Frequently Asked Questions About the Best Website Design and Marketing for Attorneys, Doctors, and Other Professionals
Below are some questions many clients have when they first contact Foster Web Marketing about the online marketing world.
The questions below may address many initial concerns you may have. If you don't find your answers here, you should contact us for answers to any questions specific to your firm.
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Who gets to decide what proper usage and grammar is? You? Why should I believe YOU?
In America, we have a proud and defiant tradition of resisting authority. It’s not at all obvious that you should obey the instructions of some “cranky grammarian” just because he has a regular forum for his views.
In fact, this question—“Who gets to decide about grammar?”—has been the center of the target in a long-standing dispute about language: the conflict between prescriptivism and descriptivism. This struggle is mostly waged in academic halls, but now and then, it engages public attention, often when dictionaries issue new editions.
- Descriptivists argue that dictionaries and grammar guides should collect the way the people actually use words, without making judgments about correctness. In their view, it’s perfectly okay—valuable, even—for a dictionary to include the word ain’t, or to add the latest popular Internet slang, or to say that one meaning of the word literally is “figuratively or metaphorically,” because those are all examples of how English is truly used. In summary: English is a living language that constantly changes, and we must adapt to today’s words, meanings, and grammar.
- Prescriptivists believe that dictionaries and other reference works have an obligation to mark the acknowledged boundaries of English by pointing out when usage isn’t considered standard. Sure, prescriptivists say, languages change over time, but if something is not yet fully accepted as conventional English, it’s important to tell potential users that a word may be obsolete; limited to a region, dialect, or subculture; slang; or roundly rejected by a panel of usage experts.
Steps Beyond the Dictionary
Every dictionary will express its editor’s viewpoint on the prescriptivism vs. descriptivism debate. But English is more than the static word lists trapped in dictionaries. For grammar and usage, the equivalent references are the stylebooks maintained by various publishing organizations. Many newspapers, for instance, follow the rules of the Associated Press Stylebook. The University of Chicago publishes the Chicago Manual of Style, which is widely used in the book publishing industry. Many academic papers follow the rules established by the Modern Language Association (MLA). I’ve always been partial to the U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual.
You know what? Each of these sets of rules flatly contradicts all the others at one point or another. And yet the editors of each stylebook can cite a long list of historical examples to show that esteemed authors preferred the usage rules this book favors. We have a case of many emperors issuing contradictory laws: the result is anarchy.
Does the English Language Exist?
So, what does it mean when the very best experts we can find can’t agree on how words should be defined and used? I think that we can draw three important conclusions:
- There’s no such thing as definitive English. No one individual—nope, not even a grumpy content editor for the best U.S. web marketing company—has the exclusive right to determine what is or is not good grammar and usage.
- Nevertheless, chaos does not rule. Most people who have made a serious study of English will agree on the rules of grammar most of the time. You can make an analogy with a map of a partially explored land. Some of the borderlands may be fuzzy, but there really is a discrete English language that is our common heritage.
- In the end, English belongs to its users. If you’re a writer with a special fondness for run-on sentences, then you’re free to use them and to garner support from other writers. Perhaps you’ll be so persuasive that run-ons will become conventional English usage a generation from now. Perhaps you’ll be dismissed as a crackpot. But it’s your language, your freedom of expression, and your opportunity to try to rewrite the rules.
Ultimately, then, those are my credentials too. I’m a writer, a lover of English, and someone who has taken the time to study grammar and usage enough to be able to teach others. I will necessarily be taking stands on issues that do not have universal agreement. Readers who disagree are welcome to respond by adding comments to blog postings, clicking on my contact information, or by reaching out to the Foster Web Marketing content team by phone or email. We always welcome the vigorous and lively exchange of viewpoints.
I believe that many of the people visiting my business website have weak reading skills. What’s the most important thing I can do TODAY to make them feel at home?
We’ll get to the answer to that question in just a moment, but first: a test. Grab a piece of scrap paper and a pen or pencil. I’m serious. Do it now, before you read any farther.
There will be some mathematics involved, but you are not allowed to use a calculator.
This is a high-stakes test, too. If you don’t pass it, you’re probably not going to get any value out of this essay. In fact, there’s a good chance you’re learning the wrong lessons from every page you’ve been reading on this site.
You have only thirty seconds. Time starts…now.
- Write down the number 12. This is the first number in the series.
- The rule for writing down the next number is as follows: double the current number, then add one.
