Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Seven More Essential SEO Tools


Optimizing your website for organic search is a matter of doing the right things, and doing those things right. Utilize SEO best practices, and use free online tools to track and improve your results. Here are a handful of tools that can help analyze and improve your efforts on both counts.

First, you need to know how well you site ranks today across your list of key search phrases on the most popular search engines. Two tools that automate this process are:

Search Engine Rankings from Mike's Marketing Tools

Search Engine Keyword Position from SEO Tools

To optimize your rankings, your most important keywords should have a density in the range of 3-5%. To check keyword density, use this tool:

Keyword Cloud from SEO Tools

Page content is the single most important determinant of your search engine rank, but crafting proper meta tags is also critical. Meta tags aren't difficult to write for anyone with a basic knowledge of HTML, but you use an automated tool to create them such as:

Meta Tag Generator from AnyBrowser.com

To check and optimize your meta tags for length and relevance, try this tool:

Meta Tag Analyzer from Widexl

All of the tools above assist with internal SEO, but external efforts—generating relevant external links to your site—is crucial as well. This tool tells you how many external links to your website have been detected by each of the major search engines:

Link Popularity Tool from SEO Tools

Finally, my favorite overarching, tie-it-all-together in one SEO analysis tool:

SEO Analysis Tool from SEO Workers

These seven tools will go a long way toward maximizing your SEO efforts. Looking for more? Knock yourself out trying the 51 SEM tools outlined in Essential Tools for the Search Engine Marketer from MediaPost. Though focused on tools to assist with online advertising campaigns, some of the tools on this list are also quite helpful with SEO efforts.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Friday, October 26, 2007

What is the True State of Search Marketing?


On Wednesday this week, MarketingSherpa hosted a presentation on Search Marketing Trends and Tactics (that's the link to the PDF; the audio is here). The same day, Bill Gadless at the B2B Web Strategy Blog wrote a post on The True State of B2B Search Engine Marketing. Combining information from the two paints an interesting picture of the current search marketing landscape.

Bill notes the gap between high interest in search marketing and the low actual adoption. In his words, "everyone’s intrigued; but very few are yet investing much of their budget with the help of a professional SEO firm." He concludes by writing, "The lack of attention SEO and PPC are receiving from B2B marketers is troubling."

Research from MarketingSherpa, on the other hand, demonstrates that the businesses who are investing these areas are seeing substantial ROI and increasing their spending. Overall, roughly 40% of web marketers plan double-digit increases in search marketing with Google next year; about a quarter plan similar spending increases on other PPC programs; and 40% also plan to increase dollars devoted to organic search optimization.

In addition, MarketingSherpa reports that SEO and PPC campaigns are rated as providing the second- and third-highest ROI of marketing tactics, trailing only house list email marketing. These tactics beat PR, direct mail, offline advertising and online banners. Their study also reveals that repeated landing page testing and optimization drives the greatest improvement on ROI for SEM campaigns.

So why the gap between the heavy spenders and non- (or very light) spenders? My own experience indicates that one answer is "bad experience." Time and again I've seen well-intentioned but inexperienced marketers throw money at PPC campaigns only to:

- Bid a single default amount across all keywords;
- Write and run a single ad;
- Point all clicks to their home page;
- And then wonder why their ROI is terrible (or not even measurable).

I don't mean to be too harsh here as none of us knew how to optimize SEM campaigns when the web was young. But over time, those who have focused on web marketing have learned the importance of bid optimization, ad and landing page testing, and other SEM best practices that drive high ROI from search marketing programs.

A second reason may be another research finding from MarketingSherpa: more than half of respondents said that it was somewhat or very difficult to hire in-house SEO and SEM expertise.

But whether done internally or externally, companies need to either transition from the "interest" stage in SEO and SEM to the execution phase—or continue spending scare marketing dollars on lower-ROI tactics.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Book Review: Value Acceleration


The central contention of Value Acceleration: The Secrets to Building an Unbeatable Competitive Advantage by Mitchell Goozé and Ralph Mroz comes down to three points: 1) virtually every functional discipline in the modern organization (accounting, engineering, production etc.) is now run using established processes; 2) marketing and sales organizations are broken because they lack such processes; 3) companies can create an "unbeatable" competitive advantage by incorporating an overarching sales and marketing process, borrowing principles from the manufacturing realm.

