Online Marketing by an Undergraduate

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making sense of marketing one post at a time

Week in Review: June 15 – June 21

This past week, my attendance at the Custom Media Event and the Internet Strategy Forum panel discussion in New York City gave me a practical education in networking, as well as a desire to attend more of these events. Additionally, my enrollment in the Inbound Marketing University certification program has provided a way to cover all my internet marketing bases. These programs help me earn credibility, and I hope to extend my certification to Google Analytics, search engine optimization, and landing page optimization. Because of the expensive price of the landing page program, I would love to talk with you if you have an idea about expectations for work in this field.

Quick aside, one of the best feelings I get is when I can help someone smile. I know it’s silly, but that’s one thing I’ve learned in the last few months. And it’s a major reason I like meeting new people – more chances to see a friend smile. Unfortunately, my hesitance around new people impedes my friendmaking ability. Becoming more comfortable with new people (and especially business professionals), then, has been a goal of mine since freshman year in college. My attendance at multiple events this week helped to raise that comfort level. 

On the last point about the Inbound Marketing University Certification, I am a fan of the certification programs available in the internet marketing space. For web analytics, Google has a program, for search engine optimization, the non-profit Professional Organization (SEMPO) has one, for landing page optimization, Marketing Experiments has one. My main interest in them comes from the ability to gain credibility and authority in the field when getting experience is difficult to come by. My concern, however, is that marketers do not look at these certification programs the same way I do. I’m turning to you to take the discussion from here. How do you feel about certification programs and how much esteem do you hold them in? If you have taken one, what was your experience? Thanks for reading, and thanks for joining in the discussion.

Filed under: Networking, Week in Review

The Builder, the Toolmaker, and the House

After seeing business from both the marketing firm and the corporate perspective this past week, I’ve made a simple analogy to describe their relationship:

My analogy recounts a builder using the right tools to build the right house for its future occupants. The builder is the corporation using tools the toolmaker marketing firm provides him to serve his customers. Whether they know it or not, the objective of both the builder and toolmaker is to construct a fine house. Each achieve this end objective differently. 

The successful builder chooses the tools he can use most effectively to build the house the future occupants want. With so much riding on his execution, the builder places emphasis on what he knows will work. Taking the long view in choosing his tools–and not succumbing to the latest fads–makes him a successful builder. 

The obvious job of the toolmaker is to make tools that the builder will use.  In this respect, a toolmaker can earn a good living understanding the desires of his builder clients and providing him with the tools he wants. Not content to cater to his client builders though, the elite toolmaker understands the source – the occupants. Because a toolmaker earns a living selling to builders, this approach presents difficulties when the understanding of the toolmaker and the builder about the occupants differ. But ultimately, understanding the needs of the occupants will ensure the long term success of the toolmaker. 

While only a rough beginning, I am trying to tell a story through my analogy. The best corporate teams use what they know works to serve their customers and improve their lives. Although marketers have to meet their clients at this level of what works, their best shot at long term success is understanding the customer first, and pushing their limits in terms of tools for serving them. While this boundary pushing makes their clients uncomfortable, bridging the corporate team’s and the marketer’s understanding of their customer to deliver the right tool for the job, is the most enduring way to serve a customer base. And serving these customers and improving their lives is ultimately what business is about. 

What do you think? If you like it, take it further, or, think of another. Thanks for stopping by.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Thoughts and Observations on Custom Media Event: “Growing Your Custom Media Business in a Social Media Age”

In no particular order:

