Business of SEO – Online Marketing Blog – TopRank® http://www.toprankblog.com Wed, 17 Jan 2018 11:30:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.2 10 Tips: Pre-Hire Checklist for Digital Marketing Agencies http://www.toprankblog.com/2012/07/pre-hire-checklist-for-digital-marketing-agencies/ http://www.toprankblog.com/2012/07/pre-hire-checklist-for-digital-marketing-agencies/#comments Mon, 23 Jul 2012 14:40:46 +0000 http://www.toprankblog.com/?p=13896 A lot of agency blogs don’t talk about the diversity of client experience because they think it may reflect poorly, but it’s simply a reality of varying personalities, a dynamic market and changing organizations. Clearly the goal is retention and our online marketing agency has had clients for over 10 years! When agencies don’t over-promise [...]

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brand agency checklist

A lot of agency blogs don’t talk about the diversity of client experience because they think it may reflect poorly, but it’s simply a reality of varying personalities, a dynamic market and changing organizations. Clearly the goal is retention and our online marketing agency has had clients for over 10 years!

When agencies don’t over-promise and under-deliver, manage expectations properly and actually get great results, you’d think the company and agency relationship would be unstoppable.

With the dynamic nature of digital and online marketing as well as the normal changes in business from new and discontinued products to staff changes to mergers and acquisitions, the assumed success formula for an effective agency and client relationship isn’t always so simple.

Nothing is more frustrating when the optimism of a new marketing consulting project morphs into something very different because of avoidable issues like unclear vision, failure to implement or a newly hired marketing executive that wants to clean house.  While not everything is avoidable or solvable, there are many considerations for companies thinking of hiring a digital or online marketing agency to ensure a longer term and productive relationship. Here are 10 worth considering

1. Why? It sounds so simple but it’s important to be clear why an outside resource is needed. Answering “why” an outside agency or consultant is needed to advance your business goals is as important as answering “why” for a particular agency.

Many companies have never hired a marketing consultant or agency before and don’t know how to run the selection process so it’s important to avoid ambiguity as to why an outside resource is needed as well as what qualities are desired. Other companies are old pros or even go so far as to arrange RFPs and multiple rounds of pitches from competing agencies. Don’t lose the “why” in a long, drawn out selection process.  In the end, someone has to be accountable and a defensible reason for outside help as well as which agency is selected is important.

2. How will you know you’re successful? Goals, objectives and measurement are essential.  We’ve had many, many discussions with prospective clients that want to increase online sales but have no process in place for managing their sales pipleline or reports in their web analytics software that will track leads and sales. Internet marketing is not magic – it’s marketing. That means clear goals, an understanding of audience/target market, strategy, tactics and measurement.

A marketing agency should be able to help with optimizing most if not all of the sales cycle. Think beyond the top of the funnel.

Clarity on what success means is important too. There are a lot of marketing and PR executives out there for example, that still think keyword rankings are the most important success metric for a SEO program (vs. traffic, leads and sales). Make sure you can articulate what success looks like as a result of an engagement with the agency. Program performance is important and so is the working relationship for a successful engagement.

3. Can you implement? One of the most common issues with internet marketing programs that fail to reach fruition is a failure to implement.  Charge the agency with identifying the necessary skills and capabilities that your company will need. Identify who will be implementing what and whether there are dependencies, approvals and other contingencies that need to be dealt with in order for the advice being paid for can actually get implemented.

Whether it’s social, content, SEO, PPC, online PR, email marketing or any other online marketing tactic, it’s important to map out all that could be involved with execution amongst the departments and staff of a company and also the agency.  A classic SEO implementation failure example is where edits to a website template are recommended to allow search engines to crawl a site but the company is not able to implement because their IT staff don’t have access to the proprietary content management system code and the CMS vendor is no longer supporting the version installed.

4. Who’s in charge? Multiple cooks in the kitchen doesn’t work and neither does shared agency management responsibility. Companies that identify a lead agency liaison who has authority to make decisions will see a much more productive company/agency relationship. Otherwise mixed signals can result in output that no one will be accountable for and that doesn’t advance business goals.

Some agencies possess multiple levels or areas of capability and can be engaged for a variety of projects. Each project will have operational staff on both the client and agency sides responsible for running the programs. At the same time, there still needs to be a single person at the company with overall responsibility for the agency relationship whether it’s a Director or VP of Marketing to the CXO of a small or medium sized business.

5. Can you integrate? Rarely can internet marketing programs operate effectively as siloed tactics. To achieve proper levels of implementation, scale and to gain an advantage over the competition, working cooperatively and collaboratively with other parts of the organization is essential. It might be as simple as Marketing, IT and Public Relations. It might be as complex as the various groups within different businesses in different parts of the world.

Integration of internet marketing efforts also meets the challenges of consumer expectations across the spectrum of brand experiences. Integration also helps make more effective use of internet marketing resources across the organization.

6. Can you sustain? Many companies structure agency engagements as projects vs. ongoing relationships. The agency serves as a resource to define strategy and help with implementation and after a period of time disengages. Without agency oversight, it’s important to be able to implement processes to sustain the advice paid for.  It’s a shame to see a company benefit from a successful marketing agency engagement only to experience drops or fluctuations again after a year because they could not sustain new best practices or processes.

7. What resources do you have? Imagine hiring a top agency that fits with your organization’s culture and needs only to find out you don’t have the resources to implement the advice you’re getting?  Work with the agency to identify what resources are needed and then audit your own resources to make sure you have what is necessary to realize the full value of the consulting.

8. What are your strengths? Part of achieving a symbiotic and highly productive relationship with an agency is to understand your own organization’s strengths.  For example, you might have amazing content creation talent within subject matter experts but aren’t using them that way. Or you might consider your IT department as having expertise in SEO when they’ve never done keyword research, developed an optimized content plan or worked with web analytics to provide conversion rate optimization advice.

An agency should be able to identify the needed skills and practice areas for an engagement and can even help assess an organization’s strengths so brand and agency resources can be allocated in the most productive way possible.

9. What are all the possible positive impacts? Most companies hire an agency for SEO because they want to increase sales. But consumers search for more reasons than to purchase and companies publish content for more reasons than to make sales. SEO can attract a desired audience to any kind of content published, linked and shared online. A SEO engagement that shows an increase in search traffic, leads and sales as well as an increase in organic search traffic to customer support content, to news content and even job listings can help articulate the full range of impact from engaging and implementing SEO.

Think of all the possible impacts from an engagement whether it’s content, social community building or publicity that you’re after. A mature and innovative agency should be able to support this kind of impact assessment.

10. What are the risks? Certainly, hiring an agency that fits a company’s needs shouldn’t possess any risks, but it’s important to consider when an agency hasn’t been hired before, your business is obligated by industry regulations, your branch office has fuzzy rules about who gets to engage outside help – whether it’s corporate only, division, business units or regional operations.

It’s also important to consider the agency itself for potential risks. Do they have real and relevant experience? Are they staffed properly? Do they have mature processes in place? Do they engage in gray area or questionable tactics?  Are they a fit with your company’s culture?  Work to identify reputable agencies with relevant experience, capabilities and competent staff.

If you work at an agency, what are some of the client pre-qualification questions you like to ask? If you work at a company that hires digital marketing consultants and agencies, what are some of the questions they should be asking to ensure a better fit in the long run?


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Classic Marketing Consulting Fail: “What We Got Here is a Failure to Implement” http://www.toprankblog.com/2012/05/marketing-failure-to-implement/ http://www.toprankblog.com/2012/05/marketing-failure-to-implement/#comments Mon, 21 May 2012 15:38:21 +0000 http://www.toprankblog.com/?p=13643 If you’re old enough to remember the classic movie, Cool Hand Luke, there’s a moment when a rebellious prisoner played by a young Paul Newman refuses to “go along” with prison rules despite some grueling punishment. The warden, played by Strother Martin, made the famous observation about a lack of communication. The failure to communicate is probably [...]

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implementation failIf you’re old enough to remember the classic movie, Cool Hand Luke, there’s a moment when a rebellious prisoner played by a young Paul Newman refuses to “go along” with prison rules despite some grueling punishment. The warden, played by Strother Martin, made the famous observation about a lack of communication.

The failure to communicate is probably the most important cause of failure with client and internet marketing consultant relationships. Everything from managing expectations to performance reporting are affected. One of the most common outcomes from a lack of communication in a consulting engagement is the failure to implement.

Tweet This: What’s worse than bad social SEO advice? Failure to implement the good advice that gets results.

There are many reasons for a failure of implementation when it comes to online marketing tactics and the fault lies both with consultants and client side marketers alike. Here are a few common reasons for each. Hopefully you can identify whether your situation falls into one of these categories so you can avoid wasting time, money and lost revenue growth for all.

Marketing Consultant Implementation Fails:

  • Selling Incomplete Expertise – Not understanding what it really takes to implement a certain type of consulting can result in the agency not properly preparing the client for what their obligations are for successful implementation. “Fake it til you make it” is a common practice with consultants and agencies breaking into new areas (like all the SEOs getting into content marketing now or PR/Ad/Interactive agencies getting into SEO a few years back) and a common casualty is the inability to follow through.
    Lesson: Consultants need to develop processes for new areas of expertise, bring in outside consultants to build the practice area expertise and be up front with potential clients to ensure adaptability and to manage expectations. The other lesson is to simply not over-state capabilities and sell things you don’t know how to do.
  • Failure to Assess Capabilities – A review of both internal and client side responsibilities for successful implementation is critical. A company that says they want to develop a content marketing strategy and hires a consultant who says yes without identifying the company has no intention of hiring writers or tasking employees with content creation is a major fail for all.
    Lesson: Understand the essential processes and tasks involved with new consulting engagments and identify the capabilities of anyone at the company who may be potentially involved with implementation. Confirm in the agreement who will do what and what is expected.
  • Failure to QA & Manage Tasks – While many client and consulting engagements begin with good intentions all around, projects that take months for discovery, strategy and implementation can go off track if they are not managed properly.
    Lesson: Consultants must manage and share a timeline. They must also require time to oversee implementation and ongoing QA of content, SEO and social consulting implementation because it is inevitable that client staff or other consultants will implement partially, differently than intended or overwrite good work 6 months down the road.

Client Side Marketer Implementation Fails:

  • Lack of Consultant & Tactical Due Diligence – Companies that hire consultants will get more value for their investment when they have some awareness of how the tactics they’re hiring for actually work. Too often companies hire social media “brandividuals” or chase after a shiny social media object tactic without really having an idea of how things fit in their marketing plan.
    Lesson: Either some effort is put forth to gather that knowledge through internal efforts or education is made part of the consulting engagement.  In particular, SEO and social media brandividuals and hot social apps in the press need to be vetted for real-world expertise, experience and practical application for the business.
  • Mis-Alignment of KPIs vs Business Goals – Imagine a company hiring a consultant to grow a Facebook fan page to 10,000 fans. The consultant delivers. But then the company fires the consultant because revenue didn’t increase.
    Lesson:  A responsible marketer should identify measurement goals that account for progress AND business outcomes. Consultants can view a goal like fans, followers or rankings as easy money but the connection to business value must be made. This one is on both client and consultant. Corporate marketers must be able to answer “why” when they identify performance measures that do not have a direct impact on business objectives.
  • Lack of Influence and Internal Support – Ambitious marketing managers who have become aware and educated about the significant impact of an integrated SEO, Social Media and Content Marketing program may get budget to hire a consultant only to discover that PR, Social, Content, Legal, HR and other parties that need to be involved are “not on board” with key implementation approvals and tasks.
    Lesson: As research is conducted into what is involved with bringing an outside consultant into the mix, it’s important that client side marketers map out who they will need to work with internally to get tasks implemented. The time to grow that internal network of “friendlies” should begin long before the engagement begins.  Identify how those peers will benefit from participation and cooperation with your consulting investment. Make sure they have a clear picture of the benefits for themselves, their group/department and the organization overall.

