frustrated-suitLater this morning I’m giving a search marketing-related talk to the esteemed board of a major charity. Being quite a verbose individual, I’m going to have to stick to a script in order to offer them anything of real value within my allotted 15 minutes – because I could talk about search and social marketing all day. And don’t get me started on content strategy. Then again, if you’re talking about SEO in 2012 without mentioning the integral importance of a content strategy – you’re probably also still attempting to set up non-relevant reciprocal link partnerships while offering a top 10 ranking in one month guarantee for a poker website.

I have an hour to put together the aforementioned script and thought it might make a helpful and long overdue blog post. This is high-level, 10,000 foot view stuff with a focus on brevity. An exercise in being verbally taut and terse. It will contain the sort of vague generalities I normally rally against – and attempt to offer an antidote to – here on ThirstyPony’s blog. You’ve been forewarned but that’s not to say you won’t get anything out of it. And you can always click the sidebar link to request a no-obligation proposal if you’d like to collaborate officially. On we go…

2012 SEO Summary & Best Practices

  • Marketing 101 tells us (in the first ten minutes on the first day of class) to “identify your target market”.
  • The first ten minutes of SEO 101 should be spent figuring out what that target market is typing into Google.
  • This can be determined through a combination of keyword volume tools, competitive analysis and common sense.
  • A combination of offsite and onsite SEO is crucial in 2012. Long gone are the days of simply stuffing your homepage’s title tag.
  • Onsite SEO means optimizing the physical code of your website to ensure it has the highest potential to rank for your target keyword list.
  • Offsite SEO can describe any method employed in building one-way, relevant links to various pages of your website.
  • Competition will be the main deciding factor in whether it takes your site days, weeks, months or years to rank for your terms.
  • SEO is an ongoing process. Once time is spent capturing high rankings they must then be defended and nurtured via content updates and ongoing link-building.

2012 Social Media Summary & Best Practices

That’s not half bad, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t include mention of social media. It’s become so closely related to SEO (and a content strategy) that they likely grew up somewhere in the Ozarks together.

  • Any marketing effort involving a social media outpost (Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Slideshare, etc.) isn’t worth it’s weight in bytes if there isn’t a clear plan behind it.
  • Goals and measures of success have to be determined beforehand. Metrics and tracking must be a big part of the ramp up process.
  • Simply building a Twitter account is a fool’s errand. I’ve written previously on the importance of a clear social media plan.
  • Rotate and test different types of posts and outreach. Identify methods (types of content) that work with your audience. Repeat.
  • Be consistent! You’ll lose friends and followers exponentially every day/week you don’t keep your feed active and engaging.
  • Cross-pollinate your social media outposts using your blog and other resources on your main website, and vice-versa.
  • Links from social media outposts to your website is good for SEO. Google’s algorithm now looks for “social signals” when ranking a site for a given keyword.
  • Social media has become a major CRM (customer relationship management) tool and many consumers have grown to expect it.
  • Many consumers have also grown to expect a social media presence, period. If you have a plan and you’re actually using the outposts effectively – even better.
  • Social media has become a major ORM (online reputation management) tool. If you’re not monitoring brand mentions online you’re missing out on a huge opportunity.
  • Social media is a great way to engage real people (potential clients) and turn folks asking a simple question – or even those with an axe to grind – into new customers in a matter of a few sentences.

2012 Content Strategy Summary & Best Practices

The final major piece of this puzzle is free, original, high-quality and objective content. Post Panda, a content strategy is what all businesses absolutely must start focusing on – but precious few are.

  • Google’s 2011 Panda update upped the ante and increased the importance of frequently updated and original content.
  • Content can be a blog post, a photo gallery, an infographic, a whitepaper – anything which can be indexed and is somehow relevant to your business.
  • Google loves frequently updated websites, high quality resources, sites with lots of pages and especially (see SEO fundamentals above) sites with lots of incoming links.
  • The more quality, original content you have, the more likely you are to attract links from relevant websites. I call this “passive” link building – and it’s the best kind.
  • Let’s not forget the human beings. Content gives you the opportunity to become a true authority on what it is you’re selling. Great for consumer confidence.
  • A frequently updated blog or forum allows potential customers to see current activity and even conversations between employees and the public. More confidence.

