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For years, Google has been assisting Internet marketers, search engine optimizers, and other members of the public with finding the right keywords for their online marketing targeting efforts with the Google AdWords Keyword Tool. In fact, if you search for “Google keyword research tool,” you’ll find it at the top of the SERP. Click the link, however, and it’s not there. It’s been replaced by the Keyword Planner.

This happened two days ago when we weren’t watching.

Judging from the response on Twitter, there are a lot of unhappy campers.

The biggest problem I see with the Keyword Planner is you have to be logged into your AdWords account. That means you have to have an AdWords account. With the external keyword research tool, you could find the best keywords for your SEO targeting efforts without needing an AdWords account. Now, if you want to do keyword research, then you need to be an advertiser – or at least have a Google AdWords advertiser account.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

There are free keyword research tools online that serve as a decent alternative to Google’s retired AdWords tool. I’m not ready to recommend them yet, but you can Google “free keyword research tool” and see what you find.

Here’s a question: Have you tried the new Keyword Planner tool? Will you give it a go? If not, why not?

Reputation management is an ongoing activity. It shouldn’t be something you do only when you want to lower the search engine rankings of negative reviews. You should be constantly striving to improve and enhance your reputation online. LinkedIn is one tool to help you do that.

These five specific LinkedIn tactics are great ways to keep your online reputation at the front of your mind:

  1. Vanity URL – Get yourself a vanity URL. It conveys instant authority and looks professional. Ideally, you want your LinkedIn profile to be associated with your name – both on LinkedIn and in the search engines. Your vanity URL will do that.
  2. Recommendations – Recommendations are comments left on your LinkedIn profile by people who have worked with you and go a long way to showing you in a good light. Potential customers will read your recommendations to get a feel for how successful you are at delivering your services. You can request recommendations.
  3. Endorsements – Endorsements can only be made on skills you have listed on your profile. They add another level of credibility to your profile and can be made by your 1st level connections.
  4. LinkedIn Groups – LinkedIn Groups allow you to interact with other LinkedIn users with similar interests. By participating in discussions, answering questions, and being helpful, you demonstrate your expertise, which could lead to additional business.
  5. Updates – When you log in to LinkedIn, there is a box that is labeled “Share an update….” This box allows you to share links and insights into topics related to your area of expertise. You can choose the level of visibility of your updates, sharing them with the public, the public plus your Twitter account, and only your connections. At any level, however, you are displaying your knowledge and experience, which are a direct reflection of your reputation.

If you become a nuisance on your status updates or groups, then that will affect your LinkedIn reputation. Only post a couple of times a day. I’d say no more than five on any given day. The less can often be more.

There has been a lot of talk about Google’s rel=author tag, a lot less about rel=publisher. As you’d expect, there is quite a bit confusion about which one might be appropriate under certain circumstances. Google attempts to clarify this with this blog post, but I’m not sure they were clear about it in all situations.

One particular question where there seems to be some concern is when you are writing articles using a mascot, or persona.

Personas are nice. It’s a marketing gimmick that may or may not work depending on how it is rolled out. However, Google doesn’t want you to use rel=author for articles written under the guise of a fictional entity. In other words, you shouldn’t use rel=author for articles written by mascots, personas, or generic company faces.

In those cases, I’d use the rel=publisher tag. The rel=publisher tag is less personal and allows you to establish an identity with your company. That could be through a mascot, a persona, or some generic non-real person.

For instance, you could post articles under the name of your company – as XYZ Corporation, for instance. If you do, use the rel=publisher tag.

I think the Google Authorship guidelines will become more clear with time. As for now, keep it simple and only use the rel=author tag for real people and articles written by real people.

If you’re looking for new ways to build links for your website, try conducting interviews. These can be great ways to build inbound links, which increases your exposure in the search engines.

Here are 5 ways to conduct interviews for link building:

  1. Video interview – Videos are easy. You simply invite the interviewee to a specific location, turn the camera on, and start asking questions (over-simplified, but you get the point). Then, you distribute the video. You can upload the video to YouTube then embed it into a page on your website and share the link to all your social media accounts. The inbound links you’ll get are from people who share the video and link to it from their blogs. This works well for a high profile person in your niche.
  2. Your blog – You could interview someone by phone and transcribe the video onto your blog.
  3. Podcast – Since you’re interviewing by phone, why not just record the interview and share it on your blog or website as an audio file?
  4. Your newsletter – If you have an e-mail newsletter, put your interview in the newsletter as an exclusive. Then advertise that you have interviewed such-and-such in your newsletter. Others in your niche will link to you and drive traffic to your newsletter opt-in page.
  5. Article – If you do a lot of interviews, set up an interview section on your website and run a periodic interview as an article. If you do a good with these, you’ll get people linking to your interviews page.

