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When it comes to the Internet, any talk of competition invariably revolves around search results.  For many businesses, their eyes are firmly set on outranking those above them in search results. Search is a significant player when it comes to delivery or traffic, but they are not the only players. What is important is to identify who your real competitors are.

Enter a search term and you will often find that amongst the top ten pages listed are sites like Wikipedia, articles in article directories, and perhaps blogs produced purely for Adsense or affiliate revenue. While these sites are competitors when it comes to search traffic, they are not true competitors when it comes to doing business. As I mentioned, search is not the only source of traffic either.

Social media like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube are also now capable of delivering significant streams of traffic to your website. Do you know who your competitors are on any of these sites? It is equally important to assess how they are engaging with their followers and whether or not they are receiving any significant traffic from these site.

Another area that you should include in your research is paid search. There are many businesses that survive quite happily on the traffic derived from paid search. They don’t involve themselves pro-actively in either organic search or social media marketing, they let the paid search results find their traffic for them.

There are many other sources of traffic such as forums and general advertising. To be effective in your competitive intelligence program, you need to look well beyond organic search. You should have a fair idea of what their main source of traffic is, how well it is converting, and whether or not there is an opportunity there that you could exploit.  Your real competitors are not always through organic search so identify your true competitors,then work out how you can compete against them.

The Internet is by no means a young entity anymore. Over the years sites have come and gone and sites have risen to fame only to drop off again in popularity. Human nature is often such that we follow the crowd. A site becomes popular, we check it out, perhaps even register our details, then never return again. The question you have to ask yourself is whether or not those tracks will come back to hurt your reputation.

Reputation management strategies often focus on what others can do to hurt our business. Have you ever stopped to think about your own past activities? I well remember the stories that abounded many years ago when Hotmail was popular. People thought it clever to use fancy addresses such as ‘sexylegs99’ or ‘hotstud01’. What is worse, they didn’t blink an eye when adding these as contact details on job applications – then wondered why they never received a call to an interview. The problem is, when your young and carefree, these activities are fun and few think of the long term consequences.

Those email addresses don’t exactly identify you so you may wonder how they can effect your reputation. They probably wont, however, they could be indicative of other online activities. For example, did you also have a Myspace presence? Can you remember the login or the password? Can you go back and remove any offending material? Can you even remember the sites you were active on? Those are questions that only you can answer.

We have already seen situations where employers have undertaken simple Google searches on job applicants to see whether or not they have any unsavory footprints on the net. Have you taken the time to check your own past. Do a Google search, and go beyond page one and two – you never know what sort of gems you may unearth!

Do all roads lead to Rome? Do all your online activities eventually lead back to your business? Should they? They are two important questions that you need to ask yourself and, depending on your answer, then check your current situation. Internet marketing has no limits – everything you do online is a form of marketing and the results could help or harm your business.

If you are online and working to build your business, then it stands to reason that everything you do does lead back to your business web site. It could be directly or could be indirectly, for example, from social to a your blog to your business – the ideal would be both direct and indirect.

Sometimes we get a little lost in the strategies we put in place.  The end result is that other entities become the hub of our online activities. Social media marketing is a good example of this. Facebook has become a common hub with business owners linking their blogs, Twitter accounts and any other online activity such as LinkedIn. The downside to this is that traffic is then sent to that hub rather than your business pages.

For some businesses, this works well. They have well designed Facebook pages that are effective in driving that traffic onto their business site. For others, there can be a high decay rate between the traffic flowing to Facebook, and that traffic flowing onto their website. If you are in business, then your ultimate aim is to ‘do’ business. When engaged in a variety of online activities, the mistake that many make is to lose focus on that aim.

While it is fine to drive traffic too other entities, your business web site should always remain at the hub of your activities – that is where you want the traffic to eventually arrive since that is where you are making your sales. The bottom line is fairly simple – everything you do online can be related back to internet marketing.

Local search has been a real bonus for smaller bricks and mortar businesses. Being able to claim your business through the search engine local search features and building even a basic web site has put many of these businesses on level footing with big business. In fact, for many small businesses, local search has given them a real competitive edge.

Having your business listed towards the top of a local search seven pack (the local search listings in organic search) means these businesses are on the front page, often above their larger competitors. However, in recent months some small businesses have woken up to find their listings have disappeared from these seven packs. One moment competitive edge, the next competitive disaster.

So what has gone wrong? The answer lies in consistency. If you have listed your business in several different places, like business directories, perhaps a Facebook page, and the various search engines, if you are not consistent with your information, you could be creating problems for yourself.

