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How to Check Which Links Can Harm Your Site’s Rankings

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Posted by Modesto Siotos

This post was originally in YouMoz, and was promoted to the main blog because it provides great value and interest to our community. The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of SEOmoz, Inc.

Matt Cutts’ statement in March 2012 that Google would be rolling out an update against “overoptimised” websites, caused great turmoil within the SEO community. A few days later thousands of blogs were removed from Google’s index and Matt tweeted confirming that Google had started taking action against blog networks.

Even though thousands of low-quality blogs of low or average authority were manually removed from Google’s index, they weren’t the only victims. For instance, www.rachaelwestdesigns.com, a PR7, DA70 domain was also removed, probably due to the very high number of blog roll (site-wide) backlinks.

These actions indicate that the new update on “overoptimised” websites has already begun to roll out but it is uncertain how much of it we have seen so far.

At around the same time Google sent to thousands webmasters the following message via message via Google’s Webmaster Tools:

In the above statement, it is unclear what Google’s further actions will be. In any case, working out the number of “artificial” or “unnatural links” with precision is a laborious, almost impossible task. Some low quality links may not be reported by third party link data providers, or even worse, because Google has started deindexing several low quality domains, the task can end-up being a real nightmare as several domains cannot be found even in Google’s index.

Nevertheless, there are some actions that can help SEOs assess the backlink profile of any website. Because, in theory, any significant number of low quality links could hurt, it would make sense gathering as many data as possible and not just examine the most recent backlinks. Several thousand domains have already been removed from Google’s index, resulting in millions of links being completely devalued according to Distilled’s Tom Anthony (2012 Linklove).

Therefore, the impact on the SERPs has already been significant and as always happens in these occasions there will be new winners and losers once the dust settles. However, at this stage it is be a bit early to make any conclusions because it is unclear what Google’s next actions are going to be. Nevertheless, getting ready for those changes would make perfect sense, and spotting them as soon as they occur would allow for quicker decision making and immediate actions, as far as link building strategies are concerned.

As Pedro Dias, an Ex-Googler from the search quality/web spam team tweetted, “Link building, the way we know it, is not going to last until the end of the year” (translated from Portuguese).

The Right Time For a Backlinks Risk Assessment

Carrying out a backlinks audit in order to identify the percentage of low-quality backlinks would be a good starting point. A manual, thorough assessment would only be possible for relatively small websites as it is much easier to gather and analyse backlinks data – for bigger sites with thousands of backlinks that would be pointless. The following process expands on Richard Baxter’s solution on ‘How to check for low quality links‘, and I hope it makes it more complete.

  1. Identify as many linking root domains as possible using various backlinks data sources.
  2. Check the ToolBar PageRank (TBPR) for all linking root domains and pay attention on the TBPR distribution
  3. Work out the percentage of linking root domains that has been deindexed
  4. Check social metrics distribution (optional)
  5. Repeat steps 2,3 and 4 periodically (e.g. weekly, monthly) and check for the following:
  • A spike towards the low end of the TBPR distribution
  • Increasing number of deindexed linking root domains on a weekly/monthly basis
  • Unchanged numbers of social metrics, remaining in very low levels

A Few Caveats

The above process does come with some caveats but on the whole, it should provide some insight and help making a backlinks’ risk assessment in order to work out a short/long term action plan. Even though the results may not be 100% accurate, it should be fairly straightforward to spot negative trends over a period of time.

Data from backlinks intelligence services have flaws. No matter where you get your data from (e.g. Majestic SEO, Open Site Explorer, Ahrefs, Blekko, Sistrix) there is no way to get the same depth of data Google has. Third party tools are often not up to date, and in some cases the linking root domains are not even linking back anymore. Therefore, it would make sense filtering all identified linking root domains and keep only those still linking to your website. At iCrossing we use a proprietary tool but there are commercial link check services available in the market (e.g. Buzzstream, Raven Tools).

