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For awhile webmasters were stuck on buying paid links. But link networks have pretty much gone by the wayside and I think the reason why is because their business model has been destroyed.

Google has built a great system for detecting bogus links. There are tell-tale signs that a link is a paid-for link and not a natural link. For instance, if you have the perfect anchor text for “viagra” on a website about pet ownership, then there’s a clear indication that you have a bought link.

There are other signs as well. Link sellers generally spin their content. So if you find articles online with similar content over and over again with a mix of irrelevant anchor text links, that’s likely a link seller’s page. Google Panda took care of a lot of those.

And then the big kicker. Google operatives.

Imagine trying to sell links to an unsuspecting webmaster, but that webmaster turns out to be a Google employee. Bam! You’re dead.

It’s much like the way drug dealers and law enforcement personnel work. The dealer tries to find strung out peeps to sell his drugs to, but he has no way of weeding out the real fiends and those playacting. Law enforcement actually has an advantage. They work undercover pretending to be the type of customer the drug dealer wants. When an offer is made, bam! Snagged.

Google has its undercover agents as well, and they’re pretty good. If you’re still buying paid links, you’re throwing your money away. You’d be better off buying content the old-fashioned way and marketing through high quality content that builds your reputation and your SEO.

It used to be that all you had to think about when building your landing pages was how to optimize your titles and headlines, images through alt tags, keyword usage, and a having strong call to action. Is that all you have to think about today or is there more to it now?

I think that landing page optimization has changed and primarily it has changed because users are more savvy now than they used to be.

For sure, Internet users overall care more about design and layout today than they used to. At one time an ugly landing page could still make money, but because most niches now are embattled in some pretty stiff competition, if your web pages don’t meet a certain design standard, then your competition is going to win. Users will bounce from an ugly site to a more attractive site and make a purchase there even if your product is better.

For that reason, web design is much more important today. You want your site to be optimized well and have a strong call to action, but you want it to be beautiful too.

Aside from that, you also want to pay much more attention to metrics. What are you measuring, and are you sure you’re measuring the right things?

For starters, you should know how much of your traffic is converting. You should also measure your social signals, e-mail opt-ins, and anything else that could potentially lead to a conversion. You have to know what web design elements are working for you and eliminate any that aren’t. This often requires A/B testing or multivariate testing in some form.

By testing your landing pages for better optimization and conversion you signal to the world, and your in-house team, that you are serious about building your brand. It all starts with effective web design.

It’s important to go back through your website and search it out for items that might be a red flag for the search engines. That might mean creating a new sitemap once in a while.

Duane Forrester of Bing says as much in an interview conducted late last year.

Your Sitemaps need to be clean. We have a 1% allowance for dirt in a Sitemap. Examples of dirt are if we click on a URL and we see a redirect, a 404 or a 500 code. If we see more than a 1% level of dirt, we begin losing trust in the Sitemap.

In other words, if you have a website with 20 pages on it and you have 2 of those pages with 301 redirects, 1 with a 404 error, and 1 that returns a constant 500 error, then your sitemap could be killing your search rankings in Bing.

A 500 error usually refers to some kind of server issue. It’s not likely that you’ll get a 500 error on one page and not on another, but it could happen. If you recently changed permissions on one page of your website and failed to change it back to the original permissions setting, then that page could turn a 500 error.

A 404 error means that the server couldn’t find your page. There is likely something wrong with the permalink in your sitemap.

All of this is simply to say that you should present a clean sitemap to the search engines if you expect them to honor it. If it’s been a while since you’ve created your 301 redirects, use the rel=canonical tag and delete those pages from your server. You can then also delete the redirects from the sitemap. But make sure those pages are not indexed in the search engines first.

And of course you want to fix any errors as well – 404s, 500s, etc. Fix the errors and reduce the number of 301 redirects in your sitemap. Keep it clean.

Recent news shows that mobile PPC is on the rise. In fact, it’s up to 25% of all pay-per-click advertising.

The good news is that click rates are high. People viewing PPC ads on their smartphones and tablets are clicking on ads. Here’s the bad news: Conversion rates are lower for mobile phones.

