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One area of business marketing that is growing more popular, as well it should, is the use of case studies.

Case studies are powerful marketing tools because they allow you to use the success of your customers for marketing your business. People love to listen to the testimonies of others. In fact, personal testimonies are powerful because they add credibility to your reputation as well as your products and services.

Even in today’s social media and search engine business environment, word of mouth is still the best advertising. A case study is an organized word of mouth campaign. And it’s very effective.

First, identify a handful of your customers who have used your product or service to solve a problem. Make sure they are a customer who had a specific problem to solve before using your product or service and used your product or service to solve that problem. Then have someone interview that customer to uncover the facts of their particular case. You can then write that customer’s story to highlight the benefits of using your product or service. It’s a valuable marketing tool.

Case studies can be used as free downloads or you can sell them as educational tools. Either way, you provide awesome benefits to your potential clients, who might be interested your brand.

Integrated marketing is a simple concept that is a challenge to implement, but it is one of the most important aspects of marketing a business of any size. Your first step is to develop your company’s mission statement and unique selling proposition (USP). From that, you develop your marketing plan.

It’s important, when establishing your overall marketing plan, to think about how each piece relates to the others.

For instance, you might have a great video marketing strategy, but how does that strategy work with your social media and e-mail marketing strategies? By making each piece work together toward a common goal, you can truly integrate your marketing so that you get more mileage out of every event.

There is no limit to how many different types of marketing you can incorporate into your integrated plan. If you can do it and you want to, you can integrate it. But you have to have someone available to manage the roll out.

There’s no sense running a paid advertising campaign, for instance, if you don’t have a qualified person available to manage your PPC accounts.

So assess your company for strengths, skills, and personnel assets, and take a look at your marketing budget. Is it feasible to do what you want to do? If not, where are the holes? Is there a way to fill them using outside resources? Take a full assessment before you begin your marketing plan and figure out how to integrate each piece before you develop it.

SEOs love to talk about link building. Everybody does it. The problem is, everybody does it.

Let me explain.

Yesterday, MOZ posted a blog post titled 31 Link Building Tactics Discovered From Competitive Analysis. That’s a great title. And a lot of the link building strategies recommended are real solid. But many of those same strategies are used by spammers, which is why Matt Cutts declared guest blogging dead.

The list contains all the usual items you’d expect on the list, such as:

  • Contests
  • .edu domains
  • .gov domains
  • Guest blogging

You get the drift.

The list also includes items that might not be relevant to all online marketers. For instance,

  • Eco-friendly causes
  • Student and minority resources
  • Offering a job

I’m not saying these aren’t good link building sources. I’m just saying they may not apply to all types of businesses or websites.

When it comes to link building, it’s important that genuine value-oriented marketers distinguish themselves in some way from the spammers. Matt Cutts and the Google web spam team are after the bad guys, not the good guys or the people with good intentions. Educate yourself on best practices and try to do the right thing. That’s how you do link building in 2014.

Since 2011, content marketers have learned a few things about publishing content online. First and foremost is this: Produce quality content, not rehashed ideas that have been done over and over again.

Content marketers stuck in the past are still talking about link building techniques. Many of those link building techniques still work, but not always. Some of them work well most of the time. Still, online marketing is not all about link building, and the sad truth is that most SEOs are talking about it as if it is.

So if isn’t about link building, what is it about? In a word, it’s about authority. Do you have the authority to back up your claims? Can you prove your authority?

There are different ways to prove authority. One way is to present social proof. That is, you are active on several social media platforms and constantly churning out great content. Another way to prove authority is through search engine rankings and search engine recognition. If Google considers you an authority, then who is going to argue?

After last year, many online marketers are at a loss as to how to win favor with Google. It seems like many of the things that used to work are now only producing meager results.

Here’s a hint: Focus on your readers. Make them happy. If your content is written for your readers, you stand a much better chance at making the search engines happy and leveraging social proof.

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.

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.

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’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.

Do you know which demographic spends more time on social networks? If you guessed moms with young children, then you’d be right.

