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Search engine marketing (SEM) has only been around for about a decade, or just a little bit short of it. Online journalist Danny Sullivan first introduced the term in 2001. Since then, search engine marketing has grown by leaps and bounds.

At its core, SEM consists of paid search and SEO – search engine optimization. Early SEM professionals spent most of their time focusing on driving traffic to websites and increasing the number of site visitors. That, however, has proved to be an unprofitable venture as high numbers of traffic do not necessarily lead to conversions. That’s why search engine marketing management, or SEMM, has started taking hold.

SEMM professionals focus more on increasing ROI through search engine marketing efforts. If you can increase your ROI by decreasing traffic, would you?

That’s not to say that decreasing traffic is always a necessity, but sometimes you can increase profits by decreasing traffic to your website. This is done by focusing on a narrower niche or topic or by writing about your niche in such a way that it appeals to a certain subset – i.e. specialization. If you reach the right target market with increased specialization then you can increase your ROI. You may lose some traffic from people not interested in your specialty, but they weren’t likely to buy from you anyway.

SEMM involves a tighter focus on profits and ROI instead of vague concepts like traffic an site visitors.

Should you respond to negative comments about your business on other websites? Ideally, you’d want to have those conversations on your own blog. A good strategy to use to get people over to your blog for a conversation about your products and services is to write a blog post that addresses a concern made publicly elsewhere. Then, visit the site on which the comment was made and make a short statement about the comment with a link to your site for the fuller explanation. Your comment might look something like this:

Thanks for addressing that issue. You might be interested in this explanation (and include the link here).

This tells people that you take their concerns seriously. It also tells them that you are willing to talk about it. But it also gets them to your blog to talk about it. By getting the conversation going on your website, you can control the flow of the conversation while giving people a chance to voice their concerns and deal with the issue directly where it makes the most sense to do so.

Call it reputation management. But we call it common sense.

Is your landing page or your ad more important in your pay per click campaign? To be honest, it’s neither. They should work together as a team. Let’s examine what the function of each is in your PPC campaign.

    Landing Page – The landing page is the place where your visitor will buy your product. It’s important that your landing page is optimized and ready to close sales. It should have a strong call to action and sell the benefits of your offer. The landing page also plays a big part in the quality score of your ad. If it receives a lot of bounces then your quality score will suffer so the importance of your landing page cannot be overstressed.

    Ad Content – On the other hand, your ad is what gets people to the landing page from the search results page. It is very important that your ad target the right keywords and that it includes a strong call to action. Without a strong call to action, no one will click your ad and no one will see your landing page or buy your product.

Both your landing page and your ad are integral parts of your PPC campaign. They should work together. They are a team. Neither is more important than the other. Such thinking is what leads to the fall of great teams in sports, business, and marriage. When one partner thinks he is the glue that holds the team together, there’s a problem. Make your ad and your landing page work as a team.

PageRank has an interesting history. Since Google first introduced it as a measure of trust for websites there have been strong proponents and equally strong opponents. At different times, the strongest proponents have also been the strongest opponents. All in a season, I guess.

Titus Hoskins asks if PageRank is still relevant. Then says yes in answer to his own question.

It really is a good question and I’ve heard Internet marketers argue both sides. There was a time when it was considered the cat’s meow. Everyone fought hard to get the best PageRank possible. So hard, in fact, that some people started acting unethically, selling links for PR. Google penalized those webmasters when they found them, but many webmasters still sell links “under the radar.” I suspect link selling will always be a problem.

That’s why some Internet marketers discount PageRank as irrelevant today. It’s too easy to be gamed, they say. Maybe it is. But as Titus Hoskins says, there still always be people who will judge you on the number Google reports. As long as PageRank is a public metric it will be an important metric – gamed or not.

The problem of PageRank is complicated by its ability to be gamed. But that’s no reason to discount it completely. Look at it, note it, and try to improve it. But don’t let it rule you.

One way to gain some competitive intelligence on your most important competitors is to subscribe to their newsletter. A newsletter is a marketing tool that has come to be a staple for many businesses in a lot of industries. In a newsletter, a company will share the latest information about their company with their customers and announce plans for upcoming offers. You may think that by the time information hits a company newsletter that it’s too late to act on it. Not true. It may be just the right time.

But you don’t just want to head over to the competition’s website and sign up for their newsletter under your company e-mail account. That will send up a red flag and you may never get the newsletter. Instead, sign up for a free e-mail account at Yahoo, Hotmail, or Gmail. Choose a name that won’t arouse suspicion. Then use that address to subscribe to the newsletter.

You’ll have to be sure to login to your free e-mail account to read every issue of the competition’s newsletter. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your time. If you don’t have to time to do that then have a staff person do it or hire an assistant to handle that task for you. But it’s an easy way to spy on the competition and gain actionable intelligence for right now.

