Optimize Your Search Engine Listing for Improved CTR

Earlier this month when I spoke at SMX Advanced on the topic of “Beyond the Usual Link Building”, one of the suggestions I made in the presentation was about how to improve how your listings appear within the search engine results.

There are a lot of people I’ve met who tend to be hyperfocused on whether their pages rank, and don’t spend as much attention on how those pages’ entries appear within the search results pages.

It seems like common sense that if the entry looks like what a user is seeking, they’d be more likely to click upon it. Therefor, if you were to improve your search engine results page entries, you’d also likely improve your click-through rate increasing your traffic.

Compare these listings on Google for a search for “Seattle indie records shop“:

Seattle Indie Music Shops Listings in SERP

You can see that the star ratings and review on the listing for “Easy Street Records” is slightly more eye-catching if you were a records shop afficianado the stars and the dollar-sign price range and the easy-to-read sample review text give it an advantage over the listing for the record shop below it. A consumer who is rapidly scanning and clicking to find what they want is going to be more likely to click here.

How much more likely is such a listing to gain clicks? According to Vanessa Fox, Yahoo! has reported a 15% click-through-rate (CTR) increase on similar types of listing treatments! Their results were based upon comparing the CTR of typical search result listings with CTR of listings sporting their special treatments developed through SearchMonkey. The customized listings really stand out from the other listings, drawing the eye and clicks, too.

Yet, before these research results were released, I’d already seen how merely fine-tuning the listing text alone could improve both CTR and rankings. Using savvy methods for forming TITLEs and Meta Descriptions on pages, one can improve keyword relevance, ranking, and click-through-rates.

Now that Google has launched their own type of enhanced listing treatment, dubbed “Rich Snippets“, there’s starting to be even more options for optimizing listings in search results. The first special treatment they’ve enabled are the ones for reviews and ratings, and it seems clear that they intend to launch more, particularly ones related to the use of Microformats, such as hCalendar, hCard, and hProduct.

One person at SMX who liked this concept of “optimizing listings” for improved CTR was Matt Cutts, who Tweeted out a mention of it:

Matt CuttsTweet re Rich Snippets

While these tactics likely have no direct effect on search engine keyword rankings, I’ve theorized for some time now that they could have an indirect effect upon rank. Google’s frequently-discussed patent for “Information Retrieval Based On Historical Data” includes within its descriptions of ranking methods (“scoring”) the possibility that pages might be ranked according to how often they’re clicked upon when they appear within particular searches. The patent states:

“…scoring the document includes assigning a higher score to the document when the document is selected more often than other documents in the set of search results over a time period…”

Very loosely interpreted, this means that if your page’s listing is clicked upon at a better rate than other pages appearing for the same keyword search, that click-frequency or CTR could actually affect that page’s future rankings for that keyword.

It’s long been controversial as to whether Google implemented many of the methods outlined in various patents like this one, but you already have a good excuse to fine-tune your listings: regardless of theoretical impact on rankings, it could easily improve your click-through rate, improving your site’s qualified traffic!

Quick Tips on Optimizing Listings:

  • Title should be brief and state what the page is about, and who you are.
  • Meta description should be brief and expand upon what the page is about or how it may be better than others listed for the same keyword search.
  • Currently, mentioning deals/discounts/rebates may improve CTR since the economy has pushed people to be more price-conscious.
  • Implementing Microformats now on your site for appropriate types of content will likely position you to take advantage of future rollouts of “Rich Snippets” treatements in Google results.
  • Building a search application with Yahoo!’s SearchMonkey platform will help you to understand how Google’s developing similar types of listing enhancements.

Good listing engineering is a complex task involving semantic tagging, taxonomic research and development, good copywriting, and SEO knowledge. Don’t make guesses when doing this use a good expert if you don’t have experience with it.

Optimize your snippets and SERP listings, and improve your CTR and Performance!

Special Characters Are Lucky Charms For Twitter ♥ ☾ ★ ♣

As you surf the flow of Tweets running through the ever-heating-up medium of Twitter, you can frequently see an unusual little character icon or two used to decorate people’s postings. I’ve taken note of these over time, and I suspect that using these little graphic icons can sometimes increase the ability or a particular Tweet to stand out from the crowd. If you use Twitter to promote links to your blog articles and webpages, you might consider adding these special icons to your repertoire. I think these special characters can be Lucky Charms for your Twitter posts, if used carefully.

