Weekly writing prompt: Noise

How do you describe noise? This week, write 100 words about noise! It can be a noise or the concept of sound. Interpret any way you like!

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Write a post, including your 100-word response to the challenge, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  2. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  3. That’s it! Super easy.
  4. If you don’t want to write a blog post, or you don’t have a blog, feel free to write your 100 words in the comments of this challenge!

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Ranking first in Google: 99% 0f SEO “experts” are wrong. Are you one of them?

So you are wondering how to rank first in Google but the advice you found from online SEO experts hasn’t helped. Am I right? But you can’t figure out why. Their articles on SEO are ranking higher in Google than this one, for sure. You’re probably here because you clicked all the posts on the first five pages of search results, right? So what do I know? Well, I’d never call myself an expert but I do rank first on Google for some very specific search terms with this website, so I know how I achieved this and am happy to share how I did it.

Yeah. They know how to rank first. And they’re not telling you. At least, not for free. It’s funny how they all have a subscription product they claim is the best way to fix your site so you rank in first place on Google.

You might think you should give them your money because their free advice didn’t work and you’re desperate to rank first on Google. They might even have some dire warnings about how this year’s latest Google Algorithm is coming for your website like some bogeyman, ready to devour your content and throw it all onto page five thousand of Google’s search results.

Really handy, how these self-styled SEO experts claim to have an expensive and time-consuming solution to your problem. Or you can just pay them the price of a car to do it for you.

But a lot of what they are telling you is public domain information you can get for free, only they’ve turned that free advice into more words by hiring Fiverr ghostwriters.

And one thing I keep seeing is completely wrong. See, being an SEO expert is a hyper-competitive cock fight of guys (they are all guys) trying to outdo each other, stay relevant and rank number one in search engines. To do this, they have to keep creating new content in a very narrow niche. And let’s face it, there is only so much that can be said about search engine optimisation before you just repeat yourself.

It looks like they mostly got their information from the same source or maybe a bunch of them hired the same ghostwriter who cleverly re-wrote the same article for all of them.

Here’s the exact thing they are saying about Search Engine Optimization in 2020 and how it has changed from SEO in previous years:

Search Engine Journal claims SEO has changed with the latest Google algorithm update and they have quoted about a billion “tech professionals”. In some places, they have completely re-worded what the professionals have said to change the meaning behind their words. Here is the perfect example of a misquote causing misinformation about SEO in 2020:

As you can see if you read the quote, clear as day, Michelle Robbins says “staying successful in search marketing 2020 is the same as it ever was – put out good content…”

Yet the paragraph above her quote says the opposite. It says SEO has changed in 2020 and that you need to optimize your content for “users rather than search engines”.

Across other sites and articles about this same topic, I’m seeing the same phrase over and over “optimize for users rather than search engines.” While the above article actually goes into a lot of depth on a broad range of information (and man-in-the-pub hearsay that hasn’t been fact-checked, burying the nuggets of wisdom), SEO gurus are taking “optimize for users” out of context.

Here are the exact words Google used about their new update. I’ve highlighted the most important part that most SEO gurus are wrong about:

Google says focus on user experience, but adds “one of those users is a search engine.”

Here is the link to Google’s SEO guide. I recommend you listen to what Google has to say about SEO. Tune out the others. They’re just the blind leading the invisible.

That one article from Search Engine Journal, for example, has countless quotes from so-called experts who are outright incorrect, spouting nonsense that would have you spending hundreds of work hours chasing your tail doing all sorts of rubbish that won’t make a difference, such as this amazing example of absolute drivel:

“This type of approach to content is exactly what Google is looking for to satisfy user needs and represents the type of market investment that Google will likely never make, because Google is about doing things with massively scalable algorithms.”

Confused? You should be. Someone just threw a bunch of meaningless buzzwords together, tossed in the word “Google” three times for luck, and chucked them on the internet. Someone else, who was writing an article, blindly copied, pasted and attributed that amazing steaming pile of derriere-gravy to “Eric Enge”.

I’m sure he’s very proud of his word salad.

Another fabulous quote that could only come from someone utterly oblivious to anything going on outside their own navel, is this: “In 2020, the really smart SEOs will get up from their desks to talk to customers so they can find out what their audience really wants from them.”

This quote is daft for many reasons, let’s focus on two. First, it assumes “SEOs” (presumably they mean digital marketers… half the quoted people in this article seem to have no idea who actually does search engine optimization for websites) are corporate employees rather than people sitting at home writing SEO articles for companies on a freelance basis.

