The Risk of Black Hat SEO (And How to Avoid It)

Posted on February 15, 2011. Filed under: Search Engine Optimization | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Photo of a criminal in a dark coatSnagging the top spot in search engine results is the ultimate aim of search engine optimization. If you hire a company to handle your SEO, you want them to do their best to get you there.

You would not expect that company to use unethical tactics to boost your search rank.

But if they did, and you secured the number one search result, would you care?

You should, because if Google catches you using black hat SEO — tricks that skirt the search engine’s guidelines—they’ll knock you off your high perch. You could be in for a steep fall, to include being removed from search index results, altogether.

The dark side of search engine optimization

A recent incident of SEO gone bad made for an intriguing story in the Sunday New York Times, where an article called The Dirty Little Secrets of Search revealed how the retailer J. C. Penney engaged in shady SEO. Or rather, a company J.C. Penny hired engaged in unscrupulous SEO.

This SEO outfit’s tactics led to J.C. Penney.com netting the number one organic search result for a host of search queries, including popular terms (“dresses,” “furniture”) as well as many others that lie on the long tail of search (“grommet top curtains”).

The primary black hat tactic used was to buy inbound links for JCPenney.com. An inbound link is a link on another website that points back to your site.

Not all inbound links are created equal

Inbound links can make a big difference in your Google search rank, because Google reads links from relevant sites that go to your site as a kind of endorsement. The more links leading from other sites to yours, the more points you get. If a linking site is perceived as a relevant authority on a given subject matter, then you get extra credit. For example, if you have a blog about investing, and the Wall Street Journal website links to yours, you get bonus points.

The SEO company hired by J.C. Penney hatched a scheme that garnered thousands of inbound links from websites that have no plausible reason to connect to the retailer — they paid low-end spammy sites to post links to JCPenney.com.

See no evil?

photo of baby with hands over eyesPenney’s reportedly fired those SEO shysters; after the New York Times contacted Google about their investigation that uncovered the scam, and, shortly thereafter, JCPenney.com’s organic search rank plummeted.

There’s been speculation as to whether Google knew about this link scheme but chose to let it slide, because Penney’s pours lots of money into its paid search program. Google swears paid search does not affect organic search results.

Meanwhile, J.C. Penney says it had no knowledge of the black hat scheme conducted on its behalf.  Not sure I buy that, but if it is true, then shame on the management for not having better oversight of their SEO efforts. The spectacular scope of all those number one search results should have raised a red flag.

Tips to avoid getting burned by black hat SEO

If you’re planning to outsource SEO efforts, here are tips to help ensure you don’t fall prey to nefarious operators:

1. Steer clear of anyone who guarantees the #1 spot on Google

While good SEO can get you a top rank, it can’t be guaranteed. Some companies go so far as to claim they have an “inside deal” with Google that can secure you special priority ranking. There is no such thing. If you hear this boast, give that business the boot.

2. Avoid companies that engage in link-buying schemes

This is what got J.C. Penney in hot water. Link buying is unethical. It may raise your rank in the short run, but once you’re found out, you suffer the consequences.

3. Beware of companies that offer to create fake “doorways” to your site

Certain black hat SEOers like to create lots of single page websites stuffed with relevant keywords and inbound links to your site. Because these pages exist solely to steer traffic to your website they offer no real value to web users. Expect a harsh penalty if Google sniffs out your dubious game.

4. Find out what information the company is willing to disclose

Prior to hiring an SEO provider, find out what information they’ll share. Will they tell you exactly what strategies they intend to employ? What keywords are they going to optimize for? What reporting statistics will they provide? Will they help you interpret the data?

SEO is not an undercover operation, and whomever you choose must be willing to divulge specifics about tactics and how they plan to measure success.

5. Don’t look the other way if you suspect shady business

If your SEO results seem too good to be true, they probably are. If you believe the firm you hired is using black hat tactics, show them the door, report them to The FTC, and take steps to correct any deceptive practices. Don’t just let it be.

As noted in Google’s search engine optimization webmaster tools, “Ultimately, you are responsible for the actions of any companies you hire”.

So what do YOU think? Have you ever come across anyone who deals in crooked SEO? Please share your stories.

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Is Your Website Optimized for Google Instant Previews?

