Archive for the ‘Webbiquity’ Category
Social networks are essential for expanding your web presence—not only for creating social signals now a key component in search engine rankings, which makes your website and blog easier to find in search, but also by giving you more places to be found online.
Creating your profile on each of the major social networks is a first step, but just that. A profile alone won’t get you much. As with most things in life, you’ll get out of social networks what you put into them.
Once you’ve filled out your profile (particularly including your core keywords and links), the basic process for using any of the more than 500 social networks now in existence is pretty much the same:
- Find interesting/relevant/influential people to follow/like/connect with.
- Grow your influence and attract followers/friends/connections by sharing interesting and relevant content—your own, from third parties, and from people you are following / would like to have following you.
- Interact (e.g., ask and answer questions).
- • Twitter, YouTube and Google+: you can follow/add virtually anyone you find interesting/relevant/influential. Don’t be offended if they don’t follow/add you back immediately; they may very well do so once they’ve gotten to “know” you better through your social networking activity.
- • LinkedIn: it’s best to have some familiarity (real world or online) before trying to make a connection. This is a level deeper than the majority of more superficial social networks. This also applies to other professional / social networks (e.g. Plaxo).
- • Facebook: liking a brand page (or asking someone to like yours) is fairly superficial. However, friending someone on Facebook is widely viewed as a deeper level of social networking connection. Put another way, the common pattern is to have more Twitter followers than LinkedIn connections, and more LinkedIn connections than Facebook friends. Only the gauche and boorish would try to friend someone on Facebook that they have no prior connections to.
With those basics established, here are 10 ways for small (or really, almost any size) businesses to use social networks for marketing and PR.
1. Create valuable backlinks for SEO. Links from your profiles and social network posts / updates all help to increase the authority of your website and blog with the search engines, leading to higher rankings. What helps most, however, is having your content shared and passed along by others with high influence in your market space. To encourage sharing, in addition to being active on the leading social networks, place social sharing buttons on your site.
2. Expand your online presence. Google, Yahoo and Bing aren’t the only places people go to look for information. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube all include their own powerful and popular internal search capabilities, and there are numerous social search engines that specifically search social networks and other social media sites. The only way to found on social networks is to be active on them.
3. Develop reputation as a thought leader (or something equally positive). By sharing relevant and helpful information, whether your own of from other sources, you increase your value to those following you, and expand your network. Sharing content developed by others makes you social; sharing content written about you by others enhances your brand image; and sharing your own thought-leadership or other helpful content solidifies your reputation as a smart, valuable resource that can influence decisions.
4. Promote your content / increase web traffic. It’s been written that, “If content is king, links are queen.” In other words, as essential as it is to develop great content, the search engines won’t give it much weight and few people will ever see that content if it doesn’t get linked. Social networks are a great place to build quality links, again particularly when key influencers within the various social networks share your content with their followers.
5. Expand your network of connections. In almost any major city, on almost any day, there are various types of business networking events: breakfasts, happy hours, seminars, forums and other types of events where local business people can meet each other and form new connections. Social media makes it easy to expand your network globally—or at least well beyond the confines of those who either live nearby or travel to major industry events. Social networks are invaluable for helping you make connections with prospective customers, additional contacts within client companies, industry journalists, bloggers and other influencers that it would be difficult if not impossible to connect with otherwise.
6. Develop and build relationships. Making connections is just the beginning. Social sharing and interactions enable you to develop relationships that can be very meaningful and rewarding, over time, with people you’ve never physically met, perhaps even never spoken with by phone. These relationships can lead to increased online exposure, expanded knowledge, new insights and ideas, partnerships, referrals, and ultimately—increased business.
7. Perform competitive and market research. Social media isn’t all about you, of course. Knowing what kinds of questions your prospective customers are asking, what problems they are trying to solve, and their opinions and observations about competitive firms can help you develop content that better meet market needs and set you apart from competitors.
8. Spot opportunities for innovation. Knowing more about the issues and concerns of your target prospects can also inspire ideas for product enhancements or new products, services or processes that lead to increased sales, greater customer satisfaction and loyalty, and/or new market opportunities.
