SEO : Are you a ‘cool kid’?

Think back to your days in school – remember the ‘cool’ kids? How they were the most popular? Got the most attention? How everyone wanted to run with them? How your social ranking was based on who you knew and in what context?

Well, search engine optimisation is exactly the same. If your site is in the same circle as the top-ranking sites in your industry it will benefit from the association and rank well too; but if your site is not associated in any meaningful way with the industry leaders you will continue to struggle to get a better rank on the search engine results pages.

This is especially true after the now infamous ‘Panda’ update Google made to its algorithm in April 2011. This update reduced the clout of ‘content farm’ sites, sites that aggregate and list other sites based on industry or subject e.g. directory sites.

Such sites used to rank well (they were ‘cool’) and every website they listed or mentioned benefited from the high ranking as their link back counted as a quality inbound link for the destination site. But the moment Google downgraded the status of such sites, many sites listed that had no other ‘cool kid’ associations felt the pain of also falling in ranking.

So, in order to rank well in the search engine results pages, one of the most important items on your search engine optimisation checklist, now more than ever, must be to cultivate inbound links from high ranking sites in your industry.

If you’re not cool, you may not get noticed.

Social Marketing is Person-to-Person NOT Business-to-Person

so·cial [soh-shuhl]
–adjective

  1. pertaining to, devoted to, or characterized by friendly companionship or relations: a social club.
  2. seeking or enjoying the companionship of others;  friendly; sociable;  gregarious.
  3. of, pertaining to, connected with, or suited to polite or fashionable society: a social event.

Definition from dictionary.com 

If we look at the definition of the adjective “social” it becomes clear that any social interaction involves two or more people, not a corporate entity.

When businesses attempt to use social marketing channels like Facebook and Twitter, they sometimes do so behind a corporate identity or profile; this just does not work very well.
Even the best known brands require there to be a front-person who creates and nurtures relationships with followers, readers and fans.

After all, when was the last time you sent your gas or phone company a Christmas card? You, as an individual, will not have that kind of social relationship with a business entity; they on the other hand will try and maintain what is essentially a one-sided relationship with you – they will send you a Christmas card – but it’s not because they want to be friends with you.

But on social networking sites, it is a different story – these are one-to-one relationships and a business just cannot hope to nurture a fruitful relationship with a person when the person doesn’t know who he or she is ‘relating’ to.
It becomes another push channel, throwing marketing messages out hoping somebody will see them and react. This may happen initially, when a profile is first set up and word gets around that a brand is now on the same platform, but that excitement will quickly dissipate as it becomes clear that there is no truly social element to the interaction.

It also doesn’t help if the business operates an ‘avatar’ profile i.e. a non-real person who does the engagement. Think about your friends – do you know the personality types of each one, how they react to certain events, news etc. You probably do and that’s because each one of us is a unique individual; one that can be easily recognised by those closest to us.
A non-person profile operated by a business will not have a unique personality, or at least not one that will be consistent. ‘Friends’ and followers will quickly see through this and ignore anything that comes their way from that profile. Worse, there could be a backlash of negative sentiment toward the profile if people feel they’re being ‘gamed’; relationships are, after all, based on trust.

So if you are a business that wants to benefit from social channels be sure to have a real person represent the business; Pick this person carefully as it is with them that a relationship will be formed by your soon to be brand ambassadors and customers.

SEO : Marketing Silver Bullet or Long-Term Strategy?

Where Search Engine Optimisation is concerned too many businesses still believe that it is the “Silver Bullet” of online marketing and that once the web site has been optimized the job is done. However, just optimizing your site pages with context, keywords etc is not enough; these are internal factors you can directly control however there are at least a couple of external factors that require constant, long term attention :

Search Engine Algorithm Updates

It is getting harder to maintain a top 10 listing in the search engine results pages (SERPs). This is because the search engines are forever tweaking their algorithms, releasing a few hundred updates every year. With every new update, the chances are that the formula you use for achieving a good ranking for your website will need tweaking too.
And because rankings are relative whichever of your competition understands the changes and is able to update their mix accordingly is likely to achieve a better ranking post-update.