- As quickly as you can, write down the next three numbers in the series. Hurry up! Your time is running out.
- Finally: circle all the even numbers you wrote down. How many numbers did you circle?
What This Test Reveals
As you will already have deduced, the purpose of the test is not to grade your ability with arithmetic. Although, come to mention it, if you circled more than one number—the starting number, 12—then you made a mistake somewhere; all the subsequent numbers must be odd, not even. No, the purpose of the test is to push you a little off-balance and then make you complete a task under stressful circumstances.
So, to ratchet up the stress, we told you that the test would be about mathematics—probably not your strongest skill area—and then hinted that the level of math might be challenging (“you are not allowed to use a calculator”). We said you only get half a minute to finish, and then reinforced this with commands to work even faster. And we told you directly that successful completion would have profound implications for your future success (and I don’t think that was too much exaggeration, as we shall see).
Did you feel anxious? A little sweat on your palms? Good. That was the purpose of your test.
This Is What Your Clients Experience When They Visit Your Website
Let’s be honest here: many people hate to read. A widely quoted figure is that about 15 percent of the adult U.S. population is fully literate, roughly equal to a college undergraduate level. Another 20 percent or so are functionally illiterate. That leaves a huge majority, on the order of 65 percent of all adults, who can read at a lower level if they must, but who prefer to avoid reading when possible.
These are your potential clients and customers.
Only desperation could drive such a person to your website for information. Only a driving need to know something in your area of expertise could make a non-reader force himself through the agony of puzzling out the text on your site. These people crucially need answers to potentially life-changing questions, such as:
- Do I have to lose my life savings to pay for my medical care after the accident?
- Will I be going to prison?
- Is it cancer?
- Will I ever walk again?
- Can my husband walk out and leave me and the kids penniless?
- Will my husband be okay in the nursing home?
- Will my deadbeat brother-in-law take over my business after I’m gone?
The analogy between the stress suffered by readers looking for answers to life’s gravest problems and the stress that you felt when suddenly hijacked into a math test isn’t perfect; it’s only suggestive. But if, right now, you do not feel compassion for your website users who are attempting the hardest thing they know—reading—in order to find the help they thirst for, then you’re numb to the purpose of your website and your marketing plan. If you don’t have empathy for these forlorn and despairing people, they will soon scatter off to your competitors.
Step One: Leave No Acronym Unexplained
The first step when dealing with lower-skilled readers is to give them every bit of help they may need. That means you must offer them help with reading, along with offering to help them with their problems. If they can’t understand your website, how will they decide to hire you?
We have written elsewhere about how a great marketing writer will take pains to explain professional jargon in context in order to strengthen communication. Now take that one step further, and look at the common abbreviations and acronyms that are used in your line of work. Every page on your website on which that term appears must explain what it stands for: not only by giving a word-by-word description, but also by telling the reader why this term is so important and so often used that it has a short form.
For example, if you are an attorney who frequently deals with disability cases, you probably explain on your home page or practice area landing page that SSDI stands for the Social Security Disability Insurance program. That’s good, but not good enough. You cannot guarantee that a new reader will land on one of those pages the first time he visits your site; indeed, those pages may not be among the first dozen he encounters. If you leave him bewildered, he will seek out another lawyer, one more helpful. So don’t let that happen: explain every abbreviation and every acronym in context the first time you use it on every webpage.
I would actually go one step farther and suggest you don’t use routine abbreviations at all. Write Avenue instead of Ave., November instead of Nov., and Tuesday instead of Tue. Show your readers that you are willing to take pains and want to meet them more than halfway to make sure your message gets through. That’s never a bad marketing strategy.
If you found this article thought-provoking, please take the time to read more of our collected pieces on writing professional web content. You may wish to begin with our related articles referenced on this page.
Is it okay to start a sentence with a conjunction?
For years and years, English teachers at elementary and middle schools across the United States would have been astonished by that question. Mrs. Beedle, my fourth grade teacher, would have turned from the blackboard to glare at any student who asked such an absurd thing. (Yeah, blackboards were still being used when I went to school.)
“Of course you may not begin a sentence with a conjunction,” she would have snapped. “Why, the very idea!”
We believed her. Back then, we trusted Mrs. Beedle. We loved how she could explain the rules of English so there were always definite answers, in crisp black and white, with no ambiguity whatsoever. Grammar was rational, comforting, and precise, while the real world was messy and complicated. And Mrs. Beedle was our guide to that land of certainty.