9. Improve customer service. Traditional customer service channels are great for capturing information about and resolving specific customer issues (e.g., product malfunctions or “how do I…” questions). Social networks, however, open up possibilities for learning about other types of issues that may never lead to a customer service call: your product disappoints in some manner, your online form is too long and/or complicated, your website content is confusing, a particular piece of information or contact phone number is difficult to find, etc.
10. Generate leads and grow your email list (carefully!). There’s a reason this item is last on the list: while the goal of social media marketing is ultimately to produce an ROI, where the “R” is usually generated by increased sales, it’s crucial not to promote your offerings too blatantly or too early in the social networking process. Engaging in self-promotion too early will get you labeled as a spammer, damage your reputation and hobble your ability to grow a productive network. Promoting too blatantly is never advisable. Rather, once you have a network established, use social media to promote “gated” content like white papers or reports, invite followers to register for webinars, and promote your newsletter on your blog and other content pages in order to build a list for lead nurturing.
Establishing a presence on the leading social networks and utilizing an effective social media strategy will enhance your online presence and “findability” on search engines as well as within the social networks themselves.
Many of the same principles apply to optimizing a blog for search as for optimizing a business website: use keywords in the body copy, post titles, subheadings, permalink URL, image alt tags and meta tags. But a blog also presents additional opportunities for search optimization beyond those that apply to standard websites (which is why Google loves blogs). Take advantage of these six techniques to help get your blog ranked highly in relevant searches, and increase your overall web presence.
1. Categories: For the sake of user-friendly site navigation, standard websites usually have a fairly small number (generally no more than six or seven) top-level sections. Furthermore, some of these are virtually worthless for search (e.g. investor pages, and “Contact Us” is almost always a top-level link even though this page has no search value).
But with a blog, you can create any (reasonable) number of top-level categories, and give these keyword-rich labels. For that reason, think about your blog categories carefully: create category tags that will be meaningful and useful to both human readers and search engine spiders.
2. Fresh content. Most B2B website content (other than items like news releases and upcoming events) and much B2C content as well is fairly static; once it’s written, it tends to stay pretty much intact for the life of the website. But Google’s recent algorithm changes (which Bing and other search engines will most likely try to mimic) favor fresh content, as least for certain types of searches. Authority still matters, but freshness is now a much more important ranking factor than it was in the past.
Blogs are one of the best mechanisms for publishing a steady stream of new content. They are also a great platform for responding to breaking news or the latest developments in your industry. So while an editorial calendar can help your blog posts on track and on schedule, it’s crucial to also build in the flexibility to write posts responding to current events in your industry. This both increases the relevance of your blog and takes advantage of new-to-the-world search phrases that won’t show up in keyword tools.
3. Syndication and blog directories. Content syndication and blog directory sites provide valuable backlinks as well as driving traffic directly to your blog. Technorati and AllTop are two of the general-topic blog directories. Nearly every industry has its own specific directories and syndication sites as well; for example, B2B Marketing Zone for B2B vendor and influencer blogs, and Social Media Informer for social media-related blogs. In addition, there are hundreds of smaller blog directories and RSS submission sites that can further increase the reach and visibility of your blog.
4. Social media. Sharing your content on social networking sites like Twitter and (most importantly) Google+ as well as social bookmarking sites creates links to your blog. More important, however, is that Google tracks social signals (the overall level of content sharing for your blog as well as the authority of those sharing it) as measures of the quality and authority of a blog. So while sharing your own content provides some SEO benefit, building and nurturing a network of authoritative people in your industry and producing content they want to share is even more valuable.
Add social media buttons to your blog to encourage readers to share your content. Tools like ShareThis, AddThis and Wibiya, or WordPress plugins like SexyBookmarks, make it easy to add buttons for any of the most popular social networks and bookmarking sites. Of course you can add these sharing buttons to a standard company website as well, but readers are far more likely to share useful blog content than ordinary vendor web pages; while 60% of all social postings link to published content (news sites or blogs), just 4% link to corporate website content.
You can also build high-authority backlinks through commenting on other blogs as well as writing guest posts (with embedded text links) for other industry blogs. Again, you could use these techniques without having your own blog, but many bloggers are more likely to consider publishing a guest post from a fellow blogger (whose writing they can easily evaluate) than from an unknown corporate or agency contact.
