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One of the oldest adages concerning Internet marketing is “Content is King.” The adage simply means that content is the most important aspect of your website because without content you really have no website. But that doesn’t mean that web design isn’t important.

Perhaps one of the things that many webmasters don’t think about is what your web design is actually for. You should consider your web design template as a shell for your content. If it were nuts, the web design would be the shell and the content would be the nut.

So what is the web design for, exactly?

Well, your web design is the face of your website. Having an attractive web design is much more important today than it was in the past. Ten years ago you could have an ugly site and get away with it. Not so much today. That doesn’t mitigate the importance of content, but you should consider that your site’s web design will either drive visitors away or attract them to the content. And there’s the rub. If your web design doesn’t point visitors to the content then it’s failing you. Pretty or not.

You’ve likely heard of the Jay Leno – Conan O’Brien rivalry that happened over an NBC late night spot. NBC and Jay Leno blamed Conan O’Brien for failing ratings when it was likely due to a younger audience being more interested in the Internet as medium than television. Just as TV replaced radio and relegated it second-class status, the Internet is fast doing the same to TV. Unfortunately for Conan O’Brien, he got caught up in that.

However, unfortunately for Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and his fans are more Web-savvy so you could say they are the future.

Pace Lattin does a good job of defending that position in a SiteProNews article. After Conan’s abrupt release from NBC, the late night funny man and his fans went on the viral attack and saved his reputation for another generation. That’s the lesson. Never discount a comic whose face is in the mud. He’ll make mud pies and spread them all over cyberspace. Isn’t viral marketing fun?

Search engine optimization is the process of writing content and designing web pages so that they have an improved chance at ranking for search queries when a person starts to look for something at a search engine. Google has become the search engine of choice for a lot of people, primarily because it has lead the way in the science of search. Its algorithm is the key to how Google understands search queries.

To truly understand how to SEO a web page, you have to have some clear idea of how a search engine ranks them and that means understanding how Google attempts to understand search queries and the intent of searchers. A Wired magazine article delves into that issue and goes into considerable detail about the history of Google’s algorithm.

Search engine optimization is not a shot in the dark. While there are no tried-and-true methods that work in all cases, if you want your web pages to rank better for the search terms you are targeting, you should at least learn how search engines work, especially Google.

Yahoo! is still full of surprises. On its Yodel Anecdotal Blog, the veteran Web portal has announced a deal with Twitter. But this deal is a bit different than the previous deals struck between Twitter and search engines Bing and Google. This deal actually offers Twitterers a way to update their Twitter status from Yahoo!

But will users actually use it that way? That remains to be seen, but I’m betting that some users will.

Still, that’s not even the best part of the deal. The real meat of the deal, and the part that offers the best social media optimization benefit, is this:

Whenever you produce social actions on any website (like comments on articles, ratings, buzzes on Yahoo! Buzz) that you’ve allowed to appear on Yahoo! Updates, those actions can also be shared automatically with your friends on Twitter.

What I think this means is that Yahoo! users will soon have more ways to expand their social networks. I see a day when marketers will spend most of their day and their marketing efforts updating their statuses on Facebook, Twitter, Google, Yahoo! and their other important social networks. Or, they could just head right to Yahoo! and update all of their social networks at one time. In the near future, you’ll at least be able to update your Twitter status and take care of a few other social actions from Yahoo!

How’s that for a heightened sense of social media optimization?

A new survey shows that Facebook fan pages are effective marketing. This may come as news to some people, but it’s not surprising. What is really surprising is that there was no mention of Facebook fan pages as search marketing tools.

With Facebook, profiles and fan pages are generally indexed in the search engines, but not much else. If you build a highly optimized Facebook fan page then you could see that fan page rank well in the search engines and that could lead to additional business for you. That’s why so many businesses are flocking to Facebook to build fan pages. They are not only effective but good search marketing vehicles.