Of course there are more ways to fail internet marketing consulting implementation than the short lists above, but the key is responsibility about capabilities, planning, managing expectations, allocating appropriate resources and most of all: communication.

It takes two to tango and if a consultant is involved it will inevitably be deemed the consltants fault. That’s why it’s essential for online marketing consultants to properly identify key characteristics of companies that are capable of implementing or able to adapt or adjust to enable proper implementation. In the end, we all want a 360 degree win and that requires better communication during prospecting, kickoff, engagement and with ongoing consulting.

If you’re a corporate marketer, what are some of the fails you’ve seen from consultants that have caused failures of marketing implementation?   Your turn consultants: What implementation fails have you experienced and how did you overcome them?

 


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MarketingSherpa 2011 SEO & Social Media Benchmark Report http://www.toprankblog.com/2010/11/marketingsherpa-2011-seo-benchmark-report/ http://www.toprankblog.com/2010/11/marketingsherpa-2011-seo-benchmark-report/#comments Tue, 02 Nov 2010 11:32:01 +0000 http://www.toprankblog.com/?p=10901 MarketingSherpa has done it again with their SEM report for 2011. With the help of Lead Author, Research Analyst Jen Doyle, they’ve put together an excellent resource for marketers looking for strategic guidance as well as real data about search engine marketing. This particular report focuses on Search Engine Optimization with an emphasis on the [...]

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marketingsherpa sem report 2011MarketingSherpa has done it again with their SEM report for 2011. With the help of Lead Author, Research Analyst Jen Doyle, they’ve put together an excellent resource for marketers looking for strategic guidance as well as real data about search engine marketing.

This particular report focuses on Search Engine Optimization with an emphasis on the interplay of search and social media, two topics that are very near and dear to the consulting practice at TopRank Online Marketing.

According to the MarketingSherpa report, 64% of marketers surveyed are integrating social media into their search marketing plans which syncs well with the soon to be released SEOmoz SEO Industry Report, which cites 71% of the 10k plus search marketers that responded as leveraging social tools such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

As a practical example of the intersection of SEO and Social Media, just last month over 40,000 unique keyword queries sent visitors to this blog. At the same time, because of social content distribution and engagement, our new link discovery counts (reported by Majestic SEO) went from 118,344 in Sept to 210,996 in Oct. More relevant links = more traffic, more subscribers and exposure to our social channels. More exposure to our content on social channels means more links and discovery via search. It’s a cycle of Social and SEO.

As usual, this report dives in to some meaty content for marketers:

  • 2,194 B2B and B2C marketers surveyed
  • 169 charts and tables
  • Insight about the impact of social media on SEO
  • Data on the most effective SEO tactics
  • SEO budgeting and financial metrics
  • Research on mobile, real time, personalized and video search

One of the shocking revelations (and further need for SEO consultant expertise) is that more than half of the marketers who participated in the MarketingSherpa study either had no formal process for performing SEO, or an informal process that was randomly performed.

SEO was (correctly in my opinion) deemed most effective at generating sales and Social Media as most effective for achieving Public Relations and customer engagement objectives. A recent post on Search Engine Land by Matt McGee supports this, citing a study by ATG that search dominates social networking for product discovery.

Another interesting observation was the organic traffic conversion rate for marketers that leveraged social media was 10% higher than those that did not.

Most effective SEO tactics

The report is full of useful charts like the one above, which cites the most effective tactics for SEO as reported by the agency respondents. Obviously, an experienced SEO agency would use a much broader array of tactics, but you get the idea.

Essentially, a report like this helps companies and agencies in a few ways, especially for client side marketers:

  • Use research in combination with program performance to justify and defend the SEO budget
  • Compare SEO tactics you use to those ranked by effectiveness
  • Get a better handle on the potential of integrating search and social media
  • Find the ROI of search and social media that other marketers are reporting
  • Compare your own program performance metrics to those in the industry: inbound traffic, lead quality, conversion rates, clicks, conversion and target keyword rankings. Granted, it’s a generalization to do that, because such metrics can vary quite a bit between industries and don’t get me started on the idea of comparing “rankings”, but in a broader sense, comparisons can be useful.
  • Get useful insight on the future impacts of mobile, real time, personalized and video search
  • Reports like this are also useful for PowerPoint presentations at conferences or internally as well as for making a point in a blog post.

We don’t run ads on this blog (just where we’re speaking and our blog hosting sponsor VISI) but we do review things once in a great while that have an affiliate relationship like MarketingSherpa Reports. We’ve been reviewing MarketingSherpa Guides and Reports for at least 6 years now and they’ve always been really useful.  Check out the info on the MarketingSherpa site and if you think the report will be useful to you in just a few of the examples above, go ahead and buy it. We can use the referral fee to buy more coffee and write more blog posts at 5am 🙂


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Two Biggest Advantages of Small Businesses SEO http://www.toprankblog.com/2010/02/small-business-seo-advantages/ http://www.toprankblog.com/2010/02/small-business-seo-advantages/#comments Mon, 08 Feb 2010 12:00:12 +0000 http://www.toprankblog.com/?p=8644 With search engine optimization, small businesses have two advantages larger competitors often can’t match: creativity and agility. By embracing these two philosophies as part of their digital marketing DNA, small businesses can carve out a search marketing strategy that runs circles around larger competitors. Today, we’ll briefly explore why creativity and agility are advantages small businesses [...]

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agility-creativity-search-marketingWith search engine optimization, small businesses have two advantages larger competitors often can’t match: creativity and agility.

By embracing these two philosophies as part of their digital marketing DNA, small businesses can carve out a search marketing strategy that runs circles around larger competitors.

Today, we’ll briefly explore why creativity and agility are advantages small businesses have for search marketing, and some quick tips to activate each.

Creativity as a search marketing advantage

Large = more risk management – Small = creativity/individuality can shine

Larger corporations are naturally risk-averse. Most won’t create blogs that take sides on issues, create controversy or linkbait, push the envelope with snarky ideas or allow shining examples of individuality. Which is why individuals and smaller companies have a continued advantage: there are far less stakeholders so it’s easier to sell creative, controversial or compelling ideas. The more creative your content is, the more editorially earned, organic links you’ll attract from the web community that content builds.

Tips to activate for SEO benefit:

Develop creative linkbait – small, creative groups have the perfect environment to brainstorm linkbait. Where larger companies will mostly follow proven archetypes, a small business can break the mold with clever, catchy and outside the box linkbait ideas. It’s an opportunity to create the kind of linkbait social web influencers are looking for but larger competitors do not understand. By embracing this it’s possible to outpace those who can only engage in manual/mechanical linkbuilding efforts because the content they are working with is dry.

Create controversy – success in small businesses comes from dedicated team members passionate about their industry of choice. Due to this passion, they will naturally have strong feelings about the industry they are in. Why not turn that passion loose on the web to attract others who feel the same? It’s going to be more authentic, let you leverage an angle larger competitors can’t or won’t use, and more closely connect with an audience. Even those who disagree with you play into this strategy, because as they respond to you in droves, they bring an influx of links and referral traffic. Individuals in your niche are dominating the SERPs by leveraging this approach and it’s an opportunity if your small business can artfully direct controversy.

Leverage a creative CMS – where large competitors are stuck using SEO-unfriendly CMS platforms, your small business can take advantage of cheap/free SEO-friendly online publishing tools like WordPress. Creative web developers can turn WordPress into an entire CMS to power your site at an extremely reasonable cost. If you need something more powerful, a CMS like Expression Engine is both affordable and natively search engine friendly. Small businesses have a choice where larger companies frequently get locked into complex systems or dated technologies.

Agility as a search marketing advantage

Larger = slower moving – Small = the advantage of speed and agility

Agility isn’t just a factor for influencing the social web. It’s an effective way for a small businesses to create an SEO strategy disruptive to competitors. Because larger corporations naturally have complex layers of approval processes, lawyers and committees, smaller businesses have an opportunity to exploit this by being first. Many small businesses try to act like large corporations, however this is not embracing the advantage possible by being able to turn on a dime.

Tips to activate for SEO benefit:

Flip your mindset about web content from formal to improvisational – particularly with content published through a social channel such as a blog.  According to the recent TopRank Marketing survey on blogging and SEO 94% of bloggers reported seeing measurable SEO benefits from blogging within 12 months. A majority see benefit, since more content  equals more hooks in the water for search engines. Data from Hitwise showing search phrases are getting longer reinforces this, showing you should feed the tail now more than ever. By having an agile content development process, smaller companies can and do outpace larger competitors who have more resources, but can’t get out of their own way.

Embrace personal brands – when a company embraces their team members having personal brands, this will as a by-product provide a search marketing advantage. For example: in interviews, on their own blogs and through their own exposure, a company and the individual both benefit since both parties frequently get mentioned/linked together. It’s a win-win situation. Where larger corporations use their many partners as an advantage for links, small businesses can encourage and embrace their passionate, trusted team members to develop personal brands in their industry.

Break news – as we’ve noted previously in social media marketing applications (and also discussed by Brian Clark at Copyblogger): every company is now a media company. By breaking news right along with media, you’re going to attract links and referral traffic. Instead of relying on external entities for attention, your company will start to become a trusted source as its own brand of media. To embrace this in a way that matters, agility is essential.

The more small businesses take advantage of their ability to be more creative and agile than larger competitors, the more their online content marketing and SEO programs will succeed.

What other advantages do you think small businesses have for search marketing?


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5 SEO Tips for Online Retailers http://www.toprankblog.com/2009/11/5-tips-for-retail-seo/ http://www.toprankblog.com/2009/11/5-tips-for-retail-seo/#comments Fri, 13 Nov 2009 12:00:56 +0000 http://www.toprankblog.com/?p=7518 Online retail websites face a unique set of obstacles when it comes to improving sales through better search engine visibility.  Repetitive product descriptions, a lack of content and frequent churn of products can all be hurdles to overcome. But with these specific tips for retail search engine optimization, online retailers can turn those challenges into [...]

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Retail SEO

Online retail websites face a unique set of obstacles when it comes to improving sales through better search engine visibility.  Repetitive product descriptions, a lack of content and frequent churn of products can all be hurdles to overcome. But with these specific tips for retail search engine optimization, online retailers can turn those challenges into opportunities and maximize their organic search traffic.

1. Add fresh content to the website. Many online retail websites focus on selling products rather than informing and providing value to customers, and hence severely lack content. It’s a good idea to include pages on a retail site that are purely content-based. Not only will informative, optimized content improve search rankings, it can help retailers sell more products by engaging customers.

Try these ideas for adding fresh content to an online retail site:

  • Add customer success stories and case studies to the website.
  • Create a blog to provide relevant industry news, tips and product offerings.
  • Incorporate a resource section on the site with relevant white papers and other content.

2. Eliminate repetitive copy. Another issue online retailers face is that many of their products are significantly similar, with only slight variations. As such, product descriptions tend to use very similar copy. And if other retailers sell the same products, their descriptions are likely similar as well.

Avoid being penalized by the search engines for duplicate content by writing product descriptions that are as unique as possible. Highlight the most distinguishing characteristics of products to avoid duplicate copy. Lastly, ensure keyword phrases aren’t repeated too many times throughout descriptions. It’s an easy mistake considering target keywords are likely found in the name or description of most, if not every, product.

Not only will this technique contribute to improved search rankings, but user experience will be enhanced as well.

3. Draw traffic to static pages. For many online retailers, products are frequently added and removed from their website, some as often as every month or every week.  Adding fresh content to a site provides SEO benefits, but removing it can quickly negate any advantages, as it takes time for search engines to index content.

To maneuver around this roadblock, draw traffic to more static pages, rather than revolving pages. For example, instead of focusing SEO on individual product pages, focus on product category pages.

