Category Archives: marketing

Why all the fuss over SEO?

Just about every savvy company thinks they need an SEO manager or SEO expert.  After all, SEO is the key to being found on Google and other search engines.  I understand the need to be found on page 1 of search. I realize that that the best place to hide a dead body is on page two of a Google search .  However, the question I wonder about is why are people so focused on the unique skill of SEO? Should SEO be afforded its own byline on a job description the way computer literacy once was? Is it such a unique skill that people need to be sought out for their mastery? Or, as I am beginning to think, is SEO literacy more akin to mastery of Microsoft Office?

Now, before I go any further in proffering up what I think is important, I’d like to tell you that I’m not the only one out there who is saying that most SEO is straight forward stuff. When I first started thinking this way, I thought that I was contemplating heresy.  My feeling was that the task of SEO, while requiring some knowledge, is not especially complicated. You simply have to pay attention to a given number of variables over the pages of your website.  In my angst, I posed my heretical thoughts to several individuals who work with SEO on a daily basis and most (surprise?) agreed with me. Moreover, they decried the individuals who try to make the simple look complicated in the name of job security. What these professionals know and I am learning is that there are some basic rules to follow when implementing SEO. So what are these golden rules?  Here is a shortlist:

Develop a keyword list

As Rand Fishkin’s moz.com notes , “[i]t all begins with words typed into a search box.” Think about what words people will use to search for you or your product. If you are selling a dog walking service then people will probably use terms like dog walker, dog walking, dog care, dog daycare or dog exercise when they are thinking about having someone walk their dog. So, make a list of these words and use them in your content.

From ppc.org

You can also use Google’s Webmaster tools to see what terms people are using to find your site.  Look under Search Queries to find this information. If folks are not finding you based on the terms you think they should then you need to rethink your keyword strategy. Also, if they are finding you based on terms you didn’t think were relevant then consider how you can better incorporate these terms into your search.

Also, if you are a local business, make sure your content focuses on local content.  According to Search Engine Journal , “[i]n order for small businesses to reach their target audiences, which are often geo-specific, they must ensure that they are ranking high in these local searches.” That means you need to associate your content with the physical location. For example, a dog walker in Boston might want to include references to the Boston Common.

Create good, quality content so people will want to visit your site

This brings me to the second golden rule of SEO which is to create content that people want to read. Going back to the dog walking service, you can think of numerous topics that will interest dog owners. For example, you can have pages that discuss what type of exercise is best for dogs.  You could write about how far or for how long you should walk your dog. Also, you could write about how much exercise is needed at various ages for an animal. By answering these questions, not only will you be creating content that is relevant to busy dog owners but you’ll give them an opportunity to know and trust your product.

Create quality links and share

One of the most important ways to get found on search is by having quality links to your site. If you are a dog walking service, having other businesses that cater to dogs linking to your site is really important. You can imagine that there are dog daycare centers or dog grooming businesses that would want to better serve customers by letting them know about these additional services.

Also, sharing content on social networks is indeed important. Most businesses are aware of the importance of social networks for distributing their content. While best practices on social networks are a whole separate blog article, it is key that businesses choose the network(s) that are most relevant to their audience and become active on them. Rather than choosing to attack all networks at once, it makes sense to choose the one or two networks where your customers are likely to live and start posting content on them.

Build a beautiful website with clean, spiderable HTML

Have you ever seen a website that looks like it needs to attend a beauty shop? What was your reaction to the site? Stay or leave? Most likely you chose to leave. Why? You left because the site was unattractive or perhaps it didn’t answer your questions. Now think about a really attractive site. Maybe Nike.com?  Now, I know that very few individuals could afford to build a site like Nike’s, however my message is simply that you choose to spend time on the site because it is attractive. So hire a graphic artist to improve your site; it will be money well spent.

In addition to beauty, you need to make your site intuitive and easy to follow. If it’s easy for humans to follow then search engines will have an easy time combing your site as well. Make it clear to the user how to get to the information they want to find.  Also, avoid using Flash files, Java applets and non-text files. If you have lots of your content as images then search engines WILL NOT be able to find the content.  You want to use text generously throughout your site.

