Personal Branding: Creating Your Mark

Personal branding isn’t taught in schools.

Which is a good thing for me, because I would’ve failed.

Most people like talking about themselves. When it comes to job applications though… many of us fall miserably short – myself included. Most of us aren’t great at highlighting our strengths and literally selling ourselves on paper. Again, this is something I fall victim to. That’s despite being quite good at writing sales copy.

The good news is there’s plenty of information about it on the Internet. The even better news is that creating a personal brand for yourself isn’t difficult! The majority of us just want to find a job. Even a bit of quick, slightly-better-than-average personal branding can make you stand out from the pile of CVs sitting on your potential employer’s desk.

kitten
There’s also plenty of information about cats… which may distract you.

All marketers (digital or not) are familiar with branding. A brand is the mark of a product or service. It’s instantly recognizable. It has its own style and flow. Logos are the ultimate example: many of the most successful logos are simple and can be recognized even during sunset, against the skyline. Just take a look at McDonald’s…

mcdonald's logo

Even if lights malfunctioned, the outline of Ronald’s Golden Arches would still be recognizable. There are very few people in the world nowadays who don’t know what McDonald’s is or where to find one. Pretty much anyone who has ever been anywhere know exactly what that giant M is pointing to.

So that’s just branding. Now it’s time to get personal…

What is personal branding?

With this type of branding, the product you’re advertising and selling is yourself. Or, more specifically, your experience and skill set. That’s what often gets a lot of people: it scares the shit out of most of us. It means we have to examine ourselves, recognize our weaknesses and really dig deep to find strengths that employers want to use.

The truth is, it’s not really that scary. You simply package what you’re good at then give it a bit of a “brush up”. Put it in front of the right buyers, and they’ll salivate all over it.

cake and fork
If you try offering them cake, be prepared to deliver.

In my first blog post, I talked about shameless self-promotion and mentioned that I disliked it intensely. Many people are awful at marketing themselves (myself included), primarily because they feel it to be embarrassing/icky. What’s helped me in this situation is to create an emotional disconnect and view my brand as a product, a project.

Personal Branding Tips – Building the foundation

I could give you stock personal branding tips like “Start with what you like most”, “Be honest but no too honest” or “Don’t brag but don’t hide your skills”. These have a lot of truth in them – but they tell us nothing about how to actually build your brand. Zilch.

You already know what you’re good at – if your job history is anything to go by. Since most personal brand builders are aiming to snag employers/clients, it shouldn’t be too difficult to list your skills. The trick is finding a starting point for “publishing” this list, making it look attractive and -ultimately- ensuring that the right people see it.

Your CV already does that. But it’s crap. Because all CVs are boring.

In most industries these days (outside of online-based ones), it’s still a very good idea to have a website. Failing that, a blog is better. Most tips regarding personal branding sometimes overemphasize the beauty of a blog/website. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. It has to be a showcase, something that clearly displays everything you can do – as well as your greatest achievements.

cupcakes
For example, bakers can well display a portfolio of the beautiful cakes they make. Yes, I think I’m slightly obsessed with cake this evening.

If you’re floundering and looking for a myriad of personal branding tips to get you going, stop. Gather your best work: bakers, get your cakes ready. Copywriters, compile your portfolio. Candle-makers… Get pictures of your lovely candles.

  • Create a portfolio site. With the countless free website builders around, this is pretty easy. WordPress it up, Joomla the crap out of it (or try Wix… very slow, but useful if you’re scared of HTML).
  • Do try to make it look nice. Like I said, it doesn’t have to be masterpiece. However, it shouldn’t be an eyesore (and no flashing/spinning/undulating images… this isn’t Geocities in the 90s).
  • Blog about it! You don’t have to, but it helps. You also don’t have to blog often… Once a month should do.
  • Promote it: Put the link to your portfolio in your CV. Link it to whatever social media accounts you have (personal branding definitely calls for the likes of a LinkedIn account!).

