Good Traffic vs Bad Traffic

If I had twenty dollars for every time I heard, “My site isn’t getting enough traffic,” I wouldn’t  have to be here writing to you now. Of course, I’m joking. Mostly.

None the less, use your imagination a bit and let’s play through…

Sometimes it goes a step further and we move on to the topic of A/B testing. What a great technique / tool, right? Yes, but how often is the tool used correctly, in the complete and holistic context of the brand?

If you’ve limiting your view to traffic; if you’re limiting your view to the effectiveness of a given A/B test; well then there’s a good chance you’re well, um, limiting your view. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, as long as you’re aware you’re wearing blinders.

Good Traffic vs Bad Traffic

Solving for today does not necessarily mean your individual solutions, lined up end to end, will over the long term translate into a sum of their individual successes. For a 21st century minded brand, 1 + 1 + 1 could equal 3. It’s possible it could equal 2. It’s also possible it could equal 4, or more. The point being, instead of solving for one (and only one) repeatedly (as easy as it might be), doesn’t it make more sense to ask, “What does it take to get to 4 or more?” That’s where the magic happens.

More specifically, you might find that after an A/B test, call to action A is less effective than call to action B. For example, B gets more email list sign-ups than A. Going with B makes sense if your view is limited to building the size of your list this week. However, it’s certainly possible that after six months or twelve months, the net number of subscribers is better with A than B. In other words, B triggers more sign-ups, but it also has a higher percentage of people eventually going for unsubscribed. Is B still superior to A?

Another possibility is A, over time, might have more opens; more clicks from those opens; and/or actually results in more sales. Again, B tested great for sign-ups—and that’s what was tested for—but then B comes up short for other more important metrics. The same can be said for the pursuit of traffic. That is, some traffic is better than other traffic. Growing traffic, even for sites based on a traffic model (i.e., they sell ads), should be done with care and consideration. Are you blowing up or on the cusp of blowing out?

The bottom line…Over-focusing on the wrong things can get you to where you want to go today. However, it might not get you to where you need to go next week, next month; or next year. Once you decide what you want to measure, always be sure to pause and ask why, and if it’s a long term plan builder or a short-sighted feels-good fix.

Online Marketers: The Most Important Article You’ll Read All Year

If you follow my online business writing you’ll already know I’m a dedicated disciple of the ideals of the Avinash Kaushik School of Analytics. Not only does he understand the data and how best to derive information from it, but he’s also spot on when it comes to broader business and business culture issues that compromise the promise that analytics can deliver.

His monthly-ish blog articles are consistently exceptional. This one rises to the top of that:

Eight Silly Data Myths Marketing People Believe That Get Them Fired.

Highly recommended for all marketers—online or offline.

10 Quick Tips to Better Email Marketing

To the point, this is my reply to a question posted on Quora (http://Quora.com):

How can one reduce the chances of their emails being ignored?

  1. Realign your expectations. While you might believe your messages are relevant and uber important, it’s the receiver who decides that. No isn’t no. It’s just not now, perhaps later.
  2. Consider yourself not an emailer but a content provider or at least a marketing machine. The power of your brand to draw attention is a function of the ongoing relevance of what you distribute. You’re not sending emails, you’re building a reputable brand.
  3. That being said, it’s not – nor should it be – always about you. That is, if the content you distribute is in the context of all about you all the time, instead of the readers’ context (i.e., info of value to them), then you are, over time, going to lose readership.
  4. Test. Test & Test some more. From subject lines to day of week + time of broadcast – look for sweet spots and (dead) dogs. There is no magic bullet.
  5. Integrate other media channels. For example, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. Perhaps the combo of noticing a tweet + reading an email subject line will get you optimal results. It might (read: probably will) take multiple “touches” before you get an sort of reaction / interaction.
  6. Devote at least 10% of your budget to experimenting. Keep looking for the magic bullet (even if it doesn’t exist).
  7. Consider using a CRM. That is, those who reply (probably) expect a different ongoing conversation than those you are still trying to reach. A CRM – if used properly – should allow you to customize your relationships.
  8. Along the same lines, segment your list. Perhaps there are subtle or not so subtle difference in your target(s). For example, try different subject lines against different segments.
  9. Be mindful of the volume of information being forced upon the receivers. Far too many marketers believe theirs is the only brand in the information sea. Ha! Whether you believe it or not you are competing with the likes of soda adverts, car adverts, etc. The finite commodity is the receivers’ attention and in your case, the time / motivation to reply.
  10. Be creative. Given #9, perhaps the standard channels with the standard messages aren’t going to be enough. Send flowers. Send wine. Send a snail mail handwritten personal note. If you want to cut through the clutter – note: you are part of the clutter problem too – then you’re going to have to be creative.

Launch: GregsLandscaping.com

Launch: GregsLandscaping.comCongratulations to owner/CEO Greg Garnich on the launch of his new & improved iproperty GregsLandscaping.com.

Gregs Landscaping is a full-service company that believes that no client/project is too small or too big. Communication of all that is Gregs Landscaping was one of the key challenges of this project. The good news was Greg is also an avid photographer and has plenty of image content. Solving how to address the 20+ services took a bit more analysis. After a number of detailed discussions we all eventually agreed on displaying the services in a layout inspired by a “tag cloud”. The added innovation was that the tiers for each service could be service specific. This custom build functionality was essential to giving the GL brand the depth and breadth it needed.

Finally, the third key component of this iproperty was that every page is designed to function as a free-standing landing page for that particular service. When a potential customer does a search and then lands on an “inner page” for a particular service all the essential content will be there on that page. Even when they scroll to the bottom of the page the request a quote button and phone number is there waiting for them.

All this came together to form an experience that accurately reflects the Gregs Landscaping brand—honest, thorough and always easy to do business with.

Highlights of Phase 1

—Gregs Landscaping is built on the content management system (CMS) platform ExpressionEngine (EE). It is EE’s robust functionality and highly regarded flexibility that allowed AU to build a website that could “deliver the right content at the right time.”

—For example, content can be targeted to services/pages. That is, each FAQ, gallery image, header image, link and testimonial can all be assigned to the service(s)/page(s) it supports. Each is entered only once and is then assigned to many services/pages.

—Aside from being able to configure the tiers for each service in the service “tag cloud”, Gregs also has the ability to display content based on month. For example, if Gregs Landscaping wanted the copy on the home page for Sept to March to be different from the copy for April to August that is possible. Once the content setting were configured EE would handle the rest. In fact, even the service cloud can be configured to be seasonal. Images, testimonials, etc. all have a month by month setting for defining when a particular slice of content should be displayed.

—The URL structure and page markup is best described as “SEO friendly.” AU also consulted GL on SEO best practices (e.g., giving image files relevant names).

—To make Gregs’ site social media and “Facebook friendly” the markup includes a handful of key Open Graph tags.

AU’s Contribution

—Alchemy United is proud to say that this project was 100% AU. From project management, business needs analysis and wireframes, to design, HTML markup and CSS, and Expression Engine development, we made all the magic happen.

Once again, congratulations Greg. With your images and this full-power ExpressionEngine website we’re certain you’ll be converting more prospects to happy Gregs Landscaping customers.

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 4

Here we are again, face to face with social media and ROI. A question for the ages, is it not? The original plan was to introduce you to the Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder (Google Docs) spreadsheet in Part 4. I have since refactored the path to that goal. Instead (per a couple requests), I want to add a little bit more flesh to the bones of Part 2. Consider this Part 2 of Part 2, if you will. Since 2 + 2 = 4 let’s pretend we’re still on course.

