Social media, join the conversation

socialIt was a packed house in Alumni Auditorium at Champlain College on Monday when various social media guru’s spoke on the importance of integrating social media into a marketing plan at Burlington’s Social Media Breakfast. Basically the message was; stop focusing on the tools and start engaging in the conversation.

It was a sold out show which leads me to believe that people are actually beginning to catch on that social media is an integral part in building a brand. But with the plethora of tools out there where does one start? Here are some of the take away points from yesterday’s presentation:

Make a plan – What are your goals with this space and how will you measure success? Think about where your audience is and “fish where the fish are.”

Don’t push, gather – New media is about building a relationship and listening to your customers. “Its not push, its gather,” said C.C. Chapman, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of The Advance Guard. Old media talks at you, new media talks with you.

Start with a good brand – Offer a quality product and give them something to talk about. You can’t control your message online. People are already talking about your product, embrace it. And most importantly, listen to your customers.

Be found – It’s all about findability said Todd Defren, principal at Shift Communications. “Our job is to make sure we are found,” he said, “through content- blogs, SEO, Flikr, YouTube, etc. If social media is a pot luck, content is what you’re bringing to the party.”

Act on user feedback – Social media is digital word of mouth, its your online reputation. Create compelling content and act on user feedback. Give the people what they want.

The most important thing to remember about social media, is that it is all about building relationships with your customers. Be a part of the conversation people are having about your brand. Listen to your customers and give them what they want. This takes time, so be patient and remember to have fun.

Note: the above photo came from the Library of Congress. You can find many other these photos at www.flikr.com/commons.

Going overboard on SEO

I recently had a client who decided to add pages to their web site to achieve higher organic rankings in the search engines. Although this can sometimes be a useful strategy, it is not always the best approach.

This particular client was trying to rank for a certain geographic keyword and created a page targeting a specific area. The problem was, the page was  designed to attract the search engines and not the visitor. The page was filled with links and the information was already stated throughout their website and offered no unique content or new information for the visitor. This is what you call doorway pages, pages whose only goal is to lead the visitor to another page. They are not very relevant and are not very useful. These doorway pages (sometimes considered Black Hat SEO) can actually hurt your rankings.

So how do you increase your rankings then?

Google measures over 200 signals on your website to determine where your site belongs in the search engines. So it’s not surprising that it can be a difficult task to rank high. Especially if you’re trying to rank for a popular keyword. Unless you are an SEO expert and live, eat, and breath this stuff I suggest you just remember the following rule: The content on your website should first and foremost appeal to your audience.

A good foundation for any SEO (Search Engine Optimization) strategy begins with website content. You must remember that your content must appeal to your audience first, as this is the best SEO tool you have. You want them to visit often, stay for a while, link to your site and share it friends. The search engines will do the rest.

Here is basic outline of what your SEO strategy should look like long before you start creating extra pages:

  • Develop a targeted keyword list – there are various tools out there to help you and most of them are free including Google’s Adwords tool.
  • Develop keyword rich website content – once you have your list of keywords, incorporate them into your content.
  • Create keyword rich meta data (keywords, description, title tags)
  • Link to other relevant pages in your site
  • Build a linking strategy with incoming links from relevant sources
  • Utilize social media to help build your brand

Though these strategies take time and effort, if done correctly, they can significantly increase your organic rankings, your website traffic, your leads and your conversions. Which is really why your here right?

So the next time you’re struggling because your site isn’t placing on the first page of Google. Go back to this list and figure out if you can tweek anything. And remember it takes time. No one knows when the search engines will index your site so be patient.

Good luck!

Social Media, to connect or disconnect

Is social media enabling us to better connect with our audience or are we becoming so automated in our technology that we are removing ourselves from them?

These days we can automate our blog post to stream into our website, LinkedIn, Facebook, and MySpace account. We can post our status on Twitter, which can automatically feed into our Facebook status and our blog. And nowadays we can do it all conveniently from our mobile phone. Does all this automation mean less contact with our consumer?

Propeller Media Works recently hosted a Social Media Jam session, (the first one in a series) to help local businesses successfully incorporate social media into their marketing plan. They covered everything from Social Media 101 to ways marketers can use Twitter to better connect with their customer. Local social media gurus shared tips and experiences on how they personally and professionally use social media to promote their brand.

