3 Online Recommendations for Small Business Direct Marketers

Many smaller companies who use direct mail don’t have a large staff to identify digital alternatives. This column is for the organization wondering what to do online when direct mail response is declining, costs are increasing, and inevitably, profits are shrinking. Today’s topic was triggered by

Many smaller companies who use direct mail don’t have a large staff to identify digital alternatives. This column is for the organization wondering what to do online when direct mail response is declining, costs are increasing, and inevitably, profits are shrinking. Today’s topic was triggered by a phone call from the new owner of a company we worked with a few years ago.

His challenge was typical of a lot of small business owners using direct mail: declining response rates, with lower profit, exacerbated by the fact that postage, once again, has recently gone up.

When we worked with the previous owner of this company a few years ago, we identified a more responsive direct mailing, built a new website, and got him started with a modest pay-per-click campaign. We wanted to test email, but the owner didn’t want to use email, so we didn’t. The outcome from these efforts was a combination of a better list; the capability for responders to complete a lead form on a new, search-engine-optimized website; and a PPC campaign that put them back in the black.

Fast forward about five years and direct mail response has declined yet again, while costs are up. The new owner wanted to rebrand his company with a different website. But in his attempt to save money, and having no clue what he was doing, the “new” website became a brand liability and all optimization was lost. And the pay-per-click campaign faltered because of the website switch.

So what to do? He called us for help.

In an instance like this, and in the interest of keeping a plan of action simple and as cost-effective as possible for the small business going at this alone, here are three initiatives that should be explored to keep things simple and cost-effective.

1. Website Review
Most small businesses have a website. But what is its purpose, and is it effective at achieving that? Ask someone to evaluate it for you who will understand what websites should do for a company. Get an audit. Invest the money to make it a stronger representation of your brand; create great content, videos, and don’t forget your all-important opt-in form to capture email addresses. Make sure it’s optimized for the search engines. And make sure you claim your local listing on the search engines if you’re a local company.

2. Manage Expectations if You Test Email to Prospects
Because email marketing costs less than direct mail, it’s natural to think you can divert all your efforts to email and achieve the same results. But that’s often not the case, especially when you’re prospecting and not emailing a customer list. Making email prospecting more challenging is that there is no established relationship between the marketer and recipient. This isn’t to say that email prospecting shouldn’t be used, but rather, run the numbers first to manage expectations (see “Crack the Email Prospecting Code” for more on this topic). If you’re going to use email, make sure you have a compelling, relevant landing page and opt-in form to begin nurture marketing with regular email or direct mail follow-up (more about nurture marketing in a future blog post).

3. Give Pay-Per-Click a Shot
PPC enables you to set a daily budget comfortable for you. It can be ramped up, or shut down, without a lot of cost exposure. But you need strong text copy, understand your keywords, and have a powerful landing page. There, someone who clicks will opt-in by asking for more information. You can add those individuals to your nurture marketing campaign.

Bottom line: If you’re looking for a quick and affordable way to reinvent or expand your direct marketing from exclusively direct mail to cross-media online efforts, these three initiatives are a good place to start.

Optimizing Your Video: Expert Answers to 10 Important Questions

Marketing is pivotal to increasing the virality of your video content. Businesses are using video more as a integral part of their marketing mix. However, what good is video if no one knows where to find it? You can spend a million dollars producing the most cinematic 30 seconds of your career and only get 20 views on YouTube if you don’t optimize the video. In this post, digital marketing specialists Jose Victor Castellanos and John D. Saunders from Unity Digital Marketing, took the time to answer some very important questions on optimizing video.

Marketing is pivotal to increasing the virality of your video content.

Businesses are using video more as a integral part of their marketing mix.

However, what good is video if no one knows where to find it?

You can spend a million dollars producing the most cinematic 30 seconds of your career and only get 20 views on YouTube if you don’t optimize the video. In this post, digital marketing specialists Jose Victor Castellanos and John D. Saunders from Unity Digital Marketing, took the time to answer some very important questions on optimizing video.