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 1

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 2

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 3

There are tens if not hundreds or perhaps even thousands of opportunities where a link back to your website is shared. The more thorough you are in managing the tagging of the various sources of inbound traffic, the better you’ll be able to segment your data once that traffic arrives. As the great analytcis evangelist Avinash Kaushik (Kaushik.net/avinash) likes to say, “Segment or die.” (He also says, “Experiment or die.” If you don’t want to die—at the hands of Avinash?—then you should probably double-down on your daily dose of segmenting and experimenting. You’ve been warned.)

Just don’t over-think it. We’re looking to optimize this process. That doesn’t necessarily entail we perfect it. Typically, there’s too much flux and uncertainty for perfection. In other words, no matter how thorough you try to be there is going to be some traffic that will remain somewhat of a mystery. The objective is to force that slice of the pie to be as small as reasonably possible. The less unknowns the better.

Full disclosure: Writing this series has forced me to revisit and rethink my ideas, strategy and implementation of URL tagging. That said, I’m going to forge ahead warts and all, eventually share with you the spreadsheet mentioned, gather input and then re-execute. “Experiment or die”, right?

Some of you might be thinking, “But we don’t really share that many links in that many places.” To that I reply: Really? How about…Email signatures, leaving comments on industry blogs (both in the comment itself and via the avatar’s link), social media profiles (individuals/employees), social media status updates (individuals), social media page URL (in the info section), social media page status update, Flickr (i.e., in the photo’s caption), Pinterest, email blasts, guest blogging on other websites, QR codes, print ads, print brochures, web banner ads, links sent by sales to a prospect, and press releases. These were just the obvious ones that come to mind fairly quickly. Ideally, many of these strike you as Source and/or Medium for URL tagging.

Now imagine a Z dimension if you will. That is, you could have two or more employees participating in these numerous efforts. Without tagging you would just see a mish-mash of traffic in Google Analytics and not really have a firm idea where it came from or why. Helpful none the less? Probably. But far from optimal. On the other hand, if you take your tagging seriously you could—in theroy—see that:

  • Sue, the “average” employee in HR, was actually pulling on the most traffic to your site with her daily tweets. Not even marketing’s tweets were doing as well as Sue.
  • Bill, the guy on the pink slip bubble you caught “screwing around” on Pinterest last week, was sharing photos of company products that were actually resulting in leads and sales.
  • The QR code marketing paid uber top dollar to be published on the back cover of a local publication didn’t generate any meaningful traffic. In fact, the sales it did generate were low margin and high churn customer.
  • The company tweets on evenings and weekends actually produce a higher quality of traffic than the tweets what go out during normal business hours.
  • Posting multiple times per day to your company’s Facebook page does well. But the guest blog post you do one per quarter does twice as good. Actions: Perhaps pull back on Facebook; speak to the blog owner about doing a monthly article; seek other guest blogging opportunities.

Perhaps the URL Builder parameter Name could be employee name, or an assigned code? Or maybe you assign that identifier to Term or Content?

Granted, getting your entire operation to embrace URL tagging is easier said than done. Yes, perhaps that’s too high of an expectation? However, at the very least sales/marketing should be required to follow such a regiment. Also, difficult or not there might also be an opportunity to develop a process for URL tagging such that employees who participate are given an incentive to do and/or a reward based on the results they produce. Maybe “average” Sue isn’t so average after all?

Contrary to popular belief social media is not “free”. Time is being spent. Quite often money is being spent. There’s no doubt different activities by different people are going to product different traffic profiles on different days based on different messages, platforms, etc. URL tagging might not be Nirvana but it certainly has the potential to lower noise, increase clarity and identify opportunities for data-driven action.

Google AdWords: Paying Paul to rob Peter and…you

A few weeks back I received a direct mail offer from Google AdWords. It read: Come back to AdWords and get $100 in advertising credit on us. In the past similar offers were in the $50 to $75 range so this $100 credit certainly caught my attention. My first impression was that Google obviously loved me and that they were sticking to their “Don’t be evil” mantra. I bet you have the same impression.

However, that warm and fuzzy feeling didn’t last very long. About a week ago a client asked me to do another on-demand review of their Google PPC account. I checked this. Tweaked that. And adjusted the next thing. The usual routine. Everything seemed in order except for one thing. All the minimum bids for first page ad placement were up. There seemed to be increases even for campaigns and keywords where there has historically been little interest and movement.

Bingo! And then it hit me.

What’s misleading is that the credit promised isn’t on Google. The reality is that money is coming out of the pockets of anyone else who advertises on AdWords. Think about it. There are a finite number of ad slots/placements. That is, supply is more or less fixed. Suddenly Google injects a large number of $100 credits into the market. That is, Google artificially increases demand. So what happens when supply is static and demand increases? Prices go up.

Bottom line: What Google might lose in giving away that $100 they make it back because those same $100 injections drive up prices across the board. Isn’t being generous with someone else’s money somehow evil?

Launch: TANAHome.com

Website launch: TANAHome.comCongratulation to owner Tiffany Brigante on the launch of her new & improved website TANAhome.com.

Full disclosure: The TANAHome project came to AU via Meridith Feldman and Skylographic Design (http://skylographicdesign.com). SD created the design, AU executed the web development.

Highlights of Phase 1

—The TANA site is built on the open-source CMS platform WordPress. All content can be managed and updated by Tiffany.

—By re-appropriating the native WordPress functionality the TANA portfolio is easier for her clients and prospects to browse. TANA can assign a given portfolio project to more than one area of expertise. This ability to add-one-use-many lowers her workload and increases her ability to market her areas of expertise.

—The design and the UX (user-experience) are best described as brand appropriate. Not only does the site visually convey Tiffany’s sense of style but its user-friendliness is indicative of what it’s like to do business with TANAHome. As they say, “The medium is the message.”

AU’s Contribution

—Consultation and collaboration on: IA (information architecture), UI (user-interface) and UX (user-experience).

—WordPress development. To expedite the process, the WordPress theme Twenty Eleven was used as a leaping off point. The theme was fully customized—gutted, re-skinned and enhanced—to meet The Guest expectations as well as business needs of TANAHome. The result speaks for itself.

—Additional functionality was added to the website using two of our homegrown WordPress plugins: WP ezSlider and WP ezWidget.

—The TANAHome website is also further enhanced using WP plugins for: SEO, site map generation and scheduled automated back-ups.

—In order to optimize potential SEO benefits, we also consulted Tiffany on various SEO best practices. We expect to see her further develop her SEO awareness as she uses her site to grow her business.

—Naturally, we also installed Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools.

Congratulations Tiffany!

And thank you Meridith for bringing Alchemy United in to participate in developing the TANHome iproperty.

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 3

Welcome back. Quickly, let’s recap. By the end of Part 1 you understood and embraced the value of tagging links with Google URL Builder. In Part 2 I drilled down, spread out and discussed the various tagging parameters. In addition I made suggestions and recommendation on developing a strategy for implementing those parameters within the context of how you might wish to measure your online marketing efforts.

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 1

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 2

Before I continue I want to emphasis that this level of thoroughness with the links you share does admittedly entail time, effort and dedication. At this point I presume you’ve also noticed in your social media marketing travels (since read Part 1) that the majority of links shared by brands—both large and small—are in fact not tagged. Conclusion: If you’re looking for a competitive advantage, as well as a deeper understanding of your online marketing efforts then there’s plenty of opportunity right in front of you. Like it or not, victory does not always come easy. Whether online or off the adage, “No pain. No gain.” is as true as ever.

Good news: After Part 3 we’ll be past the half way mark.

More good news: In Part 3 we move away from (what could be considered) the theoretical and into hands-on execution.

Still more good news: Part 3 is somewhat shorter than either of the previous two parts.

