David Leonhardt’s SEO and Social Media Marketing

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Could your Twitter buddy be a bot?

Aug 08, 2014 - filed under social media No Comments
 

Bots are making their presence felt on social media. But can you tell a bot from a real person?

Anyone who’s been playing the social media game for a while should know that not all of their followers bleed when they are cut. In fact, many followers don’t even exist – they are just bits and bytes.

Bots.

“Bot” is short for robot, in much the same way “shroom” is short for mushroom. A bot on a social network is no more than a virtual presence created by a set of automated instructions.

The bots are following you.

And, more than likely, you are following some of them, too.

Does any of this matter to you? Some people really don’t care. The more the merrier, whether human or otherwise. Others care a great deal, sometimes being quite consumed over whether a follower is a real person or not.

I am in between. I don’t really care who follows me, but I am a little pickier about whom I follow.

So it was with interest that I read an MIT story about the bot named lajello, who (Can I say “who”, or should I say “that”?) became the second most popular “person” on the Italian social network aNobii. A quick glance at the “Italian” social network, which is all in English, makes me wonder if the whole community is made up of bots, but that is not the point of our investigation today.

Today’s investigation is how to tell if you are following a bot, or more to the point, how to recognize a bot or fake account on a social network like Twitter before accidentally following it.

Could your Twitter buddy be a bot?
Check out their smile

The most obvious way to quickly do triage between bots and real people is to check out their smile.  If they are smiling, there is a good chance they are real.  If they are frowning, they are likely real, too, although they might just be real trouble.

But if they are not smiling because they have no head, that’s another matter.  Real people don’t walk around without heads.  If you see a generic icon for an avatar, chances are the account is a fake.

What if you see a company logo for an icon?  Real, although it might not be just one person, but rather a team of company staff – sort of like a virtual group hug for profit.

What if the avatar is something else, such as an animal or a famous character?  Could still be real.  Or it could be fake.  Best to check out other factors, which you should do anyway, because there are fake accounts with real faces (ah, the wonders of modern virtual face surgery!).

Check out their elevator speech

Every account has an elevator speech – a short summary of who they are or what they do.  If that little snippet includes a link to a blog or company website, they are probably real.  If there is something meaningful written, it is probably real.

If the snippet tries to sell you Twitter followers or FaceBook likes, who cares if it’s real?  You don’t want to follow an account selling fake followers, even if the account itself is real.  You could end up being a bot by association.

If the snippet is just a quote or a pithy saying that looks like it took no effort to create, that is another clue that the account might be fake.  If the snippet is left blank, there is an even greater chance that it is fake. The again, some people don’t have much imagination and just leave it blank.

Do a quality assurance check

Check the tweets of the account.  If they are all ads or all promotional or all meaningless or all just don’t feel right in some way or another, don’t follow them.  Many accounts will have some meaningless tweets; most people post some drivel. Many will have sponsored tweets, because they get some money for that.  Many will pitch products and services.  All of that is fine.  But if that is all they do…well, it’s up to you to decide whom you wish to follow.

Check out whom the account is following.  If the “person” is following all real-looking accounts, then it is probably a real person.  But if the account is following a fair number of fake accounts, you might want to stay away from them.  Bots follow bots, and you probably don’t want to tag along at the end of a bot konga line.

Check out who is following them.  This is less accurate, since even a good account can be followed by lots of bots.  But it can give you one more signal as to the quality of the account.

Follow me on Twitter.  I’m not a bot!

Ultimately, there is no way to be 100 percent certain that an account is real, unless you came to the account from someone’s blog post, from their email or from some other place where you know they are real.

And all these guidelines still might erringly identify your next door neighbor, who hasn’t added a pic or a blurb to his profile, as a bot.

Don’t feel bad if you discover that one of your online buddies really is a bot.  As the MIT story says:

It is not hard to see the significance of this work. Social bots are a fact of life on almost every social network and many have become so sophisticated they are hard to distinguish from humans. If the simplest of bots created by Aiello and co can have this kind of impact, it is anybody’s guess how more advanced bots could influence everything from movie reviews and Wikipedia entries to stock prices and presidential elections.

 


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What if email isn’t dead?

Jun 24, 2014 - filed under email 12 Comments
 

Mark Twain is famous for saying “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”  The same could be said for email marketing, and here is why…

It’s a refrain you might have heard a lot of recently (actually, going back at least to 2009): “Email is dead”.  After all, the evidence is all around us:

  • Today’s youth are texting instead of emailing.
  • People message each other on FaceBook
  • Students want to tweet their professors.
  • People “chat” through Skype and iMessage and other chat tools.

Obviously, email is in decline, right?

But wait.  Email marketing is flowing faster than ever.  How can this be?

Email marketing is flowing faster than ever.

Perhaps the “evidence” above is misplaced.  Could we be comparing apples to pineapples?  Texting is a form a chatting – a two-way conversation where several messages go back and forth, often in less than a minute.  FaceBook and Twitter messages are also “real time” messages, that can also be quite rapid-fire.  Similarly, Skype and iMessage are instantaneous.

While messages in some of these formats can be saved for the long term, they are all meant to be instantaneous.  They tend to share the following characteristics:

  • Instantaneous communication.
  • Optimal for short messages.
  • Not ideal where attachments are needed.
  • Not ideal for storing over the long term or for keeping track.

In short, these tools are ideal for conversations, not for correspondence.  Email, however, is ideal for correspondence, not conversations.  Yes, some conversations take place by email, but the lag between one person posting and the other person downloading makes it less than ideal.  However, email can easily be filed and tracked.  It is ideal for long messages and for attachments.

If email has replaced a lot of paper correspondence of days gone by, texting has replaced phone calls, not email.  The headlines should not read “Email is dead”.  They should read “phone calls are dead”.  This could herald in the prospect that we might someday use our phones for every purpose except as phones.

As Brett Moneta reports in Digital Pivot:

“Everything has its purpose and place. If you’re sending a timely social message, you’ll send it as a text. Need to be clear? You’ll probably call. Social messages that don’t need an immediate reply go as social media. And finally, when you need to send an official message, it goes as email. The younger generation isn’t doing heavy business yet. That’s why they prefer texting.”

Social media certainly is not replacing email.  If anything, more social media usage means more email usage.  I know when somebody has commented on one of my G+ posts or wants to message me on FaceBook or DMs me on Twitter because I receive an email telling me so.  If there is a login issue, I need an email address to send a reset-password URL to.

Email as a marketing tool

As marketers, one lingering question might still remain. If people are communicating more by texting and messaging, are they still reachable by email?  Does the younger generation care about correspondence at all?

Numbers don’t lie.  Email marketing continues to grow. A 2013 study by Custora reveals that email marketing is the fastest growing customer acquisition channel, quadrupling from 0.88% of customers acquired in 2009 to 6.84% in 2013.

Email marketing is becoming more sophisticated, more targeted.

As email marketing continues to grow, it also remains an effective way to deliver messages. According to a 2013 GetResponse study, the ROI on email marketing is $28 for each $1 spent.  In the growing mobile marketing segment, 41% of emails are open on mobile devices.  Simon Grabowski, CEO of GetResponse email marketing services, says:

“Email marketing is becoming more sophisticated, more targeted.  We see continued growth as more and more businesses are realizing that a website is not enough to be ‘online’, that they also need some means of communicating with customers.  Email is usually the best way to do that.”

There is some compelling evidence that people still want email, and especially that once they start their own households it will become increasingly important to them. Even in a “paperless” society, documentation is still required.  Nothing demonstrates this better than the delivery of utility statements.  As utilities try to eliminate paper statements and bills, they are giving consumers incentives to receive them by email.

In fact, any elimination of paper almost universally requires a replacement of some form of electronic documentation, and email is still the most assured and effective medium available.

So consumers can still be reached by email, even if other platforms are also being used. And email is still the best way to reach individuals personally.  You can broadcast your latest special on Twitter, but you can send a “Dear Justin” personalized message via email.

To reach business customers, email is even more important that to reach consumers.  Businesses don’t chat; they send documentation.  Email remains their chief electronic means of communication, so for a business audience, email will likely be your most effective means of marketing.

In fact, a 2014 survey found that on average, companies attribute 23% of their total sales to email marketing.  That is up from 18% in 2013. That same survey found that email marketing gives the best bang for the buck, edging out SEO for best ROI, and well ahead of affiliate marketing, offline direct marketing and other channels.