OK, I’ll buy Cynthia Boris’s argument. Mobile phone users are on the run, so when they see an ad and click through and want to make a purchase, they just visit the store instead and make the purchase in store. PC users, on the other hand, make the purchase online. Makes a lot of sense.

But let’s think about the future. Smartphones are still new. What will mobile advertising be like in 10 years when everyone has a smartphone?

My guess is that mobile PPC will be as popular and as profitable as PPC has ever been. I also think that conversion rates will be higher. Why? It’s likely that the mobile phone will be most people’s primary telecommunications device. Land lines will be gone.

If that happens, more people will use their phones for web browsing and shopping. They’ll likely make more purchases through their phone as well – particularly books, music, and video purchases. The same with the tablet. However, unlike the PC, people will carry their tablet with them and use it for web browsing and shopping while sitting stationary at the bus station, in the library, in the coffee shop, or even while sitting in their weekly business meeting.

Mobile PPC is on the rise along with smartphone and tablet use. It’s the wave of the future. You might as well get in now while click prices are low.

Google now has a new service called Google Play. Go ahead, I encourage you to check it out.

The service has been available for a couple of weeks now, but just yesterday they added a link to Google Play on the Google black bar (for those of you logged into Google Plus). The big question: What does that mean?

It means that Google is serious about marketing Google Play. But should they be?

First, I’d like to say that the Google Play subdomain is quite colorful. Click the link and you’ll see. It’s got that Google simplicity the company has become famous for, but it’s quite colorful, which is a departure from most Google products.

Here’s where we get down to the gist of the service, however. And this is the simple part. There are really only 4 offerings:

  • Music
  • Books
  • Movies
  • Android Apps

This appears to be Google’s answer to the Apple iTunes store. But I hardly think it will compete. Apple fanboys are a loyal bunch and iTunes is quite popular. Those who are not Apple fanboys can go to Amazon – and most of them do. So what does Google Play have to offer that Amazon doesn’t? Nothing. Except Google Wallet.

And who uses Google Wallet?

I do like the fact that Google puts books on the same plane as movies and music. And of course Android Apps are pretty popular as well. If anything, this is what makes Google Play stand out more than anything. Android App lovers have one place to go for their favorite downloads. But there’s no PayPal option? Seriously? Come on Google.

If this is Google’s way of luring people into starting an account with Google Wallet, it’s a pretty feeble attempt. I’ll just go to Amazon. At least there I can use my own bank account or a credit card.

Nevertheless, as a producer of books, music, movies, or Android Apps, Google Play does offer another avenue for marketing your products. After all, someone will use it. And if someone uses it, then you should have your products in the store and market them.

SEOmoz posted an interesting take on Google Places yesterday. The gist of the article tells how some local businesses have had their Google Places listing disappear because they don’t actually service customers at their location. That’s a slap in the face to many home-based businesses. It could happen to you.

Thankfully the article tells how to avoid that fate. Dare I let the cat out of the bag?

OK, you talked me into it. The key is to hide your local address. Yes, hide it. As in, make it invisible.

That could very well diminish your local search results, but if your Google Places listing is de-activated, then that will happen anyway.

Casting aside any temptation to make Google look like a bad guy, I’d like to instead ask you a question. Do you really need a Google Places listing? If you do any business locally, then I’d say you should have one. But is it the end of the world if your address isn’t visible? Do you really think it will make or break your local business?

With all the marketing channels available to small businesses today, I wouldn’t fret over one channel. You have to figure out how many of your local prospects would actually visit your Google Places listing. If your business is rural, it may not be that many. On the other hand, if you operate in a large metropolitan area, it could be much higher.

Like any marketing channel, you must ask yourself how important it is to your business. Then, act accordingly.

So you’ve built your website and now you’re ready to start promoting. Should you promote it to local prospects only or go broader, wider, more worldwide?

That’s the question every new website owner should answer. Hopefully, you’ve thought about it before you built your website. If you want to focus on local prospects, then it helps to optimize your website for local traffic. That includes adding your physical address and phone number to your web pages – especially your About and Contact pages, but possibly all of your pages. Globally targeted websites don’t need a physical address appearing on the site unless you do mail order.