Q. Why is it important to optimize video once you’ve posted it on YouTube or your website?
A. Catellanos: “Because the Search Engines are designed to read and index HTML on web pages, not electronic files (video). Video without a title and description will not index well on the Google and Yahoo search engines

Q. How do you properly backlink your videos, podcasts and screencasts?
A. Catellanos: YouTube has a feature in the Video Manager drop down when you edit the video known as Annotations. This feature is excellent for maximizing your video’s marketability, so be sure to read this section carefully.

Q. Is it important to use proper grammar and spelling? Is it okay to abbreviate or use acronyms?
A. Saunders: Proper spelling is crucial. If you have misspelled a word, the search engine’s may not find your video. Perform a spell check, and have someone else read what you’ve written.

Q. What happens if you have a broken link for your video?
A. Catellanos: In the event that you have a video posted on your website that was embedded from YouTube, once you delete that video from YouTube, you should replace it with another video. (Don’t forget to remove the code.) If someone is searching for video on your website and they aren’t able to view it, they may leave or “bounce.” The Bounce Rate is something that can greatly affect your ranking. A little maintenance will go a long way.

Q. What does the Google Keyword Planner do and how is that different from the YouTube Keyword Tool?
A. Catellanos: Google’s Keyword Planner is geared for Google searches. YouTube’s Keyword tool is just for searching within YouTube. When you are filling out the description use the keywords most used in Google. This will get better results unless you are looking for a YouTube following.

Q. Is it necessary to include a location or your geo targeted market?
A. Catellanos: “Only if you are a small business that wants to do business locally or within a certain area. Be careful if your target market is worldwide or nation wide, posting your immediate area can limit you.

Q. Does the number of times that you use a keyword make a difference? What is the proper amount and does the length of content matter?
A. Saunders: The number of times a keyword is used can be vital to the success of any video marketing. Your keyword should be included in your title as well as your description. Your keywords should take up approximately 3 percent of the text. Be careful not to overload your content with the keyword too much.

Q. Does refreshing your content help?
A. Catellanos: “This can depend on what you are doing. Sometimes updating the content can cause the search engines to think it’s new, and therefore longevity and amount of interest (number of views) tends to give you seniority in the search ranks. Be cautious when updating if you take down a video or replace it with something new.

Q. Is it important to title your video exactly the way someone would search for it on Google?
A. Catellanos: Yes. The closest you can come to how someone would be looking for your product or service the better. Exact matches heed better results.

Q: If you get penalized as being a spammer, can that affect how Google ranks you in other areas of the Internet?
A. Saunders: Yes, you can be flagged and they can block your YouTube account. They can also put blocks on other social media sites that you are associated with.

If you’re going to spend time and money creating your videos and you want to make the best use of them, follow these guidelines and your video marketing will be far more useful. You want to remember that it’s a video, not text. Search engines are designed to read text not watch a video. While it’s great to create video it’s only effective if you have the video optimized.

My 9 Insider Tips to Build Your Email List For Low or No Cost!

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, corporation or online publisher, the power of the lead is critical in growing your business … and your email list. Leads, also known as prospects, are typically the entry level point of the sales funnel. 

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, corporation or online publisher, the power of the lead is critical in growing your business … and your email list. Leads, also known as prospects, are typically the entry level point of the sales funnel.

A popular business model by many online publishers is to bring in leads at the “free” level (i.e. report, e-newsletter, webinar, white paper, etc.), add those names to their house list and typically over the course of 30 to 90 days (the bonding time) that lead will convert into a paying customer. This practice is known as lead generation, name collection or list-building efforts.

Today, I’m going to share with you some proven online marketing methods I’ve used and had great success with at some of the top publishers in America. And bonus … many of these tactics are low- or no-cost. Here’s my list, in no particular order:

Power eAcquisition Polls. In my last blog post, I wrote about using polls for lead generation. Incorporating a poll on your website or having a poll on another site 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 a 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.