Chris Middings, web editor for Seventh Generation (a Burlington-based company that sells green household products) was among the panelists at this workshop. He cited an example of how he was monitoring Twitter and found a woman who was complaining about spots on her dishes. Chris hopped on his Twitter account and gave her some suggestions on how to wash her dishes so there would be no spots. The woman now has had a first hand introduction to Seventh Generation that she might not have gotten off line.

Dave Gibson, founder of Propeller Media Works and host of the Social Marketing Jam session used Facebook alone to promote this workshop, of which over 50 people showed up. He also utilizes a company blog (called Inside Propeller), Twitter account and Facebook Page to offer an insight on what it’s like to work at and with Propeller, connecting to potential clients as well as potential employees.

Bob Kilpatrick, Director of Digital Development at Seven Days, discussed how he uses Facebook to promote events for his business and authors a blog called Good Carma which talks about cars and helps promote Auto Finder a service that connects consumers to car dealerships.

Elaine Young, Professor at Champlain College, was also a panelist at this event. Though her use of social media is not intended to promote the college, Elaine uses blogs, Facebook, Twitter to connect with students, colleagues, media and to learn how to use these tools so she can better teach her students.

Social media can be used in many ways and for many different purposes. There are an endless amount of opportunities to better connect with your consumer through social media. It has given us a unique opportunity to reach our customers in an authentic way and build relationships that we have never been able to build before.

So, yes, I think social media allows us to better connect to our audience in a more targeted and authentic way than we have ever been able to do before. What do you think?

Avoid Facebook Fraud

Facebook
Facebook

I recently received an email on my Facebook account asking me to wire $1,000 to my friend, his wife and two kids who were stuck in Europe. According to the email they had been robbed of all their money, passport and belongings and were trying to get home. The email sounded completely realistic and I was close to actually sending them the money until something stopped me. You see my friends wouldn’t ask for a specific amount of money. They might say something like “can you send me some money” or ” can you help me out” but I doubt they would be so specific as to ask for $1,000. It turns out it was a fraud. Someone had hacked into his account and sent that email to all his friends. Luckily no one took the bait.

In these economic times, it is said that crime increases both on and off line. People get desperate and anyone can be a victim. There are ways, however, to protect yourself online.

  1. Think twice before you post. I know this seems obvious but use your better judgment when posting pictures, video, status bar entries, profile info, etc. A good rule of thumb is to never post your social security number or any kind of personal information such as your address.
  2. Be selective in who you friend. It’s not a contest of how may friends you have on your Facebook profile. If someone sends you a friend request and you don’t know them, don’t befriend them, it’s that simple.
  3. Use your privacy settings. Facebook has privacy settings so you can limit the amount of information different friends can see.  Check out this article on the 10 things you can do to protect your privacy on Facebook.

Most of the time being safe is just a matter of using some good old common sense. So don’t get paranoid and stop using Facebook, just be smart about what you post, who you let in and what information you offer.

Be well, be safe.

Is your business using the SEO Pyramid?

Trends are showing that businesses are cutting back on their marketing budgets this year. This of course comes as no surprise given the state of the economy. But it has left some small business owners in the dark when it comes to where to put their marketing dollars and how best to spend their budgets. Let’s face it there are an endless supply of online marketing tools out there. The question is, which one’s should you choose and where do you start?

While searching online for a visual to show to one of my clients, I came across the following SEO Pyramid and I thought it was a great visual to help pave the way to greater online visibility.

seo-pyramid-large4

Basically, to more efficiently market your business online, the following rules should be in place (and they are in order of importance):

  1. You have compelling web content
  2. Your content and page elements are optimized
  3. You’ve created and are maintaining a linking campaign
  4. You business is visible in the social media space

Compelling web content – First and foremost, your site must have compelling and relevant content; useful content that will attract and retain visitors and offer them something they can link to. You want your visitors to buy your product or service and come back for more. So give them something to come back to.

Optimize your content and page elements – Your web content should be keyword rich. Establish a list of keywords that people search on to find your product or service and include these in your content. They must be relevant to each page so don’t go overboard. These keywords should be weaved into not only your web content but all your page elements (i.e. title tags, meta tags, H1 tags, etc.) as well.

