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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Link Building: Staying Under the Radar




About The Author:

Joe Griffin co-founded Submitawebsite in 1997 and served as Vice President at iCrossing for 3 years. He oversaw the successful acquisition of Submitawebsite by Website Pros in 2007. Website Pros is a NASDAQ company and Joe is currently serving as a VP at Website Pros. Joe has deep roots and relationships throughout the entire SEO industry.

Google & Yahoo! have been working hard over the past several years to clean up web spam, and discredit websites that use questionable tactics to increase rankings.

In fact, search engines have been penalizing websites, and filtering link publishers since at least 2002. Back then filtering paid linking was much more selective and wasn’t nearly as sophisticated as the operations running today.

Increasing your website’s link popularity is vital to the growth of your online brand, at least for most of us. Unfortunately, many traditional best practice link building models have come under fire. Rather than simply discrediting paid links Google has taken action to penalize in varying degrees some websites that participate in certain link building type programs. Generally these penalties are at the keyword-level, affecting only one phrase, which is much better than a site-wide penalty.

Directory registration is one example. There are many ethical ways to build links using directories, but unfortunately the layman webmaster can’t tell the difference between a valuable link-passing directory, and one which has been filtered in Google. Often, the filtered directories still have PageRank and pages indexed in the Google database.

The reality of the situation is that in order to be as safe as possible, website owners and webmasters need to stay away from major networks. The path to achieve customized, relevant, out of network links is more difficult and costly. However, the only way to maintain security is to manually negotiate on a one to one basis with website publishers to place paid links within content, ensuring the links are not marked as paid.

Any designation of payment, i.e. “sponsored links,” “top partners,” “featured sites,” etc. is enough to trip a radar and cause concern by the engines.

More importantly, links need to be discovered and negotiated based on relevant search engine rankings, not PageRank. PageRank has long been the measuring stick to evaluate the value of a paid link. Measuring link value by PageRank is an ineffective way to gauge link value. Number of outbound links, search engine rankings, and website age is more important.

This is a highly manual process, and while there are some tools that can help, the bottom line is that you need to physically sort through hundreds of websites, finding good clean sites that aren’t pushing paid links, contact them on a one on one basis, and negotiate a link price for links in content.

This puts a major damper on the big link sellers, and a kink in the game plan of many webmasters running smaller sites.  Be cautious in working with SEO firms that aren’t heavily using this model as a primary means to build links, and stay away from websites blatantly promoting paid links!
Another thing to consider is Google’s new “Report Paid Links” program. Via Google Webmaster Tools, Google is asking that webmaster report linking violations. Smart competitors are reporting their competition – wouldn’t you? If you’re not, you should consider it. Ultimately, no one wants to be a tattle tail, but if your competitors are engaging in obvious paid linking and you are not do the right thing, and report those spammers!

Again, if your backlink portfolio represents a clear paid linking footprint (industry vets can eye these in about 10 seconds) you are in danger in 3 ways.

1)    Google can easily catch you and penalize you at the keyword or site level.
2)    Your competitors, if savvy, can report your paid links.
3)    You are spending money on links that have already been filtered, and even though you are being penalized you are wasting money on links not passing link juice.

To wrap up here’s what I recommend:

1)    Make sure you are taking advantage of your existing relationships from a linking perspective.

2)    Partner up with 5-7 similar type businesses for home page to home page link reciprocation – don’t go over this, and make sure the other sites are relevant and authoritative.

3)    Do lot’s of manual linking (custom link building) as I’ve explained above, but be careful to use natural looking anchor text. Don’t use a competitive keyword more than 1-2 times per month, and overall you should only be using about 25% of your keywords as anchor text – most anchor text should be your company name, URL, etc. Remember, even though keyword-targeted anchor text is a big deal, your overall link popularity is what’s most important, and a well optimized site will perform well from any valuable link, regardless of the anchor text.

4)    Analyze the top performing sites in your category – work with an SEO expert to help you identify where they are buying their links and report them to Google – just make sure your portfolio looks nice and clean.

5)    Always remember that link building should only be viewed as a supplement to the natural growth method you’ve established for your website. Building a business completely around organic search is not a good idea.

Why Businesses Should Utilize Social Media Monitoring Services




About The Author:

Brett Lane is the Director of Social Media for Intrapromote LLC. (www.intrapromote.com) and has extensive experience in social/viral link building, SEO, and PPC since 2000. His primary areas of expertise reside in aiding Fortune 500 and larger companies with reputation management activities online.

Companies have recently begun getting on the bandwagon regarding the utilization of social media marketing activities.  However, companies often fail to implement the right type of monitoring program to measure true campaign success.

After a social media marketing campaign has been implemented, there are a variety of tools and metrics that can be used to measure its success.  If you are looking at measurement from a general SEO perspective, you may check the following increases in your metrics: referral traffic from sites where social media activities took place during your campaign, link popularity, site page views, unique visitors, page views per visitor, time spent on site, total time spent per user, frequency of visits, depth of visit, and site conversions.

On the other hand, for those individuals looking to dig deeper into real social media metrics, I would suggest reviewing resources related to the following: social bookmarking, content consumption & contribution, email posts, social media profile engagement, and lastly, your company’s social media influence amongst micro blogging communities, online forums, and social media portals.  By taking all of these factors into consideration, you will have the greatest chance of knowing if your social media marketing campaigns were a success.

Social Bookmarking 

Are users at popular bookmarking sites like Del.icio.us, Ma.gnolia, or Stumbleupon tagging the pages of your site that are viral in nature i.e., articles, insightful posts, etc?  If so, how many people are conducting such activities on a monthly basis?  Additionally, is there a significant increase after you have conducted social media marketing activities?

If you are interested in seeing which bookmarking buttons on your site are getting the most attention, you can always set up an account with AddThis.com and get detailed information as to who is bookmarking the pages of your site.  It takes less than ten minutes to set up an account and get the code needed to place on your site to start monitoring social bookmarking activities.

Content Consumption & Contribution

It is imperative that you closely monitor who is reading and contributing to your Blog and/or Web site before, during, and after you begin a social media campaign, in order to have a true depiction of campaign success or failure.  Additionally, finding out where users came from, as well as which pages they viewed and for how long can provide invaluable insight for reaching more people with future campaigns. It is also important to measure spikes over time by making comparisons with past campaigns via your analytics program to see which campaigns were effective as well as which ones are not worth repeating.

E-mail Posts

If you allow your site posts to be e-mailed to others then it will be a good idea to see how many are being sent to other people through your site’s e-mail form.  This metric is a strong indicator as to whether or not your content is being portrayed by site users as viral.

Social Media Profile Engagement

Profiles at sites like MySpace, FaceBook, or LinkedIn can be used to gauge whether your company and/or Web site is gaining any traction amongst other general or professional networking portals online. Each site has its own metrics to review (i.e., profile visits, comments, networking requests, etc.) and they will help you gauge how much exposure your brand has in these socially geared environments.  Plus, you may also make some good business contacts by actively having an online presence and constantly monitoring your profiles in these social portals online.  

Social Media Influence

The best way to ensure you are monitoring the social chatter about your brand online is to work with someone who has the capability to aggregate data across hundreds of thousands of sites online and provide you with real time reports.  If you are in a position where you can’t expend resources for these services because of budgetary constraints then it’s best to look into free social media aggregation sites (Addictomatic and Surchur) to get you started.  The free sites will provide you with general data regarding your search queries but will not aggregate/export the reporting information that’s presented to you within their Web sites.

Compiling data from the vast number of social media resources online is extremely time consuming and should be conducted in an automated fashion.  Data should be examined across blog style sites (Google Blog Search and Technorati), social bookmarking sites (Del.icio.us and Ma.gnolia), social media portals (MySpace and FaceBook), video sharing sites (YouTube and MetaCafe), image based resource sharing sites (Flickr and Google Picasa), micro-blogging communities (Twitter and FriendFeed), and forum based sites (Twing and BoardReader).  Social media monitoring will allow Web masters to spend the majority of their time analyzing data and making sound decisions for future social media campaigns.  

Gaining a true understanding of your social media marketing campaigns can be a reality if you utilize the right tools and have a thorough understanding of the metrics needed to monitor success or failure. Conducting social media marketing activities alone can be futile if you don’t have analytical data to prove if you are creating positive inertia for your clients. Lastly, social media marketing and monitoring are two activities that should be collectively conducted to ensure true corporate market penetration for your clients is being ascertained.

