You Don’t Have to Spend A Lot To Make More Money From Your Website

Sometimes very small businesses must rely on what they can do for themselves to keep their online marketing efforts fresh.  There has never been any argument that small budgets sometimes prohibit small businesses from getting agency help. That’s okay.  If you do your due diligence and are careful, there’s no reason you cannot help your online presence, and revenue from your presence, by rolling up your sleeves and doing some of the work yourself.

I found some resources that will definitely help you out.  Some of these resources might list “comment on blogs” or “submit information to blogs” or anything that says “Link Exchange” as a tactic – PLEASE DO NOT DO THAT!  It’s not valid – but I didn’t want to disqualify 90% good advice for 10% nonsense.

I wrote an article in 2007 called “30 Free Ways to Market Your Small Business Site” over at SearchEngineWatch.com.  I updated that post last year and it’s one of the most popular pieces I’ve written to date.  There are 30 actionable things you can do, all by yourself, to promote your small website.

This article by PCmag.com from 2009 has some good ideas.  I like the tips on keeping slow employees and downtime for marketing.  Your customer service staff is your front line, and they can write content or answer questions online because they know exactly what the people that call are asking.  Use them!  Also checking out what the competition is doing is great – just don’t chase them.

TEST your pages!  If you don’t have analytics, install Google Analytics on your website.  If you don’t look at any report on a regular basis, just being able to use their Content Experiments features is worth the time to install.  Testing new ideas for landing pages is a great way to increase revenue without spending a ton of money in advance.  Simply changing the color of your “Buy Now” button can have a big effect.  Making it easier for visitors to buy from you is also a great way to increase revenue.  Check out these Tips for Optimizing Your Site for the Sale.

Perhaps one of the best pieces of advice I found was in this National Federation of Independent Businesses article.  “Get Out The Door.”  If you operate online, your world becomes this 5 square foot cocoon around your desk.  Even if you do not have a brick and mortar business – networking and meeting people in your community or niche is so important.  You can find clients, partners, innovative thinkers, and people with problems your business can solve.  It’s a great way to keep your brain from going stagnant.

Bottom line? Get creative!  Think about all of the things you can do to help yourself and make a list, cross things off as you get them done.  Add new ideas.  Buy a nice Moleskine notebook that you can keep your great thoughts in and journal your way to a better online marketing strategy!

6 Tips for Building a Brand-Focused Community

Everyone has heard that Field of Dreams quote being tossed around the marketing world.  You know the one “If you build it, they will come.”  That might work for ghostly baseball players, but for websites and online brands, we know that is most certainly NOT the case.

6 Tips for Building a Strong Brand-focused Community

You may be able to achieve some nice rankings through basic SEO, drive some decent traffic with a PPC budget, but what if that’s just not enough?  More and more Continue reading

Philanthropy and Online Business – Tips for Success

There’s that little piece of all of us that strives to be a better human being.  Some act on that piece, some don’t.  No judgement here, I have a lot of thoughts that I don’t act on – arguably those thoughts shouldn’t be acted upon, but when it comes to philanthropy and online business, getting started and finding the right fit can be tough.

The idea of a business donating proceeds to a charity has been around since marketing began.  There has always been motive behind these donations – the word Continue reading

Making Your Brand Attractive by Using a Consistent Message

I received an email in my in box recently that made me cringe.  Then it made me think.

 

As an agency that concentrates on SEO and PPC – seeing an email like this makes us scoff.  It’s a bit scary –  Then we had a discussion around the flip side of discounting that went something like, “You know, if that email had said ’80% off shoes’ you’d have had a very different reaction.”

When does a discount SUPPORT a brand, and when does it hinder it?  Certain things in life many of us strive to get at a discount.  There are many other things that seem inferior if we’ve purchased them at a discount.  Why does the saying, Continue reading

Pubcon Day 3 – Community Building

Last session of the conference for this sore-wristed typist.  I’m excited to hear from Gillian Muessig.  I spoke on a panel with her quite a few years ago and she is really one of the most gracious and supportive people I’ve met.

First up is the SEOMom, Gillian Muessig, Founding President Emeritus, SEOMoz.org

Gillian is sharing photos of clusters, talking about clusters progressing into communities.  Are the clusters, communities?  No – they’ve a similar thought group, etc. Continue reading

Marketing on Pinterest – Getting Started

I’m not sure its even remotely secret…I absolutely adore Pinterest as a user.  I find all manner of ideas and recipes there that help make my days more interesting.

As a marketer, Pinterest is a bit tougher nut to crack.  It has a pretty narrow demographic and if your product or service doesn’t fit, you’re probably barking up the wrong tree.