It isn’t hard to figure out why young moms spend more time online than anyone else. Their children aren’t old enough yet to demand running around here and yon. Older kids have extra-curricular activities. Younger kids have diapers.

Young moms can put the youngster to bed for a nap and sneak away to Facebook.

But they’re not just talking to their friends either. They’re actually engaging with brands.

These moms also engage with more brands online and they say advertising helps them choose the right products for their children.

In addition to using social media to find products for their young children, moms also are active on mobile devices. In fact, they’re twice as likely to use their mobile phones to access the Web than the rest of the population. They’re also heavy users of their tablets for Web surfing.

All of that spells one thing: If your target market is young moms and you sell online, then you can have a heyday. Take to social media and look for those moms who are searching for products for their young children. It’s a great demographic to market to anyway, but it’s even better now that you know they spend more time online than their neighbors.

In a way, online marketing has come full circle. In the early days, you wrote articles and published them. That was it. Yeah, you might have purchased a banner ad on a related niche website, but were those really effective?

No matter how effective those early banner ads were (not very), you could always count on well-written and well-placed articles.

Over time, the definition of content has changed. In those early days of the Internet, pretty much all content was articles. You might have had graphics on your website, but they couldn’t be search engine optimized. So articles were the real content.

What happened?

The Internet grew, photos and videos became popular as the technology to implement them online improved, and millions of websites sprung up in every niche imaginable. The leading online advertising model became PPC advertising. It was very effective if you did it right. It still is.

But, there are many Internet users who developed ad blindness. It’s a very real phenomenon that causes people to ignore ads – even if they’re effective in every way.

It’s hard to ignore native advertising.

Native advertising is content that doesn’t look like content. If it does look like content, then it’s so effective that users will still click to view it even knowing that it’s an ad. It’s content even if it’s advertising. The reason this works is because users really care about great content, even if it’s advertising.

If you do any online marketing at all – whether you are an online retailer or a brick and mortar store owner – then you should reflect on these 10 holiday shopping stats, courtesy of Constant Contact.

  1. 28% of consumers are likely to shop on Thanksgiving Day
  2. 90% of retail sales are projected to occur in brick and mortar stores
  3. Holiday spending is expected to increase by 11% this year and online sales by 15.1%
  4. 66% of Black Friday purchases last year were the result of a social media interaction
  5. 64% of holiday shoppers have bought something because of a post they saw on Twitter versus 39.3% on Facebook
  6. Mobile is expected to have an impact on 87% of holiday purchases
  7. 25% of consumers last year purchased gifts from a retailer they had never shopped with before
  8. 67% of consumers have purchased a gift they saw on social media
  9. 64.8% of shoppers use social media to find the perfect gift
  10. 67.2% of consumers are most likely to share digital coupons on social media and 63.4% are most likely to share a holiday contest or giveaway

If there is anything to take away from this survey, it’s this: Social media is a necessary component to online promotions for holiday shopping, and no retail store will be unaffected by online shoppers this year. If you own a retail business, you should have an online marketing strategy that includes social media and mobile.

Is your video marketing plan written out or does it consist mainly of you throwing paint against the wall?

This is not a question in a vacuum. It’s a question that deserves an answer. With all the video marketing options available to online marketers today, there’s no reason not to write out your plan and follow your plan as you implement it.

That doesn’t mean your plan won’t ever change. Businesses go through evolutions. That’s expected.

Think of it as like a business plan for your video production team. Your goal is to drive traffic and increase conversions through video distribution. Your plan should address, at a minimum, the following methods and strategies.

  • How often you will produce videos and what quality they will be (include your budget for production)
  • Where you will distribute your video
  • Will your videos be used on your own website?
  • How will you promote your videos?
  • What purpose will your videos serve for each marketing demographic you target?
  • How do your videos fit into your sales funnel cycle?

Video marketing is not a marketing strategy so much as it is a piece of your overall marketing portfolio. It should work together with other marketing efforts to drive traffic and engagement. If it isn’t doing that, it is likely ineffective.