You’ve decided to build a website to promote your business online. You don’t have a huge budget and you have limited technical skills. Should you build an HTML website or use a content management system?

There are pros and cons to doing it either way. But I’d say if you are a small business and you are on a tight budget then you might consider a content management system (CMS).

You are likely going to pay someone to set it up for you if you don’t have a lot of technical skills yourself. But you’d pay someone to design you a website using HTML as well. Either way, there’s an expense. And it costs about the same for HTML or a CMS design. The big difference, however, is in the ongoing maintenance.

With an HTML website, every time you want to update it you’d have to pay someone to update your website for you. It may not be much, but it’s an expense. With a CMS, once the initial set up is done, you can upload your content yourself. Just log in to the CMS and input your content. You can do that on your own and it won’t cost you a penny.

The only time a CMS will cost you is when performing routine maintenance or when fixing a periodic problem that requires technical skills you don’t have. Otherwise, ongoing expenses are less than for an HTML site.

There are two ways go viral in Internet marketing:

  1. Planned
  2. Spontaneous

Naturally, you can’t plan every thing you do to go viral. It’s nice if you set a plan in motion and it works. But it need not work in order for your message to go viral. The crowd can make it go viral for you.

In order to tap into the spontaneous viral marketing pool you’ve got to have a message, but not just any message. It’s got to be a great message. It’s got to be a message that people will want to share with their friends. If it’s great enough, people will share it without any prompting. And that’s the kind of viral marketing that works best.

Of course, you can always plan a viral marketing campaign. And if you can do that and pull it off, great. But note that just as many attempts to plan a viral marketing fail as succeed.

If you focus on building great content – I mean, really great content – then the viral marketing will take care of itself. All you have to do is give it a nudge and it will go.

The Web has increasingly grown more complicated since its inception and search engine optimization along with it. The next wave of search will undoubtedly be social media search and the result will end up being a more complicated social media optimization process.

Currently, it’s not so difficult but neither was SEO when it was first conceived. Now, however, talk to any Internet marketer and you are sure to get a list of do’s and don’ts that would make a bug go cross-eyed.

In the wake of Google’s and Bing’s near simultaneous and recent announcement that there is an agreement with Twitter to incorporate real-time search into both search engines’ universal search results as well as Google’s announcement that social search is just around the corner, it is likely that the next big playground of competition will be in social media optimization.

Not only will the search engines themselves be competing for marketers’ attentions, but marketers will be competing for an audience’s attention.

There is no doubt that Twitter and Facebook will be at the center of the social media optimization wars. But what other networks will be there? My guess is any network of any size at all will eventually be incorporated into any social search model at the search engines. If you have not already started charting your course for social media optimization then now is the time.

One of the most common worries among new webmasters is whether or not low quality back links will adversely affect their SEO or web rankings. Generally, no. But you have to take each case on its own merits.

Webmasters, most of the time, cannot control who links to them or why. That’s not your problem as webmaster. But if you are concerned about a particular back link or group of back links you can write to the website owner and request that your link be removed. Most webmasters will oblige, but if you run into a situation where you are refused then you might have other options. The search engines, however, will not help you in that situation.

Back links are generally good for webmasters, but they are only one factor that affect rankings. There are plenty more. Still, some links won’t benefit you at all. If a website has a reputation as being spammy, chances are links from that site won’t go to benefit you. But they won’t hurt you either. And that’s the beauty of low quality back links. It’s best not to worry about them.

Search engine marketing is getting better and better every year, as it gets more and more challenging. The latest news is that Bing is incorporating real-time results from Twitter and Facebook into search results. Nice. We’ve been waiting for this for some time. But the interesting thing is how they are doing it.

Tweets that are deserving of rankings evidently will be weighed by a Twitterer’s follower count. That will make Twitter popularity very important.

What I do see happening down the road is a quality score for social media content. The search engines – Bing and Google primarily – will give an algorithm-based quality score to a tweet or Facebook update based on keyword usage, follower count, retweets, and other measurements of social proof. Social proof will actually become a relevant ranking factor and added to the ranking algorithms. Remember, you heard it here first. Search engine marketing is on the move.

A conundrum is a difficult problem whose answer is or involves a pun. Many online marketers have begun to discover that there is such a dilemma with reputation management. As soon as you realize what the problem is you also realize that the solution has just as much difficulty attached to it. It is indeed a riddle. A condundrum.

So what’s the problem? I’ll try to state it in as simple terms as possible.

Reputation management involves positioning your name or brand in a positive light while monitoring what others are saying about you. You truly are “managing” your reputation. You cannot control what others say about you. All you can do is respond to them if they say something you don’t agree with. But there are some challenges in responding to every little bit criticism you receive. You will have some trouble if you try to respond to it all.

