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Spying on competitors is not that hard. There are some simple tools that make it a little easier, but I’d go beyond just the basics and really put emphasis on competitive intelligence. Nevertheless, one of the most basic tools for spying on your competitors is Google Alerts.

Just as you monitor your own name brands and important keywords, you should monitor your competitors’ brands as well. This does a few things for your competitive intelligence strategy:

  • Any time anyone mentions your competition, you know about it and can gauge the context more easily.
  • Whenever your competition updates their website or blog you are notified
  • You keep tabs of important social media where your competition is active
  • If your competition adds new products or services then you will be one of the first to know about it when it is announced publicly

But understand that Google Alerts won’t tell you everything. It will only keep you notified of public comments made by or about your competition, not what they are talking about in their board meetings. Still, it’s an important place to start.

Small business web design begins with web hosting. In order to have your own website you’ll need a web host, but not all hosts are created equal. Depending on your needs, you may want dedicated hosting or you could simply need shared hosting. Some small businesses find it beneficial to host their websites using cloud computing. Or you might benefit from a virtual dedicated server or a managed server. There are plenty of options when it comes to hosting and you’ll need to do your research.

Most small businesses just go to a host and pay based on price. But you should consider your business’s needs before deciding on a hosting plan. If all you want is a five-page business site that you build from an off-the-shelf template then the shared hosting plan is probably right for you. But if you have deeper security needs with a thousand page shopping cart, a blog, a forum, and several tiers of protected areas for members then a dedicated host is probably best for your business.

So what does hosting have to do with web design? The capabilities of your host are important to consider so that you can ensure that you get the right hosting product for your website based on its design and security features. If you need a consultant to help guide you through the web of hosting products then call us at Reciprocal Consulting.

Viral marketing has changed a bit over the years. In the old days it meant you wrote a few articles and distributed them in various places online to build links and drive traffic back to your website. While article marketing still works when done well, there is so much competition and “noise” that to be really effective in getting your articles to go viral you have to write out-of-this world articles, which you should be doing anyways.

After the dot-com bust of 2000-2001, viral marketing changed a bit. Blogging began to pick up speed and early adopters soon found out that if you wrote a great blog post you could attract a lot of links. Blogging is still on the upswing and can still be effective as a viral tool.

However, video marketing took off in 2004 and 2005 and seems to be picking up speed at the same rate that blogging did just a couple of years before. 2010 looks to be the year of the video. Many Internet marketers have used videos for great viral marketing campaigns and many still continue to experiment with video to great success.

Twitter is another tool that marketers are using to great effect. Many marketers have reported it as a great viral marketing tool in its own right.

Still, viral marketing is ever changing. The best viral campaigns will no longer be relegated to the use of one tool.  In the future, viral marketing will become a multi-tiered strategy of its own. Successful viral marketers will devise campaigns that consist of more than one marketing tool and that use many media in conjunction to reach their defined audiences. That’s as it should be. And I’m looking forward to the day when viral marketing isn’t just some buzz word that people use to sound important.

One of the factors that Google considers when computing search rankings is traffic – quantity as well as quality. Indeed, quality is perhaps more important than quantity. Sure, a site that gets 100,000 visitors per day may be seen as better than one that gets 10,000 visits per day, but just because you get a lot of visitors doesn’t mean that those visitors value your site. It’s easy to game traffic counts.

Another aspect of traffic comparison is whether or not visitors return to your website. If you have a low percentage of visitors who are return visitors to your website then you may suffer from some quality marks that are hurting you in your rankings. But that’ s not all.

Other aspects of quality traffic include traffic source, time on site, time on page, and bounce rates. I think traffic source is important and will likely become more important and when I say traffic source I’m talking about specific websites and their authority. If you get high quality traffic from a website that is deemed authoritative in the eyes of Google then that counts in your favor. It is conceivable that 10,000 visitors per day where 80% of that traffic comes from high quality, authoritative sites like Google, Facebook, and Twitter versus 100,000 low quality visitors from low quality directories and such could give you more search mojo. Remember, quality counts. And I think Google is getting as sophisticated at judging quality traffic as they are at judging quality links.

The takeaway here is to seek quality traffic from high quality, authoritative social media sites, not rinky-dink startups with no reputation.

Google has announced that page anchors can now appear in the SERPs for specific pages, however, Google decides which pages based on its algorithm functions. This is a great opportunity or SEOs.

First, let me say that page anchors have always been useful from a user experience point of view. Got a page with multiple sections in it? Add a table of contents at the top and link to each section with an anchor. A user looking for specific information can find it just by scanning the table of contents and going right to where they need to go on the page. Now, however, you can do it for SEO reasons.

Of course, it will be a few weeks for SEOs to start blogging about what they did to manipulate the rankings using page anchors, but it’s coming. You should plan on using keywords in your anchors, however. Is that a given?

