Trending: Consumer Review Sites Leverage Content, Social, Search Marketing

If you’re an Internet marketer, you know there are several online channels you can leverage without paying upfront for advertising, such as some banner ads or pay per click. Three online channels that are super-hot and showing no signs of slowing down include content marketing, social marketing and search marketing (organic). Each of these online channels have one thing in common: They all maximize content.

If you’re an Internet marketer, you know there are several online channels you can leverage without paying upfront for advertising, such as some banner ads or pay per click.

Three online channels that are super-hot and showing no signs of slowing down include content marketing, social marketing and search marketing (organic).

Each of these online channels have one thing in common: They all maximize content.

Recent articles in Forbes hailed that “content is the new SEO …” and that “content is king.”

My view has always been that with relevant, useful, valuable and actionable original content, you can’t go wrong. It will always work with the search engines, despite constant algorithm updates.

This is the core philosophy of my “SONAR Content Distribution Model,” but also has become more commercial- and consumer-driven with the use of product review websites.

A recent study shows 47 percent of consumers indicate the Internet is their favorite place to shop, and U.S. e-tails are anticipated to hit around $370 billion by 2017.

With all this Web surfing and shopping, it’s no wonder consumers are becoming more savvy.

An emerging trend in digital marketing is consumer review sites. These sites are populated with pages and pages of unique, relevant content that’s beneficial to the consumer. It’s unbiased. And has the main focus of harnessing the power of its content with the search engines, as well as social marketing outlets.

The website’s pages are crafted with targeted keywords based on the products or services being reviewed—many well-known brands—and honest feedback. Then it’s good ‘ole inbound marketing tactics, such as online press releases, article marketing, content syndication, search marketing and social marketing that drive consumers to the product review website.

The pioneer of this ingenious online marketing tactic was Cnet.com, which was founded in 1994. They have been reviewing electronic and tech products for years.

Other well-known consumer review sites that have popped up recently include Epinions.com and ConsumerSearch.com, which reviews products. CitySearch.com and Yelp.com review hotels, restaurants, entertainment and more. And of course, AngiesList.com, which is a membership site that reviews local service providers.

But recently, there have been some new players in niche and specialty industries that are creating a buzz. One such new kid on the block is BuyerReview.com.

BuyerReview.com focuses on the health and beauty sectors. This includes cosmetics and cosmeceuticals, such as skincare products, vitamins and supplements—a most robust marketplace, to say the least …

… The U.S. cosmeceutical industry alone represents $6.5 billion with a growth forecast of 5.8 percent annually through 2015. And nutritional supplements generated $32 billion in 2012 and are projected to hit $60 billion by 2021.

I had the pleasure of interviewing one of BuyerReview.com’s editors, Peter Stockwell.

I asked him how he would describe the site, what makes it unique and to describe the overall business model.

According to Stockwell, “Buyerreview.com is more targeted than many of the behemoth product review sites on the Web today. Sometimes when you’re too big and review too many things, consumers get lost on your website. Our team of editors reviews specific products in the vertical of health and beauty. We give honest reviews, as well as health and beauty advice.”

Stockwell continues, “Content is the cornerstone of the website. It helps the consumers. And it works with the search engines. With social marketing, it increases our reach and visibility. It’s really a blueprint for online marketing success.”

Stockwell adds, “There are several things that make us stand out: One is our BuyerReview Seal of Approval, which means our experts have reviewed a product personally and found it acceptable. Two, our editors (which, in addition to reviews) provide expert advice on health and beauty, which is an added bonus to consumers. Three, our Top 10 lists, which takes the best of the best we review and rolls it up into an easy-to-read product grid. Four, we offer consumers the option of getting product reviews delivered directly to them wherever they are, via email. And lastly, we offer free, weekly giveaways of the products we review. We like to think of our website as a one-stop shop for consumer health and beauty product interest.”

Stockwell concludes, “Once you have traffic coming to your site based on superior content, the opportunities are endless. Similar product or service review websites have went the advertising model and sell banner ads on their site for revenue potential. Others charge monthly membership fees. There’s many ways to monetize the traffic.”

Bottom line: There’s a way smart online marketers have turned leveraging quality content into a win-win situation that benefits its target audience, as well as generating revenue.

