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This is the time when most people reflect on the old year and begin to look to the new year and set themselves some goals for the coming year. New Year’s resolutions can often be a way to do a personal inventory (what did you do well last year, where did you fall short, and how can you pick up the slack in the year to come?).

While just about everyone establishes one or more New Year’s resolutions, hardly no one makes marketing resolutions.

I encourage marketing resolutions because you can meet all your personal goals, but unless you get out there and start letting people know who you are, where you are, and what you do, then you’ll still fall short. Marketing is the key to success in almost every human endeavor.

Online marketing is its own animal. Much of what companies do online to market their businesses can be traced back to a principle that was established by off line or traditional marketers years ago. But you should think about it anyway.

If you are a business owner and you are ready for 2013 to be a breakout year, start by making your New Year’s marketing resolutions. What do you want to accomplish? How many sales do you intend to make (or by why percentage do you expect to see your sales increase)?

Be sure to write it all down. A resolution doesn’t become a goal until you write it down and set a date for it. Let 2013 be the year you go beyond your own expectations.

If you’re getting frustrated over Google Analytics or you’d like a free alternative, then there is one available. This is a bold announcement because there have been other analytics packages on the market for some time. But now there is a free open source alternative that could give Google a run for the money. It’s called Piwik.

Other online marketers have already abandoned Google Analytics. I think more will follow.

So what does Piwik have to offer that can compete with Google Analytics?

First, you own your own data. With Google Analytics, Google owns it. That’s a huge selling point because there are certain things you just can’t do with the data in Google Analytics unless you hack it. With Piwik, you can do what you want.

You can have scheduled e-mail reports in Piwik (in HTML or PDF format). You can also manage unlimited users and unlimited websites. You can have a custom login with Piwik. If you have old data you don’t use, you can delete it to make room for more data so that you don’t use up all of your storage space (you can’t do that in Google Analytics).

If you want to export your data, you have a myriad of format to choose from, including Json, PHP, Excel, XML, and more.

Piwik is also compatible with a huge selection of server types. It’s compatible with Windows, Linux, MacOS, Solaris, IIS, Apache, and more.

So, if you are looking for a Google Analytics alternative, Piwik is out there. It’s open source and free.

Talk to anyone pursuing online marketing today and they’ll tell you that social media is on the rise. Of course it’s been on the rise since 2005. It will likely be on the rise for the next decade. But what hasn’t been on the rise, until now, is the integration of e-mail and social media.

I’m seeing more and more online marketers using e-mail more effectively with social media, and it’s making for some very good results.

That means a lot of things, from the inclusion of social media icons to allow e-newsletter readers an opportunity to share their favorite articles to delivery of e-mail newsletter through social media channels. Yeah, modern technology is allowing for company newsletters to be delivered through social channels. Who’d have thought?

Actually, it’s the content that is being delivered through both channels. Instead of re-publishing your e-mail newsletter on your Facebook page, why not repurpose one article from your newsletter to your Facebook and drive traffic back to your website for subscriptions?

Then you can include donation or Buy Now buttons in both places to drive more conversions.

All it takes is a little creativity, but you can turn your social media into a real driving force for your newsletter, and you can use your e-mail list as a driving force for your social media. Make them work together. Integrate them.

If you could buy a tablet for $99, would you bother buying another eReader? Ever?

My thought is the eReader market would dry up and disappear completely if consumers could purchase a tablet for $99. Of course, rumor has it that the $99 Acer tablet wouldn’t be sold in the U.S. But that’s just a rumor.

Let’s say the rumor holds true. Many eReaders are priced in the $69-$99 range. With lack of competition they will continue to sell. Many people don’t care about the extra features you get with a tablet. If they want to read e-books, an eReader is adequate. But what if a $99 tablet does come to market, Acer or otherwise? That would totally shut down the eReader market.

