At the beginning of last month, I connected with Jennifer Laycock of Search Engine Guide as I was doing my research for the post, The Top Ten Hottest Moms in Search Engine Marketing. As serendipity would have it, the contact turned into a flurry of friendly emails as we became fast friends (and they became a new advertiser – talk about power networking!!).
I really wanted to interview Jennifer because not only does she write phenomenal content for Search Engine Guide, but she’s also a “famous” work at home mom and blogger. She rose to blogging stardom earlier this year when her blog, The Lactivist, got into a scuffle with The National Pork Board over her pro-breastfeeding t-shirts which cleverly stated at the time, “The Other White Milk”. (My new favorite shirt in her shop is “Breasts: Not Just for Selling Cars Anymore”!! ROFL!!)
Jennifer, you are the Editor of Search Engine Guide â€“ can you tell us a little bit about your background and how it landed you here?
Well, I actually started out in SEO forums, like many of todayâ€™s industry bloggers. I first began learning about search marketing back in 2000 when I was trying to get the company I worked for listed on DMOZ. I became an active member at Search Engine Forums and went on to become a moderator and then the forum administrator. Around that time, About.comâ€™s Web Search guide position came open and I applied. I got the gig and started writing for them on the side. It wasnâ€™t long after that that Search Engine Guide publisher Robert Clough started email stalking me. About a year later, I came on board at Search Engine Guide as editor-in-chief and have now been there for almost three years.
As far as work in the online marketing industryâ€¦Iâ€™ve been working on the web since 1996. I actually worked my way through college as a freelance web site developer. I took a full time job with a dot com start-up during my senior year (they paid for me to finish school) and then bounced through a handful of companies before striking out on my own in 2001. Iâ€™ve been a freelance consultant ever sinceâ€¦specializing in organic search, viral marketing, link building and now a little bit of social media marketing.
I know that I didnâ€™t really start paying attention to SEO until my blog was 4-5 months old. I found the topic a bit overwhelming at first. What are some of the absolute basic, need-to-know and must-do-now things that new websites should do to make their sites and blogs search engine friendly?
The biggest issue with blogs is that theyâ€™re template driven. Many blogs donâ€™t allow the owner to control things as simple as the title tag and that often leaves them unfriendly to search engines. We use Movable Type at Search Engine Guide and Robert has mashed together a pretty powerful content management system with it. Itâ€™s not cheap though, so many start-ups will likely avoid it.
Some cheaper options include free web-based sites like Blogger and the free server based program WordPress. I use Blogger for my Lactivist Blog, but Iâ€™ve had to do some work with the code to make it more search friendly. Blogger doesnâ€™t really allow you to control the title tag unless you integrate some hacks into the code. WordPress is quite a bit more friendly in terms of search optimization. If I had it to do over again, Iâ€™d start with WordPress. (Yes, I know I could switch, but itâ€™s a big process that I just donâ€™t have time for right nowâ€¦)
Beyond that, itâ€™s the simple things.
1.) Use your keywords in your post title (which often functions as the title tag of the page)
2.) Use keywords in your links
3.) Work on building relationships and links with other bloggers in your topical area.
4.) Start a blogroll and let people know when you add them to it
5.) Comment on other peopleâ€™s blogs and trust that theyâ€™ll follow you back to your site if they like what you say
6.) Consider joining a blog carnival (or starting one)
Good blogging is mostly about being aware of what keywords are, using them when appropriate and then building links and relationships. Itâ€™s not difficult, it just takes time.
There are so many ways to promote a web site: content development, link strategy, SEO, viral marketing, promotions, social networking, social bookmarking, PPC, â€¦ if you had to place a priority on some of these over others, what would you recommend?
Those are all great ways to build content and I think a lot of it has to do with the focus of your site and how quickly youâ€™d like to grow it. I run two sites of my own and occasionally work on others if I take on a client. My two sites (Search Engine Guide and The Lactivist) have each been built different ways.