Goozé and Mroz argue that marketing (defined as the entire process of determining customer needs, guiding product development based on customer and competitive intelligence, promotion and sales) is the central function of every company—it aligns marketplace needs with the organization's core competencies. Therefore, "An integrated-process model and objective management methods to manage that process lay the foundation for realizing the potential of marketing/sales."

The authors make a compelling case—up to a point. Particularly on the product management side of marketing, many organizations struggle to implement effective practices, or have reasonably solid product management processes but lack integration with the promotional end of marketing. In the words of the authors, "The "front-end" marketing skills—such as positioning and opportunity identification—and the "integrative" marketing skills—such as integration with product development, sales and corporate strategy—are not well understood." Getting the "front end" of marketing right us crucial because, to cite one example used in the book, "80% of HP's and Canon's revenue comes from products less than two years old."

Among the book's highlights:

- "Competitive advantage, therefore, goes only to the risk takers—to those who pioneer useful new management techniques." That may well be true, but small businesses constitute the bulk of the American economy (and many others) precisely because as companies grow, they tend to become more risk-averse.

- "Among all corporate functions, marketing alone has the distinction of not having a well-defined process by which it is practiced." The authors propose a promising answer: an overarching product-management-promotion-sales process based on a "customer manufacturing system" and borrowing principles from manufacturing, such as constraint analysis, continuous improvement and lean thinking.

- "Why is there no well-accepted marketing process today? The first and most obvious answer is that there isn't even a common answer to the question `What is marketing?' Ask 100 managers and marketing practitioners to define marketing and you'll get 150 different answers." There is no overall process because there is no common definition.

- "There is no consistency [in marketing processes] over time or across products." This shouldn't come as a surprise, given that the average tenure for a CMO is less than two years (optimistically; I've seen figures closer to 18 months). While that's enough time to install a process, it's not enough to really establish it as part of the organizational fabric. This presents a chicken-and-egg question: are CMO tenures so short because they don't implement effective, overarching marketing processes, or are such processes rare because corporations chew through CMOs too quickly?

- "[A common problem is that] too much attention is paid to gaining new customers, to the detriment of existing customers...There [is] a strong likelihood that [companies lose] existing customers to the competition while...working hard to attract replacements."

- As familiar as that last point likely sounds, this one will probably resonate even more with most marketers: "If you ask sales people where the constraint or bottleneck is in your marketing/sales process, we find the answer is invariably in only one of three areas: 1) Your prices are too high; 2) They need more leads; 3) They need more new products or services. In our experience working with companies to identify the actual constraint, this is rarely where the constraint actually lies." Ouch!

- "A set of sales activities not organized into a process is nothing more than a chaotic, random group of events. The inevitable outcome—surprise!—is a chaotic, random group of results...The only way to 'manage' or 'improve' a sales function that is not process-driven is to swap out sales people and hope for better results. Sound familiar? That's the way many sales organizations are run."

Although the central message of the book is compelling, I do have several issues both small and large with the book. Among the small issues:

- The overall tone of the writing is dryly academic, and could have benefited from a lighter treatment in places (though in fairness, the authors do quote Yoda at one point). Here's a sample: "Using a causal modeling technique known as structural equation modeling (SEM) or pathway building combined with constraint theory, it is possible to obtain correct results from this approach using a widely applied set of questions." Whew, doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.

- PR is NOT a lead generation activity; it's about awareness and credibility building.

- The proofreading is sloppy in spots. Example: "Clearly spelled out in these of processes is a detailed list marketing responsibilities at each phase from a product development perspective." Huh?