Your Baby Is Ugly - Uncovering Good Testing Ideas for Landing Page Optimization




About The Author:

Tim Ash is the president of SiteTuners.com, a performance-based landing page optimization company. The company’s non-parametric TuningEngineSM technology can be used to run much larger landing page tests than conventional multivariate testing approaches with the same data rate. Tim is a frequent speaker and writer on conversion improvement, and is the author of Amazon’s e-commerce bestseller book Landing Page Optimization: The Definitive Guide to Testing and Tuning for Conversions (John Wiley & Sons Press, 2008, http://LandingPageOptimizationBook.com)

Landing page testing is the last frontier of online marketing. 

Driving traffic to your site is a well-understood arena, and has already been extensively tuned and tweaked. But the pages on which your traffic lands typically range from horrible to mediocre. There is a literal goldmine waiting to be tapped by testing and optimizing the content on your mission-critical landing pages. Double-digit conversion increases are very common and can dramatically improve the profitability of your online marketing programs almost overnight.

But what should you test? How can you get ideas for what will perform better?

The best place to start is to look at what is flawed, broken, or not working. Instead of waiting only for good news, filter it out instead. Accentuate the negative. Focus on problems and things that are askew.

Stop. Now let this sink in until you actually feel it. Don’t let the fact that your online marketing program is currently making money blind you to the additional opportunities presented by taking a sober look at your landing pages.

Now that you are prepared to look for landing page problems, you will discover that there are a lot of places to find them.

Web Analytics

Web analytics software offers many powerful tools for analyzing your website and the behavior of your audience. Once historical data has been collected, you can mine it to discover problems that visitors had with your landing page. The following sections highlight how Web analytics features can be used to discover common conversion problems.

Visitors - Web analytics can track the origin and capabilities of your audience in a very detailed manner. This includes geographic targeting, preferred languages, and browser technical capabilities.

•    Map - A map can show you the physical origin of your audience. If your service is national or international in scope, maps will show you the distribution of visitors across time zones and countries. This information can be used to adjust customer service or business hours, or to create specialized content specifically for certain geographies. If your business covers a number of geographic areas, maps can help you to decide on the relative importance that you should assign to each in terms of emphasis and screen real estate

•    Languages - If a significant number of your visitors originate in other countries, you can determine whether you are ignoring their needs. Additional native language and native culture–based content may be appropriate. This does not have to be a complete copy of your site in each applicable language. But if you intend to get conversions in other languages, at least the mission-critical tasks should be available in their native tongue.

•    Technical Capabilities - Analytics software records detailed information about the setup and capabilities of the visitor’s computer and Web browser. This includes the operating system, browser type, screen resolution, Internet connection speeds, and support for various browser plug-in technologies and scripting languages such as Flash, Java, and JavaScript. Screen resolution is perhaps the most important technical capability because it literally defines the visitor’s window onto the Internet. This can range from a relative peephole to a veritable panorama. Your page should look ideal at the most common minimum resolution in use at the time. But it must also still look good at higher resolutions.

•    Visible Browser Window - Another important consideration is what appears above the fold. This term originated in the newspaper industry and referred to the main content that could be seen on the top half of the front page (without flipping the paper or opening it). On the Web it describes the content seen on the page without horizontal or vertical scrolling. What appears above the fold is influenced not only by screen resolution, but also by the size of the current browser window (which may be smaller than the whole screen), various currently visible browser toolbars (which take up vertical space), and the default size of the text chosen in the browser (larger font sizes will push content further down the page).

•    New vs. Returning Visitors Recent research indicates that a significant and growing percentage of Web surfers regularly delete their cookies, thus destroying traces of their past visits to your site. This has the effect of understating the number of return visitors.

Since returning visitors have already been exposed to your message on their first visit, it may lose effectiveness on subsequent visits. Conversely, repeated exposure can actually strengthen your message. In any case, you need to consider if returnees are a significant audience segment for you. If so, you may consider showing different information or even a different offer to this group.

•    Depth of Interaction - There are many ways to determine visitor commitment and engagement. These include return visits and acting on various conversion call-to-actions. The depth of interaction helps to complete this information. It consists primarily of the length of visit (measured by average time spent on your site) and the depth of visit (measured by page views). These metrics are especially critical to websites that rely on advertising-supported, high-quality content.

If a significant number of your visitors display a high degree of commitment to your site, you should consider breaking them out as a separate highly interactive part of your audience and showing them different content. This may be done while they are still on your site by means of dynamic content presentation. For example, you may give them preferential and free access to premium content, or sweeten your call to action even more to move them out of the deliberation stage and into action.

Traffic Sources - Traffic sources come in four main types. Depending on your particular mix, you should consider the following issues.

•    Direct - Direct traffic is the result of people typing your company’s URL directly into their Web browser. It is the combination of your event-driven publicity, offline marketing activities, and the strength of your brand. The common factor in all three traffic sources is that much of it will land on your home page. As I have discussed previously, brands are very powerful. If people typed in your domain name directly, you are top-of-mind for their particular current need. They are aware of your company and have taken the proactive step of visiting it. Because of their familiarity with and affinity for your company, this kind of traffic is often the highest converting source that you will have. Unfortunately, they have landed on your home page. If a lot of your traffic is from this source, you should make special efforts to unclutter your home page and direct them to desired conversion actions.

•    Referred - Referred traffic comes from other websites that link to you. By examining your Web analytics reports, you can determine the top traffic sources. Since referred traffic comes from direct links, much of it can land on specific pages deep within your site. Review the specific landing pages to make sure that they function well as a starting point for a visitor and are not a dead-end with no relationship to your desired conversion goals.

You also need to take the time to visit each major referrer link and understand the context in which your site was last seen by the visitor. In some cases it will be favorable (“this company is the greatest thing since sliced bread”). In other cases, your link will be buried in a long list of competitor sites. It is also possible that the link will be there for the purpose of belittling your company. If you understand the mind-set of the visitors from important referral traffic sources, you can modify the landing page content (amplifying goodwill or neutralizing negative perceptions as appropriate).

•    Search - Many companies work very hard at SEO to get ranked near the top of organic search results for keywords that are important in their industries. Such rankings can guarantee a stream of “free” visitors to specific pages on your website. Depending on the keyword, the visitors may have a specific and actionable need, or a vague interest in your offerings.

But search keyword relevance does not mean that the page is effective in supporting your conversion goals. By examining the most popular organic searches and corresponding landing pages, you can modify their content to make them more actionable. They may have not been part of the mission-critical page set. However, they may be important feeders for these pages. You should consider whether they effectively transport incoming visitors from important keywords to the intended conversion path. In other words, you may not be giving the visitor a clear trail to follow to get to your conversion task’s front door.

•    Paid - Paid traffic (whether from PPC, banner ads, trusted feeds, or other sources) has several desirable characteristics. It can be controlled (turned on and off, or increased or decreased) depending on the circumstances. It can be targeted (the traffic from every PPC keyword can be sent to its own specialized landing page). Its value and profitability can be tracked (by campaign, keyword, and even the version of the ad copy used).

Yet many companies do not take full advantage of these capabilities. The main obstacles are improper traffic mapping and inappropriate landing page content. In many cases, traffic is sent to the website home page instead of the more appropriate pages deeper in the site. Or the traffic is sent to the most relevant page on the corporate site but should instead be sent to a stand-alone landing page that does not have all of the navigation options and other distractions of the main website. The traffic mapping for all high-value keywords should be reviewed to make sure it is being sent to the best possible pages. You may have to create new and more specific landing pages to receive the traffic from these keywords.

Content - Web analytics related to the content of your website can provide many important clues to uncover and prioritize potential problems:

•    Most visited content - The popularity of a Web page helps you to understand whether it is getting the proper exposure. If a key page is not getting enough traffic, it may be necessary to move it to a more prominent location on your website, or to create more links to it from other popular pages.

•    Path analysis - Path analysis allows you to see the sequences of pages that visitors use to traverse your site. They show you the most common flows of traffic. It may be possible to change the position of key conversion pages or links within the site to benefit from such “drive-by visibility”.

•    Top entry pages - A list of the top entry pages shows you the point of first contact with your site. Generally, the more traffic that is hitting a landing page, the more attention that page deserves in terms of conversion tuning. Traffic levels can help you to prioritize which landing pages need to be fixed first.

