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McDonald’s decided to spend its money buying a hashtag on the popular social media website Twitter.

First, I’d like to know how you can buy a hashtag, but that’s an aside. The real issue is what happened after McDonald’s changed its hashtag from #MeetTheFarmers to #McDStories.

The original hashtag was meant to introduce McDonald’s Twitter followers to the company’s promotion of fresh produce. It worked well. Then, in a flash of brilliance that turned out to be not so brilliant, the company’s social media manager decided to open the door to the universe by expanding its Twitter promotion. Enter #McDStories.

Who doesn’t have a positive McDonald’s story, right? Indeed. And who doesn’t have a negative one. Duh.

You can probably guess what happened next. Followers started using the new hashtag to relate their own McDonald’s stories – chipped molars, regurgitation, food poisoning …. The list goes on.

I think the big lesson here is not how to respond to negative reactions on Twitter or some other social media site. Rather, the real lesson is how to prevent it from happening in the first place. This all could have been prevented had McDonald’s not insisted on opening the door to the universe. All they had to do was keep running the promotion that was working.

When things are going well, don’t change them. Rule #1. Rule #2 is, always ask what might go wrong.

Had McDonald’s social media manager lived by those two rules we wouldn’t be talking about them right now. That second question is particularly important. In social media – and on the World Wide Web in general – once something starts spiraling out of control, it’s hard to get a handle on it. If it’s out there, it’s out there. So put some thought into your moves before you make them. Ask, what can go wrong with this? If the answer is something too big to control or too embarrassing to let go on, don’t make your move. Do something else, or nothing at all.

When it comes to competitive intelligence a distinction must be made between collecting data and performing competitive analysis. One may be provide some benefit, but often, the other doesn’t.

Online competitive intelligence is a rather tricky subject. Collecting information on your competition’s marketing tactics online is fairly easy, though it is getting more difficult now that Yahoo! Site Explorer is no longer live. You can still do back link analysis, but you’ll have to pay for it. The question is, is it worth it?

In many cases, I’d say it is worth it to study your competition and see what they are up to. But bear in mind that just because your competition is engaged in a particular marketing strategy doesn’t mean that it is working for them. And that means you could spend hours and hours analyzing your competition and coming up with nothing but wasted time. That is true particularly if you intend to mirror their actions.

If your competition is still engaged in five-year-old link building tactics that don’t work, then you could be killing yourself trying to follow them. My recommendation is, don’t.

It’s good to keep tabs on the competition, don’t get me wrong. But if your only intent in doing so is so that you can figure out what they are doing online and following that, you should rethink your competitive intelligence strategy. Monitoring the competition is not the same as analyzing them. And analyzing your competition’s moves is only useful if your analysis leads you to actionable steps that benefit your marketing strategy.

Competitive intelligence is one of those areas where it pays to be cautious. Collect, measure, and monitor, but don’t take action until you’ve engaged in effective analysis.

Online coupons are starting to become a big deal. They are much like their off line counterparts, but they have the potential to be found online by casual searchers using a search engine or social media. That’s a good thing for you, the business owner.

Like old-fashioned coupons, you can use online coupons to drive new business to your storefront or website. And it works.

One of the things that makes it work is social media. If your offer is so good that your prospects want to share it with their friends, then they will share it will their friends. They’ll share it on Facebook, Twitter, and through e-mail. They’ll share it on any social network where they have a presence, and they’ll use it too.

Online, you can offer the types of coupons that you can off line. You can offer 2-for-1 deals, minimum purchase discounts, coupons that are good only for certain days, perpetual coupons that are good any time of the year, and you can be as creative as you can be with your traditional off line coupons. Your customers can print the coupon and bring it to your business, download it to their mobile phones, tell you the coupon code when they call in their order, or enter the coupon code into a field on your website form.

If you think it through all the way, you’ll see that online coupons are another opportunity for you to reach new customers and increase your business. And they’re as social as other online tool.

On February 1st, you’ll be able to buy yourself a Twitter brand page – if you have $25,000. I don’t know about you, but that price seems a little steep to me.

