by Alan LaFrance ( @Texas_Marketing on Twitter – Follow Me )
There’s been a lot of talk lately about how link building is about developing relationships more than anything else. As a webmaster, I’m really excited to see this revelation finally make commonality in the SEO community, but as an SEO, I can’t believe it took this long for it to finally ‘click.’ We’ve all read the “How-To … ” ad nauseum, but here’s the perspective I had on link builders before I got involved in SEO.
Several years ago I had no real concept of the benefits of link building. I knew that links gave a pathway for people to visit your website, and that was about it. I viewed them as a more intimate partnership with another website where we could link like-minded visitors to our websites. It was somewhat of an investment to seek a link out, and likewise we would both seek intrinsic value in taking the 30 seconds to alter a page with the link. Knowing this, imagine my reaction when I would receive emails like this:
Don’t be this Guy.
I’d like to offer you the opportunity to dramatically increase traffic to both of our sites. Please add us to your link page and we will return the favor! This benefits us both greatly and is easy to do!
I immediately tossed this email into the trash. Not only that, but it damaged any potential of ever developing a link to my website. This is a website that ranks 1st for numerous terms, does over 2 million visits a year, and has significant link value. Here’s more of an analysis that went through my mind when I read this:
1)Spam – This is a “cold” email that was completely unsolicited. While I’m very entrepreneurial and open to cold emails I still felt very guarded before I even opened the email. This is not a good position to be in if you are “selling” something.
2) Unknown Identity – I don’t recognize the brand, person, nor the subject matter the site is about. This puts the credibility of this solicitation somewhere around Nigerian money launderers.
3) Hard Sell – I’m barely registering on the sales spectrum but this guy is already going for the kill. This is akin to showing up to the bar and asking the first beautiful girl you find to marry you. While I’m most certainly not a beautiful woman, I can assure you the results are equally abysmal.
4) No Match – My website is about firearms ownership in Texas, not about rodeo clown apparel, or even rodeos for that matter.
1)Be Authentic – Spend time making your contact as personal and inviting as possible. Webmasters invest LARGE amounts of time, money, and effort developing their sites and we all like to be acknowledged with some degree of respect.
2) Be Truthful – Guy Kawasaki speaks well to this effect in his book on enchantment, but be upfront about your motives and explain the benefits to each party in depth.
3) Replace the Sell – You aren’t selling door to door and a link in the hand counts for far more than two in the bush, or is that birds? Regardless, engage and develop relationships with webmasters before you push for a link. Chat us up on twitter or facebook, help us promote our site(s), buy us lunch, give us a quick SEO guide, something. There has to be something in it for us, and that item has to have value to the webmaster that we can see. Not everyone is up to speed on SEO best practices, so we may view links in a completely different manner than you.
4) Find Commonality – As an SEO you should know this by now, but in case you missed the last year of Google updates here it is again. Obtain links from contextually similar websites. It looks more natural, is more natural, and is considerably easier to achieve.
An yes, the above does work. I had a fellow webmaster in the Austin area take me out to lunch so we could discuss ways to improve both of our websites. The result? He spent a whopping $15 and got a link on my homepage that has sent thousands of like-minded searchers to his site on top of all the link value you could shake a stick at (well … a medium sized stick at least, I’m not Amazon! LOL)
by Alan LaFrance ( @Texas_Marketing on Twitter – Follow Me )
When it comes to optimizing on-page items and explaining the benefits and usage of those items to clients I often refer to literature. Web pages are simply interactive pages of a book, and how you utilize individual elements has similar implications in the digital and written world. Here is how I outline the elements of the page.
Meta Title – The title of a webpage is just like the title of a book. It sets expectations of what is going to be found within. Simply putting “Bob Schneider” as your title is great if you are a guru of epic proportions, but for the rest of us mere mortals it’s best to explain the contents of our site. “Bob Schneider | Self Help Guru and Rodeo Clown” is a much more descriptive title and gives reasonable expectations to the searcher. It also helps to highlight your product, in this case Bob is not only a guru, but a rodeo clown. Bob lives an interesting life.
