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We’ve been saying for over a year now that SEO has changed dramatically for the long term. In fact, it has changed so drastically from what it used to be that it is hardly recognizable any more. Much of the advice we’ve given over the years no longer is valid. And it’s Google’s fault.

Now I’m no doomsdayer, and I’m not one who typically jumps on the SEO-is-dead bandwagon. We go through this about once a year, at least. And now there is someone else asking the same old question: Is SEO dead?

Nell Terry makes some good points, and I agree for the most part. Google isn’t changing things around just to target the SEO industry, however, they aren’t trying to make it easy for us either. They want us to get discouraged, maybe even give up. But that’s only because so much of SEO has become nothing more than spam, and Google has a valid economic interest in getting rid of the spam.

I particularly like this paragraph:

I think many techniques are outdated – think keyword placement, strict numbers games, community optimization. It’s about creating a presence in your industry and making a name for yourself in order to climb the SERPs.

What this says, and I agree, is that SEO tactics you were using two years ago probably aren’t going to work today, but that’s not a bad thing. SEOs will just have to learn to adjust. But here are three things that I think are still important, and probably always will be:

  1. Great content that doesn’t stray off topic – it must be focused
  2. Social signals are a big driving force today
  3. Your reputation as a content producer is paramount

In light of these three hard truths, if you are an online content producer, it’s time to start thinking about author reputation. Start today.

Should you be a guest blogger? There are a lot of people online right now telling you that guest blogging is the holy grail of Internet marketing. That’s debatable, but what’s not debatable is that guest blogging does have its benefits. What are they?

Here are 5 benefits to guest blogging that you should consider and chase. There’s nothing wrong with coveting your neighbor’s online reputation.

  1. Enhanced reputation management – If you guest blog on the right industry blogs within your niche, you will build a solid reputation for yourself. Merely being associated with highly valuable and recognized blogs will enhance your online reputation.
  2. Position yourself as an expert – By writing about industry topics and offering solutions to problems you can make yourself an overnight expert on your topic.
  3. Expand your audience – When you write posts on other blogs within your industry you’ll reach people who otherwise might never hear of you. You have the opportunity to expand your audience and tap into someone else’s reservoir.
  4. More traffic to your website – There’s hardly a benefit more important than more traffic to your website. This is an extension of your reputation, your perceived expertise, and your audience expansion efforts.
  5. Search engine optimization – You might as well go for the link while you’re there. You don’t want to appear as if the link is the most important thing to guest blogging, but since you’re there, you might as well take the link.

Focus on the benefits of guest blogging and take advantage of them. It will only help your business.

Friday we talked about AuthorRank, which is the new model of ranking for search phrases in Google. There is actually a lot more to say and today I’m going to say it.

I think it’s inevitable that Google will consider author reputations when ranking web pages for specific key phrases. Gone are the days when search marketers wrote spammy keyword-based content and focused instead on reputation enhancing content that addressed the needs of a specific audience.

That’s not to say that keywords aren’t going to be important. What it does mean is that keywords for the sake of keywords are definitely NOT important.

How To Rank Web Pages Going Forward

Instead of writing keyword-based schlock and spending all your time and money building links to it, here are 5 things you should start doing right now, and keep doing, if you want to rank for content related to your business:

  1. Write great content that solves a real need among your community.
  2. Develop a social media presence on networks where your target audience hangs out, but don’t just publish keyword-based schlock. Instead, interact with your client base and build relationships.
  3. Connect your social profiles with your blog and website.
  4. Reach out to industry leaders within your niche, comment on their blogs leaving helpful, valuable blog posts that aren’t necessarily keyword-driven. Link back to your website without spamming.
  5. Work judiciously to establish one online identity using Google+, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and YouTube.

The key to this online marketing approach is to produce valuable content that people want to read. Become a content king, then share your content widely on your social networks.

If you haven’t heard of AuthorRank yet, allow me to be the first to let you in on the secret. Google is planning some big changes in how website content is ranked. In fact, the plan is already underway. The key is your reputation as an author.

Five years ago, or even three years ago, Google didn’t have the resources available to be able to separate content according to who wrote it. Now they do. That big resource, which you’ve likely heard of by now, is Google+. If you want your author reputation to expand and grow, then you should join Google+ now.