Twitter had originally accepted a minimum of $2 million from 20 large companies on the scale of Coca-Cola and Disney for the privilege of being the first companies to have brand pages on the microblogging platform. The pages look quite nice.

The big question is, when will the rest of us gain access to Twitter brand pages and how much will it cost us?

It’s obvious that Twitter is using this opportunity as a way to raise operating funds. But the problem, as I see it, is that the companies spending the most amount of money and getting in earlier will have an advantage over companies with smaller pocketbooks. They’ll effectively be the Twitter users that set the policy for the rest of us. They could use Twitter to shut the door on their competition, and may already have.

Has Twitter sold out to the highest bidder? Has it become a haven for big brands? Will it go by the way of eBay and alienate its smaller, less wealthy users?

Only time will tell or provide any answers to these questions. Meanwhile, if you’ve got $25,000 in your pocket, then you can buy yourself a Twitter brand page. Someday, you might be allowed to establish a Twitter brand page for your company for a monthly or yearly fee. Average that over a lifetime and you could very well spend $25,000, or more, for the privilege of tweeting 140 characters at a time.

Let’s hope that Twitter doesn’t become the social media website of the rich, for the rich, and by the rich.

You’ve likely seen those social media badges on your favorite blogs and websites. Facebook has the Like button. Twitter has the Tweet and Retweet button. And Google+ has the +1 button. Except now, it just got better.

That’s right, Google+ has improved its +1 button.

The new options include:

  • Choosing a width for your Google+ button that works for your website’s design
  • Finding a badge that works with the dark background of your website
  • Using a badge that also shows your Google+ profile’s circle count

Google+ pages can also display a Google+ badge, which makes them a lot more attractive as well.

It’s already been proven that websites with social media badges get more shares, Likes, tweets, and +1s. Social media sharing is a great way to connect with new followers and potential customers. Google+ is a new social media site that also carries search engine marketing benefits so you can no longer discount it. I highly recommend using it.

Another thing you can do through your website that you should do is encourage your website visitors to add you to their circles on Google+. It’s easy to do and it carries a ton of benefits. I think those benefits are going to get better.

If you’ve been wondering about using social media badges on your website, start with a Google+ badge. Work your way up from there.

There’s a new social media site in town. It’s called Pinterest. And in the last month the site has gained 7 million new visitors.

Pinterest is an interesting social media experiment. And it looks like it could become one of the powerhouse websites, especially for women, its largest set of users.

The cool thing about Pinterest is that it is highly graphic. Take a look at its home page and you’ll see all the photos and images, and it isn’t cluttered.

The way it works is you set up your own pinboard. You can have one for your company just like Mashable has. And just like Mashable’s, it can be branded.

Notice how Mashable’s pinboard has the Mashable name in it. That’s great for reputation management and branding. Then, on the left, you can see the big Mashable logo with the website URL underneat. Again, that’s great for branding, but the URL back to the website provides a useful inbound link for SEO purposes.

If you look at the pins that Mashable includes on its pinboard, they’re not all self-promotional. They spend a great deal of time promoting other items around the Web. That’s great stuff. It’s the way that it should be done.

You don’t have to be a rabid self-promoter to be successful in social media generally or at Pinterest in particular. You just have to have a solid strategy for your online content, a strategy that includes promoting others while branding yourself. That’s the best social media strategy in the world, and your company can make that happen.

There is a misconception among many search engine optimization specialists that SEO must be a focus of content or the content just isn’t good. The truth is, great content and great SEO compliment each other. They can co-exist without hurting each other.

The key to this SEO philosophy is in the use of keywords and links. Keywords are the fuel in every search engine optimization strategy. You don’t want to overdo it, but you must do it.

What does that mean, exactly?

Keywords are a matter of targeting the right phrases for the right audience. If you are trying to reach people who purchase automobiles, then you have to target the right key phrases that attract automobile buyers. If you sell Ford vehicles specifically, then target your phrases to people who buy Ford vehicles. Sounds like a no-brainer, right?

