Extended Coverage: USPS – Will It Disappear?

When your editor makes a decision to defend you in the comments section below a feature article, then the article must have hit a nerve! I talked to several mailers, and association leaders who represent them, in a feature this month in the magazine … as I should: mailers have a lot to say about goings-on at the Postal Service

When your editor makes a decision to defend you in the comments section below a feature article, then the article must have hit a nerve!

I talked to several mailers, and association leaders who represent them, in a feature this month in the magazine … as I should: mailers have a lot to say about goings-on at the Postal Service (and not-goings-on in Congress) leading some mail marketers to re-evaluate the medium. I’d say it is a timely premise—particularly with the recent exigent postage hike on top of the inflation-indexed hike.

Far more was offered than I could include in the feature. However, “Marketing Sustainably” has a bit of room and—with my editor’s permission—allow me to share a few more observations.

Let me be clear, every mailer I talked to wants the Postal Service to succeed. The prescriptions may vary. What may be unclear is how it will succeed…

Always the Postologist, Charley Howard of Harte-Hanks had these points to share on a future path:

“If the Postal Service is allowed to manage its own healthcare, get the pre-retirement funding relief from Congress that it is due, and get Congress to back off on leaning in on operations, I believe that we would have a USPS that is both viable and competitive. We should close post offices that only see 1.5 people a day, limit some mail delivery to five days (keep the parcels moving) and have the USPS become more sensitive to pricing. These outcomes require enabling legislation—and that’s a big ‘if’ and certainly not likely in an election year, never mind by 2020 or 2025.”

“I believe the leadership of the USPS, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe in particular, has made the right decisions to try and save the post office,” says Paul Ercolino of U.S. Monitor. “Cost cutting, Network Rationalization and five-day delivery are all controversial decisions, but they are essential if the Post Office is to survive in the coming years.”

Hamilton Davison of the American Catalog Mailers Association spoke about innovation—but still sees challenges because of the process of oversight:

“Innovation on the revenue side, or improvements to [the Postal Service’s] cost structure, will only occur if it is given the freedom to experiment free from regulatory or political concerns. While it is right and proper that the enormous market power of the Postal Service not be unchecked, it should be given greater freedom in advancing markets or improving its cost structure without undue concern about these regulatory and political pressures. Management today is handcuffed in too many areas. Barriers to experimentation on a modest scale must be removed so the USPS can demonstrate pathways for greater innovation that can then be rolled out system-wide under the review of a regulator. Getting the regulator involved in early stage exploration of potential innovation is much more cumbersome.”

And Joel Quadrucci of Quad-Graphics spoke to mail’s role in a multichannel, digital-savvy world:

“We live in a multichannel media world, and print is—and will continue to be—a critical marketing and communications channel,” he said. “Print is especially powerful when connected with other channels. Direct mail is a critical channel because of its ability to drive action to numerous other media channels. Direct mail and digital marketing channels will move forward hand in hand, with direct mail creating a compelling call to action and digital marketing channels giving consumers a way to act.”

“The entire world of logistics is evolving along with retail,” Quadrucci continued. “More and more consumers are opting for the convenience of shopping online. We already see it with Amazon building distribution centers all over the country with the goal of facilitating same-day delivery of its products. The USPS could play a pivotal role in this evolving world of logistics; it is has many strengths. But in order to be competitive with alternative delivery systems, it must address its current challenges head-on.”

Clearly marketers must stay engaged with the Postal Service—and with Congress—as we tackle these challenges together. The Postal Service clearly has my support, too. Now if I could only sate Denny Hatch.

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 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!)

Melissa Campanelli’s The View From Here: From the ‘Now I’ve Heard It All’ Twitter File

Mattel, for one, is set to release Puppy Tweets this fall, a $29.99 high-tech plastic tag toy that will allow dogs to publicize their everyday activities on Twitter via a sound and motion sensor.

I came across a couple of wacky Twitter ideas this week and wanted to share them with you.

Mattel, for one, is set to release Puppy Tweets this fall, a $29.99 high-tech plastic tag toy that will allow dogs to publicize their everyday activities on Twitter via a sound and motion sensor.

The plastic tag attaches to a dog’s collar and generates one of 500 canned tweets when it detects barking or movement, and automatically posts an update to the dog’s own Twitter page, according to a Feb. 11 Los Angeles Times article.

To use Puppy Tweets, dog owners are outfitted with USB receivers they connect to their computers. Then, they download the toy’s software to create Twitter accounts for their dogs. When a dog moves or barks, a signal is sent from its Puppy Tweets tag to the receiver, which updates the dog’s Twitter page. Owners can check Twitter to see their dogs’ latest posts.

Mattel executives say the toy bridges Americans’ love of pooches with the growing popularity of sites such as Twitter and Facebook, according to the article. Amazon.com has already signed on to sell the toy.

Silly, no?

And here’s another one:

At the 2010 Grammy Awards, avant-garde singer Imogen Heap wore a self-designed Twitter dress on the red carpet, according to a Jan. 31 Mashable article.

A Twitter what? Yep, a Twitter dress.

The dress, which had its own Twitter feed, displayed Twitter pictures sent by fans in real time using the hashtag “#twitdress.” Heap tweeted on the morning of the award show that the dress was envisioned as a way to let fans “accompany me on the red carpet.”

Yes, these ideas are offbeat and a little silly, but they verify one thing: Twitter has made it into the mainstream. It’s turning up in real products targeted at American consumers, and as part of internationally broadcasted television shows.

The message for marketers? If you’re not taking Twitter seriously, you’d better start.

Marketers, Stop Ignoring Your Content Marketing Strategy

As I write this, I’m on the plane heading back from DMA09. While I was moderating the Search Marketing Experience Labs, one common element ran through every site review: When you ignore your SEO content marketing strategy, you’re hobbling your conversions, ignoring your customers and forfeiting your search engine rankings. Here’s why.

As I write this, I’m on the plane heading back from DMA09. While I was moderating the Search Marketing Experience Labs, one common element ran through every site review: When you ignore your SEO content marketing strategy, you’re hobbling your conversions, ignoring your customers and forfeiting your search engine rankings. Here’s why.

Seth Godin had it right when he said, “The best SEO is great content.” A well-written product page can skyrocket your conversions. A fantastic blog post can gain your company new leads and incoming links. The right Twitter tweet can gain not just followers but evangelists for your brand.

It’s really that important.

I’ve been in the SEO industry for 12 years. During that time, I’ve seen companies spend six figures on design, embrace five-figure monthly PPC costs and chase the latest “sexy” online marketing tactic.

Yet unfortunately, these same companies will ignore the foundation of their SEO and conversion success—creating customer personas, developing a keyphrase strategy, and developing useful, keyphrase-rich content that helps prospects across the buy cycle and engages customers.

Instead, the content becomes an afterthought. The one piece—heck, the only piece—of a company’s marketing strategy dedicated to engaging with customers becomes, “Isn’t SEO content supposed to be stuffed with keywords in order for me to get a high ranking?”

And that’s sad.

Think of your SEO content marketing strategy as your online salesperson, enticing your prospects to learn more and communicating with your audience. Your SEO content strategy could encompass many things, including:

  • Product/service pages.
  • Blog posts.
  • Articles, FAQs and white papers.
  • Twitter tweets.

Every word you write is a way to engage, inform and, yes, sell. But most importantly, a content marketing strategy helps you communicate with your prospects on multiple levels.

Fortunately, some companies “get it.” Forbes reported in its 2009 Ad Effectiveness Survey that SEO (and yes, that includes your content play) was the most effective online marketing tactic for generating conversions. Furthermore, Mediaweek reports in its article, “Marketing Must-Have: Original Web Editorial,” how AT&T created more than 100 how-to articles targeted to small business owners. Paul Beck, senior partner and executive director of Ogilvy Worldwide, is quoted as saying, “Having a core content strategy is the secret to engaging an audience.”

And at the end of the day, isn’t engagement what it’s all about? The company that engages, profits. The company that doesn’t—even big-brand companies that dominate the brick-and-mortar world—get left in the dust.

My monthly SEO & Content Marketing Revue posts will show examples of companies who “get it”—and what they’re doing right. I’ll share what’s worked for companies like yours, as well as what to avoid.

Most of all, I’ll share how the right SEO content strategy can gain your company the SEO and conversion “win” you may have been missing up to now.

And I’ll answer your questions (because, yes, you will have questions,) showing you how to leverage the power of strong, customer-centered content.

Stay tuned. This will be fun. Promise.