Today’s “insider secret” will add a tool know as a URL shortener to your toolbox of tricks for executing and measuring your online marketing efforts. For example, bit.ly and TinyURL.com are both URL shorteners. Chances are you’ve seen shared links using both of these shorteners. It doesn’t matter which URL shortener you use as long as the platform you select offers analytics on the links you shorten. In other words, we want to have access to data that tells us which of the shared links—whether back to your own site, or to any other site—has been clicked. My primary focus for the sake of this discussion will address using bit.ly.

“Why bit.ly?”

There are plenty of free/low cost URL shorteners. I’m going to focus on bit.ly mainly because of bit.ly pro. Wih pro, for the price of a domain name you can have your own vanity URL shortener. For example, Alchemy United’s AUtd.us is done via bit.ly pro. You don’t have to go pro. Nor do you have to go bit.ly. Perhaps I’ll do a round up of URL shorteners sometime soon?

By the way, yes it’s a lower case b in bit.ly. Also, please keep in mind that the only difference between plain vanilla bit.ly and your own bit.ly pro domain is the domain name. The back-end functionality and features are exactly the same. Think of your own domain when using pro as a “mask” or “alias” that just sits in front of  standard bit.ly. Therefore, when I write bit.ly, it’s really just short for saying, “bit.ly and bit.ly pro.” For all practical purposes they’re the same thing.

Now for the tip, tricks and caveats:

(1) When you shorten URLs with bit.ly the stats on that URL are accessible to anyone, not just you. All you or anyone has to do is take the bit.ly URL and add a “+” (without the quotes) to the end. For example, if the shortened URL is http://bit.ly/lo0k1tsShrt then to see the stats page you would use http://bit.ly/lo0k1tsShrt+. When bit.ly sees the “+” at the end it will redirect that request to the analytics page for that URL instead of redirecting you on to the web page of the de-shorten URL.

The concern is your competition could monitor your shortening activity pretty closely. That is, provided they know about the “+” trick. Frankly, most people don’t seem to be aware of this feature. It is however an important “feature” to consider.

(2) You do not own your data, bit.ly does. You get a free service. They get to monetize your data. It’s a fair trade?

(3) Getting your analytics data out of bit.ly isn’t easy. You can not simply export all the links you’ve shortened (with the associated click data, etc.) and then crunch that data locally. This means you have to look up each URL individually. I agree, in some/many cases that might not be practical. Sometimes using the free version of a service isn’t ideal, but in this case it’s a start and it’s better than nothing. bit.ly does give you day by day click stats at the link level so if you have nothing now at least a broad view at 50,000 feet is better than guessing in the darkness. It’s just not easy to get aggregated data without visiting the stats page for each link you’ve shortened.

I would like to mention that bit.ly does offer an API for accessing their data. However, (at this time) I do not know of any service that lets you upload a list of URLs, uses the API to grab the data for those URLs, and then returns what’s been grabbed to you in a consumable format (e.g., .CSV file). Perhaps I should add such building such a service to my to do list?

(4) Since harvesting the analytics data is less than ideal I recommend you use two different bit.ly accounts. One account would be specifically for links back to your own site. The other account would be for links to other sites. This way, when you log into each account your apples won’t be mixed with your oranges. This won’t get you to ground level granularity but at least it’ll drop you down to 40,000 feet from 50,000. Again, not perfect but certainly better than the guessing game you’re playing now.

Technically, your Google Analytics will be tracking any traffic that comes to your site from your tagged and shortened links. Therefore, the bit.ly stats might not be necessary. None the less, I still prefer to use bit.ly to get a quick bird’s eye view of what’s been shared and what’s been clicked. Let’s face it, shortening is good internet manners too. Nobody wants to be faced wit a long winder URL. Therefore, if you’re going to tag, shorten and share links not to your own site, you might as well shorten the tagged links to your site as well. What’s nice is shortening will to the untrained naked eye mask the fact that you’ve become a connoisseur of link tagging. Perhaps this is something you don’t wish to telegraph to your competition?

(5) When you take a shortened URL and post it directly on Facebook, Facebook will automatically de-shorten it (i.e., make it long again). This means that the page request won’t pass through bit.ly since it’s not really a bit.ly URL anymore. In other words, you won’t capture any click stats in bit.ly for those shares.

Not to worry, there’s a workaround for this. It’s simple. Don’t do your page’s updates (with shared links in them) directly on Facebook. Instead, you can sidestep the de-shortening problem by posting updates via the API (e.g., using a service like Postling.com) or by using the update via email option FB provides to pages. (To find the send to email address for your brand’s FB page, log into your page as the admin and then look under the mobile tab.)

(6) There are a couple other minor points but I am honestly trying hard to keep this brief. If possible, I’ll fit these other tips & tricks in before the end of this series.

Conclusion: If 1, 2 and 3 are a major concern then I recommend you strongly consider hosting your own URL shortener. For example, as an “experimental” side project, AU implemented VT802.us using the open source URL shortening PHP script from YOURLS.org. The primary advantage of setting up your own YOURLS.org install is that you retain complete control. It’s your site, your data and only you will see the analytics. You’d also have direct access to the backend database for exporting and more extensive crunching of your data.

Frankly, if I knew about YOURLS.org when I was signing up for AU’s bit.ly pro I probably would have gone with a YOURLS.org based solution. In my defense (if you will), it wasn’t until after using bit.ly for a while did some of these it’s-free-but-it’s-not-quite-perfect caveats come to light. As they say, live and learn. Lucky for you, I’m willing to share these insights. Obviously, if you’re interested in a YOURLS.org based shortener then you’ve come to the right place. We can do that. Else, run with the free version of bit.ly and make the best of it. bit.ly is a viable solution and it’s free. YOURLS’ is great but there are set up and maintenance costs involved.

If your social media marketing budget is $15,000 – $20,000 or more a year than the benefits (read: ROI) of a private YOURLS.org base shortener is in all likelihood easily justified. (Note: The budget figure includes time and well as hard dollars. If you value your time at just $50 per hour that’s approximately $1,500 per month. I trust you can do the math.) After all, if you’re not measuring, you’re not really marketing, yes? The internet and social media marketing is here to stay. The competition for people’s attention online is forever increasing. It’s going to take quality (and occasionally quantity) effort to rise above that fray. The analytics insights from a self-hosted shortener have the potential to be the difference between good and great.

Of course you could also market your public facing URL shortener as a branding tool. With some enhancing YOURL.org could be configured to disallow the stats of selected URLs from being exposed to the public.

So there you go. Imagine that…You share a link that goes to a site other than your own and you can tell how much engagement it pulled with your followers. If you tag that link—and we know you should—you’ll also be able to measure which platforms pulled best, which topics or end sites pulled best, or what day of week and/or time of day pulled best, and so on. It all depends on the parameters you use for tagging. Tagging and shortening adds time but it also adds significant value. On the other hand, not doing so tells you nothing. As they say, you can’t get something for nothing.

The tools are there. Now it’s up to you to use them. Please add your questions and comments below.

From bar napkin to zillionaire in 10 “easy” steps

Funny how these things happen sometimes. A friend of a colleague/friend read my “How YouTube and Facebook are Killing Innovation and Success” from a couple weeks back. She/he appreciated the insight and suggested we get together to discuss a collection of ideas she/he and a couple “partners” had been kicking around.

A day or so later we met. After an couple of hours of mostly highly discussion she/he popped the question: “Mark, what would you do?”

Below is a rough and obviously very high level synopsis of the answer that came off the top of my head then (and has been refined a bit since):

Note: Many of these are not silos. That is, the reality is they are interconnected and take form in an agile and interactive fashion. They tend not to happen in a nice and neat linear list as you see here.

