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If you plan on doing any online marketing in 2012, what are the important methods of marketing that you should focus on? What should you stay away from?

First and foremost, SEO is definitely not dead. You shouldn’t give up on that yet. But it has changed in the last five years.

For instance, if you are out prowling for links and looking for high PR do-follow links, then you are probably wasting your time. But if you are focusing on placing your unique articles on high profile, high traffic websites where they will be seen, then that is a much better way to go about link building in 2012.

Social media is another online marketing tactic that isn’t going away. However, don’t just sign up for a bunch of social media websites and forgetting about them. Stick the large sites with current traction and high traffic. For most businesses, that means Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+. If there are niche-specific sites that you can focus on, join them too.

Whichever social media websites you decide to join, stay active.

Video marketing and mobile marketing are two other online content strategies that are gaining ground and look to be effective in 2012.

Online marketing hasn’t changed much in the last five to ten years, but it has changed. Make note of the changes and keep promoting your content far and wide.

A gravatar can be a very useful tool for online content providers. It does several things for your online identity including:

  • Notifying bloggers that you are not a spammer
  • Making your name and website more brandable
  • Easily identifies you as authentic everywhere you go
  • Unifies your blogging, commenting, and social media presence across all channels

Gravatar stands for Globally Recognized Avatar. It’s easy to set up. You just head over to Gravatar.com and upload your photograph or image – the one you want to be associated with a particular e-mail address. It’s important to note that if you own several websites and have different e-mail addresses for managing those websites and often comment on blogs, forums and social media sites under your various names, then you can have more than one gravatar. You can have one for each e-mail address you own because the gravatar is associated with a single e-mail address.

Every time you enter your e-mail address into a comment form, your gravatar will appear beside your name. This makes you recognizable to other commenters while branding you online and shows that you are a legitimate poster, not a spammer.

I highly recommend that you set up your own gravatar – especially if you blog regularly and comment on other blogs regularly.

Thanks to Marketing Pilgrim for pointing this out. Google is marketing its new social network Google+ on TV. The Muppets have a hangout, which is one of Google+’s best and most popular features, and hold a concert performing the cover “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie.

Awesome!

This makes me wonder whether Google+ Hangouts can be used for marketing purposes. I don’t see why they can’t. In fact, I know they can.

Brands can set up a Google+ page, but to do so they first need to have a Google+ account. That account has to be a personal account.

So let’s say your CEO gets a Google+ account then sets up a Google+ page for the business. As a page, he could start a hangout and invite anyone he wishes. What he invites all of the page’s circles into a hangout and while inside the hangout he entertains a little while providing a bit of an uplifting marketing message?

The hangout could just last for a minute, but during that minute the CEO could field questions from the people in his circles providing for an interactive marketing moment.

Welcome to the new world of marketing and advertising. Social media is getting better all the time.

Page load time is now an important SEO ranking factor. The faster your site loads the better your chances of ranking higher in the search engines. Google, especially, puts emphasis on page load time. One way to increase your page load time is to compress the pages on your website. And it’s fairly simple and quick to do.

You’ll have to access your .htaccess file. That will require that you go into your server files and pull up the .htaccess file.

Log into your file transfer program and access your web server, then download your .htaccess file to your hard drive. Be sure to keep a backup of this file in case anything goes wrong with the page compression command. Then you can restore the file to its original condition and not miss a beat.

Add these two lines of code to your .htaccess file:

# Gzip – To compress websites
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/html text/plain text/xml text/css application/x-javascript text/x-javascript text/php

Next, upload the .htaccess file to your server again. Be sure to put it right back in the same place again. Most likely, it was located in the root folder (you an actually have an .htaccess file for each section of your website, but you want your page compression command to apply to the entire website).

After uploading your .htaccess file with the page compression command, your website should load faster. Test it by going to http://www.gidnetwork.com/tools/gzip-test.php and enter your URL in the space. The tester will tell you if you have add page compression to your website or not. If not, go back and try it again.

Most SEOs will tell you that the way to boost your rankings in the search engines is to build lots and lots of inbound links. Don’t build external links – those that link out – because they drain your authority juice away. Build your inbound links with great anchor text from relevant high authority websites and you’ll be the golden boy of SEO.

That advice really sucks. I’ll tell you why.

