Sunday, March 29, 2015

My SEO Blog Post

I need to do a blog post about search engine optimization (SEO). SEO is a writing knack in demand currently among marketing people, so I need to demonstrate that I can do it, and this blog is my medium.

A few years ago the blog didn’t exist for me, and SEO didn’t either, before search engines took over the formerly human job of researching information. The advantage is that computers can be programmed to infallibly pick up particular words and ignore everything else. This is hard for humans to do; something interesting but irrelevant can distract us. I don’t think you can do that to a computer.

Boiled down, SEO amounts to inserting certain words that are important to you into something you’re writing. The art of it is injecting those key words into the flow of the text without seeming to be injecting key words into the text. I guess in the early days it may have been easy to fool the search engines into selecting you by stuffing the text full of those words. You have to show some finesse today, though, because the search engine people have figured out how not to be fooled.

I haven’t (before this) applied SEO techniques to this blog, but     I have done it in other contexts. It’s not that difficult, although a kind of mystique has grown up around it. You simply reverse a good practice you would ordinarily follow: instead of finding other ways of saying things that might get repetitious, you keep repeating them. 

Not being acquainted with search engines when I started the blog I wasn’t aware that it could be located by searching on the web.   If someone had told me “Your blog will be available to several hundred million people” I’d have laughed. But I tried it myself just to see, and sure enough, putting my name in the title turns out to have been inadvertent SEO. I just have to hope not all those people Google me at once, because I don’t think the website can handle it.

As I said, I haven’t practiced SEO in my own blog before, but when you look for work writing for other people’s blogs they expect SEO to be part of the deal. This week’s post is solely to demonstrate that I can do it if someone wants to pay me for it.     If you count the number of times the word “blog” appears before this one in the 420-word passage and title above, you’ll have the result of the exercise.   

Sunday, March 22, 2015


 I was joined on “my” bench on one of my outings by another resident of the retirement community. Benches are of course public facilities, so asking “May I join you?” is purely pro forma, but we do it anyway, knowing the answer will be “Of course. Lots of room.”
The problem this time, however, was that my new benchmate’s hearing was even worse than mine, and we found quickly that conversation was going to be more trouble than it would be worth, since it was bound to be centered on nothing more important than an exchange of views about the weather.
I have no trouble sitting silently in the presence of another; my  philosophy since childhood has been to try to talk only when I have something to say, not just small talk. This makes me extremely dull company most of the time, but if you have to choose between very little idle conversation and a whole lot, which way would you go? You know my answer.
I’ve known people who could and would rattle on about things important to them without realizing their listener(s) might not see it the same way. Being polite (something else I grew up with) perpetuates the problem. What to do?
You can suffer in silence, or you can use verbal jiu-jitsu -- turn it back on your tormentor, asking a disconcertingly perceptive question, if you’ve been listening, or the opposite tack, asking a non-sequitur. Either of these can sometimes confuse the speaker enough to derail his/her train of thought.
For those special occasions when the speaker is trying to impress, there’s the tried-and-true one-upmanship ploy of over-extension. The speaker says, “You’ll never guess how many inches I took off my waist,” to which you volunteer an obviously over-exaggerated “Fourteen?” The narrator is now forced to backpedal: ”Good grief no: four,” and the thread is broken. Had the Wedding Guest had the presence of mind to use some variation of this, the Ancient Mariner might have been stopped before passing the kirk.

It doesn’t work if they can’t hear, though.  

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Old Marketing

Ran across my old copy of “Scientific Advertising,” written by one of the pioneers of the business, Claude Hopkins. The author had passed on, but the flyleaf has the autographs of three other advertising icons of the time of this re-issue (mid-1950s).  The instructor of one of my advertising courses had used his connections to invite an industry executive to address the class, and to bring copies of the book.

It had originally been written in 1923, so it contains the mailorder strategy advice “a two-cent [postage] letter gets no more attention than a one-cent letter” and some other lines we see as inadvertent humor 90 years on. There’s the reference to “soulless corporations,” for example. How could the author have anticipated that one day corporations would be people? (Whether that also imbues them with souls I haven’t seen debated yet, but if it should be judged in the future to be advantageous to increasing profits  -- why not?)

HOWEVER -- some of the book’s advice is timeless.

The premise is (1) marketing is about sales and nothing but sales; (2) one of its techniques, advertising, can be tested and the results measured; and (3) any marketing effort that can’t be measured in terms of sales is, in the author’s word, “folly.”