Meta Description – The description is the the short text you find on the inside of the cover or on the back of the book (blurb). It is a short segment of time that allows you to entice the searcher to click on your SERP. Here’s three examples, think about which one you’d be most enchanted by:
#1 – “About Us | Rodeos | Pictures | Contact Us” (The “I forgot to put in a description” description)
#2 – “Bob Schneider | Self Help Guru and Rodeo Clown” (The “I let my CMS decide which description to use” description)
#3 – “Bob Schneider is a world renown self-help guru and moonlights as No Bull Bob, a rodeo clown in the Houston, TX area.” (Mucho bettero)
H1 Headings (and Heading in General) – H1 headings are essentially your chapter and sub-chapter titles. They give hierarchical structure to your content and make it easy for the searcher to locate specific information. It’s often a mistake to “overoptimize” an H1 and mislead the user with zealous SEO usage. Here’s an example: “Rodeo Clown Houston, TX & Self-Help Houston, TX” … it’s completely misleading, destroys trust, and ruins the user experience, but hey! I’ll rank 6th instead of 7th right? SEO is about getting rankings, yes, but it’s more about aligning your content assets to the correct user. The headings should first be written to the page and with the user experience in mind. If you can wrangle in a keyword then great, but it’s better to optimize for the 1000 people that are reaching your site now than to mislead another 100 – 200 visitors you might gain.
Backlinks – These are like favorable book reviews. If you are surfing Amazon and come across four books, all of which seem equally viable for learning to become a rodeo clown, then which would you choose?
Book #1 has 1 favorable rating (5 stars)
Book #2 has 120 favorable ratings, but none of them seem to be written in proper English (4.8 stars)
Book #3 has 1000 favorable ratings (4.2 stars)
Book #4 has 700 favorable ratings but 4200 negative or neutral ratings (2.9 stars)
Google essentially is a tool that has a complete index of books and seeks to choose for you the best match for you. This is the goal of their algorithm and this is why backlinks are so vital to an SEO campaign. Google looks at the quantity and quality of backlinks much in the same manner as you did in choosing a book out of the list. A high number of favorable reviews with a high rating is a great sign that you’ll be satisfied with your purchase. Conversely, negative or neutral reviews, low numbers of total reviews, spam, and other signs often work to reduce your trust in the product being able to satiate your requirements.
Body Copy – This is rather obvious, but body copy is like the content of a book. Just like a book, people want to read fascinating, informative, and unique content. It needs to be sufficient in depth and length to completely cover those requirements. There’s no hard rule here, only that you must be able to complete your goals and continue to enchant the reader / searcher along the way so that they continue to read along.
Canonicalization & Robots – For most websites this is done via .htaccess and/or robots.txt. These rules act to limit the content that gets seen and how it’s interpreted much in the same way that an editor will omit or include notes in a literary work. Having irrelevant or extremely low value pages in your book distracts from your messaging much in the same way as having a ton of low value pages in your sitemap index reduces the emphasis Google places on your high value pages. Furthermore, including duplicate pages is not worthwhile either and canonicalization seeks to fix this, at least from Google’s eyes.
Sitemaps – The sitemap is the same as the index. In fact, home pages used to commonly be referred to as index.html … an homage of sorts to the past. An author does no benefit by listing irrelevant pages in the index, instead the author will list the pages of the book in a well organized and structured list so that readers can quickly find the high value information. Bear in mind the value and relevancy of your pages when you are creating your sitemap. Ensure you are properly attributing value and refresh cycle data to the pages as well.
Ergo, modern SEO practices are really a digital extension of literary practices extending thousands of years into the past. We’re essentially librarians … just with a cooler office and a better title.
Search engine optimization, SEO for short, requires a lot of end-to-end strategy these days. You have canonicalization, content generation, keywords, link building, and the list gets longer and longer as Google’s algorithm continues to develop. There are a number of problems that come up in a SEO campaign, but here’s 5 common SEO mistakes.
Big Eyes Strategy – You’ve built your campaign on big money, high search volume terms that are highly competitive. You’re 6 months into your campaign and you can’t seem to rank past the 2nd page of results for any of them.