ToolBar PageRank gets updated infrequently (roughly 4-5 times in a year), therefore in most cases the returned TBPR values represent the TBPR the linking root domain gained in the the last TBPR update. Therefore, it would be wise checking out when TBPR was last updated before making any conclusions. Carrying out the above process straight after a TBPR update would probably give more accurate results. However, in some cases Google may instantly drop a site’s TBPR in order to make public that the site violates their quality guidelines and discourage advertisers. Therefore, low TBPR values such as n/a, (greyed out) or 0 can in many cases flag up low quality linking root domains.

Deindexation may be natural. Even though Google these days is deindexing thousands of low quality blogs, coming across a website with no indexed pages in Google’s SERPs doesn’t necessarily mean that it has been penalised. It may be an expired domain that no longer exists, an accidental deindexation (e.g. a meta robots noindex on every page of the site), or some other technical glitch. However, deindexed domains that still have a positive TBPR value could flag websites that Google has recently removed from its index due to guidelines violations (e.g. link exchanges, PageRank manipulation).

Required Tools

For large data sets NetPeak Checker performs faster than SEO Tools, where large data sets can make Excel freeze for a while. NetPeak checker is a standalone free application which provides very useful information for a given list of URLs such as domain PageRank, page PageRank, Majestic SEO data, OSE data (PA, DA, mozRank, mozTrust etc), server responses (e.g. 404, 200, 301) , number of indexed pages in Google and a lot more. All results can then be exported and processed further in Excel.

1. Collect linking root domains

Identifying as many linking root domains as possible is fundamental and relying in just one data provided isn’t ideal. Combining data from Web master tools, Majestic SEO, Open Site Explorer may be enough but the more data, the better especially if the examined domain has been around for a long time and has received a large number of backlinks over time. Backlinks from the same linking root domain should be removed so we end up with a long list of unique linking root domains. Also, not found (404) linking root domains should also be removed.

2. Check PageRank distribution

Once a good number of unique linking root domains has been identified, the next step is scrapping the ToolBar PageRank for each one of them. Ideally, this step should be applied only on those root domains that are still linking to our website. The ones that don’t should be discarded if not too complicated. Then, using a pivot chart in Excel, we can conclude whether the current PageRank distribution should be a concern or not. A spike towards the lower end values (such as 0s and n/a) should be treated as a rather negative indication as in the graph below.

3. Check for deindexed root domains

Working out the percentage of linking root domains which are not indexed is essential. If deindexed linking root domains still have a positive TBPR value, most likely they have been recently deindexed by Google.

4. Check social metrics distribution (optional)

Adding in the mix the social metrics (e.g. Facebook Likes, Tweets and +1s) of all identified linking root domains may be useful in some cases. The basic idea here is that low quality websites would have a very low number of social mentions as users wouldn’t find them useful. Linking root domains with low or no social mentions at all could possibly point towards low quality domains.

5. Check periodically

Repeating the steps 2, 3 and 4 on a weekly or monthly basis, could help identifying whether there is a negative trend due to an increasing number of linking root domains being of removed. If both the PageRank distribution and deindexation rates are deteriorating, sooner or later the website will experience rankings drops that will result in traffic loss. A weekly deindexation rate graph like the following one could give an indication of the degree of link equity loss:

Note: For more details on how to set-up NetPeak and apply the above process using Excel please refer to my post on Connect.icrossing.co.uk.

Remedies & Actions

So far, several websites have seen ranking drops as a result of some of their linking root domains being removed from Google’s index. Those with very low PageRank values and low social shares over a period of time should be manually/editorially reviewed in order to assess their quality. Such links are likely to be devalued sooner or later, therefore a new link building strategy should be devised. Working towards a more balanced PageRank distribution should be the main objective, links from low quality websites will keep naturally coming up to some extent.

In general, the more authoritative & trusted a website is, the more low quality linking root domains could be linking to it without causing any issues. Big brands’ websites are less likely to be impacted because they are more trusted domains. That means that low authority/trust websites are more at risk, especially if most of their backlinks come from low quality domains, have a high number of site-wide links, or if their backlink profile consists of unnatural anchor text distribution.

Therefore, if any of the above issues have been identified, increasing the website’s trust, reducing the number of unnatural site-wide links and making the anchor text distribution look more natural should be the primary remedies.

