Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Marketing Automation: Bringing a Gun to a Knife Fight

This content has been moved to Marketing Automation: Like Bringing a Gun to a Knife Fight on the Webbiquity blog.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

5 Painfully Common SEO Mistakes to Avoid

Every company wants their website to show up well in search engines, and their marketing teams understand the importance of search engine optimization. And after the thousands of articles and blog posts written about search engine optimization, SEO is no longer the black art it once was. It's still a blend of art and science, but the basics should be well understood at this point by web marketers and designers. To their credit, many have integrated this basic knowledge.

Yet there are still a surprising number of sites that violate some of the most basic principles of SEO, and pay a penalty in poor search position. Here are a few still-common mistakes that are easy to avoid.

Header Tag Abuse: Although header tags have declined somewhat in SEO importance, they still have somewhat of an impact on rankings—and they are an easy thing to get right. Sites that use words and phrases like "Overview," "About Us" and "Our Services" in their h1, h2 and h3 headers are wasting an opportunity. If you have a page describing your screaming blue thingamabobs, then "About Our Screaming Blue Thingamabobs" is a better header tag for SEO purposes.

Graphic Design > SEO: For the sake of design, many sites still use bland, generic labels for site navigation buttons (e.g., "Products," "Services," "Technology" etc.). One-word terms may let your designer create cute little buttons, but they don't tell you site visitors much and don't tell search engine bots anything. If your product is precision machining doohickies, then that's what your "Products" button should say. After all, your navigation buttons are internal links, and descriptive text labels for internal links are still important for SEO.

"Company" Words vs. "Customer" Words: This is particularly an issue in technology companies, but can happen in any situation where proper keyword research is skipped. Someone will say, "Our product isn't technically a thingamajib, it's actually a whatchamacall it." That may be true, but if the product competes in the thingamajib category, performs the same functions as a thingamajib, and most importantly, if prospective customers will search for it using thingamajib, then that's the term that had better be used on the website.

Sloppy Code: Search engine bots are lazy, so the best practice is to produce clean, minimalist code, for example by relying more on CSS and less on HTML tables. Another common error is to load pages up with lots of Javascript. Ugh! Javascript certainly has it's place, such as in creating drop-down menus, but the code should be stored in separate files and called as needed, minimizing the code on searchable pages.

Ugly URLs: A URL like company.com/screaming-blue-thingamabobs.html is much more meaningful to both search engines and humans than company.com/products, or even worse, something like company.com/default.asp?pageid=126.

Bonus sixth mistake to avoid: build links to your site carefully, using a mix of directory submission, social media, direct outreach, PR and link bait. Avoid link spamming (or hiring a "bargain" SEO firm that engages in this practice); having a bunch of irrelevant, spammy links somewhere on your site is great way to get ignored by the search engines.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Looking Back at 400: Top 10 Posts

As I recently passed 400 posts on this blog, here is a look back at the 10 most popular items here of all time. The list has changed considerably since the last look back after 300 posts.

#10: Best of 2007: Website Design, February 4, 2008

Reviews of articles and tools on website design, including a couple of pieces from the brilliant and frequently cited Stoney deGeyter. Not sure exactly why this one remain so popular, but here it is at #10.

#9: How to Create a Social Media Marketing Strategy, March 4, 2009

A summary of research from MarketingSherpa, Eloqua's Steve Woods, and green marketer Lorna Li on how marketers should approach social media strategically. As the old saying from the financial world goes, no one plans to fail—but many people fail to plan.

#8: Web 2.0 Social Tagging Sites, Part 4: B2B Traffic Building, May 15, 2007

Original research on the quantitative impact of social bookmarking on b2b site traffic. Much has changed since then, and social media is now an integral part of SEO efforts. But this post was one of the first to provide hard data on the benefits.

#7: How to Write a Strategic Marketing Plan, December 6, 2007

A guide to crafting a strategic marketing plan, starting with target markets and working through high-level strategies, specific tactics, and the tools needed to implement planned actions.