I recently experimented with adding some special characters to one of my Tweets, and it resulted in quite a number of Re-Tweets as well as clickthroughs. Although it involved an already highly-popular topic (Star Wars), I think the Tweet grabbed more people’s notice because the stars I added to it allowed it to stand out from the crowd more as people scanned the stream of Tweets running through their Twitter accounts:

Happy Star Wars Day Tweet

Special Characters are not hard to add to Tweets, if you’re posting from online. They can be trickier if you’re attempting to Tweet via your wireless devices, since those do not all support extended character sets.

Here’s the classic “Lucky Charms” known to morning cereal afficianados — hearts, moons, stars, and clovers: ♥ ☾ ★ ♣

One of the most frequently used symbols in Tweets is a music notes symbol, when individuals Tweet the current song they’re listening to:

Music Tweet

For those using Blip.fm, it’s very easy to Tweet out little messages indicating what you’re listening to, if you tie the services together, and Blip appears to automatically tack on the music notes symbol.

Special characters are handled in HTML and other markup languages via “entity reference” codes or “character references”, of course, and are nothing new. You may be able to simply copy and paste a special character that you want to use, but I’ve also found that you may need to actually paste in the special character code in order to get the symbol to appear.

Some special characters are really too intricate to adequately convey, unfortunately.

I’ve made a helpful list of special character entity codes which you can easily copy-and-paste into your Tweets. These are not all special characters, since I left out the more boring special punctuation characters, foreign language letters and symbols which I think are unlikely to communicate in the tiny letter size employed by Twitter:

♠ ♠ (solid spade)
♤ ♤ (open spade)
♣ ♣ (solid club / shamrock / clover)
♧ ♧ (open club / shamrock / clover)
♦ ♦ (solid diamond)
◊ ◊ (open diamond / lozenge)
♥ ♥ (solid heart)
❤ ❤ (heavy solid heart)
❥ ❥ (heavy rotated solid heart)
♡ ♡ (open heart)
☻ ☻ (solid happy face)
☺ ☺ (open happy face)
☹ ☹ (open frowny face)
₪ ₪ (arabesque)
♀ ♀ (female symbol)
♂ ♂ (male symbol)
↑ ↑ (up arrow)
↓ ↓ (down arrow)
→ → (right arrow)
← ← (left arrow)
↔ ↔ (right & left arrow)
⇑ ⇑ (double up arrow)
⇓ ⇓ (double down arrow)
⇐ ⇐ (double left arrow)
⇒ ⇒ (double right arrow)
⇔ ⇔ (double right & left arrow)
Δ Δ (triangle / delta)
£ £ (pounds)
¢ ¢ (cents)
€ € (Euros)
¥ ¥ (Yen)
♕ ♕ (White Queen - crown)
♔ ♔ (White King - crown)
♘ ♘ (White Knight - horse)
♚ ♚ (Black King - crown)
♛ ♛ (Black Queen - crown
♞ ♞ (Black Knight - horse)
© © (copyright)
® ® (registered trademark)
™ ™ (trademark)
• • (bullet / solid circle)
∅ ∅ (zero with slash thru)
¿ ¿ (upside down question mark)
‹ ‹ (less-than)
› › (greater-than)
« « (double less-than, quote)
» » (double greater-than, quote)
№ № (Number, numero symbol - "No.")
★ ★ (solid star)
☆ ☆ (open star)
✪ ✪ (circled white star)
✹ ✹ (12 pointed black star)
† † (cross or dagger)
‡ ‡ (double cross)
☠ ☠ (skull & crossbones/ pirates/ Jolly Rodger/ poison symbol)
☽ ☽ (waxing crescent moon)
☾ ☾ (waning crescent moon)
☪ ☪ (Islam - crescent moon & star)
☭ ☭ (Communist - hammer & sickle)
❦ ❦ ( upright - floral heart / hedera / ivy leaf)
❧ ❧ ( sideways,rotated - floral heart / hedera / ivy leaf)
♩ ♩ (single music note - quarter note)
♪ ♪ (single music note - eighth note)
♫ ♫ (double music note - single bar note)
♬ ♬ (double music note - double bar note)
✡ ✡ (Star of David)
☯ ☯ (Yin/Yang)
☮ ☮ (Peace Sign)
☸ ☸ (Dharma wheel, sailing wheel)
¤ ¤ (currency or sun)
☀ ☀ (sunshine - sun)
⊕ ⊕ (circled plus or cross in a circle)
⊗ ⊗ (circled times or exxed circle)
℞ ℞ (RX - prescription symbol)
☁ ☁ (cloud - cloudy)
☂ ☂ (umbrella - rain)
☄ ☄ (comet)
☎ ☎ (solid phone)
☏ ☏ (open phone)
☑ ☑ (check box)
☒ ☒ (exxed box)
☚ ☚ (left-pointing finger)
☛ ☛ (right-pointing finger)
☝ ☝ (up pointing finger)
☞ ☞ (down pointing finger)
☠ ☠ (skull & crossbones)
☥ ☥ (Ankh)
☢ ☢ (radioactive)
☣ ☣ (biohazard)
✓ ✓ (check mark)
✝ ✝ (Latin Roman Cross)
✞ ✞ (Latin Cross 3d shadow)

