Category Archive: Marketing

SEO Is King

My lasts few posts have focused on the pros and cons of various social networking strategies, from participation on popular social networks to blogging and email list building. But I’d like to take it back to the best method of online promotion there is: SEO.

Why SEO Beats Social Networking

First, a caveat. Social networking can and often should be a part of your SEO strategy. By networking in the right places and with the right people, you’ll get links, which is a big part of SEO. For the ultimate source of traffic and conversions however, SEO will beat social networking for most online businesses.

More Effort, Less Traffic

Social networking is primarily about connecting with people in your niche, and these days it’s most often done on networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Building a following on these networks takes time. And it takes continuous effort. It’s not something you can do and then forget, and it’s not something that’s generally smart to outsource.

For many sites and in many niches, a couple thousand visitors per day isn’t all that much. I’ve built mini sites in a couple of days that have pulled in 10K visitors/day without much effort. A 50K Twitter following would take far more effort. And it wouldn’t be a one time deal. It would require continuous work. Furthermore, those 50K followers aren’t following your site. They’re following your Twitter feed. If you post a link to your site, how many of them will actually go to your site? 5% maybe? If you’re lucky. And you can’t post links to your site every day without looking like you’re only there for self-promotion.

John Aguiar said in the comments on this post that at the time he made it, his 80,000 Twitter followers were sending him 500 to 1,000 visitors per day:

I dont know the 80,000 followers I have yet Twitter sends me 500 to 1000 visits a day to my blog.

Twitter is the best free tool you have to get traffic and build your brand.

Although he’s got 115K+ followers now, he’s following 67K people and looks to spend an incredible amount of time on Twitter.

Is the time it takes to build a massive Twitter following worth 1,000 visitors per day? Surely not if you compare it to SEO. I’ve built multiple sites in a couple of days, spent less than $1,000 on link building, done nothing else to promote them, and had them each bring in thousands of visitors per day. Compare spending less than a week in total on a site and getting many thousands of new/unique visits per day to spending a year building 80K Twitter followers that gets you 500 – 1,000 visitors per day. There’s really no comparison.

Visitor Intent

Your Twitter followers are always the same people, most of whom are using the social network to communicate with friends. With search based traffic on the other hand, every single visitor is actively searching for something you’re providing. Which do you think is more likely to convert and make you money?

You can’t beat search for bringing you visitors who are more likely to convert. They’ve gone to their computers, navigated to a search engine, and typed in a query looking for something in particular. When they click on your site, they’re going there to fulfill a need at that moment in time. If you’re selling a solution to that need or providing advertising that satisfies that need, your chances of making money from that visitor are relatively high.

Most people using social networks on the other hand are not looking to make a purchase. They’re looking to communicate with friends or see what people are up to. When you send them a link to your site, they’re far less likely to purchase something or click an ad, as they weren’t looking for what you’re giving them in the first place.

Less Effort, More Unique Visitors, & Higher Conversions

SEO beats social networking because it takes far less effort to build a larger stream of unique visitors who are searching for exactly what you are providing. For most businesses, SEO traffic is more likely to convert than social traffic too.

Again, I’m not implying you shouldn’t be doing any form of social networking. If you’ve got a great site, you probably should. But in most cases, if you know what you’re doing, SEO is going to lead to more traffic and more conversions…more money.

Why SEO Beats PPC

This is a tough one, and it’s not true as often as SEO vs. social networking. PPC is also searched-based, so visitor intent is high. And because the top PPC ads are displayed on top of the organic results, especially for commercial queries, you can get more traffic from PPC than SEO.

But there’s a cost, and it’s often prohibitively high.

Barriers to Entry & Prohibitive Bid Prices

SEO takes knowledge and experience. Most self proclaimed SEOs don’t know what they’re doing, so if you do you’ve got a serious advantage over the majority of your competition. The knowledge it takes to be a good SEO is a barrier to entry compared to PPC.

