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There are no Search Engine Optimization (SEO) guarantees, only good practice. There is no silver bullet or shady tricks that will shoot your site to the top of the search engine rankings. It's as simple as that. I would advise caution if any company or freelancer guarantees SEO success, unless of course they come with a 6 or 12 month plan.

SEO used to mean putting a few bits of text, key-words or phrases in place on your site, getting a few links to your site and the rest would fall into place, with no further effort and no further thought.

But since search engines continually update and refined their ranking algorithms, that all changed. Search engines now rank sites a lot differently, and add weight to the type of links you have to your site, and the quality and relevancy of the content on your site. So called "black hat" techniques will kill your site and rightly so. Why should a site without decent content go to the top of the rankings ahead of a site that has?

Remember, search engine sites are companies like any other. Even massive companies need satisfied customers. Search engines need the best, most relevant sites at the top of their search results, otherwise their users will look elsewhere. So those terrible, irrelevant, content-light sites get punished. It just makes sense!

So what is the new “formula” for SEO success? Substance + Relevance + Shares = Success!

Today your website, blogs, and social media presence have an actual chance of out-ranking your competition under multiple searches, and this is where the new SEO practices will have their day.

Substance: Substance means a complete base of a few things: Content, content and, oh, more content. Part of the new formula is content creation, and yes, this means content that is relevant to your business and your potential customers.

Relevance: Without relevance, your SEO efforts are dead in the water. We cannot manipulate rankings no matter how hard we try, our business is not that of ranking, but of being relevant to those who search for the answers they want or need.

Shares: Today’s link building is not as serious a struggle as some SEO “experts” would have you believe. Forever it was link to this persons high traffic page and if they linked back even better, not so today. Social sharing and citations are the cause for serious linking success.

Sharing content not only promotes successful linking, but also creates a couple things that are far better, trust and credibility.

Sharing content that others will in turn share themselves, creates trust. When people do click a link and follow you through to your website, blog, or your social media page, it is all about the trust and credibility you are building with them and the search engines.

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publisher rfp

If you’ve worked successfully with a publisher over a period of time and you’re happy, is it necessary to go through the proposal process when your contract is up for renewal? My answer is “Yes, definitely.” Why? Because the board and staff have a duty to their association to ensure the best deal possible. Technology changes, new players come into the market. Without exploring and revisiting the agreement, you may miss out on additional savings.

Having just gone through the publishing RFP process with one of our clients, I have a few quick tips to share.
Don’t reinvent the wheel. Associations send out RFPs for publishing all the time. Do a little digging and find an RFP to use as a template. Trouble finding a sample? Pose a question to your peers on ASAE Collaborate or your state society of association executives’ online community – someone is sure to step up and share their RFP. An online search will yield samples as well.

Know what you have. My client has a lot of “extras” with their current publisher that are offered to members and would be hard to replace. Value-added items might include a digital version of your publication, a mobile app, complimentary member access to related journals and magazines in your publisher’s catalog or member discounts on any related books they publish. Although these items don’t have a particular dollar value attached to them, they provide solid member benefits.

Respect confidentiality. Whether it’s a confidentiality clause in your contract that prohibits the sharing of specific information or a “confidential” statement on provided information, respect the agreement with your current publisher. If you have a question about whether or not the release of certain information is in violation of your agreement, err on the side of caution or consult your attorney. In the case of my client, we couldn’t provide revenue figures, but one publisher was resourceful and found the information on our IRS 990. Another publisher declined to submit a proposal because they didn’t have the information or know where to get it.

Be available and responsive. Potential publishers are sure to have questions. Respond to their questions in a timely manner, just as you expect them to respond to you quickly. Don’t be surprised if the publisher wants to have a conference call instead of emailing back and forth. Ask a committee member to participate on the call with you; you may not be a subject matter expert, especially if you publish a scientific or medical journal. Including someone knowledgeable in the subject on the call will help ensure that all the publisher’s questions are answered.

How is our process ending? It looks like we’ll be staying with our current publisher, but everyone agrees we spent our time wisely. We can say with certainty that we have the best publishing fit for our organization.

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red pen

Proofreading is a skill that can be learned. Believe me when I say that I learned it the hard way. Your writing may be eloquent, insightful, even witty, but if you get someone’s name wrong -- (McFarlane? I thought it was McFarland.) or incorrectly calculate a United Way deduction in a graphic (What? It’s twice a month?) or simply don’t know your facts (Oh, it’s Canada – not Canadian – geese.) – they will never forget it. Neither will you.

Besides years of making mistakes (see preceding paragraph), three things have helped me improve the accuracy of communications for which I’m responsible: Training, a checklist and a two-sets-of-eyes rule. 

In one of my first writing and editing jobs, it was suggested (OK, mandated) I attend a Proofamatics class. I am pleased to see that the company still exists and its techniques are the same. Proofamatics teaches you to look at a document multiple times, each time looking in different places for different types of errors. If you simply start at the first word in the upper left corner and read to the end, you will read for comprehension and overlook errors.

For example, if you’re proofreading a newsletter, you might first read the headlines, bylines, subheads, photo captions and authors’ biography paragraphs. Then, verify names, titles, numbers, times and dates. Finally, read the body text. This divide-and-conquer technique works best when you print out the pages, so you can see multiple pages at once and easily mark corrections. 

