Monday, August 31, 2009

Best of 2008: Random but Interesting, Part 2

Looking for some off-the-beaten-trail ideas for driving more site traffic? Getting more out of those expensive marketing conferences? Doing a better job of training employees and qualifying leads? Meeting the biggest challenges in b2b marketing head-on?

Then you're in the right place! You'll find all of that and then some here in my final list of brilliant but uncategorized posts from the past year.

39 Actionable Ideas For Driving Traffic To Your Website by Forbes

Jason DeMers offers 39 ideas for increasing traffic to your business website, from focusing on long-tail keywords to creating a top 10 website post.


Increase ROI From Marketing Conferences by TopRank Online Marketing Blog

Lee Odden provides an outstanding guide to making the most of marketing conferences. Networking, gaining knowledge and gathering material for blog content are just a few of his recommendations.


How to avoid contextual tragedies by iMedia Connection

J. Brooke Aker writes that "Like semantic search, semantic advertising holds promise to improve the overall relevance of marketing." He then details several disturbing examples of semantic advertising gone awry (such as ad for Olive Garden showing up "next to an article about 250 people getting sick after eating at an Olive Garden restaurant in Indiana), along with recommendations on how to use this strategy to create more effective ads and placements.


How to write the “classic direct mail package” by Direct Creative Blog

Direct mail has taken a severe beating from email marketing over the past several years, and why not? Email is far less costly, better for the environment, and enables the recipient to respond with the click of a mouse. Ironically, however, it is the rapid proliferation of email marketing that makes direct postal mail more appealing than ever. Response rates for email are down as inboxes fill up and your message has a harder and harder time standing out; meanwhile, the volume of physical mail has declined to the point where a well-crafted direct mail piece has a better chance of being noticed now than it has in 20 years. This post details the almost-lost art of creating an effective direct mail package.


Via Enquisite: PPC Agencies Make 45X What SEOs Do for the Same Value by SEOmoz

Rand Fishkin has fun with statistics provided by search agency Enquisite to show that because organic results are more likely to be clicked on than ads for the same search terms, and organic visitors tend to convert at a (slightly) higher rate, SEO consultants are justified in feeling "undervalued and underpaid compared to (their) paid search compatriots." It's a provocative piece to be sure, but while I hesitate to attack statistical evidence with the anecdotal, my experience has been that when one accounts for the reasons PPC will always cost more than SEO, the actual labor costs of the two activities (when done right) are pretty darn close.

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
Best of 2008: SEM Landing Pages
Best of 2008: Blogging for Business, Part 1
Best of 2008: Interactive PR, Part 2
Best of 2008: SEO Guidance, Part 3
Best of 2008: Social Media Optimization, Part 2
Best of 2008: AdWords Tips and Tactics, Part 2
Best of 2008: Strategy and Branding, Part 1
Best of 2008: Cool Web Tools, Part 1
Best of 2008: Blogging for Business, Part 2
Best of 2008: Random but Interesting, Part 1
Best of 2008: SEO Guidance, Part 4
Best of 2008: Social Media Optimization, Part 3
Best of 2008: Strategy and Branding, Part 2
Best of 2008: Cool Web Tools, Part 2
Best of 2008: Social Media Optimization, Part 4
Best of 2008: SEO Guidance, Part 5
Best of 2008: Amusing, Creative and Just Plain Odd, Part 1

*****


Contact Mike Barran: mike@digitalrdm.com

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How to Create a Cool But Clean Social Media Email Signature

One of the most popular posts ever on this blog was The Social Media Email Signature, in which I noted that "In the old days, email signatures pretty much just mirrored business card information (which is still the case for most people)...A growing number of Web 2.0-savvy executives, however, are breaking out of the old mold and creatively integrating social networking into their email sign-off." It clearly struck a cord, and traffic-wise, it didn't hurt that Guy Kawasaki tweeted the post. It helped. A lot. In fact.

The post included several creative examples of social media signatures, though most are are text-based. Lately, you may have seen more examples that incorporate graphical elements, like this:

Mike Barran
Marketing Executive
Results Driven Marketing
mike@digitalrdm.com

Follow on TwitterConnect on LinkedIn

(It's difficult to match the exact appearance in Blogger; my actual Outlook signature is shown to the right.)

If you use Gmail, Hotmail or another web-based email service, the easiest way to create such a signature is using a tool like WiseStamp. In Outlook, it's a bit more work but not terribly difficult. Expert users may already know this, but for those unversed in the finer points of Outlook signature creation, here are step-by-step instructions:

1. Find the buttons you'd like to use, corresponding to each of the social media sites you want to include in your signature. The easiest way is to use Google image search.

