Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Chapeau Blog Awards - Only Two Days Left to Vote!

If you enjoy the coverage on this blog of social media marketing, SEO, online tools and web marketing—as well as occasional off-topic ramble, vacation or home project photos—please cast your vote for WebMarketCentral in the Chapeau Blog Awards today! (Or tomorrow. But that's it. Voting closes on Thursday.)



Many thanks in advance for your support! Hope for change, and all that. Don't take a chance by putting it off, vote today. And tell your friends, your neighbors, your Twitter followers!

*****

Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Social Media Relations vs. Traditional PR Skills

Social-Media-RelationsThe emergence of social media has dramatically changed the role of public relations. While traditional journalists still have significant authority, influence is now more diffused among writers, analysts, bloggers, customers, and other internal and external subject matter experts. As the landscape has shifted from being dominated by one-to-many mass media to many-to-many participatory social media, the skillsets required of PR professionals have changed.

Technical ability—not all that long ago, PR pros' primary tools were email and the phone. Now they need to know how to properly use (from both a technical and etiquette standpoint) all the major tools on the social media landscape, how to produce thought-leadership content, how to put together social media releases, at least a passing knowledge of online video production and sharing, and more.

Conversational style—PR people used to interact primarily with industry journalists. "Pitching" and "spinning" were terms often used (not always with a positive connotation) to describe much of that interaction. Those days are fading, which is welcome news to many PR practitioners as well as their audiences. Greater availability of information requires greater transparency, but also leads to richer conversations.

Understanding motivations—PR used to be primarily about communicating to and through journalists, and the motivations of both parties were primarily commercial. With the diffusion of influence created by social media, PR pros need to understand a much wider range of motivations. Prospects, customers, bloggers and other participants in social media each have their own motivations, which are very different from a magazine writers'. PR people need the ability to assess and address those differing incentives.

Professional informality—conversations used to fall reasonably neatly into two groups: public communication, which was formal (a press release, a carefully crafted "quote" from an executive, on-the-record interviews, etc.) and private conversations, which could be informal. The emergence of blogs, blog commenting, Twitter, forums and other tools has forced PR workers to master a new balance of public but informal communication. Press releases make lousy blog copy, and there's no room for a detailed legal disclaimer in a 140-character Tweet. Social media interaction is by nature informal, yet for PR pros must remain professional, as their interactions will be official, public and permanent regardless of the medium.

But while social media demands new skills, many "traditional" PR skills are still important. PR professionals still need to be highly organized extroverts with exceptional writing skills and the ability to craft a compelling story.

A growing number of PR firms get this and are hiring or developing these skills. Those stuck in the old world of big media will find it increasingly difficult to spread their words in the increasingly diffuse influence landscape.

*****


Contact Mike Bannan: mike@digitalrdm.com

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Monday, April 20, 2009

The Best of 2008: SEM Landing Page Design

Best-of-2008-SEM-Landing-Page-DesignOnce you've optimized the list of keywords in your search engine marketing campaign, tweaked the bids and crafted stellar ad text to bring visitors to your site, landing page design is critical to converting those visitors into sales or leads. Here are a few of the best posts about SEM landing page design from last year.

Good and bad landing page examples by CDF Networks

Chad Frederiksen gets right to the point with this brief but helpful post on what separates bad landing page design (e.g., clutter) from good (a clear call to action among other attributes).


Lead Generation Form Optimization Tips and Tricks - Google Analytics by VKI Studios

Darcy Foster explains how to use Google Analytics and Omniture for conversion rate measurement, then provides tips for testing different approaches to improving conversions.


12 PPC landing page tips by Econsultancy

Graham Charlton presents a helpful set of tips for improving landing page conversions such as writing relevant, scannable content; giving visitors enough information to make a purchase/registration decision; and limiting navigation options.