How to Fix It – Sun Tzu says to strike where the enemy has made no preparations. The same virtue remains the same for SEO strategies. Don’t overlook lower competition terms that match your campaign emphasis. Create optimized pages for pain points, solve problems, go local, expand into long tail keywords, and gain small victories. Getting 100 visits here and there really adds up. You’ll get social engagement, sales (budget), and link building opportunities that you currently are missing.
One Page, 50 Keywords – Does your title tag resemble this? “Austin Wedding Cake | Austin Bakery | Bakery in Austin | Wedding Cakes in Austin | … ” A very common SEO problem is simply trying to make a single page rank for more than a handful of keywords.
How to Fix It – If there’s sufficient search volume to be had, split the page. Make the above title into two pages: “Austin Wedding Cakes | Bob’s Bakery” and “Bob’s Austin Bakery.” Otherwise, be creative. Put the best term first, but make sure you are thinking beyond the keywords. Would you be more likely to click on “Austin Wedding Cake | Austin Bakery | etc … ” or would you feel better choosing “Bob’s Bakery | Wedding Cake Specialists”?
Old Link Building Strategy – Link farms, paid linking, and other old forms of link building offer very little and open the door to site wide penalties. Older SEO strategies benefited from these
How to Fix It – Build only the highest quality and authoritative links possible. Google not only wants to see high value and natural linking, but they’ve released a series of updates over the past year to enforce their policy. These updates, dubbed Penguin and Panda, sought to instill greater emphasis on quality websites and punish those with poor usability and unnatural link building. If you suspect you’ve been punished by one of these updates the recently released disavow links tool from Google should be of some benefit.
Duplicate Content – This is a commonly overlooked or mismanaged part of SEO strategies. Canonicalization involves multiple levels of files and duplicate content can be easily created by many CMS systems. Duplicate content confuses Google and they aren’t sure which version to append value to as the original. Link building and social engagement is further hampered by having two URLs.
How to Fix It – You can use rel=canonical tagging to tell Google which version is the original, but you should look into the settings of your CMS and work to eliminate duplicate content at the source. Check archive settings and optimize the hierarchy to suit this purpose. Check your .htaccess to ensure you are properly redirecting www. vs. non-www. traffic to a single version. Make sure your website’s IP address also resolves to your chosen version as well.
Forgetting your Audience – Make sure you mention your keyword x numbers of times, make sure it’s in your title, make sure it’s in your H1, make sure you do this and you do that. SEOs often forget to remember that we aren’t just working to please the robots. We need to remember the searcher.
How to Fix It – Step outside the SEO tunnel and become an eloquent word smith. Your title tag, meta description, headings, and content should all be well written and legible. Nothing distracts and discredits more than poorly written and unorthadox elements on the page. Great and catchy titles improve click thru, set good expectations, and add value to your SERP.
While it was once a powerful indicator for how highly a webpage would appear in a Google search results page, Google Toolbar’s PageRank (PR) has become somewhat of a relic in the SEO world. Ten years ago, an SEO who found the green bar to be empty, showing a PR of 0 for their site, might be devastated. Today, a PR of 0 can be waved off as Google neglecting to update its PageRank tool.
So what changed? To answer this question, we should first know how PR is determined. While there are a number of factors, not all of which Google has made public information, a major factor is the quantity of inbound links to the given page. A page with high PR would give more value when linking than one with a low PR would. In the days of keyword stuffing and shady link schemes, the measure of the quantity of links could easily be taken advantage of by purchasing or automating a large number of links.
In 2003, the Florida update began to set a precedent for penalizing spammy content and rewarding quality content. This meant that it became harder to get a large number of links (legitimate or otherwise), and consequently PageRank started to matter less. This isn’t to say that it didn’t matter in terms of ranking high in Google’s SERPs, but because it was becoming more difficult to manipulate, SEO’s began to focus on it less. Alongside this, Google started to update the PR less often, causing numbers to not necessarily be current or accurate.
What seemed to be the final nail in the PR coffin was a statement from a Google employee, claiming that due to a number of hacking attempts on the PageRank data, “the PageRank that is displayed in Google toolbar is for entertainment purposes only,” and “on average, the PR that is displayed in the Google toolbar is several months old.” This means that relatively new pages that have a decent PR could show a PR of 0 for months.