•    Top exit pages - Exit pages are the places where visitors leave your site. Each exit page can be viewed as a leaky bucket. If visitors exit your site, they probably did not find what they were looking for. In some cases, there is nothing that you can do about this. But for many of the visitors who left, you could have probably improved the page to provide more relevant information or better navigation. The total number of exits and the exit percentage of a page can be used to prioritize among problem pages. The worst-case scenario is a popular entry page that is also a frequent exit page. The bounce rate is the percentage of entry page visitors who leave immediately without visiting any other site content. High bounce rates on high-traffic pages are a red flag indicating that those pages need attention.

•    Funnel analysis - Regardless of your visitors’ initial wandering path on your website, they must often pass through a well-defined series of pages in order to convert. E-commerce shopping cart abandonment is a common example of this kind of funnel analysis. It is possible to see the efficiency of each step in this linear process. The funnel narrows as people drop off during each step. High drop-off percentages may signal that a particular step is especially problematic. If problems are uncovered, they may suggest breaking the process up into smaller and more manageable steps, or simplifying it.

•    Conversion goals - Web analytics software allows you to track conversion rates (CRs) for all of the important goals on your site. By comparing your CRs with analyst research for your industry, you can get a rough idea of whether your site efficiency is competitive or substandard. Some Web analytics tools offer the ability to view reverse goal paths. These are the most common sequences of pages that visitors traversed on their way to completing a conversion goal. Unlike forward-looking funnel analysis, reverse goal paths look backward at the most popular points of origin for a conversion. By using these reports, you can discover unexpected ways that visitors are converting and evaluate the effectiveness of your desired conversion path.

Onsite Search

Many sites offer an onsite search. It is viewed as a tactic for improving conversion rates and helping visitors directly find relevant information. But this is a two-edged sword. Research shows that many visitors will abandon a site if they do not find what they are looking for on the first page of onsite search results.

Onsite search can also be a source of information about what is not working. Many searches produce no matching results, indicating a mismatch between visitors’ desires and expectations, and the ability of a site to provide relevant content. By taking a careful look at such empty search results, you can identify the type of information that is not effectively being found on your site.

You can also auto-populate common empty search results with hand-picked search results pages. Alternatively, you can broaden the scope of the search to at least bring back close matches if exact results are not found.

If a search is very common it may be a candidate for inclusion in the site’s permanent navigation. In other words, you may want to enshrine the search result with permanent visibility to help even more people find it (since a small minority of them will bother to use the search function).

Usability Testing

Usability testing allows you to test your design ideas on actual representative user of your website. It can be an effective means of uncovering disconnects between user’s expectations and your designs. Usability testing companies can help you recruit appropriate subjects, conduct the tests, and deliver detailed findings.

But usability testing can often be done inexpensively and rather informally. After running as few as three subjects through your mission-critical conversion task, you can often uncover significant issues with your current landing page. All you need for this kind of informal approach is a quiet room, a mock-up of your proposed design (possibly just hand-drawn on paper), and a clear task statement (of what you want your subjects to accomplish).

Usability Reviews

You do not always have to conduct full-scale usability testing. Hiring usability experts for a high-level review of your landing pages is often a terrific investment. Usability experts have seen dozens or even hundreds of poor designs, and have learned to extract subtle commonalities. They can quickly focus on potential problems without even conducting a usability test. Besides their testing expertise, usability experts also bring an outside perspective and a mandate to uncover problems. Often organizations that would be reluctant to take input from their own staff will listen to the advice of a hired expert.

Focus Groups

Focus groups, like usability tests, draw on people from the target audience. Via a moderated group discussion, insights can be gleaned about user needs, expectations, and attitudes. These findings can be compared to the proposed solution to determine if key elements are missing or are incorrect. Of course, focus groups can be easily biased by their more outgoing and assertive participants, and the moderator’s influence is important. But this is okay since the purpose of focus groups is to provide qualitative information that can serve as input into deciding what to test.

Eye-Tracking Studies

New software visualization techniques and analysis have made the presentation of eye-tracking results more accessible for the mainstream online marketing audience. EyeTools Inc. (www.eyetools.com) and Marketing Sherpa (www.marketingsherpa.com) have recently collaborated to conduct some pioneering work specifically on eye-tracking for landing page optimization. The EyeTools heat map is an aggregate of the eye movements of all test subjects looking at a particular landing page. “Hotter” areas show where subjects spent more of their time. Attempted and successful clicking can also be recorded. Before and after the tests, the subjects can also be asked specific open-ended questions or ones based on the commonly used Likert scale (strongly disagree, disagree, neither agree nor disagree, agree, strongly agree).

Eye-tracking is particularly useful in detecting problems in the earlier stages of the visitor’s decision process (awareness and interest). If most test subjects do not look at the desired part of the page, they are not even aware that the conversion action is possible. In effect, for similar visitors to your site the conversion action does not exist. Such studies are an excellent source of problems regarding page layout, visual presentation of information and images, and emphasis.

Customer Service Reps

Customer service representatives deal with your website visitors’ problems all day long. Their  interactions can lead to valuable information about how to actually fix the underlying problems. Feedback can be collected in two ways: direct interviews or surveys of your reps, or a review of actual visitor interactions. Chat and phone call logs can be used to classify problems into categories. The prevalence of particular types of problems can be used as an indication of their severity. Such analysis can also point to where on your site the majority of problems originate.

A weakness of customer service–based feedback lies in the self-selecting audience. Only the most dissatisfied and assertive visitors will voice their complaints or escalate their resolution to a rep. This creates a bias toward late-stage issues in the decision making cycle (desire and action), while underestimating the problems with the earlier stages (awareness and interest).

Surveys

A number of easy Web-based and telephone surveying methods and companies are available. Surveys among your target population can be a useful source for discovering additional problems with your site. People who have already completed your conversion action already would seem to be the best group to sample. However, you should generally avoid surveys and interviews of existing users. They are already biased because they have already made the decision to act on your offer. It is better to sample randomly among a pool of people from your intended target audience.

Forums and Blogs

Many industries have specific communities of interest and popular discussion forums. Even if your company is not a market leader that is mentioned directly in forum posts, you can still gain valuable insight into the concerns and problems of your target audience. Blogs and public comments about blog postings serve very much the same kind of communal discussion function. Such venues allow you to gauge the loyalty or frustration of people, their immediate needs, and attitudes toward your industry, company, or product.

As you can see, there are a number of ways to determine what is wrong with your landing page. This discovery process should serve as a fertile ground for identifying alternative ideas and page elements to include in your testing. Don’t fret - the uglier your baby is the more room there is for improved conversion rates and higher profits.

This article is the first in a continuing series on landing page optimization. Stay tuned for the next article on “The Usual Suspects: Assembling Your Landing Page Optimization Dream Team”.

10 Critical Errors To Avoid With Your SEO Campaign




About The Author:

Michael Murray is vice president of Search Engine Marketing for Fathom SEO, which offers holistic online marketing services, including SEO, link building, online PR, paid search, video production and distribution, and opt-in email marketing.

Putting together an effective search engine optimization (SEO) campaign is possible – if you can avoid most of the most horrendous errors.

If we can be real here, let’s just face the facts. No SEO program can be 100% perfect. For example, you can’t know with absolute certainty every single keyword and phrase you should be targeting at any given moment.

Many mistakes can be avoided – or fixed – when online marketers plan ahead, swallow their pride and quickly admit to failings. Here is a brief look at 10 of them:

1. Not Realizing SEO Is An Arduous Journey

I can’t get around this. If you’re optimizing a website, it’s not a one-time endeavor. Can you work on the architecture one time and achieve higher rankings and drive more traffic? Absolutely. Greater success depends on time and effort. Along the way, ranking and traffic trends provide great insights, including the need for expectation adjustments during different seasons and product releases.

2. Being Addicted To Overkill

I’m a huge fan of the measured pace when it comes to SEO. Don’t try too many tactics at one time or you’ll never know the effectiveness of any one strategy. Sometimes a ranking can be improved with an effective change to a page header (i.e. graphic to text).

3. Putting Page Titles In A Lock Box

It’s my biggest pet peeve. The title tag is one of the most powerful places to include keywords. And yet, companies don’t take the time to test out different scenarios. They roll with something and never look back. Plus, they insist on including their company names in that prized spot. OK, I get the branding thing, but who cares what the company name is if no one can find the listing on the search engines. Get the ranking first and then find ways to incorporate the business name.

4. Expecting The World Out Of SEO Specialists

It’s one thing to hire a company with an array of skill sets – the consulting firm should come through for a client. If you’re going internal, you should give the SEO professional plenty of time to make the most of their skills, whether they’re strong in usability, writing, programming or design. Are they also expected to run a successful paid search campaign and lead other online marketing initiatives? Are they handling your company’s PR efforts, including link building? When you stretch someone, something can suffer. What’s getting a half-hearted effort at your business?

