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May 11, 2009

How to Get Over the Ouch Syndrome in Blogging

By Li Evans

Detractors Let's face it, no one likes to hear "bad" things about themselves.  It's never more true when you have a corporate PR or Marketing department who's only job is to "spin".  But negative thoughts, comments and situations are a given whenever a company enters into the public spectrum.  There is always a detractor somewhere.  This is why companies who are entering into the social media space really need to be prepared to accept the love as well as the "non-love" with their brand, products or services.

So with a little inspiration from the group on Sunday night's #blogchat group and from Debra Mastaler (who I've personally called the Link Goddess) I present some ways for companies to get over the "ouch" of starting a blog.

  1. Grow a Thick Skin
    Everyone has a detractor.  That old saying that you need a "thick skin" or just let it roll off like "duck off a waters back" is very true when it comes to blogging.  Blogging naturally attracts emotions of all kinds.  People love you, people hate you, you as the company or blog owner need to have a thick skin to be able to accept both the negative and positive comments the posts on your blog will attract.  The biggest thing is don't freak out!  The next biggest thing is don't go into the standard "defense" mode.  Think things through before you actually respond to a negative comment.
  2. Don't Engage (or Feed) the Trolls
    Don't feed the trolls anymore goats than you need too. It's a bit tough to pick out the constant complainer & avid troll, from that customer who loves you but just has this one complaint or two.  Understanding the difference is key.  It means the difference from having a constant enemy to having the most evangelical fan out their for your brand, product or service.
  3. Allow Comments on Your Blog
    Don't be a one way communication device.  The days of just jamming a marketing message down your audience's throat is gone.  Even though it is technically your soapbox, blogging requires at least two way communication.  Even more it requires community participation to become authentic and authoritative, that's why comments are vitally important to a successful blog.
  4. Post a Comment & Trackback Policy Prominently on Your Blog
    To make things clear, and fair, companies should post (very visibly) policies about what types of comments and trackbacks they will recieve and publicly post.  This protects both the audience and the comment poster (not to mention the blog itself).  Having a policy that points out you will not accept comments that are vulgar, defamatory on a personal nature or racist in any way avoids companies from having to post such negative garbage and having to defend themselves against it.  Post a link to your comments & trackback policies prominently on your blog to avoid this type of nonsense.
  5. Don't Moderate for Negative Comments
    As much as anyone hates negative comments about themselves, you have to let them through, you can't moderate them out, not if you want to be taken seriously.  Even if the person thinks you are the worst brand to walk the planet earth, you have to have that think skin (referr to bulletin item #1) and just let that negative roll right off your back.  Look deeper into the comment and try to understand why the commenter is upset.  A lot of times negative commenters are really people who like you but are just really upset because you disappointed them in some way, shape or form.  By taking the time to figure that out and addressing it, you have the opportunity to turn that negativer commenter into your biggest evangelist!
  6. Admit When You Are Wrong
    If you were wrong, or your company did wrong, don't avoid it - just admit it and get it over with.  By admitting that you did wrong on your blog - whether its through blog comments or through a blog post itself, just admit you were wrong.  By admitting you were wrong, you'll gain a lot more respect from your audience, as well as loyalty.  We're all human, we all make mistakes, but when you can admit to those mistakes in a public forum, something that sticks around for a while, it creates a whole new dimension to your "trust factor" as will s strengthening your relationship with your audience.

I'm sure there's other tips out there for dealing with the "ouch" syndrome, do you have something that worked for you?  Would love to hear about it!

Follow Li Evans on Twitter

April 22, 2009

A Pizza Hut PR Stunt Or a Social Media Blunder Waiting to Happen?

By Li Evans

Yummy-pizza To kick off the work week Twitter was all abuzz with news that Pizza Hut wanted to hire a summer intern to man their Twitter account. The story even made the New York Times. I really don't know what made me roll my eyes more, that the NY Times gave this obvious PR Stunt credibility or that the Vice President for marketing communications at Pizza Hut (Bob Kraut), actually stated "The successful applicant will speak fluent OMG and LOL and correctly use the terms DM (direct message), RT (retweet) and # (hashtag)." to make himself sound cool and hip.

For the record, if you tweeted DM it wouldn't work on Twitter, it's "D" for direct message, let alone they left out knowing how to reply to twitterers with the "@" symbol.

Tom Martin, who writes at Positive Disruption asked if this "Twiternship" was Ethical, its a very interesting look at the situation and a very thought provoking piece if you into marketing, PR and social media.  It kept me coming back to even more questions, beyond asking if this was just a PR Stunt to draw people away from the Domino's video fiasco.

You Seriously Want an Intern Handling Your International Brand on an International Stage?

Pizza Hut is not just a national brand, but an international one.  Twitter isn't just a U.S. based tool, its a world wide tool.  Now, stop and think.  Would any company be crazy enough to let an intern who doesn't know the inner workings of their global brand (carefully crafted messaging they've spent millions on) plan, prepare, run and speak at an international press event that launches your brand on an international stage?

Continue reading "A Pizza Hut PR Stunt Or a Social Media Blunder Waiting to Happen?" »

April 17, 2009

Why You Need a Social Media Champion

By Li Evans

Social-media-champion Lets face it, Social Media can be pretty tough sell to the senior management or to clients who have just gotten their arms around the whole "SEO and PPC thing".  Trying to force them into putting social media into a marketing plan can be a pretty tough sell if you are just looking at it from a dollars and cents perspective, or even a links & search engine results perspective.  The toughest thing with social media is that its rough on seeing the immediate return - except when it's 'bad'.

I use the term "bad" loosely as it could be PR-wise, bad because something went viral and the traffic took down your server to you couldn't sell anything, or bad because it just doesn't seem to be working.  There can be a thousand other references to "bad" and when things seem to go down hill with online marketing efforts in social media, "bad" is usually how it ends up being described.

This is why agencies or companies need a person or a department that is their social media champion.  Social media is a vital part of marketing as a whole, not just online or offline.  It's not something that can be attempted lightly, without resources being attributed to it, otherwise it will end up "bad".

