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    SEO in business blogs for rankingIt is an absolute waste to set up a business blog with the sole intention of using it to enhance your Search Engine rankings. If you do, then you will not only be missing out on the important benefits that blogs offer but also jeopardising the success of your own, right from the word go.

    “But I thought a business blog would help my rankings!”, I hear you cry. “Absolutely”, I reply, “it will, enormously so!”

    But that’s not the point. Blogs enable you to do so much more, whether you are using them to communicate with your readers, build trust and connections with both customers and prospects alike, carry out market research or customer service, or indeed any of 101 different business uses that they can be put to. And that’s where your focus, effort and attention should be directed, not simply on helping your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) efforts!

    If you do these things correctly and keep the content of your blog focused on what your target audience wants then, believe me, the so called “Google Juice” will flow naturally because of what you write and the way you write and structure it, but as an automatic by-product rather than the sole result.

    Ive seen the same issues come to light elsewhere recently as well. I belong to a couple of online business networking organisations and on one of these, Ecademy, there has been a lot of debate recently following Googles last algorithm change. This resulted in the site not delivering page 1 results as regularly as it had previously been prone to do due to its structure and overall page rank. A number of people have commented that there has therefore been a drop in value of the site because of this and have been asking whether it remains worth the subscription.

    My response again is that the Google / Search Engine benefits have to be viewed for what they are an excellent by-product which is great to have. However, the reason for joining a site like that is to help foster relationships with other business people and provide networking opportunities. Thats why its called a Business Networking Club rather than a Google Ranking Club. Google juice is great but that cannot be the main reason for your being there or else the networking element will ultimately die, killing the site with it.

    And the same is true with blogs. Business blogs are great in providing enhanced Search Engine opportunities but try not to focus too much on those or you risk losing everything. Focus instead on your readers in your blog and I guarantee that your SEO desires and requirements will follow.

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    I’ve mentioned a number of times how important title tags are and how useful they can be (and need to be) in different aspects of search engine optimisation for blogs. So I was glad to see that in one of the first sessions at the recent BlogWorld conference over in Las Vegas, that this subject was covered again by the speakers.

    However, as I listened to extracts from the session, there was one element that I picked up and hadn’t considered that was mentioned by Andy Beal from Marketing Pilgrim, and it’s one I’d like to pass on here. But first a little background.

    The title of the post (or Post Title) appears at the top of each individual post on the blog, whereas the words which appear at the top of the browser window is the so called Title Tag. Hopefully, the image below will show the distinction between them.

    Normally in blogs, there is a close relationship between the two elements because most blog software automatically creates a Title Tag from the title of the post, usually mixing it with the name of the blog something like

    “Better Business Blogging >> Title Tags are great”

    To an extent this is good because it it gives a distinct and relevant Title Tag for each page (which is positive) and it’s done automatically for us (which saves us time). However, even better is to have control over both elements individually which is where the SEO Title Tag plugin comes into its own if you’re a WordPress user as it disassociates the post title from the title tag.

    Anyway, where exactly do these two elements appear :

    • RSS feed – Post Title

    • Blog Search Engines – Post Title

    • Main Search Engine results – Title Tag

    • Search Engine Optimisation – Title Tag (primary) and Post Title (secondary)

    Anyway, what is the suggestion? Well, simply to change the title and the title tag after a few days so that you can appeal to the different groups that will be reading them. Basically, different people use the RSS feeds and blog search engines from those who might be searching with the main search engines. So target each.

    When you publish your post, use an attention grabbing headline for readers who may find you in amongst their other RSS feeds – often something time related is good and aimed specifically at your readers. But after a few days, you will have been seen by all those who are likely to find you via RSS or Blog Search Engines (which are also time sensitive) so we need to turn our attention to the main search engines. In this case, we need to make sure that we appeal to search engines with keyword phrases that we want to be found with as well as our readers, and this needs to be done in our title tag.

    So, as ever, pay attention to the needs and interests of your readers but be savvy enough to know when you have to change your focus to the search engines to give your blog posts even more longevity and ‘findability’.

