What Social Sites Should YOU Be Using?

Most people know about mega-popular social sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. However, I get a lot of questions about other, underutilized sites that are on the tipping point of mass popularity—specifically, how these sites can be leveraged for marketing purposes.

Most people know about mega-popular social sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. However, I get a lot of questions about other, underutilized sites that are on the tipping point of mass popularity—specifically, how these sites can be leveraged for marketing purposes.

But before I go into that, I’d like to clarify the differences between various “social”-type sites:

Social bookmarking, news and tagging are sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Delicious and Pinterest. These websites allow users to “bookmark” things they like—content, images, videos, websites—and allow others in the community to see what’s been bookmarked and “follow,” if they wish. This is the epitome of viral marketing and community interaction. When groups of people are like-minded, it’s fun and easy to share feedback of things of common interest. For business purposes, it’s also a strong way to bond with your audience through content, news and images that are synergistic and leverage those interests for increased website traffic and more.

Social networking sites are communities like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus. It’s a way for groups of people to meet and stay in touch with each other, for personal and professional purposes. People can friend, follow or fan someone based on affiliation or interest. Another new site is Quora.com, which is a social question and answer site. Users can view by category and post questions or answers on virtually any business-related topic.

Social media refers to sites like Youtube, Flicker or Tumblr, where groups of users share media content such as video, audio or pictures (photos). There’s also new sites like Spotify.com, which are social music sharing sites, where users can listen to mp3 files themselves, as well as with friends, via Facebook.

The following are some social sites that you may want to include in your online marketing mix as well as some other tactical tidbits:

  • Pinterest.com is a social community where users “pin” (think of a bulletin board) things that they like. Quite simply, it’s a virtual pin board. Users can re-pin (which promotes viral marketing) or follow someone with the same interest. Pinterest is a fun site because it focuses on the visual element. You can leverage your keyword-rich content when you add your descriptive text to your “pin.” In addition, Pinterest asks for your URL, which will be a back-link to that webpage. This will encourage search engine marketing, branding and webpage traffic. Pinterest uses graphics, images (pics) and video pictures. And that’s what will grab community members’ attention, along with well-written descriptive text.

Important Tip! For marketing purposes, you can use Pinterest to promote your business or websites related to your business, such as landing pages, squeeze pages, product pages and more. What’s important to know is that if your website, or the webpages you’re thinking of pinning are flash (dynamic) webpages, you will be unable to “pin” it, as there’s no static images on a flash page for Pinterest to “grab” for posting.

So if you’re thinking about using testing Pinterest in your social marketing plan, make sure to pick websites or modify your own webpages to be graphic-, image- or video-rich. Also, like any marketing tactics you’re testing, make sure it’s in sync with your overall marketing plan and target audience.

If you’re target audience is an older crowd, then this may not be the best website, or channel, to reach them.

  • Quora.com is a great online resource community of questions and answers. If you want to reinforce yourself as an expert, you can search questions related to your area of expertise and post responses that are useful, valuable and actionable. If you have a legitimate question about any topic, you can post by category and view replies from others who may be versed in that field. Quora is a great way to create visibility for yourself. As well, it allows you to upload relevant back-links which encourage website traffic and linkbuilding.

Important Tip! It’s important to keep a steady presence on Quora. Stick to your areas of expertise (categories and topics). Make sure you have a keyword rich descriptive bio about yourself and include back-links to relevant websites. As with most all search, social and content marketing strategies—relevance and usefulness is key. All of these things help with credibility and branding. In addition, Quora’s pages are indexed by search engines and do appear in organic search engine results pages (SERPs). That, in and of itself, can expand your reach and visibility, which can lead to increased website traffic, which can then be parlayed into leads or sales.

  • Digg.com.com is one of my favorite content bookmarking sites. You can upload content “snippets” or news nuggets. The site will also pull in any images and well as back-links appearing on the same page as your content. Content can be given a “category,” so that the right readers will find it. The more popular your content (number of “digs”), the more people in the community it gets exposed to. Viral marketing and traffic generation (to the source website in the “digg”) are typical outcomes from this website. Reddit.com is a similar site, which allows users to upload a content excerpts (article, video, picture) and link to the full version. This is a great site to increase your market visibility and extend reach. It’s also a powerful platform to drive website traffic.

Important Tip! Use content that is “UVA”—useful, valuable and actionable, something newsworthy and/or interesting to your target reader. It’s very important to have a strong, eye-catching or persuasive headline that people in the community will want to read. There’s so much background noise on Digg that you want your content/headline to jump out at the reader. Also, include a back-link in the body copy you are uploading. This will help with branding, link-building and traffic generation. With Reddit, your content excerpt space is limited, so make sure to pick content that will not only resonate with the target audience, but also screams out to the reader to “click here” to read more. Then link to your full article, which should be posted on an inside page of your website.

  • Google+. Google Plus is Google’s attempt at social networking. It’s not as popular … yet … as behemoth Facebook (900 million users as of April 2012), but it’s got “teeth,” at around 90 million users. And because it’s Google, there’s some great search-friendly benefits built right in. For example, it’s indexed by Google, so your messages can get found faster. This helps with search engine visibility and website traffic.