5. Choosing The Wrong Keywords

If your website is new, has few pages and fewer inbound links, you have issues. The first plan of attack is not to pursue the most competitive keywords you can find. Put them in the mix, but surround them with a full crop of long tail keywords. And even if it’s an established website, a company always needs to own up to its shortcomings. You can’t rank for everything is the website architecture and content aren’t present to support the keywords that must be highly visible.

6. Putting Link Building On the Back Burner

Link building is hard. It’s not the easiest marketing task ever invented. Websites you’re targeting are run by owners and marketers with plenty on their plates. You should be able to relate. If you want it to work, you need to stick with it, trying time and time again to get others interested in your website if you have compelling content. We’re almost 14 years into this field and many websites are nothing more than brochures. General and industry specific directories can help them. A link strategy always goes back to the content – what demos, white papers, guides, videos, tools, etc. do you have that someone may care about?

7. Resisting Holistic Thinking
Learn to share data from other marketers are your company, whether it’s Bob the email guy or Mary the paid search genius. It just doesn’t make any sense to work in silos. Talk to each other about your target markets, your customers, your web analytics and keyword data compiled from search engine advertising tools, third-party software products, blogs, competitors, etc.

8. Overlooking ROI Improvements


At the end of the day, a search engine specialist is successful if he or she can manage to get keywords at the top of search engines and drive relevant traffic. A business should embrace those efforts and leverage them with a maturing ROI strategy. Sure, you want to track leads. For ROI, start with your website. Is it really effective? Do the colors work? Is the text in the right location? Is the call-to-action clear? Have you crammed too many in the navigation? Can anyone find their way around? Do you look like a first-class operation? I still see countless websites that are all blue or seem fixated on orange. Think contrast, not bland. And it would help to include a phone number (sometimes they’re present but buried).

9. Misdiagnosing Rankings


It’s a huge area for mistakes. You got a #2 on MSN? Big deal. What was the search term you targeted? Show me the traffic and then tell me about conversions. Rankings are awesome if they drive a reasonable amount of traffic that your website can convert.
But what if two pages rank for the same search term? Are you going to work on both the page ranking #7 and the other one ranking #14 on Google? Does the #7 page seem more appealing?

Three ABCs to mull over:
              A. Which page is on a page that has more conversion material?
              B. Which page do you think can move up even higher?
              C. Which page might better serve another search term?

10. Settling for Limited Content


It’s a nice thought that you want to get by with the little content you have, but it’s not going to work. Short pages don’t measure up. You can add content without jeopardizing the usability of a page. Add a section of related links. Summarize other content on the website and include subheads to introduce each text segment.

Add a simple FAQ section. Place a full or partial testimonial. Cross-reference something that can be purchased or downloaded.

Plenty of other opportunities exist to excel or slip up. The more you’re aware of your abilities and deficiencies, the more you can anticipate problems and solve them. In the end, your website will perform closer to its potential with SEO as one of its key catalysts.

CEO Spotlight


About The Author:

Kurt Noer, Founder, President and CEO of Customer Magnetism, Incorporated.

With over 25 years of marketing experience, Kurt Noer’s first job was in 1982 designing brochures for Century Marketing, Inc.  Kurt recalls, “In those days, we had a huge typesetting machine which would spit out one line of text at a time onto a small strip of paper. We would then use hot wax and a light table to line up each sentence before taking the layout into the darkroom.” Technology has come along way since then and through the years Kurt continued to advance his career by working in the fields of graphics and advertising.

Eventually he was asked to serve as a Marketing Director for a number of companies including an international magazine and a fiber optic manufacturing company. Besides assisting in pricing and placement decisions, Kurt became well versed with strategizing, designing, placing and monitoring the various conventional forms of advertising such as print ads, direct mail, tradeshows, press releases and promotional material.

In the early years of the internet when Yahoo was still king, Kurt recalls when banner ads were still popular and Google had yet to be born. Out of disgust toward the low conversion rates and high cost of conventional marketing efforts, Kurt was excited to see that search engine generated leads were converting at a far better rate than other forms of conventional marketing. Kurt points out the following,

“When it comes to tradeshows, nearly every marketing director or business owner I talk to can relate to the cost involved with sending multiple employees out of state for a few days only to bring home 57 business cards and discover that very few, if any, of these “hot” leads actually converted to anything. Tradeshows, direct mail and print advertising all claim to target a pre-qualified, highly relevant audience. However, in reality you are spending a large sum of money to reach a large sum of people in hopes that at least a few of them might be interested in your specific product at that specific moment of their life (and not the month before or a month later). This is why I refer most of the traditional forms of advertising as “shotgun” marketing.

The beauty of having your website being found at the top of the search results is that it can be 2:00 in the afternoon or 2:00 in the morning and your website is always available to someone who is searching on their schedule. There is no higher qualified lead than someone who just searched for your exact product or service, clicked on your website, read through your website and took the time to call you or fill out your form page.”

One of Kurt’s very first experiences with natural optimization efforts resulted in growing one website from less than 500 visitors per month to over 30,000 per month. Leads from this website grew from less than ten leads per month to over 400 leads per month and as the traffic grew, so did the sales. Over the following two years, the company experienced record-breaking sales exceeding a 300% increase in gross annual revenue. Best of all, the company was able to reduce their overall spending budget by slowly reducing other forms of marketing that were not producing.

Kurt quickly recognized that the Return of Investment on this form of advertising was astronomically higher than anything he had ever seen before. He was confident that these results could be repeated for other companies and so he began building his business plan for Customer Magnetism. In May of 2000, Kurt partnered with a 70 year old accounting firm called Goodman & Company. With over 400 employees, Goodman was and still remains the largest accounting firm in the state of Virginia. Customer Magnetism quickly grew and became profitable in less than two years. In January of 2003, Kurt bought out Goodman’s share of the company and moved the company from Norfolk to Virginia Beach where they have remained ever since.

What are your main services?
Our forte at Customer Magnetism is definitely the rankings we generate within the natural, organic listings. In conjunction with internal optimization efforts, we provide external marketing efforts to increase inbound link popularity, such as relevant directory submissions, press release syndication, articles, blog reviews and other forms of manual link building efforts. We also provide qualified pay-per-click management within Google and Yahoo at a 10% fee (versus the industry standard of 15% to 20%). We are a Google Certified AdWords Company and we have been a Yahoo Ambassador since the year 2000.

What makes your firm different from other companies competing in your industry?
A majority of the tens of thousands of websites claiming to offer search engine optimization typically end up being one man shops or small web design firms who have a guy in the corner who knows how to add meta tags. We have had countless clients come to us after being burned by so many of these companies who offered far lower prices, but failed to deliver on any substantial results.

Moving websites to the top of the search engines is primarily all we do. We have built an excellent reputation through the years and Customer Magnetism has been ranked as one of the top ten search engine optimization firms in the country by a number of marketing organizations such as Visibility Magazine, Website Magazine, Promotion World and topseos. Roughly 90% of our clients choose to renew and/or upgrade upon completing their first year term. We are proud of the fact that our very first clients (from over seven years ago) are still with us to this day.

What are the most important questions a potential customer should ask a vendor like you?
Find out how THEY rank for their own target search terms. Ask to see a list of search terms that they personally rank for, as well as some of the rankings they have generated for their clients. Insist on this kind of proof that will reveal if the search engine positioning firm actually knows what they are talking about.

Ask for references and beware of misleading money back guarantees that promise top rankings on Google and Yahoo, but actually include 10 to 15 “major” search engines within the small print. This common misleading tactic allows these firms to easily meet their guarantee within the smaller, outdated search engines and leave you nowhere to be found on the search engines that truly matter.

I recommend shopping for true lasting results, not simply the lowest price. True results (especially in Google) require a substantial amount of inbound link building. Optimization companies who offer flea market pricing are always a sure sign of someone who does not know what they are doing. Look for a company that is interested in a long-term relationship. Our main focus at Customer Magnetism is to generate a positive return of your investment.


What are some of the myths in your field?
1) That it is acceptable to spend tens of thousand of dollars per month on pay-per-click efforts, yet feel that organic optimization efforts would be a waste of time. Over 70% of all search engine users prefer clicking on the left hand side of the search results. We recommend focusing on both.

