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What is Web marketing?

What’s Hot in Web Marketing?

What’s Hot?

Marketing is all about building and influencing trends.  It’s also true that trends are important within marketing.  Certain approaches become “hot” and widely used.  Particularly with the Internet, the evolution of technology and discoveries of how people behave on-line make certain methods work particularly well at certain times.

Knowing what’s hot right now in Web marketing can be important to because that’s likely to be a technique that can pay rich dividends in terms of bringing business to you.

For this discussion, I’m grateful for a discussion that took place with a client yesterday, who had attended a talk on Web marketing that echoed just what’s presented here.

Evolution

What I started this business in 1998, Web marketing consisted mostly of what’s called search

engine optimization, or SEO, which at the time was fooling Google into the impression that your site had content about the most popular topics of the day.  A variety of tricks were used to do this.  Today Google knows all about those tricks, and if you tried to use 1998 SEO today your site would see very few visitors from Google.

In those days of yore, we talk about Web 1.0, the use of the Web as a distributor of information.  Visitors found Web sites through search, and then accessed information there.  Web 1.0 was all about information provided by site owners.  Visitors were passive consumers of information.

On-Line Reviews

More recently, we’ve seen the growth of importance on the Web of user-generated content, as Web users shift their role from passive consumers to active providers of information–this is generally called Web 2.0.  Of course, marketers are eager to use that trend to their advantage, hence the emergence of on-line reviews as a marketing tool.  In fact, on-line reviews are the hottest topic today in Web marketing.

My own review management service was started to enable business owners to obtain more genuine, favorable reviews from their real customers.  A number of my clients are now using this service to increase the number of reviews they receive, and to show a live feed of reviews on their sites, tagged so that Google recognizes them as reviews.

Mobile

Technology trends account for the second major hot topic:  mobile device use.  More and more users search the Web using mobile devices, mostly phones but also tablets.  Google recognizes this, and of course they don’t want to send their customers to sites that don’t look good on small screens, so they’ve told all of us that if your site doesn’t look good on the small screen, it’ll hurt your position in Google search results.

If you haven’t already done so, check out your site using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.  If you fail the test, it’s time to engage your Web designer to solve that problem.  If your site is built with WordPress, which I recommend, you’ll have a number of options, and you may be able to solve the problem with just a plug-in.

Content

With all the current attention taken by on-line reviews and mobile use, it’s easy to forget the importance of content, which after all is what Web surfers are looking for.  If you’re a small business and have limited resources to develop content for your site, it’s best to put a lot of your effort into what’s called evergreen content, which is content that will have continuing value, that won’t have to replaced right away.

Once you’ve compared as many sites for search engine positions as I have, you’ll see that the sites with a lot of well-written, interesting content related to the main theme of the site will have higher ranks in search engine results than sites with more limited content.  If you want to rank high for some term, write about that topic.

Producing content is hard for small businesses.  I usually advise small businesses to get double duty from their content by writing a blog, or articles, for their Web site, and then putting that content into their newsletter, as well.  I follow my own advice; this blog post will also be an edition of my newsletter.

SEO

Finally, we come to SEO, that used to be the cornerstone in Web marketing.  Even today, some small business owners look for someone to “do SEO” for their site, expecting that there’s some magic that can produce high rankings.  There used to be such magic, when search engines weren’t as sophisticated and could easily be tricked.  If you try many of those old techniques today, your site could be removed from the Google index, with devastating impact on your Web customer acquisition.

However, there is still an important role for the practitioner who understands technically how search engines analyze a site and decide whether the site has quality content.  Fortunately for me!  That role is to, first, understand all of the priority topics on this page and provide guidance with them, but then to make sure the site is set up so that Google will recognize the worthwhile content that is present.  If things like tags and headings aren’t given proper attention, the benefits that should come from a quality content development effort may not be realized.

The Bottom Line

Yes, you can do all of this yourself.  But it’s complicated, and it changes over time.  It’s easy to make mistakes that can ruin your ability to attract customers through your Web efforts.  So the bottom line is:  don’t try this at home!

The Internet offers you the cheapest advertising medium ever devised, and professional help (from someone like me!) can allow you to focus on your own business, while making the best use of what the Internet can do for you.  And getting the maximum business benefit from your investment in your Internet presence.

The most glaring example of how the unwary can get into trouble is provided by the unscrupulous providers of specialized Web sites for professionals.  I’ve seen these services provide sites for dentists, doctors and lawyers that will never bring them any ranking in search engines because of built-in problems.  Their customers think they’ve offloaded all of their Internet promotion problems into this vendor who delivers them a lovely site.  Then for the money they spend they get nothing.

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Changes to Google’s algorithm! Should you care?

