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7 Quick Tips for eCommerce

If you are an ecommerce entrepreneur, you are probably always looking for new ways to improve your site as well as your sales!

Here are 7 quick tips to help you fine tune your ecommerce website:

1. Make your website friendly to any and all users, regardless of where they might be in the purchasing process. Some might be basically window shopping. Some might be doing price comparisons. Some might be doing research about what types of widgets are available and what sort of bells and whistles each type has. Some might be there specifically to buy. Accommodate all of them!

2. Make your website content pack a punch and sing a song that grabs and holds the attention of visitors! If you can’t write killer copy and content yourself, then hire a freelance writer to do this job for you. It will be well worth the investment!

3. Have attention grabbing headers, and make sure each header uses good SEO techniques. Besides wanting to get the attention of potential buyers, you want the search engine crawlers to pick up those headers. So, use your best keywords and incorporate them into your headers!

4. Have good calls to action! This is vital to the success of your online business! Ask for those sales! Make your calls to action loud and clear. This is not the time to be subtle or ambiguous. If you want the sale—ask for it. Leave no room for doubt about exactly what it is you want the person to do next.

5. Have great photos and plenty of them! Nothing is more off-putting than a website with poor quality, blurry photos. How can you possibly expect people to buy something they can’t even see? Especially online! Always remember that you are asking visitors to purchase something they can neither see nor touch except in the virtual world of the internet. So have lots of great quality photos!

6. Have a community where your customers and visitors can interact with each other and with you. A lot of websites don’t do this and it’s a huge mistake. If you make visitors feel at home, and give them a sense of belonging—they’ll be true blue and loyal!

7. Monitor your website frequently to make sure there are no broken links, slow loading pages or other booboos that slow your site down or cause glitches. Streamline the entire process from the time someone lands on your site until they purchase and checkout!

Use these tips to keep your website running like a well-oiled machine and watch your

Start your own online dropship business today!

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How to Avoid the ‘Bah Humbug’ Spirit from Consumers this Holiday Season

A new study from Shop.org shows that not only are consumers looking to save money this Christmas, but retailers are starting marketing efforts early. Most are offering free shipping along with getting an early start by promoting their products on social sites (and so should you).

“Of those intending to run free shipping offers almost 80 percent will make them conditional, which usually means a customer must purchase a specific item or spend a set dollar amount to qualify.”

They are also getting their social networking sites ready for the holidays – especially their Facebook fan pages (60.3 percent).

Here’s what else retailers are doing to make this holiday brighter and improve profits.

Discounts and Coupons

Discounting isn’t exactly a small business’s favorite marketing method right now, but this year coupons are king. Online shoppers are hunting for deals. The second annual Benchmark Survey on Consumer Coupon Behavior said 30 percent of shoppers go for the retailer who offers coupons. More than 20 percent will leave one store for another if the second store offers a coupon.

A positive part of offering coupons is they’re an easy sell to bloggers and coupon sites. Announce it in a press release and blog about it yourself. Then send short pitches to bloggers, people who tweet about deals on Twitter and coupon sites. That will get the word out quickly.

Focus on a DIY Christmas

I consulted my favorite tool to identify trends online – Google Insights for Search. If this isn’t telling about people’s mood…Google searches for “homemade Christmas Gifts” – are up 80 percent. That means if you can offer guides, tips or directions for the DIY crowd, you’ll be a hit. Martha Stewart is especially well-positioned to help with this, and searches for her ideas are up too.

Here’s what else is hot this year:

Here’s another telling sign. Christmas hasn’t come yet and people are already searching for after Christmas sales (+70 percent).

Other rising searches:

Christmas tree shop +50 percent
Christmas music online +40 percent

It’s not too late for SEO (search engine optimization) and PPC (paid search ads) Campaigns

You can create content to help you come up higher in search engines for searches that have to do with the holidays. Write blog posts and articles that tie into the holidays and use holiday keywords. There are also online directories you can submit to that have holiday categories. And if you’re running ads on search engines, consider making new ad groups geared towards the holidays and bargains.