2) That hiring a full time employee to do in-house optimization would be a better investment than hiring a dedicated, experienced firm likes ours. This is similar to the idea of trusting a web design firm who has “a guy on the side” who knows how to add meta tags.  Nothing compares to the synergy and collective experience that comes from an office full of experts who do this full time.

3) That there is still a need for continual, repetitive submission services. The search engines that matter probably already have you in their index. If not, a few inbound links from a handful of quality websites will have far more impact than using some kind of repetitive, automated submission service. The key is to move from the bottom of the search results to the top.

How do you develop your skills in this continuously changing environment?
Continual changes within this industry is a given. What works one year does not work the next. What is acceptable to the search engines one year is unacceptable the next. Keeping up to date and adhering to Google and Yahoo guidelines is a priority. We are continually testing and re-testing various ideas on experimental websites that we own, while staying within the guidelines requested by the search engines. We attend various Search Engine related conferences and we keep up with the latest news through a handful of trusted newsletters, forums and blog sites such as searchengineland.com.

What do you see as the future of the industry?
High speed internet access will continue to drop in price and be more readily available to everyone. As well, improved browsing capabilities on PDA’s and cell phones (such as the iPhone) will continue to make search engine advertising all the more a priority. Improved universal searches and designated local searches will hopefully be improved as well. In the last ten years, I have seen continual changes every year in this industry. This is exactly why I believe you should work with a full time firm who makes it their living to keep up with the ever-changing rules, methods and algorithms.

Where do you see your firm in the next 5 years? What about you personally?
While we have experienced steady growth every year, we are still a small company in comparison to our well-known competitors. God willing, I could see us eventually reaching revenues of over $10 million per year. However I would rather stay focused on quality than becoming an overnight mega firm.

Guerilla SEO, Advertising and Conversion Methodologies




About The Author:

Alan Rabinowitz is the CEO and Lead Strategist of SEO Image, Inc. A New York based marketing firm specializing in SEO services. Alan has over 10 years of SEO, marketing, advertising and design experience. Alan’s skill set has allowed him to beta test for Macromedia’s Dreamweaver and work for clients including: Hasbro, Sotheby’s International Realty, Inc., Harper-Collins Publishing, Black Star, Marvel Comics and many other top tier firms.

Many businesses are unaware of methods used for SEO since before the era of Google domination. In fact, in the late 90’s traffic strategies were geared to get traffic from related sites through links. Therefore, traffic passed from related sites about as much as it did from Search Engines. There is still much to be said about getting traffic from related sites - whether from advertising or because a bunch of friends link to each other’s blogs, traffic can be passed, and you want that traffic.

The web has evolved into everyone wanting rankings, traffic and PageRank, the green indicator and social aspect of Google Search. Interestingly enough the methods of SEO have not changed dramatically since the 90’s and even though certain aspects of web design and SEO have changed, many of the basic principles we have used since then have not. The types of links we set up in the 90’s for traffic pass PageRank in today’s world.

New factors have entered the game including social media, link building, link baiting, paid search and blog networking. We now see more spam in new sectors: Friend Spam (not really spoken of – but an example of this would be a few popular bloggers that link out to their friends -- hence you have “Friend Spam” or as Google terms it “link schemes”), Ad Spam buying links (unfortunately some Search Engines get hypocritical here and may in fact be looking for a way to manually control results and/or the ad market). Competitor Spam – very common now to get your competitors penalized – also helps if you can hack a blog and link it to badware as punishment by some Search Engines can last several months.

Guerilla SEO

So what do I mean when I say “Guerilla”?  Well frankly I hate the term, but it does imply that we are using fast methods for results and that is simply the goal of this article. Guerilla, as I refer to it, means move the site forward and promote it. Be smart, be aggressive, and read between the lines.

Well Alan, how do we do that? Glad you asked. You simply need to understand several things about websites and user interactions, a few basic principles of SEO, and some strategic advertising. Know the fine line between spam and SEO and make as much of an attempt to build a truly quality site. Advertise everywhere - this can help get your site on high trafficked portals. Advertise anyway you can, that itself can get you business even without a single ranking in the search engines (See Guerilla Advertising below).

Simplified on-page SEO with good writing and a lot of content (Search Engines are suckers for content, even if its worthless spam, if it is well written, then you’re golden) are the basics of what every website truly needs. If you have time, I recommend that you write strategically and with the goals of your site in mind. Think about talking to your visitors and NOT the search engines. This is where I will say “Usability over SEO” as conversions can follow.

Network, make friends get them to link to you. Most search results today are powered up blogs whose friends or network partners power up their site with backlinks. Blogging is NOT a necessity but can help add influential links to your site from high-powered domains like My Blog Log, digg, reddit and technorati. Now Twitter also helps networking as you can stay in touch. These types of sites offer great networking opportunities and SEO is also about networking. I have on numerous occasions given SEO advice and services for links to my clients.

Guerilla Advertising

Popularity means a lot in many of the current search engine algorithms and some may say even more so then relevance with select Search Engines. Certain Search Engines are considered “Hollywood Search Engines” meaning they focus on who has more links rather than who has better and more related content. To them it’s a popularity game. This causes the unfortunate result of sites getting lost, or blog review ranking where product sites should be. The statements from some marketers that “Content is King” and that if you write good content you will “eventually” rank better, is what I would call “foolish”. You absolutely need to market and promote your Brand and your website or no one will every find it to get the ball rolling. So get links into the site, advertise, syndicate, promote and that can help build links and get people buzzing about your site.

Advertising methods include articles, press releases, banner ads, paid search text links and text links. All offer benefits. Just be wary because some search engines frown on paid banner and text advertising, there are ways to set up ads that can make it acceptable and you need to research that or you may wind up like many others and that is penalized into obscurity.

As I stated above BUY Advertising any way you can, it does not have to be on a Search Engine to pass traffic and many higher converting ads are often found on top industry portals. Direct Search can certainly pass traffic from paid and natural areas of the results, and these are places to consider depending on your budget.

You need to advertise smart and track traffic. For instance, a text ad on a site which claims to get 1,000,000 page views per month, yet shows in your stats with only three referrals average per month to your site is a waste. Take an ad on a site that passed 50 visitors per month plus a few callers (or form filler-outers); this ad is worth considering as a potential keeper.

Avoid ads on sites that link to unrelated sites, so an ad on a site about finance that links to Viagra and Gambling sites should NOT be taken as it links out poorly and may cause some negative link relationships as well as be considered a spam text link. Those can devalue the power of the site they are on or even your own site. Many web searchers are also used to seeing ad spam and simply ignore it now.

While there is a fine line between text link ads and Search Engine spam, if the site in question has a tremendous amount of related industry traffic I recommend you take it for Branding and Traffic. Obsessing whether or not you can be penalized from advertising your site is UNFORTUNATE but something you now must recognize. You are in a world where advertising is controlled and you need to be cautious with your methodologies. This is really where ethics come into play, but that is for another article. If it looks good, gets good traffic, does not have a flood of paid advertisers, then it’s usually a good ad for your business and/or brand.

Guerilla Conversions

At last you have traffic, you have some natural traffic and some paid traffic. Now you need to analyze and convert traffic. You need good analytical tools to determine traffic flow patterns on the site, how to understand them, and what to do about the data.

Knowing what is actually happening on your site is extremely important and many people do not think about this. That is a major mistake. You cannot expect that your traffic will understand your site and your goals the way you do - period. Determine how to direct traffic to your goals and using known conversion methodologies such as:

1.    Market traffic with action items.
2.    Make phone numbers easy to find.
3.    Make contact items easily recognized.
4.    Make buy buttons large and where expected.
5.    Make content that speaks to the visitors rather than bores them.
6.    Encourage visitors to “Stay in Touch” with newsletters.

Trust Items Like:

1.    BBB
2.    TrustE (Privacy Policy)
3.    Hacker Safe
4.    Validated Site (like the BBB + TrustE)
5.    Control Scan Suite (like the BBB + TrustE)
6.    Industry Organizations & Associations
7.    Awards from respected third parties

Keep in mind, there is no exact science for conversions. Conversion work usually requires quite a bit of testing, comparison and traffic to get real life definitive answers. Using common techniques can help the site convert better from the get-go. So think about the above and add them if you feel they suit your goals now or in the near future.

Alan Rabinowitz is the CEO and Lead Strategist of SEO Image, Inc. A New York based marketing firm specializing in SEO services. Alan has over 10 years of SEO, marketing, advertising and design experience. Alan’s skill set has allowed him to beta test for Macromedia’s Dreamweaver and work for clients including: Hasbro, Sotheby’s International Realty, Inc., Harper-Collins Publishing, Black Star, Marvel Comics and many other top tier firms.

