Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Three Secrets For Thinking of Blog Topics

A common question we get from customers is: "How can I come up with engaging ideas for blog postings?".  This is a great question for several reasons.  As many of you know, a blog is an invaluable tool that can significantly extend the reach of your website.  The days of 'setting and forgetting' your website are certainly over.  Content is king in the game of getting Google's attention.

However, even more important than search engine position is the idea of building a sense of 'community' with your readers.  The power of providing interesting, engaging, and factual information on your blog cannot be understated.  In doing so, you build loyalty with stakeholders and prospective customers.  Each new blog posting is a nugget of information that helps inform your readers about a common topic of interest.

But this still doesn't answer the central question at hand:  what should I write my blog postings about?

Regardless of the industry you serve, there are three great sources of blog topics you may not have yet considered.  Here are the places we frequently recommend to look first:

1) Take a Look In Your "Sent" Folder - If you're like most companies, you spend a significant amount of time each day at your desk answering emails from customers.  Why not leverage some of the work you've already done by using this as a blog topic?  Now obviously you will want to remove any sensitive information and boil the topic down into more generic terms to appeal to your entire reader group.  However, it really is a great place to start thinking of winning blog ideas.

2) Pull Recent Organic Keyword Results From Google Analytics - Keeping a close finger on the pulse of your Google Analytics metrics is important.  However, many people are not aware that Google Analytics allows you to pull custom reports that provide more detailed information.  (To set up this kind of report in Google Analytics, click "Custom Reporting>Manage Custom Reports>Create new custom report".  Then make sure you include the dimensions "Medium" and "Keyword" in the report you set up).  Once you have exported this information, you will be able to see what words people are using to find your website.  Many times, you will find that there are several questions listed in the report.  These are questions that people typed into the search engine and stumbled upon your website.  The logic goes that if someone is interested in the answer to that question, other people will be too.  You can even use the question as the title of your blog posting, which could yield additional SEO benefits if the term is significantly relevant.

Google Analytics Reports Can Be A Good Source of Blog Ideas

3) Send Out a Quick Customer Survey - With all of the free tools that are out there (surveymonkey.com is a pretty popular one), it is really easy to throw together a quick survey that you can email to your clients.  Examples of good questions could be: "What do you feel differentiates our services versus other similar companies?" or "How could our product be improved to better meet your needs?".  In asking somewhat open ended questions like these, your clients will provide more candid feedback.  Candid feedback gets your creative juices flowing, yielding better blog topics.

As you can see, new blog ideas may be easier to come up with than first thought.  Start with the information you readily have and go from there.  Remember - it's all about delivering value to your readers.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Facebook Tips for Small Businesses

With over 500 million active users, Facebook has quickly become a crucial social networking tool that every small business owner should include in his/her marketing toolbox.  Why?  The quick and simple answer is that people spend over 700 billion minutes on Facebook each month.  Moreover, 50% of active users log on to Facebook in any given day and the average Facebook user has 130 friends.  Let's ponder this for a moment - 500 million (and growing) active Facebook users, 700 billion minutes spent on Facebook each month.  Doesn't that sound like a huge opportunity to reach a completely new demographic and expand your customer network?

The fact of the matter is that if you're not on Facebook, your business is falling behind competitors and missing out on a world of opportunities.  By dedicating some time each day to focus on your Facebook page, you can build brand loyalty by establishing yourself as an industry expert, connect with your customers by providing meaningful content, and drive qualified leads back to your website.  To help you get the most out of your social media efforts, we've compiled the following list of Facebook tips for small businesses. 