Usually their home is abroad in a country such as India because it’s really cheap to outsource content creation nowadays. Most content on the internet is produced this way then famous faces and bylines are attributed to the articles to make them seem more credible.

The second reason this quote is silly is because it implies the people doing search engine optimization are out of touch with consumers due to being corporate go-getters rather than because a lot of digital marketing content creators can’t afford an indoor flushing toilet on the money Corporate America throws at them.

English is not the first language of a lot of content creators. That’s what causes some articles to rank high while being extremely difficult to read. But no-one can go on record as saying that, because then they’d have to admit they knew about the racist exploitation of workers in third world countries. So instead they hide behind weasel words and the SEO “gurus” who make the big money from the work done by digital marketers are still peddling the lie that Google doesn’t care about keywords anymore.

It does. Google still cares about keywords. It just also wants fluent and coherent articles now.

So the real issue no one is talking about in SEO is that the thousands of content creators in India, South America, China and Eastern Europe who have been making good money writing simple articles with the right keywords are now going to struggle to earn a living.

Part of me thinks if it means the sloshy rubbish that makes no sense gets taken out of search results, that’s a good thing. But the human cost is quite high.

At least, it would be, if these SEO scare-mongers were correct. So it’s a good thing they’re all just blowing smoke in a desperate bid to stay relevant.

Luckily, Google ranks articles based on like a zillion parameters now. Not just this nebulous and undefinable concept of “user experience”.

You can also rank for long-tail keywords, site hierarchy (making sure you have a logical site map and that each post or page on your site is linked to properly), image optimisation (using the description boxes for images properly, which literally no one is doing), making your site mobile-friendly and checking how your work is going by using Google Analytics.

How do I know this? That Google article I linked to, above. It’s a long read, but the only SEO article you really need to pay attention to. It’s the only information all those wafflers on other sites have, anyway.

Want proof? Here’s the stats for two articles on my successful travel and beauty site, one article was written in 2015, the other was written last month. Both articles are about blue circles but they are targeting different keywords:

As you can see, the article (above) I wrote in 2020 has 14 views. The article (image below) I wrote in 2015 has had over 175,000 views. It’s still the second most popular article on my site. That is because good SEO from 2015 is still good SEO in 2020. If something had changed, if Google really valued the most recent content or the content written with the latest SEO buzzwords in mind, the article above should have eclipsed the article below. It has not.

Back in 2015, everyone was saying “content is king”. They meant, if you produced top-quality articles, people would find them on Google. It seems funny to me that all these SEO gurus are claiming things have changed when they very obviously have not. I’m a bit reluctant to say “build it and they will come” because it is debatable about whether this is true or not, and I’m erring on the side of it not being true.

So in conclusion, the things you need to focus on if you want to rank really high in Google search results are all the same things as before. Keyword stuffing hasn’t worked as an SEO tactic since about 2012. I’d like to see so-called “SEO Experts” and “SEO gurus” stop banging on about it and actually admit this:

Nothing has changed in SEO that will make any difference at all to a well-organised site with quality content, Google’s new update isn’t going to cast your website to the bottom of the search results, and the moon isn’t about to break free of the Earth and fly away.

So there you have it. With all the scary drama of Covid this year, the one thing you can still count on is that your online marketing strategy doesn’t actually need to change unless it wasn’t great to begin with, in which case you needed to change it anyway.

Weekly writing prompt: Face

This week, to stretch your writing muscles, write 100 words about a face. Is it a cliff face? A human face? Does someone have to face up to something? Are people facing off? Interpret this however you wish.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Write a post, including your 100-word response to the challenge, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  2. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  3. That’s it! Super easy.
  4. If you don’t want to write a blog post, or you don’t have a blog, feel free to write your 100 words in the comments of this challenge!

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Why you need to stop selling via a Facebook page right now

When I started my soapmaking business, one of the things I wanted to know was how could I sell my soap to customers without having to have long complicated interactions. I was part of a local crafting and makers’ group on Facebook, and I was very surprised that the majority of small business owners were using Facebook pages to sell products!

Basically, you set it up like this. You start a Facebook page for your business and put some information in the page. Then customers have to send you a Facebook message to order your product or service, before they head over to Paypal to send payment for the order.