Google has long caught onto the practice of spammy links that follow all the rules of the book. They’ve done changed their algorithms at least a couple of dozen times to prevent those links from helping websites that shouldn’t rank. So do all the crafty link building you can following all the usual rules. It won’t work.

What does work is linking out to other sites within your niche. Don’t worry about draining your authority juice. You probably don’t have any yet.

Rather, consider yourself an authority in your niche and act like it. Would an authority link to a resource off site that would help a reader more than anything else you can post on your own? Of course he would. Then do that. Real authority websites link out promiscuously. They link to websites that are helpful to their readers.

That’s not to say you should link everywhere you can. Be selective about your external links. You don’t want to send your readers to warez sites or sites where they’ll pick up a malicious virus.

Set your standards for excellence based on common sense. Link to sites that add value to your niche for your readers. Become a real authority, not some fake authority based on spammy links that get you nowhere.

It was bound to happen sooner or later. A lawsuit over who owns the Twitter account of an employee (technically, a former employee) who used the account in part to tweet on behalf of the employee. Sidebar: There was contract.

In the absence of case law, a case like this is far from open-shut. In fact, it could get dirty. But I suspect that PhoneDog Media saw an opportunity to bully for money.

Ask any lawyer and he’ll tell you that a business should “aggressively” protect its trademark and other business interests. Otherwise, the company could lose them. It’s a standard line, and its one that is often interpreted to encourage business owners to pursue litigation for even the most extraordinary and awkwardly absurd situations.

I’m not saying this situation is “extraordinary and awkwardly absurd,” but if you read the company’s response to The New York Times, it smacks of legal double-talk.

“The costs and resources invested by PhoneDog Media into growing its followers, fans and general brand awareness through social media are substantial and are considered property of PhoneDog Media L.L.C. We intend to aggressively protect our customer lists and confidential information, intellectual property, trademark and brands.”

When employers and employees begin to make handshake agreements regarding the latter’s social media accounts and using them on behalf of company business, it’s an area of law is very murky. It is in both party’s interest to get a contract. It could save a lot of headache in the long run and spell out the particulars that could make a lawsuit unnecessary and avoidable.

Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to be legal advice. Seek an attorney before making decisions about your social media accounts.

When it comes to spying on your competition, what can you do with the information you gather? There are actually a number of ways you can use competitive intelligence. Here are a few:

  • Use it to improve your search engine optimization campaigns.
  • Keep abreast of your competition’s developments so you can maintain a competitive posture. Remember when Google+ introduced Circles? Facebook replied with its own version of friends management called Lists.
  • Find out how your competition is responding to your developments.
  • Use the information to poll your customers to see if you can improve your own products and services.
  • Compare the intelligence against developing market trends.
  • Identify your own areas of relative weakness.
  • Discover new ways of looking at old problems.

Competitive intelligence is a never-ending process. What you can learn from studying and spying on your competition could improve your own business practices. Your core products and services might have some weaknesses revealed by what your competition is doing. Do consumers have a more favorable perception of your products or those of your competition?

If you want to remain competitive, keep tabs on your competitors and use the information you gather to make your company and its products the best they can be.

If you’ve been around the Web for long and have studied much in the way of SEO, then you’ve likely encountered the countless Internet marketers who have hyped and harped on the idea that SEO is nothing more, or less, than building links. But as many of us have seen, links eventually lose value.

In fact, for every SEO benefit you receive from any action, there will always be a loss of benefit somewhere else. Links get too old and become obsolete, content value is diminished because someone else did it better, social triggers raise and lower your reputation by the minute, etc.

About the only thing you can count on with best SEO practices is change. What works today may not work tomorrow. The action you take today may not show any results for a year. Sometimes, the best thing to do is wait.

Search engine optimization is not some magic pill. There is no formula that can catapult you to instant success, or any success. The best SEOs are the ones that experiment, test, and try something new when all the tried-and-true wisdom has failed. And I can’t tell you how many times a business owner has fired his SEO guru because the business owner read a book and became an instant expert.

The one unbendable rule in SEO is Change is Inevitable. This is not a “don’t rock the boat” industry.

Companies who have been spending money on marketing and advertising off line for years are often reticent to join the online marketing party, especially if their off line marketing is continuing to be effective. That’s understandable. But Reciprocal Consulting has been watching the Internet marketing space for several years now and we’re seeing some interesting trends.