Facebook Tips for Small Businesses:
  • Create a Facebook Page (Not a Profile) For Your Business.  For those of you who are new to Facebook or unfamiliar with a Facebook Profile vs. Fan Page, here's the difference.  Fan pages are intended for business use.  Profiles are created by individuals and are used to create a personal web presence.  In fact, creating a profile for your business goes against Facebook terms and could result in your entire profile being deleted.  Another excellent reason to create a fan page for your business is that it can be part of your search engine optimization strategy.  Yes, that's right - Facebook fan pages are indexed by search engines!  So don't wait any longer, get on Facebook right now and start creating your business fan page - you won't regret your decision!
  • Build Out Your Fan Page.  Creating your page isn't enough - you have to tell everyone what you're about!  Be sure to completely fill out the "Info" tab.  This is your chance to tell your story - so make it intriguing!  As previously mentioned, fan pages can be very beneficial to SEO.  It is a good idea to do some keyword research and incorporate a few into this section.  Also, provide a link back to your website so people can easily find out more about your business if they are interested. 
  • Focus on Providing Meaningful Content.  Building relationships is what social media is all about.  In order to gain the trust of your intended demographic on Facebook, you will have to work hard at positioning yourself as an industry expert.  How do you do that?  By providing meaningful content that provides some type of benefit to your fans. Your success on Facebook will be dependent upon the content and overall experience you provide for your followers.  A goal for your business fan page should be to encourage participation from fans.  Ask questions, post images, upload videos, share industry news, start discussions, ask for opinions and feedback - ENGAGE your audience!  People want to interact with a real person, so don't be afraid to show your personality.  Facebook is not about selling your product - it's about conversing with customers and building long-term relationships.  Anyone who tries to "push their product" to fans every chance they get will quickly lose followers - and ultimately damage their reputation.  
  • Create Your Vanity Facebook URL.  After your business page has 25 fans, Facebook allows you to create a custom name to make it easier for people to find you.  For example, the URL before creating a custom name would be something like https://www.facebook.com/pages/nameofcompany/112920132101398 and after would be https://www.facebook.com/nameofcompany.  To get started creating your custom Facebook name, go to http://www.facebook.com/username/.
  • Use Custom Facebook Landing Pages.  A landing page acts as a welcome page to visitors that are not yet your fans.  Instead of seeing your Wall, new visitors are greeted with a nicely designed landing tab that introduces your page, gives information about your business, and shows a call to action to "like" your page.  Landing tabs are very beneficial to business fan pages as they encourage the visitor to "like" the page before going any further.  For more information on creating custom landing tabs, refer to http://mashable.com/2010/02/22/build-facebook-landing-page/.
  • Join Groups.  Joining Facebook groups related to your industry is an excellent way to network and build your reputation.  However, you must do more than just join - you've got to participate!  Remember, it's all about building relationships.  Taking the time to actively participate in groups and share your industry knowledge can really pay off in the long-run!
  • Be Consistent - Use Social Media Tools to Manage Your Updates.  It is important to stay consistent with how often you interact on your Facebook page.  Yes, managing Facebook updates, Twitter Tweets, and other social media accounts can be quite the headache.  However, there are many tools out there that streamline this process for you.  One that I particularly favor is HootSuite.  HootSuite is a social media dashboard that allows you to monitor and post to multiple social networks at the same time.  If you're looking for a tool to save you some time - HootSuite is worth checking out. 
  • Be PATIENT - Building your fan base will take time and a lot of hard work.  Don't expect it to happen overnight - because it won't.  If you focus on providing value-added content and building relationships, you'll be well on your way to growing your network.
With so many people actively participating on Facebook each day, the networking opportunities that exist are limitless.  If your business is not on Facebook, don't waste any more time pondering the decision.  Facebook is a very powerful tool that, if used correctly, can help you establish yourself as an industry expert, build long-lasting relationships, and even drive traffic to your website.  Remember the tips that we've outlined here and you'll be off to a great start!

    Saturday, April 2, 2011

    Article Marketing - Developing Meaningful Content for Your Community at Large

    As a business owner, keeping customers informed and educated on the latest trends within a respective industry is crucial. While this can be a time consuming process, social media tools and other marketing outlets such as online blogs are making it easier for businesses to connect with consumers. Another simple and effective way to educate your audience and ,at the same time, build a higher level of credibility among your customers is article marketing.

    Article marketing is an essential tool that all businesses should incorporate into their promotional toolbox. It is completely free of cost and is a proven technique to yield real results - TRAFFIC. So what exactly is article marketing? As the name suggests, article marketing means marketing yourself or your business by writing keyword-focused, information-based articles and posting them to article syndication sites. These syndication sites allow you to include a resource or bio box at the end of each article where you can promote someone or something. The bio box is very important because it is where you can market your business and provide a direct link back to your organization's website. Once your articles are published, they become visible for everyone to read and sometimes even reuse. The goal is for the content you post on syndicated article sites to become "link bait" for other sites. For example, let's say you run a business that sells wood floors. If you write an article about refinishing your wood floors, others who may want to write about refinishing wood floors may link to your article, gaining you increased exposure for your writing and your subject matter and providing you with a higher level of credibility among readers.

