David Leonhardt’s SEO and Social Media Marketing

Tips for better SEO (search engine optimization) and website marketing …

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Make a Winning eCommerce Shopping Experience

Jan 04, 2014 - filed under website conversion 4 Comments
 

There are many pitfalls to running an eCommerce website.  Making a winning eCommerce shopping experience means easy to order, fast (and free) delivery, and actually delivering what was ordered.

While the shopping experience itself may seem like the most important element of running an eCommerce business, the most attractive online store in the world won’t make up for a difficult checkout process, suboptimal shipping or inaccurate fulfillment practices. An online shopper is no more likely to buy a product once it’s in their shopping cart – the Baymard Institute lists the current online shopping cart abandonment rate at just more than 67 percent – but once it’s there, it’s your website’s job to do everything possible to make sure the product is paid for and sent out efficiently.

eCommerce fullfilment - get it right

Worse Than Waiting in line

It may seem like there’s nothing worse than waiting in the checkout line at the end of a shopping trip.  But what if the cashier asked you to fill out a 10 page form let you swipe your card or hand over some cash?  Exactly. This is exactly what can drive away your customers online.

Make sure your shoppers have multiple payment options – major credit cards and PayPal are recommended, although Google’s new Wallet system is quickly gaining popularity – and that you break the process into a few simple steps.

  1. Personal information such as name, address, email, etc.
  2. Payment method and information, including billing information or PayPal login as needed.
  3. Shipping options, with rates and dates, as well as shipping address information.
  4. Confirmation, giving customers a chance to look over their order one more time.

Too many steps can make this process needlessly complicated for customers, and you can lose your sale. Requiring registration before checkout, persistent pop-ups asking for coupon codes and being forced to retype the same information several times – if a customer’s home, billing and shipping addresses are all the same, they shouldn’t have to type it three times – are more than enough to aggravate a customer into going somewhere else.

Ship It Right

Assuming your payment process is clear and easy and the client confirms their purchase, the ball is in your court.

According to Entrepreneur.com, 42 percent of online shoppers will abandon their shopping cart if the shipping time is too slow. Eighty percent stated that a free shipping option was extremely important in their shopping experience – and with the success of programs like Amazon Prime, is anyone really surprised? Your eCommerce website should be clear with shipping from the start. Offering free shipping for orders over a certain dollar amount can work to great success for simultaneously garnering higher sales (people will be inclined to order more) and lowering cart abandonment rates.

Choosing one shipment method for the ecommerce order fulfilment process, be it UPS, FedEx or the good old USPS, is usually the best option. However, if you intend to offer international shipping, keep that in mind when making your selection, as not all shipment services will ship everywhere you have a customer base.

A Fulfilling Experience

While half of shoppers will leave if shipping is too slow, just under one-third will never buy from a particular eCommerce site again if the order they receive is incorrect. This is where organization proves to be the most important aspect of working in eCommerce. If you mix up an order during fulfillment, chances are you’ve sent the wrong product to two customers, not just one. Yikes!  Fulfillment methods need to be customized to suit your unique situation. But regardless of how you run your business, out of your home or as supplement to a brick and mortar location,you need to keep a clear inventory, and track orders using software tailored to the process.

Don’t forget that you’re offering a product; when it all comes down to it the most important thing is to make sure it gets where it needs to go quickly and efficiently. Be concise, efficient and organized, and your website will have a winning shopping experience.


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How to become a Google Plus rock star with Circle Shares

Dec 18, 2013 - filed under Google, social media 12 Comments
 

Circle sharing is taking over Google Plus like wildfire because people can quickly expand their network. Let me show you exactly what steps to take.

Two weeks Ago, I was in the circles of 600 or so people on Google Plus. This morning, I am in over 3000 people’s circles. Welcome to the magic of “Circle Sharing”. If you want to grow your Google Plus following, I will show you exactly what to do, exactly what steps to take.

How to do cirle sharing in Google Plus

But first, let me explain why circle sharing is so powerful and warn you about why there might be a risk.

READ ALSO: Why Google Plus might be more valuable than Facebook.
READ ALSO: Who uses Google Plus these days.

Circle sharing is powerful because everybody who saves the circle follows everybody in the circle. So if you are in the WowAnotherCircle circle, everybody who saves the WowAnotherCircle circle becomes a follower of yours. In order to get into a circle share, you need to be a circle sharer.

So it’s like everybody shaking hands and agreeing to follow each other.  You have a lot of people building huge followings, all sharing their followers with each other…well, it’s one big happy circle family.

How people react to circle shares on Google Plus

So is there a risk? Well, yes actually. People are following each other in order to get followers.  Not because they have something specific to offer or because they know them or because their posts are somehow relevant.  If this was link-building for SEO purposes, Google would ban everybody doing it. But instead, it is follower building. Why doesn’t Google ban the users who do this on its own network?

I think I know why.

All this circle sharing is increasing engagement on Google Plus and increasing loyalty to the site. Circle sharing is helping Google Plus catch up to Facebook as the top social networking website.

 

But what if someday that battle is over? What if someday Google Plus is the top social network, just like Google is the top search engine?  What happens when Google no longer cares about pulling ahead of Facebook and starts to care about quality?

Google has shown that it is not above penalizing websites for perfectly normal activities they did years ago, but which now are considered spammy. Could the same thing happen to circle sharers? Maybe. My advice to hedge your bets is to actually engage with your followers, with all of them. Whatever you do, don’t just post marketing messages, for example. Nobody likes the guy who wanders around the room handing out business cards while everybody else is talking about the weather, sports and the mating habits of the Southern Prickly Porcupine.

Post really cool stuff. Post personal stuff. Be real.

Be interesting.

For now, I’m having fun, and I really don’t expect Google to cut people off from building connections on their site as long as no users find it intrusive.

For now.

Words of wisdom from a champion Circle Sharer

Michael Q. ToddBefore I provide the formula that increased my network by 500 percent in just two weeks (yes, I am giddy about it), I would like to share with you some words of wisdom from Michael Q Todd who happens to have the single biggest Circle Share of all time, Megaball.