Google Places (Google local search) is one area where the problem is particularly noticeable. If Google finds your business on other sites, and it has different data, for example a different set of phone numbers, it is automatically assuming there are two business.  This is creating problems that are similar to duplicate pages on web sites – ranking factors are being divided between the two pages, in this case, ranking factors are being divided between two listings.

The only way to rectify these problems is to ensure that every business listing has exactly the same data stored. It will make life easier for you if you create a simple template that has all your data listed. Then, when creating a listing on any web site, for example, a trade directory, you are using data that precisely matches that used on other sites. It is also important that you keep a list of where you have registered your business online, so that when data changes, you can go through and update every listing to show this new data.

Be consistent with the data you use in internet marketing and local search can give you a real competitive edge. Be inconsistent, and it could prove to be a disaster.

Viral marketing is a concept that is hard to pin down. Just what is it?

In a word, viral marketing is any type of marketing that catches on and gets people talking about you. When an idea spreads, either spontaneously or as a part of a planned effort, then it is said to have gone viral. That can happen in a variety of media.

Videos, for instance, can go viral in a number of ways but one very popular way that they often catch on and take a life of their own is through the popular video channel YouTube. Articles can go viral through one of many e-zine directories or on a content website. Photos can go viral at places like Flickr and DeviantArt.

What medium are you using? It helps to know what you have to offer in order to present it to the right people in hopes that it might go viral. Your blog can viral if you get it in front of the right eyes. One blog post can go viral if the right people see it and share it. The key is to get it in front of the right people.

So how do you do that?

One mistake that marketers often make is to present their material to all of their friends hoping that their friends will share it and then their friends will share it and so on and so on. But a better way to ensure that your content goes viral is to present it to half a dozen influencers. These are people on social networks like Facebook and Twitter who have thousands of followers. A single tweet or Facebook update can often lead to thousands of hits to your website in minutes if the right influencer likes it.

But simply submitting your link or content to an influencer isn’t enough. You should study the influencers you want to target and learn what they like. Develop a relationship with them. Interact with them and get to know them as a person, let them get to know you.

People, even influencers, respond better to people they know than to random strangers. Get to know the right people and your content will stand a better chance at going viral.

If you thought blogging was important before, think about how important it has become since social media has taken over. Some people have considered that blogging is on its way out because social media is on its way up. But that would be a mistake to think like that.

Think about what it is that most people promote on social media sites. What do you promote?

While its certainly reasonable to think that static websites are shared on social media sites, it’s not a stretch to think that blog content is shared more often. In fact, I would say the three most shared items on social media are:

  • Photos
  • Videos
  • And blog posts

But not necessarily in that order.

Social media makes blogging more important today than it ever has been. If you can shuffle your content through the noise and come out on the other side smelling rosy then you can rise to one of the most respected sites within your niche. Many blogs have done it and a good number of them did it because of the push that social media gave them. How many times have you found a new blog to read because someone shared it with you on a social media site?

Keep this in mind: Blogging and social media go hand in hand. Promote them that way.

If you are looking for an ironclad reputation management solution – sorry, there isn’t one. But there are some things that you can do to increase your reputation online and off line. Follow these 6 steps and you’ll do yourself wonders to increase your reputation online fast.

  1. Establish your web hub. This is the place people go to find information about you. All of your social media profiles should link from this page, or website. You might have a blog on this site; if not, at least link to your hub from your blog. It is the central place of information about you and your brand online.
  2. Blog daily. Your blog may be your hub, but it doesn’t have to be. It should, however, promote your hub like crazy. And you should blog daily. It would hurt also to have multiple blogs. You can start blogs for niches within niches, related niches, hobbies, or anything related to your business that you have something to say about. Blog often to each of your blogs, but blog daily to your main one.
  3. Establish your social media presence. This should include a profile at the top social media sites (Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook and Flickr) plus to top two or three niche-related sites for your industry. Don’t just put up a profile and forget about it. Be active on these sites and interact with your audience regularly.
  4. Build links. Don’t just build links to your main website. Do that, but also build links to your blog and your social media profiles. The way to do that is with a standard bio that you use for articles, guest blog posts and even speaking engagements. Use your standard bio for everything.
  5. Support a cause. Pick something that you believe in and make it your community service project. Promote it, donate to an organization that promotes it and volunteer your time. You’ll be surprised at the pay off that comes from these efforts.
  6. Excel at customer service. Produce content, give away your time, be generous, be good at what you do and always respect your customers. If you treat people right then they will migrate to you because they see the value in what you offer.

Reputation management is nothing new. Keep doing the good stuff and let the bad stuff wash away. Don’t do anything you’ll regret later.