Does this mean that PageRank is now a completely useless tool that should be ignored altogether? Many SEOs think so, and would prefer PR to be removed from the toolbar, so as not to misrepresent the value of a page to those unaware of PageRank’s history. Although PR numbers are potentially misleading, they need not be ignored completely. The statement made by the Google employee did not say that PR is obsolete. In fact, the statement explains that the ranks are still updated occasionally. It should also be noted that this not an official stance from Google, but simply one Google employee’s response to a question on a forum regarding PageRank. Since the “entertainment purposes only” comment surfaced, it seems to have been widely treated as an official statement from Google, but in reality, it is likely that Google still uses PageRank as a variable of at least some significance in its SERP algorithm.
So should we take PageRank into account or not? The answer probably depends on what you’re using it for and whether or not you’re supplementing it. If you’re using it as a number for a weekly report, you’re asking for trouble. If you’re using other tools like MozRank and trying to get a feel for how your page is doing, a comparison between PR and the numbers you’re getting from other tools could give you some extra insight into what’s going right and what’s going wrong with a given page.
Today is the 9th annual Innotech Austin Conference & Expo and Apogee’s own Bill Leake and Alan LaFrance had a session on how to embrace and utilize video in order to help marketing efforts, “Video Killed The Radio Star (But Not Your Marketing)”. Here is a recap.
The presentation began with a few impressive statistics as to why it’s a good idea to invest in video marketing:
People that watch a product video are 60 – 85% more likely to buy (IR et al)
Over 800 Million unique users visit YouTube monthly (YouTube)
Over 1 trillion video views in 2011 (YouTube)
Video improved add-to-cart by 144% for a Retailer (Internet Retailer)
Videos are the fastest growing ad format in 2012 with 55% growth (eMarketer)
Next Alan talked about how to make an effective video and the example he used was the popular Blendtec YouTube series “Will it Blend?” Here are the main points of the segment:
Research and identify a topic and purpose – when you’re thinking of video content, do your research. Go into making your video with a relevant topic and purpose.
Plan out the video content – have a plan before you start video production. Create a storyboard/wireframe of your idea to effectively execute your video.
Use quality equipment – don’t use subpar equipment (i.e. Smartphone camera) to produce a video. Even on YouTube, people don’t want to see low quality videos.
Spend equal time publicizing as you do producing – don’t just spend all your time and money producing a video and no effort with promotion. With no promotion no one will be aware of your video and in turn you wont get results.
Listen – listen to what your viewers are saying about your video. Read the comments, you might be surprised by the insights you can gather. There might be information there that can help you better cater to your audience with your next video. People will tell you what they want to see and what they’re interested in.
Don’t be afraid to destroy stuff – don’t be afraid to take a risk.
Following these points we saw a great example of a company using video to successfully sale a product, Stacks & Stacks dog door. They might not have the cleanest website but they’ve implemented videos that show just how easy it is to install a pet screen doggie door, sizes available, and many other product insights. According to Internet Retailer, Stacks & Stacks improved their “Add-to-Cart” metric by 144% with this video alone.
Bill presented the next portion of the presentation and he quickly touched on 4 main points:
How are online videos online found?
The importance of YouTube
Posted vs. Hosted
As far as how users discover videos online, there were some interesting statistics presented:
44% – discover videos randomly
43% – discover videos via sharing
43% – discover videos via video websites
39% – discover videos via search engines
27% – discover videos via marketing email
4% – discover videos via RSS & MRSS feeds
Since the launch of blended search, videos are becoming more prevalent in Google’s universal search,”58% of users who search Google were served video in universal search engine results pages”.
So you know the benefits of developing videos for marketing and where people discover them, but what are the placement options? - Well when thinking about videos, you have 2 basic options. You can post or host the video. Posting means that the video content is uploaded to video sharing sites, social media, etc. Hosting means that the video content is on your website.