I’m sure some of my classmates went on to become English teachers themselves, and they taught their students the lessons Mrs. Beedle gave us, and their students’ students passed on the same message to later generations. Chief among those lessons was the prohibition against starting a sentence with a conjunction.
But Mrs. Beedle was wrong.
English Contains More Myths Than the Land of Oz Does
In plain fact, most of us have been taught from a very early age certain “rules” of English usage—syntax rules, as they are called by grammar experts—that aren’t legitimate rules at all. We’re talking about rules such as these:
- Never end a sentence with a preposition.
- Never split an infinitive.
- Sentences in the passive voice should always be revised to include active verbs.
- A conjunction may never begin a sentence.
- A paragraph must be at least three sentences long.
No widely respected modern guide to syntax endorses these principles. Even though most publishers and media outlets still discourage using the passive voice, nobody bars it completely from their publications. These rules-that-aren’t-really-rules linger on, however, because they are still passed down between generations in schools and in popular (mis)understanding of what constitutes fine writing and speaking.
Let’s take a close look at what are called the seven coordinating conjunctions: and, but, for, nor, or, so, and yet. These are the words that join or connect two or more items.
Thanks to the popularity of the Schoolhouse Rock animated educational videos, millions of Americans know that the purpose of conjunctions is “hooking up words and phrases and clauses.” That tune never mentions that the coordinating conjunctions can also link up independent sentences. Of course, we know that you can always take two sentences, change the final period of the first to a comma, add “and,” and attach the second sentence to form a compound sentence. But is it really, truly okay for two separate sentences to exist where the second one begins with a coordinating conjunction?
It sure is. People have been doing it since at least the tenth century. Classical and contemporary authors with impeccable credentials have begun sentences with and, but, and or, and nobody has complained. It’s not clear from the historical record when the notion arose that beginning sentences with a conjunction is not to be tolerated. The majority of top usage authorities for each generation has accepted conjunctions at the start of sentences.
There is another class of conjunctions, called subordinating conjunctions, which are clearly designed to show connections and relationships between clauses. Among the subordinating conjunctions are the words although, because, if, since, unless, until, when, whether, and while. Your own familiarity with English should make it easy for you to recognize that these words can be used at the start of sentences. Nobody objects to them there.
However, there is one special rule that applies whenever a conjunction (of either sort) starts a sentence: the conjunction shouldn’t be followed immediately by a comma. Consider these examples:
- A car accident can cause terrible injuries to your bones, joints, and soft tissues. And, unless you act quickly, you may end up paying for the hospital bill even if someone else was responsible for the wreck.
- Diabetic nerve pain is a difficult problem to manage. But, with the care and attention of our team at the Coeur d’Alene Clinic, you can be assured prompt attention to your changing medical condition.
- Are you content to save for your retirement by adding a dollar or two to your savings account whenever you think about it? Or, do you need a systematic investment plan to ensure a secure retirement income for your golden years?
In each case, that comma after the conjunction disrupts the connective function that and, but, and or so ably provide. This is one of those places where you need to take special care not to let extra commas creep into your writing. The exception, of course, is when the phrase right after the conjunction is not essential to the main meaning of the sentence. Consider the final sentence in our examples above, which would normally be correctly written without commas: “Or do you need a systematic investment plan to ensure a secure retirement income for your golden years?” Add an additional clause that isn’t vital to the main thought, though, and you will need commas to set it off: “Or, like so many other people your age, do you need a systematic investment plan to ensure a secure retirement income for your golden years?”
One last issue before we close. I notice some of you grumbling already that when sentences begin with “However,” the word is invariably followed by a comma. “How are you gonna explain that, Mr. Smarty-Pants?” you ask.
Here’s how: many people assume that however is a conjunction because it seems to be an exact synonym for but. But Mrs. Beedle, my fourth grade teacher, taught that however is an adverb—specifically, a conjunctive adverb—and, like other sentence adverbs, it must be followed by a comma when it starts a sentence.
The byways of English can be awfully tricky, even for experienced writers. To hold the attention of visitors to your professional, legal, or medical website, you need to write informative and interesting text that is expressed clearly, grammatically… and sometimes, artfully.
Like it or not, content is king for Internet marketing, as we have told you time and again. Reach out to Foster Web Marketing if you need help generating excellent content or if you’re interested in our content writing service for business professionals. We can educate your team or provide work written to your specifications. Even Mrs. Beedle would approve.
You’ve told me that I need a proofreader for my website content. Why can’t I do it myself?