Anyone can start a PPC ad campaign. It only takes a few minutes. And many new entrants are inclined to try to get into the first 3 spots above the organic results, bidding the cost per click up above profitable levels. Most long time PPC marketers know that competitive phrases are generally priced so high that profit margins end up being very low or even negative.

While SEO is also extremely competitive, if you’ve got the knowledge, the cost of getting and staying at the top is usually lower. It’s true that ranking naturally takes more time than setting up a PPC campaign, and that with certain strategies your ranking is going to be less stable than what you can achieve with PPC. But there’s no guarantee that profits from PPC will remain stable in the face of competition that can bid up the cost per click.

SEO can bring you a large, constant stream of new visitors that’s nearly free once you’ve got a great site ranking at the top. PPC will always cost you, for every single visit.

Why Content Isn’t King

This one is easy. It’s not Field of Dreams. If you build it, they will not come. It doesn’t matter how awesome your site is. Without promoting it no one is every going to see it. Do a search for anything. You’ll find plenty sites in the top 10 that have poor content.

You can get a site with poor or mediocre content to rank in the top 10 through SEO, but you can’t get a site with great content to rank with no SEO. Great content will help you rank better because it will be easier to get links to a great site. People will be more likely to spread it. But great content alone is nothing.

Social networking and PPC both have their place, and content is indeed very important. But there can only be one king…and for traffic and conversions with maximized profits, it’s SEO.

Smart Social Networking Stragtegies

Social Networking

Want to increase your traffic?

How would you like to increase your traffic and conversions?

Are you really taking advantage of social networking?

Many people think they’re covering their bases by setting up a Facebook page and a Twitter account.

But there’s much more (and maybe less!) you can and should be doing to maximize your traffic through social networking.

New In-Depth Articles

Today I’ve added three new pages to our site with in-depth information and tutorials. The first page, Promoting Your Site Through Social Networking, covers the best ways to get more visitors through smart social networking. The second page is a detailed tutorial on Enabling and Increasing Blog Subscriptions, with code examples you can copy and paste for use on your blog today. And the third page is another detailed tutorial, How to Build an Email List, again including code you can copy and paste to use on your site now.

New social media is the rage today, and it does have its place. But giving up on old school social networking is a mistake, as it not only creates long term value for your business and your visitors, but is also a great way to increase traffic with more engaged users. Check out the articles above to make sure you’re not missing out.

Are You Losing Subscribers?

Email List Management

Want More Email Subscribers?

If you’re forcing potential email list subscribers to double opt-in on web form submissions, you’re losing subscribers.

Email list management companies like Aweber and MailChimp allow you to add sign up forms to your website so visitors can receive newsletters or subscription material. (See my sign up form at the top of the right sidebar as an example.)

But the default settings are not user friendly. I’ll show you what settings you need to change to make the sign up process easier and get more confirmed subscribers.

Aweber vs. Mailchimp

The default settings for both Aweber and Mailchimp are such that when a visitor enters their name and email address in your submission form, they then get a message to check their email and click a confirmation link in order to confirm or double opt-in. There are a few problems with this.

  • A significant percentage of visitors will not bother to take the next step.
  • The confirmation email is often a bit delayed, so the visitor abandons the process.
  • The confirmation email is so badly formatted and worded, that the user thinks it’s spam.

Take a look at the Aweber confirmation email for example:

Aweber Confirmation Email

This Is Terrible

Not only does the format of the confirmation email look terrible, but many recipients are going to think it’s spam. Your visitors think they’re getting an email from you, but it’s asking them to click a strange looking URL at aweber.com.

Those of us who work on the web for a living may not have a problem with it, but we’re not the typical user. Most internet users have no idea what a URL or web browser even is! And the double opt-in email is asking them to copy and paste into a web browser if they cannot click the full URL. It miserably fails the Don’t Make Me Think test. Yet, every internet marketer and SEO I’ve submitted my email address to is using these default settings.

Fortunately, there is an alternative. Unfortunately for those of you using MailChimp, they don’t offer it. With MailChimp, you cannot disable the confirm email.

