out of town and wanted to go dancing, would you send them to that happening salsa club downtown? Or would you send them to the deserted honky-tonk off the highway so the bartender didn’t commit suicide from loneliness?
Search engines are the same. They want to direct those of us searching to sites that are active. This means, if we’re contributing/changing content regularly, we earn favor. Google would much rather send someone to a website that posts three to five times a week than to a site that hasn’t been updated since Miley Cyrus wore clothes.
Tip #7—Tag EVERYTHING
Yes, add tags to any posts. Reuse those tags as keywords in the post. Use an image and TAG that sucker, too. If your website is Wordpress-based (which I strongly recommend), when you load any image, you’ll see a place you can add a caption. This is where you give credit to the person who contributed the image.
Ah, but then there’s also this nifty line that says Alternative Text and this is where you add the same tags used for your post. This Alternative Text is then digitally embedded into the image and is invisible to everyone but search engines or visually challenged users who want to surf the Internet and need a bit of extra help.
I have a blind family member. She loooooves audio books. Help even the visually impaired reader find you by harnessing The Power of Alternative Text.
Tip #8—Blog from Your Author Website
I saved the most important for last. If you want to be an author who sells books, blog and blog from your website even if you don’t have a book to sell. The free Wordpress is great, but once you decide to get a “real” website, you will lose all of your followers. You also cannot add shopping carts to the free version.
I did all the dumb stuff so you don’t have to.
Invest in a website and blog. Why? First, platforms don’t appear out of the ether. I cannot count the number of times a panicked debut author contacted me to create a platform because their book is being released in a month.
I’m Kristen Lamb, not Harry Potter.
Thus for the pre-published author, blogging is great training for being a professional, and once your book finally is available for sale, you’ll already possess a ready audience. If you currently have books for sale, then a blog is a very non-invasive way to sell.
Ads are annoying and invisible. Non-stop social media posts of “BUY MY BOOK!” are spam (and desperate and grossly ineffective). Blogs give people a reason to visit our site. By blogging, we are then serving others instead of demanding they drop everything to cough up money to purchase what we want to sell.
If we regularly blog about topics people find interesting, and this delectable content is located on our author website, guess what can be situated right next to our posts? A Click to Buy button for our books everywhere they’re offered.
If we follow these eight simple steps, we gain most of what any “social media guru consultant” is selling for big bucks. Algorithmic alchemy is expensive and mostly ineffective. Sure, there might be some additional items an SEO expert can help us accomplish, but if we’ve already done these eight steps, the bill will be a lot lower.
I’ve never paid for outside SEO consulting, but type Kristen Lamb into any search engine and I take up the entire first page. Ruling search engines is all about 1) quality 2) perseverance 3) attendance 4) working smarter, not harder.
If you need more in-depth information about blogging and social media, please invest the cost of two fattening Frappuccinos in purchasing a copy of my latest book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World instead (which has zero calories and is fat-free and gluten-free).
Happy New Year!
Kristen is the author of the new best-selling book, Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital World in addition to the #1 best-selling books We Are Not Alone: The Writer's Guide to Social Media and Are You There Blog? It's Me, Writer. Kristen is the founder of the WANA movement, the CEO of WANA International and creator of WANATribe, the social network for creative professionals. She's a contributing humor blogger for SocialIn, a blog that reaches 2.5 million. She also blogs for The Huffington Post. Feel free to follow her on Twitter at @KristenLambTX and on Facebook.