Steve Chou agrees.  He teaches people how to make a living selling goods online, and he teaches them that email marketing is essential.  A few months ago, he revealed his own success with email marketing in an article entitled How I Made Over $300K These Past 2 Years With An Email Autoresponder.  He says:

“Email is definitely not dwindling.  It is an essential tool to any business that wants to succeed online in 2014, and for many years to come.”

Here are a few additional statistics about email marketing from Wolfgang Jaegel that you might want to consider:

Email markiting stats

So next time you hear that email is dead, you can say, “Email is dead.  Long love email!”

 


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Choosing the Best Social Sharing Platforms

Jun 09, 2014 - filed under bookmarking, social media 15 Comments
 

Which social platforms are worth adding to your activities, beyond the obvious?  Let’s look at this blog’s traffic as a case study.

Those who know me for a long time, know that I have had a reputation as social sharing addict, often seen at all the social bookmarking websites, large and small.  And people often ask me questions:

  • Is it worth it?
  • Do you get good traffic from them?
  • Do you get good SEO links?
  • Do you get customers?
  • Do you get engagement?

Everybody is after a different metric.  I plan to address only one of them directly.  But before I do, I should provide just a general response to these questions.

Yes, it is worth it, but you have decide how much effort to spend on social sharing and how much time on each site.

I suspect that SEO links are no longer much of an issue, except to the extent that you get traffic and engagement (and therefore links from blogs and news websites).

Choosing the best social sharing sites

I doubt I have gotten any customers directly from social sharing websites, but I know that I have earned myself clients as a result of networking on these sites.  A funny thing happens when you vote for and comment on and share somebody else’s labor of love – it opens up the doors to all sorts of valuable collaboration, including occasionally some new clients or subcontracting opportunities.  So engagement and traffic would be good metrics to help decide where it is worth spending your time.

In this post I will not rehash the relative value of being active on Twitter versus FaceBook versus Pinterest versus Google Plus versus LinkedIn.  At least 57 other bloggers are at this very moment rehashing those mysteries of the universe for you.  I won’t ignore them, but instead I want to share with you some of the other social websites that bring me traffic, either as stand-alone social communities or as sharing tools I use to extend my reach on the big social sites.

METHODLOGY

I like to add a “methodology” heading because it gives this blog post an air of scientific je ne sais quoi.  Truth be told, the methodology is simply that I have looked at my Google Analytics traffic sources so far in 2014 for this blog, for another business blog, and for a “simple lifestyle” blog that covers self-help, personal finance, health and fitness, and entertainment.

Here are the social sharing websites that have sent the most traffic to this blog, among the top 20 referral sources over the almost 5 months so far this year, in descending order (with my comments):

Twitter (No surprise, as Twitter is the ultimate link-sharing platform and I am very active there. This is my account.)

Viral Content Buzz (Wow!  This is a platform I use to extend my reach on Twitter, FaceBook, Pinterest and StumbleUpon.  But the direct referrals alone are worth being active there.)

Google Plus (I am very active on Google Plus, especially in the communities, where I find engagement to be fairly strong. This is my account.)

FaceBook (No surprise)

Blokube (Big surprise!  Older and more established than DoSplash, Klinkk and Kingged, I nevertheless would never have expected Blokube to outpace BizSugar, Pinterest and Triberr, especially since I am more active on all of those platforms.  Clearly I need to pay much more attention to Blokube.)

BizSugar (Small surprise.  I love BizSugar and I am active there, although not quite as active as I would like to be.  Yet it is sending almost as much traffic as Pinterest and Triberr combined!)

Pinterest (Considering the effort I put into creating highly pinnable pics, I am somewhat disappointed that Pinterest is not proving a better source of traffic.  I suppose if I ran an Etsy store…)

Triberr (Like Viral Content Buzz, this is a platform I use to extend my reach on Twitter, and  have found it also a great venue for forging relationships with other bloggers.  I would rank it quite highly for engagement.)

JustRetweet (Another platform I use to extend my reach on Twitter, and to some degree FaceBook and Google Plus, and again worth using also for the direct traffic.)

Scoop It (Content curation platform, and obviously I am getting some traffic from it.)

Gentlemint (One of four “male” answers to the female-dominated Pinterest, it is sending me more traffic than Manteresting, Dudepins and DartItUp)

Kingged (One of the newest social sharing communities, probably with the narrowest range of topics – just internet marketing – but with the most engaging users, both on the site and in comments on this blog.  If your blog fits this niche, it is worth the time and effort.)

DoSplash (Similar to Blokube and Kingged, fairly new and with a slightly wider set of niches.)

I won’t run through the same details with the other two blogs, but I will offer a few outstanding observations from their referral stats.

First, I should note that if a post or two goes hot on StumbleUpon or Reddit, it can dwarf all other social platforms, as traffic takes a ridiculous spike for 24-48 hours.  On the other hand, it can really mess with your bounce rate and time-on-page stats. I shall ignore those aberrations.

Secondly, considering the niches of the other two blogs, you won’t be surprised to hear that I get much less traffic from the likes of Blokube, BizSugar, Kingged and DoSplash.  But in their place, Gentlemint figures much more prominently, in one case ahead even of FaceBook, Pinterest and Google Plus (Wow!).  Three others also featured: Snapzu (quite strongly), Social Buzz Club (moderately) and Manteresting (barely).

If part of your marketing strategy is to reach out to other bloggers, to collaborate more, to extend your reach on the major social sharing platforms and to build a well-engaged following, this should give you an idea of which venues would be worth your effort.  Of course, your results might not be the same as mine; nothing is more accurate than your own results by trial and error.  This guide is meant strictly to help you make the best educated guesses as to where to start or expand.

 

 


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How to choose a website platform – the only guide you’ll need

May 22, 2014 - filed under web design 6 Comments
 

Like choosing a suit, you have options when building a website.  Do you go custom-tailored or off-the-rack?  This is your guide to making that decision.

There is a derisive expression in English called “off the rack”.  It means to buy something premade, and it more specifically refers to men’s suits.  There are two ways to buy a suit:

  • Custom tailored, so that every measurement exactly fits your body.
  • Off the rack – premade at a factory in a number of sizes, one of which should be pretty close to what your body requires.

I don’t know about you, but I have never bought a custom tailored suit.  For starters, it costs a lot in time.  In addition to choosing the fabric, you have to stand there to get pinned.  Then you have to return to the store to pick it up.  Two trips to a store instead of just one – not fair!  More importantly, a custom tailored suit costs more money.  The price for custom-tailored is measured in thousands of dollars; the price for off-the-rack is measured in hundreds of dollars.

Build your websiteThat’s a big difference.

What does all this have to do with building a website?  You can get websites off the rack or have them custom built, too.  And the same factors apply to building a website as apply to buying a suit.

Some people will scratch their heads and ask, “Are you nuts?” to get a website built from scratch, because the cost is so much higher.

Other people will scratch their heads and ask, “Are you nuts?” to buy a ready-made website, because their discriminating eyes can see a difference in quality that many people would not notice.

The fact is that most websites these days are a hybrid of off-the-rack structure and custom-tailored design.  Many sites are built on WordPress (originally just a blogging platform that has recently been adapted to other types of websites), Drupal, Magneto or Joomla.  These content management systems (CMS) have all the structure in place; you just have to add your own custom design, and choose features to add as modules or plugins.

Many other sites are offered as ready-to-use programs, or “hosted solutions”, such as IM Creator, Weebly or Shopify.  In other words, you take one of their templates and customize it with your graphics, maybe pick-and-choose from certain features, and you are ready to go.

To the end user, a website built from scratch, a website built on a CMS, and a website built from a hosted solution don’t look any different.  What is different is the back-end, the amount of effort required to maintain the website and the pricing. According to Erez Zundelevich, VP Online Marketing of  IM Creator.

“Our users create websites that look and feel just like they have been custom-built, without all the hassles of actually having to build a website. Our market is people who don’t want to spend money and time running a website, so that they can focus on running their business.”

Custom built website

Obviously, the most expensive option is to build from scratch.  There are some excellent reasons to do this, and if you have the financial means, why not?  Like getting a custom suit made or like designing your own house to your exact specifications, why not design your own website?  Assuming you have the money.  And the time.

Quote - Joshua AlexanderIt is not just the upfront cost to factor in.  You will also have to manage your own hosting and look after your own security, you will be fully responsible for your own SEO and whenever you want something fixed, changed or added, you will need to hire someone to do it for you.  If you have the money, these are not issues, of course.

A custom-built website is not always just a matter of prestige, as is a custom-tailored suit.  Nor just a matter of preferences, as is a custom designed house.  There are things you might need to do to run your business that just don’t come in a box.  Just as exceedingly tall people or very portly people might need to have custom-tailored suits, some businesses are doing things differently enough that they just need a custom-built website.