#6: How to Use Twitter for Business, May 6, 2009

Detailed summary of an outstanding presentation (includes video) delivered by Chris Abraham of social PR firm Abraham Harrison and Anamitra Banerji, product manager at Twitter, on how to develop a targeted Twitter following, develop a strategy, improve productivity with Twitter tools, and other Twitter best practices for business.

#5: The 8 Layers of a B2B Web Marketing Plan, October 8, 2008

Another strategy piece, this one on working outward from a solid website design, SEO and SEM through broader marketing tactics and media.

#4: The Social Media Email Signature, Septenber 18, 2008

Thanks to some Twitter luv from Guy Kawasaki, this post produced the largest single-day traffic spike ever on the WebMarketCentral blog. It shows creative examples of Web 2.0 / social media email signatures from early adopters of the now increasingly common practice. A more recent post here explained how to create a cool graphic social media email signature.

#3: Google AdWords Average CTR and Best Practices, September 20, 2007

Hard numbers to help benchmark the performance of Google AdWords campaigns is hard to come by, which explains the popularity of this post. Based on recent data, the average CTR for b2b AdWords programs remains in the 1.1%-1.3% range, with a typical conversion rate of around 2.8%.

#2: Average CTR for Banner Ads - New Data, September 16, 2008

As with AdWords, benchmarking data for banner ad performance is also difficult to find. This review of MarketingSherpa data holds up well against more recent figures. Typical CTRs for banner ads remain in the 0.15% to 0.3% range, with any performance above 0.5% qualifying as outstanding. The conclusion presented here holds true: banner ads are primarily valuable for branding, not direct response.

#1: Email Campaign, Newsletter and Banner Ad Click-Through Rates (CTR), August 14, 2007

The all-time most popular post thus far on the WebMarketCentral blog remains this piece providing industry data to help set goals and benchmark the performance of email marketing, newsletter sponsorship and banner advertising programs. Clearly, marketers love benchmark data.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Better Way to Launch New Products - Rolling Thunder

This content has been moved to A Better Method for New Product Launches – Rolling Thunder on the Webbiquity blog.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Best of 2008: Social Media Optimization, Part 6

This content has been moved to Best of 2008: Social Media Marketing on the Webbiquity blog.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Genoo Aims to Shake Up Marketing Automation Space

This content has been moved to Genoo Aims to Shake Up Marketing Automation Market on the Webbiquity blog.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Best of 2008: Amusing, Creative and Just Plain Odd, Part 2

This content has been moved to Best of 2008: Amusing, Creative and Just Plain Odd on the Webbiquity blog.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

SEO Best Practices and All That

In SEO `Best Practices' Are Bunk, Adam Audette rants about the supposed uselessness of these tactics, and by extension the concept of best practices in any realm. Audette writes that "`Best practice' is a stale buzzphrase that offers zero competitive advantage...best practice in the enterprise? To me, that is nothing but useless marketing-speak. It doesn’t say anything about creating a competitive advantage."

The larger point of this article is spot on, namely that adherence to any set of static practices will, over time, erode the competitiveness of any enterprise. But, with no disrespect to Mr. Audette, who is a very smart guy, he sets up somewhat of a strawman definition of best practices when he writes:

By definition, a best practice:

  • is a static ruleset
  • is a standard to be followed
  • has worked in the past (read: is old)
  • has been popularized (read: is average)
  • limits judgement, evaluation, and strategy (cornerstones of quality search marketing)
That is, at best, a partial definition. First, once any practice is adopted by most of the firms in an industry, it is no longer a "best practice." Someone has already moved the needle. Second, mindful of this, great companies (and consultants) make constant tweaking and rethinking of current processes a part of their best practices.