And among the large issues:

- "A useful process model...defines the information flows between the elements and sub-elements of the process; thus ensuring that marketing/sales is an integrated function, and that the information it operates on is complete and accurate." Because the authors use manufacturing practices as a model for marketing, they sometimes seem to lose sight of the fact that marketing deals with people, not parts. Yes, anyone can theoretically make the right decision given complete and accurate information, but getting such information is more challenging than the authors concede. Unlike production parts, people bring biases, assumptions, and other mental baggage to the process, so the trick is to be able to make good decisions based on information that is fundamentally BAD (my acronym from my competitive intelligence days for "best available data"), with recognition that the information at hand will always be less than "complete and accurate."

A further complication here is that human behavior is much more complex than the physics of manufactured parts. If I perform operation A on part B in the prescribed fashion, over and over, I should get pretty much the same results (within tolerances). But the same ad campaign can produce radically different results from week to week based on seasonality or just random factors.

- The authors' description of the dysfunction of most marketing departments (they devote an entire chapter to this!), while containing many valid criticisms, is a bit overdone. While their central contention—the marketing discipline in general lacks an all-encompassing process framework, and could benefit greatly from having one—is valid, few marketing departments in quite as bad shape as the authors describe. The lack of an overarching process certainly doesn't mean that there are no processes in place, or that management techniques from the manufacturing world, such as continuous process improvement, can't be or aren't already being applied (having started my career as an industrial engineer before moving over to marketing, I was applying this approach an ERP company a decade ago).

- In their discussion of misalignment between selling and buying processes, the authors write, "End-of-the-period purchase incentives are another common misalignment...you are training your customers to expect an incentive. As we write this, the U.S. automobile industry has been running "incentives" for so long, that most customers won't buy a car without one any more."

While the observation that car makers could optimize their profitability by ceasing to offer incentives may be true in theory, in practice they have created for themselves a "prisoner's dilemma"—they could all make money by dropping the incentives, but any single manufacturer that tried this would quickly lose business to those who continued the practice. The authors provide no answer to this quandary.

- The chapter on "Breakthrough Thinking in Sales" is the weakest in the book. The authors advise sales people to "Map your customer's buying process. There is no step 2. Now you can stop selling and start making customers." There are (at least) three problems with this approach:

1) Customers are most likely to have established buying processes in place for frequently purchased items, where the roll of sales is primarily to act as an order-taker, not true "hunting."

2) Different customers have different buying processes: small companies buy different than large ones, public companies may have different processes than private firms, and government agencies purchase differently from private sector organizations. Practices may also vary by industry. If there are a dozen (or more) different buying processes to model depending on any variety of factors, is there really a "process" to mirror at all?

3) For infrequently purchases products and services, or entirely new offerings, there is no established buying process in place to reflect. Sales people require the skills to guide the customer through the purchase.

- The authors emphasize continuously throughout the book the importance of solid product management in designing the right products for your market. Yet, despite the one example cited to the contrary (an odd one at that—IBM, the company that famously missed the PC revolution, which was launched by two guys in a garage), large and even midsized companies rarely introduce truly new products. They are very good at developing incremental improvements, but the aforementioned risk-aversenss of larger organizations make them ill-suited to designing entirely new products. These are most commonly created by visionary entrepreneurs in small companies willing to risk everything to bring an idea to life. As noted above, the personal computer wasn't invented in large company; neither was online music distribution (which the record companies were too short-sighted to capitalize on; that took the work of a 19-year-old), online video sharing (YouTube) or a host of other innovations.

- Finally, there is this: "This book has been about both the necessity of process management and about the need for a process model of the corporation's single most critical, non-out-sourceable function: marketing/sales." [Emphasis mine.] Whoa, while product management may be very difficult to outsource, the notion that marketing can't be outsourced would certainly be news to the 3,000+ marketing agencies in the U.S. (and many more around the world). And if sales can't be outsourced, how does one explain the existence of brick-and-mortal retailers, ecommerce companies, wholesalers, distributors, VARs and other external sales channels?