Google+ is often billed as just another social network, but I assure you it’s not. This is Google’s flagship search engine marketing arm.

More and more, Google is ranking content by the reputation of the person who wrote it. That means more than simply having an article rank well for your name when someone Google’s your name. It also means that when someone Google’s a specific key phrase, if you’ve written about that topic and you have a credible reputation according to Google’s AuthorRank algorithm, then you’ll rank for that key phrase. This is the new search engine optimization.

AuthorRank is a big deal. If you want to learn more about it, give us a ring. The future begins now.

A client says to me, “I should be getting more traffic than I’m getting from this SEO business.” My response is, “Of course you should be getting more traffic. You should be doing more things.”

Sometimes, expectations exceed reality because we’re not willing to do the work necessary to make reality reach our expectations. If you aren’t getting enough results from your efforts, maybe you should do more. Or maybe you should see what else you can do to achieve the results you are expecting.

Online marketers should never just rely on one method of marketing. If all you are doing is writing blog posts and hoping SEO will deliver more traffic to your website, then you aren’t doing enough. You should be promoting through social media.

Or you could be using pay per click advertising models, or perhaps doing some video marketing.

If you’re blogging 15 days a month, start blogging 30 days a month and see what happens. Open up a Twitter account and promote your blog through Twitter. Do some Facebook marketing. Or head off to LinkedIn and join a few communities. Join a forum or two. Engage in some conversation in the forums. Write a few articles even.

Marketing is about talking to people. It’s not about sitting around waiting for results. Birds who do that don’t get any worms.

There are numerous ways to make money online. If you are going to attract targeted traffic and convert it to money, then you have to have a content strategy, but there isn’t just one way to develop said strategy. Every content strategy should have a purpose and a plan to push it along.

The following 5 content strategies are available to you in various mix and match options. Pick your options and run:

  1. Catalog of themes – Pick your themes. What will you write about? What should you write about? Pick your favorite topics and write about those using the best keywords to attract the kind of traffic you want to attract.
  2. Create Value – Your static content pages should be full of value. Whether they are on Squidoo, your website, or wherever, meet your targeted clientele at their greatest point of need.
  3. Enter Into Conversation – For this strategy, your blog is the best and most useful tool. Talk about topics that your audience cares about. Solve their problems. Ask them questions. Get them to talking back.
  4. Go Social – Drive traffic back to your website and blog using social networks. Your social media content should act to tease and attract an audience that wants something deeper. But don’t just go deep. Also go wide. Different types of social media content is just as important as what that content is all about. Develop a presence at Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Pinterest, YouTube, and other social networks to make your content speak to different interests.
  5. Develop Landing Pages – Your final strategy is to build landing pages for your market audiences. Drive all your traffic to those pages and convert it.

When it comes to online marketing, you have to chart a course and stick with it. Then give your plan some time to work.

According to the National Retail Foundation, 41.4% of Americans will start shopping for Christmas before Halloween. Many of them have already started shopping. And more than 50% will start shopping before Thanksgiving.

Another statistic worth noting is that 51.8% of those consumers will do their shopping online. That’s good news.

Well, it’s good news if you are an online retailer, maybe not such good news if you are a brick-and-mortar retailer. Hey, but things change. Maybe it’s a good time for you to build an online presence if you haven’t already.

Here’s the million dollar question: How are online consumers deciding where to shop for this Christmas? How will they know what to shop for?

Thirty-six percent (36.6%) said the most important factor in deciding where to shop are offers for sales and discounts, along with 16.1 percent who say the most important factor is selection of merchandise and 13.7 percent who say it’s quality of merchandise.

So there you have it: Discounts, merchandise selection, and merchandise quality.

If you want consumers to shop at your online store, then you are already behind in marketing if you haven’t started already. Before they make a purchase they have to find you. Now is the time to market your online retail store. Then what?

Make sure you have the highest quality merchandise on stock and offer a few sales and discounts. Online retail is becoming more competitive. You’ve got to give yourself an edge somehow.

There are very few online marketing tools that I’d say every online marketer should use regularly, however, a blog is one of those. There are several reasons to use a blog to promote your business online and we’ve written about those before. Instead, today I’ll assume that you agree with me. Let’s talk about how you can make your blog a unique voice within your niche.

