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When it comes to marketing yourself online, do you know the most important ingredient in a sound Internet marketing plan? Is it SEO? How about a large budget? Driving traffic? Targeted traffic? Analytics?

How about, None Of The Above.

When it comes to Internet marketing, the most important thing is your reputation. Yes, your online reputation. Guard if ferociously.

The reason I say reputation is the most important aspect of Internet marketing is because once you lose trust and credibility with your audience, that’s it. You can win it back, but it’s a long, hard road uphill. And one you don’t want to climb.

People online would rather do business with someone they know and trust than someone with a great product that has no credibility. If you have a solid reputation online then your Internet marketing efforts will go a lot more smoothly. You’ll get more doors to open. And you’ll be a lot more successful. That’s about how it works off line too, isn’t it?

I guess you could say some things transfer very well from the real world to the virtual world. Internet marketing is a lot like traditional marketing. It’s the technology that is different.

One of the most important aspects of competitive intelligence is keyword analysis. One of the simplest parts of competitive intelligence, it is also one of the most involved. There is more to keyword analysis than simply checking which keywords are the most popular searches in the search engines and which are the most sought after in terms of competitive business. Those are important, yes, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

One very important piece of the keyword analysis puzzle is the keyword meta tag. It’s relatively easy to scour the competition’s website and extract their keyword meta tags. The danger is that your competition may not have optimized their meta tags well and you’ll just be getting garbage, but if your competition has done a good job at producing optimized web pages, including the meta tags, then you can get their full list of keywords just by visiting their websites.

When using meta tags, you have to visit each page of your competition’s website individually. That’s because they will likely have optimized every page for one, two, or three keywords. The meta tags, if done properly, will show up to 10 important keywords for each page (5 is better) and each page will be optimized for different keywords. So you can see that there should be some overlap from page to page.

At any rate, while the keywords meta tag is not the only place to go for competitive keyword analysis, it is one place you don’t want to overlook.

When it comes to world-class web design, there is more to building a good web site than looking pretty. The elements are complicated, but how they work together makes all the difference. And there’s not just one right way to do it either.

One of the least often thought about aspects of web design is hosting. Sure, everyone thinks about it, of course. They choose a host and build a website and upload it to their host’s servers. But few webmasters actually sit and think about the hosting needs of their website. But the features of your web host are just as important for web design as they are anything else.

For starters, do you need a dedicated host or will a shared hosting plan suit your needs? To be sure, a dedicated server is more secure. It’s also more costly.

Then there’s the database support. Do you need a Windows server or a Linux server? Do you know the difference?

What about special needs for e-commerce accommodation or huge file storage such as videos and audio files? Are those necessary in your business plan?

It will behoove you to research the web hosting options you have available to you and compare them with your web design needs before you purchase your domain name and select a host. While you can always move to another host and repoint your DNS servers to that new host, you don’t want to do that if you can avoid it. It’s best to start out in your permanent home.

Viral marketing gets a lot of airplay, as well it should. Just one successful viral marketing campaign can put your company on the map in hardly no time at all. But how do you do it?

There are any number of ways to make a viral marketing campaign work. But if you want to make one work without much effort then you’ve got to get other people involved in the spreading of the virus – I mean, word. Perhaps the best way to get others involved in helping you spread the word is to give them an incentive. And the best way to do that is to provide them with rewards for their efforts. An affiliate program is the perfect choice.

While there are no guarantees, if you offer a lucrative opportunity for others to profit from your successful efforts then you’ll encourage them to spread the word for you. If you provide a good product or service, great support for your affiliates, and offer unbeatable rewards, they will do the legwork for you and deliver viral results while you sit back and watch.

OK, I wouldn’t encourage you to sit back and watch. But if you have a good army of affiliates working for you then you don’t have to work as hard to see your marketing efforts go viral. Affiliate marketing is where it’s at. Viral marketing is the result of a good product, a good affiliate program, and great rewards.