4. Don’t forget to optimize PDF product catalogs. For many retailers, it’s a common practice to offer a product catalog in PDF format on their website. When devoting time to optimizing HTML pages on a website, it’s essential not to forget about the catalog or any other PDF files. Remember these key points when optimizing PDF files:

  • Create text-based PDFs, rather than designing them in an image-based program, so that the search engines have text to read.
  • Optimize as you would an HTML page, incorporating keywords in headlines, copy and meta descriptions, and including anchor text hyperlinks.
  • Post a smaller sized PDF to avoid search engines – and customers –  deserting the PDF before accessing its content.
  • Remember to complete the document properties, particularly the title.

5. Optimize images for search engines. SEO doesn’t end with HTML pages and PDF files. Online retailers’ sites are full of images. Why not leverage those images to gain better search rankings? Including alt text and optimized captions can all contribute to improved rankings in the search engines. Plus, images found via the search engines have the potential to be shared and linked to across the web, also contributing to improved rankings.

Have you implemented creative SEO tips for ecommerce and online retail web sites? What tips would you add to this list?


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Reader Poll: Best Paid Subscription SEM Communities http://www.toprankblog.com/2009/10/reader-poll-best-paid-subscription-sem-communities/ http://www.toprankblog.com/2009/10/reader-poll-best-paid-subscription-sem-communities/#comments Tue, 27 Oct 2009 20:48:52 +0000 http://www.toprankblog.com/?p=7317 We recently posted a list of over 100 resources our readers could leverage to learn more about marketing online through search. One of the categories was paid subscription SEM communities that offer training, forums and often times templates, forms and guides for implementing effective Search Marketing programs. A pioneer forum that has a paid channel [...]

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We recently posted a list of over 100 resources our readers could leverage to learn more about marketing online through search. One of the categories was paid subscription SEM communities that offer training, forums and often times templates, forms and guides for implementing effective Search Marketing programs.

A pioneer forum that has a paid channel in this area is the WebmasterWorld Supporter’s group. SEOmoz has been wildly successful with their Pro community over the past few years and SEO Book launched their training community after discontinuing the actual book.  The newcomer to this group is SEO Dojo.

Below you’ll find info and links on each community and if you’re a fan, take this poll to vote which is your favorite:

Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll.

Webmaster World Supporters
WebmasterWorld Supporters

Since: Posts go back to Nov 5, 2002 but I suspect it was started before that.
Cost: 6 months $89 – 12 months $149
Description: A private forum for WebmasterWorld supporters dealing with Webmaster, Tech, and Business issues related to operating and promoting a website.

seomozpro
SEOmoz Pro

Since: Feb 2007
Cost: Pro $79/mo, Pro Plus $129/mo, Pro Elite $229/mo
Description: Access to exclusive tools, processes and knowledge that SEOmoz staff use to provide consulting to their clients. Offers a guarantee.

seobook-training
SEO Book Training

Since: Feb 2008
Cost: $150/mo – Membership is full
Description: Over 100 training modules as well as forums, templates, videos and tools.

seodojo
SEO Dojo

Since: Oct 2009
Cost: $30/monthly or $250/full year plus other combinations
Description: Community and training resource for search and Internet marketers that includes articles, chat sessions, worksheets/guides and plans for webinars.

What has your experience been with these communities? What are the best features? Training, Tools, Community.  Which paid SEM communities did we miss? Please share in the comments and we’ll update our 100 Resources list as well as include them in next year’s poll.

This poll will run until Tuesday 11/03/09 after which we will name the winner both on Online Marketing Blog, which gets close to 100,000 visits per month and we’ll be issuing a press release for distribution through PRWeb. The winner will also get a free 125X125 ad on the toprankblog.com right side bar for 2 months.


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The Truth About SEO http://www.toprankblog.com/2009/10/the-truth-about-seo/ http://www.toprankblog.com/2009/10/the-truth-about-seo/#comments Mon, 19 Oct 2009 15:37:25 +0000 http://www.toprankblog.com/?p=7227 I’ve been in the business of SEO for about 12 years and have worked with hundreds of companies of all sizes. I cannot be anything but biased towards the benefits of optimizing web sites to improve visibility in search and the commercial outcomes that can result. For some, Search Engine Optimization is a favorite whipping [...]

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seo truthI’ve been in the business of SEO for about 12 years and have worked with hundreds of companies of all sizes. I cannot be anything but biased towards the benefits of optimizing web sites to improve visibility in search and the commercial outcomes that can result.

For some, Search Engine Optimization is a favorite whipping boy.  Of course, marketers that have experience with proper SEO efforts and consultants, dismiss the sweeping generalizations often made by those looking to “stir the pot” to draw attention to themselves or who are pontificating based on an incomplete set of information.

All industries have a range of practitioners with varied levels of experience. Ease of online publishing allows anyone with a computer to promote themselves, with or without “real” skills.

That ‘s true for vendors and consultants as well as for client side marketers that hire them. All consulting engagements do not go as planned between all clients and all agencies. Not all staff at agencies are as capable as the senior executives that “sell” the client. Not all client side marketers are competent to make the best business decisions on behalf of the companies they work for.

Marketing on the web doesn’t succeed based on absolutes.

Recently I’ve seen criticism leveled at SEO with disregard for details that paints an entire industry based on the actions of a mis-representative sample. The sweeping generalizations based on incomplete knowledge made right along with sound web site advice made the author seem credible. But they’re not – at least in the area of SEO. Such criticism has been deftly and humorously dealt with and smart marketers at companies can easily see the difference between ranty propaganda and reality.

To dismiss SEO with the kinds of negative characterizations as have been published from time to time over the past few years and especially recently is not only an insult to competent Search Marketing consultants, but to the companies that hire them. Plus, it’s simply not true. Consider this:

digital marketing 2009

TopRank ran a poll on the top digital marketing tactics our readers (532 of them participated) would emphasize in 2009. SEO ranked #3. I don’t think those marketers are convinced that SEO is something  that “doesn’t work”.

Search Marketing Trends

Another useful statistic is that by 2013 total US search marketing will reach nearly $23.4 billion, and marketers will be spending more on SEO than on contextual advertising. (eMarketer).   Follow the money and you’ll see an industry that is credible and where corporate marketers are investing.  How is it that “SEO doesn’t work” and that “anyone could do it” if they just designed good websites, when billions are being spent on Search Marketing?

SEMPO State of Search Marketing 2009
Put money aside for a moment. Let’s look at results. In the SEMPO State of Search Marketing Survey, SEO was ranked the #2 internet marketing tactic for generating return on investment (ROI).  Those numbers speak loud and clear.  It’s because of SEO that thousands of businesses have increased revenue by hundreds of millions of $ at a fraction of the cost of other forms of advertising.

forbes ad effectiveness 2009
ROI isn’t enough for some people, so let’s look at the results of Forbes 2009 Ad Effectiveness Survey that show SEO as the Most Effective Online Marketing Tactic for Generating Conversions.  Still think SEO doesn’t work?

While billions more dollars go into seach, much of it towards Search Engine Optimization, and companies continue to drive the best ROI and conversion rates from SEO over many other digital marketing tactics, the dissenters really don’t make much sense, do they?

Companies can plan and implement SEO on their own just like all of the major search engines have in-house SEOs. Many companies outsource all or part of their SEO work. Either format works according to the situation. In all cases, ongoing education, testing and oversight is necessary to remain competitive.

As long as things can be searched, they can be optimized for better performance in search. Until search engines are perfect at finding, crawling, indexing and sorting searchable content, there will be a need for Search Engine Optimization expertise. Making a great web site for people is not the same thing as making a great web site for people that can easily be found in search engines.

No industry is perfect, but clearly SEO is an industry that is a powerful marketing channel and will continue to grow and evolve. Search marketers and the companies that employ them (in-house or consultants) should be proud of the progress they’ve made at making information more easily discoverable for consumers and the commerce that results.


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Ten Search Marketing Awards You Should Know http://www.toprankblog.com/2009/10/search-marketing-awards/ http://www.toprankblog.com/2009/10/search-marketing-awards/#comments Mon, 12 Oct 2009 11:45:56 +0000 http://www.toprankblog.com/?p=2052 “A person will work for a living, but they’ll die for recognition.”  I’m not sure who I heard that from first, but it’s just as true for agencies and companies as it is for individuals.  One common way to recognize excellence is through awards. There are awards for just about every industry from software to [...]

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trophy“A person will work for a living, but they’ll die for recognition.”  I’m not sure who I heard that from first, but it’s just as true for agencies and companies as it is for individuals.  One common way to recognize excellence is through awards. There are awards for just about every industry from software to design to public relations. What about search marketing?

Awards are like lists. They’re valuable in part, because they include, but mostly exclude. The motivation for organizations to run award programs varies greatly from being a source of revenue from entry and sponsorship fees to seeking to advance the industry by recognizing it’s finest to something in between. Many SEM awards focus on paid search and attract large agencies in that space. Others offer a variety of categories.

Here are 10 awards opportunities for in-house and agency professionals in the Search Engine Marketing industry.

DMA International ECHO Awards
DMA International ECHO Awards
> Search Marketing Category
The Search Marketing Award recognizes the most creative and strategic use of Internet search technology to achieve a direct marketing objective. Includes Search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising.

  • Entry fee: $225 to $350 depending on date of entry
  • Note: (Disclosure: TopRank has been a judge for several years)
  • Next call for entries: Approximately April 2010

OMMA Awards
OMMA Awards
> Online Advertising Creativity Category > Search Marketing
OMMA Awards recognize the year’s best ads, promotions, campaigns and websites in online media, marketing and advertising with 28 award categories for Online Advertising Creativity, one of which is Search Marketing.

  • Entry fee: $195 per single ad/execution entry and $325 per campaign or website entry
  • Note: Award site is in Flash, no dedicated page for SEM you can point to.
  • Next call for entries: Approximately August 2010

MIXX Awards
IAB MIXX Awards
> Search Marketing Category
As part of Advertising Week, the MIXX Awards stats that it is the only international interactive awards competition judged by an all-star panel representing the entire interactive advertising ecosystem—brand marketers with direct control over many of the largest advertising budgets in the country, major media company executives and advertising agency experts who create campaigns for the world’s most powerful brands.

  • Entry fee: $295 per campaign and includes entry into one category; the entry fee is $150 for each additional category.
  • Note: There are two phases, screening and finals.
  • Next call for entries: Approximately July 2010

ad:tech Awards
ad:tech Awards
> Search Marketing Category
For more than a decade, the ad:tech awards program has recognized talented visual and technology designers who demonstrate excellence in interactive marketing with submissions in the following categories: Interactive Ads, Interactive Campaigns, Optimization/Search Strategy and Web Sites.

  • Entry fee: $255.00/category for each ad or campaign
  • Note: Award site is in Flash, no dedicated page for SEM you can point to.
  • Next call for entries: Approximately January 2010

PROMO Interactive Marketing Awards
PROMO Interactive Marketing Awards
> Search Marketing Category
The program honors the best and brightest in effective interactive marketing—and recognizes the valuable role that interactive tactics play in motivating consumer response and creating strong, exciting brands.

  • Entry fee: $200 per entry
  • Note: For this magazine sponsored award program, you have to register to see the winners & register again to see the webinar announcing the winners.
  • Next call for entries: January 1, 2010

Econsultancy Innovation Awards
Econsultancy Innovation Awards
> PPC & SEO Categories
New in 2009, the Innovation Awards are a natural progression from our commitment to recognizing innovation in the industry, as demonstrated by our regularly updated Innovation Report and a chance to receive acclaim as an innovator, be recognized by your industry peers and stand out from the crowd.

  • Entry fee: $195
  • Note: While this is a new Awards program, Econsultancy has a community of 80,000 members worldwide.
  • Next call for entries: Deadline 23 October 2009

Search Engine Watch Awards
Search Engine Watch Awards
> Various Search Marketing Categories
The mission of the SEW Awards is to recognize excellence, as well as inspire innovation and encourage new ideas in search marketing. The SEW Awards honors 14 outstanding search marketers, search engines and technology providers.