It doesn’t really matter what niche you serve. Being original is a necessity. If you’re just another voice saying the same things as everyone else, then why should anyone do business with you and not the competition?

Being unique isn’t so much about the content as it is about the brand. What sets your business apart from everyone else? Have you defined it? If not, then you should. That’s a necessary first step.

Only after defining your brand and what sets it apart from the competition can you truly begin to communicate that uniqueness in the marketplace. Find out what consumers want in a brand and deliver on that in the most original way possible. Use your blog as a marketing tool to promote your brand and position your company in the marketplace as the solution to the problem.

If you can do that, you’ll see your business grow.

If you hear an SEO firm promise you permanent search engine rankings, you’d better run. Fast. And not look back. It’s impossible to achieve permanent search engine rankings.

Why is that?

First, because search engines don’t promise anyone a ranking. They certainly don’t promise good rankings. You must earn them.

Secondly, no one else can guarantee you a top spot in the search engines. SEOs can give their best effort to get your site ranked, but they can’t guarantee you a position because they don’t control the search engines.

Thirdly, ALL search engine rankings are temporary. The truth is, search engine rankings change constantly. You could be No. 1 this morning and drop to No. 9 this afternoon for the same search query. You might be No. 1 for a particular search query right now in Minnesota and be on page 2 for the same search query right now in California.

Not only can you rank differently in different places at the same time, or in the same place at different times, but you could also rank differently for different searchers at the same time – even if those searchers are in the same city.

Search engine optimization is no longer about achieving the highest rankings possible for the keywords you are targeting. It’s about maximizing your traffic from the search engines, and that requires more than throwing keywords at algorithms.

Google has a new tool. It’s called the Disavow Link Tool. But they’ve issued a caution to webmasters not to use it unless you absolutely have to. Using it, says Matt Cutts, has its dangers. Why is that? I have to ask.

First, it’s important to point out that Google won’t necessarily take your suggestion to disavow a link just because you’ve submitted a disavow request. They reserve the right to ignore your request and continue counting the link. Nevertheless, it’s a useful tool.

The Disavow Link Tool could prove useful if you’ve done some link building that got your site penalized for bad links, or if you hired an SEO firm that used questionable link building tactics that you didn’t approve. If you do everything right and you just decide one day that you don’t want a particular link pointing at your site any more, that’s not a good reason to use the Disavow Link Tool.

One of the things you should do before you submit a disavow link request is contact a website owner and request that they remove the link to your website. If you do your due diligence and then submit your request to Google, you are more likely to have your request honored.

But there’s no guarantee.

You can learn more about Google’s new Disavow Link Tool at the Webmaster Central Blog. Honestly, though, it’s best not to engage in questionable link building practices in the first place. Don’t build bad links and you’ll never need to disavow them.

If you use WordPress as a content management system or use it for blogging on your business website, you might be wondering whether you need all those plugins that Internet marketers keep recommending, particularly the SEO plugins. Let me just say that SEO is different for every website, so any recommendation for a cookie-cutter SEO plan is a bad recommendation.

That said, there are a few SEO plugins that are good to have, but I’ve seen websites succeed without them. Here’s what I’d suggest to you if you are starting a new website today.

First, build your site and set up your blog. Make sure you employ traditional SEO tactics that are known to still work. These include optimizing your title tags, ensuring your website navigation is pure and easy to use, and managing your keywords effectively. Promote your website using social media, but be careful that you don’t become a social media and/or link spammer. Before you start adding SEO plugins, wait 30 to 60 days. Meanwhile, blog every day using your keyword list as a checklist for topics to write about.

During that 30-60 trial period, monitor your search engine rankings, traffic, and keyword referrer list. Are people finding your website for the keywords you want to be found for? Is your site indexed?

If your site does well without the SEO plugins, you may not need them. But if your site isn’t doing well after 60 days and isn’t gaining in search engine visibility, then add one plugin. Don’t add any more. Test that plugin to see if it improves your search engine visibility. If not, try another. Stop testing plugins when you see improvement. Test each one for 30 days before switching it with another plugin. If you see no improvement at all after 6 months, get rid of all SEO plugins and see how you rank for your keywords now. Chances are, you can get by without the plugins, but it’s nice to have them if you need them.