Optimizing for social media traffic is a bit different than optimizing for search engines. But there are similarities. When you optimize your landing page for search engines, keywords are extremely important. After all, people will find your site by those keywords. But with social media, while keywords are important, they aren’t the most important thing. Social media users look for something different.

First and foremost, they want a unique experience. Keywords are good for ensuring those social media pages achieve better rankings in the search engines, but what happens if someone finds your content in Digg or StumbleUpon and arrives there from a search engine? You still want them to go to your website and that will take a different approach than merely sprinkling your content with keywords.

Your headline is very important. It should attract attention. More than that, it must get the click. Social media users have two things to go on in deciding whether or not to read your content: The headline and the description, or summary. The headline, more than anything, will determine whether or not they read your content.

What should a headline do? Three things:

  1. Arouse curiosity
  2. Tell the reader what to expect from the content
  3. Use your primary keyword

Understand that Nos. 1 and 2 and more important than No. 3 when it comes to social media optimization. Yes, you want your keyword there for the search engines, but human readers care about the content. It must answer their most pressing questions or make them believe that your content will answer those questions. Get them to click. That’s the goal. And if you achieve that then you’ve done your job.

You may feel your search engine marketing efforts are paying off and all is going well – they could be too. However, you should always be reviewing your activities to ensure you are get the most out of your campaigns.

Search Engine Journal has a timely post that provides seven tips to increasing your landing page conversions – we could all use an increase in conversions, even at the best of times. Consider reviewing the following in relation to your landing pages:

  • Call to Actions Matter – is your call to action clear
  • Digestible content – is your content scanable
  • Minimize choice – don’t confuse things with too many choices
  • Keep It SIMPLE – create simple pages
  • Keep form length to a minimum – only collect the data you need
  • Avoid marketing speak – use every day language
  • Envoke Trust – if I trust your site, I will buy from you

Although very obvious areas to review, over time our pages get out of hand – reign them in and with luck, your conversions will start to climb. The post makes one point that is worth repeating:

Landing pages are becoming overly complicated data dumps where the short attention spanned consumer is left to sort through the pop-ups, multiple focus points, talking heads and flashing pictures. No wonder bounce rates are astronomical on most sights. Let’s stop blaming poor market conditions….

Now go back and look at your landing pages in relation to that description. How does it measure up? Many don’t measure up and by trimming them back you can make them lean, mean conversion machines.

For many years the name of the search engine optimization game has been to target Google. The more articles you read the more often you will come across references to Google, Matt Cutts or Webmaster Tools. Every now and then, Yahoo! or Bing creeps into the conversation.

The theory has been that Google gets the majority of traffic so that is the place to rank. It has been a reasonable theory too and most sites find that if they get it right for Google, they are close to getting it right for the others.

Yahoo! recently announced a new search design and at the same time made a little noise about targeting people search.  A search for a person will produce results which include profiles Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and FriendFeed.  Their aim, to be number one for people search.

It was not so long ago that reports indicated that Bing was doing well in the travel, retail and finance sectors when it came to searches.

If the search engines are going to target certain niches, perhaps the time has come to reassess our search engine optimization strategies. If your site is based on travel, retail or finance, it may be time to focus your search engine optimization strategies on areas that will help you rank well on Bing.

Many will argue that you can optimize for all three search engines, and you can. However, we still bring the focus back to Google – perhaps it is time to change that.

Have you ever wondered how you could keep you  costs down whilst  increasing traffic to your  site? The new Adwords Bid Simulator tool may be able to answer some of those questions.

It’s not a crystal ball and the information you glean from it is only a rough guide. However, the information it does provide does at least have some statistical basis behind it amd can help to tweak your pay-per-click campaigns.

The tool works by analyzing the last seven days traffic and then calculating revised impressions, clicks and cost in relation to changes in the maximum Cost-Per-Click. In other words, if you were to raise or lower your bid prices, what effect would it have on costs and traffic.