  • The two Andrews were amazing speakers. Andrew Hazen on SEO and Andrew Davis on Social Media. If you ever have the chance meet, listen, or watch these two present.
  • When people don’t follow social conventions they stick out like sore thumbs: During a Q&A session after a panel discussion, everyone asks questions from their seats and listens to the panels responses. Very low key. Then this elderly lady stands up, says her name, her position, her industry, and proceeds to ask a question in the form of an advertisement for her business! The nerve of her, she got dirty looks. Think about this when developing social media engagement strategy.
  • Do adults know how to put their cell phones on vibrate? I know the majority do, but geez, I’m in a conference room listening to elite thinkers in this field present, and  cell phones were going off like crazy. Walk into an event, put your phone on vibrate, put it in your pocket, sit down and listen. Not much too it.
  • The difference between a great present and a not good presenter are HUGE. The Andrews, great, two other guys-who-I’m-not-yet-mean-enough-to-name, not so good. Everyone was engaging with the Andrews and a real exchange of knowledge was taking place, with the other guys, I just wanted it to end. The best part was the one flop presenter described himself in the booklet as a highly sought after speaker and influential blogger. I guess when you’re not very good you have to shout it out.
  • Networking at these events, as the great Chaz Reinholt would say, is like fishing with dynamite. 25 new business contacts! 25! Although my shouting of my success must mean I’m still mediocre (see previous bullet point), I want to try to pull out a lesson. Go to these events! Whatever your field, just go. The second piece of this lesson is to just stick yourself out there. Don’t be nervous. And if you are, try this: during networking breaks, whenever you cross paths with someone, take a quick look at the person’s nametag, say their name confidently, look them in the eye, walk up and shake their hand, and ask how their doing. The key is in saying their name; just watch their eyes light up.
  • I want to speak at events like these. I want to be good enough at something that people will want me to share my knowledge. And I want to engage my audience as a presenter, so they leave not only having learned something, but having enjoyed it.

Filed under: Uncategorized

How To: Strategy for Search Engine Optimization That Works

To follow up on my last post on the operations of search engines, I will outline a three pronged strategy for search engine optimization that will drive traffic to your website. Lee Odden’s Monday Inbound Marketing Univeristy lecture, “SEO Crash Course to Get Found” plays a strong influence here. Prong 1, perform keyword optimization, 2, make your site search friendly, 3, build quality links. Analytics complete the strategy. 

1. Keyword Optimization

The first step in any SEO strategy, keyword optimization, breaks down into three steps –  research, quantify, and implementation.

Research customer driven keywords with an eye to your sales funnel. Remember, the higher a consumer is in your sales funnel–however you define it–the broader the keyword. As a consumer gets closer to buying, optimize your landing pages around specific keywords to improve conversion. Below are a few research tools to help you extract common phrases and keywords:

  1. Customer surveys and interviews.
  2. Feedback from your sales and customer service teams
  3. Thorough review of competitor content.

From your inventory of keywords and phrases, whittle down your list  by quantifying their popularity, their competitiveness, their and potential using free tools such as Google’s Keyword tools or paid tools for additional functionality like SEMRush.com‘s paid service. 

Now, bring organization to your keywords. Using excel, or an online monitoring program,  sort your keywords into categories, and monitor their competitiveness, popularity, and relevance to your content. Use this insight to continually optimize around your best performing keywords and as insight into content generation. 

Finally, keyword placement. Place your keywords in title tags, headings, paragraph titles, body copy, the url, meta description tags, links and navigation…basically, anywhere  you can put text, optimize your keywords. A word of caution while you optimize, your first duty is to entice your web site visitors to come back. Make your content readable and engaging. Don’t go too crazy with optimization.

2. Search Engine Friendly

Make your site friendly in three ways – make it easy to find and revisit, easy to crawl your links, and make the site architecture logical and consistent.

First, A word of caution from Lee Odden, “Changing your web design, content management system or web site software can destroy[emphasis his] your search visibility.” In these situations, you MUST HAVE a migration plan. Elements to include:

  1. Map old urls to new
  2. Employ permanent redirects
  3. Ask your top trafficked inbound links to adjust their link to ensure continuity
  4. Monitor site analytics for 404 not found errors and make necessary adjustments.

