Tag Archives: SEM

When Good Things Happen to Bad Websites

You can find many good deals by searching online. If you’re looking for new eye glasses however, you’d do well to avoid the likes of DecoreMyEyes.com (DME). According to a recent report in the New York Times, the site not only failed to deliver, but harassed and threatened customers who complained about its bad service. Hapless customers found this store by searching for product brand names of eyeglass frames such as “Lafont.”

DME left a trail of irate customers, who fulminated against it on shopping sites and discussion boards. This seems to have left DME undaunted. Bad service or outright fraud are not unfortunately news. What was news was that the volume of these unfavorable mentions may have helped it rise to the first page of search rankings.

This is a new wrinkle on the old saw – it doesn’t matter what they say about you as long as they get your name right. That, at least, is the expressed belief of DME and ironically encouraged its abusive behavior.

An accepted principal of SEO is that web links to a site are in a way like a vote for that site. A site with more inbound links is likely to rank higher in search engine results, so legitimate marketers strive to recruit incoming links. To avoid an implicit vote for a site you mention online, either don’t link, or as Google suggested, modify links to sites you are mention but do not approve of, by adding a nofollow attribute to the link.

For example, instead of writing

Watch out for <a href="http://www.example.com/">Fred's Fly By Night </a> discount pharmaceuticals site.

use

Watch out for <a href=" a href="http://www.example.com/" rel="nofollow">Fred's Fly By Night </a> discount pharmaceuticals site.

In the case of DME, Google explicitly denied the effectiveness of negative sentiment to boost rankings by DME in a blog post. Nevertheless, it has tweaked its secret page rank algorithm to foil DME’s practices.

Google now suggests that before shopping with an unknown merchant, consumers protect themselves by doing an extra search: the name of the business plus the word “scam.” What happens when customers do that with your business?

Discontent With Content

More fresh content is a reliably effective way to improve the search rankings of a website. Blogs and other social media are among the easiest ways to do this, yet many businesses are reluctant to even try.

It’s certainly not that entrepreneurs don’t have plenty to say about their products and businesses. Start talking to entrepreneurs about their businesses or products and it’s difficult to get them to shut up. The enthusiasm and interesting nuggets of information bubble over. Why won’t they contribute some of it to a blog, tweet, or news release?

Part of the challenge is that we are asking someone to change behavior. Like diet and exercise, content creation is not a one time event.  It’s a way of continuing a conversation with your customers. Thus already busy marketers are asked to become content developers. How can we ask them to add anything to their already overfilled schedules?

Part of the challenge is that blogging with the most popular systems such as WordPress, Typepad, and Blogger is still too awkward, unnatural and difficult for many people. When you do have an idea and a few spare minutes to create that bit of news worthy content, the systems get in the way.

WordPress, with which I manage this blog, illustrates the problem. It offers a surfeit of options in design choices and features. Although WordPress is available as a free download or hosted service, configuring, maintaining and tweaking it take time – sometimes a lot of time. Time is usually an entrepreneur’s scarcest resources. Thus the forest of abandoned blogs with only a few old posts. These don’t help search engine rankings and can give site visitors the impression that nobody’s home.

Some organizations outsource content development to a consultant or assign it to an intern, either of whom typically know much less about the business than you do. More often than not their output has a familiar “me too” feel. This is evident to your site’s visitors and so doesn’t help converting them to customers.

Just do it (not to borrow a phrase from Nike) can be a good place to start. But how? Don’t think blog: think send a brief email. Even very busy people use email.

How about a content creation tool with limited features and options (so you can’t spend lot’s of time preening and polishing), which works just by sending it an email? Systems like this already exist. One I’ve seen used with some success is Posterous. It’s a free hosted service, so your IT department won’t need to do anything with it (other than perhaps adding a link from your site).

Still don’t have enough time? You can probably reuse  an email message you’ve already written as the basis for your blog post. Maybe what your content creation strategy needs is a Swiss Army Knife with just one blade.

Unbound Marketing

I recently attended one of those ubiquitous presentations on Internet marketing. This one, hosted by marketing agency HubSpot was on “inbound marketing.” It was one of those real world imitations of a webinar, except they give you sandwiches.

