The Rise of Web Marketing

In today’s whiteboard Friday segment by SEOmoz, Rand Fishkin talks about how SEOs can no longer just be SEOs anymore. Rand suggests, that as an industry, we broaden the definition of SEO by incorporating web marketing techniques like unique content, social media and branding into our daily practice. And I would have to agree. This is a hot topic in our industry right now, and something I felt the need to delve into a bit further.

Old School vs. New School SEO

As an Internet marketing agency, we’ve seen a lot of companies rely on SEOs to keep them at the top of search results. For ecommerce sites especially, it’s a constant struggle between the latest Google update and outperforming peers. As a result, some of our best clients have gotten hung up on old SEO tactics simply because they worked in the past. However, it’s our job as the professionals to tell these clients that buying links and keyword stuffing is no longer appropriate practice.

If you are considering hiring a SEO company to improve your search engine rankings and you plan to measure their worth solely on how high they get you in rankings, you may want to reconsider your short-term and long-term business goals. For example, a spike in search engine rankings is a short-term fix for any struggling website, but creating high-quality content and posting it regularly will ensure long-term SEO growth. Also, if a SEO company tells you that they have easy “tricks” to increase your rankings, don’t fall for it. Nothing compares to natural links and original content.

Focus on Creating Quality Content

Now, back tracking a bit, I mentioned in February that Google has made significant changes to its algorithm to ensure quality websites outrank their inferior counterparts. While keywords are still important, Google now rewards websites that create great content for the benefit of the reader. As SEOs, our objective should be to create better content, not climb the search engine rankings.

Utilize other sources of organic traffic

In addition to high-quality content, search engines also value other sources of organic traffic like social media, blogs, video, and email marketing. These sources can also drive substantial traffic to your website. More important, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have transformed into customer engagement platforms.

SEOs should become brand communicators by listening to customers and understanding what’s important to them. Customers today are bold enough to go directly to a Twitter handle or public forum to engage directly with a business. And they expect brands to communicate back. What SEOs can do is encourage customers to place reviews on social media and other websites. These reviews will serve as their public endorsement of a brand. When a customer shares your content through their social media profiles, they are providing quality inbound links to your website.

Leverage Your Online Authority

I’ve talked a lot about thought leadership as a powerful SEO tactic, so I won’t bore you with all the details. However, when a customer already trusts you they will come to you for professional advice. And one way you can do this is through content management.  Creating SEO-friendly and engaging content is the first step. If you sell all natural health products and you write a blog post about “5 Natural Ways to Heal Acne,” SEOs can ensure that when a consumer types “natural ways to heal acne” into the search field, your blog will show up in search results. Whether it’s through blogging or email marketing, the goal of content management is to get customers visiting your website.

Over the years there has been a lot of “black hat” or shady SEO practices, and search engines are starting to catch on. Regardless, SEO is still a valuable tool when building your business. Therefore, if you can do it the right way and take advantage of these web marketing techniques, you can naturally position yourself as an industry leader and the search engines will graciously reward you.

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Social Media 101 for College Graduates

someecards.com - Whenever I'm Facebook stalking someone and find out their profile is public, I'm like a kid in a candy store. 546 pictures? Don't mind if I do!Ah graduation season. The best time in a young person’s life; between leaving a place of independence and stepping into the real world for your first chance at building your professional career. While many college students are currently preparing for the real world at this point (hopefully), most seniors are more focused on acing their final exams before graduation as opposed to cleaning up their act in the online world.

So, what’s the problem here? Well… since just about everyone has an online history, that means that everything you’ve done, especially in the past four years in college, is probably readily available with a simple Google search. Before beginning your full-time job search, here are some critical steps you need to take in order to clean up your online presence.

Understand your privacy settings

The first key step to preparing your online presence for the professional world is to have a good understanding of what your privacy settings are. Not only are there a variety of settings on social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter, but you need to think back to any profile you’ve created online throughout your entire life. While that might be a hard task to tackle, it needs to be done.

Another important tactic when changing your privacy settings is to make sure you don’t completely block out anyone from seeing anything about you. It’s important to find that happy medium between showing just enough about you for potential employers to see but not everything. Employers like to see that you’re involved in social media and have a positive presence, but we don’t want to see anything inappropriate that could show bad judgement. Keep it classy and find your happy medium.

Make appropriate updates to your profiles

Once you’re about to graduate from college, I would hope that you have a composed resume ready to go. With that said, everything that’s written on your resume should also be reflected in your online profiles. From your age to where you’re graduating from, make sure that your profiles are fully updated. By having social media, it’s also a great way to endorse your skills. Whether you’re a designer and upload images often or you’re a talented writer and like to share your latest blog posts, use this to your advantage!

