Category Archives: Writing Across Platforms

Here Are My Spring 2014 Syllabi: Writing and Research

The snow is coming down here in West Virginia! Classes are canceled today so I will be catching up on research and some other things. But let’s talk classes and syllabi!

In addition to the applied Communication Research class I am teaching this semester (discussed in the previous post) I’m also teaching a few other classes. 🙂 I want to quickly share some of my syllabi for the semester. I’ve uploaded syllabi for these classes to my Scribd account, which is where I host past syllabi and class assignments. Click the link below to see the syllabus. (You can also see all the below-described syllabi as well as past syllabi via the menu on the left, by mousing over “syllabi.”)

Comm 435: Communication Research – This class is discussed in depth in my previous post. Please read it to learn more about that class.

Comm 335: Writing Across Platforms – Changes from Fall 13 include: A lab day for greater access to press release examples and working with peers on the first press release assignment, I’ve re-organized and updated the related social media and blog writing assignments, and have shifted a few lectures around to more effectively deliver material. Other minor changes to make sure content is up to date. I’m also super excited that for our PitchEngine assignment this semester, all of our students will be temporarily upgraded from the free version of PitchEngine to the paid level thanks to the awesome people at PitchEngine! So, students will get experience with advanced functionality.

Hope you find these new syllabi helpful! If you share your syllabi online, please share in the comments below!

Sharing my Social Media Release Assignment

Hope you had a great Labor Day weekend. I’ve been writing lately about the Google Link Schemes update – what it is, how I am teaching in response to it, and what I think about it. As promised, here is my assignment that is impacted by this change.

As I’ve said before, I’m not too concerned about this change at the macro level. But at the micro level, I think it is important that press releases now contain the “no-follow” tag. To learn how to tag with “no-follow”, read my former post. It also contains lots of links to great articles explaining the Link Schemes update!

Press Release for the Web Assignment

The emphasis on my Social Media Release assignment (which I may be better off just calling a web release), at its heart is on writing for the web – e..g., keyword research, SEO. And so, whether the press release “dies” or not, I feel my students will be adaptable.

This assignment is taught in Writing Across Platforms (syllabus | related blog posts). The topics this assignment emphasizes are of course covered in class through lecture, discussion, and brief activities.

There are 3 files in my Writing Across Platforms category on Scribd that I want to draw your attention to:

  1. Cover Page – The cover page is something I am using for all major written assignments in the class.  Someone deserves credit for this but I can’t remember where I got the idea (if you know, please tell me so proper credit can be attributed). The purpose is for students to have to think through the purpose of their written piece, who their audience is, and what is “in it” for the audience – why they should care.
  2. Social Media Release – Part 1 – This is prep work the students do, focusing on the keyword research and writing the release to conform to the scenario. An important thing for me is that students SHOW their research and highlight all keywords. Students bring in their draft to class and work with a partner on revisions. After, they proceed to Part 2:
  3. Social Media Release – Part 2 – This is where they take what they’ve written and put it into PitchEngine. By breaking it up into two stages, the students can focus on the research and writing first and foremost before they get swept up in the coolness of PitchEngine.

If you have questions about any of these assignments, how I teach the material, or ways i can improve them, please feel free to drop a comment or contact me directly. How do you teach these topics? How can I approve my assignment?

Cheers!

-Matt

Books I am Using This Fall for Social Media and Writing Across Platforms

Happy Friday! We are wrapping up our first week of classes here at Shepherd University!

This semester I am teaching 2 classes related to social media and strategic comm: Social Media (syllabus), and Writing Across Platforms (syllabus).

I find myself using textbooks less and less. Perhaps this is because i am not finding what I am looking for, or maybe I am just not looking in the right places. Here are the books I am using in each class.

Social Media Class

1) Born to Blog by Schaefer & Smith

(I wrote a review of this awesome book a few months ago).