Teleseminars or Webinars. This is a great way to collect qualified names. Promote a free, relevant and value-oriented teleseminar or webinar to targeted prospects. You can promote it through several organic (free) tactics, such as LinkedIn Groups/Events, Facebook Events, Twitter, online press releases, affiliate marketing/joint ventures. Remember, this is for lead generation, not bonding. So your goal is to cast a wide net outside of your existing list, create visibility and get new names. Your value proposition should be actionable, relevant information that your target audience would find useful and worth giving their email address for. The trick is to promote the event in as many places as possible without incurring advertising costs; then your only costs may be the set up of the conference call (multiple lines, 800#) or webinar platform. And, in case you were wondering, I have been involved with teleseminars with non-toll-free numbers and response rates were not greatly impacted.

Co-registration. Co-Reg is another way to collect names, but involves a nominal fee. Co-Reg is when you place a small ad on another publisher’s site after some sort of transaction (albeit a sales or lead-gen offer). So, for instance, after someone signs up to the AOL Travel eNewsletter, a Thank You page comes up with a list of sponsors the reader may find interesting, as well—other free e-newsletter offers. The text ad is usually accompanied by a small graphic image representing the sponsor. The key here is to pick publishers and Co-Reg placements that are synergistic to your own publication and offer. Another important note is to make sure you follow up quickly to these names so they don’t forget who you are and go cold quite fast. I suggest a dedicated auto responder series for bonding and monetization. Co-Reg efforts can cost you around $1 to $3 per valid email address.

Frienemy Marketing. This includes JVs (joint ventures), affiliate marketing, guest editorials, editorial contributions and reciprocal ad swaps (for leads generation or revenue sharing). This tactic is extremely effective and cost-efficient. The key here is having some kind of leverage, then approaching publishers who may want your content or a cross-marketing opportunity to your current list (note: This only works if you have a list of decent size that another publisher will find attractive). 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, thereby sending a message to a targeted, relevant list for free. Well, if you agree on a rev share, it’s free as far as ad costs, but you are giving that publisher a split of your net revenues.

SONAR Marketing. I’ve written about this many times, but can’t stress it enough. Content is king and you can leverage it via what I call “SONAR.” It’s an organic (free) online strategy that works with the search engines. It’s a comprehensive method of repurposing, reusing, distributing and synchronizing the release of relevant, original content (albeit text, audio, video) to targeted online channels based on your audience. SONAR represents the following online distribution platforms:

S Syndicate partners, content syndication networks and user-generated 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.

Search Engine Marketing. It’s a shame more marketers don’t see the value of SEO or SEM. 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 relevant, keyword-dense content, you need to make sure you have revised your site to harness the traffic that will be coming. That means adding eye-catching email collection boxes to your home page (and it’s static on all your subpages), relevant banners and obvious links to e-comm webpages. You don’t want to miss a single opportunity to turn traffic into leads or sales.

Smart 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 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. High-traffic blogs are a high-performing, low-cost way to test new creatives. I like BlogAds.com network and you can buy placements a la carte and search by genre.

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. 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.

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 a content syndication blurb in your newsletter; this also encourages other websites, publishers, editors and bloggers to republish and share your content, as long as they give you author attribution and a back-link to your site (which helps in SEM).

The following, in my personal experience, doesn’t work for quality list building …

Sweepstakes and Giveaways. You’ve seen the offers: Win a free TV, iPhone or similar in exchange for your email address. This gets the volume, but the leads are usually poor quality or unqualified (irrelevant). The numbers may look good on the front end, but when you dig deeper, your list is likely compromised with deliverability issues (high bounce rates), inactives and bad emails. This is because the leads are not targeted. The offer wasn’t targeted or synergistic with the company. With lead generation efforts, it should be quality over quantity.