Consider Cause Related Marketing (Giving Back)

There’s nothing like giving to get you in a holiday mood. Your customers will see your human side and you’ll give to your community. It’s a winning marketing strategy.

Lisa Williams from MEDIA forte marketing told me about Oregon Growers in Hood River. Here’s what they are doing. They will donate a jar of marionberry jam to the Oregon Food Bank for every order they get through December 31st.  They are also donating jam to anyone who becomes a fan of their Facebook page. Additionally they are coordinating gift baskets from Hood River farmers and producers of local food to go to the food bank. Then they will leverage social media by getting bloggers involved by giving them recipes that use Oregon products.

Lisa is working with the association she belongs to, the local board of SEMpdx (search engine marketing professionals of Portland). They want to collect food or cash donations for the Oregon Food Bank.

I don’t know about you, but that makes me excited for the holidays.

So if you haven’t already, start preparing those gift guides, offering tips for holiday savings and sending out press releases about holiday sales and promotions. Then leverage social media and hopefully the song you’ll be singing this holiday season is more “Holly Jolly” than Elvis’s “Blue Christmas.”

Editor’s note: this article was originally published at the American Express OPEN Forum and is republished here with permission.

* * * * *

Janet Meiners thaelerAbout the Author: Janet Meiners Thaeler is an Evangelist for OrangeSoda Inc. and the principal blogger for their corporate blog and Twitter account. She regularly advises clients on blogging and social media strategies. Her own blog is Newspapergrl.com (and Twitter account @newspapergrl). She is passionate about online marketing and is always looking for new insights, resources and trends to help her clients.

From Small Business Trends

How to Avoid the ‘Bah Humbug’ Spirit from Consumers this Holiday Season

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Headsmacking Tip #14: Offer Testimonials, Get Links

Posted by randfish

What motivates a link? Sometimes it’s referencing data/research/news or given because you’ve produced something interesting and valuable. Sometimes it’s because another site has licensed or adopted content/widgets/badges from you. But, in most cases where an editorial link is given, I find that the underlying motivation is because that link provides some benefit to the linking site. This brings us to the fourteenth tip in our headsmacking series and possibly the tactic that will provide you with the lowest hanging link building fruit yet.

Let’s start with a look at the sidebar of MindValleyLabs’ Blog:

MindValleyLabs' Link to SEOmoz

Not too shabby, right? The link comes from their homepage and every blog post they publish and points back to our homepage, sending over plenty of nice link juice as well as some decent traffic (from those interested in learning who SEOmoz is and why we like MindValley so much).

Now let’s look at Matt McGee’s Speaking Presentations Testimonials page:

Matt McGee's Testimonial Page

Again, this link is great for search engines (there’s only a handful of other external links on the page), it’s relevant and it provides traffic as well as search engine benefit.

The next step isn’t too hard to figure out: Go give testimonials!

I’d wager that most of you have between 2-5 dozen contacts who would love to get something positive written from you about them that they can publish on their site. It’s not hard to get started; simply make a list and start sending emails. I’ve provided a brief template you can use below:

Hey Thomas,

Long time no see! I hope all is well with TomsBlog.com and wanted to reach out to offer my help. I’ve been really impressed with the work you do – your posts are inspiring and educational time after time. I’d be more than happy to provide a testimonial you could publish on the site if you’d like – just let me know and I’ll send something over. It would be my pleasure to share the benefits I’ve received with the rest of your visitors :-)

Best wishes,
Rand Fishkin, CEO & Co-Founder, SEOmoz

Testimonial links have a number of qualities that make them absolute gems in the link acquisition world:

  • You can often customize the link location and anchor text (so long as it’s relevant and sensible) – just ask when you send over the testimonial (or, better yet, send over the exact HTML code that will embed the right link so all the receiver has to do is copy + paste)
  • Testimonials are frequently sitewide, but even when they’re not, they tend to reside on popular, important pages (even homepages sometimes – an otherwise impossible place to get a link)
  • They’re 100% editorially given and meant as a true reflection of the relationship you’ve built – that’s precisely the kind of link the search engines want to count
  • They provide strong benefits to both parties in the deal; everyone’s a winner
  • They’re not nearly as awkward or bizarre as a standard link request and the probability for acceptance is very high

Start a list and get cracking – you have nothing to lose but your link poverty :-)

p.s. As with all link building tactics, if you go overboard (abusing this tactic to excess on in a manipulative fashion), the search engines may not take it well. This is a great way to leverage existing relationships and contacts to help bring in links, but if you’re plotting how to use this to earn hundreds or thousands of links, you’re likely treading on dangerous ground (unless you’re a reporter for a major publication, in which case every business you mention is likely to be linking back to your articles about them).