  • Entry fee: $145 per entry
  • Note: (Disclosure: TopRank was a judge this year)
  • Next call for entries: Approximately July 2010

Yahoo Searchlight Awards
Yahoo! Searchlight Award
> Search Marketing
The Yahoo! Searchlight Award represents Yahoo!’s commitment to the best and most creative search advertising ideas and executions recognizing advertising agencies that develop search marketing applications outside of the tried and true direct response mindset.

  • Entry fee:  ?
  • Note: It doesn’t say a Yahoo Paid Search campaign is required, but probably a great idea to include in your submission.
  • Next call for entries: Early December 2009

ClickZ Marketing Excellence Awards
ClickZ Marketing Excellence Awards
> Search Ad Management
ClickZ Marketing Excellence Awards recognize the technologies, and companies that made a positive difference in the online marketing industry.

  • Entry fee: $49 per nomination
  • Note: These awards are not for campaigns, but rather the technologies that enable best of breed online marketing execution in the areas of paid search, analytics, email, mobile and social media.
  • Next call for entries: Approximately March to April 2010.

BMA Pro-Comm
Business Marketing Association Pro-Comm
> Search/Blog/Online Mindshare Campaign Category
Pro-Comm is ranked as one of the advertising industry’s premier award programs, drawing hundreds of entries annually from b-to-b marketing agencies and clients from all around the U.S.

  • Entry fee: $150 – $225 depending on early bird rate and member/non-member
  • Note: This award is specifically for BtoB marketing.
  • Next call for entries: Approximately March 2010

There are also various regional awards programs from marketing related associations such as the EIMA (Excellence in Interactive Marketing Awards) run by the Dallas Ft Worth Interactive Marketing Association plus other kinds of awards such as the SEMMYs (TopRank is a judge), which recognizes the top search marketing blog posts each year and the Marketing Pilgrim Search Engine Marketing Scholarship (TopRank is a judge), which is a contest to create and promote quality SEM content.

Promotion World and a few other similar sites promote top SEO/SEM awards, but judging isn’t done by a panel of industry verterans as with the other awards programs listed above and without 3rd party scrutiny or detailed judging information.

Have we missed any? What influential Search Marketing Awards should we add to this list? Do you have experience with any of the above awards programs? Good or bad, our readers would love to learn more.


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Measuring Real Value from SEO http://www.toprankblog.com/2009/09/measuring-real-value-from-seo/ http://www.toprankblog.com/2009/09/measuring-real-value-from-seo/#comments Mon, 07 Sep 2009 13:45:24 +0000 http://www.toprankblog.com/?p=6742 I know you’re thinking, “What does a castle have to do with measuring value from search engine optimization?”. Nothing really, but I’m in England for the next week or two and didn’t need much of an excuse to post a photo of Hever Castle, which I visited recently. Actually, I do have a metaphor, so [...]

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hever castle

I know you’re thinking, “What does a castle have to do with measuring value from search engine optimization?”. Nothing really, but I’m in England for the next week or two and didn’t need much of an excuse to post a photo of Hever Castle, which I visited recently. Actually, I do have a metaphor, so read on.

Search engine optimization is most often known as a pull direct marketing channel or inbound marketing as many are calling it. Customers are actively looking for solutions, products and services using various forms of search and that spells opportunity for marketers to do what they can to be front and center.

Typically it’s the marketing department that funds the SEO effort whether it’s handled in-house, outsourced to an internet marketing agency or as is increasingly more common, a mixture of both.

There are many ways to measure the effect and results from Search Engine Optimization and I think the focus on sales and lead generation by marketers and web site managers who are hard pressed to increase revenue, misses or understates the effect and benefit of SEO in many ways.

In situations where company marketers are not involved beyond approving SEO strategy and if monthly reports do not take into account a 360 view of the effect of keyword optimization, code level optimization, link building and conversion optimization and other benefits, there can be some question as to what the search engine optimization effort is achieving. This is especially true when marketing dollars are under scrutiny for cost cutting or reallocation.

Now’s my chance to validate the castle photo above with a nice little metaphor.

Imagine if you had a castle built and the only value you measured was the castle as a residence. The benefits of having a castle as a home make it pretty hard to justify the expense. Yet, I suspect there are plenty of castle builders and owners over time that felt the need to out-do their peers, show their wealth or some other ego appeasement and did it anyway.

But is that all a castle is good for? Of course not. A castle by the nature of its construction is a fortress and provides protection from enemies, keeping them out. In many cases it also kept people in. Castles are/were where ceremonies are held as well as matters of church, state and business. I could list others but I think you get the idea.

To build a castle simply as a home, misses the point. Engaging a SEO program simply to increase rankings for “ego phrases” or solely to increase web site traffic also misses the point.

For company owners or marketers in a situation where they’re wondering about the value they’re getting, here are a few considerations on the value that a holistic search engine optimization program brings:

  • Sales and leads – Let’s start with the obvious. Increasing keyword rankings on search engines where customers are looking for products and services can increase traffic and subsequent sales. According to research reported by Marketing Sherpa, SEMPO and eMarketer, there’s no doubt SEO results in ideal ROI and conversion rates compared to other online marketing tactics.
  • Customer Service – So much of SEO is focused on customer acquisition but what many marketers miss out on is content optimization for after the sale. Most companies publish support information in simple format like a Frequently Asked Questions FAQ format or more robust as a knowledge base. Either way, making that information easier to find via major search engines can increase customer service levels or potentially reduce costs via call centers or other customer service support.
  • Recruiting – While unemployment is high, finding the right candidate is still a challenge for talent acquisition departments. Optimizing job listings can make it easier for potential candidates or others that would refer to a candidate to discover opportunities. While optimizing job listings is no substitute for the screening services offered by most recruiters, being able to fill just one or two positions due to candidates finding your company’s job listings via search could save substantial recruiting costs, especially at higher levels.
  • Public Relations – We’ve written extensively about news optimization and the fact that journalists, analysts and many bloggers use search as an initial filter for finding subject matter experts, researching companies and stories. Major engines like Google and Bing as well as blog, news, image and social media search channels were all reported as tools that journalists uses to do their jobs in TopRank’s Journalist Use of Search Survey.  Making it easier for the media to find news content increases unsolicited pickups substantially. It also attracts contributed article requests and interviews.
  • Brand & Reputation Management – By the time a “yourbrandsucks.com” site ranks #1 for your company or important brand names, it’s very very late in the game. SEO applied properly to brand name representations on and off the main company web site on an ongoing basis provide a sort of insurance against such activity. Proactive search reputation management through SEO is the “apple a day keeps the doctor away”.
  • Social Media – Most social networks grow through members inviting their friends to join.  Ning alone has over a million different social networks. You can find a different community for just about every niche topic imaginable. SEO applied to social content can make such networks more easily discovered via search by people who are looking for information and often, communities of like minded individuals to network with. In other words, optimized public social network content can augment the growth of that network through prominent search engine rankings.
  • Naming Research – Many companies name products using 3rd party professional services and many more name them using who knows what methodology. Tapping into keyword research often used with SEO can help brand marketers gain insight into the different phrases customers use to search for certain products/services. If search is to be a significant portion of what drives marketing, then it makes sense to leverage keyword research to name products and write taglines. Building keywords into product names helps customers understand what the product is as well as automating a big part of the SEO puzzle.

By looking at SEO from a more holistic perspective, companies can see more clearly how keyword optimization and promotion of content for better search visibility can result in quite a few business goals beyond sales and lead generation being positively affected.

Companies that narrowly measure siloed metrics like rankings or certain form based conversions and nothing else with the assumption that any other effect would be achieved whether SEO was implemented or not, are in a word, misguided. And another few words on that:  those marketers are shortchanging the effect and subsequent effectiveness of the SEO effort by not competently measuring the real effects and benefits content from optimization and link building.

The approach agencies like TopRank take on this kind of situation is to emphasize client training. If SEO agencies can provide multi-departmental SEO training to their clients, more of the organization can benefit from the effect of keyword optimization of content and link building. The days of being competitive by hiring a SEO consultant and not being involved in the process are dead or dying fast. Without incorporating SEO into all aspects of digital content publishing online, companies will put themselves at a disadvantage over those enterprising competitors that do.

What other benefits from SEO would you add?


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5 Tips on Hiring and Getting the Most Value from SEO Consultants http://www.toprankblog.com/2009/07/tips-on-hiring-and-getting-the-most-value-from-seo-consultants/ http://www.toprankblog.com/2009/07/tips-on-hiring-and-getting-the-most-value-from-seo-consultants/#comments Mon, 06 Jul 2009 20:05:03 +0000 http://www.toprankblog.com/?p=5663 While Google offers advice on hiring SEO consultants, there’s not much information about how to get the most value afterwards.  There’s an impressive amount of information and resources for webmasters on SEO related topics, but I’m pretty sure Google as a company has never hired a SEO agency and therefore isn’t in the client/vendor relationship [...]

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searchWhile Google offers advice on hiring SEO consultants, there’s not much information about how to get the most value afterwards.  There’s an impressive amount of information and resources for webmasters on SEO related topics, but I’m pretty sure Google as a company has never hired a SEO agency and therefore isn’t in the client/vendor relationship advice business.

Having worked as a consultant for well over 10 years in the SEO space with hundreds of companies, large ($100bn) and small (un-funded startup ca 2001), there have been many opportunities to learn the ins and outs of working with companies to effectively provide SEO related services.

The SEO client/vendor relationship must be a win/win or it will go bad/bad.  For some companies it’s not enough to get the results expected (or more) but to receive a certain type of service or support as well. For others, education to bring SEO work in-house is most important.  Some companies want to outsource the whole thing with little or no involvement and others want the agency to justify and build a case for each specific code/content edit or inbound link.

Here are a few tips on finding and engaging SEO consultants for the long term:

toprank-team1. The first thing is to find a good agency team. On the surface, this looks easy since just about every agency in the interactive-PR-advertising-webdesign-ITconsulting-marketinganything space also happens to “do SEO”.

If you’ve worked in a particular market and industry, chances are you’ve already established relationships with various consultants. Word of mouth referrals are often times the best for all when it comes to search engine optimization or digital marketing work. Personal experience with a company is important, but it’s worth noting that not everyone in a position to hire a vendor is capable of managing them. The same is true for people calling themselves consulants and their abilities to deliver services. Word of mouth referrals deserve some level of qualification.

Getting a new job or project that requires outside expertise often drives the search for new consulting resources.  This is a scenario where it pays to be networked.

As an example, I recently posted questions to my network on Twitter for recommended iPhone app developers and another time for videographer/editing talent. In both cases, I received 5-8 recommendations and passed them on to companies looking to hire.

Being networked in such situations saved me a substantial amount of time pursuing alternative search methods. It also saved the clients, for whom I was helping, a lot of time. On top of that it helped the people making recommendations of others because by doing so, it built up their credibility as a resource to others as well as the individuals they were recommending. Lastly, it benefitted the people that were recommended because they received additional visibility and one got the job.

Obviously, a company shouldn’t just hire whoever gets recommended to them. There need to be criteria and objectives, which I’ll describe further in tip #3.  Some companies like to use a RFP to describe the nature of the engagement and to define the specific criteria/expectations for vendor selection. RFPs for SEO with the expectation of being able to make apples to apples comparisons are tough since there is no “one right way” to solve every SEO problem. Regardless, the word of mouth referral from a credible source as well as fundamental expecations and goals should be enough to find a good agency in most cases.

2. Remember the Golden Rule.  Consultants should be respectful and honorable to clients/prospective clients and vice versa. There are many reasons why people act abusively or rudely to consultants when they’re trying to outsource.  Sometimes corporate staff carry a bit of “baggage” from a past bad experience or they’re simply annoyed at having to outsource at all. In other situations certain people become used to abusing vendors to look good to their superiors. Regardless, a client/agency relationship needs to be mutually respectful.