    Benefits of Article Marketing
    Now that you have a better understanding of what article marketing is, let's take a look at some of the benefits associated with article marketing.
    • Helps You Build Expert Credentials in Your Field - The more consistently you write about useful topics that your readers are interested in, the more likely readers will follow your articles and link back to your content. As readers link back to your content and share your articles, you achieve a higher level of exposure for your business and become a trusted source of information for your followers.
    • Positive SEO Impacts - Before drafting your article, it is crucial to research keywords that relate to your topic. Tools like KeywordSpy.com can significantly help you in your quest to find relevant keyword phrases that will generate traffic for your article. Using keywords in your article helps make your content more "searchable" in search engines like Google and can greatly boost your SEO. Likewise, article marketing can benefit your SEO campaign by increasing the amount of links pointing to your website. This process, as mentioned above, is referred to as "link bating" and occurs when other authors link their articles back to your published materials. This increases your visibility and can help you rank higher in the organic search results.
    • Good Karma...Give and You Shall Receive - One should view article marketing as an investment. By consistently publishing useful and relevant information, you are increasing the public's knowledge. Yes, it takes time and effort on your part. However, you are giving your customers a steady flow of information that they can learn from...and hopefully begin to trust. This eventually leads to more followers, which means more exposure for your company, and more potential customers. The pay back will be better than what you gave.
    • It's Free!  

    Creating a Good Article Marketing Article 
    Simply posting an article that may or may not relate to your reader's needs and wants will not bring you the exposure that you so desire.  Composing a relevant and meaningful article that will catch your audience's attention and keep them wanting more takes a bit of skill and strategy on your part.  Here are some important steps to follow when drafting your article to ensure you get the most from your published content.
    • Step 1 - Identify Your Topic - Consider the needs of your consumers and ask yourself questions that your audience may be seeking answers to.  What problems do they need solving?  What kind of tips could your customers benefit from?  Are there any new trends/products in your industry that your clients could use or may be interested in?  The key here is that your article must provide some kind of benefit for your readers.  
    • Step 2 - Research Keywords - As previously mentioned, keyword research is an important step in drafting your article.  Use online keyword tools to find relevant keyword phrases that will increase the search-ability of and traffic to your article.
    • Step 3 - Outline Your Article - Organize your thoughts and plan out the major elements you want to discuss and the keywords you will use.  Focus on the following:
      • The Title - Arguably the most important part of your article, the title should grab the reader.  It should tell your readers what the article offers in the first three or four words. 
      • The Body - Syndicated article sites want good content.  Most won't even publish your material if it is not well written.  Take the time to proofread your article and make sure there are no formatting errors.  A good practice when writing your content is to put the most important information near the top of the article and keep sentences and paragraphs short.  Keep in mind that once your articles are published they are visible to the world.  Poorly written articles with grammar and spelling errors will reflect negatively on your business.
      • The Resource Box - This is where you can promote your company.  Be sure to include your name, web address, your sales pitch, and a call to action.  The sales pitch should be a brief statement of what you have to offer and what's in it for your reader.  The call to action should encourage readers to visit your site or whatever action you want them to take.
    • Step 4 - Identify Other Expert Resources/Sites/Sources - Always give credit where credit is due.  Site the sources you have used to develop your content.  Likewise, you can also link your article to other expert resources to support your cause.  
    • Step 5 - Submit Your Article to Article Directories - There are hundreds of article directories to choose from.  A few that we suggest are: 
      • EzineArticles
      • GoArticles
      • IdeaMarketers 
    Get Noticed...Try Article Marketing
    Article Marketing is a simple concept, but it does take some time and effort to achieve the results that you may desire.  If you haven't tried article marketing, we strongly suggest that you take a chance and try it.  After all, if you take the time to compose well-written, informative articles that benefit readers within your industry, it can only help your cause.  Furthermore, it's free marketing!  Be consistent in the quality and amount of articles you publish.  Focus first on providing great content based on keywords...and SEO will follow. 






    Thursday, February 24, 2011

    Maintaining a Positive Public Relations Image Through Press Releases

    Many business owners often underestimate the impact that a well written press release can have on increasing exposure and improving public perception of their company.  For some, the thought of writing a press release has never even crossed their mind.  Does this mean that they don’t have any exciting news to share about their company or new products to promote?  Absolutely not!  However, what it does mean is that they are missing out on a FREE opportunity to tell the world about their products and/or services and reach a much broader client base.  In this article, we will discuss the importance of press releases, explain how they can benefit your company, and also provide a few tips for optimizing your press releases for search engines.
      