Other considerations for local businesses include who your prospects are and how you intend to attract people to your business and website.

If your business products and services can only be distributed to local persons, then you obviously have to promote your website locally. For instance, a plumber can’t travel from New York to California to perform services; those services must be delivered to local home owners and businesses.

Promoting a website locally also includes some level of offline promotion. That might include earned media through local newspapers, TV, and radio as well as ad placements in those markets. It could also mean some phone prospecting or door-to-door, perhaps even some outdoor marketing. You’ll certainly want to include your web address on your business cards and stationery.

Local SEO involves listing your website in Google Places and Bing Local as well as other local directories like Yelp and MerchantCircle.

Global SEO has its strategies as well. The first step to website marketing is to decide what market your business will serve. Start there and the rest can almost take care of itself.

Site speed has been an important metric for webmasters for a time now. Recently, Google announced that they have added a site speed metric to its Google Analytics product.

This is good news for webmasters. No longer do you have to guess at how fast your site is loading. And you don’t have to go out and buy a third-party tool to figure it out. If you’ve already got an Analytics account with Google, just login and take a look at your Site Speed Report.

The Overview part of the report gives you a pretty good look at the important information that you should measure. It includes analytics for

  • Average page load time by browser
  • By country/territory
  • By page

These are important overview metrics, but if you want to drill it down even further, then you can do that too. You can view site load times in three ways including Performance, Explorer, or Map Overlay simply by clicking on the appropriate tab.

Intelligence Reports are reports that analyze your website to highlight any variance in your statistics. You can receive alerts when variations occur. You can also view Site Speed metrics in your Intelligence Reports inside your Google Analytics account.

Google is a company that is constantly improving its products. Google Analytics is a free analytics tool that anyone can use, and I’d add that it is perhaps the best analytics tool on the market. There is really no need to pay for analytics when Google provides it all for free.

So what are you waiting for? Do you know how fast your website is loading?

Inbound marketing is a phrase that refers to the process that online marketers use to find prospects for their businesses. It utilizes informational content that is published in various media including blogs, social media, articles, and web pages. The idea is to attract prospects through a variety of channels that appeal to their interests rather than focusing on begging or buying their attention through direct advertising or interrupting them to make a sales pitch.

As more and more people go online to play on Facebook or search for information – even build a website for their business – they are coming into contact with this term “inbound marketing.”

The whole point is to provide information that people are searching for. That information should help them in some way. When it does, the searcher makes a point to return to the source of information for more great content on their topic of interest. As they come to recognize you as an expert in that area, they learn to trust you. Then they are more willing to do business with you.

Two questions: 1) Does it work; and 2) is it on the rise?

To answer the first question, Yes. It does work. In fact, it’s worked for the past 20 years. Inbound marketing is the wave of the future.

Now, for the second question. Is inbound marketing on the rise? I believe it is. More and more, small businesses and other online marketers are discovering that producing quality content that attracts searchers and prospective customers is leading to conversions. In fact, those conversions end up being more profitable and lead to longer relationships with customers. It’s one more reason to start your own inbound marketing strategy.

One of the most important tasks for any webmaster is ensuring that you don’t have broken links on your website. But what kind of tool should you use for that purpose? I recently found a free broken link tool that I’d like to share with you.

Broken links can cause several problems. First, they can siphon off necessary link juice that flows from one page to another. If these pages are internal to your website, then you’ll have visitor usage problems, which can hurt your reputation. If those broken links are external and point in to your website, then you’ll get less traffic to your website. Either way, you’ll lose some authority points with the search engines and with your human audience.

All of this means you must identify and fix broken links quickly or suffer at the hands of the Internet gods.

Enter The Site Map Generator and Broken Link Tool from Internet Marketing Ninjas.

This tool is more than a broken link tool, obviously. But it serves as a useful tool for helping you find your broken links. It will crawl up to 10,000 pages at once. However, if you set it to crawl that many pages, expect it to take awhile. The bright side is you can have your broken link report e-mailed to you so you don’t have to wait.