My proofreading proficiency took a second leap forward when I created a checklist, at the suggestion of my husband, who was once described as an “engineer’s engineer.” Engineers love checklists, and for good reason; they present a systematic way to make sure every step in a process is completed. And, because I don’t read from top to bottom, front to back, a checklist helps me get back on track if I’m interrupted or take a break, which I highly recommend during marathon proofreading sessions.

Over the years, I’ve modified my proofreading checklist many times to reflect different types of publications and new technology. For example, my first checklist referred to bluelines; my current one lists hyperlinks. You are welcome to a copy of my checklist, however, please know that every situation calls for different “checks.” For example, I check “TOC with actual.” That is, do the headlines and page numbers in the table of contents (TOC) match the actual magazine or newsletter content? Your documents or web pages may not have a table of contents, but they might have footnotes, address blocks or some other element not on my checklist. The point is to create a checklist that meets your individual needs.

Finally, implement a two-sets-of-eyes rule. This is particularly important when you are proofreading your own writing. Ask someone else to proofread your work before publishing it in print or online. Suggest your backup proofreader use your divide-and-conquer technique and checklist.

The techniques I’ve shared here will add time to the process, but I firmly believe that it’s time well spent. Few people will notice if your newsletter or magazine is published a day behind schedule, but leave their name off a list (Randy, I know it’s been almost 30 years, but I still feel terrible.) and they will remember forever. So will you.

If you are interested in a copy of my proofreading checklist, please email me.

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white board for web
After twenty plus years in the association management industry working on countless projects that I loved, I now have a personal favorite. The recent redesign of a client website that seemed daunting at the outset brought together all of my favorite elements: the opportunity to work closely with staff, volunteers and an industry partner, and the chance to be creative and produce a website that provides value to our members and visitors every day. After a successful launch, I reflected on why this project meant so much to me and more importantly, what tips I could share to help my peers. Here are a few of the things that led to a stress-free “go live” date.

Map out a plan. Before you embark on the project, make sure you have a well thought out plan. The first step for us was to come up with a site map that laid out the overall vision for the new site. The site map resided on a large whiteboard in my office. Every category of information that was going on the site was included on the map. Even though you have your plan in place, be sure to stay flexible because I guarantee that not every detail will go exactly as planned.

Don’t be afraid to de-clutter. As we developed the site map, there were some hard decisions that needed to be made about what would be transferred over from the old site and what was no longer needed. When you deal with an organization of volunteers, sometimes it’s difficult to eliminate things that have a lot of emotion and hard work attached to them. That’s why I recommend making sure you don’t skip the next item.

Get buy-in from stakeholders along the way. Throughout the process, I reached out to the volunteer “owners” of the website’s different pieces to get their input. As staff, we made recommendations that would help site visitors get all of the information they needed without getting lost in a world of unnecessary clutter. We respected the hard work that was put into the old site and worked with stakeholders to streamline the new site.

The more eyes the better. This piece was key to a successful site. On the whiteboard were a list of categories and a place for staff initials to show, at a glance, the status of each piece. Was the copy written? Had the copy been reviewed by our staff point person? If there was volunteer involvement had that person seen the final product? Were there graphics included on the page? Was final copy sent to the designer? Had the related pages gone through final review? Was that piece ready to “go live?”

Hire a web designer who will act as a true partner. At AMPED, we’re very lucky to work with a designer who truly wants to be creative with us. He understands that we welcome his suggestions and we know we can depend on him to be on top of what’s up and coming in web design and function.

Launch day has come and gone and the new site is a success, but the work doesn’t stop there. We will continually look for ways to enhance the site and provide value to all of our visitors. I’d love to hear how you engage visitors on your organization’s site so that they keep returning!

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Newsweek

At the end of 2012, when Newsweek magazine ceased printing and moved all content online, some media observers declared print was “dead.” Predictions were that, within a decade, all content would be online, accessed by on-the-go readers using tablets and other smart devices.

Immediacy, accessibility, searchability, interactivity, embedded video – all available for free – give online media huge competitive advantages over traditional print. Early in the online vs. print debate, magazine and newspaper publishers questioned how they could hold onto paid subscribers if they gave away the content on their website. Publication websites were mostly placeholders, where past issues could be warehoused along with media kits and subscription information.

Now, more publications are making their websites their primary delivery method. The shift from traditional print to web forces publishers to rethink every aspect of their business. How can they continuously produce fresh content? Where will the revenue come from to support a staff of writers, editors, designers and salespeople? Can they afford to create two versions of the publication? How will they build in interactivity? Who will monitor and respond to readers’ comments? How will they use social media to extend their reach?

One of the magazines to which I contribute articles from our members made this transition in the past year. Now, instead of submitting a bimonthly column for the print magazine, we are posting a weekly blog written by our members. The editors then choose among the blog posts for the print edition, based on web traffic and knowledge of their print audience.

I believe the publishers that reinvent themselves as online content providers will be the ones that flourish in the future. They will examine traditional business models and develop new ways to attract readers and advertisers. They will provide a nonstop flow of information that it is timely and relevant. They will engage readers in conversations that add perspective to the content. Their websites will be multimedia, multidimensional vehicles for news, opinion, entertainment and connectivity.
Print isn’t dead, but I think it’s safe to say it’s on the endangered list. Start charging your smart devices.

 

Addendum: Shortly after I finished writing this blog, the new owners of Newsweek announced they would resume publishing a print version of the magazine in January or February. The New York Times reported that the magazine will focus on in-depth, global reporting and rely on subscribers rather than advertisers for revenue, which will result in higher subscription rates. I look forward to seeing how this develops.

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