The Rise and Rise of Social

With the launch of Google+, the various new features Facebook releases every year and the waxing/waning popularity of the numerous social networks, the quality of inbound links, one of the prime ingredients of SEO, changes regularly. Every change in the social landscape and the amount of social activity that generates traffic has an impact on the ranking of your site.

Both of these factors are in constant flux and as such they require someone with knowledge and experience to keep up with them; This makes SEO an important part of your marketing mix.

Rage Against The Machine Twitter / Facebook campaign beats X Factor winner to UK Xmas no.1

This past week saw one of the most exciting races for the coveted UK Xmas #1 slot, a race headed by Rage Against The Machine, a nineties rock/rap band, and the 2009 X-factor winner Joe McElderry.

Using the power of social networking tools Facebook and Twitter, Jon and Tracy Morter started a campaign just over a week ago to steal the #1 away from the X-factor winner. And they won!

Figures show “Killing in the name” by Rage Against The Machine at over 500,000 and Joe McElderry’s “The Climb” at just over 450,000 sales. Considering that Rage Against The Machine is little known today and that the X factor final had over 10 million phone votes cast, more than two-thirds for Joe McElderry, this is no small victory. And let’s not forget that “Killing in the name” was only available as a download.

Reasons aside about why this campaign was run, this is a great example about the power of social media marketing and what can be achieved when a message, carefully crafted, resonates with a group of people. The search term #ratm appeared a number of times this past week in Twitter’s trending top-10 list and the campaign’s facebook fan page got thousands of comments to posts, not to mention a following of almost half-a-million facebook users.

If anyone still thinks social media marketing isn’t serious business, think again.

Social Media is changing Customer Service

“The customer is always right” is a term that is taking on new meaning in the increasingly connected consumer world. Why? Because a bad experience can be advertised around the Internet within minutes by a disgruntled consumer using their connections on various social networks they are a member of, doing damage to a brand that could take months to repair.

Consumers have never before had such power to reach literally thousands of like-minded individuals with their opinions of a product or service. Where before a bad experience would have been told of to a handful of people, usually family and friends, today those same family and friends too will have hundreds of connections that they can pass the news on to instantly.

Even worse for businesses, anyone can now create a concerted campaign using a cheap video camera and the power of services like YouTube. Ann Minch started a ‘Debtors Revolt’ in exactly this way against the Bank of America when they raised the interest on her credit card. She created a short, 5 minute video stating her case to Bank of America and made the video publicly available to view. The campaign took off rapidly as the link to the video started appearing on blogs, social networks and Twitter. The video, below, has had over 240,000 views since September.

The bank reacted the only way it could without the publicity getting worse – it reversed the hike after attempting to negotiate another rate – Ann Minch refused and made the bank reinstate the original interest rate.

Such stories are going to become mainstream as more and more consumers realise the power they have at their fingertips.  Businesses have only ever had to worry about a small percentage of customers coming back to them with returns and complaints, A small customer service department would suffice in dealing with the low rate of complaints. Feedback involved polling the customer base where typically only a small percentage would respond, never providing a true picture of what customers felt.

Now, a business needs to be more on the ball with how their customers perceive the service or product. They need to feel  the real-time pulse of the marketplace in order to prevent a small number of customers from negatively influencing a larger number of potential customers.

Customer service departments need to become more involved in the marketplace by becoming part of the conversations their customers are having. This will not only enable gathering of real, emotional feedback but allow the business to gauge the direction the marketplace is moving in to give them an advantage over competitors who are not involved in the social media space. If a business engages with it’s customer base where they are most active they have the ability to influence perception in a positive way and increase business as a result.