Posted on January 27, 2011. Filed under: Search Engine Optimization, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

How many times have you clicked on a link in your Google search results only to find that webpage didn’t have the information or the item you wanted?

These things happen.

No matter how good the search engine, it’s not a mind reader. Only you know exactly what’s most relevant for your particular purposes.

Goggle Instant Previews helps boost the relevance of click-throughs

It would be nice to only click-through to webpages that meet your needs, and apparently Google thinks so, too. That’s why it rolled out Instant Previews, which gives you a sneak peek of your search results.

You’ve likely seen the preview tool; it’s a magnifying glass that appears next to title links in Google search results. Click on the magnifying glass, and presto, you get a graphical representation of that webpage while you’re still viewing search results. With some webpages the preview may also highlight text items relating to your search terms. Between the visual sneak peek and those text highlights, you can quickly compare all your search results to help determine which ones are best for you.

Here’s an example of results for the search query “best restaurants in Philadelphia” where I’ve highlighted the Instant Previews icon:

If you click on the magnifying glass next to the link for Le Bec Fin, you see the homepage to its website, with an announcement about the menu, plus a quote from a food critic.

FYI, Google decides if text appears in a preview. In this case, it’s a kudo from a food writer, which makes for a nice plug that can influence your decision on whether or not to visit this fancy French eatery. Right away, you have a positive impression.

Now, suppose you want to preview the other sites. Well, then your results vary. Take a look at what comes up when you preview Morimoto:

Not much to go by there. That’s because the site is built with Flash, which Instant Previews does not currently support. It doesn’t read Java applets or Silverlight, either.

Any areas Instant Previews can’t read on a website appear blank. If it can’t read any of your site, it looks like Morimoto’s. Then you’ll miss out on any potential benefit that comes from Instant Previews. And you may even forfeit business to an enterprise with a website that renders properly in preview.

Think about it: If you have several choices, and you’re deciding which to pick based solely on what you can glean from the web, and one choice instantly offers a better presentation, don’t you think you might favor the place that gives you the most confidence from the start?

Give your website an Instant Previews check-up

Google claims Instant Previews will “match your query with an index of the entire web, identify the relevant parts of each webpage, stitch them together and serve the resulting preview completely customized to your search—usually in under one-tenth of a second.”

That’s darn fast. Any website takes longer than one-tenth of a second to load. Once you get into the habit of previewing, you’re likely to keep at it. I use previews a lot, and I am surely not alone in this regard.

Which means, if you have a website, you need to pay attention to how it renders in Google Instant Previews. And not just the homepage, but all of the pages, because people can enter your site in any number of ways when coming through a search engine.

In fact, check it right now. See if there are any problems. If so, you should consider making changes to your site’s code so that it can play well with previews. Anything that diminishes your search result can hurt your click-through rate.

Can Instant Previews affect your site’s search rank?

I first found out about the potential for problems with Google Instant Previews from an article by my Twitter pal, internet marketing and SEO consultant, Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe). In his post, Google Instant Previews — Great Functionality or a Signal Back to the Mothership, Glenn suggests that Google might even use previews for its own purposes. He writes:

“It’s hard to ignore the fact that instant previews can send a powerful signal back to Google about the relevancy of the search results. For example, if a page is ranking near the top of the search results, but really shouldn’t (because it’s spammy, the page owner gamed Google’s algorithm to get there, etc.), then Google could start to identify these pages via monitoring low click-through rate via instant previews. For example, imagine a page with 175K impressions in organic search, with 3500 instant preview triggers, but no click-through. That very well could raise a red flag to Google.”

If Google does wind up utilizing Instant Previews as yet another way to determine relevance for certain keywords, that’s just one more reason to be sure your site is up to preview snuff.

More information on Google Instant Previews

For website owners:

Google has a FAQ about instant previews that can help you understand how it works and how you can adjust your website so that it renders properly in preview mode.

For the general web user:

Google provides a good explanation of instant previews, including a short video, on its official blog.

Have you used Google Instant Previews? Has it changed the way you search the web? Please share your thoughts and  comments.

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Can Bad Word Of Mouth Boost Your SEO?

Posted on November 29, 2010. Filed under: Search Engine Optimization | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Pitcher of lemonade with lemonsDo complaints registered online against your company actually boost your business’ search engine rank?