The report is pretty thorough. It includes:

  • Number of internal links
  • Number of external links
  • A list of your internal link errors
  • A list of your redirects
  • A list of your external link errors
  • And a list of your external redirects

After reviewing these reports, you should have enough information available to identify your link problems and get those fixed.

Businesses that try to employ search engine optimization techniques to improve their search engine rankings often make costly mistakes that kill their rankings. Google has shared a video that is aimed at business owners and webmasters that tells how to avoid 5 mistakes often made with regard to SEO.

The 5 mistakes that website owners make, according to Google, are:

  • They don’t have a value proposition – They have no value proposition, something that sets them apart from the competition. Instead of focusing on SEO and keyword densities, try instead to focus on valuable high quality content that will attract the type of people you are looking for to become your customers
  • They use a segmented approach – Instead of approaching SEO holistically, many businesses use a segmented approach where the marketing department appears to not be communicating with other departments within the company.
  • They get stuck in time-consuming workarounds – We see this one all the time. Many businesses get so stuck on SEO techniques that they spend all their time trying to find a workaround to high search engine rankings. You’d be better off just focusing on producing high quality content
  • They get caught up in SEO trends – Here’s another big one. If you are chasing the algorithms, then you are likely wasting your time. They change so often that no one can keep up with every change. You should focus instead on finding your prospects with high quality content.
  • They are slow iterators – Many professional SEOs fall into this category as well. Many SEOs are still stuck on 2005 link building techniques. If you focus on providing original, high quality content, then you can’t go wrong.
  • Watch the video for yourself (below), and when you want to get serious about quality content call an SEO company that understands how to make it stick.

In the early days of Internet marketing, website and blog owners wrote articles and distributed them through article directories. This was a common and acceptable practice. It was actually encouraged by the search engines and rewarded if done correctly. Everyone was a winner.

The website owner who used the article from the article directory was a winner because he got to use fresh and original content that was high quality without having to pay for it. The article writer benefited because every time his article was published he received an inbound link to his website, plus whatever traffic the article generated. The article directory benefited because the owner of the directory could slap AdSense ads on the articles and scrape off a few pennies each day. Some of them actually made a pretty good living.

But then Google Panda arrived early last year and slapped the whole process into the ground.

Many article directories were penalized. Many website owners were penalized when Google no longer recognized their hard earned inbound links. But did it kill article syndication? No, not even close.

Article syndication is still a good way to build links, but it has to be done correctly. Here are 5 principles to be guided by as you write articles and submit them for syndication around the web.

  1. Write high quality articles that benefit the publisher
  2. Don’t promote yourself or use overly sale-sy language
  3. For each article, write a short bio with a link to your website in it (that should be sufficient for your self-promotional efforts
  4. Whenever possible, instead of mass submitting to article directories, hand pick the publishers you syndicate your articles to
  5. Don’t use a pen name; use your real name, or a name that is recognizable in your circle so that you can reap the reputation management benefits of article syndication

Proposed legislation in Germany would require Google and other search engines to pay for content it borrows from website owners and publishes in its search results pages. I agree with Cynthia Boris’s analysis on the topic, but what about her conclusion?

Would Google really pull out of Germany?

I doubt it. I think what is more likely is that Google would figure out a way to include search results without taking snippets from the web pages it indexes. That would be the first adjustment the search engine would make, although it would likely not index photos and videos in Germany.

Remember when Google took its snippets from information provided by the Open Directory Project? It still does this at times. I think, if forced to, it would move to a similar policy in Germany and if that information wasn’t available there might not be a snippet at all. Or, the search engine might require webmasters supply their own snippet if they want a listing in the SERP.

Granted, that all might be a nightmare for the search engine to manage, but if you consider the lost revenue by simply pulling out, then it would likely be worth it in the long run.

Fair usage in the digital age is a murky game at best. We all want to protect content owners and producers, but what is the best way to do that? I can assure you that it isn’t by placing unreasonable restrictions on the search engines. After all, a high search engine ranking is compensation, isn’t it? What about traffic? If Google sends you visitors, couldn’t that be considered fair compensation for your 150 characters of content or reproduction of your image? I think so.