Important Tip! For business purposes, you can share relevant information and personalize your “social” circles; thereby, targeting your message better for each group. It’s easy to share and rank (a combination of Digg and Facebook) content such as posts and messages. And there’s also a variety of sharing options like content, video, photos (similar to Pinterest, Flickr and YouTube).

With social marketing, it’s a matter of matching the content type to the most synergistic platform and audience. Social marketing may not be for every business. But I believe it’s certainly worth a strategic test. Just remember an old copywriting rule of thumb, which is “know your audience.” If you know who your target reader (prospect) is, then you can craft enticing messages and pick social platforms where those prospects are likely to congregate.

Most any social marketing site can be leveraged for marketing and business purposes. But make sure to keep your messages fun, entertaining, engaging and interactive. Because, after all, that’s what the “social” in “social marketing” is all about.

An ABC Introduction to Data Mining for Dollars: Slicing and Dicing Your In-House List for Profit (Part 2 of 2)

In my last post, I introduced the RFM method, an effective direct response strategy to slice and dice your list for better conversion rates. The “R” represented recency—how long your customers have been with you. Today, I’m going to talk about the other components of frequency and monetary.

In my last post, I introduced the RFM method, an effective direct response strategy to slice and dice your list for better conversion rates.

The “R” represented recency—how long your customers have been with you.

Today, I’m going to talk about the other components of frequency and monetary:

Frequency
This segmentation tactic is another way to break down your house list: by how frequently customers have bought from you. So once you’ve divided your list based on recency, you look at it in terms of your customers’ purchase behavior. First, you identify your multi-buyers—customers who’ve purchased more than one product from you. You then split this list further, segmenting out two-time, three-time, four-time (and more) buyers. Those who have bought from you most often have proven their loyalty and obviously like the products and services they’ve been getting from you.

So if, for example, you’re considering launching a new product with a high price point, these would be your best prospects.

Monetary
Finally, you look at your list in terms of money. One way to do this is to divide your list by the amount of money each customer has spent with you. You might, for example, assign a benchmark dollar amount, such as $5,000, $10,000 or more. Customers at that level make up your “premium buyers.” This is the group that has the most favorable LTV for your company. These are your “VIPs.” Once you discover who your VIPs are, you can design products or offers specifically for them. Let’s say you have some kind of exclusive—and expensive—lifetime membership club. You would market this to multi-buyers who also fall into your “premium buyer” category.

If you offer payment options to your customers, another monetary way to divide your list is according to the payment options they have chosen: monthly, quarterly, yearly, etc. This will help you determine the initial purchase tolerance of each group of customers and which ones may respond best to future price points. As you can see, by looking at your customers’ purchasing habits—recency, frequency and monetary—you can identify the best customers for certain products. And by offering a product to customers who are likely to want it, you can improve your conversion rates.

By using the proven RFM method and other data-mining techniques, I’ve seen conversion rates double and triple. I’ve also seen inactive subscribers’ open rates surge from 0 percent to more than 30 percent.

However, many companies that send emails don’t have the capacity for data mining.
Unfortunately, some smaller businesses or start-up companies typically cut robust email features and analytics for cost savings. Oftentimes, these companies save money using online email service providers that can certainly get the job done, but don’t offer segmentation tools that allow for list analysis, where you can dissect your database into subgroups or “buckets.”

So when you’re searching for an email service provider, try to project what your segmentation needs may be going forward and if data mining is a strategy that you’ll want to deploy.

Hot Tip! When looking at email marketing companies, make sure you ask if there’s a list segmentation or data mining feature that can easily be done through their email platform. Find out the level of segmentation capacity (how far the segmentation of data can be drilled down to); if certain segmentation features are a standard feature or an upgrade; and what those costs may be on a monthly basis. Sometimes it may be an additional fee, but will certainly pay for itself over time.

An ABC Introduction to Data Mining for Dollars: Slicing and Dicing Your In-House List for Profit (Part 1 of 2)

One of the best ways to build your online business is to build your list; that is, your “database” of potential subscribers, customers or prospects. This may not be as sexy as social marketing, as robust as mobile marketing or as challenging as search engine marketing … but it is a viable way to harness the power within your own “house file” to maximize your marketing ROI.

One of the best ways to build your online business is to build your list; that is, your “database” of potential subscribers, customers or prospects. This may not be as sexy as social marketing, as robust as mobile marketing or as challenging as search engine marketing … but it is a viable way to harness the power within your own “house file” to maximize your marketing ROI.

Today, I’ll show you how you can segment your database of names to boost sales, increase bonding and shorten conversion time. Data mining, list segmentation or strategic database marketing is basically the art of slicing and dicing your own in-house list of names for optimal performance. You do this to help increase the response of your promotional and conversion efforts.

You see, once you divide your list of names into smaller groups (known as segmentation), you can target your product offers and promotional messages to each of those groups. By customizing your marketing messages based on specific customer needs, you’ll be promoting products to people who are more likely to buy them. You increase your customers’ satisfaction rate as well as your potential conversion rates. And higher conversion rates mean more money for your company.