That isn’t the conundrum, however. The real issue is that the more popular you are then the more reputation management you need and the harder it is to manage that reputation. If you are a virtual unknown then not many people are going to be saying much about you – good or bad. But if you are very well known – a celebrity, let’s say – then you are likely getting talked about, both good and bad. The problem for celebrities is that they can’t possibly respond to every bit of bad press they get, and really shouldn’t try.

But what if you’re a business? Your reputation could rise to celebrity status. And what’s more, even if you start out a virtual unknown, you could be catapulted to stardom by your reputation management efforts. See the joke now?

In simpler terms, reputation management begins the moment you open your doors. No one knows who you are or what you have to offer, but that won’t stop them from sampling your services. Once that first taste of your business is out there, you immediately need to manage your reputation because that customer is going to talk to somebody. That’s online and an off line reality.

Online, information is forever. Build a website and your reputation is attached. Perform some online marketing through social media and your reputation follows. In many cases, it gets there first. Even a virtual unknown can have a bad reputation before the perceived need to defend it. So what’s the moral? It is this: That you must make a conscious decision early on in your online business to establish a reputation for good customer service, a great product, and develop a positive perception. Any little blip in that reputation armor of yours and you just may need more “management” than you can handle.

Do you know what the PPC Content Network is? At Google, the group of websites that run AdSense ads and that get paid when someone clicks on them – those are the PPC content network websites. Should you advertise on them?

Yes, The Content Network can be lucrative, but it is risky. There are all kinds of ways to lose money there – click fraud, untargeted click-throughs, overbudgeting, just to name a few. But if you can manage a PPC campaign well then you can get highly targeted ads on the right websites and see massive click-through rates.

So how do you do it?

If you plan to advertise on The Content Network, make sure you keep these basic tips in mind:

  • Establish a daily and a monthly budget
  • Don’t use broad match, use exact match
  • Target specific sites that you know are within your niche
  • Establish a window of time where you know you’ll get the highest click through rate
  • Bid the right amount for the right keywords

The Content Network is a good way to lose money on PPC. But it’s also a good way to make money. Plan your campaigns and manage them well and you’ll do fine.

A zero sum game is defined as a game where the loss of one player is equal to the gain of another. The two offset each other and therefore the “sum” is zero. So, is that how you’d describe Internet marketing?

In a word, no. The beauty of Internet marketing is that everyone can win. That is, everyone has an equal chance at winning. That doesn’t mean that everyone will succeed.

Success online, however, is determined by a number of factors. When it comes to Internet marketing, there are some things have proven to work for some and other things that have proven to work for others. Then there are some strategies that just work. The goal of any Internet marketer is to find the combination of marketing strategies that work for his particular business. That requires two things.

First, you have to be willing to test some things. Experimentation. And that involves risk. If you are not willing to try a few things and fail then chances are you won’t have much success.

The second thing that is necessary for a successful Internet marketing plan is – yes, the plan. It helps to know, going in, just what you intend to do. You may change it, but you don’t ever want to be caught “winging it”. That’s a sure way to lose your shirt. Set a course and chart the course, allowing yourself some leeway for honest mistakes and testing. You can succeed, but know that you don’t have to make someone else a loser just so you can win at Internet marketing.

We live in a competitive world. Everyone wants a bigger piece of pie. No one wants competition, but everyone wants to compete. Intelligence is a word we use to describe ourselves, but it really means information. We want information that makes us more competitive and our competition less competitive. The pressure is on. Some people succumb to the pressure. Then they cut corners and try to compete unfairly or cheat. When they get caught they try to figure out how it all fell apart and make a few excuses. But the world goes on.

Competitive intelligence. It’s really just information. But information for the sake of information is not good. What can you do with it? What do you want to do with it? Chances are, you won’t be able to do what you want unless you figure out how valuable that information is.

First step to being competitive in the marketplace is to know. Know yourself and know the competition. From there, all other things either fall into place or fall out of necessity. Information is the key to winning in competition no matter what the game is.

The question may come up for your company on whether or not you should hire a website designer to build you a site using HTML or whether you should use a content management system (CMS). Which is best for you?

Whether you design with HTML or use a CMS depends on a number of factors. Let’s start with how big a site you need. Do you need a large site or is a five-page portfolio all you need? If you are going to put up five pages and that’s that then you’ll probably do well just to build with HTML. It’s a quick down and dirty. But if you’re planning a larger site, say a couple hundred pages or more, then a CMS can be a great benefit.

Budget also plays into the factor. Got a large budget? Is the moon the limit? Then by all means, hire a fancy designer to do your site the right way. Can’t afford a great designer? Alright then, find one who will design you a site with CMS and teach you how to upload your own content.