About the author

Modesto Siotos (@macmodi) works as a Senior Natural Search Analyst for iCrossing UK, where he focuses on technical SEO issues, link tactics and content strategy. Modesto is happy to share his experiences with others and posts regularly on Connect, a UK digital marketing blog.

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How to Start a Successful Home Business in Dropship Sales

February 5, 2010 by  
Filed under Bonanzle, Drop Shipping, eBay, Home Business, Home Worker, Wholesale

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If you need to start making money in a hurry from a home business, then your best bet might be online dropship sales.
In these perilous economic times, more and more people are starting a home business.
Many are looking to make a living from home because they have no choice, having lost their jobs and being unable to find another.
A lot of people are interested in ecommerce because they have had hours and benefits cut to the point that burning up the gas going back and forth to a dead-end, low paying job just doesn’t seem worth the hassle anymore.
Still others are opting to work from home simply because they are tired of the rat race and want a better, less stressful life with more income and more time with family.
Whatever your reasons may be for contemplating a home business, you should definitely take a look at dropshipping!
Dropshipping is almost ridiculously easy to start-up. You choose the products you want to sell from the dropship supplier’s inventory, put those products on your website, eBay or other venue to sell, and you’re in business.
Yes, it really is that simply and easy!
Drop Ship Access has over 1 million high quality, brand name products ready for you to start selling!
Better yet, you don’t have to pay for the products until they sell and you have collected the payment for them from your buyers.
You don’t even have to hassle with packaging and shipping, because Drop Ship Access takes care of that, too. Of course, this also means that you don’t have to pay for warehouse space or make storage arrangements for the items you are selling, since Drop Ship Access houses the inventory for you, too!
Honestly, how much easier could it get to start a home business?
Well, it does get even easier because Drop Ship Access is now fully integrated with eBay ProStores.
This means that you can select the products on the Drop Ship Access website that you want to sell and then stock your virtual online shelves in your own ProStores business—all with just a click!
If you are struggling in this recession, Drop Ship Access and eBay ProStores can help you get some money rolling in FAST with an online dropshipping business!

Start your own online dropship business today!

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Strategies to Spend Money & Earn ROI from Link Campaigns (without buying links)

Posted by randfish

Last week at Pubcon Las Vegas, I presented on How to Buy Links with Maximum Juice and Minimum Effort with fellow panelists Roger Montti (Martinibuster), Aaron Wall (SEOBook) and Todd Malicoat (Stuntdubl). I was a bit of an odd choice for this discussion, as I’d only recently announced SEOmoz’s Stance on Paid Links & Link Ads, but Pubcon’s organizers decided it would be interesting to have a divergent point-of-view.

Below is my presentation, which covers the perspective I come from and why I’m so risk-averse as well as strategies I recommend to capture value from investing in link acquisition campaigns:

Pubcon 2009 Paid Links

Not surprisingly I had a lot of people talk to me (and email me) after the presentation and express some really valuable opinions and questions. The presentations started late due to a misfunctioning projector, meaning there was no time for formal Q+A. I thought I’d take the opportunity in this post to address some of those missed questions.

Do you ever recommend link buying for any site? What about hyper-competitive industries?

Because of my distaste for risk of any kind when it comes to Google’s webspam team, my answer is consistent – no. I don’t ever suggest that businesses buy links from brokers or in the form of link ads that carry the primary intent of boosting a site’s ranking. To be fair, many of my colleagues who practice SEO in competitive industries (dating, gaming, pharmaceutical, real estate, e-commerce, etc.) don’t agree and do engage in buying links to boost their rank. I even know folks at Fortune 500s who use link brokers successfully for specific pages and targeted keywords (this group is probably in the lowest risk category).

Despite these examples and my respect for my colleagues, whenever I’m asked, I’m going to give the same reply – it’s my belief that in the long run, your money will be better spent on link acquisition that runs no risk of being flagged as manipulative by Google. The penalties and problems of link buying simply outweigh the benefits in my mind, so while I have no problem with paid links from a moral, ethical or legal standpoint (nofollow is most definitely not a way to disclose advertising to consumers as per the FTC’s guidelines), the pragmatist in me says link buying isn’t the way to success at Google.

