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In some cases, the exact language used was based on client preferences rather than my own.

The ABCs of SEO: Easy Ways to Get More Traffic

blue search icon

Most people in business know it’s important to be ranked on page one of Google. But beyond that, most know very little about how search engine optimization (SEO) works or how to make it work for their businesses. Let’s start by taking a clear look at the SEO process and how to apply it.

It Starts With Search

Google makes money selling ads that appear on its search pages. Advertisers pay to place their ads on those pages, because they’ll be seen by lots of people interested in that subject. So it’s important for Google to get people to use their search site, building a base that advertisers will pay to access.

This means giving users a good experience when they search for information, so they’ll continue to use Google for future searches. A big part of this is making it quick and easy to find the web pages you want whenever you search. Since there are usually millions of pages that come up for a typical search, Google’s ranking of those pages is critical. Searchers want the kinds of web pages they’re seeking to be listed at the top of that long list of results.

Google achieves this by ranking pages according to two different criteria – relevance and authority. Relevance means the page is actually about what you’re looking for. Authority means that this page has some credibility that is recognized by others, so you don’t waste your time. This is what it takes to get your pages to the top of the heap. Just give them relevance and authority. And this is what good SEO is all about.

Making Your Pages Relevant

When people search for information with a search engine, they use a search phrase, usually a small number of words, e.g. ‘running shoes Chicago’. Google figures that if a certain page is relevant to that search phrase, the page will use those words in important places, e.g. url, page title, headlines, first paragraph, photo alt tags, etc. And if this page is really about running shoes, those words will
appear with a certain frequency, say 1-3% in this case. If the frequency of search words on your page is too low, Google figures the page is not that relevant to the topic. This results in a low ranking. Instead of appearing on page one of search results, you appear on page 45, and no one will ever see your page.

On the other hand, if the keyword frequency is too high, maybe 20%, you’ll still get a low ranking. You might even get banned from the results altogether. Google figures you’re just a spammer trying to trick them into giving you a high rating by using a banned technique called ‘keyword stuffing’. If you were talking about running shoes to a real live customer, you would never use the words ‘running shoes’ one-fifth of the time. People would think you were nuts. Google protects its users by keeping the spammers away. In the early days of the web, lots of sites used this and similar techniques. It worked. Today it’s verboten and will get you in trouble with Google.

What if your shoe store sells all kinds of shoes, not just running shoes? Can’t you mention the other kinds of shoes you sell, as you do in print ads? No. Not if you want this page to be relevant to ‘running shoes’. Talking about other kinds of shoes, e.g. basketball shoes, formal shoes, children’s shoes, etc. on the running-shoes page, dilutes the relevance of that page. The pages on other sites that are devoted exclusively to running shoes will be considered more relevant and will come up ahead of your page.

The solution is to have other specialized pages on your site. One page is devoted to running shoes, one page is devoted to tennis shoes, one to dress shoes, etc. This allows you to keep each page relevant to a particular kind of search. This allows you to keep each page relevant to a particular kind of search.

What is authority and how do you get it?

The Google spider is a computer algorithm that scans the web and ranks pages. But in addition to relevance, Google looks at links to your site from other sites, especially those who are relevant to your site and authoritative themselves. In less competitive categories, relevance alone might get you to the top. But in more competitive areas, you’ll need authority as well as relevance. So the Google formula takes into account how your page is judged by others. Your presence on social media is a major factor. What do people think of you and your business? Do they share your content?

For example, if a runner’s association links to your site, it lends some of its authority to your page. If lots of runners link to your page on their blogs, this too adds authority. The pages of scammers and spammers might build pages that are relevant, but they won’t have those links. The page’s authority is another way Google protects itself by protecting its users.

Should you do it yourself or hire an expert?

Not an easy question. There are two main problems with SEO experts. Some may take your money but do very little to earn it. Others try to impress you and maybe get more work by achieving impressive results by breaking the “rules”, what is called ‘black-hat SEO’. Sometimes these nefarious techniques work. Until Google catches up with you and bans your site from its listings. You and not your SEO guy will then pay the price of crossing the giant.