Previous posts in this series:

Best of 2008: SEO Guidance, Part 1
Best of 2008: Interactive PR, Part 1
Best of 2008: SEO Tools, Part 1
Best of 2008: Search Engine Marketing
Best of 2008: Web Analytics
Best of 2008: Email Marketing Tips
Best of 2008: SEO Keyword Tips & Tools
Best of 2008: Sales & Marketing Copywriting
Best of 2008: SEO Link Building
Best of 2008: Website Design
Best of 2008: WordPress Tools and Tips
Best of 2008: Web & SEO Copywriting
Best of 2008: SEO Guidance, Part 2
Best of 2008: Social Media Optimization, Part 1
Best of 2008: AdWords Tips and Tactics, Part 1
Best of 2008: SEO Tools, Part 2

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Say No to Bad SEO: SEO Best and Worst Practices

Editor's Note: An edited and condensed version of this post appeared on SEOmoz in January. Here's the original, uncut article.

If your company is thinking about hiring an outside firm for search engine optimization (SEO), please read this post. If you work for one of the many reputable SEO agencies in the market, please have your prospective clients read this post. If, however, you offer the type of SEO "services" described below...then in the immortal words of Obi-Wan Kenobi, you may want to go home and rethink your life.

Search optimizing your website has become an essential part of doing business. In both B2B and consumer markets, most prospective customers will use a search engine at some point in their buying decision process. And most of those searchers will click on at least one of the top organic search results.

Smart business people know that SEO is increasingly critical to the success of their businesses. But most such people aren't SEO experts; they're experts at pizza or plumbing or building gadgets or selling insurance or whatever their business is. So they turn to SEO firms for help.

Unfortunately, legions of scammers and spammers know all of this as well, and prey on marketers, entrepreneurs and managers who just want to focus on their own businesses and entrust SEO to someone else. The result, too often, is that:
  • Good business people end up with bad SEO results;
  • SEO scammers end up with money they don't deserve;
  • Reputable SEO firms lose out on business unfairly; and
  • Businesses end up with a negative image of all SEO providers.
How to Avoid Bad SEO

In How to Avoid a Rogue SEO Company, the Orange Soda blog offers some excellent advice on practices that serve as a warning signal for illegitimate SEO practices, such as guaranteeing a #1 ranking on Google (SEO expert Rand Fishkin has provided a detailed analysis of why reputable SEO firms don't promise guaranteed search engine rankings), offering to sell keywords in the address bar or failing to distinguish between organic and paid search results.

Failing to provide useful reports, using jargon and focusing on the wrong metrics are other indicators of SEO incompetence or dishonesty.

It's also a bad sign if an SEO firm claims they have "secret" methods (there aren't any; everything is public as even Google has published advice on proper SEO practices); plans to get your site ranked by writing content specifically for search engines (as opposed to content written for your prospects that also happens to be well-optimized); or can't provide references who have achieved measurable results.

SEO Worst Practices

Just as there are best practices in SEO, there are also worst practices—tactics to watch for and avoid. For example, integrating PR with SEO efforts and analyzing competitors' strategies are two best practices in link building. Automating the link acquisition process, on the other hand, is a worst practice. Messages that start with "Dear Webmaster" (even when the site administrator's name is easy to find), request links to unrelated sites, state that they are "not spam!" and are sent from a free email account are automated, worthless junk.

Practices such as hoarding SEO knowledge or failing to work cooperatively with other groups (like IT, graphic design, and advertising) are additional signs of a bad SEO relationship.

Illegal black hat SEO methods, such as cloaking (presenting different content to search engines than to human visitors) and link farms, are worst of all as they can get a website blacklisted.

The Next Wave

The situation is likely to get worse before it gets better. As Roderick Ioerger at Marketing Pilgrim recently noted, the compelling ROI of SEO coupled with increasing acceptance of it as a legitimate marketing tactic is increasing demand for SEO services. At the same time, turbulence in the broader economy has left more people looking for new opportunities. Ioerger quotes Andrew Shotland's comparison of SEO today to the real estate market of a few years ago: "SEO is now going to start attracting a large number of people who previously had jobs at start-ups, banks, real estate agencies, possibly auto makers, etc. Don’t be surprised if the guy who just turned you down for a loan offers to get you to page one of Google for your keyword."

Indeed, when even Sam's Club starts offering SEO services, you know the concept has gone mainstream. The problem is that while the services Sam's Club is providing (search engine submission and listing in local business databases) may be worth the $25 per month fee, they aren't SEO. The fact that some small business owners will buy them as such is likely only to produce more confusion, disappointment, and misplaced suspicion even of reputable SEO vendors.