How to be an SEO Rock Star




About The Author:

Lidija Davis is the Web Strategist for WebMama.com Inc. WebMama.com Inc. is Silicon Valley's premier search engine marketing company providing SEO and SEM services to corporations around the world. Lidija is also the Silicon Valley Correspondent for Tech Talk Radio Australia and runs her own blog at http://blog-well.com

Has your site got what it takes to rock the search engine results, or is it still struggling to make an appearance?

According to ComScore, there were over 338 million searches conducted every day in January [2008] in the United States; where does your site fit in, and, does it fit in at all?

While there are more resources available now than ever before to help you get your head around search engine optimization, there are also many new factors that have come into play, one of the most relevant being social media.  If your company isn’t keeping up, you could be losing out to your competitors.

A lot of businesses see search engine optimization as a set-and-forget, or an unwanted burden on their resources, instead of including it as a natural part of their marketing effort.  If you want to succeed in the online space, you need to understand that SEO is an important aspect of your overall Web strategy.

“SEO is simple,” explains Barbara Coll, CEO of WebMama.com Inc, “but it’s not easy, and that’s where people fall over, they confuse the two words.”  It is simple because it is easy to understand, but it is not easy to accomplish because it requires a great amount of effort.

SEO Basics: Titles and Descriptions

While title and description tags are considered to be the fundamentals of SEO, an astounding number of businesses still overlook their significance.

Your title and description tell not only visitors what you do and who you are, they help search engines generate better results.  You can control what search engines display about you in their search results.

A good title tag must include your business name and your descriptions must summarize each page succinctly.  To create effective tags, keep titles under 65 characters, descriptions under 165 characters, include a couple of keywords and most importantly, choose your words well.

The most common mistake, according to Ms. Coll, is that companies forget to use different titles and descriptions for every page of their site.  “If every page on your site is different, why would you want the same title and description for each one?”

Keywords

Determining keywords can be difficult.

Keywords need to be descriptive and related to your product/service.  They need to be terms that people search for, yet to maximize their effect, you also need to look for words that have less competition.

You know you need keywords that are relevant to your site, but don’t make the common mistake of choosing words that you think are relevant.  The best keywords are words that potential customers would use to find your site.  You may call it a notebook, but most people still call it a laptop.  When it comes to keywords, the most common term is your best choice.

The best place to start is by talking with as many people as possible to get a broad view of what keywords you should target.  Ask colleagues, customers, friends and family which words they would use to search for you online - you may find some surprising results.

Other things to consider:


  1. Take a look at your competitors’ sites and see what words they are using
  2. Pull out your trusty thesaurus to find similar words
  3. Check out Google Suggest
  4. Sign up for a free demonstration of WordTracker
  5. Examine your log files and see what customers are searching on to get to you
  6. Use the search engines’ own free tools: Google’s Webmaster Tools, Yahoo Site Explorer and Microsoft’s Live Search Webmaster Centre.


Finally, don’t limit yourself to a one or two word key phrase; Google has recently announced that the average search query is now four words.

Start a Blog

Technorati is now tracking in excess of 112.8 million blogs, and if your business is not blogging, it’s time to consider adding a blog to your website and your overall Web strategy.

The advantages of business blogging are enormous.  Suddenly an ordinary site becomes a virtual playground that encourages conversation and creates a connection with your audience.  But don’t get complacent or let vanity get in the way.  To run a successful blog, you need to ensure you interact with your visitors.  If they take the time to leave a comment or question, make sure you reply, or they might not come back – it’s just common courtesy.

Search engines love blogs because they offer up fresh content.  Additionally, if you spend the time to create and run a blog that is clever and useful, you benefit from others linking to you, and links are very good for SEO.

Getting Quality Links

While getting links is often beyond your control, there are steps you can take to encourage the process.  These include:


  1. Create useful content and keep promotional blurb to a minimum
  2. Develop a product or resource for your industry, such as a glossary of industry terms
  3. Apply to Yahoo Directory and The Open Source Directory (DMOZ)
  4. Submit to quality directories such as Best of the Web, Eaton Web, Gimpsy, Joe Ant, Rubber Stamped, Site Sift and Blogged
  5. Comment on other blogs in your industry, and make your comments thought provoking 
  6. Determine which social media and networking sites you prefer and join them.  Put pictures on Flickr, videos on YouTube, resume on LinkedIn, bookmarks on del.icio.us and your favorite sites on StumbleUpon, Digg or Reddit.  If you’re in the marketing industry, join Sphinn and submit your blog posts
  7. Create a 125 x 125 pixel ad and buy ad space on industry related sites


Social Media

Social media and social networking sites are now creating huge opportunities for businesses to promote their sites for free.  This is not SEO, but SMO, Social Media Optimization; you can look at social media marketing as SEO 2.0.

A natural side effect of participating in social media, and doing it the right way, can bring in hundreds if not thousands of quality links to your site, one of the many factors that affect your search ranking.

According to social media maven, Maki, of DoshDosh “There is no other low-cost promotional method out there that will easily give you large numbers of visitors; some of whom may come back to your website again and again.”

From his post: The importance of social media marketing: Why you should learn and master it, Maki describes how he created a post that received roughly 12,000 pageviews every day for the first month.  The site was one month old; the article took 20 hours to write.  Do you think it’s worth it?

If you do decide to participate in social media, don’t make the common mistake of submitting your own content.  Muhammad Saleem, one of Digg’s most influential contributors, explains that while it is okay to submit your own content occasionally, the best thing to do is create compelling and useful content, and let others Digg it for you.

Sphinn, Search Engine Land’s sister site, is one of the few sites that prefer you submit your own stories.  From their news story submission guidelines:

“Yes, you can submit your own stories. In fact, we'd rather you directly submit your own stories you think are of interest to the community than have someone do it for you.”

So if you have a great new post that is related to search, social media, search marketing or Internet marketing, give Sphinn a try.

If you choose to submit your own content at other social media sites, make sure that it is not the only content you submit, become active in the community first.  Visit the various sites and get a feel for what they have to offer.  When you find a couple that you like, join them, create a profile, make some friends, and join the conversation.

But, take care not to fall into another common trap; joining too many and participating in none.

Some people sign up to dozens of social media sites, but don’t use them correctly. Social media sites were not introduced solely to send links to your site, this is an added benefit if you use them well; they were created to share great content, and incorrect use of them can ruin your online credibility.

The best way to participate in social media sites is to pick a handful that you like, for instance I belong to StumbleUpon, Digg, Twitter and Mixx, and then contribute.  Contributing means submitting posts you consider useful, voting up other people’s submissions if you feel they are worthy, and voting down those you feel are just noise.

While it does take time to get to know the various communities, and contributing requires a time commitment from you, it is worth the effort.  Who knows?  You may even enjoy it!

Lidija Davis is the Web Strategist for WebMama.com Inc.  WebMama.com Inc. is Silicon Valley's premier search engine marketing company providing SEO and SEM services to corporations around the world. Lidija is also the Silicon Valley Correspondent for Tech Talk Radio Australia and runs her own blog at http://blog-well.com

How to Measure the Value of a Search Engine Ranking






About The Author:

Stoney deGeyter is CEO of pole position Marketing ( www.Pole-PositionMarketing.com ) and has been helping businesses succeed online since 1998. Stoey posts his SEO and business insights of at the E-Marketing Performance blog ( www.emarketingsperformance.com where you can also find his e-books; E-Marketing performance: Effective Strategies for Building Optimizing and Marketing your Website Online and Keyword Research and Selection: The Definitive Guide to Gathering, Storing and Organizing your Keywords into a High-Performance SEO Campaign.

Since the web was in its infancy, and search engines just started to appear on the scene, website exposure was often measured in search engine rankings. Over the years, avenues for online exposure have grown even while the number of mainstream search engines has dwindled. Despite that, the de facto measurement of exposure for many business owners is still rankings.

In recent years, the SEO and SEM industry has tried to move away from using rankings as a measurement. Social media sites provide new avenues for exposure that were unavailable several years ago, often driving more traffic than any top ranked keyword. Analytics are playing an increasingly important role in helping determine converting traffic sources, improving site usability and increasing website conversion rates. Still, for many business owners, the number one question continues to be, “where do I rank?”

A ranking itself holds almost no value without considering several other tightly integrated components. Many other fluid factors have to be considered before the value of any particular search engine ranking can be determined.