  1. Develop your logo / brand identity. This includes domain name(s), social media profile handles, etc.
  2. Formalize your mission statement. Be clear and concise about your idea to the point that all partners agree and sign-off, be it informally or formally.
  3. Organize your collection ideas into a 10 slide “”pitch-deck”. There could be multiple versions of this pitch depending on the target audience. Regardless, each pitch should answer the target’s “What in it for me?” Note: This step is as much about aligning the partners as it is about organizing your pile of ideas and crafting your pitch(s).
  4. Sketch out a marketing plan and set some goals. For example, how many Twitter followers and Facebook “friends” equals “critical mass” and success.
  5. Set up social media accounts (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and begin collecting followers. Track that against goals and regularly assess how much resources it’s going to take to hit your targets.
  6. Set up a basic / coming soon / sign-up-for-beta website. Use any of the above content to flesh that out. Ultimately, the site should get beta sign-ups, help add FB Likes, Twitter followers, etc. The fact is, with barriers to entry so low, cutting through the clutter is a very difficult task. Most non-marketers severely under-estimate how difficult engagement really is. In other words, you’re not the only outfit with a great idea trying to get people’s attention.—Be sure to use Google Analytcis on the site so you can monitor: traffic, nature of the visits, clicks, etc. in order to gauge the level of interest. GA is essential. Collect and analyze your all data in order to refine the sketch of your marketing plan.—I’d recommend a blog on the site to communicate ideas, show progress, collect comments, etc. A blog is also good for SEO. That said, content generation takes time. Who’s going to do that? Reply to comments, manage the social media accounts (correctly), etc.?
  7. With that said, define roles. Of the partners, who is responsible for what, when, etc. Don’t assume. In fact, never assume. Also, there’s a massive amount of truth to, “The devil is in the details.” You’d be surprised how easy it is to not  on executing once you get past the idea on a bar napkin stage.
  8. As that’s all moving along, refine your wants-list into real business needs, (fairly detailed) functionality, wireframes (hand-drawn is fine), etc. and begin to design and develop the brand’s website. Your critical mass goals, sign-up progress and traffic will help to dictate your timeline.—The current rule of thumb is to get in the game with a raw but solid idea and refine as you go. None the less, you have to have some framework to start with. Especially, if there are multiple decision makers. It goes without saying that personalities change as the bumps in the road come bigger and faster.
  9. As all that’s moving along, develop a network for press releases and other “good will” type channels. Contrary to popular belief, big dogs (e.g. Facebook) don’t exactly go viral. Once the angel investors and VCs kick in their part those players open up their “little black books” of media contacts to fan the fire of interest in their new investment. When someone tosses in 5, 6 or 7 figures they aren’t just sitting around praying for “viral”. They’re playing puppet master. If you’re more grassroots and boot strapped then you might be limited to praying for viral. It’s up to you.
  10. Discuss if not formalize an exit strategy. You’d be surprised how well defining the way out helps to determine the path(s) you take. Building a house to live in and building one to sell are usually two very different approaches.

And now for the Bonus Tip:

Don’t quit your day job until your have to. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Having your back up against the wall can be inspiring—provided the partners agree on who’s going to bear that burden.

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I introduced the idea of link tagging (and Google URL Builder), why it matters to your website analytics, and how these tools are essential in the context of social media and measuring online marketing effectiveness. I also ended Part 1 suggesting the more curious check out these two Google resources:

Tool: Google URL Builder

Google Analytics Help: How do I tag my links?

Well, now the party is over. These two links are now required reading. No problem, I’ll wait.

Ready? Let’s go…

In short, by setting the various URL tagging parameters “correctly” you’ll be able to better analyze the traffic your link sharing efforts pull in. While Google only specifies that three of the parameters are required, I typically suggest you try to take advantage of all five. It’s rarely a bad idea to do so. Setting more of the parms means more data details to analyze.

What’s open to interpretation here is “correctly.” Let me explain. In order to tag your links correctly you have to develop a game plan for how you want to analyze this traffic once it arrives to your site and the resulting data into Google Analytics. Not ever business has the exact same needs. This is why correct is subjective and as much art as it is science. For example, do you want your Campaign Source to be social_media or perhaps you want Campaign Source at the social network platform level (e.g., facebook, twitter, etc.). It all depends on your reporting needs and how you might what to aggregate or dis-aggregate your traffic as it relates back to Source.

I’d like to mention that Google Analytics has many powerful custom reporting features. In many cases, the only limit is your imagination and your time. However, these power-user capabilities often require an added level of expertise. So (for example) while in theory it’s possible to aggregate multiple Sources into one or two buckets the process for doing so isn’t always as transparent (read: easy) as you might like it to be.

Therefore, I recommend you spend a reasonable amount of time upfront thinking about your tags, as well as doing some exploring of Google Analytics and how it lets you manipulate, pivot and parse the data from your website’s traffic. The better your tagging strategy is structured upfront, the easier it will be to pull the information you need from your GA data.

Important: If you’re looking for quick & easy then you might want to stop reading now and resign yourself to being yet another member of the legion of wanna-be online marketers who still believe you can fake it to make it. On the other hand, if you want to do this correctly (or at least strive for a higher level of thoroughness) and you appreciate the ROI from making the investment then please continue reading.

Ironic, isn’t it? To understand your marketing ROI, you have to invest time & effort in using and understanding the tools for doing so. If it were easy then everyone would be doing it.

Aside from Source, below are some ideas on the other link tagging parameters available. While it’s certainly not rocket science, there’s plenty to keep you busy and thinking hard as you’re developing your social media/emarketing URL tagging strategy. Trust me, it’s worth it. If your current employer doesn’t appreciate the attention to detail, your next one certainly will.

Campaign Medium – You could go with social_media_update for all links posted to any social media page (in the event you share a link to your site but the share is not on your own page). But in all likelihood you’d want to differentiate between links posted on your brand’s pages/accounts and links posted elsewhere. The nature of the traffic certainly could be different.

There’s also the possibility—which I’ll cover in Part 3—of shared links that go to other sites, not just your own, and being able to track engagement with your followers at a link clicked level for those shares. Obviously, that traffic isn’t going to show up in your Analytics. None the less, I’d still recommend you use different a Campaign Medium (or some other tagging parameter for identifying shared links pointing to other sites).

Note: The set of values for Campaign Medium is probably going to be selected from a finite and fairly static list. The same applies to Source. That is, there’s always room for a new value as your business needs evolve but you shouldn’t be making new ones up on the fly every time. It’s best to think about how you have been posting updates and sharing links and then reverse engineer those experiences into your URL tagging process.

Campaign Name – In terms of required parameters this is the third and final required tagging parm. Typically, I envision Campaign Name as being some sort of code. For example, you sell clothing and have an annual Spring Sale in April. A few weeks prior you rev up your marketing engines and begin to seed awareness. Those status updates and shares would be coded for that particular marketing effort (read: campaign).

Once you assign a unique code also be sure to log it somewhere. You not only want to be consistent as you’re running various campaigns but you’ll also need to matrix the code to your analytics data later. Yes, it’s certainly possible to have multiple campaigns running at the same time.

On the other hand, an example at the other extreme of granularity are the social media updates pushed out from the Alchemy United website. In this case, each article is treated like a unique marketing campaign. As a result, along with the other parms, Google Analytics is able to show which article via which social media channel pulled best. On another site I work on, blog article author ID and article category are both added to this mix. As you can imagine the vectors for crunching the data across just those various parameters is both robust and insightful.

Campaign Term – Again, sticking with the clothing example. Perhaps you’d like to track incoming traffic by the nature of the post. For example, gender, type of clothing (e.g., pants, tops, shoes, etc.) or nature of the post (e.g., new arrivals, sale, clearance, fashion tip, etc.) On the other hand, I’ve also seen Campaign Term assigned the time of day (i.e., morning, afternoon, etc.) an update was posted. The idea being, most social media updates have a very brief shelf-life. The client felt that time of update might be valuable to track. The jury for time of day is still out. It all depends on the project, the audience and what the you/the client believes is going to help them answer most of their marketing analytics question better.

