Online AdvertisingSEO

SEO campaigns insights

SEO campaigns can consume a lot of budget very quickly with very little return in the short run. Let’s face it, there are a many things that need to be done and time is money. So what are the tricks to a successful (and cost effective) SEO campaign?

First – establish a benchmark. If you don’t know where you are starting, you won’t know if you are winning the battle. Find out how you rank on the search engines of your choice for your most cherished keywords.

Now choose carefully – you want to pick one or two search engines and a handful of keywords. Each search engine is different and while some will like your SEO tuning, others will hate it and your rankings may drop, so it is very important that you make a conscious decision as to the ones you want to improve on.

Once you have done that – then look at your competitors, and see what they are doing. If they have been successful, then by emulating them, you too will be successful.

Now go and make your changes – update your copy, your meta-tags, your titles, your image texts – all of the things that a decent SEO tune up will do.

Now for the hard part – have patience. It will take somewhere close to a month or maybe more for those changes to have any effect, so there is no point in making changes on a Monday and expect a shift in your rankings by Tuesday. It is simply not going to happen – so get back to your regular business and make a note in your diary to re-check your rankings in a month.

Rinse and repeat on a monthly basis.

Simple isn’t it – well not quite, because even if your site is fully SEO’d there are other factors that you need to work on, and those are called back links.

Online AdvertisingSEO

Are Paid Links Hurting Your Sites SEO

Are paid links hurting the natural search engine rankings of your website? They may very well be. For those of you who haven’t kept up with all the fanfare, Google has stated their position against paid links – virtually discrediting the paid link industry and indicating that they will penalize sites that purchase inbound links. By penalize, they are essentially saying that each time they identify a paid link pointing to your website, it will count against you.

So if you cannot buy links, then how can you attract them? This change in direction initiated by Google has resulted a series of questions aimed at how to properly generate links to your website without paying for them.

One place to start is with the question, “ Is Your Website Link Worthy?” The reason to focus on link worthiness is because companies, who are purchasing in-bound links to their website, are often missing the big picture. These companies should focus on the reason why purchasing links is the primary SEO option. Often times, sites have not focused on their own website and determined why other websites would want to link to them.

Here’s a great exercise. Open your web browser and visit your URL. When you get to your website, write down 10 reasons why other sites would want to link to you. Chances are you’ll struggle to write down ten. You’ll probably have 3 or 4 at most. The point here is that you should consider creating compelling reasons for other sites to link to you.

Once you’ve identified some of the most attractive link building qualities of your website, you need to exploit them. There are a variety of tactics you can use to let others know why linking to your website is so valuable. Consider promoting your website’s most desirable characteristics on your home page. Once browsers navigation to your free tools, information, or resources, encourage them to link to you.

Sometimes the direct approach is best. Encourage others to place a link on their websites directly to your homepage where users can easily navigate to you valuable resources. Alternatively, you can provide other websites with the HTML code or link they can copy and paste onto their own website, directing individuals to the proper page on your website.

Make it easy for someone to link to you. By providing the proper code, information, and description, other websites can easily link to your website. Those sites that do not think about link generation often do not simplify or encourage the link building process and therefore never generate a significant number inbound links.

The other thing to keep in mind is that when you encourage others to link to your website, to access your tools or resources, provide them with the specific link text you need to improve your search engine rankings. Instead of using your URL only, make sure that links are given the proper text that includes your specific keywords and keyword phrases.

By coding links with your keywords, you will be building your Google link popularity and provider other with information regarding your link. This will not only generate more links to your website, but encourage individuals to click on your link.

Now that Google has announced that they are punishing websites who buy links for purposes of link building, we all need to look at our websites and ask that important question “Is my website link-worthy?” Consider this when evaluating your website and identify reasons why others would want to point to your site. Make it easy for them to do so. The result can only be more links, better search results, and more traffic!

Online Advertising

25 Email Marketing Tips

Make yourself valuable through email marketing

A surefire way to attract new subscribers and retain present ones is to make yourself as valuable as you can to them. You can increase your value by making your email program as user-friendly as possible.

How to do that? By improving its usability, meaning how easily prospects learn about, sign up, participate in and remove themselves from your email program.

Here’s a real-world example showing how a lack of usability can block a desired outcome:

While waiting for a flight recently, I filled out an airport market-research survey using a tablet PC. At the end, the survey invited me to sign up for email updates.

First, the survey asked me to sign up for updates without giving me a compelling reason or explaining the benefit. I was feeling a little reckless, though, so I decided to sign up anyway.

