Archives for July 2013

Does Your Website Need a Facelift?

 

It’s starting to seem like the Internet has been around since the beginning of time. I can hardly imagine a time without using the Web to help me get through my everyday life. I found myself unexpectedly without my iPhone last week, and let’s just say,I was lost. Access to the Web has become easier, and because of that, we spend even more time on the Internet each day.

Since we’ve agreed that the Internet has been around for what feels like forever, maybe it’s time to evaluate how your own website is aging as well. Here’s a few questions to ask yourself to make sure you still have a dynamic and useful website:

Do I have any coding or scripting errors?

This one is pretty basic, but it’s a good idea to browse your site from the front end and see if you see any glaring errors. If you primarily update your site from the back end, you may not notice any coding or scripting errors.

Do other people in my industry have better websites?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; it’s important to check out other websites that are similar in scope and content to yours. While I am by no means advising you to rip off your competition, knowing what they are doing may give you some ideas of what you could do better on your own website.

Is my site mobile friendly?

When the Internet was first invented, mobile sites weren’t even a thought in a developer’s head. But now, it’s pretty important to make your website mobile friendly, or even develop a mobile-friendly platform, such as m.yourbusiness.com instead of just yourbusiness.com

Do I have any outdated information?

Sometimes information on websites doesn’t seem like it needs to be updated, such as homepage info, hours, or even a menu. But even the smallest changes can become obvious when a user logs onto your site. Make sure that you are double checking all of your information from the perspective of someone who just casually stumbles upon your site.

If you don’t feel like you have the time to check for all of these things yourself, consider hiring someone to revamp your site. If you don’t want an entire site overhaul, it shouldn’t be too pricey to have someone correct any errors that you might have. Otherwise, it’s important to glance over your own site occasionally and make sure that everything looks good!

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Megan Totka is the Chief Editor for ChamberofCommerce.com. She specializes on the topic of small business tips and resources. ChamberofCommerce.com helps small businesses grow their business on the web and facilitates connectivity between local businesses and more than 7,000 Chambers of Commerce worldwide.

4 Specific Results Social Media Isn’t Built to Get You

 

If it’s big, it ought to be important. If it’s so important, then it ought to fetch us something for our money and/or efforts. Or so the general thought goes.

The truth is it might or it might not. Social Media isn't Built to Get You

For social media, however, size has nothing to do with what you’ll get from it. Just like you get answers from people depending on the way you ask questions, social media does and does not achieve certain kind of results. It’s not really about the medium then; it’s more about what you expect from it and what you pour into it

Here are 4 specific kinds of results that social media isn’t meant to get for you:

$X Spent on Advertising = $Y in Total Sales

Social media is designed to be more like a huge, passive party – a humongous congregation of humanity on another medium almost as if it’s an alternative to living on our own planet. Ideas can spread and thoughts can resonate. You (along with millions of others) can share content, support causes, keep in touch with others, connect with many more, and advocate everyone’s little version of the truth (or lies).

Social media is all that and much more. Yet, it’s not like traditional media in the revenue sense. It just won’t fetch you sales in spades. It won’t make your cash register wail like a siren. It might never get you a single “buy” transaction, ever.

You just have to go the proverbial Edison way and fail 10,000 times before you hit on what works for you. Take a shot at social media in whichever way that you deem appropriate: do it yourself, recruit in-house social media experts, outsource it, or bring in highly skilled social media consultants.

Social media wasn’t formed to be a marketplace; it was built to connect people, with all their needs, wants, information requirements, craving for support, and hungry demand for social proof. Revenue is something you attempt to dig out from the midst of all these. So don’t go betting on it.

Buying Love

You can’t buy love. We knew it long before but social media just blew that concept into a massive size and then forced us to pin that into our heads. Thousands of businesses to date love taking the “buy likes and followers” approach by hiring “specialists” who claim to be able to bring in 3,000 likes in 30 days or 20,000 followers in 3 months.

Think about this for a second: if your business deals with great products and services and if you stand behind your offering while contributing value to your customers, why would you ever need the all-too-tempting “buy 1000 likes” to work social media into your marketing strategy?

If you are good, the world will know. People will take notice. They will spread the word for you. Your brand will go viral if you give people enough reason.

