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Social Media Marketing is Simple

cropped-xrumer2.jpgLink Building VancouverAre you overwhelmed by all the different social media sites that keep popping up? Like all new technology, there will always be a shiny new toy that displaces an old standard. Who knows, maybe someday Facebook will no longer exist?

A lot of our social media clients have a tough time keeping up with even a few accounts while still trying to run a successful business. And all that on top of trying to have a normal family life and maybe a hobby. Not too easy. Several people here in Canada have turned to us about starting up some new social media accounts and making their old ones work better for their businesses.

If your social media profiles aren’t bringing in any attention from customers, and you have a low or no budget for professional help, don’t give up. A few basic changes could make a huge difference.

Use a uniform picture across your platforms. The little things can make a big difference in how people see your brand. When readers see the same recognizable photo on both Twitter and Facebook, for example, they immediately believe you have a bigger presence online. If you decide to update a photo on one site, update it for all the others too.

Post something everyday. You don’t need to have a huge, new idea or original content every time you post, although that is a plus. Post about subjects that interest your target audience and really make people want to click.

People love looking at photos. Actor James Franco recently wrote an article in the New York Times about how much more people like photos of him holding puppies than links to his poetry. That’s why Instagram is such a success. People love photos, the cuter the better. Try taking a few selfies and posting a few interesting snapshots from your day, and you’ll see greater numbers of likes and comments.

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Paid Link Building is Bad for SEO on Google

When Matt Cutts at Google posts a new Webmaster Help video, it’s a sign that we need to be really careful, whether it’s writing better content or editing a sitemap. One of his latest is on paid links and what equals being paid for a link. As a quick example, a movie reviewer who gets free tickets is not being paid for a good review. However, a “reporter” who asks for a free laptop or receives one in return for a positive story is providing a paid link.

Any seasoned and well-trained SEO can easily spot a paid link, so it’s in your best interest to avoid them. Why? Because Google is obviously looking to take down any site’s Page Rank when it sees evidence of paid links.

Remember, GoogleBot crawls all over the Internet. There’s no way to ensure that evidence of your paid links doesn’t exist somewhere online. Paid links rarely provide much improvement to Page Rank anyway, because the best links are with highly reputable media or government agencies.

So even if you live in a tiny town, somewhere out in the middle of nowhere in Canada, you can still reach out to get great links for free. But you’ll need to do a few thinks before you see great links coming your way.

Have a great product. Consumers love well-designed products that are really useful. Sometimes they buy junk too, but that’s beside the point. If your business or product is unique and fits a specific niche really well, then you already have an edge up on the competition. You won’t have to work very hard to get attention with a creative idea.

Create a well-designed website that’s loaded up with content. Readers, and writers, trust companies with updated websites and good story lines. It makes your business look reputable. By blogging several times a week or keeping an online store running smoothly, you’re sending out signals that your site deserves free links.

Tell people about it. Sometimes, even a good company flies under the radar. With a little effort, you can get media attention and links from customers.

Start with a press release that lists your website, social media accounts that you use everyday to interact with customers, and personal contact with members of the media. And that includes bloggers. You never know when a big, national newspaper reporter will notice a blog post by someone who writes locally about businesses like yours.

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SEO Fixes for an Online Store that Doesn’t Sell

Photo Credit: Flickr

Photo Credit: Flickr

A lot of my advice, to clients and in the blog posts I write, is based on helping new websites and businesses. But sometimes an older website or social media profile runs into trouble, and that can create a huge mess that isn’t easy to fix.

If you were once selling your products across Canada, whether it was a handcrafted bracelet or a new smartphone app, and your sales have dropped rapidly, it’s time to troubleshoot your site.

Don’t panic and pay for a total website redesign or give up on your online store. Your product is probably still a big seller, even if your site is a little clunky. If you aren’t knowledgeable about webmaster work, you might need help from a professional SEO, although many of these fixes are easy to do yourself.

So what should you think about first when fixing your online store problems?