What about directories that require a payment?

The short answer is – it depends. I’d wager a lot of money that some directories which do require payments pass great link equity. These include sites like:

Then there’s the opposite end of the spectrum of directories that exist primarily for the purpose of selling PageRank. Google took action against many of these a couple years back and I suspect they continue to identify and discount their links as new ones crop up. In 2007, I wrote a lengthy post on What Makes a Good Directory and I’d still stand by nearly all of that today.

The message here is that just because a site requires payment to get a link doesn’t make it a “paid link” that Google will penalize or discount. As with many things in life, SEO and the web, there are shades of gray and nuances that require paying attention. If stuff like this were simple, SEO would be, too, and we know that’s not the case.

If I see my competitors engaging in link buying, how can I compete if I don’t do it, too?

I think a big misnomer with link analysis comes up when people scroll through a list of their competition’s links via something like Yahoo! Site Explorer. There’s no metrics indicating whether the link is passing juice, no metric for trustworthiness or quality, just a notation that a link exists on the page. Even if you’re using something more advanced like Linkscape, there’s nothing to say which links Google counts and which they don’t. You can easily get pulled into the idea that paid links are what’s propping up the competition’s rankings, when in fact, it’s a few great natural links that are doing all the heavy lifting.

I remember a site clinic several years back featuring a Google’s webspam chief, Matt Cutts. He was reviewing a site’s link profile on stage using an internal tool and commented that while Google saw several hundred links to the site, only three (yes 3 out of hundreds!) were passing link equity. Cearly, the search giant does a tremendous amount of filtering on the web’s link graph, so don’t presume to be sure which links are passing value.

Even if you feel very confident that paid links are winning the battle for your archnemesis, I recommend taking the low-risk road. In the long run, they’re likely to get penalized/devalued and you’re likely to overtake them with a link profile that’s clean and continually increasing in value.

Where do you draw the line between money that’s spent to acquire a link indirectly (as with event sponsorship, ads that turn into links, etc.)

This gets at the crux of the issue, but I think I’ve got a reasonably good methodology for determining which links requiring funds fit with Google’s guidelines and which violate them. I like these three questions:

  1. Does the organization offering the link tout SEO, PageRank, customizable anchor text or Google rankings as either a portion or the whole of the benefit you’ll receive by paying this money?
  2. Does the money go towards little else besides the link itself?
  3. Does the organization/website provide links via this acquisition methodology (whether that’s an event sponsorship, a charitable donation, an advertising relationship, etc.) to the more aggressive side of the SEO/web marketing field (niches like porn, pills, casino, legal, real estate, etc.) often with anchor text heavy links?

If the answer to any of these is a definite “yes,” the source is likely to fit into Google’s “suspicious” pile and possibly will lose the ability to pass link equity in the future (or already has).

How can you be sure that linkbait and viral content won’t be treated the same as paid links by Google in the future?

Just a couple months back, I wrote about Why Linkbait is a Tactic the Search Engines Will Always Value, so it’s probably not worth re-hashing here. Certainly, there are ways to be manipulative about virtually anything in the link acquisition world, and Google may well take action against some forms of these, but I believe natural links acquired through great content are going to stand the test of time (and are likely to benefit from future ranking signals, whatever they may be).

This is just Google FUD – we shouldn’t let them dictate how to do our jobs!

But we already do! The only reason we try to build these links, research the right keywords, create and submit XML sitemaps, etc. is because Google is dictating the way their crawling, processing and ranking systems work. In their ecosystem – the one that drives 85%+ of all search traffic on the web – there are guidelines, best practices, rules and regulations. If you want to play on their court, you’ve got to abide by those rules or be ready to face the consequences. I’m not ready for those consequences and thus, have low risk tolerance and the attitude you’re reading about.

None of this is to say that a more risk-heavy appetite and more gray-black hat methodologies for link acquisition aren’t worth trying; just make sure you do it on sites you’re willing to get tossed out of the playground.

As always, I’m looking forward to the conversation in the comments.