Google+, of all the social networks, has more notification triggers that allow you to connect with other users. They’re all easy to use, and I’d say that the social service owned by the largest search engine is adding more notification triggers every day.

Here are 15 Google+ notification triggers, hence 15 reasons to use Google+:

  1. Share a post with another G+ user – Simply sharing a post with someone will notify them that they are on your mind.
  2. Mention them in a post – Type “+” and the user’s name with no break in between. They’ll be notified that they’ve been mentioned in a post.
  3. Share a post, be in a circle – If you’re in a circle that someone is following and you share a post, then they’ll be notified.
  4. Comment on a post they created.
  5. Add them to a circle – Simply adding someone to one of your circles will notify them that you are interested in them.
  6. Comment on a post they’ve commented on – If a post is really popular, you’ll get a lot of notifications. I sometimes mute posts because it just gets to be too much.
  7. Tag someone in a photo – Upload a photo and tag them.
  8. Tag one of their photos – If someone else uploads a photo and you add a tag to it, they’ll be notified.
  9. Suggest new people to add to their circles – The equivalent to an online handshake.
  10. Suggest a profile photo for them.
  11. Start a conversation with them – Type “+” and their name with no break and start a conversation.
  12. Send them an invitation to an event – Events are one of the latest features to be added to Google+, and they’re growing in popularity.
  13. Comment on a photo they’ve commented on.
  14. Comment on a photo they are tagged in or that they tagged.
  15. Perform any activity on an event they created.

Now think about how you can use these 15 notification triggers on Google+ to market your business more effectively.

Should you change your domain name or keep trucking with the domain that you have knowing that you are losing traffic, and revenue, daily?

That’s a big question. Obviously, I can’t answer this question for every online marketer without first looking at your website and your overall situation, but I hope I can at least give you some food for thought.

There are different categories of websites, and website owners. Here is the basic break down as I see them:

  • Cookie-cutter websites – These websites follow the same design pattern and the webmasters who own them generally own more than one. They build a website that is successful then model all others on that one site. A lot of these websites are made-for-AdSense websites and you’ll often find them penalized after the owner has run afoul of search engine guidelines.
  • Unique passive-income website – This could be a made-for-AdSense website or not, but it is clear that the revenue from the site is derived from ad clicks or affiliate links. The owner doesn’t have to continually maintain the site to earn revenue, but it does have a unique design.
  • Unique online business model – Not only does this website have a unique design, but it also has its own business model that requires active maintenance on the part of the owner.
  • Online extension of an off-line business – This website is the website of a previously existing off-line business and has a unique design as a result.

When Should You Change Domain Names And Move On?

When it comes to online marketing, there is one scenario where the type of your website is not an issue. If your site has been penalized for bad links, then that domain name is likely shot forever regardless of which category it falls into. Your best bet is likely to be to build another website and start over. The only exception would be if you could go back and delete all of the bad incoming links, but that is rarely possible, and even if it is, it may not help you much.

Beyond that, there are times when running afoul of search engine guidelines could be a temporary situation if you correct the deficiencies. In those cases, you can probably get by with your current domain name provided that you identify your problems and address them.

There are times when a site is penalized when the owners have done nothing wrong. If you wait it out, you’ll likely see your site regain lost traffic and revenue.

But here’s the catch: Those cookie-cutter websites probably aren’t doing you any favors. If you have several websites that look the same, even if the content is all unique, then that could be a red flag for the search engines. I’d say redesign the sites and see what happens. If your traffic and revenue don’t return after six months or so, then build yourself another site.

How To Decide If Changing Domain Names Isn’t Counterproductive?

You have to weigh the lost revenue against the time you spend trying to figure out the problem. There was a time when figuring out what has gone wrong wasn’t counterproductive, but post-Panda, that time is gone. The Panda algorithm update is such a mystery that hardly anyone knows even now what it addressed, why, or how. Sometimes, the best thing to do is count your losses and run.