2) Likeable Social Media by Dave Kerpen

Recommended: Toa of Twitter by Mark Schaefer

Writing Across Platforms Class

Required:

Content Rules: How to create killer blogs, podcasts, videos, ebooks, webinars and more that engage customers and ignite your business by Ann Handley & CC Chapman

Recommended: 1) AP Stylebook, and 2) Public Relations Writing: Form & Style (10th edition) by Newsom & Haynes

I have only used Likeable Social Media before so am excited to see how they others go!: What books are you using? What would you recommend?

(Note, I put the Amazon links in here but this is not an endorsement of Amazon nor are these affiliate links).

Cheers!

-Matt

Teach PR Writing? You Need to Know about Google’s Updated Link Schemes

Google recently updated its link schemes and it means an important change to how we teach students to write press releases for the web. This is because the change directly targets articles or press releases distributed on other websites, like an online wire service.

I’ve written a lot on this blog about teaching students to write for the web. And this is the biggest change I’ve seen to what we should teach since starting this blog.

Google wants links to your site to emerge naturally, that is organically via its popularity on the web because others like it and link to it via Tweets, blog posts, etc. That doesn’t include a press release, because essentially a press release is seen by Google as an advertisement you are putting out to drive traffic to your site. Google calls this “unnatural.”

“Lots of links, lots of repeated key words, and multiple postings of a press release to different sites, are all red flags to Google under the new rules. Such actions are viewed by Google as blatant attempts to trick its algorithm into ranking a site higher than its allotted position,” writes Tom Foremski.

When Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable asked Google Switzerland’s john Mueller “Why were press releases called out?” during the July 29 Webmaster Central Google Hangout, Mueller replied: “It is something that a lot of people are doing to try to promote the website. That’s something that we want to make clear, that we essentially see this as an unnatural link…” Later in the hangout, Mueller likened a press release to an advertisement. He is saying this in the sense, again, that the purpose of the press release distributed on the web is to drive traffic to a client’s site, the way an online advertisement does. I.e., an “unnatural” link. Of course, the purpose of a press release is to do more than drive traffic to your site, but not in Google’s eyes.

You can see this exchange by watching the first 10 minutes or so of the below video:

So what to do?

Having keywords be linked has been Best Practices for press releases over the past several years (in fact, if you have old press releases up it is best to go change them to the new format or risk hurting your client’s PageRank). I was planning to go into my Writing Across Platforms class (See syllabus. See other blog posts about the class) this fall with the advice to optimize keywords with links in the Social Media News Release assignment. As a result of this change by Google, this is what I’ll be telling my students:

Be safe:

Link Sparingly

nofollow all URLs in press releases and distributed articles on web.

Code for no-following:
nofollow-google-linkschemes
Why I’m telling them this:

I spent a great deal of time researching this new change and reading through varying opinions and reactions to the new link scheme update. While opinions differed slightly, Mueller’s own advice seems to be to no-follow all URLs just to be safe.

The penalty for upsetting Google? Possibly having your client’s site drop in ranking on Google search results – and no one wants that! In fact, in an article with the alarmist title “Did Google just kill PR agencies?” Tom Foremski warns ” PR agencies could be held liable for the damage they caused to the online reputation of client businesses through the execution of normal practices. It could lead to legal action and compensation claims on millions of dollars in lost sales. ”

So it seems best to me to not risk it.

Some great articles to learn more about this change and see what others are advising (note: I got many of these from a great podcast on For Immediate Release last week – listed below):

image CC Schmector

Teaching Keyword Competition with Google Adwords (Activity)

This post is long overdue!

Several weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of teaching content marketing in the college Communication or Business writing class today. I followed up with a post about Search Engine Optimization and an activity for introducing students to the importance of keyword research using Google Trends. I promised a follow up brief activity with Google Keywords Adwords Tool. Then the end of the semester and life ganged up on me! I realized I needed a full post just to talk about Keyword Competition, using my own website title as an example.

The Competition!

Back to the Writing Across Platforms (syllabus) classroom activity I promised!