Although I am jumping ahead, pursue inbound links! Inbound links from indexed websites make search engines more likely to crawl your site. Additionally, producing content regularly gives search engines incentive to come back for more. 

When a search engine bot finds you, let it crawl all your web pages. USE TEXT LINKS (optimize for keywords). If you must use ajax, flash, or javascript links between pages, make sure to include text links. 

Develop a logical site structure. If your site is about online marketing, the top level should be online marketing, then the next level should be social media marketing, inbound marketing, nurture marketing, etc.. The next level should be more specific after that. A logical site structure makes understanding what your site is about easier for search engines.

Furthermore, including an HTML site map on every page and submitting an XML site map is a phenomenal way to allow bots to crawl and index all your relevant pages.

    Lastly, a quick overview of worst practices:

    1. Using temporary redirects, using these don’t give credit as a link to your website. If you have to use a redirect, use a permanent one. 
    2. Make URLs as friendly as possible, really long urls and overly complicated ones are no good for search engines or people.
    3. Relying on ajax, flash, and javascript links. Always have alternative text links as an option

    3. Link Building

    “The electricity for site search” – Lee Odden. Link building adds credibility to your site. Get creative here. Some guidelines to get started.

    At the core of inbound link building is generating great content and promoting it through your social channels. Additionally, make sharing your content as easy as possible. Include options to tweet, share, digg, and bookmark right at the point of content (you will notice I have some work to do in this area).

    Furthermore, manage your link building the same way you manage your customer relationships. Use either a monitoring program or some method to manage your links and relationships. Link building is an activity you will do as long as you remain competitive online, so it is imperative to keep your links organized.

    Lastly, some performance indicators to keep in mind while tracking your link performance:

    1. Pages indexed – Are you continually adding content worth linking to?
    2. Crawling errors – Use webmaster tools (Google and Bing) to monitor broken links
    3. Rankings relative to own site over time .
    4. Inbound links – Quantity, quality, longevity, keyword referrals from search – what phrases are most effective for your objectives? what search engines are they coming from? 
    5. Social media traffic – Reach out to influentials linking to you much like you cultivate media people in PR. Become a resource to these influentials and reciprocation will follow. 
    6. Goal pages and conversions – Track your business outcomes.

    Note: everything about in site links from the previous section applies here.

    Analytics

    A complete SEO strategy requires analytics. Select a set of outcomes to measure, benchmark these at the beginning, then monitor these metrics at regular intervals – weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly. Real time monitoring is a plus. Lastly, make sure you have the right analytics tools to measure your goals. Free and helpful analytic tools:

    1.  Webmaster tools (Google or Bing) – they let you know what keywords are driving your traffic. Using these webmaster tools also allows you to alert seach engines of any planned moves.
    2. Google Analytics – Chris Donaldson of pimpyourmarketing.com highly recommends fluency with this suite. Don’t know him? Check out his blog. Always thought provoking. 

    Summary: 3 Pronged Strategy – keyword optimization, search friendly site, link building. Tie the prongs together with analytics.

    If you liked this how to, leave me feedback or subscribe by RSS and I’ll write more of these in the future. Thanks for reading.

    Filed under: search engine optimization, Uncategorized, , ,

    Introduction to Search Engine Operation and its Relevance to Search Engine Optimization

    Before I started reading Rand Fishkin’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO, not knowing how search engines worked made learning SEO unnecessarily difficult for me. When I gained just a little knowledge of search engines, many difficulties melted away. Download his guide to learn more.

    Fishkin breaks down search engine optimization into four steps: crawling the web, indexing web pages, processing queries, and finally, ranking results.

    1. Search engines visit web pages–called crawling the web–with the goal of indexing these web pages in a database containing billions of other pages.
    2. The search engine stores every indexed web page in a database that can search for, and retrieve, millions of web pages in FRACTIONS OF A SECOND. The intellectual power behind a search engine database boggles my mind. I think it’s nuts, but that’s just me.
    3. Every time a person queries a search engine, the search engine pulls out every web page from its database containing the appropriate keywords.
    4. Having pulled out each web page, the search engine uses an algorithm to rank each page from most relevant to the query to the least. Here, SEO enters the picture.