One data-mining model is the RFM method. It’s practiced by direct response marketers all over the world. “R” stands for Recency—how recently a customer has made a purchase. “F” stands for Frequency—how often the customer makes a purchase. And “M” stands for Monetary—how much the customer spends. Here’s how you can use the RFM method to help lift your sales.

Recency
Whether your house list is made up of people who signed up to receive your free e-zine or people who paid for a subscription, you can segment your database according to how long your subscribers have been with you. For instance, you can create categories such as: 0-6 months, 6-12 months, and 12-plus months. You would look at these groups as your hot subs (newest subscribers 0-3 months), warm subs (mid-point subscribers) and cool subs (those who have been subscribing to your e-zine the longest, 12-plus months).

Here’s one way you can put that data to use …

Let’s say some of your “cool subs” have lost their initial enthusiasm for your e-zine. You could cross-reference those names with their open rates. If most of these subscribers haven’t been opening your e-zine in six, nine or 12 months, you may consider sending them a special message asking to reengage them. These “inactive” subscribers are a great group on which to test new marketing approaches, new prices and new subject lines. Since this group is not responding to your current emails, why not use this as a platform to reengage AND test? Your “hot subs” are your newest, most enthusiastic subscribers. They are ripe to learn more about you, your products and your services. If you handle this group properly, you can cultivate them into cross-sell and up-sell customers.

For example, send your “hot subs” a special introductory series of emails (also known as auto responder series). This special series would encourage bonding and introduce readers to your e-zine’s contributors and overall philosophy. It could also tempt readers with specially priced offers. Sending an introductory series like this can not only increase the number of subscribers who convert to paying customers, it also increases their lifetime value (LTV)—the amount they spend with you over their lifetime as your customer. Hot Tip! Make sure to suppress the recipients of your auto responders from any promotional efforts until the series is complete to ensure more effective bonding.

If, instead of subscribers to a free e-zine, your house list is made up of people who paid for their subscription, the same segmentation process applies. You break your active subscribers into hot subs, warm subs and cool subs. You also break out “expires” (those who allowed their subscription to run out) and “cancels” (those who cancelled their subscription).

Cross-marketing to these lists is usually effective. The expires oftentimes simply forget to renew and need a reminder. And just because someone cancelled one subscription doesn’t mean they may not be ideal for another service or product that you provide. If they’re still willing to receive email messages from you, add these folks to your promotional lists. Once you’ve gotten these cancelled subscribes to open your messages, turning them into paying customers is just a matter of time. Most Internet marketers would have written these people off. So any revenue you get from them is ancillary.

Next time, I’ll go into Frequency and Monetary, the two other components of the RFM model. So stay tuned!

SEO Vs. PPC: 5 ‘Power Tips’ to Drive Organic Traffic to Your Website

OK, so you have a website. Blood, sweat and tears (as well as cash!) have gone into getting this thing up and running. You’ve used all your creative juices to get the words just right. And you added some nice graphics to make the site aesthetically pleasing. Now what? A website is of little use if nobody can find it. It’s kind of like having a telephone book ad with no contact information … it’s practically useless.

OK, so you have a website. Blood, sweat and tears (as well as cash!) have gone into getting this thing up and running. You’ve used all your creative juices to get the words just right. And you added some nice graphics to make the site aesthetically pleasing. Now what?

A website is of little use if nobody can find it. It’s kind of like having a telephone book ad with no contact information … it’s practically useless.

Mastering organic search ranking has proven to be a fundamental part of the online marketing mix. (By “organic,” I mean the “natural,” as opposed to “paid/PPC,” listing that appears when someone conducts a search on Google or other search engines. Optimal placement is typically within the first 20 listings or three pages.)

Search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO)—the ability to increase your site’s visibility in organic search listings and refine the content structure on the site itself—are critical for market awareness and customer acquisition.

An eye-tracking study showed that about 50 percent of viewers begin their search scan at the top of the organic listing results. Other studies show that about 70 percent of Web surfers click on organic listings before they click on a sponsored link.

Don’t let your site get lost in the Internet Black Hole, when there are five simple ways to help boost your website’s traffic and optimization.

1. Create online buzz about your site, product or service. You can do this by generating free online press releases. There are distribution services on the Web that offer no-cost packages, sites such as PRlog.org, Free-press-release.com and others. You can also post a link to your news release to targeted social marketing sites like LinkedIn (relevant groups), Facebook, Twitter as well as high-traffic blogs.

2. Initiate a relevant inbound link program. Set up a reciprocal link page or blog roll (a listing of URLs on a blog, as opposed to a website) that can house links from industry sites. Contact these sites to see if they’d be willing to swap links with you—a link to your site for a link to theirs. Relevance, rank and quality are key when selecting link-building partner sites. Search engines shun link harvesting (collecting links from random websites that have no relevance to your site), so these links should be from sites that are similar in nature to your business.