In the current economic environment, it’s pretty amazing what some companies will do in negotiations for services. The video below makes a bit of fun of that:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2a8TRSgzZY[/youtube]

Let’s be clear that agencies are not immune to bad behavior. I’ve heard stories of SEO companies that develop networks of sites to boost client search rankings and then take all those links or microsites away when the client disengages.  Still other situations involve consultants that employ risky tactics without informing the client or never really disclosing what they’re actually doing or reporting on what the company is paying for.

Besides holding one’s own behavior and intentions to a higher standard, the way to ensure equitable treatment is through a structured agreement. A proper scope of work and project plan should be in place defining expectations and roles for both client and agency as well as mutual respect for expertise and meeting/exceeding customer expectations.

objectives3. Think Through Your Objectives and Resources. Many companies don’t have a great understanding of the mechanics or even strategies behind successful SEO or social media programs, which is understandable because that’s why they need to hire an outside consultant. A clear set of internet marketing goals is essential for getting the most out of an agency engagement.

Manydigital marketing agencies are certainly capable of engaging in a discovery process with companies to determine what goals are realistic.  But reacting to the competition, acting on a CEO’s whim (aka “ego search”) or as a result of a well oiled pitch by a consultant are not great reasons to start a search engine optimization effort.

Understanding what business goals are to be reached is critical for a successful search marketing program. This means more than measuring rankings, traffic and sales because holistic SEO can both increase revenue and decrease costs in areas such as Customer Service, Recruiting and Public Relations.  SEO isn’t a “try it and buy it” situation. It takes a commitment in time and resources, especially content creation, promotion and analytics.

When a company can communicate objectives and has an understanding of resources available, a good consultant will have the information they’ll need to leverage analysis for project recommendations. It’s a lot harder to “score” or win the game if you don’t know where the goal is.

skeleton leted4. Honesty Trumps Hiding SEO Skeletons and Abilities . Some companies have been left with bad decisions in the past ranging from hiring a lowball fee SEO consultant that “guarantees” specific search visibility to instances where certain SEOs used questionable tactics to shortcut results only to end up losing the value of those efforts or worse, being penalized.

If a past SEO consultant has been hired and performed questionable tactics, it will save a lot of time for everyone involved, if those efforts are shared up front. Most, if not all, of such tactics will be discovered by the new SEO anyway. Informing a new consultant of past efforts will speed the work it will take to employ any fix efforts and if necessary, steps towards reinclusion.

On the topic of honesty, it’s even more important that internet marketing consultants be up front about their capabilities.  Remnants of software companies selling “vaporware” still exist within many tech and IT focused SEO consultancies. However, saying yes to every project results in “overpromise and underdeliver” sitiuations. Delays, mis-communications and overall dis-satisfaction inevitably result.

It’s better to be fully aware of capabilities and be open about what can and cannot be done at the service levels required. Doing so allows the consultancy to do their best work for clients that expect exactly that.  Internet marketing agencies with a good grasp of their areas of expertise decline many projects that require services outside their specific areas of expertise. In some cases, the situation can be solved by partnering with other agencies. In others, it simply makes more sense to recommend another agency with the specialization the company requires. The goodwill generated pays dividends many times over in the long run.

winning5. Win or Lose with Implementation. One of the most common issues in the SEO industry involves situations where SEO recommendations are not implemented as intended , not completely or at all.  This is a bit ironic, since, companies pay for the advice but there are many reasons why it happens.  Some companies cannot justify the expense of making major changes to their content management systems or the potential effects do not justify the changes in content creation processes.

In other cases, the nature of the SEO engagement is structured as an audit and delivered as a report of recommendations to the client. Implementation is up to the client’s web development staff or agency, copywriters and other marketing personnel without SEO consultant oversight.  Some companies do this to save money or more often, because they see SEO as a web development/IT project and not as a marketing project. Client side staff can easily get tasked with many other responsibilities and the SEO recommendations may not all get implemented before other projects take priority.

Link building and content promotion are the most common victims where there is a lack of ongoing SEO consulting.  In fact, many SEO companies are not particularly skilled at ongoing site marketing and link building let alone companies who do not market web sites as a specialty.  On top of implementation issues are training and staying current with SEO best practices. As staff within an organization change, knowledge of SEO goes with them. New staff need to be trained or they will not continue with the ongoing content optimization and link building necessary for maintaining and improving search engine visibility.

Whether you’re a SEO consultant or on the client side, what advice can you offer on getting the most value from SEO engagements?


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What Snapshot of SEO Drives Your Web Business? http://www.toprankblog.com/2009/05/slice-seo-drives-your-business/ http://www.toprankblog.com/2009/05/slice-seo-drives-your-business/#comments Wed, 27 May 2009 17:02:47 +0000 http://www.toprankblog.com/?p=5363 Search Engine Optimization is a changing field. At any given moment in time, companies that rely on the web for new business or customer communications will consume information about SEO and then rely on that snapshot for months or even years. In the marketing mix, SEO is only one slice and company marketers are tasked [...]

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drive seoSearch Engine Optimization is a changing field. At any given moment in time, companies that rely on the web for new business or customer communications will consume information about SEO and then rely on that snapshot for months or even years.

In the marketing mix, SEO is only one slice and company marketers are tasked with many other responsibilities. Wearing many hats does not leave much time to stay on top of SEO current best practices, let alone being able to test and experiment to uncover competitive advantages.

The snapshot of SEO knowledge taken months or years ago starts as a well intentioned premise, but without current information and best practices, can become outdated. Client side marketers and agencies that don’t specialize in search that rely on infrequent snapshots of information can end up unitentionally sabotaging the SEO effort.

Some companies rely on the web and search specifically, enough to warrant full time or part time SEO staff. However, what often happens with in-house SEOs is that they become tasked with many other responsibilities besides content optimization, link building and ongoing analysis. Educating and evangelizing SEO within companies can take a significant amount of time. Coordinating cross functional teams and reporting can also take away from core SEO implementation and oversight efforts.

With so much time spent on SEO tasks as well as ancillary activities, there’s not much time for experimentation and testing of new tactics. Without innovation, competitive advantage decreases and search based revenues can fall to competitors.

Other companies forego hiring an internal SEO professional and either task web developers, marketing and/or PR with SEO tasks. Each person performs their duties based on a different snapshot of SEO knowledge and experience, causing differences in implementation or a focus on things that are no longer impactful.  This is where you hear arguments about the importance of toolbar PageRank, keyword meta tags and latent semantic indexing silliness. Hell, some people still bring up “Florida Update“. 

I hate to say it, but hiring an outside SEO firm is not always the answer either. Some SEO consultants are structured to follow established processes with their own snapshot of SEO knowledge. Being accountable to increasing revenues puts an emphasis on efficiency and automating as many redundant processes as possible. Some SEO companies develop software for much of their solution to improve efficiency and ability to scale. 

The problem with relying entirely on software based solutions to solve SEO problems is that it’s tough to innovate and stay current when your SEO expertise is based mostly on predefined checklists. Round pegs into round holes is great, but how do those programs deal with square pegs, triangles, rhombuses and trapezoids akin to some of the algorithmic, user interface and social media developments?  The focus on efficiency and profitablity leaves little time to innovate SEO knowledge, at least not quickly.

The solution to staying current with search marketing isn’t a magic pill or silver bullet software solution. It’s not adding more SEO staff in-house or outside vendors.  The answer is organizational and strategic. The environment in which a company web site serves as a tool to grow the business via new customer acquisition, product sales, lead generation, communicating with existing customers, marketing partners, the media, potential employees and industry influentials must allocate time for and reward innovation. 

A common and shared purpose and goal that is understood by all in the organization that is then translated uniquely to each department and person helps build a framework for the kind of innovation that not only affects SEO, but marketing, customer service, media relations and human resources.

Call it content strategy or just call it marketing, but don’t ignore the need for a  holistic approach to making digital content available and easy for intended audiences to discover, interact with and share. SEO of digital assets and text content improves sales for marketing, reduces customer service costs, can increase media coverage with news content and can improve job placement performance, among many other benefits.  

As I like to say, “If it can be searched on, it can be optimized”. People are searching for products, solutions, jobs, support info, news – you name it, it’s being searched on. The key is to leverage internal and external resources towards commonly understood goals, having a plan and the tools/support/education to execute on reaching those goals as well as the analytics/reporting to provide feedback on progress.

It’s not enough to easily be found, web marketers need to understand how to make their content social media friendly just as they would make it search engine friendly. Consumers increasingly expect to interact with what they find in search.  The impact of search and social media on each other is just beginning.

Continuous focus on improvement on content marketing efforts leads to testing and innovation that creates an ongoing competitive advantage whether it’s search, social media or any other digital marketing channel. The question is, are companies and agencies willing to invest in making those strategic changes or will they be satisfied with status quo snapshots of old and possibly outdated (yet seemingly safe) tactics?


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3 Ways Companies Sabotage Their SEO Investment http://www.toprankblog.com/2009/05/3-ways-companies-sabotage-seo/ http://www.toprankblog.com/2009/05/3-ways-companies-sabotage-seo/#comments Wed, 06 May 2009 23:16:16 +0000 http://www.toprankblog.com/?p=5244 Companies invest thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of dollars per month into improving their natural search engine visibility. At times, certain influences or perspectives occasionally evolve to work directly against the efforts of the professional SEO consultant.  Here I’ll describe three scenarios and hopefully help companies avoid the unfortunate expense of sabotaging their own [...]

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SEOCompanies invest thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of dollars per month into improving their natural search engine visibility. At times, certain influences or perspectives occasionally evolve to work directly against the efforts of the professional SEO consultant.  Here I’ll describe three scenarios and hopefully help companies avoid the unfortunate expense of sabotaging their own SEO investment.

1. Redesigning web sites or changing content management systems without a SEO migration plan. At a recent conference I met a web design type who asked what I do. I replied that I own a SEO consulting company. His reply, “Ah, keyword stuffing”. While this was most likely an attempt at humor, my reply was more typical: “Thanks to web designers/developers, SEOs are busier than ever.”  “Do you do web design?” says the humorist.  My reply was common for most SEO agencies: “It’s not our focus, but I have web dev talent on staff to fix issues caused by design agencies that make client web sites nearly invisible to search engines.”

Most web design or redesign projects are executed on specifications. In many cases, those specifications emphasize front end design and user experience elements as well as back end content management and administration features. What most web design specifications do not include is attention to how search engines will interact with the web site or how a re-design will impact current search engine visibility.

The result for a web site redesign or change in content management system that does not consider implications for search engines can be disastrous. When changes are made to a web site, it can affect overall content organization, navigation, past SEO efforts of content, syntax of file names and a host of other web page elements.

When search engines crawl web sites, they make copies of web pages and links. Changing web pages and links without redirecting in the right way can be confusing to search engines.

When the search engine revisits a web site expecting to find pages and links where there are none (because file names have changed) the resulting “404 Not Found” errors send a signal to the engines that the content no longer exists. That means the pages can be removed from the index and become no longer available to people searching for your products and services.

Time and time again, when I explain the consequences of making major changes to a web site design and/or content management system, web designers and site owners alike respond with, “I never thought about that”.  The consequences of having significant portions of a web site unavailable in the search engines can mean a drop in visitors and sales – a potentially expensive situation.

The solution to this unintentional sabotage is to implement a SEO migration plan that will help mitigate any negative effects of a major site change. If a web site and the links from other sites pointing to that web site have been known to a search engine for any notable amount of time, then there is a certain equity that has been built up. Changing content and links essentially sabotages that equity and can result in plummeting search visibility.

2. Focusing SEO efforts on keyword phrases based on marketing materials. As companies become increasingly aware of the value from being easily found on major search engines, they being to incorporate the advice so easily available online, in books and at conferences.