One retailer, who goes out of his way to rankle customers, swears this is true.

Business owner provokes customer complaints, on purpose

An article in the New York Times, penned by David Segal and titled “A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web,” reports that the owner of an online designer eyeglass purveyor is using the unconventional tactic of inciting bad word of mouth to increase his search engine rank.

This merchant is downright gleeful when disgruntled customers complain about his company on the web. He even gloated about it online, where he boldly proclaimed, “I just wanted to let you guys know that the more replies you people post, the more business and the more hits and sales I get. My goal is NEGATIVE advertisement.”

Exploiting a SEO loophole

I’ll refrain from printing the name of the business owner, or the company — why play into his hand? The guy practically encourages customers to kvetch about his shoddy service on consumer advocacy and consumer review sites. He told the Times reporter, “I’ve exploited this opportunity because it works. No matter where they post their negative comments, it helps my return on investment. So I decided, why not use that negativity to my advantage?”

One factor that’s known to affect search engine rank is how many times your name is mentioned and linked to on the web. More mentions and more links, especially from sites that a search engine views as reputable, means you get more points in the SEO-meter. The bigger a reputable site is, all the better. Plenty of mentions about your business on a busy well-regarded consumer site garner lots of referral points from a search engine.

It does not seem to matter if the mentions are positive or negative.

Does Google factor in sentiment analysis?

Thumbs  Up and Thumbs DownThe Times reporter contacted the 800-pound search engine gorilla — Google — to ask if negative sentiment adversely affects its ranking system. Google doesn’t like to give away too many clues about how its algorithm works, and this instance proved no exception.

The reporter then contacted Danny Sullivan, who oversees the most excellent web site, Search Engine Land. Sullivan said he doesn’t think Google employs sentiment analysis, and he reckons that’s a good thing. Even so, Sullivan said he believes Google can do a better job of integrating consumer reviews of e-commerce sites, much like it already does with local business search results.

Until that happens this mischievous retailer benefits from angry customers venting their frustrations online.

Page one or bust

The notion of using negative sentiment to your advantage isn’t new. We’ve got that old saw: “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

Celebrities are often accused of doing bad things just to get their name in the press. The tactic may not always work as planned, but many times their stars do rise.

The art and science of search engines being able to serve up the most relevant results in the optimum order is improving, but in the scheme of things, it’s still got a ways to go. When researching topics, many is the time I wind up finding the most pertinent link on the second and third page results.

The vast majority of searchers don’t go beyond page one. If you can game the search engines your search rank rises, even if your lofty position is based on consumer complaints.

The situation may be outrageous, but apparently not egregious enough to get a business penalized by Goggle’s algorithm. FYI, Google does claim to punish your site if it catches you engaging in certain unscrupulous black-hat search engine tactics.

Turning lemons into lemonade

Meantime, that Times’ article that hardly paints a positive picture of the eyeglass enterprise? Well, the story mentions the owner’s name and that of his company numerous times. It includes lots of relevant keywords. That means more links and mentions from a leading reputable news source.

Talk about squeezing out search engine juice.

– Deni Kasrel

Should search engines factor in negative sentiment? Is this guy just playing by the rules? What do YOU think?

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Best Practices: Writing Press Releases for the Web

Posted on May 19, 2010. Filed under: Marketing and Public Relations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

A press release posted on your website is not a press release. It’s an everybody release.

Seeing as we all seek out information by hitting the web – frequently using a search engine as our guide — you can bet people other than the press are discovering and reading your releases.

Most PR practitioners, however, still write press releases in a rigid format specifically aimed at reporters. It’s a style developed long before the web came into being and best suited to the printed page.

Press releases posted online should be in web style

News flash: Web content should be written for the way we read web content. Or rather, how we glance over web content. Studies show when we first hit a web page we scan it. Our eyes skip around looking for clues to see if the page has information we can use. If it takes too long to figure out we hop off and scan elsewhere.

This applies to all areas of a website. Including the press section.

Press releases as information, plain and simple

OK, this is not groundbreaking news: Jakob Nielson, a pioneer of web usability, has beaten this drum for years. He’s posted numerous articles on the subject, including How Users Read on the Web.