Interviews can be a great source of content and links. They may be time consuming, but you’ll be glad you made use of that time when you see the rewards.

Facebook is in the news again with hashtags.

It’s not real big news. It’s just that when you search for hashtags you’ll get a list of other hashtags below the search results page on Facebook. From what I can tell, the hashtags aren’t related, so it makes me wonder how really useful this feature is. Unless you are in the habit of making random hashtag searches, it might not prove useful.

For instance, the search for #flashfiction yields the following Explore More Hashtags:

  • #beetlejuice
  • #mileycyrus
  • #usopen
  • #tmac
  • #MTVVMAs
  • #1stdayofschool

None of these hashtags are related to flash fiction. I performed another hashtag search just to see what would happen. Actually two.

I searched for #onlinemarketing and #smallbusinesses only to end up with endless search results. So it appears that the Explore More Hashtags box is only useful if the hashtag you are searching for offers limited search results. Really popular searches will only result in endless search results.

Still, I have to hand it to Facebook for exploring the hashtags search feature in the first place. They’re trying to appeal to their users, even if they fall a little short sometimes.

What do you think about the hashtag search feature on Facebook? Will you use it? Do you think it will be helpful? Are hashtags the new social media model, the wave of the future?

Yesterday, Cynthia Boris at Marketing Pilgrim wrote a post on Facebook’s new Embed Post feature. She says two things that I have to take issue with. The first is that the feature is open to everyone. If she means that all posts are embeddable, that’s not true because most of the ones I see aren’t. If she means that anyone can embed a post, then I’m not sure what the purpose of the beta was on the project.

That’s not as serious as the other allegation, however. She says the embed feature doesn’t work in WordPress. That’s what we’re using here at Reciprocal Consulting and, as you can see from the below embed, it works just fine.

It’s possible that Facebook fixed the problem since yesterday. Or it could be that Ms. Boris tried inputting her code in the Visual tab instead of the Text tab.

Nevertheless, the code works. Here’s how to embed a post on your own blog.

  1. Find a post you want to embed.
  2. Click the down arrow in the top right corner of that post on your wall.
  3. You should see “Notify me of updates” followed by a horizontal line. Below the line you’ll see “I don’t want to see this.” If you can embed the post, then you’ll see “Embed Post” below that.
  4. Click “Embed Post.”
  5. Copy the code inside the box above the preview.
  6. If you are using WordPress, make sure you are in the Text tab on the Write box and paste the embed code.
  7. Click Save Draft and preview.

It’s really simple. Anyone should be able to do it.

Google has said that it needs to transition from a search engine to a “knowledge engine.” This is essentially the same thing Bing says it wants to do. I think Google is closer to the goal than Bing, but Google got a head start.

A knowledge engine implies a destination whereas a “search” engine implies a conduit, a place you pass through to get to your destination. That’s an important distinction.

So how does Google plan to transition itself into a knowledge engine? The key to that transition is what they are calling the Knowledge Graph.

The Knowledge Graph is essentially a set of semantic search protocols based on semantic markup. This semantic markup is code you can add to your website to communicate with Google and Bing on what specific types of information exists in each section of your website. But it goes beyond that even.

Where traditional search was based on keywords being matched to queries made by people searching for information, semantic search relies on matching synonyms and concepts with search queries.

Semantic search attempts to eliminate the guesswork by tossing out non-relevant queries with matching keywords. Instead, it tries to judge the searcher’s intent based on previous search data, current session clicks, and other information. Google, and Bing to some extent, have already started retrieving information on these bases. It’s just a matter of time before they perfect it.

Online marketing allows you to make liberal use of images for your marketing efforts. In fact, it’s been proven that images can enhance your message dramatically and lead to greater lead generation results. Here are 5 ways you can use images to increase your online marketing efforts and make them more effective.

  1. Pinterest – You’ve likely heard of Pinterest by now. It’s the “visual” social media site. You pin images that your followers can like or re-pin. Using Pinterest makes your brand a very visual brand.
  2. Blog Image Optimization – When you write a blog post, include an image. Blog posts with images get read more often and are more shareable on social media.
  3. Facebook Page – Don’t just build a Facebook page. Make it visual. At the very least, add your website’s header to your Facebook page so your branding is consistent.
  4. Social Media Enhancement – Add images to your social media posts. Whether you are active on Facebook, Google+, or another social network, visual posts are more shareable, likeable, and readable.
  5. YouTube Marketing – Video marketing is one of the best visual online marketing tactics around. Just as images enhance your blog posts, videos add another dimension to your content marketing.