Do it yourself and you don’t have to worry about those problems unless you accidentally run afoul of Google’s guidelines, which they publish and update under Webmaster Tools. The problem with doing it on your own is that you might not have the time to learn all the details of good SEO and keep up with Google’s always changing rules.

What’s the payoff for doing good SEO?

It gives your marketing much more muscle. And on a small budget. Remember that the business that gets to the top of Google is not the best company, the biggest company, or even the most established company. It’s the company with the best SEO.

In the world of traditional advertising, such as print and TV, the big guys have big budgets and big advantages. They can pay what it takes to make a splash. Not so with search engine marketing, where a small investment in SEO can bring in many new customers and enhance the prestige of the company.

Is this all it takes?

No, it’s only a start, the ABCs. As search gets better all the time, the procedures needed to optimize your site change too. The greater use of semantic search is one of the biggest developments. But you have to start somewhere and using these guidelines will make a big difference.

Be sure to talk to your Psycray representative for a free SEO evaluation of your site. He will give you a plan showing what Psycray can do to bring more visitors and more conversions to your site. He will also show you how they help you monitor the ongoing progress you’ll be making together and measure the results you will achieve.

How to Be a Creative Genius

“But I’m not creative.” Whenever I hear someone say that, it infuriates me. Especially when it’s an intelligent loved one. I want to scream, “Of course, you are.”  I want to point out the hundreds of creative decisions they make every day, from choosing an outfit for work to deciding on a place for dinner.

Most people who work as creatives, usually know how the creative process works. Most others misunderstand and over-glamorize it. You don’t have to get creative, you already are!  How to use it better and enhance it is what we all need to work on.

Here’s my favorite way get more creative: Let it stew.

I used this successfully many times in various fields, including mathematics and advertising copywriting. I learned this from something I read by the great French mathematician Henri Poincaré.

Jacques Hadamard was a mathematician/psychologist near the beginning of the last century. He asked Einstein and many other creative researchers how they worked and how they achieved creative results. The comments by Poincaré were the ones I found most useful.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henri_Poincaré)

He tells some stories about his creative breakthroughs. For example, he had been working hard for weeks trying to prove that a certain kind of functions did not exist. One night after more than two weeks of intensive work, he set it aside, drank some black coffee, and went to bed but couldn’t sleep. I’m guessing he was in what is called the hypnogogic state.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypnagogia)

“Ideas rose in crowds,” he said, “I felt them collide until pairs interlocked, so to speak, making a stable combination.” By the next morning, he had established the existence of the functions he had been trying to prove didn’t exist, and he came up with a mathematical series to describe them. At that point, very little work or “creativity” was required. He just wrote it out.

In another example, he decided to set his work aside for a while and take a break from mathematical work to go on a geological excursion. While stepping onto the bus, the answers he had been seeking during long periods of hard work occurred to him all at once. As before, they were finished and needed only routine work to write them up when he got back home.

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Let your unconscious work on the problem and solve it.

His explanation was that he worked on a problem consciously, and then when he set the problem aside, he continued to work on the problem unconsciously. When the solution was complete, his unconscious brain “handed him” the finished solution. It’s like being inspired by some unknown muse.

I’ve found many mathematicians and advertising creatives who are aware of this process and exploit it when they can. I’ve heard a few programmers report the same success. Some people seem to know how this works, but many others just say “I get my best ideas while showering or shaving,” i.e. not working on the problem itself. They don’t realize that they generated those ideas unconsciously.

This technique has worked for me countless times. In each case, the work that resulted was much better than my typical conscious work. I’ve used it in my mathematical studies and in my advertising and strategy writing. Here’s the best example from my own experience.

I was an undergraduate math major taking a graduate course in homology theory (algebraic topology) that was way over my head. We were each assigned a mathematical proposition. If we found it to be false, we were supposed to give a counter-example to show it wasn’t true. If the proposition was true, we were to construct a proof.