Why You Don’t Need Double Opt-In

The email list management companies give several reasons why you should use double opt-in:

  • People may sign up other people that don’t want to be on your list.
  • People may mis-type their email address.
  • People will enter fake email addresses.

So what? If someone signs up a friend who doesn’t want your emails, they can simply click the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of the email. If someone mistypes their email address…well, you wouldn’t have gotten it anyway. And if someone enters a fake email address, again, no harm to you.

And, none of the above may even happen frequently. But there is one thing that will happen frequently if you force your visitors to get and follow the poorly formated confirmation emails:

You’ll get less subscribers.

Sure, there is some chance that people will enter email addresses that are not their own, and they may occasionally get marked as spam. But if you’re sending out quality messages, I don’t see this as reason to make your visitors jump through useless hoops.

How to Disable the Double Opt-In

As I mentioned earlier, with MailChimp there is no way to disable the double opt-in emails. With Aweber there is, and it’s very easy to do.

First, click on the “List Settings” link in under the “My Lists” tab:

List Settings

List Settings

Then, click on the “Confirmed Opt-In” tab:

Confirmed Opt-In

Confirmed Opt-In

And set the “Require Opt-In On Web Forms” to “Off”:

Required Opt-In Off

Required Opt-In Off

That’s it. You’re done.

And here’s the cool thing. Aweber will log IP addresses of those who fill out your web forms, and they’ll send the confirmation message anyway to anyone who enters more than one email address in the form. So if someone does enter their own address and then attempts to enter another, that second person will have to opt-in. This will prevent most problems you could potentially encounter due to people entering email addresses that are not their own into your form.

Are you currently using double opt-in on your web forms? If so, let me know in the comments if you’re seeing significant numbers of visitors who are not clicking the confirmation links. I bet you are. And I bet you’ll get more subscribers by following the steps above.

Why Using Facebook and Twitter Kills Your Profits

Don't LikeIf you’re using Facebook and Twitter for work, you may be wasting time and money.

And most companies selling social media marketing either don’t know what they’re doing or they’re selling snake oil.

Want to know why hyped-up social media is more noise than value, and what you should be focusing on instead? Read on…

Let Them Talk About You

First, you don’t need to have a Facebook page to have your website or company talked about or liked on Facebook. And your business can be spread on Twitter without having a Twitter account.

Social networks are places where “friends” go to talk and share. If you provide something of value that people want to talk about, they will. And not only would it be better for people to share your website instead of your social media page, where a visitor is far more likely to “convert”, but spending money and time on your own business is a better use of resources.

Lots of Noise, Little Value

People with active Facebook and Twitter accounts are bombarded with messages. Your messages are likely to get lost in the noise. And even if you do get traffic from social media, it’s horribly unprofitable traffic.

Facebook and Twitter are designed around a high quantity of low quality messages, where a user’s attention quickly shifts from one blurb to another. And this is reflected in social media referrals. Anyone who monitors their analytics knows this. A site with a 15% bounce rate (number of users who arrive and quickly leave) from both natural and paid search will notice their bounce rate shoot up to 80-90% during social media referral spikes. Visitors coming from social media are like squirrels on crack.

Yet, you still hear stories of great social media success. Then again, what you don’t hear about are the vast numbers of failures. But of the successes, how successful are they?

Social Media Success or Flawed Metrics?

Most of the success stories are based on meaningless metrics. Businessweek’s Larry Popelka claimed in his article GM Doesn’t Get Social Media that “Ford has more than 1.5 million ‘likes’ on it’s Facebook page, vs. fewer than 400,000 for GM”. So what?!? A fake company can generate 3,000+ likes in 4 days for $60, and it would be easy to do a multiple of that. Even Facebook admits that not all likes are legit. And for the likes that are legit, what Larry doesn’t seem to understand is that likes don’t put money in the bank.

