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One underutilized feature of Twitter is something called a Twitter chat, or a tweet chat. In a nutshell, this is simply the practice of using a special hashtag to host a discussion about a particular topic on Twitter. It’s a great way to use Twitter for branding your company.

It’s really simple. I’d recommend creating a special hashtag for your chat session rather than co-opt one that already exists. There are several reasons for this:

  • If you use a hashtag that already exists, you may find people joining your chat session who shouldn’t be there.
  • You may annoy other Twitter users who feel like you’ve taken over their conversation.
  • Creating your own hashtag is fun and practical as it carries with it a branded element that points back to you.

Before choosing a hashtag, conduct a search for it to see if it already exists. If it does, then come up with an alternative.

After creating your hashtag, write a blog post inviting your readers to join your chat session. Be sure to publish the time and date. Next, create an event on Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn to notify your followers of the chat session. And don’t forget to invite your Twitter followers.

If you plan your chat session far enough in advance, you can promote it regularly prior to the event to encourage a higher attendance. Make sure everyone knows the chat hashtag.

Twitter chats can be conducted during a specific short period of time (i.e. 7 P.M.-9 P.M. on a specific date) or for a designated time period over several days (i.e. 8 A.M. on a specific date to 9 P.M. three days later). Either way, it’s a great way to get feedback on specific issues related to your customers and your brand.

It’s the end of the year, which means this is the time when online marketing professionals look at the year and see what they did well and what they could have done better before turning their eyes around and predicting the trends for the coming year. Since it’s the law, we’ve decided to get on the bandwagon and make our predictions for trends in 2014.

Only, we’re going to approach it a little differently. We’re going to list 5 trends that started in 2013 and that we see continuing into 2014 – maybe beyond.

  1. Mobile marketing – Mobile marketing has been on the rise. Two things are necessary for this. The first are responsive websites. By the end of 2014, if you don’t have one, then you’ll effectively be out of the mobile marketing game. Secondly, the growth of smartphone and tablet usage make mobile marketing an all-in effort.
  2. High quality content – Internet marketers should have been focused on this all along, but people tend to focus on whatever Google forces them to focus on. In 2014, that will be “high quality content.”
  3. Social media metrics – Social media is a channel that has finally come into its own. For many websites, social media traffic will eclipse search engine traffic.
  4. Apps development – Who doesn’t love a good app? Again, smartphones and tablets are driving this train. It’s only going to go faster – until it becomes a super train.
  5. Visual content – Images, videos, infographics, you name it. Content is becoming more visual. Don’t expect this to change.

These trends started in 2013, but they’re only going to become more pronounced in the coming year. What do you think?

Before and after the Hummingbird update, one of the chief goals for many search engine marketers was, and is, to get web pages to rank highly for key search terms. However, how you go about that is different pre- and post-Hummingbird. One thing is necessary in both cases, however: Quality.

If you truly want to produce high quality content, here are five types of content that have a better than even chance of qualifying:

  1. Evergreen Content – Let’s start with the easy one. If your content has value today and will have the same value in five, ten, or twenty years, then it’s what we call “evergreen” content. That kind of content will always rank.
  2. Problem/Solution – This is content that answers a specific question or solves a particular problem. Think of a problem that you know people are having and tell them how to solve it.
  3. Case Study – A case study focuses on telling a success story. Take a particular client or situation and tell how that client was successful doing something. Make the “something” very specific. It can a product or service, a particular problem they wanted to solve, or a process.
  4. Hot Tips – If you have the “Top 10 Tips For Doing X” or a similar post, these are usually golden. Top tips content is very valuable if it focuses on real top tips.
  5. Analysis of a Topic – Write an in-depth analysis of a particular subject. That includes pros and cons as well as statistics regarding the subject matter. Take a position on something and defend it, backing it up with facts and figures.

Of course, there is never a guarantee that your content will rank well for your targeted keywords, but these five types of content give you a big leg up.