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    Unless we are in a very fortunate position, then when we start a business blog we are likely to be faced with the challenge of how to attract visitors to it, how to encourage them to become readers and then how to build their trust and confidence in us and our blog over time.

    This comes through building, developing and of course maintaining a relationship with our blog readers and it’s a process that Ive been trying to represent visually for a while. Recently, I came across something that I feel comes very close while flicking through some books at home and one in particular called How to Succeed as an Independent Consultant which is written by Timothy RV Foster.

    In it, I found a diagram and section entitled the ‘Ladder of Goodwill’ which the author had developed to explain the developing relationship a supplier has with its clients. The various rungs on the ladder were described as ranging from ‘Nowhere’ at the start where a customer has no knowledge of you or indeed that you even exist, through to ‘In Position’ where you have the total trust of the customer and you are the primary supplier in your area or field. The goal of course is climb as high as possible up the ladder in your relationship with each of your clients.

    For me, I can see a lot of similarities with the way that we have to develop a business blog as well, particularly in the case of a small business or individual where there is not already a significant offline or online presence to act as a springboard.

    First of all, it is a case of creating awareness that the blog exists and developing its visibility through marketing or word of mouth, Then you need to get people to come to read it and have their first experience of what you are writing about and what topics you cover. To get a positive first reaction you need to make sure you deliver, ideally every time. Follow up on this by providing something (perhaps a newsletter or white paper) so you have the opportunity to reinforce the first positive experience. Building on this means being consistent in your writing and content thereby encouraging people to recommend your blog to others and share their experience. From there the positive experience can be developed further over time resulting in a loyal reader and, from a business perspective, perhaps a potential future customer as well.

    Each rung of the ladder represents another building block as you build a sense of confidence and trust in what you do and, at the same time, you are gaining the active involvement of your readers in your blog and your business.

    Of course, for a really active blog, youll be looking to have readers at all levels, hopefully all moving upwards! So how many readers do YOU have on each rung on the ladder?

    Ladder of Goodwill diagram is copyright to Timothy R. V. Foster

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    Mindmaps for planning business blogsAs you may well have gathered, I’m a great advocate of planning your business blog before you set out and actually write it. It’s also good to keep that development going so that you can keep track of the different subject strands you are working with and allow you to expand them further.

    Previously, I’d always done this with pen and paper but have recently started to try something again that I first dabbled with a number of years ago as a student – and no, this is not going to be a politician-like cannabis related admission!

    What I’m actually referring to are mindmaps. They work really well in helping to develop different subject areas as well as extending the boundaries of what your blog could be doing for you – all without losing track of the key elements that you want to concentrate on and that your audience is looking for.

    Granted they are not for everyone but for someone like myself, who is very visually focused, they are an excellent way to visually represent ideas that you have for your blog and help you to develop them in different directions. And since business blogs need to be focused on and around the main subjects that you want to address, then using this method will allow you take your main subject areas and develop them naturally into adjacent areas. This is turn will help give your coverage of the topic even more scope and breadth.

    The mindmap of course does not need to be a static representation of your blog – by its very nature, it’s perfect to be developed as necessary. So as the needs and requirements of your readers expand (or even change) then so can the mindmap and your planning to reflect the additional elements that you need to be considering.

    As an example, I’m working through a new series for this blog at the moment on Blog Marketing and using a MindMap to help develop the different strands it should cover (still work in progress of course)

    This particular one was created using MindMeister which has an excellent free option as well as the upgrade to their premium and team services. However, even the free version gives you the chance to collaborate with others so if you have multiple authors on your blog then it would be an ideal tool to help co-ordinate input from all of the them and develop ideas for new posts and future direction.

    There are a number of online mindmap systems which you could use and a good start point for information is would seem to be MindMapping.org which lists a whole range of these elements as well as a range of other mindmap related resources – well worth checking out.

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    How many hats do you wear as a blogger?Do you run your own business blog? Then you are amazing, absolutely A M A Z I N G !

    Whys that I hear you cry? Well, just think about all the different activities that go into developing and maintaining a successful business blog. Larger companies will probably have a small team working on their blog or blogs but you have to run it all on your own. And you manage to do it usually without even realising all the things you are doing automatically and the different hats that youre wearing.