Buying your way in is way too easy. Even if you did achieve to herald masses of people to like your Facebook Fan page and to follow you across your social media channels, do you really think they’d pay attention to your incessant interruptive marketing? You did buy your way in but how long does it take for them to chuck you out with an “Unlike” or “Unfollow?”

If the number of fans and followers were the measure of success, 80% of all social media accounts would have no use whatsoever. You’d be surprised at what some really small businesses with a tiny string of likes and followers have managed to do.

Orchestrating the PR Circus

It takes only one visit to Quora or a discussion-heavy LinkedIn group to make you realize that Internet users have worked to build passionate communities around products, services, ideas, brands, and tools.

If you read popular online publications such as Read Write Web, Mashable, Inc., or Fast Company, you know that if there’s a mention of a business, a web-based tool, a piece of code, a mobile app, or a service, that website gets server-killing traffic within the hour. The basic reason for this is that these sites have gained the trust of millions and a collective agreement from the community of being a reliable source of industry information.

Type in a query of your choice in Quora and see users pitching in their “opinion” on what these popular tools are. Project collaboration tools such as Basecamp have upstaged mighty and established programs such as Microsoft Project. Large online retailers and established bloggers rely on provider reviews from WhoIsHostingThis? before they choose a web host. Savvy travelers make it a point to check out Oyster Fakeouts before they book a hotel, and Oyster now has as much pull as TripAdvisor or any travel publication.

What’s the difference between an orchestrated PR effort and a natural mention on any of the websites alluded to earlier?

Press releases and paying publications (including blogs) is the traditional form of spreading the word. It still works, but it’s easy for readers to see through. How much value would you place on a blog posts that starts with “Sponsored Post?”

Natural mentions on popular publications, forums, communities, review sites, and Q & A sites are a whole new level of PR altogether. For once, there’s a real sense of “newsworthy” in the press!

Social media won’t budge to your PR bullying—it has the potential to bring media companies to their knees!

Swiping Your Card and Cashing In

Finally, social media is the exact opposite of traditional marketing channels when it comes to timeframes. Place an advertisement on your local paper today and you might just get some calls. Run a prolonged mass media campaign across print and television and you’ll get noticed. Lump together an offer that expires in a week and you’ll get a few visits to your store.

Social media is the last place you should be if you want anything “instant.” That’s not to say social media is a sloth bear. Nothing matches the viral blowout of a social share, but this “spread” is organic—no one individual, company or campaign controls it. No amount of money can buy that kind of influence.

If you are intent on social media, nurture it like a child. Do what you have to and do it for a long time. Social media begins to work for you when you’ve worked long enough and consistently enough.

If you’re looking for a shortcut, look somewhere else.

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Rohan works at E2M Solutions, India’s fastest growing online marketing agency, where he puts together digital master plans for premium brands. He also helps create remarkable user experiences at OnlyDesign.org for startups. Hit him up on Twitter for a chat.

3 Questions You Should Ask Before Debating “Black Hat” Tactics

 

We have positioned ourselves as ethical digital marketers and we stand behind that assertion, but a chasm is opening up in this industry and I don’t think it’s healthy. Marketers are outing “black hats” while many “inbound marketers” are being criticized for hypocrisy and false assertions that what they do does not work.

The real problem with this debate is that there are no stated goals other than the desire to position ourselves as “safe” marketers or as “real” SEOs. The phrases “black hat” and “white hat” are being defined only by whoever is using them, and legitimate criticisms from either side are being fully ignored due to cognitive biases. Black Hat Tactics

We’re probably guilty of some of this ourselves, so we’re not preaching from the pulpit here. I just think it’s time to start defining what we mean and why we care so much about this debate, to stop inventing straw men, and to build something constructive out of this.

So, with that in mind, here are 3 questions I think we should all ask before we jump back into this debate.

1. What are “black hat” and “white hat” tactics anyway?

Ask an SEO, get a wrong answer.

“Inbound marketers” will mostly point to tactics that Google has explicitly stated are against the rules, like:

  • Buying and selling links, including exchanging goods and services for links or sending “free” products in exchange for links
  • Trading links “excessively”
  • Linking to spammers and unrelated sites to manipulate PageRank
  • Building pages just to link from them
  • Building links with automated programs

Meanwhile, supposed “black hats” will point out that the term comes from the hacking world. You’re not really a “black hat” unless you are breaking the law or hacking computer systems, many of them will argue.