Every now and then I read an article that claims that keywords are obsolete and that search engines now rely entirely on semantic language indexing. The truth is, that’s all wrong. Let’s deal with a few facts.

  • Semantic language indexing is not new. Google has been doing it for years. They’ve gotten better at it, of course, and other search engines have started to incorporate it as well. But none of them have abandoned keywords.
  • Type a search query into any search engine and see what comes up. Your first results will almost all incorporate the exact keyword phrase that you typed into the search engine’s search box. That’s evidence itself that keywords are still important.
  • Keyword densities, the process of counting keywords and ensuring that you have the right mix of keywords in your content compared to the number of overall words, are not important. In fact, for about five or six years now, they haven’t been. This fact could be the reason for the myth that keywords themselves are not important.
  • How many keywords you have in your content is not important. Where those keywords are located within the content is much more important.
  • Most search engines these days rely on both keywords and semantic language indexing to some degree.

The advent of semantic language indexing has not made keywords obsolete. It does mean that keywords for the sake of keywords are not important. It makes keyword stuffing much more difficult. Besides that, keywords are still important and I wouldn’t throw them out of my search engine marketing efforts completely.

When it comes to succeeding online, there are more than one way to skin the proverbial cat. In fact, you should never rely on just one way. The best Web marketing is a multi-tiered approach that focuses on the best methods and strategies for the current time.

When planning your Web marketing strategy, try to incorporate these 5 proven strategies that work today and likely will work next year and the year after too.

  1. Search engine optimization – After all these years, search engine optimization is still at the top of the Web strategies that are proven and work. In fact, it works just as well today as it did ten years ago – if you know what you are doing.
  2. Competitive intelligence – Gathering information about the competition and your niche is an important starting point for any Web strategy. But it’s more than just a starting point. You should collect information on an ongoing basis.
  3. Pay per click marketing – Click prices are a lot higher now than they used to be. But pay per click marketing is still a good Web strategy to employ. It’s effective, results can come quickly and conversions are high if you are capable of managing a campaign that draws in traffic.
  4. Social media optimization – Social media is here to stay. From Facebook to Twitter and LinkedIn to Flickr, there are opportunities to engage with your audience in powerful ways.
  5. Video marketing – Video marketing is still in its infancy. The right video can go viral in a heartbeat and if you are effective in uploading the right video at the right websites then this Web marketing strategy can pay off big time.

Internet marketing has changed over the years, but it hasn’t changed that much. From SEO to video marketing, these Web strategies should be a part of every Internet marketing campaign.

Most website design elements do not help you with search engine marketing, but that doesn’t mean that some elements of web design can’t help you. There is evidence that paying attention to website design elements can improve your chances of ranking in the search engines.

The most talked about example of web design and SEO is the use of Flash presentations. While Flash is beginning to be a crawlable element now, this is still a brand new development where search engines are concerned. That means the crawlability of Flash is still limited. I would not build a website that is created entirely with Flash elements.

Other things to consider with web design and SEO are:

  • Placement of excessive links in your footer
  • The use of excessive code
  • Navigation elements
  • Using alt tags with graphic and photo elements
  • Hidden links and redirects can hurt you in the rankings
  • Use an inverted pyramid style for information and presentation elements
  • Use external files as much as possible for extraneous code like JavaScript

There are many more ways that web design can affect SEO. You would be doing yourself a favor to learn and study SEO and web design to some reasonable degree before you build your website.

There are more than one practical reason to link to your own social media profiles. For one thing, if you link to your social media profiles then you stand a better chance of getting more followers, fans and connections. After all, if people don’t know you’re out there then they can’t follow you, right?

But that’s obvious. How about the not so obvious?

Well, linking to your social media profiles can actually help your SEO. I’m not talking about linking to those profiles from your main website or blog, though it wouldn’t hurt you to do that too. I’m talking about linking to your social media profiles from everywhere else.

Like where, exactly?

You write articles, don’t you? Every time your article is published your bio links will be published along with them. If you have an article that is picked up by 100 publishers then that’s 100 links. Include a link to your main website and also one to your social media profiles. Those links count to rank your social media profiles and then you have residual link juice that flows from them – based on their PageRank and popularity – back to your main site (assuming you’ve linked from your profiles to your main site, which you should do).

Here’s a sample bio:

(Your name) is the owner/CEO of (name of your company, linked to your site). He is the author of “(your book’s name)” and can be found at (your Twitter address, linked), (your Facebook address, linked) and (your LinkedIn address, linked).

Simple, right? Yes, it really is. But you’d be surprised at how many business owners online aren’t doing it.