    At the end of the day, SEO is about communication. A website’s optimized keywords tells search engines, “this is who I am. Spread the word.”  Like having brand equity, a good online business has keyword equity. The stronger a business’ keyword brand, the better its search engine ranking for those keywords. Just like having a strong brand attracts more customers, so does having high ranking keywords attract more visitors.

    What other questions do you have about search engines? What do you think is essential to understanding search engines? Did you like this post and want to know more about search engines? Leave a comment and let me know, thanks!

    Filed under: search engine optimization, , , , ,

    360i 2009 Social Media Marketing Playbook – Read it

    A beautiful book, develops a rich framework to address social media marketing

    A beautiful book, develops a rich framework to address social media marketing

    Last night, I started reading 360i’s 2009 Social Media Marketing Playbook. Read it!  The book develops a framework for approaching social media challenges. It’s free, 56 pages long, and has contributions from 5 all-stars–Mashable CEO Pete Cashmore and Forrester Analyst Jeremiah Owyang to name two.  It’s beautiful. Set in a soothing orange and sky blue, the layout is simple, tight, and bold. Aditionally, writers deserve respect for keeping their prose compact and clear. While reading about twitter for business, I could find nothing to throw out, every sentence provided value.

    This is only a taste of the playbook, I hope to give a more in depth review when I finish. If you haven’t downloaded it yet, seriously, do it.

    Filed under: Uncategorized,

    Week in Review Part 1 – On Blog Presentation

    Reflecting on my Sunday post about helpful blogging hints, I emerged thinking about blog post presentation. To me, blog post presentation includes my engagement with you, my writing quality, and my brand. I think on all fronts I can use some serious improvement.

    My Engagement:  I say hello, bury my head into my topic at hand, and at the end I pick my head up, thank you for reading, and close with questions to start a dialog. I take the right attitude towards the beginning and end, but I really want to engage you throughout, making the experience more rewarding for you. Do you have any blogs you recommend that engage the audience particularly well? In addition to reading a variety of blogs for their content, I want to read a variety for their interaction.

    My Writing: When I think great writing, I think of E.B White sitting at his desk:

    E.B White writes at his desk

    E.B White writing

    He has a typewriter, a desk, and a bench, that’s it. Simple. Like White,  I want to take pride in a precise English sentence, and I want you to enjoy the clarity. That being said, I want to open the floor to you. How important do you think quality writing is to successful “blogging”? Do you think there is a division between “writing” and blogging? And in the same vein as my question in the previous paragraph, do you read any bloggers who are masters of the english language? I would love to add them to my reading list.

    My Brand: My brand will emerge in time–how long, I don’t know–and, having been blogging for a little more than two weeks, I am not as concerned about this. This blog is as much about growing up as it is establishing myself as an expert, and I think in the coming months, I will look back, discover trends in my writing and say, “aha! That’s my brand.” Of course, you may disagree about the timing of branding, and I would be delighted to hear your thoughts.

    Filed under: Week in Review, , ,

    Winning Way by Gyutae Park – Helpful Blogging Hints

    After reading 27 pages of suggestions on blogging in the Winning Way, I thought I’d share just a few tips that made me say “yes!” If you want to read the whole book you can download it here.