Christmas season officially kicks off the day after Halloween. Whilst the biggest shopping day of the year is the day after Thanksgiving, most people start thinking about Christmas shopping directly after Halloween. Right now, their minds are on pumpkins and goblins, but you should be thinking about how you are going to start reaching them on November 1.

So what’s your plan, Stan?

If you think that holiday marketing should all be done off line, then it’s time to get with the times. No marketing should ignore the online opportunities you have every day of the year. So let’s start with your website.

You don’t have to make your holiday shopping pages live just yet, but you should be building them. In reality, planning for your holiday marketing web pages should have started a month ago. Now is when you should be building and testing your holiday web pages.

You should also be planning your off-site marketing initiatives right now. What kind of social media marketing will you do for your new holiday pages? How about pay per click campaigns? SEO campaigns? You should be lining those out right now.

The implementation for your online marketing campaigns should coincide with the roll out of your holiday shopping web pages. That doesn’t necessarily have to happen on November 1, but it should happen before Thanksgiving. Start dropping little gems of suggestion into your customers’ minds now, then by the time Thanksgiving gets here they’ll be ready to buy.

Social media has become much more than a marketing tool. It can also be used for customer service. In fact, it should be.

An article on the Constant Contact blog got me to thinking about this. What emerged from the reading of this article is a realization of three very important customer service precepts for social media.

  1. Don’t delete negative feedback – The tendency for a lot of companies – and I do mean A LOT – is to either ignore or try to delete negative information about their companies. That’s a big no-no. Chances are, someone has already seen it, and if you delete it, then it will look like you are trying to cover it up. It’s best just to address the concerns brought up by the post and address it head on. Your reputation will survive.
  2. An apology goes a long way – If your company has been caught in the wrong, apologize. That will show people that you are taking responsibility. Making excuses will only dig your hole deeper. Say you’re sorry and move on.
  3. Look at bad publicity as an opportunity – Any attention your company gets is an opportunity. Once you’ve acknowledged your customer’s concerns, and you’ve apologized, offer a discount or freebie to make up for their bad experience. Do it out in the open. Make sure everyone can see it and that will show the world that you care about your customers and you care about doing the right thing.

The best reputation management you can give to yourself is to treat your customers like you care. Social media is a great platform for doing just that.

Local search engine optimization can be a challenge for many online marketers, especially if you provide the same service to multiple cities across a wider geographic area. For instance, if you are an auto mechanic that caters to several smaller cities surrounding a large metropolitan area, then you might conduct SEO campaigns for each of those cities.

This is where you want to beware, however, you can’t simply build a website for each city with the same content replacing the name of the city for each location. That would be ineffective, for sure.

There are ways to provide unique content for each location that you serve. Here are three ideas to get your imagination going:

  1. Ask yourself what is different about each location. While the service you provide might be similar (in fact, they could be the same), each location might have specific needs within the overall service offerings of your business. Address those differences in your content.
  2. Use different types of content. For one location page on your website, add a video. For another location page, include written testimonials from your customers. On another location page you might use a graphic from a local artist and an article or two from local writers. Use your imagination and come up with your own ways of producing original content.
  3. Write a blog. With a blog, every blog post has to be different. You can address general information issues as well as specific local issues unique to each location your serve.

Publishing unique and original content for local areas is a challenge, but it’s not impossible. For better SEO, however, it is essential.

As you get into managing your pay-per-click campaign, you’ll want to ensure that your landing page is optimized for search, draws the visitor in, and makes the sales pitch seamlessly with a strong closing statement – also known as a call to action.

Designing your landing page for PPC requires that you keep a focus on quality. Your quality score will determine where your ads are placed and whether or not your landing page receives respectable organic search rankings.

Here are 5 solid principles to keep in mind when designing your landing page:

  1. Attractive Page Design – Let’s start with design. Your page has to immediately be attractive to a user. If it isn’t, they’ll back out and go somewhere else. Make sure your images don’t obscure the text, make it easy to navigate or scroll through, and be sure you choose the right fonts and graphics.
  2. User Experience – Site visitors will not wait for pages to load. Make sure yours load fast. Also, include Buy Now buttons that are easy to use and functional. Every element of your page must be easy to use and encourage interactivity.
  3. Keep It Simple – Get rid of any unnecessary elements. Everything must point the user to the final sale. Include plenty of white space around the Buy Now button to make it visible.
  4. Grab Your Visitor’s Attention – Use big fonts and eye-catching colors for headlines, subheads, and calls to action. Make sure your Buy Now and Order buttons are clearly visible. Draw your site visitor’s eyes to those parts of the page you want them to focus on.
  5. Make It Social – Include social share icons on your pages to encourage visitors to share your page. And show your social proof badges as well. People respect marketers who can prove their social worth.