Still, even companies that follow good web style elsewhere on their website often disregard it in the press area.

That’s a mistake. Usability studies by Janice (Ginny) Redish — as noted in her excellent book Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works — show the general web user is confused (and even frustrated) by traditional “wall-to-wall text” press releases that appear online.

And so, with hat tips to Nielson and Redish, here’s a handy list of guidelines for writing press releases for the web.

Best Practices: Writing Press Releases for the Web

1. Write short paragraphs

Keep it concise. Nielson suggests having one idea per paragraph.

2. Increase scanability with subheads in bold type

Subheads give instant clues about the full content of the release. Readers can know right away if the content is of interest, or not. Suggested length for headings is eight words or less.

3. Break up information with bulleted or numbered lists

Bullets act as graphical elements that stand out from blocks of text. Our eyes are naturally and psychologically drawn to lists with brief chunks of information.

4. Display data in tables and graphs

It’s difficult to digest lots of data rendered in paragraph format. You’re better off putting this information into tables and graphs that are more readily understood.

5. Use the same template as other informational pages

As noted, the general public does not make a distinction between press releases and other useful web content. A press release should have the same look and feel as other informational pages on your website.

6. Include hyperlinks and external documents for additional information

Provide more value to a release by linking to other areas of your site with related information.

If you need to go into more depth with statistics or research findings, create and post documents with these details. Write the press release as a summary fact sheet and put links to these documents in the release.

7. Include keywords

Use language that appeals to your customer base. Put special emphasis on terms and phrases someone might use to find your product or service through a search engine, a.k.a. keywords.

8. Be mindful of who’s listed as the company contact

Typical press releases list the person in your public relations/communications department who wrote the release as the contact for additional information. But is this the right person to respond to queries from the general public? And what happens when this PR flack leaves your company? Do you go back and changes all the releases?

Once a release is posted on the web you may want to list your main PR office number, and identify it as such, to better field calls that come in response to the release.

– Deni Kasrel

What do YOU think? Comments welcome.

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Interview with David Meerman Scott, Author Of The New Rules Of Marketing & PR

Posted on March 3, 2010. Filed under: Books, Marketing and Public Relations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The web makes it easy for companies to communicate directly with consumers. A good thing, so long as you know how to work that angle.

Yet for a while, there weren’t any best practices on how to do it.

Then along came David Meerman Scott — veteran marketer, popular blogger, and author of The New Rules of Marketing & PR.

Overflowing with sage advice on how to leverage the web with new-style press releases, blogs, podcasts and other emerging media, the book became a bestseller.

New tools mean even more new rules

In the three years since that first edition social media exploded. Prompting Meerman to write a revised version, The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use Social Media, Blogs, News Releases, Online Video, and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly, 2nd Edition, covering even more tools, plus a fresh batch of case studies.

I thought it would be nice to have Meerman share some pearls of wisdom with readers of this blog. He was kind enough to agree and we enjoyed a lively phone chat. Here are excerpts from our conversation:

Interview with David Meerman Scott: Author of The New Rules of Marketing & PR

It seems one of the things you’re getting at with The New Rules is you have to understand how people find things, and be aware of what they do online, period. Then you fit your marketing and PR into that. But if you don’t get how the web works, you’re lost. Is that accurate?

David: The technology is a solvable problem. But the aspect that you can’t get wrong or you won’t succeed, has to do with the way that we have traditionally talked up our company, which is to hype our products and services. In the 4 P’s of marketing — one of the fundamental tenets of marketing — the first “P” is product. But people don’t really care about products and services, what they care about are themselves.

What happens is, a company will say, “Oh, I’ve got to start a Twitter feed,” or a blog, or whatever. And the first thing they do is exactly what they’re doing already to market their company. They build a blog and the blog is about their products.

There are some products that you can do that for. If you’re Apple and you start a blog about the iPhone, that can work. But for 99.9% of the companies out there, talking about your products won’t work. What you need to do is understand your buyers really well. Understand what their problems are and then create something interesting on the web that will appeal to them and that will help them solve problems. That’s the part that most people get wrong. You have to understand your buyer’s persona.

You pay a fair amount of attention to search, search engine optimization and search engine marketing. Yet that’s an area a lot of PR people resist, because SEO strategy may not follow AP style.