Be aware of your content

The most important thing I learned in my senior year of college was to be extremely cautious of what I was posting to my social media channels. Not only is it important to monitor what friends are posting about you, but you also need to be aware of your tone in the content you’re posting. I hate to break it to you, but employers don’t want to see you complaining about how much you don’t feel like studying for your next exam or worse, how difficult it is for you to work on a group project. Think of it in terms of the professional world. Would you want to hire someone who complains about having to work hard or work with others? The answer is no, so don’t portray yourself that way.

Change profile pictures

You might love your sorority sisters to death, but once you start job searching, it’s probably a good idea to change your profile picture to one of just you. Having a profile picture of just yourself will help curious employers identify who you are, as opposed to trying to guess from a group of people. If you don’t have any pictures of yourself that you think would be appropriate for the professional world, have a roommate or family member take a picture of you.

The Internet is an amazing place, and as hard as it is to believe that employers are actually looking for you online, it’s happening. With that said, it’s time to stop pretending that you’re invisible online and start realizing how much about you is lurking out there in your online portfolio. Finally, congratulations to all those graduating in 2013 and good luck!

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Blogging in A PCI Compliant Ecommerce World: Tips and Tricks

It came up in an office discussion the other day here at Mountain Media what would be within best practice and of maximum benefit when it comes to blogging for ecommerce sites. Sure, you can write your topics surrounding your products and give customers more insight into what it is your site sells, or you can give anecdotal stories about your company and who you are or even post photos of your staff with a story from the day. But what we were discussing in our offices went much further than just topic selection.

I thought it would be best, then, to attempt to clear up some of the questions that many marketers and business owners have when it comes to blogging for an ecommerce site. With some help from our Project Manager here at Mountain Media, Matt Sawyer, we were able to come up with some tips and tricks for implementing, designing and populating an ecommerce blog.

Start with the Hosting

When we design and implement a blog for an ecommerce client, we typically use a third-party blog host (WordPress is obviously our go-to) and, working with the DNS provider (which is us in many cases), deploy the blog located at a subdomain of the clients’ websites. For example, if we’re working on a site with the domain name www.awesomepartyhats.com (this isn’t actually one of our sites, just using an example!), we will deploy the blog at blog.awesomepartyhats.com.

The other option in terms of hosting and deployment would be to place the blog in a location that is an extension of the client’s existing domain name – so rather than blog.awesomepartyhats.com, we might set it up at www.awesomepartyhats.com/blog. Both have their positives and negatives.

Obviously, an extension of an existing domain will help you build links to the overall domain itself should people begin to share and/or link to your original posts. This is a major SEO win for the domain as a whole and can help big time when it comes to improving your overall search engine visibility for your website and your business. However, with ecommerce sites, it’s not always this easy.

Here at Mountain Media, this is much easier said than done. Because we are a Level 1 PCI Compliant payment solutions provider with our Web Payment Software application and we handle cardholder information on a regular basis, it would be against our high-set standards to incorporate a third-party blog host provider into one of our securely hosted domains. This is something you should always think about if you have an ecommerce website that you’re interested in blogging for – check with your DNS provider to make sure that whatever blog you’re hosting and deploying will fall under that same umbrella of PCI Compliance where the rest of your website already is. If you can’t host a third-party blog, you’ll have to have one custom designed, coded and implemented as an additional page of your website, which could run up your marketing and programming costs with your site’s host provider.

PCI Compliance is big with ecommerce sites because they handle so much cardholder information – and you don’t want your customers to trust you any less because you’ve implemented a blog that is no longer in compliance. And while hosting a blog at blog.awesomepartyhats.com won’t be as big of an SEO win for that business as www.awesomepartyhats.com/blog would be, your main concern should be compliance and trust. Stay within your limits and implement a blog that works for your whole website, not just your SEO efforts.

Move on to the Design

Since it’s not as easy to gain SEO benefit with a PCI compliant ecommerce blog, you’ll have to find another way to leverage this blog space to work for the rest of your website overall. Start with the design of the blog. Even if you’re using a third-party blog host such as WordPress, you can still have a custom theme designed that matches the design and branding of the rest of your website. Work with your site’s host provider and graphic designer to have the design code properly copied over from your website to your blog.

This can help in your branding efforts, as visitors to the blog will recognize the color scheme, logos and font choices from your website, as well as have this third-party blog appear as if it’s been a part of your website all along. It’s consistent, and people (especially customers) love consistency.

Populating Your Blog

I’d like to get to a few things under this section for populating your blog once you have it designed and implemented in a way that’s compliant with your PCI level and that works for your SEO efforts. This is where the content that you post to your ecommerce blog will really come into play, as that is ultimately the determining factor in your blog’s success for your marketing and SEO strategies.