It appears that the best way to send the special characters may be by simply copying the icon you wish to use and then pasting it into a Tweet. I experimented with copying the character code and with copying the displayed character itself, and both seem to work, though.

Just a note or two of caution: I believe special graphic characters such as these ought to be used to spice up posts occasionally, and should be avoided as a “main ingredient”. Use them sparingly, like exclamation points. If over-used, your audience will get graphic icon fatigue and their familiarity will lessen their ability to grab attention.

Again, these special characters won’t work on all devices! I can see the characters online through my PC browser, but not through my PDA. Via SMS, the character doesn’t go through at all, while surrounding text displays as normal. Via web browser on my PDA, there is just an unknown generic “block” character that appears in place of the special character. So, choose carefully if you wish to use these!

So, I’d also like to hear what you think about this. Have you used such characters to spice up your Tweets? If so, how effective do you think they are? Do they increase CTR when links are included?

Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Your Audience & Customers Define the Value

When it comes to traditional marketing, companies are so entrenched in having to define their value statements, and defining them in their marketing messages they don’t even realize that with today’s new technologies and mediums to communicate in, it’s really the customers who are defining what the value is of their products. While company executives are so focused on “features” providing what they perceive is value, they never stop and think about what the person who is plunking down their hard earned dollars to buy the product or service truly perceives as value.

The same can be said of any type of content you are producing for consumption on the internet. In the end it is the audience who is going to decide the value. While you are thinking these are great tips on how to change a light bulb and that’s the value, the audience perceives something else as more valuable about your content. It could be that the tips save them valuable time and money, something you likely hadn’t considered. While you might be thinking certain points of a video you produced about how your product works is the value, the audience viewing it find more value in how it saved them a ton of time figuring out how to integrate your product in with something they are already using, making both products exceptionally useful to them.

value-of-goldOnce your audience finds value in the content you are providing, when they truly believe this content is worth its weight in gold, that’s when it has the potential to spread like wildfire. It may not hit the front page of Digg, but if one loyal audience member finds true value in your content they are going to spread it out to their friends by sharing their experience with it. People love to relate the experiences and those experiences, if valuable, are powerful marketing agents all on their own. The notion of “look what it did for my friend Suzie” after Suzie has explained the value she found is a very persuasive tool, and then all of Suzie’s friends relate it to their friends. If these friends are in social networks like Facebook, MySpace, or an Ning network out there, the potential for the content going from reaching just a few people to instead touching thousands is great.

This is why marketers both online and offline need to stop thinking of themselves as the “be all end all” decider of what is of value in marketing messages. Instead of consistently trying to push messages on an audience or customer base, they need to start sitting back and listening to the current conversations going on about what they are marketing and how those current messages are being received and interpreted. By listening to the conversations marketers can learn a lot more about their demographics and how they think, instead of just assuming because they are a certain age bracket and sex or race they act a certain way. Things change in the real world and the internet and the social media platforms that have been created offer marketers access to a huge , unself-conscious and very brutally honest, focus group.

Let’s face it the way traditional marketing, that of continually pushing the message that’s been carefully crafted, has changed. Audiences become banner blind, they fast forward through commercials on their Tivos, they channel hop on the radio because they do not find these messages or this type of content of any value. Marketers in today’s world of instant soapboxes (blogs) and the world’s fastest telephone chain (Twitter, Facebook & even email) have to now understand what the customers are deeming as value and create content focused on that value, not the values they crafted in a sterile office space to make CEO’s and senior management feel better about themselves. Whether companies like it or not, customers are now defining a lot of what a brand, product or service means.