What You Should Be Doing Instead

The biggest problem with social media marketing is opportunity cost. No individual or company has unlimited resources. In a reality where resources are limited, does activity on social media mediums like Facebook and Twitter lead to more profit than the alternatives? I’ll answer that. No.

Robert Wynne from Forbes agrees:

“There’s only so many hours in the day. You can spend time meeting reporters, crafting your message and getting placements in major media or your local publication, or you can type the keyboard for hundreds of hours hoping someone “Likes” your brilliant post on Facebook or follows your wickedly awesome tweets on Twitter.”

There are PLENTY ways you can spend your time that produce more value for your business or website than on Facebook or Twitter.

Email and RSS: Far Better Alternatives

For communicating with your customers, email and RSS/blog subscriptions are much better options. Instead of working on and promoting your Facebook and Twitter pages, work on your blog or newsletter and promote them. Email referrals have FAR higher conversion rates than social media referrals, and people who subscribe to your blog via email or a feed reader are going to be much more engaged listeners.

You’re better off working on and increasing the value of your own business, website, or blog than being a source of user-generated-content for the social networks.

Real Social Networking

Real social networking is about active communication with your community or customers. It’s about building real relationships. And you’re not going to do that with Facebook and Twitter, at least not to the extent you could with your own website, email, or subscription to your blog or newsletter.

There are too many people on social media networks, blasting out a massive stream of noise you’re either going to get lost in or quickly glanced over by. But by writing useful or informative articles on your website, blog, or newsletter, you create relationships with people who want to come back for more. Spend time emailing people who run sites in your industry, comment on industry blogs, write guest posts for popular blogs in your niche. That’s real social networking that will create lasting relationships and value.

What do you think? If you’re using Facebook and Twitter for work, do you think you’re actually getting more value from those efforts than you could be by working on your website? Let me know in the comments.

The Brave New World of SEO

Bill Slawski recently posted on a newly granted Google patent designed to “modify” rank for sites Google thinks are “spamming”.  It should be required reading for anyone interested in SEO.  In short, the patent describes Google applying time delays, negative responses, random responses, and unexpected responses to the placement of pages in the search results when the algorithm determines there is a possibility of attempted manipulation.  If the “spammer” reacts to these responses in an observable way, the page or site can then be designated as spam.

Leaving aside the fact that all SEO is an attempt at manipulating or increasing the rank of a website/page in the search results, and that entirely legit businesses following Google’s guidelines will be wrongly labeled as spammers, this patent points toward a very important ramification of micro vs. macro SEO.

Micro SEO Is Dead

Many years ago, SEO was simple.  You added keywords to all the right places, got your links with the right keyword anchor text, monitored your rank, and adjusted your keywords and links accordingly.  Sometimes you’d cross a threshold and hit a filter by having your keyword repeated too many times either on your site or in your external links.  No big deal.  Remove a few instances or switch them to synonyms, add some new links to diversify the anchor text in your portfolio, and BAM, you’d be back in the game in no time.

Spending hours and hours drilling down into Advanced Link Manager data and analyzing exact-match-anchors-from-unique-linking-domains…worked.  It worked well.

Nothing Lasts Forever

But a few years ago this started to change.  Google began ranking pages based on the authority of a site rather than a particular page for example.  So you might find a page ranking well, analyze it, and find very few traditional ranking signals.  It was ranking based on site factors instead of page factors.  This complicated analysis a bit, but not THAT much.  If you understood it, you could still figure out what was going on.

It’s one example of micro-managing SEO getting more complex.  These days though, micro-managing SEO is more than complex.  It’s a recipe for failure.

Although Google may have recently been granted the rank-modifying spammers patent, these random fluctuations have been at play for a long time.  They were commonly known among SEOs with experience as growing pains.  Especially with new sites, attempts to move up in rank would cause random result placement for a while, which would eventually settle.  These time-based delays have been common for years, and if you didn’t know about them you could inadvertently screw yourself.  Inexperienced SEOs would get a handful of links and see a small upward movement or a small downward movement, not realizing the unexpected/inappropriate movement was influenced by a time delay, and push harder or make drastic changes.  This caused them to pass filter/penalty thresholds without realizing they had done so, and ended up causing their sites to drop into never-never land for a very long time, with little chance of redemption.