  • Posts About Products: If you’re going to post about the products that you sell, don’t just give an overview of the product itself – that’s boring, to be honest, and nobody will want to link to you or share your post. Instead, find a way to make the product interesting. Does it have a particularly awesome history or background to it? Did you get an interesting story from a customer who recently bought the product? Are there similar products you can compare and contrast this one to? Can you offer a giveaway of this product?
  • Answers to Questions: These kinds of posts can be absolute gems for your blog. Pick a question that you are frequently asked about what you sell, and don’t be afraid to tackle topics that your competitors are afraid to answer. Marcus Sheridan knows a thing or two about that, and he can track over $1 million in sales back to one blog post that answers a very broad question that his competitors have always been afraid to address. Find something that your customers are actively looking for more information on, and give them exactly what they want to know.
  • Thought Leader Posts: Another great way to attract attention to your ecommerce blog is to put yourself in a position as a thought leader in your industry. Give advice on how to set up or use certain products that you sell, recommend one product over another and explain your reasoning, give a description of what a particular product can do for you that people might not have though of before – get creative. Establish yourself as a leader and people will naturally follow you.

Use caution when inserting links into your blog posts – don’t over-stuff the links back to your own site, but place them strategically throughout sporadic posts instead. This is far more natural than linking to your website several times in each blog post, but it’s important to remember to incorporate self-serving links at the same time. It’s a constant struggle between too much and not enough, but as long as you remember to keep the linking natural, you’ll be fine. If it doesn’t fit in a particular post, then don’t add it.

With that said, remember, too, that linking to your own website, especially if your blog is located on a subdomain, can be excellent self-serving backlinks. And while people linking to and sharing your posts won’t necessarily help your website in the same way a blog located at an extension of your domain would, search engines will still manage to associate share links with your site itself, in turn boosting your SEO signals.

And linking out to other sites isn’t bad – in fact, it’s a great idea! Many ecommerce business owners don’t feel comfortable linking to other resources with similar information to their own sites because they’re hoping to promote their own business with their blog. Don’t be afraid, though – linking to resources that are similar to your business and your industry only helps search engines associate your article and your entire blog with a particular topic. It’s the power of co-citation, and search engines love it, so make sure you’re linking out to resourceful, trustworthy sites and other blogs that are similar to your own in order to establish that recognition.

Blogging for ecommerce websites can be different for a number of different reasons, but as long as you implement your blog in a way that works for you and the security of your website, keep a consistent design with that of your site and know the types of posts and links that will work, you’ll be just fine, and your blog can end up being a top source of traffic for your website regardless of where it’s located on the Web.

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The 3 C’s of Content Marketing

Content marketing has become the new buzz phrase in the digital space. It refers to the creation and distribution of media and published content in order to attract and engage a clearly defined target audience.

Most website owners understand the importance of unique web content. However, producing unique content that not only captures your audience’s attention, but also holds that attention, converting folks into profitable customers is still a budding concept. While most ecommerce websites do not rely heavily on content, they do use it to promote return visitors and customer loyalty.

The idea of content marketing is that you can communicate with potential customers without hard selling. Instead, you have a conversation with customers, giving them the information they need to make their own purchase decisions. In the process, you deliver a valuable message to customers who should reward you with their business and loyalty. The nuts and bolts of content marketing include social media, video and web.

You can develop an effective content marketing strategy by using, what we call, the “three C’s”: conversation, creativity and consistency.

Be Conversational

First things first, conversational content is jargon-free. Customers do not need to understand your industry, therefore they do not want to decipher your lingo. You should always write in a style that is straightforward and to-the-point.

The purpose of having a conversation is to engage in dialogue. Your content should stimulate a response from customers. Do this by asking your audience questions that will make them interact with you on a personal level. This will be rewarding to both you and the customer.

Get Creative

As a PR and SEO specialist, I get to wear many hats. One of my favorite hats is being able to get creative. Content marketing is the art of storytelling. The purpose of telling a story is to get the customer to take action. Unlike traditional advertising or sales, marketing is about soft action, like visiting your website.

Keep in mind, most customers visit a website for a particular reason. And when they do, they expect to be engaged in a business conversation (refer to C1). Therefore, if you can be entertaining and provide value, you can build customer loyalty, ultimately keeping customers coming back for more.

Practice Consistency

Probably the most difficult of the three C’s is being consistent. Constantly producing quality content while still meeting performance goals can be quite a challenge. We know. However, it’s important to develop a schedule that dictates when you should produce and publish content. We refer to this as an editorial calendar. An editorial calendar will hold you and your team accountable and ensure the work gets done.

In addition to increased online visibility and web traffic, the biggest benefit of being consistent is that you can establish yourself as an industry thought leader. And keeping your content fresh and consistent is the quickest way to portray yourself as an expert in your niche.

Content marketing is taking the digital world by storm. Don’t be left behind; educate yourself on the benefits of using content marketing. Become familiar with its tactics and most importantly, be consistent!

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