    But if we break it down, its really quite impressive!

    • Researcher: keeping an eye on the RSS feeds and Google Alerts can help speed up your research as you plan and build your own posts. Phew – a full time job in itself.

    • Writer: right at the centre of everything, there’s the writer in you who actually puts pen to paper and without whom you just don’t have a blog!

    • Storyteller: no, not in the sense of “telling lies”. Shame on you. People love stories so if you can convey your message as a story when you write it, that will make it all the more memorable.

    • Editor: some tough decisions sometimes have to be taken to keep the writer in check, so you’ll need to have an editor in you working hard to keep the writer on the straight and narrow.

    • Expert: with the research done, you let the expert in you come shining through to add the depth to the post.

    • Project Manager: well someone has to keep the whole thing together!

    • Designer: you need to have the blog looking the part in order to support your business goals. Luckily there are some good templates available and, if you can’t do it yourself, people who can help you to stand out from the crowd.

    • Techie: with your technical hat on, you may want to get “under the hood” which for WordPress would include the set up, adding plugins etc. Even with the other systems, understanding how a blog works will allow you to make your blog more targeted to your readers.

    • SEO expert: with Search Engines a key consideration, make sure that you think about optimising certain aspects of your blog as part of your online marketing. Even if it’s just “Title Tags” and ‘friendly’ permalinks it’ll help.

    • Social Networker: or at least a networker. Offline it’s a great way to develop awareness and contacts, while online by your contributing to other blogs, it helps immeasurably to raise profile and awareness.

    • Market Researcher: you need to make sure that you are writing on topics that your readers are interested in so make sure that you carry out market research. Start by simply asking them. :)

    • Marketer: you’ve created a great blog so now get out and market it. And don’t forget that you need to do offline as well as online.

    • Diplomat: sometimes you’ll get comments on your blog which aren’t so favourable but be the diplomat, argue your position and remain your persuasive (but polite) self.

    • Businessman: at the end of the day, your blog is therefore for a business reason, so make sure the businessman/woman in you doesn’t let you have flights of fancy which aren’t helping those goals.

    • Strategist / Planner: you’ll want to make sure that the blog is heading in the right direction and that it’s developing properly, so keeping developing the plan of where it’s going and how it’s helping your business.

    • Housekeeper: sometimes there’s a lot of extra jobs you need to look at to keep the blog in order so try to tidy up loose ends when you spot them, answer comments, update software etc.

    • Accountant: though it pains me to say it, keep an eye on the bottom line even with a blog. There are costs involved and the main one is your time so try to remember that you’re looking for a return on your investment of time here.

    • Analyst: don’t forget to keep a check on what posts are attracting most readers, where you are getting referrals from and whether you are getting the search engine positions you wanted. Once you’ve analysed it you can do something about it!

    • Therapist: just in case you are feeling a little schizophrenic by now! ;)

    So how manys that? I think I make that 19 in all and doubtless, youll be coming up with lots of others.

    Dont panic, I know it sounds daunting …. and, in a way, it is. But don’t forget, that you don’t need to do it all yourself if you don’t want to. Some aspects you may decide not to bother with, others you’ll link up with other people to work on together and with some you’ll perhaps get an expert in to help.

    But the main thing is that you are already doing it, you’re out there communicating and connecting with readers, prospects and customers in your blog and that’s hard work in itself. So, after all that effort and hat changing, may I suggest a quiet moment and a cool drink might be in order – and maybe I need to add Bartender to the list as well.

    Image Photographer:Lisa F. Young | Agency: Dreamstime.com

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    Blogging in the News - UK BlogsSome articles which have appeared in the UK online press over the past week which looks at blogging (primarily business blogging) and its uses. If you find any good articles that could be highlighted here, then please post the links below or send them to me directly at mark[at]betterbusinessblogging[dot]com and I’ll do the rest.

    Thousands of bloggers unite in blitz of green tips
    The Blog action Day on the 15th October seems to have been a success with thousands of bloggers participating and raising awareness on climate change and environmental issues.

    Going the Whole Blog: The Benefits of Social Networking
    Jackie Cameron explaining why blogging and social networking work so well together for her and in her work. Nice personal account.