He began the circle share to connect like-minded people, something you might consider doing even if you don’t want to get into the huge, huge networking numbers: “I did my first circle share to better connect Empire Avenue members about 2 and a half years ago…”

Then he got addicted, eventually realizing that, as with anything else, success is about perseverance:

Justin Matthew got me into circle sharing with his snowball circle shares about 1 year ago. I dabbled in them but then appreciated that success would come from being regular and consistent and branding my circle share. I learned this from Scott Buehler and Daniel Stock.”

Who gets included in the really big circle shares?  Those people who share the circle shares and their sponsors’ other content (no surprise there, right?):

“As far as ‘criteria’ the pages and profiles included will probably have given +1 and publicly shared the #Megaball for the past 2 weeks in a row and will have made an effort to promote it outside G+. I can see this on their post when they share. If they have had no reaction to it it probably means that they have not made such an effort. I also take into account people who make ripples with their shared posts of my other content during the week. I am looking for influencers who like connecting people basically.”

Here is how you can start circle sharing.

Get invited into an already phenomenal circle.

Here are a few already going on.

Start by following their instructions, but also make sure to follow these 4 critcal steps (if they are not already in the circle founder’s instructions).  That really is how I began to be included in several of the bigger circle shares. It shows their sponsors that you are happy to help out. “In order to get into a circle share, you need to be a circle sharer.’

    1. +1 the post
    2. Comment on the post
    3. Include the circle among your circles (add friends that are worth sharing)
    4. “Share this circle” publicly (make sure to “Include yourself in shared circle.”) Here is how to add the circle to your own, and then share it:

How to Save a Circle on Google Plus

How to save a circle on Google Plus

How to share a circle on Google Plus

Include yourself in shared circle on Google Plus

 

Please add me in the circle you share. My Google profile is https://plus.google.com/u/0/112928640804164819202/

Start your own circle share.

Create a circle specifically for sharing. Include the people you engage with the most (and please add me, too!). Or the most interesting people you follow. You can put up to 500 people, but even 50 is fine to start with. Then share the circle publicly, asking your friends and readers to share the circle.  Once again, here are the instructions you can put in the post for your friends to follow.  You can also point them to this post for instructions.

  1. +1 the post
  2. Comment on the post
  3. Include the circle among your circles (add friends that are worth sharing)
  4. “Share this circle” publicly (make sure to “Include yourself in shared circle.”)

Share the circle once, and maybe again the following week, updated with new folks who comment their way in.  You might find yourself updating it each week.  That is how some of the big circle shares got started, and their original sponsors are in over 50,000 people’s circles .

I would like to do a BlogPostCircle share based on the people who read this post.  Yes, that’s you. If you want in, leave your Google Plus URL for me in the comments below, and I’ll put it together in January once I get past the time challenges of the Christmas season.  make sure to put me into your circles, too.

Just for fun, I happened to be visiting my Google Plus profile page just when this lucky number appeared, so I thought I would leave you with a capture of that moment:

David Leonhardt in 2,222 circles on Google Plus


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Facebook just gave Google an orgasm!

Dec 11, 2013 - filed under social media 10 Comments
 

This is a shocker, indeed. I don’t mean that I used the big “O” word in the title. I mean how the script is unfolding.

Facebook is trying to eat away at Google’s search hegemony. Meanwhile, Google has been laser-focused on toppling Facebook’s social network dominance.

It’s just like a classic movie showdown!

But every now and then two rivals meet at a climactic point in the script, engage in hand-to-hand combat, and…get distracted. They smell each others’ hair. They touch each others’ skin. They look into each others’ eyes.

But rarely do we see one of the rivals give the other an orgasm. Perhaps Hollywood is more family-friendly than social media after all.

In case you have been hiding under a rock this past week, Facebook “announced”:

“We’re getting to a place where because more people are sharing more things, the best way to get your stuff seen if you’re a business is to pay for it.”

This has not sat well with the many, many online small businesses who are among the most voracious users of social media. Here are a few samplings I have read this week of reactions to this news:

To sum it up, if a person “likes” your page on Facebook and wants to receive your updates that way, tough luck.  For them, and for you.  Chances are they will very rarely see those updates.

As a user, I actually like that.  Just because I “like” something, doesn’t mean I want updates.  In fact, I might like something because a friend recommends it or because there is a contest or some other incentive, and the last thing I want is to have all that commercial stuff blocking updates from friends, inspiring mini-posters and those crucial lol-cats.

But from a marketer’s perspective, after investing huge amounts of time and money building up a “likes” arsenal, it totally sucks.  100 percent.  Let this serve as yet another warning – I laid it out in Who Owns Your Twitter Account? and in 2011 Social Media Fail of the Year – you don’t own the work you invest in someone else’s website.

Google “Likes” Facebook

So Facebook is neutering your “likes”.

And Google really likes that.

Google has tried many times to supplant Facebook. Remember Orkut? Remember iGoogle? Remember Google Buzz? Remember Google Circles? Oh, wait…that ended up becoming Google Plus.

Well, it looks like Google’s long history of trial and error is finally over, and the question most of the way through 2013 has been whether Google Plus could do to Facebook what Facebook did to MySpace. (Don’t get me wring – MySpace is still big, especially in certain niches. But it is “big” only if it isn’t in the same room as Facebook.)

A year ago, Google Plus already had some impressive stats, having passed Twitter in total number of “active” users, but still with only half the number of Facebook.

Social media users

Dreamgrow published the following graph showing the trends up to March of 2013, and as you can see, Google still had not broken out of the pack as far as actual usage by US users is concerned.

Social networking usage

According to Jeff Bullas, Google Plus is closing in on Facebook, at least as far as the number of users and active users is concerned, but still had quite a way to go before catching up as of March.

I wish I could find some more recent stats, but I can’t. However, over the past six months, I have seen traffic from Google Plus increase, not just to my sites but to others’, as well. And the engagement going on now has hit fever pitch with all the circle sharing going on (Yes, drop me a line if you want to include me in a circle share; I would love to join the party.).

So, to cut through the blah-blah-blah, Google Plus is storming the palace gates and what does Facebook do? Facebook opens the gates. If small businesses move from Facebook to Google Plus for their marketing, and at the same time bring their personal social networking over, it could just be enough to create a neck-in-neck race.

