Category Archive: Promotion

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.

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.

Link Building In A Post Penguin Web

Penguin AssassinGoogle launched their Penguin update on April 24th, 2012. The Penguin hobbles (with light speed) around the web looking for unnatural or spammy links, and when it sees them pointing to your website, rather than slashing the link or the benefit it’s providing to your site, the mad creature hacks your site’s limbs off, so your site falls to nowhere and can no longer climb up the SERP (search engine results page) ladder. In plain English: When the Penguin sees a link profile it doesn’t like, it kills your current rankings and makes it very hard to rank better again.

If you’ve already been mauled by the Penguin, I posted strategies for getting your site back to life at the top of the SERPs here. But what should you be doing on sites that haven’t been slashed, hacked, or stabbed through the heart by the Penguin? And what about new sites? What can you do to prevent drawing the Penguin’s attention, and his blade?

It’s All About Quality

Pre-Penguin, getting loads of spammy links from mass article submissions, crappy directory submissions, forum profiles, and similar garbage worked very well. Post-Penguin, it does not. You may still see some sites ranking with links like this, but if you do it’s probably because there are enough quality signals that Google’s Penguin either ignores the crap, or the site is considered a serious brand and has pretty thick armor. Can these crappy links still work in the short term? Maybe, but if you have enough of them you should expect to be slaughtered in the not too distant future.

Post-Penguin, you need to have a quality link profile in order to keep your head on your shoulders. That doesn’t just mean natural-looking link sources, but also natural link anchor text.

Natural Link Sources

So what’s a natural link source? It’s one that is editorially based, where a person with a real website made for real humans posts a link they think other humans will appreciate. When you add a forum profile to ThisForumReallySucksBad.com with a link to your site, no one is going to see it.  You know it, and Google now knows it. When you do a mass article submission, submitting a crappy article to 500 article directories with one blast, you know no one is ever going to see those articles.  Post-Penguin, Google knows that too. Think about it. Google is able to see into nearly every aspect of the web now, from Analytics to Chrome, they know which sites and pages real people are visiting, and what links they’re clicking on. They may be using that data, or they may be using some other combinations of data. The bottom line is that crappy links don’t look natural.

I used to think this video was both funny and tragic:

For better (for the web as a whole) and worse (for those of us that used some of these methods to stay competitive, and got nailed for doing so), the video is now largely irrelevant. It’s a funny example of what used to work. In all honesty, it’s probably better this way.

The bottom line is, you need to focus on quality link sources, which means those that are harder to get, from real sites and blogs run by real people. You need to reach out to people in your industry and anyone else who may be interested, and get them to understand that their visitors will be interested in what your site has to offer. If you do that well, they’ll link to your site from a page and in a location that visitors will actually see and click. That’s what you need to be focusing on now.

Keep in mind, if you don’t have a quality site yourself, this isn’t going to work. John Andrews has a great post on this. Go read it.

Natural Link Anchor Text

What’s a natural anchor text profile? In a phrase, it’s one that isn’t 90% “money keyword” anchors. In fact, it’s probably one that’s closer to 90% non-keyword anchors. There may be some exceptions, for example if your domain is a keyword domain like RedWidgets.com, you’re obviously going to be ok with a higher percentage of “Red Widget” anchors. But even this has changed since Penguin. Let’s take a look at the link profile for a big brand, Home Depot, using MajesticSEO:

Natural Link Profile

See any “keyword anchors” in the top 30 links? Maybe one? The majority of their link anchors are a combination of brand and URL anchors. That’s one good example of a natural anchor text profile, and it should give you a good idea as to what Google is seeing and beginning to use as a reference for comparison.

Greg Boser put up a few excellent videos here, the first two covering the two topics above…natural link sources and anchors.  They’re all well worth watching for another slant.

What About Directories

Directories have been a decent link source for a long time. Will they get you nailed post-Penguin? It depends. If you’ve paid $20 to have your site blasted out to 1,000 crappy, free directories and you’re using one or two anchors…yes, Penguin could be heading your way for some killin’. But if you’re submitting your site to a handful of high quality directories that have an editorial review process AND you’re using brand anchors rather than keyword anchors, that should be ok.

What About Guest Posts

You should know the answer already. It’s the same with guest posts. If you’re paying to get Wikipedia articles spun with a link to your site inserted, on a spammy network of blogs built only to give links…a killin’ is coming your way. But if you’re writing a quality post on a quality blog that real people read, and getting a link to your site in that post (where it is relevant), that’s a good kind of link.

The Cheap & Easy Stuff

Forget about the cheap and easy stuff. There are too many people on the web today. If you can pay a few dollars to get a link, so can everyone else. Google has got to figure out a way to determine which site is “better” than the rest, and from here on out it doesn’t look like that’s going to be based on the number of cheap and easy links with perfect keyword anchors. You need to do things that aren’t easy for competitors to replicate. You need to create something of value, and promote it to people who care. Sorry, it’s not as easy as it used to be.