Twitter and LinkedIn announce ‘status update’ partnership

In an announcement on Monday Twitter and LinkedIn said they are rolling out a service whereby it will be possible sync status updates between the two services. Facebook and Twitter already do this to a degree and it just makes sense that the world’s most popular micro-blogging platform and the world’s most popular professional networking platform should collaborate in this way.

Check out the announcement video from Twitter co-founder Biz Stone and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman –

Why you should build a Positive Personal Brand

What is a personal brand? It’s the process by which you market yourself to others, whether you’re looking for a job or establishing yourself as an expert in your field or even just posting tweets on Twitter. It’s what you’re seen to wear in online photos, what your ‘voice’ on the Internet sounds like, what your personal web site talks about, what your Facebook page is all about – basically the ‘digital’ you.

In this ever-connected world, everyone is a brand, and this gives each of us great power and opportunity to really sell ourselves. If you use social networks or blog or participate in online forums then you are already in the public eye to some degree. Anyone can Google you and find out all kinds of information by reading your tweets, your blog posts and the conversations you’re involved in anywhere on the ‘net. 
Of course, the flip side of this is that if you’re not active in the digital realm then your personal brand profile is going to be pretty small and in today’s world that’s probably going to work against you in the long run. The Internet has enabled transparency and the less transparent you are the less desirable you become, especially as other personal brands around you become more prominent.

The question is, is your personal brand Positive or Negative?

Today, practically anyone who is likely to interact with you at almost any level of your life is going to Google you and find out everything they can. Employers already do this, as do recruitment agents when checking on potential matches for jobs. If you want someone to collaborate or partner up on a project they’re going to check out the ‘digital’ you first for suitability. 

What many people don’t realize is that almost anything they put out on the Internet is likely to remain available to view for all posterity. This includes Facebook posts, Twitter tweets, comments on blogs, personal videos on Youtube and Vimeo – anything and everything, and if even some of that stuff is ‘bad’ it’s going to work against you to some degree. As Gary Vaynerchuk likes to say, “your grandkids are going to be able to check out everything you’ve ever done”! A good example of how negative content can come back to bite is when a few Virgin Atlantic staff were laid off last year for making derogatory comments about their employer on their Facebook pages.
So you want to make sure everything you do in this digital landscape is positive. Anything that can be found out about your interactions need to show you in the best possible light.

Do that and you’re already on your way to building a strong personal brand.

Crush It! Why Gary Vaynerchuk wrote his new book

Gary Vaynerchuk’s new book Crush It! is already available from retailers all over and I’ve already ordered my copy – if you’re not sure if this is for you check out this video montage from Gary about why he wrote the book…

[viddler id=d3311a3a&w=437&h=333]

Gary Vaynerchuk interview

Raj Kotecha of Creative Content Agency interviews Gary Vaynerchuk on how to leverage social media and build a brand. This 30 minute interview is one of the best I’ve watched in quite some time with many gems of wisdom from Gary. He also talks a little about his new new book on social media, Crush It!

A million giraffes demonstrate the power of social marketing

A web designer betting his friend that he could use social networking to make a ‘million of anything’ led to the creation of the website www.OneMillionGiraffes.com, which called for users to send the creator one million giraffes that they’ve made, either as models or drawings.

Although he didn’t really think he’d get much of a response, within hours he’d got over 60 and by the end of the first day he had 134! In just over 2 months he’s received 134,277 and is well on the way to win the bet by the end of next year.

However, all Ola Helland did was to advertise the site and what he was doing on his Facebook page and on his twitter account and he got this overwhelming response; proof that if you have an interesting concept to market it can spread like wildfire using simple social networking tools.

Check out the site here

Facebook apps stealing data and spamming

ZDnet.com reports on some Facebook apps that steal login details and spam victims’ friends lists. Some of the Facebook apps mentioned in the report are:

  • Stream
  • Posts
  • Your Photos
  • Birthday Invitations

As always, when using social networking sites watch out what apps you use and ask yourself if you absolutely have to use every app that comes your way!