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Winning the SEO Battle at Every Step of the Purchase Path

Posted by randfish

The search engine optimization process can sometimes be mistaken for a singular, sprint-to-the-finish project, when in fact, it’s more like a marathon. Searchers rarely ever convert on the first click and thus, SEO campaigns that merely target a few popular keywords and call the task finished may be fooling themselves. I made this handy chart to help illustrate the issue:

SEO along every step of the purchase path

In my example, the hotel could miss out on dramatic opportunities for optimizing the path of discovery, investigation, brand research and conversion rate optimization by simply targeting “dubrovnik hotels” and ignoring the rest of the process. A comprehensive Internet marketer is going to approach this problem the same way a user approaches the process – by delivering value in every step of the chain.

I like to think of the SEO campaign process in a format like this:

  1. Generic Research: It’s very possible that, particularly for smaller brands and sites, you don’t have the ability to compete for these lofy, high-level, hyper-competitive keywords. However, there’s no reason you can’t be listed among the references on the ever-present Wikipedia page on the subject, mentioned in a review or blog post, covered by a press publication/article or included in a directory/list of resources. If nothing else, you might consider buying ad space from the pages that rank atop the results – especially in today’s market, buying CPM ads can be even cheaper than paying the engines through PPC.
  2. Niche Research: This is often the first opportunity you’ll have to rank, but only if you don’t ignore the indirectly relevant (though sometimes less obvious) keywords in the discovery process. Put yourself in a customer’s shoes (or, better yet, talk to lots of customers and hear how they’ve done this), find the achievable keywords one step above your direct acquisition channel and get to work on some great content that can earn a spot in the top 5-10 listings.
  3. Brand Discovery: This is the classic, SEO-as-a-tactic process. Research the most relevant, highly-converting phrases, analyze the competitive landscape and find ways to build the content and earn the links necessary to rank.
  4. Brand Investigation: The battle isn’t won until the visitor converts. Make sure that when obvious queries about your product/brand/company’s value arise, you’re aware of the results and pro-actively influencing the content. Sometimes it’s enough to simply provide excellent service and take note of the few criticisms that arise. In other cases, you may need to conduct SEO reputation management campaigns to help surface the good and push down the bad.
  5. Brand Navigation: Although this should be the easiest query to win, it presents opportunities for further optimization. Controlling and carefullly choosing Sitelinks under your listing, watching the results in the top 5 carefully and even investing in paid search on branded terms (research has shown that combining paid + organic listings boosts the CTR & conversion rate of both – source needed if anyone in the comments can find that)
  6. Purchase: Queries like “discount code” “coupon code” “special offers” etc. are common, particularly for anyone selling directly over the web. It’s up to you to decide how and if you want to distribute these for your savvier and more cost-conscious purchasers, but in campaigns I’ve observed, it appears to more than make up for the “savings” with improved conversions.
  7. Evaluation: Surfacing all of the content a visitor may be interested in about your product is wise and it can be very smart to do keyword research in the long tail around terms that follow your brand or product (so you can be sure to show up as the default resource before competitors or review sites, whose accuracy and motivation may be questionable).

I don’t want to overly-complicate the SEO process, but if you’re ignoring important steps in your customers’ search path, you could be missing huge opportunities.

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Our Stance on Paid Links & Link Ads

Posted by randfish

Tonight I’m tackling a contentious, thorny issue and that’s always a tough task. Thus, I’ll ask, up front, for a bit of leeway in how my words are parsed and interpreted. I’m happy to make clarifications on specifics in the comments.