David: Right. There is a lot of truth in that. Fundamentally, every person on the planet who has an internet connection is using search. And the last number I heard is two billion people are connected to the web. So being visible in search engines is critically important.

But one of the things I like to point out is search engine marketing, at its core, is about creating the content that people want to find. And that’s exactly what we’ve been talking about. It’s understanding your buyers really well and creating content that allows them to solve problems in the words and phrases they would use.

That’s more important in my mind than worrying about the nuances of meta tags and where the text should be placed. Granted those are important, but in my experience a lot of search engine experts will focus way too much on those technology aspects of search and not that much on understanding that people are trying to reach amazing stuff that will then be indexed by search engines.

A lot of those highly search engine optimized pages that you see in the rankings at the top of the page; excuse my language, but they suck. They’re poorly written and the images are no good. Then conversely, you come across something and you go, “Wow, look at this. It’s exactly what I’m looking for.” In my mind, that’s what search engine marketing is. It’s creating amazing content that makes people go “Holy cow, that’s great.” That’s not really about the technology; it’s about the information.

Let’s talk about your suggestion to create an online media room — but for buyers rather than just the press. From my own experience this is a tough sell with many PR people. You can explain how when a release is on the web anyone can see it, and although they understand this as a concept, they can’t make the shift. So what is your most persuasive pitch for this one?

David: I think the biggest stumbling block is that many public relations people who I know mistake the superset of public relations with the subset of media relations.

In other words, public relations is really just about reaching your public and there’s tons of different ways to do that. Going through the media is not the only way.

But I think what a lot of public relations people want is for the world to be the way is way 20 years ago, They just want to be able to have lunch with reporters and send out press releases. It’s just a nice comfortable little world and the web is kinda screwing things up.

I think if our job is to reach our publics, it’s essential to understand there’s multiple ways to do so.

For example you hit on the online media room. When they first came out about 15 years ago it was basically an online version of a press kit… and well, guess what? It’s not just going to the media. Everyone can look at that stuff. So are you only interested in 200 journalists, or are you interested in 200,000 potential customers? And I think, without being rude, if you think your job is to only reach 200 journalists, then you shouldn’t have a role in the website. Let other people get on with the work of the media room.

I do think this job of media relations is still a critical job… that will be their specialty. But I hope people start to realize it’s not the only way.

You write about how the media itself has changed. When you consider bloggers, for instance. Yet you’re surprised when at speaking engagements and you ask PR and marketing pros if they write or read blogs, only a small percentage are doing so. You’d think at this stage more people would realize we’ve gotten past the point where it’s just the cranky blogger out there.

David: The other point that’s critical to know is that when a journalist is working on a story guess where they go? They go to Google, They go to your website. And if you have a blog, a journalist is more likely to read that then your press release.

I think it’s important to recognize the way journalists are doing their research is changing because of the web as well.

I can’t tell you, in my own case, how many times I’ve gotten amazing placement in a magazine, newspaper or radio, because somebody went to Google and typed in the phrase viral marketing. My content comes up on the first page. It’s number four or five, and I’ll get the call. Or they’ll type in online media room, and I’ll get the call. That’s not because I sent out a press release. It’s not because I hired an agency to pitch the media. It’s because the journalist went to Google and found me.

You believe people should experiment with marketing. Nowadays you can do that with video, because the costs are so much lower than in the past.

David: That’s part of it. The other part is a failure isn’t visible. If you do a TV commercial and it’s terrible, lots of people will see it. If you post a video on YouTube and its terrible few people will see it. No one will spread it. So it’s not, “Oh they failed, look at that” You know, you just quietly delete it.

You also suggest experimenting on a company website. I think there’s a hurdle there. People think they can’t put something up if they’re not sure if it will work.

David: They’re coming at that statement with the print mentality. It has to be perfect before it goes to print. Because if you print it and there’s a mistake, you have to throw the entire thing away and start over again. But the web is iterative. You can constantly tweak and change it.

–  Deni Kasrel

So what do YOU think of Meerman’s thoughts on the new world order of marketing and PR? Have you read his book, too? What’s your take on it? Please share. Comments welcome.

