Alex Crowe

Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

How to increase the PageRank of a new WordPress site

In Communication, copywriting, Grammar etc., Technology, Websites on January 6, 2015 at 3:20 pm

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been trying to increase the PageRank of the WordPress site I created for Dordogne wedding band SouthWest (south-west.fr.).

Dordogne wedding band website

Wedding band “SouthWest” website front page

[Full disclosure: This is not just a client website – I am the keyboard player in the band, so have a serious interest in getting the site to the top of the first page of Google. There are other wedding and party bands in the area, with good or very good SEO, so my performance is instantly measurable. Until just before Christmas, the url was just a pointer to another url, so it is effectively a new website. We want more gigs, so my job is to get the page to the top of Google – fast.]

Here’s what I’ve learnt and applied so far, using the most current information I could find. You can use this post as a checklist to help boost the Google ranking of your WordPress site. Or any other site. I just happen to use WordPress for all the websites I create.

If you have anything to add, please do use the comments below. This post is for anyone and everyone trying to increase their Google PageRank – including me. Any help you can give will be gratefully received.

Social media essentials

In no particular order, after you publish your new website (which must have great content – words and images, useful links, and answers to queries your target readers will type into a search engine), you should:

There are other sites you can link to, but these were my social media essentials for SouthWest. You will have noticed there’s a certain amount of work involved. None of this gets made by itself. But it’s all (almost certainly) important. If you click the links, you should see some consistency across the sites. I used the same logo (in two formats), an almost identical main image, and very similar wording. If you have already created your website, it is pretty easy, enjoyable and very satisfying when you see the end result.

One thing I found slightly irritating is that many of these sites (at the moment) ask for different image formats. You’ll need square, landscape, display, thin, very long, very thin, high-res, low-res and more. When you get into the swing of it, cropping and re-sizing the images doesn’t take long (I used free Mac software iPhoto and Preview). Just keep separate folders for your words, images, logos (etc), label the files in a way you will recognise again and keep the main folder somewhere easy to find.

Backlink power

Having written websites in the past, I thought I knew a bit about SEO and wrote intuitive keywords on pages throughout the website. But despite significant tweaking, Google was placing the website on the third page or even further down, even after a couple of weeks. Confusingly, I was finding links to the site from Twitter, directories – even my main blog – long before I was finding the home page. I was obviously missing something.

After a bit more research, I learnt that Google is constantly changing the way the search engine finds pages. It’s too complex to explain (or understand), but my impression is that a website needs to have a certain authority to rank highly. Those essential social media links (above) tell Google your site exists, but it can’t know how useful or important it is. For that, it needs to see “backlinks” – that is, links to your site from sources already trusted by Google.

Backlinks from established media, universities and government sites carry a lot of weight and will boost your PageRank enormously. I can’t tell you how to get those – you will have to be ingenious – but coming up with ideas and trying them out is more fun than Su Doku and will help your website become more successful.

You’ve been reading backlinks all the way through this post. Every link will be noticed by Google, and add a tiny bit of credibility to the all the websites mentioned – including south-west.fr. If this post was published by the BBC, New York Times, New Zealand Herald (etc), even more weight would be given to the site and the PageRank would increase even further.

SEO tricks

During the last few weeks, I learnt that my knowledge of SEO was hopelessly out of date. It’s no longer enough to use keywords and phrases in slightly different ways (although this is still important). The position of those words in headlines, captions, image descriptions (etc) also has a huge impact.

As a writer, I find this disappointing. I have always enjoyed writing headlines and sentences that not only communicate information, but also sound lovely. I’ve always tried to find what a designer friend calls “resonance”. Attempting, I suppose, to appeal to the reader’s humanity – with text, subtext, shared cultural history, allusion, assonance, melody and more. Even my use of punctuation is exact in a way most people would find weird. I used to spend days reaching for what I called the “Buddha concept”. Simmering ideas down to their essence. Using the fewest number of words. (Preferably two.) I am convinced that search engines will never fully perceive the subtlety of a human-made headline containing a cleverly concealed keyword. So don’t bother.

Current thinking is this: Stick your keyword at the beginning of the headline. Like I did with those last three subheads.

Four final things

Before I sign off, with an apology for writing such a long post, here are four more things worth mentioning.

  • Enable “breadcrumbs“. Don’t ask me why. I read that it’s important in a couple of places that seemed credible – and so I’m going with it.
  • Use an SEO plugin. I use WordPress SEO, which is free. In the source code of one of our rivals, I see they use a paid-for plugin. If I can’t beat them using my own skills, I might try it.
  • Register, submit, verify (etc) your site with Google Webmaster Tools, Bing, Pinterest and anyone else you can think of.
  • Explore Google Analytics.

It may seem like a lot to take in if you’re new to this, but you’ve learnt in a few minutes what it’s taken me days to get my head round. I hope you find it useful. If you do, throw it a backlink and we’ll see how far it can go to the top of the Google charts.