Email appends. According to Wikipedia, email appending, also known as e-appending, is a marketing practice that involves taking known customer data (first name, last name and postal address) and matching it against a vendor’s database to obtain email addresses. The purpose is to grow one’s email subscriber list with the intent of sending customers information via email instead of through traditional direct “snail” mail. The problem with this, in my direct experience, is that on the front end your list initially grows, but these names are not typically qualified or interested. At one company where I worked, we tracked a group of email append cohorts over the course of a year to see what percent would “convert” to a paying customer. Nearly 75 percent of the names dropped off the file during that year and never even converted. Email appending is a controversial tactic, with critics claiming that sending email to people who never explicitly opted-in is against best practices. In my opinion, it’s a waste of time and money.

How Less Frequent Blogging Is Creating More Leads for B-to-B Bloggers

Showing your human side, proving there’s a face behind the cold, maniacal business you represent, frequent blogging and telling stories about our businesses—it’s a shame these simple ideas aren’t generating leads and sales often enough. Yet, there is a better way to start generating leads with blogs. Winning new business in this anemic economy means creating “dramatic distinction” and irresistible curiosity with social media—giving prospects a reason to get a focused conversation started with you. Sometimes that means blogging less often.

Showing your human side, proving there’s a face behind the cold, maniacal business you represent, frequent blogging and telling stories about our businesses—it’s a shame these simple ideas aren’t generating leads and sales often enough. Yet, there is a better way to start generating leads with blogs.

Winning new business in this anemic economy means creating “dramatic distinction” and irresistible curiosity with social media—giving prospects a reason to get a focused conversation started with you. Sometimes that means blogging less often.

Content Marketing’s Biggest Myth
Want to stand out in social media? Do you have something honestly new to say? Well until you do, say less. Why? Because it works. You’ll become known for publishing less on your blog and, when doing so, releasing remarkably useful content more.

Tom Webster (one of the few wise voices willing to occasionally dissent) says the surest way to fail at blogging for sales leads is to write to a schedule, “and not in the service of ideas.”

“The tyranny of the content calendar is responsible for a lot of weak content on the Web,” says Webster.

He says, “keeping up that pace out of deference to some kind of received wisdom about publishing frequency” may not lead you to intellectual dishonesty, but it often does. At best, Webster says, it places dangerous stress on the system.

How to Stand Out—Fast
The key to success is giving prospects a compelling, irresistible reason to discover something new—a way to solve a problem that is contrary to popular wisdom. In other words, mythbusting.

Shutting-up until you have something honestly meaningful to say flies in the face of most content marketing experts. Sadly, many gurus over-emphasize the role of frequent blog posts, video uploads, etc., and point to keeping search engines busy crawling your site.

But having something new and useful to say works better and is the key to successfully using LinkedIn for sales leads, for instance.

Here is the mythbusting system in a nutshell:

  1. Make the myth clear up front: You’re dismantling popular wisdom to prove it wrong (just like I did in this blog post!)
  2. Offer proof of better way—again, up front
  3. Create a pathway for prospects to get more details (to create leads!)

The Role of Original Thought
No, no, no say the experts. Google demands a constant stream of content. Indeed, it does, but what those same experts avoid confessing is powerful:

  1. The role of original thought is becoming increasingly influential in search engines given how ranking algorithms factor in the spreading of thought-leading ideas by humans (prospects).
  2. Netting more and better leads means creating “dramatic distinction” and irresistible curiosity on your blow.

Ironically, infrequency of blogging and reaching beyond curating content is the it’s the key to getting found and making social media sell for you.

Follow These Steps: Take Action Now
Popular belief is powerful stuff. It’s what cements our habits … keeps them in place. Yet the status quo represents a big opportunity and always has. Social media gives B-to-B bloggers the chance to exploit the essence of truth-telling at the expense of every business’s enemy: mediocrity.