If you would like to test it out, just view all your campaigns in the AdWords interface.  From there,  select the keywords tab and sort all your keywords by click volume.  A blue icon should appear alongside the current CPC for all high-volume keywords; click on the icon and you can play around with the data.

As I said, it’s not a crustal ball but it can provide some interesting data. You can find out more from the the Google Adsense blog here.

>Web design, site structure and internal linking can all lead to problems that can ultimately affect your search rankings.  A post on Bing’s Webmaster Center highlights the effect of poor design and what steps should be taken to ensure your web sites gains the most from your efforts.

There are times when the general theme coming from some blogs is that search engines are the enemy. In reality, if your site is providing valuable content then the search engines want it – they want to be able to tell the world about it. Rather than being the enemy, they can be a web site owners best friend. It’s simply matter of listening to what they want, how they want it presented and supplying it. As the Bing post stated:

….if your site’s structure is flawed or broken, then it will still not achieve the optimal page rank you desire from search engines.

It’s common sense. If the search engine bots cannot read certain pages – they won’t be indexed and if they are not  indexed, they won’t appear in the search results.

Simply tasks like using Redirects when pages are moves; adding a Robots file to block out certain areas of your website that don’t need indexing; and providing clear and keyword targeted page and directory titles should be standard practice.

If you can ensure your site is easily spidered by the bots then you should find your pages being indexed. If pages are not being indexed, have a closer look to try and determine why. Find and fix the issue and you will reap the rewards through search traffic.

Pay per click marketing can be a stressful past time for many web site owners particularly if they are in a competitive niche where costs per click can be high.  If your walking a tight line between profitable and unprofitable costs then it may be time to rethink your pay per click strategies and look at some of the lesser known PPC options.

There are quite a few alternate search engines around that offer pay per click advertising, often with lower costs per click than the big boys like Google.  The hard part is finding these alternatives. A search of Google will help you find a good handful of alternatives.

Once you have a list of alternative pay per click search engines, sit down and do some research. Sign up and create a few ads, check out their interfaces, and see what sort of costs per click you may be up for. Many of them can provide the same keyword advertising program but at much less costs.

If you have the funds, create a few trial ads and let them run for a few days. This will give you an idea of what costs you are likely to face, what sort of click through rate you are receiving, and most importantly, what sort of conversion rates you are achieving.

You would be surprised at the amount of traffic you can generate through these alternate search engines. You may also find you are achieving better conversion rates – if that’s the case, your ROI will simply get better.

ReTweeting has become an important component of the Twitter experience and could perhaps create a Digg like experience for users. One gets the feeling that reTweets are now more important than the original Tweet and if the original Tweet has a marketing angle, the viral marketing angle can be tremendous.

As proof of the popularity of reTweets, Twitter is looking to add a re-Tweet function to the site. There are already plenty of third party re-Tweet options around already, each providing Digg like re-Tweet buttons.

WebProNews provides a list of the benefits of re-Tweets:

  • Retweets are viral
  • Retweets show up as top-level items in FriendFeed
  • As opposed to a Facebook “like,” a retweet is shared with everyone
  • Retweets typically give credit to sources
  • While giving credit to sources, retweets can lead to relationships
  • Susbstantial amounts of retweets can say a lot about the quality of content
  • Retweets can inspire further conversation
  • Retweets can be good for branding
  • Retweets can easily be shared across multiple networks, like Twitter, Friend, Facebook, etc.
  • Retweets can provide followers with additional value in quality content

The practice of re-Tweeting is growing and as businesses start to see the value in Twitter as a marketing tool – viral marketing will bloom.

If you’ve been thinking about doing some competitive intelligence – and you should – then you’ve got to take the first step. But what is the first step, exactly? Glad you asked.

Before you do any amount of competitive intelligence, the first thing you need to do is identify who your competitors are.