Don’t settle for a run-of-the-mill marketing plan. Make your online marketing more visual.

The conventional wisdom surrounding e-books as SEO tools pretty much says give it away and people will link to your giveaway page. You’ll acquire a lot of links and you’ll be giving away information that translates into dollars.

Unless, of course, the e-book is no good. Then, you’ll get no links and no dollars.

Is that all there is?

No, not really. There’s more to it than that. You can still receive SEO benefits on an e-book that you sell from your website. If it’s a good book, people will link to it, or at least mention it by name. A good book will always get a recommendation by someone.

There are other ways to drum up some public relations on your e-book, which will lead to additional inbound links and SEO. You could send out a press release. You could also read an excerpt from your book and post it to YouTube. Or you could host a Google+ Hangout. Social media promotion is always a good way to get more publicity for your e-books, and it often results in more inbound links.

Of course, none of this is a guarantee. The first step is quality. Write a quality e-book about a topic that people care about. If you do that, links and SEO will take care of themselves.

Search Engine Journal posted an article earlier today outlining 5 mistakes that content marketers make. I’d like to discuss three of those within the context of expanding your content marketing strategy.

  1. Guest blogging – If you haven’t picked up on the guest blogging trend yet, then allow me to encourage you. That doesn’t mean you should abandon your efforts to create unique content for your own website. What it does mean is you can use guest blogging to reach an audience you aren’t reaching through your own blog and drive traffic to your website from another channel.
  2. Newsjacking – I didn’t realize it had a name, but this is a powerful content strategy that allows you to piggyback off a popular news story and tie it in to your content needs. If you are able to reach your customers through this expanded content technique, then it will show your diversity in skills and knowledge.
  3. Use a multi-channel content strategy – This is related to guest blogging, but the key here is to write content for a variety of channels, even off line. You can write for trade journals, industry magazines, vendor newsletters, etc. If there is a medium that addresses the concerns of your target audience and you haven’t tapped into it yet, then you should.

Content marketing is getting more and more difficult all the time. Give yourself a leg up by expanding your efforts as far and wide as you can.

CafePress has been around since 1999. They did well initially, but there’s one sentence in this story that really hit me hard:

CafePress’ biggest problem is that building your own ecommerce store isn’t as hard as it used to be.

Isn’t that the truth?!

There are a variety of ways that you can now build your own e-commerce store. All the popular CMSs have plug-ins that allow you to add a store to your site. WordPress has a come a long way in this regard. Joomla was one of the early forerunners.

You can also add a store to your Facebook page. And of course there are Etsy and eBay. You can even sell items through Amazon, the largest online retail department store.

Then there’s CafePress.

I don’t want to knock them. It seems that they’ve made some great strides recently by adding new features. For starters, if you have a CafePress store, you can make it more design-oriented. Also, it is much more social now, which is a good thing. Without social media commerce abilities CafePress would get left in the dust.

If you’re looking for a new way to sell your custom-made items, try CafePress. It’s the same site with and updated twist. Maybe they’ll stick around for awhile.

Is the past a good predictor of the future? In many ways, it is. That’s the premise behind predictive analytics, any way.

Predictive analytics is taking past information about your business – customers, marketing statistics, sales, inventory, etc. – and using it to predict future needs. You can use it for any aspect of your business. You can determine what your future maintenance costs might be or what your future personnel and staffing needs might be. You can even determine what your future product line might be based on how certain products have done in cycles.

This isn’t the same as analyzing your website traffic, although you can use predictive analytics to determine what your future website traffic might be.

For instance, if you have a business that traditionally peaks during the month of March, then you can predict that next year your business will peak in March. More specifically, if you traditionally see an increase in your business by 10%-12% from January to March each year and you know that in January your business was up by 20% over last year’s business, then you can predict what your March business might be based on those numbers.

Why is predictive analytics important? It’s important because predictions can help you plan better so that your business operations run more efficiently. If you need to order more inventory, you can do that. If you need to scale back on employee work hours, you can do that too.

Predictive analytics helps you plan better and make your business more profitable.

Companies have been debating how to determine the value of a social media contact for years. Today, I’d like to specifically discuss how you can determine the value of a Facebook fan.