3. Give Web searchers great content and a link back to your site. Upload original, “UVA” (useful, valuable and actionable) and relevant editorial to high quality content directories such as eZinearticles.com, ArticlesBase.com and Goarticles.com. There are also more niche directories that focus on topics like health and investing. This is a great way to increase market awareness, as well as establish an inbound link to your site. Content should be targeted to the directory and audience you want to get in front of. There is also a syndication opportunity, as third-party sites may come across your article when doing a Web search and republish your content on their own websites. As long as third parties give your site editorial attribution and a link, getting them to republish your content is just another distribution channel for you to consider. For more information how to effectively master content marketing, search engine algorithms and Google updates, read my blog entry titled, “Is the ‘A’ in SONAR (article marketing) still a viable tactic with search engines and the Farmer/PANDA updates?

4. Website pages should be keyword-rich and related to your business.
Make a list of your top 10 to 15 keywords and variations of those words and incorporate them into the copy on your site (avoiding the obvious repetition of words). Search engines crawl Web pages from top to bottom, so your strongest keywords should be in that order on your home page and sub-pages (the most relevant on the top, the least relevant on the bottom).

You’ll want to do the same for your tagging. Make sure your title tags (the descriptions at the top of each page) and meta tags are unique and chock full of keywords. And your alt tags/alt attributions (images) should have relevant descriptions, as well.

5. List your site in online directories and classified sites by related category or region. This is an effective way to increase exposure and get found by prospects searching specifically for information on your product or service by keyword topic. Popular directories (like Business.com) typically have a nominal fee. But there are many other directories and classified sites (like Dmoz.org, Info.com, Superpages.com and Craigslist.org) that are free and can be targeted by location and product (offer) type.

Most important, before you start your SEO initiatives, don’t forget to establish a baseline for your site so you can measure pre- vs. post-SEO tactics. Upload a site counter (which counts the number of visits to your website), obtain your site’s traffic ranking at Alexa.com or Quantcast.com, or get your site’s daily visit average (from Google Analytics or another application)—and then chart your weekly progress in Excel.

Understand that with organic search, it may take several months for a site to be optimized and gain search engine traction … so be patient. You will eventually see results. And if you set up your website correctly to harness the surge of traffic you will receive, you can also monetize the traffic visits for lead generation or sales.

How ‘Frienemy Marketing’ Can Save Your Online (and Offline) Business

With the economic climate as crazy as it’s been, now more than ever businesses large and small are looking for creative ways to increase visibility, sales and leads. One effective way is to leverage the relationships with your ‘friendly’ competition. By friendly, I mean synergistic and respected formidable adversaries with a like-minded community of followers to your own.

With the economic climate as crazy as it’s been, now more than ever businesses large and small are looking for creative ways to increase visibility, sales and leads.

One effective way is to leverage the relationships with your ‘friendly’ competition. By friendly, I mean synergistic and respected formidable adversaries with a like-minded community of followers to your own.

You can look to this niche for opportunities to help grow your list and add extra revenues to your bottom line. Even better, this can be done for virtually no out-of-pocket cost.

This is a great way to leverage your content and increase market share, enhance brand awareness, grow sales and leads, and establish credibility with a new, yet synergistic list.

As a consultant, and even back in the days when I was leading the marketing efforts at top publishers, it’s important for me to be “strategically creative” and deploy as many no-cost online marketing tactics as possible for greater return on investment (ROI).

I like to concentrate on the marketing and editorial relationships I have forged with fellow publishers and aggressively pursue ad swaps, guest editorials and joint ventures (JV). I’ll explain a little more about these three opportunities in a moment.

With “frienemy marketing,” the idea is to develop synergistic relationships that are mutually beneficial—to look for areas of deficiency in your competitors and think of ways your company can fill the void.

One potential partner may have a great front-end product (e.g., a low cost e-book) but no up-sell (e.g., a higher-priced related kit containing DVDs, CDs and workbooks). Another potential partner may have an innovative back-end product but no cost-effective front-end product to bring new customers in the door. Still others may have large, qualified lists but need editorial to bond with their lists.

Some tips to keep in mind when looking for partnerships with friendly competitors:

Do your homework. Find out, in advance, who will be at industry events that you’ll be attending. (Check the program for speakers, vendors and participants.) Sign up for their e-newsletters. Read their promotional emails. Maybe even purchase some of their products.

Look at EVERY opportunity as a way to maximize your company’s brand during presentation breaks, lunch time and cocktail parties. When you go to industry events, don’t eat dinner alone in your hotel room. Go to functions. Mingle. Network. Have a genuine conversation with a potential partner … then, if there’s a synergy between your two companies, exchange business cards.

Before you contact a potential partner, get familiar with his products and target audience and figure out how your company may be able to dovetail with his product line or marketing efforts.

So, once you’ve made the connection, now what? You need to look at potential marketing and editorial opportunities …

Ad swaps are a form of revenue sharing. Typically, this can be a text or graphic ad two publishers place in each other’s e-newsletters and each keep 100 percent of the sales they get from their respective ads, no strings attached. Other things to know: Both list sizes should be close in circulation size, hence the reciprocity. You both keep any sales or email addresses collected, and call it a day. Know your “opportunity cost”—the “cost” you will incur for running an outside ad to your list instead of your own ad. If you normally sell ad space in your e-newsletter, this cost could simply be the flat rate fee you typically charge. Or, if you know the average revenues an issue brings in, you could calculate the potential “missed opportunity” of letting another ad run to your list on a given day. You should also agree to share important information with your partner. Before his ad runs in your e-newsletter, point out any creative issues. Provide your partner with your e-newsletter’s sent and deliverability sizes, open rate and ad click rate. Exchanging performance data is critical to a long and mutually beneficial relationship. It has to be a win/win situation for the partnership to work.