Google Profiles & Online Reputation Management

A few weeks ago Google launched “Google Profiles“. Looking at how Google Profiles works, its reminiscent of an online dating site ad minus the creepy old guy that could be my grandfather sending me winks. With that said, Google Profiles can be a powerful tool in online marketing, especially when it comes to online reputation management. Already, Google profiles are showing up in the search engine results. They may not be showing up number 1 for all vanity searches, but they definitely have the power to rank in the top 20 and the potential to rank even higher. Why? Well, Google I guess must really trust itself.

I created a Google profile early last week. This morning I decided to test and see how it was affecting searches for “Liana Evans”. While not in the top spot for my name, the Google profile is now ranking in the top ten, along with several other profiles and videos from social media sites. So keep that in mind, its not just your profile on Google that has the potential to rank and usurp static websites, its profiles on just about any social site. Take a look at the screen shot below:

The social media profiles and videos I’ve got highlighted in red boxes are all ranking for “Liana Evans” near the bottom of the rankings on the first page of the search engine results for my name. Accept for the power of Google, the other profiles don’t rank “just because”. They rank because they are my more “social” profiles. What that means, is that it’s not just because it’s “Twitter” or it’s “FriendFeed”, I’m actually social in those platforms – I hold conversations, I have “friends”, I comment, I share, I watch other videos than my own, etc., that’s what gives these profiles their ability to rank. They also rank because I make sure they are properly optimized, for “Liana Li Evans”, incorporating both my real and my nick name. While being social is the primary key, you also need to remember how you want people to relate to you in these social settings, and make sure your profiles reflect that.

Now before anyone screams “Google Conspiracy” about Google having all your information from your profile, there’s one thing to remember. You do not have to fill it out completely. In other words, you choose what you want to provide to share in your profile. I don’t share all my contact information, just general information about myself and what I do, and my Flickr photos which are already visible through my public Flickr stream.

If you or your company is actively pursuing reputation management, establishing a Google profile might be a wise step in that campaign effort. If you are monitoring your CEO, CMO or any other prominent names that matter to your company, you should be encouraging them to fill out a Google profile with the information related to your business. There are some sacrifices, you are giving Google a little bit more information about yourself, however, again you choose what information to give. The individual is the primary owner of that Google profile, and can choose what information to share, but as an online marketer you can guide the person how to make sure they are presenting the information in a manner that positively affects the reputation management efforts you are undertaking.

After Thoughts of SES New York Guy Kawasaki Keynote & His Twitter Use

Guy Kawasaki - SES NYC Keynote March 2009At this year’s SES in New York City the opening day keynote was Guy Kawasaki. Guy presented a lot of stuff about Twitter. Being a man who’s rather well connected, a thought leader in the marketing world and someone who has decent sense of humor, I found myself rather intrigued by this keynote. It was by far the funniest keynote I’ve attended in a long time, and I think humor goes a long way with me being more open to what a speaker is trying to convey.

Guy’s connections allot him a lot of “first cracks” at tools, websites and services that most “Non-A-List” people don’t have access to, so he gets intimately familiar with the marketing aspects some of these tools could be used for. Now with that being said, is every tool presented to him, or pitched to him make it to his list to present at keynotes? Likely not. The tools he did present actually can be used for some genuine marketing and measuring purposes.

I heard a lot of “grumbling” at SES that Guy Kawasaki is a spammer. “If one of us SEO’s told people to use these tools that way, we’d be fried at the stake“, was one cry minus a pitch fork or two. I found myself disagreeing with this line of thought. When you physically have the choice to follow or unfollow him and even the option to block him as well by very simply clicking a button to not see the spam, I find it hard to call what he does with his Twitter account spam. He does come close to the line with his use of TwitterHawk, but if he uses it truly as he showed the audience where he reviews the tweets before they are sent, then, I really don’t see how that is spam. This is using a tool to help market your message in a unique way.

Tweeting isn’t like searching. With search results, scheming websites are made by the thousands to spam the search engine results and as searchers we don’t have the control like you do in Twitter to just block the result and not see it every again (however, technically you can now with Google’s Search Wiki). With search spam you don’t have the option to “unfollow” like you do in Twitter. If you don’t like what Guy’s tweeting, simply go to his profile and click “unfollow” or “block” and what you call “spam” will cease – “walla!”