Why would anyone pay $99 to read an e-book, or even $69, if they can spend $99 and get the extra functionality? Furthermore, why would e-reader manufacturers take a chance on producing more e-readers when they can focus on cheaper tablets?

I think it will be interesting to see where the e-reader market goes in the next couple of years. Tablets are becoming more popular each day, so it’s possible that a cheaper tablet may not even be necessary to drive eReaders out of the market.

Tablets serve up another medium for online marketers. eReaders serve up a limited opportunity only if you publish e-books. With tablets, you can produce more videos, do more social media marketing, and implement more mobile marketing campaigns. These are exciting times in which we live.

Once again, another big company has egg on its face because of one unhappy customer with a YouTube account.

The sad thing about this incident is that UPS could have averted the negative publicity simply by doing what it ended up doing to start with – investigate the man’s claims, fire the dishonest UPS worker, and replace the iPad Mini that was stolen. Simple, right? Then why do so many companies not do it?

My guess is that many of the people in customer service departments of large companies still have not been trained on the repercussions of no action. They are operating like it’s 1985.

At one time not too long ago, if this kind of incident had occurred, a person had no recourse. They couldn’t call the local newspaper and say “UPS employs dishonest workers.” The newspaper wouldn’t run the story unless there was some type of official police investigation where someone was arrested. The home owner would have to file a police report and an investigation would have to take place. That could take weeks or months. Even then, if justice was served, the chances of that kind of event happening to someone else was pretty high because even if the UPS employee was fired for his crime once convicted, the company never realized any negative repercussions because newspapers generally don’t report petty crimes. And the time between the incident and the close of the investigation all but ensured a dishonest employee had access to more merchandise to steal.

Today, instant negative publicity due to one customer with a video, a smartphone camera, or even access to Twitter and SMS, can do far more damage to a company’s reputation.

Let this serve as a lesson to large and small businesses alike, every customer is your most important customer. One little fail can lead to huge PR blemishes that could cost your business for years to come. Social media cannot be ignored, and neither can your customers.

If you have hired freelancers, or inside employees, to manage your Twitter account, you can now go back to see your Twitter archive. Consider this a brand new way to monitor your Twitter account, especially as it pertains to accountability.

Twitter moves quickly. And there’s no real digital way to monitor your tweets before they are posted. That’s why it could be important for you to go back and take a look at your Twitter archive, a new service feature the microblogging service recently rolled out.

Another reason you might want to access your Twitter archive is if you are being sued. If you end up in litigation, your Twitter archive could prove a valuable asset during the discovery phase of your lawsuit. It could actually help you win the case.

Besides holding your Twitter posters accountable, you can also detect other business problems with your Twitter archive. Have you handled a lot of customer complaints through Twitter? Maybe you have a deeper systemic customer service problem. Have a large majority of your sales or website traffic come from Twitter? Your archive could help you see what you are doing right on Twitter that you can then use on other social networks.

Your Twitter archive may not be the most important asset you have, but it can prove valuable in some situations.

Facebook has introduced its answer to Yelp and Foursquare, and in a certain sense Google Places and Bing Local, with a product called Facebook Nearby. This is a feature available to Android and iOS users.

Facebook Nearby looks to be a way for users to see what businesses are in the local vicinity while on the go. Are you looking for a restaurant? Use Facebook Nearby. Need a roadside emergency service? Use Facebook Nearby. How about a party planner? Facebook Nearby.

I haven’t used the service – yet – but it looks useful. Or course, it combines two of the fastest growing segments of online marketing – social and mobile.

Facebook Nearby Is Local Marketing At Its Finest

I like the idea behind Facebook Nearby. You’re already on Facebook every day anyway, socializing friends, hamming it up with fans, etc. So why not give you one more reason to stay there? Facebook Nearby gives you a reason to connect on your smartphone – and stay connected.

Local online marketing is often forgotten outside the realm of SEO, but Facebook Nearby bridges that gap, and it does it in a big way.