Read the story here

Pay-As-You-Go Email Marketing from MailChimp

Email marketing, although a proven and required part of a marketing strategy, can be costly with most online suppliers charging a hefty monthly sum to use their systems.
Those that operate for free have limitations, usually something like ‘100 recipients only’ which is ok for low level activity but unsuitable for a growing business.

Setting up your own system e.g. using something like PHPList is often tedious and  takes some technical knowledge to set up properly and working just right.

MailChimp, SurveyMonkey’s little brother (or sister, who knows?!), offers a Pay As You Go plan so that you can budget how much you spend on your email marketing campaign. The price plan goes from $15 for 500 credits to $2,500 for 500,000 credits.
This kind of plan is especially suitable for businesses that don’t have a periodic mail-out as credits can be rolled over and the there are no standing fees e.g. monthly charges.

Cheat Sheets for PHP, Ruby on Rails, MySQL, CSS and SEO

I went on a bit of a Cheat Sheet binge this month. Working on a couple of projects using various technologies means I keep bouncing around looking for stuff so I thought I’d better get some cheat sheets up on my wall to save me time.

Most of these are from one site, the brilliantly named “ILoveJackDaniels” by UK web developer Dave Child:

  1. Ruby on Rails Cheat Sheet
  2. PHP Cheat Sheet
  3. MySQL Cheat Sheet
  4. CSS Cheat Sheet and more from the same site
  5. The Web Developers SEO Cheat Sheet by Danny Dover of SEOmoz.org 
  6. Conversion table for em, px, pt & % in CSS by Suresh Jain

Using Social Networks to Create your Business Market

Last month’s Inc. magazine featured clothing company Threadless on the front cover, a company founded by 2 college drop-outs (an interesting trend in itself – so many successful start-ups have college drop-outs at the helm) Jake Nickell and Jeffrey Kalmikoff.

Founded in 2000, Threadless is set to hit $5million is sales this year selling, wait for it, t-shirts! Yep, and they’ve never had a single design that hasn’t  sold out!

So how has Threadless managed to sell out every design? By asking their market what designs they’d buy! Simple!

Using a social network, Threadless runs design competitions and whichever designs are most popular make it onto a t-shirt. The t-shirts are then sold through the same social network to the very people who voted for the designs. This way Threadless supply the market with exactly what they demanded in the first place!

The power of social networking is only now becoming apparent and businesses are beginning to understand just how well ‘word-of-mouth’ marketing, the best and cheapest kind of marketing, works within the semi-porous walls of a social network.

Most think of social networks as the domain of bored teenagers but considering that Facebook, a social network that targets the 25 to 35 demographic, outpaced MySpace, a social network that does target teenagers, in May with the most number of unique visits many will need to re-assess their opinions of the importance of social networking to business.

ICANN relaxes rules on Top Level Domains

TechRadar.com reports today that ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names, is relaxing its rules for Top Level Domains next year.

With billions of web sites populating the Internet it’s really no wonder ICANN are doing this – I can’t remember the last time I registered the exact domain that I or a client wanted. Practically every good top level domain has been snapped up, a lot of these by cyber-squatterswho register a domain early on and sell it to the highest bidder.

The new rules will allow the registration of ‘anything’ as a TLD e.g. .ny for New York or .ldn for London. I could register .chandeshparekh as long as I had a good enough ‘business’ reason for doing so.

As the TechRadar.com article notes, it’s hard to know whether this will improve the Internet or hinder it; consider the number of yet to come ‘dead’ websites that will litter the Internet landscape as a result of the new rules.

Read more about this on the ICANN site

Read the TechRadar.com article

Retailers can Cash in using Social Networks

With the credit crunch truly making itself felt, retailers should be pulling out all the stops to get eyeballs on their products and making sales.