Have lots of links to your site from social media. Don’t post links on Facebook every five minutes and drive away your followers. Do post several links, of both new content and items, and older best sellers that people love. Don’t just post a photo and forget to link it back to your website. Remember, the point of using social media is to drive traffic back to your website and to make sales. Having huge Facebook numbers doesn’t matter if no one is going to your site or you have a big bounce rate.

Create a clean homepage that’s easy to navigate. People today won’t bother with a website that’s loaded down with links and way too many choices. Your sitemap should look like an evergreen tree, as I always say, with a few links on the home page, and a few links on each page after that. If you sell hats and gloves, you just need links for those two sections, along with a Contact Us page and an About Us page on your homepage. Keep it simple.

Use 301 Redirects and avoid 404 errors. There will be times when you move things around, and without careful planning, you might miss a few pages that have moved. That can happen even with careful planning. In those cases, you don’t want your customers receiving a 404 error telling them that they can’t see the page they requested. By using 301 Redirects, the original link will go to the new page, and that equals more sales.

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Writing a Press Release that Increases SEO

In the old days, before the Internet, businesses sent out press releases to newspapers and TV stations for attention and publicity. Today, the media have changed to include independent online sites and bloggers, but the point of a press release remains the same, to get attention. Press releases are one of the remaining creative ways to build links without getting hit with a Google penalty.

Old-style press releases contained basic information and few frills. And some poorly written press releases today contain loads of generic quotes and general terminology that makes people’s eyes glaze over. Don’t do that. Writing an SEO-friendly press release that engages readers is easy, if you consider a few basic rules.

Details matter, so be specific and conversational. Foe example: “We sell industry-leading devices that are forging a revolution in how well infants sleep at night across Canada” isn’t as good as “babies sleep six hours a night twice as often when parents use our Sound Sleeper nursery sound machine.” Never use generic jargon just because those words are a little longer. Good writers use a variety of words that mean exactly what they’re saying.

Include social media and website addresses. The best modern press releases are sent electronically, so you can include a hyperlink right in the text. If that isn’t possible, make it clear that you have active Facebook and Twitter pages, and include a website address. You want to give the person reading your release as much information as possible. But don’t provide an address to, for example, a Twitter account you never use. That will cause a journalist to immediately show less interest.

Contact information is still the most important part of a press release. No matter how good your website or social media, the whole point of news is interviewing experts on a topic. You must include a valid phone number where you’re easily reached and an email address for an account you regularly check. If you send out a release on your company’s new app, your contact person must be ready for an interview as soon as it goes out. Prepare for the interview first, send out the press release second.

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An Average SEO Day for a Small-Business Owner

It was a busy week last week, with new business and meetings, so it’s been a few days since my last post. I was talking to a client on Thursday, listening to his schedule of day-to-day business tasks and all the added duties of Facebook, when we decided to sit down and come up with a schedule for his SEO. It wasn’t a set-in-stone schedule, but just a general idea of what he should be doing everyday to stay on track.

Some companies hire social media managers, writers and SEO specialists to handle a lot of their SEO work, but that isn’t possible for many new business owners.

If you’re just starting out with your first website or Facebook page, you should set up a schedule (like my client’s) to ensure you maintain a few important ingredients in your SEO recipe.

Post regularly. Don’t post pictures of your breakfast or anything that isn’t directly related to your business on Facebook or Twitter. Sure, if you run a recipe blog and write cookbooks, writing about your meals is the perfect type of post. Otherwise, no. Don’t post constantly, but put several posts up each day, about something you’re doing or something that’s related to your business’ niche. By creating content regularly and sharing it, you’ll  increase the chances of audience optimization.

Take lots of photos. This advice is only true for businesses that make something. Lots of photos won’t work as well for an insurance company, for example. For anyone who creates a product, readers will love seeing images on your website and social media pages. Sometimes it’s easy to forget about them until the last minute, when you don’t have the time or the right lighting. Set up time each week for photos.

Review your Google and Facebook Analytics. There’s no reason to run a website or social media if you don’t know what is creating traffic online for your company. By noting what creates big spikes in customers going to your website or seeing a Facebook link, you’ll be able to focus on only creating content that people love. And that will bring in more business.