There are over 95,000 people following Guy Kawasaki. Apparently those people are finding something of value from the information he and his staff tweet out. We as SEO’s may label his tactics “unethical” or “gray”, but I have a hard time even doing that. I also asked the question on my own twitter, “Is Guy Kawasaki a Spammer or just a Marketer using tools in a unique way”. To my surprise, the opinions came back overwhelmingly that he was a savvy marketer.

I also heard a lot of people making such a fuss about Guy Kawasaki “ghost tweeting”. I took a step back and had to honestly ask myself if it was ghost tweeting if the person readily admits on stage he has people tweeting with him in his account, if he puts it on his profile and readily tweets about it. It’s not ghost tweeting, he’s being transparent, he’s been up front about it for a while now. Would I recommend a client setting off to do what Guy’s doing? Most likely not the same way, again the value to the audience dictates how to work the social media strategy.

Then this morning, Tim O’Reilly was surprised because of the New York Times article that included 2 paragraphs about Guy’s “ghost tweeting“. This particular tweet has been retweeted over and over again. Shock, Drama, Outrage! But why? The man has stated for a while he’s had help with his tweeting, he says he does it to an audience at both SES and SxSW, he has it stated on his Twitter account (also states names of who helps him) after asked to amend it by Dave Fleet, and readily admits it in his tweets when asked. I guess people would like him to add “TRGK” on his tweets for “The Real Guy Kawasaki” for the one’s he tweets? What’s the sense in that – if you don’t like what he and his team tweets – unfollow him.

Then there were outcries that Guy’s a “broadcaster”. I’ve been watching his tweet stream closely. The man (and Guy states it is him who responds, not his team) does interact with his audience, he doesn’t just send out link after link. If it was link after link that truly delineated a spam account from a ‘real’ account, wouldn’t CNN’s account then be considered a spammy twitter account? It’s about the perceived value of the content to the audience. Apparently Guy’s content is valuable to his audience because not only are his followers growing, but look how often he’s ReTweeted. In social media its about the value the end user perceives they are getting, if Guy’s figured out how to give his audience what they want through using tools like Twitterhawk and Adjix, more power too him.

Might some of his tactics float around the “grey” area of marketing and spamming? Perhaps, but I keep going back to those nearly 100k followers who not just speak to him but retweet not just his links but what he says to say they obviously don’t mind, obviously they are seeing value in Guy’s “Spam”. Ironic, no? I think this goes to prove a point that “spam” in Social Media it truly is about the value the end user is getting, not the tactic by which they receive it.

Company Branding, Employees & Social Media

brandingAs more and more companies start to dip their toes into the world of Social Media they are faced with the increasing dilemma of how do they brand themselves, who speaks for them and what is the message they want to convey to their target audiences in this medium. This isn’t just a Fortune 500 company dilemma either, the smallest of companies that have employees that are venturing into this medium have to address the same questions, although they have less red tape to cut through to get to their answers.

Inevitably when we start a social media strategy for a client we are faced with the question, “Who Speaks For Us?” on these channels. Is it the CEO? Does he have time? Is it the marketing department, are they just going to try to jam a message down the community’s throat? Should the Public Relations Director handle this or are they going to try and control what people say? Maybe the Search Marketing team is better equipped, or is their main focus going to be about the links? Somewhere there has to be a happy balance right? Most definitely.

Paired with the question of “Who Speaks For Us” comes along the worry about it just being one voice. One single solitary person speaking for the whole organization. Companies can become very leery of this, quite fast if the person speaking becomes popular, or even an overnight sensation. For this reason its important that companies set out policies and guidelines as well as expectations of employees and their work in the social media space for the company. Once employees get a taste of the attention that social media brings, sometimes the though of Personal Branding can come into play and their intentions and actions can enter into murky waters while they are suppose to be doing work for the company. Beth Harte addresses the idea of Personal Branding very well and as background information to this post, I highly recommend taking a moment or two to read this if you are thinking of building a personal brand or are concerned about employees who might.