Mythbusting also works because it’s the story everyone wants to hear: “what you’re doing is popular yet not effective… here’s the secret on what actually works.”

This creates distinction in what you’re offering.

To generate a lead start blogging in a way that creates:

  • Confidence: Shine a light on the success your unique perspective brings; do it in a way that gives prospects clarity; help the customer feel like they can experience success too.
  • Curiosity: Explain your remedy in a way that creates clarity AND curiosity.
  • A Way: Give prospects a way to immediately act on the thought you just provoked; help them choose a pathway to make the needed change a habit in their everyday lives.

My clients and I are having a lot of success by focusing messages away from very popular (yet unproductive) beliefs that stymie our clients’ success.

For instance, I am currently mythbusting this false yet popular, positive-energy-filled belief that prevents success: “Storytelling and having a unique business personality/culture is what motivates prospects into engaging and doing business with you via social media.”

By calling into question what the elements of a good content marketing plan are on my blog (and amplifying it on other social media) I’m creating intense curiosity (about a more complete “way to get what customers want”) and presenting a clear way for customers to act on it (see the call-to-action half-way down the page).

Challenge yourself to go beyond messages and create tangible distinction by busting myths that stymie your customers’ success. Start today!

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 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.

Never, Ever Outsource Your Content Marketing Strategy

Should you outsource your content marketing strategy? Don’t—unless you want your blogs, whitepapers, videos or webinars to blend in with those of your competitors. Good, effective content marketing cannot be outsourced. No matter how much you’re struggling to create a constant stream of content that effectively generates leads, keep it in house.

Should you outsource your content marketing strategy? Don’t—unless you want your blogs, whitepapers, videos or webinars to blend in with those of your competitors. Good, effective content marketing cannot be outsourced. No matter how much you’re struggling to create a constant stream of content that effectively generates leads, keep it in house.

Let’s be honest. All of us are racing to “produce quality content” and distribute it on blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social platforms. But what does “quality content” really mean and why is so much of it failing to generate leads for B-to-B marketers? And what can you do to make sure your articles, videos, white papers and webinars (content) produce leads? Keep it inside.

Despite what “the experts” say, effective content marketing has less to do with frequency or how often you produce it. Blogging often (and getting that blog retweeted) earns the fleeting attention of prospects at best. Content that generate leads:

  • Solves problems and/or dramatizes the emotional end benefit
  • Is designed to induce behavior (sometimes addictive)
  • Translates customer need (analyzes and feeds it back into design)

Eschew the “Experts”
Relative to these key success principles, having a constant stream of content emanating from your business will not produce sales. Despite what “the experts” keep saying, the most effective content is not that which gets discovered in search engines and gets people to your website. Nor is effective content that which has “your voice” or “reflects your culture” or “is authentic.” These qualities do not define effective content because they never have.

Content marketing is about as new as custom publishing (it’s not new at all). The most effective content produces measurable outcomes—leads and sales. Period.

I can hear the social media gurus screaming. OK, OK. Are all those things I just mentioned important pieces of the puzzle? Yes. But over-focusing on them will cause you to put far too much faith in them.

For instance, take frequency. Making content marketing produce sales is not purely (or even mostly) a numbers game, nor a matter of how much attention you earn from search engines or blog visitors. Believing this to be true will only cause you to—that’s right—outsource it!

The Key to Success
If leads and sales are what you’re after with content marketing, then you’ve got to come to grips with the truth: Effective webinars, blogs, videos, etc., take your target market beyond the realm of useful information. Sure, providing information is essential but you’ve got to go the extra mile—you’ve got to provide new, previously unknown knowledge that tells customers how to avoid risk or exploit opportunity.

Think about it this way: It’s difficult enough to hire an employee that a) understands this concept; b) knows enough about your competitive environment to know how and where to find what your customers truly need to know; c) can actually execute the research needed to produce effective (behaviorally provocative) content—and produce it over time. Good luck finding someone on the outside who can do all of that well enough!