The argument was familiar. The presenter proclaimed that he used double email spam filters, caller ID, the Do Not Call Registry, listened to an iPod rather than radio, had removed himself from mailing lists, and watched TV via Tivo so he could skip the ads. As such, he asserted that marketers can’t reach him (and by implication can’t reach most other customers) through advertising via these “outbound” media. Therefore the alternative – “inbound” marketing – is the way to go. Specifically, Hubspot recommends a marketing mix including their proprietary SEO/SEM service while curtailing what they call “outbound marketing.” Outbound includes such mundane media as broadcast, cable, direct mail, print, and display advertising.

Certainly these are tough times for media and their customers, the advertisers. TNS media estimates that total ad spending declined 14% in the first Quarter of 2009 vs. 2008. Not all media revenue declined at the same rate. For example, network TV was down 4.2%, local newspaper down 14.3%, while ads in national magazines declined 20.6%. Even Internet advertising declined 5% after five years of steady growth, as the chart from the Internet Advertising Bureau shows. As in the past recession, advertising will probably increase as the economy recovers.

iab1

Do these declines validate the inbound model? Neither they nor evidence presented by Hubspot get us there. Advertising is not static and it’s becoming ever harder to filter and avoid. Use a DVR, digital video recorder, such as a Tivo to skip ads and the shows have product placements. Get TV programming through web sites, such as hulu, and ads, which can’t be skipped, are embedded. Use social networks like Facebook and MySpace, and ads have crept in.  Listen to podcasts or internet radio like Pandora or Sticher – you guessed it – ads.

The media landscape is changing. Advertising is evolving too, but it’s not going away.

Where’s My Cookie?

Marketing should give customers something. In retail, direct mail, print, or the venerable 30 second spot, we try to show what our product does and what’s in it for the customer. Our communication and programs associate our brand with a customer goal, sometimes called a “cookie.” 1 Depending on customer needs, a cookie could be information such as a product description, prices, free samples, the ability to do or buy something here and now, etc. We don’t deliberately challenge readers or viewers to work long and hard to figure out where the good stuff is. Once we’ve understand which cookie customers want, lift notes, end aisle displays, and headlines take them there.

There are some notable exceptions. If you’ve ever stayed at a Las Vegas casino hotel, you have probably had the frustrating experience of having to navigate acres of gaming tables on route to your room.

That’s Vegas. In the real world we don’t deliberately frustrate customers. What about the virtual world? After we manage to get prospects to our web site can they find their cookie? This is a four part problem:

  1. Finding the site
  2. Finding the relevant page
  3. Finding the relevant content on the page
  4. Being able to get to the next step by clicking, calling, or going somewhere

Trying to negotiate many sites feels far too often like being trapped in a labyrinth. The bounce rates on many landing pages, show that visitors get frustrated, fed up, and leave.

Far too many web sites are more concerned with design than usability. In post mortem interviews within companies having dysfunctional sites (some of which were “award winning”) we often find no consensus on what the site was supposed to do. In some cases it seems the cookies are missing altogether. Where do you hide your cookies?

1) I am indebted to Nadia Direkova of Razorfish for this metaphor.

No Time To Add Content To Your Website – Let Your Visitors Do It

Your company has a web site, but few visitors. You’re hardly alone, but what are you going to do about it?

This is not a post about the finer points of search engine optimization. Rather it’s about one straight forward step you can take to boost traffic. Google and other search engines look for relevant terms a.k.a. key words. More relevant key words help the rank of your web site. If your company sells ball bearings, your site will have a higher rank if it contains lots of information about ball bearings.

How do you credibly add key words to your site? You could, of course, write lots of to the point content about your products, services, and industry. Many high ranking sites do this. It pays, but it can be a lot of work. Recently, one of our clients lamented the modest traffic on his fledgling web site. Still he despaired of adding content, because it would be too much work for his start up company.

There is another way – let your customers do some of it for you. You can do this through easy to add components such as blogs, public wikis, and product reviews. This user generated content is at the heart of Web 2.0. Yes, it does mean you give us a measure of control along with a lot of labor.

You can and should filter offensive content, but this is uncommon. If your product gets an unfavorable review, you’re more likely to learn about in time. Reviews also give insight into what customers like about current products and what enhancements they want. Just let your visitors do the typing.