Google Gamed by J.C. Penney?

dishonest dealingsThis Sunday’s (February 13, 2011) New York Times ran a front page story in the business section entitled The Dirty Little Secrets of Search.  The story discussed how J.C. Penney appeared as the number one result for hundreds of search phrases for its products.  In some cases, the J.C. Penney result for a brand name appeared before the brand name company web site – the example given was the phrase “Samsonite carry on luggage.”   J.C. Penney’s sales page for Samsonite appeared ahead of Samsonite.com.

J.C. Penney’s organic search results topped Google’s rankings for months, including the critical holiday season.   The Times researches determined that J.C. Penney’s rankings were due in part to incoming links from thousands of pages, many of which had nothing to do with consumer retail goods.   In other words,  somebody created a huge network of bogus sites that existed primarily to generate “link juice” that benefited J.C. Penney. [continue reading…]

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Search Engine Optimization Instructions…Directly from Google

SEO checklistBecause I spend a lot of my time tweaking and optimizing for the search engines my own sites as well as client sites, I have a good sense of the various strategies and tactics being discussed by SEO professionals as well as business owners interested in finding an edge.   Generally the strategies for achieving good results on the search engines are well known – produce quality content for a human audience, produce it regularly and figure out ways (tactics) to get other web sites to link back to you using descriptive link text.  I currently own or manage over 100 web sites and blogs, many of which appear on the first page of search results for several relevant keywords (search phrases)

The marketplace of tactics is a lot more fluid – methods to achieve your strategic goals change frequently.  Ten years ago, most web sites contained pages titled “recommended links” and there was even software available to automate this process.  Today, we know that Google and other search engines ignore pages that exist solely to exchange links and a much better tactic involves guest posting articles with links embedded therein. [continue reading…]

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Generate Backlinks by Commenting on “Do Follow” Blogs

blog comment strategyI recently read a blog post written by a marketing consultant who set out a strategy for getting backlinks pointing to your blog.  The strategy calls for posting thoughtful and relevant comments on authority blogs.   When done correctly, this strategy operates as a “win-win” – the blog publisher gets additional content in the form of your comments and you get a backlink to your blog or web site.

This all makes sense except for one glaring admission – you must find blogs with the “no follow” attribute turned off.  Otherwise your comments will not create any backlinks.  Ironically the marketing consultant who described the blog comment strategy had “no follow” enabled on his blog!

What is “no follow?”  No follow is an attribute that is now the default setting in WordPress.  It signals Google and some other search engines not to follow a hyperlink, in this case, your link text.   The blog publisher must turn off “no follow” in order to send his commenters a backlink.

In order to turn off “no follow” in WordPress, you need a plugin, which you can find by clicking on the link.  Install the plug-in and activate it and your blog comments will become “follow links.” [continue reading…]

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Why “Content is King”

The Internet Marketing educator who has most influenced me is a gentleman named Ken McCarthy, who is well known for his work producing the System Seminars.  Back in 2004, I attended my first seminar, where Ken and several other speakers offered up a basic rule that underlies successful commerce on the Internet – namely that “content is king.”

  • Content is king because your clients/customers/site visitors expect that your site will educate them
  • Content is king because clear, thoughtful and education content functions as currency and your customers will trade their time and their business for that currency
  • Content is king because new content is constantly being added to the marketplace of ideas – if you put up a 10 page web site three years ago that has not been touched since, there is absolutely no reason that anyone will assign any value to that content
  • Content is king because very bright people working late at night are constantly devising new distribution channels for that content – Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Digg, etc.   Content is so valuable to the publishers that the owners of these distribution channels will host your content at no cost to you because they know that the public demands fresh content.
  • Content is king because the Internet is primarily an educational tool.
  • Content is king because clear and concise writing is rare.
  • Content is king because human beings yearn to learn and to connect and the Internet offers a place for both.
  • Content is king because the Internet is like a television with tens of millions of channels – and good content helps you get found.
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How to Get Links to Your New Site

I publish several blogs about legal topics and have done so for several years.  My Atlanta bankruptcy blog, for example, has been around since 2005 and contains close to 300 posts.   It has a very solid search engine presence and links from this provide a significant amount of “link love” for the recipient.