The benefits of posted video SEO:
Existing Traffic – existing video website have a critical mass of traffic and users, which makes it easier to go viral
There is a better ability to rank on universal search (Google) and other search engines
Potential to dominate the traditional SERPs with “carpet bombing” by submitting to multiple video sites, which is due to weak duplicate content filtering at present
You don’t need your own website
There are also some benefits to hosted video SEO:
Control – you have control over related on-page text, encoded metadata, user experience, etc.
You have control over monetization/advertising
Generate traffic to your website
Note: While you can currently dominate the SERPs with “carpet bombing” with posted strategies, this may go away with duplicate content filtering in the future.
Following this, we looked at the power of YouTube and how much it’s grown in the past year with some interesting stats:
YouTube is the 2nd largest search engine
Third most visited website (800 million uniques, only 50 million less than Facebook)
60 hours of video is uploaded EVERY minute (was 48 hours in 2011 and 20 hours in 2009)
Over 4 BILLION videos are viewed each day (was 3 billion in 2011)
One of the best takeaways from the presentation was how to increase your chances to rank your videos / properly optimize them for SEO:
The amazing people at PPC Hero researched and compiled a list of the 25 most influential PPC experts in the digital marketing industry today. Congratulations to all the people that made the list!! Check out the infographic below:
Let’s face it … we’re all busy people and we greatly value our time. No one wants to wait for a page to load, especially in the day of broadband connections and instant information on demand. We as a society have become addicted to instant information, and as a website developer, marketing manager, or blogger you need to have all the advantage you can to give your audience that fix. Here’s some tips on improving site speed for search engine optimization (SEO) and user experience (UX).
1) Reduce the size of imagery.
Usually the largest file elements on the page are media based. These include pictures, videos, and other dynamic elements. Load your most common icons into Photoshop, GIMP, or another suitable editing program and alter the file types and quality settings. Generally 70% quality presents the best image quality for .JPG or .PNG images. GIF files are pretty highly optimized if they are fixed, but one should keep the number of frames down to a minimum to shrink file sizing for animated GIF files. Choosing the right type of file type is also vital. Large 24-bit .PNG files can be massive compared to an optimized .JPG image without a degradation in quality for usage on a web page.
Here’s our logo, originally a 204Kb file reduced to just 5.2Kb with some file optimization. That’s a savings of 97% with no major loss in quality and without reducing the pixel dimensions.
2) Optimize common images into a sprite file.
Sprites will do a number of things, they will reduce the amount of file sizing allocated to images and they will reduce the amount of server requests. By reducing the number of server requests you’ll gain not only a browser side benefit in speed, but a server side reduction in load which will speed up serve times.
3) Specify cache control headers to manage how visitors store your website.
By elongating the cache times for certain file types you can significantly reduce the load times for users that return to your site or travel to deeper pages. Delve into your analytics and see how frequent users return to your site. Ensure you are matching that frequency with your cookies and cache control.
4) Avoid bloated CMS systems and needless widgets.
All those bells and whistles on a website take processing power and bandwidth to utilize. Make sure they are really worthwhile to the page and do away with needless items. In fact, most of the widgets require the browser to send requests to 3rd party websites in order to operate, this greatly increases page load speed which reduces sales inertia and user experience.
There are many, many other methods involved in optimizing a page for speed, but this will get you off to a good head start. If you’d like to track your benefits and progress then I recommend the following tools:
Pingdom – Great free page load speed tool that shows a wide array of data including the request(s) and timelines.
YSlow – Yahoo’s tool is a great browser add-on to track changes and response for page load speed. It also gives some great insights on optimizing pages.
Online Marketing Fail #32: Failing to Properly Optimize Social Media
We’ve all seen epic social media fails (and wins). From employees accidentally posting to a corporate Twitter account rather than their personal account, to companies not having a social media presence at all, social media is rife with fails of all kinds. As bad as accidental posts can be, the biggest fail of of all is not properly optimizing your social media presence. Take a look at our latest white paper, and learn what you can do to avoid making the biggest social media fail of all.
Online marketing is littered with fails; from the small business that fails to claim their Google+ Places page to the Enterprise level B2B that thinks social media isn’t worth the time, it’s easy to fail at social media marketing. Optimizing social media goes far beyond keyword research, search engine optimization and backlinks–rather, it encompasses all of those things and more. Join us for a lively webinar discussing common social media fails–and how you can avoid common social media optimization fails.