Second, once I started to type in my email address, I couldn’t find the “@” key on the keyboard. The survey-giver walked past just then and showed me where the “shift” and “@” keys were (located in a different spot than in a regular PC keyboard). These two examples violated a key tenet of usability: Don’t make it hard for the user.

The whole experience got me thinking: How can online marketers boost their subscription and performance rates by improving the usability of their email programs? Also, how do sites actually make it hard for users to sign up?

The Basics of Usability

Some online experts say content is king. Actually, content is a function of usability. Without usability, you won’t get many people to read your great content.

Think of usability as ways to make life easier for your prospects and subscribers. It breaks down into three categories:

I. The subscription process
II. Message design and content
III. Managing subscriptions and unsubscribing

Great usability requires optimum design on your Web site, where you promote your program, where you register and manage subscribers, and in your email messages, which will likely be your users’ most frequent contact with you.

Michael Gold, a principal in the consulting firm of West Gold Editorial, sees a lot of what he calls “lunkhead” thinking on Web sites and in email programs, especially in the subscription phase of the email relationship.

“I see an awful lot of lonely, nondescript boxes on homepages that say ‘subscribe to our newsletter’ and that’s it,” said Gold, whose firm works with clients to launch or renovate publications and Web sites.

“The thing we tell people over and over is at least to include a brief promo line giving a concrete, specific benefit that would drive a visitor to sign up, using the kinds of language and words they need to use in all of their promotional copy all over the Web site and links.”

Gold also sees these three common problems:

“A big dead silence” after someone subscribes. “I want something to happen right away in my email inbox,” he said. Send your latest newsletter or offer in a return email instead of waiting for the next publication date.

Overwhelming readers with too many choices, without explanations or grouping into interest or demographic categories. Not explaining whether the email a prospect is signing up for is a bulletin about new content at the Web site or a full-content newsletter.

How Do You Rank?

Want to find out quickly how usable your Web site and email program are? Try these two free methods:

1. Seek out a usability rating tool and rate your program by answering some key questions. It scores your email program using a basic set of usability factors.
2. Ask 10 friends or family members — those who don’t get your emails or use your Web site — to test your site and opt-in procedure. Have them start at your home page and monitor how long it takes to get to and complete a subscription form. If it takes more than three clicks or 10 seconds, you fail the usability test.

Usability Principle One: Keep Subscription Simple

This means giving prospects every opportunity to sign up and making the sign-up process quick and uncomplicated.

A 2002 study of email-newsletter usability by the Nielson-Norman group recommended having no more than a two-step sign-up process: one step to collect the email address and another to confirm it. The more steps in the process, and the more information required, the more likely prospects would abandon the effort.

If you want more detailed information, such as what you might need to qualify leads, you can go back and ask for it later after you have established a relationship with the reader.

Promote your email program at every customer touchpoint: online on each page of your Web site, in order or registration confirmations and white-paper downloads, and offline at call centers, on point-of-sale cards in retail outlets, at trade-show booths, in print ads, etc.
On your Web pages, briefly explain the benefit to your subscribers (“Want to get email -only deals? Sign up for our newsletter!”) and provide an address field? and link to your registration page.

List all your email opportunities (newsletters, announcements, press lists, news alerts, special offers) on a central registration page, but group them in common categories.

Keep registration/subscription to one page. Don’t force people to click more than twice at your site (not including an email confirmation if you use it.)

Limit how much personal information you request, but give prospects many opportunities to customize their subscriptions.

Provide blank checkboxes to let users indicate preferences for frequency, format (text vs. HTML), content and personalization.

Test Web links periodically and newsletter links before each send to make sure they work. For offline registrations, tailor the message to the medium.

Keep text explanations short and sweet in POS cards (just a one-sentence benefit explanation, the field for an email address and a short privacy statement). Similarly, a brief but compelling pitch from a customer-service rep can help a prospect say yes on the phone, after the initial business has concluded.

Note: Although you want to simplify your sign-up process, there are two shortcuts to avoid. You should still use a double opt-in process to avoid data-entry errors and prank sign-ups. Also, don’t precheck boxes on the registration page.

Usability Principle Two: Make Messages Meaningful

First, you have to get the recipient to open your message. Then, you must make the content relevant to your audience. If you haven’t revisited your basic message design in the last year or so, it’s time to take another look.

This principle covers both “outside” of your message (the from and subject lines) and the inside (the content).