Last month, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that there are now 1 billion people on Facebook. 1 billion. That’s 1/7th of the world’s population. And it continues to grow.

As more and more people come online, the number of people using Facebook will also grow. There are an estimated 2.5 billion people online around the world right now. So 1/5th of that number are also using Facebook. That’s a big pool of people that could potentially see your Facebook page or interact with you in some way through Facebook.

Is it any wonder then that brand pages are as popular as they are? If you’ve wondered why big brands are taking to Facebook, there’s your clue. There are a lot of potential customers there.

But that’s true for Mom & Pop as much as it is for McDonald’s or any of the world’s largest brand names. Put your business online and give it a Facebook presence. This is the future of marketing.

But it’s not enough to simply add a Facebook page. What you really want to do is market that page, and there’s more to it than simply joining Facebook and building a brand page. Link to your page from your blog or website. Promote your page through other social media outlets. If you do any paid advertising, then drive traffic to your page through Google AdWords or Facebook’s own paid advertising model.

People are looking at brand pages. Don’t let them down.

If you want to be helpful to your blog readers, then you’ve got to create useful links. There are a lot of different types of links and not all of them helpful. Here are 4 types of blog post links that are very helpful – to you and to your readers.

  1. Past blog posts – By linking to previous blog posts you can increase your blog’s SEO quotient and help your readers learn more information about the topic you are writing about. It’s one of the most useful types of blog post links in your arsenal.
  2. Internal website link – This type of link is a link from your blog to a page on your website. The purpose is to send your reader to a more detailed page regarding your topic. Do yourself a favor and create an anchor text link to give your website an added SEO boost.
  3. Link to an external resource – Your blog should be helpful to your readers. If you aren’t linking to valuable content on a regular basis, then you’ll lose readers. One way to ensure your readers keep coming back for more is to link elsewhere to a valuable resource on a given topic. If someone else has covered a topic better than you could, link to it.
  4. Call to action link – Sometimes you just want to sell something. It could a service, your own product, or an affiliate product you promote. You don’t have to link to get that coveted SEO juice. A simple “click here” or “for more information” type of link after a well done and detailed description of your product or service can get those clicks to going.

A good blog has links in it. These 4 types of blog post links can take your blog from obscurity to popularity in just a couple of months – if you employ them regularly.

Google is more than just a search engine. The big media company also has tools to help content producers come up with ideas for blog posts and other content – both on and off of your websites. Here are 6 ways you can use Google to come up with more content ideas.

  1. Google AdWords External Keyword Research Tool – The AdWords External Keyword Research Tool was designed to help potential advertisers come up with ideas for targeted keywords in their ads, but it has become a great tool for webmasters to use in discovering new keywords to use in their content strategies.
  2. Google Suggest – When you search Google you’ll see drop-down suggestions in the search box. These are actual phrases that searchers have used. They are the most popular searches related to the one you are trying to make, and Google Suggest shows these to you as you are typing. Take note. They are wonderful keyword suggestions for your content marketing.
  3. Google+ Trending TopicsJoin Google+. On your content stream you’ll see the top 5 trending topics on Google+.
  4. Google AlertsGoogle Alerts allows you to keep tabs of specific keyword phrases that are important to you. You’ll get an e-mail notification every time one of your keywords is mentioned anywhere online.
  5. Google Trends – Recently, Google merged the old Google Trends and Insights for Search into one all new product – the new Google Trends. You can type in a keyword and see how that keyword has trended over time. You’ll see how many searchers searched for information on that topic by geo-location and other important metrics.
  6. Google ZeitgeistGoogle Zeitgeist is a Google report that tells what searchers looked for each year. This annual report is a great tool for coming up with new content ideas.

If you want to come up with new content ideas, try one of these Google services. Or try them all. They’re free.