    The Importance of a Press Release
    You may be wondering if writing a press release is really worth your time.  The simple answer is YES!  The purpose of a press release is to increase the visibility of your company and educate the public on your goods and/or services.  Essentially, your goal is to provide a better understanding of what you do and what you have to offer.  Composing a good press release and submitting it to the right publishers can result in a significant amount of press coverage.  As the news about your business spreads throughout the different media channels, public awareness grows which converts itself into potential new customers.  Keep in mind, this is free visibility.  Press releases cost nothing if you write them yourself and submit them to the many free publishing sources available online (e.g. free-press-release.com, prlog.org).  If you take the time to carefully construct a well written, attention grabbing press release and get it to the right sources, you are sure to benefit from this marketing opportunity.

    Furthermore, press releases play a vital role in helping you build credibility as an expert in your field.  Most consumers prefer reading press releases because they contain useful information about a business or a new product or service, rather than some meaningless advertisement or marketing offer.  The more people see your name in print or hear about your business, the more important your professional opinion becomes.  Having the title of "industry expert" associated with your company helps to build trust between you and your customers, resulting in a higher level of brand loyalty.  Along with building credibility, press releases also help to build name recognition.  As the number of press releases you publish increases, so will the number of people who remember your name.  That, in turn, will lead to word of mouth referrals (which again, is free exposure).

    How Press Releases Can Benefit Your Business
    Now that you have a better understanding of the importance of well written press releases, let's take a look at some of the ways they can benefit your business.
    • Boost Your SEO Campaign - A huge advantage of submitting press releases online is that they can help with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and drive traffic to your website.  As discussed in our last blog posting, SEO refers to the process of increasing the visibility and online traffic to a website by making it higher up in the organic search results.  Publishing frequent press releases can help expand your SEO campaign by:
      • Providing Fresh Content - Search engines are constantly "crawling" the web looking for new content.  By publishing press releases, your are continuously providing fresh content. Fresh Content = Frequent Indexing.  
      • Improving Your Rank - When you launch a press release, you can (and should) include a link back to your website.  Submitting this press release to many different publishing outlets sends that link across the internet.  The more inbound links that you have pointing  to your site, the more frequently search engines like Google and Yahoo! will visit your website.  As search engines visit your site more often, you can achieve higher organic  search result rankings based on the content you provide. 
      • Expanding Your Website -  Search engines are partial to larger websites.  Publishing press releases will increase the amount of inbound links to your site and expand the overall scope of your website.  
    • Build Credibility / Improve Image - Writing and distributing press releases significantly helps with online marketing of your products and services. Within no time your products are announced on hundreds of websites when you launch your press release.  When people find out and trust that you know what your talking about, your credibility increases and you begin to be seen as an "expert" in your industry. 
      • Announce a New Product, Service, or Information - Keeping customers informed is crucial to the growth of a business.  Press releases are an easy and effective way to let your target market know about any new offerings your company may have.   By submitting your news to high profile traffic sources like Twitter, Facebook, Google News, Yahoo News, RSS Feeds, or Digg.com, consumers gain instant access to the latest news about your business.  The end result is increased traffic and exposure to your product. 
      • Provide Current Information for Sales Team - Sales people must always know the latest news and offerings of the company for which they are trying to gain customers.  Sales teams can benefit from press releases because they provide current information to discuss with prospective clients. 
      Press Release Optimization
      While press releases are an excellent way to share company and product news, you must ensure that they are optimized to give your SEO a boost, drive traffic to your website, and up your placement on search engine results pages.  How do you optimize your press release?  Let's discuss a few helpful tips to get you on your way to press release optimization.

      Start by evaluating your intended topic.  Does your topic benefit your target market?  Will they find it interesting or helpful?  It is crucial that the topic and content of your press release be newsworthy and beneficial to the group of people you are trying to reach.  Make sure the first 10 words of your release are effective, as they are the most important.  If your press release offers nothing of importance to your intended market segment, chances are they will never read it. 

      Focus on your keywords.  Choose the keywords that are the most relevant and related to your topic that will hep you with your SEO efforts.  Your press release should include at least 3 relevant keywords and they should be placed in following critical areas:  headline, sub-headline, and early in the body of the text.  Your choice and placement of keywords and phrases will help customers find your release on search engines and also improve your SEO.

