Monday, June 30, 2008

A Few More Thoughts from Christopher Barger

Two weeks ago I shared some online marketing/PR wisdom from GM's social media guy, Christopher Barger. Here are a few more of his thoughts to wrap things up.

Most important social networking tools:

Chris hates Twitter (another thing we agree on!) but recognizes that it has an impact. Following the influencers in any sphere can be a great way to learn what is important there. It can help monitor what's being written about your company, product or service, and help you pick up on which bloggers to follow.

He likes Ning, Digg, del.icio.us, Reddit, Facebook, and Lee LeFever's In Plain English videos.



What matters in blogging:
  • Simplicity
  • Two-way dialog
  • Access (provide a method for reader contact other than the comment form)
  • Transparency
  • Unique value
  • Listening
Recommended books:Final piece of advice: learn from your kids. They've grown up with the Internet and developed the ability to rapidly separate what's hot from what's not in an environment with an unprecedented rate of technological change.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

How to Track Buzz for Big Brands - WiseWindow


One of the biggest challenges for most small companies is generating buzz—getting people to talk about their products, online and off. Big brands, however, have a very different problem: keeping track of the incredible volume of content being generated relating to their company, product or service.

That's the problem WiseWindow is attempting to solve for brand managers, marketing research firms and CPG ad agencies. WiseWindow is an online (SaaS) platform designed to aggregate consumer sentiment as expresses across more than 12 million sources—forums, blogs, opinion sites and other social media venues.



WiseWindow attempts to measure "what moves people" in terms of attributes and buying factors. Their system aggregates opinions expressed across a vast number of online sources and applies intelligence to the data to help marketers, researchers and brand managers make more informed decisions across areas from product development to advertising.

The "intelligence" applied includes:
  • separating comments about a specific brand and product from unrelated content (e.g. isolating content related to Dove shampoo from text about birds or ice cream bars);
  • analyzing positive vs. negative sentiment (e.g. understanding that "unpredictable" is a bad term for a restaurant meal, but a good term for a movie plot);
  • graphing the importance of product attributes in the purchase decision;
  • comparing buzz for competing products; and
  • considering the element of time (e.g. if a product is described as "cutting edge," it's vital to know if that description is two weeks old or two years old).

Strengths

WiseWindow applies powerful, sophisticated analysis of opinions expressed across a very large number of sources to help consumer product and retail managers make informed decisions about product design and promotion. It not only analyzes sentiment by positive or negative, but also takes into consideration the authority of each source based on multiple factors (assuring that commentary on low-traffic sites isn't unduly weighted). It enables rapid analysis of a vast amount of data aggregated across millions of websites.

The tool isn't applicable only to CPG manufacturers and retailers; here's an example of WiseWindow in action tracking voter sentiment with regard to Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain.

Weaknesses

Both the demo and the product are still a bit rough around the edges. When I sat in on a live online demonstration of the product, even beyond the technical glitches that can happen with any web-based presentation, the presenters seemed unprepared with their message. They dove immediately into examples of what can be done with the product without explaining, at a high level, what it is, how it works, and who cares. The selection of bloggers for outreach also seemed a bit odd. Although I found the product fascinating, most of what I write isn't targeted at large CPG firms or retailers. Someone like Kevin Hillstrom at the MineThatData blog would seem like a more ideal target for this.

WiseWindow's tool still needs some polishing as well. Some of the buttons are rather cryptic (what's an "overdeveloped positive"?) and certain graphs were mislabeled, seeming to show patterns that weren't really intended. Brand managers responsible for making multi-million dollar decisions based on this data will need to understand how the aggregations and trends are being developed as well as the ability to model the data in various ways to match their own needs and preferences.

Pricing

Doesn't matter. If your company, product or service generates thousands of mentions per month across the web, WiseWindow is worth investigating. If it generates only a small number of citations, you don't need this.

The Bottom Line

WiseWindow at this point appears to be an immature but very powerful tool for the monitoring and analysis of very large amounts of consumer opinion data. It is best suited for brand managers and market researchers who view themselves as cutting-edge, early adopter types willing to work with an early-stage product and help shape its development. Early adopters can potentially get a jump on competitors by being armed with this analysis, and WiseWindow stands to benefit from the product development input of this group.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Top Blog Posts in First Three Years of WMC


It's been three years since the launch of this blog, and it still gets less traffic than the Huffington Compost (sigh). Maybe I should set my goals a bit more modestly? Oh well, at least I write my own stuff.