That seems like a no-brainer and it is, but sometimes it isn’t so cut and dry. For instance, who are Twitter’s competitors? There are a dozen or so microblogging services, but none of them are at the scale that Twitter is at. Then there are Twitter Search, Bing, and Google – are they competitors? How about Facebook? Facebook seems to be trying to compete with Twitter on some level.

In some industries, a competitor in one market segment could be a partner in another. High tech companies have operated that way for years. Now, it seems, we’re starting to see some of the same happening in Internet services companies.

What you think is a no-brainer may actually contain a few shades of gray. Be sure to identify your competitors for each of your markets and define them intelligently. Otherwise, your competitive intelligence information may not be helpful.

You’ve heard that content is king and that is true, but you can go too far. One of the five common mistakes that many businesses make in their web design is providing too much information at once.

There are several ways you can provide too much information on your website:

  • Too many irrelevant pages
  • Too much information on a single page, making it too long to read
  • Providing too much depth when giving an overview would do
  • Elaborating on topics that need no elaboration
  • Redundancy
  • Duplicating content
  • Adding irrelevant content to pages, watering down your SEO

Web design is very important. People will leave your site as often for a poor web design as they will anything else. An attractive site is very important to keep people interested. Even then, relevant content is what keeps visitors on your site and if you have too much irrelevant content or provide more than what people are willing to read through then you could be cutting off your own nose.

Before you build your site, learn a few web design basics. Don’t be a bore.

Viral marketing gets a lot hyper for good reason. There are plenty of ways to go about running a viral marketing campaign and achieving success. Here are some tips to help you in your next Twitter marketing campaign. How to go viral on Twitter:

  • Put some thought into your Twitter name. Try to get something that is easily brandable (and it helps if it matches the brand you’ve already created)
  • Use Twellow, Twitter Search, and such tools to find followers in the niche that you work in.
  • Maintain an active Twitter posture (10-20 tweets a day is ideal – not too many and just enough to keep your name in front of your followers)
  • Ensure that all of your tweets provide value related to your niche
  • Write a keyword-focused description on your Twitter profile
  • Use @replies to respond to your followers and build relationships
  • Retweet helpful tweets from others
  • Build up a sizable following (there’s power in numbers)
  • Stay away from automation whenever possible, but in light doses you can pre-schedule certain tweets that are recurring using services like Tweetlater and HootSuite
  • Put a Retweet button on your blog
  • Use Twitter Tools to automatically post your blog posts to your Twitter account

The key to going viral on Twitter is to build relationships with people in your niche who are like-minded and to provide value upon value upon value.

Search engine optimization is about to change. Forever.

Google has recently announced a preview of its upcoming change in search algorithm. This is supposed to be one of the biggest and most radical changes ever. They’re calling it Google Caffeine.

Everyone from Aaron Wall to BusinessWeek have taken it for a test drive and written about it. Some of the things that people are saying about Google Caffeine are:

There are a ton of people talking bout the new Google Caffeine. In fact, search for “Google Caffeine” without the quotes and you’ll find over 5.37 million results at Google and 10.8 million at Bing.

It’s interesting to read what some of the most prominent people in search engine optimization are saying about it, but mostly what I’ve found are a list of disagreements. About the only thing everyone agrees on is that Google Caffeine is faster than the current Google and includes more results in search queries. But I do believe that search engine optimization is on the brink of a major change. Don’t you?

Search engine marketing has often been defined as attempting to rank web pages in the search engines through means such as pay per click advertising, paid placements and paid inclusion. But this is a little bit of an antiquated definition.

With Microsoft taking over Yahoo!s search business and incorporating it into Bing, at least two of those strategies are nearly no longer valid. Yahoo! trumpeted paid inclusion years ago, but since search engines have gotten better at crawling and ranking web pages, paid inclusion has not be all that necessary. Any search engine marketer worth his weight in salt ought to be able to get a web page ranked without it.

So what will SEM of the future look like?