According to TechCrunch, Facebook Nearby works like this:

Similar to how it ranks stories in the news feed, Nearby looks at a ton of signals to determine what to show you first, including friends who’ve Liked a business, checked in, left a short text recommendation, or given the Place a star rating.

So what it looks like is, you don’t have to register to be listed in Facebook Nearby, but you do need to have some interaction with your brand. This is just one more reason to have a Facebook page.

Every couple of years I read about exact match domains and how Google is clamping down on them or helping them out to some extent. I recently read a blog post published by a popular SEO company on the same subject. They’re essentially asking – and stopped short of outright saying it – that exact match domains are done for. But they went on to say that partial match domains are still good.

It just so happens that Google is always tweaking its search algorithms to reconsider its ranking criteria in fluctuating models of importance.

What that means is that on some days your exact match domain may very well push you higher in the rankings while on other days it may not help at all. Then, on other days it could actually hurt you.

This popular blog pointed to a recent Panda update that seems to be diminishing the effect of exact match domains on search rankings. But does it?

It’s possible that Google has re-ordered its search ranking algorithm to put more favor upon other ranking criteria such as inbound links, anchor text, or something else entirely. Or it could be that there was some initial fall out for some websites with exact match domains when Google did something that affected other search ranking criteria. Who knows?

We can’t really reverse engineer Google’s Panda updates with certainty. What we can do is offer some reasonable explanations about changes in behavior with search results based on careful observation. I still think that exact match domains have some search engine results effect. How much is the question.

Many small business owners new to search engine optimization and online marketing wonder why it takes so long to see results. There are a number of reasons why SEO takes time, but it’s not just SEO. PPC often requires several weeks, or months, as well. But why?

In a word, it’s all about the competition. No matter what niche you are in, if you are just getting started, then you have an uphill climb.

There are likely other businesses who have established an online presence in your niche. For every keyword you are targeting in the search results, you should expect a handful of competitors to already have a head start. Add that to the expectations of the search engines regarding quality content and you have a recipe for success or disaster depending on your implementation.

Google favors sites with age. That means that your new website is at a distinct disadvantage where search engine rankings come into play. That’s not to say you can’t achieve respectable rankings. You just have to work harder.

Recent updates in search engine ranking factors also come into play. Now more than ever, the search engines are looking for high quality content. Businesses new to online marketing generally have a learning curve. Your first attempts at creating high quality content will likely not work in your favor – until you learn what “high quality” actually means for online content.

In a word, you have to pay your dues. It can often be a lot easier to achieve high rankings out of the gate by hiring a professional content service that has a track record in working with businesses like yours.

A few days ago Google announced quite a few new improvements to Google+. Most of them have to do with Android, Hangouts, and Events.

Here’s a quick run down:

  • On-the-go profile editing
  • Easier content authoring for mobile phones
  • Mobile notifications
  • Increased Community involvement via mobile phones and tablets
  • Full-size backups for your photos
  • 360-degree photo panoramas
  • Inline photo swiping with iOS
  • Pan-zoom-scale effect through an iPhone app
  • Specific-guest messaging for Events
  • The ability to see who has opened your Event invitations
  • Low-bandwidth capability to interact through Hangouts
  • Easier duplication of events
  • Video feed expansion for single-participant Hangouts
  • Conversation cards for iOS with expanded features
  • Animated GIFs, screen lock widget, and Google Now birthday reminders for the Android
  • and Google Play and App Store mobile apps

From a mobile user perspective, these improvements will ensure a better experience with Google+ all around. From a marketing perspective, it makes for an easier way to connect with your audience through Google+ via mobile. That’s whether you are using mobile, your audience are on mobile, or both.

Google seems committed to maintaining Google+ and improving it for the long term. I expect that to get a lot better over time. The new Communities feature is being used widely and a lot of people (and companies) are getting a lot of mileage out the new features. You can too.

It seems that Twitter is advancing its paid tweet model pretty quickly. They’ve recently added the ability for advertisers to target negative keywords.