Every now and then you’ll hear an Internet marketing guru, or some blogger will write about, the most essential Internet marketing strategies. The idea is to tell people what strategies for marketing online they should be using right now. There is one major flaw in most of these lists or proclamations. That thing is the variability factor.

I wouldn’t say there is any ONE thing that is more important than everything else. Most marketing strategies have their place. The question is, how can YOU employ them effectively in your overall marketing strategy?

Not all businesses are the same. Some will benefit from a hefty social media campaign and others would do well with a strong pay-per-click strategy. Rarely is a case of either/or. That is, to be successful at marketing your business online, you either have to do XXXX or you have to do XXXX. That’s not the case.

That said, most recognized online marketing strategies have at least some value for most marketers. Your ability to put together an overall strategy using the proven tactics that others have used before you means that you have a unique opportunity to position your brand in a powerful way. There are likely as many paths to success as business plans. Your job is to find a path that works for you, fits into your budget, and can take you from Point A to Point B in your marketing strategy.

When you hit upon a successful marketing strategy, you’ll know it. You won’t have to blame it on someone else’s predetermined path.

One of the most important things you need to do as an online marketer is ensure you’re reaching the right audience. Whether you engage in pay per click marketing, social media marketing, or something else, you need to make sure you are targeting the right audience. That’s where personas come in.

Before you even start marketing, you need to develop a list of your target markets. I don’t mean generic lists like “CEOs and small business owners.” I mean, specific narrow personas that you intend to reach through your marketing efforts.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you have developed a new technology for airplanes to help them fly more efficiently. Who would be in the market for this technology?

Obviously, you’d market your new technology to major airlines, right? But what about small and regional or private air pilots and airplane owners? If your technology is out of their financial reach, then they may not be in your market, but if it is affordable to them, could they benefit? Does the technology fit specific types of airplanes, such as jet planes or cargo planes? Then perhaps manufacturers of those planes would be your market. Write down the specific person at the company you would speak to about your product if you want to sell it. A short list:

  • Chief production engineer
  • Flight tester
  • Chief executive officer
  • Maintenance chief

For each person on your list, write a bio. What are they interested in? What features and benefits are they most interested in?

Personas are important in marketing because those people who fit those personas are your market. Not all of them will be decision makers. Some of them could be influencers. You still want to speak to them, but before you can know what to say you have to know what they want. That’s why you create personas.

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.

It finally happened. People are now spending more time online than they are on television, and it’s all because of their mobile phones. Actually, it’s all mobile devices. That includes smartphones and tablets.

It’s interesting that online usage (computers and laptops) has remained steady since 2010 while mobile non-voice usage has steadily increased.

By the same token, TV viewing has remained pretty steady. It’s only because mobile usage has increased that total online activities have surpassed TV viewing.

Getting into the nitty-gritty of mobile usage, smartphones and tablets are running neck and neck in 2013. Both technology options have run neck and neck since 2010 with feature phone usage remaining steady. Since both smartphone and tablet usage has increased by more than an hour per day each, the percentage of feature phone usage has dropped to just 7.7%.

Why is any of this important? It’s important because marketers will have to decide where to spend their marketing dollars next year and the year after that. I don’t think mobile phone usage is declining any time soon. Smartphones and tablets will only become more popular.

If you haven’t started thinking about mobile marketing options yet, then you need to start thinking about that right now. QR codes, target=”_blank”>responsive web design, and SMS text messages are just three of your options. There are plenty more. But one thing is clear, mobile marketing is becoming more important.

This is an interesting experiment. Twitter marketing at its finest.

Actually, it’s book marketing using Twitter as the medium and the main character in a work of fiction as the medium. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether or not this is effective book marketing and whether or not this is the future of book marketing. Let’s see what we can learn from it for business purposes.

Do characters work? On the whole, I’d say no. But I can see a scenario where they might.