You deserve congratulations if you’re writing the content for your own business or professional website. It can be a daunting task, and—at least at the outset—there is a lot of anxiety in working outside your usual field. But maintaining a regular schedule of publishing informative, useful material for potential customers remains one of the best ways to attract and convert new clients. Kudos to you!
By all means, make the time to re-read what you have written before it’s published online. You may find an inelegant phrase, or a place where adding a few words can add enormous clarity. But our experience suggests that you should not be the sole editor or proofreader for your own writing.
It’s important to bear in mind that proofreading is not a quest for perfection. There are many pathways a writer can take to get to a desired destination, and editing does not select the “best” route. Instead, the revision process is designed to catch errors in grammar, spelling, usage, and diction before the work is published for its intended audience.
And, since we’re on the topic, the quest for writing perfection is an impossible goal anyway. People make mistakes. Those mistakes range from simple typing errors to habitual misuse of certain words. Your proofreader is there to catch these mistakes and patch them up before your work goes live.
There’s One Thing You Always Write Wrong. This Is Mine.
Even people with extraordinary talent for writing prose may have a handful of problem areas. Perhaps you find it difficult to remember when to use a semicolon, or you may forget when to use a dash rather than a hyphen, or you may be stumped whenever you need to choose between “effect” and “affect.”
My big problem has always been dealing with the words lay, lie, laid, and lain. I’m clear on lie when it means to tell a falsehood, but when the discussion turns to setting objects on surfaces or reclining one’s body on a sofa, I throw my hands in the air. I flip between reference book pages for a good ten minutes before I write down the word I think is right, but I’m never really confident in my choice.
So that’s the first reason why I need an editor to review my work (and you do, too): Chances are, you too have a persistent mental block when it comes to using some words or punctuation. Your proofreader is your reassurance that a silly mistake won’t be released to the disdain of the general public. Because of that mental block, you can’t be trusted to proofread your own writing, any more than I can effectively proofread my own work.
Your Errors Are Invisible (But Only to You)
Another reason why an independent proofreader is vital is that you cannot be trusted to spot your own mistakes on the screen or the printed page. You know too well what you intended to write, and your eyes will just skip past that point where you typed it’s instead of its. A proofreader doesn’t bring any preconceptions to the document, so he can spot those errors readily.
Spell Check and Grammar Check? Don’t Make Me Laugh.
Software has become amazingly sophisticated in my lifetime. Nevertheless, computer software doesn’t compare to an intelligent mind in correcting spelling, grammar, and usage mistakes. Spell checking programs don’t really understand language, so they can’t catch many word substitutions—podcast instead of podiatrist, for instance—that might show up in your text. Grammar checking software doesn’t appreciate the meaning of the words it scans, so it ends up reporting trivial errors such as split infinitives rather than conceptual mistakes. At least for the current decade, proofreading demands the concentrated attention of another human being.
Getting the Editorial Help You Need
One of the great benefits of Foster Web Marketing’s content management system, Dynamic Self-Syndication, is that it gives you complete control over your professional website. You can extend your online presence at any time, to whatever breadth you desire. At the same time, you assume the risk that a particularly egregious error in grammar or usage will undercut your influence or perceived authority.
But the more you write, the more you need the services of a proofreader. Where do you find one?
Potential proofreaders are everywhere. If you are sharing writing duties with someone else in your office, for instance, exchanging the work between you for editing is obvious. If no coworker is available, you may want to contact the modern languages or English literature departments of your nearby community college to see if instructors can recommend a talented student who might be interested in part-time proofreading work. Local employment centers and online job-search services can also be helpful in locating freelance editors and writers.
Here at Foster Web Marketing, we’re excited to respond to your questions about website content development and production. For specific guidance for your professional marketing, call us today or fill out the convenient contact form on this page.
The ideal customers I’m trying to attract are young and trend following. I want to speak to them in a way that’s natural to them. Is it okay if I swear on my website?
You recognize that, conventionally, it is not okay.
But you want a special exemption, because you’re trying to attract a young, hipster clientele. You think naughty talk will appeal to them. Well, guess what? It’s still not okay.
Changing Standards of Acceptable Discourse
Let’s start by acknowledging that, sure, what is acceptable language in a business environment has changed over the years, just as what counts as permissible in public conversation has liberalized. This is not a new observation. As long ago as the 1930s, Cole Porter could satirize popular dismay over changing language standards by writing, “Good authors too, who once new better words / Now only use four-letter words. / Writing prose, / Anything goes.”