The Value of a Search Engine

The value of a top ranking on Google is very different from one on Yahoo or MSN. Every engine holds a varying percentage of search market share, produces a differing range in quality of results, and attracts a different base demographic of searchers who have unique levels of intensity. Each of these factors play a role in determining the value that any top ranking will provide.

Market share

Market share is the most common measure of the value of a search engine. Google is by far the most popular search engine, receiving almost 60% of all searches performed according to ComScore and NetRatings. That’s a pretty hefty chunk considering the next biggest player, Yahoo, hovers around 20%.

Usually, when someone is talking about where they want to rank, they are talking about Google. That’s where the bulk of the searches are, so naturally that’s where everyone wants to be found. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in other search engines, as we’ll discuss next.

Quality of results

Along with being the most popular search engine, Google is also considered the engine with the best quality of search results. But quality is often in the eyes of the beholder. Essentially, quality is determined by how closely the search engine returns results that match the searcher’s intent. Two people searching for “apple” can want two very different things; a computer or a fruit.

Another important component is how well the engines weed out junk pages. Google has the most advanced anti-spam algorithm, but it’s also known to throw out non-spammy sites that somehow trip the spam filters. Loyalists to other engines declare that their favorite engine produces better results.

What really matters  is the quality of the results that appear along with your site for any keyword ranking. If the results are not meeting the intent of the searcher, then he or she is likely to perform a new search in order to get “better” results, or switch to a different search engine all together.

Searcher intensity

Different search engines produce different levels of searcher intensity. Demographics play a role as some searchers use different engines depending on what they are looking for. Other engines attract users that are researchers, as opposed to shoppers, and vice versa.

Engine popularity can also be a factor here. Just today I performed about a hundred searches on Google, performing keyword ranking checks. That’s just me, in one day. Think of how many business owners and SEO consultants who are doing the same kind of vanity searches on their favorite engine each day. That can dilute searcher intensity pretty heavily.

This intensity can make the difference between a quality hit to your site or a mere "Sunday driver" taking a leisurely stroll through the web. If you’re an e-tailer, you want traffic coming from those that are looking to buy your products. If you operate an informational site, you want visitors that are more interested in learning. Both of these can be intense searchers, but the intensity is focused in a different area, and maybe from a different search engine.

The Value of a Keyword

All keywords are not created equal. There are three components to understanding the value of a keyword. One has to do with the volume of searches performed for any given keyword, another with the searcher’s intent and the results provided, and the third with the particular profit margin of any sale resulting from the search.  A top ranking for any one keyword is likely to produce varying degrees of results based on these factors.

Search volume

When it comes to volume, getting good rankings for a keyword that is searched twice a month isn’t nearly as valuable as for a keyword that is searched several hundred, or even several thousand times each month. Many people find themselves looking for top rankings for keywords that there is little or no search volume.

I recently had a client ask why they weren’t ranked for a particular keyword. I had to tell them that we had not optimized for that keyword. When doing our keyword research we found that that particular keyword didn’t get any searches. He had pulled a keyword out of his industry terminology that he thought was important, but in reality it was useless from an optimization perspective.

That’s not to suggest that long-tail keywords are unimportant. Many times low-volume keywords will produce significant sums of collective traffic. Just make sure that you’re not investing hours of valuable time going after terms that don’t produce the return on investment you need.

Searcher intent

While high-volume keywords are attractive by the sheer numbers of searchers they can send to your site, they often produce a very low conversion rate. Whereas more specific, lower volume keywords that more accurately represent the intent of what the searcher was looking for, usually produce a much higher conversion rate, if not more sales altogether.

Let’s take the word ‘golf,’ for example. This keyword is searched around 5000 times a day, depending on the time of year. Alternatively, the phrase ‘golf clubs’ is searched less than 2000 times per day. Yet, if you sell golf supplies the relevance of the second term is far higher and more likely to produce a higher percentage of sales. Add in the time and/or monetary investment necessary to achieve a top ranking for these terms, and you’ll find that the ROI is in the lesser searched phrase.

Profit margin

People often assume that two keywords that are equal in traffic volume and relevance deserve the same attention in time or money investment. This isn’t necessarily the case. Every product or service you sell can often deliver varying margins in overall profit.

While both keywords can, and likely should, be targeted, there is something to be said about spending more of your marketing efforts on the keywords that are driving the bulk of your profits. By paying particular attention to this metric you may also find that some keywords have such a low profit margin, once you factor in the investment time and costs, they simply are not worth the effort.

The Value of a Good Title

Title tags are known as some of the most valuable real estate when it comes to on-page keyword optimization. But there is value in the title tag that, in some cases, is far more important than what the search engine sees. Because a page’s title tag is used as the clickable link in the search results, it must be able to get the attention of the searcher and entice them to click into your page.

In many cases, an expertly written title tag will trump the position the link falls in the search results. While there are many impulse clickers that click on the first page in the results without consideration, many searchers scan the results looking for the link that appears to be the best match for the information they seek. A compellingly written title tag will often get clicked far more than a higher ranked page.

Many times a change in a title tag has resulted in both a drop in rankings and an increase in clicks. This is important to remember and consider. Sometimes it will be impossible to rank as highly as you want with the best written title tag. But sacrificing a good title for rankings will often reduce, rather than increase, traffic to the page.

It’s not so easy to put a blanket value on a top search engine ranking. Using rankings to measure your online marketing efforts will not give you a true indication your success. In truth, there are far more important measurements available. Finding those measurements and utilizing them will put you in a much better position to not only succeed online, but to deliver more profits at a higher return.

Supply and Demand of Literacy in SEM


About The Author:

Rob Laporte is founder and President of DISC, Inc., and Jennifer Williams is Chief Operating Officer. DISC, Inc. has specialized in SEM since 1997. Rigorously focused on ROI, DISC has clients worldwide, of all types and sizes. DISC also offers conversion rate optimization, site design and build, quarterly reporting on problems and opportunities, and comprehensive web marketing plans. www.2disc.com; 413-584-6500.

Excellence in SEM/SEO requires excellence in language and literacy. The current shortage of search marketing talent is based partly on rapid growth in demand, but it also reflects serious cultural and ultimately economic priorities in the US. This problem is and will long remain an opportunity for highly literate employees and prospective employees. Conversely, this shortage of supply will remain a problem for employers for several years. This article elucidates the problem, and proposes both immediate and long-term solutions that will help everyone, except, perhaps, the highest priced SEM firms. The solutions will likely contribute to the prosperity of the countries that embrace them.

The Wages of Ignorance 

Ignorance is profitable – other people’s. In keeping with the inexorable law of supply and demand, the current shortage of well-qualified SEM workers results in relatively high prices and profits for suppliers of all forms of SEM (to the extent that many SEM firms price by “what the market will bear,” rather than by fair profit on labor). On the other side of that same coin, this shortage increases businesses’ costs for SEM services and employees, or else incurs opportunity costs due to unavailable or under-qualified (because under-paid) SEM workers. In the global market place, this shortage affects the US economy and blocks one avenue towards maximizing US exports to English speaking countries. While a shortage of qualified labor is to be expected in a rapidly growing profession, the alarming deficits in US adult literacy amplify this shortage and retard the process of increasing the supply.

Spelling Success in SEM

Linguistic aptitudes inform all SEM activities. Keyword research, SEO copywriting, PPC, naming products (or articles, or videos, or whatever populates a web site’s database of offerings), URL writing (and all other CMS-SEO), terse and actionable ROI reports and recommendations – if hands are hovering over a keyboard when working on a web site or its marketing, the linguistic acumen of the mind connected to those hands holds the key to maximum web-based profits.

In a 2003 article about hiring versus outsourcing SEM, I prioritized and elucidated the skills required of SEM employees, and those priorities remain the same today. In order of importance, that list is: (1) linguistic aptitude [“SEM is primarily a linguistic activity, wherein you match the query language of searchers with the language of your advertising and web site through the nexus of search engines. ( . . . ) Linguistic aptitude alone is not enough, but is absolutely required”], (2) research skills, (3) brains and education, (4) technical aptitudes and experience, and (5) SEM experience. In 2003, so few people had solid SEM experience that, in the interest of practical solutions, I placed it last in the list. Today I would place it . . . last on the list, or maybe fourth if one is hiring only for SEO keyword research and copywriting.

