Archive for March, 2011

Search Engine Optimization

It’s not how cool your site looks.  It’s how fast the right people can find it.

Optimizing your site’s content is all about getting the most out of the time and sweat you put into creating it.  It means giving yourself the best chance of drawing traffic.  In other words, it is what your return on content (ROC) is all about.  Think of ROC is your website’s ROI.

Your site is what the world uses to window-shop.  What you put in that window, just like a retail store owner, must be relevant, compelling and always refreshed to entice the right visitors to walk in.  At first glance. The look-and-feel of the site are important but the actual contents–relevancy of the language–is the primary difference maker.

So what optimizes a site?

1.  Metadata tags allow you to tell search engines what any particular web page is about.  There are methods, available from consultancies such as HubSpot, of improving the language and sequences of terms you use.   But the key is to use the same terminology commonly used in searches by the people you want to visit your site.  Another reason why deep knowledge of customers is has never been so important.

2. Heading summaries are not unlike the heads and subheads used by newspapers and magazines to make their stories attract readers.  Just like publications, websites can use these special tags in their HTML. They help human readers scan the content and help search engine spiders better understand the content on a page and the  important information in it. You want to use these tags in the headings as signals to the search engines.  Each page on your site should include search-friendly, customer-sensitive tags.

3. Images, such as photography, will always help visitors but don’t forget: they cannot be seen by search engines.  Implication? Any text on these images won’t be read by the eyes of the spiders, just the humans.  HubSpot explains:  “HTML helps address this issue by providing a way to specify text for an image using the “alt” attribute. This enables  web pages to assign specific text as the “alternative” content for images for those that cannot view the images themselves. This can be search engine crawlers or text-only web browsers”.

4. Interior pages present opportunities for you to target specific keywords or visitors and then create landing pages optimized towards converting those visitors into customers.

5. Your domain. Don’t forget to register your domain for a long time: search engines factor-in domain “stability” when they look at your pages.

6. MOZ rank is a measure of global-link authority or popularity. Think of Google’s PageRank measures in quantifying the importance the links you are generating.  Getting more in-bound links to important sites will improve your MOZ rank.

7.  Linking domains.  How many other sites link to yours is an important metric. Generally, more is better. Having links to your website from authoritative resources boosts your search-engine rank. They signify that your website is trustworthy and contains good content.

Next:  How to promote your site.

Searching The Contents

When it comes to websites, findable beats lovable.

You know about ROI.  What about ROC?

Return on content (ROC) is fundamental to a website. It is the ROI of the site. Too bad so few marketing people have even heard of the concept, much less how to achieve it.

It’s not complicated. Here’s how to get started:

1. Create a blog. You miss a huge opportunity to drive more traffic if your site does not feature an active blog.  This is more than just fundamental to a good ROC, it is central to making your site findable in the first place. And getting found is what online marketing is all about. Web analytics prove this beyond all doubt. Blogging is a great way to reach your target audience with your thoughts, opinions, and offerings on relevant topics.  If you are not blogging, your site is not working nearly as hard or as smart as it should. It’s an easy fix: but you have to start blogging.  What you’re shooting for is growth in the traffic you attract and the number (and quality) of links that point at you.

2.  Post as often as possible. Infatuation with your cool graphics, typography and imagery is understandable. Problem is, they aren’t the key driver(s) of the high-quality prospects that convert into customers and clients.  Your content, specifically your blog, is. So, what you post on it becomes the de facto voice of your site–and your business.  It is also the one place where you can most quickly and easily update and refresh the content that grows the number and quality of links pointing at it.

3.  Grow your “indexed pages”. These are the pages on your site that are stored by search engines. Web crawlers for the major search engines will visit your website periodically and look for new content to index.  New content such as new blog posts relevant to your prospects’ searches. The more pages found on your site by search engines, the better.

Coming up: Optimizing your content for max ROC.

Sleep On A Laptop
Who needs Ambien when there are so many case studies to read?

Nobody outside your company, or the analysts who follow it, wants to read about your product’s “success story”.  What they want to read is a story about a customer, just like them, who had success.  The fact that it was your product they had success with is incidental, not central, to the story.

Knowing this difference and how to spin a yarn around it makes all the difference.  If you want the case study you are paying good money to produce to have impact, be read, be referenced and shared, mention your product only in passing.  Write about what the customer endured: the problem, the hassles, the solution and the happily-ever-after: how it improved a situation, cut costs and/or buffed revenue. Write something that readers can identify and empathize with.  Write to and for them.