Guest editorials are offering content (editorial) that is relevant and targeted for an external publication and reciprocate. This is a great way to get introduced to a new list with the “implied” endorsement of the publisher. His endorsement gives you credibility. And if you provide his readers with good, solid, useful information, they will bond with you quickly.

This is a soft-sell approach that may or may not yield results on its own. At the end or beginning of the article is an Editorial Note or Byline, which can have author attribution, back-link to your website and short sentence for cross-selling, which help with sales, traffic generation and link-building efforts.

Joint ventures are similar to affiliate relationships, with the difference that instead of an affiliate program that is openly marketed, this relationship is more personal—it’s usually a company that you’ve built and cultivated a relationship with and are looking forward to a variety of ongoing business ventures down the road. There’s more of a vested interest. This is a quick and cost-effective way to make money with your list even if you have not yet developed any products.

To determine the viability of a potential JV product, there are several strategic marketing variables to consider. I like to think of them as “PPPGS”:

P = Product quality
P = Price point
P = Performance (when promoted to your potential partner’s house list, as well as to outside lists)
G = General market demand
S = Subscriber interest (when promoted to your list, as determined by feedback, surveys, etc.)

Remember, with “frienemy marketing” you’re looking for long-term partners, not one-hit-wonders. So carefully select the people you approach, making sure their products, brand and message make sense to your business … and, together, you can reap the unlimited profit potential of this underutilized business builder.

Myths and Misconceptions: The Real Truth About Content Marketing and the Search Engines: Part II

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of people saying things such as: “Google doesn’t like content or article marketing since they changed their algorithms” and “article directories are not useful for search engine marketing and link-building efforts anymore.” I like to remind people of a few fundamental rules of online marketing, specifically involving content, that virtually never changes and is extremely helpful to know (and do!) … Previously, I provided the first three rules, here are the last three:

[Editor’s note: This is Part Two of a two-part series.]

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of people saying things such as: “Google doesn’t like content or article marketing since they changed their algorithms” and “article directories are not useful for search engine marketing and link-building efforts anymore.”

I like to remind people of a few fundamental rules of online marketing, specifically involving content, that virtually never changes and is extremely helpful to know (and do!) … Previously, I provided the first three rules, here are the last three:

4. Targeted Link-Building. Links, whether it’s a one way back link or a reciprocal back link, are still links. Quality links help SEO, and that is indisputable. But, again, there’s some ground rules to do it right within best practices … and do it wrong. Links should be quality links, and by that I mean on sites that have relevant content and a synergistic audience to your own. It should also be a site with a good traffic rank. I prefer to do linkbuilding manually and do it strategically. I research sites that are synergistic in all ways to the site I’m working with (albeit one-way or reciprocal links). Doing it manually allows more targeted selection and control over where you want your links to go. Manual selection and distribution can also lead to other opportunities down the road with those sites you’re building relationships with, including cross-marketing or editorial efforts such as editorial contributions, revenue shares and more. In my view, this approach is both linkbuilding and relationship building.

5. Location, Location, Location. Where you link to is important. When doing SONAR or content marketing, I always tell clients to deep link—that is, not just link to their home page—which, to me, doesn’t make any sense anyway, as there’s too many distractions on a home page. Readers need a simple, direct call to action. Keep them focused. It’s always smarter to link to your source article, which should be on one of your subpages, such as the newsletter archive page or press release page. Now you have a connection. The article/content excerpt you pushed out is appearing in the SERPs (search engine result pages) and its redirect links to the full version on your archive or press page. You’ve satisfied the searcher’s expectations by not doing a “bait and switch.” There’s relevance and continuity. And to help monetize that traffic, that newsletter archive or press Web page (which you’re driving the traffic to), the background should contain fixed elements to “harness” the traffic it will be getting for list growth and cross-selling, such as fixed lead gen boxes, text ads, banner ads, editorial notes and more. These elements should blend with your overall format, not being to obnoxious, but being easily seen.

6. Catalyst Content. It’s always important to make sure you publish the content on your website first … I call this your “catalyst content.” This is the driving source which all other inbound marketing will occur and be focused around. Your website articles should be dated and be formatted similar to a news feed or blog. Also, posting timely press releases will work favorably, as they will be viewed by Google and human readers as the latest news (again favorable to Google’s latest “freshness” update). At the same time, send your content out via email (i.e. ezine) to your in-house list before external marketing channels see it. This helps from an SEO standpoint, but also helps with credibility and bonding with your subscribers and regular website visitors, as they should get your information before the masses.

There you go. My best practices for marketing with content. I don’t practice nor condone “black hat” marketing tactics. I’ve always been lucky enough to work for top publishers and clients who put out great, original content.