Still, despite its flaws, Value Acceleration: The Secrets to Building an Unbeatable Competitive Advantage presents a compelling case for, and a useful description of, a unified marketing/sales process model that could benefit many companies. It deserves to be read, if sometimes with a dash of skepticism, by every CMO, aspiring CMO, and marketing executive, as well as non-marketing executives who want to understand why marketing and sales sometimes seem like dysfunctional, disorganized parts of the organization—and what can be done to fix the problem.

Other blog reviews of this book:

Six Sigma Blog
Meaningful Marketing

*****

Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Monday, October 22, 2007

New on WebMarketCentral: Marketing Careers and Events


Two new sections have recently been added to the fastest-growing web marketing portal—a Marketing and Sales Career Opportunities section, powered by CareerBuilder, and an extensive calendar of Marketing Events.

The Career Opportunities area enables you to search for jobs by category, including Advertising, Public Relations, Graphic Design and B2B Sales. You can refine searches by location and keyword, and access a variety of job-seeker tools. For those who are hiring rather than looking, this section also provides an array of tools for employers.

The Marketing Events calendar features marketing-related event dates and descriptions from around the world, displayed by week and frequently updated. Use this page to make sure you don't miss any important events (such as the upcoming Blog World & New Media Expo in Las Vegas) or to promote your events.

These two new sections continue to expand the B2C and B2B marketing resources available on WebMarketCentral, including the top marketing books, web marketing news, marketing-related blogs and the web's most extensive listing of marketing and advertising-related trade publications with editorial contacts and RSS feeds.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Blog Marketing for Non-Bloggers


Rarely do I drop what I'm doing to read a newsletter article, but that's what happened when I came across Elge Premeau's Using Blogs to Attract Attention (Without Having Your Own) in the RainToday newsletter. Premeau accurately points out that while writing your own blog is hard work, promoting your company, product or service through blogs doesn't have to be: "60% of bloggers have not updated their blogs in the last 60 days...So, why not tap into the audiences other blogs attract (presumably the blogs that are updated more frequently) and participate in the blogosphere without doing the hard work of creating and marketing a blog?"

Premeau recommends commenting on popular (and relevant to your business, obviously) blogs as a way of getting exposure and demonstrating your own thought leadership in your field without making the commitment to your own blog. She helpfully provides advice on how to find relevant blogs to comment on, track them, and write appropriate, productive comments.

Commenting is a great way to start a relationship with influential bloggers. Once you have that, it's much easier to reach out to ask them to write about your product or service, or even offer to write an expert guest post for their blogs.

At the least, you should probably be monitoring the most influential blogs in your industry to follow their commentary on your industry, markets, and possibly your company—just as you would monitor relevant trade publications and industry analysts. But whether your blog strategy starts with tracking, commenting, or outreach, Premeau's article provides an excellent guide to finding and monitoring key blogs in your area of interest.

She also writes the eMarketing Strategist blog, which I'll be adding to my favorites.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

WMC Interviews: Dale Underwood


This week I caught up with Dale Underwood, CEO of EchoQuote, an automated lead capture web service provider. EchoQuote enables B2B companies to automatically create customized price quotes based on the requester's email address and distribute lead information to an internal sales team or channel. The philosophy behind the product is simple: between your website, analysts, publications and social media, prospects can now learn pretty much everything they want to know about your product or service before ever contacting you—except the price. EchoQuote fills that gap, on a pay-as-you-go pricing model that minimizes risk.

WebMarketCentral (WMC): What did you do before EchoQuote? What’s your background?

Dale Underwood (DAU): I’ve been directly involved with information technology my entire career. I started out as a datacenter operator (I worked in the computer center at Virginia Tech while in high school), turned programmer, sales engineer, salesman and finally business owner. In 1998 I co-founded Marzik, a Value Added Reseller (VAR) focused on selling enterprise storage solutions to the Federal Government.


WMC: How and why did you get started in this business?