There can often be a confusion of terms in search engine marketing. Many people seem to think reputation management and SEO are one in the same. They’re really not. While reputation management does often involve search engine optimization, SEO is not necessarily reputation management.

Here’s what I mean:

Your online reputation is an aggregation of all the things that you and other people say about your online. Good and bad. Many times, comments made by and about you are search engine optimized and rise in the rankings. When they do more people will see them. But someone can say something about you – again, good or bad – and not use SEO techniques, which will likely just land those comments in a vacuum.

By the same token, just because you’ve SEOd your website and caused it to rise to the most prominent positions in the search results doesn’t mean that you’ve done an adequate reputation management job. If you target the keyword “blue widget”, for example, because that’s what you sell, then you are not necessarily affecting your reputation by ranking well for that key term. Someone searching for “blue widget” will find your website if you rank high enough, but they may not know you from Adam. On the other hand, if they search for you by name they may not find your “blue widget” page.

So you can see, SEO and reputation management are not the same. They are both necessary, but the approach for tackling each is different. Treat them that way.

Search engine marketing is not so easy to define, but it is simple to explain. There are really two sides of it – paid search and organic search.

Organic search has to do with natural search engine listings. Those are the results that appear when you make a query at one of the search engines. They appear down the page and centered with paid listing usually appearing above them and/or to the right or left in a sidebar fashion. Typically, searchers prefer to click on the organic listings at Google, but at MSN most of your searchers prefer the paid listings. Both are considered a part of search engine marketing.

Search engine marketing is any marketing done through the search engines. But you really want to use both paid search and organic search in your marketing strategy and make them work together. That’s easier said than done, but it is possible. If you need a guide to show you how to make the most of your search engine marketing efforts, one is just a click away.

Video marketing seems to be picking up speed and I think we could be entering the era of video marketing. That means videos will be used to reach audiences like never before. Why?

Videos, with their strong reliance on visual communication, allow marketers an opportunity to build trust among their audience. That’s a big plus and a huge opportunity for marketers. But there is an aspect to video marketing that hasn’t been discussed much: Reputation management.

Reputation management is the practice of using search engines to keep positive results high in visibility while pushing negative results down further. Videos are perfect for this.

One way videos can help you achieve your reputation management goals is in diversity of results. Ideally, you want your brand to return as many results as possible when people are search for information about you. Videos can fill one of the top 10 slots easily, especially if you upload your videos to YouTube and several of the other video sharing sites available. Be proactive in your reputation management and use videos.

One of the best and most effective SEO strategies involves using PPC, or pay per click advertising, to find new keywords and optimize web pages. It really isn’t anything new. Webmasters have been using pay per click to inform their SEO for many years. It works like this.

You pick a few keyword phrases that you haven’t targeted on your website just yet and bid on those. Write your ads. Point the URLs in your ads to the most relevant page on your website. See which ads get clicked on the most for the keywords that you are targeting. When you find a keyword that attracts a lot of click throughs then you know you’ve found a good keyword for your niche.

But what should you do with that keyword? Well, you can build a new static web page for your website or your can write a blog post. You can also write articles for your article marketing efforts. Whatever you can do in the way of content development that requires keyword optimization. And it starts with a simple pay per click campaign.

If you’ve been online long and tried your hand at Internet marketing then you’ve probably met with some often spoken truths or half-truths. You’ve probably heard a lot about black hat and white hat techniques. You’ve likely heard about SEO, social media, and a lot of people talking about the right way and the wrong way to go about it all. Let me just say that most of this is misinformation. Much of it, too, is deliberate misinformation.

Why would anyone deliberately misinform concerning Internet marketing strategies? Well, if they are a full-time internet marketer working in more than one niche, they probably don’t want more competition. They’re trying to keep it low profile.

The first thing you need to know about Internet marketing is that there is no one way to accomplish a goal. There are as many ways to be successful at Internet marketing as there are Internet marketers. That’s not to say that there aren’t strategies that are more effective than others. It is to say that you may not necessarily benefit from all the methods the gurus teach. And you shouldn’t necessarily try.

The key to successful Internet marketing is testing. You have to try different things and see what works for you – within the realm of best practices, of course.

Last week we talked about competitive intelligence in a corporate world. It’s an important part of any business whether online or offline.  Competitive intelligence is also important when it comes to marketing. In an online world that competitive intelligence extends to search engine placement as well as online marketing.

How does competitive intelligence relate to search engine placement? SEO or search engine optimization is the process of gaining the best possible place on the search results pages for any search involving your keywords.

The key part of competitive intelligence is the gathering of facts that relate to your competitors.  Some of the information gathered includes:

  • Keywords and keyphrases
  • Inbound links
  • Associated websites
  • Partnerships
  • Social marketing tactics

The gathering of facts is, however, only one part of competitive intelligence. The most important part is knowing how to filter that data, what to do with the filtered data and finally how to compare it against your own site(s).