      Add links in your press release pointing to your website's corresponding content.  As previously discussed, the more inbound links your have directed to your website the more search engines will visit your site.  This drives traffic to your website and helps boost your ranking in the organic search results.

      Think beyond text - add video!  Embedding a video into your press release could greatly increase the size of your audience since YouTube is the world’s third largest search engine.  Adding video is an interactive way to communicate with your customers and can add substantial value to the message you are trying to convey.  

      Press Releases...They're Worth Your Time
      While they do take time, effort, and a little technique to properly compose, press releases can send your marketing efforts soaring to the next level.  Just think, you can build credibility,  significantly boost your SEO, announce new products and other news, and gain free visibility by simply taking the time to launch a well written, optimized press release.  So, the next time you go to write a press release, keep in mind the tips we have discussed today and you will be well on your way to gaining that positive exposure that you so desire.


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            Wednesday, February 9, 2011

            Getting Your Business Found on Google: Paid vs. Organic

            There are so many tools a company can use today to generate site traffic and sales leads...  
            However, what is the best bang for your buck?  In today’s technologically-savvy business world, it is absolutely crucial to have a presence on the web.  Yes, it takes a little bit of time and money to get a website up and running, but it is an investment that will only help your business to grow.  While most companies in the 21st century do have a website, many are not reaching their full potential when it comes to online traffic and visibility.  
            Ideally, when a consumer does an online search for products within your industry, you want your business to be listed on the first page of results.  Why?  The quick answer is that consumers who shop online do so to save time and are therefore, more inclined to click on the first few links that appear rather than search through pages of results.  If your website doesn’t appear on the first or second page of results, there are two remedies for you to consider:  Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or Pay-Per-Click Marketing.  SEO refers to the process of increasing the visibility and online traffic to a website by making it higher up in the organic search results.  Businesses can choose to use SEO (also referred to as Organic Search) to increase their rankings or utilize Pay-Per-Click Marketing techniques (also referred to as Paid Search).  In this article, we will highlight the differences between Organic Search and Pay-Per-Click marketing, the pros/cons of each, and discuss marketing success stories that you can replicate for your business.
            Paid Search vs. Organic SEO:  What’s the Difference?
            It is important to understand the differences that exist between an “organic” and a “paid” search.  To distinguish between the two, let’s first take a look at where each of these can be found on the search engine.  As illustrated in the Google snapshot below, paid search results appear at the top (usually highlighted in a light pink box) and in the right-hand column.  These advertisements are sometimes referred to as the sponsored search results.    Organic search results will appear below the paid search ads as shown in the snapshot. 


            Paid Search (Pay-Per-Click or PPC)
            Paid searches work on the basis of keywords.  An online seller will bid on keywords that his potential customer base might type in the search engine.  The required bid amounts will vary based on the number of competitors targeting the category and search phrases that you have selected.  In general, the more popular your terms, the higher your bid will have to be.  The highest bidders receive the top ranking text ads on the search engine.  To illustrate, let’s pretend that your company sells baseball cards.  When a searcher types keywords into the search engine, the search engine will separate the paid listings from the unpaid listings.  If the searcher’s keywords match those that you have paid for, your ad will appear in the paid search section of the search engine.  As the name pay-per-click suggests, you only pay when someone clicks on your advertisement.  PPC can quickly help boost your marketing efforts and generate quality leads to your website.  However, to help determine if PPC is right for you, consider some of the advantages & disadvantages.


            Pros of PPC

            • Instant Results – PPC is the quickest way to promote your company and gets you noticed fast.  Achieve top placement for winning bids on keyword phrases in a short amount of time.
            • Track Your Success – PPC allows you to very closely monitor your ROI and track the keywords that consumers are searching for.
            • Short-term Affordability – You can control your budget based on sales goals.

            Cons of PPC

            • Lack of Consumer Trust - A study done by Marketing Sherpa shows that consumers do not trust paid listings as much as organic and less than 20% of buyers will even view a paid listing.
            • Long-term Cost – Paying for clicks over a long period of time can become expensive.
            • Fraud – Some studies show that 3 out of 4 advertisers are victims of click fraud.  Click fraud occurs when competitors click on advertiser’s links in an effort to increase an advertiser’s click through costs.  Approximately 15-30% of click throughs are believed to be a result of click fraud.
            • Less Relevant Search Results – Ads may not always be what the consumer is looking for.  This is especially true if the marketer has not properly set up their landing pages with targeted content and URLs.
            • Keyword Costs – Pricing for keywords starts around $.25 but top keywords can get exceed $15 and typically increase year-over-year.