Want your content to look like your competitors? Just outsource it to people who repackage information your customers already know. They’ll take your money and in return pass off what they create as thought leadership or insightful information. And then you’ll pass that junk on to your customers.

The Honest Truth
Ninety-five percent of content marketing is generating worthless information that everyone already knows surrounded by buzzwords. Need proof? Search the Web for whitepapers and give them a scan.

“I’m a huge fan of earned attention,” says Edward Boches, chief innovation officer at Mullen. “And owning content. And being in the publishing business. But the one downside of everyone and anyone—and that includes brands and companies—being a content creator is that just like cable television, the good stuff becomes a smaller and smaller percentage of all that’s out there.”

Want your content to produce leads and sales? Hire people who know how to produce written or multimedia materials that make readers/viewers say, “Hmm, I never thought of it THAT way … that’s scary” or “I see the opportunity in that, I better get in touch with these people to take action!”

This is what good social media marketing and content marketing does—induces responses that you can nurture toward an eventual sale.

Best Online Marketing Practices For A ‘Bionic’ Business: Part III

My last two posts, part one and part two, focused on real-life questions I’ve gotten from business owners, as well as my responses. Topics that were covered included free online press release distribution best practices and social marketing secrets for stronger visibility.

My last two posts, part one and part two, focused on real-life questions I’ve gotten from business owners, as well as my responses. Topics that were covered included free online press release distribution best practices and social marketing secrets for stronger visibility.

This final post in the series will share some powerful, yet easy, ideas to help build your list and boost website performance.

Enjoy!

Question: What can I do to start building a list of qualified leads?
Answer: Creating free content is a great way to give something and get something in return. You’re offering free, powerful editorial content. And, in return, you’re asking for an email address from the reader. Creating this type of content isn’t just good for acquisition efforts, it’s also good for branding and establishing you as an expert within your niche. You can then leverage your free content to build your list (prospect database). Your list is your key to future sales. Growing and cultivating your list through editorial is a proven business model from top online publishers. It’s a great way to bond with … and cross-sell to … your readers. And this helps create a loyal following. And, from there, the sky is the limit!

Question: What are some tips to boost sales and eCommerce performance?
Answer: No matter what you’re selling, whether it’s products or a service (i.e. copywriting, freelancing, consulting) you should always have a variety of price points for customers at every level. Offering front-end products and back-end products gives you room to bring in a customer at a low level and up-sell them. As far as eComm ideas:

  • Make Sure Your SSL Seal is Prominent. This is a sign that the site is encrypted … that the information consumers enter, such as personal and credit card information, is protected. Most eCommerce sites must file for an SSL certificate from vendors such as VeriSign, GoDaddy, eTrust, TRUSTe, etc.. It’s a good practice to display the vendors’ logo on your order page, as well as make sure in the browser window the “https” or image of a lock is present. This is a clear and comforting sign to consumers that they can order online with confidence.
  • Encourage Online Sales vs. Other Order Mechanisms. Offer special “Internet Only Pricing” to customers. It could be a discount of 5 percent to 10 percent. This reduces any potential overhead costs for staffing fees such as telesales or order entry personnel.
  • Offer Free Shipping. Many eTailers already factor shipping into their published price, so when there’s a big, flashing banner next to the item saying “free shipping” it gives consumers that extra little push to move forward with the transaction. It boils down to basic psychology. Everyone likes to feel like they’re getting something for free.
  • Use Buyer Feedback To Your Advantage. Have an area on your website or next to select items that says “Customer Favorite” or “Hot Item.” Also, have some glowing customer testimonials next to the product. Consumers like to feel good about the item they are about to purchase. To see a great testimonial and knowing that others purchased the product is a validation and comforting feeling. In addition to helping the conversion, this tactic also helps reduce buyer’s remorse and product returns.
  • Make Sure Your Product Pages are Optimized for Search Engines. After doing some keyword research on actual search behavior for your product, refine your meta description, meta keywords and title tag of your product pages. This will help consumers find your product in the organic listing of search engine results.
  • Have a Special Coupon Code Banner on Your Home Page. Something like, “Summer Blow Out Sale, Use Coupon Code 1234.” This makes consumers feel good about the purchase. In addition, encourage viral activity by having a “forward to friend” text link that opens an Outlook email window with the coupon or coupon code. Make sure to have some great promotional copy mentioning how customers should “pass on the great savings to friends, family, and colleagues.”
  • Consider Payment Plans. For your higher ticket items, consider setting up extended payment plans that allow customers to pay for an item over a few payments. If an item is $200, you might want to offer a flex pay of “6 easy payments of $33.33” that is conveniently auto-billed to their credit card. Just be diligent when calculating your payment prices, as well as creating your return/refund policy for these items. The general rule is that your actual production costs/hard costs should be covered in the first one to three payments.