Joshua Alexander, who does custom coding, explains the advantage of building to custom specifications:

“It allows them to build a system with understanding of potential growth into the future. I always ask clients what they can see themselves needing in the future so I can see if we can plan that into the initial design and development.”

Custom coding is ideal for someone who wants to do something really different and can afford to do so – someone who doesn’t mind being fully responsible for all aspects of the website, and can afford to be.

CMS based websites

CMS based websites cost less than custom-built websites, because the architecture is already in place.  If you use WordPress, the platform is 100 percent free, and most of the optional features (called “plugins” in WordPress) are also free, although there are some that cost money.  Drupal, Joomla and several other lesser-known CMS platforms operate on a similar basis.

Although the structure of the website is free, there is still some tailoring involved.  You will still have to hire a designer, and in most cases you will want a “theme”, which might be free or might cost money, and  which is not always easy to install without some basic programming knowledge.  A “theme” in WordPress is more than just the look; it is a coding structure of how elements of the page appear.  Some themes are easy-peasy to use, others hijack your interface and actually require some pretty advanced programming skills to navigate.  Yes, I’ve been there.

If you have some coding skills, and are willing to spend the time, a CMS based website might be for you.  You will still be responsible for your own hosting and for the site’s security.  If you want to make changes, you can always get plugins or hire somebody to do custom coding.  The CMS is free, but customization of both the design and the features still requires hiring somebody (or learning a fair amount).  Basically, it is a lot like taking a huge short cut to a custom coded website.

Here is a great video leading you through the process…

CMS based websites are ideal for people whose pockets are not too deep and who are willing and able to look after their own website or hire someone who is capable.

Hosted Solutions

Unless you can do your own coding, the cheapest path is a hosted solution.  Like a CMS-based website, there are rarely any up-front fees, although you might want to hire a designer to do custom design work so that your website looks like yours and nobody else’s.  When we spoke with Erez Zundelevich, he said IM Creator connects customers with designers familiar with their code structure on request.

Henri Goldsmann of Blunt Pencil, recounts how he built his custom website on the IM Creator platform:

“I built the site myself. Though the templates looked very professional, I wanted to see how far I could take this. I used a template, and deleted all the elements, kept the basic frame in order for the site to display well on a tablet and smartphone as well.”

However, if you are really strapped for cash and don’t have Henri Goldsmann’s skills or interest level, the major hosted solutions all offer very nice templates that you can use until you can afford to replace or tweak them with custom artwork.  Just double-check that you are allowed to do so before signing up.

Quote - Erez ZundelevichSome offer free plans, but in most cases you’ll want to pay for at least a basic upgrade. For eCommerce there are often transaction fees.  A transaction fee might be when you sell clothes or crafts or gadgets through the shopping cart on your website.  This would obviously not be a cost if your website is for a cafe or a tattoo parlor or a motel.

Where you really save money, time and headaches with a hosted solution is on maintenance, such as security, fixing things that break, adding features, updating things that seem to change so ridiculously fast on the Internet, etc.  You don’t have to learn to code and you don’t have to hire anybody, and for the most part you don’t have to monitor such things.  That is all taken care of for you.  In most cases, the monthly price is less than what it would cost to have a coder taking care of things, and you don’t have to worry about managing any of the technology.

Erez Zundelevich explains:

“The biggest benefit of a hosted solution like IM Creator is that a small business can have a professional looking website, without having it drain their time and energy looking after it. That is worth more financially to an entrepreneur than the actual cost savings of design and programming.”

Here is a short video he shared with us about how a hosted solution works:

 

Hosted solutions are ideal for people who don’t want to invest the time and energy in becoming web savvy or in taking care of a website, and don’t want to spend the money to hire someone who can.

Are hosted solutions too good to be true?

Does this sound too good to be true?  In life, you get what you pay for.  You save money and save time looking after the website, but you do lose flexibility.  For instance, if your business eventually grows to be as big as Amazon, you will eventually have to fork up for custom programming, dedicated servers, etc.

And there are some risks with hosted solutions, so make sure to cover your backside on just a few critical items.

Make sure you legally own the content.  A reputable hosted solution will not claim ownership of your text or images.  Of course, if you use one of their templates, you won’t own that.

Make sure you practically own the content.  Some businesses are riskier than others.  For instance, if you run a tattoo parlor, who knows when an image might be seen as offensive by someone and the site gets taken down for a terms-of-service violation.  And any business can lose its website if the hosted solution goes out of business.  When Windows Live Spaces shut down, they gave a six-month migration period, but there is no telling what might happen if some other hosted solution shuts down and doesn’t give users any options.  In other words, keep a back-up copy of all text and images and anything you actually own.

According to Jeremy Wong, of all the hosted solutions, only Weebly and IM Creator allow you to export your website from their platforms, so if you need to go elsewhere, you have more than just the images and text on file.  There is a good comparison of these two services here.

Make sure they cover all the bases.  You want a site that is HTML5 compliant, so that it shows well on all devices, one that has SEO built in (that does not mean you will rank well, just that the fundamentals are there, on which a good ranking can be built) and that there are good security measures in place to protect against hacking and other threats.  Ask these questions before signing up for any hosted solution, because these are some of the tasks you are delegating to them when you sign up.

Own your domain.  Make sure that when you set up your website, regardless of platform, that you own and you control your domain.  That is your business real estate and your business identity on the Internet.

The bottom line

I think it’s fair to say that all three approaches have worked well for many happy people, and there are probably plenty of nightmare stories that can be told from each option.

Quote - David LeonhardtJoshua Alexander told me the story of having to rebuild an exact replica of a website because the designer/ programmer had control of the site…until he died in a car crash.  The owner had no access, and the man who did was dead.

That story reminded me of a time I had to fight to get control of the domain name on behalf of a client, because the programmer had registered it in his own name and had subsequently vanished off the face of the Earth.  Funny story, because I actually went to knock on his door in Akron, Ohio…and discovered that his address did not even exist.  I finally tracked down a former partner of his in Chicago (by phone) and somehow recovered the client’s domain.  Once again, the importance of owning your domain, both legally and practically, is evident.

In short, even if you hire people to do custom work, you still need to make sure you own everything.

I have worked on many websites that have been custom built and many that are CMS based.  I have not worked on any hosted-solution websites, because they just don’t need me.

So which is better, custom tailored websites, CMS-based websites or hosted solutions?  As with suits, that’s a no brainer.  But that is the wrong question to ask.  The question is which approach is right for your business?  And that depends on your budget and how much time and effort you want to invest in your website.

 


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The many dangers of NoFollow

May 06, 2014 - filed under nofollow 23 Comments
 

NoFollow linking has never been so prominent, and never has it been so dangerous for both ethical and practical reasons.

I don’t like the NoFollow attribute.  When it was introduced in 2005, it made so much sense.  But since then it has been abused by both webmasters and the search engines, and that abuse looks poised to make a quantum leap sometime soon.

Therefore, there are two mes that don’t like NoFollow:

  • The ethical me, who much prefers to be honest when I promote a website.
  • The practical me, who much prefers not to be slapped down, tied up and fed to a herd of half-starved ninja gators when Google wakes up in 2015 or 2016, or gets displaced by an upstart.

I will cover three things in this blog post.  Yes, I’m organized!

  1. The history of NoFollow, which many newer marketers today are unaware of, and many who were around in 2005 might have forgotten.
  2. The ethical case to avoid using NoFollow (As a matter of fact, it is important.)
  3. The practical case to avoid using an attribute that could blow up in your face in a few years.

The short, tumultuous history of NoFollow

The NoFollow “tag”, as it has often been called, is not a tag.  It is an “attribute” (for those interested in correct use of language), which can be added to any <a href=””> tag.  It tells the search engines not to follow the link, because the owner of the website on which it appears cannot vouch for its trustworthiness.  Just to be clear, NoFollow does not necessarily mean that a link is bad.  It only means that the link has not been vetted by the website’s owner or administrator.

NoFollow's sordid history

The NoFollow attribute was introduced in early 2005 to stop blog comment spam, or at least to make it easier for the search engines to distinguish between links from legitimate comments and links from spam-happy bots.

Here is the direct quote from the Official Google Blog:

Q: How does a link change?
A: Any link that a user can create on your site automatically gets a new “nofollow” attribute. So if a blog spammer previously added a comment like

Visit my <a href=”http://www.example.com/”>discount pharmaceuticals</a> site.