These are just a few of the reasons that if you don't have a social media champion on your team you should consider getting one:

Dedicated to Creating a Presence & Conversation in the Social Media Circles Your Audience Is In:

This person can become your voice and constant presence in the social media sites where your audience is holding conversations about you, your products, your brands or even just your industry.  This person (or even a team) can become a trusted resource for your audience to come to whether they are seeking out advice on how to use something, letting you know about a problem or giving you advice on how to improve your products. 

If your social media champion isn't out there participating, how will you know what's really being said about your company.  How will you know if your target audience is really being reached and the messaging you so carefully crafted is getting through.  Without those eyes and ears who are trained not only to understand your company in and out, but to listen to your customers and understand what they are saying, you'll totally be in the dark.

Understanding Your Audience & Objectives to Measure:

Measuring-tape Who better than someone dedicated to being your voice, who understands how the social media site work can help you navigate and put in place reasonable, understandable measurements so that you know if things really are "bad", than a Social Media champion. This person, or team, will understand better than your Public Relations, IT or even your search marketing team, what can reasonably be measured.

By understanding the in's and out's of the social media sites, and by understanding exactly how your audience is communicating, the Social Media champion can get a much better handle on those conversations that are taking place. They can also understand what those measurements you set in place, mean, in relation to what's going on in those particular social circles. It's one thing to have numbers, its another to have realistic data.... and then it's whole other ball game to but context and understanding behind those numbers. That's what a social media champion can do.

Help Set Social Media Policies:

This is another "Lets face it" situation here, HR is not going to really understand the damage a Facebook update can do, so allowing them to alone make the policies in this area isn't a smart move. Sometimes neither can a CEO or a CMO, understand the true impact of just 1 "tweet" can be. This is where a social media champion can really help you out beyond the marketing focus.

By understanding the impact a tweet, update or post in a forum has upon an audience about your company's perception, it can behoove companies to have the Social Media champion squarely involved in helping to develop social media policies for employees who are not directly involved in the companies social media efforts. This can help cover things that employees should be aware of, like their own personal blogs, twitter accounts or even Facebook & MySpace profiles.

Promotes Social Media Throughout the Company - Everyone Has A Stake:

Lastly, but not finally (there's always more to come with social media!), your social media champion can promote social media throughout your company. You may be wondering why you want someone to do this, who cares if the janitor has a Facebook page, right? Well you should!

Most likely that janitor has put down that he works for your company. He's got photos out there, updates, applications and everything else that a person who isn't technical, puts on their profile. That janitor has friends, and his friends know he works for you. He can have an impact on how your company is perceived in the social media sphere he participates in. A social media champion who realizes everyone in your company has a stake in social media, can relate to each employee what their individual stake is. Most employees want to do their part and help their employer, the social media champion can help make that happen

So have you thought about this some more? Still on the fence about dedicating resources directly to social media?  Stop and think about how hard it's been trying to pull a social media marketing effort together currently with all different departments pulling at you.  That should be enough to let you know its time to assign one person (or team) to be solely at the helm of the efforts to make them a success!

March 27, 2009

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark: Black Hat PPC Tactics in SES NY

By Brian Cosgrove

The "Black Hat" PPC session contained quite a bit of overlap in content. There was a certain risk/reward scenario that followed and for the most part, the panelists agree that it's a good idea to push the boundaries far enough to get push-back, but not so far that you banned. At SMG, we suggest that you use your own best judgment on whether to use these tactics, but also that you keep your eyes open to see whether they are being used against you.

The panelists for this session include:

Moderator
  • Richard Zwicky: Founder & CEO, Enquisite
Speakers
  • Jamie Smith: CEO, Engine Ready
  • Kevin Lee: Co-Founder & Executive Chairman, Didit
  • David Szetela: CEO, Clix Marketing
  • Bill Leake: President and CEO, Apogee Search

Among the topics was shelf space. This means getting multiple listings on the same page by the same company. They mentioned that this can occur by working with channel providers, or creating resource portals with a few competitors. In cases where there is a decidedly different user experience; many folks may get away with the multiple listings. Nonetheless, the foot print that would tie the accounts together must be minimized. Also, there may be several situations where a user will click on multiple of your listings on the same results page driving the cost per acquisition (CPA) up. In this respect, it's better to separate the listings (1 and 4 instead of 2 and 3). Note that CPA could go over the top if users regularly click multiple listings; but the vast majority or users click on or under two for any SERP. One panelist mentioned that it may have a negative impact on your brand if low-quality flanker sites or low quality affiliates are taking up the listings. As long as your trying to avoid complaints, you're on a far better path to keep those multiple shelf-space ads alive.

Another topic covered is hiding from competition. To do this, geo-targeting can be applied to exclude your competitor's town. Further, an IP address may be blocked from you campaign and this can be obtained by sending an email to the competitor and viewing its properties to get the IP address of where it went. If the competitor uses an agency, it must be excluded as well. If the geographic region of the competitor is too important of a market, geography-based exclusion should be reconsidered. Beware that affiliates will often use this tactic against you.  This concept is important with black hat PPC because it may reduce the number of complaints you'll receive from competition about black/gray-hat tactics and it hides the successful ads from their view as well. As a best practice the top three to five competitors should be considered. In the same notion as hiding from your competition, one panelist suggested hiding from Google as well (i.e., only violate rules when Mountain View, CA is sleeping.)

Trademarks were covered in length. On the topic, they mentioned that it takes a long time to get trademark usage approved with some companies. Dynamic keyword insertion in one tool that can help to facilitate getting trademarks in the ad copy when they are used in the search. Also mentioned was using hyphens or spaces creatively. For example, if the word "company" was a trademark, someone might use "comp-any" or "c o m p a n y" in their ad. In other cases, there are still companies who haven't or can't enforce a trademark and therefore could be easily targeted. One suggestion was to align ppc spend with the competitor's market spend to capitalize on large marketing campaign pushes that will increase the volume of related queries. Monitoring and syncing with their campaigns will let you harvest the clicks from the entire "ecosystem" of words that they stimulate. Note that re-targeting may also let you connect your ads with competitors' trademarks in an indirect manner.  Finally, use of broad match on mispellings(sic) of names, pieces of names, or pieces of domain spellings can further capitalize on searches intended for competitors. 

