10 Blogs to Add to Your Summer Reading List

Ah, summertime! The hammock beckons. But what to read while soaking up the UVAs?

Here I share 10 blogs (and videos, podcasts and surprises) that are so good, you’ll want to take them on vacation with you. They’re brimming with intelligent discussion and run the gamut from social media to news, culture and inspiration.

I hope you’ll enjoy them and, while you’re at it, please tell me what you’re reading this summer, whose blogs inspire you, and which podcasts you make a point of downloading.

1) TED Talks
It’s a little awkward, “attending” TED Talks at work, which makes vacation the perfect time for these short downloads of inspiration. Vacation is all about rebooting your energy and enthusiasm; think of TED as your wellspring. The site offers helpful menus to browse subjects, such as technology, entertainment, business, global issues, science and design. You can also search based on ratings – from “jaw-dropping” to “funny” or “informative.” I can think of no better way to get started than to share this talk by a young woman, who was so nervous that her knees buckled when she stepped onstage, but her passion for her subject and deep respect for the audience carried her along on a wave of enthusiasm that enveloped the crowd and made everyone breathless with excitement. You can also access your daily dose of inspiration via @tedtalks on Twitter.

2) Problogger
Launching a blog? Have a blog – corporate or personal – that’s lost its audience along with its purpose? You need Darren Rowse. The man has an especially beneficent approach to creating blogging communities and sharing his knowledge. He believes blogs and bloggers should “do good in the world, do something heartfelt,” and he shares that philosophy on his own blog; in an instruction manual (also titled Problogger) that welcomes, guides and comforts newbie bloggers; and at social media conferences around the world. Rowse’s blog offers a wealth of resources, step-by-step guides, and immeasurable amounts of inspiration. Follow Rowse on Twitter @problogger.

3) NPR’s Monkey See Blog
I’d never subscribed to a blog until I read Linda Holmes’s posts on popular culture. This blog is what sold me, and it had everything to do with the strength of Holmes’s writing, the attitude she and others who post at Monkey See bring to the blog, and the vision she has for this medium. Holmes and Co. do not subscribe to what might be called the “King Me” view of many of the pop culturati. This worldview engenders the kind of exclusive club of insiders who know more than you ever will about the minute details of the plots of their favorite TV shows, the origin stories and bizarro world tales of superheroes, the alternate tracks that never made it onto the albums of the bands they idolize. The Monkey See bloggers don’t create divisions between experts and explorers, high art and low.

In a post on just such a divisive issue, Holmes noted: “Fun and art are natural allies (despite often appearing separately), and forcing them to do battle just divides us into tinier and tinier camps, where we can only talk to people who like precisely the same kinds of culture that we do. That benefits absolutely nobody – not artists, not audiences, and not the quality of discourse.”

Monkey See gives away the secret password, so that everyone can enter the clubhouse. And isn’t this what social media engagement, and the communities we’re hoping to engage on social media, are all about? Join the club on the NPR website, check out the Monkey See weekly podcast, Pop Culture Happy Hour, and follow Linda Holmes on Twitter @nprmonkeysee.

4) KD Paine’s PR Measurement Blog
Katie Delahaye Paine gets it – she understands social media, PR and corporate communications measurement like no one’s business. From strategy to tools to the science, she explains it all on her blog and in her book Measure What Matters. And she does it with a focus on understanding how and why programs perform in order to help companies save money and demonstrate ROI. Sign up for the e-newsletter and follow her on Twitter @kdpaine.

5) BrandSavant
Like K.D. Paine, Tom Webster is here to make science of social media. He is not about the simple solution; he’s wary of data that’s incurious and hasn’t been tested by scientific method. On his blog, and on Twitter (@webby2001), he dissects how we use social media and everything we share there.

6) Hardly Normal
“Change only happens when we have the courage to look at ourselves and our world as it really is. When we do, we’re often brought face-to-face with pain. It’s only when we face suffering, confront it, and work to overcome it, that we experience growth,” writes Mark Horvath about his work and his blog, Hardly Normal, where he provides a robust forum – from the political to the personal – on issues that affect homeless people. Horvath also founded Invisible People TV to help the homeless tell their stories and encourage a community of viewers to act on behalf of their fellow men, women and children who need help, health care, housing and three square meals a day. This is reading and watching that inspires action. You’ll find both @hardlynormal and @invisiblepeople on Twitter.

7) Ragan
A traditional website, rather than a blog, Ragan provides comprehensive coverage of the communications, PR and marketing professions and reports regularly on social media, too. Ragan’s free daily e-newsletter is essential reading; the organization also offers webinars, conferences and white papers to keep readers informed and educated. Follow on Twitter @MarkRaganCEO.

8) On the Media
What Wired is to technology (and all the thorny issues we have to reckon with because of technological advances), OTM is to social and traditional media (likewise thorny issue reportage). The weekly newsmagazine can be tough to find on your local public radio station’s schedule, so it’s handy that OTM is available as a podcast and even more helpful that the blog and website are updated regularly in between broadcasts.

9) The Guardian’s Books Blog
In case you want to spend your summer vacation reading things that don’t remind you of work, U.K. newspaper The Guardian’s book blog brings a world of entertaining, absorbing books to your computer or tablet. Thanks to The Guardian’s global perspective, you’ll find the latest from Asia and the Mideast reviewed alongside selections from Africa, Ireland, Oceania, Europe and the United States. Follow them @GuardianBooks on Twitter.

10) The Dinner Party Podcast
You plan to unplug this holiday, but still want to sound erudite at the Labor Day barbeque. Try this painless recap. The Dinner Party is a wry take on the news, politics, arts, sports and assorted oddities that make up the week. Its very purpose is to provide you with on-trend tidbits to make you sound like you’re tuned in, even when you’ve spent your entire vacation snoozing in the hammock.