In the world of social media spectator sports, 2014 promises to be a year full of oohs and ahs.  And one big social media “O”.


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Cartoonify your blog for top SEO results

Dec 04, 2013 - filed under blogging, SEO 11 Comments
 

Cartoons give a blog – or any website – an unfair advantage in the search engines. Cartoons can turn an unremarkable blog post into prime link-bate, and a web page into SEO rock star status.

In the crowded world of blogging, the path to success is always to distinguish yourself. There are many ways to do this; here are just a few of the more common ways to distinguish your blog within its niche:

  • the length of the posts
  • the approach you take to a topic, perhaps playing Devil’s advocate or assembling multiple opinions
  • a unique writing style
  • incredibly thorough research
  • presentation

By way of example, Mike at Sugar Piner Realty Blog makes a big deal of how each post is a “lightning fast read”, which makes it easy for people to click through without feeling they will be stuck reading for hours (low risk).

On the other hand Neil Patel of Quicksprout Blog prides himself on long, detailed, highly useful posts. His is one of my favourite blogs; I don’t mind being stuck reading his long text because I almost always walk away something useful and actionable (high value).

Yes. Short is awesome. Long is amazing. Both these bloggers distinguish their posts by taking exact opposite approaches. But what they share in common is that they distinguish.

Whether a post is long or short, provocative or bland, informative or opinionated, presentation also counts. These days, the value of having an image on your blog posts is indisputable.

  • Pinterest is huge. No image, no Pinterest.
  • FaceBook adds images from links automatically. Your link is lost on FaceBook without an image.
  • Twitter is growing increasingly visual.
  • Google Plus is at least as visual as FaceBook…and I don’t even know if you can post there without an image.
  • Snapzu. GentleMint. Scoop.it. Manteresting. Sulia. Rockzi. Dudepins. DartItUp. Etc.  Those are just the ones where I have profiles; you might know of others.

What does this have to do with SEO? I’m getting to that.

Stock photography has bloomed (not literally, except for floral photography) over the past few years, as the number of blogs continues to rise, compounded by the realization that a blog post needs an image.

Infographics have also exploded (not literally) as everybody and their pet Chihuahua’s grandmother tries to cram “everything ever known in the universe since before the beginning of time” into one handy reference image.

People love funny pictures. #cartoons #SEO #blog posts

But Mark Anderson of Andertoons makes a strong case that cartoons are more effective than stock photos and Infographics.

It could be argued that stock photography (boring!) and Infographics (seriously?) are just being done wrong. And I might well make that case in another blog post (or two). But even done right, stock photography and Infographics would have a hard time competing with cartoons.

Is this where you get to the SEO part? Shhh. Stop interrupting.

A cartoon holds a dual promise that no other medium does. It offers the likelihood that any time invested in it will bring laughter, or at least a smile … or at least some form of amusement. Chances are pretty good that you will feel good after reading a cartoon.

In a good mood, the reader might be more amenable to continuing to read the post. Enjoying the cartoon, the post might be shared just for the cartoon’s sake. Who would do that for stock photography, or even for an Infographic?

Even if the cartoon sucks, you know that it won’t take more than a moment of your time, so this is a lower-rick activity than clicking through to yet another blog post on the levels of mercury found in southeast Pacific tuna. Who won’t read the cartoon?

If you have not yet heard, SEO these days is all about engagement. The more people you can get top view your content, and the more they engage with it, the better you will rank in the search engines. Lots of engaged people send lots of tweets, post lots of FaceBook comments and link back from their blogs. The natural links, just because your content is so awesome, are the Holy Grail of SEO.

eyeballs x engagement = SEO

SEO tips for cartoons (lightening fast read!)

  • Make sure your cartoon is on-topic with the post.
  • The cartoon does not have to re-enforce a specific point from the post, but bonus points if it does.
  • Make sure the cartoon can stand on its own, out of context. It will stand a much better chance of being shared in social media.
  • The cartoon does not need to have keywords in the text, but bonus points if it does.
  • Make sure the image file name and alt text have keywords, unless it would look really silly.
  • Make sure your URL is on the cartoon, in case it gets shared beyond your ability to track it.
  • Welcome reprints (you can even give link code, the way Infographics marketers often do).

Why my cartoonfographic rocks

The most shared post on this blog is actually an Infographic. It will never win any design awards, unless someone is giving out a what-do-you-call-that-awkward-thing award. But it does do four things very well:

  • It is short and sweet (lightening fast read).
  • It addresses a much-talked about topic (newsworthy)
  • It gives a useful, actionable framework for evaluating links (useful)
  • It looks almost more like a cartoon than like an Infographic (What DO you call that awkward thing?)

Cartoons are not cheap. They are labour-intensive, so you will pay a price. If you have deep pockets, they are a great investment every day. If your pockets are shallower, you might want to be strategic in how you use cartoons.

For instance, a lot of personal finance bloggers have a mix of content on their blogs:

  • useful tips and tricks for saving money, making money and keeping sane through it all
  • financial product reviews

Guess which of the two types of posts is income-producing? And guest which type of post people actually like to share? One way to make the income-producing posts more shareable is with a cartoon. The result is more inbound links and more social signals to the pages that actually need to rank well in the search engines.

Another strategy would be to have a weekly or monthly cartoon, and draw people into other posts through that cartoon. To be more clear, the cartoon would be a post on its own, perhaps with a round-up of the week’s or the month’s posts to get people moving deeper into your website.

Cartoons are particularly useful for dull topics, like grain elevators or concrete mixing. Even the world’s biggest grain elevator groupie, or the world’s biggest cement curing fan would be hard-pressed to read through 800 words on those topics without yawning.  Imagine, however,the fun you could have with a cartoon of a grain elevator sinking into improperly mixed cement. Ah, but now I mix my metaphors…

Cartoons are not your only option for effective and engaging images. Infographics work, too. Stock photography works, too. But cartoons do have a natural advantage, and are well worth your consideration. It could be the unfair SEO advantage that propels your blog.

