The Drawer

Note: Today's post is by Kathy Crowley, who blogs at Beyond the Margins

“Thus, we notice after exercising our muscles or our brain in a new way, that we can do so no longer at that time; but after a day or two of rest, when we resume the discipline, our increase in skill not seldom surprises us. I have often noticed this in learning a tune; and it has led a German author to say that we learn to swim during the winter, and to skate during the summer.”

A long time ago I worked in a neurobiology lab. I was a few years out of college and trying to support myself while I completed my medical school requirements (having frittered away my college years on things like literature, and writing, and philosophy, and Comparative Slave Societies… I was very liberal with my liberal arts.)

Why Justin Timberlake Should Avoid Transitive Verbs

As writers, we're always trying to find words that perfectly capture our meaning.  "I broke the cookie jar" has a different feel than "The cookie jar broke." But does it really matter? Would the average reader really notice the difference? A recent study suggests that subtle wording changes can have real psychological effects.

Psychologist from Stanford University were interested in the distinction between agentive (a.k.a. transitive) or nonagentive (a.k.a. nontransitive) verbs. For example, in the example above, my role in the cookie jar mishap is emphasized in the agentive version ("I broke the cookie jar") while it is completely ignored in the nonagentive ("The cookie jar broke") version. So how much does wording matter?

Foils: Two Characters For the Price of One

A while back, I read a blog entry by psychologist Mark Changizi arguing that patients should wear skin-colored hospital gowns.

The logic is simple. Skin tone often changes due to illness, but those changes are hard to see against a green or white hospital gown. Because green and white are so drastically different from our skin tone, healthy skin and slightly greenish/reddish/yellowish skin end up looking the same. However, if patients wore gowns that matched the color of their skin, it would be much easier for nurses to see when there is a change. A slightly greenish hue is much easier to detect when it's up against a flesh colored gown.

To see a dramatic demonstration of this, take a look at Mark’s original blog post. He has some flesh colored patches that look similar to each other when placed against a green background, but look completely different when placed against a flesh colored background.

It's a trick of our brains. We are better at seeing subtle differences if we have an immediate point of comparison. So what does this have to do with character development? Well, I’m glad you asked. [Completely forced and utterly unscientific analogy ahead.]

SEO Basics for Bloggers

Note: Thank you to everyone for entering the guest post contest!  I've emailed the winners, and their posts should  be coming up in the next few weeks.

Today's guest post is from Tiana Smith.

When I'm not being a superhero/writer by night, I work for a pretty prominent SEO firm. Because of this, I've picked up a few tips and tricks about SEO and how it applies to my niche in the web (namely, as a wannabe author). So, here are some easy-peasy things that will help you gain more of an understanding about online search engine marketing and how to make your writer's blog full of SEO awesome sauce. So, here we go :)

First off, a definition. SEO (search engine optimization) is:
"A way to increase the number of visitors to your website by ranking well in the search engines (e.g. Google, Bing, Yahoo) for keywords related to your site or blog." ~ Me (so, it's somewhat simplified, get over it)

This might mean you want to rank #1 for your own name, it might mean you want to rank for the phrase "most amazing author ev-ah", or something else similarly silly. *As a side note, I rank #1 for the term "porn stars named Tiana". Who knew? (That was totally by accident by the way, and no, I'm not a porn star. Sorry to disappoint).*

Now that we have the definition out of the way, let's get down to the nitty-gritty basics of how you can optimize your own blog for SEO.

1. Get a piece of the Google Analytics action. Installing Google Analytics on your blog helps you know how many people are reading your posts, which posts/pages are the most popular, how long people stay on your site, how they found your blog in the first place and oh-so-much more. If you want to understand your audience, and if you want to learn how to maintain (and grow) your readership base, Google Analytics is the way to go my friend.

2. Set up Webmaster Tools. This can help you become aware of any problems your site has (if Google cannot index a particular page, for example) and helps you fix them. Some people say it can even get your posts indexed faster ... but I'm just going off of gossip there.

3. Stop using the Blogspot RSS feed address (this also applies to using the .blogspot URL address if you know what's good for you). Just stop it already. I use Feedburner, which helps people subscribe to my posts by email, and also helps me keep track of how many people are subscribed by RSS. Now, Feedburner isn't perfect, so I promise I won't be offended (too much) if you choose a different RSS manager. An RSS manager is another way that you can tell which of your posts are successful, helping you tailor your content to get more readers.

4. Post titles - they're more than just a pretty name, so choose your words wisely young padawan. When you can, use keywords that will help people find your post. For example, I could have named this post something obscure, like "My Day Job Takes Over My Blog" but no one would search for that in Google, well, unless they were weird. Instead, I titled it "SEO Basics for Bloggers", which helps readers know exactly what this post is about.

5. Use keywords in your posts too. I rank #1 for my own name because I have talked about my name in previous posts. (I may or may not be narcissistic. Don't judge me). Don't spam your posts with keyword after keyword, since that just looks bad. Also, search engines don't like it when you're overly dense. (Ha ha, get it? Oh, never mind.)

6. Use keywords in your links. If you are writing a blog post and you want to reference a previous post you wrote because it was so ah-mazing, use keyword-rich anchor text rather than just saying, "visit this link: http://www ..." or saying "go here" with the link embedded in it, or just "link".

7. Get people to link to your blog. This is definitely easier said than done. One way you can do this is by becoming famous. If your Hollywood career doesn't pan out, try having great content that people want to link to, re-blog or Tweet about. You can also participate in blogfests. You can participate in blog awards. And, while I don't recommend it, you can annoy people and leave a link to your site every time you leave a comment on their blog... Yes, to a very small extent, that can help your SEO, but make sure you ask yourself if the trade-off (looking like a needy blogger and overly-promotional type) is worth it to you.

8. While that Archives by Date widget thingy is all well and good, you can take it one step further. If you take a look at my own page (I know, it's hard to leave Livia's awesome site, so wait until you're done here), I have an Archives Page that lists my previous posts, and, wonder of wonders, I use anchor text with links to help my SEO. Granted, this takes more work, but I never said SEO was easy. (OK, well earlier in this post I said I'd be giving easy tips, but, hey, sometimes I lie, and really, if you think about it, this is still pretty easy to do, so there. Also, I used a lot of commas in that last sentence. Please forgive me.)

9. When you are picking your labels for your post, choose keywords that are descriptive and that actually mean something, rather than just Monday Posts or something else lame.

10. This post is already getting really long, so I won't talk about Meta tags, or anything else more technical. I just wanted a number ten so that this list looked all pretty.

So, those are all really basic things that can help you boost your own level of SEO-awesomeness. Have fun dabbling in the SEO waters, and if you have any questions or want to know something more technical, give me a shout out.

Visit Tiana's blog or follow her on twitter.