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Maximize Your SEO: Grab It By The Long Tail

Posted on February 22, 2010. Filed under: Best practices, Search Engine Optimization | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

If you’re hip to search engine optimization (SEO) then you know the importance keywords play in the process.

You think about things like keyword density – a ratio representing total number of words on a page divided by the number of times a given keyword (a word or phrase someone types into a search box) appears on that same page.

You want to strike a balance between strategically including keywords enough times that search engines see your page as relevant to the term you want to rank for, while keeping in mind the content needs to be useful and enjoyable to the reader.

Along with website text, it’s important to include keywords in page titles, navigational links, meta tags, meta description tags and ALT image tags.

This is basic SEO.

Length of the average search query is getting longer

One thing even those who know SEO can fail to take into account is the need to incorporate terms of three, four or even eight words. Then you’re really capitalizing on how people search online.

A survey by Hitwise shows there’s a nice amount action to be had with longer keyword phrases.

Longer queries bring more targeted results

Based on my own experience this is surely so. I use longer search queries because they tend to bring up more relevant results. This makes sense, of course – I’m giving the search engine more specific details about what I’m looking for.

Also, if I look at the statistics for this blog, The Communications Strategist, I see a fair amount of traffic comes from queries of between four and six words.

Bottom line: If you want to maximize SEO take advantage of the multiple keyword factor.

This is what’s known as catching the long tail — meaning you’re going for precise phrases, sometimes referred to as problem/solution specific keywords, that individually make up a small volume of search activity, yet when added together generate a sizable chunk of web traffic.

For example, if someone is interested in business financing, a short tail search term could be “business loan” while on the long tail there’s something like, “how to get a small business loan with bad credit.” It’s a more targeted type of search.

One size does not fit all

Then too, you need to take into account where your audience is located. Apparently, Americans are wordier with search terms than people in Canada or the U.K. Take a look at this chart, also from Hitwise:

So fine-tune your keyword strategy to suit your target audience. Keep in mind global differences. With certain locales on this good earth the more particular the better, while for other places less is more.

– Deni Kasrel

What do YOU think? Do your online search habits reinforce the research cited in this post? Have you used longer keywords as part of an SEO program? Please share your stories. Comments welcome.

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Inbound Marketing: How To Get Found On The Web

Posted on February 16, 2010. Filed under: Books, Business Strategy, Marketing and Public Relations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Here’s a tip to ensure you rank high on search engine results for a particular concept: make it up yourself.

Start a company, write a bunch of blog posts and offer webinars — all based on the concept. Once the idea gets some traction, write a book about it.

Do this and you own the keywords for that concept.

That’s the deal with inbound marketing, a term popularized by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah — the founders of Hubspot, an internet marketing company, and co- authors of Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs (The New Rules of Social Media).

Present your message when people want to receive it

What is inbound marketing? Well, it’s the opposite of outbound marketing, a.k.a. traditional marketing, a.k.a. interruption marketing. Which is to say, the opposite of print, TV and radio ads, direct mail, telemarketing and any other way companies push a message in front of consumers.

All this is becoming less effective because we tune it out, either psychologically, or for real — via DVR, satellite radio, spam filters and do-not-call lists.

Meanwhile, we’re ever more inclined to shop, and do research on what we want to buy, through search engines, and by reading information and recommendations posted on social media sites.

Enter inbound marketing, where you create ways for people find your message when they’re amenable to receiving it.

How do I find thee? Let me count the ways.

It’s things like RSS feeds, opt-in email newsletters, blogs that are not simply about your product or service but are more broadly informative about the industry in which you operate, search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click advertising and having a presence on social media outlets.

All of which is addressed in Inbound Marketing, a guide for success with this 21st century marketing method.

Smart strategic advice

The book presents step-by-step plans plus strategies and tactics.  It explains the fundamentals; RSS, blogs, SEO, Twitter, etc. — to include how to track your progress. Halligan and Shah are data guys — hey, they’re MIT grads — sticklers for measuring results.

Smart advice supplements copious how-to material. For instance, a “Getting Found on Google” chapter notes the importance keywords play in search engine optimization while cautioning that choosing only the most popular relevant terms is not necessarily the way to go — because the most popular keywords are also the most competitive, making it harder to achieve high rank.