After teaching Google Trends and doing the activity, I plan to teach Keyword Competition and give my students a brief activity to get them practicing keyword competition research for their writing.

This activity is completed in small chunks across 3 class periods but could easily be done in 2 days! (if you’re really efficient: maybe 1!)

Day 1: Assign Homework (3-4 minutes to explain)

  • On the day I first introduce SEO, I assign students to bring to the next class: Brainstorm a list of 5-7 keywords (terms they think people might use when searching for this topic). The topic is: soup.

Day 2: Set Up: (10 minutes)

Note: I have also explained on this day what Keyword competition is (for a primer, see my activity on Google Trends and the below slides).

  • I first have students go to the Google Adwords Keywords Tool and we walk through an example on cars (we used cars in talking about Google Trends, so there is consistency).
  • I have students search for “fuel efficiency” and “car safety.” And then have them look at alternative keyword options, competition for each term, and search volume. We discuss.
  • Then I have students take out the 5-7 soup keyword terms I assigned the class before. We write some on the board so students can see the variation of ideas related to soup. This gives students a chance to see how others may search for soup, particularly in ways they didn’t think about.

Day 2: In Class Activity (~20 minutes):

I then present an in-class exercise. Here are the instructions:

Scenario:

  • You are going to write a post for your cooking blog.
  • When searching for keywords, think about things that would make for a good blog post subject.
  • Work with a Partner:
    • Go to Google AdWords (google: “google adwords keyword tool”) Select “Exact Match” (on left)
    • Search: soup
    • See what terms people search for a lot by looking at the column labeled “Local Monthly Searches.”
    • Identify and WRITE DOWN 5 terms related to soup with medium to low competition, and high search volume.
    • You’ll need these terms for next class.
  • After students spend 10 minutes or so researching with a partner on an in-class computer, I ask the class “based on your research, what would make for a good blog post subject about soup?” We discuss differences and similarities between what they initially thought up and what their research showed them.
  • I then tell them to bring today’s keyword back next class.

Day 3: Writing Keyword Research Headlines (Lecture: 30 minutes; Activity: 15 minutes, + class discussion).

On day 3, I teach the importance of writing headlines for online articles. I teach headlines first because they are relatively less complicated than thinking about placing keywords or using keyword research to write the article itself. The headline is but a handful of characters! But it encapsulates the blog topic and some say it is the most important part of your article. Headlines itself could be (and may become some day) another blog post! But here’s some great info on headlines:

Why headlines are so important

9 Proven Headline Formulas that Sell Like Crazy

To see the lecture on headlines, see the slides below.

  • After, I have students take out their 5 soup keywords that they discovered through research the class before.
  • I give them 10 minutes to write 5 headlines.
  • Each headline must use a different headline formula of those we discussed.
  • Under each headline they are to list: the keyword(s) used, name of formula.
  • Headlines must be less than 60 characters.
  • Pair and Share: Students exchange their headlines with a partner. The partner evaluates the headlines against what we’ve discussed over the past several classes. Partners then exchange notes and discuss.
  • To wrap up, we discuss as a class and address any questions / concerns students may have.

And that’s that! I’m excited to see how it goes this fall! Thanks for your patience on this. I hope you are having a great summer! If you enjoy this blog post, please subscribe and share! Please post any comments below!

Related lecture slides are below!

Day 1: The Set Up: What’s SEO and Keyword Research?

Day 2: Google Trends and Keyword Competition

Day 3: Headlines

photo CC Team Traveller

How I Used SEO Keyword Competition Research to Target My Niche

At some point, I bet you’ve wondered – Why did you name your blog Social Media Syllabus?

No, it is not a syllabus. It is a way to help my target audience find me. Let me explain.

boat_light

Several posts ago, I discussed introducing students to SEO and writing for search in my Writing Across Platforms course (though it could be taught in a social media course or a PR, marketing, or other course). This included an activity with Google Trends where students get an opportunity to see the importance of understanding how people search the web.