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SEO and Social Media Benchmarking

Posted by RobOusbey

Introduction

We’ll often rattle off various metrics quite casually in conversation, but it’s easy to forget that others (such as your clients!) might not know whether these are big numbers or small ones. For example: “We’ve just published a guest post on a site with Domain mozTrust 5.67. Mr_Gadget mentioned it to his 64 thousand followers, and it managed to get over 1,000 Diggs.

This post should be useful to anyone who needs to orientate themselves around such numbers. The Website Benchmarks section shows metrics for around half a dozen sites from ten different niches (based on the list originally prepared for comparing SEOMoz Trifecta data.) This is followed by Social Media Benchmarks, to give an idea of the impact and influence of votes and people on three popular social websites.

Links and Traffic: Website Benchmarks

This section uses three particular metrics:

  • Domain mozRank: the strength of a website, based on the sites & pages that link to it,
  • Domain mozTrust: the trustworthiness of a website, based on links from trusted sites & pages,
  • Unique Vistors: Compete.com‘s estimate of the number of monthly unique visitors to a site.

N.B.: The ‘moz’ metrics use data exposed by SEOMoz’s Linkscape, and are on an exponential scale from 0 – 10. Data collected in 2006 suggested that the no visitor metric – Compete included – could be used to precisely estimate unique visitors to blogs at the time.

Arts & Entertainment
Website DmR DmT Visitors
AllMusic 7.05 7.26 545,038
Art.com 6.73 6.58 1,595,173
Art Cyclopedia 6.41 6.94 244,849
AMC Theatres 6.23 6.60 1,294,011
Art.net 5.73 6.32 17,122
Shihad.com 5.55 5.65 1,170
The Official Whitlams Website 4.77 4.95 822
EntertainmentTonight.org 2.87 3.01 401
Business
Website DmR DmT Visitors
Business.gov 6.87 7.37 185,142
Business.com 6.47 6.75 4,882,836
Prudential 6.40 6.86 1,028,829
Kansas Insurance Commissioner 5.71 6.18 8,826
WorldBiz.com 5.48 6.03 4,033
HRM Business Practices and Notes 3.89 4.11 114
Chevron Corporate Solutions 2.76 3.01 n/a
Economy & Politics
Website DmR DmT Visitors
The White House 7.90 8.55 1,976,338
Barak Obama 6.93 7.38 1,180,883
The Democratic Party 6.49 7.01 261,288
Republican National Committee 6.22 7.13 27,592
Democrats.com | The Aggressive Progressives 5.71 6.36 131,764
Iowa Democratic Party 5.15 5.67 1,009
Republican Party of America 4.32 4.70 2,873
Vote Brian Sayrs 3.11 3.74 123
Health
Website DmR DmT Visitors
WebMD 7.35 7.66 19,871,120
HealthWorld Online 6.18 6.73 88,180
Health.com 6.08 6.41 1,795,763
Men’s Health Network 5.71 6.28 6,817
Healthy Child 5.14 5.25 7,409
Healthy Living Natural Foods 4.41 4.79 1,199
All American Healthcare 2.76 3.00 n/a
Home & Housing
Website DmR DmT Visitors
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development 7.62 8.07 1,716,602
HGTV 6.83 7.05 3,334,973
RealEstate.com 6.55 6.48 527,147
HousingMaps 6.08 6.70 19,219
Get Decorating 5.02 5.32 53,819
Eastern Corner 4.77 4.81 4,722
RentSpeed.com 4.73 4.68 74,571
WeBuyHouses.info 2.76 3.00 n/a
News & Media
Website DmR DmT Visitors
CNN 7.40 7.72 10,055,985
Anchorage Daily News 6.57 7.11 183,065
News-Record 6.17 6.68 207,799
Happy News 5.57 6.15 120,209
News Directory 5.56 6.24 1,610
Napier Mail 3.60 3.77 434
Kingsburg Recorder 2.35 4.78 4,011
People & Society
Website DmR DmT Visitors
U.S. Department of Education 7.63 8.33 6,270,175
ConsumerReports 6.94 7.24 4,339,086
Consumer Web Watch 5.97 6.31 12,213
Consumerist 5.63 5.91 796,933
South Carolina Department of Education 5.44 6.12 4,467
No Nonsense Self Defense 4.86 5.34 18,278
Inner Strength 3.71 4.32 1,055
Acqua Beauty Bar 3.55 3.84 1,383
Science
Website DmR DmT Visitors
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 7.35 9.14 4,811,397
U.S. Science Portal 6.35 7.33 6,763
Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society 6.02 7.25 6,745
Association of Clinical Research Professionals 5.47 6.39 11,478
SciNet Science & Technology Search Engine 4.73 5.86 4,093
Cafe Science Dundee 3.82 4.51 n/a
Society of Natural Science 2.76 3.00 n/a
Sports & Recreation
Website DmR DmT Visitors
Fox Sports 7.18 7.29 6,294,958
Official Site of Major League Baseball 6.57 6.84 9,969,301
FIBA – Home of International Basketball 6.16 6.23 8,369
NCAA Football 5.44 5.90 232,497
Sports Illustrated for Kids 5.09 5.48 166,599
North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance 4.33 4.43 3,057
Swimwatch 3.03 3.19 1,138
Technology
Website DmR DmT Visitors
Apple 8.84 9.33 21,407,512
Google Mail 7.22 7.14 9,336,542
Blackberry 7.10 7.30 2,551,692
Government of India, Department of Information Technology 5.82 6.47 1,862
Internet History 5.72 6.43 20,749
The Society for the History of Technology 4.98 6.32 688
The Loop 3.71 5.58 17,332