Almost weekly, I get emails from blog or web site owners that go something like this:

I am in the process of developing a more substantial online presence.  I noticed your blog and that it receives a lot of traffic, and am wondering whether you would be interested in a reciprocal link arrangement whereby we link to your blog and website and, in return, you link to our website on your blog.  Our site is at _____.   We will be adding a “Resources” page that will include links and brief descriptions of useful sites for bankruptcy information, and would include a reference to your blog on that page.

Here is how I read this message:   “Hello, you do not know me but I see you have an established blog that has been around for 5 years, appears regularly in the organic search results and has a high Google PageRank.  I have a new website that has a few pages of content and has not yet been indexed by Google, Yahoo or Bing.  I want you to give me a site wide blogroll link from your site to help put my site on the map.  In exchange, I’ll put you on a “links” page on my site, when I get around to adding such a page.  I sincerely hope you don’t know that “links” pages are ignored by the search engines, meaning that a link from a “links” page is totally worthless.”

Not surprisingly, asking for a link from an established site when you have nothing to trade is a waste of your time and it is a waste of your potential link partners’ as well.

Similarly, if your site still contains a “links” or “resources” page, you are shouting to the world that you do not know what you are doing and/or that your linking tactics are vintage 1990.   With very few exceptions, “links” pages have no search engine value.  Next time you see one, look at the PageRank indicator on your Google Toolbar (or at PageRankLookup) you can check for yourself.

So what should you do if you have a new site?  Here are a few suggestions that would work for me:

  1. if you have another, more established site, offer a link from that site
  2. offer to write an article for your target site – but make sure that your article has some relevant, meaty content.  If you really want to impress your target’s editor, offer to write a second article that you will include on your site that contains a link back to your target’s site
  3. if you have friends or colleagues who have established blogs, ask if they will accept a post (written by you or by your target) that contains a link back to the target
  4. offer to write an article for the benefit of your target for EzineArticles.com or another major article directory.  Even better, offer to write several articles for multiple article directories
  5. offer to bookmark several of your target’s blog posts on one or more social bookmarking sites.
  6. offer to write reviews for Google local, Kudzu, Avvo if applicable
  7. offer to pay for the link back to your new site
  8. offer to distribute video content on behalf of your target on TubeMogul
  9. offer to record and produce a screen capture video for your target
  10. offer to translate (or have translated) one or more pages of your target’s site into Spanish or another language
  11. offer to write and set up an autoresponder series for your target on AWeber or Constant Contact
  12. offer to buy 50 stock photo credits at iStockPhoto or another stock photo site
  13. offer to locate 5 or 10 badges for your target’s blog – badges are seals that look like awards that may help a blog’s credibility
  14. offer to record an interview with your target and to provide target publisher with the audio file

Generally, put yourself in the shoes of a busy blogger – what can you do to help your target blog publisher save time?  Any other ideas about what a new site owner can offer an established site owner to justify a valuable link?

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Tips for Search Engine Success

A topic that could never be covered enough when it comes to SEO: How to get the best results from search engines. Not only are search engines free, but they drive the majority of visitors to your site. Statistics show that your site is seven times more likely to be visited through a successful search engine search than by a pay-per-click ad.

These are some of the most effective strategies to get the best results with search engines:

1) Speak Your Audience’s Language – This means use the exact words and phrases that your visitors would type into search engines. Don’t use scientific or unfamiliar jargon when writing about your products or services on your site. Make your phrases simple and use common words to describe your product or service. When people use a search engine, they most commonly describe what they’re trying to achieve, or what problem they are attempting to solve rather than your specific product or service, which may not be popular yet.

2) Make Search Engines Happy – Once you speak your audience’s language, it’s important to appear high on the search engine results page to increase your visitors. Certain information can be used in your site to appeal to the search engine spiders, which will be determining your rank. Search engine spiders like keywords that are relevant, valuable, descriptive, and informative.

Spiders look at your title tag first to figure out what your site is about, and because it also appears in the actual search engine results, it’s important that your title tag appeal to both potential visitors and the search engines. Include your most important keywords in your headlines and use them again in your content to show search engines that your site’s content is all related and relevant.