A few decades earlier than that, it was scandalous to refer to the “legs” of your piano (or any other item of furniture), because that word might inflame lustful passions. Your piano had “limbs,” and they were decently covered with a dust ruffle or cozy to hide them from the gaze of any gentleman who stepped into your parlor.
Since then, the influence of mass media culture has helped desensitize us to language that once may have been called “salty,” profane, or obscene. That trend has even entered the workplace. Swearing has become acceptable in some workplaces in both spoken and written communications between colleagues. Likewise, some employers don’t object to swearing between employees and clients in private conversation.
It’s essential that you notice that workplace swearing is limited to private conversations, however: those between coworkers, and those between worker and committed customer. Work-related communications of a public nature still demand prim word choice. The greater the public exposure, the less likely the business owner or manager will permit unfettered cussing. You won’t find swear words used in advertisements in glossy print magazines, or in customer-service scripts at fast-food order windows—and you usually won’t find them on a business webpage.
The Benefits of Naughty Talk
You protest, “My case is different. I’m trying to attract customers who have no aversion to swearing. It’s their natural speech. If I can sling the lingo too, I’ll have a natural advantage over my competition.”
Balderdash. Of course, it’s always been true that what you have to say—rather than how you say it—is more important in converting readers into customers. The idea that adding profanity will enhance your message simply doesn’t seem reasonable. In fact, there are three key reasons why you’re unlikely to gain any lasting advantage from swear words on your website:
- You can’t do it convincingly. There’s no way to mimic authenticity. Any attempt to sprinkle expletives into your regular writing will seem stilted and phony. Your preferred clients are more likely to mock you rather than flock to your door.
- Swearing undermines your message. Each page of your website should be dense with informative content. But swear words carry little or no informational value. In fact, expletives tend to short-circuit learning by deliberately triggering emotional responses. Swearing deliberately tries to shock or offend, and that’s not helpful to your website’s goals.
- You’re pursuing a “cool factor” that just isn’t there. Nobody chooses a skilled professional based on how often he or she swears in public. Nobody.
And the Downside to Your Plan
If your ideal client is young and cutting-edge, then it’s almost assured that your bread and butter client is the opposite: older and more conservative. These may not be the clients or customers you most want, but they provide a steady income stream. And you can bet that they will definitely be offended when your website becomes laced with profanity—quite possibly outraged enough to stay away for good.
So, on the one hand you have a minimal likely reward from your ideal customers; on the other hand, a harsh penalty from existing customers. By any rational calculation, swearing on your website is too risky for both your current and future business health.
Foster Web Marketing is the premier marketing company for law firms, medical practices, and service and product sales organizations of every sort. We know how to help you attract your perfect customer or client—and to avoid alienating other potential clients along the way. Check out our testimonial pages to see some of the hundreds of satisfied business leaders we have helped.
Should I embed my YouTube videos onto my website or host them myself?
In the majority of cases for our clients, I do not believe that it's a good idea to embed YouTube videos onto your website. While this topic is hotly debated in the video and SEO world, I would argue that more times than not, doing so will actually drive people away from your site. Talk about counterproductive!
You will find that the majority of information out there says that it is a good idea to embed YouTube videos, but those people are referring to content management systems like WordPress and Joomla. DSS, our proprietary CMS and inbound marketing software, has a lot more going for it than these less sophisticated systems and actually makes hosting videos extremely easy.
Here are the top four reasons I believe you should think twice before embedding a YouTube video:
- Advertising for the enemy. When you embed a YouTube video you can’t control what shows up after the video. Videos from other lawyers or competing businesses are likely to pop up as recommended videos after yours has stopped playing. Modern humans are more distractible than goldfish, so when they get to the end of your video and see other options you run the very real risk of having them go off-page and even find another attorney, doctor, or business. No bueno!
- Loss of control. The fact that you have full control over the video you host is very, very important. When you add your video to YouTube, you lose full control of your videos; it's the price you pay for their hosting services. However, when you load your own videos, you have total control of them, and don't have to play by any else's rules.
- The annoyance factor. As I said in number one, when you embed a YouTube video on your site that video is likely to begin and end with an advertisement. Ads annoy users, so when they pop up, you run the risk an ad sending people off your website. However, when you host your own videos, users will be able to watch your videos without having to worry about an ad popping up on their screens.