Search Engine Results Position (SERP) Matters

If your Web site brings an important amount of business to you, or if you want it to, then you’re concerned about where you rank in search engine results.  You know that many searchers don’t go beyond page one, and if you’re not even on page two, you’re out of it.  What should you do to your site to get and keep high rankings in search engine results?

Changes in Google’s Algorithm!

You’ve probably seen warnings sent out by newsletters and other services warning that Google has changed their ranking algorithm, and your site may drop in ranking because of it.  Often these warnings are presented in dire terms–act now or else!  What should you do about these warnings?  And what should you do to your site to keep your search engine ranking?

You’ve probably also seen ads and received emails from companies who claim that they can get your site onto page one, guaranteed.  Or who offer some product that will put your site onto page one.  Just send the money, and you’ll be there.

Google is a Business

Why does Google keep changing how they rank sites in their results?  What are their goals in making all these changes?  Do they simply want to inflict pain on small businesses who are trying to promote their offerings?

To understand what Google is doing, consider Google as a business.  They want to provide effective search service, so that the service will be widely used by people who will see the ads that Google gets paid to display.  So Google has a strong interest in providing search results that are relevant to queries that are entered, that take the visitor to a quality site that offers authoritative information on the topics the searcher is looking for.

When I started in Web marketing in 1998, SEO was about how to trick search engines.  Measures that were popular then would get you thrown out of the indexes in a minute today.  As search engines have become more sophisticated, they are better able to determine what a page is about, and to make more measures of quality.  Today, trying to fool search engines is a bad strategy–even if you succeed in fooling them for now, as they get more and more sophisticated, when your deception is discovered your SERPs will suffer.

A Strategy for Search Engine Results

The strategy of fooling search engines treats the search engines as opponents to be manipulated and deceived.  That strategy pits you against these organizations, requiring constant vigilance toward the next step taken in the battle by your opponent.  You have to watch carefully for every change in search engine algorithms!

What are your odds in this competition?  Suppose you’re a small business, working hard to succeed while providing your product or service, with the limited resources that you have.  You’re focused on your customers and their needs, and your own product or service.  You have limited attention to give to search engines.  And limited funds to hire experts.  On the other side of the competition is huge organizations like Google, who hire the brightest Stanford graduates to put all of their considerable talent and lots of other Google resources into the job that’s critical for their company–providing truly relevant search results.  The odds are not in your favor!

On the other hand, instead of trying to compete with an organization that has practically unlimited resources of talent and money, why not make Google your business partner instead?  Instead of trying to fight this behemoth, put them on your side and leverage all that they offer.  Do this by providing high quality content on your site and providing the best possible visitor experience.  Then, as search engines get better and better at measuring the real visitor experience, your SERPs will just improve.  And you won’t worry about every little change in Google algorithms.

Do I Need an SEO Specialist?

If you decide to put Google on your side, do you still need an expert in search engines to help you?  Putting this another way, having given you this advice, should I just close up shop?

Happily for me, there is still room for experts, although their proper role has changed.  The experts should advise you on how to provide a high-quality visitor experience so that it’s recognized by the search engines and given the credit that it deserves.  The search engines aren’t people who give opinions–they’re using software to estimate the quality of visitor experience. Because of the number of pages they have to scan, that software has to be fairly simple.  So there’s still a role for the person who understands how search engines do this, who knows what they value most, who can direct your efforts into the most productive areas.

In addition, there are a variety of technical cues that search engines use to estimate the quality of visitor experience, and your expert consultant can make sure that you’ve provided all these cues, so that you won’t provide a great visitor experience but have the search engines not recognize–and reward you–for what you’ve done.

The Bottom Line

Put Google on your side by putting your visitors first–provide a high quality visitor experience.

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Important Newsletter Don’ts

Your Newsletter–What Not to Do

Newsletters are easy–just write a note and send it out!  But, like everything else, if you want your newsletter to be effective, there’s more to it than that.  Here is a quick summary of what to do with the newsletter, followed by what not to do.

What We’re Trying To Do

The newsletter is intended to nurture prospects into being customers.  When someone just encounters your business or your site, and learns about you, they may not yet be ready to do business.  But by reading your newsletter, they learn more about you and your business, and get comfortable with the idea of doing business.  There’s an old marketing rule that we need seven credible exposures of our brand before a prospect will seriously consider doing business.  So get that first exposure with the site, and the next six with the newsletter.  So we’re trying to build credibility and comfort through this communication.

Change the Outline Each Time

You’re trying to make prospects comfortable with you, so keep the same general outline for each newsletter.  If you provide a recipe as the second item in one newsletter, then provide a recipe as the second item in every edition.  Your readers will get to know the organization of your newsletter and they’ll be able to go right to what they like.  And if they like one, then they’ll like the next one, because it’ll have similar organization.