I’ve railed loudly and often, here and in Internet debate, against “content marketing” and its “storytelling” and “agnostic” content, but here’s support from beyond the grave. Page 60: “This is all in the line of general publicity so popular long ago. Casting bread upon the waters and hoping for its return. Most advertising was of that sort twenty years ago.”

He’s discussing general display materials, whose characteristics can be compared reasonably to today’s “content,” and it’s dismissed as already twenty years out of date. I remind us, the author was writing in 1923. That’s just five years after we defeated the Kaiser. I rest my case.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Joke

I said last time I’d try to think of some jokes for the blog next time. This is next time, but I can only think of one joke and I always start laughing when I come to the punch line and ruin the delivery. And since it depends on the sound of a spoken word,       I can’t tell it here. It’s not off-color -- it’s perfectly acceptable in mixed company -- it just doesn’t lend itself to written presentation.  Come to think of it, it would be perfectly acceptable before an audience of children, and in fact might get its best reception there.

As we’re all aware. a lot of humor nowadays depends on sexual innuendo or the shock value of what used to be considered obscene and abusive language. Why mention of sex gets a snicker is a subject for people with more expertise in psychology than I have. Many other laugh lines delivered without their scatology or abusive reference to someone else’s mental capacity wouldn’t be funny at all. If you hang out on some online forums you find that (a) no language is too coarse to use, but (b) if you subtract or replace the obscenities and abuse, in many cases there’s not much message there at all. The invective is the message.

If you’re old enough to remember them, Red Skelton and Bob Hope represented different points on the spectrum. Although neither would have been allowed the language we hear today, Hope used innuendo and Skelton did “funny”; he turned himself into silly characters with odd speech patterns and twitches. Hope of course did much more than tell jokes and was greatly respected, especially among a generation of people who fought WWII. Skelton was a phenomenon whose show depended on a bunch of other people, but he was all of them. 

There also used to be a program on the radio (R-A-D-I-O) called “Can You Top This,” where listeners sent in jokes and a panel of “experts” tried to come up with funnier stories on the same theme. I suppose it might have been rehearsed, but if it was truly extemporaneous, those were some funny people, and all within strict bounds of language then permitted in public discourse. 

Vamping desperately, I still haven’t come up with a joke for this post, have I? Rather than feel deceived, though, look at the upside: if I'd started on some old shaggy dog story, in this medium you wouldn't have been able to stop me if you’d heard this one….

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Local TV

We have cable TV where I live. In a classic denial of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” the cable company fixed it: they “harmonized” the channel numbers across all their regions. Now people don’t know where their old programs have gone. The new channel numbers run up into the 1200s, but I don’t have access to most of them since I buy only the “basic” plan. The company nevertheless puts out the whole list in a nice glossy brochure,       I guess in the hope you’ll buy a more expensive package. 

That doesn’t work with me, though. I’m not an advocate of cheering for 5 or 9 or 11 millionaires on a playing field, so I can eliminate a large number of channels out of hand. I have never thought of cooking as a spectator sport either, so there goes another batch. Ditto for strangers in sunglasses playing poker.      I have never investigated my own genealogy; what makes programmers think I'd be interested in someone else’s?

Selling on screen could have been interesting, but it all seems to be clothing and jewelry, mostly women’s, and spray-on compounds that seal your windows against rain. I haven’t worn a necklace since the army, and we’re in a drought.

Sitcoms: there are only a few I watch, and I watch those because they have gentle humor and a collegiality among the characters; the people don’t continually try to score off each other. They rely on other techniques than sexual innuendo for their laughs; and they never forget the “com” part in the name stands for “comedy” and they don’t get heavy.

Local news is a farce. Someone pointed out a while back that many/most of the TV channels are owned by entertainment companies, so a regular feature of our “news” is what’s news to them:  the box office results for current movies. Do they really think the average listener cares if “Ghouls at the Gates” made more millions than “Dueling Chainsaws”?

And of course traffic and weather are standard news show items, traffic because we have a lot of it and weather in spite of our having hardly any here in Southern California. (Surprising how much anchor desk back-and-forth can be wrung out of a warming trend from 87 to 89 degrees.)

Those segments are the chance for well-coiffed aspiring actors and starlets to breathlessly give us “breaking” news “live” from the scene of the accident although no details are available yet, and to prance in front of electronically animated displays of weather fronts. There's information there, but it’s secondary to the "personalities" delivering it.

You’re not supposed to sound whiny or jaded in a blog; it puts people off.   I’ll try to think of some jokes, next time.