- Level of difficulty. You hear a lot of people recommending embedding YouTube videos on a website because it is hard to create a separate video section. And with systems like WordPress or any similar content management system, this is true! But our clients have access to DSS, our proprietary marketing software, which includes a video section and a crazy easy uploading system. People also say that load times are improved with videos embedded with YouTube, but for our clients, bandwidth isn't an issue for websites run through DSS.
The Right Time to Embed YouTube Videos on Your Website
Though I've given you several reasons not to embed YouTube videos in your website, I am not totally against embedding a few of them on your site. A few embedded here and there can give the YouTube videos additional views, thereby boosting their search rankings on YouTube. And some people do like to see the YouTube logo on your site; it can make the videos seem more "legit." But I really wouldn’t recommend making this the main way you are posting videos on the site, so choose the videos you embed carefully and keep an eye on how they're converting.
Want to know more about video and its role in your SEO plan? Then call 888-886-0939 to speak with myself or a member of our team. We would love to help you make the most out of every video you post.
- Advertising for the enemy. When you embed a YouTube video you can’t control what shows up after the video. Videos from other lawyers or competing businesses are likely to pop up as recommended videos after yours has stopped playing. Modern humans are more distractible than goldfish, so when they get to the end of your video and see other options you run the very real risk of having them go off-page and even find another attorney, doctor, or business. No bueno!
Should I copy and paste reviews from online review sites onto my website?
Reposting (copying and pasting) reviews from popular websites such as Google Local, Yelp, and Avvo may seem like a good idea. After all, someone went out of his way to review your goods or services, and he posted to a reputable site, so why not use their words to your advantage?
Here are four good reasons that our team does not recommend reposting online reviews:
- Poor user experience. When a potential client, patient, or customer reads the same review on multiple sites (your website, on Google+, and your Facebook page), it provides them with a bad reader experience. The more places the reader finds the review, the less likely she is to view it as authentic.
- Permission repercussions. You should never repost a reviewer’s comment from another site to your own website without asking the reviewer’s permission first. Ever. This violates the writer’s rights and is just plain shady.
- Review removal. If you repost a review, even with permission from the reviewer, the original review could be taken down. Why? Because review sites have stringent and ever-changing terms-of-use-policies and guidelines. This makes reposting reviews a bit too risky for our liking.
- Duplicate content issues. Google and all other search engines frown upon duplicate content. When you repost a review, you must rewrite it verbatim, which is, of course, duplicate content. In some instances, it has been found that a reposted review gets the original review page—from Yelp or Google—taken out of search results. And this is the last thing you want to happen.
Instead of Reposting Reviews, Utilize Unique Testimonials
If you’d like to harness the power of reviews on your website, without reposting reviews from elsewhere, we recommend using a form of reviews on your own website: testimonials. These testimonials lend credibility to your business and can be a powerful converter. Also, asking for testimonials is a fantastic way to start a conversation with the satisfied customer or client about reviewing your business on an independent review site.
To learn more about our best practice review strategies, read our article, “Why Your Local SEO Efforts Better Include an Online Review Strategy.” And to keep up with all things in web marketing, be sure to follow us on Twitter.
I have instructed my office worker who writes our website content to eliminate all jargon and technical terms from our pages. Is that the right approach?
It’s one possible approach, certainly.
Whether you manage a law firm, a medical practice, or some other business, it’s likely that you have a large, specialized technical vocabulary. And that’s absolutely appropriate: when working within your profession, you need a level of precision that’s only available from a special set of words and phrases.
You can’t assume that the general public is familiar with this vocabulary. In fact, you can take it as given that most of your potential clients or customers don’t know these specialized terms. If you cover your website with this technical jargon, you risk scaring off readers who can’t understand your writing and who feel you’re browbeating them with your specialized knowledge.
How to respond to this situation? Many professionals have followed the same course that you suggest here: they have purged all technical vocabulary from their business websites. That’s one way to go, but it may not be the best.
A Word of Explanation
Don’t forget that one of the key elements to convert web visitors into leads (and ultimately into clients and customers) is the informative value of your website. Using your website to explain the technical terms of your profession is an amazingly effective way to add value to your site. Rather than using jargon to distance yourself from your readers, a blog post or FAQ column that explains a fundamental term builds inclusiveness. It reinforces your website’s educational mission, and helps establish you as a local expert in your field who shares knowledge unstintingly.
Above all, this approach can get you better clients—those who most resemble your ideal client. Consider these:
- A personal injury law firm webpage that explains the meaning of “liability.”