Social Media Benchmarks

Digg

Digg is a well established social media site. After a user submits a link (refered to as a story) other users ‘Digg’ the story if they like it. Stories with a greater number of Diggs are more likely to be promoted to the site’s front page, be seen by more visitors, and receive more traffic. Users can also ‘bury’ stories that are off-topic or duplicate. Read more at How Digg Works.

# of Diggs Likely success Example Story
1+ Little or no exposure Example
10+ A little exposure Example
100+ Mild exposure, moderate success Example
500+ Reasonable exposure, good success – likely to have been promoted with the submission category Example
1,000+ Good exposure & likely to be promoted to the front page, successful content Example
2,000+ Lots of exposure, highly successful Example
10,000+ The very top echelon of articles, extremely successful content. Example
Reddit

Reddit is a newer, but increasingly popular social media site. Users can up-vote and down-vote submitted links to give a link a total number of ‘points’. The most popular stories are promoted to the front page of their category, or the site. Read more at the Reddit FAQ.

Points Likely success Example Link
1+ Little or no exposure Example
10+ A little exposure, may send some visits page Example
100+ Good exposure & likely to be promoted to the category’s front page, sends a moderate amount of traffic Example
500+ Very good exposure & likely to be promoted to the front page Example
1,000+ Excellent exposure, highly successful & will send considerable traffic to the page Example
3,000+ Amongst the top links on the site, extremely popular and widely viewed Example
Twitter

Twitter is a networking website where individuals share their ‘statuses’, and follow others doing the same. The most fundamental metric available on the site is the number of ‘followers’ a user has – and provides a reasonable indication of their popularlity and influence. Read more at Twitter’s Getting Started page.

Followers Typical behaviour Example User
1+ Very new, or dormant user Example
10+ Likely to be using the site for social purposes, has influence within a close circle of friends Example
100+ Connecting with a modest number of people, has influence amongst a wide circle of friends or industry colleagues Example
1,000+ Fairly well known within their industry, and likely to have influence well beyond those they know personally Example
10,000+ Very well known with their industry or niche; likely to have some off-line awareness Example
100,000+ Popular amongst a wide variety of users; likely to very influential and be widely ‘retweeted’ Example
1,000,000+ Amongst the top 200 users and very influential within the site; almost certainly a genuine off-line celebrity Example

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What’s So Scary About Marketing Strategy?

What’s So Scary About Marketing Strategy?

This content from: Duct Tape Marketing

dart board strategySmall business owners resist creating marketing strategy like many resist getting their teeth cleaned.