Stepping into social media, guns blazing, on fire and ready to roll isn’t always the wisest strategy, especially when you already have invested money, time and other resources into branding (both offline and online) already. Ensuring that your logo, your marketing and your message stays true two what you have already established is imperative, stepping out into social media with a new logo for every employee working on your social media strategy can be damaging to your established work and confusing to your audience. This is why having a plan mapped out for all scenarios, especially when those people you’ve entrusted to build your social media presence decide to leave the company, is essential. You’ve spent a lot of time an resources on building your brand, letting it walk out the door with a employee could be a huge mistake!

zappos_logoDifferent situations require different strategies. Take for example Zappos and their use of the social media tool, Twitter. Zappos employees are encouraged to use Twitter and other Twitter users can identify a Zappos employee by the “Zappos” in their Twitter name. There’s Zappos who’s Tony the CEO, Zappos_Alfred the COO, Zappos_Tid who’s head of the training & call center and even the Zappos_Lynn who’s “now working and playing at Zappos.com“. For Zappos and their adaption of Twitter into the rank and file employees to help promote the company through this form of social media, it’s become a rather important branding piece for them and they’ve formulated a strategy around it.

So before you set out on your adventure in social media, stop first and grab a map! If there’s not a map handy, then ask for directions. I know a bit metophorical, but this is a strange new world in social media, a lot of mistakes have been made by companies who just “jumped in”. However, there’s a lot of great successes by companies who just took to stop and look at their strategies and how to integrate their company branding into the social media plan when they are engaging their customers.

Doctors, Lawyers, Indian Chiefs – Gag Orders in Social Media

doctors-stethescopeI came across an article in USA Today a few days ago about how some doctors are now requiring patients to sign waivers. Waivers are nothing new, but these types of waivers are. These waivers basically are just “Gag Orders” barring patients from posting negative comments online about the doctor or the practice. What’s probably even more appalling is that there’s a man who has made a business of helping doctors monitor and prevent online criticism by implementing and following through on these waivers.

I’m lead to posing this question: “What makes doctors any different from contractors, restaurant owners, hotel owners or plumbers?

All businesses that service individuals have to learn to deal with negative feedback, especially in today’s world of Yelp, Twitter and YouTube. You don’t deal with it by issuing “Gag Orders” before you render services, its just not how businesses operate. Customers have a right to their opinion whether they spread that opinion online or offline, inevitably there will be disagreement, disapproval and negative feedback in some form. How you deal with it speaks volumes to how your business will survive in today’s economic environment.

I believe I’m awestruck by the arrogance and audacity of these doctor’s who are going the route of the “waiver”. I’m sorry, if your bedside manner sucks, I’m going to speak about it. If you’re office always runs perpetually late on its appointments, I’ll warn my friends before giving the recommendation. If you screw up and leave a sponge in me during my operation and never apologized or showed any remorse, guaranteed I’m going to talk about it. If you treat me like the reasonably intelligent human being I am, with respect and professionalism and answer my questions, I’m also going to speak about it and recommend you. It’s no different than if a plumber screws up the hot and cold water pipes for my shower, and refuses to fix it – I’m going to talk about and want to share my experience with others.

I am the consumer. I have a voice. I have power. I have control. And with the power of the internet – I can share.

So what should these doctors’ be doing? Well first off, if you feel the need for a waiver, maybe you should step back and take a look at how your treat your patients. Second, instead of being offended by the negative criticism, perhaps you should listen to these experiences that they are sharing. A great example of this comes from Charlene Li’s book, Groundswell. Memorial Sloan-Keating in New York started listening via social media about what their patients experiences were and what they thought about them (as well as other cancer treatment facilities in the NCCN network). One of the biggest take-aways was that it wasn’t the doctor’s experience or the reputation of Memorial Sloan-Keating that they had assumed brought patients there, it was the recommendation of their primary care physician. By listening they understood, and stopped assuming they knew it all.

No matter what business you are in, you can’t stop the negative. The negative will always be there, its just how you handle and embrace the negative that will make the difference. I’ve spoken before about upset customers as opposed to trolls, the trolls are easy to spot. The upset customer represents the opportunity to create an evangelist for you, the best kind of marketing money cannot buy. If you want to create these evangelists, you don’t do it by forcing them to sign waivers, you first start by listening and then communicating.

Postscript: thanks to Simon Heseltine for this bit about Lawyers trying the same route as the doctors

Online Video Marketing

Did you know that the 2nd largest search engine is no longer Yahoo? That’s right, people are using YouTube to conduct searches more than Yahoo. That being said, do you have an online video marketing strategy?

Gone are the days where making commercials cost millions of dollars, not just in production costs but in air time as well. Welcome to the revolution of social media and web 2.0 technologies. You don’t need a high end camera anymore, you don’t need uber expensive software either. What you do need is a strategy and some congruent follow through. Without those, just throwing up a video will allow you to flounder or even fail.