It is, but you’d be surprised at how many SEOs target the wrong keywords for their audiences.

When it comes to links, you want your links to compliment your keyword phrases. They shouldn’t dominate. Anything in moderation is better than the same thing in overdose. Use links that compliment your keywords by incorporating the keywords into the link anchor text and pointing them to relevant pages on your website. Title attributes can also compliment your anchor text.

By complimentary title attributes, I don’t necessarily mean repeating your anchor text key phrase. I mean use a phrase that compliments it and is a more nuanced way of using your important keywords.

SEO is not a science. It certainly isn’t rocket science. Your first concern should be in creating great content. Make the SEO compliment the content.

A reader asked Mike Blumenthal if linking to her Google Places page would make it rank higher in the search engines.

The question has its basis on the longstanding practice of many SEOs to build inbound links to pages on their websites. Such inbound links have often increased the rankings of their web pages in the search engines. But there are flaws in thinking the same practice when applies to a Google Places page would have the same effect.

First, a Google Places page, as Mike Blumenthal points out, is a search result. Linking to it would be like linking to a search results page for a query that is related to your business niche. That wouldn’t boost your web pages any and it wouldn’t make any sense.

Secondly, linking out from your website to an external page would drain link juice that you could put to better use on your internal pages.

While such linking might be detrimental in terms of your website’s SEO, there may be times when linking to your Google Places page constitutes good marketing. For instance, if you want your website visitors to see all the rave reviews your business gets on Google, then you could link to the page. But I wouldn’t do that from your home page and I’d recommend that you do it using a no-follow link.

Sometimes, detrimental or harmful linking practices can be good marketing practices, and vice-versa. This is where you have to do some weighing of pros and cons. Choose a value that is most important to you and perform the action that makes that value work for you.

When it comes to marketing online, you can’t go wrong with what works and what continues to work. It seems that there are only a few tried and tested tactics that continue to work over and over again. Don’t listen to the gurus who try to sell you on the “latest and the greatest.” Instead, focus on what has been proven to work.

Here are 5 timeless Internet marketing tactics. They worked ten years ago (or five) and still work today.

  • Pay Per Click Advertising – PPC advertising is the paid advertising part of online marketing. Google was the first company to champion PPC and it’s still going strong. As long as PPC ads continue to work, savvy Internet marketers will continue to use them.
  • Search Engine Optimization – Despite rumors that Google+ has killed SEO, search engine optimization is still going strong. It changes every day, of course. But it still works today.
  • Social Media Marketing – Social media is still young. It’s good and it’s only going to get better. With the rise of Facebook and now the introduction of Google+, you can’t ignore it any longer.
  • Video Marketing – Video marketing just keeps getting better. Don’t give up on this new tactic just yet. Now should be when you start adopting it.
  • Mobile Marketing – I know, I know. A lot of people still haven’t started doing it yet, but are you going to wait until they start. Now is the time to hop onto the mobile marketing bandwagon – before your clientele jumps on and starts looking for you.

When it comes to Internet marketing, stick to what you know works.

Perhaps one of the most controversial moves Google has made in its history is the introduction of Google+. Since its inception, Google’s social network has been the subject of a lot of talk – some good and some bad.

It has its fans, to be sure. Among them are some of the Internet’s biggest voices.

On the other hand, there are some pretty big voices that have criticized it sharply. And they make some good points.

One of the things that has people concerned about Google+ is Google’s policy of favoring Google+ results in its search engine index over its competition. Until now, there has been no real solid proof that is happening. But a new bookmarklet titled Don’t Be Evil is showing the proof in a very uncanny way. You can preview and drag and drop the Don’t Be Evil bookmarklet to your web browser by visiting the Focus On The User website.

The interesting thing about this bookmarklet is its development team. The Focus On The User website says it was built by engineers at Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, “in consultation with several other social networking companies.”

John Battelle, one of those sharply critical voices who is also an Internet journalist, writes about it on his blog.

So here’s the million dollar question: What does this new information in this social media war mean to Google’s, and the Web’s, future? Will the U.S. Department of Justice see Google’s ranking practices as a violation of antitrust laws?