On the PR side of things, they suggested using Adwords for promoting negative press about competitors. For example, you could promote your own marketwatch.com article by making a better quality score and higher bid or you could publicize someone else's "statement of truth."

Some tactics were simply around testing boundaries. For example, one was about using special characters and symbols such as bullet points, arrows, etc... in your ads. While trademark and copyright symbols in an ad are a best practice, (and apparently improve click-through rates), they are not only characters that can work. Some such as the # sign will probably not work but by using the Adwords editor, you can test which others will. Similarly, use of superlatives, capitalized words, or CSS-layer styled pop-ups on landing pages are things that can be quickly corrected if you're caught but probably won't result in a ban.

Other areas for gray hat include some light "cloaking" where landing content is different based on geography, time of day, cookie acceptance, ISP, HTTP referrer, or landing page personalization characteristics. In the same way that the self space approach may let you get the right copy for the user, personalization can let you further resolve persona differences and keep your various ads connected with the content on the landing page. One example showed a landing page that simply reproduced the copy of the ad to indicate to visitors that they are on the right page.

Some general best practices were discussed that weren't "black hat" at all:
  1. Take time to strategically plan and organize campaigns.
  2. Examine the visitor behavior to try to figure out what better post-click experiences will improve the conversion rates of that particular ad or keyword.
  3. Use a valid data sample before making a decision (thousands of impressions and hundreds of clicks).
  4. Read organic listings and look for inspiration: those are probably proven performers.
  5. The concept of match type has evolved and exact isn't often as useful. A broad match with lots of negatives may work better for the same terms.
  6. When possible, try to figure out how that term fits into the conversion cycle before assessing its value.

In a bit more detail, they covered trying to measure assists. One panelist spoke of a study of 16,500 sales which showed that 70% included assists.  When a phone number is listed on a site, assists can be measured using unique numbers for keywords or groups. 800 numbers tend to be better than 877, 866 or 888 for the purpose of getting calls. Local area codes tend to be better for local businesses. Note: Free toll free numbers might be available in Google audio ads before they finally turn the entire program off.  Tenchu, Click Equations, Maestro, and Enquisite are some tools that let you measure assists. Some companies may be able to sort their analytics by IP addresses or cookies as well. A self developed cookie tracking system may keep tabs on prior keyword searches.

I wasn't sure what to expect from a "black hat" PPC session and I was surprised to find that among the list of questionable tactics were bits of wisdom and some warnings that anyone competing in the paid search space can use.

Pay-for-Performance: Winning Strategies for Advertisers and Agencies at SES NYC

By Brian Cosgrove

At the end of the first day at SES NYC came this interesting panel. Many ideas were shared about the importance of restructuring payment for search services and a few of the solutions offer considerations that should be made when considering these models. The panel featured the following speakers:

Moderator

  • Matt Van Wagner: President, Find Me Faster

Speakers

  • Richard Zwicky: Founder & CEO, Enquisite
  • Ron Belanger: SES Advisory Board, Vice President of Agency Development, Yahoo!
  • Tom Cuthbert: President & Founder, Click Forensics
  • Brian Klais: Executive Vice President, Netconcepts
  • Jonathan Scott: COO, Direct Traffic Media

Zwicky began the panel by illustrating the imbalance in compensation for paid and organic search. In his statistics, approximately 88 percent of spend goes to 12 percent of the search engine traffic (paid search) and 12 percent of spend goes to 88 percent of the traffic (organic). These numbers back up his notion that organic search is not getting the compensation it deserves. According to Zwicky, top SEO specialists can deliver top ROI so they deserve to be compensated for value delivered; and everyone should be focused on real value to the end client.

Next up is Belenger. Like Zwicky,this Yahoo! employee stresses minimizing the industry buzz-speak and getting down to business value. Unlike Zwicky, Belenger calls pay for performance problematic. It's true that for Belenger, search marketers need to minimize the sorcery by taking details of the tactics out of the price negotiations and instead get into value delivered. When it comes to pay for performance, however, there are a number of reasons that it may not be a good fit.

For example, the agency may not be able to influence all factors such as:

  • Conversion flow
  • Pricing competitiveness
  • Shipping and promotional offers
  • Brand "trust"
  • Customer service

As an alternative, percent of media spend presents its own issues:

  • It provides incentives agencies to spend more for paid search than they should.
  • In some cases, it disincentives economies of scale.
  • The first 90 days of of the engagement are bleeding red for agencies.
  • Search marketing is reduced to buying more keywords.

For Belenger, an FTE (Full-Time Equivalent) model with fair rates makes the most sense. The following were points on this subject:

  • Data is the new black: pay for it and agree on its value. Use it to derive strategy and insights.
  • Add incentives for cost savings: use technology deployment, outsourcing, and only provide in-house support where applicable.
  • Reach and stretch goals: create an upside for heroic work and a win/win business climate.

Next up, Cuthbert provided some interesting statistics. Online advertising is up 11% while print is down 19%. To explain this, he references phenomena such as CPA models, targeting, measurability, an roi focused culture, the collapse of traditional media, and enhanced tools.