Over the years, I’ve discovered why this is:
An effective marketing strategy requires understanding who you are, choosing to be different than everyone else, and committing to one simple way of doing, acting and creating – to the exclusion of all other ways of doing, acting, and creating. Now, that’s some scary stuff!

The above set of requirements may seem difficult to accomplish, but accomplish them and you will set your business free from the tyranny of making up the idea of the week over and over again. However, that’s the crutch that keeps business owners from ever taking strategy head on. It’s far too easy to just grab another tactic, this week’s twitter, and run with it. If this week’s tactic fails, no harm, no foul, find next week’s thing. (A bit of a dart board strategy approach.)

When you commit to a marketing strategy, you’ve actually got to put your entire authentic self on the line and that scares the hell out of people. What if that fails, how do you recover? Well, it starts with a realistic and practical way of thinking about strategy and a mindset that links your marketing strategy to the culture of your organization – if a marketing strategy is real and true for you, your customers, and your people, to some extent you cannot fail.

My take is that a marketing strategy should scare you a bit, push to you an uncomfortable place, and make you stretch – otherwise is may never truly require you to anything remarkable to reach it.

Here’s what you need to discover and capitalize on to create your one true marketing strategy.

  • What business are we really in? – another way of saying this is – what does your customer really buy when they buy your product or service? – does someone buy insurance because they want an insurance policy? Do they hire a plumber because they’ve always had a hankering for a new P trap? Well, what do they really get from a successful experience with you – it’s probably not what you think.
  • Who is our ideal customer? - You’ve undoubtedly read this from me already, but I can’t say it enough – not everyone is your ideal customer, you’ve got to know enough about that perfect customer you are trying to attract, so much so that anyone in your organization could spot who is and who is not that customer. Hint: look long and hard at the make up of customers that are referring business to you – there’s a good chance they hold the key to discovering your ideal customer.
  • What do we do that our customer really values? – The answer to this question is the essence of your thrust to differentiate your business from all others in your industry. It’s likely that you have a unique way of doing business, serving the customer, and creating a winning experience, it’s also just as likely you have no idea what that unique value is, but your customers do – go ask them to tell you what your magic is and then let it shine in all your marketing messages, because it’s a pretty good bet your ideal prospect wants that too.

The best news of all is that once you do this, decision making – what new product should we create, what should our direct mail say, how can we use Facebook – gets very, very easy. Simply ask yourself – how would this help us achieve our marketing strategy?

Just remember, safe is boring – bold is where the opportunity resides, bold is how your create something extraordinary – do it now!

Image credit: Don Fulano

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Cool Startup Alert: Knowem.com

I’m always on the lookout for cool startups. Partly because I’m addicted to new Web properties, but also because I think there’s a lot to be learned from their stories. One startup that’s grabbed my attention over the past few months has been Knowem.com, a site designed by Michael Streko and Barry Wise to thwart social media identify theft.

More and more I’ve been stumbling across stores like this one from StartupNation that shows just how important a tool like knowem can be to a small business owner in protecting their online brand. To find out more about it, I decided to contact Michael Streko, a small business owner who now spends his days helping other small business owners.

Hey, Michael! Mandatory business question out of the way: How did knowem.com come to be and why is it important?

KnowEm.com was a spin off of a site that I owned called CheckUsernames.com. Late February [2009] a similar site closed its doors, so myself and my partner Barry Wise saw it as an opportunity to open a similar service. We made some improvements on the original concept and launched. The idea was simple, giving people a way to see if their brand, user name or company name was available across 120 popular social media sites. Almost instantly, we started to get requests for a service that would actually register your name on all of the sites. So the idea for KnowEm was born.

Despite the economy, you left your day job to focus on knowem.com. How did you know it was time to do that? How did you prepare for the transition?

It was a classic Hail Mary play and launched totally out of pocket. I already had established Web properties that were bringing me in enough revenue that I was still able to support my family, but I had a feeling inside that this would be a hit. So, I just went for it.

Is it true 24/7 is the new 9/5? How many people are associated with knowem today?

Yes. With running a .com startup in this economy, that’s how you have to treat it. We started off as a team of three: Myself, Barry & a friend of ours; Rick. Since then we have grown to employ an additional six people and are currently in the process of hiring two more.