I worked very hard on it for a week. I was convinced the proposition was true and came up with a proof, a messy and ugly (inelegant) proof, but a valid one. which took about four pages of mathematical formulas. I was scheduled to present it for the class and was nervous about showing the lousy proof to my more advanced classmates.

The day I was supposed to present, as I was parking my car, a totally new and very different kind of proof occurred to me – in finished form. It took about six lines of formulas rather than four pages, much more compact than the one I was intending to present. And the new proof was uncommonly elegant. In fact, it was so clear and simple I feared that there must be something stupidly wrong, some obvious flaw I overlooked.

Turns out there wasn’t time to present in that class, because the guy ahead of me took two hours to present his proof.  So I had time to examine it during the two days until the next class. But I still couldn’t find anything wrong.

When it did come time to present my proof, the professor and usually argumentative class became silent for several minutes. Everyone was amazed and was sure there had to be something wrong with it. It couldn’t be that simple. But no one could find any faults. The professor told the class to write it down for reference and then put the longer proof he was expecting on the board, a much better version of my original proof. It took seven or eight blackboards.

Here’s my point. This level of work was much better than anything I had ever done up to that point. You can see why people would believe in divine inspiration. In classical times, Romans would say you had a “genius” spirit to inspire you. Today we say that someone is a genius.  Greeks called it a “daemon.” Beethoven talked about the muse whispering in his ear.

How to “let it stew.”

The observations of Poincaré on the conditions for using this kind of unconscious creativity agree with my own experience. There are three steps: (1) a period of diligent conscious work, followed by (2) a period of unconscious work, during which you “let it stew”, and finally (3) a period of more conscious mop-up work to “put it on a firm footing.” There is no free lunch. You must work hard on the problem in the beginning to get it started.

A frequent procrastinator in school, I was actually motivated by the success of this technique to change my behavior. Previously, when I had a challenging assignment due on Friday, I would wait until Thursday night or Friday morning to do it. Until I discovered this method.

Then I would start working on an assignment during the beginning of the week. Then I could set it aside for a day or two and get really great results by the end of the week. They usually came while shaving, showering, or driving, i.e. doing a relatively routine task. Some workers in the fields of mathematics and advertising talk about this approach to creative problem solving.  Few others seem to know or use this technique. The opportunity for new levels of achievement awaits those who do.

Henri Poincare

Henri Poincaré,  creative genius in mathematics & physics. He was called the “last universalist”,  because he contributed to all areas of mathematics and was one of the last figures to do so.

How to Use Headshots to Improve Your Company’s Branding

headshots with office background

Fig. 1 Russell Stephens

professional headshots with window background

Fig. 2 Ladas & Parry Portraits

lawyer headshots with desaturated color

Fig. 3 Desaturated Color

professional headshots in black-and-white with spot light

Fig. 4 BSWB Black-and-white with spot light

horizontal headshots of lawyers in office

Fig. 5 Nixon Peabody Professional Headshots

Which is the important area of corporate and professional branding that is usually neglected on the company’s website? Their headshots.

The designers crafted logo, layout, and color palette with meticulous care. Then they posted lots of headshots with little or no attention to how they look, which is usually dictated by the photographer who submitted the pictures. Since each office and maybe each person might have a different photographer, their headshots don’t have a unified look. It is a mess. It hurts branding. And it is typical of most websites. These headshots should strengthen the branding and overall image of the company. Instead they detract.

Fixing the Problem of Poorly Branded Headshots

The answer is simple. Just include the headshots as an important element that needs to be branded, like the logo or color scheme. You’ll want a look that is seamless, upscale, distinctive, and appropriate for your company and business type.

By seamless I mean that if there are different photographers doing the work, which is the usual case for a national or international firm with offices in different cities, you must set a standard look to be followed by all photographers. This look can be created by a photographer, web designer, or graphic designer. Some companies prepare detailed guidelines and ask photographers to adhere to them. Often one or two sample photos would suffice.