If you’re an ecomm marketer, odds are you’ve been thinking about this year’s holiday marketing campaigns for months. You probably have everything lined up and ready to go–or pretty darned close to it. You know what you’re going to put on sale when, what your sales goals are, and what this year’s Hot Must-Have Item will be. You’ve got this. But just in case you’re looking for some last minute things you can do to help your holiday marketing campaigns, we’re here to help.
1. Tidy up your social media presence. Does your Facebook Timeline cover photo represent your holiday campaign(s)? Do you have several different photos ready to go to correspond with various sales and campaigns? Also, don’t forget to take a look at the newly introduced Facebook Gifts feature–Christmas IS a gift-giving holiday, afterall. Do you have an active and attractive Pinterest presence? Look into ways to drive sales via Pinterest, such as Pin It to Win It contests, pinning coupons, exclusive sale items and more. If you’re a clothing, shoe or accessory retailer,make sure you have a presence on Polyvore, too.
2. Have a contest. Sure, holiday marketing campaigns are all about driving sales, but as many a good marketer knows, having a contest can also help drive sales. Why not combine a contest with your holiday marketing? Country Outfitter recently ran a great Facebook contest, where fans of their Facebook page voted on their favorite pair of cowgirl boots. The five pairs receiving the most votes where then voted on by Country Outfitter’s staff and Facebook fans, until a winner was decided. One fan–who had also liked and shared the winning pair of cowgirl boots–one that pair of boots. Everyone who participated received a coupon for $10 off a purchase of $50 or more. I have no idea how many sales were generated as a result of the contest, but my guess is that getting people on their website that many times, browsing through their boot selection and “liking” their favorites and then offering a $10 off coupon just for entering probably resulted in a decent amount of sales they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.
3. Use non-branded keywords for paid media efforts. By now, you should probably already have a good idea as to what kinds of paid media ads you’ll run during the holidays. You know what the must-have items are, you know what you’re trying to move the most of, and you also expect a decent amount of branded search. Be sure to think outside of the box, though. If you’re a website that sells exquisite, handmade soap for women, think about going after keywords such as “women’s gifts” and “handmade gifts” rather than just targeting “soap.”
4. Make sure your email list is good and scrubbed. Nothing is more frustrating than sending out a fantastic email and getting a super high bounce rate. Unfortunately, scrubbing our email lists is a necessary evil; yes, it’s boring, but it must be done. Making sure your email list is scrubbed and properly segmented, though, can save you lots of headaches during a very busy, stressful holiday season.
5. Make sure your company accepts mobile coupons. Whether they’re through Passbook or simply by someone pulling up their email on their smartphone, make sure your company accepts mobile coupons. Budget-conscious shoppers won’t leave home without their coupons, but being able to virtually carry them with you makes life so much easier. Anecdotally, I know I’m more likely to spend money somewhere–sometimes spontaneously–if I have a decent coupon in my inbox that I know can be used at the cash register. I’m a budget-conscious shopper (and honestly never buy anything full price), so having that ability makes me much more likely to spend when I otherwise wouldn’t have. My guess is that I’m not the only woman in the world like that. *g*
6. Check out competitors’ social media profiles. What are your primary competitors doing? Are they having contests, offering coupons? With a still-flagging economy, shoppers are still holding on to their hard-earned dollars, making your job as a marketer just a little more difficult. Knowing what your competition is doing and one-upping them could give you the edge during an ultra-competitive holiday shopping season.
7. Make sure customers know how to connect with you. Make it easy. In the past week I’ve gone to several websites of various clothing retailers, and they only have links to their Facebook and Twitter accounts. However, when I went to their Facebook page, I noticed they were encouraging fans to connect with them on Pinterest. I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with this–just give me one page I can click from, and I’m happy. Besides, odds are, if I’m following you on Facebook and Pinterest, I’m going to buy something from you at some point in the future. Why not make it as easy for people as possible to find you, connect with you and learn about your products? It just makes sense.
What steps have you taken to prepare your holiday marketing campaigns?