Thursday, October 8, 2009

AFJ 2009: Digital Boot Camp: Essential Multimedia Training

Keith Marszalek and Maria Montoya of talked about search engine optimization. They noted that aggregation and linking to competing sites is reader service, not shooting yourself in your foot. They offered a handout called “Bling Your Blog,” a primer in optimizing your online content. Also of note: the reader is always right. Example: print headline “Going Green” above picture of a Granny Smith apple is fine for story about new apples for pies, but online that head leads people to think “energy conversation.”

The duo offered tools for checking hot topics: Hot Trends, Adwords, Yahoo Buzz, SEO Quake. Using keywords on these sites can drive traffic. All words have a dollar value. First two words are picked up so using subject “New Orleans Jazzfest.” As Marszalek says, “Just because you wrote it doesn’t mean people are looking for it.”

Find out how your readers are searching for your content. Embedding SEO words can get you banned from Google. It’s worth noting that a lot of this information was designed for print people who have not investigated online fully. For example, Google value links embedded in stories. Photo names should also re-emphasize brands and keywords. Google prefers hyphens or underscores in photo names.

How long? Blog posts should be 250 to 400 words. You can go as much as 800 words, but be gentle. How often? You should post three to five times a day.

Scott Joseph arrived at this panel on a screen via webinar. He showed his Website, which features forums, restaurant reviews, news, photos, and a nifty Flash animation of photos of dishes at the top. He offered a PowerPoint presentation on how to start your site or blog. Blogging platforms include TypePad, Wordpress and Blogger. Templates allow for adding ads and customizing the look.

First, pick a topic. Consider the expenses (travel, office supplies, meals, ingredients) Get electronic copies of your contacts, including loyal readers. Subscribers to Joseph’s site get e-mail blasts, which can be done by your platform provider. Constant Contact is a company that provides e-mail blasts that don’t trigger spam shutdowns.

Content is all. You are your own brand. Joseph says you have to get over being egotistical. Get your own URL even if you don’t plan to do it immediately. Use your domain as your e-mail address as it is more professional. Don’t be too clever with the URL. Google hates clever. Think about how people search when choosing your URL.

When doing your H1 tag, avoid images in the tag, Marszalek adds.

How do you make money? Google Ads on your site. You add the ad, a user clicks on it and you get money – pennies. Google only cuts a check when you’ve earned $100. Joseph has earned a little more than $200 in two years. There is also Amazon links and ad links, but they work differently. The site operator only gets money if something is purchased. You can also sell ad space on your site. Joseph was so used to the wall between advertising and editorial that he doesn’t quite have a handle on ad sales.

Jan Norris, a former print editor, insists in her ad contract that there is no quid pro quo. Lesley Chesterman, a restaurant critic for the Montreal Gazette, says she has a Web site and doesn’t take restaurant ads, since it’s an implied endorsement. Joseph says no problem, it’s 2009. Joe Yonan of the Washington Post asks if readers know your policy. The critic says since your site is your brand, it’s an endorsement. Yonan says there should be a way to tell the difference between ads and editorial online. Transparency is an issue, especially in light on FTC ruling requiring disclosure of blogger's financial relationships. Yonan noted that he couldn’t easily differentiate between the ads and the editorial content on Joseph’s site. Neither could Norris.

How many hits define success? Some say 100,000 a year; some say 1 million. Norris says she is not making money. Norris made up her figures and charges anywhere from $50 to $1,500 a month for minimum of three months, depending on placement.

An audience member, Nancy Leson of the Seattle Times, points out and Marszalek concurs that your body of work online is your resume. Your online presence can lead to more paying writing work. Joseph says your Website isn’t going to support you, but it is going to extend your viability.

How much time are you spending on the Web? Joseph spends 60 hours a week on the site. Norris spends 30 hours a week on her site.

What about a paid subscriber model? Yonan says for an independent blog, it won’t work because there is a lot of competing free content.

-- Claudia Perry, "official" AFJ conference blogger

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