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August 31, 2006

Engaging Your Customers Results in Great Word of Mouth Marketing

By Li Evans

I came across a great example of Word of Mouth (WOM) marketing yesterday, one that made me pause and think about how internet retailers could replicate the same type of great customer relations with their customers and even visitors to their sites. Jackie Huba at Church of the Customer Blog, wrote about her great experience last year with J.Crew and again, this year with a surprise “touch back” from the same sales representative “Natalie”. 

Internet retailers are at a disadvantage when it comes to this kind of personal touch. Compared to the brick and motor stores that offer that personal one on one experience where sales representatives can make or break the customer’s experience, an internet retailer is a faceless, almost impersonal shopping experience. There are advantages and disadvantages to this, I’m sure that each can be debated, but the point I’m trying to make is that it’s the personal and genuine “reach” to the customer is what can keep them coming back as a customer. 

So what’s an online retailer to do to make that kind of connection and create that customer evanglist? When you don’t know Customer #55789 from Customer #98765, how do you reach out and know exactly what it is that made them purchase your products or come to your site? Unless you actively engage the customer or visitor, you don’t. That’s where so many internet retailers go wrong. 

By allowing the customer or visitor to engage with the internet retailer, you are creating a relationship that can blossom into a repeat buyer and great word of mouth marketing. Having someone or a team dedicated to monitoring this type of engagement is also vital in creating relationships like J.Crew has within their retail stores. It’s all part of monitoring your “buzz” and capitalizing on it. 

There are many ways of engaging the customer online with your store. Feedback forms provide a great way to establish a one on one connection with a customer. Given the opportunity, a unsatisfied customer can be turned into one of your greatest evangelists if you respond to their feedback email by recognizing their issue and responding in positive manner. If your site provides customer reviews on products, your team should be monitoring who are your most active contributors in the product reviews. By just reaching out acknowledging their customer loyalty, you can create a great relationship without meeting them face to face. 

The costs of acquiring new customers are always greater than retaining current customers. Online retailers are at an advantage over the clerk in a retail store, you have a customer’s purchase history at your fingertips. Most retail clerks have to rely on their memory. At 16 or 18 those clerks are trying to remember football plays, friends phone numbers and the reason why Albert Einstein was so important to our history.

The lesson from J. Crew for internet retailers - I you aren’t engaging your visitors and customers in unique and personal ways, you are missing out on a great way to gear up your Word of Mouth Marketing.

Google Book Search - Download the Classics for Free

By Li Evans

Google announced on its official blog that it's now allowing visitors to download copies of the "Classics" and other out-of-copyright books for free.  You'll need a PDF reader to actually read the books.

Makes me wonder how this will cut into the profits of all those college book stores who make a killing on selling those books each semester - both as new or used books!

August 29, 2006

The Day The Search Industry Shook

By Li Evans

Change, like death and taxes is inevitable. As humans, we tend to love our comfortable spots and fight to resist change, a fruitless effort, but still we try, until we embrace the fact the life’s changes can be sweet rewards if we allow them to be. 

So waking up this morning, I go through my usual (comfortable) routine – put on my glasses, slip on my sandals, take my greyhound “King” Reilley for a walk, then settle in on my laptop and get all the news from overnight – all before 6:30 a.m. EST. This morning was no different, and one where I’m very thankful I am not a coffee drinker, had I been, I think my laptop would have been fried. I went through my Google Desktop RSS Feed listing and came across "Stepping Down From Search Engine Watch", that’s when I swear I felt the very ground of the Search Industry shake, change is inevitable I was reminded again. 

I rubbed my eyes, just to make sure my eyes nor my glasses were failing me, but they weren’t – Danny Sullivan was leaving the two stalwarts of the search industry – two things he was the very founder of, the two things which had become synonymous with his very name.  I then had a flashback to SES San Jose 2005, when it was announced that Incisive had bought SES and SEW from Jupiter. I fleetingly wondered how it would affect Danny, but hearing that it was Incisive’s top priority to keep him around, I somehow felt “comforted”. 

Change – its all around, the very basis of our industry (Search) is fundamentally built upon it. The internet is constantly changing, at one point experts claimed and “internet year” was 3 months – talk about change in the fast lane! But here we all are as Search Professionals – white hat, grey hat and black hat alike, stunned by this sudden change, this shift in the “tectonic plates” of our own little world. 

There is no doubt that Danny Sullivan is likely the most respected individual in the Search Industry. His personality is one that is very accepting and that endears him onto the masses of all us who make our living and look to him as a guide. Plain and simple - Danny Sullivan “IS” Search. 

So it isn’t a wonder how this has reverberated around the “Search-o-Sphere”, from small bloggers (like us here at SMG) to search engine bloggers like Matt Cutts to the respected well known bloggers like Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Roundtable – everyone’s got an opinion, and everyone’s “feeling” it. That definitely says a lot about Danny, doesn’t it? 