You might have heard that it is important to use appropriate tagging on your site. It used to be that all SEO was about having the appropriate words in your <meta> tags. This is no longer the case. There are a couple of straight forward techniques that a company should follow here such as ensuring they have filled out the <title></title> tags appropriately, including  appropriate meta <meta> descriptions and  making sure images have <alt> tags included. Today, SEO is much more about having appropriate content and much less about tag management.

Don’t be that guy – avoid black hat techniques

The last point here is to avoid what experts call “black hat techniques”. This is a fancy term for keyword stuffing. Essentially, you should not use devious tactics to include keywords on your page. These tactics include using the same keyword multiple times on your page even when it seems redundant and unnecessary.  Another example is using a keyword multiple times on the page in a color that makes the words not visible to the reader but visible to the search engines. There are probably other tricks but in the end they are all spam. DON’T USE THEM!

Conclusion

What I have written here is just a primer. It is not meant to be exhaustive. Before implementing any of these techniques, I recommend reading a few (not a hundred) more articles on best practices for each. In my reading, I have found Rand Fishkin’s MOZ , Search Engine Journal and Google’s own self-starter guide to be quite helpful.

The good news though is that if you follow these rules you’ll be able to achieve your SEO goals without needing to hire a dedicated SEO specialist.

Between the Conception and Reality: Real-time Marketing

Every website is an educational vehicle that strives to educate us, as users, on how the site should be used.  The site provides us with symbols and colors that indicate certain actions we should take. Colored text on a website often indicates hypertext we should click on. Cog-like symbols indicate drop down menus that we should explore. At this point in the web’s history, we don’t even stop to question this language but instead accept it as the language of the website. Inevitably, these symbols and colors encourage a particular typical traffic flow for the site. Look at the Visitor Flow (under Audience) menu on Google Analytics and you can view how the language of your website ushers traffic across your site.

Site traffic flow in a perfect world
In a perfect world, the path we take and the path web designers would like for us to take would have a high correlation.  Unfortunately, this is often not the case. Often the pages that are key conversion points or landing pages on the site are buried under four pages of product promotion. In this case, the likelihood of us seeing these pages becomes quite small. The page or pages that a company wants us to see might never be seen.

Site traffic flow in the real world
The diagram below provides a graphical explanation of how website traffic flows. This can be at odds with how designers want the traffic to flow.

So, the path customers take across your site is not the path you want them to take. But is it only because the relevant pages are buried? Do we only fail to convert because we don’t know how to get to the correct page? There are clearly other explanations. The answer could be that we left the site because it didn’t provide the answers we were looking for. It could be that the wrong signals, colors and symbols were provided to us and thus, we were sent down the incorrect path.  The problem could be that the site was too static and didn’t provide sufficiently interesting content to keep us reading. Unless a site grabs our attention in the first few minutes, we are likely to abandon it.

Real-time marketing: bringing the ideal and the real closer
In essence, websites must reflect a relevant and compelling point of view from the get-go in order to ensure that we users stay on site and interact with it.  An attractive and well designed site goes part of the way towards achieving this goal. The other and more technical solution though is found through interacting with the customer while they are online at your site. Rather than leaving them to take the actions that they see fit, the marketing and web teams need to consider the messages they are providing to users in real time in order to drive them to take the desired action. This task is achieved through real-time marketing .

While the definition of real-time marketing has gone through iterations over the past decade, real-time marketer Evergage notes that it has come to “define a process of marketing to your audience in real-time with dynamically personalized content and offers.” So imagine that you can interact with your site user by providing real-time response, personalized content and messages based on behavior, and interaction across the sales funnel.  With these dynamic interactions, your customers are driven to the pages you want them to see.  Customers take the actions you want them to take, whether that is filling out forms, reviewing blogs or commenting on new content. Viewing content is no longer left to luck.

Why real-time is the total customer solution
The case for real-time marketing also engages with a fundamental understanding of how customers want to be treated by your site. Customers don’t often want to be treated as anonymous visitors. If they have engaged with your site in the past through blogs or short forms, their eyeballs should be rewarded. In this instance, eyeballs want to receive the customer loyalty that is often given to frequent customers at any brick and mortar establishment.  Real-time marketing allows marketers to talk to customers and offer them a reason to stay on-site either through , for example, coupons or through express service.