Concept Of A Leader

To be a standout you must be willing to stand out

For a couple of years I handled national PR for a NYC-based consultancy in design and technology.  It is still very much a premiere player in its class but it remains pretty much what it was when it tapped me ostensibly to raise its profile: Their clients are household names, but the firm is one of the better kept secrets in the industry. The take-away here is a variant of the admonition about being careful what you ask for.  Or retain PR for.  In this case, broader public prominence.

The problem was the temperament of the principal(s).  As adamant as they seemed about being famous, a la their competitors, they were shall we say camera-shy to a fault.  Turned out that the glare of publicity and all that comes with it was anathema to them.  Unusual for PR clients, to be sure. Still, it’s instructive in the quest for prominence.  A definite pre-req: comfort in the spotlight and with the risk of getting caught in the act of being yourself.  A lot of executives and entrepreneurs complain that their “story is not being told…the message isn’t getting out there…we should be always be on the short-list of vendors in our category”.

Sound familiar?  If so, there are some basic steps to take and things to think about depending on how serious you are about cultivating an aura of greater prominence and authority.  Note that this assumes your product or service is best of breed.  An inferior offering (or a value proposition that comes up short in terms of being compelling) is a reputation killer before you even begin.  So be honest with yourself.  If, however, you truly are who and what you SAY you are, then proceed undaunted:

1. Go for high-return exposure. You want exposure that gives you the highest return among those people to whom you want to be exposed.  Starting out, it is essential to know exactly who they are because it will determine the media channels by which to reach them.  Complete this sentence: “I want to be on ___________’s short-list of people called in to make a pitch.

2. Build the reputation for being the guys who present the longest-lived value, i.e., value that commands a premium price.  Do this by presenting compelling cost-of-ownership proof points relevant to the current needs of your prospect.

3. Use the 80-20 rule to identify the heavy-breathers in your category: Which influencers, analysts, bloggers, thought-leaders, industry watchers do the people in #1 above pay the most attention to? If yours is like practically every other industry (and don’t try to tell me it isn’t) the number individuals to whom the people you’re interested in look for guidance, advice, opinions and suggestions can probably be counted on two hands.  No matter how big a company is, for example, the most important people, the ones who make the big decisions day in and day out, can usually fit into a small conference room.  Same is true for the opinion leaders in any industry.

4. Start “stalking” them.  Not in the tabloid sense of the word, but make a close study of them.  Read their blogs, their research reports, find out everything you can about what they do, what their prejudices are, and how and why they got to be influential.

5. Engage them. Following the best practices and rules of social-media engagement, comment on their blog posts, send them emails, follow them on Twitter.  BUTrefrain from anything that smacks of a pitch about YOU. Direct your subject matter to whatever is being discussed by, or held dear to, THEM.  Share your personal experiences in dealing with whatever it is they are talking about.  Offer ideas, insights, and tips.  Then, suggest a blog topic of your own based on content of interest to them.   The point is to begin your metamorphosis in the influencer’s eye from “anybody” to “somebody.”

6. Use the social Web and all elements of real-time marketing consistent with the specific authority reputation you want to establish.  Be–and remain–specific to your expertise.  Don’t confuse people by diluting your content or wandering off-point.

7. Establish credentials in a broader sphere of influence. Actively promote yourself as a participant and panel moderator at industry events.  Solicit a speaking engagement with (don’t laugh) your local chamber of commerce.  Why?  You would be amazed at how many local merchants and professionals know people it would benefit you to know.  Local chambers of commerce are like public libraries and librarians with incredibly rich databases that are absolutely free: invaluable resources hiding in plain sight.

8. Conduct regular surveys relevant to your product (or service), industry, market and technology.  Implement traditional PR initiatives around the findings.  Media of all stripe are equally hungry for fresh survey findings that are counter-intuitive or that substantiate conventional wisdom.  They just are. No reason why you cannot become the J.D. Power of your category.  At the very least, you can insinuate yourself into the circle of whoever actually is your category’s JDP.

What else can you think of specific to the kind of authority for which you want to be acclaimed?

Remarkable!

Show them something truly remarkable

Seth Godin (not pictured here), one of brainiest self-promoters of our time, knows something about generating the kind of content — books, lectures, videos, links, and all manner of blogstuff — that people cannot resist sharing with their friends (with or without the standard admonitions to pass it on or your life will turn to dreck).  So happens that what he has to say about remarkable-ness is as relevant to the purposes of B2B companies as it is to the agendae of individuals and B2C companies. I hereby share them.  They are edited for length and relevance to the B2B community, especially bloggers in high-tech and clean tech. Or those would WOULD BE bloggers. You know who you are.