It’s so detached and so time-consuming for everyone involved. After going through this purchasing process a handful of times I gave up. I managed to buy a grand total of one thing this way, and all the other attempts I made were unsuccessful. Here are the key points in the sales process where this setup isn’t working for customers or sellers:

  1. Customers have to send you a message to find out your product range, prices and shipping options.
  2. You have to see that message and respond to it before you lose the customer. In my experience, sellers ranged from replying within minutes (best case) to replying two days later, to never replying at all. On a normal sales website, the customer has all this information straight away without any interaction.
  3. When I did get replies from sellers about products I wanted to buy, I often received incomplete replies, or replies where the seller had misread what I wanted to know and gave me the wrong info. This takes more time to unpick. A straightforward website completely avoids all of this and is less stressful and time consuming.
  4. In one case, because of the way Facebook notifications (don’t) work, the seller was replying to my messages at a rate of 1 message every 8-20 hours. It shouldn’t take a customer several days to order a birthday cake with plain white icing and “happy birthday baby” written on in blue icing. I gave up on this order by the third day because I still hadn’t received answers to basic questions like what area they delivered to. This information should be on your website which should be prominently linked from your Facebook page.
  5. In one case, I didn’t get any reply from another handmade cake company. I don’t know if that seller is no longer in business, or if they missed my message, or if they are even aware they have a Facebook page inbox separate to their regular one.
  6. In another case, the seller of some handmade candles seemed profoundly lonely and was trying to have really long conversations with me via Facebook message and I’m sorry to say I wasn’t interested, I wanted to buy a product. I kept replying to be polite but eventually I had to just stop to end the deluge of messages. Developing a relationship with a seller could come over time once the buying experience had wowed me, and in this case, it didn’t.

Overall, Facebook pages have their place in the customer experience, but that role absolutely is NOT to be used as a substitute for a website with product listings that handles the payment process automatically. Customers don’t need to interact with you individually.

If a customer has searched in Google for a product, even if your Facebook page comes up (which isn’t likely, since Facebook pages have terrible SEO), a customer on their phone has to log into Facebook and that means they have to remember their Facebook password to even see your Facebook page, as search engine results don’t take customers to the Facebook phone app where they would already be logged in.

Add to this, if they’re using Maps to find a local business, your Facebook page is the last thing they should be taken to because then they’re using the browser in their Google Maps app, and you’ve also suddenly lost half your map searching customers (because they use Apple Maps or Bing Maps, neither of which work the same way as Google maps, especially on phones and tablets).

Facebook pages are not structured like an online store at all. They’re a place for microblogging with photos. Showcase new items and build buzz with them. Put website links to where people can buy your products. Facebook pages don’t display key information to customers, and navigating them isn’t intuitive, making the whole buying process over-complicated.

The buying process should be as easy and quick as possible for your customers.

Selling via Facebook messages is not a productive or scaleable method and I absolutely hate it as a buyer. I don’t like approaching total strangers to find out if they sell what I’m trying to buy then having to extricate myself from an awkward situation if their product is not right for me.

Some sellers might think that selling via a Facebook page means they can give a “personal touch” but there’s a huge difference between trying to socialize with your customers while they are trying to buy something, and building a strong customer relationship. And when the buying process has missing links because it hasn’t been designed efficiently, you are losing customers and money.

If you’re still not convinced, let’s look to marketing psychology. When customers are in a buying mindset, the very last thing you should do is derail them into a protracted transaction that takes hours or days.

Chances are, by the time you hit message three or four, they’ve lost interest in your product, forgotten what they were waiting for, or gotten bored with trying to buy your product and bought one elsewhere.

In the case of the birthday cake, I bought one from Tesco instead. I spent £4 instead of the price of a handmade cake. It was more important to me to have any cake at all for my child’s birthday than to waste hours getting any specific cake.

And because two different sellers had let me down so badly with their badly thought out setup, I was left feeling annoyed and very unlikely to try to buy a handmade cake in the future, even if I wanted to make an occasion feel very special.

Amazon patented “one-click” technology for a reason: Minimizing the amount of effort a customer needs to make to buy something means they’ll buy from you again and again. It also means you won’t lose them part-way through the transaction.

Since one-click is patented, most business advisors suggest the optimum number of clicks it should take for a customer to buy a product is two clicks. Two clicks from “Look at this product” to “Order confirmed.” Two clicks is not even close to two Facebook messages, especially when you factor in making your customers go to Paypal to pay you!

In the real world, three or four clicks is more likely, unless you have splashed out for a really high-tech site. Customers shouldn’t even have to fill in unnecessary fields in the “customer details” part of the order process, never mind typing reams and reams of messages to you to find out what you actually sell and where you deliver it to!

As for making people send money via Paypal then message you to tell you they’ve paid, you’re effectively sending people away from your shopping experience for several minutes while they wrestle with Paypal, type the right amount in, add your email address and choose “paying for an item”.