A long time ago – before Hummingbird, before Penguin, and even before Panda – bloggers would go out to other blogs and make comments hoping to gather a few back links that would drive their websites higher up the search engine rankings. It worked until Google caught onto the game and stopped counting blog comments for linking purposes. So does that mean blog comments no longer hold value?

Website owners and Internet marketers are learning that not everything has to have SEO value in order to have value for their businesses. It’s a good lesson to learn.

There are many things, in fact, that have business or marketing value that don’t necessarily have SEO value. Serious online marketers need to take note of these, which include:

  • E-mail marketing
  • Mobile marketing
  • Apps
  • Blog and forum commenting
  • PPC advertising
  • Offline networking

Just to name a few.

Going forward, the primary goal for online marketers needs to be marketing and branding. That’s not to say you shouldn’t consider SEO factors. You should. But the way SEO is going to be conducted in the future is quite a bit different than how it was done in the past.

Do you have a plan for your future online business? Does it include SEO? Does it include things other than SEO? It should.

Cynthia Boris starts off this article with a great question. It seems that 55% of the respondents to a survey said they would trade their laptop for a tablet. Among men, that number is 60%. Among women, it’s 50%. But I wonder what it will be 10 years from now, or 5?

Read down a little further and you’ll learn that 56% said they were more likely to respond to an ad on a tablet than on a PC. Are you ready to advertise now?

If you haven’t figured out yet that mobile advertising is going to be the big shift in the next 5-10 years, then perhaps this article will convince you. Tablet usage is on the rise, and I wouldn’t be surprised if tablets are the big seller this Christmas. I wonder how many people are going to get their first one?

For the final kicker, check out what Ms. Boris says at the end:

The important takeaway here is that a tablet isn’t just a mini-laptop. A flat banner ad isn’t going to cut it on a tablet. You need to think in terms of interactivity, of sound and movement. Whatever you can do (and afford) that gets a customer closer to experiencing your product, the better chance you’ll have of clinching the sale.

And to that I say, “Absolutely!”

If you’ll make your ads interactive, perhaps even including video, then you stand a much better chance of closing the sale. Now is the time to start thinking about marketing to tablet owners.

You’ve likely heard of link buying and how it’s a terrible practice to get into. You’ve likely even heard that it could get your website banned from the search engines. But what if you pay a blogger to insert your link into his or her content on a site he or she doesn’t own?

It’s been going on for some time now. According to Matt Cutts, the search engines are looking for ways to detect it.

It shouldn’t be hard.

As a practice, bribing bloggers is no better than buying links. In fact, ethically speaking, it could be worse. The net search engine effect could be the same. If you’re found out, you’re toast.

It is hard to say if Google has taken action or is looking to take action in the near future against sites using this technique but it is clear, Google knows about it.

My bet is, they’ll take action. But there’s a fine line because the site owners on the sites where the links are built may not be aware of the practice. If they were, they’d fire the bloggers I’m sure. How awful would it be if those sites were penalized and that was how they found out that their bloggers were stiffing them? My bet is, some bloggers would lose their jobs.

If you do things the right way, you never have to worry about running afoul of search engine policies.

If you thought that Google would publish Authorship rich snippets forever, then you are probably disappointed by this bit of news. I hope you don’t think Google promised you a nice big Authorship hug for the rest of your life.

The truth is, Authorship rich snippets were as easily gamed as links and other SEO fauna. Maybe that’s why they’re reducing the use of them.

I think Hummingbird changed a lot for webmasters. Instead of focusing on improving your author profile or increasing your search engine rankings through link building, maybe it’s time for webmasters to focus on publishing quality content that actually helps end users. It’s time to get back to marketing basics.

Yesterday’s post on building domain authority is the key to survival in the current search landscape. But it’s not the only thing that is important.

Online marketing is becoming more complex. The companies that succeed will be the companies that think about the needs of their customers and target audience and then focus on meeting those needs. If you’re still focused on feeding the bots, then you’ll likely end up at the bottom of the search results at some point. Google is getting more sophisticated in ferreting out low quality content.