Campaign Content – Similar to Campaign Term this too is fairly open ended. In one case we assigned (an encoded version of) the customer’s ID from the client’s database and used that to tag links via a mail merge over a series of mail blasts. As that campaign (of emails) went on, we were able to glean an understanding at a very granular level.

Another example might be for Campaign Content to be the product ID of the product/service mentioned in the post/update. Perhaps promoting Widget Q on social media has zero engagement. Perhaps promoting Widget X as increases (or decreases) sales of Widgets Y and Z. Or maybe mentioning Widget X leads to more conversions (e.g., sign up for email list). The point of setting any of these parameters is to attempt to turn parameter value into Google Analytics data, and then that data into useful marketing and business information. If you’re flying blind at the moment then things can only get better, right?

Finally, while it would be nice to think otherwise, this series is by no means capable of being the be all and end all on the subject of link tagging. Hopefully it’s raising your awareness, increasing your curiosity and inspiring you to progress beyond the usual social media guru cliches. You’ve made it this far, so please spend some time (between now and the next article) doing some digging on your own.

Also, as I mentioned, take inventory of your current social media usage and other online marketing initiatives up until this point. Consider the URL Builder parameters, how those relate to who, what, where, when, why, how, etc., and then mash that up with your marketing efforts and the questions you’ve been needing to answer. With each twist, iteration and jotted note your tagging strategy will take form. Social media ROI happiness is just around the bend.

In Part 3 I’m going to discuss how using a URL shortener (e.g., bit.ly) is going to supplement your linking tagging efforts.

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 1

Social media and online marketing in general continue to be the blessing and the curse of marketers big and small. The change is constant and the noise ever increasing. New this. UI change that. It’s endless—and exciting. If Sisyphis has a modern day cousin it’s the 21st century marketing aficionado. Yet regardless of who, when or where there is one question that seems to remain constant: How do I measure the effectiveness of my social media marketing well as other online marketing efforts?

The answer is simple: Tag your links using Google’s URL Builder*.

Before we continue let me add some additional context that should help make embracing this extra step a no brainer. In the pre-social media days, link tagging (with URL Builder) was primarily intended to help measure the effectiveness of banners ads on third party sites, as well as for email blast tracking. For example, you might have placed a number of banners across a number of different “partner” sites. By properly tagging the links associated with those banners you could slice & dice your website analytics to see which banners drew the most clicks, longest visits, most conversions, etc.

Think about it. What are links shared via social media but banners ads without the banners? Right? Right! They’re across different sites. Check. Over time they are advancing different messages and pages/content. Check. People (hopefully) click on them. Check. And finally, you’d like to understand the nature of those visits. Check. Check. Check!

True, there’s a loss of context with social media. That is, in most cases you won’t know gross impressions for a given shared link (i.e., status update). None the less, at least you’re gaining an understanding of the effectiveness your social media efforts are generating. Are you getting 5 clicks or 500 per status update? Is that traffic leading to 1 conversion of 100? Which status updates are getting the most clicks? Chances are that (even without the context of impressions) answers to these questions are a lot more than you know now.

Truth be told, it’s a pet peeve of mine—and a major emarketing faux pas—when brands will highlight a particular product, service or article and then try to lead me to it with a simple, “Check our website” and a link to their home page. No! I will not check your website. If you want to read a particular section of a book would you just toss the book at me and say, “Find it”? Of course not.

Perhaps for you it’s a given. You are already particular about the URLs you share. If not, in 2012, it’s time to stop being that brand. The one that still thinks it’s okay to waste my time, as well as screw-up their own analytics. Because if you’re not measuring then you’re not really marketing.

If it helps, think of link tagging as a way to make your analytics more granular and more filterable, if you will. So instead of just gleaning, “We got 500 visits from Facebook” with link tagging you’ll be able to segment that 500 by the status update (i.e., link shared) and when done correctly, even the social media platform that update was shared on. Sounds good, yes?

Finally, this is the first part of a series of articles on the topic of URL Tagging and how to use it in the context of (mostly) social media. If you’re the type who likes to explore and wants to get ahead of the curve a bit then you might want to check out these two links:

Tool: URL Builder

How do I tag my links?

Else, just sit tight and wait for the next release in this series. I’m going to drill down deeper, as well as share a spreadsheet I use for making the link tagging process easier. Naturally, if you have questions and comments in the meantime you can leave a comment below.

*Note: This article presumes you’re using Google Analytics as your website’s analytics tool. That said, similar tools often have some sort of equivalent tagging methodology. These concepts should still apply. You just might have to implement in a slightly different manner.

Client-friendly SEO guidelines – Part 3

If you missed either of the two previous installments you can start by catching up here:

Client-friendly SEO guidelines – Part 1

Client-friendly SEO guidelines – Part 2

And without further delay here is the conclusion to this three part beginners’ guide to search engine optimization basics.

8) Image File Names

Believe it or not, search engines also index the names of your image files. Therefore, it is wise to  take advantage of this and give your images file names that are relevant and informative. Don’t be cryptic or lazy. We already know that playing hard to get is not going to help the match maker work for you. The rules for naming image files are very similar to page URLs. That is, use keywords, be descriptive and use dashes (-).

For example—

Bad: photo225.jpg

Good: rose.jpg or flower.jpg

Better: flower-red-rose.jpg or red-rose-flower.jpg

If you have keywords that are sometimes misspelled, using the misspelled version within image files names is a good way to get those misspellings indexed and associated with your site. Since 99.99% of all visitors to your site probably aren’t going to view a page’s source code just to see your image file names, the risk of a misspelling reflecting negatively on your site/brand/company is next to none. While it’s unlikely this trick has a major impact on getting traffic to your site, it is none the less worth mentioning.

9) Analytics

In terms of free tools, the industry standard is Google Analytics. It might be free but it is very robust. So much so there are a countless number of books dedicated to Google Analytics, as well as thousands of people who’s profession it is to understand and use it. Don’t let that intimidate you. Start slow, make an effort to pick up the basics, and then expand your understanding of Google Analytics as you feel is necessary. It is also recommended you consider utilizing Google Webmaster Tools.

One of the main things to know about using Google Analytics is that it is very good at telling you what happened. On the other hand, it’s not very good at telling you why. When making decision based on analytics be sure to put some effort into trying to interpret and understand the why. Avoid jumping to conclusions, quite often you’ll find there are at least two sides to every story.

10) The Process – The conclusion is the beginning

Last but not least, always be mindful that SEO is not a set it and forget it project. While your pursuit of SEO has a start, it does not have an end. The possibilities are endless…Search engine indexing algorithms continues to evolve. A competitor launches a new website and/or makes a conscious effort to build in bound links. Or maybe your product mix changes. Whatever the case may be, change and SEO go hand in hand. This isn’t the end, it’s the beginning of your love affair with SEO.

Granted, you might not have the resources to obsess over SEO on a daily basis. However, it is recommended you consider scheduling different levels of commitment on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis. For example, maybe you review Google Analytics weekly, and revisit your keywords quarterly.

SEO is like any relationship—it takes work to make it successful. Either you’re committed to it or you’re not. And what you get out will be direct function of what you put in. Don’t expect SEO to help you, if you’re not making time to help yourself.

A Classic Case of Sisyphean Marketing Strategy

For starter, I want to acknowledge that this is not “Client-friendly SEO Guidelines – Part 3″. Yes, I had promised that next. However, I decided to push it back a week and slide this one in instead. Call it agile planning, if you will.