2. Grab the buttons you need, then resize them for your signature using your favorite graphics program. The buttons in the example above are 80 pix by 30 pix, but use whatever size looks best to you. Save them into a directory where you can find them easily.

3. Open Microsoft Outlook.

4. From the Tools menu, click Options...Mail Format...Signatures.

5. Click "New."

6. Type in a name for the email signature (e.g., "Social Media Signature"), then click "Next."

7. Enter the text portion of your email signature (e.g. name, title, organization, phone number etc.)

8. Press Enter, then right-click and select "Insert Image."

9. Click "Browse," select an image, and click "Open." Type in a name for the image (e.g. "Follow me on Twitter") in the Alternate Text box just in case you recipient's email settings block the images. Then click "OK."

10. Select the image (left-click on it), press "Ctrl-K", copy or type in the full URL for your social media corresponding to the button (e.g., http://linkedin.com/in/yourname or http://twitter.com/yourname), then click "OK."

11. To add the next button, press "Enter" to the right of the image, right click again, and repeat steps 8-10 above.

12. When you’re done, click "Finish" then "OK."

13. Select the new signature name as the "Signature for new messages."

14. Click "OK."

That's it! Now, each time you send a new message from Outlook, your cool, sophisticated new graphical social media email signature should automatically be inserted.

*****


Contact Mike Bannan: mike@digitalrdm.com

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

SEO Link Spam - What Is It and Who's to Blame?

Over the years, unscrupulous black hat SEO scammers have used a variety of tricks—keyword stuffing, link farms, white text and others—to try to manipulate search results, and the algorithms used by Google, Yahoo and the other search engines have evolved to identify and squelch the effectiveness of such nefarious tactics.

A more vexing issue for the search engines is dealing with link spam, not only because it is difficult to detect and address algorithmically, but because there isn't even a clear definition. As a website owner, the term represents emails like this:


Dear webmaster,

As a part of ongoing campaign to increase the Link Popularity of My website I am looking for some good potential sites like yours. I review your site and find that, in SEO perspective your site is Perfect. Also, this would be a great resource for my visitors too.

I would request you to consider listing my site.

Title:- My Spammy Website
URL:- http://www.indiaspamforyou.com
Description:- miracle weight loss, make big money working from home, the usual crap

Thank you very much for your time and web support. I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Best Regards,
Obviously Fictitious Name
Linking Expert
Email:- temporaryaddress@hotmail.com

Note: This is not spam mail. If you think it is not appropriate for you, just send me reply with "Unsubscribe" as subject. If you are not the concerned person to handle this mail then please forward it to your "Webmaster."
Grrr. My universal reply to such emails is to respond with a link to The Wrong Way to Build External Links for SEO. The vast majority ignore this. They are spammers after all.

As a site owner, I find these emails annoying. As an SEO consultant, I find them offensive as they make our profession look cheap, tawdry and sleazy. As a consumer, I would never do any business with any enterprise that hired one of these cretins.

This is not to be confused with valid link building efforts, of course. I'm happy to link to anyone who has a valid business with a real product or service, addresses me by name (easy to find on my website and not "webmaster') and has a real return email address.

The challenge for search engines is that they aren't privy to those emails. And the final result of a link spam campaign—links from various sites with a mix of one-way, three-way and reciprocal—is often indistinguishable from a reputable link-building program.

SEO guru David Harry suggests a different definition of link spam in this post about the search engines attempting to detect link spam through search marketing forums. As David writes, search engines may start using:
"'An anti-spam technique for protecting search engine ranking is based on mining search engine optimization (SEO) forums. The anti-spam technique collects webpages such as SEO forum posts from a list of suspect spam websites, and extracts suspicious link exchange URLs and corresponding link formation from the collected webpages...A search engine ranking penalty is then applied to the suspicious link exchange URLs. The penalty is at least partially determined by the link information associated with the respective suspicious link exchange URL. To detect more suspicious link exchange URLs, the technique may propagate one or more levels from a seed set of suspicious link exchange URLs generated by mining SEO forums.' That last part is interesting as they move from the forum, to suspect URLs and then analyze the link profiles of those sites to possibly find other reciprocal manipulations. That means if you’re doing recips with a webmaster that is dumb enough to post them on an SEO board you might be penalized by association."
In this case, link spammers are sort of a self-contained group of nefarious lowlifes who host, identify and utilize sites willing to engage in spammy link trading or selling.

A final definition comes from social bookmarking site Linkatopia:
"Link spammers post links to their own web pages on as many other sites as possible in order to increase their rank in search engines. They create multiple accounts with the same links by using disposable email addresses. They generally do not care about any of the communities they post to and simply take advantage of free sites like Linkatopia. These are not useful or enjoyable links. They are pages that try to sell you something, and in many cases give misleading information."
One has to sympathize a bit here. It's frustrating, for example, to check out the Technology of Business section of your favorite social bookmarking site and see nothing but a bunch of links to discount Viagra, Acai berry weight loss and similar crap. Bad for users, bad for the host site.