In SEO, best practices would include but not be limited to:
  • Conducting keyword research to identify high-volume, low-competition search terms.
  • Producing clean code (e.g. CSS and HTML, minimal Flash, Javascript in separate files, descriptive navigation, minimal use of tables).
  • Optimizing title tags.
  • Crafting URLs with keywords included.
  • Including (but not over-doing) keywords in content and heading tags.
  • Incorporating keyword links in page text.
  • Basic link-building—social media sites, directories, business partners etc.
  • Advanced link-building—blogging, commenting, content marketing, guest posting, blogger outreach, interactive PR, etc.
Using all of those practices won't guarantee you a #1 rank for any term, but ignoring any of them will make achieving high rankings unnecessarily difficult. That's why virtually all successful SEO professionals use those practices, but don't constrain their activities to a static process. Search is constantly changing, and so are the techniques used to gain high ranking and organic search traffic.

In short, best practices are dynamic rather than static. In 1908, Henry Ford's assembly line (an idea inspired by the meat packing industry) established a new best practice in automotive manufacturing, but from work cells to TQM to lean manufacturing, production processes have continually evolved since then.

For the best companies, and SEO consultants, continuous innovation is the best best practice of all.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Best of 2008: Cool Web Tools, Part 3

This content has been moved to Best of 2008: Cool Web Tools on the Webbiquity blog.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

3 Reasons to Love PitchEngine for Social Media Releases

For anyone doing interactive PR, PitchEngine has become a vital tool for creating, distributing and promoting social media releases. It's simple, fast, powerful and gets results. Here are three more specific reasons to love it:

Features—it's all there, the ability to easily add social networking links; links to other resources such as white papers, product sheets and webinars; branding elements; keywords; images; and online video.

Exposure—even for clients in very niche b2b markets (e.g. high-volume automated web publishing), these social media releases often get 100+ views in just the first few hours.

Search—based on experience, it can take weeks for Google to pick up a press release posted on a client website. PitchEngine releases are typically picked up with half an hour of posting.

PitchEngine is the most no-brainer, must-have PR investment my clients make. (And no, Jason Kintzler didn't pay me to write that! But I will let him quote me.)

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Best of 2008: Blogging for Business, Part 3

This content has been moved to Best of 2008: Blogging for Business on the Webbiquity blog.

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Top 40 B2B Marketing Blogs - B2B Marketing Zone

Tony Karrer and I launched the B2B Marketing Zone (aka, The BMZ) on July 1 (see New Hub Site Focuses on B2B Marketing Intelligence). Since that time, it's been steadily growing in traffic and subscribers.

The site has also been gradually adding the very best sources of content on B2B Marketing. Here's the list of the sources that represent the Top 40+ B2B Marketing blogs:

Please let me know if I'm missing any blogs that produce great content around B2B Marketing.

Beyond having the best blogs as sources of content, much of the growth has to do with the site's ability to generate "Best Of" lists such as:

Subscribing to the Best Of B2B Marketing Zone is a great way to get the best from these sources. Tony tells me that he uses these Best Of posts as a way to see the very best from these 40+ blogs each month. "B2B Marketing is important to many of my clients, but I just don't have time to read all the posts from all these sources. The Best Of list is a great for someone like me."

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

7 Ways NOT to Select an SEO Consultant

The importance of search engine optimization—helping websites stand out in an increasingly cluttered online world amid rapid growth in global search volume—combined with the fact that search is one of the few growing areas in an otherwise brutal economy has led to an influx of new providers in the space. Nothing wrong with that, competition is good! (Particularly for buyers.)

The problem is that any business area or profession that experiences unusual growth (think ad-supported "free" online services in 1999, or real estate from 2002-2008) inevitably attracts, along with some very bright people committed to their new craft, a less savory crowd of opportunistic, incompetent or even unscrupulous entrants as well.

Here are seven characteristics to help avoid hiring one of those types for your next SEO project.

Irrelevant experience. Given the still relative newness of SEO as a profession, any SEO practitioner over the age of 30 probably did something else before SEO. Most of the good ones came out of either marketing or IT. Beware of those who tout their success in some completely unrelated field (e.g., real estate, automotive, wedding photography, sports writing, air travel, nutritional supplements) as evidence of their SEO prowess.