There are reputation management tools and then there are reputation management tools. The best tools for managing your reputation online are more than just reputation management tools. They are tools that can also – and should also – be used for other things.

For instance, a good reputation management tool will also optimize your website for search engines for the key terms that are important to your website as well as the key reputation term that you are managing. It is a branding tool, and SEO tool and a reputation tool all rolled into one.

So what tool is that?

Your blog. And this is what your blog does in each of those areas using normal, every day tactics that the search engines approve:

  • Adds fresh daily content to your website – This alone takes care of all three of your goals: Branding, Reputation Management and SEO. Your blog is a unique branding tool, but it also can be used to SEO your website around your key terms. Every key term that is important to your marketing efforts can be taken care of through your blog. Then there’s reputation management. If you write your blog yourself and sign your name to every post, that’s a big reputation plus. Even if you hire a ghostwriter, you can have blog posts signed as they are a reflection of you and your values.
  • Link building and internal navigation – Yes, this is also a three-time bread winner. Your anchor text not only acts as an SEO element for your website, but it also is great for branding. And links that include your key reputation terms perform an added boost as well.
  • Increases your chances of being found – Every blog post is counted as a unique web page so the more often you blog the more often you brand and SEO your website and manage your reputation.
  • Gets your website crawled more often – If your website is crawled more often then the search engines will update their indexes more often to rank your important pages for your key terms, key reputation terms and, of course, that makes you more brandable.

So, as you can see, your blog makes your website more brandable, increases your SEO and adds a reputation management element that other SEO and branding tools do not. It’s the perfect reputation management tool.

A few years ago, around the turn of the millennium, the forums were abuzz with discussions of whether display advertising or PPC advertising would win out in the hearts and minds of Internet advertisers. I guess we now know – PPC won.

But will it last?

I’m betting PPC will be around awhile, for a few very simple reasons:

  1. It allows advertisers the ability to control their spend. What other kind of advertising allows this? With PPC, you can set your own budget. Is it perfect? No. There are downsides, but even with the downsides, PPC still have this advantage over other forms of advertising.
  2. It provides a direct route from first impression to conversion. There is only one thing between the two – your landing page, or sales page. With other forms of advertising (TV, radio, etc.), there is something else that must take place – a drive, a phone call, or whatever. With PPC, it’s click, read and close.
  3. It’s keyword based. Yes, PPC ads can be optimized. That’s a good thing.

PPC advertising is a direct shot from first impression to conversion and the advertiser is total control. The consumer has a choice and gets to see what is being offered before committing. It provides the best win-win opportunity for all involved.

There are two sides to the debate on microsites. Both sides generally approach the microsites-as-linkbuilding strategy in either a positive or a negative. On first analysis, it might seem like it’s a good idea to use microsites for link building, but that would be a mistake. There are times when it might work and times when it definitely won’t work. I think you’ll have to take it on a case-by-case basis.

That said, I think microsites are good for a few good things. You have to approach it from a content standpoint, not a linkbuilding one.

If you are rolling out a new product launch that is not associated with your primary brand then a microsite can be a very good tool. Also, if you have tested a particular keyword phrase and it is doing very well on your primary site then it might be turned into a microsite stand alone website and gain some necessary attraction.

But here’s your warning. If you try to link your microsites in a grand linking scheme then it will likely backfire. Google killed the network of websites idea about three years ago. I’m not saying you can’t link your microsites, but if you concoct an elaborate reciprocal linking network between them then I’d say you’re in for a huge disappointment. If you employ microsites in your Internet marketing strategy then be smart about it.

There’s the old joke about military intelligence being a contradiction in terms. And some people might say the same thing about competitive intelligence. But it really isn’t.

Competition is a fact of life. No matter what industry you find yourself in, you have competitors. And you are likely keeping an eye on what they are up to. There’s no doubt that your competition is keeping tabs on your moves. This is, simply put, “intelligence”.