It leaves me to wonder about the survival of Search Engine Strategies after Chicago SES in December. Search Engine Watch isn’t as closely associated with Danny as its face – Black Knight (Ammon) over at Cre8asite Forums, definitely defined that point – over the years, it’s been less “Danny-dependent”. However, it is different with SES; Danny is “The Face” of SES.  

Attendees, speakers and press alike, all feel a loyalty to Danny, he’s like our “father”. I really am not wondering or worried about what is going to happen to Danny. He’s going to do wondrous things wherever he goes or attempts, and he’s still going to be “guiding” us.  

What I am wondering and somewhat “worried about” is the Search Engine Strategies conferences when he leaves. Incisive has some big shoes to fill, and some very high expectations to fulfill. If Incisive doesn’t keep with the same structure of the conference that Danny set up, and allows corporate mouth pieces to use it as a platform for selling like other conferences do, it’ll ring the death bell for the conference.  

Regardless of it all, Change is good isn’t it? :)

Congrats Danny!!

I wanted to add a link to Joe Morin's blog - since he doesn't post that often is close friends with Danny, he's got a great perspective.  Read -Joseph Morin - Travels: Danny Sullivan's Departure from SES/SEW

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Danny Sullivan Leaving Search Engine Watch & Search Engine Strategies

By Li Evans

Updated:  I've put together a post after reading and reading and reading a little more today about Danny's Announcement.  Check out "The Day the Search Industry Shook"

I woke up this morning to a listing on my RSS Feed in Google Desktop that said "Stepping Down From Search Engine Watch".  O.K. that definitely got my curiousity piqued.... I had to pick my jaw up off the floor when I actually read the article. It's Danny who's leaving.

More on this when I get more awake, this still needs some time to be truly comprehended.

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August 28, 2006

It’s True - Google Can Tell What is Navigation on a Website

By Li Evans

There is always some kind of “rumor” or “unverified facts” that float around the Search Engine Optimization industry about what the search engine use or don’t use in the algorithms. There’s not many times when we SEO Professionals actually get confirmation of whether the “rumor” is true or false. For a long time it was widely speculated that certain sites were banned from Google, but, it wasn’t until Matt Cutts actually verified it on his blog that we as an industry got that “rumor” verified. 

So now another rumor has been verified, by two Google patent filings. For years it’s been speculated around the SEO industry whether or not Google could tell the difference between what is navigation on a website or webpage, and what is content. There have been articles written, discussions in forums and so forth, but really no “genuine” true confirmation from any of the search engines. 

Well the SEO industry just got not one, but two pieces of confirmation on the fact that Google can identify what is navigation in a website with its two newest patent filings.

Basically, for the focuses of the article – in layman’s terms, Google’s patents’ show that they can identify what exactly is navigation on a web site. Now, that we as SEO Professionals have the verification, the question now becomes, “How does Google apply this patent?” 

That question is probably the one with a million dollar answer for someone to come up with. We all know the search engines won’t give us that information, so its’ left for more rumors and more speculation about how much weight Google puts on navigational links and the text that anchors them. 

For a full “layman’s” look at the Google patent filings, Bill Slawski (SEO By The Sea) has written up a comprehensive post on Search Engine Watch. He also puts into “readable” English other patents from IBM, Microsoft and Napster in his 8/27/2006 article. In addition he gives the same type of translation to more patents from Microsoft, Ask and Yahoo that came up on 8/28/2006.

Yahoo! Yanks Blog Search

By Li Evans

(First posted 8/27 2:05 a.m. EDT) - Steve Rubel over at Mico Persuasion is reporting that Yahoo! has ended its blog search, however larger blogs like the Huffington Post are still showing up in the News index (smaller blogs aren't).  He is speculating that this is pretty much a temporary thing as Yahoo! is probably going to roll out  "an integrated feed reader/search engine the way Ask.com/Bloglines did in June."

Steve's very on top of things in the blog world, I've found it a rare occasion when he wasn't right on target with what is going on with the Blogosphere.  Kudos to Steve for this find!

updated(8/28):  This "story" started hitting bigger bloggs like Matt Cutt's and Threadwatch last night, Kudo's to Steve again for breaking it before everyone else on Saturday night!

Lee Oden commented on Matt's blog that:
Greg Jarboe says he called into Yahoo News and received this response:
“Brian Nelson, a Yahoo spokesperson, called me back to say the Blogs beta had been 'temporarily taken offline to retool the offering.'”

Barry Schwartz over at Search Engine Roundtable is linking to Jeremy Zawodny's blog listing of most recent links - pointing out how it links to Steve Rubel's blog and quotes it.   -- Interesting!

update2 (8/28):  Jeremy Zawodny commented on Om Malik's GigaOm Blog -verify that they have in fact killed it.  "I suggested we blog about it, but sadly it didn't happen," commented Zawodny.
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August 26, 2006

Google Sitemaps / Google Webmaster Central Adds A Blog

By Li Evans

If you haven’t heard by now, Google has officially changed over Google Sitemaps to be Google Webmaster Central. The changed name now reflects the fact that this tool has grown to expand beyond just giving Google your sitemap file for their spiders to crawl. According to Google’s Vanessa Fox, “we've added and improved lots of geeky goodies to help give you more info and control. 