Lately, we’ve been getting a lot of questions (through Q+A as well as from clients and the SEO community) about the practice of buying links. A good number of folks have pointed out that, years ago, I endorsed several text/paid link brokers – companies that aggregate link ad inventory and sell it to those seeking to boost their rankings. This practice does violate Google’s Quality Guidelines as well as other engines’ desires, as do most of the direct forms of paying money to get a link that will assist with organic search rankings (I say “most” because the Yahoo! Directory and a few others like it may be exempt).

I’ve listed some of our general thoughts about paid links:

  • Buying/selling links is an inherently high risk activity
  • Certain smart methodologies may temporarily reduce that risk, but never to zero (at least, in my opinion)
  • The size, credibility and importance of your organization strongly impacts how you might be penalized by the engines (large companies and popular websites are far less likely to receive harsh penalties or bans in the same way smaller orgs might)
  • To perform SEO is to decide that the environment and rules created by the search engines is, for better or worse, your ecosystem
  • Choosing to manipulate that ecosystem in ways that violate the engines’ rules or intent is not necessarily immoral or unethical but it is potentially damaging to your business (if you rely on search engine traffic)

I want to set the record straight publicly about where I (and SEOmoz) stand vis a vis recommending link buying and link selling as SEO practices.

  1. We no longer recommend paid links, link ads, link buying or selling to any of our active clients
  2. We do this because we believe that the risk to reward ratio is too high and not because of ethical, moral or legal reasons
  3. Our stance has also changed because we feel that paid links no longer offer long-term, high yield value for SEO campaigns, and that other methodologies that require similar effort and finances are almost always more accretive and less risky

This doesn’t mean that I want to take back the things I’ve said in the past about individual link sellers or those SEOs who endorse paid links or link brokers. If your business has risk tolerance for buying or selling links and you go into it with your eyes wide open, I have no problem with that. The businesses and individuals we’ve recommended in the past value their customers, provide a high level of service and are smart operators. Many of them also offer “white hat” link building and SEO services which we’d still recommend today (some have even left the link ads business entirely).

If you’re buying or selling links today, my general feeling is that there are other, more valuable, less dangerous tactics that will add long term value to your SEO. There may be cases where, particularly for large companies, link buying is a low-enough risk activity to make some sense, but as a rule, and as part of SEOmoz’s commitment to our core values of transparency, generosity, quality and empathy, paid links aren’t going to be part of our toolbox going forward.

p.s. I’d love to hear in the comments how those of you who run consulting businesses or offer SEO consulting services deal with this issue in messaging to your clients.

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How I Used PointBanner to Get Banner Ads, Fast and Cheap

If you are looking for banner ads for an online advertising campaign, PointBanner is an excellent design service.  It is well within a small business budget.  They promise — and deliver — fast turnaround time.

Recently I tried out the service to commission 3 animated banner ads for BizSugar, the small business social media site I acquired a few months ago. I got three ads for a total of $84 — not bad.

I was pleased with the results — so pleased that I decided to write about the experience here, thinking you might benefit from my experience.  Here are some of the reasons I was so satisfied with PointBanner:

Easy-peasy service — Everything about PointBanner from the customer’s perspective is self-serve and automated online.  You go to the PointBanner website, where you open an account in under 5 minutes.  Then you choose how many banner ads you want, and in which sizes.  You write out your design instructions, and pay with a credit card.  Because it is self-serve and online, you can order banners late at night or very early in the morning (which is when I tend to do marketing activities like this).

When it comes to designing the ads, there’s a brief online form you fill out.  You insert the text you want on the ad.  You can upload a logo or any other graphics.  You can also write instructions such as “use the same look and feel as our website home page.”  It took me about 15 minutes to think through what I wanted and write out my simple instructions.

Professional design, not a DIY tool – With PointBanner even though your interaction is all online, you are getting professional design services.  This is not a do-it-yourself tool.  Heck – even the best tool would be a waste of time in my hands.

Sometimes you just need something fast.  The website interface makes the process of getting professional design help streamlined and efficient. It saved me hours.  I did not have to search out designers and interview them, etc. — all of that was taken care of.