Just because a competitor uses a set of keywords doesn’t mean you should as well. In fact, your competitive advantage may be the fact you do use a different set of keywords.

In that situation, your concern should be how to protect your advantage since competitive intelligence is a two way street – yes, they could well be researching you. Whilst worrying how to get ahead of the rest, don’t forget to stay in front of those behind you.

Duplicate content is again hitting the headlines around the net, this time for all the right reasons. In the past many believed that search engines such as Google penalized sites that had duplicate content issues – this is not true. That doesn’t mean that duplicate content is harmless, it can create a lot of problems for your pages.

Is duplicate content then an SEO issue or a web design issue. Like many things related to search engine rankings, it is both. Or rather, it is one that leads to another. If your web design, more importantly, your site architecture includes dynamic parameters then the chances are you will have duplicate content issues.

If you can see URLs that include question marks, strange characters, or have terms such as ?sid=12395923 added to the end – you have dynamic URLs. Yahoo! and Google allow webmasters to control what parameters in URLs they want ignored.

In Yahoo!, the option is available through Site Explorer. In Google, Webmaster Tools has the option under Site Configuration > Settings. It is important to control which versions of a page are indexed.

If more than one URL points to a page then you could be leaking link juice. The more link juice you leak, the lower your page will rank in search results. Control which pages are indexed and you will gain a little control over the flow of link juice – an essential component of SEO. You work hard for links – why waste them.

It is easy to misunderstand the concept of competitive intelligence if you are not accustomed to working within a strategic organization. It is not merely guessing at what the competition will do. It is not simply monitoring the competition so that you know what they are doing while they are doing it. A successful competitive intelligence program is more proactive and more engaged with the competition on a comprehensive level, without the competition necessarily knowing they are being watched.

The game of business is played in competition. Companies with similar products and services compete for business or market share. In order to win a piece of the pie you often have to take a piece from another company. But to do that you need to know several things about yourself, your competition, and the market, such as:

  • What do customers like about the competition and its products?
  • What do customers like about your products?
  • What would customers like to see in a product that isn’t currently being offered by anyone?
  • What weaknesses, or perceived weaknesses, do your products have?
  • What weaknesses, or perceived weaknesses, does your competition and its products have?

These are just some of the questions you should be asking. Some of these questions can be answered by having a member of your staff or a friend purchase your competition’s products and evaluate them against yours. Surveys and polls are other ways to get feedback – especially if conducted with anonymity so respondents don’t know who’s asking.

When it comes to competitive intelligence, it makes sense to asking the tough questions of your own company as well as the competition. The idea is to know what’s happening in the minds of consumers as it relates to your business and the competitive playing field. It’s not easy, but necessary.

Is CSS or tables better for modern web design? You’ll find proponents of both today and many web designers still refuse to use CSS (though, admittedly, most have moved on to CSS). Then there are the new web designers who do their work completely in CSS without the use of tables. I believe it’s important to know how to do both.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both tables and CSS. With CSS, if you want to update your website then you only have to make changes once. Your CSS file define the elements and by making changes in your CSS file, or stylesheet, then you don’t have to do it on every page of your website. This is very important if you have a large website.

Tables, however, are easy to design once you know how. They’re fairly simple. You design the parameters of your table and input the data. Done.

So which should you use? I think it depends. CSS is good for defining page elements that are common to all of the pages on your website. That includes background color, sidebar width, navigation menu characteristics, etc. Those things won’t change from page to page so you want them to be constant. And if you do need to make changes to them it is best to do that in one file rather than having to do it manually on every page of your site.

A table, on the other hand, is best used whenever you have a design element that is unique to a specific page. For instance, in your body copy you are listing neighborhoods you service. You can put them in a table so that they stand out on the page and are set apart from the rest of your content. Easy to scan, easy to read.

When it comes to web design, there are few hard and fast rules. The one you want to pay attention to the most is to think of your site’s user. That’s who your design is for.

Viral marketing has come a long way since the early days of e-mail marketing where the marketer sent out an e-mail and half his list forwarded it on to their friends. Then the next thing you know you’re hearing about the next Internet millionaire. You bought his book, right?

Actually, it probably didn’t quite work the way some of them said it did either. But viral marketing does work.