DEAR READERS: What do you think makes the ideal image for a web page or blog post?


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Website design – time to consider tappiness seriously

Dec 02, 2013 - filed under web design, website conversion 3 Comments
 

With so many people surfing on phones and tablets, guest blogger Martin Crutchley reports that websites have to incorporate “tappiness” into their design.

Ecommerce is booming, and with the festive season around the corner, this year is expected to witness high online sales figures – comScore predicts 14 percent growth year-over-year to $48.1. People are going to flock to established sites like Amazon and eBay to buy gifts and other items as preparation for the season ahead, especially since Amazon created a clever way to grab headlines just in time for Cyber Monday.

If you, too, wish to promote holiday sales online and capitalize on this buying frenzy, you need to put up a website – and that is where good, up-to-date website design plays a huge role.

Now, it may not be possible for you to get into the league of top eCommerce sites. But for you to make a decent start, you have to pay attention to your website design and get the basics right. Many businesses are going online, as they have recognized the huge opportunity of selling stuff through their own eCommerce site.

More and more people are tapping screens to buy stuff.Having said the above, it is no longer enough to put up a site that can be accessed only through computers. It is no longer adequate to have only static images and some text content. We are living in the Smartphone age and every day newer applications are being developed.

Today a site needs to be easy to access from mobile devices like the Smartphone, the tablet, the phablet and other such convenient, mobile gadgets.

The target audience today wants more interactivity. This audience is no longer confined to the middle aged segment of the population. The buyers today are youngsters and even children who are now more tech savvy than ever before. They are able to use modern gadgets intuitively at a very early age, and though they may not be shopping directly or are eligible to do so, they are certainly great influencers in making their parents buy what they see and like.

It is clear that a fair amount of traffic to eCommerce sites is generated from the users of these modern gadgets. This requirement of making web sites easily accessible to Smartphones and tablets has been given the name “tappiness”, since people use their fingers to tap the screens, rather than a keyboard and a mouse.

Tappiness means more engagement and more sales

Tappiness creates a flow of sales from mobile devicesTappiness refers to smart space usage, reader friendly text, making navigation a breeze and providing interaction clues that speed up decision making – all the elements that make a website easier to use on a small “tappy” screen. The user of today is impatient, on the go and very intolerant to sites that take long to load or are not easy on the eye when viewed on their mobile phone.

Once your website has been designed, you need to check it for this “tappiness” factor. You can do this by browsing for your site on any of the devices and seeing how long it takes for the site to load, how the pages appear and how easy it is for you to navigate the site. Not doing so can cost you a lot of valuable traffic, potential buyers and precious conversions.

The good news is that you can add tappiness to your site quite easily, as it is neither difficult nor expensive. There are agencies like BT Websites who specialize in mobile optimized sites, and that is a great place to start. You can contact them on 08001 693 398 (That’s a UK number, but they’ll service you wherever you live) or visit http://www.websites.bt.com/website-design for more information!

Guest blogger Martin Crutchley is a 20-something UK based tech blogger and social networking fiend; you can discover more of his musings on Twitter @Embers29 


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A social media monitoring success story

Oct 30, 2013 - filed under marketing, social media 11 Comments
 

Smart brands are monitoring social media to track their reputation and following up with action. This is the story of one such smart brand.

So here I am, working remotely once again from my favourite office away from home – the Ottawa Public Library. I wrote about this set-up on my lifestyle blog, not from a marketing perspective, but focusing instead on the flexibility that working remotely allows me to have with family life.

I mentioned the service I use to access my desktop computer, back at my home office, remotely from the library: LogMeIn.com. I did not really do a review of the service, as I have nothing to compare it to. And I was very frank about the advantages of the service as well as the weaknesses. But all in all, it was a positive experience, and I reported it as such.

And I tweeted it. Here is the tweet (It’s a good one; don’t be shy to retweet it.):

 


 

And that’s where the branding fun began. Interestingly, I did not tweet #LogMeIn or @LogMeIn. But the folks at LogMeIn were obviously paying attention, because they messaged me via Twitter for my address. A few days later, a courier arrived with a care package from LogmeIn. Look at all the promotional items they sent me in appreciation for having blogged about their service.

We can always use new water bottles around here. And pens, of course. And I know my daughters will love the little iPod speaker port when I release it to them, as well as the ear plugs. Nice sticker, too, although perhaps less useful. The playing cards will be a hit when one of our current decks burns out, and we need another deck for Dame de Pique or Sequence. And who doesn’t need more pens? (The hats were already on the mantle.)

Tweet this: “Look what brand really ‘gets’ social media.”

Why was it smart to send these promotional items to me? Well, for starters, I am a user of their services and it will build loyalty. Yes, I do feel more positive about LogMeIn because of the gesture.

Perhaps they thought I would be likely to share a pic of these items on Instagram or on Pinterest, and as a blogger who is at least somewhat connected, that would be good promotion for them. (Answer: yes to Pinterest, no to Instagram).

Perhaps they are trying to build brand ambassadors.

They might hope this will inspire me to upgrade to “pro”.

Perhaps they figured I might write about them again, and it never hurts to show your appreciation. After all, in any networking situation the two most important words are “Thank you” – even more important that “How can I help you?” If that was the case, they were right, because here I am writing about them.

Read Also: Case Study on how NOT to do reputation management

Of course, as a social media strategist myself, I am more keenly aware than many people of how a brand is using social media. But I suspect that most bloggers would also sit up and take notice.

Are you monitoring your brand on social media? Are you taking advantage of positive opportunities as much as trying to fix negative situations? Any time your brand is mentioned, you should know about it and take action. And that action should be…

  • Turn a disgruntled customer into an advocate.
  • Consolidate an advocate
  • Provide more fuel for advocates to use

I have no idea how consistent LogMeIn’s social media monitoring and follow-up are; I can base my opinions only on how they followed up with me. And for that, they get an A+ in social media marketing.


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Google Disavow. Why I actually like it.