- A podiatry website that explains the difference between bacterial, fungal, and viral skin infections and why they require fundamentally different approaches.
- A product sales website that explains the environmental risks that competitors ignore in the manufacturing process—and gives a detailed scientific explanation of how its corporate managers respect and protect nature.
By educating potential customers and clients, you make sure the people who contact you later are actively engaged in trying to understand and satisfy their needs. They will be primed to view you as a trustworthy and intelligent partner whose advice ought to be followed. Providing information predisposes your best customers to seek you out.
Every Page Is a Gateway
There is only one downside to this approach. Remember that every page on your website is a potential entryway for new readers, and a portal to everything you have ever posted.
That’s normally a good thing. Over time, you have dozens (and eventually hundreds) of doorways leading potential clients and customers to engage with your site. However, if you represent a law firm that has devoted one page to explaining the concept of liability, you cannot guarantee that any new reader will find that page early on. For any other page that talks about the concept, you will want to have a brief summary of the idea and a link to the page where the concept is explained in depth. Remembering to put in all those required bits can be tedious.
Optimize Your Website to Inform
A website that packages information and delivers it generously to visitors is the best way to elicit a favorable sales response. It’s also the vision behind everything we do at Foster Web Marketing. Informative websites engage contacts and convert them into passionate customers. Keep that concept in mind when you write material for your site—or, if you can’t spare the time, contact us at 1-888-886-0939 to learn how we can provide fresh material written to your specifications.
What are backlinks and how can they help my website rank better?
We will start with a basic definition of a backlink:
backlink: an incoming hyperlink from one page to another website.
Basically, a backlink is any link on another website that points to your website. Here is an example of a backlink for Best of the Web found on our website:
The words "Best of the Web" are highlighted in blue, and when the cursor hovers over them, they become underlined. This embedded link is known as a hyperlink. Hyperlinks can be internal—taking you to another page on the same site—or external—taking you to a page on another website. In the case of backlinks, the link is external, and the backlink on our site takes you to botw.org.
I am sure you have clicked on a link like this before; a link that took you to a website that explained a term or expanded upon an idea in the article. The link you clicked on to go to the explanation page was a backlink. These links often provide useful information and—as we will discuss in this article—can help improve your search engine ranking when done right.
Now that we’ve covered the backlink basics, we are going to dig a little deeper into this often-misunderstood topic. My goal is to arm you with the tools you need to not only get backlinks, but to get the best possible backlinks; those that help build your brand and increase your reach.
All Backlinks Are Not Created Equal
Backlinks are powerful. They can be used for good—helping your website achieve page one status—or they can be used for evil—as part of link-buying schemes that do nothing but cause harm. Next, we are going to explain both high and low-quality backlinks, and show you exactly how to get the type of backlinks that will improve the search engine ranking of your website.
What Constitutes a High-Quality Backlink?
The previous backlink example was intended to show you exactly how backlinks work. However, I’d also like to use it to illustrate the benefits of high-quality, ethically garnered backlinks. By linking to an external site, we have consented to give Best of the Web a bit of link juice. The more people that link to the Best of the Web site, the better it is for the site’s search engine ranking.
Since Foster Web Marketing is a reputable business that often writes about Web-related topics, and since our website isn't crammed full of other external links—a sure sign of a link farm—Google will view this backlink to Best of the Web as high-quality and, hopefully, reward the site for the backlink. This is exactly what you want for your site.
You want high-quality sites that contain a link that point back to your website. What this does is show Google that you are respected on the web and that people often link to you as an authority. But as you may have gathered, not all backlinks are equally beneficial. So to begin with, we need to discuss exactly what constitutes a high-quality backlink.
- A high-quality back link is one that:
- Is relevant to your niche.
- Is from a trusted website.
- Sends in referring traffic.
- Is embedded in the content of the site, not listed in a sidebar.
- Is not paid or reciprocal.
- Is located near other high-quality links.
- Is from a variety of sources—not 100 backlinks from one referring domain.
- Helps your page rank.
- Is hard to get.
That last one, "be hard to get," is the most important. Why? Because Google knows when you try to cheat the system—when you buy or trade backlinks. You may not get caught in a week, you may not even get caught in many months, but you will get caught. So, even though getting high-quality backlinks is a chore, it's one worth doing. Next, I’ll show you exactly how to get the kind of backlinks that you need to fully realize your SEO potential.