Organization is also very important to search engines. Trying to trick search engines by including words that are not relevant but may increase your ranks will not work and will only anger the spiders. Make sure all your information and content is clear, relevant, and easy to navigate. In short, the more clearly you indicate what your site is through use of quality keywords, the better your chances are of getting higher rankings.

3) Continue to Update – It’s inevitable that search engine optimization strategies will change and search engine spiders will continue to get smarter and develop new ways to determine rankings. You must constantly keep an eye on your keywords and be flexible to making changes to make sure your site keeps its ranking.

Another good way of staying up to date is by adding a blog to your website. This is easily achieved and can have extraordinary effects on driving traffic to your site.

If you have any further questions about any of the above-mentioned techniques, please contact Rent-My-Brain or leave a comment on the blog.

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General Marketing Tips: Emerging Demographics to Know in the Current Economy

Men aged 18 to 24 have always been considered an ideal audience to market to. However, the times have rapidly changed since that target audience was conceived, and new demographics have emerged that are important to be aware of.

People’s actions differ depending on their economic situations. During the current economic crises, people handle their money differently. With less money to spend, marketing efforts must be directed to a new type of consumer. I am going to cover three new demographics that are important to understand for effective marketing strategies.

The Newly Frugal Person – These people are comfortable financially and have not lost their jobs or their homes. However, with all the news of endless financial disasters and the overwhelming depressed mood of the country, they are smarter with their spending. Rather than making purchases without thought, the newly frugal person examines their purchases closely. They will be attracted to goods that offer significant value and quality, rather than a short-term thrill. The newly frugal person is attracted to long-term, stable investments and wants to increase their savings to counteract the depressed mood of the current economy.

The Newly Cash Rich Person – This demographic differs between ages. The older of the newly cash rich have pulled their money from their investments and now have it to put somewhere secure, such as investment in real estate. The younger of the newly cash rich are people who have recently graduated from college, and while they know they should be saving money for their future, they want to spend a little for their enjoyment.

The New Entrepreneurial Person – A natural consequence of a recession is that people lose their jobs. Of these newly laid off people, some become entrepreneurs and establish bank accounts for their business, second phone lines, inventory, and spend more time meeting potential business partners and clients.

By understanding these three new demographics and what they are looking for, it is much easier to effectively target them. Broad audiences such as “men aged 18 to 24” will no longer work when financial circumstances play such a large role in consumer’s actions.

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Tips on local business marketing

One of the first and most important things you must have as a local business is a website – this is becoming ever more obvious these days. If you have a store or provide some kind of service locally, it’s incredibly important to be established on the internet.

For example, say a woman who works in Berkeley, California needs to make a copy of a key on her lunch break. She would do this by pulling up Google (or another popular search engine) and searching for “locksmith in Berkeley.” Google Maps would then show the business results that match her search in her neighborhood, where they are located, and links to their websites.

By searching in “Berkeley” the woman gets only results that are relevant to her. If she just searched for “locksmith” she would get millions of useless results from around the world that are of no help to her.

Local businesses do not need to compete with similar business worldwide, because their consumers are only in the same area as they are. Websites for locksmiths, chiropractors, flower shops, and local hardware stores only need to target their local market to have good rankings. Here are some tips to get top search engine rankings for your local market.

How to Use Keywords: If you depend on local business, using location-specific keywords throughout your site will help you get to the top of the search results in your target market area. The locksmith in Berkeley will want to include “Berkeley,” “San Francisco Bay Area,” etc. in order to get a larger audience, and also the exact neighborhood, street, and basically any term that local people may use when they make searches using location. I recommend making a directions page on your website that will use all of these location-specific keywords.

The use of location-specific keywords can even help businesses like law offices, chiropractors, dentists, you name it. Again, in such cases you will want to optimize your website with keywords such as “lawyers in Berkeley, CA,” and so on.

Show Contact Information: Make sure every page on your website includes your full street address and phone number with a local area code. This contact information not only gives search engines everything they need to pin point your location, but makes it easy for locals to find you as well. A technique I often use to make this happen is to simply put the address of my business in the footer or my website – which results in the address being seen on every page. This is because website footers often apply to every page of a website. Search engines definitely pick this kind of information up and it can contribute to your site being seen by Google as more legitimate.