Negative keywords are keywords you don’t want to target but are often associated with the keyword you do want to target. For instance, if you are planning an international bacon festival and you don’t want your sponsored tweets appearing on posts where Kevin Bacon fans are going ga-ga and waxing poetic on the beauties and virtues of the movie Footloose, then you can negatively target the keyword “Kevin.” That will effectively limit your sponsored tweet showing up in Twitter feeds that are all about Kevin Bacon.

It should save you some money. Plus, you’ll more closely target the market that you’re actually trying to reach with your sponsored tweets.

Sponsored tweets are Twitter’s version of pay-per-click advertising. It’s less expensive than Google AdWords, and if you have an audience that spends a lot of time on Twitter, then it can be quite effective in reaching the right audience.

I highly recommend the use of negative keyword targeting any time you use spend money on PPC ads – whether it be with Twitter’s sponsored tweets, Google AdWords, Facebook’s sponsored ads, or any other PPC advertising. Negative keywords keep your ads targeted to the right audience. That’s precisely what you want.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the order of the day for SEO is diversity. Dr. Pete spells it out real well at SEOmoz.

He says:

  • Diversify your anchor text
  • Diversify your links
  • Diversify your traffic sources
  • Diversity your marketing
  • Diversity your POV

But you should have been doing these things all along.

Why Should You Diversify?

Let’s take a look at the benefits of this sage advice.

Anchor text – If you’re still trying to make all of your links use the same few exact phrase keywords, then you are stuck in the Dark Ages of SEO. Google has been rewarding diversity in anchor text for a long time. That’s doesn’t mean that you should avoid exact match phrases. It does mean that you should link intelligently within your content. Don’t try to make it look natural. Just link intelligently. Then your anchor text will be natural.

Your links – Don’t just use one link building tactic. Try to garner your links from as many different types of sources as possible.

Traffic sources – Google is not the only source of traffic. Many websites still get 80% of their traffic from Google, but there are other sites that can deliver great traffic. Play around on Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Twitter, and anywhere else your target market hangs out.

Marketing – Quit trying to trick people and just talk about the benefits and features of what you have to offer. If you have a good product or service, the best marketing is proving it.

Point of view – OK, this one is tricky. In a word, branch out. Look at things with fresh eyes. Ask people for feedback. You might be missing the obvious.

2013 will be the year of diversity. Take your online marketing to a new level.

If Google Panda and Google Penguin taught you anything, it should have been not to chase the algorithms.

A lot of search marketers spend the bulk of their time trying to figure out search engine algorithms and playing to those. They’ll test this and test that, then implement a new search strategy or link building strategy based on guessing what’s important to Google or Bing. This is a waste of time.

I’m not saying don’t run tests. But don’t rely on tests as a final authority on accurate search ranking. Algorithms can change. And they often do.

Instead, focus your content on your end user. Who do you want to attract to your website? Well, then write your content for that person. If you write your content with one person in mind who serves as the ideal customer, then you’ll get a lot farther in terms of marketing your website. Search rankings generally take care of themselves if you write your content with the end user in mind.

I’m not saying don’t optimize your content. You should use your keywords, write good titles and subheads, include alt tags, and take care of the basic SEO elements. But don’t make them the most important elements on your page.

The most important thing to good search engine rankings are your site visitors. What do they want? Give it to them.

As the Internet grows older, more and more great opportunities present themselves. Online marketers no longer just have Google and a few directories to help them put their brands in front of people’s eyes. There are literally thousands of options, and you can’t pursue them all.

Here are just a few of the viable places where you can still put your brand and see positive results:

  • Google
  • Yahoo!
  • Bing
  • YouTube
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Pinterest
  • Foursquare
  • Vimeo
  • Tumblr
  • Instagram
  • Flickr
  • Google+
  • Bebo
  • Blogger
  • WordPress
  • Ning
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • LiveJournal
  • Meetup
  • Myspace
  • Ryze
  • Issuu
  • Scribd
  • Posterous
  • Shelfari
  • Goodreads
  • Vox
  • Yammer
  • Yelp
  • Skype
  • Dropbox

And there are plenty more.