First, more and more companies are moving some of their marketing budgets to online marketing tactics and strategies. Those companies that are already using online marketing channels are beginning to spend more on those channels. There is a reason for these trends. Online marketing works.

However, there are quite a few online marketing channels that may or may not work for your business. It’s important to focus on the tactics and strategies that have the greatest potential.

When you plan your Internet marketing strategy, focus first on the least expensive tactics that historically have the greatest return on investment. Obviously, if you don’t have a website, then you’ll need to focus on website design before anything else. But then what?

Your next step should be to improve your website’s search engine optimization. A well optimized website can give your business a boost that lasts for years.

Pay per click marketing is another online marketing channel that delivers results. It might cost more in the short term than other marketing tactics, but you’ll often see more immediate results, which can be very encouraging if you are new to Internet marketing.

The idea is not to make a big bold leap from off line marketing to online marketing, but to gradually shift your marketing dollars from staid old ineffective strategies off line to better, more effective strategies online. By integrating your online marketing efforts with your successful off line marketing efforts, your overall marketing strategy should be stronger and more effective.

Here’s an interesting take on an old saw. Your so-called social influence may be a sham. But that doesn’t mean it has no value.

I like the last paragraph of the article cited above:

If the Harvard Study is right and “peer influence is virtually nonexistent,” that doesn’t mean it’s time to throw in the social media towel. All it means is that you may need to adjust your thinking. Instead of pushing to bring new lambs into the fold, sell to the ones you already have corralled.

First, it’s long been a business principle that it’s easier to upsell to current clients than it is to sell to prospects. Nothing new there.

But the study that says that people become friends because they are already interested in the same stuff more than people interest their friends in new things isn’t really new information, is it? I mean, isn’t that how it works in the real world? You become friends with people who have similar interests. You may, once in a while, talk a friend into taking an interest in something new on the basis of your existing relationship. So what?

The so what here is that, though rare, social influence does happen. While it might be savvy marketing to put some money into that influence, there are more cost effective online marketing techniques. And they’re not hard to find.

Here’s a great article on local online marketing. I have three comments to make about the content in the article.

  1. Paid search still packs a powerful punch – I don’t care where you live, paid search has the greatest potential to drive targeted traffic to your website fast. And then you can reap an ROI that is difficult to match anywhere else. I’d say paid search is better than TV and radio – especially for effective local marketing.
  2. You can’t separate local from mobile – Mobile marketing has arrived in full force and if you think about it you’ve likely seen people use their cell phones to find businesses to shop in as well as to find products to purchase locally. While people may use the Internet to research purchases, they still would rather purchase locally. Mobile marketing makes that so much easier.
  3. Localization and local awareness - The big trend is for big businesses to customize their marketing for local geographic markets. Modern online technology makes that possible. A huge part of that effort is with local smartphone apps. Location-based apps make local marketing easier and local shopping better.

Online marketing is getting a lot better for small businesses and making the world a better place for consumers.

In the old days of SEO, all a marketer had to care about was whether or not he was building good content and building good links. If you wrote great content for your website using the right keyword mix with content that helped your audience, built links from good domains and with the right anchor text, and didn’t do anything the search engines didn’t like, then there was a good chance you’d rank well for the keywords you targeted. Those days are going away – fast.

SEOMoz has a great post on how Google looks at sentiment and how that affects SEO at the local level. You’ll be amazed at the technology the search engines now have.

Using something called stylometry, Google can determine whether your link from a third-party website is a positive endorsement, a negative endorsement, or neutral. And I find that amazing. It could affect your rankings.

Get enough bloggers to link to your website using negative references and you could see your search engine rankings plummet. On the other hand, get enough rave reviews and you could rise to the top. It’s pretty easy to imagine what you need to do to improve your rankings then, huh?

No, I don’t mean buy positive endorsements. I mean provide great customer service. Your reputation is more than just a few paid-for links. It’s how you do business.

A robots.txt file is a file you put on your server to give specific instructions to web robots. These are also called crawlers, or spiders. All the major search engines have them. Most spammers and malware hawkers have them too. They’re all over the place, honestly.

But there are a couple of things you should know about the robots.txt file.

  1. It’s a public document, meaning anyone can open the file and see which sections of your website you don’t want the search engines to see or index. In other words, you can’t use it to hide information.
  2. Robots can ignore your robots.txt file, and many do.

