The Long Tail Optimization to Nowhere

Using long tail keywords has become a popular way of cutting out the competition and getting very specific keywords that bring in a targeted audience.  The guiding principle is the more specific the keywords, the less likely it is that other people are targeting the same group.

The SEO basics site has a nice overview of setting a long tail strategy but pay special attention to steps 1 and 2.

Long tail optimization is a great strategy but only when you do the research of steps 1 and 2.  Long Tail optimization without selective keyword filtering leads to 2 problems:

  1. No Audience – Blindly optimizing a site or PPC campaign for long tail keywords typically targets an abyss of phantom people site owners believe exist.  But they don’t.
  2. Too Much Information – Optimizing too long a tail can put such a restrictive criteria that it defeats the purpose of optimizing for it.  After all if it’s so restrictive that only a couple people would be included, optimizing likely is not the best means to engage them.

Don’t convince yourself you know what users want and skip the research.  Long tail optimization is popular because it allows very high rankings for specific keywords.  Just do your homework to make sure those keywords are worth the effort.

A Marketable Website on a Budget

I recently read a very funny web post about web designers claiming to know SEO.  I think the points are fairly accurate and it’s an entertaining read.  However, several of the comments are a great summary of why small businesses have difficulty using the model that the blog advocates.  It’s typically not cost effective.

A single source for internet marketing is often critical to having an affordable internet marketing strategy for smaller businesses.  The other advantage that the comments did not cover is a single contact that understands the client’s business.  When a small business works with someone that has a diversified understanding of internet marketing (assuming they actually are knowledgeable), they can make educated suggestions on what makes sense for that business.  That consulting is worth a lot and since the person is already ingrained in the strategy, it’s not an extra cost.

The blog post does a great job of explaining the workload of different website responsibilities.  Speaking for our firm, we only create web designs by special request and don’t promote the service anymore because staying competent in email marketing, SEO, site and social media maintenance does not make it feasible.  Small businesses certainly need to do their homework before hiring anyone to work on their website, but most simply don’t have the resources or knowledge to coordinate multiple experts into creating a successful internet marketing strategy.

Professional Layout is Not Optional

I recently had a client call me out on what they felt was a contradiction.  I harp on content being king.  For a successful site they need engaging content that people will want to consume and they need to present it in a way that is friendly for Search engines.

I must have over-harped because I suggest a redesign for a section of their site that was content rich and growing rapidly.  My client said, “But the content is great.  You always tell me to focus on the content.”  While I agree that content is most important, it can’t come at the expense of a professional layout.

Here’s why.  A poorly designed site degrades credibility.  Users have to have faith that the content is coming from a credible source.  If great content is displayed in an amateurish way, users will move on.

A professional layout is the ring to your content’s diamond.  It supports your content while displaying the information in a pleasing way that let’s users appreciate what you are offering.  A poor layout is like burying a diamond in mud.  It’s still a diamond but no one wants to undertake the work and the mess of uncovering it.

Link Building – Effective but Not Necessarily Efficient

A common piece of advice is to build links to other sites to place well in search engines.  While there’s no doubt that quality links to your site will improve your rankings, getting those links can take some significant effort.  Advanced sites looking for slight edges definitely need to build links, however, entry-level sites to SEO likely have more effective uses for their time.

Most site owners receive the automated emails asking for link exchanges.  As you might guess, these tactics are extremely ineffective.  The alternative is segmenting by market or competitors and making inroads into targeted sites.  While that is effective, it takes a lot of time.

There are some automated ways of generating links like directory submissions.  While these are typically not the most relevant sources they will influence your website ranking.

The best tactic for most sites without dedicated SEO resources is link building over time.  Make link building a part of your regular business activity.

  • Talk to current partners about linking to your site.
  • Make sure any chamber or association you belong to has a listing that links to your webpage.
  • Any content or articles created should include a by line link to your site.
  • Link any external listings to individual pages that pertain to the listings topic.

When link building is built into activities that you are already doing, it doesn’t take a lot of extra effort and builds extremely relevant and targeted linking.