Holiday Paid Search Analytics Reveal Insights Into Today’s Cross-Channel Shopper

When analyzing early holiday paid search data, it’s readily apparent that shopping is truly a cross-channel endeavor. For instance, the majority of this year’s Black Friday shopping occurred in-store, but consumers used search engines in droves before setting foot in a store. Search helped shoppers map out their in-store Black Friday strategies, informing them exactly where and when they could find the best deals on the products they wanted.

When analyzing early holiday paid search data, it’s readily apparent that shopping is truly a cross-channel endeavor. For instance, the majority of this year’s Black Friday shopping occurred in-store, but consumers used search engines in droves before setting foot in a store. Search helped shoppers map out their in-store Black Friday strategies, informing them exactly where and when they could find the best deals on the products they wanted.

Search played a major role in driving in-store traffic this Black Friday. Performics tracked a huge spike in Google paid search clicks for its clients on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Paid search clicks increased 87 percent year-over-year on Thanksgiving and 65 percent year-over-year on Black Friday. Additionally, this year saw the most mobile paid search clicks and impressions ever seen on Black Friday — 400 percent more than 2010.

#INLINE-CHART#

For the second consecutive year, Black Friday clicks surpassed Cyber Monday clicks. The adjacent graph shows three primary spikes in 2010 and 2011 fourth quarter paid search clicks. Black Friday represents the biggest spike, with Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday (which were close to each other) following behind.

Cyber Monday has historically been the biggest online sales day of the year, not Black Friday. In terms of online sales, Black Friday historically ranks behind Cyber Monday, Green Monday (the second Monday in December) and Free Shipping Day. Black Friday drives the most clicks, but the fourth most online sales.

This indicates that consumers use search engines heavily on Black Friday to discover the best in-store deals. Post-recession shoppers are researching on their computers and mobile devices more than ever to find the right combination of quality and price. The rise of mobile, highlighted by the 400 percent year-over-year increase in Black Friday mobile clicks, is the biggest indicator of true cross-channel shopping.

Not only are on-the-go consumers searching for your store locations, but they’re also conducting competitive price searches and looking for product information on their phones/tablets while in your store. According to Performics’ 2011 Social Shopping Study, 62 percent of consumers perform competitive price searches on their mobile devices while in a retailer’s store and 41 percent look for product information.

To capitalize on this cross-channel shopping behavior during the holiday season and beyond, marketers should do the following:

  • integrate online and offline promotional planning;
  • create strong mobile websites;
  • use paid search extensions (e.g., addresses, phone numbers, click-to-call) to aid searchers looking for your store;
  • let searchers know that products are in stock in your stores;
  • ensure visibility in mobile search for keywords likely to be used by shoppers searching for your store while on the go or in-store; and
  • create comprehensive local paid and organic search campaigns.

Marketers should invest in analytics to understand exactly how search marketing affects offline sales. Uncovering insights through data will help you best allocate budgets and create marketing strategies to maximize cross-channel performance.