That comment would be transformed to

Visit my <a href=”http://www.example.com/” rel=”nofollow”>discount pharmaceuticals</a> site.

Q: What types of links should get this attribute?
A: We encourage you to use the rel=”nofollow” attribute anywhere that users can add links by themselves, including within comments, trackbacks, and referrer lists. Comment areas receive the most attention, but securing every location where someone can add a link is the way to keep spammers at bay.

Matt Cutts, Google  chief “web spam” spokesperson, said:

“Wherever it means that another person placed a link on your site, that would be appropriate.”

Matt Cutts confirmed this in 2009 on his own blog:

“Nofollow is method (introduced in 2005 and supported by multiple search engines) to annotate a link to tell search engines ‘I can’t or don’t want to vouch for this link.’ In Google, nofollow links don’t pass PageRank and don’t pass anchortext.”

In other words, if you are not moderating your blog comments or other user-generated content, this will allow you to continue being careless or lazy or otherwise occupied without gumming up Google’s rankings.  And it’s not just Google.  MSN and Yahoo were involved in announcing simultaneously their support of the attribute.  In 2005, Google had about 37 percent market share, Yahoo had 30 percent, and MSN had 16 percent.  AOL and Ask Jeeves were still players, with ten and six percent respectively.

PageRank Sculpting

It was not long before some webmasters with overactive imaginations found a way to use NoFollow to their advantage through a method that came to be called “PageRank Sculpting”.

As you are probably aware, PageRank is the relative value of a page, and is the most visible of over 100 ranking signals.  Very roughly, the PageRank of a page is calculated based on the value of all the pages linking to it.  Each of those pages has its own PageRank, which it divides up evenly between all the pages it links to.  If you need to read up on the subject, I suggest this post by Danny Sullivan.

The key thing to understand about PageRank is that If a page contains 20 links, it divides its power 20 ways.  However, if it contains only 15 links, it divides its power 15 ways, sending more PageRank power to each of the 15 pages.

PageRank sculpting is the process of NoFollowing certain internal links, so that other internal links are more powerful.  The theory is that if every page of your website points to the contact, about, terms, and other administrative pages, that means a lot of PageRank power that could be going to money pages is being poorly directed.  By adding the NoFollow attribute to those admin links, webmasters believed that they were funneling more PageRank to their money pages.

To the best of my knowledge, nobody got penalized for doing this, but in in 2009 Google changed the way it read NoFollow links to make PageRank sculpting useless.  Webmasters got the idea, as PageRank Sculpting quickly went out of style.  But an important question about all this PageRank sculpting has to be asked, “What were they thinking?!?  NoFollowing links to their own pages from their own pages?  Telling the search engines that they can’t vouch for their own contact and about pages?  Saying, “Hey Google, I am such a shifty character that I don’t even trust myself”?  </rant>

Just wait for the other shoe to drop.

NoFollowing paid links

It was not only webmasters who played fast and loose with the rules.  Google took its turn, too.  In fact, Google now advises:

“In order to prevent paid links from influencing search results and negatively impacting users, we urge webmasters use nofollow on such links.”

Quite apart from the inconvenient truth that almost every link has been paid for in one form or another (yes, “earned” links can be very costly to “earn”), the fact is that there is no link more firmly vetted than a paid link.  A webmaster has to think much harder, “Is this money really worth possibly harming my site’s trust with visitors and the search engines?” than when they link for free.

NoFollowing unnatural/suspicious/random links

But Google seems to have moved past encouraging NoFollow just on paid links.  They seem to be quietly encouraging people to add NoFollow to a very widely defined array of low-quality links, unnatural links, suspicious links (those that might actually be natural, but Google really can’t tell the difference, so why not discredit them just in case) and seemingly random links.

Oh, and press releases.

These days, it seems that almost any link could be flagged as “unnatural” by Google, with so-called “manual” penalties being the result.  Many of Google’s recent manual penalties seem designed to upstage Monty Python.  Recovery from some of the more ridiculous penalties seems almost as random, and I have heard many people saying that by simply adding NoFollow to links, they have been able to recover.

In fact, many people writing about manual penalty recovery can be seen offering advice like this:

“After disavowing or no-following links, webmasters must submit a reconsideration request to Google. If the problem is not completely cleared, Google will send a denial message.”

Or advice like this:

“If it’s high quality, but just linked in the wrong way, ask the webmaster to add a nofollow attribute assigned to it.”

If you are wondering, “What’s next?”, so am I.  At this point, I have seen at least one example of almost every type of link drawing a penalty, and Google seems to be accepting  the NoFollow attribute as a way of crossing the blurry line of what is an is not acceptable on every third Tuesday, is the wind is blowing from the northeast with a faint whiff of Lavender in the air. In fact, Google has said that the Disavow tool is like a huge NoFollowifier.  Here is what Google’s John Mueller has to say on the matter:

“You don’t need to include any nofollow links…because essentially what happens with links that you submit as a disavow, when we recrawl them we treat them similarly to other nofollowed links.  Including a nofollow link there wouldn’t be necessary.”

Which brings us to today.  I watch, mouth hanging wide open (but not drooling on myself, just to reassure you), the mass NoFollowing of links that some desperate webmasters are doing.  There are plugins for WordPress, such as WP External Links and External Links.

I’ll go into why I think this is crazy below, but some highly respectable people have been driven by Google’s seemingly random penalties to actually use these tools.  Lisa of Inspire to Thrive  explains why she installed the WP External Links Plugin:

“I don’t agree with their nofollow policy or shall we say HINT of it but I don’t want to be penalized by this giant and I’d love to see how long the process takes so we can all learn something from this one.

Why NoFollow is unethical

You should not tell a lie.  NoFollow is ethical on user generated content, not because that is why it was created in the first place, but because it tells the truth.  Unless the website administrator moderates all user-generated content, such as on good quality blogs, the truth is that he or she cannot vouch for the links.  NoFollow truthfully communicates that to anyone who wishes to read that attribute, including search engines.

If NoFollow communicates that you cannot vouch for a link that you have in fact approved, that is a blatant lie.

NoFollow - what about your users?

Google is not the Internet. The main reason most people are adding the NoFollow attribute where it does not belong is in response to Google’s displeasure with certain links or the website administrator’s fear of Google’s displeasure with certain links.  Numerous statements by Google have led people to believe that Google wants people to add NoFollow to the links that Google has chosen to find irritating.

The problem is that Google is not the Internet.  There are other search engines and possibly other applications that will use your NoFollow attribute as a signal, too.  NoFollow tells others that the link is not trustworthy, too. It’s not just Google being lied to.

Read Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.  Google’s official guidelines, as vague as they are, are a lot more ethical than its enforcement is (Oh, that’s a whole other ethics topic that the company whose motto is “Don’t be evil” probably would rather I don’t get into).  Let’s see what the Quality Guidelines say:

“Don’t deceive your users.”

So if you are telling the search engines, I won’t vouch for this link, are you telling your users, too?  Just asking.

“Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings.”

Like adding a hidden attribute, for instance.  Those who are old enough to remember what a search engine penalty meant before 2011, will recall that it meant you had done something sneaky and deceptive.  You were a dirty rotten crook, serving up different information to the search engines than to real people:

  • Doorway pages.
  • Hidden text.
  • Hidden links.

Search engines penalized websites for serving up different content to users and to robots, and rightly so.  So what about NoFollow links, where the link is viewable by users but not by search engines?

“A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee.”

“So, you see, I inserted this hidden NoFollow attribute because I don’t want to get in trouble with Google, but I’m OK sending my readers there.  Yes, I know that means I’m either a scammer sending users to a crap link, or a total wuss allowing Google to bully me into blocking robots from following a perfectly good link.” Hmm.  Sure, that’s what I would tell my competitor or a Google employee.

“Another useful test is to ask, ‘Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?’”

Seriously, would you put NoFollow in a link if search engines didn’t exist?

NoFollow means not taking responsibility for actions.  There are two main constraints that keep us from linking to bad neighbourhoods; because users might follow the links and because search engines might follow the links.  Putting NoFollow on bad links does not solve any real problem (it might help Google solve its problems), and makes it 50% more tempting to post a bad link.  In other words, far from cleaning up the Web, it is likely increasing the number of poor quality links, especially those posted on poor quality sites.

Why NoFollow is dangerous

Now, it might be that ethics are a less pressing worry on your mind than where you’ll find money to pay the rent, so maybe you are more interested in getting back lost rankings than in being 100 percent authentic and ethical.  Well, here are five reasons why NoFollow could bite you in that soft fleshy padding you sit on.