Oct 25, 2013 - filed under linking 3 Comments
 

Google’s Disavow Tool is more than just a quick fix for a high-strung website owner. Used properly, it can help a website regain Google’s favour or possibly even avoid falling victim to Google’s link jailor Penguin mascot.  (post updated with video from Matt Cutts)

There is a lot of debate about whether or not it is a good idea to disavow backlinks. Some people think it is an admission of “guilt”. Others worry that, in using the disavow tool, people will end up losing valuable links that are not actually causing them any problems.

I will not dispute the validity of either of these views.

What if you know you have a backlinks problem?

Let us assume for a moment that you know you have a backlink problem. Perhaps you have received the infamous “unnatural backlinks” letter from Google. Perhaps your rankings have tanked, and you have ruled out other causes. Let’s assume that you need to clean up your backlink profile, one way or the other.

Basically, you have two choices. The first is to get rid of the backlinks. The second is to leave them up and use Google’s Disavow Tool.

Let’s be clear – Google prefers you to get rid of them. Let’s also be clear – most webmasters ignore requests to remove links. The first benefit of the Disavow Tool is that it lets you deal with the majority of links that you cannot get removed.

Remember, in this case, you will not be losing any valuable links with the disavow tool that you would not be losing if your begging, bribing, threatening and temper tantrums had worked with the website owners linking to you.

Read also: How Google reads your backlinks

There are also those links that you think are actually pretty good, but you are also pretty sure that Google disagrees with you. You probably should get rid of them to get back into Google’s good books…but what if those links are the reason you are still getting traffic from Bing and Yahoo. OR What if those links are sending you real traffic? Sure, Google is better than Bing, but Bing is better than nothing. And nothing is very realistically what you could end up with if you remove a whole bunch of links that Bing likes, and the Penguin still isn’t satisfied.

What if you do not have a backlinks problem…yet?

The Disavow tool is also a great way to take a pre-emptive strike to avoid getting into Google’s bad books. It has been my observation that it is a lot harder to get out of a penalty these days than to stay out. It’s sort of like falling into a well. It’s much easier to avoid being pushed in by a passing Penguin than to try scrambling out once you hit the bottom, so best to just avoid falling in.

Tweet this quote: “It’s much easier to avoid a Penguin penalty than to get out of one.”

I am not suggesting to make a pre-emptive strike for just any links, but I have seen twice how websites have been attacked by what you might call negative SEO. This very blog was used by a black hatter to try (unsuccessfully) to funnel PageRank to some websites through random text and image links pointing to blog comment URLs that did not exist (they left comments on this blog that were never published, but they pointed links at the non-existent URLs anyway). Their attempt was unsuccessful, but there were still hundreds of pure spam links on toxic domains increasing in rapid succession, pointing to this blog, to my domain.

Read Also: Monitor Backlinks – 7 juicy inside- and outside-the-box strategies

In another case, I worked with a website that was burdened with hundreds of new links pointing to it every day. The links were using pharmaceutical text (it was not a pharmaceutical site) and were in the company of dozens of other links all being placed invisibly in the code of blogs that the black hatters hacked into. The host blog owners never even knew the links were there, pointing to my client’s site or pointing to the many other sites.

In both these cases, spam attacks got the sites into Google’s bad books, but much, much, much more clean-up has been required to fix the link profile than just cleaning up the ones that got them into trouble. A preemptive disavow might have prevented huge headaches and a fortune of lost income for each of these websites.

The disavow tool should not be a crutch to lean on for worried website owners. If you know you have some really bad backlinks, do whatever you can to get them removed. But don’t be afraid to use the Disavow tool if that’s the best tool for your situation.

UPDATE: Google’s Matt Cutts has now confirmed that “If you’re at all worried about, you know, someone trying to do negative SEO or, you know, it looks like there’s some weird bot that’s building up a bunch of links to your site and you have no idea where it came from, that’s the perfect time to use Disavow, as well.”

Here is the video:

 

Disavow corrosive links


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Five backlink metrics to elude the dreaded Penguin

Oct 04, 2013 - filed under linking 19 Comments
 

Ever since Google released its Penguin algorithm, website owners have been swimming in murky and dangerous waters. It is no longer enough to get lots of good quality links pointing to your site. you also have to avoid the naval mines* lying in ambush – links from sites that Google considers to be toxic. Consider this article to be your minesweeper.

Once upon a time, not that long ago… ah, but this is not a fairy tale we are telling. Just two years ago, in fact, the main task of most SEO specialists was building links. That was never all there was to SEO, but it certainly was the most labour-intensive and the most never-ending task. I think Tom Shivers puts it best when he wrote:

“I’ve been a SEO consultant for over a decade and although I am sound with technical SEO the majority of my expertise and emphasis has been on gaining natural links.”

Most readers know the story well enough. The lovely princess and the handsome price… Oh, no, that’s not it. This is the tale of the weary link-builders who would look for shortcuts and systems and automation and ways to build thousands of backlinks to their websites or their client websites. This was never a very good idea, but Google rewarded them handsomely for doing so despite tut-tutting them for it.

What a difference two years make.

Google's penguin at work (cartoon)Having noticed the ravaged landscape of the Internet, Google has decided to align its actions more closely with its words, unleashing its “Penguin” algorithm, a hungry beast that is shredding webmaster’s little empires across the Internet.

The Penguin has turned the SEO world quite literally upside down. Just two years ago, the main task of most SEO specialists was building links. Now the main task of most SEO specialists is unbuilding links or at least defending against disreputable backlinks.

A couple years ago, any link was a good link. Even the most hoity-toity, holier-than-thou SEO practitioner paid no attention when a spammy site linked to their site.

Now, even people who once paid no attention to SEO at all are running around in a panic that the wrong kinds of sites might link to theirs, lest the Penguin get wind of it.

Instead of people coming up with tools to help webmasters build lots of quick and easy backlinks, savvy entrepreneurs are now coming up with tools to monitor their backlinks. I recently reviewed a really neat subscription software that does just that: Monitor Backlinks. This service also gives you some really neat metrics to help decide if each backlink is worthwhile or not, or dangerous or not. And you can keep tabs on your competition with it, too.

Five metrics to evaluate your backlinks

This blog post describes five metrics you can use to easily identify the worthwhile backlinks and the dangerous backlinks you might have or you might have the opportunity to acquire, so that you can avoid building a questionable backlink profile.