For sites just starting out the authors advise choosing keywords with low competition: “Then, as you build authority for your web pages, and start ranking for these keywords, you can move up to higher volume keywords that have more competition.”

If you’re hedging between several keywords, the suggestion is to “consider launching a small PPC (pay-per-click) advertising campaign to determine what your best keywords might be.”

A practical primer

Advice on how to drive traffic to a website is all well and good, however, Halligan and Shah realize the ultimate goal of all that effort is to drum up business. Once you figure how to get found, Inbound Marketing provides tips for turning interest into sales, with landing pages and calls to action.

Each chapter concludes with a case study plus handy to-do list for implementing an action plan.

Concise and straightforward, there’s no fancy theories or eloquent prose. This is a practical primer. Read it and learn how to be found on the inbound.

– Deni Kasrel

What are  your thoughts on Inbound Marketing? Do you think Halligan and Shah are onto something?

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Real-Time And The Search For Relevance

Posted on December 10, 2009. Filed under: Commentary, Search Engine Optimization | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

If you’ve used Google this week, you may have noticed a “Latest results” section where content is delivered in a dynamic stream. These are real-time updates pulled from various sources, including social media and news sites.

There’s a scroll bar — you can move it up or down to see more items, and if you click the “Latest results” header link, or click “Latest” in the left-hand search options menu, you’ll get a full page of up-to-the-minute results.

The new real-time feature is in response to growing public desire for instant up-to-the minute information; and by the popularity of Twitter, in particular. There’s even a joke going around that if you haven’t heard about something on Twitter, then it hasn’t happened yet.

Google is following the trend.

Millions of changes a day

Earlier this week Google’s blog featured a post titled Relevance meets the real-time web, which explains the how and why of its entry into real-time search.

The company touts its accomplishment, which we are told, is:

“based on more than a dozen new search technologies that enable us to monitor more than a billion documents and process hundreds of millions of real-time changes each day.”

Sounds like a heck of a lot processing, but then, Google’s business is based on crunching billions of bits of information on a regular basis — as of June of this year its engine was estimated to receive 304 million searches per day.

Of course, the results returned for those searches were based on a lag-time between when a piece of information first hits the web and when it gets indexed.  If you searched for a specific term on one day, and then a week later, the results were often similar.

As of December 7, with real-time search, Google tells us:

“Now, immediately after conducting a search, you can see live updates from people on popular sites like Twitter and FriendFeed, as well as headlines from news and blog posts published just seconds before. When they are relevant, we’ll rank these latest results to show the freshest information right on the search results page.”

What defines relevancy?

The algorithm for Google’s search engine is tip-top secret (sort of), not to mention constantly changing. However, it is commonly understood that if others think you are worthy — say by linking to your website, or your link in search results gets lots of clicks/traffic — this can help raise your rank in the search engine results page. And yes, there’s more to it and that I am way over-simplifying, still, the gist is that indicators of quality and/or popularity matter.

With real-time flow of information it’s challenging to ascertain what’s deemed good quality. Sure you’ve got retweets, tags, bookmarks and social news sites that can infer a degree of popularity (which is not the same as quality, to be sure). There’s also authority of domain to go by. Regardless, the concept of relevance is harder to pin down when messages are pumping out at a furious pace.

For  instance,  a search for “obama” on the day President Barack Obama personally received the Nobel Peace Prize, you get real-time results like this:

Whatever the result, it moves by fast. If one item offends, or is of little interest, count to three and something new comes into view.

It’s an intriguing way to measure the popular zeitgeist.

And if nothing else, Google’s real-time search results prove that what’s news can merely mean what’s new, and what’s relevant is all relative.

– Deni Kasrel

What are your thoughts on real-time search? Does it really improve the search experience? Comments welcome.

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An Easy Trick For Increasing How Often You Post To Your Blog

Posted on November 3, 2009. Filed under: Blogs/Blogging | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

calendar (image by Big Stock Photo)Did you know this November is Better Blog Month?

Yes, it was decreed so by Cathy Larkin, a public relations/social media consultant, who has designed a month-long program for improving the content of your blog.

A well thought-out program

Larkin says one of the reasons she devised this scheme is because she wants to improve her own blog. She reckoned, why not have others join in the process? Which is, by the way, nicely thought-out.