This should be good news for anyone interested in high quality content.

It’s becoming vogue for content marketers, or SEOs, to talk about Domain Authority in the same way they used to talk about article marketing and link building. But what is Domain Authority, and is it important?

Rohit Palit offers the best definition of Domain Authority that I’ve ever seen:

… it basically means how much your site is likely to rank higher in search engines compared to competitor sites.

In other words, your Domain Authority is relative to other sites in your niche.

Post-Hummingbird, the most important metric for ensuring you rank higher in the search engines has shifted. It isn’t more content or more links. It’s higher quality content and perhaps some of the five pillars of content marketing shared by Palit’s infographic on Domain Authority. These include:

  1. On-site SEO factors
  2. Content promotion efforts
  3. Social media
  4. Branding
  5. Relationships with influencers

This is a combination who-you-know and what-you-know approach. Pure SEO – on-site SEO – is still important, and links are too to some extent, but equally important are branding, social media, your overall content marketing strategy, and your ability to influence the influencers. Google wants to force webmasters to build relationships not links.

By “relationships” I mean three things: Relationships with influencers, relationships with your customers (or target audience), and relationships between entities.

SEO is in a constant state of change. If you want to increase your chances at ranking in the search engines for your key terms, don’t focus on keyword-based content. Focus on creating great content, promoting it through valuable channels, and building relationships with key people who will interact with your brand in a meaningful way. In other words, carry on with your marketing plan as usual.

PPC Hero shares 15 ad networks you can use besides Google AdWords. I’d say you should definitely use the first two on the list:

  • Bing
  • Facebook

But you probably shouldn’t give up on Google AdWords either.

The thing about AdWords is it sends the most traffic to your website, if you do it well. Of course, you’ll pay more for clicks too. If you have a small budget, then you might start with Bing and Facebook. Once you increase your revenues enough to increase your advertising budget, then you can move on to Google AdWords.

Another benefit to starting with Bing and smaller ad networks is you can practice your ad writing and landing page skills. Failure will cost you a lot less than it will at Bing. Once you’ve perfected your craft, then you can spend the big dollars.

PPC advertising is only getting better. With Facebook, you can target your ads to specific demographics, which you can’t do with Google or Bing because they are more keyword-based. I highly recommend both approaches. PPC on the search engines is about finding your audience through their search habits. On Facebook, it’s about looking for them by customer persona type.

Smaller businesses don’t have to be left out of the PPC advertising game. Start small and work your way up.

More and more, businesses are figuring out that telling a story is good marketing. This is evident when you read about these social media hoaxes that people easily fell for, including top social media website Mashable.

In two of the hoaxes, a popular TV show host was behind the event. Both Jay Leno and Jimmy Kimmel foisted hoaxes on unsuspecting Net citizens.

But I’d like to discuss two other hoaxes on the list:

  1. The Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax
  2. and the Kiss Cam Breakup hoax

In both of these cases, the story itself is what made the hoax go viral. Manti Te’o was a Notre Dame football star who now plays for the San Diego Chargers. Allegedly, his long long-time girlfriend died in a car accident last January, except that the girl reported to have died in the accident didn’t exist. It didn’t stop the American public from latching onto the story and gasping in awe.

The Kiss Cam Breakup is actually a bit funny. Two Grizzlies employees staged a stunt on the Kiss Cam at one of the Grizzlies baseball games. Supposedly, the man wouldn’t get off the phone and kiss his girlfriend for the Jumbotron so she dumped her drink on him.

Stories capture people’s imaginations. True or not, it’s a great way to get people’s attention for your brand. Just be sure that, if you try this, you do it in an ethical way.

Not all story marketing needs to be done by video, but video is a powerful medium, so knock your lights out.

If you think that having more web pages will lead to better search rankings or a higher PageRank, then you are mistaken. That doesn’t mean, however, that there is no benefit to having more web pages on your website.