DAU: By 2004 I noticed a change in the business climate; the self-service nature of the Internet was empowering our customers to research and learn about the products we were selling. As a VAR it was becoming tougher to remain the “subject matter experts” when customers were not only using the latest gear everyday but they also had the Internet to supplement their research. I felt it was time to try something new and so, in January of 2005, my partner bought my share of the business. Marzik was a very positive experience and I owe a lot to my former partner.

I took some time off but it didn’t take long to begin thinking about building a new business. I liked the VAR business but it was missing one thing—innovation. The VAR business has not really changed much over the years so I came up with a plan to improve it. The plan focused on building a Self-Service platform that would benefit everyone involved in the enterprise sales process; the end-user, purchaser, large system integrator (prime contractors like Lockheed Martin, EDS, etc.) as well as the manufacturer’s sales and marketing teams. The end result was a VAR with this incredible internal infrastructure; my analogy was a bicycle with a jet engine. I quickly saw the value of the engine and decided to separate it from the VAR business and market it as a service to product manufacturers. I obtained a patent on the process in early 2007 and EchoQuote was born.


WMC: Who do you target, that is, who is your ideal or typical client?

DAU: Although our Self-Service Pricing model could be used across a wide variety of industries, we tend to stay within the IT product manufacturer segment simply because they are the quickest to adopt new technical processes; their entrepreneurial spirit is also a good match for our own. Our ideal client is a small to medium size IT product manufacturer (under $100 million) that has a good product but is just not getting the traction it deserves. Small tech companies are more aggressive and tend to judge value on results which aligns perfectly with the “pay for results” model of EchoQuote; it’s literally risk free.


WMC: Who do you view as your competitors, and what separates your offering from theirs?

DAU: Our primary competition is newness of the concept more so than choosing another service. There are many outstanding SEO and PPC products and services that drive web traffic but we have found very few that truly address the issue of filtering out good, qualified opportunities. EchoQuote was designed and written from the ground up because there was nothing in the market that addressed the B2B pricing dilemma—“How do we empower the prospect to select and receive a custom price quote while maintaining control at the sales edge?” Many B2B marketers assume they have “seen something just like it” but they are usually talking about product configurators or shopping carts. Our B2B solution is about connecting people; in our case connecting qualified prospects with the sales and marketing teams.


WMC: What’s your "elevator pitch"—how do you describe the value your service brings to your customers?

DAU: EchoQuote is a web based service that captures more qualified opportunities earlier in the sales cycle. We empower a potential customer to select and request custom pricing that will be delivered within minutes while alerting the appropriate sales team of the opportunity.


WMC: How do you market and promote your business?

DAU: Right now we are simply focused on making a huge impact on our existing customers and it is working. One client has uncovered over $20 Million in qualified opportunities in the first half of 2007. B2B Marketing is about visible, measurable results and with examples like that we expect the word to spread.

As for external marketing, I personally feel expert B2B marketing bloggers are a good first step for us. I am also learning a lot through my membership with MarketingSherpa and am excited about the upcoming Demand Creation Summit.


WMC: What’s the biggest or most important marketing lesson you’ve learned since you got started in all this?

DAU: Your product or service must translate to successful customers; everything else is just noise.


WMC: Anything else you’d like to add?

DAU: I’d like to thank all of the B2B marketing bloggers out there for their continued insights and lively discussions.

*****

Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Friday, October 12, 2007

The TruthLaidBear Comes Out of Hiding


If you're not familiar with The Truth Laid Bear, it's a kind of cool blog tracking site that's been for the past three years by the eponymous N.Z. Bear (no one knows what "N.Z." stands for except that it's not "New Zealand"). Today, the Bear came out publicly. Here's the bulk of his message:
    Folks:

    I hope you’ll forgive a brief commercial interruption. After five+ years as a pseudonymous ursine fellow online, the time has come for me to step out from behind the curtain.

    Hi ! My name is Rob Neppell. You may know me from such websites as The Truth Laid Bear and Porkbusters. I’m not actually a bear, but I play one on the Internet.