It also created situations where it was easy to spend more than you needed (in time or money) for link building.  For smart SEOs, knowing there was a sandbox or time delay allowed them to play the slow-and-steady game instead of moving too fast, crashing, and burning sites.

Historical/Temporal Data In Play

In addition to the above evolution of the algorithm, new penalties have been appearing for unnatural activity over time.  Link velocity matters.  Link spikes that appear unnatural (potentially because they lack other signals of natural spikes: mentions, traffic, etc.) can also cause penalties.  And link loss can be as bad as link spikes.

It hasn’t been in effect as long as the sandbox, newer time delays, and random ranking fluctuations, but more recently, attempts to fix losses began leading to even further losses.  This may be the result of the above patent being applied before being granted.  Here’s how it works:  A webmaster gets a bunch of links and his site moves down instead of up.  He freaks out and removes the links, thinking they were the cause of the drop.  They were the cause of the drop.  But removing them looks even more unnatural than getting them, especially if the removal can be tied to the rank loss in time.  If the webmaster would have tried to create additional signals or simply slowed down, he may have come back.  But by undoing what caused the drop, he confirms Google’s suspicion…and is now labeled a spammer with greater certainty.

Unreliability of Micro SEO

Google’s algorithm is a complex, constantly changing mix of numerous interrelated factors with variable thresholds and multiple layers.  It’s no longer possible to look at isolated data and arrive at actionable conclusions.  One site with 3,567 links may rank #1, while another site with 3,567 links may be completely removed from the results.  The distribution of links to an entire site can and does influence the rank of a single page on that site.  The anchor text profile (keyword vs. generic vs. brand vs. URL, etc.) matters.  The quality of the linking sites matters.  The diversity of linking sites matters.  The placement of a link on a page matters.  The rate of link acquisition and loss over time matters.  And all of these factors are interrelated, changing regularly, and different for different sites.  And there are many more factors!

If all of the above isn’t complex enough, add in purposely randomized results over randomized periods.

SEO is not deadBut micro SEO died a long time ago.  (Unfortunately there are still many people selling it.  But I’ll save that for another post.)  Due to the complexity of the algorithm, analyzing results on a micro level is a waste of time at best.  And at worst (ever more likely), it will create obvious patterns that Google will notice and penalize.

Macro SEO: The Way Forward

Each time Google rolls out a significant change or massive penalty, there are cries around the interwebs that SEO is dead.  The cries come from individuals whose current methodologies have died.  They don’t realize it’s not SEO that’s dead, but their particular micro tactics and strategies.  Macro SEO has always worked, and it will as long as there are search engines ranking sites without requiring payment for placement.

What Is Macro SEO?

Macro SEO is about understanding the big picture.  What types of sites are ranking?  How big or small are they?  Are they brands?  What does their link profile look like, overall?  What does their anchor text profile look like overall?  Are the search results for a given phrase or niche dominated by big brands?  Are they dominated by Google verticals?

Macro SEO requires you to look at the details only in order to understand the big picture.  When micro SEO worked, ranking reports could be run weekly and micro changes could be made as a result of ranking fluctuations.  With macro SEO, ranking reports are still extremely useful.  But instead of using them to make immediate adjustments, they’re used to notice when significant changes have occurred and in what direction those changes are pointing.

Applying macro SEO means using tactics that go with the current rather than against it, and not freaking out or reacting to unexpected ranking “modifications”.  But you need to feel the direction of the current first, along with understanding the general causes of major penalties, and that does take a combination of experience and analysis.  But it’s not micro analysis.

Knowing that Google is going to mess with you along the way, that you’re going to see random fluctuations and ranking drops, will help you stay on the macro path to success.  Expect a bumpy ride.  Otherwise, you’re going to be outing yourself as the “spammer” you’ve become in Google’s eyes.