SEO isn't as simple as placing a Yellow Pages ad or baking a cake. There is more to it than the slick talking telemarketers for shady SEO wannabes let on. Good SEO isn't cheap either, although it is very cost-effective over time. The cost structure almost looks like a long tail graph (though not quite that dramatic), with a sizable initial investment in rebuilding a site to bake in SEO followed by an ongoing program of link building, social media marketing and maintenance activities.

The Solution

If you're with a company that is looking to hire an SEO consultant, do some research first to help compile a list of questions to ask, and the answers to look for. Minneapolis-based SEO guru Lee Odden provides a great starting point in How to Hire a SEO Firm - According to Google. James Maguire has also offered helpful guidance, and more generally, you can develop a good basic understanding of SEO issues and terminology by following the top SEO blogs for a few weeks.

If, on the other hand, you're a reputable SEO consultant struggling to convince cynical prospects that you're not just another SEO scammper, check out Alhan Keser's 8 Arguments to Convince Jaded SEO Clients That You Are Trustworthy. Among Keser's most important points are explaining your methods, demonstrating past success, and providing ongoing reporting.

There you have it—how to avoid being victimized by SEO spammers and scammers. At the risk of being that SEO jerk, I've called out the practices of the bad SEO world in the hope of connecting honest SEO providers with clients who need expert assistance in maximizing their online business success.

*****


Contact Mike Bannan: mike@digitalrdm.com

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

These Are The Best Tips and Tactics of 2008 For AdWords

While Google AdWords certainly isn't the only option for Search Engine Marketing (SEM), it's by far the biggest. Search marketers need to get AdWords right before expanding campaigns to Yahoo! Search Marketing, MSN AdCenter or Ask SponsoredListings. Even features unique to AdWords often "migrate" to other services over time, so search engine marketing (SEM) mastery begins with AdWords.

Here are a few of the best blog posts about AdWords from last year, covering topics such as getting results from the content network, using the conversion optimizer, and reporting.

Google Content Network Tips: Optimizing for a content network audience by Inside AdWords

Advice straight from Google's AdWords blog on how to maximize results from the AdWords content network, including: create separate search and content campaigns; develop different ad copy for search and content; and use placement reports to monitor the performance of content network sites and exclude poor performers.


Google Adwords Conversion Optimizer Explained by PPC Blog

Search marketing expert Gordon Choi explains how the AdWords Conversion Optimizer works, including an illustrative example. This is an automated keyword bidding tool that adjusts your keyword bids based on a CPA you specify. He notes that "If you set your maximum CPA bid to the recommended amount, you should see more conversions without much change to your costs." Theoretically, yes, but keep in mind that Google's interest is in maximizing its own revenue, not yours, so test and use this tool with caution. In another very helpful post, Gordon explains how AdWords' content network site and category exclusion works.


An AdWords Report You Need To Run And Review TODAY! by semvironment

This post explains the AdWords Campaign Performance report and its uses. The report helps identify trends, problems and opportunities. Though applicable to a campaign of any size, larger accounts will see more value from this activity.


Avoid the AdWords Quality Score Slap: How to Make Common Changes to Your Account Without Damaging Your Quality Score by PPC Hero

Explaining that the AdWords quality score is assigned on the basis of the relevance of a keyword to its corresponding ad text, the landing page, and the click-through rate, this post advises moving keywords into new ad groups a few at a time, writing completely new ads rather than editing existing ads, and other tactics to optimize your overall campaign results without damaging your quality score.


Previous posts in this series:

Best of 2008: SEO Guidance, Part 1
Best of 2008: Interactive PR, Part 1
Best of 2008: SEO Tools, Part 1
Best of 2008: Search Engine Marketing
Best of 2008: Web Analytics
Best of 2008: Email Marketing Tips
Best of 2008: SEO Keyword Tips & Tools
Best of 2008: Sales & Marketing Copywriting
Best of 2008: SEO Link Building
Best of 2008: Website Design
Best of 2008: WordPress Tools and Tips
Best of 2008: Web & SEO Copywriting
Best of 2008: SEO Guidance, Part 2
Best of 2008: Social Media Optimization, Part 1

*****


Contact Mike Bannan: mike@digitalrdm.com

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

How a Social Media Consultant Can Help Your New Marketing Strategy

Interest in social media marketing is surging, with several recent studies showing that a majority of companies, of all sizes, are now using social media in some form for business purposes. I've also seen dramatically increased interest in hiring social media consultants. But if most companies are already using social media in their marketing/PR mix, why is a consultant necessary? After all, isn't social media primarily about conversations? And aren't those conversations best engaged in by internal subject matter experts? And aren't the tools pretty easy to use?