            Organic Search Engine Optimization
            In contrast to PPC marketing, Organic SEO is a free method to increasing site traffic.  When a consumer does an online search in Google, the search engine’s job is to find the most relevant websites based on the keywords searched.  If your website fails to appear on the first few pages of search results, the chances of someone finding your site are slim-to-none.   Organic SEO is an ongoing process that will help ensure that your website is found when people search for keywords relative to your business.  For explanation purposes, we are going to break this process down into three fundamental stages:  Keyword Optimization, Web Page Optimization, and Link Building.


            Keyword Optimization, or choosing the correct keywords/key phrases, is a crucial step in the SEO process.  When choosing your keywords, be sure that they clearly describe the purpose and content of your site.  Take a look at your homepage and write down as many two or three word phrases that you can come up with that best describe your site.  Remember, the goal is to think like the consumer who will be searching for your products.  What keywords would they likely search when looking for products or services within your industry?  Once you have your list, you must then analyze the demand of your key phrases and choose the best ones.  There are many different tools out there to help you do this; however, we suggest using keywordspy.com.  KeywordSpy offers several different payment packages based on your budget.  If your budget is tight, you can even sign up for a “Lifetime Free Trial” just by giving them your e-mail address.  While the free trial does not offer the full capacity of the paid option, it does allow you to search for key phrases and gives you a detailed breakdown of the monthly search volume for your selected phrases.  In addition to telling you if your selected key phrases are popular, this tool will show you other key phrases that you may not have thought about, which may even be more relevant to your site.


            The second phase of the SEO campaign is Web Page Optimization.  This is the process of placing your key phrases in strategic locations within your website.  Key phrases should be included in your web page title/URL, keyword meta tag, description meta tag, and in the body of your page.  Placing key phrases in your web page title is critical because it is what the search engine will display as link text in the search results.  Essentially, it is the first thing searchers will see and must entice them to click on your link.  Likewise, key phrases must be used in the body of your page to help search engines find your site.  Key phrases should be used several times and be placed near the top of the page.  You should also keep in mind a concept called keyword density.  This refers to the number of times a keyword is used relative to the total number of words on the page.  For example, let’s say you have a page with 1000 words and you used a keyword 100 times your keyword density would be 10%.  Ideally, you want your targeted keyword density to stay between 3-5%.  One final thing to consider during this phase is the overall design of your web page.  Your goal is to make your page easy for search engines to navigate and most importantly call the customer to action.  A few tips to do so would be avoid Flash and JavaScript, create a site map, don’t use frames (search engines have trouble following them), optimize page content & relevancy, and have all of your internal pages link to your homepage.


            Link Building is likely one of the most important and frustrating challenges that website owners face during the SEO process.  The goal of this phase is to get your site linked from the best directories and from quality sites relating to your products/services. This is important because search engines like Google “crawl” the web in search of links to your site.  As the search engine finds more and more links coming from relevant sites your page rank will increase.  As your page rank gets higher, so will your chances of landing among the top search results.  So, how do you go about getting links to your website?  Here are a few suggestions:
            • Write and Submit Articles – Write articles on topics relating to your site and submit them to online article directories.  Be sure and link your website to the article.
            • Blogging and Blog Commenting – Start your own blog and write about topics that relate to your product/service and link it to your website.  Also, you can search the web for blogs written by others within your industry.  Try and find those that allow comments to be written in response to the article.  This is a great place to share your knowledge about a topic and also allows you to introduce a direct link to your website.  Just never spam other people's blogs - instead, provide meaningful, thoughtful insights that engage those in the community.
            • Social Media – Use tools such as Digg, Facebook, Twitter, & LinkedIn to promote your website and any blogs or articles your have written.  YouTube is another great outlet that can increase your web traffic and help you to build credibility.  MarketingSherpa.com highlights a business owner who was able to increase the number of searchers to his site by using YouTube to post videos related to hot topics within his industry.  Dan Tate, COO of The Concrete Network, has approximately 221 videos posted on YouTube.  Each video on YouTube has a link directly back to The Concrete Network’s website.  On average, his videos attract 3,000-4,000 viewers per day.   Of these viewers, approximately 500-750 actually click through to The Concrete Network’s website which is almost a 17.9% click through rate!  Mind you, results like this are not achieved over night. 
            As we mentioned earlier, achieving a high position in the organic search results is not something that will happen immediately.  It takes a lot of strategy, hard work, and time before you will see the results that you desire.  However, once you do make it to the top of the rankings, you usually stay there.  Still trying to decide if spending the time on organic SEO is worth the effort?  Let’s take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of this strategy.