Use your company or brand name in the “from” line, which tells recipients who sent the email.
Write a brief (six words or less is ideal) subject line that accurately represents the message’s major content. Longer subject lines are OK, just make sure each word is critical and the most important are in the first 50 characters – those that follow will get cut off in many email clients. Include the email’s title, if it has one (such as a newsletter title). If you can’t, then include your company, division or brand name in the “from” line. List it first here.

Keep HTML-format messages as simple as possible. The more gizmos you pack into an HTML message — superfluous images, graphics, sound or video — the more likely something won’t work on your recipients’ computers. Store rich-media content on the Web; limit image size and use colors that reflect your logo.

In HTML messages, use alt tags and support text around images so that readers whose by default will still get the gist of your message. Many email clients will also block alt tags, so good use of text is key.

If you offer a text version make sure the content includes links to all of your core functions and tasks. Don’t force readers to click to the of your newsletter to receive its benefits or manage their subscriptions.

Load up on relevant links. If your goal is to funnel readers to your Web site, give them many access points, such as two or three order buttons sprinkled around a promo message instead of just one, or links to related information on your site. You’ve probably got a wealth of info at your site; make it easy for your readers to find it.

Lose the generic action button. Instead of “click here,” use descriptive terms such as “Order now!” or “subscribe me!” or “Get whitepaper here.” Be explicit about the actions you want users to take.

Test each email message before you send it, in different browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, etc.), email clients (Outlook, Lotus Notes, Gmail, Yahoo!) and platforms (Macintosh and PC). Click each link; watch out for oddities and inconsistencies in the way images load (or don’t load) and in text fonts and widths.

Adhere to your users’ preferences for frequency, format and content. If you keep sending promo offers to people who signed up just for the newsletter, you’ll lose them.

However, you can promote your other publications in your messages, as long as those promos don’t get in the way of the main content. For example, add a brief product offer at the end or side of a newsletter or announcement message, or list headlines from relevant news stories in a promotional-offer message. This way, you can promote other products and services without committing readers to extra emails.

Help readers manage your information. Include a forward-to-a-friend link in messages where appropriate and a print option that links to a printer-friendly version of an HTML message. Label those functions, either with icons or brief text.

Usability Principle Three: Make Change Easy

A highly usable email program makes it easy for subscribers to update their preferences or exit the program.

Design a standard box (in HTML) or copy block (in text) that includes all important subscription data: the email address used to subscribe, your company name and contact data, instructions on how to change preferences, an unsub link (separate from the reader-preference page), a link to your privacy policy or an abbreviated statement of it and any other relevant information.

Label each action clearly and separately: “Change your address/Update your preferences here;” “unsubscribe here.”

Place this information in the same location in all messages, whatever the format. Near the end works best. Wherever you put it, do it the same way in all messages.

Dedicate a Web page to reader-preference changes. Don’t confuse its purpose with other goals or actions.

Allow readers to change their preferences by checking and unchecking boxes. List their new preferences on a separate page before they navigate away from it, but don’t ask them to take yet another step to confirm them.

Make the unsub link stand out; label it clearly and don’t surround it with extra copy or tuck it way down at the bottom of the email.

Move to a one-click unsubscribe process, maximum two clicks. You can send a confirmation email with an opt-out in case they really did hit the unsub button by accident but don’t make them confirm their request.

This looks like a daunting list, but the thing to remember with usability is that much of it results from common sense and putting the user’s needs first. If you have revamped your email program to follow many of the email industry’s best practices, you’ve already begun to boost your usability.

Now, review your web site and email messages and see where you can make them even more useful to your customers and prospects.

Online Advertising

When It Comes to PR Pay For Results

Public relations firms are adopting a new model that pays for performance versus the traditional retainer based agreements.

As companies become savvier in how they allocate their promotional budgets, they are rejecting the traditional public relations service model that has fed the bottom lines of PR firms for decades. The days of large retainers, endless meetings, billable hours and illusive results are quickly giving way to a more effective approach to getting the word out: pay-for-performance.

It’s About Accountability Pay-for-performance introduces accountability to the process, an element that has been sorely lacking in the field up until now. Traditionally, companies wanting to promote a new product or service in the media hired a PR firm. In exchange for a substantial retainer — often running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars — and billable hours on top of that, the PR firm committed resources and time to championing the product or service among the media. Problem was, that is where the commitment ended. From the PR firm’s perspective, if a press release resulted in a few newspaper articles around the country, great. If not, no big deal; the fees were going to be collected anyway. Pay-for-performance turns the traditional PR service model on its head, mitigating much of the financial risk that had been assumed entirely by the client.