Keywords are the core of how search marketing works since they are what consumers search for and use to discover content. Keyword phrases are also how search engines understand content for indexing and sorting search results.

A common self-sabotage related to keywords is when companies focus their web site’s keyword optimization on phrases derived from marketing materials, product data sheets and from internal staff and not based on the search phrases potential customers actually use when searching.

Why is optimizing content with keywords from marketing materials, executives or employees, sabotage?  Just because words are an accurate description of a company’s products and services, doesn’t mean those words are used by prospects when searching a search engine.

A simple survey of sales people or customer service employees can identify whether customers use different language to describe a company’s products’ features, benefits and problems they solve.

Brainstorming keywords from existing marketing materials, executives, brand and product managers, customers and even competitor web sites is a great starting point.  However, the resulting keyword phrases represent speculation about what it is that people actually type into a search box when they’re looking for what the company offers.

Keyword research is a critical part of getting results from search engine optimization of a company web site. Leaving keyword generation up to such speculation is a crap shoot. It’s important to leverage keyword research tools that harvest the searches or queries that people make when they use search engines.  The results can be very enlightening.

One company that I worked with a while back thought “telemarketing outsourcing” was their money phrase. The executives were set on that phrase because it’s what people in their company and industry used to describe the solutions the company specialized in. However, “telemarketing outsourcing” wasn’t the phrase that buying customers were searching on most often.

After doing keyword research and testing, it was determined that “call center outsourcing” was higher in demand and more relevant to what the company offered. As such, the ability for this phrase to generate revenue was much higher than the first phrase used so often by industry insiders.

Don’t leave keyword research to chance. Follow a keyword strategy when keyword glossaries are developed and as part of the ongoing content marketing efforts. Be optimized and found for phrases that are important to your customers.  Spend time monitoring web analytics data for keyword based conversions and make changes with on-page optimization accordingly.

3. Approaching SEO exclusively as a web development task and not a marketing effort.   When I started doing SEO in the late nineties, it was the IT or webmasters of the world that implemented site optimization efforts.

Because many web sites did not use content management systems, adding content or making any changes to company web sites was up to IT staff. Also, links were not as important as a signal influencing rankings. As a result, companies perceived Search Engine Optimization as a web development “fix”.

While conducting code and server side optimization efforts along with on-page keyword optimization is definitely a starting point in using SEO to improve a web site’s performance in search engines, it’s just that – a start.

Search engines respond favorably to web sites that publish new content and acquire new links on an ongoing basis. And here’s a secret, wink wink: People do too.  Adding new content gives both customers and search engine bots a reason to come back.  Promoting new content on the social web and through other traditional online marketing channels like Email, RSS, Forums and advertising creates awareness, which can attract links. Links can drive traffic and serve as a signal to search engines which can result in increased search engine visibility.

“Tuning up” a web site by making it more search engine friendly technically and with keywords in content is absolutely helpful and important. Stopping there is sabotaging the web site’s ability to maintain results and continue to improve any competitive advantage.

Billions of documents are indexed and who knows how many are served as search results every day. Search results are not limited to web pages either, including blog posts, images, video, news and other types of content.  The competition for those top 10 organic positions isn’t getting less.

It’s like losing weight and staying fit. Of course you amp things up to lose pounds but you don’t stop there. As diet and exercise are important to get and stay healthy, so are new content and links to stay healthy in the search results. The mixture of each can vary by person for weight loss and by web site for SEO.

Are all or most web design agencies guilty of creating or re-designing non-search friendly web sites? I’d say in this day in age, no.  Awareness levels have increased substantially in the past 10 years, but new web sites are launched every day causing business owners to scratch their heads after a few months and wonder where the search traffic is.

The key is to get tuned up and then continue a program of new content creation, optimization and promotion using web analytics to measure effectiveness and make recommendations for continuous refinement.

Don’t sabotage your web site’s search engine marketing performance by focusing solely on the web design/development aspects of web site optimization. Factor in the need to create and promote content, measuring results and scaling up what’s working and phasing out what doesn’t. Marketing on an ongoing basis essential for effective SEO results. That’s what the competition is doing and to be competitive, ongoing content creation, promotion and search analytics are a must for most web sites.

Are you a business or web design agency that unknowingly sabotaged your SEO opportunity? Please share your experiences in the comments.


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SES San Jose: Keynote with Microsoft’s Satya Nadella http://www.toprankblog.com/2008/08/keynote-satya-nadella/ http://www.toprankblog.com/2008/08/keynote-satya-nadella/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2008 23:02:31 +0000 http://www.toprankblog.com/?p=2642 Satya Nadella is the SVP of the Search, Portal & Advertising Platform Group for Microsoft. In this session, Satya discussed the evolution of search and outlined strategies to help prepare for success. Specifically, he brings light to how we think about the evolution of search and the unique assets that will take it to the [...]

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Keynote with Satya Nadella

Satya Nadella is the SVP of the Search, Portal & Advertising Platform Group for Microsoft. In this session, Satya discussed the evolution of search and outlined strategies to help prepare for success. Specifically, he brings light to how we think about the evolution of search and the unique assets that will take it to the next level.

The evolution of search:

We can categorize the history of search by looking at 3 dimensions:
1. Core technology of search
2. Business model
3. Expectations

The core technology of SEO is the magic of keyword base search. The business model continues to shift with CPC driving efficiency as we continue to measure quantitative results and ROI.

Today, search Engine Marketing (SEM) is really an art form and a science to some respect. The end users are interacting with of us by using keywords and our ability to talk within the search engine is as simple as it’s ever been.

The question on everyone’s mind: Is search going to change? Is there room for improvement and if so what are the pressure point to cause change?

3 trends in search that will drive change:

  1. User intent. On average 50% of time spent searching is spent in sessions over 30 minutes and around 50% of the time spent searching is a repeat search. The question is: what are we going to do to help users with the task of search?
  2. Content & Context. Our index is becoming broader and deeper, and is not the size of the text based index any more. Users expect the content to understand time and be relevant to what’s happening today. Bring user intent and content understanding together with context is the next step.
  3. Advertising efficiency. Looking at the broader needs of both the Advertisers and the Agencies to correlate ad systems to meet those needs

Understanding the search behavior and using this data to optimize based on behavior patterns is one of the biggest areas of opportunity.

Keynote with Satya Nadella

The next phase for trends in search technology:

  • Rich semantics and user experience come together
  • CPC will remain in the business model
  • End user experience will move from just queries to accomplishing tasks

Principle that drive Microsoft: Build a great search experience

  • Openness and transparency
  • Paid advertising portfolio and platform
  • Long term commitment

Microsoft’s 3 Strategy Pillars for Search:

  • Deliver the best search results
  • Simplify key tasks
  • Innovate the business of search

What influences do you see as driving the evolution of the search industry?

For more photos from SES San Jose, be sure to visit TopRank on Flickr.


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Search Engine Optimization is a Team Effort http://www.toprankblog.com/2008/07/search-engine-optimization-team/ http://www.toprankblog.com/2008/07/search-engine-optimization-team/#comments Wed, 09 Jul 2008 18:38:33 +0000 http://www.toprankblog.com/?p=2474 TopRank’s SEO Team in Paintball Gear As much as companies find the need to outsource part or all of their SEO efforts, many do not have a clear picture of the value that comes from hiring an agency versus a full time, in-house SEO. While many consultants and some agencies offer “value meal” pricing and [...]

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TopRank’s SEO Team in Paintball Gear

As much as companies find the need to outsource part or all of their SEO efforts, many do not have a clear picture of the value that comes from hiring an agency versus a full time, in-house SEO. While many consultants and some agencies offer “value meal” pricing and packages, the cost for a search engine optimization effort will vary based on the scope of the project, hours allocated, client side resources, web site technology and competitiveness of the market.

Web site managers that balk at monthly SEO retainers claiming they could hire a full time person for those costs to do SEO in-house don’t really understand all that’s involved with marketing a web site through search engines. Client side SEOs are more Project Managers than they are implementation experts and often get burdened with related tasks on top of continued internal education and evangelism. It’s a lot for one person to do and do well.

What’s important for companies to understand is that when hiring an agency for SEO, the value of the search engine optimization consulting service comes from a team effort. Agency structures vary, but my own experience is that when an online marketing client that involves a SEO component is brought on, it’s through the coordinated efforts of multiple people, disciplines and expertise that result in a successful program.

In the case of TopRank, when new SEO clients are brought in, an Account team is assigned. The account team includes a lead consultant and a project manager that are dedicated to the client project. There are also service specialists focusing on any of a number of different areas including: keyword research and list building, copywriting, code and server side SEO issues, web development/design, content promotion and link building, online PR and blogger relations, social media marketing and analytics. Some or all of the expertise array will be used depending on the project.

Finding a single person that has numerous client engagements under their belt with expertise in each of the areas above is unlikely. Certainly not for what it costs to hire the entire SEO team from a capable, experienced agency.

Here’s a quick check list of what functions and expertise a SEO team brings to a project:

  • SEO/Online Marketing Strategy
  • Client SEO Education and Training
  • Provide Tools for Client to “Sell” SEO Internally and Report Successes
  • Defining Campaign Goals
  • Competitive Analysis
  • Assessing Previous Tactics (Non Search Engine Compliant and Potential Spam)
  • Keyword Research
  • Inventory Digital Assets
  • Web Site Content Optimization
  • Coordination with Interdepartmental and Cross Functional Teams Client Side
  • Digital Asset Optimization
  • Code Optimization
  • Site Architecture and Server Side Issues
  • Oversight of Client SEO Implementation: Editorial and Code
  • Link Building
  • Content Marketing/Promotion Plan
  • Content Creation/Mashups/User Generated Content
  • Content Syndication
  • Web Analytics
  • Ongoing Performance Monitoring (Rankings, Traffic, Conversions)
  • Revising Optimization and Content Promotion Efforts and Consulting

That’s a tall order to fill for a team let alone a single individual.

Before all the talented solo SEO practitioners reading this post get too excited, I do want to emphasize that in many cases a single consultant or in-house practitioner can be the ticket for a SEO campaign. Web sites that only need tweaking and that already produce a variety of content can see progress over time without an entire agency team.

However, when dealing with a complex organization and web site, there is no substitute for the depth of experience, established processes and speed at which a SEO team can deliver results.


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Should Companies Hire Multiple Search Marketing Firms? http://www.toprankblog.com/2008/07/hiring-multiple-search-marketing-firms/ http://www.toprankblog.com/2008/07/hiring-multiple-search-marketing-firms/#comments Tue, 01 Jul 2008 13:54:34 +0000 http://www.toprankblog.com/?p=2471 On occasion TopRank will get calls from prospective clients that ask about hiring multiple SEO agencies in an effort to get the “best of both worlds” in terms of best practices and performance through competition. On the surface, I suppose I could see how someone might think this might make sense but in practice, it [...]

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Hiring Multiple SEM Firms

On occasion TopRank will get calls from prospective clients that ask about hiring multiple SEO agencies in an effort to get the “best of both worlds” in terms of best practices and performance through competition. On the surface, I suppose I could see how someone might think this might make sense but in practice, it really doesn’t.

The “two is better than one” philosophy might work when it comes to getting a second opinion from a doctor or a mechanic but with SEO, the last thing a company needs is two agencies stepping on each other to make on-page optimization recommendations. Even worse are the possibilities for confusion with link building.

Imagine hiring two PR firms for the same business and a journalist getting two different pitches for the same thing from two different agencies. Will that really generate better results or just create confusion?

Coordinating with another agency adds additional costs for each consulting firm as they now need to coordinate work with both the client and another agency.

If a company wants to get the best search engine optimization results possible, they should hire the best SEO agency for their organization, not hire two or more thinking it will turn out like some kind of “SEO apprentice”.