1. It might not work.  I have seen no official statistics on how many websites recover from different types of penalties, but it certainly sounds like a majority of those that bother trying don’t succeed on the first or second try.

2. You might lose rankings at Bing, Yahoo and other search engines.  Of course, they don’t have the same market share, so you might be willing to sacrifice all of them in order to access the 66 percent of searches that Google delivers.  But what if you NoFollow all your links and instead of winning Google’s approval, you simply lose your Bing and Yahoo rankings? Oops.

But that is just the short-term, and short-term is short-sighted, even if your main concern is next month’s rent.  The long term is what really counts.

3. Google might get you later on. At the current rate, half the Internet will be disassembled, Disavowed or NoFollowed before long, all because Google doesn’t want to count certain links in its algorithm.  What then?  The disassembled part (links people have removed) will no longer be there, but Google will have a huge database of domains that have been disavowed once, twice, thrice or 673 times.  Google will have a huge database of websites that have tons of NoFollow links pointing to them.  It won’t be hard to add into its algorithm a trust factor to account for how often a particular domain has been disavowed or NoFollowed.

Google will also have data on which websites NoFollow their links.  Ah, let’s follow the logic trail.  Google tells websites to NoFollow crappy links.  Website A has 300 NoFollow links on its site.  Website B has 3 NoFollow links on its site.  In Google’s mind, NoFollow means crappy links.  Hmmm.  Which site will Google consider more trustworthy?  Which site will Google see as less trustworthy.  It’s kind of a NoBrainer.  When you look at it from that perspective, is it worth sending such a negative message about your own website? Wikipedia will always be able to get away with it, but could your website?

Don’t believe this could ever happen?  Go back a few years when the best practice was to have keyword-rich anchor tex in most of your inbound links, only to make sure you varied your text.  Now, websites are getting penalized for doing just that.  Go back a few more years when the best practice was exact match keyword anchor text.  That will land you in even more trouble today.

Google is now punishing websites for links that were built in accordance with their guidelines as far back as 2004 and 2005.  What you do today can come back to bite you tomorrow and even a decade from now.

4. Other search engines might get you later on. It’s just too easy.  Not every NoFollow link is crap and not every DoFollow link is amazing.  But if a search engine plays the averages, they can reduce the trust of websites littered with NoFollow links and increase the trust of websites that are clean.

5. Google’s rule is ephemeral.  I know it seems like Google rules the world.  But there are other search engines like Blekko and Duck Duck Go (as I wrote about here), and who knows where Bing or Yahoo might be headed?  Google controls 66 percent of search traffic now, but what if that share was to fall?

Can’t happen?  Think again.

Remember when Alta Vista ruled search?

Remember when MySpace was social networking?

Remember when Netscape was everybody’s browser of choice?

Remember when Digg was synonymous with social bookmarking?

Remember when Google ruled search?  It still does, but sooner or later, that question will come up.  And all the NoFollow attributes placed just for Google’s sake will serve as … what?

Your turn.  What do you think?

I would love to hear from you.  I certainly don’t have the last word on this.  I have not liked NoFollow from the start.  I called out Wikepedia on this in 2007, even going so far as to say Wikipedia should be spanked (I really do like the site; I just don’t like their NoFollow policy).

NoFollow made sense for what it was designed to do, but I have always thought that it sends a very bad signal to anyone watching, including search engines.  Obviously, not everybody feels the same way.  Some people might even today be using it for PageRank sculpting.

I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, or on blog posts of your own.  Support me.  Refute me.  Let’s get this out in the open and discuss it logically.

 

 


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Picture-perfect Pinnable Pics (12 hot tips!)

Apr 22, 2014 - filed under blogging 11 Comments
 

A blog without pictures is like dessert without taste. An effective approach to images can do so much more for your blog posts than just make them look pretty. Here are 12 ways to improve your blog posts with images.

If you still think of blogging as a writer’s job, you have been daydreaming while the Internet marches on. Blogging is now a three person job:

• Writer
• Artist
• Marketer

You might be all three people at once (most bloggers are), or you might be part of a blogging team. Either way, all three people are needed. The writer comes up with the topic and the words to express it. Of course, the writer is still the core person on your team. The artist comes up with visuals that make the post more appealing and transmit your message visually. The marketer makes sure there are people there to read the post.

Today, let’s look at the artist. The artist’s job is to add images to the post. Sounds simple enough. But there is a lot more to it than that. Here are 12 tips to super-charge your blog with visuals.

Picture-perfect blogging pics

Any image is a good image

If you don’t have images yet, put up an image on your very next post. Even if you don’t read a word more of this post, the most boring stock photography image in the world is better than no image. Stock photos might not be the most pinnable (likely to be shared on Pinterest and other visual social media), but at least they are technically pinnable.

Yes, I might slap your hand for putting up a boring image, but at least you’ll be breaking up the text with a visual, which is the most basic function an image does.

Headline images

Images can serve as a headline. The headline or title is what people read first. As important as it is to have a clear headline that arouses curiosity, a good looking headline makes readers more interested in giving your content their attention. And a headline image can sometimes be more pinnable or sharable on social media than a stock photo.

Just remember that there is a trade-off, since search engines can’t read images, so you might also want a text headline.  Here is a sample headline image from our site:

T10 Content Banner

It’s not just for Pinterest

In case you had not noticed, some of the most shared items on Facebook and Google Plus are images. And links to blog posts that have good images get clicked a lot more than links with no images. If this does not appeal to the artist in you, it should appeal to the marketer in you.  See how a this pic appears on Google Plus:

Image on Google Plus

Add to that the number of smaller social sharing sites that now require images, from various Pinterest clones to new Pligg-based websites. You really cannot afford to post without an image.

Arouse curiosity

Images that arouse curiosity are better for social sharing. Why, do they get shared more often? Perhaps they do, but more importantly, the share is more likely to lead to traffic. And isn’t that the goal of getting your post and its images shared? This image from WonderOfTech.com is a great example of arousing curiosity:

An image can arouse curiosity

Use text

Here is the oxymoron of our age. People will look at images rather than read through reams of text. But images that are basically text, tend to get viewed and arouse interest best. Why? Because they carry a message. If people like the message or want to learn more, they will read your post. Careful, though – don’t throw too much text on the image and make sure the lettering is easy to read.  Here is a good example from SupportForStepDads.com that really is just an excuse for making text into an image to deliver a message:

A text message turned into an image

Here is an example from BoulderLocavore.com of a photo that simply had text added to describe the picture:

Text added to describe the image

Original images

Images that are original are generally better than stock photos. There are a number of reasons for this. One of those reasons is the previous point about text. You can turn a stock photograph into something original by adding text.  Or you can add other images to stock photography, such as the logos that Bill Gassett created for his article at Virante.org:

Add text and logos to stock photography

Images that stand on their own

This might seem obvious from the past few points, but the most shareable images are usually those that stand on their own. People will share those images (with your link) just for the sake of the image, even if they don’t care about your post and haven’t read it.  By sharing it, they extend your reach to people who might even click through and read your post.  An image that is just a title or an introduction to your post will be shared mostly by those who have clicked through to read it, like it and bother to back up and share the image.  Here is an example of an image that stands on its own from TheHappyGuy.com, and serves to entice clicks from people who would be interested:

Sample image that stands on its own

Message-oriented images

Images that are closely aligned with your message, perhaps even summing up your post or pulling a snappy quote from the post, will be most effective, as they will intrigue the very people most likely to enjoy your post.  Here is another example from TheHappyGuy.com, showing how an entire blog post can be summarized in a single mini-poster:

So an original image that stands on its own with text that relates closely to the message in your blog post, arousing curiosity for interested people to click through – that is your ideal image.

Inspirational messages

One type of image people love to share are inspirational messages of hope, of being kind, of believing in yourself. If there is a message related to your post that you can give an inspirational twist, you can make your post more sharable through the image. Here is a good example from MartinaMcgowan.com:

Inspirational pic

Humorous messages

People also love to share humor. A funny message or a cartoon can get your post more widely shared. I wrote about the value of adding a cartoon to your blog not long ago. Can you think of a funny angle to your topic? Sometimes it’s hard, but perhaps you have a braintrust who can help out. Here is a good example of simple humor from HomeOnDeranged.com.