There are plenty of small websites that rank well. I’ve seen one page websites rank well, five page websites that rank well, and websites with hundreds of pages that rank well. So what determines how well a web page ranks in the search engines?

Nothing but the content.

The only way to ensure that your web pages rank highly in the search engines is to follow SEO best practices. If you do that, there’s no guarantee that you’ll take over the No. 1 position for every keyword that you are tracking, but your chances are higher if you follow the best practices recommended by the top SEO experts.

Also, if you have more pages on your website, then that simply means you have more opportunities to rank well – but only if you follow those SEO best practices.

In short, you have to follow the best practices for quality SEO on every web page on your website, whether you have one web page or 1,000. It’s those best practices that determine how well you do, weighed against how other web pages also employ those best practices. Focus on good SEO techniques, not on building more web pages.

Yesterday, Bing announced the addition of some really cool features that should make it more competitive with Google. That’s not to say we can expect an immediate turn around in search market share, but Bing could gain 1% or 2% over a year with these new features unless Google responds with similar features. Historically, however, when Google follows, they choke. They are much better when they lead.

Here are the new features being offered by Bing now:

  • Discover TED Talks – TED Talks are very popular. If you search for a person who has given a TED talk, you’ll get a Snapshot pane with that person’s biographical information, including a list of their TED talks.
  • Famous Speeches and National Anthems – Listen to them online right from Bing’s search engine. If you search for a famous statesman, you can listen to famous speeches by that person with just one click.
  • Online Courses – Find free online courses from top universities.
  • University Rankings
  • Scientific Concepts – Search for a scientific concept and you’ll get the definition and explanation of it right in the search results, which is similar to Google’s dictionary listings and weather reports.
  • Historic Events – Looking for a historical event? Get information on it right in the search results.
  • Related People – If you conduct a search and get a string of snapshots, you can hover over the images of the people and see how they’re related to your search.
  • Animal Research – Search for an animal and get a list with images of subspecies of that animal.
  • Ask Bing – Ask Bing a question and get the answer in the search results.
  • App and Software Downloads – If you’re searching for a piece of software or a particular app, Bing will point you to the safest websites for download.

All of these are useful for searchers, but how will they assist Internet marketers in putting their products and services in front of potential customers? We encourage you to play with these features on Bing and get familiar with them. Then you can put together a strategy for improving your search rankings based on how Bing appears to rank pages for these particular searches.

On November 26, 2013, ICANN opened up the sunrise period for purchasing new domain names on brand new top level domains. The period ends on January 24, 2014.

The sunrise period is a 60-day period where trademark holders can register claims to a particular domain name based on their ownership of a trademark. For instance, Google might seek to purchase google.blog, or Amazon may go after amazon.blog. Trademark issues for domain names are tricky because there could be a conflict between two or more companies with similar trademarks seeking the same domain name. ICANN has a separate process for these disputes.

After the sunrise period, there is a pre-registration period where people clamoring for domain names can pay a premium price for them – if they have enough money.

Finally, after the pre-registration period, there is the open enrollment period where it’s first come-first serve for everyone else. The problem is, unless you are on a watchlist, you won’t know which TLDs are in which stage of the process. There are more than 500 of them.

When the .blog domain name extension hits the pre-registration and open enrollment stages, I expect a big land rush. That’s because blogging is the popular branding and marketing tactic of the moment.

Here’s the question: Should you purchase a .blog domain name? If you’re doing it strictly for SEO reasons, I’d say save your money. For instance, if you think that having lawyer.blog is going to help your blog rank any better than sandiegolawyer.com (as an example), then you should think again. It isn’t likely to happen.

The search engines use hundreds of ranking signals. The domain name is just one of them. And no TLD has an advantage over any other. Some people argue that .com domains have an advantage, but there’s no direct evidence of that (although you could point to plenty of anecdotal evidence).

Long story short, if you want a .blog domain for SEO purposes, then you should save your money. If you have a legitimate branding purpose in mind, then it’s worth thinking about.