Anyway, taking a look back at the first three years of the WMC blog, here are the ten most popular posts as chosen by you, my elite (in the good sense!) and loyal readers. It's an interesting mix of old and new, tactical and strategic, original and derivative.

10. Best of 2007: Blog Posts on Social Media Marketing, January 18, 2008—A wrap-up of some of the best blog posts of 2007 on social networking and social media marketing strategies and tactics.

9. Web 2.0 Social Tagging Sites, Part 1: Alexa Rankings, April 29, 2007—the Alexa rankings for 42 popular Web 2.0 social bookmarking sites, with Alexa's lack of precision and measurement shortcomings duly noted.

8. Best of 2007: SEO Analysis Tools, January 9, 2008—the very first post in the "Best of 2007" series, providing a list of the best tools for analyzing and optimizing SEO efforts as well as blog posts on SEO tools from sources like SEO Position (now SocialSEO), SEO Company and Web Worker Daily.

7. How to Write a Strategic Marketing Plan, December 6, 2007—my take on how to write a strategic marketing plan, written after several Google searches revealed little of value on this rather important topic.

6. Best of 2007: Website Design, February 4, 2008—links to some of the best articles and blog posts from 2007 on website design considerations to consider from the outset, such as intuitive navigation, relevant visitor-focused content, and SEO.

5. Web 2.0 Social Tagging Sites, Part 4: B2B Traffic Building, May 15, 2007—my attempt to provide a quantitative answer to the question of whether, and how much, tagging content on social bookmarking sites helps drive B2B web traffic.

4. Web 2.0 Social Tagging Sites, Part 7: The Best, June 26, 2007—the summary, after a 60-day test, of which Web 2.0 social bookmarking sites produced the best results, in terms of driving direct traffic and having active, engaged discussion communities.

3. Selecting an Advertising Agency, June 7, 2005—one of the first posts ever on the WMC blog, this was my take on how to select a marketing/PR agency, from the client perspective (before I moved to the agency side).

2. Google AdWords Average CTR and Best Practices, September 20, 2007—the difficulty of obtaining benchmarking data for CTR and other AdWords measurements, and 14 steps to optimize your results, regardless of what the average values actually are in your industry.

Drumroll...

1. Email Campaign, Newsletter and Banner Ad Click-Through Rates (CTR), August 14, 2007—in planning online advertising and email promotion budgets, it's critical to calculate the likely ROI upfront whenever possible, as well as to establish campaign benchmarks. Based on several studies, this post shows typical CTR ranges for email newsletter ads, email campaigns (blasts or internally-produced enewsletters), and banner ads.

There you have it, the ten posts you thought were the best so far. Thanks for your support over the first three years; onward and upward.

*****


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Monday, June 23, 2008

How to Develop an SEO Keyword List

This content has been moved to How to Develop a Keyword List for SEO on the Webbiquity blog.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

What Works Now in B2B Lead Generation, Part 1


MarketingSherpa has just released its 2008 B2B Lead Generation Handbook (that's a link to the free executive summary PDF; the complete report will run you a cool $500). The 22-page executive summary contains some useful information for B2B marketers and CEOs (plus a little bit of misinformation best disregarded).

B2B Marketing Has Changed Dramatically

The report authors spend considerable ink on the changes that B2B marketing has undergone since 2000. Parts of this analysis are very helpful, for example, "The easiest way to save money (during the 2000-2002 recession, when marketing budgets were being slashed) was to replace old media with cheaper new media. That meant replacing print brochures with PDFs, post-mailed newsletters with emailed newsletters, road shows and seminars with webinars, and print ads with online advertising, including search."

However, the coverage does have an element of navel-gazing: "Since the year 2000, B-to-B marketing has undergone dramatic changes—in strategy, budget, measurement, philosophy and tactics...the Internet has certainly been a big part of these changes." Yes it has, and so have the other factors cited in the report, but there isn't anything really magical about the year 2000—except that, as the report also reveals, that's the year MarketingSherpa first started paying attention to B2B marketing. There's a strong case to be made that B2B marketers have always been more aggressive than their B2C counterparts in adopting new technologies, due to their smaller budgets and more tightly targeted audiences, or at least that this has been case for the last two-to-three decades.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, B2B companies were aggressive at moving print materials to CDs, then moving CD-based content materials online. B2B companies were building websites, sending out email newsletters and buying ads on trade publication websites well before their B2C counterparts in many if not most cases, and were certainly active in all of these areas before 2000.