Images arouse curiosity

Sexy messages

You know that people are a lot more likely to share and click through for a pretty and alluring young lady. But be very careful that your image is safe for work, or you will lose a lot of potential traffic. Even just a really pretty smile can increase click-throughs to the post and keep people feeling good about reading it once they are there.  Here is an example from HotTubCoversCanada.ca:

A tastefully sexy image can inmprove readership and sharing

Combination messages

Can you work in both sexy and humorous, or humorous and inspirational, all the while getting some of your point across. The more elements mentioned above, the more likely you are to get people clicking through to your blog posts, and the more likely they will keep reading. Here is an example from MadLemmings.com of how humor and inspiration can work with your message:

Humorous blog image

But trying to include everything in an image might be too much (seriously, you are unlikely to be sexy, humorous, inspirational, arouse curiosity in an image that stands on its own and delivers your message). So the goal is not to use ALL of the tips above, but to use as many as works for each post.

Of course, we must assume that you are writing something they will feel is worth reading.

BONUS TIP – Make it yours

Sometimes images get shared without your link. Yes, I know that might seem hard to believe on such a charming planet as this, but when it happens, you don’t want to lose ownership of the image. Imagine that 100,000 see your image without knowing that they should visit your website.

Slap your URL on the pic. Or your logo. Or your name. Or your phone number.  Tactfully unobtrusive, of course.  Here is a good example form a three months ago:

Content marketing can draw customers in

Now you are ready to go out and create blog posts that will catch the eye, and social sharing that will pull people in to read your blog posts – and help people better enjoy your post once they start reading.

I know three people who will be thrilled that you have all this pic knowledge ready to use – the writer, the artist and the marketer.


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SEO Competitor Analysis – common sense that’s not so common

Mar 25, 2014 - filed under SEO 4 Comments
 

What does SEO competitor analysis look like? Here is a run-down, along with screenshots – literally what it looks like.

When people who know a little about SEO mention competitor analysis, they usually want to take a peak at the source code of competing websites and copy their keyword meta tags.

When people who know nothing about SEO mention competitor analysis, they usually refer to companies that compete for customers in the real world, even if they have no search presence.

One’s head could get quite sore from banging it against the wall.  Not because I know all that much about competitor analysis, but I do know:

1. Copying someone else’s keyword meta tag is just duplicating somebody else’s mistakes.

2. If a website is not ranked highly for coveted search terms, it is not a competitor for SEO.

Copying someone else’s keyword meta tag is just duplicating somebody else’s mistakes.

But competitor analysis can still be very valuable, and I know that I have rarely done enough (OK, probably never).  An SEO colleague has recently decided to zero in on this specific function, which is not a bad idea – it does tend to be overlooked.  Arvid Linde, is a UK-based SEO consultant, originally from a journalistic background, and this is a link to his competitive analysis service that he just launchedPlease see full disclosure and my special offer at the end of this post.

Arvid tells a story that I think illustrates pretty well the folly of not doing a competitive analysis:

I recently had a website owner boasting to me how his site’s got PageRank 5 and Alexa 100K-something and how he’s attracting more traffic than his competitors put together. However, when we looked at his conversions, it was clear that he’s been targeting the browsing traffic, while his competitors were picking the buying traffic. No wonder he was barely breaking even. It is going to take time to restructure his website, but it’s great to see him moving into the right direction.

Having oodles of traffic and having customers who are ready to spend money is not the same thing.  Watching what competitors are doing is a great way to discover what you might be missing.

The package he put together is interesting, and I’ll show some screenshots to give you an idea of what is possible, whether you choose to take this on yourself – there are some DIY competitive research tools available – or whether you hire someone like Arvid.  First, here is what his package contains:

  • Part1 – SEO Competitor Report
  • Part2 – Content and Social Media Strategy
  • Prospective Twitter followers
  • Extra support

The SEO Competitor Report is what so much of the work goes into.  The first job is to identify the most relevant competitors – those that are ranking the best in the same space as your website.  The next step is to gather some basic metrics of those competitors.  Here is a clip from one of Arvid’s reports.

SEO Competitor Report

Then you gather some basic metrics about competitor backlinks.

SEO Competitor ReportWhile no single metric or any combination of metrics will guarantee a specific position in the search results at Google and Bing for any specific search phrase, these give you a pretty good sense of what you need to strive for.

Next, do a complete overview of your website.  This is definitely NOT something you should do yourself.  You really want an objective review (by someone who is qualified, of course).

SEO Competitor ReportAnd then do the same thing for the competition.

SEO Competitor Report

It helps to look at a couple other important areas.  Just how important social media and page load times are, is hard to tell.  But Google has said that page load times can be a ranking signal, and we all know that social media is the most important way to spread the word about your website, garnering trust, authority and totally organic links.

SEO Competitor ReportHere comes an interesting part.  Competitor analysis can reveal some very interesting link opportunities.  Inbound links to a site can come for a number of reasons.  Competitors get links from sites with related ownership.  Or because they are clients, sup[piers or partners.  They might get links from companies involved in a community project together or who are geographically related.  Links might come in from organizations they are memberships or, magazines they advertise in or trade shows where they buy a booth.

All of these are links that cannot be duplicated for you.  But there are some links that can be duplicated.  If three out of ten of your top competitors all have links from the same domain, there’s a good chance that it not because of related ownership or geographic proximity.  These are the common links worth pursuing…

SEO Competitor ReportThe same principle goes for keywords, by the way…

SEO Competitor ReportOn the other hand, some competitive keyword research can also reveal some hidden opportunities.

SEO Competitor Report

Content Strategy

What flows from this is the content strategy.  Again, this is something you can do yourself.  It is less detailed than the competitive research, but it is a lot of work and just as important.  You content strategy will determine to a large degree how to make use of the competitive intelligence to your advantage.  That’s one reason that a complete content and social media strategy is part of this package, along with the list of 3,000 active Twitter users relevant to your niche.

Here is a snapshot of what is covered in the report.

SEO content strategy

If you are tempted to cut corners and try old fashioned link-building, you will not only be wasting your money, but most likely you will be setting yourself up for a very costly penalty, which Google seems to gleefully slapping on almost anybody who does almost anything that looks like SEO.  This strategy takes the approach that publicity can be harnessed to build your brand, your reputation and… well… that seems to be the safest and surest road to SEO success these days (it probably always was, as a long term strategy – the only difference now is how costly short term strategies have become).

One of the reasons this report is so crucial, whether you end up doing it yourself or hiring someone like me to implement it, is that you have a roadmap.  If you follow it, you should be able to keep all wheels out of the ditch.  The report even looks at the biggest social networks and what effort your business should be making on each of them.  For instance, there might be very little value for a specific business to be on Pinterest, but if there is a total absence of all competitors, it might be a small but easy audience to capture and engage in your content.

One of the reasons I am so comfortable with Arvid’s service, is because I agree with his approach to SEO.  He doesn’t think the basic methods have changed much over the years, notwithstanding the noise and the antics that get talked about the most.

“The formula is very simple – you determine your target audience, add value by offering content that can’t be found elsewhere and then attempt to earn mentions from sources that are frequented by your target audience. It worked in 2004, it works now and I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t work ten years from now. The only thing that changes are the channels used to deliver and amplify your content.”

He also scoffs ay keyword density, which I always thought to be a joke that SEO scammers used to have something to sell clients.  “Scoff!”  Yes, I do that, too.  And in your content strategy, he will almost surely talk about the importance of establishing authority.  Bingo!

Before you rush out to start working on SEO competitive intelligence or paying Arvid or anybody else to do it for you, I do need to add a caveat.  This type of competitor analysis is not for everyone.   This really works well when you have a very specific niche.  General blogs, news websites, many membership websites and others that target a number of niches really won’t benefit from this kind of competitor research.

So, if you’re writing a blog that doesn’t have a laser-targeted niche and doesn’t have a sales-based business model, I’ll say – don’t order my report.

A few extras that Arvid throws in.

I grilled Arvid (and I must appologize that I am not using everything he told me, because this post would get way out of control). Here are a few extras he tells me he offers along with the competitor analysis reports:

If I notice that a significant portion of competitor traffic is PPC-based, I’ll also do a PPC report looking at the best-performing paid keywords, optimal landing page layouts and even actual ads that generate sales.

Once we’re happy with the way the new content strategy is being implemented, we can look at the link acquisition opportunities in the 2nd part. I’ve shortlisted the links that work for the competitors.

During the Skype sessions (that come free with the report) I help the client with the content ideas, show them how they can find more high-quality link sources or clarify any technical questions they might have.

From then on it’s establishing a routine of monitoring your competitors and making sure you don’t repeat their mistakes.

If I have been too long-winded, here is a pretty concise explanation of competitive analysis.  And here are some free tools you can use if you want to go the DIY route.