An integrated Paypal payment system (or other payment system such as Stripe) solves this by keeping them on your website through the payment process, and is the go-to system for all professional sellers.

If you are struggling to set up your own website, consider asking a family friend to help you, or paying a web designer. WordPress or Shopify are the easiest ways to make a custom website for ecommerce. Your website is the single most important asset you have when you’re selling craft products (next comes your mailing list). Your Facebook page is not your shopfront, nor is it the place for working with transactions.

Running a business this way makes customers think you’re unprofessional and like you’re not committed to your business. Of course, you’re committed to your business, so show them! Put the effort into getting a real website, or if you absolutely can’t handle the idea of that, open an Etsy store, Ebay shop or Amazon storefront, for the love of your customers!

Weekly writing prompt: Glitter

This week, write 100 words about glitter. As ever, how you choose to interpret the prompt is completely up to you. Fiction, non-fiction, description, character motivation… the possibilities are endless.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Write a post, including your 100-word response to the challenge, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  2. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  3. That’s it! Super easy.
  4. If you don’t want to write a blog post, or you don’t have a blog, feel free to write your 100 words in the comments of this challenge!

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

What happens after a publisher accepts your work?

There are millions, if not zillions, of articles for unpublished writers, but what about for those people publishing their first novel, who don’t know what to expect? There are a lot less people whose work has been accepted by a publisher, so I guess less people can write about that with any degree of authority, not to mention the fact that less people want to know about it. I thought I’d start with talking about what happens after a publisher accepts your work for publication, giving people an insight into the publication process.

If you start by sending in a proposal, they will read over the proposal and they should either accept your proposal or decline it. If they’ve accepted it, they may suggest changes to make it more marketable. Mandatory changes should be made clear. After you have your proposal back, you can get on with writing (unless you’re really naughty like me, and start writing the bits you know will be fine while you’re waiting to hear back from them).

If you didn’t send in a proposal, you’ll either send in a sample first, or just a complete manuscript. If you did send in a proposal, the next thing you send them is the full manuscript. Make sure you’ve done as much editing as you can to the manuscript before you send it to them; I found this very, very difficult with my first book because I had no idea what needed doing to it. After they’ve got everything, it gets sent to a line editor. The line editor’s job is to go through your work and write notes on any improvements you need to make to your work; some improvements are optional, but some are mandatory. If you’re unsure about whether a change is mandatory or not, ask your editor and they will tell you one way or the other.

Once they’ve written those notes, they will send you back the annotated manuscript, or they’ll send you back the notes separately, and your job as the writer is to make the changes and improvements to your work. Some places give you deadlines for this, others don’t mind. After you’ve made your improvements, they will send your work to a copy editor.

The copy editor is the last person from the publishing house who will see your work; they go through it and format it to in-house style guidelines, and they generally use the Merriam Webster dictionary and the Chicago Manual of Style as a reference for anything that’s questionable. They will also flag up typos and spelling and grammatical errors, inconsistencies (one minute she wears a red hat, the next minute she wears a blue bonnet), and factual errors. After they’ve done that, you should get your work back, at which point you either have to make the copy-editor’s changes or you have to have a damn good reason (“I don’t like that change” isn’t one) to reject their changes – the Big Five Publishers, and some of the smaller ones, will usually expect you to give references to support your reasons for not approving every change made by the copy editor, but check this before sending back reams of information, because some places don’t want that (my current publisher doesn’t). When the copy editor gets it wrong, you need to raise that with someone at your publisher (or get your agent to do this, if you have one).

Once you’ve approved or rejected (with references) the copy edits, you send the work back to the publishers and they start work on the cover. After you’ve seen the cover, it’s natural to get very excited about your forthcoming book. If you like the cover, let them know, and they will get the blurb written and the proofs made up, or if they’re an ebook publisher, this is when it will be prepared to be made available online.

At some point before the book is made available online, you should receive a contract (if you haven’t received one, let them know). The contract is the only thing that protects you from getting royally screwed over by your publisher, so read it carefully and get a lawyer (one who has seen other book contracts, not any old lawyer) to read it over if you’re unsure about anything. Sometimes publishers try it on with their contracts but you have to stand your ground, otherwise you’ll regret it when the book’s a bestseller and you’re not making any money. I got taken for a ride by one publisher, a few years ago, who published my unedited work, lied literally every step of the way, and never paid me the advance. Later, when I tried to get that sorted out, I discovered that I would have to go to somewhere on the East Coast of America to take them to arbitration to get my money back, and that I had to do this within a certain time period, which I’d missed, because they’d spent so long delaying in answering and I’d been too patient. If I’d understood this beforehand, I would have acted sooner to get it resolved, but it was my first book and I didn’t know what to expect from the publication process (hence this article).