“For too many years, clients have paid six-figure price tags for PR services without any guarantee of results,” says Alex Konanykhin, founder of Washington, D.C.-based Publicity Guaranteed. “This lack of accountability would never be accepted in any other part of a company’s operations, so why is it acceptable in PR?”

Pay-for-performance companies like charge clients only for articles that actually make it into print or mentions that hit the broadcast airwaves. In most cases, clients can even place caps on their fees to hedge against the chance that an article will be placed in more newspapers than anticipated.

ROI — From Spin to Precision Demonstrating return on PR investment has always been a challenge, if not a downright fiction. The pay-for-performance model greatly simplifies the ROI calculation while increasing the confidence in the numbers. After all, quantifying the ROI and justifying the value of a $50,000 PR investment that yields only 10 newspaper articles is an exercise in spin that would test the skills of even the most seasoned PR practitioners. If, however, the cost of placing those same five articles could be determined precisely — as would be the case in the pay-for-performance model — the math gets much less fuzzy and the case for added value gets much stronger.

Is Pay-for-Performance PR Pie in the Sky? The pay-for-performance trend has already transformed the online advertising world from the Wild West of pop-up ads, e-mail SPAM and search engines to a finely tuned device that generates revenue by connecting sellers to motivated buyers. Google and Yahoo’s Overture, for example, have built profitable mega-businesses by charging advertisers by the click. A Google search can yield hundreds of millions of matches, but click on one of Google’s spotlighted sponsored sites — a good indication of buying interest and motivation level — and the sponsor pays a fee.

Companies like Publicity Guaranteed are already seeing a similar transformation the PR industry, and clients seem thrilled with the results. “We hear many horror stories from our clients about PR dollars from previous campaigns going down a black hole,” says Konanykhin. “The pay-per-performance setup removes that horror for them.”

Internet MarketingOnline Advertising

The Power of Testimonials

Acknowledge fears, face skeptics.

Why should prospects believe you? Chances are, your rivals are making similar claims to your company. And your prospect? He or she is probably more cynical than ever before and too buys to spend much time working out the differences between vendors.

So how can you convince prospects you are the real thing? Acknowledge fears, face prospects’ skepticism and admit to flaws, problems and errors, says veteran marketer Lee Marc Stein.

Here’s his 7-step strategy that turns skeptics into believers and buyers:

1. Recognize the power of skepticism. Every marketer knows the power of testimonials, but the most compelling and believable come from those who were the most skeptical. For example, “I doubted this system would reduce downtime any more than the other vendors we’d tried. But we’ve improved production 20%.” Equally compelling are testimonials that include details of a problem the buyer encountered with your company and how they became a convert after seeing you fix it.

2. Use their words. Customers often say things in more credible language than you could ever imagine. That’s why unedited user stories, quoting buyers verbatim and using their words to describe the benefits of your products or services pack a powerful punch.

A recent example: A new magazine targeted at men and women in the National Guard turned out to be a more powerful recruiting tool than anyone expected. Readers weren’t attracted to the official stuff, but to the first person accounts with “real soldiers and families telling real stories,” reports The New York Times, 2/01/05.

3. Look real. Instead of using fancy photos and professional models in your brochures— who always look too good to be true — try peopling them with real buyers and real workers.

4. Ask them to disqualify! If prospects don’t believe you, ask them to disqualify themselves with a quick quiz. Overall, response will go down, says Stein, but your conversion rate should increase.

5. Acknowledge skepticism. If you know most people find your claims hard to believe, say so! Or if your industry has been plagued by companies over-promising and under-delivering, acknowledge it in your marketing material. Stein suggests saying something like, “We know you’ve heard the hype, the promises that are never fulfilled. But you can count on us.”

6. Come clean about problems and stumbling blocks. By admitting faults in some areas, you’ll increase prospects’ confidence in other areas. It’s basic psychology. So if you know your product isn’t compatible with some systems, say so upfront. That’s why warts-and-all blogs work so well: Customers feel like they’re getting the whole story, not some glossy superficial brochure.

7. Provide altruistic value-added info. Another way to prove you’re the genuine article: Provide value-added tools that help them help themselves. For example, you may want to offer a white paper that provides: “Six ways to run your business so efficiently you may never need our services!”

Source: “Getting and Keeping Customers in the Age of Disbelief,” by Lee Marc Stein, president, www. leemarcstein. com