It's Critical to get SEO and SEM Right

As the chart below shows, buyers are far more likely to find vendors when they are ready to buy than to respond to vendor outreach that may or may not hit them at the right time.


That's why it's crucial that vendors be "findable" when buyers are looking, and why spending on search engine optimization and search marketing have become a significant portion of B2B marketing budgets. Social media also plays an important role here, and the report provides some tips in this area.

According to MarketingSherpa's study, a typical B2B company spends about 30% of its total marketing budget online, and about 30% of its online budget on pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. About 5% of online marketing spending is dedicated to SEO.

For Best SEO Results, Seek Professional Help

SEO is a no-brainer; even a moderately well-done effort will improve a company's online visibility and site traffic at a relatively low cost. According to MarketingSherpa, in-house SEO programs generally produce about a 40% increase in traffic over six months. But hiring an outside expert can grow visitor count even more dramatically: external programs led to 100%+ (i.e. more than doubling) increases in traffic within half a year.

However, the report's advice on hiring an outside expert is disastrously off base. "When hiring an agency or consultant, B-to-B experience is not as important as is dedicated SEO experience. You don't want to hire a team that does SEO 'on the side' as an addendum to online marketing activities...Many marketers hire two different agencies for PPC versus SEO and make sure the two teams play well together to take advantage of measurement and keyword synergies." MarketingSherpa rarely misses, but that may be among the worst pieces of advice the publisher has ever provided.

Separating SEO from broader marketing and PR activities is a really bad idea for several reasons. First, SEO and PPC efforts go hand in hand and need to be coordinated, from keyword selection ("head" terms for PPC, longtail terms for SEO, mid-length terms for both) and testing all the way through reporting (e.g. comparing PPC to SEO conversions, with a goal of maximizing both). Hiring two separate firms to do PPC versus SEO work is like having two shortstops on a baseball team, one to scoop up ground balls and the other to throw over to first base; it just doesn't make any sense.

Second, SEO efforts need to be aligned with PR and social media outreach efforts, both of which are key link-building activities. Having one agency in charge of a coordinated effort assures that all components are working together; hiring an SEO "technician" from a separate firm, who knows nothing about the bigger picture of B2B marketing and PR, greatly increases the likelihood of missed opportunities and synergies.

Third, SEO and PR/marketing shouldn't work at cross purposes. For example, any company offering insurance or financial services to Fortune 1000 enterprises needs to build and maintain a reputation for quality and trust. Having an SEO firm blast out spammy link requests, and worse, add a collection of questionable links to the company's website, can instantly nullify years of credibility-building efforts.

Finally, getting SEO and marketing assistance from different providers can lead to inefficient duplication of effort. One tactic commonly employed by gray-hat SEOs is to write keyword-rich "articles" designed more to get high ranking from search engines than for actual human reading. A marketing/PR firm, however, can write thought leadership content that appeal not only to search engines but also enhance your image among prospective customers, and can also help get value out of the article (through social media, for example) beyond simply publishing it to your site for SEO purposes.

SEO Must be Sensitive to IT

Your webmaster or internal web team will be understandably nervous about any outsider touching your site, particularly if it is also hosted internally. A good SEO firm should meet with your technical team first, explaining exactly what is going to be done (transparency is critical factor in selecting an SEO agency), when and how—as well as what won't be touched. For significant changes, such as modifying the URL structure, the SEO should be able to explain, in plain English, why the change is a high priority.

More to come...

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Christopher Barger, GM's Social Media Rock Star


Like most rock stars, Christopher Barger—who along with GM vice chairman Bob Lutz has transformed the image of GM from stodgy 20th-century manufacturer into Web 2.0-savvy innovator—is even better live than recorded. If you get the opportunity to hear him speak (an increasingly likely scenario as he expands his activity on the circuit), go for it. Here are a few highlights from his presentation at the recent Blogging for Business conference.

Blogging is (officially) no longer new. 90% of Internet users in the 25-34 year-old group are familiar with blogs. 60% of those under the age of 21 belong to a (online) social network. Blogs now rival traditional media for reach.

Blogging is a PR activity—a tool to build image and credibility—not marketing. In Barger's words, it belongs at the top of the sales funnel.

Social media has given every consumer the opportunity to reach millions of others with his or her opinion of a brand or product. And it's given every consumer access to the experience of millions of other actual product buyers. Meanwhile, what several hot products—iPods, DVRs and satellite radio—have in common is that they enable consumers to avoid commercials. In other words, technology has enabled your "market" to avoid your message and get information straight from your customers. Social media enables you, as a marketing or PR professional, to participate in the conversion—but no longer to control it.