So, when getting your personal brand off the ground… That’s pretty much it. Personal branding tips will also dictate that you actively promote it. How much you do this, however, depends on you. Freelancers who are always on the lookout for new clients should dedicate a little time to getting their voice out there.

delicious cake
Megaphones probably aren’t the best way, though…

Personal Branding Tips – A few ideas

Once you have a solid basis, you can take a look at a few tips to bring your personal branding further. Sharing your knowledge is a great way to get interested parties reading your blog. Twitter it, Instagram it, Facebook it. If you’re a writer, use your own unique voice (and establish the “voice” of your own brand first). SEOs can optimize their sites and track the analytics.

When it comes to discussing professional topics, I’d actually recommend LinkedIn and Twitter. Sure, Twitter’s not as “serious”, however I’ve found it to be a valuable source of knowledge and insight… All while letting you have a little fun. While LinkedIn is more “stiff” – it is actually a brilliant place to craft your professional persona.

Thoughts on Freelancing and Stability

I originally became a freelancer because I didn’t like working in a kitchen. The only other skills I had besides cooking were speaking English and being able to write. Since work as an English teacher was scarce, I turned to “writing for the Internet”.

old lady welcome to the internet
My first day on the job.

This really meant content mills – Textbroker, The Content Authority and MediaPiston (who were actually pretty decent, but it’s dead now so don’t get any funny ideas).

There was no guarantee of work, but I turned the computer on every day. I wrote most days – sometimes very little, sometimes far, far too much.

I read many resources on freelancing. How to get clients, where to find them and new places to find work. As time went on, I managed to pick up a few of my own who paid better and delivered more consistent levels of work. At the end of every month, however, I was still living hand-to-mouth.

peanuts
In being paid peanuts, it was sometimes all I ate (this may or may not be true).

I loved the freedom of being able to work from anywhere. I enjoyed being able to shift my hours so I could meet friends who usually worked night shifts in bars. I had a lot of fun adventures disappearing off to another city and still being able to make an income. Yet at times, I was wondering if I could pay my rent next month.

Instability and freedom, or stability and being chained to a desk

At some point, I realized that experience in a company might be valuable. So, I managed to blag my way into a job where I became a full-on online marketing manager. It was nice to have a stable salary, regular working hours and my own desk.

carol beer at desk
I tried my best not to impersonate this person. It didn’t always work.

Unfortunately, the charm wore off pretty soon. I went into the office every day. I sat in the same place. While I still appreciated the stability and loved learning new things, the feeling of “sameness”, of being trapped in one room for forty hours a week, began to creep in.

I started to miss freelancing, or so I thought.

In truth, I wasn’t missing freelancing at all. I had diverse projects to work on (admittedly within a very niche industry). I was constantly learning new things and training my SEO muscles. I was making lots of money from our affiliate partners. What I was really missing, in fact, I was simply the lifestyle I had been accustomed to. While my hours were flexible, my presence was required in the office because it was the done thing.

When it comes to freelancing, people often make the choice for two reasons. The first is having their own business, trying their hand at being successful and seeing how much money they can make. The other is simply freedom. This kind of freedom is traditionally not thought to exist in most companies.

However…

…these days, the online industry has made full-time jobs as flexible as freelance positions.

Things are different now. If you’re adamant about the option of working in your underwear (or in the Sahara or eye of a hurricane or wherever gives you the most “inspiration”), you don’t have to go at it alone. Remote jobs are plentiful – if a little competitive.

In essence: Things nowadays are not as clear-cut as “freelancing = freedom” and “employment = imprisonment”. There are freelance positions which require you to be on-site, and permanent employment contracts that let you work from anywhere in the world.

If you are looking for that kind of freedom, the key here is your perspective. If it is easier to find a freelance job, it’s best to build up long-term partnerships which can similar to regular employment. Forget about security for a minute and focus on regular pay. After all, you can still be fired pretty fast on a permanent contract. Though you’ll most likely receive some “I’m sorry” money.

So, what to do?

Research!

Have a look at your industry. What are the most feasible options for you? Do you mind going into an office maybe only once or twice a week, but having partial location independence? If so, you may luck out on finding a local job. Are you so utterly fantastic that companies and clients will come to your door, begging for your services? Then maybe freelancing is the best option.