DISCLOSURE: The link to Arvid’s services is an affiliate link.  That means that if you buy his service now, I will get a referral fee.  For that, I thank you – in fact, I will thank you tangibly.  I will give you $100 worth of social media coverage as a thank you gift – Free!  I would not recommend Arvid’s services if I did not believe it to hold great value.  For most businesses, the ROI should be substantial.


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What if Google doesn’t rule the world?

Mar 05, 2014 - filed under Google, marketing 7 Comments
 

While getting your site burnt to the ground in Google search is undeniably a huge setback, it is not the end of the world. Before abandoning your website, consider the alternatives to Google search traffic.

When most people think of the word “search engine”, they think about Google. Just “Google it” is even considered a verb by most people. While Google is the number one search engine, and mighty convenient much of the time, it is not the only search option. That is really good news for bloggers and small business owners who have been devastated by the recent Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird blitzes.

In fact, when done right, you can find the other search engines so useful to your business that you might not have to rely on Google search for your business ever again.

Alternatives to Google search

First, Google is not the only search engine. Surprisingly enough, other search engines like Bing, Yahoo, Baidu, Ask, Blekko and DuckDuckGo exist to help you find whatever you are looking for online. These smaller search engines make up approximately 26 percent of searches around the world.

While nowhere near Google’s dominance, over the past year Google has slipped to 67 percent of searches. What that means is that Google’s lead while strong is not infallible to a disruptive search technology – remember when Alta Vista ruled search and Netscape ruled browsers?

Where else do people search?

Second, you could also start searching through directories.  Remember how directories like DMOZ , Aviva and JoeAnt used to be how people found things before search engines took over? In fact, that’s how Google used to find websites.

Niche directories can still be more useful than search engines, such as local city directories (I’ve used Ottawa Start for certain searches.)  You can sometimes find more detailed and categorized information in these directories, and you don’t have to wade through irrelevant results from similar-sounding searches.

Niche directories like Aviva and Technocrati even have blog directories, where you can search for peer bloggers in your niche. This is a superb resource for blog research and blogger outreach.

Third, you might find what you want in video format. Have you ever considered that video sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo are just large video search engines? Video is not just for music and old TV shows anymore.  You can find almost any information you want on YouTube.

While YouTube is a Google product, they have their own search engine on the site specifically for videos. Also, Vimeo is a great place to find specific channels with quality information, since they have standards on who is allowed to post content.

Fourth, use Amazon search for your product needs. Amazon can help you find almost any book, electronic, MP3, or product on the planet. With millions of their own products, plus Amazon stores with millions upon millions of additional products, this truly is the search engine of shopping.  Oh, and eBay.  And Kijiji here in Canada.  And Craigslist.  Lots of great places to look for products, new and used.

If you are a retailer, setting up an Amazon store and getting found on their search engine could be more important than being found on Google. Think about this for a second? Would you rather have your clients searching on Google, going from site to site, or on Amazon where they have one click processing for registered users?

Fifth, welcome to the era of social search. Sites like Facebook and Twitter have very dynamic search features. Twitter invented hashtag searches, which are now standard also on Facebook, Pinterest and Google Plus.

Facebook has recently been updating its search recently to try and compete actively with Google search. Its graph search not only takes in the words you are looking for, but also incorporates your own social network in the results. That way, you can search for information that people in your network already provide.

Think about this example for a moment. You write a blog post about “Real Estate Investing.” While that might be a crowded term on Google, you know that a number of your friends on Facebook regularly search for this keyword to build connections.  The next time they do a search on Facebook for real estate investing, you have an increased chance of showing up in their search. What we are talking about here is targeted prospects learning about what you do, and coming to see your content.  So it matters who you know on Facebook.

Google Plus is beginning to use this approach, but it is too early to tell if it will catch on.

Twitter search, while a bit more limited, works in a similar fashion if you want to see who has spoken about specific topics. You can do twitter searches for specific keywords, and find out who is talking about your product and/or industry. This is a great way to prospect for new followers and blog subscribers – much better than using a search engine.

Sixth, industry search engines are also used for business to business searches.  You have to pay for your place in Thomasnet, but it can bring in  a lot of business.  Many companies search for suppliers in busines-to-business search engines. Even if you cannot be found in Google, your listing in a niche search engine can be found when people search Google.

More than one way to be found

As you can see, while Google might rule traditional search, there are still a lot of ways for people to be found via other social networks. The key is to figure out where your target market is, and how they search. Then you can augment your strategy to be found on multiple search engines. My question for you is where do you want to be found online?

 


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How to instantly establish trust and authority with your website

Feb 18, 2014 - filed under marketing 5 Comments
 

Trust is something you have to earn, but impatient customers are ready to let you earn it easily. Here are a few ways to quickly earn their trust.

Understanding your customers and how they buy is critical to how you set about establishing trust and authority in their eyes. My caveat: whatever you read here is valid only to the point that you test it out and decide that it works for you … or that it does not work for you.

In my previous post, I showed how most people shopping for a service from an individual will not seek out articles to determine their level of expertise. They will look for other things. In the case of designers, they will look for visual samples. But for lawyers and accountants and many medical services and others, they will look for other signs of expertise and trust.

And for people shopping for physical products, I mentioned that customers don’t generally look for expertise.  But there are two key trust factors people look for:

1. The manufacturer of a product – that the product is made well.
2. The retailer – that money handed over will result in the product being delivered.

Questions customers askIn many cases, the  website is run by a retailer selling some other company’s products. In other cases, you are both retailer and manufacturer – you sell your own product.

Whether it’s a physical product or a service, people will come to your site and have the following (often unspoken) questions:

  • Is this product any good?
  • Will it deliver what it promises?
  • Will it break or is it durable?
  • Am I getting a good deal?
  • Is it easy to order?
  • Can I trust my money with these guys?
  • Will the product arrive as ordered, unbroken, on time?
  • Can I get it serviced?

Some of these questions will apply to your website, depending on whether you sell a product or a service, whether it is your own or you are just a retailer.

Read Also: Make a Winning eCommerce Shopping Experience

There are many ways to establish trust with your visitors and give them the confidence to order from you. Here are some good ones, but certainly not an exhaustive list. Which ones apply to you, depends on which of the questions above people are asking.

“See it in use” are magic words. If people can see a video of a product actually being used, it is easier to believe that the product will work well. That’s why TV advertising is so effective for physical products. Ideally, show it doing exactly what the text on your website says it can do. Show smiling faces of people pleased with its performance.

Words of praise. Testimonials are very powerful. That is why so many websites feature a testimonials page. This is a good first start; a testimonials page helps you gain trust of people proactively seeking confidence. Unfortunately, it does nothing for those people whose doubts are unspoken.

Words of praise where it counts. For those people whose doubts are unspoken, testimonials need to be right on the sales page. Ideally, each product page should have a testimonial specific to that product. That helps instill confidence in both the product and the seller, and just when it is most needed – at the point where the buyer is ready to decide. This is exactly what I do, as you can see here.

Words of praise that can actually be believed. It is increasingly common knowledge that most online testimonials and reviews are fake. It is a sad commentary on our society, but I don‘t trust online testimonials. However, there are some ways to make them more believable:

  • Add a photo of the person so that it is clear that the testimonial comes from a real person.
  • Even better, a photo of the person with the product.
  • Even better, a photo of the person using the product.
  • Be specific about who the person is, with name and town, if possible.
  • A video testimonial is even more powerful, especially if it is specific.

Offsite reviews. Put to use offsite reviews. Again, these are not always believable, witness the current crisis surrounding Yelp reviews and the widespread marketplace for fake reviews, but if you get positive reviews (real ones), you might as well quote from them and/or link to them on your website.

You have to earn your customers' trustShow its durability. If possible, take a sledge hammer to the product to show its durability. This might not work with crystal glassware; please use discretion. But remember how Tilley built its hat empire on the powerful testimonial of how the hat went through an elephant’s entire digestive system unharmed.

“Elephant trainer Michael Hackenberger of the Bowmanville (Ontario) Zoo, had his Tilley Hat snatched from his head and eaten by an elephant. Three times. Michael later would find and pick up his Hat, wash it thoroughly, and wear it. He had declined to accept a new Tilley Hat in order that we may have his well-traveled Tilley for our museum. (We were secretly pleased!)” Alex Tilley, Ontario.

Unless you are selling a service or a consumable, durability will be an unspoken concern for your visitors.