5. Clean code. Google and many other search engines reward sites that have fast loading time, use the latest best practices in web coding and are W3C-compliant with higher rankings. If all of that sounds a bit technical, don’t worry; most of the leading blog platforms automatically create fairly clean, compliant code. Free blog platforms like TypePad and WordPress produce clean code out of the box. Fee-based platforms like Compendium and HubSpot are also search-friendly.
6. WordPress plugins. WordPress blogs can easily be made even more search engine-friendly through the use of a few key plugins. You can find lots of posts about the best SEO plugins for WordPress, but a few of the absolutely key plugins are:
- • All in One SEO Pack. Among it’s other features, this plugin makes it easy to add meta title tags and automatically create search-friendly URLs for each post.
- • W3 Total Cache. This plugin uses caching and other techniques to dramatically increase the load speed of your blog and improve the user experience.
- • Google XML Sitemaps with qTranslate Support. Sitemaps help the search engines more fully and accurately index a website or blog. For a relatively static business website, it’s easy to create an XML sitemap using an online tool then submit it to the major search engines. For a blog, which is constantly changing, using a manual process would be virtually impossible. Fortunately, this plugin creates an XML sitemap of your WordPress blog in a format supported by Ask.com, Google, MSN Search (Bing) and Yahoo, and automatically keeps it up to date as you write new posts, add categories, and make other changes to your blog.
- • WP Google Analytics. Google Analytics provides a wealth of information to help with SEO efforts, such as which keywords and referral sites are driving the most traffic and which landing pages draw the most search traffic. This plugin makes it a snap to add the Google Analytics tracking code to all of your blog pages and posts, and automatically include the code on new posts.
- • Sexy Bookmarks. The Sexy Bookmarks plugin adds a configurable set of social networking and social bookmarking buttons to each of your blog posts, making it easy for your readers to share your content on their site(s) of choice. Sharing provides useful social signals to the search engines about the authority of your content and creates valuable backlinks.
- • Do Follow. By default, WordPress applies the insidious nofollow tag to outbound links from your blog. This is done ostensibly to prevent your blog from passing authority to sketchy sites through comment and backlink spam. However, if you are moderating comments to your blog, those kinds of links shouldn’t be an issue. Do-follow outbound links to high-quality, relevant websites actually help with SEO as well as increasing reader satisfaction, generating more comments, and helping with relationship building.
Once you’ve developed and optimized an effective business website and launched a properly optimized business blog, the core of your web presence optimization framework is in place. Now you’re ready to take the next steps to expand that presence and work toward dominating in the search engines for your core terms.
Over the last decade, business blogs have gone from being a novelty to a leading-edge practice to an essential element for any company seeking to optimize its presence on the web. According to Small Business Trends and HubSpot, the percentage of businesses with blogs has increased from less than half in 2009 to nearly two out of three in 2011.
Why are so many companies now embracing blogging? In addition to the traditional benefits of business blogging, recent changes in the way search engines rank content have made blogging crucial for obtaining and maintaining high search engine visibility.
Three ranking factors that have recently taken on increased importance from Google (and will therefore likely soon become important to other search engines as well) are content quality and authority, social media links and content freshness. A blog helps on all three fronts much more than a standard corporate website. Google is also placing increased weight on link quality and diversity; thoughtful, helpful blog posts are more likely to attract such links than typical vendor product and service content.
Once your organization makes the decision to start a blog—or to re-launch one that’s been neglected or has underperformed—here are eight key factors to consider.
1. Location. Will the blog be part of your corporate site or have its own unique URL? The more common practice today is to treat the blog as a section of the website, often with a URL like company.com/blog. The primary advantage of this approach is that all of the SEO value of external links accrues to the corporate site, giving it more authority in the eyes of the search engines.
An alternative approach is to treat the blog as a separate entity with a meaningful URL. For example, if Acme Widgets wants to rank for the very competitive phrase “widget management software,” and their corporate site is at acmewidgets.com, they may want to use the URL widgetmanagementsoftware.com for the blog. This option is worth considering in product categories that are highly competitive in search. It also provides the opportunity to give the blog a distinct and less “corporate” personality of its own, as well as potentially providing the company with an extra spot on the first page of search results.