So if robots can ignore the file, then what good is it?

That’s a good question. I’ll answer that by saying that good robots typically obey the commands you give in your robots.txt file while bad robots don’t. So if your intention is to create a file that prevents bad robots from accessing your website, then it’s probably pointless.

If your intention, however, is to communicate specific instructions to good robots – for example, search engine robots – then it’s a safe bet that those commands will be obeyed.

The most common use of the robots.txt file is to prevent search engines from indexing a website, or portions of the website. It’s not the only use, however.

The robots.txt file is a useful tool for webmasters, but it has its weaknesses. Do some additional reading to learn more about how you can use the robots.txt file for title=”robots.txt web development”>your website, or whether you need it at all.

A customer asked, “Shouldn’t I put my blog posts in multiple categories for better search engine optimization?”

Our answer: No.

The search engines won’t rank your content higher because you’ve placed it in multiple categories. In fact, they might gig you for duplicate content if you allow them to crawl your categories at all. And that’s why many SEOs put a nofollow, deindex command in their robots.txt files for the category and tag pages of their blogs.

Your categories and tags are for reader benefit. Fewer categories on a blog make for a cleaner, easier-to-follow blog. Limit your reader’s choices in categories and you’ll encourage more reading. Therefore, your categories should be broad catch-all organizational tools like the chapters in a book.

Tags, on the other hand, are narrower in scope and therefore it’s OK to have more of them. It’s also OK to give individual blog posts with multiple tags.

Tags are more like the index at the back of your book. You might have only 10 chapters (blog categories) in a book, but you’ll have hundreds of tags. And specific words or phrases may appear in several chapters of your book. Those words or phrases (tags) in your index will show which specific pages of your book those words or phrases appear in even if they are in different chapters.

The reason this happens is because you’ll give a full treatment of a topic in a book chapter, or a blog category, but you and your reader both recognize that all of your concepts are interrelated. Sometimes, due to that interrelatedness, you’ll mention a topic in a chapter that covers another topic with a fuller treatment. It’s only mentioned as it relates to the other topic. That’s where your tags come in.

Keep in mind that tags and categories are organization tools, not necessarily SEO tools.

Back in September Facebook outlined its Timeline feature. Yesterday, Timeline went public.

Timeline has been billed as a new way to use social media. Instead of the traditional profile, your entire life story will appear as photos, videos, posts, stories, and whatever else you post on Facebook. There are two ways to get Timeline right now.

  1. You can go into Introducing Timeline and click the green “Get Timeline” button at the bottom of the page; or
  2. You can wait until you see an announcement at the top of your profile.

If you’re in a hurry to get your Timeline active, go to Introducing Timeline and get started. But beware. You have 7 days to review your Timeline and remove anything you don’t want to be seen publicly. After that, it’s live and you won’t have a choice any more.

Now the question is, can you use your Timeline for your business? And the answer is, Sure, why not?

The Timeline can essentially be used the same way you currently use your profile for business. The difference is you can now include prominent photos and videos. Everything you upload or post will go into your Timeline. That includes business-related and personal. This could be a great tool for sole proprietors, freelancers and entrepreneurs.

Facebook is moving forward. Are you?

MerchantCircle conducted a survey and found that most small businesses would put all of their marketing budget into SEO if they could only choose one channel. These are interesting results. Why is it that small businesses would choose SEO over social media or traditional media?

I believe the answer is quite simple. Quite frankly, it’s the most effective and most cost efficient marketing channel.

SEO allows you to attract the type of customer you are searching for by “pulling” them in based on their own active search for information that you have to offer. And even today, the best converting traffic for most websites is traffic that comes from search engines. It’s almost a no-brainer.

But how many small business owners actually know how to conduct a search engine marketing campaign using the latest best practices for SEO? The answer: Not many. So who is going to do the actual work of optimizing their website?

It may be time for you to consider an SEO consultant. There are really three kinds of SEO consultants.

  1. The do-it-all consultant who analyzes your website and looks for opportunities to better your on-page and off-page SEO for increased search results. Then they implement a strategy approved by you.
  2. The assist-you consultant who analyzes your website and makes recommendations that you follow up on and implement.
  3. The hybrid SEO consultant who uses a combination of these two strategies and the two of you work together.

There are pros and cons to each type of consultant. Whichever is right for you is your call, but now is the time to consider an SEO consultant for your business for the upcoming year.