    The occasion? I am now ready to publicly announce the real "big thing" I've been hinting at for some time: TTLB is now part of my new company: Kithbridge, Inc.
    I’ve described Kithbridge as follows:

      Kithbridge, Inc. was launched as an evolution of one of the blogosphere's original and most successful blog-tracking sites, The Truth Laid Bear. While The Truth Laid Bear provides a portal and blog search engine for individual bloggers and blog-readers, Kithbridge provides customized technology, services, and strategies for businesses, political campaigns, nonprofits, and other organizations which seek to fully engage with the growing and dynamic world of the blogosphere and new media.

    I’m pleased to be working with a small group of great clients who have come on board already, and am now ready to open the doors and invite more on in.
So I checked out Kithbridge. "Innovative and effective strategies bring the power of blogs and new media to your organization"? The company sounds like a bit of an indirect competitor to me (or perhaps a future employer? One never knows.), though Kithbridge appears to be targeting the political market. The company has assembled an interesting package of offerings:

  • Blog tracking: while there are other ways to do this (Google Alerts for example), The Truth Laid Bear has some nice graphical tools that Kithbridge will be capitalizing on, which probably makes this feature worthwhile for organizations or individuals who garner a lot of blog coverage.

  • Custom Blog Feeds: "allow(s) clients to incorporate relevant blog posts seamlessly into their own web pages"—interesting, but it isn't clear what technology they are using for this. There are two ways to incorporate blog feeds into a website (that I'm aware of; there may be others): Javascript or PHP. Javascript is much easier from an administrative standpoint, but the feed content is invisible to search engines, so this method provides no SEO benefit. PHP is trickier but more search engine friendly, so it's what I use to post blog feeds and news feeds on WebMarketCentral.

  • Strategic Consulting: here are their questions, with my commentary.
    * Should my website include a blog?

    Probably not, but there are many other ways to use blogs for promotion. I'll address this topic in a near-future post.

    * How do I find out when bloggers are writing about my organization?

    Again, Google Alerts, Technorati...or Kithbridge.

    * How can I use new media to increase visibility of my company?

    Blogger relations, social media outreach and interactive PR for starters.

    * Who are the bloggers I should be reaching out to—and who are the ones I need to worry about?

    This is tricky and tedious. If Kithbridge can automate this process, they've definitely got something.

    * How can I get bloggers “on my side” to promote my products, services, or cause?

    Again, blogger outreach through interactive PR.

I'm a fan of the TruthLaidBear site and wish the now-public Mr. Neppell and his colleagues the best of success with Kithbridge.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

The New "Relations" in Interactive PR

The umbrella term of "public relations" (PR) has always covered a number of specialties: media relations (primarily), investor relations, analyst relations, community relations, even employee relations. The social networking of Web 2.0 and interactive PR has added two new "relations" to the mix—let's call them market relations and blogger relations.

Market relations is the practice of writing news releases (not press releases) that are targeted directly at your prospects rather than journalists (though media folks may pick up on these as well). This is a central concept of David Meerman Scott's recent book, The New Rules of Marketing & PR (reviewed here). While press releases are about you—you've released a new product, or hit a milestone, or signed a new partner alliance for example—news releases are about the interests of your market. They aren't designed to promote your product or service directly, but rather to position your company as a thought leader.

News release topics include new white papers you've produced (the findings, not the white paper itself), relevant commentary on recent news, results of studies you've done in the course of business, new ideas, how-to content posted to your site or blog—in short, any content that is relevant to your industry, of interest to your prospects, and that positions your company as experts in your field.

Distribution is also different: while press releases are dispersed via major newswires and directly to journalists, market-focused news releases are sent to targeted bloggers and through online distribution services such as PRWeb.

Blogger relations is similar to media relations, but requires a different approach as it must appeal to non-professional journalists who are often writing more out of passion than for money.
I've written previously here about blogger outreach, following up on two excellent guest posts by PR guru-ess Cece Lee (who also incidentally recently posted my comments on the topic of "sincerity"). Appeals to bloggers need to be direct, personal, relevant and transparent.