For those of you with some spare change and python-tight schedules, Monitor Backlinks is a quick way to identify troublesome backlinks. For those of you who misplaced your cash flow but have some spare time on your hands, there are free tools available.

Metric #1: Design

This is very simple. Take a look at the site. If the design is exceedingly poor, it is unlikely to attract good traffic or good backlinks. Chances are that the site sucks.

Free tool: Eyeballs

It’s not for nothing this is commonly called “the eyeball test”.

What to look for

Look for obvious signs that the site is not being maintained. Check if the pages are filled with ads. Check if there are tons of outbound links. Look for images that are not scaled properly. Check for real contact information. A site that posts telephone number and mailing address are much more likely to be in Google’s good books than a more secretive website.

Metric #2: PageRank

This is at the same time a no-brainer and somewhat of a red herring. A no-brainer because this is the only public metric of a site’s value that Google displays. It is somewhat of a red herring because it is often inaccurate and out of date, and is often relied upon far to heavily just because it is such an each measurement to check.

Free tool: Google toolbar

This is probably just plain obvious.

What to look for

Look for very high or very low PageRank. If a home page has zero PageRank, it is either a very new website or one that really has no presences on the Internet (or there is a glitch in the toolbar data). If you are really pressed for time you might want to pass it by.

If a home page has really high PageRank, like 5 or more, chances are that the site is a steal. But remember that there are often inaccuracies in the toolbar, so never take PageRank at face value. If a site has high PageRank but doesn’t pass the eyeball test, I’d trust the eyeball test more. In fact, I would never even look at the PageRank of a site that totally fails the eyeball test.

Look also for page-specific PageRank. This can be useful if the home page has a high PageRank and you have the option of being linked from an internal page with low PageRank or one with medium PageRank.  Choose the better page.

Metric #3: Traffic

One great way to quickly determine if a website makes a good backlink is based on traffic. Google has a lot of data on which websites send traffic from their links. A website that gets no traffic, sends no traffic. So low-traffic counts could be a sign that the site has little respect from Google.

Free tool: Alexa

Anybody who has been around on the Internet for a while knows about Alexa, a website that measures traffic trends for any significant website.  Of course, this might be of little use if the site is new or has very little traffic.

What to look for

There are two things to look for. The first is the overall traffic levels compared to other similar websites. BIG emphasis on “compared to other similar websites”. You cannot compare a website about fish tanks with a website about free clip-art. Alexa will tend to draw much more data from one niche than from another; this is the weak point about Alexa.

Similarly, you cannot compare a website that runs a forum for fish owners with a fish-related blog or with a website selling fish tank supplies. They might be the same niche, but they will draw different levels of traffic by their different functions.

The second thing to look for is the trend. Alexa offers really cool trend graphs so you can see if traffic has been growing or falling over the past year.

Alexa website traffic graph

Growing is good. Falling is bad. But don’t worry too much if traffic has been gently falling over the long run. That is unlikely to reflect badly on the site.

However, if traffic has suddenly plunged, that could be a sign that Google has penalized it. If you are in a rush, you might just want to steer wide of that website and avoid getting a backlink from them. If you have time to kill, you can always try comparing the timing of the drops in traffic with the timing of Penguin updates.

Still, even if there is no direct correlation in timing, something drastic has happened. It could be the end of an ad campaign or the break-up of a partnership or some other Google penalty. Whatever it is, it is probably not worth your investment in time to figure it out.

Metric #4: Backlinks

What better way to assess the quality of a potential backlink site than by looking at its own backlinks? A website with lots of strong, credible backlinks is one that is very likely to get the stamp of approval from Google. A website with lots of spammy looking backlinks is quite likely to be in or to be headed for the doghouse …er…the penguinhouse.

Free tool: BacklinkWatch

This is not the only free tool to check backlinks with; but I find it useful.

What to look for:

You could spend hours analyzing the backlinks of every site or page offering you a backlink. Let’s not. There are a few things to look for that don’t require deep analysis.

First, check for simple link diversity. If a website has 1200 backlinks and it looks like 900 of them are coming from a single domain, or even from just three or four domains, that could be a big concern.

Of course, it also depends where the other 300 links are coming from. If several of them are coming from recognized authority websites like CNN or Forbes or webMD, the site might be well worth getting a link from. So the second thing to watch for are well-known websites that likely convey authority.

The third thing to look for are really spammy looking websites. I don’t mean to click-through each backlink, but you can easily tell if there are a lot of cheap-ugg-shoes-for-sale.com type of domains linking in. Or if a large number of inbound links come from directories or forum profiles or article directories. Nothing wrong with having some of these in a link profile. Something very wrong with having oodles of them.

Metric #5: Social signals

You might have heard that the search engines are valuing “social signals” of late. It’s true.

Free tool: ShareTalley

This tool will give you a quick count of social mentions across a broad range of social sites. It does not look at the domain, just at individual pages.

What to look for:

First, I would look at the linking page to see what social profile it has. A good social profile will show mentions across several services. I have found that if a page is promoted in any of the big six social sites (Twitter, FaceBook, Google Plus, Pinterest, StumbleUpon and LinkedIn), it will naturally pick up mentions in other places, especially Delicious and Pocket. If there are 100 or more tweets and no mentions in any of the smaller services, that is a red flag that the page might have been promoted artificially, such as by buying tweets or FaceBook likes (not good).

Next, I would look at the home page and check its mentions. That can sometimes also give an idea of the website’s social profile. But be aware that a content page that is actually of interest to people might get shared more than a home page.

Happy linking

We come to the end of our fairy tale. This is where the prince and the princess kiss and ride off into the sunset. They can do this because the Penguin is off in the next county hunting down people who didn’t bring their eyeballs and their other tools with them.

* If this imagery reminds you of a certain Monty Python skit, I take no responsibility for the consequences.

Illustration credit: A big thank you to Aires C. Bautista.


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Monitor Backlinks – 7 juicy inside- and outside-the-box strategies

Sep 18, 2013 - filed under linking, SEO 9 Comments
 

I love new tools that make online marketing easier, and I have always been a fan of SEO.  So when Monitor Backlinks was released, of course I had to review it.