            Pros of Organic SEO

            • It’s FREE (minus all of the elbow grease you put into it).
            • Long Term Results – Top placement in organic search is usually long-term once it is achieved.
            • Credibility & Trust – Being near the top of the organic search results (as opposed to paid search) gives your website an added sense of credibility since paid links are associated with advertising.  Studies show that 75% of search engine users trust organic over paid search results.
            • Click Conversion – A study from Marketing Sherpa showed that organic clicks converted at an average of 4.2% vs. 3.6% for paid.
            • 24/7 Marketing – Your company can be found on the web 365 days a year.  As opposed to paid listings which appear randomly based on how much money you have budgeted.

            Cons of Organic SEO

            • Rankings are not Immediate – As opposed to paid search, organic listings take a lot of time, skill, and know-how to make it to the top. 
            • Hard to Measure - Measuring and tracking your success can be difficult and require a deep understanding of tools, such as Google Analytics.
            • No Guarantee – With organic listings, your exact placement can’t be guaranteed.

            So What's the Bottom Line - SEO or PPC?
            The answer to this question is really dependent upon your budget and your time frame.  If you are looking for fast results and have the money to spend, pay-per-click marketing could be the solution for you.  However, you must keep in mind that paying for clicks can get very expensive and there is always the chance you will encounter click fraud.  SEO is a long term commitment that takes a lot of effort on your part (if you decide to do it yourself), but if done properly can send you soaring to the top of the organic search listings.  You may also want to consider implementing a marketing strategy that combines both of the two methods.  For example, use PPC for short term results and to identify keywords and phrases that lead to site traffic and conversions.   Once you have identified the popular keywords that are driving traffic to your site, you can implement these same key phrases into your SEO campaign for more long term results.  Whichever method you choose, if implemented correctly both SEO and PPC can lead to higher sight traffic and conversions for you business.  

            Saturday, January 1, 2011

            It's Official - The World Is Flat (At Least for Small Businesses)


            Employing over half of the private sector workforce and representing 99.7% of all employer firms, small businesses have a larger impact on the economy than one might think.  In fact, according to the U.S. Small Business Association, small businesses have generated over 65% of net new jobs over the past 17 years.   While owning and operating a small business can be very risky at times, there are many new tools that small firms can take advantage of to increase productivity and at the same time reduce costs.  In this article, we will take a look at how tools like oDesk, GoogleVoice, & Skype are making the business world a bit flatter and allowing small businesses to tap resources throughout the world like never before.

            oDesk - Global Outsourcing Now Possible for Small Businesses
            In today’s fast-paced economy, small business owners must think creatively for ways to save time, increase productivity, and reduce costs.  The internet has opened many new cost-effective ways for companies to conduct business.  One very beneficial tool that all small business owners should consider using is called oDesk.  oDesk is an online marketplace that allows businesses to contract jobs out to professionals of all specialties.  The oDesk marketplace is primarily made up of two groups:  Contractors and Employers.  Contractors are the professionals who specialize in a certain skill and are looking to provide a service for a fee.  Employers post jobs, conduct interviews, and hire the contractor to complete a job.  Once a contractor is hired for a job, the contractor logs in to his/her account and the oDesk software automatically tracks the time that the individual spends working on the project.  The software also takes periodic snapshots of the contractor’s computer screen and saves them in what is called a “Work Diary” which is accessible by both the contractor and employer.  This complete visibility allows the employer to manage his/her contractor and ensures that an hour billed is an hour worked.  oDesk is tool that is opening new doors for both small business owners and professional contractors.  Small business owners can now utilize oDesk to find talented individuals from all over the world to complete projects in a timely manner, which can be much more cost-effective than hiring a full-time employee.  The added accountability that oDesk provides with its “automatic work tracking” is priceless and gives employers the comfort of knowing that they are getting what they pay for.  Likewise, contractors now have a marketplace where they can search thousands of daily job postings and even work from the comfort of their own home. 