There are a lot of possibilities out there. How much money you make and whether you can live on it also depends on how in-demand you are. Those with programming skills will make more in a shorter amount of time – SEO experts fall somewhere a little lower in the pecking order. Unfortunately, writers tend to be seen as the grunts (unless you’re so fantastically good that you’ve written for Vogue, or something).

So, what’s my secret? Well, I mix it up.

I have freelance work which ebbs and flows. However, I strive to maintain some kind of “basis” income. Theoretically I could get a job in a coffee shop, though since I prefer location independence I went for a part-time remote job. Having at least a guaranteed coming in every month covers my bases – train ticket, health insurance, candle supply (I light a lot of smelly candles).

So, when it comes to flexibility there is a lot of wiggle room. It just means that you have to add a dash of creativity to your work strategy. Which shouldn’t be a problem… We are creatives after all, aren’t we?

The Mobile First Index: Do We Just Have Plain Old “Websites” Again?

The mobile first index is a ranking factor that was rolled out by the Masters of Google in 2016. To understand what it is, and how it affects your site, you need to understand plain, old-fashioned indexing.

Indexing just means organizing data, and that’s what Google does to rank websites on its search engine. Of course, it is far more complicated than this but then again everything to do with SEO can seem complicated.

girl crying
I don’t think SEO was intended to make people cry…

Indexing: Organizing mobile and desktop versions

At one point, there were just websites. You got them on computers (fancy) instead of having to get them mailed to your door. I think it was Homer Simpson who famously announced that you could now get the Internet on computers. So, that solved a lot of problems. No more mailing pictures of my food!

As devices became more sophisticated, it became obvious that a lot of websites were too much for tiny screens. Even though the screens got better (seriously, though, some smartphones don’t even fit in my pocket…).

So, enter mobile sites: website optimized and fiddled with specially to appear on smartphone and mobile device screens. Nice.

Search engines continued to index desktop sites. They soon realized they also needed to index mobile sites. So, mobile indexing came into being. Now, you had mobile and desktop indexing: you had to pretty much make sure the SEO was up to standard on both sites, or you risked missing out on a lot of juicy traffic. As time went by, mobile became more and more important. These days, mobile traffic has overtaken desktop traffic.

The Masters of Google therefore decided to roll out mobile-first indexing. This simply means that only the mobile version of a site is indexed. To hell with the desktops. SEOs now have to make sure that sites are optimized for mobile, but must still look nice on desktops devices. Which brings me to this conclusion…

We just have ‘websites’ again

Seriously. It’s gone full circle: websites must now able to appear on every Internet-faring device imaginable. In my opinion, it has made SEO a little easier. Technology is and has been changing so fast that this is a small mercy to ensure that the ball keeps rolling.

Yes, there was (and still is) a massive hullaballoo about mobile versus/desktop and everyone scrambling to ensure that their sites are in top order. In reality, however, it just means that websites are essentially the same, albeit slicker and more mobile.

What Is Content Localization? Insights on SEO Translation

International SEO calls on marketers to localize their content for a specific country. Independent of language, the process involves tailoring content to a specific culture. UK users, for example, will find ecommerce sites that display currencies in pounds and use terms that they are familiar with to be the most helpful.

Localization, therefore, can be done within a specific language. While you may have two sites in Spanish, one may be focused on Mexico and the other on Spain. Often, this content may be a near-duplicate (to save time, in which case a hreflang tag will help you avoid duplicate content issues).

Localization is, however, a part of the translation process. It goes hand-in-hand with SEO translation when you’re not only localizing content for a specific culture, but also for a specific language.

Translating cultural expressions and terms into your target language

Before we go on, I would like to express the importance of hiring a native-speaking translator. When localizing content, you are doing so for the user. When writing content that is to be localized, the writer should do it in a manner that is most natural to them. This text can then be worked on later (if you’re localizing for the same language).