Intelligence is the gathering of information about your enemy. At least, that’s the way the military puts it. But in business, your competition isn’t necessarily your enemy. They are your adversary in the marketplace, but they have as much right to be there as you do. If you want to compete for business then you’ve got to know what your competition offers and how it stacks up against what you have to offer. That’s why it is so important to keep tabs on what they are up to.

You want to be able to respond to the market in a reasonable way. If your competition is driving the market in one direction while you are trying to go in another then it’s important to measure how the market is responding to you as well as to the competition. That’s information you can use to adjust your stance.

That’s about it in a nutshell. Competitive intelligence might sound like an oxymoron, but we call it a necessity.

You’ll hear website designers often refer to W3C standards. But what does that mean, exactly? What is W3C and is it necessary?

W3C stands for World Wide Web Consortium. It is an organization committed to establishing consistent standards for web design and other technical aspects of the Web in order to ensure that everyone anywhere can access the Web and participate in its powerful communication qualities. Their goal is worthy and honorable.

However, building a website that is not compliant with W3C standards will not result in any penalties or degradation in search engine rankings. You do not have to build a site that is W3C compliant in order to be successful, earn you money or grow in popularity.

That said, there are several reasons why you might want to build your website to be compliant with W3C standards.

  1. If your site validates with W3C then it will be seen as more credible in the eyes of many Internet users.
  2. By validating your site with W3C you show that you are sensitive to the needs of handicapped Web users.
  3. You can often find egregious errors in your code through the W3C validation process.
  4. If you are converting your website from one rendering technology to another (for instance, from HTML to XML or from Web browser technology to mobile browser) then W3C can assist in that process.

The most important thing to understand about W3C is that it will not give you any advantage in the search engines to have your site validated. Non-validated sites can outrank you for your keywords. They can outperform you in PPC. They could get a higher PageRank or receive other benefits that your site does not. But it wouldn’t hurt you to learn more about the standards that make the Web a better place.

E-books were very popular at one time. When the Web was young you’d see the free e-book downloads and when you got to the last chapter of a 200-page e-book you got for free you suddenly realized you were in the middle of a sales pitch. To get the next e-book you’d have to pay something. But you were encouraged to share the free one with your friends.

Another version of the e-book viral marketing method was to offer downloaders a way to brand the free e-book under their own name as long as nothing in the e-book changed. Of course, all the links pointed to the originator’s website. Viral marketing at its best.

For awhile, free e-books went out of fashion. But they seem to be making a comeback. This might be due to the increase and interest in e-book readers. Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s Nook and the Sony eReader have all become more popular. So too have e-books.

The truth is, e-books are a great way to spread a viral message. They work. If you do it right you can gain a new audience and sell your services. Viral marketing through e-books is one of the most powerful ways to reach an audience online today. Some things never change.

Chris Crum at WebProNews suggested that Facebook replace it Notes tab with a Blog tab. It’s not a bad idea.

Facebook users would gain an immediate benefit if Facebook offered blogging. No. 1, the built in Facebook user base would be incredible. This is now the second most visited site online, right behind Google. Facebook could compete head on with Google’s Blogger and actually do well.

Not only would users of Facebook benefit with that feature, but Facebook itself would benefit as it would see an immediate increase in user-generated content, improve its search engine friendliness and more people would stay on the website longer. But would a Facebook blog improve social media optimization (SMO)?

I believe it would improve search engine optimization for anyone who had a Facebook blog. I also believe it would improve SMO in a number of ways.

  1. First and foremost, Facebook users would likely connect more through a blog
  2. A blog could be brandable just like a Facebook page
  3. With thousands of Facebook blogs pumping out content on a regular basis, Facebook would likely see more Twitter traffic
  4. Widgetized blogs would likely lead to more video sharing on Facebook

I don’t really see any negatives in the prospect of adding a Facebook blog. Do you?

Search engine optimization seems to be getting harder and harder. Is it, or is it just my imagination?