2. Author(s). The internet is littered with a hundred million abandoned blogs, for two primary reasons: first, it’s a fair amount of work to research and write quality content on a regular basis. And second, there is no instant gratification—it takes time to build an audience and authority with the search engines. Assigning multiple writers (i.e., creating a group blog) can help spread the load and allow for more frequent posting, a variety of styles, and broader topic coverage. Just make sure all of the authors have what it takes to be successful business bloggers: writing skills (of course), but also originality, subject matter expertise, a point of view, and most importantly—persistence.
3. Tone. Sassy? Intellectual? Helpful? Informative? Sophisticated? Technical? While a blog is likely to contain a mix of attributes (particularly a multi-author blog), think about the overall tone and personality your blog should have. Unlike website copy (which tends to be feature/benefit, marketing oriented), a blog can project a distinct and less directly sales-y side of your organization.
4. Design. Some corporate blogs (particularly those integrated into the company website) simply match the look and feel of the corporate website as closely as possible. But while a company blog should carry over certain key branding elements (e.g., colors, logo), it can also have some distinctiveness to its look, reflecting the tone (above) and setting it apart from the “commercial” content of the corporate site.
5. Platform. Just kidding, this really isn’t a tough decision: use WordPress. Sure, there are alternatives, ranging from other free or low-cost platforms (e.g., Blogger, TypePad) to fee-based systems (e.g., Compendium, HubSpot) to tools built into web content management system (CMS) platforms, but it’s tough to find an alternative that can compete with the flexibility, affordability, capability and search engine-friendliness of WordPress.
6. Structure (topics). Though these will likely evolve over time, it’s best to think about at least the obvious subjects for your company and industry up front. First, doing so will help keep subsequent posts organized into logical groups, without “category proliferation” (an excessive number of categories) or multiple overlapping topic areas.
Second, properly naming the categories is critical both for human navigation and for search engine optimization; a mis-named category (e.g., one that uses internal company jargon rather than the language of your prospects and customers) won’t attract as many readers as a better-named category would, and won’t help your blog rank as well for popular industry search terms.
Determining a set of baseline categories up front also helps in developing an editorial calendar. While this may be too formal for a single-contributor or small company blog, it can be very helpful for assuring topic diversity and a steady stream of content.
7. Post frequency. As Heidi Cohen points out, there is no hard and fast rule as to how often a blog needs fresh content, but the best strategy is to “blog as often as you can create quality content.” In terms of a blog’s impact on customer acquisition, posting once per week is nearly 50% more effective than posting only once per month, and more than twice as effective as posting even less frequently. But posting 2-3 times per week yields only a small incremental gain, and posting daily provides an even smaller incremental improvement.
Again, having multiple authors (see factor #2 above) can help increase post frequency without placing an excessive burden on any one contributor. Five authors, each writing two posts per month, would result in 2-3 posts per week—a highly effective frequency for customer acquisition. Spreading the burden should also (at least theoretically) improve the depth and quality of each post as well.
8. Features. Any blogging platform should provide the capability to add common features to your blog like a subscribe-by-email option, buttons/links to your social media accounts, and social sharing buttons to make it easy for your readers to share your posts on social networks and social bookmarking sites (though few platforms offer as many options for “pimping out” a blog as WordPress—see factor #5 above).
WordPress plugins let you add a wide variety of more advanced functions to your blog such as incorporating feeds from social media sites, enable your readers to rate posts, build customized contact forms, automatically display contextually related posts, add an online directory to your blog, display your most popular posts, insert a customized greeting based on the site that referred the reader to your blog (e.g., Digg, Facebook, LinkedIn), even create an e-commerce store.
By addressing each of these factors in your blog planning and setup, you’ll be ready to launch (or re-launch) a business blog built for success.
While search engines use hundreds of signals to determine how any particular web page should rank for a given search phrase query, all of those signals feed into two primary measures: relevance and authority.
Relevance is principally determined by content and other site-wide or on-page factors. For example, on a search for information about a specific breed of dog, a page devoted to that breed would typically be deemed more relevant than a page about dogs in general. And a page on site solely focused on dogs would likely be judged by the search engines to be more relevant than a page on a site about domestic pets, or animals in general.