Reading this back, there’s no way I’ll fit it into 15 minutes unless I talk at a manic, meth-like pace like the guy from the 80s FedEx commercials. Did they even have meth in the 80s?

Still – it’s a decent, if scattered, high-level collection consisting of many points I attempt to hammer home to my clients on a daily basis. And I still have 8 minutes left before showtime. I hope you got something out of this urgent cerebral dumping, and that we can have a more leisurely conversation about some of these bullets in the comments.

{ 1 comment }

bt-keyboardThis post already sounds so 2007 but many of the small business owners and entrepreneurs I speak to still don’t “get it” – and until they do will never take blogging seriously as a viable channel for attracting new customers. Why not hammer the point home some more, revisit the subject from scratch and turn it into one of those catchy top 10 lists you wonderful web denizens enjoy reading so much? Fantastic, then. And here come the myriad of lame excuses.

10. “That sounds expensive. We don’t have any site redevelopment money in the budget.”

WordPress is Free!
WordPress isn’t the only open-source (free) CMS (content management system) out there, but it’s the best. It also has the biggest community behind it which means more support, more developers writing more free plugins and a longer platform lifespan. I won’t be telling my grandchildren about WordPress, I’ll be teaching them how to use it. So download the software and install it in a new “/blog/” folder on your server. The only associated expense you can really expect might be for a designer to make the blog look like the rest of your domain, although based on it’s strengths you may want to consider recreating the entire site in WordPress. It ain’t just for bloggin’ anymore.

9. “All our time and effort needs to be spent on SEO and SEM for new business development.”

Google Loves Blogs
The corporate blog: A better all-around SEO strategy does not exist. It can address and facilitate all of the major facets which Google’s 2011 algorithm holds so dear. Let’s run down just a few:

  • Frequently updated and original content. Check.
  • Many unique, keyword-laden URLs with differing meta data for each. Affirmative.
  • Integration with and easy sharing within multiple social media outposts (YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc.). Roger that.
  • Increased likelihood of attracting natural incoming links from relevant sources. You betcha.

I could go on. For a long time. A blog marketing strategy is never mutually exclusive to an SEO strategy. It is an SEO strategy.

8. “So now I have to populate Twitter, Facebook AND a blog? Forget it.

Blogs are Great for Cross-Pollination
Stop thinking of your blog as yet another social media outpost that you’ll have to populate on a daily basis. Start thinking of your blog as the outpost which automatically populates all the others. Via Facebook connect integration, APIs and WordPress plugins it’s very easy to automatically update your Facebook page and Twitter account each and every time you hit the “Publish” button on your blog. Of course you’ll want to include additional content unique to your other outposts, but each blog entry gives you a great excuse to ping your audiences across the board and can be set up to happen on autopilot.

7. “Between order fulfillment and Customer Relationship Management we’ll never find the time.”

Blogs are Great for CRM
Blogs and Facebook pages are already being used by many companies as effective CRM tools. If you add a social media manager at your company in addition to a traditional customer service department, you may be amazed at how quickly the former takes pressure off the latter. Eventually I think the two positions will become synonymous. Engage with existing and future customers in your blog comments. Answer their questions and address their concerns for the rest of the world to see. Folks with an issue can easily have it resolved, and consumers who have yet to make a decision as to whether they’ll make a purchase will have their confidence increased when they view the interaction.

6. “I’d rather spend the time creating new services and product pages.”