This localized content can be targeted towards a specific country. For example…

  • If you have an English text that you would like to translate and localize into Dutch, you can change some of the terms. These include things like currency, names of cities/regions, i.e. everything that will ensure it makes sense within a Dutch cultural context. It of course depends on the text (if it is very general, you probably won’t have to do much).
  • The keywords are also important (which I shall detail later). Make sure you do your keyword research in your target language(so, in my case, Dutch).
  • You then simply translate the text. For most people, this means sending it on to a translator.
tulips
We paid our Dutch translator in tulips (not really).

SEO Translation: Tips and things to keep in mind

For the most part, translators are not SEOs (some are, though). So, while you have the power of a native speaker who can bring your message across expertly in their own language, you still need to detail the specifics of what you want.

The first thing I would therefore like to address is keyword research. Keyword research, especially in a language you probably aren’t even familiar with, may sound scary. Don’t worry, however: you only need to understand the terms that appear in the search engines, because that’s what people are looking for. You can use a dictionary to get a general gist of the “lingo” that is used. Keyword research in another language is a process that goes beyond the scope of this post, so take a look at this resource.

google translate

Once you’ve got the foreign language keywords you want to use in your text, it is important to structure them. If you have some familiarity with the language (or are perhaps fluent in it but don’t trust yourself to write quality content), you can dictate to the translator where the keyword should appear.

But what if you’ve no clue? Well, the best trick I found was to simply put the keyword at the end of the sentence it ought to appear in. Write a note to the translator and tell them to use the keyword where it makes sense grammatically. This is the glorious marriage of optimization for both users and search engines (not a very exciting wedding, I’ll admit).

IMPORTANT: When doing keyword research in a different language, stick to primary keywords. Unless you know the language really, really, really damn well. Secondary keywords will come naturally to the translator. When preparing texts for translation into Dutch, I avoided secondary Dutch keywords like the plague. It was different when doing it in German since I am fluent in the language, but this is an exceptional case.

A lot of people tend to balk at the idea of dealing with another language. Yes, it is a challenge however if you want to your business to go global you need to suck it up and dive right in. You should also consider investing in the services of a translator. Alternatively, of course, you could just hire a SEO who is fluent or (ideally) native in that language.

4 Things to Keep in Mind During Your Job Search

Hey, do you know what’s not fun?

Job searches.

I’m sure there’s a small percentage of people out there who enjoy it. I mean, perusing job ads for new challenges and exciting opportunities is fun. The real reason most people hate looking for a new position is because they are forced too. Depending on the circumstances, many take jobs that they know they will absolutely detest. Just to pay the bills.

For those of us with substantial savings and/or lucky enough to live in a country with decent social security (thanks, Germany!), the day-in, day-out process of applying and getting rejected gets tedious. Really tedious. It’s discouraging. Of course, the same can be said for those who need to find a job now or starve. Except, of course, with added existential terror.

I’m currently at my wit’s end. Last month, I applied to over a 100 companies.

Over 100 companies.

Let that sink in. Now, let me tell you how many positive responses (i.e., interviews) I got.

Just under ten.

I got plenty of rejections. A significant number of firms didn’t even bother to do that. Automated emails aside, that’s not only discouraging. It’s plain rude.

man with flowers
Flowers don’t work either… Not that some companies even deserve them.
“I’m clearly doing something wrong,” I thought. “Maybe my cover letters sounded too braggy. Maybe they weren’t bragging enough! Perhaps I should’ve included my entire job history – not just that relevant to digital marketing. Perhaps employers scoffed at the fact I don’t have a Bachelor’s degree – or maybe (in the case of German companies) my German was just too “foreign”.”

Maybe, I’m just not good enough.

The above musings are nonsense. I did everything right. If you’re applying for jobs in a professional manner, you’re doing everything right as well!

We’re taking all the right steps yet we get very little in return. It just doesn’t seem very fruitful.

lots of fruit
Neither does fruit…

The thing is, this is totally normal in a job search. Things may seem bleak while you’re in the thick of it, throwing CVs left, right and center. Despite that, you’ve got to remember that it also seems worse because you want a job. I’ve found that interviews come in waves: I’ll hear nothing for a week or two and then suddenly I’ll have an interview every single day.

All the while, just keep the job search running. And remember…

…you’re doing fine!