While the answer to each of those last three questions is "yes," a knowledgeable outside adviser can nevertheless provide significant value, helping companies maximize the value of social media efforts while minimizing costs. If you're inside an organization on the hiring side, here's how a social media consultant can help your firm. If you're a consultant, here's what you have in your bag to sell.

According to MarketingSherpa's 2009 Social Media & PR Benchmark Guide (PDF), while 76% of marketing and PR professionals "agree" or "strongly agree" that social media marketing is changing the way their organizations communicate, the two most significant barriers cited to social media adoption were "lack of knowledgeable staff" and "inability to measure ROI." These are among the key benefits a consultant can provide:
  • Focus on using the right tools and prioritize efforts (i.e., don't talk in places where no one is listening);
  • Avoid false starts and do things right the first time (e.g., someone who's never set up a blog before is guaranteed to make mistakes, probably several; consultants aren't perfect, but can be expected to make far fewer);
  • Utilize proper tactics and etiquette for each type of media; and
  • Measure results to help optimize efforts.
More specifically, these are some of the services a social media consultant can offer:
  • Research—determine which venues are most important for a specific industry and company, and map out the key influencers in that space.
  • Strategy—help identify how social media fits with existing activities such as SEO, PR and event marketing.
  • Tactics—develop plans for media to be used, content needed, assign responsibilities, and core messaging/values to incorporate (e.g., Wal-Mart and Apple have very different corporate personalities; their social media activities should reflect that).
  • Setup—while social media and networking tools are designed to be easy enough for almost anyone to use, having a social media consultant create new profiles, and review existing ones, can help assure a consistent, professional presentation across various sites.
  • Monitoring—set up a monitoring system to track conversations about your company, competitors and key industry topics across social media sites, and the results of your social media marketing efforts, using either free tools or professional applications such as Radian6, Techrigy or TruCast.
  • Content production—content in the form of blog posts, white papers, reports, video, presentations, podcasts and images is a major component of social media marketing. A social media consultant may in many instances be able to supplement your internal resources to produce link-worthy material.
  • Content promotion—from social networking and social bookmarking to Twitter and blogs, social media tools offer myriad ways to promote your content. An experienced social media consultant can help you more fully exploit these opportunities.
  • Prioritization—participation in social media is time-consuming; you can't be everywhere and jump into every conversation. Through monitoring, mapping the key influencers in your space and an understanding of the social media landscape, a social media consultant can help you prioritize your efforts for maximum effect.
  • Outreach—social media offers powerful ways to communicate your messages to key influencers in your industry, who then spread that message and lend credibility to it. But outreach has to be done properly—it isn't just traditional PR using different tools—or it will fall flat (or worse, damage your reputation). A skilled social media consultant knows how to use various tools to maximize the effectiveness of outreach.
  • Updates—finally, the social media landscape is extremely dynamic. Some of the sites and tools viewed as highly promising just a couple of years ago have virtually disappeared, while others (e.g., Twitter) have come out of nowhere to rapidly gain large followings. Because they live and breathe social media on a daily basis, often for clients in a variety of industries, social media consultants are well-positioned to stay current on the latest trends and tools and apply this knowledge to help keep your social media efforts on track, productive and relevant.
In short, while any company can incorporate social media into its marketing and PR practices without any outside help, a knowledgeable social media consultant can help make those efforts more effective and efficient, while avoiding missteps and false starts. The ongoing, day-to-day effort will fall on your internal marketing and PR staff, executives and subject-matter experts (who can be just about anyone in your company), but a good consultant can assist in getting these efforts off to a productive start and help keep them on track.

*****


Contact Mike Bannan: mike@digitalrdm.com

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