    Newlyn processor joins seafood ‘bloggers’
    Another sector looks at blogging for a range of different uses – and it’s good to see a sector such as this trying blogging. As the article states, “Its a great example of using modern technology to promote the industry in an unusual and engaging way”. I can think of some other industries that would do well to follow the example.

    Slow Starters: Blogging in the Building Industry
    As Phil Clark so eloquently puts it, “The construction world isnt exactly full of bloggers, but if even Sir Terry Farrell is chatting away online these days, it might be time to start taking it all a bit more seriously.” A second hurrah!

    Playing Footsie with bloggers
    CEOs should be considering whether corporate blogs are important – a little controversial in places but underlines the potential influence that blogging has in business and people’s perception of businesses if nothing else

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    HR, Human Resources, Personnel and blogsI was interested to see two opposing views expressed recently in Personnel Today of whether blogs and social media were of use in general and particularly whether they had a role to play in the area of company HR (Human Resources).

    On the one hand, there is the take that blogs and social network sites are nothing more than gimmicks and toys used by the younger generation and for time wasting by chatting with friends. The other view is that they are tools which have real potential to help HR managers in their work by improving internal communications and employee engagement, as well as changing how recruitment is carried out.

    As you might imagine, I am hardly an unbiased observer but I will try to give an objective overview of the value of blogs and social networks here.

    Using online Social Networks

    When we consider “social networks”, there is a range of different ones that we need to consider. These vary from primarily social to business social and through to purely business networks – examples being MySpace, Bebo and Facebook to eCademy, Xing and LinkedIn. The relative value of each from an HR perspective will vary, but I believe that when it comes to recruitment, the use of the internet and hence these networks is a legitimate (and increasingly important) method to identify potential candidates as well as gather additional information about candidates. Therefore my advice to individuals looking to use these networks for business purposes, either now or in the future, is to remember that you should never say something online that you wouldn’t stand by and be quoted on. The internet doesn’t forget and is seldom forgiving! Recruiters much less so!! ;)

    Using Blogs: external and internal

    In terms of blogs, they can be used in a number of different ways from an HR perspective. On the recruitment front once again, from a Researcher angle, an HR manager interested in recruiting a candidate can get a much more in depth and rounded view of an individual’s knowledge and general suitability via a blog rather than simply from a traditional CV. This approach may also help with the anticipated skills shortage which seems to be expected by the majority of companies. If the company is open to embrace the use of blogs (as a ‘Builder‘) in their own recruitment process, then using them to demonstrate how current graduate recruits view working for the company, as Cadbury Schweppes did, is certainly an excellent option.

    However, perhaps the biggest gains can be made through the use of internal blogs on general HR issues and the opportunities that they provide to open up the channels of communication within an organisation. Improved internal communications, dissemination of important HR information, better team working opportunities, improved employee participation in the company are all benefits that have been reported by companies such as Allen & Overy, Dresdner Kleinwort and Microsoft. They are also all benefits which are available to companies of all sizes through the planned use of blogs internally which can be combined with other collaboration tools such as Wikis.

    Safety Measures

    Of course, as with anything, this is open to abuse. It is possible that employees spend too much company time on social networks or in writing either their own or company blogs. It is also possible that there may be inappropriate posts made by employees on blogs which could lead to problems or even legal issues. For these reasons, it is always advisable that a company has a blogging policy, whether they are actually running a company blog or not. (For help in drafting one, contact details here.)

    Just as important is the employees’ education in the whole area of blogs and online communications. Running workshops which help employees to understand where blogs can be beneficial and which also outline the corporate lines which should not be crossed will often be the best way to approach this matter. They should give clear guidelines without stifling the benefits that blogs can accrue.

    Conclusion

    So which view of the interaction between blogs and HR do you go with? Well, for me, without doubt, there are potential issues raised by the use of blogs and social networks within a company. However, it is clear that trying to suppress this is unlikely to work and dismissing it is simply handing a golden opportunity to your competition to steal a march on you.