As the story goes, I had lunch with a colleague earlier in the week. JK—not his/her real name—is a fairly hardcore SEO aficionado. JK’s motto is:  Tune it. Tweak it. Tighten it. Repeat. JK is also fond of: Mo’ traffic. Mo’ traffic. Mo’ traffic.

We got past the usual formalities, as well as rejoicing over the USA Women’s soccer victory over Brazil and then shifted into talking shop. JK had just started with a new client/project a few weeks back. It was for an e-commerce outfit. I had seen the site and it appeared then that it was going to be quite a challenge. I was curious and asked how it was going.

JK’s quick and boastfully proud reply was:

“Great. Traffic is increasing. Alexa ranking is improving. We’re adding pages to farm in more traffic. And thus far the impact of Google’s Panda update seems to be minimal.”

I wasn’t surprised. JK does good work. We talk SEO all the time. But then again we both knew there are a handful of standard tricks to grab the low hanging fruit. Not that there is anything wrong with that. You’ll understand my positioning here in a moment.

I toasted JK’s accomplishments, paused and then queried, “Mind if I ask some Guest-centric and business fundamentals questions?” JK smiled and firmly nodded affirmative. Here are some of the things that were discussed over the rest of the meal. Mind you for some of these it might be too early to tell. That is, there’s not enough data yet. Also, admittedly not all are JK’s area and/or role. None the less, we needed to discuss  something and JK’s project was this afternoon’s feature.

  • Churn rate: Up? Down? No change? What are the top reasons for churn? Are there particular keywords, PCC campaigns, etc. that are more prone to churn?
  • The marketing sweet spot: Is price the sole driver? Might emphasizing value be a better play? Would value attract a less churn-ful buyer?
  • Conversions: Was increasing traffic also increasing sales? Was the average size of sale increasing? Why? Why not?
  • Cross-selling and up-selling? Does influencing the buyer’s profile of purchases reduce churn and/or increase a Guest’s value over time?
  • The Guest Experience: What was being done to improve the UI, UX, design, service, etc.?
  • Building the brand: Does more traffic, more customers and more sales equate to establishing and building an actual brand?
  • Guest expectations: Were they being addressed? Can you have a brand in 2011 and not address Guest expectations?
  • SE Old: Is the nature of SEO changing? Are not social networks becoming the “search” tool of choice? Then that?
  • Exit Strategy: The ultimate question is, is anyone else willing to pay to acquire this business as it is currently modeled? Is the strategy sustainable?

After numerous volleys the conclusion was simple. It is a classic case of what I’m going to call a Sisyphean marketing strategy. In other words, X amount of traffic is going to convert; Y number are going to churn out; in order to meet growth goals Z, there is a simple minded (if not one dimensional) objective to just keep increasing traffic. The fact that there are quite a few other vectors that all intertwine didn’t matter. The best practices of great brands’ seemed to be nowhere in sight. Or should I said, in site?

Truth be told, JK said the client was comfortable with the Sisyphean marketing strategy. Said formula was what established them and they were convinced the formula was the key to future growth. The fact that just about every other parameter on the pitch had changed in that time frame didn’t seem to be a concern. In terms of doing their best, yes within the narrow context they defined they seemed to be doing their best. While I certainly do appreciate simplicity and focus I would think that those in similar historical circumstances probably have other lessons to teach. JK just mumbled something about mo’ traffic, mo’ traffic, mo’ traffic. The cheque came, we ponied up our credit cards and went back to working.

But there seems to be an alt-moral to this story. Sometimes doing your best isn’t good enough—that is, eventually it can become less and less appropriate. Sometimes doing what’s right, what needs to be done is what’s in order. Granted, that can be difficult because it means letting go of a “sure thing.” I also means taking up a new cause, a new learning curve and that too can be a bit frightening. Or in JK’s case it might actually mean less billable hours.

Being focused is great. However,  it’s not always as simple as running full speed ahead with blinders on in the same direction. This type of determination can be dangerous for a business. Hopefully you’re thinking of the same VW car commercial that I’m thinking of right now. If not, pop over to YouTube and watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-Vdb9yON-E.

Client-friendly SEO guidelines – Part 2

Welcome back to the middle portion of the Client-friendly SEO Guidelines show. If you missed Part 1 you can catch up here:

http://www.alchemyunited.com/2011/06/29/client-friendly-seo-guidelines-part-1

The one caveat I’d like to repeat from Part 1 is that the intention of this series is to build understanding and confidence—not paralyze a novice with perfectionist expert level details. If you feel there’s a flaw that’s too flawed given the context, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. Just please keep in mind the intention here is SEO 101 for the time constrained SMB and NPO.

4) Headline Tags

Sometimes referred to as “H tags” since they begin with an H and are then numbered 1 to 6. If you view a web page’s source code and see: <h1>some text here</h1> or <h2>some other text here</h2>, etc. those are headline tags. These tags are part of the page’s design and are applied to the content on a page to tell the search engine what’s most important (h1), a bit less so (h2), and so on. Contrary to popular belief, headline tags need not be used to set type display characteristics (e.g., font size, font color, etc.) Typically they are styled but that’s not their true intention.

Be aware that not everything can be equally uber important. If you get carried away with the Headline tags the search engines’ algorithm might just decide to ignore your headlines all together. Therefore, headline tags should be used with some discretion. It is always best to be objective and honest when tuning your site to be “search engine friendly.”

While h1 is typically applied to the visible (and often generic) page title, h1 might instead be better used if you also have a sub-headline that describes the page’s content in more objective detail that makes better use of your keywords. For example, the headline might be creative and somewhat subjective so it catches a reader’s eye. While the sub-headline would be more objective and thus more “search engine friendly.”

If the design of your site doesn’t include a sub-headline or short page description, then you probably want to consider it. You might not feel you need it, but if it’s written and tagged properly Google will appreciate it. Headline tags are a tool to help make your content friendlier to your match makers. And again, keep in mind that there need not be any correlation between what you define for search engines as h1 and how that h1 is styled for the human reader. Regardless, your site’s first priority is to be user friendly. SEO friendly is second.

Although they can be applied more broadly, there should also be correlation and consistency between page URL, page title and the headline tags. These parameters don’t have to line up perfectly but they should be reasonably close. On the other hand, you do want to have a sense that you’re creating a general impression, a cloud if you will. That cloud is made up of various keywords and content that accurately reflects your site/brand/company as well as the content of a particular page. Hopefully, you’re starting to get a feel for how search engines “think” and how you can use that awareness to tip things in your favor. Be precise. Be specific. But also keep in mind that sometimes “long tail” keywords are effective too.

5) Page Description

The page meta description does not appear on your site. When you do a search, it does however appear in the list of search engine results pages results (SERPs) that are returned for the searcher to read. The page meta description should be honest and objective but none the less a bit enticing. If you have something the searcher is interested in, you want them to read your description and click through to your site. Don’t over promise, but don’t be too understated either. For example, if price is a critical decision point then be sure to address that in your page description.

The standard recommendation is to keep the page description to less than 160 character. This is going to be read by real humans so do use proper English. You can exceed 160 characters, however most SERPs will only display the first 160 characters. Evidently, matchmakers prefer brevity, as do most searchers.

6) Page Content

Rule number one is that your content should be written to be read by real people. Writing copy that is search engine friendly but user unfriendly is a no-no. In fact the latest release of Google’s indexing algorithm (code named: Panda) will penalize context it believes is unnatural.

When writing your content, refer back to your keyword list and be sure to also use the lower priority keywords. Search engines are not going to match you to searches unless your site contains those words too. Feel free to repeat keywords you have used in the previous steps but don’t over do it. In 2011, “stuffing” your content with keywords is also a no-no. If you’re interested in more depth in this area do a search for: “SEO keyword density.”