How to Get More High-Quality Backlinks
It's important you that you understand that backlinks are something to be earned, not bought. To get the kind of backlinks that will stand the test of time—Panda and Penguin be damned—you need a link-building strategy based on one concept: hard work. You don't simply "get" them by buying or trading for them, you earn them. Here's how.
The Wrong Way to Get Backlinks: Backlinks have long been an important part of a successful SEO strategy. They are so important that many website owners and shady SEO companies began buying into link-sharing and link-buying services. But, like any cheat, Google caught on and has been steadily de-indexing these services and blog networks.
And if you cheat, once Google catches onto your cheating ways, your website is going to be in a world of hurt. All of the good, honest, organic work you've done on your site will be lost. Your SEO ranking will plummet. Forget page one, you won't even be on page 21! That's how powerful backlinks are. They have such great potential to elevate your SEO game but, in the wrong hands, can decimate your SEO efforts.
Cheap, fly-by-night SEO companies will try to tell you that they can dramatically increase the number of links that point to your site, and they can. But they cheat. They pay for your site to be part of a shady linking scheme, like a private blog network. This may work for a time, and you may see your page rank improve greatly. But with Google, Bing, and Yahoo getting better at spotting cheaters, you are going to get caught.
And the SEO company you gave your money to and put your faith in? Will they help you out when your site tanks? No way. You've given them your money, and they are on to a new scheme—a new, get-links-quick trick that will work just long enough for them to get paid.
If it seems too good to be true, it is. Never forget that.
The Right Way to Get Backlinks: There is most definitely a right and a wrong way to get backlinks. The wrong way is easy to figure out: don't cheat. The right way is a little trickier, and like all natural, white-hat SEO strategies, it takes time and effort to get quality backlinks.
Here are five ways to get quality backlinks:
- Enlist the help of reputable directories. Put your name and information on high-quality, human-edited directories such as Best of the Web, Yahoo, dmoz.org, and lawyers.com. Having your link on these reputable sites will give you a few powerful backlinks. Tip: Although dmoz.org is a free site, you will have to pay to be listed on other quality directories. Before you pay to be listed on any site, ensure that it is a trustworthy site, is free from spam, and contains high-quality content. I want to stress that there are precious few directories that are worth your money, so choose with caution.
- Produce effective link bait. If you write and publish interesting, well-written, and timely content, you increase your chances of getting natural backlinks. This is because good content gets shared and linked to. Tip: To create tasty link bait, think hard about what clients and those in your field want to read about. Be sure your content is free of mistakes, easy to understand, and furthers your image as an expert in your field.
- Be a guest blogger. Guest blogging is a fantastic way to get quality backlinks. Just be sure that you never pay for a guest blogging opportunity. This is a big no-no. Tip: To become a guest blogger, be sure that you are involved with the targeted blog. Share interesting posts and comment when appropriate. You should basically "get to know" the blogger. And, as always, make every piece you write interesting, informative. and well-written. Matt Cutts wrote about how guest blogging is dead, but if you are doing it the right way this is still an acceptable practice.
- Get involved. Another way to earn high-quality backlinks is to get involved in your community. Often, when you give money or time to a charity, they will reward you with a thank you on their website. Sometimes there will be a link that points back to your site with the thank you; powerful! Also, ensure that you're listed with local organizations like the Chamber of Commerce. There is almost always a link on these sites. Tip: Our SEO team came up with a brilliant way to use community involvement to earn top notch, sustainable backlinks. Elsewhere on our site we discuss how we created this natural, sustainable link-building strategy using the charitable work our client has done.
- Link out. When you link out to other reputable websites within your field, you give their website a little boost, a little Google juice. And sometimes, they may give you some back. In this “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” situation, many people who have been linked to will return the favor and link back to your site. Tip: This reciprocal linking can be a good thing, as long as it’s done in moderation. What you don’t want to do is link out to hundreds of sites just for the sake of linking. If you do this you are not only giving away too much of your linking power, if many of the sites link back to you, Google could get suspicious and deindex your website—a death blow in many cases.
We've Got Your Back(Links)
Want to know if Google is punishing your site for bad backlinks? Then get your free site audit today. After we comb through your site, we will give you a full report, free of charge. What you choose to do from there and how you decide to go about fixing your site is up to you. We can help make the changes needed, or you can use the information we provide to make the changes yourself.
For more information about our full line of website services, or to ask specific questions about backlink strategies, call 888-886-0939 to speak with a member of our U.S.-based SEO team.
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