    Instead, I believe that embracing these communication media will reap rich rewards for companies though I’m also all in favour of ensuring the confidentiality of company information through education of potential bloggers among the workforce. Harness the energy, passion and ideas rather than try to suppress them and you’ll be onto a real winner!

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    Business Blogs and TagsShould you be looking at upgrading? Well, WordPress is maintaining quite a rhythm of late in terms of new releases – these can often be time consuming if you are trying to maintain several blogs with up to date software as I am for the people I work with. However, I digress as ever! :(

    WordPress 2.3 Overview

    This version does seem, however, to be well worth the time and effort. From a purely business perspective, there are a number of elements in this latest version which are of particular interest to me, primarily the canonical URLs and tagging elements which I’ll explain in more detail below. But let’s a have a quick recap of all the new things going on first.

    The main additions in WordPress 2.3 are:

    • Tagging: native tagging as they call it which includes tagging in the main software rather than relying on 3rd party plugins (see below)

    • WordPress and plugin updates: lets you know when there are updates available either of the main WordPress software or of the plugins that you have installed

    • Canonical URLs: lots of good stuff here but hugely uninteresting reading. It is, however very useful in terms of certain aspects of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) which I’ll try to explain later

    • Pending Review: allows you to run a blog with multiple authors much more efficiently as you are notified when new posts need reviewing

    • Advanced formatting when writing blogs: some additional features which had previously been hidden
    (The full list can be found on the WordPress Blog)

    Tagging

    Ok, so why am I getting even vaguely excited about tagging? Well, tagging is a way of bringing out the keywords in the post that you have written – effectively it allows you to add tags or ‘labels’ to your post so that you can classify the principal content areas yourself without relying solely on Search Engines to decide what you’re on about and therefore make an “educated” guess on your behalf.

    It’s true that the categories function in WordPress offers a way to do this but this, for me anyway, is more structural than anything else. I use categories to help readers identify start points for their research. Tagging will add an additional dimension to that and will give extra flexibility to it which is great – I believe that they are certainly complementary.

    Personally, I already use a plugin called <a href="http://dev.wp-plugins.org/wiki/BunnysTechnoratiTags" target="_blank"Bunny Tags</a> to do some of this (another excellent tag plugin is <a href="http://www.neato.co.nz/ultimate-tag-warrior/" target="_blank">Ultimate Tag Warrior</a>) but the chance to deliver tagging in the main software will help to develop this area further. I would expect to use this element much more extensively in the future and that tagging will be more 'visible' in Better Business Blogging.

    For more information, a nice explanation of categories and tags can be found at <a href="http://dougal.gunters.org/blog/2007/09/22/tags-and-categories-in-wordpress" target="_blank">Geek Ramblings</a> (thanks to <a href="http://www.nevillehobson.com" target="_blank">Neville Hobson</a> for the link).

    <h5>Canonical URLs </h5>
    Oh dear - I somewhat regret mentioning these earlier but let me try to explain. While it's not ALL to do with the concept of 'duplicate content', that is at its core. Bear with me for two minutes on this and then you can sleep ... or watch the latest instalment of <a href="http://www.nbc.com/Heroes/" target="_blank">Heroes</a>.

    Google likes unique content because then it can direct its searchers to THE best page for what they are looking for. However, when two (or more pages) show the same content Google suffers and has to decide what to do with the content and how to rank it. The trouble is that sometimes we create "duplicate pages" without actually knowing it. For example, www.betterbusinessblogging.com/ with and without a '/' or with and without the 'www', all count as different pages ... and hence potentially fall into the 'duplicate content' game. What we want to do is really have all of them point at the same place and be counted only once. The changes here should help to address exactly this problem.

    The WordPress change should essentially take away all these other "pages" - the fact that people generally didn't know they existed in the first place, I guess means that this change will mainly be appreciated by SEO interested parties. However, it is, in fact, important.

    <h5>Summary</h5>
    Well, as any regular reader will already know, I am a great fan and advocate of WordPress and the additions that they have made here in their latest release do nothing but strengthen my belief that WordPress remains the best blogging software for companies wanting to future proof their blogging investment.

    My advice: well, ever the cautious one, check the feedback as it comes in and when it is confirmed that it's stable and you have checked your plugins work, then upgrade as it looks worth it.