My guess is will still involve contextual advertising, or pay per click, but it will also involve some form of social media advertising. As the Web grows more into a social web with search functions, as opposed to a searchable database with social features, the search engines themselves will take on a more social role. Search engine marketing could actually become more social in nature. What do you think?

New Internet marketers may not understand the terms that get used online and reputation management is one that gets confused a lot. To be sure, it’s not a one-time event. It’s an ongoing project when done right and it should be started long before you really need it.

I’ve met far too many website owners – and even some non-website owners – who think of reputation management as a last minute resort, or as a cleanup activity. Once they’ve met with someone online who is trashing their name and trying to ruin their reputation, that’s when they think about protecting it. At that point, it’s too late.

Online reputation management should begin the moment that you start thinking about building an online presence. Reputation management should be a part of your overall strategy for building a business online.

The tools that you’ll use to build and maintain your reputation online are many. Which ones you focus on depends on your personality, your business goals, and your budget, but here are a few ideas to get your mind spinning:

  • Online video
  • Search engine optimization
  • Search engine marketing
  • Blogging
  • Article marketing
  • Podcasting
  • Display advertising
  • Social media marketing
  • Viral marketing
  • Reciprocal push marketing
  • Newsletter marketing
  • E-mail marketing
  • Link building

As you can see, the tools in your arsenal are plenty. And you can use them all together. The key is to develop a strategy and stick with it. Your reputation is too important to leave to chance.

For most companies, a well-crafted and managed pay per click campaign can build real significant results into their online marketing plans. This is an area of online business that requires some critical thought. You don’t want to just jump in with both feet and a big budget and nonchalantly start tossing money away. There is a strategy to consider.

When you first start your pay-per-click campaign, do so lightly. Run a test. Initially, you want to test your keywords and landing pages. No sense in throwing thousands of dollars into a marketing campaign for a website that isn’t ready to close sales. So run a moderate test to see what kind of results you can get before you go all out with your marketing campaign.

When you run your initial test, you are looking for three things:

  1. Is your landing page optimized well enough to receive traffic and close sales?
  2. Are your keywords the right keywords for reaching your target market?
  3. Is your ad content written well enough to attract click throughs?

If you can answer yes to those three questions then you are ready to start your pay per click campaign. If your answer to any of these questions after you run your test is “no” then you need to tweak and retest.

Seth Godin shares an anecdote about a real estate agent who lifts vague signage to advertise her business. It occurred to me that these types of vague claims could happen just as well – and often do – online.

Suppose the real estate agent put up a website and right at the top of the page when you landed on her site was the phrase “#1 in Westchester, Top 10 Nationwide.” Would you be tempted to do business or to leave the site? I think most of us would head off to play Yahoo! Games or something.

Now, I’m not denigrating this real estate broker, but what does it really mean to be No. 1 in your neighborhood and top 10 nationwide? Who’s counting? Does that mean you’ve sold a lot of houses?

I think Seth’s point, and now my point, is you’ve got to be specific with your message. Especially online. Because Internet marketing isn’t getting any easier and people don’t have a lot of time to sift through vague marketing message to try and find that one person who can help them get what they want. They want someone who communicates clearly and succinctly about what they have to offer. If you can do that on your website then you’ll reach the people you want to reach.

When it comes to seeing how you stack up against the competition, one good measure of an industry is benchmarking. With benchmarking, you can’t compare yourself to specific competitors like you can with other types of comparison, but what you can measure is just as important. A good benchmarking tool will put your company side by side with industry averages on important statistics like web traffic, bounce rate, and conversions.

This is important information because benchmarking statistics are compiled from individual companies within a niche, but rolled up into an average for the aggregated whole. It allows you to measure you against the playing field.

With benchmarking, you can see whether you are above the average company within your field for each important statistic or below the average. Then you can tweak what you need to tweak to move your company in the right direction. Don’t overlook benchmarking when you conduct your competitive intelligence research.