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Good SEO should generate leads

Freelance SEOWhen an SEO campaign is correctly designed, and money is spent on the right keywords on the right platforms, it can generate a game-changing number of leads. With a great website, these leads turn into customers who bring in sales. Add in the right marketing campaign, and you have returning customers and more sales. That’s a big cycle that requires a number of moving parts.

When we look at the process as a straight line, it’s easy to see that one weak link can really lower a company’s sales expectations. A small specialty jewelry maker in Canada might have huge sales in Great Britain, but only with the right keywords that help make a good connection to those customers.

And a business that focuses on just a few materials or a certain niche of customers must be more careful about using the terms that those customers type in during searches.

So, what do you do if your SEO campaign is falling flat?

Experiment with similar words that are specific. Many times, we want to rank highly for a keyword that’s too popular. It’s better to rank well for a similar phrase, for example, using bass guitars instead of musical instruments.

Focus on the right phrases. A keyword by itself is useless, but when used with several other words, it creates a phrase that points the right customers directly to your services. Keywords are similar to grocery store aisle signs. You want to direct customers using correct signage to the exact item they want. That creates satisfied shoppers who make purchases.

Change the meaning. Many times we worry that repeating a word or two is a problem. It’s not, as long as you’re creating a different meaning. If your entire jewelry line is focused on turquoise, then that will be an important word in any phrase you create. Likewise, using a keyword just because it’s different is a poor choice.

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Backlinks are necessary to Google Algorithms

Sometimes it feels like Google is spinning us around and around with all the changes in algorithms that determine Page Rank. Content is and will be a big part of any website’s reputation, but according to Matt Cutts, backlinks aren’t going anywhere.

With his newest Google Webmaster Help video, Cutts is clear that backlinks are important to Google’s search results, so they aren’t going away. Their relevance to your niche still matters, so trying to pay for links isn’t going to work. Above all else, your backlinks should come (mostly) from authentic sources that are within your niche area.

Many good sources exist out there for backlinks, and I suggest you always look to content creators for the best placement. Links from blog rolls aren’t as great as links within stories, in my book.

So what are the best sources for backlinks?

Guest blog posts. Controversy surrounds guest blogs, because so many illegal scams are based around them. There are still plenty of good reasons to submit guest blog posts to websites, so don’t shy away from them because of other bloggers’ unethical practices. They’re a great way to get your name in front of an interested audience and to gain a backlink.

Other bloggers and news writers. Believe it or not, all reporters and writers have slow news days. If you call a newsroom on a Tuesday morning, or even a Saturday afternoon, chances are someone might bite on your story idea and include a link to your site from their company’s news site. Be prepared with an interesting angle to pitch and ask politely if your link can be included.

.edu, .gov and other official sites. These sites are the best of the best, and will give your Page Rank a huge boost. They’re hard to come by, and you’ll need to get back links from a number of prominent news sites and reputable bloggers first. That will put you in the sight of leaders who run content for these groups.

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SEO Rock Stars are Experts at Social Media

Photo Credit: Flickr

Photo Credit: Flickr

Social media. It’s the SEO buzz phrase today, and whether you love them or wish they would go away, social media are here to stay for the foreseeable future. Even businesses without a website have developed large, loyal followings on Facebook and Twitter.

If your follower numbers and likes are small, there is hope. I didn’t start out with thousands of followers, and that’s true for most accounts. By following a few strategies that work universally, you can dramatically increase your audience. There isn’t a magic formula. Subscribing to a service that brings in 10,000 Twitter followers without any effort is a bad choice, just like buying back links. Instead, with a little work, you can pick up new followers and new customers.

You need to interact. If you were in a room full of people, you would get to know a few of them and form relationships with people like you. That’s just human nature. The same is true of Twitter and Facebook. The important part is to form real, helpful relationships. Do not try to feed people a public relations line on Twitter and assume it will work. Likewise, don’t try to make connections with strangers that are obviously one-sided. Provide value and keep up with the people you follow. There are a number of great social media management tools, rated and listed at Google Analytics, that can help you keep up with all your social media assets.