When filling out your social media profiles, should you use keywords? I don’t see why not. In fact, I would encourage you to do some keyword research prior to writing your profiles and using the most popular and profitable keywords within your profile.

I’m not talking about spamming here. I’m not talking about excessive use of your keywords or inappropriate use of them either. I am talking about effective marketing.

Your social media profile on most of the social networks are crawlable and likely will be indexed in Google. So why not use your keywords? If those keywords are important to you in search, then they should be important to you in your social media profile.

For instance, let’s say you are filling out a LinkedIn profile and are the creative director in a theatre. What keywords would you use to describe what you do? Here are a few:

  • Creative director
  • Theatre
  • Entertainment
  • Media

If a particular job description entails the use of a specific keyword, then you want that keyword used in your social media profiles. You want to use it on any social media where you network with other professionals. So, if you use Twitter and LinkedIn for professional social networking but not Facebook, then you don’t need to worry about using your keywords for Facebook – but you do for the other two networks. If you decide that you want to use Facebook for professional networking, then use your keywords on Facebook.

Social networking is not an exact science. But it does impact search in some ways. Use your keywords.

One question that any small business owner must ask him or herself when embarking upon an Internet marketing strategy is this, Should I stick only with Internet marketing or use it as an adjunct to my other marketing efforts?

I think the answer depends on your own circumstances and goals.

If your business is an Internet-only business, then Internet marketing as a standalone strategy might be the way to go. However, if your business is a local retail shop, then you definitely want to do some off line marketing within your community.

Marketing is not a zero-sum game. It’s also not an exact science. You have to do some experimenting and see what works for you.

But when you start experimenting with online marketing techniques, it helps if you spend some time studying what others have done before you. Not that you have to copy everything that’s been done before, but if you are going to try something different, then you need to know why you are veering from the acceptable norms. That’s true in any profession.

For most businesses, Internet marketing strategies make for good adjuncts to whatever else you are already doing. I’d say it’s a rare situation where you would completely replace your traditional marketing with Internet marketing.

The challenge for most businesses to decide is what mix of Internet marketing you want to accomplish and what mix of the traditional you will incorporate.

Once you decide on your total marketing plan, then you implement it. Get aggressive with whatever strategies you decide to employ.

A new study in video ad marketing suggests that you should start your video with a surprise to engage your audience, then quickly shift to something uplifting that inspires joy. That is, if you want to keep your audience engaged.

Bunk.

The key is engagement. I grant you that. But how you engage your audience depends on a number of factors including your product and brand and your audience. Duh.

I don’t discount that surprise engages an audience. I also don’t discount that elements of joy within your video will keep your audience engaged. I do discount any notion that the key to effective video marketing is to use these two elements back to back. I’m pretty sure that’s not what Marketing Pilgrim intended to say, and almost equally sure the study wasn’t conducted to suggest that. But it doesn’t hurt to dispel the myth anyway.

To be effective in marketing through videos, you do have to have audience engagement. That means, don’t throw a TV-like commercial together and hope people will watch it.

Your video marketing will be more effective if you tell a story. People love stories.

Engage your audience using storytelling techniques while placing your product or brand into the story. That’s the most effective video marketing you can get. But your story has to be engaging. It can be funny or it can sad. It can even be scary or dramatic. But it should engage your audience and it should be appropriate for your brand, your product, and your company’s personality.

As you study your competition, one thing that you should be aware of is who your competitors are getting links from. You can discover your competition’s inbound links by using a link checker. It’s relatively easy and inexpensive to do.

Why should you check on your competition’s inbound links? For several reasons. Here are a few.

  • Too see if there are potential link partners for your own website. If a particular website links to your competition, they may link to you as well. Ask yourself what you can do to attract a similar link.
  • Inbound links are used by the search engines to determine rankings in search results. If you believe your competition is getting unfair rankings you might find opportunities to report spammy links or unethical linking practices such as link buying.
  • Compare your link portfolio to your competition’s. Are you missing any opportunities? Are they?
  • One sneaky way to blow past your competition is to discover broken links they might have. You can contact the linker and offer your website as a linking destination instead.