Following Cuthbert is Klais. Klais works with software that is used to execute pay for performance search campaigns. Like Zwicky, he reiterates that there is an inverse relationship between spend and volume with paid and organic search. When thinking of pay per performance, there are a number of factors to consider such as the following:

  • Market opportunity
  • Click-through rate
  • Acquisition costs
  • Keyword coverage
  • Non-brand reach
  • Page placement
  • Page yield
  • Incremental traffic/revenue
  • ROAS

In general, the margin can increase based on value delivered which better aligns agency/marketer interests and should ensure positive ROI/ROAS. He did, however, express some performance model drawbacks for agencies:

  • Investment of resources ahead of revenue
  • Lack of control over execution and conversion
  • Difficulty in managing channel attribution
  • The possibility of succeeding out of a job
  • The program may contain baggage

For the customer, there are also drawbacks:

  • Costs can scale indefinitely
  • Bigger payouts tempt agencies to try risky tactics

When constructing a pay for performance arrangement, consider a revenue sharing model where you define fair commission structure. In this respect, consider rates for the percent of brand or nonbrand; or for incremental increases only. Consider affiliate levels for brand merchants and figure out how to handle channel attribution. Ultimately, try to make sure that SEO and paid search are given their fair split in credit.

Another model is cost per click. After defining a fair click cost, similar considerations should be made about branded vs. non-branded, comparing SEO cost to ppc acquisition cost, and multichannel attribution.

Scott came next and echoed the idea of performance related pay. He believes the industry should embrace performance contracts because the SEO gold rush is over, and clients are demanding accountability and governance in plans.

Scott proposes a base + performance model. That is, the performance element is the carrot, the motivator. He suggests setting up incentive targets based on true KPIs where you can approximately value them and trust them. Even still there are a number of considerations that should be accounted for when developing one of these plans.

The first consideration is seasonality. On a month to month basis, consider using Adwords trends to predict the possible changes in volume that occur. On a similar note, also consider other external factors such as the state of the market by doing a year over year comparison and utilize some basic forecasting. After that, relax and caveat a bit.

In some real life examples, Scott explained how there were bands where the % of bonus became larger and these bands were routinely adjusted to account for seasonality and market factors. It's about taking the time to reach an agreement that makes life easier and avoiding an overly complicated model. In this respect, the client should feel in control, there should be a warm-up period explained, and there should be get out clauses for both parties. It's about negotiating a sense of shared risk among both parties.

That wrapped up the session.  In summary, there are many factors out of the control of search marketers which make it difficult to come to a performance based agreement but, none-the-less, organic search marketers should be paid on the value that they deliver.

March 26, 2009

Help Your Small Business Customers Feel Smart: Search Engine Strategies, NY

By Kim (cre8pc)

There is good news for small or large businesses and start-ups who desire an on-line presence and felt that large search engine marketing conferences didn't care to help them.  As evidenced by the Small is Beautiful: Search for the Small Business track at Search Engine Strategies in New York city this year, it was smart of conference organizers to heed their needs.  Every session in this track overflowed in attendance.  And, when asked in this particular session, they indicated that each session in this track was followed along, session by session.  They were inspired and had every intention of catching every session targeted to the small business owner.  If you were there, and enjoyed this special attention, by all means let conference organizers know in your session feedback surveys.

The title for this Wednesday afternoon's session is "Turning Simple Change into Big Profit".  The thrust of this session is that paying attention to even the smallest details on your web pages makes a gigantic difference in site abandonment and low conversion rates. 

Andrew Goodman was a last minute replacement for a speaker who had to unexpectedly leave .

Moderator: Jennifer Evans Laycock, Site Logic Marketing and SearchEngineGuide

Speakers:
Matt Bailey, Site Logic Marketing
Kayden Kelly, Blast Advanced Media
Andrew Goodman, Page Zero

Matt Bailey led off the panel with illustrative screen shots of web design errors and bad practices.  If your web site design contains any of these problems, chances are good your site visitors are confused, frustrated and unable to complete tasks.  The bottom line is that you're unable to generate sales, meet customer expectations, rank well in search engines or create excitement and demand for your products or services.  As Matt says, "If you can't find it,it doesn't exist."

User Friendly Web Design

1. Remember to put your company address on your web site. If customers need it and can't find it, they are gone.

2. Calls to action should be big, bold and "everything should be built around the call to action".  It is confusing when there are several calls to action before the big action that you wish site visitors will take.

2. The color red and other vibrant colors can overshadow the call to action prompt.  If your headlines are in red, subheadings in red, navigation links in red, logo is mainly red, and your "buy now" button is a light purple pastel text link or small button, readers will scan right past it.  Set aside a clear area for main tasks. Organize primary tasks and sub-sets of tasks. 

3. Make sure your images match your content and theme.   Puzzlegirl

4. Avoid a FLASH splash page. If you have one, make sure your entry buttons are clearly labeled with logical tasks so that visitors know how to enter the site.

5. Customize Error 404 pages by directing users somewhere.  Write friendly error messages.  Invite them into the site.

6. Avoid "over information" before call to action and or complicated and scary terms, conditions for use and policies.  (Kim's note: Law firms and insurance companies are famous for this.)

7. Don't use generic navigation such "products", "services", "about us", "contact us", etc.  Users navigation by need.  Be specific in your navigation labels to create confidence in where they (Kim's note: You can insert keywords this way too.) Mulit-level web sites need a sound information architecture, requiring sub-navigation, breadcrumb navigation and other navigation assistance.  Never force users to click "Home" to go forward again from where they were.

8. Don't forget basic SEO on your sites. Make sure you content has your company name, products, services in the content. (Kim's Note: Matt shows an older Cottenell page that has no terms like "toilet paper" on the homepage, just pictures of puppies. I decided to check Cottonelle.com to see if they had improved and sure enough, it is not optimized, still emphasizes puppies - like their commercials, and the first hint of "toilet paper" is in very tiny font size text, in the text navigation, below the page fold.  While figuring out they sell toilet paper, You can Meet the Puppy, enjoy Puppy Playtime, make puppy wallpaper, color puppies, view the puppy ads and get a desktop puppy.)

9. Never make your homepage one FLASH image.  Do not create your website entirely in FLASH.

10. Allow user generated content because it helps to add content on your pages. 

11. Too many bold colors make it hard to see other important content.

12. Cross-sell in a catalog and up-sell in the shopping cart. Select the product first, and then get the fun gadgets that go with it.