It really does all boil down to the quality of the content when you talk about any form of article and search engine marketing. Content is king, and when you have strong editorial, along with being a “creatively strategic” thinker, you don’t need to engage in “black hat” or questionable SEO/SEM.

Algorithms are always changing. It’s good to be aware of the latest news, trends and techniques, but also not to put your your eggs in one basket and build your entire online marketing strategy based on the “current” algorithms. Using solid content, analyzing your website’s visitor and usage patterns and keeping general best practices in mind are staple components that will always play an important role in content marketing.

Myths and Misconceptions: The Real Truth About Content Marketing and the Search Engines: Part I

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of people saying things such as: “Google doesn’t like content or article marketing since they changed their algorithms” and “article directories are not useful for search engine marketing and link-building efforts anymore.” I like to remind people of a few fundamental rules of online marketing, specifically involving content, that virtually never changes and is extremely helpful to know (and do!).

[Editor’s note: This is Part One of a two-part series.]

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of people saying things such as: “Google doesn’t like content or article marketing since they changed their algorithms” and “article directories are not useful for search engine marketing and link-building efforts anymore.”

I like to remind people of a few fundamental rules of online marketing, specifically involving content, that virtually never changes and is extremely helpful to know (and do!).

1. “Mix” it up. It’s always a smart thing to have a diversified online marketing mix. I suggest to clients to look at their online marketing plan like a pie, and each slice is a tactical allocation—organic and paid strategies. As with your financial planning ventures (such as with your retirement account), it’s always safer to diversify than put all your eggs in one basket. The same holds true for your online marketing plan. Mix it up and keep it diversified. Some allocations may be smaller than others, based on budget, objective and other variables. But it’s good to spread it out across many tactics and online marketing channels, such as organic search, paid search, social media, online PR, content marketing, etc. Then if one tactic is a laggard and others are leaders, it all balances out in the end. This also helps compensate for algorithmic “bumps in the road” that may temporarily affect your search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) efforts.

2. Doing It “Right” Can’t Be Wrong. Google and other search engines often change their algorithms to keep search results relevant and fresh to related queries, as well as impact unscrupulous “black hat” practicing marketers who use no-no tactics such as gateway pages, keyword stuffing, link baiting, link farming, content farming and more. These are the folks who link to irrelevant sites with irrelevant content to the equivalent of content spamming. For compliant content marketers or those using the SONAR Content Distribution Model, the core strategy is to leverage high-quality, useful content through synchronized, synergistic and relevant online distribution. SONAR and content marketing, when implemented correctly, include “white hat” SEO principles. And if you’re using quality, original content with either of those marketing tactics and distributing your content to targeted, relevant sites, you really can’t go wrong.

3. Quality And Relevance Are Key! According to Webpronews.com, when Google released their official statement about the algorithm change in 2011, the Farmer/Panda update was aimed to help more quality websites be higher in the search results versus content farms with irrelevant, unbeneficial content based on the keywords being searched. Article directories may have initially been stuck in the cross-hairs losing some initial value. But, again, if you are putting out “UVA” (useful, valuable, actionable) content into numerous organic online channels, the diversity and balance will offset any temporary side-effects which may occur versus doing article directory marketing by itself. Based on my experience, if you push out quality, original content in several places—including article directories—your articles should appear in pages 1-5 of Google search results. And with Google’s latest “freshness” update, the most timely and relevant content should appear in descending order by date from the top of the search results. Quality and relevance are key.

Next week, I’ll detail the last three fundamental rules of online marketing, specifically involving content.

13 Things You Must Do This Year To Boost Your Biz! Part Two

In Part One, I mentioned some great, low-to-no cost tactics to help boost your business this year, including affiliate marketing, content syndication, search engine optimization, online lead generation polls, viral marketing and cost-effective media buying.

[Editor’s note: This is Part Two of a two-part series.]

In Part One, I mentioned some great, low-to-no cost tactics to help boost your business this year, including affiliate marketing, content syndication, search engine optimization, online lead generation polls, viral marketing and cost-effective media buying.

Today, I’m wrapping up the list with even more tips and tricks to get the most out of your marketing efforts (and marketing budget!) this year.

7. Pay Per Click (PPC). Many people try pay per click only to spend thousands of dollars with little results. Creating a successful PPC campaign is an art—one that I’ve had success with. If PPC is new for you, then don’t start out with the big guys like Google or Yahoo, run your “test” campaign on smaller search engines such as Bing, as well as second-tier networks, such as Adbrite, Miva and Kanoodle. In addition, you must make sure you have a strong text ad and landing page and that the ad is keyword dense. You must also have a compelling offer and make sure you do your keyword research. Picking the correct keywords that coincide with your actual ad and landing page is crucial. You don’t want to pick keywords that are too vague, too competitive or unpopular. You also need to be active with your campaign management which includes bid amounts and daily budget. All these things—bid, budget, keywords, popularity and placement—will determine the success of the campaign. And most campaigns are trial and error and take anywhere from three to six weeks to optimize.