Kudos to Ryan Rasmussen for bringing up this subject. Rasmussen states succinctly:

Instead of using an approximate static value of a fan (e.g., $10 per fan, on average, as SocialCode concluded in 2011), it proves the effective value of your program and the unique value of your particular customer segment in taking an action or adopting an attitude that can be tracked back to sales.

In other words, if contact with a Facebook fan doesn’t lead to a sale, then there is really no value in that fan.

Don’t take that to mean that the fan herself must be the one buying your product. The fan could share a piece of your content with her network of friends, and if that leads to you getting another fan or two who purchase your product, the sharing fan proves her value. Is it much? It depends. Do her referrals purchase often, and do they purchase a lot?

I agree that Facebook fans should not be given a blanket static value. This is arbitrary and doesn’t give a true picture of your Facebook marketing efforts.

When it comes to determining value, think a little deeper. Don’t just look at the surface.

Search Engine Journal published an article today that discusses how the Bing ad tool can be used to make your PPC advertising on Bing and Yahoo! more effective and cost efficient. What I want to discuss regarding the article, however, has to do with the most frequently changed ad campaign changes, according to the Bing ad Editor Tool.

The top 5 most frequently Bing ad campaign items are:

  1. Keyword
  2. Ad content
  3. Negative keyword
  4. Location targeting
  5. Negative site

In that order.

This is an interesting list because it appears that keywords are changed a lot. When you consider that negative keywords are keywords you definitely do not want your ads to target, it makes you wonder why advertisers would change them. Are advertisers changing the keywords that are a part of their negative keyword lists, adding new negative keywords, or moving words from the keywords list to the negative keywords list?

Another interesting tidbit here is the location targeting change. Are advertisers changing the locations they want to target, adding new locations, or deleting locations? Probably, all of the above.

It’s hard to tell from this list and the lack of specific data whether advertisers are on the right track or wasting their time and money. One thing is for sure, if advertisers want to be successful on Bing or any other PPC ad network, changes to their ad campaigns are inevitable. PPC requires constant monitoring, and regular changes can be positive or negative.

When it comes to video marketing, there aren’t many hard and fast rules. But there is one rule that you should always keep in mind. Before I tell you what that is, here are five principles you should strive for in your video marketing efforts.

  1. Optimize your videos and video channels – Video optimization is all about ensuring that your videos are found by the very people you want to find them. Video optimization means giving your videos the right titles, tags, and descriptions.
  2. Quality doesn’t mean HD with SurroundSound – Make sure your videos have a basic level quality to them, but they don’t have to be professional Hollywood grade. They just have to hold your audience’s attention.
  3. Make your videos engaging – Engage your audience with videos that inform and entertain.
  4. Increase your content – You don’t need to start a new video channel every time you get a bright idea. You can add more video content to the channel you already have.
  5. Give your videos a branding element – Branded videos don’t necessarily mean you add your logo to the beginning and end of your videos. You can brand them with the content, but do brand them.

All of these are important principles for video marketing, but the most important thing to keep in mind is consistency. Produce consistent high quality content that engages your audience and brands your company.

Jeremy Page shares his insights into marketing on Instagram in only five minutes a day at Search Engine Journal. More interesting to me is that his strategy uses hashtags.

Hashtags have become a de facto social media organizing tool. They started on Twitter. You can even search Twitter hashtags at Hashtags.org.

Over the past year, hashtags have become regular use on Google+, Facebook, and Instagram.

While this doesn’t exactly spell ubiquity, it does say something about the growing popularity of hashtags. It’s entirely possible that hashtags could become the Internet’s social organizational tool and may even be indexed through a dedicated search channel in the search engines. Just as Google has search channels for News, Blogs, Videos, and other verticals, it’s possible that search engines could develop a vertical for hashtags.

I’m not saying that will happen, but it could. Hashtags are becoming, more and more, a way for people to catalog their information and a way for them to follow and find information that is important to a large cross-section of people with something in common.

How do you use hashtags? Are they important to you? Do you use the same hashtags across several social media platforms or do you create unique hashtags for each platform? What are your thoughts about the future of hashtags?

From PPC advertising to video marketing, and everything in between, you’ll need to monitor your analytics to see how effective your campaigns are working for you. Without measuring your efforts you don’t know what to change.

So, what if you do watch your metrics and you notice that you are getting a lot of traffic from a particular geographic region. Does that matter?

Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn’t.

If you aren’t targeting that demographic area in your content or consciously striving to get business from that area, then you might ask why you are getting a lot of traffic from that area. There could be a number of reasons why you’d get traffic from a specific geographic area without consciously targeting that area.