Online video is now becoming more about strategic marketing than ever before. Without first thinking about “what’s in it for the audience” first, anything you set off to do will likely get a chilly reception, because you are thinking about it from your own perspective. As with anything these days, understanding that people really hate marketing being shoved down their throats, making your video piece be more about what the end user wants is more important now than ever.

While the subject of your video may be the most important thing, there are other aspects companies need to take into consideration when they look at an online video marketing strategy. Making sure your identity, your marketing measures and your branding are congruent with not just on your print media or on your website, but across all your marketing channels is imperative. What I’m talking about here is avatars, colors, skins and graphics. Companies pour thousands if not millions into these efforts, its their identity, its how people recognize them. A lot of times companies forget to carry this over into all the aspects of online marketing, especially video, and they miss out on big opportunities when they do. In the video below I talk to Greg Jarboe about this at SES London this year.

YouTube by all means is the giant in this space, but its got such a broad user base. Reaching that target market you are really trying to get to engage with your company or brand, can be a pretty tall task when you are dealing with millions of searchers a day. This is where knowing where your audience hangs out becomes vitally important because of all the niche video sharing site out there. Research into this area can really pay off. Sometimes if a video goes hot on one of these sites, it can have a ripple effect into other video sharing sites, even YouTube.

Big companies do not corner the market on this online video marketing world either. Small business with just a flip camera and some simple video editing software can create compelling and engaging videos that can be marketing boons for their businesses. Small business can that produce commercials that can cost less than $100 can hit very targeted markets can be extremely effective. Think about a weekly “specials” video for a restaurant, seeing the food being prepared and then served hot & fresh is more compelling than just a staged photo of a plate with food on it. Attach that to your local profiles and you give people more reason to come to your establishment!

So if you haven’t thought about online video marketing yet, perhaps you should take a second look. This is becoming one of the fastest growing marketing mediums out there, and if you don’t have a strategy to plan and track it right you could loose out!

Experimenting in Social Media Can Be Dangerous to Your Brand

Experimenting in social media and web 2.0 can be a really fun thing to do. That is if you are an individual working on testing out some theories, or a small company that is nimble enough to adjust, make quick changes and adapt. Where experimenting with social media crosses the line of fun into dangerous territory is with brands who think that it’s the newest, hippest, greatest “thing” they should be doing, “just because”.

That “Just Because” reasoning is probably the most dangerous reason out there.

  • Just because the competition is out there doing it
  • Just because there’s lots of people on twitter
  • Just because my kids have a MySpace page
  • Just because CNN or Time Magazine mentions it

Those are just a few of the “Just Because” reasons you hear. These are really dangerous reasons to start “playing” with social media, especially if you have never ventured into the area before. There are key things you need to be prepared for if you enter into this space, one thing is that it takes time. So many companies are coming into this space thinking if they slap up a Twitter stream, or a Facebook page, that’s social media. Sorry to burst the bubble here, that’s as far from social media as a company can get. That’s just more of the same old advertising consumers are sick of.

Skittle's Facebook HomepageI wrote about Skittles not “getting it” with their Twitter Stream & social media when it launched on Monday. Word comes from Media Post that they pulled their Twitter campaign. Now Skittles is showing a facebook page. Again, this isn’t social media. These are just flashy billboards, ones that after a while can even hurt the Skittles brand.

update: @CharleneLi has said that Skittles was going to change out their homepage all along. Regardless of that I’m still standing by the fact that this isn’t “real social media”

Why aren’t these social media? Skittles is using social media aren’t they? The word here is using. In social media, you need to actively engage, not utilize it as an outlet like Skittles is. Did Skittles engage in conversation on Twitter? No, heck they don’t even own the @Skittle twitter account that people were trying to talk to them through. Are they engaging on Facebook? Nope, it’s other people starting conversations (see screen capture to the right, click for larger view). Skittles uploaded pictures, but isn’t starting discussions, or engaging in them, not even the good ones. Someone had commented on my post about Skittles on Monday that “did I see they were doing Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and Wikipedia?“. Yes, I did know, but here again, they aren’t engaging the community. For example at the time I write this post, the YouTube channel as 24 subscribers, and they’ve only watched 19 videos, favorited 1, not responded to any comments, and it doesn’t look like they’ve made any friends. How is that being social? (please also note: their “use” of Flickr is just a stream of photos on flickr tagged “skittles”, like Twitter, prime for spamming)