People often migrate to the largest communities and websites to market and promote their businesses, but you can get lost in the jungle that way. Many times, seeking out relationships in the smaller communities where there is less competition can be a better way to launch a new startup, especially a small business.

But the real key to successful online promotion is often limiting the number of sites you target and the amount of time you spend on those websites. Your best bet is to choose sites that afford you the best opportunities to reach the demographics you are targeting. If that’s Facebook, then it’s Facebook. Often, however, many small businesses would do better to try a smaller site where a larger percentage of the users are the perfect demographic group for you.

Don’t underestimate the power of self-limitation.

A lot of sites today are falling in the search rankings because they have duplicate content issues. Now more than ever, duplicate content is causing major issues with search rankings. The good news is, in most of these cases, it’s a pretty easy fix.

Here are 3 reasons why your site may be suffering from duplicate content issues, and how to fix them:

  1. HTTP vs. HTTPS: If you have a secure side of your website for members or because you want to keep certain information secure from people who haven’t earned access, this can cause duplicate content issues. More often than not, it’s a byproduct of your CMS and how your pages are technically handled by it. Many content management systems use dynamic URLs that look like this:
      http://www.example.com/webpage.php?booklist_id=321548

    Then, the same page is indexed using a clean URL, and you suddenly have two pages with the same information on it. Duplicate content. Tweak your CMS so that only one of those pages is indexed. This can often be done in the settings, or you can simply use a robots.txt to prevent crawling of one of the pages.

  2. Same product fits into multiple categories: Another issue is you have products that are categorized in multiple categories. The search engine indexes the page under the category names, so the URLs are different but the content is the same. You can change the URLs on your website so that web pages are indexed without category names. You should also consolidate the pages and use 301 redirects to maintain the traffic.
  3. Language-specific pages: If you have your content translated, then you might have the same information on a primary page and also on the language-specific page. For instance, your English-language URL may look like this:
      http://www.example.com/en/literaryterms.html

    If that same page is also located at http://www.example.com/literaryterms.html, then you’ll have issues. Only store the content in one location and redirect one of the pages to the other.

Duplicate content issues are easy to fix in most cases. Don’t let them get you down.

join or start a Google+ communityIf you’re a user of Google+, then you’ll be excited to know that Google has added a new feature to its social network: Communities.

Communities were just introduced yesterday and already some communities have nearly 10,000 members. This is a great way to drum up some interest in your topic. You can join a community or start one.

For instance, if you want to network with others who are avidly interested in marriage counseling – maybe they’re counselors or maybe they need counseling – then you can look for a community related to counseling by entering “counseling” in the search box above the list of communities present, or you can just start your own community. Either way, and you can achieve your goal in minutes.

After you start your own community, you can then promote the community to your stream. If you have circled people who are already interested in your topic, they’ll see the community and can join.

I’m anxious to see how communities do in the search engines. I think they’ll do well. Each post should be optimizable the same way that forum posts are. And if you create a community with your brand name or a keyword related to your brand name, then it should be searchable in Google’s index.

Google+ Communities are another great way to get some search engine optimized content out there related to your business.

If you have a Facebook fan page for your brand, it can show up in the search engine results. But you should optimize it to give it an extra boost. Here are 5 Facebook fan page optimization tips, courtesy of SEOmoz.