It would be interesting if they did. The result would likely be, at the very least, a forced change in Google’s ranking policies that cause it to rank websites without a preference for Google+. The question is, would that be better for searchers or worse? Google already claims to be doing what is best for the user, but their competition disagrees. What do you say?

The search engines are in a constant state of change. Every day, Google makes about 500 algorithmic changes meaning that’s how many times they change how their search results work. That doesn’t mean that every change will affect every query or that they affect every website on the Internet or every search engine result. Some are very specific and address very specific issues within particular niches.

Still, when you look at how search engine marketing has changed over the years, it’s easy to see why video marketing is becoming more and more important. And that’s includes YouTube.

More and more online marketing are using videos every day. But not just videos in the sense that they throw together a two-minute gig and throw it up online. Many of these videos are very professional.

YouTube has several advantages for video marketers. One advantage is that you can start up a video channel on YouTube and post regular video updates that are entertaining as well as informational and that market your website.

Another advantage to YouTube is that it is a very popular social media website. You can meet people on YouTube that you might not meet anywhere else. By developing a relationship with people on YouTube you can send them to your website to buy your products and services.

Finally, YouTube is the second largest search engine online – right behind Google. That is perhaps the biggest advantage. If you have a presence there, then people will likely find your videos.

Video marketing is getting to be more and more attractive every day. YouTube is one good reason why.

If you are new to search engine marketing and you’re wondering just what a search engine marketing company does, go no further. I’ll give you the nitty gritty, and the down and dirty, right here.

There are several Internet marketing strategies a search engine marketing company can perform for you. Let’s start with web design.

A good search engine marketing company doesn’t just design your website. They help you plan it. What language does it need to be coded in? Would ASP best suit your website? How about PHP? What kind of server should it be on? Windows or Linux? What is the best way to incorporate the social media experience into your website? These are some of the questions a good web development firm can help you answer as you make your mark on the web.

Beyond web design, your search engine marketing company should help you determine the best promotional strategies for driving traffic to your new website. Some of those methods include:

  • Pay per click advertising
  • Article marketing
  • Search engine optimization
  • Display advertising
  • Link building
  • Social media marketing
  • Directory submissions
  • Blog marketing
  • Video marketing
  • Forum marketing

And that’s just to name a few. The methods for driving traffic to your website could be quite different than the methods used for another website. Since every web business is different, every online marketing strategy should be different. A search engine marketing firm knows that.

Quora, the question & answer website that has developed quite a following, now has a new tool for serious web promoters. It’s called a Quora Board.

So what is a Quora Board?

The concept is really simple. You set up a board around a specific topic that is associated with your business. Then you post links to that board and promote it to your followers.

It’s important to note that you can go through your Quora account followers and add as many of them as you want as followers of your Quora board when you set it up. Your followers then have to opt out if they don’t want to follow your board. That’s makes it a really easy marketing tool.

But keep your board focused. Don’t post spurious links are off-topic posts. If you blog often, post your blog links. You can also post other relevant and interesting third-party content (and you should) relevant to your board. Make your board a place where people interested in your topic will want to hang out and get the latest information from.

Quora boards are yet another social media tool that you can use for your business benefit.

You know you need to write to your blog every day. But how do you make the time? You’re too busy.

You can fix that. Discipline and a little bit of time organization is all it takes. You can write a blog post every day in 20 minutes or less. Here are the steps to take to ensure that you can have a blog post every day and have it written in less than 20 minutes.