            Skype - A Staple for Any Small Business
            Technology is completely changing the way business is conducted in the 21st Century.  For example, let’s say you have a weekly conference call with one of your partner companies in Europe.  That two hour long-distance phone call to Europe each week can quickly amount to a huge bill.  Spending excessive amounts of money on phone calls is no longer necessary with the advent of tools such as Skype and Google Voice.  Skype is a software that enables businesses and individuals to make voice and video calls, send instant messages, and share files with other Skype users all over the world…absolutely free.  Skype can also be used to call landlines or cell phones for a very low cost.  That two hour, long distance call to Europe each week that we mentioned above can now be completely free if both you and your business partner set up a free Skype account.  And better yet, if you are both equipped with webcams, you can have live video conferencing for absolutely free.  With Skype, you can increase productivity and reduce costs without ever leaving your desk.  No more spending thousands of dollars on travel costs for “in person” meetings, you can get the same effect by using the video conferencing feature of Skype. 



            Google Voice - Landlines Are Now Irrelevant
            Another free tool that can help to reduce costs is Google Voice.  With Google Voice, you create a free “Google Phone Number.”  You then add all of your other phone numbers (mobile, work, home, etc) to Google Voice and set rules for the order in which your phones ring.  When anyone calls your Google number, it rings your other phones in the order that you determined.  No longer do you have to worry about missing important calls. Google Voice allows you to use one number to manage all of your phones.  Some other useful features that come along with Google Voice are:  free calls within the US, free call forwarding, free voicemail transcription (automatically transcribes voicemail to text and sends it to you in an email), and low priced international calls. 


            These are just a handful of the tools that are now available to small businesses.  Our company uses these, along with other great SaaS (software as a service) tools, every day.

            We're interested in finding out more about the tools your business is using.  Anybody want to share their secrets?

            Monday, November 29, 2010

            A Good Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

            What do you notice first when you visit a website or get an advertisement in the mail?  Is it the great deals they are offering?  Or do you immediately notice the overall visual appeal of the website or ad?  Whether you realize it or not, most people make an immediate judgement about a business' credibility, largely based on the graphical professionalism of the promo.

            With an increasingly crowded marketplace, a website and/or promotional piece must immediately catch the attention of potential clients.  Your website is a consumer’s gateway into your company.   If your business still uses outdated images for marketing purposes that look like they are straight out of the 90s, your target market will form a similar perception of your organization.  Don’t let this happen to your business.  You can give your website and/or promotional materials an overhaul just by choosing modern stock photography.  

            You may be thinking to yourself…what is stock photography and where in the world do I find it?  In this article, we will explain what stock photography is, where to find it, how you can use it, and even give you direct access to one of our favorite stock photography sites:  Dreamstime.com.    

            Stock photography refers to photographs, commonly found on professional stock photography websites, which can be licensed for public or commercial use.  Stock imagery may be used for virtually any purpose in marketing, advertising, or design, as long as it is not illegal or harmful and conforms with the user licenses as specified on the site.  As a cost-effective alternative to hiring an expensive professional photographer, many graphic designers, advertising companies, web designers, bloggers, and other professionals frequently use stock photography to fulfill their creative design needs.  

            In general, there are two types of stock photos that you need to be familiar with:  “royalty free” and “rights managed”.  When you purchase a “royalty free” image, you do not gain the exclusive rights to that photograph.  Typically, you pay a fixed cost and are granted the ability to use the image a limited amount of times, without having to pay multiple royalties.  These images are usually purchased by image size…the smaller the size, the cheaper the cost.  Royalty free images are affordable resources for smaller print jobs, such as a brochure, or for use on a website.  In some cases, you can even find stock photography images that are totally free to download. 


            With a “rights managed” image, you often pay for each use of the image and are granted an exclusive license for a certain period of time.  A “rights managed” image tends to be much more expensive; however, you are protected from other designers choosing the same image.  

            Let’s face it, in today's world, finding appropriate stock imagery can make or break a design.  If you blog, create online content, or design marketing pieces of any kind, you have probably faced the dilemma of where to find stock imagery that you can use for commercial purposes.  There are a lot of photography sites out there - at Keener Marketing Solutions, we prefer to use Dreamstime.  We have scoured the web and found that generally they have the best prices and have a great selection.  We have recommended this site to many of our clients and often get great feedback from satisfied customers.


            What stock photography sites does your company prefer?  We'd love to hear your thoughts.