Furthermore, digital media is in large part based on the concept of creating relationships on the web. Marketers also attempt to achieve this goal through social media channels. Marketers engage in social media so that they can create relationships that will in turn create loyal and engaged customers. Clearly, websites cannot be immune. If marketers don’t want customers to churn through their site and leave then they must engage in real-time marketing solutions.

To quote Evergage, “compelling engagement happens when you take into account the full picture of who someone is …. That is real-time marketing.” And that message is one we need to better teach web designers and marketers.

Is it Guest Spamming or Guest Blogging?

In January of this year, Google engineer Matt Cutts wrote an article on his blog entitled The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO in which he argued that guest blogging had become a spammy, uneffective way for blog sites to get links. Cutts’ response is based on requests like the one he cites in his blog as well as numerous questions I assume he has received on the matter.  Cutts concludes that “guest blogging” [is] really “paying for PageRank”.  Yet many of us have certainly read well informed guest articles on blogs at Business Insider or Harvard Business Review . Clearly, the educated voices on these publications are not spam. These voices are authoritative and provide us with a reason to return to the publications because we know we will hear a myriad of interesting and well considered opinions.  In short, voices like the ones we find on authoritative blogs are adding to the conversation and providing the reader with further insight. However, given my recent consulting experiences, I cannot help but feel that Cutts’ remarks might not be too far of the mark.

But Google can’t algorithmically differentiate between guest blogs and other kinds of articles. They can differentiate however between good links and bad links. Bad links come from spammy bloggers. Good links come from quality bloggers.  So, let’s ask a basic question: what is the purpose of blogging and what is the purpose of guest blogging?

1) Create authority: Blogging allows you to build your brand in an authoritative way by authoring content on what you know best

2) Provide relevant content: A good blog provides information to your readers and followers that answers their questions about your brand as well as actionable data that they can take away. Guest bloggers can provide in-depth expertise on their topic

3) Increase PageRank: Show up higher on Google search

4) Improve SEO: You include relevant key words in your content and promote it through social media, podcasts and other pages on your site.

5) Community building: You are able to build a following of people who are interested in your brand and the content you are pushing out. Guest bloggers can bring their community to the brand as well

These points were nicely summarized by Everett Sizemore of who wrote in an article , “Our goal these days is to find the influencers in any niche and pay an expert to write expert-level content, no matter where it gets placed, to help further our clients business goals, primarily through online customer acquisition driven by good content.”

The problem though is that in a race to push out content, quality gets sacrificed and quantity becomes king. At one consulting engagement I found the head of marketing was eager to have filler on the blog although the company didn’t have relevant blog content ready. This was not actually that surprising, since blogging took a back seat compared to other social media content.  Moreover, what passed for relevant and important content was not quality content.  Here is one post on Facebook by a guest blogger used at this company who was trying to use social media to promote her blog on the company’s site:

Grammatical problems aside, I am not sure a company should want this level of sloppiness and its minions. Are these really the people who will spend money for the company’s products? Probably not.

Thinking this equation through a bit further, it is important to note that while high-profile individuals might attract readers, these are not really the people you care to have attracted to your brand. I am trying to argue that content and relevance should be the key arbiters of whether a guest blogger’s content gets posted – not their looks, money or title.

So, here are the questions I beg any marketing decision maker to ask themselves before bringing on a guest blogger:

1) Relevant point of view: Does this guest blogger have one? Does the guest blogger provide content the couldn’t easily be created in house?

2) Sales funnel: Are the followers of the guest blogger potential buyers of our product? By reading the blog, will this audience convert from top-of-funnel to middle-of-funnel

3) Affinity: Does the writing of this guest encourage brand loyalty and will readers come back to see other parts of the website

If the guest blogger does not prove a resounding yes to all three points, then get rid of the writer. As noted in a recent blog post on Forbes , “Google’s algorithm … doesn’t mean you should stop [guest]posting altogether. It means that you need to put effort into posting content that’s valuable in publications that reach the right audience. ” To that, I say ‘Amen’.