8. Free Teleseminars or Webinars. These are a great way to collect names for list building, then cross-sell to those names once they’re in your sales funnel. You can use services like FreeConferenceCall.com, where it’s a toll (not toll free) call. But in my experience, if the value proposition of the subject matter is strong, people will pay that nominal fee. Promote a free teleseminar or webinar to prospects (that is not your internal list). Remember, this is for lead generation. So your goal is to give away valuable information in exchange for an email address. You can have a ‘soft sell’ at the end of the call and follow up with an email blast within 24 hours. But the most important thing is getting that name, THEN bonding with them through your editorial.

9. Free Online classified ads. Using CraigsList or similar high traffic classified sites is a great way to sell a products or get leads. The trick is ad copy that is powerful and persuasive, as well as geo-targeting—picking the right location and category to run your ad in. Hint: think of your ideal audience. Ads are free, so why not test it out.

10. Reciprocal Ad Swaps. One of the best kept secrets in the industry: Some of your best resources will be your fellow publishers. This channel often gets overlooked by marketers who don’t give it the respect it deserves. In the work I do for my clients, I spend a good portion of my time researching publishers and websites in related, synergistic industries. I look for relevant connections between their publications (print and online) and list (subscribers). Let’s say I come across a natural health e-letter that has a list of readers similar in size to one of my clients, who is a supplement manufacturer. Since many of their audience share similar interests, cross-marketing each other products (or even lead gen efforts) can be mutually rewarding. Swapping ads will save you money on lead-generation initiatives. Since you won’t be paying for access to the other publisher’s list of subscribers, you can get new customers for free. The only “cost” is an opportunity cost—allowing the other publisher to access your own list. It’s a win-win situation. This technique also opens the door to potential joint-venture opportunities for revenue sharing (sales).

11. Guest Editorials and Editorial Contributions. Another popular favorite used in the publishing industry is editorial contributions. This is where you provide quality editorial (article, interview, Q&A) to a synergistic publication and in return get a byline and/or editorial note in your article. In addition to an editorial opportunity, this is a marketing opportunity. You see, within the byline or ed. note you can include author attribution plus a back-link to your site. Some ed. notes can even be advertorial in nature, linking to a promotional landing page. Relationship networking and cultivation come into play when coordinating these, as it’s usually someone in the editorial or marketing department that spearheads such arrangements. These are great for increasing exposure to other lists, which can be beneficial for increasing market share, bonding, sales and lead generation efforts.

12. Snail Mail. Direct mail is still a consumer favorite—and another good way to get your sales message out. It can be especially effective used in conjunction with another effort, such as an email campaign. Studies indicate that 70 percent of respondents prefer receiving correspondence via mail vs. email. As with any marketing medium, though, you can end up paying a lot between production costs, list rental costs, and mail shop/postage costs. The most costly direct mail packages are magalogs and tabloids (four-color mailers that look like magazines). However, 6 x 9 postcards, tri-fold self-mailers and simple sales letters are three low-cost ways of taking advantage of this channel. Note that copywriting, list selection and geo-targeting can be crucial for direct mail success, no matter which cost-effective mail format you pick. Although 100 percent ROI (return on investment) is what you should aim for, many direct mailers these days are content with 80 percent returns. This lower figure takes into consideration the lifetime value of the names that come in from this channel, because they are typically reliable buyers in the future and snail mail address are more solid—they don’t change as often as email addresses.

13. Print Ads. This is another channel that gets a raw deal. One reason is because it can be costly. To place an ad in a high-circulation magazine or newspaper, you could shell out serious money. But you don’t need a big budget to take advantage of print ads. If you don’t have deep pockets, consider targeted newspapers and periodicals. Let’s say you’re selling an investment report. Try using the Internet to research the wealthiest cities in America. Once you get that list, look online for local newspapers in those communities. These smaller newspapers hit your target audience and offer a much cheaper ad rate than some of the larger, broad-circulation publications. You end up getting quality rather than quantity. I once paid for an ad in a local newspaper in Aspen, CO, that had a flat rate of less than $500 for a half page ad. My ROI on this effort turned out to be more than 1,000 percent. Most important rule: Know your audience. That will determine placement and price.

13 Things You Must Do This Year To Boost Your Biz! Part One

OK, so 2011 was a tough year for a lot of business owners. Perhaps you got caught in the maelstrom of economic uncertainty and your business paid the price. Maybe you neglected your business by cutting down or eliminating marketing efforts. Or maybe you got duped by so-called “online gurus” who promise the world with their wonder products, all to fall short of their promises.

[Editor’s note: This is Part One of a two-part series.]

OK, so 2011 was a tough year for a lot of business owners. Perhaps you got caught in the maelstrom of economic uncertainty and your business paid the price. Maybe you neglected your business by cutting down or eliminating marketing efforts. Or maybe you got duped by so-called “online gurus” who promise the world with their wonder products, all to fall short of their promises.

Boosting your business doesn’t have to take a lot of time, or money. Certain marketing tactics are tried and true because they work year after year, decade after decade. They’re proven. And they get results. Best of all, I’m going to reveal them to you … all for free.