Search Engine Guide has mostly been built using good content development, link strategy and online relationship building. Search Engine Guide is nearly 10 years old, so weâ€™ve got a pretty heafty database of articles and blog posts. Weâ€™ve also got eleventy billion incoming links. (Ok, maybe not quite that many, but its in the hundreds of thousandsâ€¦) Weâ€™ve done that by taking our time and building up a resource. We pretty much never ask for links, but we freely link to other sites and we often notify them when we do. This has helped us get on the radar of many small business owners as well as other people in the search industry. They now link to us as often as we link to them. Weâ€™ve also integrated RSS feeds, discussion forums, brought in guest bloggers and implemented a variety of other plans to give easy access to quality content.
The Lactivist on the other hand is my hobby site and my marketing playground so Iâ€™ve been a bit more experimental with it. I did test some PPC in the early days, but dropped it after about a month. (PPC is hard to justify unless you have a distinct call to action.) The Lactivist has grown to more than 40K unique visitors a month in just a 18 months. Thatâ€™s not bad for a highly niche site. Most of that growth has come via word of mouth and relationships.
I spend a lot of time building relationships in the online mom community. I host a debate board at BabyCenter, Iâ€™m a known member on boards like Mothering.com and The Baby Wearer, I read and comment on other blogs in my verticalâ€¦ Basically, Iâ€™ve built up a personal reputation with the breastfeeding community over the last year and that has helped them not only find my blog, but also to recommend it to others.
Iâ€™ve tried some new style marketing as well. I joined with four other breastfeeding bloggers to start a â€œCarnival of breastfeedingâ€ each month. We accept guest submissions each month as well as our own and the results have been a nice traffic boost and easy introduction to new readers. I also took advantage of social bookmarking and social networking when I had my little run-in with the National Pork Board. That works very well for spreading the word about my problem, but it also helped drive a lot of new traffic to the site, many of which stuck around after the furor died down.
I say all that to say that the key is to learn about and understand ALL of those types of marketing, but to realize that no set pattern works for every site. Try them out, take note of what is successful and strategize your future plans from there.
Do you have any favorite posts or content from Search Engine Guide that can help people who are just starting to learn about SEO to understand it better and make some immediate improvements?
Probably the most popular series for people just starting out is the â€œZero dollars, a little talent and 30 days series. That one chronicles the first 30 days of the Lactivist. It talks about exactly where I spent my money, what types of marketing I tried, what worked, what failed and so on. Itâ€™s a great primer to getting a small business started online.
A few of my favorite individual articles?
The Number One Rule of Paid Search
Youâ€™re also a work at home mom with a small baby â€˜round the house. How are you balancing baby time, work time, and mom time?
Oh, if I worked on a web cam instead of via email, people would know the secret of that. My house is a wreck. Seriously, a friend showed up out of the blue yesterday and we had to sweep stuff off the couch so that she could find someplace to sit. (Now in my defense, itâ€™s not usually like that, but Iâ€™ve just come off a speaking trip, a funeral, the flu and planning the launch party of the Ohio Breastfeeding Coalitionâ€¦so sometimes housework suffersâ€¦LOL)
I actually work from home with my daughter (2 and a half) and my son (7 months) and a very barky dog. I found that all those sites that say â€œYou have to schedule work timeâ€ were clearly written by people that werenâ€™t working from home with small children.
Iâ€™ve learned how to work in â€œbursts.â€ I might get a twenty minute burst or an hour burst, but I never know when those times will come. Iâ€™ve had to learn how to immediately shift into work mode rather than taking time to ease into a project because if I ease in, Iâ€™d likely never get started!
In reality, Iâ€™ve been very blessed. Both of my kids have happy, easy going personalities. Theyâ€™re good about playing on their own and Iâ€™ve learned to type one handed while nursing Emmitt. (In fact, Iâ€™m typing this interview one handedâ€¦)
Oh, that was just work time and baby timeâ€¦I donâ€™t think mom time comes back into play until Emmitt is about two, but weâ€™ll see. Working at home means some sacrifices. Itâ€™s hard, itâ€™s not for everyone, but I count myself very blessed to be able to do it.
Thanks again for your time on this one, Jennifer!