    The Winning Way, by Gyutae Park

    The Winning Way, by Gyutae Park, image source: http://bit.ly/uvwhi

    1. Separate Writing from Editing –> Great advice. When I write, I nitpick. I struggle to write the perfect sentence. My rate of success aside, editing while I write arrests my flow. When he says, “writing is a creative process, and editing is a critical one,” the separation clicks. Only after giving free rein to my creativity will I edit.  The separation may lengthen the writing process, but the benefits will be a more fluid, creative writing style, one with more me on the paper. Let me know how I’m doing please (thanks!).
    2. Give Interviews (via email, podcasts, and videos) –> Cool idea. Publishing an interview on a blog makes private knowledge public. The more a blogger does that, the greater his value to the community. I want to try it.
    3. Show Post Excerpts –> Beginning now. Rather than let a 1,000 word blog post dominate a homepage, Park suggests providing excerpts of each post. This allows readers to more easily find  interesting material.
    4. Magazine Style Format –> For when I buy a domain. Park uses the magazine style for his website. By using this format, a blogger can prevent time from determining a visitor’s first impression.  Rather than make the most recent post the dominating feature, a blogger can make his most important element dominate. It gives him freedom.

    What are some of your favorite Winning Way tips? Even better, what are some of your own tips you have picked up along the way?

    Filed under: Blogging Education, , ,

    Search Engine Marketing – Aberdeen Group Study

    This study by the Aberdeen Group from October 2008 describes Search Engine Marketing best practices based on a survey of over 200 companies of all sizes and demographics, and companies mostly from North America (64%). The study divides the companies into Best-in-Class, Industry Average, or Laggard based on return on marketing investment, and in the last year – change in brand awareness, change in web conversion rate, and change in web traffic.

    Because of the breadth of the study, I will focus on exploring the points of differentiation between the Best-in-Class and everyone else.  If you want more, I encourage you to download the complete study here, and check it out yourself.

    Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

    SEM is the process of getting your company to the top of search engine rankings. The study divides SEM into three categories, organic search, paid search, and paid inclusion. We see organic search and paid search in the picture below:

    The Wikipedia entry here, the Professional Association for SEMers, and the Search Engine Guide blog have use Search Engine Marketing to get to the top of the organic list.

    Not surprisingly, the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization knows how to optimize their organic search rankings for the keywords "search engine marketing", as we see in the picture above.

    These three sites (with the Wikipedia entry leading) bubbled to the top of the search for SEM by building inbound links, optimizing their web site for key words, etc. They also did not pay to appear there. Thus, this is the organic search.

    Paid search results show up in the shaded area. As you might imagine, the more popular the keyword, the higher the price a company has to pay to appear in those results. Additionally, a search engine uses an algorithm based on relevance, quality, and many other factors to decide whose ads to display.

    Factors of Interest

    Although Aberdeen studies performance across five categories – process, organization, knowledge management,  technology, and performance management, this post will only explore process, knowledge, and performance management.

    Significant Differences:

    Looking at process (approach to daily operations), The Best-in-Class enterprises were significantly more likely than the Industry Average (66% vs. 41%) ) to have a formalized process for SEM initiative development.  This finding suggests the Best-in-Class use their time more efficiently than their peers. Because of their formal process, Best-in-Class companies can spend more time on creating an SEM initiative and less time on how to create an SEM initiative like their not-as-effective Industry Average peers.

    Within the knowledge category (putting data in the right people’s hands at the right time), Best-in-Class companies are much more likely to be able to adjust their SEM initiatives in real time (74% vs. 50%). I believe this is a huge strategic advantage for Best-in-Class companies. Because they can adjust the execution to provide rules and accountability, to create a team dedicated to executing SEM initiatives.

    Most importantly, the Best-in-Class dominated all rivals in all categories of performance management: Access to real or near time analytics to track initiative performance (79% vs. 63%), historical analysis of SEM initiatives (74% vs 57%), and the ability to compare organic search, paid search, and paid inclusion results (69% vs. 35%).


    Implications for my Business

    The most fruitful areas for exploration are in process development and performance tracking. My business could add significant value to our clients by 1. helping businesses develop formal SEM initiative systems, and 2. implementing performance tracking systems to provide analytical insight on past data and 3. providing real time SEM adjustment capabilities.