Gartner research found that UK retailers are missing a trick by not using Social Networking as a marketing tool. With social networks like Facebook, MySpace and Bebo getting so much traffic retailers can advertise and market their products in innovative ways like Amazon US has done through the use of a Facebook application.

Read more about the Gartner report here and more about Amazon’s Social Networking strategy here

“My Site and Google” – What every web-site owner should know

It goes without saying that at the present time the most influential search engine on the web is Google and keeping that in mind there is some very important documentation the boffins at Google have created that every web-site owner should read and be aware of when having their web sites designed and built.

Written so a lay-person can easily understand it, with some help from their webmasters, the online documentation consists of the following main sections to help you optimize your site for Google:

  1. My site’s ranking in Google Search Results
  2. How Google crawls my site
  3. Creating a Google friendly site
  4. Preventing content from appearing in Google search results
  5. My mobile site in the Google  Index
  6. Information for Public Sector webmasters

and more can be found here

This is vital information if you want your site to be ranked as highly as possible in Google’s search engine results pages (serps).

Happy reading! 🙂

Web 2.0 Awards by SEOmoz offers inspiration for new and existing Internet businesses

SEOmoz, a Search Engine Optimization specialist offers SEO tips and guidance through their web site at www.seomoz.org. They’ve also just released the results of their Web 2.0 Awards competition, the results of which can be found here.

What’s interesting and very useful for web entrepreneurs is that there are a lot of categories covered, each with 1st, 2nd and 3rd places, and a grading system for Usability, Usefulness, Social Aspects, User Interface & Design, and Content Quality.

The breakdown of 174 sites in 41 categories helps to drill down to sites that are similar to yours making it easy to compare and pinpoint what you should improve for your web site.

Check out the awards site at http://www.seomoz.org/web2.0

Driving Internet traffic to your web site – Timing is everything

There may be times that you’d like to drive massive traffic to your web site e.g. maybe your recent visitor statistics haven’t been as high as you’d like or you do see an opportunity to create some content for your site or blog that you know many readers will be interested in.

I’m always on the look-out for interesting ‘happening-now’ topics that I can use to drive traffic and one such successful topic was when Leon Jackson won the reality singing competition X-Factor in the UK in 2007. On the final televised show it was announced that Leon Jackson’s single would be available immediately as a download from his website leonjacksonmusic.com, as opposed to previous years where fans had to wait for the CDs to hit the shops a few days later.

This final show was on a Saturday night and it struck me the next morning, on Sunday, that this was the first time downloads were being sold to take advantage of the excitement generated by the finals show i.e. instant gratification for fans of Leon Jackson.

Anyway, I quickly wrote an article about that on this site on that Sunday morning (view it here) and because of the expediency with which I had got something related to what could arguably be called the UK’s hottest topic of the moment, this article page was viewed 211 times on that Sunday and went on to rack up a total of 858 page views of which 719 were unique page views!

The reason this one page saw so much traffic is that I was quick to get a hot topic on the site and because of that cynergise.com was listed number one on Google for the following 4 days for the search term ‘leonjacksonmusic.com’, beating the official site as well as the official X-factor web site and forums.

Timing is everything!

Run an online survey quick and fast with SurveyMonkey

A great tool that I’m getting more and more use out of is the online survey-manager web site SurveyMonkey.com

As any business person will tell you, “you need to know your market!” Common sense, no doubt, but how exactly does one go about gathering market information without paying oodles of cash to a research company?

Enter SurveyMonkey!

It says on the home page:

Intelligent survey software for primates of all species. SurveyMonkey has a single purpose: to enable anyone to create professional online surveys quickly and easily.

And this totally true – their easy-to-use system makes it possible to get your survey together in just a few minutes! The hard part is who to target and what to ask them! 🙂

Their pricing plan is 3 tiered starting at ‘free’ to $19.95 per month and lastly $200 for a year. Although the ‘free’ plan only allows up to 100 responses, it’s suitable for small surveys and a good way to get acquainted with the online software.

Try it out now at www.surveymonkey.com