Inexpensive! – Different banner sizes work for different situations.  The wonderful thing with PointBanner is that you can order a single banner ad in one size, or you can order value packs of the same ad in multiples sizes. I chose the Basic package, which was just $69 for 3 popular ad sizes.  I wanted animated banner ads, which tacked on an extra $15.  My total order came to $84 for three animated banner ads.

If I’d needed more ad sizes, I could have gone with one of their other packages.  The best value is the Gold package, which gives you 13 different banner ad sizes for $139.  That works out to less than $11 per banner ad (non-animated).  You can’t beat that.

Fast turnaround of 48 hours – The site promises to deliver your banner ads within 48 hours from your order.  Just as promised, I got an email that my banners were ready within 48 hours.  At first I didn’t realize the banners were done, because the email notification got swept into my junk mail folder where it lay for almost 2 days — but it was there.

If you are willing to pay $10 extra for each banner, you can cut that time in half and get expedited service in 24 hours.

Up to 3 revisions – You get the banners submitted to your online account, where you can review each ad by mousing over the link (see image below).

PointBanner control panel for revision process

If the ads are satisfactory, you can accept them and download them to your hard drive immediately.  Once you download them, the order is closed.

If they are not quite what you envisioned, you have up to 3 rounds of revisions.  You simply write instructions in a text box online asking for changes.  I used all 3 of my revision rounds.  Revisions are turned around promptly.  In my experience the instructions were followed to the letter.  They were fast, too — most of the revisions were returned in a few hours, or at the latest by the next day.

Personalized service — I plan to use the ads in several ways.  One way is as house placements here on Smallbiztrends.com.  After accepting and downloading my banners, I later realized the file sizes were too large to load into the FM Publishing ad system we use for house placements.  So I wrote to PointBanner Support and asked if the ads could be compressed to under 100 kb in size.  In under an hour, I got an email back from Guy Falkovitch, Vice President, saying it would be handled.

Helpful tips on the blog – If you do not know much about banner ads, the PointBanner blog offers helpful tips.  Examples: 10 Banner Ad Design Tips and Five Design Tips for Animated Banner Ads.

Great results for the price – Given the price I paid for my banners  I was very satisfied.  I just wanted simple inexpensive banners — fast.  No fuss, no muss.  From start to finish the process took about one week elapsed time, including all 3 revisions.  I could have cut a few days off of that had the initial email not gotten waylaid in my junk mailbox.

Here are my 3 banners, below.  Click on each thumbnail image to open up the full size animated banner.  You can judge for yourself.

From Small Business Trends

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A Link Building Rule to Cut Out and Keep

Posted by RobOusbey

A few friends have asked me recently about how they can get their personal or business websites ranking higher in Google. I’ve tended to explain SEO – and link building in particular – quite differently to how I’d talk about it to Internet Marketing pros such as yourself.

In particular, there’s one piece of advice that I’ve given so much recently, that I thought it’s worth mentioning here. I hope that even experienced link builders will see value in considering this (and to be honest, they may get even more out of it.) It’s not intended to be rigidly stuck to, but I think that its greatest use is in how it can be applied to any link building tactic or framework, so much so that I think it’s worth putting on a faux brass plaque:

“The most valuable links you can get, are those which your competitors will never be able to have.”

It might be something to do with your content, your business or your internal resources, that gives you opportunities that competing sites don’t have. You can use this rule to assess any link opportunity to see if your site has a unique edge (or if your competitors could get the link too) but if you can actually identify some of those unique factors of your site, then you can use these to proactively discover new opportunities.

If it’s not already explicit (and because you deserve more than a 215 word post) we’ll take a look at how it applies to various link building tactics, and then look at how it can be used to find new opportunities.

Linkbuilding Tactics, Assessed


Directory submissions have been discussed on SEOMoz before (see posts from 2007, 2008, 2009). With this rule in mind, you say “is this free-for-all directory, in which people who’ve paid the money are almost always listed worth being in?” and the answer is probably not. Then you come across something like Ethical Duck which lists websites which they consider “in some way are of a positive value to humans, the environment, the planet.” If you’ve made an ethical commitment that sets you apart from your competitors, then getting a link in this directory would be something you can do, but that your competitors can’t. Likewise, any quality directory that editorially discriminates on your niche/location/other factors may be equally worthwhile.