Offer a guarantee. People trust someone better who is willing to offer a guarantee.  A money-back guarantee works best. In my experience, people never ask for a money back guarantee for a physical product unless it really is broken or doesn’t work. However, for services, I have found there to be a lot of scam clients. Here is an example:

The client wanted her resume edited and cover letter written (not something we normally do), pleaded poverty for a discount (we should never have given the discount – lesson learned?) then needed two versions of the letter prepared (which we did at no extra charge). When it was delivered, she went straight to the Better Business Bureau seeking 100% refund of her discounted price because she found a missing comma and a run-on sentence. The comma she could have just inserted, and the run-on sentence actually read quite well (and we are always happy to edit anyway as part of our standard service, anyway).

Fortunately, these don’t happen every day, but they do happen sometimes, and there is often a lot of money involved (we don’t sell $10 items). So we can not offer a money-back guarantee, but we do offer a no-questions-asked escape clause in all our contracts. If you are not happy with how a writing project is proceeding, just call it off and we will settle based on how much of the work has been completed.  This is something we have never promoted; maybe we should.

Trust logos. Speaking of Better Business Bureau, displaying their logo is a symbol of trust. A professional accreditation logo works well, too. There are also trust logos related to security of payments that are worth adding. Proper placement of these can make a huge difference in conversions.  Customers need to trust you, your product, your payments and your delivery.

Read Also: 12 ways to brag without bragging online

“As seen in” logos. People trust the media. They say the media can’t be trusted, but they lie. If they see something in the newspaper or on TV, they generally believe it.  (Here is why, in case you are interested.) That’s why “As seen on TV” products sell so well. So it is worth adding as-seen-in logos to your website. You can see how this is done at www.PlantingMoneySeeds.com.

Introduce yourself. Add a video of yourself welcoming people to your website. This is common for consultants to do, but it can help any website. When people can see who they are doing business with, they are more likely to trust them than if they are just dealing with an anonymous website.  People like the convenience of shopping online, but they still like to know whom they are dealing with.  This is particularly worthwhile if you are an unknown brand.

Craft details. Describe in meticulous detail with text, diagrams, pictures and video all the care that has gone into crafting the product. It doesn’t matter what the product is, even if “craft” is not a word you would associate with it.  Show the love, the care, the attention to detail.  This will increase people’s trust in the product and in the manufacturer – and the likelihood that they will buy.

Online chat. Just having the chat available, even if it isn’t used, gives customers peace of mind.  They know that you are there if they need you. That alone can be enough to convince them to trust you with their money. Posting full contact details (address, phone and email) helps them trust also that you won’t be here today, gone tomorrow when they need help.  This is especially true if the product seems complicated and people worry that they might need help assembling or setting it up.

You don’t have to take all of these measures. Many won’t apply to your specific product or service. But the more of them you include, the more comfortable people will be trusting you with their money and making a purchase from your website.


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Content marketing is not king of trust

Jan 28, 2014 - filed under content, marketing 6 Comments
 

Content marketing is very useful, but rarely for establishing trust and clinching a sale.

“Content is king.” Who could have guessed that those prophetic words by Bill Gates would today be such a well-worn phrase as to be taken for Gospel truth by pretty much everyone in 2014?

And who could have guessed that those same words would have taken on the misguided meaning that content marketing is king, with the 2014 gold rush to anything that can be labeled “content marketing”.

Content marketing can draw customers inDon’t get me wrong – content marketing is a very powerful tool for many businesses in a number of different circumstances. But the mass migration to the “content marketing” buzzword in 2014 will undoubtedly lead many, many businesses to take up something that is of little value to them, and use it for the wring reasons with predictably unsatisfactory results.

The context for the content marketing craze is the realization that authority is what people and now search engines are looking for.

Well, yes, that is true. It always has been. Google always measured website authority and trust; that’s what PageRank was (still is?) all about, as well as numerous measures of topical relevance, the longevity of a domain and how trustworthy are the websites that link to it. The difference now is that Google seems to have come up with a means of measuring an individual’s authority and trust.

Of course, the expertise of an individual is important when judging the value of his or her advice. However, no algorithm can do anything but make a rough guess on that point.

How does “authority” translate into marketing your business? Is content the marketing king? I recently found myself in a discussion with someone who insisted that content marketing is crucial because you have to build trust to make a sale, and expertise is the basis for trust.

The premise of his argument is that:

A) People read articles as part of the sales process.
B) People follow writers until eventually deciding to buy.

I disagreed, at least for most businesses.

Before going any further, let’s agree – and I think we can – that there are many types of businesses and there are many types of customers. One size does not fit all. The question for each business to determine is what methods fit its sales process and target market.

Let’s also put aside the usefulness of content marketing in the funnel, and content that is actually part of the buying process (demos, product descriptions, etc.), well expressed by Tom Shivers. Those are fairly widely useful, and not at all about building a reputation in the hopes that eventually readers will buy.

When you are the product, such as if you are a consultant or a writer or a designer, your expertise is crucial – no question about that. Trust in you as an individual and in your expertise (authority?) is your main selling point.

When the product is ball bearings or sandals, nobody cares about you as an individual. Yes, trust is crucial, but authority is not. What do they care about?

1. The manufacturer of a product – that the product is made well.
2. The retailer – that money handed over will result in the product being delivered.

Read Also: Make a Winning eCommerce Shopping Experience

In Part II of this discussion (next blog post) we will look at how to build the trust and confidence for a product (hint, it’s not by writing articles or designing Infographics) and for a retailer, too.  For now, let’s look at when the product is you – when authority can be part of the trust equation.

Nobody chooses a web designer for their articles.The number of purchases people make that are in fact expertise purchases is substantial. Consider the following services:

  • Legal help.
  • Accounting.
  • Web design.
  • Marketing.
  • Pest control.
  • Real estate agent.
  • Financial adviser.
  • Healthcare practitioner.
  • Trainer or educator.
  • Pet groomer.
  • Home renovator.

In all these cases, the individual’s expertise is crucial to the value one gets from buying, so authority on a subject matter could have a direct link to consumer trust.

One of the premises of the importance of content marketing as a means of building trust and using expertise to make sales is that people will follow you (and perhaps several competitors) for a while before deciding that you are the person to hire.

This might be the case with financial advisers, marketing help and web design. And maybe if you are planning a move in advance, you would do the same thing for a real estate agent. These are services that you might know about well in advance and might start shopping around before you are ready to make the purchase. And you might very well read their articles to get an idea of what their approach is, if you feel qualified to make some kind of judgment.

Or you might just read their sales pages and look at other trust indicators - ones that take less time and attention that reading through articles – that we’ll be discussing in my follow-up post, and maybe fill in a query form and engage in a few questions.

In fact, for web design, marketing and so many other services, a visual gallery of past projects is more likely what customers want to look at. They don’t usually have the patience to read through reams of words that they know they are unqualified to judge. But most people do feel comfortable looking at pictures and deciding if that looks professional and trustworthy.

I am not saying that articles on a website are useless. I am saying to think carefully about what a prospective customer will look for, on what basis they will decide that you have the expertise to deliver, and create the content that will be most effective – and often it is not articles or Infographics.

Who chooses a real estate agent for their articles?What about a lawyer? Chances are that you won’t even look for a lawyer until suddenly you need to hire one. You won’t read their articles for months before deciding to hire one. The same thing with accounting. And with pest control. People will not read tons of articles to decide if you are trustworthy; they will make a very quick decision – they need to find help fast!

In fact, I’ll take this argument one step further. Even if you are a financial planner or a real estate agent or a marketing consultant, what percentage of your prospects do research months in advance, and what percentage wait until the last minute, search on Google or Bing (maybe comparing a few websites), ask friends for recommendations and make a flash decision whom to contact and most likely end up hiring?

Of course, if you are shopping for car parts, clothing, gadgets, etc, no individual’s expertise will factor into the buying process.

The reality is that for the vast majority of businesses – even those based upon the expertise of an individual – informative articles on a topic will not be a major factor in converting visitors into customers.  There are more effective ways to establish trust, as we will discuss in the follow-up article.

That does not mean articles are useless, just not a priority in establishing trust within the sales conversion process.

Nor does that mean that article marketing, video marketing and Infographics are useless, just not as a means of establishing trust with visitors to most websites.

What content marketing does very well is to draw in people who are not yet shopping, people who are gathering information and might not yet know that they need your services – top of the funnel. They seek information, in so doing they find your article, they read, they learn, they realize that maybe they need professional help, they visit your website…and then hopefully you can make the sale.

In my next post I will discuss what, rather than articles and “content marketing”, will establish trust with potential customers once they are on your website.


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