Three Constants of Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

SEO tactics change quickly.  Learning all the nuances of cutting edge tips and tricks today will likely be outdated in a few months and certainly within a couple of years.  SEO tactics are a moving target and truly takes dedication and diligence to keep up with emerging trends.  That’s not good news for someone that wants to optimize their site but is discouraged by the ever evolving details of SEO.That is why I have three SEO constants that any website should implement.  These three things likely won’t put you at the top of search engines but it will at least get you placed in the rankings.

3 Constants of SEO:

  •  Set Your Title Tags – These title tags appear on the browser window.  Use the tags to say who you are and describe what you do.  Keep it short and set uniquely specific tags for every page on your website.
  • Create Quality Content – It’s critical to have good content on the site.  If users find their way to the site, why should they stay if the content is poor?  They won’t, and neither will the search engines.  Set a method for adding content through things like a blog, article archive, or report library.
  • Update Content – The web is alive.  You can’t set a website and forget it.  Evolving content will provide search engines with richer keywords and keep your information current.

Of course there are many other tactics and nuances to SEO.  However, these three things are a good start for beginners or people that only have resources for the basics.

Improving Online Marketing is Like Managing Fantasy Football

As fantasy football hits full swing, it occurred to me that internet marketing and managing a fantasy team is a lot like managing internet and email marketing.  Its about paying attention to numbers, making educated guesses about what will reap the most reward, reacting to past trends, and hoping for a little luck.

People get obsessed with fantasy football but few people get consumed by their internet marketing numbers.  The truth is online marketing can be fun.  Yes, looking over the numbers and formulating a strategy to improve can get tedious but no more so than pouring over player stats.  Seeing the results is typically more fun than winning a fantasy game as it can show a measurable impact on the business.

The secret to motivation in online marketing is not placing bets for performance or setting up a smack talk feature.  It’s realizing that you are gambling with a lot more than fantasy football glory.  Online marketing has the power to drive sales or leads which will improve business returns and likely improve the lifestyle of the people who make up the organization. 

Think of it as a game, but one that needs to be taken seriously.  You should have some fun but also need to focus on what and how you are improving.

Why bring this up?  Too many people focus on the wrong end of improving their online marketing.  They want to do the “fun” stuff like redesigning the webpage or putting together cool banner ads.  Nothing wrong with those things but they aren’t likely to significantly increase ROI unless the metrics have been weighed and evaluated. 

Find the fun in incremental growth.  It will keep the site improving toward set goals and avoid a lot of energy wasted on “improvements” that likely won’t display measurable benefits.  That can be a lot more exhilarating than hoisting your virtual trophy.

– Eric
eMarketing Innovation

P.S. Yes, I am a fantasy football player (I limit myself to 2 teams a year to avoid the addict label) so I know first-hand how all-encompassing it can be.

For Your Blog or Social Media: Write What You Know, Not What You Think People Want.

People often inquire whether a topic is good.  Usually they want to know whether it will attract search engines or an audience.  This is the wrong question to be asking.  The right question is whether this topic directly applies to what my blog or social media site is about.

Why is trying to write for what you think there is an audience for misguided?  Two reasons:

  1. You’re asking an unanswerable question – It’s almost impossible for anyone to predict an audience for a topic.  With enough testing, a conclusion could likely be arrived at but the problem is that it’s just as efficient to just write and post on a topic.  If the audience is there, they’ll show up.  If not, then you still have posted meaningful content that will remain available to anyone interested in the material.
  2. It’s an irrelevant question – There is an audience for any topic if the content is well written, straight forward, and easily acquired.  It might be a small group or take time for them to arrive, but there is always a demand for orginal valuable content.

So how do you select a topic to write about?  Easy, what currently inspires you.  It can be a small tip or a larger essay.  As long as it’s in-line with the subject of the blog or social media site, it’s fair game.

Don’t get hung up on what people might want.  There is likely an audience (no matter how small) for any insightful content you can provide about your selected subject.  Go with a steady constant which is relevant material from a content expert. 

An Online Single Content Source Has Singular Content

I previously posted about making social networking sustaninable through a single content source.  There is a hidden pitfall here.  A single content source needs to be singular.  That means it speaks to a single topic.  My blog is an example of stretching about as far as possible.  I cover internet marketing, SEO, email marketing, and website maintenance.  These three pieces are pretty closely related.  I could probably include something like web design to stretch it further if I chose.  What I can’t do is make posts about an action movie I just saw, coin collecting, or my favorite recipes.  They aren’t related so they don’t belong.  The single content source needs to have a single consistent topic.