Create content specifically to attract links:

Whether it’s out-and-out ‘Linkbait’ or just some great content, you can attract links from sites in a particular niche with the right content. Will this help you target sites that your competitors can’t get links from? Well, that depends on the other competitors in your industry, propensity of niche sites to link, etc, as well as making sure that you pick the rights aspect of your business to market in this way. However. the overwhelming influencer is likely to be whether you are capable of creating great content. If you have the time/resource/motivation to do this – and do it better than your competitors – then you’ll be able to count this tactic amongst your most valuable.

Article Sites:

You know the score with this practice: a site creates tens or hundreds of articles (including a keyword rich link back, naturally) and then gets the published across large and small article sites. Could your competitors do this as well? You betcha. If you’re able to create some quality content and distribute it to sites that wouldn’t typically publish articles like this, then you are using article marketing the right way. (Thanks Patrick.)

Buy exact match domains

Can you or your competitor do this better? It basically just comes down to who has a better budget and moves faster – therefore it doesn’t really say much about which site is more relevant to a particular keyphrase. This probably explains why the more established search engines don’t pay quite as much attention to it, as say, the less advanced ones.

These are just examples, and you can go through any linkbuilding technique to see how it measures up on this score.

Linkbuilding Opportunities, Discovered

I’d suggest beginning by writing a list of everything that sets you apart from some or all of your competitors (both the online and offline ones, if appropriate) – but these only need to be differences, with no predjudice as to whether these things make you better or worse. If you have dedicated marketing staff, they may even have put time into creating lists like this already. Grab them, and anyone else who’s interested to help you build this list – you never know where the interesting ideas may come from.

This section has examples of differences you might have to other websites / companies, and examples of how you can use them to help get links based on this rule.

You are a respected source of information/expertise/etc in the industry, but users of these resources rarely convert into customers:

Get your valuable resource online, and use it get links to your site. Make sure that the pages with this information on pass link juice to the appropriate money pages.

You don’t make the products that you sell:

If your competitors are manufacturer-retailers, they’ll benefit from vertical integration, double margins, etc. However, if you buy your products from a number of sources, then you should look at getting those of them with websites to link to you. If they’re proud that you distribute thier product, then you shouldn’t have much trouble getting them to link. You may also consider offering them a genuine testamonial, some end-user feedback, etc that they’ll be keen to publish, along with a link to you.

You have much higher margins than your competitors:

High profit margin products (and services likewise) might be tougher to sell, but they will carry a considerably higher perceived value than the actual marginal cost to you of producing each unit. Go ahead and use this to your advantage by running a competition. If you’re a music label, you could give away $1,000 worth of CDs, but it would only cost you a tiny fraction of that. If you run an online subscription service, there’s typically very little cost to adding one new user, so give away some subscriptions. Executed well and seeded to the right places, a competition can gather a valuable number of links. (I was recently involved in a competition where the prize value equated to about 50cents for each unique linking site. Pretty good value.)

You have some really cheap products:

The Ferrari Store has a varied selection of products – as well as inlet valves from the Michael Schumacher’s car in the 2000 F1 series (400 Euro) and a ‘Ferrari Limited Edition’ Segway (8,500 Euro) they have keyrings and pins from about 10 – 20 Euro. If they’re requesting links from bloggers and site owners, then giving them one of these cheaper item along with the request could significantly increase their chance of a response. (Note to Ferrari: I can be contacted through the Distilled website. K Thanx.)

You have great sales staff:

You’ve got staff who can sell ice to Eskimos? Take them out for lunch, and teach them about SEO and linkbuilding. Great salespeople tend to have the cajones required to call people up out of the blue and get the response they want (in this case – links.)

You have lots of staff (e.g.: in a call center) who are not fully occupied:

There’s no doubt that you have (at least occasionally) come up against tasks that could be valuable, but you can’t spend time on. (“I wish I could email the webmaster of every rambling society in the UK” or “I wish I knew the top 100 Dugg pages in my niche” etc.) If you have a staff who have alternating periods of activity (eg: call center staff where morning are quiet and afternons busy, or booking agents where summer is busy and autumn is quiet) then teach them the value of some of this work. Don’t forget to properly thank them for the work done, and to later show them how it has benefited the business.