Used properly, the social media tools of Web 2.0 give forward-thinking PR professionals new ways to build awareness and corporate credibility through market relations and blogger relations.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

How to Improve SEM Conversion Rates


To optimize the results of a Google AdWords, Yahoo! Search Marketing or other SEM program, start with best practices in search engine marketing. I've written previously about typical SEM click-through rates (CTR), which are important—balancing your budget against driving as much traffic as possible to your website.

Ultimately, however, what's really important isn't raw traffic, but conversion of that traffic into buyers or B2B leads. Dan Briody recently wrote a helpful article for Inc. magazine, Turning Browsers into Buyers: How to Improve Conversion Rates that provides some practical guidance.

From my own experience, here are a few basic practices to help maximize conversion rates (which average 3% according to Dan's article) and minimize your cost per conversion:
  • Keep content short. Your landing page should have one-two paragraphs (a couple of sentences plus 3-5 bullet points is even better) of compelling, straightforward copy: this is what my product/service will do for you and why you should act now.

  • Keep the contact form short. For generating B2B leads, ask for minimum amount of information necessary, such as name, company, phone and email address.

  • Don't confuse the visitor with multiple navigation options—but do provide some. Best practice is not to duplicate the entire navigational structure of your website, but give the visitor one or two options in addition to the call to action, such as "Learn More" and/or "Visit our Home Page."

  • Provide a clear call to action. Once a visitor has hit your page and read your concise, compelling content, make it clear what you'd like them to do next: buy something (for low-cost, simple products and services) or provide contact information (for more complex B2B products and services).

  • Offer an incentive for response. White papers, reports, free trials, product videos and other relevant offers are a powerful inducement for B2B lead generation.

  • Test, test, test. The recommendations above and those in Dan's article serve as general guidelines, but your company, offering and prospects are unique: in the end, the only way to truly optimize your SEM conversions is through testing several alternatives and then fine-tuning the landing pages that work best for you.

Utilizing these practices will help achieve your ultimate objective in SEM campaigns—generating prospects and buyers.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Friday, October 05, 2007

The Wrong Way to Build External Links for SEO


Anyone who's worked on search engine optimization (SEO) for any length of time understands the importance of building relevant external links to a website. But whether you do choose to SEO internally, outsource it domestically, or offshore the effort, it's important to get this process right. If you're doing it internally, follow established best practices for this effort (including the information below). If you outsource your SEO, ask your vendor exactly how they perform their SEO work.

I frequently receive reciprocal link requests for WebMarketCentral.com. Some of the requests are well-written, some inelegant, some spammy. But I recently received the following message, which was among the worst I had ever seen:

    Subject: Link exchange

    Dear Webmaster,

    My name is (name), and I run the web sites.:

    http://www.clickatest.co.uk/(PR>2)
    http://www.clickajob.co.uk/(PR>3)
    http://www.freshpromotion.com/

    I recently found your site and am very interested in exchanging links. You can add yours link there:

    http://www.clickatest.co.uk/directory/exchange_links.html
    http://www.clickajob.co.uk/directory/add-your-site.html
    http://www.freshpromotion.com/linkmachine/resources/exchange_links.html

    As you know, reciprocal linking benefits both of us by raising our search rankings and generating more traffic to both of our sites. Please post a link to my site as follows:

    Title: Online aptitude and psychometric tests.
    URL: http://www.clickatest.co.uk/
    Description: Job skills and personality profile assessments to determine your employees capabilities and minimise human resource recruiting costs.

    URl: http://www.clickajob.co.uk/catalog/accountancy_tax_1.html
    Title: Accountancy and Tax jobs in UK.
    Description: ClickAJob Job Centre UK - search for jobs in education, marketing, engineering, it, medical, banking, finance and other sectors

    URL: http://www.freshpromotion.com/
    Title: SEO services, Web Audit.
    Description: FreshPromotion is a web marketing agency that specialises in assisting companies to maximise the sales potential of the internet through promotional activities focused upon delivering new customers.