If you’ve signed the contract AND RECEIVED THE ADVANCE (if you are in the habit of accepting advances – I am not) then you’re good to get excited about the release date. Many contracts have a clause stating the author must do their best to publicize the novel – there are a bunch of ways you can do this and I’ll talk about them in a future article.

Has your experience of the publication process been different? Let me know in the comments!

Weekly writing prompt: Party

This week, write 100 words about a party. This could be a celebration, a political party, a party wall, “I shall not be a party to it”… the choice is yours!

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Write a post, including your 100-word response to the challenge, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  2. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  3. That’s it! Super easy.
  4. If you don’t want to write a blog post, or you don’t have a blog, feel free to write your 100 words in the comments of this challenge!

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Weekly writing prompt: Bauble

This could be a Christmas bauble or a tacky item of jewellery, or something else entirely! This week, write 100 words on the topic of “bauble”.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Write a post, including your 100-word response to the challenge, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  2. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  3. That’s it! Super easy.
  4. If you don’t want to write a blog post, or you don’t have a blog, feel free to write your 100 words in the comments of this challenge!

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Time management as a mummypreneur

This article is going to discuss how to manage time. A lot of articles I read about “time management for business owners” leave me rolling on the floor laughing. I wonder why people can’t get things done. They don’t have a curious toddler on their hands.

Then I think about all the time I wasted before I had a baby. I was definitely about three times as productive when I was working from home by myself, with no one else to think about, but I know I wasn’t getting as much done as I probably could have. I have ADHD, which is one complication, and it was only diagnosed earlier this year after a lifelong struggle with focusing, organizing and timekeeping.

A lot of the problem is the online working environment is designed to distract you as much as is possible. Each website you visit is designed to keep you coming back for more. More scrolling. More clicking. More time for them to make money showing you adverts.

It’s a pretty good moneymaker for the sites involved, but you don’t want to drink the Kool Aid and start thinking any of that nonsense actually matters. Nothing bad will happen if you don’t check Twitter for a few hours. The world isn’t going to change drastically if you don’t see what news stories all your friends are outraged about today. They’ll be different tales tomorrow. And that’s what it all is. A big narrative that keeps us trapped in an ineffective, time-wasting spiral.

We need to break away from it.

Those social media sites are not your friend. And you don’t need to be on them all the time. It often feels like everyone else is constantly on Facebook etc, but no one needs to be. Just go online to check your messages or notifications once a day, don’t respond to anything that comes in while you’re online, and do the same the next day.

It’s mind over matter — those who mind how much time you spend online don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.

That’s the key to time management for anyone in our modern world.

For mums, the other time management issue is children. They demand attention at the most random moments and they don’t wait. They are too little to have any understanding of what you’re doing or how they’re affecting it.

However, it’s very easy for us to make excuses to ourselves about where our time has gone. Our brains are complicit in this, because a lot of the time, when you think really hard about it, you probably don’t remember exactly what you spent your time on, or you feel like you must have spent more time on your kids because you weren’t doing something productive or valuable for yourself. Right?

But what if you ditched social media or significantly cut back on it, moved away from all the gossip, politics and bitching of online groups, and focused on only what you and your immediate family needs? How would your timescape change? Would you have more time for your kids? For your work? Absolutely.

But let’s look at what you can do about your little ones.

You can’t control how much attention your child needs, any more than you can control how many nappies they use in a day or how much milk they drink. But you can control how you solve their problems.

Never do something for a child if they can do it themselves

Maria Montessori

For mommypreneurs, letting go of that sense that we alone are responsible for the happiness of our babies is hard to do. But we have to step back, while still being present for them in the moments when it matters, to help them grow into independent adults.

It takes time and repetition and persistence to teach children of any age to do things for themselves, especially if they’re not used to it, but they will reap the rewards for the rest of their lives.

Imagine you’re building a blueprint for them to follow when they grow up. Start small. My fifteen-month-old brings me nappies (diapers) for his changes. I say, “Could you bring me a nappy please?” He didn’t do it the first ten times. But the eleventh? Or the twentieth? He started going to the nappy table, and when I praised him for that consistently, eventually he started bringing me nappies for his nappy change.

That’s just one example. It takes a bit of time in the short run, but long term, they’ll do more for themselves which is more time you can spend doing the things you need to do.

What is your biggest challenge with time management? What are you doing to overcome it? Let me know in the comments!

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