One of the most important aspects of running a business – any business – is data. Actionable data. You need information on which to base sound decisions that lead to increased profit. That’s what Web analytics is about.

If you’re a local business, you have to realize that every piece of content you publish online is available to anyone on the Internet.

While you could block Internet traffic from other countries and regions, you don’t want to. What if someone who lives locally to you takes a vacation in Europe and tries to visit your website to plan their re-connection with you upon their return? A better plan is to use analytics to track your local traffic and measure your results where it counts.

Google Analytics allows you to create custom reports just for that purpose. Why not create a custom report in your analytics package that gives you the important metrics that are important to your business.

Another aspect of local business is mobile marketing. This is especially true for certain sectors, like restaurants and tourist destinations. Are you measuring your mobile traffic and other mobile metrics? Do you know how many conversions you get from mobile devices versus desktop and laptop machines? If not, you should.

Finally, you should be tracking offline conversions. In the pre-Internet days, that was easy. Today, when many businesses are focused on tracking website conversions, it’s easy to lose offline conversions in the shuffle. But chances are, your business is still converting walk-in traffic and other offline traffic. You should be keeping with it.

Analytics is about more than counting traffic and bounce rates. Learn how you can keep tabs of the important information relevant to your business.

Search Engine Journal makes a convincing case that marketers should tweet their content more than once. To summarize, here’s what one publisher found through a study conducted on Twitter:

  • Tweeting a blog post multiple times results in more traffic to your blog.
  • By tweeting the same content several times throughout the day you can reach people in different time zones. Our comment: That’s very important if your audience is global, much less so if it is local.
  • You can reach new followers with each tweet. Our comment: Even though local businesses aren’t concerned about multiple time zones, there may still be a benefit to tweeting at different times of the day as people often have different social and work schedules based on our 24-hour economy.
  • You cant test different headlines to see which one is more effective.

One thing I found particularly interesting is that the writer of the article mentioned that after testing several headlines she would go back and change the original title to a blog post. Here’s what she says in her own words:

When we see a big difference in engagement on a different headline like that, we usually go back to the original post and change the title itself (the URL never changes, just the heading of the blog post), so this can be a really useful learning experience for us, as well as helping us share our content with more people.

That’s not a bad idea. Maybe it’s time to rethink your social media strategy.

Google has a way of forcing webmasters to act a certain way or to move in a certain direction. If they don’t like a certain practice, they just tweak their famous algorithm to discourage the practice. It usually works.

The search engine has been really active in the last couple of years. There was Panda, then Penguin, and finally, Hummingbird.

What happened was webmasters figured out that the old link building practices were killing them. So they decided to try something different. Now, guest blogging is the link building practice of the day. There are some good reasons why guest blogging has caught on besides Google’s algorithms. One of those is because it just makes good business sense.

If you write a lot in a particular niche, why wouldn’t you go to a blog owner in the same niche and request to write a blog post for them? You’ll have direct access to their traffic, which you could then funnel to your own blog.

This is the real value of guest blogging – not the links. Inbound links are just pudding to top it off. Any time you do something for the link building value, you should ask yourself if there is another reason to do it. If not, then it’s probably a waste of time and money. Guest blogging has other reasons, which means it’s something you should be doing.

If you’ve heard that link building is a necessary component to a successful SEO strategy, then you’ve likely been listening to a search engine optimization specialist talking. Did that SEO also say that quality is more important than quantity? In other words, it’s not how many links you get but how good they are.

Link building is one of the more dangerous SEO tactics because if you do it wrong, it will cost you a lot of money and could cost you a lot of time with minimal or no results.

With guest blogging, you reduce your risk considerably. To be successful at ghost blogging, however, you need to focus your efforts on writing high quality content and publishing that content on websites around the Web. The sites you choose to publish your articles on are as important as the articles you write. Pay very close to the reputations of those other sites.

What you want to do is build yourself up as an authority in your niche. The way you do that is with high quality content published on high quality websites.