Constantly Offer Discounts

The newsletter is not a place to offer discounts!  Why not?  Because it goes to all (or nearly all) of your prospects and customers, and discounts in the newsletter tell them that you’re willing to sell for less than asking price.  It undermines their confidence in your pricing, encouraging them to believe that they can get what they want from you for less than you usually charge.  So stay away from discounts as a major feature of your newsletter.

You can occasionally offer a price deal in the newsletter, but specialize it to some particular circumstance and then be ready to do it again if that circumstance arises again!  For example, if you offer a discount on the third anniversary of being in business, then plan to do it every year.  And also avoid the temptation to find lots and lots of similar excuses!

Poor Quality Content

Your prospects judge your newsletter by the usefulness of the content.  So be sure that you provide information that’s useful to them in some way.  If you’re an attorney, how to handle some situation that could have legal consequences.  If you’re a physician, health advice is an obvious choice.  If you’re a Web marketer, a newsletter on how to write newsletters.

Sell Too Much

A rule I’ve seen for newsletters is 75% non-selling content and 25% selling content is a rule that’s often given.  I’d modify that by advising no more than 25% selling.  If the purpose of your newsletter is to attract long-term clients, not just, say, selling merchandise, then you might even have almost no selling content, and simply seek to convince your readers that you’re an authority in your discipline so that when they need help they’ll come to you.

Not Often Enough

In the days when newsletters went out in the mail, they were expensive to print and even more expensive to mail.  But those days are gone.  Today, our prospects subscribe to and pay for email service that delivers our newsletters to them.  If they want to print them, they pay for the printing!  And it’s easier to open and look at a newsletter–or not to look at it.

Take advantage of the ease and convenience of automation, and realize that your readers are accustomed to getting most newsletters on a weekly or even daily basis.  If you send weekly instead of monthly, your readers will be reminded of you more often, and they’ll be more likely to do business with you or recommend you to someone who needs your product or service.

Forgetting about Headings

Many readers will scan the headings in a newsletter before they decide to actually read it.  So provide those headings!  In addition, busy readers may read some sections and not others–make it easy for these readers to make this choice, or else they’ll not read your newsletter at all.

Forgetting about Branding

Be sure that your newsletter looks like your Web site and carries your logo.  If prospects see inconsistent graphics from you, they’ll not remember you as well, and your communications wit them will seem disjointed.  One way to achieve consistency between your site and newsletters is to send blog posts from your site as your newsletters–as I do.

Don’t Send a Welcome Newsletter

In any social interaction, saying hello is important.  Similarly, a new subscriber deserves to get a special welcome edition of your newsletter.  Most newsletter software can send this for you; all you have to do is write it and give instructions to the software one time.  The open rate of the intro newsletter is much higher than the open rates of subsequent newsletters–this is a great opportunity to communicate.  It’s also a good time to offer a discount–make it a new subscriber discount, and the subscriber will know not to expect it again.  Offer a discount on the next meal, an ebook on how to deal with a personal injury situation, an ebook on the insurance coverage a small business should have, for example.

The Bottom Line

Keep in mind that the purpose of your newsletter is to nurture prospects, not sell them.  Take the long term approach, and you’ll see the results.

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Create Evergreen Content for Your Site

Evergeen Content

Content that’s “evergreen” has continued value over time.  For example, it’s not an announcement that an important deadline is looming and you better take action; rather, it’s general advice on how to do something.  Evergreen content can deliver visitors over a long period, and it helps in search engine rankings because visitors who click on it will tend to stay on the page for a while, and over a long period of time.  It’s just the sort of content that you’d want to put on page one of search results if you were Google!

As a practical matter, evergreen content doesn’t have to be replaced as quickly on your site, so it also reduces the workload for busy people who work in small businesses.  But that’s not an excuse to put content on your site, decide that it’s evergreen, and then leave the site alone–Google, not to mention your visitors, want fresh content.  Supply your site with a continuing flow of new content.

The Ingredients

For evergreen content to have impact on your search position, and be most effective, here’s what it needs to have:

  1. Continued value–As in the example above, write copy that will have value over time, that isn’t tied to some specific event.  Luck plays a role here.  It’s possible to recommend some specific SEO technique that ceases to be useful the next week.  However, if you try to provide good advice to your readers, that’s not tied to specific events, in general that will have some staying power.
  2. Hold the user–provide enough information so that the reader spends some time on the page.  Google measures how long until the reader goes on to the next page, and long times help your search results position.
  3. Write for SEO–Use important keywords early in the text, in the middle of the text, and at the end of the text.  Also put important terms in the heading and in internal links to the page.
  4. Sell the content in the heading–Have a descriptive heading that draws the reader in
  5. address a need–Address a real need that your audience has, so that they’ll be interested in the content.

The Bottom Line

Write durable, quality content for your site.  And keep adding to it on a regular basis.  Over time, you can develop an authoritative site that will rank well in search results.

 

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