In the early days of the Web, all you really had to do to rank a website is choose a good domain name and add the right keywords to your meta tags. You could have hundreds of keywords in your list of meta tags, even some that weren’t on your web page, and you’d rank for the key terms you wanted to rank for. Not today.

The search engines have become so much more sophisticated. And so have search engine optimizers. And there is more competition going after every keyword. It’s not easier. It’s harder.

So how can a new webmaster seeking to get his website recognized earn the rank that he desires? The first thing to do is to study a little bit about SEO. Learn what you can. If you have a business to run then you likely won’t learn everything, but you can learn enough to be able to discuss valid tactics with a real professional. Learn enough that you won’t be taken advantage of. The life of your website depends on it.

Search engine marketing is in a constant state change. This may seem a bit odd. Wouldn’t the search engines benefit more by keeping things steady and constant? Not really and it’s a simple matter to understand why.

There is a constant tug of war between the search engines and webmasters trying to get their pages to rank well. But there are different types of webmasters. Not all of them play fair.

The first type of webmaster is the run-of-the-mill webmaster who just wants to run legitimate business. This type of webmaster doesn’t really have the time to learn everything there is about marketing to search engines, but they do take out time to learn what they can. Their goal is to rank as well as they can and not try to game anyone.

The second type of webmaster is the professional search engine marketer. They spend their time studying the search engines, testing different techniques and doing their best to stay on top of the latest changes.

A third type of webmaster is the “blackhat” practitioner. Like the professional SEMer, he spends his time learning the latest techniques and keeping up with search engine ranking changes. However, this type of webmaster will use any technique at his disposal to gain an edge in the rankings. He doesn’t care if the search engines approve of his tactics or not.

Then there is the spammer. This type of webmaster is simply careless. And sloppy. And somewhat lazy. She won’t take the time to study the search engines. She just learns what the popular theories are of the day and chases rumors without testing them. This webmaster will likely have a few websites de-indexed then wonder why.

Finally, there is the clueless. This webmaster doesn’t know the first thing about how search engines work. He just builds his website and hope people show up to look at it.

The search engines, first and foremost, want to show good search results to searchers. But they also want to be fair to each of the types of webmasters above. And to do that, there must be some kind of way to ensure that no one games the search engines to gain an unfair advantage. That’s why the search engines penalize the use of careless tactics and those that attempt to game the results.

But it would not be fair to allow the professional search engine marketers an opportunity to gain advantage over everyone else by letting them in on all the ranking secrets and shutting everyone else out. So the search engine frequently change their ranking algorithms to wipe out the advantages of the professionals and to ensure that no one games the results for an unfair advantage.

This means it is even more important to study and test to see what works – not just for today, but for all time.

Google took a hit to its reputation this week when it rolled out Google Buzz with some privacy flaws. This could have been fixed really easily very early on. All Google had to do was make its public profile of Google Buzz users an opt-in feature instead of an opt-out feature. Now they have reputation issues and for a company like Google, this is a big issue.

It’s also a learning point for the rest of us. Your reputation management begins the moment you start planning. It doesn’t begin when you start marketing or when your product hits the market. You’ve got to plan your reputation management right from the beginning.

If you can’t anticipate correctly what the market wants, take a poll. Conduct a survey or find out in some other way. But you can ask your users what they want before you ever do it. That will save you head aches later, believe me.

Just remember, your reputation is at stake the moment you consider an idea. Protect it with everything you have.

Many PPC advertisers spend a lot of time optimizing their ad campaigns around a list of keywords and target each specific keyword to a landing page. They’ll have one ad for all of their keywords and each keyword bid based on that ad. In the past, this was an acceptable way to manage a PPC campaign, but it’s not the best way today.

If you really want to optimize your PPC campaign, increase your quality score and decrease your bid per click, you should create ad groups. It will increase your ROI.