Linking campaign in place – Spend some time finding relevant sites to link to and from.  The more relevant sites that are linking to you the more likely the search engines are going to find you.

Social media plan– Once everything else is in place, build your business page or group in a social network that speaks directly to your audience. Start a conversation and start networking. Also, don’t underestimate the value of a blog. Yes, it takes time to upkeep but it’s well worth it in the end. Not only does it give your business a personality, it augments your SEO strategy. Get out there, get networking. It’s free!

And finally, BE PATIENT! Gaining visibility online takes time. Keep at it and be patient. And remember you get out of it what you put in.

Good luck!

Google changing the rhythm, algorithm that is.

Just when you thought you had it down, Google goes and changes their algorithm. If you haven’t yet heard (and I hope you have since this is my second posting on the subject), Google has been behind the scenes modifying their search algorithm to incorporate user behavior. Which means users results will be measured by the users behavior, location and past searches. This is smart from so many angles yet it changes the game significantly for marketers.

I can’t stress enough that first and foremost content is king. I’m not just saying that because I happen to be a content writer. I’m saying it because now more than ever, big brother Google is watching and counting every time someone clicks through to your site from a served up query. So not only must you have great content on your website, but you must also have good content in your page elements. These are what will entice visitors to click through when your site shows up in their search query.

A higher click through rate (CTR) shows Google your site has relevancy. What does this mean for a marketer? That your description tags (the content that shows up in the tid-bit of info in a search query) and title tags should be enticing and relevant to that particular search term so that people actually click through to your site from their search query.

Once they have clicked through, you’ll want them to stay (obviously). It is important to monitor your bounce rate and how much time people spend on your site, as the amount of time a visitor stays on your site is becoming more and more important. Here’s an example. Say a visitor uses the search term “snowboarding in Vermont.” The search engine offers up a particular mountain resort that offers snowboarding and happens to be in Vermont. The user clicks on the link and spends 3-5 minutes on the mountain’s site. This will tell Google that the site is relevant and is more likely to show up again when someone with the same “behavior” clicks on the same search term.

As the search engines keep refining their algorithms they offer a more targeted result to users search queries. This gives us marketers an opportunity to really hone in on our target market and create web content and advertising copy that speaks directly to them. If we do this well, the web crawlers will crawl and visitors will visit and hopefully we all prosper and succeed.

Using social media to engage in the conversation

picture-1Smart marketers are spending more and more time in the social media space. It is inexpensive, highly targeted and gives businesses the chance to build a personal relationship with their consumers like no other medium offers. Social media allows businesses to interact with their audience in a two-way conversation that builds brand affinity, and most importantly, trust. People will buy from people they trust.

At this stage of the game, it is not enough to just have a presence in the social networks, you must facilitate that conversation by encouraging your audience to participate in the discussion through blogs, discussion boards, Tweets, groups, etc. Get involved with your consumer and find out what they think about your industry, your product and your competition. Let’s face it, before you even sat down at that desk to write your marketing plan, people were talking about your product or industry. Why not get involved in the conversation?

Recently I pitched a potential client and offered them my services in social media.  Aside from maintaining their Facebook page with fresh content, I proposed that I would monitor the web and find out what people are saying about their product, make comments, add to discussions and report back. This can be time-consuming (which is why I pitched this client – to take the burden off their plate), but can be well worth the trouble.

First and foremost, if you haven’t yet enabled Google Alerts, please do so immediately. Just type in your keywords and email address and Google will send you updates when those keywords are picked up by the search engines. This is a quick and easy way to find out what is being said about your product online.

Other ways to monitor what is being talked about online is to spend some time in discussion areas, groups, pages and user rating and review sites such as Trip Advisor, Angie’s List and Yelp, to name a few. This is a one stop shop in finding out what people are saying about your product. It’s like surveying your audience without actually surveying them.

Finding out what your customers are saying is only half the battle. Taking that information and using it to make your business stronger is the other half. For example, if you’re a restaurant and you notice on Trip Advisor that people are complaining about your service. You can address it accordingly.

There are many other tools and sites to help you monitor and get involved in the conversation. Find which ones work best for your business. The point is, to get out there, embrace user-generated-content and use it to make your business more successful.

Building your brand through social media does take time and energy and sometimes hours online, but as with anything, you get out of it what you put in.

