Dec 15, 2008

Improving profiles

This morning I got a pleasant surprise. I stumbled out of bed and went down to the office where the computer was still running and waiting for me to resume last night's project. As a "warm up", I decided to check out one of the current whines on ProZ about how rates are going down the toilet, the world is ending, etc. where I discovered the latest contribution from a young French translator whom I (and others) had advised a few months ago to rework his profile to improve his public visibility and possibly contacts by clients. He thanked me very nicely in public and claimed that the number of contacts he receives has increased four times, implying that the rates offered or negotiated had improved. I think most of the changes he made were actually suggested by other people, and he deserves the credit in any case for making them. (I took a look at the profile again, and there is still a lot he can fine-tune I think, but he's smart enough to figure that out now that he understands the principle.) Not everyone is so flexible, and many people insist on including information in a profile or CV that does them more harm in marketing services than good. Months ago I had a delightful exchange with a translator in Romania who emphasized the same aspects of family life that I take pleasure in; it took some convincing to persuade her, however, that expressing one's commitment to the roles of wife and mother will not get you more veterinary translations. Last time I looked at her public profile it was much more professionally focused and had a few slightly daring statements that brought a real smile to my face as I read them. I hope her incoming work has quadrupled too.
I don't know any magic recipes for online advertising. I seem to be good at it without trying that hard in the same way I used to get a response rate around 16% for direct mail actions to sell computer stuff where common wisdom said 1 to 2% was to be expected. But if I tell you why this works, I'm just guessing. I believe that there are certain general principles that apply to all of us most of the time with regard to marketing, but the fine-tuning will always be an individual thing to work in the best way. If someone tells you something is good or bad, think about it for a while before you act. If the person giving advice is very experienced, s/he is probably right, but really understanding that advice in your personal context may lead to a better solution than the one suggested by the "expert". Don't be afraid to experiment and measure the results. A year ago I started making certian changes to my online profiles and actions with the goal of improving the quality (not the volume, which is an unfortunate side-effect) of contacts by potential clients. I measure the results in terms of (1) Google rankings and (2) page traffic. My Google rankings for keyword combinations I care about have improved (though they are not always where I would like them to be), and the page traffic on my ProZ profile. has increased about seven-fold. Traffic on my business web site has also gone up, but I don't pay close attention to those numbers, because I'm embarassed by the fact that I've had a major site upgrade ready to go in two languages, and I've been too busy to upload it. Now I have to rewrite the whole thing to update it before it goes live. Just not enough hours in the day....
With regard to those Google rankings, I was asked recently by a colleague in Portugal how to go about improving them. Once again, I'm not an expert. I just try things and see what works. There are lots of "how to" guides on the web for search engine optimization (SEO), and I'm not about to summarize or regurgitate them here, not only because the subject bores me, but also because I have heard so much contradictory advice over the years that I am really not sure which of it to believe. So here's what I do:
  1. I ask myself what my "perfect prospect" (like maybe a chemical company with an in-house DMS system for which the documentation needs translation in my case) would use for keywords when looking for a service provider using Google.
  2. I incorporate those keywords in a reasonable way in my profile or other web page. I do pay some attention to advice from the more plausible SEO guidelines, but I don't follow them slavishly. This is a game to me, and I have more fun if I can play with the "rules" as I like.
  3. I wait a while (days, weeks), then I do a search and see where I come up on the hit list. In some simple keyword combinations I really care about, my entries come up one or more times in the top five hits currently. In other cases I'm buried several pages back, so obviously I haven't perfected the process. But then I'm so busy dealing with all the inquiries I do get that it really doesn't matter.

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