Number of Twitter followers. I randomly checked the Twitter followers for 10 prominent SEO experts (the kind who present at the big conferences and whose writing is frequently noted in the best of SEO posts here). Of the 10, none have more than 14,000 followers; four have 3,000 followers or more; two have between 1,000 and 1,500; two have less than 600; and two aren't on Twitter at all! Bottom line? There's simply no relationship between Twitter following and SEO prowess. Someone who tries to impress you with their 20,000 or 30,000 Twitter followers is good at attracting lots of Twitter followers (likely of varying quality), but isn't necessarily any good at SEO.

Guarantees. Other than Matt Cutts (who isn't for sale)—or perhaps someone with compromising photos of Google's search engineer—no one can guarantee any specific rank for a website on any given keyword. No reputable SEO consultant or firm will even offer such guarantees.

Price. Yes, of course it's important, but as in most other areas of life—you (generally at least) get what you pay for.

Instant results. If you positively must rank highly for a specific search phrase TODAY, buy it on AdWords. SEO is a longer-term investment. The search engines simply take time to reindex your website and all of your links. Granted, a news site may get ranked very quickly for a breaking story, but for a competitive term on a commercial website, it can take weeks to move search position appreciably, and months to get it into the top five. As with guarantees, cast a wary glance at anyone who promises instant gratification from SEO.

Excessive ego. Not to suggest that self-confidence isn't a positive attractive attribute in an SEO consultant, or even that there aren't perhaps a few talented SEO practitioners with slightly overinflated egos, but if a consultant's web page or Twitter bio reads like a second-rate late night infomercial, approach with caution. Better to have someone versed in content development and link building than someone who's spent too much time at self esteem-building seminars. SEO is a complex and constantly changing field, so a certain degree of humility is in order.

Excessive automation / "turnkey" package. Of course, good SEOs use a variety of tools to automate routine, mechanical processes such as search engine position checking, keyword density, backlink checking and keyword selection. However, the overall practice of SEO is a blend of art and science, and the "art" portion—writing compelling copy, crafting effective headlines and meta tags, obtaining high-quality links—simply can't be automated. SEO in a box is like wine in a box; it's cheap and convenient, but you'll regret it in the morning.

If you're shopping for SEO services, hopefully this list will help you avoid hiring the wrong person or firm. If you're an SEO provider, feel free to comment on any other suspect factors.

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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Best of 2008: Social Media Optimization, Part 5

This content has been moved to Best of 2008: Social Media Marketing on the Webbiquity blog.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Social Media, Email and Search: The "Elite Trio" of Online Marketing?

MarketingSherpa recently published this chart revealing marketers' opinions of where social media fits among what the publication calls the "elite trio" of Internet marketing: social media, search and email. While it's hard to disagree with the 97% of marketers who believe that social media will complement (not "compliment" — a rare MarketingSherpa word usage error!) email and search marketing, the position of the 49% who state that social media will never become as important as the other tactics is more questionable.


The confusion stems from where social media fits in the marketing mix. Except in rare cases like Dell, which uses tools like Twitter for revenue generation, social media is primarily a PR-type activity rather than direct marketing.

The three tools have much different purposes. Specifically:
  • Social media is primarily a tool for exposure and credibility-building. Like traditional PR, it is a "top of funnel" tool. It's as much about reaching influencers as prospects.

  • Search is for lead generation, or more accurately, name generation. It brings "suspects" into your funnel, contact information for people who may or may not eventually become leads and then customers.

  • Email is most effective as a direct response medium for the prospects who have already "raised their hands." They've given you permission to communicate directly with them. Generally, 20% or more of the people on your house list will open your emails, while perhaps 1% of your Twitter following will see any given tweet. This makes email a far less hit-or-miss medium.
The three tools need to be used in tandem, each for its own unique strengths. Neglecting any one will reduce the effectiveness of the others. At least that's my take; what do you think?