Larkin posted invites to her program via LinkedIn and Twitter. I saw her tweet and enlisted in this blog boot-camp.

Each week of Better Blog Month has a different theme, with corresponding exercises to complete. The process begins with self-examination: You ask yourself why you’re blogging in the first place and then take a hard look as to whether your blog does indeed meet all of those goals. If not, then make a note of where the holes are and think about how you can plug them.

Write shorter, post more

An end-goal of the project is for participants to post more frequently.

Posting more frequently can help your search engine optimization (SEO), because search engines seek out new content, and a fresh flow of stories means visitors come to your site more often, which also affects your search rank.

One easy way of posting more often, so Larkin tells me, and especially if you are pressed for time, is to write shorter posts.

One trick to writing shorter posts is to dash off an intro and link to an article that you like and think will be of interest to your readers.

Apparently it’s cool to link to articles that you’ve written for other web sites.

Let’s give it a whirl: I wrote a more detailed post with notes and early impressions of Better Blog Month for The Bloggers Bulletin.

It’s got more tips on how to improve blog content. Here’s the link to the story titled One Month To A Better Blog.

– Deni Kasrel

What are some of your tricks for increasing the frequency of posting to a blog? Care to share? Comments welcome.

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Three Fast Growing Trends You Need To Pay Attention To

Posted on September 2, 2009. Filed under: Search Engine Optimization, Social Media, Trends | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Future Street Sign - image by bigstock photoI enjoy listening to people postulate what will be the next big thing. These conversations make me feel like I’m in that scene from The Graduate where Mr. McGuire tells Benjamin Braddock he has just one word to say to him: “plastics.”

So what’s the word of today that’s got a great future?

Social media comes to mind (yeah, I know, that’s two words). But it’s really one of many trends that have broad implications for business and communications.

Here are three more to pay attention to:

Real-time web

This is so new there’s no agreement on a proper definition. It concerns the creation, search and conveyance of information in real time to enable instant interaction. Twitter is an example of the real-time web; which similar to instant messaging transmits back and forth almost asynchronously, only with Twitter the stream is made public.

Real-time web impacts the search industry. All major search engines employ indexing and there’s some lag time till information gets recorded and ranked. Meanwhile, Twitter offers real-time search. Analytics firms are venturing into the real-time realm to deliver instantaneous monitoring and metrics.

Crowdsourcing

A type of distributed collaboration that calls upon the collective wisdom of crowds. A company takes something that’s normally performed in-house, or by a third-party provider, and instead asks the public to do it.

Problems are announced in the form of an open call. Participants often create online communities, or crowds, to work on potential solutions. What’s interesting  is that those who successfully offer input need not be experts — they just need an idea that works. Non-technical individuals can solve computer engineering problems and an absolute amateur may have the best concept for your next product innovation.

Crowdsourcing can be cost efficient: Fees may or may not be paid for services rendered — prizes and recognition could be the only compensation — and even if they are, they’re usually well below the expense required to do the same thing in-house. Businesses also benefit by receiving ideas from many sources rather than from just within the organization. Jeff Howe is credited with coining the term for a 2006 article in Wired.

Latent semantic indexing

I wrote a post about latent semantic indexing in early August. The techy terminology relates to how search engines index and subsequently rank web pages.

LSI is important to understand for search engine optimization purposes.

Keywords are currently king with SEO, but they may need to share the throne with LSI, which is a way of scanning a page that takes into account both keywords and related terms.  For example, a web page about lighting fixtures might also logically include the words lamp, chandelier, dimmer, fluorescent and bulb.

The idea is for the search engine to take a holistic view of content and analyze it in a way that reflects real human thought rather than simply zero in how many times a particular keyword appears. One aim of LSI is to reduce faulty results that occur when searches are conducted for words with multiple meanings.

While search engine companies keep their special sauce (algorithms) close to the vest, word is that Microsoft’s Bing heavily relies on LSI.

For those who create web content, the takeaway here is that besides prominently featuring pertinent keywords, a web page must also include alternative and related terminology. Beyond creative writing skills a thesaurus comes in handy here.

– Deni Kasrel

What do YOU think of these fast growing trends that we need to pay attention to? What’s missing? Comments welcome.

Related posts:

Improve SEO Content Strategy By Thinking Beyond Keywords

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