1.  Know who you are talking to. Everything starts here.  You must see the world your audience, AKA your customers and potential customers, sees every day.   You can’t look at your audience through the lens of your company and its products.  What are their biggest concerns when it comes to the problems you profess to solve?  What matters most to them right now?  How have things changed for them recently?  How are current events — regulatory, political, economic, competitive, etc.– influencing them?

2.  Simpler is better. Keep it short, punchy and, if at all possible, witty.  Yes, the latter is tricky but no way is it something you should automatically shy away from UNLESS you’re uncomfortable with self-deprecation or levity. Still, think about the stuff YOU share with your business associates.  For sure it doesn’t inspire a nap.  And certainly it’s not the stuff that comes from self-impressed, hoity-toity sources. The point is, if you want your audience to grow you must give it something they want on a steady diet.  Hook them with stuff they can get nowhere else.  Material they will want to pass along as a way to gain favor with their associates or to otherwise burnish their reputations.  And make sure you include social media links.  You want people to share it the way they are inclined to share.  Have an e-book? Keep it under 100 pages.

3.  Do all you can to make yourself worth following. Give them something to remember you by. This is a variation on 1 and 2 above.  If you know your audience and keep things simple by not taking yourself too seriously, then by all means get caught in the act of doing something nice for the folks.  Send a special thanks or personal acknowledgment of some kind to those who took the time to make thoughtful comment.  Offering a white paper (one that won’t induce sleep) and rewarding the first five or ten or hundred (depending on your following) requests with a free webinar or consultation or something of value is another easy thing to do that will encourage word of mouth.  So what else comes to mind based on your audience knowledge?

Pears And Lamp

Best blog tip: Be something only you can be.

Had lunch yesterday with a couple of long-time Valley colleagues who are original thinkers.  It reminded me of why I enjoy spending time with them.  I always get a new observation or new take on one thing or another.  Which reminds me to elaborate on something I ranted about yesterday. When you get right down to it, a blog of any kind is nothing more or less than an opinion column.  And the best-read columnists have always been the ones who deliver the content you just can’t get anywhere else.  It’s what drives an audience to ESPN’s Rick Reilly, or to David Brooks and Paul Krugman of the New York Times. It is what readers of the San Francisco Chronicle enjoyed about Herb Caen.  You could read the stuff Caen wrote only in his column.  Nowhere else.

If you want to attract the kind of biz blog audience likely to evolve into prospects, you have to deliver content of genuine interest to this particular reader. Content available only from you.  Think you’ve never had an original thought in your life? Nonsense.  The way you see the world and think about it is the definition of who you are. It is the sum total of all the experiences you have had, pleasant and not so pleasant, and how you respond to the world as a result of those experiences.  Not to sound corny, but there really is only one you.  You have unique observations, especially when it comes to your business.  Don’t be shy about sharing them.  To paraphrase adman David Ogilvie, no one was every bored into buying anything.  Or reading it.

Crowd - Medium Close Up

Good content is a good draw

Cindy King at Social Media Examiner passes along useful suggestions from some top bloggers. I’ve cherry-picked and edited the ones here most relevant to B2B companies:

1.  Put on your civilian clothes and visit the blogs your customers and prospects visit.  Often.  And jump into the commentary and conversations.  Add something useful. Not about you, but your professional thoughts on the exchanges they’re having.  Keep your comments non-commercial.  This is not the time or place to flog your gear.  The point is to learn what they’re talking about and offer something of value in return.

2.  Your contributions re the above should be, in part, a microcosm of what you write about in your own blog.  In this regard, your style and tone should be educational, informative and entertaining.  Assume the kind of “voice” that you enjoy reading.  Bores don’t attract a crowd.

3.  Fight writer’s block by remembering the questions you get from customers and prospects.  Use your blog to answer them, conversationally and casually, e.g.,  “A customer raised a good question the other day, one that’s come up before, and I think it’s worth sharing here.”

4 .  Match your reader’s need: what are they worried about, what are they looking for, what confuses them, what frustrates them?  Address these, and anything else you can think of, head-on. People are taking the time to read your content.  In return, give yours to them.

5. Say something they don’t hear from their other vendors.  There are a lot of vendor blogs out there.  Put stuff in yours they only get from you.

6. Same as you do with everything else in your business, set goals.  What’s the purpose of your effort? How much time per day/week/month are you prepared to devote? What’s the priority publishing goal?  The secondary goal(s)?  Get objective third parties to read and react in light of the goals you set.

7. Encourage your readers to interact with you.  Ask them questions.  Solicit their feedback.

8. Put your subscription box right up front.

9. Think like a publisher, not a vendor. Make it worth the reader’s while to spend time with you and subscribe.