7) Link Anchor Test

Link anchor text are the words within a link that are clickable. Yes Virginia, these words matter to search engines. The search engines assume that if the words are part of a link to a page, then they are important and also descriptive of the page receiving that link.

Whether linking within your site or out to other sites try to avoid things such as “To do ‘blank’ click here” where “here” is the only anchor text in the link. Try to use wording that is descriptive of the site/page being linked to, and be sure that wording is part of the link anchor text.

And while we’re on the subject of links, it’s worth mentioning that the best way to improve your SEO impact is building in-bound links. That is, links from other sites to your site. Since that’s not always something you can have a direct and immediate impact on, it is considered to be outside the scope of these guidelines. None the less, building in-bound links is something to be aware of as you add tools to your SEO tool box.

Alright then, that’s it for Part 2. Hopefully you’ll share this with your friends and colleagues. Part 3 should be published some time next week.

Client-friendly SEO guidelines – Part 1

A few weeks back I was commissioned to create a brief but through set of user-friendly SEO guidelines. The objective was not to explore every nook and cranny to the Nth degree. (In other words, there are some known imperfections in this list.)

Instead the goal was  a bit less ambitious. This set of guidelines would keep the ideas bite-sized and layman/laywoman friendly. In doing so the hope was that the majority of desired actions would be more likely to take place. “Build understanding and confidence—not paralyze with perfectionist expert level details,” was the directive.

I’ve been given permission to republish this and have decided to break it into three parts. Here is Part 1 of 3:

Introduction

SEO is an acronym for Search Engine Optimization. Broadly, the intention of SEO is to optimize a website’s structure and content in order to increase the accuracy of a search engine’s indexing of that site. Metaphorically, it is helpful to envision a search engine as a match maker. A suitor searches with a keyword/phrase with the intention of finding something. It is up to the match maker to interpret those needs, compare the stated needs to its massive number of indexed pages, and then based on a top secret algorithm pull out the pages that seem to matter most. The match maker then returns a list of results to the suitor with its best guess for a match at the top of the list, second best guess is the next one down, and so on.

If the person searching is in fact looking for a site such as yours then it is in your best interest to help the match maker make that connection. There is nothing to be gained in playing hard to get. The more “search engine friendly” a website is, the more likely it is for that site to be listed on relevant search engine results pages (also know as SERPs).

Overview

SEO is as much of an art as it is a science. Since the algorithms that search engines (e.g., Google, Bing, etc.) use are highly proprietary, much of what is understood about SEO is based on reverse engineering that black box. In other words, Google (for example) does not publish a document that specifies exactly what matters and what does not. Instead, there is a whole industry built around trying to decode the black box and then providing services based on that distilled knowledge. To further complicate matters, search engines are constantly refining their algorithms. So while there are quite a few knowns (read: best practices), the nature of SEO is such that there are also always a certain number of unknowns.

Rather than get bogged down in technical details and other advanced concepts, the intention of this list is to provide a high level overview of the some key elements of SEO—SEO 101 if you will. This guide is by no means every trick in the SEO book. It’s meant to be a simple but thorough primer so there’s no need to feel intimidated.

If this all sounds like extra work, think again. The fact is most of this list involves things that need to be done regardless. For example, no matter how you cut it your site is going to need content. You can’t launch with blank pages. Your pages will need titles and they will need URLs too. With this in mind, the purpose of these guidelines is to help you look your best with a minimal amount of extra effort.

1) Keywords

As they say, content is king. Start by making a list of keywords and key phrases that you would ideally want to be associated with your site/brand/company. (Note: Throughout the rest of this discussion, the word “keywords” will be used as a short substitute for “keywords and keyword phrases.”) In other words, when people search using these keywords ultimately they would probably be interested in finding your website. These keywords could be the type of services you offer, the geographic areas you serve, or even specific brands or products you sell/service.

Just keep in mind they should be searcher-centric. Ultimately, this is about making yourself more attractive to them. Not showing up unshowered with a take it or leave it disposition. If you don’t want to prepare for the date (i.e., doing more business) then don’t bother trying to fake it. It doesn’t work that way.

If you want to take it a step further, Google also offers a keyword tool that helps you determine the approximate number of times a given keyword has been used in a search.

https://adwords.google.com/o/Targeting/Explorer?__c=1000000000&__u=1000000000&ideaRequestType=KEYWORD_IDEAS#search.none

Yes, this tool can be helpful. However, you should be aware that in most cases keywords with a high number of searches are typically broad (i.e., not focused), as well as have quite a bit of competition associated with them. That is, you probably won’t be the only site wishing to be connected with such high exposure words.

More importantly, a high number of search does not necessarily mean all those people would be interested in your site/brand/company. This is especially true of broad keywords. For example, “web design.” Is the person using that keyword looking to learn web design, hire a web design outfit, see examples of web design, buy a web design book, looking for a web design job, or maybe even researching web bots? Broad, high traffic keywords are necessary, just be sure to understand the limitations inherent in their vagueness.

Depending on the nature of your business you might wish to consider geography as part of your keyword selection. For example, you might be more interested in being strongly tied to “web design nj” or “web design princeton” or “web design princeton  nj.” The number of searches for these keywords aren’t going to be as high but the objective of this exercise is quality and not quantity. If you’re a Jersey based guy then a California girl might not be a good match for you.

Once you compile your list, identify the primary keywords, verses what should be considered secondary. Having this list prioritized is going to help as you move forward.

2) Page URL

Search engines like URLs. The logic being, if the word(s) is in the URL then it must be important and somehow directly connected to the content of the page. Therefore, be reasonably descriptive and use relevant and appropriate keywords in your Page URLs. Also you can’t use spaces in a URL. Instead be sure to use a dash (-) and not an underscore ( _ ) between the words. SEO industry experts say dashes, also known as hyphens, perform better.

Most people don’t bother to read the URLs. Therefore, you can often take advantage of this opportunity and be hyper-descriptive. You also do not have to worry about proper English either.

For example—

Bad: FauxHonda.com/service_dept

Good: FauxHonda.com/service-dept

Better: FauxHonda.com/car-repair or possibly FauxHonda.com/car-repair-nj

So while the links to that page and the text on the page might say Service Department, the URL can be a bit less site user friendly and more search engine friendly. That being said, if you have a page where you often share the URL with others, you might want to be sensitive to that fact and make that URL user friendly and possibly shorter. You have to find a balance, and that is part of the art mentioned earlier.

Finally, don’t over do it. Google likes focus. Trying to make it seem like your page is everything under the sun is not helpful. KISS (i.e., Keep it simple stupid) is a good rule of thumb for SEO 101ers.

3) Page Title

Similar to the page URL is the page Title, also known as the page meta title. This text doesn’t display on your site per se, but it does display in your browser. Typically, at the very top of the screen you’ll see what often looks like a brief description. That is the page meta title.

Your page title should be no more than 60 to 70 characters—depending on who you ask—and spaces are allowed. Longer page titles are acceptable but search engines only look at the first 60 to 70 characters. The rule of thumb is that search engines consider the words on the left to be more important than the words further out in the “sentence”. Stick to this approach the best you can. Proper English isn’t required but in terms of aesthetics it’s probably a good practice to try to follow. It is frequent enough that people do read page titles. You don’t want to look or sound unprofessional.

There should also be a fair amount of correlation and consistency between page URL and page title. The search engines are assuming that anything in the title is also important and highly relevant to the content of the page. One should reinforce the other and vice versa.

That wraps up Part 1. Part 2 will roll out in about a week and then finally Part 3 about week after that. Naturally, if you have any questions or comments in the mean time please feel free to ask.

To Blog or Not To Blog

In the event that you haven’t been following my more granular work stream site Chief Alchemist (ChiefAlchemist.com), I’ll recap a bit. A couple months back I was commissioned by Trenton, NJ based Association Business Solutions (ABSNJ.com) to do a guest blogging series. The topic? Blogging. Yes, blogging on blogging.