CAVEAT: I am not a fan of automation for content creation or for link-building, as I have often said.  But I am a great fan of automation for form filling and for research.  And this is all about putting research on Steroids.

This review will not be a step-by-step walk-through of the interface, nor a pros-and-cons type of review, for three reasons:

Monitor Backlinks Logo

  1. This tool is mostly self-evident and easy to use – I love it when that happens!
  2. There are already several reviews of this kind, such as here and  here and here - and I am sure many more will appear.
  3. These guys bend over backwards to help you figure it out (Hello Big Brands who don’t want to keep getting bashed on Twitter - are you paying attention?).  Here is a message I got from founder Razvan Girmacea when I signed up:

“Got any questions about our software? Want to get a second opinion on your SEO tactics? Just reply to this email.

“I like helping people to get the most out of Monitor Backlinks and I like talking to people interested in SEO in general.”

Instead of walking through the interface, let me run through seven juicy ways I have discovered this tool can be harnessed to boost your business, some of which you will find “du-uh” obvious, others of which you’ll find “Hey, that’s refreshing!”  (like cantaloupe with vanilla ice cream – go ahead and try it)

KEEPING LINK PARTNERS HONEST

This is not the most original or the most exciting way to use Monitor Backlinks, but it is the most obvious and the most traditional – plus it allows me to easily introduce how Monitor Backlinks works at the most basic level, so let’s start with it.

Monitor Backlinks 'SEO Auto Discover' feature

The “SEO Auto Discover” function tracks all your backlinks, which new ones you get and which old ones disappear.  So if a linking partner removes your link, you will be alerted in the change log.  Or if you choose to be alerted by email on your account page, you will receive an email alert.

Receive email notification of change of status

To be frank, keeping reciprocal linkers honest has never been a priority of mine, and I will not use it this way.  Most link partners are honest anyway, and a natural backlink profile does not include a high degree of reciprocation in backlinks…or in the timing of backlink removal.  But I know that some readers will want to keep track of this.

But it’s not just link partners you might want to monitor, as Razvan Girmacea pointed out when I interviewed him:

“Think how hard is to get a baklink and then think how easy is to inform a webmaster about a link with a problem (nofollow, 302 redirect, robots.txt blocked, removed because changed theme, meta noindex/nofolllow, server errors …). This is exactly why I’ve built Monitor Backlinks, to make sure you keep your current links when it’s possible.

“About 10 to 20% of the links that have problems can be recovered with a simple notice to the website owner.”

PENGUIN CLEAN-UP

I have been helping websites clean up their backlinks for a couple years, ever since Google’s bloodthirsty Penguin has been ravishing the Internet.  When a website gets the infamous “unnatural backlinks” letter from Google, it means not hours, but days of tedious work:

  • Tracking down backlinks
  • Deciding which ones to try to eliminate
  • Seeking webmaster contact info
  • Requesting link removal
  • Keeping track of which links are being removed
  • Re-contacting the webmaster
  • Disavowing links that do not get removed

Sorry, but Monitor Backlinks won’t do all this work for you.  But it will help you keep track, which can save you days of work.  To put this to use, you need to first create a list of all the backlinks you want removed, and load it up…

Import backlinks to monitor

I know that a Penguin Penalty and an “unnatural backlinks” letter are not the same thing, but there is a very strong correlation, probably in the vicinity of 95 percent.  And if you have been hit by Penguin and not “yet” received the dreaded letter, best to start cleaning up your backlinks quickly to avoid getting the letter.  It is my observation that this is a situation where an ounce of prevention can save you a pounding headache of cure.

RELATED ARTICLE: How Google interprets your backlinks

LOCAL SEO

Another innovative way to use Monitor Backlinks is to keep track of competitors.  I know I have always said to ignore what the competition is doing and just focus on being the best you can be, but there are some useful reasons to monitor competitor backlinks.

When a competitor wins a new backlink, it just might be from a website that you can also approach for a backlink.

When a competitor wins a new backlink, the linking website might not be one that will link to two competitors, but you might be able to look for a similar link from one of that website’s competitors.  For instance, a local bar might make a taxi company its “preferred supplier” and link to it.  Oh yeah?  Well, you can go out and get other bars to link to your taxi company website.

When a competitor gets a spammy link, you can see it right away.  And perhaps you will want to report it to somebody. I will warn you to be very careful about this.  Once you start a food fight on the Internet, it can get out of control.

This approach can be useful for any website, not just local SEO.  But it especially useful for local SEO where linking opportunities might be more limited and truly useful links should mostly come from local sources.

I contacted Gerald Weber, a friend who I knew was using this tool (see the “here” links above), and he told me: “My wife has recently launched a new phone screen repair business (www.houstoniphonescreenrepair.com) and with all of the craziness that has been going on in Google these days we want to know immediately if we get some weird or spammy looking links. It’s also extremely cool that we can always see when we are getting new and powerful links as well.”

A little bird told me that Monitor Backlinks might soon be adding a “local citation” feature, so you will know not only what sites link to your site, but what sites mention your company (and your competitors).  Here is a good post on the importance of citations to local SEO.  I am not sure how far advanced this is, as I have yet to come across any studies on local citation (please feel free to identify any in the comments below), but it appears to be something that has begun.  And, I might add, it is a good reason why your local website should be well optimized for your company name and area code.

NEGATIVE SEO

You might have heard a lot about negative SEO, especially now that Google will penguin-slap you for too many unnatural backlinks.

Many webmasters are afraid that a competitor will pay an offshore “link building” service to create 1000 forum backlinks and 1000 spammy, keyword-specific-anchor-text blog comments to their sites and get them in trouble.  The scary thing is that there is precious little that you can do about this.

But if you see them coming, which is where Monitor Backlinks comes in handy, you might be able to throw them all into a Disavow file with a note about being bombarded by negative SEO, and upload it to Google’s Disavow tool.  Will that protect you?  I don’t know.  But you will have a MUCH better case to make if you report the links proactively as soon as they appear than if you respond only after Google finds them.