There are a lot of website design companies online that purport to build you a custom-designed website, then use an off-the-shelf web template. Sure, they modify the template, but that’s hardly “custom.”

A custom-designed website is one where the web design company takes your concept and builds you a website from scratch. The language used for the website is immaterial. It can be PHP, CSS, JavaScript, ASP, or a combination of the above. Or something else entirely. But they code the website from top to bottom. And they do it with sound search engine optimization strategies in mind.

Web design isn’t rocket science, but it’s not exactly Cracker Jack box thinking either. There is some creativity involved.

A good web design company can take your company image, your logo, your brand, and design a real website that captures the personality and essence of your brand. It is unique. It is custom designed in the truest sense of the word.

When you are in the market for a custom web design, take the time to interview companies first. Find out what their web design strategy is. Do they take an off-the-shelf template and modify it or do they truly build you a website from the ground up?

Are you hovering over your pay-per-click marketing CTR numbers daily, expecting them to change – maybe even go up? If so, you could be wasting your time.

It’s not that CTR isn’t important. Rather, it’s just that ROI is more important. After all, what difference does it make if your click-through rate is sky high if your conversion rate is below the floor? Return on investment is the measure of your success. It’s how much money you put in your pocket.

There are two ways to affect your ROI. Pay less or make more. Do both and you increase your ROI.

But the key is to do all the right things with the money that you do invest in PPC marketing. Simply writing ads and turning them on isn’t enough. You have to manage them, and that includes logging into your PPC accounts daily. There’s tweaking that needs to be done.

Bidding on your keywords is good, but are you bidding on keywords that you shouldn’t even be targeting? Prune your keyword list down to target only the most important keywords – the ones that will return a profit.

And something else that many PPC advertisers overlook is the value of a good landing page. Does your landing page need to be optimized? Are there elements on your page that don’t need to be there? If it isn’t closing sales from the traffic your ads are sending, then it isn’t doing its job and it’s costing you in terms of ROI. Optimize that landing page.

Instead of focusing on CTR, turn your eye toward ROI and improve your PPC marketing.

There are three things that we know will always be true.

  1. Sex sells; dirty sex sells even more
  2. All marketers are liars (thanks Seth Godin)
  3. Video marketing is on the move toward the future

So what can we make of these three truths?

First, if you want to make your business popular, try one. Some marketers have been very adept at creating sexy marketing campaigns. Even when it wasn’t necessary. The sex caught people’s attention and the company was catapulted to notorious fame (think GoDaddy).

Of course, you can always stretch the truth a little bit. Exaggeration is not just a literary technique. It’s also a marketing principle.

But, better than sex and lies, video marketing has come of age. Savvy online marketers can produce high quality videos on a fraction of the budget that they used to be able to do. And you can distribute your high quality videos online to drive traffic to your website. You can do it all day long.

But I’d guess the best, most effective marketing strategy is to mix these three elements together. If you can create a high quality video that plays off sex and exaggeration (lies), then you can develop a buzz and watch your traffic soar. Is that what you really want, sex and lying notwithstanding?

First, Facebook rolled out brand pages for businesses. Then Google+ hit the scene and within three months had introduced brand pages. Now, after several years of successful operations and climbing usage, Twitter is introducing brand pages.

Unfortunately, not everyone can have one just yet.

But with 76% of small businesses saying they use Twitter, that open-to-public launch could come soon.

Currently, Twitter brand pages are only open to a few big brands such as

  • American Express
  • Best Buy
  • Bing
  • Chevrolet
  • Coca-Cola
  • Disney
  • General Electric
  • McDonald’s
  • Nike
  • PepsiCo
  • Staples
  • Verizon Wireless
  • Heineken
  • Subway
  • and Paramount Pictures

just to name a few.

Once Twitter’s brand pages go public, it looks like small businesses will have a troika (triumvirate?) of social media brand pages to promote. So the big question is, what will be the most effective way to promote all three brand pages for maximum effectiveness?

It’s become apparent that each of the social media websites cater to specific personality types. Marketers have discovered that Twitter audiences and Facebook audiences do not line up as the same. Therefore, promotions to each service need to be unique.

That will undoubtedly be the way going forward as well. When you run your brand page specials, you’ll have to have one for Twitter, a separate one for Facebook, and then one for Google+. Are you ready?