With many web sites, it’s enough of a challenge to get all the client side stakeholders on board with the changes in content processes and attention to keywords and links. Having two agencies coordinate which parts of the web site they would be responsible for would add to what is often already a challenging situation.

Most web sites run off of templates either from WYSIWYG editors like Dreamweaver or a content management system with a database. SEO edits to those templates can affect the entire site or large portions. In that situation you can’t always segment one part for one agency and one part to another.

The other consideration is that adding another outside agency adds to the client side cost for managing the engagement. Managing multiple vendors means more time from the client side and managing two or more vendors who do the same thing, competitors really, adds even more.

“What if we create microsites for each segment of our business and hire a different SEO agency for each?” This is a real question that I’ve been asked and you can imagine my answer. First, we don’t believe in creating microsites just for the purposes of SEO. You can get the visibility you want on different categories under the same domain name through the right mix of on page SEO, internal linking and unique inbound links from external sources. Creating multiple microsites will only dilute SEO efforts with each site treated as its own search engine optimization project.

Not many companies have the unlimited or large online marketing budgets that sit behind requests for multiple SEO/SEM vendors. But for those that do, I would strongly encourage the effort to be put into hiring a single, strategic agency that can provide both high level consulting and training of client side staff for ongoing SEO and link building. Then retain the SEO agency for continued strategic direction, training and implementation when needed. Avoid the additional overhead and headache of hiring two competing agencies willing to work on the same web site for what can be accomplished by hiring the right SEO firm from the start.

There are many search marketing practitioners that read this blog and I am curious if other client side search marketers or other agencies have engaged in a successful and sustained program working with multiple SEO firms on the same web site?


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SMX Advanced: Search Marketing and Surviving a Recession http://www.toprankblog.com/2008/06/smx-advanced-search-marketing-and-surviving-a-recession/ http://www.toprankblog.com/2008/06/smx-advanced-search-marketing-and-surviving-a-recession/#comments Wed, 04 Jun 2008 19:45:55 +0000 http://www.toprankblog.com/?p=2448 While there is still a debate over the effect of the recession we are in, or even if we are in a recession at all, it seems most companies and individuals are preparing for it the best they can. Talks of budget cuts and conserving resources are on everyone’s minds these days. So where does [...]

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Search Marketing and Surviving a Recession

While there is still a debate over the effect of the recession we are in, or even if we are in a recession at all, it seems most companies and individuals are preparing for it the best they can. Talks of budget cuts and conserving resources are on everyone’s minds these days.

So where does search marketing fit in to all of this?

Our expert panel this morning at SMX Advanced – consisting of Jon Miller from Marketo (a TopRank client), Russ Mann of Covario , Dave Davies of Beanstalk Search Engine Positioning and Andrew Beckman of Location3 Media – gave great advice and opinions in how to come out of this recession thriving.

Search Marketing and Surviving a Recession consisted of prepared and audience-asked questions to the panel about what we can do as an industry to make it through this economic downturn.

Glass Half Empty or Glass Half Full?

An audience poll revealed that many more audience members feel their business will be positively affected by the recession rather than negatively affected. Russ Mann agrees whole-heartedly, saying that the glass is overflowing. He is seeing a major turn from his clients and other large companies spending more money for online marketing and cutting back on their offline marketing. The rest of the panelists follow this same optimistic train of though, though Jon Miller stated that he is being a bit of a realist, and knows that he needs to watch what is happening with his company very closely.

What Worries You?

Jon started off with saying the biggest concern is that advertising and marketing dollars get cut during a recession. While this worries him, he says to make sure that any marketing efforts completed are measurable and that the marketer can prove the results or their activity. As long as every dollar is accounted for and ROI is proven, marketing should fare pretty well. Russ agrees, saying that since the CEOs and CFOs are tightening the purse strings, it is important to show results and prove the value of the marketing dollars being spent. Dave builds off of this, stating that search marketing is one of the most provable forms of marketing. All we have to do is look at analytics, rankings, clicks, leads and conversions and we know exactly which campaign drove those results.

How Should the First Marketing Dollar be Spent?

The panel was across the board on this question. Andrew Beckman began by stating that the first marketing dollar needs to be spent on getting back to basics. There are many companies, he says, who are so excited to get to the online promotions aspects that they forget the foundation of SEO is choosing the correct keyword phrases and optimizing title tags and meta descriptions. Dave said to use that first dollar and take a good long look at your website and find out how to make it work for the company’s target customers. Users are getting more internet savvy and they know a bad website when they see one. Keeping your website above the competition can definitely benefit your company. Russ Mann went along with this idea saying that the first dollar should be spent on customer research.

It is possible that search is not the best marketing channel for certain companies, but in order to make that decision, you need to do a lot of research first. Rounding up this question, Jon stated that with budgets getting tight, it is important to get the most out of those clicks you are acquiring from your paid campaigns. Test and retest to find what works and make sure you are best spending that first dollar.

Tips for Convincing Clients to Keep Dollars in Search?

Andrew opened this question up by saying that while it takes time to get a search program up and running smoothly, the longer it takes the company to get in the game, the longer it will take for them to see the return on their search marketing investment. Search marketing has the opportunity to be both a direct marketing and a brand vehicle at the same time, so show the client the results you are giving them and how people are finding their products and services. This identifies benefits to the client from your consultation and helps the client focus on how to get the best results.

Where are Businesses Wasting Their Money?

While we all waste our money in many different ways, from getting Caribou every morning on the way to work to washing our cars every other day, this question pertains specifically to marketers. Russ jumped in right away and said that he sees the biggest waste of money happening when the bigwigs in the business aren’t on the same page. CFOs may want to increase revenue while CEOs may want to increase brand awareness. By understanding the desires of the company rather than wasting time and money trying to come to one decision, the marketer can begin showing results faster. Jon says there is a lot of money being wasted by marketers shouting to everyone around them rather than focusing on the pull-marketing of search. Take the time to find and pull in the searchers at the end of their buying cycle rather than trying to push your message on most people who aren’t interested.

The overall theme here was the idea that we need to be held accountable for all of our activities. In the past, SEOs were more laid back when it came to reporting results. Now we need to make sure all clients’ marketing dollars are going toward the best results, which in turn makes us better as well. By following the tips offered by the panel and managing finances a little more closely than usual, we SEOs will escape on the other end of this recession stronger, with a better skill set, and ready to attack the world again.


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Agency + Client = Superhero Link Building Team http://www.toprankblog.com/2008/05/agency-client-superhero-link-building-team/ http://www.toprankblog.com/2008/05/agency-client-superhero-link-building-team/#comments Thu, 08 May 2008 23:51:41 +0000 http://www.toprankblog.com/?p=2410 Two heads are better than one. How many times have we all heard that in our lives?  When having a brainstorming session, it helps to bounce ideas off of one another to generate the best possible solution. Even when saving the world, is it always important to have a sidekick. Or a team of sidekicks. [...]

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Two heads are better than one. How many times have we all heard that in our lives?  When having a brainstorming session, it helps to bounce ideas off of one another to generate the best possible solution. Even when saving the world, is it always important to have a sidekick. Or a team of sidekicks.

captainplanet

The same is true of link building teams. It can be considered a general rule of thumb to say “the more, the merrier” when it comes to the size of a team working on link building, social media and content promotion. An experienced team working together will generate far more inbound links and traffic to the target website than just one person – bent over a desk, Red Bull in hand, click-clacking away on the keyword.

When it comes to link building for clients, there are two important questions:

Q: Who knows the client’s business best?

A: The Client. Hands down.

Q: Who knows link building and online promotions best?

A: The SEO Agency. Hands down.

One popular misconception is that some companies think it is a good idea to take their SEO and link building 100% in-house. On the surface, this might seem logical. However, the cost of hiring an entry-level person to take on this brand new role, learn and experiment with it on company time is just as high as pulling a seasoned marketing pro away from their traditional marketing job and training them up on SEO. Training seminars and conferences offer robust information, but without experience, the practical SEO knowledge won’t be there until months or years down the road.

Hiring an experienced agency to tackle SEO content promotion and linking needs is roughly equivalent to  one or two entry-level employees’ salary. With a SEO agency, the client will receive years of SEO, link building and online marketing experience from a team of experienced professionals.

The company also benefits from the knowledge SEO agency staff gain by working on many different clients in many different industries. Agencies (like TopRank) are prone to allocating budget and staff to staying up to date on current trends and tactics. The output of that experimentation is information passed along to the client to benefit their SEO and online promotions campaigns.

By conducting training sessions with clients on fundamental linking efforts, the client gains a bit of experience and appreciate. Feeling involved in what is working from a linking perspective reinforces that they are getting their money’s worth from their SEO agency.

“Two heads are better than one”: When both client and agency are working their link building and online promotions magic, everyone wins!

As an example, recent training sessions with one of our clients has measurably contributed to the number of inbound links and online brand awareness achieved. Sites we’ve targeted with online promotions have become the top referring sources of traffic and have stayed there for months.

In another example, we conducted link building and content promotion training with a large client, who was very grateful to have the knowledge and to understand the backbone of what our agency were doing.

When it came down to it, the client was wearing too many hats to take on linking and content promotion.  After budget meetings, presentations, product updates, traditional marketing and advertising, the client was all too happy to turn the link building efforts back over to us and we were more than willing to complete it. Client meetings go a bit smoother as the in-house team better understands exactly what we are doing for them and what it takes to complete.

By overseeing all linking efforts, the SEO agency brings in unique experience and the up-to-date knowledge of what is hot in the online marketing industry. The client gains knowledge and a bit of experience themselves. With our powers combined, client and agency can tackle most any linking obstacle.


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© Online Marketing Blog - TopRank®, 2008. | Agency + Client = Superhero Link Building Team | http://www.toprankblog.com

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Is Your SEO Firm Outsourcing Your Work? http://www.toprankblog.com/2008/04/seo-outsourcing/ http://www.toprankblog.com/2008/04/seo-outsourcing/#comments Thu, 03 Apr 2008 15:52:29 +0000 http://www.toprankblog.com/2008/04/seo-outsourcing/ It’s pretty common in the interactive, advertising and PR agency world to outsource components of an engagement where the lead agency does not have specific domain expertise. Those scenarios are often structured by the client who is already working with other vendors or the lead agency bringing in outside expertise.  For the most part, it’s [...]

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It’s pretty common in the interactive, advertising and PR agency world to outsource components of an engagement where the lead agency does not have specific domain expertise. Those scenarios are often structured by the client who is already working with other vendors or the lead agency bringing in outside expertise.  For the most part, it’s pretty transparent what is outsourced and what is not.

Is this the same in the search marketing and especially, the SEO industry?  The variety of creative, technical and social expertise required to excel and succeed with today’s online marketing programs makes it a formidable challenge for any search marketing agency to staff accordingly. The “cowboy” mentality prevalent in the SEO world makes employing some of the best at their craft unlikely.

While many of the niche experts will spend a lot of their time building out their own content networks, they also often outsource.  It’s also true that many of those new to SEO have learned to promote themselves as specialists in specific areas to get a name for themselves and expand their consulting business from there. Hunger for new work leads to enthusiastic promises.

A while back I caught a request on a discussion thread from a PPC consultant getting more into the SEO space that a link builder was needed. The link builder would not need to report specifics or work directly with the client, just guarantee that “x” number of links were achieved monthly.

I imagined that this request was not unique amongst consultants trying to expand their offerings and wondered if the client knew what they were paying for had little if any Q/A.

Personally, I think if a SEO firm outsources part of a client’s SEO or social media marketing program, they must be actively, if not intimately involved with the work. If they don’t know enough about the tactics, then they should use the opportunity to learn. Otherwise, it’s pretty much a crap shoot what the client is actually getting for their money.