Below is Part 5, the final chapter in the series. To read the prior four chapters just follow the linked titles back to the ABS blog.

Blog or Not To Blog: Part 5 (It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3, 4)

Hard to imagine that you started down this road to blogging bliss less than two months ago, isn’t it? What once seemed to be an insurmountable unknown has evolved into a 2011 must-do. In the spirit of you have to start somewhere, just embrace your inner athlete and as Nike says, “Just do it!” But maybe you’re feeling just a bit under-inspired? If that’s the case then how about a quick recap?

Part 1: The Four Letter “B” Word?
The best place to start is at the start. What we learned here was that blogging isn’t as bad as many interpret it to be. In fact, blogging is just another fairly simple way to communicate.

Part 2: Self-Publish or Perish
Things picked up a bit on Part 2. I explained that as marketing evolves from being one directional to conversational a blog is the perfect way to embrace your public, and they you. Regardless of simplicity, for those organizations that want to reap the benefits, blogging is becoming the new business card. That is, it’s a necessity.

Part 3: Social networking friends with blog benefits
You asked for more benefits and you got ‘em. The content in a blog can be instrumental to improving your website’s SEO (search engine optimization). In short, Google’s bots and algorithms like blogs. A blog is also a great way to disseminate information by harnessing the power of social networks and the “share culture”.

Part 4: They say, “Everyone has at least one blog in them.”
And then in the previous chapter we resolved your final set of fears. “I don’t know what to write about,” and “I’m not that good of a writer,” and “I’m too busy,” were all resolved. Another answer was the soft sell – contact Karla or Paula at ABS and they’ll work with you to develop a solution to meet the needs of your business. Done deal!

Regardless of what your personal feeling are about the Internet, I think it’s pretty safe to say that it’s here to stay. It’s certainly not going to go away just because you ignore it. Whether it’s blogging, using photos & video, tapping into social media or whatever other innovative trend or staple is ahead, your brand is going to have to participate in some way. There’s no need to overwhelm yourself, just chip away at it. The more you do, the more you’ll learn. And of course there are also resources such as myself to guide you along the way.

When it comes to business and marketing what I like to say is, The Internet. You can figure it out now, or you can figure it out later. But you will need to figure it out.

The darkside of PPC

“Fight Click Fraud on Pay-Per-Click Ads” by Kim Boatman (Inc.com, 7 July 2010). As they say, “It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.” PPC (pay per click) might not land you in the hospital but it can take more out of your butt than necessary. A couple quick points to add:

1) While Kim gathers plenty of good points, the best and often most overlooked is the one about limiting a PPC campaign geographically. I wish I had a buck for every time I saw an AdWords ad in search results that was obviously for a local based business well out of my area. Wasted impression add up. In turn, CTR (click throught rate) effects ad placement and bid price.

2) Keep in mind, (typically) PPC is *not* like old media. It’s not about impressions and trying to be everywhere all the time. PPC is about quality. That is, ads and keywords that draw in quality leads and customers. CTR is a handy guide but ultimately it’s about conversions and the quality of the lead/customer there of. In short, PCC isn’t a shotgun, it’s sniper fire. However, you have to take the time to draw the right bullets to your target, else you’ll be spending more than you should.

Have you ever been the victim of click fraud? And what are your PPC tips and secrets?

Ya can’t find what isn’t there

“Here’s Looking at You – Make your site a better search engine target by optimizing your company’s images.” by Mikal E. Belicove (Entrepreneur Magazine, June 2010). At a high level SEO isn’t rocket science… “But wait! What is SEO?” you ask. Opps, sorry.

SEO is short for search engine optimization. SEO is the art and science of trying to think how search engines think and making adjustments to your website to fit that M.O. That thinking is how search engines crawl and index your website’s pages. It’s how and why search engines exist — to match search queries, best they can, with a list of web pages that might satisfy that query.

Search engines are like high tech matchmakers using sophisticated algorithms to spark a relationship. These top secret black box algorithms evaluated countless characteristics of a web page and a website and then rank the results of that evaluation. In short, if it’s on your website, then as far as search engines are concerned it matters.

One of the easiest and most overlooked SEO best practices is properly naming the files that are the images on your site. For example, file123.jpg is probably not going to be as effective as seo-tips-and-tricks.jpg (if someone is searching for: SEO tips and tricks). Again, search engines are going to use any insight possible in order to make the best match between searcher and site. Makes sense, right?

If you’re looking to be smarter and get more out of your website by making it more “SEO friendly”, please check out Mikal’s great article on image file naming.

Track… Analyze… Adjust… Repeat…

“Evaluate Editorial Impact Using Google Analytics” by Lars Johansson (WebsiteMagazine.com, May 2010). A thorough, if not somewhat technical article on the finer point of Google Analytics. Let’s just jump right to the AU value add:

AU 1 – There is also another way to filter out internally generated traffic  and that’s by using cookies. Details can be found on this Google Analytics support page. (btw, Thanks Lars!) This is especially handy for when your “staff” is not in a fixed location and/or use multiple devices to access the same content.

AU 2 – Another must-use tool that extends and integrates with GA is Google URL Builder. In short, when you place banners and other content (e.g., links) on other sites, URL builder is a tool for building custom URLs for each placement. The clicks back in from those URLs can then be tracked via GA.

AU 3 – Semi-related to URL Builder is AddThis.com (and similar sharing services). AddThis is nice because it will log the shares going out as well as the clicks that come back in from those shared links. In addition, you might want to consider using your CMS (content management system) to integrate and customize your AddThis button with URL Builder formatted URL so you can pull in even more data.

AU 4 – And finally, there’s bit.ly. With URL shortening being all the rage (and absolutely necessary the Twittersphere), bit.ly will take a long URL and shortens it. The bonus is that it too logs that request and tracks the clicks on the shortened link. While in some regards the analytics might be overkill, the use of a URL  shortening service is often necessary. bit.ly is the current king of that hill. And if branding of your shortened URLs sounds appealing then then be sure to check out bit.ly Pro as well.

Congratulations! It’s only Tuesday and already your head is ready to explode with more essentials. Success, it doesn’t come easy, does it?

Picking up Website Magazine’s slack

The good news and “the huh?” news…

WebsiteMagazine.com, a fairly reputable resource when it comes to well… um… websites, recently published a list of their “Top 50 Design Resources”. (Note: We have not vetted this list, nor given the endless resources on the internet should it be consider all inclusive.)

Now here’s “the huh?” There are 50 URLs and they a published as an image. In other words, not links, not even HTML text that can be copied and pasted. A .gif! But wait, there’s more! That image is named: top50may2010.gif. In terms of best practices it should be something like: top-50-web-design-resources-may-2010.gif. And finally, they don’t use the alt=” ” in the HTML for the image. Again, another SEO no no. Website Magazine? Huh?

So in the spirit of “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself,” here are the first 25 of those Top 50:

1. cssbeauty.com
2. cssdrive.com
3. thefwa.com
4. thebestdesigns.com
5. cssvault.com

6. unmatchedstyle.com
7. designmeltdown.com
8. designshack.co.uk
9. webcream.com
10. cssheaven.com

11. cssremix.com
12. bestgalleryweb.com
13. cssmania.com
14. patterntap.com
15. csselite.com

16. cssclip.com
17. designbombs.com
18. siteinspire.net
19. edustyle.net
20. styleboost.com

21. genuinestyle.com
22. css-website.com
23. cssbased.com
24. mostinspired.com
25. stylegala.com

Btw, when it comes to design, web design and web development two of the AU must visit (and must RSS) are SmashingMagazine.com and SpeckyBoy.com.