When you publish quality content on high authority sites, those articles will get shared and receive links. Those links will help your site and your authority ranking. Focus on quality and good links take care of themselves.

Search Engine Journal explains really well why you might be losing traffic to Google if you fall into a certain website classification. But it’s been our experience that even new websites aren’t getting as much direct traffic from Google as they used to. And that includes websites where Google is not providing direct information.

Nevermind why this is happening. The truth is, you can’t do anything about it. Except one thing: Seek alternative sources of traffic.

Now, more than ever, it is very important to seek website traffic from other sources. But what sources should you consider? Here are three specific sources I’d recommend for getting more website traffic besides Google search:

  1. Guest blogging – Much has been said about guest blogging. I won’t harp on the benefits. One thing is for sure, however. If you guest blog correctly, you’ll get more traffic to your website. Start with blogging on sites within your niche or that target the same audience you do.
  2. Social media – Google can’t control Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites. If you’re more active on these sites, you’ll drive more traffic to your website. You may also appear in Google search more for your brand name, which is a huge benefit. By the way, Google+ is included in this category, and you should know that Google+ is counted as a separate referrer channel in most analytics packages than Google search.
  3. Paid advertising – Google wants your money. They want you to advertise with PPC. That’s why they’ve made certain changes like (keyword not provided). Don’t get upset about it. PPC is a good traffic generator. Use it wisely.

I know what you’re thinking. PPC costs money, and that’s true. If you want a less expensive alternative, spend some time on social media. It’s growing in its payoff benefits.

Google Trends is a fun way to find new opportunities for keywords and subjects to blog or write about. If you’re not using it in your research, you might want to give it a go. According to Google, they’re beginning to improve the tool with a beta.

In other words, they’re incorporating some changes to deal with ambiguity in searches and search comparisons.

For instance, to use their own example, if you want to compare search trends for Rice University and Harvard University, then you need to narrow your search to beyond “rice.” Otherwise, you might get skewed results as Google will include trends for the tiny white food that some people say isn’t real food. That’s not what you want.

There are countless other examples where this kind of ambiguity can play out. Searching for celebrities or place names could pose a problem as previously Google Trends wouldn’t include misspellings. Now, it does.

Also, alternative search terms may be included in your findings when you use the search tool. That would be a useful feature too – if you could exclude the alternate search terms at will.

I think we should all spend about half an hour playing around with Google Trends this afternoon. Then, you can get back to work and produce more of your fantastic content based on your findings.

A few years ago, if you’d have asked anyone doing any kind of Internet marketing at all what their No. 1 referrer was, the answer would have been overwhelmingly “Google.” In fact, Google accounted for about 90% of all website traffic at one time. Today, that number is reduced drastically.

If 60% of your traffic is coming from Google today, then you’re doing well. Chances are, however, that you’re getting the bulk of your website traffic from other sources.

But what are those other sources?

For many website owners, those sources include:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • Craigslist
  • Third-party niche websites
  • LinkedIn
  • Pinterest
  • Google+

See a trend?

For many website owners, social media has risen to be the No. 1 referrer of traffic. If you are active on several social media sites, then you may have noticed that too. But more often than not, it’s not just one social media website that is referring traffic. It’s several sites delivering a portion of the traffic each.

In that climate, Google may still be your No. 1 referrer, but it isn’t a majority referrer. In other words, they may refer more traffic to your site than any other website but not above 50% of your total traffic. If you do get more than 50% of your traffic from any one source, then you’ve got a gold mine.

This is important to note for several reasons. You should put your money where your traffic is, and where your conversions are.

In other words, if your No. 1 traffic referrer is Facebook, no matter what the percentage is, then focus on converting that traffic to sales. If Facebook is your No. 1 traffic source but most of your conversions come from Twitter, then spend a little more time on Twitter. But don’t neglect Facebook! Instead, try to figure out how to turn Facebook traffic into sales.

It’s an age-old strategy. Put your investment where your payoff is. Re-invest in your biggest moneymaker and you’ll see your ROI go up.