For those who don’t think negative SEO is possible, I was a victim.  In my case, it was not a competitor who hit me, just some black hat SEO “genius” using my blog to try to boost rankings.  They posted spam comments here.  Those comments were never approved, but they still had specific URLs.  The spammer was linking from garbage websites using random images and anchor text to the exact URL of their comments, hoping to boost the SEO value of their comment links.  Although the comment-specific URLs never went live, the spam links still pointed to this domain.  Had I been monitoring those backlinks, I might have taken pre-emptive action to avoid the mess of a full-fledged backlinks clean-up.

JUICE UP YOUR CURRENT BACKLINKS

Monitor Backlinks gives some great analytics about each link.  Here is a partial slice from a few of my backlinks…

Monitor Backlinks data

What you see is the domain for each link, to and from.  You have to move your cursor over the domains to see the exact URL and click on that to open the link in a new window.  Then comes the MozRank of the domain.  Move your cursor over it and see the Page Authority.  Next comes the social sharing tally.  Move your cursor over that and view specific counts for Twitter, FaceBook, Google+, LinkedIn and Delicious.

What I cut off to keep the image manageable on this narrow blog space are:

Number of external links on each linking page, the tag representing the source of the data (in this case, all from the “autodiscover from Google Analytics” function), the button to edit the data, the current status of the link and the date the link was added to the Monitor Backlinks database.

So, how does this help me leverage my backlinks.  Well, in this example you see that I have some nice links from some authoritative websites.  That is good. But the pages themselves lack much authority, and no wonder when you look at the social sharing numbers.  So that tells me that I should social share some of those pages, where appropriate, and perhaps ask some friends to do so, too.

Or there might be opportunities to build in some links to those pages.  For instance, one is a company profile.  There might be a way to work that into a blog post or a forum post at some point. Or there might be a blog post mentioning your site that you were unaware of.  After reading the post, you might find that there is a follow-up that you can do to cement a relationship and maybe get mentioned in another way.  Or write a guest post for them…

NEW GUEST POSTING IDEAS

An even better way to find guest post opportunities is to keep an eye on where competitors are guest posting.  If a blog is keen to accept a guest post from one of your pet supply competitors, chances are good that they will be interested in a post from your pet supply website, too.

A quick check at the MozRank of the site and the amount of shares that your competitor’s guest post garners will give you ample data to decide if you want to approach the blogmaster to also contribute a guest post.

AS SEEN IN…

Oh, looky here…

As seen in Forbes

Maybe you will be so lucky as to see a link come in from Forbes or Inc. or CNN.  These are valuable for much more than SEO and a short burst of traffic.  Set up an “As seen on” graphic for your website to create amazing social proof that will impress visitors and help you increase sales.  Here is an example from my friends over at Client Attraction:

As Seen In logos

MORE IDEAS?

I am getting hungry (why did I have to mention cantaloupe and ice cream?), so that’s enough writing for now.  Feel free to suggest in the comments below other ideas for using Monitor Backlinks, or other features they could include so that it could be used in even more innovative ways.


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Why DIY videos are poised to take the marketing world by storm

Aug 29, 2013 - filed under marketing, video 3 Comments
 

I’ll be the first to admit that I prefer text over video for most things.  I can quickly scan text to see if I am interested.  Even if presented with a video, I prefer to skim the transcript before investing ten minutes – or even one minute – watching a video.

But the reality is that there are just as many people – perhaps even more – who find reading to be more work than watching a video.

And study after study shows that conversions rise with media variety.  So text is good.  Text and images are better.  Text, images and video are better still.

But video is costly and time-consuming to produce. Or is it?

DIY video to the rescue

The old-fashioned way of doing video was to hire a videographer – essentially film a movie, with all the multiple cameras and personnel and scripting and staging that is involved.  But in recent years, people have been producing their own videos online.

Still, these videos generally take time to produce, so automated solutions are becoming more and more common.  In fact, three new DIY video services have  been announced so far in 2013.  The most advanced of these by far is Tawki, which just launched its crowdfunding campaign on IndieGogo: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/new-fun-social-video-channel

Tawki: One Click, Animate

Fair disclosure: I am a partner in the Tawki project, and very excited to be pushing technology in two unique ways.

The first way that Tawki is pushing the envelope is one that relates directly to the focus of this article.  Namely, that by making DIY video creation even simpler and faster and less work, it will become an increasingly integral part of marketing campaigns even at the low end of the marketing spectrum.

Consider the renovations contractor at the end of a job (or picture any other small business you know ).  He goes to Tawki and uploads a series of snapshots he took during the job, adds a couple keywords and hits “Mix!”  Instantly, the Tawki mixer algorithm goes to work.  By the time he returns from the washroom, he has a complete professional video with transitions and appropriate music on his desktop.

He can add his website URL, company name, phone number – whatever he wishes – and with a click of a button share it on social media accounts or upload to his website.

Or, to really stand out from the crowd, one more click can add animation – but that’s another exciting story for another blog post.  ;-)

DIY video for bloggers

Adding video to blogs - quoteBloggers, pay attention.  You know how much more effective your posts are with images, right?  And finding good images you can legally use is a time-consuming pain right?  So video surely must take longer, right?

Wrong.

Let’s say you run a renovations blog, just to keep to the same theme as earlier.  You go to Tawki with no photos in hand, no video clips, nothing but keywords.  You punch in those keywords: granite, kitchen counters, sink, faucet,… then one click and when you return from the washroom, you have a complete professional video with transitions and appropriate music on your desktop.

Adding video to your blog, your online store, your marketing emails, your social media campaigns has just become quicker and easier than adding images.  That is a watershed that will vastly change the nature of marketing over the next couple years.

Tawki is not the only player that will make this happen.  Several others are making it pretty easy, but none of them have quite as simple a one-click environment as Tawki.  We know that if we want to jump into a hot niche like DIY videos, we had better offer something that leaves the others in the dust.

I invite you to join Tawki on IndieGogo and help us make digital history. Yes, even a small donation helps in a big way!  Here are three of the easier-to-afford perks we are offering.  Just click on any one to join this campaign.


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