That’s why I threw the following points together. For anyone who needs a bit of encouragement and perspective, read on!

Job Search Tips: Rejections are normal, if not standard

Go into your job search fully expecting to be rejected. Companies received hundreds of applications daily. I’ve been on the other side, watching the poor HR person weep sorry tears at the amount they had to sift through. Okay, they weren’t full-on weeping, but the sheer volume of responses meant that most applications were not even properly read. And someone ended up traumatized.

UPDATE: No, forget the “poor” HR person. Their department put out an ad, they have a responsibility to get back to you. So what if it’s loads of applications? Get over it and do your damn job. Companies that ghost you or ignore candidates are disrespectful and unprofessional.

So remember: rejections are normal. They don’t mean you suck.

Job Search Tips: Auto-responses suck, but they’re better than nothing

Even if it takes months, a company should eventually follow-up on your application. Even if it’s to reject you. Auto-responses don’t replace that, however receiving a confirmation is a sign that at least you know it landed in their pile. While they certainly suck, they’re better than getting nothing at all.

Which is what a lot of companies do, to a surprising degree. If that’s the case, revaluate why you’d even want to work with that company.

It could take a few months

Keyword here is “could”. If you’re picky about the position you want and have the time to search, this may not be so much of an issue. You will hear of people who get job offers and interviews before things before they’ve even started to properly look. These people are lucky. Remember that: they are lucky and in the minority. Factors that contribute to this are usually their connections, how desperate/entranced by a particular candidate a company is and, again, pure luck.

A normal job search usually takes a month or two, sometimes longer. With the rejections you receive and the time you spend on applications, it may seem as if you’re being personally singled out. Believe me, you are not.

Hiring processes are horrifically outdated

Sadly, this is working against quite a lot of people – not just you. You could have the best profile in the world, an amazing skill set and be a real money-machine like I was for my last company. Yet, if your cover letter/CV combination isn’t laid out just how the HR person likes it, it may be looking at the bin. Most people hate writing cover letters and I am one of them. It feels fake and ingenuine.

Maybe this particular method is useful for some professions. However, for my particular field (digital marketing/copywriting) it is a woeful way of picking candidates. Any digital marketer worth their salt these days will have a website/blog and some kind of online presence. The same, I assume, goes for software engineers, graphic designers and a whole host of other jobs that can be done online. Our portfolios are there to see – a small introductory email should ideally suffice.

Canonical and Hreflang Demystified

Previously, I wrote a blog post covering the very basics of technical SEO. I really only covered the bare essentials and naturally left out smaller, more specialized aspects. Today I’d like to take a close look at what are known as canonical tags and URLs and hreflang tags (also known as attributes).

Before we go any further, I would also like to point out:

Canonical and Hreflang tags are for URLs are used to prevent issues with duplicate content.

That’s pretty much it. You will often see them mentioned together, but remember that they are not the same thing and have very different functions.

What is a canonical URL/tag in SEO?

We’ll start with the canonical tag (also known as a canonical link). As you may well know, duplicate content is probably one of the greatest sins of content marketing. Google’s minion spiders certainly won’t be amused if you have multiple pages on your site that have the same content (even if it is relevant or necessary). You’ll still get penalized (not in a fire-and-brimstone sort of way of course, though I wouldn’t be surprised if Google is working on that. Ouch).

For the most part, this makes sense. A website with the same content on multiple pages is just boring. However, as a webmaster you may come across instances where it makes sense to copy the content onto other pages. Product descriptions are a great example.

What to do then?

Essentially, you want this content to be indexed but only on one page. You want to avoid it to appear on other pages (for informative reasons) and will perhaps link to it, however you don’t want Google to consider it and penalize you. This is where the canonical tag comes in. Essentially, it’ll tell you that similar-looking URLs are the same.

The process of canonicalization is as follows:

  • First, pick the page that you actually want to canonicalize. Consider this to be your “one and only” in terms of indexing. Which one is the most important is up to you (maybe it’s the page with the most traffic, the most backlinks, etc.).
  • So if you choose, for example, http://www.example.com/about-page as your canonical page, you then add the canonical link to the non-canonical page(s) like so:

rel canonical tag example

That’s all you have to do.