Authority is predominantly determined by the quantity and quality of external links to a site. One common technique for building links in the past was to submit a website to hundreds of general online directories. The major search engines have now caught on to this tactic, however, and discount links from low-quality directories to the point where they are nearly worthless.
It’s still helpful to be listed in a few of the well-respected, higher-quality online business directories, but the focus of link building is now through social media, content sharing and online PR activities. In short, links can’t be bought (at least not without risk) and they can’t be spammed—they have to be earned by producing great content and exposing it to key influencers in your industry.
On-page search engine optimization (SEO) is a set of techniques for making it clear to the search engines what each page, and your website overall, is about. Think of these signals like the dust jacket of a book; you can discern quite a bit about what a book is about just by the cover, promotional blurbs and table of contents. Similarly, the search engines use meta tags, page headings and other signals to assess the relevancy of your site for given search phrases.
Each page on your site should have one main search phrase assigned to it, though often the page will also rank well for associated phrases (in the example below, the page optimized for records management software may also rank well for phrases such as “records management software system” and “records management software solution”).
Here are eight ways to utilize that key phrase on a page to help search engines understand what your site is about.
1. In the body text. The target search phrase should appear at least twice in the body text of the page, and more than twice for long content pages. There’s no need to overdo this, however, and search engines may actually penalize your site for “keyword stuffing”—using the same phrase with unnatural frequency. The text should always read well to a human visitor. Mix in synonymous phrases as well, such as, in this case, phrases like “records management system” or “RM software.”
2. In page headings and subheads. Not every word on a page has equal value. Putting the main idea (your target key search phrase) in headings and subheads emphasizes its important.
3. In the meta title tag. This is one of the most important single elements for SEO, akin to the title of a book. You have (depending on who you believe) somewhere between 65 and 85 characters to tell the search engines what is most important about this page. Use them carefully, wisely and judiciously. You can find more detailed guidance on writing effective title tags here and here.
4. In the site navigation menus. Too often, websites use generic menu text like “Products” and “Services.” Using specific phrases instead is more meaningful both to site visitors and to search engines.
5. In the page file name (end of the URL). Except for the home page on your site (which has to named either Index, Home or Default), you have complete freedom (within reasonable number-of-character limits) to name pages whatever you like. Using a specific phrase helps with SEO, and also makes your page stand out in the search results.
6. In the page meta tags (description and keywords). The description title tag isn’t specifically used by search engines, but it’s value lies in “selling” your page to searchers. It should give searchers a compelling reason to click on your link. Including the key search phrase in the description tag isn’t strictly required, but can help demonstrate the relevance of your page to searchers.
The keywords meta tag is optional. The major search engines no longer use this tag in formulating their rankings (or at least they say they don’t). On the plus side, the tag may still be used by some of the smaller search engines, and it’s helpful internally for organizing SEO efforts. On the downside, it takes time to craft, and it shows your competitors which search terms you are focused on (not that they couldn’t figure this out using other methods). In short, this tag probably doesn’t help much, but it doesn’t hurt either.
7. In image file names and alt tags. These attributes help with image searches as well as regular search. Instead of naming an image file IMG02134.jpg or something similarly meaningless, use a search-friendly file name like electric-blue-widget.jpg (or whatever is relevant for your product, service or topic). Also include a descriptive image alt tag; this is the text that appears in a browser with images turned off and also used for accessibility (e.g. speech browsers for the visually impaired). But the tag is also used be search engines to categorize your image, since search engines can’t “read” the content of the image itself.
8. In internal text links. Let’s say you have one page on your site completely dedicated to “electric blue widgets,” but you use that phrase in passing on other pages of the site as well. From those pages, link the phrase “electric blue widgets” (or variations of it, such as “blue electric widgets”) to the main page on that topic. Again, these links serve as signals to both human readers and search engines that they can find more detailed information about that topic on the target page.
The most fundamental element for on-site optimization is high-quality original content. Strive to write the “ultimate page” for someone searching on that particular topic. Then use these eight techniques to provide helpful guideposts for both human readers and search engines to draw them to that compelling information.
The first step in optimizing your online presence is making sure you have a website worth optimizing. That means creating a site that your target visitors will be glad they found once they arrive, and will spend some time with because the site provides the information they need in an easy-to-find manner.