A Blog Can Aid Your Speed to Market
If you have a new service or product in the pipeline you can start drawing relevant organic search traffic for it before the paint is dry. In fact, you can give your site the potential to rank for any term you can think of in a matter of minutes. New static pages on your site can take time to develop and have to fit into your navigation and architecture. Having a blog gives you both a place and an excuse to get information about anything online and ranking in Google, yesterday. The content you can include (all easily filtered via categories and tags)  is limited only by your imagination. And remember – every time you publish a new post using a CMS like the aforementioned WordPress you’re creating a unique, static HTML page for the search engine spiders to lovingly digest. Lastly, if you have blog you can link to any new content, anywhere on your site. So when those brand-spankin’ new product pages do go live, link to them from a blog post announcing their arrival and Google will find and index them within the same day.

5. “We can’t wait for customers to come to us. We have to go find them.”

A Blog is Outbound Marketing
They’re far more likely to find you if you have a blog. A new blog post is no less “outbound” than paying $1.75 for a PPC click. If you’re consistent and maintain the momentum and quality of your posts – you won’t be writing in a vacuum for very long. Organic search traffic will not be far behind. Also, remember what you just read about cross-pollination. The blog posts will simultaneously increase the frequency of your other social media outpost updates, casting a much wider net and getting more eyeballs in front of your content.

4. “Our biggest competitor outranks us. By a lot. And they don’t have a blog.”

Blogs Allow for Easy Differentiation
Give Google a reason to hold your site in higher regard. Your competitor’s lack of a blog isn’t a reason for you not to bother – it’s actually a huge opportunity to differentiate yourself and stand out to search engines and human beings alike. Since their Panda/Farmer algorithmic update, Google is even more apt to reward good-quality original content. And potential customers are more likely to buy something from a site that appears to have actual human beings behind it. Bots love it. Homosapiens with disposable income love it. Stop dragging your feet.

3. “I’m the sole employee. I’ll have to do it myself. I don’t have the time.”

Posts Can be Brief and Somewhat Infrequent
I mention alternate authoring possibilities below, but first let’s make sure you understand one important thing – not every post needs to be The Winds of War. You can link to a relevant news article, write an intro, post a quote, add a sentence or two about why you liked/disliked it – and you’re done! You can do the same with an embeddable video, article or whitepaper. You’ll definitely want to space shorter posts between ones of higher quality, but those can wait until nights and weekends. You’re not required to spend an hour or more on each and every one of your posts. Also, a blog which is updated twice or even once a week is still a blog. The more posts the better, but do what you can manage. You don’t need a lot of time to make a major difference.

2. “This will actually hurt us. I’m not a good writer and may come off as stupid.”

Many Authoring Options Exist
Not everyone was put on this Earth to write and sometimes accepting your weaknesses is a smart thing to do. While you should know that the more you write the easier it becomes, there are alternatives to doing it all yourself. Consider the participation of existing resources. Everyone at your company, from your VP of Sales to the summer interns, may be a potential blog author. If you’re a one person operation, many cost-efficient outsourcing solutions exist and it’s quite common for companies to use this as an option. It doesn’t have to rest on your shoulders alone.

1. The website is already full of helpful information about our product/service.”

Become a True Authority on What you Sell
Blogs are a very effective way to build consumer confidence and increase the likelihood of a sale. Would you rather buy a hockey stick from a cookie-cutter drop-shipper’s site, or a that of a retailer where you can see real people discussing and reviewing the equipment? Even if the product being searched for isn’t mentioned in a specific post of its own, potential customers will know and appreciate that there are knowledgeable staff behind the curtain who care about them, value their business and will be easy to reach if there are any questions or problems during the ordering process.

As I wrote these out, I quickly realized how much crossover exists between the entries. Which in a roundabout way proves my main point – for every excuse you can give me regarding why you don’t have the time, the need or the resources for a blog, I can give you 50 or more to the contrary. An original, relevant, well-written and engaging blog effort with a content strategy behind it can help just about every conceivable marketing angle. Don’t be afraid. Don’t find yourself justifying your lack of a blog with yet another lame excuse. Your target market is out there and are trying to find you. Find a resource, make the time and give your business a voice.