There is no customer support group and we don’t have a sales team, so we needed to be sure to handle every situation with care. When we get a phone call about customer support people still find it funny that they are speaking to one of the owners. Its things like that that keep our customers happy and make them return customers. I have been known to answer support emails at 2:30 am on a Tuesday.

Let’s talk a bit about how the Web has changed the game for small business owners. How have you used the Internet and social media to get the word out about your startup? It seems like I’m constantly hearing about knowem.

We started off with a press release from PRWeb that was picked up by Fox News, The Washington Post, CNET and some other mainstream news sites. From there, we basically pushed hard onto Twitter with @knowem. We looked for people on Twitter that we thought would benefit from a service like knowem and we reached out to them. Once they saw the service, they were impressed and retweeted the site URL to their friends. It snowballed from there. Twitter seems to be the largest way to get your business to the masses right now. Don’t be afraid to communicate with people on the site.

We also heavily used LinkedIn to find businesses that would be interested in our services.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a SMB owner?

The biggest lesson I have learned is that you’ll get back from your business what you put into it. You’re tired and don’t feel like working – you might miss a deal or opportunity. Don’t feel like putting in that extra hour at night because your favorite TV show is on? Get TiVo

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a new SMB owner?

Definitely managing employees. I have always been employed by others and never had to sit on the other side of the table and actually manage people myself. We had some kinks in our team at the very beginning, but we were able to work them all out. To be fair, I was probably partially to blame for them. This was all new to me, but things are running smooth now.

What’s the most satisfying thing about running your own business?

The fact that I am home when my son wakes up and here when he goes to bed – I used to spend four hours a day (two each way) commuting into NYC. My family has always been my top priority and everything I have done in my career I have had them in mind and wanted to give them the best life possible.

How can other small business owners benefit from what knowem.com offers?

Security and branding. We will make sure that your name is not misrepresented on a large list of social media sites and also introduce you to social media and Web 2.0 related sites that you might not have known existed. It’s about creating a consistent brand and then managing it across the Web.

Any advice to aspiring SMB owners who may be hesitant to jump? What type of businesses should people be focusing on right now?

I won’t lie – jumping was tough and made me nervous as hell. But I had a hustle in me that would not let me fail. The cushy paycheck and health insurance kept me from doing so for a while. But I wanted more – no one gets rich working for someone else.

As for a type of business someone should be focusing on, it depends. What are you trying to reach and is there a need for it? Use your judgment and run with it.

Thanks so much, Michael. Some awesome words of advice and wisdom from someone who’s been there. If you haven’t checked out knowem.com give it a look. It’s one of the best online reputation management tools available to small business owners on the Web.

From Small Business Trends

Cool Startup Alert: Knowem.com

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What’s Your Free Soup To Go Strategy?

What’s Your Free Soup To Go Strategy?
This content from: Duct Tape Marketing

soupI write about exceeding expectations in business quite often. I happen to think it’s one of the secrets to success in business and life.

The thing is, it’s not really that hard sometimes because people have grown to expect so little. Just giving a little something extra, after the deal has been agreed to, can go a long way towards creating good will and word of mouth.

For example, my wife and I tried out this new restaurant in town – . Meal was great, service very cheery, atmosphere appropriate, price in line. All of these things added up to a nice experience that had us agreeing to come back some time. But, when our server brought the check she also brought a pint of soup in a go container and told us to let them know what we thought of it.

Now I’m not just going back, I’m sitting here at my computer telling your about Cafe Augusta. As I said, that soup didn’t set them back much, but I had found memories of my visit the next day over a bowl of warmed up soup.

So, what your soup to go strategy? Can you add something to the box, repair something for no charge, provide a free analysis of other systems, or give free stuff from your strategic partners?

I would love to hear your stories and examples of this concept.

Image credit: avlxyz

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4 Ways to Boost Franchise Sales

Learn to be proactive now, and your business will thrive in any economy.

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5 Questions to Ask Your Web Developer

If you want your site to work–and keep working–consider these factors before you build it.

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Website Marketing Turnoffs

13 things not to do when adapting your product to an online model.

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