Your site or products have won awards:

As hard as we try for them, awards rarely convert directly into new business. However, if you make sure that you get all the links possible out of then at least your SEO team will benefit from the accolade. Begin with the site of the awards themselves, and work from there. (Do you notice anything missing from this Sony Radio Academy Awards page? Clue: it’s an anagram of ‘KILNS’)

You have a PR team who are great at getting you in the offline press:

You didn’t choose your PR Team because they are great at getting you into newspapers, you chose them because they are great at getting you talked about. Even if they don’t know the first thing about the web, they might relish the challenge of getting you into some large online-outlets. Once they’ve got the PR done, you can always follow up to make sure the links are properly in place, etc.

Actions & Epilogue

I’d suggest taking a quick look at your current link building practices now, and see how they measure up on this scale. I’m not suggesting that you should drop anything in particular, but it may be enlightening to think about which links you’ve built that couldn’t be emulated by a competitor.

After that, go for the brainstorm mentioned above to see what makes you different, and then think about how that could help you build more links.

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5 Common Pieces of SEO Advice I Disagree With

Posted by randfish

Over the years, I’ve heard a number of recommendations for SEO given out that I simply don’t understand or find logically flawed. I thought it might be interesting to share some of these and hear more perspectives. It could be that I just don’t comprehend the reasoning or haven’t thought things through, but I personally don’t always recommend these, so it’s worth at least a discussion.

#1 – Succesful SEO Copywriting = Keywords & Content Structure

Here’s an example of two pages upon which different kinds of SEO has been performed:

Keyword Optimized vs. Compelling Content

I struggle with the fact that 90%+ of the SEO copywriting advice I see on the web or hear at conferences relates to the use of keywords and the content structure (I’m guilty of this myself sometimes, but have been trying to break that habit). While those things may add value from a technical algorithmic ranking perspective, the value of even one additional external link, at least in my opinion, dwarfs the value of having the keyword repeated in the H2 tag the correct number of times.

It seems to me that if and when copywriters are given the knowledge to understand the web’s ecosphere around their content arena, and asked to target those who share and spread content on the web, their SEO work is likely to add far more value. That shouldn’t stop SEOs and writers from employing good keyword usage practices, but I wish I saw more about how to “write for the Linkerati” and leverage the emotions that make people link.

#2 – Never Exchange Links with Other Sites

There’s been so much fear pushed around the web about reciprocal link exchanges and link trading programs that the message has been muddled up into the completely nonsensical “never link to someone who links to you.” To my mind, that’s a touch of lunacy. The web’s link graph is meant to be representative of the connections, endorsements and relationships of the real world. Artificially manipulating it, even when you’re doing so because you think Google wants you to, doesn’t make much sense.

The advice holds true when an offer comes via email suggesting you link to a site with which you have no relationship and, in exchange, they’ll link to you.  It holds true when a directory wants you to link to it in order to get a link out. It doesn’t hold true when some blogger has said something you care about and linked to you, or when a business partner has endorsed your work and is hoping you can reciprocate. I created a handy little risk chart to help explain my positions on “reciprocal” links:

Continuum of Link Exchange Risk

For example, there’s nothing wrong with SEOmoz linking to Distilled’s website – our partners in the UK – and likewise, getting a link back from them. If, however, we weren’t actually partners but only linked back and forth in order to artificially inflate one another’s link popularity, it’s a different story.

#3 – Rewrite the H1 Headline to Be Unique from the Title Tag

I’m not sure exactly where this advice originated, but I’ve heard it from some SEOs I really respect, including my good friend Todd Malicoat. Still, I’m highly skeptical. I’ve tried it a few times in test environments and looked at some rough correlation data – both of which suggesting that there’s no particular benefit to having unique titles vs. H1s.