UPDATE (September 17th 2015)

I just watched this video and took three pages of notes. It’s a bit long, but will give you a lot to think about.

UPDATES (February 4th 2016)

Over Christmas, the SouthWest website moved to a new host. Unfortunately, a cloning plugin let me down and I had to rebuild the site from scratch. Fortunately, I am now offering one-day courses on website creation and management, through yourwebsitecourse, and re-building the site was a good exercise for me.

Since this article was written, Google has made several hundred changes to the way it looks at websites. There is little point in trying to keep the article up to date – I read that Google makes over 300 changes every year.

More bad news: The free WordPress SEO plugin mentioned has been gutted by the developer and so it’s not as brilliant as it was before. Some good news: It’s still quite useful.

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Why you should never hire a copywriter to do a designer’s job

In Communication on July 5, 2013 at 8:04 am

surgeons

I noticed something dangerous on Linkedin the other week. A few of the already talented, experienced, visually literate non-copywriters I know have added “copywriting” to their list of skills and expertise.

This may not seem like a big deal to you. But at the risk of sounding precious, it is a very big deal indeed.

Now, I’ve got an A-level in art. I’ve also completed a Foundation Course in Art & Design. I’ve even spent the best part of two decades sitting opposite, next to, and behind (looking over the shoulders of) some jaw-droppingly brilliant art directors, visualisers, graphic designers, artworkers and typographers (etc.). I could easily make a case for adding “art direction” or “graphic design” to my list of skills. But I won’t.

Because I’m no more qualified to do those jobs than an anaesthetist is to perform brain surgery by virtue of the fact that they’ve stood in the same operating theatre while the procedure has been done.

Copywriting is not just filling in the grey lines on a visual, or turning faux Latin into English and coming up with a few headlines. It’s a craft. Painstakingly – often painfully – learnt. It’s the scalpel end of communications, where each word, phrase and punctuation mark is surgically inserted to elicit a particular response, strengthen a brand, build a relationship, alter a perception, plant a seed or whatever else the brief requires.

I once spent nearly two days working on the first sentence of a letter. Not because I was rubbish – I’d been working as a professional writer for seven years by that point – but because I was looking for the best possible choice of words to convey the best possible idea.

Another time, I saw a proofreader banging her head on her desk in frustration and despair when she got her first copywriting brief.

It’s that hard. If you don’t find it hard – brain-numbingly, shoulder-crampingly difficult – you’re not doing it right. (Or you’re actually a copywriter who’s been doing it for several years.)

Now, I don’t blame my former colleagues for claiming to be copywriters. In their defence, they may have been forced into copywriting by an uncaring agency or ignorant client. When I was working at a major WPP agency in London a few years ago, some writers were asked to work with designers instead of art directors. This was cruel. Cruel to the writer for forcing them to communicate visually as well as verbally. To the designer for having to work with a writer out of their comfort zone. To the client because they ended up with an inferior product for (almost certainly) the same amount of money. And to the end recipient because the finished product would not have been as excellent as it could have been.

Here’s an illustration for the hard of reading. It’s a set of materials (not to scale) I put together for my partner’s recent textile exhibition.

suite of images

It was created with the word processing package I use and it’s OK. It did the job. But it’s a long way from good. Which is a world away from very good. Which is in a different galaxy to brilliant. And what we should aim for in all things is outstanding.

So, if you’re a client who’s thinking of “writing some copy”, or a suit who might just “trot out a few lines”, or a designer who’s happy to “have a go” at copywriting, think again. Make a call and get a proper writer in.

Because if you go ahead and “bash something out” on the keyboard, there’s a very real risk you will kill whatever it is you’re trying to save. As in the operating theatre, the specialists are there to perform their own vital function. Let them do it.

PS If you’re looking for an art director, graphic designer or typographer, I’d be happy to put you in touch. You should see what those people can do with a blank piece of paper.

Global, personal overnight delivery now available

In Communication, Technology, Telecommuting on May 31, 2013 at 12:34 pm

For the last few years, I have been using a well-travelled, much loved MacBook Pro, held together by sticky tape, with a non-functioning right arrow and camera. A few weeks ago, this wonderful machine was struck by lightning and died.

On the surface, this was a very sad and inconvenient thing. But I was able to borrow an iMac from a friend for a few days, and am now sitting in front of a replacement machine with everything the ethical copywriter could possibly want (except a guarantee that it will be easy to upgrade and recycled fully at the end of its working life).

Most important of all, with a functioning camera, I can now offer something I’ve been wanting to for many years: Global, personal overnight delivery.

So if you’re just about to leave your office in San Francisco, or Sydney, or some other exotic location, and an important client drops an urgent brief on your desk, you can call me in. By the time you get back the following morning, the work will be waiting for you and I can talk you through it, facetime to facetime.

If you need concepts, don’t worry. I am fortunate enough to know at least two of the best art directors on the planet.