Here are 5 viral marketing methods that have been proven to work and that still work today:

  • Video Marketing – People love to watch YouTube videos. YouTube is one of the most viral websites online. One video getting a couple hundred thousand page views can make you a lot of money and increase your reputation. Videos are good viral marketing tools.
  • Article Marketing – Article marketing is an old form of marketing online, but it still works. Write an article, distribute to a few article directories, and see how many publishers pick it up for distribution. It still works.
  • Blogging – It seems like everyone is doing it, and maybe they are, but a well written blog post can attract a lot of attention. It usually happens by a few people linking to it and a couple of high profile people promoting it, but once your blog post goes viral there’s no stopping it.
  • Twitter – Twitter is the new kid on the block of viral marketing, but it sure is a cool tool. Build a list of devoted followers who watch (and listen) to what you have to say. Post some links and watch them go viral.
  • Social Media Marketing – Social media is one highly misunderstood marketing form. It not only involves entities like Digg and Twitter, but your blog and Facebook are great tools on their own. Every social media site has its own idiosyncrasies and methods for distribution, but if you can figure it out, social media marketing is an awesome viral marketing tool.

Viral marketing often requires a plan, but it has been known to work spontaneously. The key is to deliver content that people can sink their teeth into. Make it great and it will go viral.

Can social media optimization (SMO) be a fitting substitute for search engine optimization (SEO)? To answer this question it helps to have a working understanding of both SEO and SMO. Let’s examine:

  • SEO – The purpose for SEO is to attract visitors to your website based on search engine queries such that you answer their questions simply by delivering quality content that meets their needs.
  • SMO – Social media optimization is the social counterpart to SEO. It doesn’t replace it, but compliments it. SMO allows you to attract new visitors by appealing to your audience’s social needs while grabbing their attention with valid SEO techniques.

It’s important to note that the best SMO relies on sound SEO. Your social media efforts will be enhanced if you start with SEO as the basis of your website building block and use it as your foundation. Let SMO rest on the foundation, not vice versa.

Search engine optimization is a process that seems to be getting more and more sophisticated as time goes on. Used to be,  a webmaster could toss in a few keywords on the web page, add some meta tags, and all was well. Today, there are more than a couple of hundred ranking factors to consider. And what gets one website high rankings may be completely different for another website. Generally speaking, it’s better to focus on principles than specific techniques.

However, there are some best practices that are, across the board, very effective. Savvy search engine optimizers know that putting your keyword in your title is very effective. They also know that inbound links can make a mediocre site a great one. And your URL is important in many ways as well.

But there are certain factors that today may not be important while being extremely important next year or five years from now. A good search engine optimization specialist should be able to look down the road and predict, with some fair amount of accuracy, where search is headed – and begin to optimize web pages for the future of search as well as for today. You don’t need a crystal ball, just a good handle on the playing field. Can your SEO boast of that?

Search engine marketing is generally broken into two different types of marketing. On the one side is search engine optimization. On the other side is pay per click advertising, or paid search. The primary component of search engine marketing, of course, is the practice of increasing the visibility of a website in the search engines. That could technically include more than SEO and PPC.

Many industry insiders think of SEM as primarily paid search advertising, or contextual advertising. I think there could be a case that SEM includes social media advertising in some cases.

If the intent of advertising is to influence search rankings then I’d argue that should be included in the broad definition of search engine marketing. In that case, buying links – though frowned upon by search engines – could be considered a part of search engine marketing.

However you define search engine marketing, there is one thing that all marketers online can agree on. You can’t build a web business today without it. Search engine marketing is as essential to business today as sunlight.

Reputation management is one of those things that most people don’t think about until they need it. But it’s one of the most important aspects of doing business online and you should think about it right from start. How are you going to manage your reputation?

First, you need to stop thinking about reputation management as a clean up exercise. Yes, you might have to do some clean up from time to time. But that’s not necessarily what it’s all about. It is about ensuring that you go about your business like a business and keeping a positive image of yourself in the blogosphere and elsewhere. But how?

For starters, you should engage in a dialogue with members of your target audience. Engage them with conversation in a comfortable environment – like on your blog or in a chatroom or forum.

By treating others as you would like to be treated, you can go a long way in ensuring that they see you as the expert and kind human being you want them see you as. Keep your head up, walk in a dignified manner, and be yourself. There is really no better way to manage your reputation – online or elsewhere.

When it comes to pay per click advertising, if you don’t set certain controls in place then you could lose your shirt. And I mean fast.

I highly recommend using the automated budgeting tool within your PPC account. With that tool you can set your budget in one of two ways – and I recommend doing it both ways. You can set a daily budget and you can set a monthly budget.

Your daily budget tells your PPC provider not to exceed that amount in clicks for each day that your pay per click campaign is active. For instance, if you give a $5 per day budget then when your clicks drive your spending up to the $5 limit, your ads will not be displayed any more that day.

In addition to setting a daily budget, you can set a monthly budget. The monthly budget works like the daily budget but it is extended for the entire month. So if you set a $100 monthly budget then when you clicks drive your spend up to that amount your ads will be cut off and not displayed for the rest of the month.

I recommend setting both a daily and a monthly budget, but try to set your daily budget so that if you meet the budget each day you will still have dollars left in your monthly budget on the last day of the month. You don’t want your campaign cut off mid-month.