Debunk These 6 Myths about SEO to Optimize Your Site or Blog

Loch Ness Monster

Reconstruction of Loch Ness monster as a plesiosaur outside Museum of Nessie. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

You know why people still believe the Loch Ness monster myth? They’re convinced no one’s found Nessie because they don’t know where to look…

Rescue your content from the murky depths of search. Debunk these six myths about SEO and, whether you manage an online store, a corporate website or a personal blog, the people you want to reach will know exactly where to find you.

MYTH #1: It’s all about keywords
If you figure out the right keywords, you can outwit the competition and draw hordes of customers and fans to your site. Right?

REALITY: If we could just list popular keyword phrases on a website and attract customers, marketing would be a heck of a lot easier. But search engines have strict protocols about sites that look like keyword dumps and will remove them from search results. Keywords live inside content and in order for your content to score high with search engines, it must be helpful, relevant and timely for your audience, as well as interactive. The more your content engages audiences, the more time they’ll want to spend with you and your brands and, ultimately, the better you’ll score with search engines.

MYTH #2: Content is king
But you just said content is key.

REALITY: Content is paramount, but so is customizing that content for the crawlers used by Google, Yahoo!, Bing, and other search engines. Maybe you recently started a blog and are still getting comfortable with the WordPress or Blogger platform. Perhaps you produce content for a major corporate site. From simple to sophisticated, there are basic technical tweaks that will give your content more prominence.

Take some tips from the easy-to-read Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide and give your pages clear and accurate titles. Be strategic about filling out your site/blog metadescription, using keywords in your meta tags, headers, links, and especially when naming images, photos, videos, and downloads. Organize your site structure and content to make sure that search engines don’t overlook anything (submerge your content and it’ll drown; if it’s too many clicks away from the home page, search will rank it lower and sometimes not at all) and always enable your site for mobile users.

If you’re using Blogger, which is owned by Google, each time you post, the URL is already customized based on your title (so be SEO-savvy about your title or learn how to customize your URL). Other blog and website platforms offer URL customization. Still, you’d be amazed at the major brand websites and blogs out there whose content is rendered unsearchable by URLs that merely indicate this is Press Release #956 rather than the most reliable source of information about the launch of a new product.

The technical basics of making your website or blog SEO-savvy aren’t hard to pick up. And there are plenty of do-it-yourself options out there, from online Help forums to sites like SEOmoz and blogging guidebooks. Depending on your budget, there are also companies that specialize in conducting technical SEO audits of your websites, blogs, microsites, video channels – you name it.

MYTH #3: SEO is search
C’mon now, “search” is the very first word in Search Engine Optimization.

REALITY: That may be, but it’s not the last word. Certainly, search marketer Lee Odden, in his new book Optimize, observes that “search engines continue to represent the most popular method of finding specific information (Pew Internet 2011).” However, he adds, with the rise of social networking, search becomes only part of online engagement for customers, constituencies, key audiences, fans, and friends.

Odden describes SEO today as a more circular, or holistic, process: “For example, searchers expect not only to find what they’re looking for on a search engine, but also to interact with what they find through commenting, rating, joining, as well as buying. Purchase is just the start of social engagement with the customer.”

It’s not always enough to offer coupons on your brand’s Facebook page. What today’s consumer may need is a post with great recipes (or hair-care tips or how-to advice, depending on your product) before they’ll take advantage of your discount and share links with their friends. In turn, it’s this type of engagement and sharing of content that reinforces your site’s credibility with search engines and pushes rankings higher. And that’s the Circle of SEO.

MYTH #4: Once you’re successful, you can rest on your laurels
Sorry about that, chief!

REALITY: “Circular” doesn’t imply wash-rinse-repeat. It’s not enough that the technology (from laptop to tablet to phone to Google glasses) is changing or that search engines continually refine their algorithms to foil Black Hats or that social networks are increasing by the day.

The most effective engagement is customized to your audience’s needs and based on the unique aspects of the channel you’re using. Your keywords will change every six months or so, as will your approach when new networks, like the next Pinterest, pop up and your fans want to find your content and engage with you there.

How can you manage so much ongoing change? Yola Blake, who leads social optimization efforts as head social strategist at Get Page One in Austin, TX, recommends utilizing expertise across your organization, at all of your audience touchpoints. “Bring together your marketing, social, SEO, legal, PR, and HR teams and unify your keyword targeting effort,” she says. “Make sure that each department learns a little about SEO and incorporates it into their brand content strategy. Everyone needs to be on the same page now that search is more social and is out for your brand’s ‘story.’”

MYTH #5: SEO is all about customers
Really? You only have one audience?

REALITY: If you can research keyword usage on the Internet, why not on an intranet and optimize content and user experience to help employees meet business goals? Same thing for a microsite you’ve set up to target niche constituencies. If you’ve established a cross-functional team (like the one suggested in Myth #4), then you’ll have plenty of content customized for different audiences. The smartest aspect of this approach is that your internal content often works perfectly well externally – now you’re not just engaging, you’re maximizing your ROI on content-creation.

MYTH #6: SEO will become obsolete
This myth raises its head from beneath the dark and stormy waters every time Google improves its search algorithms, making it tougher for those who want to game the system rather than put genuine effort into engagement.

REALITY: I leave it to Social Media Club professional member Yola Blake to chase away this monster with some helpful perspective: “This is not true at all! The role of an SEO strategist will shift and change as search algorithms change and the way people use the web evolves. Part of the thrill of being a search engine marketer lies in the reality that every day is not the same in this industry. One day you may be drinking your morning coffee, wearing your Monday sweater, and BAM! An effort you’ve been working on for the past two years is completely irrelevant. Back to the drawing board. Time for a new plan!”