Create a united brand. You might not have an active account on every social media platform, but you’re probably on more than one. You need to use the same branding consistently, and link to your website from all your accounts. Always use the same, identifiable voice when speaking for your brand, whether it’s whimsical, serious etc.

Focus on one platform at a time. I know, you want to be an SEO rock star right now, and you will have 50,000 Facebook and Twitter followers by next month. That’s an unreasonable goal. Start with the platform where your customers live, even if it’s MySpace (yes, it still exists).

It’s more probable that your first efforts will be on Facebook or Twitter. Fill out your profile with your website and a thoughtful description of your business, and invite customers to like your page or follow accounts that interest you. You’ll be surprised by how many people start following you and sharing your fantastic content.

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SEO Must be Customer-Centered

Link Building VancouverBecoming misguided about what belongs on your website can happen in the blink of an eye. You think your content is breathtaking or you have all the newest layout features. You’ve spent hours on meticulous editing and showing a prototype to friends. They think it’s awesome, just like you, right?

Even great creations can go awry, and your fantastic website might still have low visitor numbers and a high bounce rate. You need to stop the problem before it happens by choosing the information that your customers want. You’ll save time and money when you do your research upfront. Writing and producing content is one of the most important parts of SEO  and one that can make or break your website’s success.

There are several easy ways to understand your customers’ needs and wants.

Go to the data you have on hand. If you operate an established business, chances are that you provide customer service on one or more levels. Maybe you work behind the counter or you receive calls at an inbound call center.

I assume you’re hearing customers’ complaints and questions, and these are your best material. If you get the same request or question regularly, make it a page or a post on your website. Great SEO comes from great content that really speaks directly to customers’ needs.

Hire a survey company or create a survey yourself. Let’s say your website is all the rage in Vancouver, but people in rural British Columbia and other rural areas in Canada are bouncing. You sell items that they should like, so what’s the problem?

Do not try to contact all of your customers, just try a representative population from your problem areas. There’s no reason to call or email 10,000 people when results from 75 will help you fix the problem. Keep that in mind for any research projects.

Daydream about your customers. No, don’t fantasize that famous actresses suddenly are writing testimonials for your site. Instead, spend some time thinking about the questions your customers aren’t asking. Many times, you can provide great value with answers to questions that just didn’t occur to anyone. That level of service is worth a lot more to your customers, and your SEO, than spending tons of money on fancy videos.

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SEO Grammar is Important for your Content

Before I get started, I want to wish a great big Happy Valentine’s Day to all the sweethearts out there, couples, family or friends. And to my readers on the Atlantic side of Canada, be careful digging out in this storm.

Now, after that very brief message, down to business. I was catching up on Google Webmaster Help Videos the other day, and a post on poor grammar in blog comments caught my eye. Matt Cutts’ verdict was that webmasters shouldn’t try to correct poor grammar in comments, that it wouldn’t be a problem for Page Rank. Instead, he said, worry about your own content.

That’s an important message we need to review every day as we work with content. Correct grammar and spelling are required if you’re going to have a website with great Page Rank. Think of all the top-brand sites that you visit regularly. You probably never see grammatical errors on these pages, and that’s a standard.

If you’re creating new content, a little effort in the beginning will save you from a big headache in the end.

Spell check each piece of content early and often. This seems like such a simple step, but it’s one that many of us miss when we’re up against a deadline. Pay special attention to bold tag content, especially headlines. Readers lose interest when you don’t bother with the basics.

Work from a detailed outline. In web writing, you only have a few paragraphs to either grab your readers’ attention or lose them completely. You should know the major points you want to make before you get caught up in thousands of unneeded words. An outline will save your time and help you to define the message.

Do good research as you write. If you plan on creating much of your content yourself, pick up several different style books and spend some time reviewing their contents. Look through the Chicago Stylebook and the AP Stylebook, and any that are used in your niche field. These books are filled with rules of grammar, many of which may be new to novice writers.

As you’re writing, use language that will best fit your readers and that’s specific. Many times, we think our message is clear, but there are better words out there that we can use. There are a number of great online dictionaries and thesauruses. Get in the habit of looking up the words you use and any similar words that might be a better fit for your message.