What are Hreflang tags?

Hreflang tags (or attributes) carry out a function in the same area as canonical tags, in that they avoid duplicate content. However, the attribute itself will tell Google that one page is specifically for one country/language. What’s pretty handy is that you can have two English languages sites with the same content. However, they’ll be directed at different countries. See below:

rel canonical tag example us
rel canonical tag example uk

One hreflang tag is for the States, the other is for the UK. A lot of the advice I originally read about hreflang tags focused on multiple sites in multiple languages, but I cannot stress the importance of using it in on same-language sites in multiple countries.

With regards to hreflang, you can of course simply do away with it and rewrite the content. That’s fine too, but it is a lot of work (and money).

My God, What Is Technical SEO? A Quick Look

Terms like “technical SEO” make some people shake in their boots, especially those new to or just learning the ropes of search engine optimization. I’ll admit I was a bit of a freak when I first found out about it: while it was confusing, it was also exciting. Though apparently it worries some people. That’s why I’ve written this short, simple post which will hopefully work as a basic introduction to the technical aspects of SEO.

Search engine optimization is about making your website easy to rank in the search engines and appear in the top search results. It is done through optimizing relevant keywords in your website copy, getting relevant inbound links from reputable sites and ensuring that content is unique and relevant to users (notice repetition of the word “relevant”?).

So, there’s a lot of focus on content. However…

…technical SEO focuses on the non-content side of your website.

It is the art of helping search engine spiders crawl and index your site as efficiently and easily as possible.

With technical SEO, you basically need to be aware of the major technical ranking factors.

Technical SEO: Basic aspects to keep in mind

As an SEO, you may primarily focus on content and not the technical aspect of search engine optimization. That’s fine, but even being aware of the following points is a good idea. There’s no way around it (stop crying). Or, you may be very interested in learning technical SEO so you can charge thousands to get people’s websites up and running.

tropical island
Then, buy and island and start your own raccoon kingdom… Okay, I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

Whatever your reason for learning technical SEO, the following points are aspects that will affect your website as a whole from the technical standpoint.

  • Site loading speed: Search engines and users alike love a site that loads fast on all devices. A significant chunk of people will close their browser if it takes more than 3 seconds to load (not me, I do wait a bit… but I’m also a little strange). They’ll click “Back” and that’s it, your bounce rate goes up (and gives Google another reason to punish you). It’s a bad day for everyone (except the Masters of Google). When considering loading speed, don’t forget about images.
  • Good site architecture refers to the structure of your site and how easy it is for Google’s little minion spiders to crawl through and index all that content. So, it would be highly advisable to look into sitemaps (both HTML and XML versions). Make sure to read up on site architecture, and sitemaps so you have a better idea.
  • SEO Siloes: This means stacking all of your content neatly. Effective internal linking is therefore a good strategy to implement here. You will also need to categorize your content by subject so that the website isn’t a horrible, confusing mess (and it gets worse the bigger your site gets). As a general rule, however, try to have all parts of your site at least three or four clicks away from one another.
  • If you have to redirect a page then be mindful of how you do it. Look into 301 and 302 redirects (so you can see how much traffic you preserve). And don’t forget about 404 redirects: customize the page because the standard ones look tacky and will just make the user click away. Instead, making it look pretty gives it a higher chance of the user staying on your site.
  • Content: Basically, try to ensure that you have fat and juicy content for the user to lap up. So, it mustn’t be “thin”. In addition, duplicate content should also be avoided. Again, just a couple of basics to keep in mind (I’ve also just noticed this is the shortest point on the list…).
  • Structured data libraries: Search engines can look at a page and understand what the content is about. However, there’s no reason to make it more difficult for them. Structured data libraries are essentially a tool that describes content to the search engines (the most popular and recommended one is Schema.org).

Like SEO itself, the scope of technical SEO goes far, far beyond a single post. This is, however, a good way of getting to grips with the most technical aspects. I hope to be exploring it a little more in the future, so stay tuned.