  1. Keep a running idea list – Every time you get an idea for a blog post, write it down. Keep a running list. This is easier if you create a keyword list before you set up your blog. Come up with 10-20 blog post ideas for each keyword on your list, and your keyword list should have 50-100 good keywords.
  2. Let good ideas sit – Instead of trying to write about something the day you come up with the idea, let it sit a few days. You’ll think of other ideas that can go with it. Write them down. Start with your running idea list and go from there.
  3. Cut unsupporting ideas before you write – If you keep a running list of ideas and related ideas, you’ll start to see that some of the ideas you thought initially supported each other are actually not related enough. They could be their own blog posts. Cut them out and separate them. Remember, the goal is to write fast. A nonsupporting idea doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.
  4. Use lists – You can say a lot with ordered and unordered lists.
  5. Keep your posts short - Remember, you’re trying to write fast. So keep your blog posts to under 500 words.
  6. Write in bursts – If you get stuck on a blog post and can’t think of how to finish it, save it as a draft and come back to it later, when you can think of something fresh.
  7. Write about your best ideas now - Why save your best ideas for later? Save time now. Just knock it out.

This blog post took 15 minutes to write. It’s less than 500 words and more than 250, so it should pass Google’s search engine optimization guidelines. Yours will too!

One growing branch of online marketing is online video marketing. It seems to be picking up speed. But there are certain principles that video marketers should cling to if they want their marketing to be effective. One of those principles is to keep it short.

I’m talking about your videos.

High quality shorter videos seem to attract a great response from viewers and have the best potential for going viral.

The reason shorter videos work best is because people in today’s fast-paced global marketplace are crunched for time. A thirty second video will go much further than a one hour documentary. Especially if your goal is to attract attention and drive traffic for marketing purposes.

If you want to provide in-depth videos on a given topic, you are better off using short videos to attract attention to your business and website and using them to drive traffic to your longer pages. You might even put those long educational videos behind a paywall and charging admission. Then you know that someone interested in that kind of time commitment is willing to pay for it. When people put their wallets on the line, that’s a commitment.

Put your marketing budget into your short videos. They don’t provide any more SEO benefit than longer videos, but they are also don’t provide any less SEO benefit. But they do work for driving traffic.

Online video marketing isn’t rocket science. You can be effective with just a little forethought and some respect for your prospect’s time. Draw them in with short videos and close them with your on-page content.

For the longest time now just about anyone you talked to in SEO circles would sing the praises of the No. 1 position in search results. But have you noticed that most PPC specialists – at least the ones who are worth their weight in salt – prefer to get their clients No. 2, 3, or 4 positions in the rankings? Why is that?

The truth is, No. 1 positions are the most clicked-on positions. That’s true for PPC and organic search listings. But those are not the most profitable positions.

The most profitable positions are the ones just below the No. 1 position. Why is that?

What most people don’t realize is that most searchers will click on that No. 1 position, but if it isn’t what they were looking for, then they hit the Back button and click on another search result. SEOs know this. Clients don’t necessarily know this. So everyone is scrambling to get that No. 1 position.

There’s nothing wrong with being No. 1. But you should be seeking to be No. 1 for the right search queries. What questions does your website answer? Those are the key terms you should seek No. 1 rankings for.

SEO results fluctuate. But they are also much more personal. Google now provides videos, images, and personalized results based on who your Google+ friends are your past search history. Your search results are not my search results. That makes the No. 1 position just about unattainable. Trying to get there is an exercise in absurdity.

The job for search engine marketers in today’s search climate is to produce the best content and promote it in the best places. Rankings won’t cure all your ills.

Reputation management has become one of the most important tasks for any Internet marketer, particularly an author. Google has a tool that can help webmasters test their reputations online to see if their content is doing what it should. That tool is the Rich Snippet Testing Tool.

So what does it do?

In a word, it looks at a web page on your website, or any website you want to test, and tells you whether or not that web page is using microformats to present your authorship of the page in the best light. Specifically, it will:

  • Tell you whether the page is linked adequately to your Google profile.
  • Let you know if the page is linked to your social media profiles at Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, StumbleUpon, Quora, and other social networks.
  • Show you a preview of your Google snippet for that page should it be returned in a search results page for your author name.
  • Give you the extracted rich snippet data from the page.
  • And show you what a custom search engine would see if it were to look at your rich snippet data.

That’s a lot of information. More importantly, it’s a lot of useful information.

Rich snippets are very important for authors and other creatives who spend a lot of time creating content in their own names. Even if you employ a ghostwriter to create your content, you are its author. You should test your rich snippet data on a semi-regular basis to ensure that you are making the most of your microformatting opportunities. It not only has reputation management consequences, but it can affect your SEO as well.