Local Directories and Inbound Links: Search engines love it when you have links pointing to your website from other reliable sites. This is done by utilizing a number of techniques, including commenting on other blogs, using article marketing to market content related to your business, guest posting, and establishing relationships with other site owners who may agree to link to your site if you can provide something in return (perhaps a link from another one of your websites, for example). Local directories online – like Google’s local business center – are also a great way to satisfy this, and are also an easy way to publicize your site to local consumers.

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Building a marketing campaign based on emotional triggers

Throughout the history of marketing, a lot of highly successful marketing campaigns have been able to elicit an emotional response from consumers. This still holds true today, as companies try to produce an emotional response that will spring potential consumers into action. If you can successfully identify the emotional triggers that would connect you with your target audience, even you may be able to stimulate them into action to support your business/cause.

When consumers make the decision to purchase something, they typically feel something for the product or service and then act on those feelings. Just like a woman feeling attractive in her new dress or a man feeling confident in his new car, feelings are often the overruling factor in decision-making. Here are some common emotions that are seized upon in many marketing messages today. Perhaps you can seize on some of the following to connect with your target audience and stimulate them into action.

  • Fear is a common emotion used by insurance companies, video surveillance companies, etc. Your audience would be scared to not use your product or service. Ever seen the Brink’s Home Security commercials? These are a perfect example of this concept. Just search YouTube for “Brink’s Home Security commercial” and you will see what I mean.
  • Guilt is a common emotion that nonprofit organizations use by showing suffering animals or children that would evoke their audience’s sympathy. The Sarah McLachlan PETA commercial is a perfect example of this concept.
  • Trust is one of the most important emotions that will lead consumers to choose banks and credit cards with sayings like “no hidden fees.”
  • Value, as in getting a good deal, is always coveted by consumers. Companies can trigger this emotion by offering matching a better price on the same product.
  • Everyone wants to have a sense of belonging to a group. You can appeal to this emotion by marketing your product as offering a chance to be a part of a specific group.
  • Most people also have a natural sense competition in them, where they want to be better, or at least appear better, than their peers. This emotion is commonly used by companies that sell material goods such as cars, clothing, and jewelry. Similarly, consumers want to be trendsetters, and using celebrities is a good way to trigger the emotion.
  • Time-saving messages are important for today’s busier-than-ever consumers. If you’re selling a cooking tool, marketing it as a time-saving product will appeal to consumers who want to conserve their time.

This list could go on much longer, but I think these are some of the most valuable emotional triggers that can be utilized to create successful marketing messages today. No matter what the goal of your business or organization is, you can surely rely on some kind of emotional trigger to help elicit a response from your audience.

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Use the Relationship between Social Media and Email to Your Advantage

There is a perception that email is not as useful of a tool as it once was now that social media has taken over the internet. However, this perception is false.

Social media and email have a strong relationship, and multiple studies have found that social media users are actually more likely to see and respond to your email marketing message.

A study by MarketingSherpa found, for example, that social media users actually check their email much more than people who do not use social media. 42% of social media users checked their email four times a day or more, compared to just 27% of non-social media users. Therefore, social media users are more likely to see, and act upon, your email marketing messages.

Another MarketingSherpa study found that 75% of daily social media users said that email is the most effective way for companies to communicate with them, compared to 65% of all email users. Also, 49% of Twitter users said they purchased something online because of an email they received, compared to 33% of all email users. This makes sense, because typically social media users are tech-savvy and more likely to understand and use all the valuable tools the internet offers.

63% of the people surveyed by MarketingSherpa said they use the same email account for social media messages as they do for email subscriptions. This is also great news for email marketers, as they know their messages are seen and their audience is more easily accessible.

In previous posts I’ve covered how to provide content that is relevant and valuable to your target audience. If you supply this content to your subscribers, they are very likely to share it within their network. When a social media user shares your email message on a social networking site, your message then has the potential to reach the user’s friends, and then their friends, and then their friends. Social media provides the ultimate viral marketing. With very little effort, your audience just increased significantly because of one valuable email. According to Silverpop, email messages that are then posted have an average increase in reach of over 24.3%. Silverpop believes this a conservative estimate, and as social network usage grows, so will the increase in reach.

The bottom line: Get involved in both social media and email marketing in order to expand your audience and get the most out of your site.

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