  1. Get a vanity URL – Facebook allows you to get a vanity URL for your fan page after it has received 25 likes. Make sure you use a vanity URL that utilizes your primary keyword or brand name.
  2. Use a branded title for your page name – When you name your Facebook fan page, give it a name associated with your brand name. If you can’t do that, give it a keyword-based name. This will go a long way to making your fan page better optimized for search traffic.
  3. Include a phone number and address – This is very important for local businesses. This information will make your business more searchable in Google Local Search.
  4. Link back to your Facebook fan page – If you own a blog or you have a Google+ account, link to your Facebook fan page. Associating your fan page with your brand in all the places where you are recognized online will help that page to rank better in the search engines.
  5. Optimize your status updates – When you create a new status update on your Facebook fan page, use keywords. That will optimize the status update as well as the page overall. The first 18 characters of your post serve as your meta description, so be sure to front-load your keywords.

Optimizing your Facebook fan page is just one more thing you can do to boost your brand’s search chutzpah online. Don’t overlook it.

When it comes to competitive research, which strategies or tactics should you use? What’s the best way to get the information you need about your competition to take them on head on?

I’ve identified 4 must-use competitive research tools. Before you do anything else, you should first:

  1. Subscribe to the top blogs in your niche – Click the RSS button, or subscribe by e-mail, but you should be reading the top blogs in your niche every day. Pick the top 5 blogs and subscribe to them. If the top blogs are not also the top competitors, then subscribe to the blogs of your top 3 competitors as well.
  2. Create Google Alerts – Google Alerts is an essential tool. Create Google Alerts for the top 20 or 30 keywords you want to target with your content.
  3. Join the top online communities in your niche – Pick 3 to 5 of the most popular online communities that serve your niche and join them. You don’t have to interact. You can simply browse the threads to see what people are talking about, then you can address the most popular topics on your own blog.
  4. Subscribe to competitors’ newsletters – Set up a ghost e-mail address and use it to subscribe to the newsletters of your competition. Read them as often as you can.

The only thing these 4 competitive research methods cost is the time it takes to read and set up subscriptions. Still, they are essential tactics you should implement before you do anything else.

When Google introduced Google Chrome, it was a challenge to Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox. And when Google brought us Google+, it was a direct assault upon Facebook’s social media juggernaut. Well, Firefox and Facebook have teamed up to fire back.

With Facebook Messenger for Firefox, Firefox users can chat with their Facebook friends any time and from any page on the Web. That’s a powerful feature. Google can’t top that.

The war has been brewing for well over a year now – since Google+ hit the airwaves. The war is starting to look like the Apple-Microsoft battle that’s been going on for 20+ years now. This time it’s between Google and Facebook, with Firefox serving as a more-than-adept Facebook sidekick.

The problem that Google has in this battle is it doesn’t have a sidekick. Google is the giant that goes it alone. And they seem to like it that way.

It remains to be seen whether Facebook Messenger for Firefox will convert IE users to Firefox or encourage Facebook fanatics to download the application, but if it does catch on, then what’s next? How will Firefox improve the social app? Will users be able to have hangouts akin to Google+ Hangouts within the Firefox browser – right from any page on the web? If so, that will be a major game changer.

The one thing I’m afraid of is that Internet marketing could become a walled city where you are forced to either go with the Google model or the Facebook model. I’d hate to see that kind of cyber segregation. Wouldn’t you?

Frank Reed asks a very important question.

How many times though have you seen someone using Twitter for business and then asking the question “I don’t know if this is worth it. No one seems to be here that would ant my stuff.” Hence the need for a little look around to see if you should even be on a social network because the effort and resources required might be better utilized somewhere else. It ain’t cheap or easy to do social media correctly. That’s something we can all agree on.

True, social media marketing is not cheap or easy. That’s why you need a plan, and your plan should include using those social media networks where your target market already has a presence. But what constitutes “a presence?”

If you find two or three people who might be interested in your product or service using Twitter, does that constitute a presence? What if several of your competitors have Facebook pages. Is that a presence? These questions must be answered.

In order to determine whether your target market has a presence on a particular social media website, you must first define your market. Are you targeting young professionals 18-29 who lean left politically? To define a target market well, be as specific as possible. Narrow your demographic as much as possible, then conduct a feasibility study to see which social media networks your target market is using the most.