The way to build ad groups is to take a few keywords that are related to each other and group them into one group. Then write an ad for each of your groups. Make sure each group is targeted toward a specific landing page so that you are matching a unique ad to a set of keywords, called an ad group, and simultaneously a landing page that is optimized for that list of keywords. Your ad groups should consist of a handful of keywords – I’d say no more than five to ten.

Here’s an example:

    Ad Group A (5 keywords) PPC Ad A Landing Page A
    Ad Group B (7 keywords) PPC Ad B Landing Page B
    Ad Group C (10 keywords) PPC Ad C Landing Page C
    Ad Group D (6 keywords) PPC Ad A Landing Page A

Notice the similarities between ad groups A and D? They target the same ad and landing page. That’s because the keyword list is similar, but different. The landing page is optimized around both lists of keywords and the ad as well. Your keywords may be something like this:

    Ad Group A – widget, widgetize, widgeted, widgets, widgeter
    Ad Group D – red widget, widgetized, widgeted for red, red widgets, widgeters

The idea is to get specific with your targeting. Drive it down so that you are targeting the specific audience you want to do business with. Increase your PPC quality score and your ROI goes up as well.

No two websites are the same. And no two marketing strategies are the same either. Internet marketing is not a one-size-fits-all formula designed to make every website follow the same pattern and get the same results. Your marketing strategy should be as unique and customized as your web design. If it isn’t then it will likely fail.

Internet marketing is more like a bag of tricks. Not “tricks” in a negative sense, but more in the way of a performer with a myriad of costumes. One costume is designed for a certain type of production and another costume for something else. Your job is to figure out which costume to where for each scene.

Your marketing strategies are the costumes. Should you engage in article marketing or video marketing? Social media marketing or pay per click? These are decisions that every Internet marketer must make every day. And they don’t get easier.

When you’re ready to plan your Internet marketing strategy, set your goals and use the tactics that will best move you forward to those goals – not someone else’s.

Should you design your website with a content management system (CMS)? There are some definite advantages to doing so.

Some people don’t like CMS applications because the perception is that they aren’t very good at SEO. But that’s not really true any more. Joomla has come a long way in its implementation and WordPress has always been good at SEO. It hasn’t always been a great CMS tool, but lately it has expanded into quite a web design alternative.

One of the primary benefits to using a CMS is that you don’t have to hard code every web page. The CMS does a lot of the code work for you. But you also have tools to help you develop your website when you work with a CMS. WordPress calls them templates and plugins. Joomla calls them templates and modules. They do the same thing.

The key to CMS web design is to pick a template that you like and alter it for your own use. Then take the modules that do the things you need for your website and install them. Then it’s a matter of marketing.

Should you use a CMS for web design? You don’t have to, but it’s one option.

Viral marketing has undergone a few changes over the years. In the early days article marketing was considered viral marketing. And e-mail marketing carried with it some viral components as well. Then blogging started catching on and viral marketers started employing blogs to great effect.

Along with blogs came RSS – really simple syndication. Bloggers found that people would subscribe to their feeds and read them in their e-mail. After blogging, there was social bookmarking. And social networking to a great extent.

In 2005, video marketing started taking off. Then Facebook and Twitter took off big. What’s next?

I think 2010 will see a resurgence of video marketing and this will likely be the year for mobile marketing as well. Viral marketing is about to get more complex. Only the most savvy of marketers will be able to pull off a real successful viral marketing campaign as it will likely require a multi-tiered approach employing several viral marketing methods from the past.

Yesterday we discussed whether you should optimize your website for Facebook in light of the social media leader’s relationship with Bing. Today I’d like to discuss whether you should get ready to optimize your social media campaigns for Google.

Well, I’ve been reading a few places today that Google is launching its own social network through Gmail. So does that mean you should go all out and plan a social media marketing campaign to target Google?

Not so fast. Give them a chance to prove themselves first.

Personally, I think you’d do better to spend your time optimizing web pages for Facebook. Google may have some nice social features, but it’s not a social network. And I think it will be a long time before it will compete with Facebook and Twitter.