But, as we’ve pointed out several times, and Michael Martinez has joined us, Google has stated that any links intended to manipulate rankings can be considered part of a link scheme.

If we accept the premise that SEO tactics are “gray hat” if they lie in murky, unclearly defined territory according to Google’s guidelines, then virtually all SEO is gray hat. We’re all trying to “manipulate” rankings. It’s only by attributing a sinister connotation to the word “manipulate” that we can justify calling ourselves “white hats” and them “black hats.”

And, of course, Google can change its guidelines at any time.

As we’ve said before and will say again, we advocate attaching some non-SEO marketing value to every SEO tactic you use. The simple mantra “would I build this link if it were no-follow?” is a good one to live by. We also feel it’s a better decision to scale through smart hiring and project management software like WorkZone than through automation like Xrumer or whatever the kids are using these days.

But this doesn’t really come down to being “black hat” or “white hat.” It comes down to our goals and our risk tolerance. And that brings us to our next question.

2. What are your goals and your risk tolerance?

Why do you care about rankings, and how much risk are you willing to accept?

If you’re in SEO for yourself, the ethics can get murkier than most of us would like to admit. You’re only putting yourself at risk, and a few spun articles and purchased links probably aren’t going to hurt anybody but you beyond mere annoyance. This is, in fact, fairly tame compared to some aggressive marketing tactics that predate SEO.

If you’re working for clients, the situation is very different. Putting a client at risk without their consent is certainly unethical, bad for morale, bad for publicity, and ultimately bad for business.

Even clients who claim to be up for the risk will often quickly be reduced to tears when they find themselves getting penalized.

And this isn’t the world of insurance, where risks can be calculated with some degree of accuracy. We have to face facts and realize that we have no idea what the risks are when we violate, or tip-toe on, Google’s guidelines.

I’m of the opinion that deliberately violating Google’s guidelines can only make sense if all you care about are short term results. Most spammers fully realize this, and leverage automated, risky tactics for short term profit. That’s an ethically gray decision that we’re not interested in making, because long term success is the only kind of success that matters to us.

But what about the rest of us? When we use guest posts to boost PageRank or use outreach to build links, we are arguably engaging in “link schemes.” That’s also a risk we need to be fully aware of, which is why it is so important to diversify and chase referral traffic and branding impressions just as much as SEO value.

And all of this talk about ethics really makes me wonder about one big question that often goes unaddressed, and really gets to the heart of why this debate has been bothering me lately.

3. Why do ethics only matter when it comes to Google?

Ask almost anybody and you won’t find that their hearts go out to Google and its shareholders, and all the pain and suffering that they must go through because of “black hat” SEOs.

Whenever people debate “black hat” vs “white hat” the subject of ethics always seems to come up, but rarely does this discussion move beyond the rules Google has defined. This is probably why “black hats” often claim “inbound marketers” are brainwashed herd animals.

What about collecting arguably private user data for remarketing advertisements? What about using Facebook’s user data to market to consumers using what they often argue is private data? What about maximizing your conversion rate by making false promises?

I’m not arguing for or against any of these tactics; I’m simply pointing out that these subjects rarely seem to come up during these debates. As far as the user is concerned, a remarketing ad is just as bad, if not worse than, a purchased link. False promises are still worse, and yet practically ubiquitous as far as consumers are concerned.

Conclusion

Ethics go deeper than the rules Google has laid out for us. In fact, ethics are a crucial part of holistic marketing. Shared values are one of the strongest motivators for purchasing intent, and internal morale is driven in large part by ethics. If we can move beyond name calling, we can address how ethics really impact SEO, instead of focusing on the undeniable fact that violating Google guidelines comes with inherent risks.

What do you think about ethics in SEO outside this traditionally defined scope?

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Pratik Dholakiya is the Co-Founder & VP of Marketing of E2M Solutions & OnlyDesign. The primary focus of E2M Solutions is on content marketing and leveraging its potential to generate revenue for clients. OnlyDesign helps companies build a better web & mobile presence. You can contact him on twitter @DholakiyaPratik or by emailing at web@pratikdholakiya.com