H1 to Title Mismatch

The big reason I’m against it is that H1s are intended to be the “headline” of a page, and if you click on a search result, then see a different headline on the page itself, it’s a very off-putting experience. This is one of those times when, even if it was good for SEO, I think the usability argument might trump. The expectation created by a title is that the article will be that precise piece. I have trouble imagining search engineers deciding that disparity between the two should result in a higher ranking.

#4 – Never Spam Report Your Competitors

A number of arguments are made against spam reporting the competition when they’ve employed tactics that violate the search engine guidlines. Some operators in the field want to make this a moral or ethical issue (AKA – the “thieves pact” made by being an SEO must be honored). However, since there’s no way to verify whether a particular SEO does or does not submit their competitors’ manipulative tactics to the engines, it could easily be that those most vocal about rejecting it as a path to success are actually the same ones who employ it most. Nothing stops an SEO from claiming to adhere to the “no outing” code while quietly turning in all of his/her cohorts.

This paradigm makes one path obvious – don’t say, at least publicly, that you report spam. Vocal parts of the SEO community are vehement about making examples of (and socially shunning/shaming) those who violate this “code of silence.” However, from a practicality standpoint, it may still be valuable to your business to call out spam to the search engines so your site/page has a more level playing field from which to operate (as a white hat, competing against spammers is no fun). The vast majority of smart SEOs I’ve ever encountered expect that their sites are being consistently spam reported and thus engage only in tactics that are either 100% white hat or which they feel confident the engines will be hard pressed to discover (to my mind, the former makes far more sense).

Talking to lots of friends in the field, there seem to be a number of arguments in favor of spam reporting:

  • You may be able to improve your own ranking by removing a competitor
  • It’s a very low time/cost activity and typically a valuable learning experience (even those against reporting still strongly endorse researching and learning from those who do use black/gray hat tactics)
  • You may gain trust in the eyes of the search engines (so long as you are 100% clean yourself)
  • The spam you report may make its way into the index in a scalable way, pushing out multiple manipulators and thus leaving more room, on a macro scale, for your site to perform positively
  • You can get a better sense for what the engines do/don’t tolerate and to what degree by seeing which tactics warrant immediate penalties vs. long delays or no action at all
  • You may help the engines provide better search results for all users, thus increasing the overall value of the web

And a few reasons against:

  • You may inadvertently hurt your own site’s rankings if you’ve engaged in (or unknowingly benefitted from) particular types of spam
  • Reporting spam may hurt your fellow SEOs (gray or black hat though their tactics may be) and is thus unethical

The ethics argument against is certainly the most compelling, and as SEOmoz prides itself so highly on the ethics and values we adopt, I thought a quick review of the subject was in order. Thus, I checked out some great works on ethics from the Markula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. In particular, I found it valuable to read What is Ethics, as well as Whistle Blowing in the Public Sector. My basic takeaway is that If you believe that search engines are an oppressive (or potential oppressive) entity that does not have the best interests of the web or its users in mind, then complying with their request to help punish abusers has some ethical concerns. Likewise, if you feel that those who spam or manipulate the engines’ indices are removing value from the web’s usefulness, you may have similar ethical concerns staying quiet. Similar to reporting criminals for violating unjust laws (or turning them in to a corrupt, oppresive regime), the ethics of the situation depends greatly on your view of the engines and those who violate their guidelines.

#5 – A Site’s Age is Indicative of Ranking Ability

This is one area where I worry considerably about the value of correlation data. While sites that have longer history may indeed have a greater proclivity for high rankings, I don’t personally believe that the engines use a raw “age” metric or even an “age of links” metric to inflate potential rankings.

Does Older Always Mean Better Rankings

The “age of site” or “age of links” argument relies on the idea that search engineers believe age to be equated with higher quality. While there may certainly be value in analyzing the temporal nature of links and content, I struggle to think that older universally (or even mostly) correlates with a better result and better user experience. Age may have some bearing on certain kinds of rankings in specific scenarios and could play a role in trust/spam analysis as well, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a positive metric for judging overall potential performance.

Obviously, this post is largely opinion-based, and like all material on the blog, shouldn’t be misconstrued as anything else. I’m looking forward to discussion on these topics in the comments.

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