Promoting your blog

wordpressIn November 2008 there were 1,463,666 active blogs on WordPress alone and 17,433,783 active posts, according to the WordPress November Wrap-up. And who knows how many more blogs and posts were created on the gazillion other blogging sites out there. With those numbers I think it is completely amazing that people find my blog at all.

If you’re wondering how best to promote your blog and stand out among the 1.5 million + other blogs out there, here are some suggestions:

  • First and foremost you need to offer unique content that is valuable to your reader. This will keep them coming back, linking to your post or passing it along to friends.
  • If you have more than one blog, link them to each other. If someone is interested in a particular topic and they find one blog and like your writing, they’re likely to check out what else you have written about.
  • If you have profiles in your social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, etc., be sure to have links to both your website and your blog in all your profiles. You can also stream your blog into some of these sites so that when updating, you are updating profiles on all your social networks instantaneously.
  • You must read other blogs and make comments. See what other bloggers are talking about and offer intelligent information, opinions and comments. Remember, you’re trying to build your network.
  • Utilize Twitter. It’s a micro-blogging site and a great way to make contacts, find people who are interested in the same thing you are, read their blogs and offer your knowledge to them. This gets your name out there and people interested in what you have to offer.
  • Utilize one of the many blogging networks such as BlogCatalog. This is a great way to manage all your blogs in one spot and build your blogging community.

There are many ways to promote your blog and make it stand out among the millions. Try different ways to see what works best for you. Just remember the most important thing about blog writing is content. So make it worth while.

Good luck!

Google personalizing search

logo_40gry1The future of search engine rankings is changing right before our eyes. It used to be that when you typed your keyword into Google you could measure your ranking according to where you placed on the results page. Though you can still check your ranking that way, it might not be the most accurate measurement anymore.

In Google’s quest to offer more relevant search results, they are personalizing search so that the language you use in your search query is more closely related to the language on the web pages that show up in the results. These results are based on several factors including recent search engine queries, language, keyword phrase, search activity, browser and location. For example, if a site ranks well on a particular keyword phrase for someone living in Florida, it might rank differently for someone living in Alaska with that same keyword phase. It depends on what their search history is, where they are located, etc. This makes it a little more difficult for marketers to measure page rank as it will be different for different users.

What does this mean for marketers?
•    You should no longer measure your success by where you rank in the search engines. You should use other measurements such as ROI, conversions and traffic to measure your results.
•    Your site should be optimized with keyword rich content.
•    Your website content should speak directly to your audience, offer relevant information and give your audience a reason to stay and return to your site.

What does this mean for users?

•    Users will be offered more targeted and relevant results to their search queries.

The good news is the personalization of search will offer businesses a more targeted visitor to their site which in turn could lead to a higher conversion rate and ultimately increase your ROI.

So if I were you, I would begin measuring my overall site traffic, conversions and ROI and let measuring my site rankings be a thing of the past.

For more information on Google’s  Search Personalization check out these articles:
The Future of Google’s Search Personalization

Google Awarded Patent for Language Personalization

Yes, and…

With this economic downturn, businesses are tightening their budgets and marketers are required to do more with less money. This may be a daunting task for some, but for others, this is an opportunity to really get creative.

I read an article this morning by Sage Lewis called I love Crazy Link Ideas which suggested that this is the time to really put your best foot forward and “think outside of the box” (I know, that’s so cliché) to better market your brand. Lewis suggests writing down the craziest ideas you can come up with and offers some suggestions of his own. It’s funny because as you read his suggestions, the first few are outrageous but as you read further these ideas seem to spark some realistic ones.

This reminds me of a team-building game I facilitated at a previous job. It is called Yes, And…The object of the game is for someone to throw out the craziest idea they can think of and the next person is to only add to the idea no matter how outrageous it is by saying “yes, and…”. As you can imagine, the first few ideas are usually just plain ridiculous but as you go on down the line and people start adding to it, innovation begins to emerge.

So, in your quest to do more with less, embrace this opportunity to really shine. Use some of these exercises to brainstorm some viral marketing opportunities, linking strategies, events, etc. There are so many opportunities that cost little to no money. They do however, take some time and a little creativity. Have fun with it and see what happens. After all you have nothing to lose.

Good luck!