2017: My Year of Branding Dangerously

The received wisdom in self-publishing circles is that the best way to build your eBook sales is to build your “platform”. In other words, you need to market yourself. You need to create your brand.

Having a brand means that people know what to expect and so, if they like your stuff, they feel safe in buying more of it. Lee Child has a brand. John Grisham has a brand. James Patterson has a brand. J.K. Rowling has a brand and wow… did her fans get cross with her when she moved outside of it.

Most fans were totally fine with it, and this wasn’t a thing at all

They got mad not because J.K Rowling’s The Cursed Child wasn’t good (it is). They got mad because conventional branding wisdom says that your brand should be simple and stand for one, easy to understand, idea. This is what you sell, so this is what people expect. People want J.K Rowling to write a book about young wizards, in a school, and nothing else.

A stage-play about those same wizards as grown ups dealing with the trials and tribulations of their offspring was not on the menu. You wouldn’t buy a Nike oven, would you?

Brand Sausage

Communicating the brand is all important – This is why companies have slogans, straplines, headline products, etc. It’s also why brands have spokespeople and evangelists – they too are supposed to encapsulate something about the brand and if they have an existing brand of their own that is complimentary, all the better.

Perfumes are great at this. For instance… what the hell is “Sauvage”? What does it smell like? What’s it made from? Who should wear it? Why?

Based on this advert, I have absolutely no idea. As best I can work out, this advert is saying…

You too can smell like Johnny Depp. You know, the quirky one you liked in Pirates of the Caribbean and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. We’ve tried to blur the line a little here so if you don’t like Johnny Depp, feel free to mistake him for Robert Downey Junior though – we’ve kind of made his beard the same and put him in those blue glasses. Ooh, and we’ve got the car out of Supernatural. Anyway,  we’re all good, as long as you buy yourself some SAUVAGE, yeah? Sweet.

It may as well be called “SAUSAGE“.

The not-so-simple rules of simple SEO

Search Engine Optimisation has a similar rule about simplicity and the importance of having a singular message. Conventional SEO wisdom says

“Don’t make a website about more than one thing – it will confuse the search engines and you won’t rank for anything”.

It also has a rule about duplication –

“Don’t try to have more than one website about the same thing and don’t copy content. Google doesn’t like duplication and you will be penalised”.

As an SEO professional, I generally stick to this advice. Don’t run more than one site about the same thing and don’t try to make one site “all things to all men”. It won’t work.

Unless, of course, I’m wrong. Unless, of course, we’re all wrong?

The Masked Elephant in the Room

The big problem in the SEO industry that nobody likes to talk about is that nobody really knows what they are doing most of the time. Yes, there are certain bits of tried and tested advice that will work, or should work, every time. But that’s the tip of the iceberg stuff, the stuff you can get just by reading Googles own best practice documentation. What about the ” secret sauce”, the stuff that makes SEO guys really worth their salt?

That stuff comes from experiments and information sharing. SEO providers share almost daily the results of different experiments they have run, different outcomes to the same problem – how do I get more people on my website? The advice you get is the advice that that SEO vendor has had work for them in the past. It’s the “right” answer – it’s their answer.

Any honest SEO consultant will admit, we’re the blind scholars trying to describe Google’s elephant. Except this elephant is wearing a mask and lied on its CV.

Christopher’s Big Branding Problem

At the start of 2016 I stuck to the conventional wisdom, sketched out the projects that I wanted to work on and built a dedicated website for each

  1. Professional SEO and eCommerce
  2. Open Source Software, Advocacy, and Technology Stuff
  3. Hypnotherapy and NLP
  4. Horror and Science Fiction Writing
  5. Raising Money for Cancer Research with IronWriter
  6. Short Film Making
  7. Comic Books

Quite a list, considering that #1 was the day job and all the rest were side projects. But, this was best practice.

I used WordPress, threw the sites up fast, and got down to content and SEO. It was a slow start – most were brand new, PR0, unused domains with no inbound links (that’s SEO speak for “starting from scratch”) but traffic built up, slowly and steadily

However, there were problems.

Firstly, I knew that the growth in traffic could be quicker if my SEO efforts weren’t spread across so many domains. Secondly, I wasn’t generating as much content as I wanted to because my time there was also spread thin. Given that two of the sites were about writing, that was a problem. A site about a writing who doesn’t get any writing done… is sort of a bit rubbish.

What also quickly became clear was that there was a lot of cross over in my side projects. Screen writing is a lot like comics writing. I often block out a piece of prose using comic book formats because they enforce structure, brevity, and people have to be doing things all the time as well. More cross over. Across all of that I also use a lot of tech when I write and I write about tech too. Hypnotism even has a lot of overlaps with storytelling, something that I was itching to properly explore but didn’t know where to record and share my findings. Was this writing stuff, story telling stuff, hypnosis stuff?

I tried writing the same article two or three times from different angles for different sites. Then, concerned about duplication, I started digging around for other topics to cover even if I didn’t having something relevant or new to say about them.

In short – I was being run by my websites, instead of me running them.

So, who was “I” really?

I took a step back and thought hard about what I was actually doing and what “Brand Chris” actually was. What was the purpose of having all of these sites and who were they for?

I thought at first something needed to take a back seat – that I could only have one side gig at most, at least online. Then I thought… the hell with that. Since when did Search Engine Optimisation have a say in defining me?

The reality was that I was one person, “Brand Me”, subdivided across projects that were only subdivided on the web because that’s how we think the web works.

So, I set myself a new challenge – I had to fix this in 2017 and get down to building a serious platform.

They say the Internet is no place for a polymath. I wanted to find out if that was really true.

The Year of Branding Dangerously Begins

The website that you are reading this post on is the website where my “Year of Branding Dangerously” begins.

I’ve brought together the articles from all my former sites and I am in the process of turning those into place holders, landing pages, or completely redirecting them. “The Brand” starts here.

Things will overlap because they do overlap. I’m the tech-guy who writes books, movies, and comics and will hypnotise you. I’m also the hypnotist who works with technology and writes. I’m definitely the writer who can fix your computer, I may or may not hypnotise you whilst that’s going on.

I’m not sure, as I embark on this, if all this personal branding stuff is pretentious twaddle of course. It certainly could be. Essentially what I want to find out though is whether or not Google can understand that it is possible for someone to be a technologist, a writer, a hypnotist, and have a few other side gigs without completely flipping its gourd and consigning my website to a dark corner of the Internet marked “unknown/undesirable”.

I always tell my clients that they should keep close track of Google’s Best Practices and colour, strictly, inside the lines.

But this is my website, and here I can go as far outside of the lines as I like.

Come, follow me…