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    Building your blogAnother nice piece from Seth Godin last week where he talked about his Seven tips to build for meaning and where he briefly (comme toujours!) talked about some tactical tips about how to add value online.

    One of them particularly struck a chord with me. Seth’s comment was:

    It’s a brick wall, not a balloon. This is a hard one for many people. We try to build something quickly and get it totally complete all in one go. If we can’t, we get frustrated and give up. But great blogs and lenses are built brick by brick, a little at a time. You learn what works and do it more.

    I liked the analogy and particularly in terms of the building of the brick wall.

    I find that it can sometimes be difficult for companies when they launch a blog – whether they are launching a business blog or a full blown corporate blog, I get the impression that they have a nagging feeling in the back of their mind that somehow it’s not really finished.

    When a website is launched, it should have everything there written and visible including all the relevant information and the pages completed, stored and in place. When a product is launched, it should have instructions, packaging etc. right from when the first one is shipped to customers. I think they feel that that’s what a business blog should be like too.

    But the launch of a blog is not the end of the process, it is the beginning. Granted there will be the main Foundation posts in place at launch but after that the content will develop and be kept fresh by the new articles being posted – that’s how it becomes successful. Building the information, reputation, trust etc and fufiling expectations.

    So have patience and take heed of Seth’s comments – put solid foundations down and then build your blog brick by brick.

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    Business Blog Post TitlesAs you sit down to pen your next post, you’ll probably already have a clear idea of what you want to communicate and how you want to go about getting that message across. Nevertheless, unless you can entice people to read what you’ve written, then all of your hard work will have been in vain. So take care with the title you use for the post as it plays a key role in that process.

    Why are Post Titles important?

    Well, they’re important in the same way that a newspaper headline is – they attract our attention, offer an insight or a “teaser” as to what the post contains and hopefully encourage us to read the full article. We have a huge amount of information presented to us every day, and so it’s really important to grab peoples attention in the short space of time that we have before they move on to something else. It the case of our blogs, we generally only have the post title at our disposal to achieve this.

    However, there is an added complication. We need to remember that we are in fact trying to attract the attention of two groups: readers (or should I clarify by saying human readers) and Search Engines.

    If they both reacted in the same way to words then things would be easy, if a little boring. However, they dont and nor are they attracted by the same things. While human readers are attracted by humour, nuance, plays on words as well as information, Search Engines are attracted purely by the words which we provide. Ideally, we need to find a way to cater for both.

    Where do we see the titles?

    However, we also have to bear in mind what people actually see in different situations and places – bear with me here, its important! The first obvious place is on your blog itself – at the top of your post is the title which will hopefully inspire you to read the post below it. Nevertheless, you are already on the blog, so in some ways the battle is already half won!

    The title of your post also appears in the main Blog Search Engines such as Technorati or Google Blog Search and in the RSS Feeds that people receive in their readers. As people browse here, then the title is critical in attracting their attention as they skim through the articles on offer. The more information that we all try to process in as short a space of time as possible then the less time we’ll have to attract attention and the more critical it will become.

    Post Titles and Title Tags

    However, when it come to the main Search Engines, things are slightly different. What appears on the results pages of Search Engines such as Google and Yahoo is not actually the title of your post but the Title Tag. This is distinct from your post title and something which you can control separately. The Title Tag is doubly important because it is an important element that the main Search Engines look at when ranking pages – they do take note of the title of your post, but they take much more interest in the Title Tag.

    So which way to go? My own preference is to keep the title interesting without making it too cryptic, and I always try to include the main keyword for the article. In addition, I make sure that, where necessary, I modify the Title Tag to ensure that that is keyword rich. (More details in my SEO series and a great WordPress plug-in from Stephen Spencer to help you).

    In other words, I try to appeal to both audiences. You are best placed to know what will appeal to your readers and you can guess that, for Search Engines, the principal keyword phrases for the post are going to be key. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to combine both as well as you can.

    This you have to read

    So where to find more information about titles, headlines and how to write them? Well, if you only go to one place, then head on over to Copyblogger’s posts on Magnetic Headlines. Highly recommended!

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