Some Examples

One might argue that my background in teaching literature at a university during most of the 1990s and my firm’s employees’ extraordinary language aptitudes prejudice my views, and to an extent I’m guilty as charged, but I hope that the following hypothetical illustrations will indicate just how thoroughly language proclivities pervade SEM labor.

    A recent business major graduate bids on “art supplies” in a PPC campaign, and does pretty well, but weeks later he learns that a competitor’s English major thought from the outset to exclude “martial art supplies.” That kind of little oversight, multiplied many times, adds up to tens of thousands of dollars of wasted click costs in the PPC campaign. The business major is later found reading his first book in two years, What Color is Your Parachute?

    A company’s brilliant off-shore web programmer has learned from an SMX search marketing conference how to open large, database-driven web sites’ URLs to search engine spiders and to pull keywords from the database into the meta-tags. But a competitor’s web programmer, who grew up in Cambridge (US or UK) and is an avid reader, has the linguistic propensity to realize that she can pull keywords into sub-headers within all product pages’ body copy, and, in an act of programming poetry, she even writes a paragraph at the bottom of each page in which she programmatically pulls database keywords into sentences without compromising the grammatical correctness of the writing in all of the pages. She was also sure to put the important keyword “color,” not “colour,” in the appropriate HTML titles of her US web site.  The Cambridge programmer enjoys a huge holiday bonus because her site gets tons of relevant, organic search engine traffic and sales, and her employer reinvests some profits in other employees as well as vendors in its supply chain.

    An account manager at an SEO firm writes a superb executive summary in a quarterly ROI report. The client’s CEO reads it (and the well written email it was attached to), is impressed, and, after all, feels comfortable paying the firm to do a lot more SEO copywriting on vital web pages.

If you have seen the in-process Excel spread sheets that emerge from a couple of days of professional keyword research, you know just how vast is the linguistic terrain one must explore to unearth the handful of the most searched yet winnable phrases that are relevant to the client’s market. Viewing only the relatively short, final lists of phrases aimed at one web page per list fails to reveal the strategy by which, for example, the SEO employee selected the best two phrases and the best four single keywords all within one selected phrase. In this area, as in the meticulous yet inspired SEO copywriting, there exists no upper limit of excellence in the expression of disciplined verbal artistry. An SEO Einstein would beat even the best of us every day.

A Few Stats on Supply & Demand

While I suspect that governments are not good educators, I was startled to see where the US ranks globally in enrollment and in education spending as a percentage of GDP, including both governmental and non-governmental spending. According to the Economist’s 2008 Pocket World in Figures, the US is not ranked in the top twenty-five in either category. Curiously, there are no statistics on US literacy reported in that guide, while there are for many other countries. The most recent US government supplied statistics are for 2003, and it’s a good bet that with increasing costs and stagnant wages, never mind a recession, the US is headed downhill in this department.

At best, US literacy rates are average when compared to other developed countries. (See www.steamthing.com/2007/12/is-literacy-dec.html.)

According to The 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (http://nces.ed.gov/NAAL/health.asp), the most recent comprehensive study of literacy in US adults, only 13-15% of adults were proficient across three measures of literacy, while roughly 50% were intermediate, and about 35% fell into the basic and below basic ranges.  The Education Testing Service (makers of the SAT and other tests) predicts that average levels of literacy in adults will decrease by about 5% by 2030.  While education matters, with literacy levels increasing as levels of education increase, literacy levels declined between 1992 and 2003 more for college graduates than for high school educated or below.  Literacy levels averaged across three areas had declined by 6% for college graduates between 1992 and 2003.
 
With high demand for Search Engine Marketing expertise that requires English language acumen, those jobs are fetching high salaries.  A quick search of www.careerbuilders.com revealed hundreds of postings for jobs related to the search engine marketing industry with starting salaries averaging about $50k, while management level starting salaries ranged from $70-$120k. This reveals a great opportunity for college graduates with high literacy skills.

Demand for SEM workers is likely to stay high while supply of well qualified workers remains low due to declining literacy rates in the US. Ignorance is profitable – for a few.

Solutions for SEM Workers and Employers

A problem as vast and cultural as declining literacy deserves, and no doubt gets, whole books and dissertations. Meanwhile, I broach a few solutions for both SEM workers and employers.

Solutions for SEM workers and trainees: (1) Actually read one of those grammar and style guides that colleges (used to) require – the good ones are not at all boring if one likes language. (2) Read good books. Thomas Jefferson wrote that “The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers” --and blogs. (3) If still in college, elect and exert yourself in literature and writing classes. (4) Practice writing -- in journals, in considered emails to friends and family, in fiction, in op-ed pieces, in anything.  And yes, you definitely get credit for writing good blogs.

Solutions for employers: (1) Hire SEM employees with strong and proven language backgrounds. (2) Ask for several very different kinds of writing samples before hiring. (3) Look for verbally gifted employees to promote to SEM positions. (4) Contribute to employees’ continuing humanities education. (5) Support higher education, through votes, cash, or, failing that, cocktail conversations and pillow talk.


Rob Laporte is founder and President of DISC, Inc., and Jennifer Williams is Chief Operating Officer.  DISC, Inc. has specialized in SEM since 1997. Rigorously focused on ROI, DISC has clients worldwide, of all types and sizes. DISC also offers conversion rate optimization, site design and build, quarterly reporting on problems and opportunities, and comprehensive web marketing plans. www.2disc.com; 413-584-6500.

Uncovering the Real Universal Search



About The Author:

Kevin Ryan is a seasoned industry veteran. His former roles include vice president, interactive media, for the Interpublic Group agency; Wahlstrom Interactive; and CEO of Kinetic Results, a 2006 Advertising Age top 20 search engine marketing firm. Ryan recently founded a strategic consulting firm, Motivity Marketing, and has written over 200 articles on search and interactive marketing as search editor for iMedia Communications, a trade publisher and event producer serving the interactive media and marketing industries.

Ever wonder just how fast universal search is being adopted? How about the number of searchers that include a universal result? Perhaps more importantly, what's the real impact of search result multiplicity?

You asked, and we found out. This past Search Engine Strategies New York we uncovered many new things, but Tuesday's Orion Panel on universal search finally shed some light on the biggest change in search since Idealab launched paid listings.

Snapshot in Time

Way back in the middle of last year, I asked comScore to provide some real digestible and useable information about blended search results for discussion at Search Engine Strategies. Since that time, we've been monitoring search activity within "new and improved" search.

At first, analysis revealed the universal rollout rates were slow. Despite all the talk about bringing video, images, and other vertical-type results, most users were still seeing the "ten blue links." In other words, comparing the number of searches that contained universal results compared to non-universal results revealed a relatively small ratio of universal to non-universal results.

Well, it seems all that is about to change, according to the latest comScore data. In his quest to provide me with the universal search data I asked about, he found that in only one week in January, of 1.2 billion search queries in the U.S., there were 220 million universal search results. That means 17 percent of all searches on Google showed at least one result with video, news, images, maps, weather, or stocks.

Wait, it Gets Better

Looking at it from the individual searchers angle, the data shows that of the 87 million people who searched during that same week in January, 57 percent of them saw some type of universal search result. Of those, 38 percent saw a video result, 34 percent saw news, 19 percent saw images, and 15 percent saw multiple types of results.

What Else Does it Mean?

Aside from the obvious need to consider every aspect of your site an integral part of your search program (something prognosticators have been recommending long before search multiplicity appeared on the scene), the real impact of the new search interface might be a bit disturbing. It's beginning to look like Universal search is changing the way searchers interact with search results, and with ads.

comScore's findings support the assertion that the search result page is transforming from a directional guide to a destination. In other words, there are fewer ads appearing, which means fewer clicks. Fewer clicks mean fewer dollars for search sites and increased competitive activity in search results.

As James said during a panel at SES New York, "If the search engine results pages begin to operate as a destination, a lot of things change for those of us in this room."

If this trend continues, marketers will have to consider the changing interaction with search results when planning marketing initiatives. The practice of SEO (define) will become more important than it has ever been.

Last, but not least, metrics applied to other areas of online marketing will have to apply to search. The "view through" as a success metric may now apply to the search. Of course, the very notion of search as anything but a direct response vehicle is difficult to accept, but we may not have a choice as the pages we know and love continue to change.

Then again, all Google or any of the other search sites have to do is pull back the technology and focus on old school search result basics, i.e. text. Another very important option to consider is that we're looking at a very small snapshot in time and most blended search results are still in "test" phases. That's to say, everything we know (or think we know) can and will be refined and changed a dozen times before we see the space stabilize.
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