    Filed under: Search Engine Marketing, ,

    Radian6 Case Study – Embarq Telecommunications

    This morning, I read my first case study (I know, it wasn’t a white paper!). Published by Radian6, this social media company explains how they helped take telecommunications company Embarq’s social media strategy to the next level.

    I like this case study because of the insight I get into how Radian6 adds value to their clients. I can pull my favorite elements of Radian6 and mash them together with other best practives in this space, helping me create a new business to serve my local community.

    In my post, I want to walk through the stages of this case study, and provide my thoughts on each one. You can download the case study here: http://www.radian6.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/embarqcasestudy.pdf

    The Challenge

    A spin off from Sprint, Embarq faced restrictive legacy online communications policies. They wanted to get involved with social media, but how?

    Listening to Stakeholders

    Amazing part of this story – Embarq spent one year (ONE YEAR!) developing a social media plan. Not only that, they spent NINE MONTHS listening to their customers, prospects, and competitors. On the one hand, this is only my first case study, and maybe this length of time is the norm, but to me, that just sounds like a long time. On the other hand, after spending the time it takes to birth a baby listening to your stakeholders and competitors, you will probably have a deep understanding of their needs, a leg up when the interaction begins (if ever!).

    INSIGHT: Embarq used free tools to aggregate all the information online.  ACTION: Assemble a list of the free tools available to me (eventually cut the list down to the good ones) .

    With these free tools at their disposal, Embarq saw their customers and prospects talking positively and negatively about them online, which they saw as a good sign because people were talking.

    The inefficient organization of their customer data made aggregation time consuming, inaccurate, and not actionable. Seeing the limitation of the free tools, Embarq needed help getting to the next level. Enter Radian6.

    Engaging

    Radian6 developed a dashboard that provided two huge huge benefits to the Embarq team: 1. With information streamlined and organized the Embarq team could quickly delegate actions among different departments and act in real time, 2. When the time came, the C-suite could easily understand the presentation of data and they could track customer trends in real time.

    With the Radian6 solution in place, Embarq’s next step was to engage. Planning to roll out slowly, their plans were dashed when the employees jumped in within weeks. What Embarq did next, reminds me of the lessons in Marcus Buckingham’s management classic, First Break all the Rules.

    The Embarq team’s desired outcome was improved customer engagement, improved customer troubleshooting, and an improved brand image. Rather than defining the path to the desired outcome and squashing their employees outreach in favor of the “plan”, the Embarq team encouraged their employees to embrace this social media outreach, recognizing another way to success other than the one designed. Their instincts were right, the employee engagement was succeeding.

    The Metrics

    Prove it to the C-suite! That is the last stage of many social media endeavors, prove your worth using data.  To start, the team compared the success of the social media to other customer promotions within the company. Here I find another lesson — when presenting to an audience (like the C-suite) start with the familiar before getting fancy.  The Embarq team used familiar metrics in a new setting–to break the audience in easy–to engage them. Having established credibility, the team branched out to show other cool features and benefits of their new social media strategy.

    Today, management uses the Radian6 dashboard as a snapshot of the company. The information helps them direct their energies effectively, and discover new customer and prospect trends.

    My Final Thoughts

    Radian6 positions themselves as a social media monitor, and I like how they make customer data actionable for their clients by gathering quality data and presenting it simply. This compares with another company I have been learning a bit about, Hubspot, who, as an inbound marketing company, would probably focus more on generating content to build more leads that convert to customers. While in the same space–engaging with customers–the two go about helping their clients connect in very different ways. I am interested, how might your business approached this problem?

    Lastly, as a note about social media, I think in the future, as more companies engage their stakeholders online and offline and by so doing increasing transparency, people will look at corporations less like adversaries, and more like for profit communities, or at the very least, people will begin to recognize the human qualities and personas within any given company. Where do you think?

    Filed under: Case Study Analysis, , ,

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