There are lots of reasons why you should be looking into your competition’s link practices. You want to find out if your competition is doing something that you should be doing or if they are doing something unethical that you know you don’t want to do. But even more importantly, you want to find missed linking opportunities that you can take advantage of.

Link checking is a very important competitive intelligence tool. You should use it.

What’s it mean when paid search spending takes a dip? It could mean any number of things, but I think in this case it could mean that advertisers are beginning to figure out the right mix of their advertising needs.

I’m talking about numbers from the fourth quarter last year. Some interesting tidbits:

  • Overall ad spending went up for the year and down for the quarter
  • Internet display advertising spend was up 5.5% for the year and down 5.9% in the fourth quarter
  • Television advertising went up in both periods
  • Magazine, newspaper, and radio ad spending went down for both periods
  • Auto advertisers are spending the most
  • Both Amazon and eBay are spending less on advertising

But I think the most interesting thing from this study is that paid search spending was down both for the year and for the quarter in 2011. But why?

Maybe advertisers diverted a part of their ad spend budget to other channels – for instance, network TV and network radio. The ad spend for network TV rose 7.7% in the fourth quarter and declined 2% for the year. However, network radio advertising increased 4.3% in the fourth quarter while going up 2.7% for the year. Paid search advertising, on the other hand, went down 6.4% and 2.8%, respectively.

Advertisers have always been a fickle bunch. You never know where the money is going to go until it gets there. One thing for sure: radio print advertising is on the decline overall. Television advertising likely won’t go anywhere any time soon. But Internet advertising is still new enough that it stays in a state of flux. There are always new advertisers willing to give it a try and the old advertisers are still trying to figure out how to fit it into their budget optimally.

If you are an advertiser and you are trying to figure out where paid search fits into your overall ad budget, give us call. We’ve been doing this a long time.

Recent news shows that Twitter – chirp chirp – has acquired Posterous. So now for the obvious question, so what?

The move has many speculators suggesting that Twitter will eventually shut down Posterous. After all, Twitter’s own message hints that the reason they made the purchase was to gain access to the engineers working on the Posterous platform:

Posterous engineers, product managers and others will join our teams working on several key initiatives that will make Twitter even better.

If that’s the case, then don’t be surprised if you do see your Posterous account suddenly in jeopardy. But Twitter is trying to be sensitive to your needs:

Posterous Spaces will remain up and running without disruption. We’ll give users ample notice if we make any changes to the service. For users who would like to back up their content or move to another service, we’ll share clear instructions for doing so in the coming weeks.

It think it would be wise to take them up on their offer and back up your content. There’s the possibility that Twitter will allow Posterous to continue, but I doubt it. These types of acquisitions generally lead to closures, and it’s understandable why. They are a drain on resources and an expense, not to mention a distraction from the purchasing company’s primary mission. So, the business philosophy is to cut the fat.

Should you ditch Posterous right now? No, I wouldn’t say that. You should adopt a “wait and see” approach. Keep posting as before, but be prepared to take your content elsewhere should Twitter decide to close the service.

In social media and Web marketing, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

What is the most popular social media website for business-to-business marketing? If you guessed Twitter, then you’d be right. But which social media site actually delivers more leads? According to Mediabistro, that would be LinkedIn.

Big surprise?

The sad part is most small businesses aren’t using any kind of social media measurement tool, so how would they know where the majority of their leads are coming from? Twitter might be more popular, and easier to use. But it isn’t more lucrative. The ROI is actually coming from the social media site that specializes in B2B networking.

But LinkedIn doesn’t just beat Twitter for lead generation. It beats ALL social media websites. Even blogging.

While most small businesses are using social media and have a strategy for it, most of them also don’t use any kind of social media metrics. That brings to mind an age-old question: If you aren’t measuring it, how can you change it?

Businesses who do business with other businesses need to figure out how to measure their social media marketing campaigns. And it helps if you use the social networks that your target audience is using. If you are targeting consumers, that might be Facebook or Twitter. If you are targeting other businesses, it is more than likely LinkedIn.

One thing is for sure – we live in a social media age. But don’t just do it because your competition is doing it. Doing it because it is right for your business.