Here's an approximation of Barger's excellent "New Communications Paradigm" slide:



Only journalists and PR people still draw lines between professional and amateur online writers; if the content seems credible, the audience doesn't care about the pedigree of the source. "Traditional" media now follows the blogosphere at least as often as it leads it.

That means PR pros have to treat bloggers (somewhat) like traditional journalists: invite them to events, give them special treatment, and provide them with access to key executives.

A key reason Barger has been so successful in his role is that he understands that "community" isn't only online. While blogging and social networks are a large part of his role, he also invites influential bloggers to GM events and serves as the company's presence at blogging events, such as the Manic Mommies Escape Weekend in late 2007, an appearance that generated coverage in both blogs and traditional media.

And finally, a few points that should be universally understood, but, judging from some of the pitches I receive, still aren't:
  • Bloggers want a dialog, not traditional PR outreach.
  • PR can influence opinion, but not control it.
  • Bloggers write (in almost all cases) for passion, not money.
  • Bloggers care about their own and their readers' interests—not the corporate story.
Rock on.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

SEO for Mommy Bloggers

Laura Pick as a little girl
At last week's Blogging for Business conference, Shannon Johnson of the What About Mom blog mentioned that someone should write a post about search engine optimization (SEO) for mommy bloggers. I figured for sure such a post much already exist, but when a Google search on "SEO for mommy bloggers" came up empty, I decided to fill the void. I mean, there's just a chance this might actually be useful, and Shannon's pretty cool even if she doesn't drink beer.

So where should you start? Other posts on blog SEO might suggest envisioning a sales funnel or Pareto chart to help focus on the most important items first, but c'mon, you're moms! Let's get relevant—approach SEO like meal planning. Start with the entree, then a carb (e.g. potatoes, rice, pasta), then a veggie, then the surrounding but important stuff: ketchup, butter, napkins, a mop bucket (if you have a two-year-old boy), a power washer (if you have two-year-old twin boys), etc.

Blog name: this is the one piece of text that will ALWAYS be with you, so choose it carefully. Actually, this has almost nothing to do with SEO and everything to do with creativity. And it's pretty clear from Guy Kawasaki's ultimate mommy blog list (a bit dated now, but still interesting) that when it comes to blog naming, moms are way more creative than most marketers.

Blog subhead: this is the visible, short paragraph of text that accompanies your title. Not every blog has one, though I would highly recommend it. The blog subhead helps establish the personality of your blog. For example, my blog subhead includes the text "B2B lead generation and marketing, Web 2.0 social media, business blogging tools, micromarkets, interactive PR, and web marketing tools and resources." That's rambling and unfocused—so it matches my blog perfectly.

What personality do you want your blog to have? Are you the car seat mom, the gourmet-meal-in-10-minutes mom, the professional photographer mom, the green-and-vegan mom, or the Uzi-toting-Gatorade-swilling-Toyota-Tundra-driving mom? (That last one would likely have little SEO competition.) Just don't be the overworked mom, the sleepless mom or the good-grief-why-am-I-doing-laundry-while-he's-watching-football-AGAIN mom, as all of those are redundant and will never help you stand out.

Meta tags—title and description. These are two tags that appear in your template code. I'm sure you know this, but you can see what's in these tags on your blog or any other website by clicking on "Source" in the "View" menu on your browser. You'll see something like this:




"Title" can be longer and more descriptive than your actual blog title, and "description" should be in the form of a complete sentence that includes keywords which reflect the personality of your blog. Some people will tell you that the "description" tag has no effect on SEO. There is a chance that those people are smarter than me, so ignore them.

As an example, the "title" from the Jenandtonic blog is:



Jen doesn't use a "description" tag (she might add one if you tell her to, but she's not going to listen to me), but does use another very interesting meta tag, the "mommyblog" tag. This doesn't seem to have any effect on SEO as Google can't even find this, but it does make Jen's source code very interesting, including some words I don't normally include in my blog:




I'm not sure exactly how to modify these tags in WordPress or TypePad, but in Blogger, go to "Manage...Template" then click "Edit HTML" and you can add these tags just below the tag.

Post title: This is a very important phrase in SEO. Use titles that there is at least a chance people might search on. For example, the title of this post, "SEO for Mommy Bloggers" is much more likely to be searched than something like "Ideas for how women who are moms and blog can possibly get more optimal position when searched." (Actually, I haven't done the quantitative research on both of those terms, so I'm going out on limb a bit here, but I'm guessing that the first title will do better in search.)