By upscale I mean it shouldn’t look like your photography was done in the retail portrait studio of a cut-rate department store. You would be surprised how many times large international financial firms have a shot of their CEO that looks this cheap. If the photographer’s samples don’t look upscale and worthy of the country’s best companies, find another photographer.

By distinctive I mean design your look so it is different from what everyone else is doing, a branded look rather than a generic one. Package your company portraits as carefully as you package your products. Look at your logo and your stationery and you’ll see what I mean.By appropriate I mean that one style does not fit all. A look that might be strong and creative for one type of company might be over the top for another. The look should fit into your company culture and it should look like what people have come to expect from companies like yours in your field.

By appropriate I mean that one style does not fit all. A look that might be strong and creative for one type of company might be over the top for another. The look should fit into your company culture and it should look like what people have come to expect from companies like yours in your field.

Creating the Branded Look

The truth is that most companies don’t care about branding their headshots. They want great shots, of course, but the branding elements mentioned above never enter into their requests. Some of the companies I’ve worked with do have a branding scheme already established and request that I follow it. Others solicit my help in creating one. Increased and improved branding is becoming critical in all forms of promotion, both online and in traditional media, so it is wise to make this a priority. If you’re not sure which look will be best for your site, I suggest doing a few shots in a variety of styles and then examine the finished images before making your choice.

Here Are Some Examples of Branding with Headshots

There are many ways to give your headshots a branded look. You can choose a certain background. One of my law-firm clients chose cinnamon. Not a color I would have recommended, but it definitely made their shots stand out from the pack. The photographer can shoot your people in front of a certain color of background paper or add the color of your choice in post-production.

Some firms with visually appealing offices use office views for backgrounds, usually out of focus. If you have stunning views from the windows, you might use those views as backgrounds. Different angles and windows for different people could provide a unified but varied look. (See figures 1 & 2)
An alternative is to work with the color of photographs. Black-and-white is distinctive, now that most headshots are done in color. Desaturated color, where most but not all of the color is drained out of the images, can be very distinctive and upscale. (See fig. 3)

Changing the lighting is another way to make your branding stand out. The most striking example of this that I’ve ever seen is what I was asked to do for a New York City law firm.

We shot horizontally rather than use the more common vertical format. We shot in black-and-white rather than color. And we used a high-contrast spotlight rather than the traditional soft light from diffused sources. The result was totally distinctive and upscale. And this shows that you can combine changes to several elements at once to create your own branded look, in this case, color, layout, and lighting. (See fig. 4)

Layout is another tool in designing your branding. A large national law firm I shoot for changed their branding a few years ago. During the first ten years of shooting for them, they didn’t have unified branding, which is still the common situation for most firms. I shot hundreds of lawyers for this firm, and they never told me how to do the headshots. So even though my work had a consistent look, there was a wide variation in style and look from office to office. Each photographer would give them a different look. Now the firm sends each photographer they use for their many offices a 4-5 page document with their guidelines and sample photos. The new guidelines call for their lawyers to be shot

Now the firm sends each photographer they use for their many offices a 4-5 page document with their guidelines and sample photos. The new guidelines call for their lawyers to be shot horizontally, centered, with the office out of focus in the background. This makes their headshots and their pages with the images look different from most other firms and is a major improvement in their branding. (See fig. 5)

You can work with layout, format, or any element of the photo to achieve your look. I’ve never done this yet, but suppose we’re shooting company headshots for a high-tech company that makes products for small children. What if every employee wore a brightly colored shirt, with different people wearing different colors, e.g. red, blue, yellow, green, etc.? For the appropriate company and on the right website, this could be a killer brand.

Make Your Company Headshots Work

Every aspect of your brand needs to pull its own weight and work together with the other elements of the brand to make your company stand out in an ever more cluttered, online marketplace. Strong brands achieve more top-of-mind awareness, customer loyalty, and customer evangelism. Your company’s headshots, just like your logo, can help you achieve this.

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