It’s like planning a large event or party in your home. If you had a noisy furnace, an unfinished bathroom, or paint peeling on your eaves, you’d want to take care of those issues before you send out invitations. Your website similarly has to be in great shape before you “invite” visitors to it through optimization.
Four key elements of designing an effective business website are:
- • Technology (Platform)
- • Graphic Design
- • Information Architecture
- • Content
The first decision is the technology, or platform, the site will be built on. The options are almost endless, from custom code, to a development environment such as Adobe DreamWeaver, to hosted content management systems (CMS) options, to free platforms like WordPress. Among the key considerations to keep in mind when selecting a platform are:
Capabilities—will the platform support the sophistication of your design? Do you need extra features, like a built-in CRM system, the ability to easily integrate with external systems, create secure areas of the site, or manage ecommerce transactions?
Usability—does the platform make it easy for non-technical users to add or update content? Is it easy to add new pages and even entire new sections to the site?
Search engine friendliness—does the platform or tool produce clean, W3C-vaild underlying code? Is it easy to add meta tags and customize page URLs? Most modern CMS systems are relatively search-friendly, but this is a critical component for optimization, so do some investigation to make sure the platform you select is strong in this area. One way to check is to run the URLs of some other sites built on the tool through a tool like Website Grader to see how well they score (though keep in mind that factors other than just code quality can affect these scores).
Scalability—will the platform chosen support the planned size and complexity of your website, as well as providing room for growth?
Mobility—though website visits from smart phones and tablets currently accounts for only seven percent of online traffic worldwide, that figure is expected to grow rapidly. Make sure your chosen platform can serve up an optimized experience on both desktop and mobile devices (and automatically detect the visitor’s device) without a separate mobile development effort.
Make this decision carefully as you will be essentially “stuck” with your chosen platform until you reach a point where you need to redesign your site—depending on your industry and growth rate, generally two to five years. Avoid obscure platforms that force you to rely on a single consultant or agency for support.
Though design considerations are often subjective, two key questions to ask when developing the overall look and feel of your website (fonts, colors, images and other design elements) are:
- • Does the design reflect the “personality” of our brand (e.g. bold, conservative, leading-edge, safe, sophisticated, intelligent, friendly)?
- • Will the design appeal to our target audience?
Special effects such as texture, transparency, typography and motion can enhance a design and provide a distinctive look—but these should be used carefully to enhance the user experience, not simply to “dress up” the site in ways that don’t help the user, or worse, that make the site seem complex and confusing.
Possibly the most critical element of website design, this is the “map” of your site: what information will be included, where, and how different areas of information be connected. And the single most important consideration in developing your information architecture is your audiences: your website shouldn’t be about what information you want to provide, but rather about what information your key audiences want and need in order to engage with you.
The primary audience for most business websites is sales prospects. To determine their needs, first identify them as precisely as possible by title, role, industry and other attributes. Then put yourself in their shoes: why are they looking for information? What are their burning issues? What information do they need when they come to your site—at different stages in their buying process? How can you help move them through that process, and convert them into identifiable leads?
Secondary audiences may include existing customers, prospective employment candidates, investors, analysts (industry or financial), partners, and the media. Most of these groups are likely to have some information needs in common with your sales prospects, as well as some unique needs. Make sure your site meets the information needs of these audiences without detracting from the prospective buyer experience.
The output of this stage of the design process is an information architecture map, which may look something like this:
This information architecture map also serves as a guide for scoping out the work required to create the new site; establishing priorities; collecting any required images or website assets; and assigning content to writers.
Content should be developed using two primary guides: the information architecture map (what to write), and keyword research (how to write it). Keyword research helps to identify the specific phrases your prospects most commonly use when searching for your types of products and/or services, as well to determine which terms have the best potential for optimization.
Knowing the keywords and topics, writers should be able to develop content that answers the five key questions every business website needs to address:
- • Who are you?
- • What do you sell?
- • Who do you sell to?
- • Why are you the best?
- • How do I buy from you?
Once you’ve designed and developed a site that uses a search-friendly platform, is designed and written with your key audiences in mind, and answers the questions and potential concerns of your sales prospects , you have a site truly worth optimizing as the core of your web presence.