Let’s say your business has a mascot. It’s a well known mascot. Your target audience knows who it is. For instance, the Dallas Cowboys has a mascot named Rowdy.

Suppose Rowdy had his own Twitter account.

Wait a minute. He does have his own Twitter account. And his own Facebook page too.

Rowdy has his own character’s voice, even on Twitter. Which is cool.

So if your business has a mascot, you could create a Twitter account for your mascot and use it as a platform to give your mascot a character’s voice. Instead of using it as a marketing tool where all you do is post links to your products (which would be boring), you could use it as an entertainment platform. Let your customers interact with your mascot through Twitter as if he was a real person. Give your audience entertainment value and you’ll see the rewards in a tangible way. That’s online marketing in the 21st century.

E-mail marketing services provider Constant Contact conducted a survey of small businesses and asked them how running their businesses today is different than it was five years ago. There have been some interesting findings as a result of the survey.

For instance,

  • 59% say it’s harder running a business now
  • 84% use more online marketing tools
  • 51% say it’s important to be a locally-owned business vs. 42% five years ago
  • 98% use e-mail marketing today vs. 64% five years ago
  • 87% use social media marketing vs. 10% five years ago
  • 72% expect revenue increases in 2013, however, 56% do not expect to hire new employees in the next six months
  • 55% say the biggest impact on their business in five years will be the economy; 18% say mobile and search marketing technologies

These certainly are interesting findings. The fact that small business owners are turning to online marketing tools to grow their businesses today means a lot. In five years, I expect that 84% to grow to over 95%, possibly nearer to 99% or 100%. If you look at the e-mail marketing number (98% of small businesses today), that’s where I’d expect all Internet marketing numbers to be in five years. I wouldn’t be surprised to see video marketing and mobile marketing to be a bigger part of the survey by that time.

What are your thoughts?

I’m surprised that the number of small business owners who see value in Google is so low. But I think Frank Reed’s analysis is pretty sound. This is likely based on most small businesses having no clue what Google+ is.

Sadly though it goes even deeper because most don’t even have the knowledge of what Google+ is and why it can be valuable. Simply knowing what they are missing is the first step.

I disagree that Google+ is more valuable to large businesses than small businesses. That may not be what Frank Reed is saying, but it appears to be the case. This:

I would posit that Google+ is truly valuable to larger businesses. Why? Because they have the resources to take advantage of what Google+ offers a business in terms of its SEO efforts.

coupled with this:

But optimizing your Google+ presence requires the usual resources that most SMB’s struggle with which is people, time and money. SMB’s often don’t do what many see as what is best for them in marketing because they simply don’t have these resources.

is what I’m basing that on.

I do agree that Google needs to target agencies like Reciprocal Consulting. These agencies are the conduit between the small business owner and Google as search engine and Web portal. Google+ is a social network, but it is more than a social network. It isn’t Facebook or LinkedIn. There is an additional element of search that I think is lost on most small business owners.

So what’s that mean? I think it means that agencies also need to help small business owners understand the benefits of Google+. Those benefits are something akin to social + search. Even then, I’m not sure that gets to the heart of it.

According to Constant Contact, LinkedIn is getting more graphic. This is a good deal for LinkedIn users, and if you’ve stayed away from LinkedIn because it was boring and didn’t seem to offer the same bells and whistles that other social media sites were offering, now you can jump on the LinkedIn bandwagon.

What makes this exciting is you’ll be able to upload videos, images, photos, and other graphics to each section of your LinkedIn profile. That will make your profile a graphic depiction of your resume and life right off the bat.

Savvy Internet marketing experts know that visuals keep people returning to your website and are more likely to convert once they are there. It’s been that way for years. So this new development at LinkedIn plays right into the knowledge and information that professional online marketers have been operating on for a decade, at least.

LinkedIn has been used primarily as an online resume service. Now, your resume just got a lot more graphic. But I also think the added visuals will turn LinkedIn into more than just a place to post your resume.

What do you think? Is this good for LinkedIn? Is it good for LinkedIn users?