I had the opportunity to talk to HubSpot CEO Darmesh Shah at Boston’s WebInno a few weeks ago and put him on the spot by asking which tool in the social media universe provides the biggest bang for the buck, or more bounce for the ounce as they said in the 1950s. Darmesh didn’t even pause for a second before he gave me his one word answer: “blogging”.

Indeed, blogging is huge. Darmesh noted (and I am paraphrasing here) that blogging is the basis for all other activity which a business does on the web. But is that it? Just because you know which is the most powerful weapon in the king’s arsenal, doesn’t mean that the other tools don’t work. Right? Clearly we don’t want to (nor should we) all run en masse and shut down our other social media accounts. Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube et al are out there and clearly people use them. And in fact, many of the correct rules and etiquette of posting to these other social media sites are ditto for blogging. So, if you know how to write good blogs then you have a good set of instructions for how to write good content for other social media. But the main question still lingers of how do you, as a social media strategist, evaluate where you should put your time? If, as Nielsen estimated in 2011, social media reached 80 percent of US internet users, then you have to be part of the social media ethos. But which social media do you dive into?

Matt McGee writes in his well considered blog Small Business Search Marketing that, “[t]here are a ton of choices when it comes to using social media; what matters most is that find your customers on social media and interact with them where they are ”. So, while everyone and their dog has a Facebook account and it’s a pretty good bet that you should have one of those, what do you do after you have your account set up? How do you know what social media your customers are using? Well, simply put, you just need to ask ‘em. Make it a point that every time a customer walks into the store to tell them about your Facebook page. Then, have a conversation with your customers and ask them what other types of media they are plugged into. If they are the blog reading type, then you ought to start blogging. If they are the Twitter types, then start Tweeting. If they are the strictly email type, then stick to email. The point is that there is not one answer to the question of what type of social media to use.  Yes, you can use website analytics later, but you have a real easy way to start if you just begin talking to your customers.

So, if you are a career coach then you need blogging to provide your audience with information on how to better approach a job search. If you are selling wine then Tweets might be perfect for letting your audience know about new wines you are tasting or that are arriving at the store. If you are selling fashion then Pinterest and Facebook are perfect for posting new items and starting a conversation regarding customers’ reactions to the items. Clearly, each of these mediums is awesome for the particular audience at hand. Blogging is useful in some instances, but not in all. There is still a conversation that you want to have with your customers in between blogs and these other social media outlets are perfect forums for that conversation.

Well, if all social media can be equally effective in given circumstances then why are some social media campaigns just plain lousy? Unlike Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina , unhappy (read, unsuccessful) campaigns are not failed for their own unique reasons. The reason why Facebook pages or Twitter tweets or Pinterest posts become ineffective is the same reason why blogs become ineffective . According to a report done by Exact Target, the reason why customers disengaged from companies they had originally followed was largely because the company posted to its Facebook page too frequently or because its wall (or Tweet stream) was becoming too crowded, or (and this is really huge ) the content became repetitive or boring. Let me rewrite that phrase and put it in red just in case you misread it the first time: the content became repetitive or boring.

Now clearly this doesn’t explain all the reasons for why people got annoyed with social media streams. Yes, there were other answers to why people left. And, no matter how hard you try, you won’t get everyone to love you. But the frequency of the response about repetitive content becoming an annoyance should be a real loud call to your social media ears. The clear cardinal rule is no matter where you put your company’s digital footprint, don’t be boring. In case you were wondering how to not be boring, here are some rules to follow:

(1)   Don’t just use your Twitter account to reference your blog articles. Keep it fresh by using lots of cool content and interacting with other users

(2)   Use Facebook as a place to start a conversation. Don’t just post a comment referencing your blog. Post content that invites commentary. Photos, according to Web Liquid (a digital marketing company) are the most effective form of interaction. Photos trounced links when it came to customer engagement

(3)   Read a new book that has come out on a relevant topic in your field and write your reaction to the book in a blog post, using your own unique spin

(4)   Pinterest is still a relatively new tool but the message here is the same as with these other media tools. Provide unique content that will start a conversation.

So, with that little lesson in hand, I urge you to go out and be original. Life is too short to be boring. Go paint your (internet) town red.