Experimenting with Social Media can come at a cost, too, especially when you are dabbling with something that is totally out of the spectrum of your target market. Lets take for example Skittles again. Skittles is a candy. Who is candy marketed too? Kids and perhaps teens. Now with that in mind, what do you think is on all the packaging for Skittles? Their URL (see the photos below I took of a Halloween style candy handout and the bag those came in)! What do you think kids are going to type into their computer if they are eating Skittles as they surf the internet? http://www.Skittles.com. Do you think Skittles.com is going to be stopped by parental filters? Not before Monday it wouldn’t have been. Now, let me pose this question – are these kids and teens using Twitter by the droves? No, they aren’t – you find them on Bebo.

skittles-back-for-fun-sizes  skittles-fun-pack-halloween

So your major demographic is kids, but you are using a social media piece of technology not used by your target demographic, why? Ummm “just because“, it’s cool and it will get us buzz! Will it get more kids or parents to buy your candy. Nope.

What it will do, is insight the spammers, the jokesters, the rather rude people to make a mockery of your brand. It then causes those kids who read your packaging who come to your site because you displayed your URL to see messages like this tweet (please be informed that link is rather offensive), and those kids to ask their parents, “mommy what kind of flavor of Skittles is that?”

See the danger of experimenting with social media, now?

Are You an Online Marketer or Just an SEO?

At SES London, Mike Grehan headed up an Orion Panel with Jill Whalen, Brett Tabke, Chris Sherman, Kevin Ryan and Rand Fishkin. The panel was taking a look at “SEO Where To Next”. I’m not going to rehash what went on at the panel, if you’d like a run down Paul Madden did a good summation of it. What I am looking to discuss is our roles, are we just SEO’s, PPC practitioners or affiliate marketers, or, are we online marketers?

What prompts me in asking this, is how in the past 2 years the rise of “Web 2.0” (I really hate that term) has begun to affect how people consume content, media or anything on the web. Focusing on just SEO, PCC or even Affiliate Marketing, we tend to rely very heavily on the search engines. Heck, we live, die and cry by what Google does. Take a look at the announcement by Matt Cutts about the canonical tag, the search marketing world went nutz!

But what happens when more and more surfers on the internet stop using the typical search engines to find what they need? Confused? Let me explain.

With the advent of the iPhone and its open application system, you no longer need to go to Google to find a nearby restaurant. That’s right, iPhone users have a bevvy of applications that connect them to the internet without a browser and without going to Google and getting a map with a list of restaurants. OpenTable will tell you which restaurants near you have available seating, Urban Spoon does just about the same thing.

It’s not just the iPhone either, AccuWeather just launched a nice little widget much better than than the dreaded desktop “WeatherBug” app(that adds those dreaded tracking cookies that Norton catches). Through the slick Adobe Air backend, AccuWeather tells me my weather without opening a browser and typing in “Weather 19468”. There’s also a nice AdobeAir Application called Tweetdeck to help you manage Twitter, never having to connect to a browser to hold a relevant conversation.

Facebook and Myspace both have phone applications for iPhone, Blackberry or just about any smart phone out there. It’s becoming easier and easier to connect to the internet and the sites you want, and to find the things you want without using a browser or even a search engine.

So with that in mind, I posed this question to the panel. With the ability to connect to the internet w/o a browser, is it the SEO’s job to still work with these types of applications? Only one panel member answered, bravely, Rand Fishkin said he didn’t believe this was the SEO’s job.

I agree, to a point. If you define yourself as an SEO who just optimizes web pages or websites, then yes, he’s right.

But if you have an eye on the future of marketing and are seeing what new technologies are emerging and being embraced in our world, I have to disagree with Rand, in that, that view is really limiting. Businesses are going to have to embrace moving even beyond just the typical web page for an online presence. Search Engines aren’t just browser based anymore, the OpenTable application demonstrates that to a “T”. As responsible online marketers, we have to look beyond just websites and Google, we have to look at the entire online presence, and move beyond the thought that SEO means web based search engines because it doesn’t. So are we SEO’s or Online Marketers, or perhaps both? I guess in the end its how you define “SEO”.

That leads me to wonder this question, is the holy grail of search – the “Google Killer”, just going to be the inevitable change of end user habits? Interesting thought isn’t it? 🙂