Post content: Use key phrases SEO for Mommy Bloggers throughout the text of your SEO for Mommy Bloggers post so that important phrases SEO for Mommy Bloggers stand out more prominently to the SEO for Mommy Bloggers search engines.

Tags: Tags are key phrases you can add to posts, again, to help search engines recognize which terms in your content are important. I recommend using a tool like Keotag to automatically generate tags for blog tracking services like IceRocket and Technorati.

Whew, that's it for the "on-blog" SEO (the main course). But there are also several tactics to improve your search position that are external to your blog (the condiments and dessert, so to speak; by the way, can anything that doesn't contain chocolate really qualify as a dessert?).

Linking to/from other bloggers: The single most important bit of external SEO you can do is developing relationships and cross-links with other bloggers. Every blog that links back to yours gives you more credibility and authority in the eyes of the search engines. So, for example, if I link to Dooce, maybe Heather Armstrong will notice and link back to me. Then again, maybe she'll just think I'm weird.

Plus, linking to other bloggers is a great way to make new contacts, and not linking to anyone else is one of the seven deadly sins of blogging.

Social bookmarking: Make sure your posts get tagged on social bookmarking sites like Digg, del.icio.us, StumbleUpon, Sphinn, Mixx and Searchles from time to time. Exposure for your blog on Web 2.0 sites makes you smart, hip, and 10 years younger. Ideally, your readers would do this for you (especially if your blog includes convenient social bookmarking buttons—see below), but if you have to do it yourself (doesn't it seem like YOU are the one who ALWAYS has to take care of EVERYTHING??!!) then that's okay.

Social bookmarking buttons: These are cute little buttons you can add to your posts to help people tag and promote your content. You can do this the hard way, by adding buttons one at a time using resources from this List of Social Bookmarking Buttons & Widgets for Your Web Sites & Blogs (yeah, and you can make your own soap and sew all of your kids' clothes too), or just use ShareThis, which is much easier.

RSS feed: Without getting into the technology behind this (which, like the technology behind electronic ignition systems, is something you are PERFECTLY CAPABLE of understanding but most likely just don't care to), RSS is just an easy way to share your content across other sites, and an easy way for users to access it using an RSS reader or personalized start page.

It's easy to create a feed for your blog using Feedburner. Then you can distribute your content far and wide by submitting your feed to various RSS and blog directories.

How was dinner? Finally, after all of this work, you'll probably want to know how you did. For an objective and detailed (and free!) evaluation, go to WebSiteGrader and follow the simple instructions.

Other links: Here are a couple of less mom-friendly but more advanced posts on SEO for blogs:

Twelve SEO Mistakes Most Bloggers Make from Stephan Spencer (except ignore what he writes about nofollow tags; nofollow tags are to HTML code what lead is to children's' toys—poisonous and completely unnecessary. I'm on a crusade to stamp out nofollow tags.)

Tips for Optimizing Blogs and Feeds from Ross Dunn

Thanks for reading my second post ever that references mommy bloggers.

And as for the photo at the top; yes, that's my mom (the little girl on the far right). She's still going strong, turning 88 next month.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Monday, June 09, 2008

Blog Pitches - Good, Bad and Ugly

This content has been moved to Good, Bad and Ugly Blog Pitches on the Webbiquity blog.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

How Social Media Has Changed PR

I'll be starting off my presentation at the Blogging for Business Conference tomorrow with this statement:
    The practice of PR has changed more in the last five years than it did in the previous fifty.
What do you think? Is that:
  • Completely off base;

  • A pointless statement of the blatantly obvious; or

  • An intriguing contention that makes you want to hear more?
It's not just a matter of new technology. Technological change has been ongoing, from manual typewriters to electric ones to PCs, fax machines and email. From wire services that really were wire services to light years faster and more capable online platforms.

Web 2.0 and the explosion of social media over the past few years are more than just new technological tools for PR professionals to adopt—they change the philosophy of PR.

Prospects and stakeholders no longer want to be an audience for corporate news, they want to be participants. And through various forms of social media—blogs, video, wikis, forums, podcasts, social bookmarking and networking sites—they have made themselves participants.

PR practitioners can no longer practice "microphone PR," which, as the term implies, is about one-way, one-to-many communication controlled by the PR person. Social media has shifted the practice to interactive PR, or, if you prefer, social PR or conversational PR. The role of PR is now to start the conversation, which is two-way or many-to-many, then monitor and participate in that conversation.

More on this later.

*****


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