Creating a marketing strategy around Pinterest is not an easy process.  I think the first step is to be extremely realistic about the ability of your business to appeal to Pinterest’s audience.  Someone who sells auto parts might struggle a bit.  If you sell hand-made craft items…you’re in for a great ride.  The truth is, if you can turn your product into something very visually appealing, that can be labeled and marketed as interesting to the Pinterest demographic – you’re probably going to do okay if you go about it the right way.

Some things I’ve read and figured out on my own: Continue reading

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.

You Need a Hook to Get Your Press Release Noticed

fish_and_hookThere was a time where announcing that you’ve hired a new employee was enough to get a mention in the newspaper. Announce that you launched a new website, it could get the local news station to your office for an interview. Back in the day, those were hooks that could catch a reporter’s attention enough to bring them in and have them talk to you more about you and your company or organization. “Back in the day” was 2003 when I’d do public relations for my clients and getting the press interested with them was part of what I did with my web design firm. Still I always need a hook, not just “We Launched a New Website”, but something more.

Today, it’s not just the press you need to bring in, its your audience. Clients, fans, evangelists and even detractors are all online all craving for reasons to care (or not care) about what’s going on in your company that matters to them. Just sending out announcements that you’ll be appearing here or there, that your are adding a new product line or you’ve changed the name of something really isn’t enough to get your audience to care ….. unless they were involved or responsible for your actions.

As with creating valuable content for social media, with press releases PR people have to start thinking well beyond “I need to get Buzz”, to “why will our company’s audience care about this information”. It isn’t about that its new, or its got great features, it’s about how the audience finds value in the information you are trying to disseminate. Your audience isn’t just the media or industry “experts” anymore, it’s now your consumer audiences. No longer does your audience see the TV reporter or the newspaper journalist as the preeminent authority. The authorities now are bloggers, forum members, photographers posting their work on Flickr, it’s the people holding a conversation about you & using your brand with a hash tag in front of it on Twitter, and its those people active in a fan group on Facebook. These are the people you need get to care about what your press release is about and they really don’t care if your CEO is a keynote somewhere at an industry conference – unless you are Apple and it’s Steve Jobs at MacWorld.

The hook now becomes “how does this affect my life” or “why should I care”. If you’ve changed something about your company, products or brands after listening to the conversations in social media circles – that’s something your audience will care about. So rather than announces a product launch to the entire media like CNN and the NY Times, look to your audience first. Take the approach “We Listened, We Responded, What Do You Think?” with the bloggers or “community elders”. Give them the scoop first and fashion it in a way that it’s not the “normal spin”, that this is truly about your customers and audience.

At the end of the day, it takes a lot to change the mindset of entrenched PR Agencies, PR Specialists and marketers that there’s been a dramatic change in who people view as authorities. There’s also been a dramatic change in how audiences and consumers consume information and what they care about. Understanding both of those can dramatically increase the exposure of your press release and its success to the right targeted market.

So the next time your PR Agency suggests writing a press release about an internship, a keynote speaking event, or a new website redesign, maybe you should stop and think about your audience. Are they REALLY going to care? Then after you do that, maybe you should rethink who your PR Agency is.

Can Oprah Sell Twitter to the Mainstream?

Can Oprah sell twitter to the mainstreamOprah can sell cars, she gave away some a few years back, and the maker of the car saw an increase in sales. Oprah can certainly sell books, authors would sell their souls to have the media mogul pick their book for her book club. Oprah also likes Amazon’s Kindle, when she said “my new favorite thing in the world”, sales bumped up. Oprah can even sell an entire nation on the worthiness of one Senator over another to be President of the United States. The woman has influence companies can only dream of having. Now, Twitter doesn’t have to dream any longer.

Tomorrow, according to her Facebook page, Oprah will set foot into a world where most of us marketing, social media and search geeks have called home for the past two years. She’s about to bring with her, an army of loyal and rabid followers who are not exactly technogeeks. Are we ready for this invasion?

Maybe we should be asking Twitter themselves if they are ready for the invasion? After the upgrade two weeks ago, a bounty full of fail whales and missing avatars, I really hope Twitter’s architecture can handle what Oprah’s about to bring them. This is a lot like the “Digg Affect” on unsuspecting sites – your site goes down, and you piss off a lot of loyal customers & lose sales, just for those folks who want to “glance” at it (whatever the it is .. that’s hit the front page of Digg).

It could just be a one day affair. We know most celebrities find these technologies fleeting, and for most celebrities its about the next best thing to be seen doing. So will Oprah keep Tweeting? If she does, it’s likely to have more of an effect on bringing Twitter into mainstream America than anything to date. The woman is a marketing machine, and if her fans see her continuing to Tweet, well then, you can bet within a few months every one of her loyal fans will have a twitter account to connect to her with, and each other. This is probably one of the best examples of how communities can connect, and how Twitter really is about community.