And the vast space on the Web is wide-open for more to jump on the bandwagon and carve out their own slice.

Marketers in most any industry can take something away from this online strategy and see how the fundamental principle can be incorporated it into their online marketing mix … because content will always be king, and consumers will always be curious.

The 10 Rules of Social Media Marketing Engagement

As the social media landscape grows with both mainstream and specialized sites, so will the creative ways to communicate to friends, followers and fans. Although the current social network behemoths are Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, other venues like Pinterest and Google+ are also carving out a niche for themselves. And MySpace still has a strong foothold amongst the younger demographic. But don’t forget that social marketing isn’t just for networks. Forums, chat rooms, message boards and blogs are the granddaddies of Web 2.0. These venues are where socializing and interacting in communities originated. Some call it old school, others an untapped resource when used correctly in your online marketing mix. However, before you starting posting away, it’s a good idea to know the “best practices” that help make up a successful social marketing program.

As the social media landscape grows with both mainstream and specialized sites, so will the creative ways to communicate to friends, followers and fans.

Although the current social network behemoths are Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, other venues like Pinterest and Google+ are also carving out a niche for themselves. And MySpace still has a strong foothold amongst the younger demographic.

But don’t forget that social marketing isn’t just for networks. Forums, chat rooms, message boards and blogs are the granddaddies of Web 2.0. These venues are where socializing and interacting in communities originated. Some call it old school, others an untapped resource when used correctly in your online marketing mix.

However, before you starting posting away, it’s a good idea to know the “best practices” that help make up a successful social marketing program:

1. Be Aware. Get to know each community’s rules. Each site (network, forum, blog, chat room and bulletin board) has its own set of rules—many you have to agree to, if you read the fine print, when you sign up for membership. If a site has a specific area for promotional or marketing messages, keep posts of this nature restricted to those areas. If rules dictate what type of messages are allowed (such as no overtly self-serving, defamatory, illegal, elicit or pornographic material), follow the rules. Any deviation will prompt a warning by the site’s moderator or immediate ban from the site.

2. Be Active. Don’t be a “hit and run” marketer. In other words, don’t just go in a few times and hit members with your marketing message then forget the site for weeks or months at a time. Get involved. Participate in discussions. Interact with members. Read and respond to engaging posts with no hidden agenda. Involvement encourages interactivity and interactivity solicits followers and reinforces credibility within the community.

3. Be Relevant. Some “rules” are not imposed, but is common sense if you’re a seasoned marketer. Targeting your message to the right, relevant audience will prompt better results. Make sure the community and site itself are synergistic with your goal, target audience and message. Also, ensure you’re posting in sub areas of the site that are relevant to the topic you’re discussing. Many forums have segmented subfolders by category and interest level. This granular dissection to your target audience helps the members easily find the topics they’re interested in and keeps you from muddying the waters in unrelated areas of the site.

4. Be Genuine. Posts that are contrived, unrelated and have a hidden agenda can be seen a mile away. Let the conversations flow organically. Contribute real, thought-provoking comments that members will find interesting. Talk to your audience, not at them. Not every post has to be a marketing message.

5. Be Useful. As a social community member, your goal is to participate in intelligent, useful discussions. Make sure you’re adding value to the site in some way. Your comments should also be valuable to the readers and not random posts. Nothing gets under members’ skin more than messages that are blatant spam.

6. Be Subtle. Many marketers embed their entire message with URLs to whatever page they’re trying to drive traffic to. If a community allows links in your post, use them sparingly. Less is more here. Some sites even have rules about not allowing links in the body copy of a post, but keeping them only in the auto signature field where your username is. Links should be relevant to the post (such as a great article that you want to share with members—then enclose the link so they can read for themselves).

7. Be Balanced. Mix up your messages. Not all your posts have to be promotional (and they shouldn’t be). Hang out in the community. Read other posts. Get to know the members and the site. See which areas have topics and discussions that vibe with you. Mix up your posts. Find balance with the editorial and marketing messages. The idea is to provide value and engage.

8. Be Informative. Be aware of what’s happening in your area of interest. Be able to have intelligent discussions about different news, events and publications under your subject matter. If you see other related articles that you think members would find interesting, even material from other publishers, share the knowledge. After all, that’s ultimately what social media is about.

9. Be Personable. Develop relationships with the community on both a “friend” and an “expert” level (for your area of specialty). Let your personality and credentials shine through with the information you share. Offer free expert advice. Share funny stories. Have witty discussions. Start to truly develop a memorable presence and bond with the community members. This helps your posts stand out in a whirlwind of background noise that passes readers each day in their news feeds.

10. Be Respectful. Don’t spam your fellow members. Some social communities allow users to post their email addresses on their Profile pages. This could lead to a flurry of unsolicited emails from social marketing barracudas who use this personal information for their own self-serving purposes. Remember, just because an email is posted on a user’s profile page doesn’t mean that person opted in to receive solicitations, promotions or similar email communications. Sending unwanted and unsolicited email is spam, plain and simple. Don’t exploit community members’ personal information.

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.

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.

Is Blogging the Online Dinosaur?

A friend and fellow marketer said something to me recently that caused my eyeballs to nearly pop out of my head. Her comment was short and to the point: Blogging is dead. I beg to differ. 

A friend and fellow marketer said something to me recently that caused my eyeballs to nearly pop out of my head. Her comment was short and to the point: Blogging is dead.

When I asked what made her make such a profound blanket statement, she responded that with the increasing popularity of social marketing, as well as the inundation of free ezines (or free e-magazines), blogs have become the online dinosaur.

I beg to differ.

You see, each platform has its own communication style; thereby, attracting different types of readers:

  • Blogging is a more raw experience for the reader. Informal undertones which are unedited and uncut. Giving the inside scoop.
  • E-newsletters or similar still contain valuable information, but the content is more polished and editorial in nature.
  • Social marketing is typically a combination of short, pithy posts that are fun, friendly, or business-related. Sound bites that grab attention and allow followers see the writer as both guru and virtual friend.

When it comes to marketing, I never like to put all my eggs into one basket. I don’t totally use social marketing as my platform of choice. Nor do I totally rely on email marketing or blogging as a prime driver for sales or leads.

What I like to do is diversify my online marketing mix—similar to when you diversify your retirement portfolio—and deploy several means of organic and paid Web marketing strategies based on target audience, budget and business objective.

In addition, I like to use tactics that complement one another.

Know The Flow: Understanding “Push” vs. “Pull” Marketing
Blogging, social marketing posts, and free ezines/e-magazines (email marketing) are all conduits; that is, ways to communicate with readers albeit subscribers, friends, followers, or fans.

The initial goals of each are virtually the same: To provide information in exchange for a readers’ interest (bonding) and interaction. The information can be editorial, marketing or random thoughts. And the interaction can be in the form of a free subscription (email address), website visit, retweet, ‘Like’ or sale (cross-selling, affiliate or third-party ads).

With blogging and social marketing, you’re deploying “pull” marketing—you’re pulling people to your “home-base hub” whether it’s your blog, profile page or wall with “content nuggets.”

Once live, that content has become part of the Web and is now subject to search engine spiders and similar tactics that will help your nuggets get increased exposure in organic search results pages; thereby, pulling like-minded visitors from your “nugget” to your “hub” with more of that great useful, valuable, and actionable information such as SEO, SEM, article marketing, or what I call SONAR marketing.

Now, since these readers are seeking you out and visiting your “hub,” you don’t have a direct line of contact with them. In other words, you don’t have their direct email address and have permission to correspond with the user personally.

… Which leads to ‘push’ marketing.
E-newsletters and e-magazines are correspondence being “pushed” out to your audience. Since the direct message itself is going through an email service provider and then to a specific individual, it is not widely available on the Web for all to see (including search engine spiders) and will not show up on organic search engines results pages.

You already have the recipients’ email address, so the main purpose of your effort is typically bonding or cross-selling (via newsletter ads and solo emails in your sales funnel).

So you see, as long as there’s different ways to reach people and different ways people prefer to be reached, blogging isn’t dead. For some marketers, it may be on pause; but for smart marketers, it’s still part of the big plan.

I think, nowadays, marketers need to test all online platforms to see which one is right for their business, audience, and objectives.

Don’t rule anything out. Learn how to be strategically creative to satisfy YOUR specific goals and communication flow.