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Session: Build Investment Interest in Your SEO/SEM Firm http://www.toprankblog.com/2008/03/session-build-investment-interest-in-your-seosem-firm/ http://www.toprankblog.com/2008/03/session-build-investment-interest-in-your-seosem-firm/#comments Mon, 17 Mar 2008 17:31:52 +0000 http://www.toprankblog.com/2008/03/session-build-investment-interest-in-your-seosem-firm/ How to Build Investment Interest in Your SEO/SEM with an introduction by Anne Kennedy and a presentation by Patricia Hall, Investment Banker, Hallmark Capital. If you own and/or are running a fast growing search marketing agency and want to gain more insight into making your firm more valuable for acquisition/investment, then this session is for [...]

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Pat Hall Anne Kennedy

How to Build Investment Interest in Your SEO/SEM with an introduction by Anne Kennedy and a presentation by Patricia Hall, Investment Banker, Hallmark Capital. If you own and/or are running a fast growing search marketing agency and want to gain more insight into making your firm more valuable for acquisition/investment, then this session is for you.

Pat Hall

What Wall Street looks at.

  • Client list is important. Keep in mind, if you have big name clients now, what will you need to do to keep them.
  • Nature of revenues. Are they one time projects or are they retainer based? One time projects can be good if you specialize and can go to all the other players in a category.
  • Technology strategy. For example, if you’ve created a software application to mine keyword data, that is valuable.

You don’t have to develop your own software. You can take a best of breed approach and bring to clients whatever the best solution is for your clients.It’s an interplay of these factors that interact within your own company that determines how valuable they are.

  • Scalability. If you’re able on a dime to scale up, that is seen as valuable. Brings up Healthcare industry as an example.
  • Management/owner and leadership. There’s no one best answer, it depends on who is looking at investing in you. An ad agency will look at different attributes than someone who is new to your industry.

There isn’t necessarily one right answer – it’s the interplay that determines value. Value is in the eye of the beholder. In the end, you’re valuable to the person looking at you. Some companies are percieved as valuable even without revenue, depending on what the acquiring company sees as the compliment the acquisition would bring.

Three key factors that investors look for:

  • Sustainable revenue generation. Can you generate revenues today, tomorrow and in the future. What is the nature of those revenues and can they be maintained? Retainer or high volume of one-offs – it doesn’t matter. The gap between generatig revenue now compared to the future is a risk to be evaluated.
  • Visionary leadership. Whether you are the sole leader or part of a team. The investor will want to be confident the leader knows they market, knows their goals and how to get there. The ability to articulate and communicate that vision is very important to the investor market.
  • Competitive positioning. There are many companies in the SEO/SEM industry. You should understan d who the competitors are. Who are you running up against when trying to win business. Think of it in terms of a graph to illustrate the competitive landscape, where you company is within that landscape and be able to articulate how you’re different.

What a SEO/SEM firm can do today to enhance their attractiveness to the investment market.

  • Reputation. Do what you do well. What clients and the industry say about you. Why? You’re selling a very specialized service to a market that doesn’t know very much about it. Reputation is built up over time and it’s cumulative. Take care of your clients.
  • Innovate – Stay ahead of the curve. The SEO industry is rapidly changing so you have to constantly be thinking about how to competitively deliver your services. Search engine optimization used to be about adding keywords to web pages and now it’s no longer that simple. Now it’s all about content, blogs and social media.

Because things change so quickly in the SEO/SEM industry, 3 months is like a year in the rest of the world. Focus on how you’re going to innovate.

  • Diversify revenue and business risk. Diversification doesn’t necessarily mean you need to start offering a whole range of services – trying to offer everything to everybody. Serve clients large and small. To diversify, you can partner with other firms or collaborate with peers in the industry.
  • Identify – tailor to strategic acquirer. Who are likely candidates to acquire your company? Find out what’s appealing to them and play that up. Think of 5-6 companies or individuals that would be good candidates to invest in your company and play to the things that are important to them.

Challenges to the SEO/SEM industry as it related to investment

  • There is a tendency towards commodization. When that happens, it becomes a pricing and customer service game. (isn;t that what happens when you based your consulting business on software??)

The main way to fight commodization is by measurement, accountability and make sure your company keeps its services offerings current.

Examples of commodity businesses that make themselves not seem like a commodity is the online jewelry business. Can do this through fresh content.

  • Saturation – too many firms. Confusing to established investment firms. Focus on how you tell your story, how do you stand out from the crowd. Focus on doing what you do best.
  • Keeping a sustainable technology edge. What worked last year or last quarter, may not work next quarter or next year. Stay focused on having an edge in your services offered. Develop knowledge in a related field.
  • Communication with ultimate buyers. Too many companies look at the surface information about a service and don’t really understand the needs of the real buyers of services Connect with those ultimate buyers (your customers’ customers) and you can lead your clients to better communications with their own buyers.

The days of internet marketing and web 2.0 are here and a fact of life. Companies will ultimately forced to get on board. Tremendous industry growth opportunity in the next 5 years. Be aware of the universe of potential buyers for you company whether it’s an agency or even one of the companies on your client roster.

One consideration for SEO firms is to use their skills to build a web site business and then use it as a showcase for prospective clients or sell it off.

Create a compelling story about what your company does, why it’s different and how it stands apart from the crowd.

Since value is in the eye of the beholder, that means you can create your own value by telling a great story.

Paths to liquidity – how do you get money out of your business.

  • Selling to outside entities. It doesn’t necessarily mean selling 100%. Sometimes you can get more value when you don’t sell your whole business. Example: Sell 60% and then have an earn out on the rest of it. Gave example where a company sold 85% up front and then were able to sell the last 15% for the same amount as the initial 85%.
  • Go public. Not just an IPO, also can do a direct offering yourself. Differs by state. It’s a way to raise a few million for a small percentage of your company. A reverse merger where you buy a public company shell. A company is public that is already registered and you buy it, therefore becoming public yourself. Why be public? If your private company value is X, your public company value is 5X.

Why? There are huge pools of investment capital and most if not all have a requirement to only invest in public companies.

Gives example of a 2m company, growing 100% a year but breaking even. They loaned 1.5 million to buy a public shell. Then raised 6.5 million. They only gave away 30% of the company. Alternative of staying private and raising only 2 million and giving away 80% of the company.

The big benefit of a reverse merger is that you can raise substantial capital without giving away a majority of the company.

– Sell your company to insiders. ie, employees. Get a valuation of your company and then sell to employees over time. Another option is a management buyout.

– Recapitalization. ie, you have your cake and eat it too – keep your company and gain partial liquidity. Monetize pieces of your company as you go along.

Audience: Is there a reason for mentioning revenues vs profits?
Hall: In this industry people are raising capital on no revenues. She gets paid on the pereption of value and has little incentive to draw attention to profits since so many companies in this industry do not have substantial profits.

Strongly encourages the development of your own web properties. Keeps the agency fresh on tactics but also provides a monetization opportunity unrelated to the main business.

Be sure to visit TopRank’s Flickr set for SES New York Photos, updated every few hours.


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© Online Marketing Blog - TopRank®, 2008. | Session: Build Investment Interest in Your SEO/SEM Firm | http://www.toprankblog.com

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Pros and Cons of Hiring SEOs http://www.toprankblog.com/2008/03/pros-cons-hiring-seo-staff/ http://www.toprankblog.com/2008/03/pros-cons-hiring-seo-staff/#comments Tue, 04 Mar 2008 00:14:09 +0000 http://www.toprankblog.com/2008/03/pros-cons-hiring-seo-staff/ As a growing mid-sized online marketing agency, TopRank has had opportunities to interview well over a 100 people for various search engine optimization and internet marketing positions. We’ve been fortunate to hire and develop an amazing team of professionals. We’ve also experienced the flip side. There are increasing numbers of resources from which to attract [...]

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As a growing mid-sized online marketing agency, TopRank has had opportunities to interview well over a 100 people for various search engine optimization and internet marketing positions. We’ve been fortunate to hire and develop an amazing team of professionals. We’ve also experienced the flip side.

There are increasing numbers of resources from which to attract or find candidates whether it’s traditional online job boards like Monster.com, SEO job listings at SEMPO or sites dedicated to SEO recruiting. Making sure actual SEO skills and experience are in alignment with company/client needs is as important as setting accurate expectations for job responsibilities and work environment.

Hiring more experienced internet marketers in the hopes of bringing a knowledgeable outside perspective to a constantly evolving set of processes can seem promising. However, finding experienced SEO professionals who are willing to work for an agency can be challenging. This is especially true if working remotely might not be an option. Also, the fact that there are many opportunities to generate substantial income from building, promoting and monetizing one’s own web sites provides less incentive for some to work for a company.

A few options for finding or attracting experienced SEO talent include those working for agencies where SEO is not the primary marketing offering, sole operators that are tired of wearing all the hats of a small consulting business and search marketers that work in-house for companies.

Many client side search marketers who have been in the same role for 5+ years at another company or companies tend to have become comfortable in certain ways that may not make absorption into a fast moving, ever changing environment productive – either for the employee or the company. This is especially true in larger companies where people can get lost within bureaucracy and the minutiae of process without being holistically accountable for all aspects of the company’s search marketing program.

Solo SEO consultants tend to want to keep their clients while performing SEO work for the agency, which is understandable, but technically working for the competition. Financial and HR managers have a tough time accepting the idea of paying someone while they build their own consulting business with the potential to take clients. You can’t have an effective non-compete in place (at least I haven’t seen one) where SEO consultants work both for themselves and for an agency. For many SEO agencies, intellectual property is the biggest asset and needs to be protected.

Hiring people that have worked a year or three for another agency that offers token SEO services but isn’t a specialist often times brings people who over value their own expertise. Having been a big fish in a small pond, there’s a tendency to become unrealistic in self assessment of skills.

In these cases, everything looks good on paper, but when the rubber hits the road, jaw dropping comments like, “You don’t actually think I’m going to write web page copy, do you? I’m an SEO, not a copywriter. I do keyword research!” make hiring managers white knuckle it all the way to the server room.

Some agencies won’t hire more tenured SEOs due to the perception of “baggage” and some will only hire recent college grads preferring to train them up. What’s important for agencies is to put forth the proper effort to define responsibilities, both anticipated and unanticipated as well performing the due diligence of testing actual skills, checking references and ensuring there is a personality fit with the rest of the organization.

What’s important for SEO candidates is to be honest in their ambitions, self assessment of skills and willingness to focus as much or more on meeting client needs as they are on meeting their own.

Within TopRank we have a mantra that guides the way we do business:
Client > Company > Self.

This sequence prioritizes decision making to ensure those paying the bills (clients) are first and foremost in all aspects of consulting/operations. Emphasizing client success makes both the company and the individuals that make up the company successful.

Overall, it’s a mix of hiring experienced professionals as well as individuals with a few years of post University work experience that share a never ending passion for learning, tolerance for ambiguity and a keen interest in both creative and technical problem solving that makes ours an effective team.

Segmenting the process driven tasks of a search engine optimization campaign from pure consulting creates an environment that allows for entry level hiring and an upward mobility path for advancement.

Incidentally, the punch line of this post is of course, that TopRank is hiring. There are two positions currently open for Online Marketing Specialist:

TopRank is looking for an equally creative and technical marketer for an Online Marketing Specialist position. No stranger to acronyms like “SEO”, “SERP” and certainly “ROTFLMAO” this search engine and social media marketing enthusiast will navigate curiously named Web 2.0 sites like MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Del.icio.us, Digg and StumbleUpon promoting a variety of client projects.

As a instrumental part of our Online Promotions Team, the Online Marketing Specialist will creatively concept and implement web content and social media promotions as well as a variety of link building tactics for our clients. Measuring results with our social media reporting tools as well as web analytics to the Account Teams is all part of the magic provided on a daily basis by the TopRank Online Marketing team.

Please contact: hr at toprankresults dot com or visit the TopRank Online Marketing web site.

Hiring SEOs Search Engine Optimization Jobs” originally published at Online Marketing Blog


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