I want to use my blog name as an example to extend this to another great tool we should be teaching our students: Google Adwords Keywords Tool, a very popular tool used to conduct SEO keyword research.

Competition: Considerations for naming a blog (or a post, or post content, for that matter!)
When I decided to start blogging a few months ago, I needed a blog title. I began with SEO in mind. I did a ton of research on Google Adwords Keywords tool for search terms related to social media education. I know my primary target audience is educators interested in teaching or using social media in the classroom. Clearly I’m not the only one out there writing on this subject, and there are many related subjects. So how to differentiate myself?

You see, Google’s Adwords Keyword tool can be used to assess keyword competition.

Keyword competition is simply the idea that if too many people are using the same keyword in their web content, then competition to be the top search result will be fierce and the chance of ranking high in search is more difficult.

Google Adwords Keywords tool’s primary purpose is actually for writing search engine marketing ads on Google. People bid on keywords for ad placement on Google searches and the highest bids show up. But many folks use it for keyword research for SEO as well.

Pulling from our example from the Google Trends post last week, imagine you’re writing web content about an automobile brand. You may have found in Google Trends that “fuel economy” and “safety rating” are more popular than “cup holders” or “park assist” what people are searching for a new car. But you don’t know how many of your competitors are creating content with these terms. If they are, your chances of showing up on search results are diminished.

To find this out, people use Google Adwords Keywords tool. The theory is that if competition is high on Google Adwords, it is likely high on organic content as well. So, in the simplest sense, a high search volume and low competition are though to be ideal.

It is of course more complicated than that. We also must think about specificity and context. Is what people are searching for what your content is about?

Here’s an example. If people search for “drums” they may be searching for brake drums, gallon drums, musical drums, etc.. Drums then is non-specific. It is a bad keyword – because it is not specific and lacks context.

If you’re writing about break drums, of course your content will have the words break drums in them. But what else?

We must be creative in coming up with “long-tail” keywords – those longer phrases that get less search volume, but have less competition and that a very specific target audience is searching for. Should you use “cracked break drum”? “brake drum issues”?

This is not an easy task. But it is something that is becoming more and more important. Our students need to learn it.

Why name my blog Social Media Syllabus?
What I’m trying to do in positioning my blog, is figure out what a social media educator / person wanting to use social media in the classroom is going to search for.

When I did my research, I found I was in competition with a lot social media education programs – such as online courses, certifications, etc. That’s not my niche (which is again, social media educators) – but we share search terms. There are, of course, also articles about social media and higher education. These seem to span from examples of how it is being used by universities rather than by educators, to higher education recruiting, and other related topics but not what my target audience is looking for. Again, not my target audience – but related search terms that similar audiences are searching. Many of these have medium to high competition and not a ton of searches (click image to enlarge – sorry it’s my template).

googleadwords_smeducation

I did a number of other searches and considered a number of things but finally settled on Social Media Syllabus. It has low search volume – but again, I’m targeting a fairly small niche – but someone searching for a social media syllabus is clearly looking for what my blog is primarily about, teaching social media. And, I have the syllabi they are looking for on my site. So, theoretically speaking, I should fulfill their need (click to enlarge).

GoogleAdwordsResults_socialmedia

I hope this explanation offers an example of 1 way of going about thinking about the role search plays in content today, and how we can try and differentiate ourselves with specific terms.

Is it working?
Having moved from Posterous to WordPress (free version), I no longer have Google Analytics, which I miss dearly. Without robust stats it is more difficult for me to be sure my plan is working, as often WordPress doesn’t tell me the search terms that brought people to my site (reading “other search terms” or “unknown search terms). However, it has stated on a dozen or so occasions that people arrived to my site from searching ‘social media syllabus.’ As my blog is fairly new, I should be building authority over time that will help me in search results.

Final Thoughts:
Once the right keywords are chosen, they are used in writing headlines and high up in the body of text of your content. You then want to monitor your web traffic to see what keyword searches are driving traffic to your article. Monitor and adjust. For example, you may find that people are finding you using keywords you hadn’t anticipated, or that people are searching for something off topic and finding their way to your site. Likely, these people are not hanging around as your site’s content is not what they’re looking for.