Press releases are good for one thing – links. If you really, really want to build some inbound links to your website and hope that your public relations campaign takes off, then submit a few press releases to the press release distribution websites. But what if you really want to power up your PR campaign?

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t submit press releases. Submit them. You’ll get your inbound links and if you optimize them well you’ll likely see some inbound traffic when searchers find your press release in the search engines. You may even get a call from a reporter or see your press release re-printed somewhere – maybe even off line. But don’t expect your press releases to do all the work. Public relations goes beyond a mere press release.

Good public relations involves some level of relationship building. You need to find out what publications cover your industry. Make a list. Then find out who the person is in those publications who reports on topics that are important to you. Again, make a list.

When you’re ready to start your public relations campaign, contact those people on your list and make a personal pitch. The personal pitch is a lot more effective than a press release. It shows that you have the ambition and the incentive to go an extra step. Most of your competitors are submitting impersonal press releases. But you will be more direct, more personal, and more effective.

When you make a pitch, tailor it to the specific needs of the person and the publication you are pitching to. Is it a lone blogger in your niche? Find out what he likes to write about (you should subscribe to his blog and read it every day) and pitch to that.

Are you pitching to a national news magazine in your niche? What kind of stories do they run? What are their biases. Play to those.

Public relations is about more than building links and sending press releases. If you really want it to be effective, make it personal.

You could call 2011 The Year of the Panda. Panda in this case is a reference to Google Panda, the algorithm update that killed hundreds or thousands of websites instantly, many of them big name websites. It also did in some microsites.

And that makes us ask the question, are microsites good for SEO?

My answer is, they can be if done right. The problem so often is that website designers do not often do them correctly.

So, What’s A Microsite?

A microsite is a small website that serves a specific purpose. It is usually defined as a site that consists of only 3-5 pages not counting the terms of service and privacy policy pages. The focus is very narrow and specific.

You can build a microsite that targets a narrower niche within your broad company website’s niche. But what has killed many SEOs trying to use microsites is they linked them all together in a massive link building scheme. Google caught on and all their sites were de-indexed. Rather quickly.

If you build microsites, build them as standalone webites, not as link satellites for your larger site.

The Real Benefit Of A Microsite

The real benefit to having multiple microsites is not that you can use them to build links to your major corporate website. The real benefit is that you can use them as separate websites that achieve search engine rankings on their own.

If you have three microsites that each target their own specific keywords, that’s 6 times the number of opportunities to rank well for the keywords that you are targeting. That’s in addition to the ranking opportunities of your main website. And that’s if you don’t link them together.

You have to make sure your microsites aren’t associated with each in any way. Treat them like separate businesses and promote them as such.

Remember when everyone went ga-ga over video marketing? The talk of the town was it’s the next thing. Remember?

It happened right after YouTube started to climb sharply in popularity.

Then, remember when mobile marketing was the big thing? When did it happen? Right after everybody and his dog decided that you could Facebook on your phone. Now mobile phones are supposedly smarter and marketers are trying to figure out a way to get into your ear through them.

That’s cool.

Well, it seems that now nearly 20% of consumers have e-books and another 19% have tablets. So it’s time to start on the tablet marketing bandwagon, right?

Hold on before you start mocking me. I’m not being facetious. Not entirely anyway.

What can a tablet do? Play music and other audio files. Broadcast videos. Display e-books. Think any of those could be useful in promoting your business? How about that Internet radio show you wanted to start last year? Or that YouTube video channel? Maybe that e-book you’ve been putting off writing?

Yep, all of those can be marketed to tablet owners. So maybe now is the time to start looking at tablet and e-book marketing.

There are other benefits to promoting you and your business through these media. It also doubles as reputation management. That is, the more you publish and the more you promote yourself in a positive light the bigger and better your reputation will be online and off line.

Don’t just take up tablet marketing because it becomes a fad – it will. Do it because it delivers on the benefits.