Today, I going to go over some proven winners to help create visibility, drive website traffic, increase sales, generate leads and produce buzz. These are low-to-no cost tactics that fit most any budget and most any business niche. All you really need is the manpower to implement them. And the few that do involve a budget are extremely cost effective. So, without further ado, here’s numbers one through six:

1. Affiliate Partnerships/Affiliate Marketing Plan. (Includes joint ventures, also known as ‘JVs). This tactic is having other people market (promote) for you in exchange for a commission. It’s extremely effective and cost efficient. On the JV site, the key is having some kind of leverage when approaching publishers with a similar list size and interest as your own list. In exchange for content or revenue share efforts, you and the other publisher agree to reciprocate either e-news ads or solo emails to each other’s lists for cross-marketing purposes. You have an agreed upon, competitive affiliate split (net commission on each sale) and forward payment either monthly or quarterly. Or, you can agree to reciprocate efforts and both agree to promote to each others’ lists and keep whatever sales (or leads) you each get from the efforts. It’s also a best practice to advise deliverability and performance stats. On the affiliate marketing side, many online affiliate programs are robust and offer real-time access to a control panel where affiliates can download creatives, check status of payments, and view campaign stats. Creating an affiliate program and marketing plan for that program can be turn-key. There are several off-the-shelf programs and softwares, such as DirectTrack and WordPress; as well as online networks such as CJ.com (Commission Junction), Clickbank.com, Linkshare.com. What’s most important as with any affiliate marketing plan is the PR. That is, getting the news out and marketing the program itself to as many targeted locations as possible. If you have a product to sell, not having an affiliate program is simply leaving money on the table.

2. Content Syndication Plus. A recent article by Forbes, which was actually featured here on TargetMarketingMag.com, mentioned 2012 was going to be the year of content and social marketing. Content is king and you can leverage it via the SONAR Content Distribution Model:

  • (S) Syndicate partners, content syndication networks, and user generate content sites;
  • (O) Online press releases;
  • (N) Network (social) communities;
  • (A) Article directories;
  • (R) Relevant posts to blogs, forums, and bulletin boards.

SONAR works hand-in-hand with your existing search engine marketing (SEM), social media marketing (SMM), and search engine optimization (SEO) tactics. If you have original content … you can do SONAR marketing!

3. Search Engine Optimization. In order to drive as much organic traffic as possible to your website, you need to make sure your site is optimized for the correct keywords and your target audience. Once you optimize your site with title tags, meta descriptions, meta keywords, and alt attributes/alt tags, you need to make sure you enhanced your site to harness the traffic that will be coming. That means adding eye-catching email collection boxes to the home page; relevant cross-marketing banners; obvious links to get to product pages; keyword-dense, search-friendly and consumer-friendly content pages; a site map; and more. You don’t want to downplay the importance of SEO. Site already optimized? Great. But remember that you need to review your analytics and visitor usage patterns and keywords on a timely basis, as algorithms and search behavior are always changing.

4. Online Lead Generation Polls. Incorporating a lead gen poll on your website, or having a poll on another site or e-newsletter (via a media buy or ad swap) is a great way to build your list. It’s important to spend time thinking about your poll question—something that is a hot topic, controversial, and relevant to the locations where you’re placing your poll. You want to pull people in with your headline and make the poll entertaining. Your answers should be multiple choice and have an “other” field which encourages participants to engage with your question. I’ve found this “other” field as a fantastic way to make the poll interactive. Many people are passionate about certain subject matters and won’t mind giving you their two cents. Then, to show appreciation for talking the poll, tell participants they are getting a bonus report and free e-newsletter subscription (which they can opt out of at any time). And of course, make sure to mention—and link to—your privacy/anti-spam policy. After you kick off your list-building efforts, make sure you start tracking them so you can quantify the time and resources spent. This involves working with your webmaster on setting up tracking URLs specific to each website you’re advertising on. It also means looking at Google Analytics for your website and corresponding landing pages to see traffic and referring page sources.

5. Viral Marketing. Make sure you have a “forward to friend” feature in your e-newsletter to encourage viral marketing. It’s also important to have what I call a “content syndication blurb”—both on your website and in your e-newsletter. This blurb simply states that anyone can republish your free content, as long as they give attribution to the author and publication, as well as provide a back-link to the original article. This encourages other websites, publishers, editors and bloggers to republish—creating buzz and back-links, both of which help SEO. You can set Google Alerts for your articles (buy using keywords of article title, author, topic) and then see when the article has been picked up by another site. You can also look at your site’s back-links, as well as referring traffic sources, to see which sites you didn’t push the article out to, but republished it from a viral standpoint.

6. Cost-Effective Media Buying. To complement your “free” online efforts, you may want to consider targeted, low-cost media buys (paid online advertising) in the form of text ads, banner ads, blog networks/ads, or list rentals (i.e. e-news sponsorships or solo emails). You’re paying for the placement in these locations, so you must make sure you have strong promotional copy and offers for the best results possible. Blog ad networks and online ad networks are a great, cheap alternative and they have a wider reach. Networks to consider: BlogAds.com, Advertising.com, ValueClick.com, BurstMedia.com, and FastClick.com. You can also find a full list of sites. Make sure you’re savvy as to what comparable rates are (CPMs, CPCs) and try never to pay rate card. It’s all about the power of negotiation.

Stay tuned for the next article which will feature more tips (#7—#13!)