Along with adding extra features to Webmaster Central, including a way to report spam, the Webmaster Central team has also added a few more ways to communicate with website owners about Google’s latest additions, issues, experiences or questions that they’ve been receiving.

Google’s Webmaster Central is a free tool, and an invaluable one, as Google is the only major search engine providing such a resource to Webmasters / SEO Professionals. Another nice thing about the tool, is that if you have the site configured right for Google, and using the Webmaster Central, it’s a good bet that your site is crawlable by the other major search engines.

August 24, 2006

Webmaster Radio - A Must Have for Any SEO Professional

By Li Evans

Prior to going to SES this year, I'd heard about WebMasterRadio.fm.  I'd listen to it from time to time from my computer at my former employer, in fact I listened to the keynote speech from it - since I wasn't "allowed" to go to SES-New York back  in March.  But I really didn't find a true appreciation for Daron and Brandy's station until after SES-San Jose this year.

I actually got to sit and listen with Daron Babon, Mikkel and even Danny Sullivan the night of the BoDog party, and that's when I really got enlightened.  O.K., perhaps, at times, I'm a bit slow - but WOW!  What WebMasterRadio.fm has put together is really an amazing tool.  Seriously -- where else can you listen to tips, advice, forecasts & predictions, retrospectives and good stories about the Search Marketing industry - all for FREE?

I just might amend my post on the Collection of Free SEO Tools to include WebMasterRadio.fm.

I've fast become a fan of SEO Rock Stars (Todd "Oilman" Friesen and Greg "WebGuerrilla" Boser host) and StrikePoint (David Naylor and Mikkel deMibb Svendson host).  I've actually gone back and downloaded previous shows to my iPod to listen too.  I'm now one of those people listening to the podcasts while driving in Philly traffic.

The in-site these SEO Professionals provide is invaluable.  Danny Sullivan's daily search casts are always right on top of all the search industry issues and his outlook on what's happening is what makes him the industry's "SuperStar". 

If you aren't listening to WebMasterRadio.fm, you should be.  There are a lot of great shows on there that you can subscribe to through iTunes or other services - for FREE.  Yes, there's ads, but Daron and Brandy have even managed to make those even fun to listen too.  Go-> Download-> Listen-> Today!

Search Marketing for B2B

By Li Evans

I came across a great article this evening on Search Engine Watch by Greg Jarboe, who is president of SEO-PR.  Greg's probably one of my most favorite speakers at SES, he's always got very relevant information to relate to his audience, and he actually makes it fun and intersting to listen to.

Greg's got a really nice recap of the B2B case studies session that happened on the last day of the conference - unfortunately I had to miss it - the whole "new restrictions" on the airlines made me head to the airport a lot earlier than I wanted too, so I was thankful to see Greg's take on the session.

August 23, 2006

SEO, Small Businesses and Niche Markets

By Li Evans

In this huge space of the internet, where’s a small business suppose to compete? I’ve heard that question many times over the past year. I’ve seen small business owners shrug it off and not do a thing, or throw up their arms in defeat at the thought of competing with the “Amazons”, “Walmarts” and “Ebays” of the internet. 

As more companies start pulling back on Pay Per Click (PPC) campaigns and Paid Search Marketing Strategies and look to natural search optimization to reign in skyrocketing costs, it becomes more important for the small business to make sure their website is optimized for their “Niche Market”. By starting now, smaller companies can gain the “head start” on the big guys who will definitely rule the “generic” markets where traffic is the name of the game. 

What most owners of small businesses don’t realize is that have an unlikely advantage over the huge internet retailers. The advantage is that they have a lot more direct control over their content on their websites, and in search engine optimization, that’s probably one of the most important things to have. This means, it’s not going to take an act of God nor do you have to fight with 3 different divisions to have a product description changed, an “H1” tag added, a title tag tweaked or a meta description that’s enticing to click on added to the site. 

The other advantage small business owners have in their natural search optimization efforts is that they have a more intimate knowledge of their specific “niches”. Mass retailers online are doing just that – selling in MASS. Small business owners can take advantage of special lingo, misspellings and jargon that a copy writer for a CMS system at some mass online retailer more than likely is not going to know.

Lastly, the small company that is specializing in purple polka dotted and pink striped widgets can be a lot more personal and reach out to others in the “widget industry” looking for those all important links pointing to their site. That one on one interaction with people goes a long way than the impersonal treatment that people can receive from the online mass merchants. 

The niche marketplaces hold unlimited potential for small businesses. Most mass merchants really over look these small, well defined areas. Giant online retailers are so “mass” in size on the interior that they are merely relying on their content management systems for relevant content and not adding the true optimization to a product page that it may need. This leads them to rely on “rankings by consequence” in the search engines – not have that human touch of appealing to the niche market customers that a small business can do so well.

So if you are a small business owner, don’t throw in the towel when you hear the big online retailer is now selling some similar products. Embrace it and get to work at owning that niche, take advantage of the advertising the mass merchant does on the products, and be the top organically for your niche market!

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