For instance, maybe someone in that region has taken a liking to your content and shares it on a regular basis.

There could be other reasons why you are getting traffic from that region. Maybe you mention a certain area in your blog posts a lot and don’t realize it.

Your first step is to research the issue and see if you can determine why you are getting that geographic traffic. Secondly, ask if it is hurting. If not, find a way to capitalize on it. If it is hurting in some way (for instance, traffic from that region doesn’t convert or leads to a lower conversion rate), then your challenge is to find a way to turn that into a positive.

You can do the same thing with other demographic elements (age, gender, etc.). If it doesn’t hurt, find a way to capitalize on it.

I completely agree with Frank Reed on this one. What’s the point in generating leads if you aren’t making a strong effort to convert them to sales?

The eMarketer report that Frank is commenting on shows that 16% of marketers in the U.S. considered lead generation the primary goal of content marketing in 2012, but in 2013 a whopping 44% of marketers considered getting more leads the primary goal. An additional 11% in 2013 consider “thought leadership” the primary goal, up from 7% last year.

This does appear to be a huge disconnect. Are content marketers so vain that they want to be seen as thought leaders more than increasing their revenues?

In 2012, more marketers thought customer and prospect engagement, awareness, and customer loyalty were more important than lead generation. The number of respondents who gave those as primary reasons for content marketing in 2013, however, went down (for each value). That caused the lead generation answer to soar on past to No. 1 by almost twice that of customer and prospect engagement and awareness.

The point that Frank makes about prospects only interested in information aren’t qualified leads is an apt one. There will always be people interested in something for nothing (usually journalists).

The real challenge for content marketers in 2013 is to devise a strategy that makes lead generation a means to a sales and revenue end. It should not be an end unto itself.

Sometimes it takes a while to see improvements in website traffic. You may go weeks or months before you see any real improvement in your traffic numbers. That’s because it could take that long for other metrics to kick in. Here are 6 important metrics you should measure before you concern yourself with traffic.

  1. Organic listings by keyword – When you start out you don’t have any search engine rankings. It takes time to get those. You should see immediate improvement, however, in the number of keywords for which you do have rankings. Even if you hire a new SEO company after having been in business for a few years, after two or three months you should see a broader range of keywords for which you are ranking in the search engines.
  2. Higher search engine rankings – For those keywords that you do rank for, you should see some improvement in rankings. It may not be much, but it should be something. If you start on page 10 of the SERPs for one of your keywords, you should move up to page nine or eight after awhile. Even a little improvement is better than none.
  3. Number and quality of links – You can always count how many inbound links you’ve earned. Just as important, however, is the quality of those links. Don’t just build a bunch of low-quality links and think you are doing SEO. Focus some of your efforts on obtaining high-quality links, as well.
  4. Social shares – You can always look at how many tweets, retweets, Facebook shares, +1s, and Google+ shares you get. These often translate into more traffic.
  5. Onsite metrics – Putting traffic numbers aside, how many pages on average does the visitor you do get visit once they’ve landed on your site? Furthermore, how much time do they spend on your site? And what is your bounce rate? If these numbers aren’t desirable, you can always put together a strategy to improve them.
  6. Conversion rate – It doesn’t matter if you have 100 unique visitors per month or 10,000 UVs. If the traffic you get isn’t converting, then you have a problem. As you work on generating more traffic, measure your conversion rate along the way.

If you measure the right website metrics from the beginning, then when you do start getting traffic you’ll be in a better position to analyze the effectiveness of that traffic.

On August 1, we talked about how more people are spending more time online than watching TV. What we didn’t discuss was Facebook. As it turns out, more people prefer to spend time on Facebook during the day than they do watching soap operas.

This really isn’t surprising. The group that most likes to spend time on Facebook is the 18-24 age group. People over 55 prefer TV.

That makes sense. Soap operas became popular when today’s over 55 crowd were 18-24. They’ve steadily watched the same soaps for 30 years. Why would we expect them to change their viewing habits now?

By contrast, the 18-24 year old group is in the prime of their lives. They have smartphones and laptops. They are perfectly capable of creating their own drama. A quick perusal of their Facebook walls should reveal that much. When you can post your drama on the Internet so easily, why would you want to watch someone else’s on TV?

For marketers, this is telling. If you want to reach the younger crowd, Facebook is the way to go. If you are trying to reach seniors, use TV.

Another interesting tidbit: The only age group that prefers Facebook to TV during prime time is the 18-24 age group. It makes me wonder what we’ll be able to make of Facebook 30 years from now.