As for Ashton Kutcher being the “King of Twitter”, I have a hard time swallowing that. Oprah’s to have him on the show tomorrow. Of course we all know this is a huge publicity stunt for Ashton Kutcher to beat out CNN to a million followers. I guess Ashton purpose is to show how to use it – how simple it is, to the audience full of women wishing they were Demi Moore.

Twitter is about to hit the mainstream folks, it’s about to become an even bigger topic on marketing agendas because of a one woman marketing machine – Oprah. Are you ready for this change?

Not only that, are you ready to help your Mom understand Twitter? I might have you all beat there, my mom‘s already there and even uses Tweetdeck!

URL Shorteners That Frame Websites Hijack Your Content

By Liana “Li” Evans

hijackinghotspotWith the rise of Twitter and it’s limit of 140 characters (250 if you turn off javascript), when it comes to maximizing space to get your message across, every character counts. With that fact in mind URL shorteners are cropping up all over the place. There are some great URL Shortening services, Tweetburner, Bit.Ly, TinyURL and Cli.gs are some great services and actually will track your click throughs.

Then we have another new crop of URL shorteners appearing. These “frame” your content underneath their own branded bar. Digg of course is the biggest well known implementer of this kind of bar. There are several others that do this as well, Ow.Ly and BurnURL are just two. So what’s the big deal, why all the fuss? What could be wrong with what Digg’s doing, after all they are still sending you traffic, right? Well to start with, some of these services have the potential to play havoc with some analytics code. Then there’s the whole “hijacking” of your URL, which is likely one of the things that surfers on the internet are trained to remember, this is essentially hijacking your content for their own benefit – increasing the number of uses of their service.

What’s the difference between what Cli.gs does and what Digg does? Well Cli.gs does a 301 redirect straight to your content when someone shortens your URL, therefore when people click on a shortened URL done by Cli.gs you end up on the content and see the true URL. What Digg does is puts your content under their bar, with their own URL. The visitor NEVER, EVER sees your full URL. Sure some of these allow people to click out of the bar and show you a truncated URL stream to click on, but it’s certainly not the same as someone looking into the address bar for your site’s URL.

What happens when they want to bookmark your site and then entered through Ow.Ly, BurnURL or Digg’s bar? Their shortened URL is what is bookmarked not your site’s URL, doesn’t matter if they are bookmarking to their browser or to a social bookmarking site like Delicious or even StumbleUpon. Again, they are highjacking your content by keeping the framed bar with their URL in the address bar and not 301 redirecting like the other URL shortening sites are!

Sure, some of these URL shorteners that put the frames around can say “oh we make it easy to share with out pull down menu”. Well here’s the thing, people are already “trained” to bookmark or stumble through the bars they have installed in Firefox or IE, that’s where they are going to go first, not to a pull down on a frame. It’s tough to retrain people who’ve been stumbling or bookmarking for well over two years to use some “framed bar” from a new service that isn’t familiar to them, they are going to go with what they trust.

content-hijackThen lets look at the whole “oh I found this I want to blog about it” piece of the marketing and social media puzzle. Someone who finds some great content via one of these framing URL shortening services and isn’t quite tech savvy, pulls the shortened URL from the address bar. Guess what, your site doesn’t get the credit for that link, the shorten URL does. Again, this is basically like hijacking your content.

These URL shorteners make claims that it makes it easier to get your content to be more viral. Personally, in my honest opinion, that’s a load of bunk. It isn’t this tool that makes the content go viral – it’s the perceived value of the content itself that makes something go viral. Then stop and think, what is the sense of your content going viral if the visitors viewing it can’t even see your URL? What is the sense if they themselves can’t share it properly with their own communities like StumbleUpon, Delicious or Magnolia? Your URL is how people remember you, and a lot of sites don’t put their URL in their graphics or headings, they rely that its always going to be in the address bar.

I’ve been having discussions on Twitter about this, and one person claimed I was afraid of them stealing my “Google Juice”. I had to suppress a laugh at that term. I guess because I came into the industry as an SEO, some people will assume I “want my Google Juice” darnit! It’s not about Google Juice at all, at the end of the day this is about who owns the content. The publisher owns the content – not these framed URL shortening services who are hijacking URLs. It’s about it’s perceived value to the visitor and if the visitor perceives its value to be great, shouldn’t the original publisher get that credit, not these framing URL shorteners?

Here are some other great reads on this subject: