SEO Search Engine Optimization – Words Matter!

30 Oct

Being a word guy, I’m very pleased that Google’s Penguin algorithm, released last Spring has made the art and science of search engine optimization more focused on the art part of it.

It used to be that you had to hire a computer geek to embed your site with all sorts of links, crazy keywords that had nothing to do with your site, and other tactics that, more often than not, were trying to “trick” Google into listing your Web site prominently on the SERPs Search Engine Results Pages.

Google is smart. It employs very smart people. You can’t outsmart Google. So what can you do?

You can focus on creating great content. Words matter. They always have and always will.

The “old” Internet age phrase, “Content is King” is more and more true, as Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines continue to refine their search algorithms to serve up relevant, current, and pleasing content to those that use their search engines.

Also, your customers have gotten a lot smarter about finding your site. They search differently than they did just five years ago. They use better keywords to generate a more appropriate result. For example, years ago to find a free checking account, one might have entered the words, free checking account, and hit “Search.” Today, that same person might enter “Free checking account” and “Kansas City”, producing a result that is more relevant and focused.

Yes, there are still things you need to do, programming-wise, to ensure that your site has a fighting chance to display prominently in search engine results. I do recommend that you hire competent and ethical SEO help. But I also recommend that you place high value on those people who can wordsmith your site into prominent search results and stronger on-site conversions – people buying things or completing online forms.

Words, it turns out, are what people and search engines trust and value.

The URL, the page title, the H1 headline, and the first paragraph – Make sure that these elements are congruent (aligned for you word-challenged folk!). These are the relatively easy, must-have elements of SEO. There are many other SEO elements that will add value, but they will do little or nothing if these must-haves are not in place.

Your SEO efforts should definitely start with words. I know a great word guy, if you need one. ; )

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Train-wreck Marketing

27 Sep

Is your marketing a train-wreck? You are not alone.

courtesy of Wikipedia

Marketing often gets off-track because companies don’t have a clearly defined marketing strategy that governs how they make decisions.  Notice it is not “what” decisions are made.

If your marketing is a train-wreck, it may be because you have listened to various marketing “experts” over the years.  There are marketing experts, and then there are marketing experts.

In many cases, well-meaning people have been lucky with one or two marketing tactics (SEO, direct mail, email campaigns, printed collateral, etc.) and then they built a marketing consulting business around it, claiming “marketing expertise.”

The problem is that tactics are a very small part of marketing and their effectiveness is very subjective, unless you measure them on a short-term basis and in isolation from what is important to the company as a whole. Well-executed tactics can have short-term success, while actually eroding the brand and harming the long-term success of the company. Marketing is really about the whole business and what matters in the long term. Things like:

  • Your brand
  • Your customer relationships
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Customer needs
  • Your salesforce
  • Your 4 Ps (Product, Pricing, Place, Promotion)

Tactics are simple – setting up a corporate facebook page, writing keyword-rich content, printing a brochure.

Strategy is harder, but makes all the difference. Great marketers won’t talk you into tactics. Great marketers start by understanding your customers and how your product or service satisfies their needs.

Consider this: when you execute tactics, your competition can see it; they know what your promotions are, they know what keywords you are using. What they don’t know, is your strategy, IF you have one. The point is, if you want to be competitive, you simply must have a strategy that governs how you make decisions about which tactics to employ and how to craft them.

Let’s end this thought-provoking article with some examples of Train-wreck Marketing.

Non-profit – Relies heavily on donated expertise, from multiple parties. There is no governing strategy or authority. As a result, the organization operates in fits and starts, hoping that each tactic makes a positive impact for the organization. Thank God for non-profits. They do great work. But too many of them do not work great.

Small business – Entrepreneurs start small businesses. They may experience early success and think they have all the expertise that is needed. They typically know their customers very well. But when they begin to grow, there is more distance from customers and more demands on their time. Then, either new-hire staff or outside marketing “experts” are utilized to execute tactics that the owner thinks are going to be effective. There is a reason that the vast majority of new businesses fail within four years. Usually, hindsight shows that there was little or no strategy developed. Initial marketing tactics may have worked, but their performance could not be sustained.

Big business – Even very large businesses can fall victim to Train-wreck Marketing. This usually happens when a company becomes myopic about a particular tactic. For example, Sprint made a huge mistake in the mid-1990s when it created a great promotion that its salesforce abused for their own personal gain. I plan to write about this in more detail in a few days. The short story is that the promotion was wildly successful, but cost Sprint dearly.

I humbly consider myself a marketing expert. I don’t profess to have expertise around every kind of marketing tactic. But I do understand what makes tactics successful for the long term, strategy. Your marketing dollars are best spent on strategy, not tactics.

I hope that you will call upon me to ensure that you have an effective strategy in place to guide your decision-making about how to grow your business. Eric 816.797.9946

You were right!

28 Aug

Email subject lines are an important part of determining whether your email will be opened. First, people look at the From Address. Then they look at the subject line. Get either of these wrong and there is a 99% chance your email will not be read!

“You were right!” remains the best-performing subject line that I’ve ever crafted. I’ve used it twice, for two different employers. In each case, the open rate exceeded 30% for the in-house lists to which it was delivered.

Why did it work so well? First, it is important to know that each time the email had been preceded by another campaign that wasn’t opened in such large percentages.  It was an emailed customer survey. So, recipients could possibly have anticipated that the “You were right!” campaign could be a confirmation of their survey answers. That could be part of it.

But I think the subject line worked because it appeals to our vanity. We all want to be right. We love saying, “I told you so.” So regardless of whether a customer remembered taking a short survey or not, most people are curious to know what makes them so smart.

But, be careful. Customers don’t like to be tricked into opening an email. The email content must have a legitimate payoff. It must reiterate the subject line and have relevant content that leads to a clearly visible call to action.

In the “You were right!” message, the email explained that a customer survey had been conducted and that X% wanted this feature and X% said they wanted this functionality. In truth, both the survey and the “You were right!” emails were methods to promote some exciting new features, functionality and services. The calls to action were “Tell us what you think” and “Get a FREE quote”; each going to a unique landing page with a simple form.

The point of this post is really to highlight the importance of brevity and catering to human behavior. “You were right!” stands out as an email campaign success because it is three simple words that worked like a curiosity light switch.

For help with your email marketing campaigns, even if it is only writing subject lines, I am here for you.

Marketing Momentum – Keep the ball rolling!

24 Aug

During good times and bad, it is important to keep the marketing ball rolling.

Why? Simple. Starting the ball from a dead stop requires MUCH more energy than the energy (money) required to keep the ball in constant forward motion. Also, when the ball is already in motion, any more money that you put toward it (seasonal campaigns, for example) will have greater effectiveness.

Ever notice that the companies that consistently advertise….continue to consistently advertise? Advertising is quite expensive. It simply must be working! But the sad truth is, sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t.  Like timing the market, it is futile to think you can advertise or do any other marketing effort in sporadic spurts and expect it to be effective. Marketing is about consistent effort and long-term visioning that is based upon experience, trends, and creativity.

Let’s get the ball rolling and keep it rolling! First, let’s define what keeping the ball rolling means.

  • Keep your name in front of existing clients – via email, direct mail, broadcast, face-t0-face, tradeshows and phone contact.
  • Get referrals from existing clients.
  • Get existing clients to provide testimonials.
  • Get your name in front of prospective clients.
  • Network with strategic partners.
  • Get media publicity.
  • Generate fresh content for your Web site.
  • Regularly optimize your site for search engines.
  • Regularly monitor Adwords to increase numbers of sales while lowering cost per sale.
  • Take advantage of all the FREE marketing firepower that social media can provide.
  • Analyze your Web site to improve the user experience.

Have you done this? Did you do it last month? Will you do it next month? Will you do it EVERY month?

For most small and mid-sized companies, these things only get addressed sporadically. The CEO, sales manager, or marketing director may have every intention of doing these things.  Unfortunately, they are too easily put off to deal with meetings, reports, client meetings, vendor meetings and necessary other matters that eat time, but, more often than not, don’t generate revenue .

Look again at each of the bullet points above. Each one has a “nice to have,” but “non-critical” feel to it. Put any three of them together and you’d probably be thinking, “If we did that consistently, I bet we’d have more business.” You know what? You’d be right!

You can, once again, tell yourself that you or one of your staff will do these things. Or, you can enlist some outside support (me), to ensure that these things get done. The choice is yours.

Let’s keep the ball rolling.

Eric Strautman – Ball Roller, 816.797.9946                                            eric@brandNameIDENTITY.com

Journalism skills come in handy

27 Jul

I recently observed how valuable my journalism skills are to what I do. Whether I am writing text ads to run on Google’s network, identifying partnership opportunities, or trying to win a new account, I always seem to call upon some time-tested journalism skills.

Listening is a key skill that was taught in J-school at KU and in Mass Comm at ACU. But words and sounds are only a small percentage of what listening requires. Observation is part of listening. Body language, tone and what is not said, are often much more important than what is actually said.

In journalism courses, I was drilled in identifying the “Why” of the story. Other facts that imbue from who, what, where, when and how are required also, of course. However, the answers to”Why” almost always reveal the most interesting nuggets that make a news story or feature so compelling. We seem to naturally want to understand the “why” of things.

Leading a story with the most important facts was always a good challenge. But it is a good exercise to go through in business communications as well. What are the most important things to communicate to your audience. Why should it be important to them?

Headlines must capture attention.Writing headlines was always my favorite journalistic task. Using as few words as possible, I’d create headlines that compelled most people to read at least the first few lines of a story. Headlines are even more important today since there are so many things competing for our attention. Email subject lines, Web page subheads, White Paper names, even Tweets – these all require great headline writing skills.

I’m showing my age here, but deadlines used to be the driving force in publishing. You had to have your stories completed at a certain time to allow for editing, rewriting and layout, so that a publication could be printed, packaged and distributed on time. Some of that sense of urgency remains in the publishing industry, but it is different now, with 24-hour news cycles and wide-spread consumer access to the Web, email and smart phones. It is different in business now too. Competition is now 24/7. Companies must move faster and continually release new content, new products, new strategies, and news to placate customers and investors.

Editor’s Note: Sometimes the simple task of putting the right words in bold, italics, quotes, or underlined is more important than you first realize. More than ever, people skim content to look for the most important ideas and news.

The Multiple Values of Google Adwords

14 Jul

Results matter.

Google Adwords, when done correctly, brings you additional online sales that are still profitable after deducting the expenses associated with Google Adwords and the usual expenses of conducting business.

But there are other values that need to be recognized and valued. However these can be highly subjective, so they will never be the same for any two businesses.

Non-Purchasing Visits. These people visited your site but did not make a purchase. Is that worth anything? Maybe they’ll remember your site when they finally get the itch to make a purchase? Maybe they’ll bookmark your site or send a your link to a friend.

Opt-in Prospects. If people complete a form to get onto your email list, they have indicated an interest in buying your products or services in the future. But because only a small percentage of people actually open emails, you have to be very conservative about the value of additional prospects on your mailing list.

Branding. Let’s assume that NO ONE clicked your ads. Yikes! That would be really bad, right?  Yes and no. Yes it is bad, in that you are not going to experience any online sales from your advertising. But No, in that you haven’t spent a dime, but still got your name and URL out there. Some people don’t click ads and, instead, just visit the site directly. Others simply see your ad, remember your business name and then get distracted or enticed by some other ad. This branding effect has a value, but it is very small.

Post-Purchase Activity. If someone did buy your products or services online as a result of your Google Adwords ads, they might, depending on your business and their satisfaction, make additional purchases with you in the future.

Taking Sales From Competitors. Taking revenue and profit away from competitors is often just as important as making the profit on a sale for yourself.

Your Google Adwords budget should be dictated by the actual sales that you can make at a profit. But don’t lose sight of the extra values that you earn. They help justify the expense, effort, and time that it requires to make Google Adwords work for your business.

If you’d like some professional help in managing Google Adwords, I am here to help.

Eric Strautman 816.797.9946

PR is FREE (sort of) publicity!

12 Jul
Yes, I provide PR services. I’ve done business PR throughout my 25+ year career.
I start by understanding what the true goals are:
  • Do they want to see their name in print?
  • Do they want notoriety?
  • Do they want more links back to their Web site?
  • Is it about branding or to drive sales?
  • Is it to enhance credibility?
  • Is it to encourage venture capital investment?
Once the goal is defined, I can custom-tailor a PR program.
  • I can write news releases.
  • I can submit them to free online distribution services (They produce inbound links for the clients Web site but may or may not be read by humans).
  • I can submit news releases to paid distribution services.These can be expensive, but the news releases are more likely to be published and read. There are ways to reduce the monthly investment while still getting 90% of the value.
  • I can submit news releases to industry publications (printed and online).
  • I can submit news releases to specific editors and reporters, to encourage their coverage.
  • Once the news releases are published on a reputable site, I can re-promote the news release via email, social media, and other channels.
PR (Public Relations) remains one of the best bang-for-your-buck marketing investments that you can make. But just because a great deal of it is free, you shouldn’t ignore it or not make an effort to do it well. It is an essential part of the marketing mix. And because of Web sites and social media, you will want to invest some funds to control the message and measure the results. Doing so will enable you to have higher and higher performance over time.
Take shortcuts and you’ll end up with mediocre results that won’t accomplish your goals.
Your PR should be a planned part of your overall marketing strategy. Plan, prepare, execute, measure, improve. If you need my help, you know where to find me. 816.797.9946 Eric Strautman