12. If you call to action is out of the screen - flex width lose right hand side, don't put call to action there

13. Don't force pre-registration before ordering.

14. Never yell at users with red text, all caps and negative words.

15. Remember who you're targeting.  Only 11% of people use RSS.  Many do not know what it is.  Simply putting icons (Stumbleupon, Digg, Reddit, Sphinn, RSS, etc.) on the site and expecting people to take action will not work because most will have no idea what they are for.  Add text to clarify and be sure to offer a basic email subscription or contact option.

There are actually sometimes where certain odd situations may limit a small business and increasing conversions.  Sometimes a Google ads campaign presents a mysterious situation and its wise to investigate to see uncover the problem.  It can be a matter of removing clutter, which is a well known conversions-killer.  This includes security verification information placed inside the header, along with your logo, and leading task links.  One case study, where some serious digging around was necessary, resolved into a matter where credibility was a customer issue.  The company had been in business for over 50 years but online, only a few years. It was an acute reminder of brand awareness both on and off line.

Absolutely be sure that your SEO "gets it".  In other words, don't hire an SEO who is ready to mind-meld with your products or services.  (Kim's note: This goes for usability services too!)  They can't assist you presenting your USP unless they understand what it is.  Your SEO must be prepared to set up various campaigns and test results to see what works.  An objective SEO can optimize in ways that are not obvious to you because you're too up close to the project. Allow third party testing by giving them a task and watching.  Ask them what they like and dislike.  Get real world responses.  Invite user generated content because this can give you an idea on what to improve. 

Be aware of 3rd party services and content management systems (SMS) that aren't flexible and let you change content, or they force unnecessary content that interferes with SEO or usability.  People bounce around web pages and don't all enter via the homepage first.


Helpful Tools

Conversion rates translate into millions in revenue.  Make sure nothing is broken on your web site.  A good strategy is to get to know your audience and understand what their challenges are. Tools offer ways to identify bottlenecks on your site, track 404 errors, locate broken links, and help you to organize, track and log page activity. 

1. Set up the free Google Optimizer and keep testing your pages.  Look for what people are doing on your web site. This tools allows you to set up goals and create funnels.  Set up an internal site search so you can identify what users are looking for on your web site.  This helps you see what's missing. Look for top entry points, where "bleeding" occurs.  Create a shopping cart funnel, for example, and you will find top exit pages.  Sometimes the problem relates to product pricing.

2. Try Crazyegg for heat maps testing. While not free, it is inexpensive.  You can see where each click occurred, view destination and get a better understanding of where they're clicking. 

3. A free tool to help you understand why visitors do what they do on your web site is 4Qsurveys.  With this application you can study tasks.  Did they complete them? Use this to get feedback.

4. User testing can be cheap. Try the 5 second test   There are various tools like Morae and Silverback .  (Kim's note: There are a lot of new and free tools for listening and recording.)  User testing helps you become more objective about your web site and offers proof to stakeholders  that changes are necessary.

5. If you improve just 5 things on your homepage, category page, details page and your shopping cart, your conversions will automatically increase by 2.5%.





Small Businesses Succeed by Listening To Customers: NYC Search Engine Strategies

By Kim (cre8pc)

This is the first time there is a small business track at Search Engine Strategies. For 9AM the morning of the second full day of sessions, the room is packed. This points to a genuine need for marketing and web design conferences to include and expand topics for small and medium business needs, particularly in view of a global depressed economy and in America, additional government assistance for small businesses and start ups.

The main topic for this session is social media marketing and how small businesses can participate and use this medium for promotion of their companies.  Especially of importance, of course, for small business are concerns over money, but also how to get the most benefit out of every dollar they spend.  It's important to target specific customers.  One of the leading takeaways from this session is that is not wise to cast a wide net to see what you catch.  Rather, start small.  Go narrow.  Work up. The beauty of social media is its foundation on the conversation. 

Session: Small Voices, Big Impact: Social Media for the Little Guy
Moderator: Stoney deGeyter, of Pole Position Marketing

Panel:
Jennifer Laycock, SiteLogic and Searc Engine Guide
Amber Naslund, Radian6
Christina Kerley, ckEphiphany
Tim Kendall, Facebook


This session was a blend of two presentations, by Jennifer and Tim, who each brought brief power point slides, and an open mike question and answer between the remaining panelists and audience, led by Stoney.  Their goal was learn about the needs of their attendees and promptly address them.

Highlights:

1. Rather than calling it "social media marketing", it is really about social conversations.  Conversations are your chance to get your business involved.  This allows you to connect to your customers in a new way. 

2. Don't buy into the belief that social media is bleeding edge technology or this "new thing you have to learn".  In reality, social media has always been around, in the form of forums, for example.  (In the 1990's we had Usenet, AOL chat, listservs...) Social media marketing can happen ANYWHERE PEOPLE CONNECT WITH EACH OTHER.

3. When you get into a new social media site, there is a smaller community and you can reach more people.  This is nice for a specific niche. However, the drawback is that the audience smaller and you get less bang for your buck.  You may want to invest in whatever has taken hold and has proved to work.  In a recession, there is less money to spend, so rather than pushing out and promotion willy nilly, it is actually better to be looking for conversations. Smart companies go out and listen to discussions or online conversations to find out what's important to their target market.

Top places to look for affordable promotional opportunities are:


1. Flickr - Images are powerful.  This medium uses emotion to catch they eye.  A gorgeous picture with text evokes a better connection. The Flickr community will comment on each others pictures.  Users look for discussions on current topics.  For $25 a year you have unlimited photo and video uploads.  There is no search engine rank "juice", however, due to their nofollow links.  It's easy to use and you can access it and post from your camera phone and email client.  Adding links to photo descriptions is a nice way to lead people to conversations.  A good example is something like taking a picture of a recipe and linking the how-to.

2. Twitter - The immediacy of Twitter allows for instant feedback. It's like a giant wall with "post-it" notes, where there are little snippets of conversations.  You can narrow them down.  You can direct message people. For business, Twitter is a nice way to listen to your customers.  Are they talking about you? Are they tweeting about your company?  You can address them and their needs, which is great for customer service. Don't forget the power of a re-tweet. The "tweet" goes to who follows you in your network, then it is re-tweeted and shared with other networks.  Before you know it, you've reached a greater audience - into the thousands, very quickly. You can update by phone and its easy to get started.

3. YouTube - This site is second only to Google for places where people run searches.  It's great for getting your message out. When you upload videos, it offers options for optimization, tags, descriptions, titles and much more. Creative videos actually do take off and can be done inexpensively.

4. Linkedin - In addition to being than a place for business to business contacts, you can join in discussions by asking or answering questions.  Target discussions in your networks. Seek introductions to people.

With regard to social conversations (aka social media or social media marketing), the narrower the niche, such as a blog or article on a specific topic, the more exposure to your company or yourself.  Outbound links from blogs and articles tend to be less, and therefore less competitive with other sources that offer far more links, ads, and discussions.  Accordingly, you get more bang for your buck by making sure your brand is promoted in a less complicated space.  Social news web sites offer a wide array of topics, which means less attention on your ad, content or link. 

Consider the "value triangle" and use it wisely.  Content rises, which means you can utilize micro blogging, social news sites, search engine results, forums, social reviews (and user generated content), articles and blogs.  Use each of these, but aim for the top where you are more likely to be the main subject.


Facebook

Facebook is in the advertising business.  They offer advertising to large corporations and small businesses, including targeted demographic PPC and of course, the ads in the right side column.  98% of revenue for Facebook is ads driven.  Free tools are available by Facebook to aid small business.  Listening

I asked, on behalf of start-ups and very small, budget conscious businesses, about affordability. I also inquired about a "what's in this for me".  Essentially, first you have the free profile, which is a great start.  You can keep everyone informed simply by updating your status and providing daily news. Facebook "page" are considered to be the most popular landing pages. You can cap the amount you want to spend.  You can Geo Target, which allows local businesses to stay localized if they wish to.  Facebook gets a 1/2 million new users a day. "Every keyword is a person," to them, which is in interesting and obvious user oriented approach.

Consider, too, that with Facebook you can add videos, which everyone who is affiliated with you can watch. Build a target base by searching on your city and state to find people.  Build a presence, introduce yourself, and above all, use Facebook to LISTEN to what people are talking about.  What is the local conversation?  This can help you with marketing and also writing Geo targeted content, setting product pricing, etc.

User feedback is a sweet spot for Facebook.  You can "fan" conversations and items with "I like it" clicks. Friends pass items along to their friends.  Very quickly, your item can be seen by several networks. 

Other insights from this session:

1. Negative publicity can be a favor!  When your company has suffered from bad comments in something such as a blog or forum, turn it around by respectfully and considerately responding.  Turn the experience into a positive customer service response.  With social media, your customers are asking you to listen to them.  They want to be heard. What can you do to fix a problem?

2. Social media didn't create criticism.  It's just easier to hear it today.  Information comes from customers rather than paid sales persons and is considered more credible.

3. Check out Radian6.com for brand monitoring services

SEO: Where to Next? at SES NY

By Brian Cosgrove

On Day 1 of SES New York, the Where to Next panel was among the first in the track portion of the show. As you will read, the session was a conversation that migrated from topic to topic in fairly nonlinear path.

Speakers for this session were as follows:
Moderator:

  • Mike Grehan: SES Advisory Board, Global KDM Officer, Acronym Media

Speakers:

  • Marcus Tandler: CEO, Creativity in Action
  • Jill Whalen: CEO, High Rankings
  • Bill Hunt: CEO, Global Strategies Intl, Director, Global Search Strategy, Neo@Ogilvy
  • Duane Forrester: Senior Program Manager - SEO, Live Search, Microsoft
  • Chris Boggs: Director, SEO, Rosetta

The session begins with some best practices. Hunt suggests working on page focus for Title Tags, Headline Tags, and the First Paragraph. This is nothing new and as Whalen points out, at some point no more “on page” work will help. Boggs talks about being consistent with tying the story to the landing page.

The next theme of conversation related to link building. Tandler states that people miss links they legitimately need for their business (while spending too much effort on ones they don’t). Forrestor suggests that the “cold call” approach of sending an email to the webmaster asking for a link still works. This is debated though since all webmasters receive a ton of these emails all the time. Boggs talks about the quality of these links mentioning that many of them include the anchor text of the brand name. For Hunt, these links should be linking to the most relevant internal page. Many link opportunities are sold short because they don’t send users to the right page.

Following this talk comes universal search. Forrester says that SEOs need to get the right mix within the results. It’s all part of a program, depending where your at in the results. Getting into Google News, for example, involves meeting a number of guidelines and applying to get in if you meet the criteria of a news source rather than a journalist who is blogging. Boggs tells us that universal results are very smart and it takes some care to get search traffic from your latest press release.

Since universal search changes the organization of the SERPs, Grehan asks the panel if rankings reports are dead. Tandler suggests scanning the results for the terms you’re targeting and noting which modules show up. Whalen notes that personalized and Geo-targeted results throw a wrench into the rankings report scenario; but Boggs follows that up by noting that they’re still illustrative of overall rankings trends and movement. Further, they can indicate certain categories, etc…. that are moving up. Forrestor says he only uses them internally and one panelist claimed that they aren’t a KPI (this stands for Key Performance Indicator. I am not in agreement with where he was going here. I think rankings can certainly be predictive/indicative of progress toward getting terms which don’t drive traffic closer to a place where they will, at least in aggregate. That being said, a ranking number is not a KPI but KPIs can certainly be derived from rankings, even if there is no traffic, yet, to be seen).

Next up is analytics. Whalen expresses her affinity for Google Analytics. Forrestor encourages the audience to set up conversion, set a goal for that conversion, put a number on it, and beat that number. Boggs offers that the full purchase cycle needs to be considered with analytics since there are often multiple touch points for customers. He mentions creating an attribution model. To this Grehan asks “Why does search get credit for everything?” Hunt quickly replies that it’s the only thing you can measure and people are too lazy to click on organic (this didn’t make much sense to me either but I believe he meant it’s more straight forward for tracking than some other online marketing tactics, or that clients don’t have tracking configured for other methods).

Grehan mentions term “engagement mapping” and Whalen offers that it takes multiple touch points to market effectively (that is, they are complementary, not competitive with each other). Tandler follows this up with a statement that users should not take anything for granted when it comes to looking at their numbers. As he asks, “Who said 2% is great?” He mentions that in the context of that particular situation, they may be able to get it up to 10%. Always Be Testing (incidentally, this is the name of Bryan Eisenberg’s book on Google Website Optimizer). He mentions to get the most out of a landing page (a theme that has been growing momentum as of late).

Forrestor offers the term “claiming the cookie” to describe his attribution. He offers a term (2 day theoretical?) to explain that people should be asking themselves, “How much is the customer worth to me when they are with me?” He says that every month, he feels he gets closer to understanding what is attributable to search.

Grehan talks about Digital Asset Optimization and calls analytics the new SEO. This speaks to the concept of universal search encompassing many forms of digital content that together form the clients assets for online marketing. For analytics to be the new SEO, he may mean that it is the optimization of this whole system, through analyzing each one’s particular value, that will lead companies to success.

At this point, we move into slides for each speaker. I’ll list some of the ones that stuck with me:

  • Incompetent SEOs must stop wasting the time of companies
  • Big brands have the upper hand which means that there definitely is not a level playing field.
  • Developers need to bake in SEO
  • Don’t just be satisfied with #1 rankings, get the most out of Social media
  • Optimize your conversions
  • Don’t buy links, buy whole sites (Tandler alluded to fake review sites which sounds like bad news to me).
  • Create a deeper “real” integration between paid and organic search
  • Flash, Flex, Ajax need to be search engine friendly
  • Optimize your digital assets
  • Match the right page with the intent of the searcher
  • Speak the language of your audience (including from a business perspective
  • “Be a webmaster” and look at search holistically, take on all the various roles to some extent
  • Embrace in-house+agency SEO relationships
  • Make organic entry pages unique to go with the keywords

On the topic of things not being level, Boggs offered that money means time and bigger brands have money so they can afford to put more time into SEO. Another person asked of auto-completion or auto-correction where decreasing the amount of long-tail terms that are searched but someone mentioned that those tools are not always accurate. Someone asked about Woopra and some other tools that are good for looking at your traffic but I don’t recall much of a response.

So there you have it: A collection of topics all covered in a one hour time slot that offer many thoughts and ideas about “What’s next in SEO?”

March 24, 2009

Matt Bailey on Advanced (Persuasive) SEO at SES NYC

By Kim (cre8pc)

One of the most dynamic speakers to grace Search Engine Strategies, year after year, is Site Logic Marketing's President, Matt Bailey.  His popularity earned him his own time slot, and not surprisingly, his session was packed and overflowing with attendees.  Despite stressed vocal chords, he presented what he claimed were over 200 sides...or else he was just kidding.  If it was that much, it certainly never felt that way during his one hour talk.

His topic was called "Advanced SEO Strategies: Integrating Analytics, Usability, Persuasion and Journalism.  Matt was introduced by Stewart Quealy, VP. Incisive Media.  I had the honor of sitting with Mrs. Bailey, which was fun because we could giggle together.  There is always something to laugh at with Matt's talks.

Matt has lots to wisdom to share.  Here are some highlights, most of which you can apply right away and see immediate improvements on your web pages.  The thrust of his talk is about on-page factors.  In others words, optimizing content out front and behind the curtain.

1. "Clean up your house before inviting people over". Get ready for  searchers.There is a sender of information and a receiver. Users have to decode our sites. Our job is to make pages easier to decode and understand.  Search engines will reward you with better rankings when your users are happy.

2. Words are the building blocks of information.  You want to communicate credibility and encourage users to take action.  We want action as a result.  Matt loves the "Power of words." Words are like  dynamite sticks in people's minds.  By finding words that resonate with searchers, this  will create a reaction in their mind. They can tell when a site has what they're looking for.

3. Absolutely NO generic navigation link labels. If it fits on someone else's web site, its generic. It must be specific to you!

4. Call things what they are.  Brand managers want to control the market and often create odd jargon. Users are looking for specifics and seek exact descriptions.  Remember that consumers may not talk the same way you do.  (He shows the now famous "butt paste" slide, for a diaper rash ointment page.)

5.  Search engines are machines that are trying to make humans happy.

6. Page titles - Make them unique and concise and specific to content on the page.  This will get you rankings and you will see immediate results.  You have  60 characters to get your marketing message in search results pages via the title tag. The title tag says, "This is what is on the page."  It is your promise to your users.  Do not use the same page titles on every page.

7. For content, make liberal use of headlines, sub-headings, bullet points, paragraph header and H1 tags. Watch text contrast and text size. Break up content.  Search engines can tell what text you put emphasis on.

8. How many keywords on a page?  This is the age-old question and the answer has always been - "Does the page make sense?"

9. Meta tags such as keywords are extinct, like the old library card catalog.  They're "pre-2000 DEO".  On page factors have more weight.  Make sure keywords are are unique and focused on each page. Remember, also, alt text behind images because you can't always control how your page is rendere.

10. Put descriptive text around images.

11. Use keywords in image and file names.

12. Optimize multi-media files, video, images, pdf, flash files, images..as these are shown in search engines and are rankable. Search is based on human factors and search engines use the same things. 

13. Users scan content.  79% of users scan a page, 16% read word for word.. Therefore, the most important information needs to be in the first paragraph.

14. Don't make links hard to see.  And more importantly navigation should show where you are, especially if it's a landing page.

15. Credibiliy is based on site's visual appeal. This includes layout, fonts, color scheme, how content is arranged, if consistent and if readable.  Readability  issues are things like small text, blinking, scrolling, rotating, low contrasts and often elements that work for print but not online.

16.  People refine searches by brand, by need and by want.  You want to hit the whole process.  Some products are seasonal. 

17. Don't forget regional words like hoagies, grinder, po-buy and sandwich.  There are different ways to say the same thing and people look for our stuff in vastly different ways.  Research what they call it.   

18. Be aware of everyone's own personalized search. Everyone's search results are different.  Don't forget different languages and spellings for words.Laptopmoney

19. There are many different types of searchers...sharp shooters. shotgun, artillery searcher , planner,
browser, price shopper  (customer loyalty is for how long price lasts), last minute shopper.  Offer more than what you ask for.

20. For persuasion, make sure you have ready your elevator pitch, does it meet needs, benefits, build rapport, is it understandable...remember logic, emotion and credibility. Why should people do business with you? Because they NEED to do business with you.

Bravo Matt!

Make Money Per Conversion, Not Click: Search Engine Strategies, NYC

By Kim (cre8pc)

It is day one for sessions at the NYC Search Engine Strategies Conference being held this week at the NY Hilton. There are over 5000 attendees, and believe me, every session I've sat in on has been overflowing with people. There is strong interest in Advanced topics, with a keen eye on what the future holds for the Search Marketing industry.

 I'm delighted to report that although I'm not there in any official capacity as a usability speaker, the relationship of user experience, persuasive design and conversions is inching its way into many sessions and conversations.

The following is are my takeaways from a talk called "Pay Per Conversation" from today's sessions.

Moderator: Jeff Rohrs, ExactTarget

Speakers: Jeffrey Eisenberg, FutureNow
Sandra Cheng, Product Mgr, Google

Jeffrey is standing in for his brother, Bryan Eisenberg, because his wife just went into labor. This room is filled to capacity. Unlike the first session I attended this morning (SEO: Where to Next?"), where it was overflowing and I had to sit on the floor, this time I'm firmly planted in the front row.

Jeffrey leads off the session by having us consider the typical PPC (Pay per click) term and reworking it to "pay per conversation". The reason for this is that we don't want to make money per click. We make money per conversion. He also pondered that rather than "SEO", we view it as "search experience optimization". As he says, "There is a signal by the searcher and if we hear it right, we can get them to take action." So let's look at his ideas on how we can listen and meet user/searcher expectations:

 1. Web Analytics consulting can show you were the disconnects are. These are where our user expectations are not met. Did they search on a phrase and your page appear but not meet what they expected? Your goal here is to study your data to discover traffic patterns and unmet needs.

 2. There were several references to what we now called "information scent". While there are many different definitions, essentially "scent" are cues to your visitors to keep them interested. They'll stick around when pages are relevant and click paths are goal driven. Links, for example, should contain content that will promise to take your users where they want or need to go. Where there is scent, there is momentum. Study your drop off data and note where they have lost the scent of what put them on the trail to your site. Information Scent creates motivation. The objective is to avoid losing so many users up front. Pay attention to the signals users are looking for.

 3. Keywords don't fail to convert. Rather, how pages are relevant to keyword searches makes the difference.

4. Personas. There are simple vs robust" personalities, logical vs emotional, quick vs deliberate, methodical vs spontaneous. User behavior absolutely is taken into consideration when determining design, content, and tasks. Eye tracking studies have proved different patterns of page usage can be traced to different types of personalities. Some people will find something quickly and then move on. Motivation is where users will focus. Geico appeals to an emotional need with the use of its lizard, who promises to save you hundreds of dollars. However, if you have sold the idea and then present your visitor with a technical and complicated form to fill out, you risk losing your visitor.

 5. (I loved this!) "Plan, improve, measure and plan again, over and over...." Conversions are a continuous improvement process. Align customers with business objectives and consider their behavior patterns. By studying patterns, this changes what you add and enhance on your web pages. Don't throw anything against the wall and see what sticks.Darts

 6. There is a White Paper on creating personas on FutureNow. Their Twitter account is twitter@thegrok Jeffrey had a great set of slides to compliment his talk and also showed several case studies from some big brand companies, where something as simple as changing the content on a call to action button increased conversions. He illustrated the value of testing several pages to see what converted best.

Sandra was next. She's an excellent speaker. Very clear and easy to follow. She strongly emphasized the value of using Google Analytics in her presentation but any testing is fine. She showed how testing can help you figure out what works best for your users. Some highlights from her talk include:

1. Not everybody who comes to your site will do what you want them to do (but lets try to nab what we can).

2. Try to avoid bounces and abandonment by making sure the directions are clear.

3. The best way to understand what's confusing is to watch a friend use your web site. You know where everything is already. Where did they get stuck?

4. Get analytics to get data. You need an idea where people are going on your site and what happens when they get there. Reports will prompt you to ask the right questions about your traffic. Data shows where they come from. You will ask questions, get answers and make fixes, all with the help of your reports. Look at landing pages. Where do they enter your site? Google Analytics shows bounce rates. Do they land and leave before clicking anywhere? Bounce rates represents opportunity. What changes can you make to help them to stay? Look at funnel reports. These are goal paths and show Where they come in and out/ Page leaks (where users leave) are also opportunities to patch leaks.

5. Internal site search are great sources that show customer intent. People type into your site what they are looking for. This is how they tell you what they want. Study where they go when the search and also investigate where they left. Look at search terms and un-met needs. Perhaps the search results page is too confusing. or you don't carry the product they're looking for. You can get a great picture of customer intent with on-site search.

6. Test page or ad copy. Look at non-paid keywords and bounce rates and compare with paid keyword strategies.

7. Let visitors design your pages for you. Compare page content by making and testing 3 variations of the page. Google will track responses and show you the winning combination. Run mulit-variate testing. Test an image vs without an image near a call to action prompt. It is not rare for 20-50% conversions improvement by making small changes that appear in this kind of testing

8. Remember that "best practices" aren't always the best for YOUR site.

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