Many people that have social networking sites and point them to a single content source start bending this rule because it saves time.  There professional blog starts getting notes about a party with their friends.  Worse yet the two worlds collide when their crazy friend leaves expletive language about how crazy the party was.  Pick the singular content and never stray from it.

Breaking largely varying topics into categories is not appropriate.  Categories should be very specific and interrelated to other posts, not a whole new topic.

So what if you have a professional blog but want to write about stamp collecting?  Easy, start another blog.  You can write about as many topics as you’d like, time allowing, just make sure it’s in the right place. 

Two problems arise when you break your topic into multiple blogs:

  • The amount of work has just doubled
  • Social networking needs to be intelligently segmented to get that audience to what they want.

For the extra work, there’s no way around it.  Think of it as opening up double the audience.  For segmenting social networking, you can start by reviewing some I covered in a previous post.

Identify who likely wants the content.  LinkedIn likely doesn’t need your stamp collecting posts.  Business contacts probably want info from your professional blog.  Facebook might not be interested in your professional site but your stamp collecting friends will want an update on your stamp blog.  Twitter might need both.  Since commenting is restricted that might not be terrible, just make sure titles make it clear what people should expect.  You don’t want your professional blog readers stumbling into your stamp blog and thinking your business has taken a radical turn in expertise.

The real reason to make a single content source singular is to provide readers with the content they desire.  It promises content about a certain topic.  Filling it with unrelated material is not only confusing, it betrays the people that find it.  Make sure that people who find their way to your single content source via social networking or search engines receive what they were promised.

Search Engine Rank Improvements Take Stamina and Evolution

A lot of people are frustrated with their organic (Not a pay per click service) search engine rankings.  When they finally have had enough the frustration usually takes the shape of wanting to rank first for almost any related keyword.  Barring a massive budget and a group of talented web professionals, that isn’t likely to happen.  Start out gradually with Search engine optimization and gear up.

Think of SEO as a marathon.  No one decides the morning of a marathon that they’re going to do it (Well maybe someone has tried that but I guarantee they had a painful and unsuccessful experience).  It takes months and months of training.  Marathon runners set a running schedule that is designed to get them into their best running shape on that single day. 

SEO should work the same way.  Pick small steps and vital keywords.  Focus on a single geography before hitting wider reaching areas.  As you achieve success you can evolve from there.  Once certain keywords or areas point to your site, put new keywords in place.

There are a lot of Search Engine Optimizing strategies online (several have been covered here).  However, none of them will immediately propel a site to the top of search engines for every desired keyword.  Start slow and use your experiences and victories to achieve more.  It takes some thinking and work but if you stay consistent and keep the stamina up you’ll find that one day you’ll have built your site up to rank among all your desired keywords.

Tableless Design Does Not Effect Search Engine Rankings

A common misconception that has been growing is  W3C compliance and tableless design increases my position on search engines.  The fact is that doesn’t seem to be the case.  The line of thinking is that only W3C compliancy is set as a web standard and search engines will cater their results to favor compliant websites because it has an easier time sorting through the code.  Tests have experienced mixed results and some have actually shown worse results from the complaint pages.  While people argue both sides of this, I think it’s fair to conclude that search engines put little, if any, emphasis on whether a site is tableless and/or complaint.

It’s common for designers and developers to claim that keeping the content separate from the layout (as is the case in tableless and usually w3C complaint pages) helps search engines sort data.  That doesn’t seem to be true.  In fact it’s been shown that using separate CSS formatting can hurt keyword rankings as many search engines look for the traditional format tags like bolding <strong>.  Most tableless designs avoid those tags.

The point is not to knock W3C compliance.  In fact, I’d encourage people to have the clean code that comes from W3C compliancy.  From the blog link above I’ll steal 1.5 of his three advantages (Not sold that the other 1.5 is true):

  • W3C Compliance will ensure that your website is accessible to the disabled.
  • W3C Compliance will help your website be accessed through different devices like cellular phones and PDA’s.

What concerns me is the misinformation being provided to effect planning or buying decisions.  Better SEO is a questionable benefit and likely not one at all.  Again Tableless and W3C complaincy have many advantages, just make sure you understand what they are and aren’t buying into questionable claims.

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