Just one word of warning: If you do build with a CMS, make sure you configure it correctly. Some CMS systems do not crawl well and some will only crawl well if you set them up in a certain way. Dynamic pages, for instance, may see issues. And adding shopping carts and other third-party software to a CMS has its own issues. Just because the uploading of content is easy doesn’t mean that setting it up is easy.

A CMS can be a big time saver for companies that want to do a lot of their own, but don’t want to learn how to code with HTML. Some web design firms will work with you and teach you how to do some of your own uploading. You’ll just have to do your homework and do what is right for you.

Dr. Ralph Wilson, one of the early pioneers of viral marketing – and Web marketing in general – showcases 6 principles of viral marketing. These are principles that he says should be a part of every business’s viral marketing campaign, only he says if you have most of them then you’re golden. I’d add another one to the list, but before I tell you what they are I’d like to review Dr. Wilson’s list. His 6 principles of viral marketing are:

  1. Give something away
  2. Effortless transfer to others
  3. Scales easily
  4. Exploits common human behaviors
  5. Utilizes existing communication networks
  6. Takes advantage of the resources of others

These are pretty useful principles. The first one is almost a no-brainer. The idea is to give something away that others can pass on. It must also be easy to pass on to others. In other words, people you give it to should be able to send it to their friends without much fanfare. The freebie must also be scalable, which is a word marketers use to convey growth from small scale to large scale with relative ease. Exploiting common human behaviors gets to the heart of all sales messages – tug on people’s motivators. By utilizing existing communication networks, because you don’t want to have to invent something that people will have to learn to use when they’ve already got the tools you need to distribute what you have and want them to have. And finally, use other people’s resources as much as possible because, after all, if it’s viral you can’t do it all yourself.

This about sums it up. But I’d add one more principle to the list. It’s already in Dr. Wilson’s 6 principles, but it isn’t stated outright – so I’ll just say it. Make it easy. Simple. Don’t complicate things. If you follow Dr. Wilson’s 6 principles of viral marketing then that should automatically happen. Your plan will be simple. As it should be.

Technorati recently underwent a redesign. Redesigns are nice, especially if they improve a site. And Technorati needed improvement.

What they’re going to do is start publishing original content. Which is nice because it means that bloggers and other writers can now contribute to one of the best authority sites on the web. That will do wonders for your reputation in two ways: First, you’ll get good, high quality links from a great authority site. Secondly, you’ll tap into Technorati’s traffic base and have the potential to drive lots of great traffic to your site.

That translates into real social proof.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, Technorati + Twitter + Your Blog = A great reputation. Build your social proof and let Technorati help.

The argument continues – are backlinks more important or is on-page SEO more important? There is a growing number of SEO professionals who believe that backlinks are the holy grail of SEO. But most of us still chant that content is king. Which is it?

Personally, I think backlinks aren’t important at all until you have some on-page SEO working in your favor. What’s the point to building links to a page with no content? Even if you succeed in boosting that page’s rankings, visitors to the page will be disappointed to find nothing there. But a well optimized web page that answers a question for a lot of people within a particular niche is a gem, with or without backlinks.

Don’t get me wrong. You’d be a fool to build a web page today with no link building plan. But I’m simply illustrating the importance of quality on-page SEO. That’s the starting point. Everything else, from there, is upward mobility.

Search engine marketing, or SEM, is any kind of marketing that targets the search engines. SEO, social media marketing, pay per click marketing, or paid inclusion are types of SEM that have been popular now and in the past. Are there any other forms of marketing that compliment SEM well and that should be used alongside search engine marketing to increase your brand’s online presence?

Truthfully, almost anything you do online, if it involves creating new content, can be considered SEM. That leaves off line marketing. But can it compliment SEM?

Yes, it can. Why shouldn’t it?

That’s a good question. Why shouldn’t it? Off line marketing is a great compliment to search engine marketing and provides opportunities to reach the right market for your business in ways that online marketing can’t. It’s the perfect compliment to search engine marketing. We call it integrated marketing.

Reputation management is becoming more and more important every day. But there is more to reputation management than simply influencing search results for the positive while knocking down the negative results. Many online marketers who find themselves thinking about reputation management do so as a reaction to search results they do not like.

True reputation management begins with reputation monitoring. After all, you can’t influence or combat what you don’t see. It’s important to know who is talking about you and what they are saying. That’s where the reputation monitoring comes in.

Your most important reputation monitoring tool – and reputation management too – is Google Alerts. Google Alerts will notify you whenever anyone is talking about you. You simply sign up, enter the keywords you want to monitor, and every time that keyword is detected by Google you’ll get an e-mail alert. To make it work for you in reputation management, just use your brand name as the keyword you want to monitor.

All good reputation management begins with reputation monitoring and Google Alerts is the most important tool you have. It’s free.