On the other hand, social media sites are in every SEO's toolbox. There is nothing inherently wrong with linking to content on a valid commercial website within the appropriate category on a social bookmarking site. HubSpot includes social media links as part of the SEO grade in its Website Grader tool. Some social bookmarking sites even promote the SEO value of deep-linking from their sites (no, I won't identify any specifically, I know when to STFU).

So what exactly constitutes social media link spam? The quality of the site being linked to? That seems rather subjective. The number of links submitted to different pages on the same site? If so, what number is okay, and what value crosses the line into spamming?

Whatever your definition, link spamming is bad. I'd hate to see the definition drawn so broadly as to make nearly every SEO consultant guilty of it.

What do you think?

*****


Contact Mike Bannan: Mike@digitalrdm.com

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Social Media + Email Marketing Equals: One Company Doing It Right

Though social media is all the rage, email marketing also remains strong, with 85% of companies planning to increase spending in this area in the second half of 2009 according to a recent study. Email in many cases is taking budget dollars away from other channels because it remains reasonably effective, highly measurable and relatively inexpensive.

Combining social media with email marketing holds tremendous potential, as the tools are complementary. Email is permission-based interruption marketing; social media is participatory. Email is outbound, social media is inbound. Email (in segmented campaigns at least) lets you have a monologue with prospects based on group characteristics; social media enables dialogue with individuals.

One example of a company executing this combination well is Aquent, a marketing temporary help agency based in Boston. The firm has used email for years to market itself to and maintain contact with both prospective corporate customers and individual talent. More recently, the company has also developed a presence across the major social media sites, and combined this presence with their email efforts. The result looks something like this:


It's concise, attractive, inviting, and shows that the company has invested considerable thought and effort into this on both strategic and tactical levels. Nicely done, and not a bad model for inspiration on the possibilities of combining traditional email marketing with forward-thinking social media efforts.

*****

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Book Review: Blogger -- Beyond the Basics

Blogger book cover - Lee JordanIf you write a blog on Google’s Blogger platform—or ever have any plans to—you need to pick up a copy of Blogger: Beyond the Basics: Customize and promote your blog with original templates, analytics, advertising, and SEO (From Technologies to Solutions) by Lee Jordan. This is the definitive guide to planning, designing, pimping out, promoting, monetizing, measuring and SEO-ing a Blogger blog.

The book explains the techniques to accomplish all of these objectives through the fictional story of Georgia Peach, a woman passionate about fresh fruit. Procedures are illustrated using examples from Georgia planning, developing and promoting her Fruit for All blog.

The story begins with Georgia researching competitive and related blogs, planning her strategy, and then customizing a Blogger template to create just the look she’s after by replacing the header image, modifying fonts and colors, changing the layout and customizing the sidebar. Along the way, the author cites helpful tools such as text editors (HTML Kit, Arachnophilia, Dreamweaver) and color tools (Color Hunter, transparent color generator, VisiBone colors by shade).

Next, she makes her blog posts easy to share using social media badges and other techniques, such as turning on Email Post Links within Blogger. Social media buttons are common, but the author provides an easy coding technique to automatically collect the dynamic information for the bookmark service, so that when the button is clicked, the attributes in the tag will automatically populate the title and URL boxes.

As the story of Georgia's blog continues, her experiences provide illustrative examples of routine, advanced and just plain cool features like:
  • activating backlinks and trackbacks
  • creating a blogroll
  • adding a Twitter widget
  • replacing a blogger profile with a Facebook badge (very cool)
  • providing PayPal service for e-commerce
  • selecting and building widgets
  • creating separate RSS feeds based on post labels
  • adding an outside RSS feed to a blog
  • integrating a video player
  • setting up a Google AdSense for Search box
  • displaying AdSense adds in RSS feeds using FeedFlare
  • creating a customized Recommended Product ad from Amazon's affiliate program
  • using advanced traffic reporting features in Google Analytics
and more. If it's possible to do something in Blogger, you can probably find step-by-step instructions for the task in this book.

There's very little to not like about this book. The writing style gets a bit cutesy at times, but never crosses the line into annoying. The section on search optimization is elementary, but that's more because of the inherent SEO limitations of the Blogger platform than any fault of the author.

As the major blogging platforms have evolved, WordPress has become the more feature-rich tool, but Blogger puts all of the basic functionality into an easier-to-use package. For writers who choose to use this platform, Lee Jordan's Blogger is an indispensable guide and reference.

*****


Contact Mike Bannan: mike@digitalrdm.com

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