I hope that brief intro was helpful. There is much more that could be discussed. I will post a class activity for students using Adwords Keywords tool in a future post.

What did I leave out? Other considerations? Educators; Have any resources to share to help students understand SEO? Readers and I would love it if you shared!

– Cheers! Matt

Related Posts

photo CC boltron

Introducing Students to SEO Keyword Research with Google Trends (Activity)

On my last post I talked about Why I’m teaching Content Marketing in the Writing Class. One of the reasons I gave was the close connection between social media, SEO, and content marketing.

Today, we must teach students to write for 2 audiences:

  • Humans – you know, those organisms you interact with on social media.. oh, sometimes in real life too.
  • Search Engines – Where wonders cease and answers are found.

seo_cartoon

For written assignments, students in Writing Across Platforms (see syllabus) will conduct keyword research to optimize their content for the web.

As one way to introduce my students to SEO and keyword research, I use the below in class exercise with Google Trends (formerly, Google Insights). Google Trends allows users to see and compare trends on what Googlers are searching for, by showing search volume across time. Users can break down trends by category, such as geography.

We also discuss keyword research via Google Adword Keyword Search Tool. But I like to talk about Google Trends first because it is easy to use and a bit more approachable with its visual layout, including interactive maps.

Google Trends Activity and Discussion (Time: 15-20 minutes). Note: Lecture notes at bottom of blog post.

In class, I explain how search engines like Google seek to rank content based on relevancy and credibility so they can deliver the best content to searchers. The algorithms for ranking content are complex and constantly changing. But the question for anyone seeking to get their content in front of the right eyeballs remains the same:

How can we optimize our content to increase the chance people will find it online?

  1. I explain how Google Trends can be used to see what characteristics or features of a topic people search for (you can see the slides below). I ask students to imagine they are writing content for a new Volkswagen. How can they know what features of the new car to highlight in their content?
  2. I use this example because Google already has a great video explaining the results of a keyword search topic. So after we discuss some popular features, I show them the video example.
  3. Then we go to Google Trends and try it for ourselves.
  4. I then give them an in-class activity with a similar scenario asking them to find out what people search for most regarding a particular topic. I prompt with:
  5. Imagine you work for a client who wants to promote a new gym. What do people seem to be most interested in?
  6. Look specifically at Maryland. What do they search for in Maryland?
  7. How could you apply this knowledge to target user interest?
  8. Students go to the following Google Doc (http://bit.ly/WAP_GTrendsEx) and follow the instructions and visuals to walk them through the steps on Google Trends.
  9. This brief activity is followed by discussion of what they found, and their thoughts on how this information could be used.
  10. In my experience (I taught this in a social media class in the past), students at this point are excited about this tool and want to compare a topic they are interested in – maybe ice cream flavors, celebrities, brands, etc. I’ll ask students to make predictions on what topic is being searched for most and why. Often, we are surprised by what we find, which makes for a great discussion. We have lots of fun spending a few minutes doing this kind of exploration!
  11. I end by emphasizing that one way to use Google Trends is to see what people care about the most when they search for a topic, whether it be cars, gyms, et cetera.

From there, we move on to discussing Google Adwords Keyword tool, which I’ll save for a future blog post.

Check out the associated slides for this class and the class before it where I explain SEO and linking below:

What is SEO and link building and why do they matter?

Keyword Research Activity: Google Trends and Adwords (relates directly to above blog post)

What do you think? How do you teach your students about keyword research and search engine optimization? Would love to hear your exercises and thoughts below.

Cheers!
– Matt

Related Posts:

  1. When Content Marketing Fails to Deliver: 6 Problems with Marketo’s Ebook
  2. Why We Should Teach Content Marketing in the Writing Class

top cartoon: Some rights reserved by seanrnicholson