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

SEM: How (And Why) To Keep Your Google Content Network Campaigns Clean

Google's content network can be a valuable addition to any AdWords search marketing program. It gives you the opportunity to very cost-effectively display text or graphical ads across Google's network of AdSense partner sites, many of them industry-specific online publications and blogs. These ads have both branding and direct response value. The click-through rate is typically lower (as it is for display ads in general, as prospects see your ads while reading content rather than specifically searching for your product or service), but conversion rates are generally similar.

However, to avoid meaningless impressions, unproductive clicks and bogus conversions, it's critical to monitor which sites your ads are appearing on and keep the list clean. For whatever reason, Google doesn't seem to apply the same rigor to AdSense ad placements as it does to it's primary search algorithm.

Case in point: among my SEM clients are two b2b software companies. Without revealing any confidential information, both companies develop business software, target department heads and directors in midsize to large organizations with their messages, and run their AdWords search ads only in North America. In both instances, their content network ads appear on a variety of relevant blogs and smaller industry publication sites, which is appropriate and productive. However, I check and clean both programs frequently, as their ads have also appeared on:
  • Gaming sites—okay, granted, lots of IT folks are also gamers, but really, how likely are they to click on ad for business software while reading up on tips for World of Warcraft? Even worse, the ads sometimes show up children's gaming sites. Is little Johnny really going to suddenly develop an interest in document management while picking up cheats for Club Penguin?

  • Celebrity gossip sites—the contextual relationship here escapes me. Britney Spears and office applications, Rihanna and IT management...hmm, just not seeing those connections.

  • Country music radio station sites—apparently, Google believes that country music fans are great prospects for b2b software. Not hip hop, rock or talk radio listeners for some reason, though.

  • Foreign news sites—again, both of these companies run their search ads only in North America, so it seems a bit bewildering why their content network ads appear on news sites in places like Ghana, Ethiopia and Nepal.
Such ads can generate thousands of impressions in a short period of time, but rarely a click and never a conversion worth squat. Not a good deal for either for the advertiser or publisher.

Here's how to check your content network and keep it free of nonsensical sites:

1. Login to your AdWords account, then click Reports under the Reporting tab.

2. In the Report Center, click "Create a New Report."

3. Click the radio button to select Placement Performance (View performance data for content network sites where your ad has been shown).

4. Specify a date range for the report (use "Al Time" if you've never done this before).

5. Name your report, then click the Create Report button.

6. Once the report is completed, click on the report name in your Report Center list.

7. Click Export Report...csv for Excel. This will open your report in Excel where it's easier to work with.

8. In Excel, select the list and sort it by Cost...Descending. This will show you which sites are costing you the most money in descending order. Check the URLs for your highest-cost sites first. If a site looks like somewhere you are comfortable with your ad appearing, great, leave it be. If not:

9. Go back to AdWords and click "More tools" under the "Tools" tab.

10. In the left-hand column, click "Site and Category Exclusion."

11. Select your content network campaign (if necessary), then review the "Topics," "Media Types" and "Page Types" tabs to make sure those settings are as you want them.

12. Once that's done, go to the "Sites" tab. Here you can paste in the URLs for any sites you'd like to exclude from displaying your ads. Once you've entered a few sites to exclude, scroll down and click the Save All Changes button.

IMPORTANT: Do not click the "Remove all" button - this doesn't remove these sites from your AdWords program, it removes them from your exclusion list! If you click this button, you'll need to re-exclude any sites you don't want to have display your ads.

13. Once you've excluded any high-cost / low-return sites, sort your Excel list again by Impressions...Decending. This will identify sites where your ads are getting a large number of impressions but few clicks. Again, check on these sites, and exclude any undesirable sites as in Step 12 above.

14. Finally, sort your Excel list once more, alphabetically on URL. You can likely identify some sites that should be excluded just based on the site name. Again, exclude these as in Step 12.

15. Periodically run updated placement reports and repeat the process to exclude specific sites from your AdWords contet network program.

By keeping your content network free of inappropriate and non-productive sites, you can increase the click-through rate and optimize your return on investment from this option for advertising with Google.

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