    Please, email me the location of the reciprocal link

    --
    Best regards,
    (name)

How many errors can you spot above? I should also mention that this message was sent to a group of site owners—and the entire email address list was exposed. Here was my response:

    (name):

    As an agency marketing executive who implements SEO programs for clients on a regular basis, I'd like to give you some advice:

    - First, send link requests to one individual at a time. You not only sent this message to a group, but you exposed all of the recipient email addresses in your message. This raises the risk of all of the recipients on the list ending up on a spam list somewhere, which I'm sure none of us appreciate.

    - Second, when you send individual emails, use the person's name whenever possible. My name (Tom) is very easy to find on WebMarketCentral.com. Addressing me as "webmaster" when my name is very easy to find makes it appear that you are lazy. (I don't mean to be harsh, it just does!)

    - Third, send requests for individual site links one at a time, not in groups. And make sure that each site for which you are requesting a link is relevant to the recipient and his or her website.

    If you are willing to take the time to do this right, I believe you will find that you have much more reciprocal linking success.

    Cheers,

    Tom

You may find additional missteps in the original message (and I may have been too polite in replying, but that's just the way I am).

My point is not a blanket condemnation of offshore SEO vendors; many are reputable and do solid work. Rather, it's that if you outsource your SEO effort, and particularly if you offshore it, check out the vendor thoroughly. Make sure that they use only professional, "white hat" SEO tactics and never shop on price alone—in SEO as in everything else, you get what you pay for.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

An Online Presentation Tool for Sales Pros?


Online presentation tools such as WebEx and LiveMeeting are helpful for collaboration, and GoToWebinar or ON24 are great for webcasting, but these services generally aren't practical for the typical road warrior, bag-carrying sales rep. Now, Alan Hill of IPresent2You.com, a 20-year sales veteran, believes he has the answer—a set of software tools that enable sales people to deliver web-based presentations, customized on the fly to address the specific needs and interests of individual prospects.

The I Present to You! software provides an interesting set of capabilities that separate it from most online collaboration and webcasting tools:
  • There is no software or plug-in for the viewer to install; it's 100% browser-based.

  • Yet, like other online presentation tools, it enables you to demonstrate virtually any other third-party application from with the tool, as well as transfer control of the presentation to any other individual.

  • It lets you create a personalized microsite portal for each prospect; the prospect simply enters their name, and then views virtually anything you'd like to show them: web pages, personalized content, etc. developed using the web tool of your choice.

  • I Present to You! is a lightweight application that lets sales people present while on the road; as long as the content is built, the salesperson can control exactly what the prospect sees.

  • Need to bring in a third-party expert on a presentation, such as one of your product developers or consultants? This package lets you send a text message (in the background, without the prospect seeing) to alert another individual to join you on the call. There's no need to put the prospect "on hold" while bringing in another person.

  • You can grab information from any web page and insert it into a presentation in real time (again, transparently to your prospect).

  • You can also add a link to any web page in real time, and open the page in a separate window so your presentation doesn't disappear.

  • The software includes a built-in calendar for real time appointment setting, integrates with Microsoft Outlook for exchanging email addresses, and has internal instant messaging features.

So, is I Present to You! the right presentation tool for your sales team? Maybe.

Pros:
  • Feature-rich (see above) and lightweight, requiring no special software on the viewer's side.

  • Very reasonably priced. Unlike most online collaboration or webcasting tools, which are priced on a monthly subscription basis, I Present to You! is a software package you buy once.

Cons:
  • Not entirely intuitive. It will likely take some training and practice to use, especially for someone who wants to take advantage of all or most of the features provided.

  • The demo I viewed, much like the I Present to You! website, was very simplistic. I presume that the software can be used to deliver more graphically-rich presentations, but this requires the use of separate third-party web tools.

All in all, the package looks interesting, and the price is extremely reasonable. There are other ways to do any of the individual tasks this software performs, but I know of no other package that brings all of these capabilities together. If you're a sales pro in the trenches looking for a presentation tool designed for one-to-one prospect communication rather than webinar delivery, I Present to You! is worth checking out.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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