{ 0 comments }

fb-hummingbirdMarky Z. and company upgraded and intensified the functionality of Facebook’s comment thread plugin earlier this month and I’ll be honest – at first glance I didn’t “get it”. The news came in like a lamb. I read a few articles on the subject but none of them really told me much or gave me practical examples. “Yeah, so like… there’s new comments and stuff” was the extent of the info offered up. I figured there’d be a new and more intuitive thread design, maybe a better link attachment preview and then promptly moved on to something else in my typical hummingbird-stricken-with-ADD fashion.

Upon closer examination, however, I’ve become so impressed with the new features that I’m strongly considering adding the plugin here and on some of my other blogs. I think at this point it’s safe to say: “this whole Friendbooky thing has legs”. Here are a few of the reasons I’m possibly just seconds away from the Kool-Aid keg stands of a convert:

  • Posting as Pages: A dropdown menu now gives commenters the ability to post as themselves or as the persona of any Facebook Page they own or have administrative rights to. That’s the big one for me. But wait…
  • Post to Your Profile: The plugin is no longer insular. A simple box tick allows you to publish your comment on an external blog directly to your Facebook feed.
  • Thread Synchronicity: Whether people reply to your comment on the blog, or upon seeing it in your feed, both locations will be updated.

There are a few other tweaks involving comment relevance, etc. but if you’re not already convinced of this tool’s social potential – you never will be. I’ll take one more stab at you – I know that my external blogging has decreased as a result of Facebook. Across the board. It’s quicker to update your status than to flush your thoughts out into more significant content and you’ll reach more people instantaneously. But the real reason my writing has suffered is because of the community dispersion I see. I used to have a regular gang of commenters on my blog whom I miss dearly. Sometimes when I post a link to one of my articles in Facebook (which I think looks better aesthetically than the FB note import via RSS and also drives views and spiders back to your blog) people will comment… but it isn’t the same. And when they do, those comments are invisible to anyone on the blog. And, obviously, vice-versa. That creativity and momentum crushing problem has now been eliminated for me. Yes, the new plugin version came in like a lamb – but it’s eventual influence will leave a lion-sized bite mark on the internet’s left buttock. Or something.

One thing I want to clarify – this plugin doesn’t override or replace your existing blog comments. Dear me, no. It allows visitors who are currently logged into their Facebook account to leave comments as a Facebook user – complete with their current FB profile picture and a link back to their personal profile page or that of their business (depending on whom they decided to be when posting – see: Posting as Pages above). The integration of the blog and the Facebook page just made what will inevitably become a revolutionary, albeit quiet, leap forward in social connectivity. This is massive. Reading this back just prior to publishing… I’m pretty sure I just made my decision. Watch this space. I mean… the space directly underneath this space.

Here’s the code and API for developers.

And an easy to install plugin version for WordPress.

Brace yourselves.

{ 4 comments }

kraft-dinnerUpdate: “Mac & Cheese” is currently the #3 trending Twitter topic. Well done, Kraft. (4:30pm)

Cluttered dorm room shelves around North America are about to be re-introduced to the greatest post-secondary foodstuff since the Ramen noodle. Kraft has quietly introduced a new social media marketing campaign focused on one of their most beloved figurehead products: Kraft Dinner. The yummy, creamy and cheesy delight has had a well-followed Facebook page for a long time now but the latest foray into the social realm sees Twitter as the tool.

“Under a new program quietly rolled out over the past few weeks, any time two people individually use the phrase “mac & cheese” in a tweet, they’ll each get a link pointing out the “Mac & Jinx.” The first one to click the link and give Kraft his or her address gets five free boxes of Kraft’s mac and cheese and a T-shirt.” – Mashable

“KD” has been a staple of Canadian cuisine for decades (74 years to be exact!) and is known as “Kraft Macaroni and Cheese” in the United States. Based on the specific Twitter keyphrase (“mac and cheese”) which will trigger the auto-tweets from Kraft, it looks like this effort is specifically targeting an American audience. Hardly surprising since Canadian babies are summarily issued a box of KD with their birth certificate. Brand recognition for this particular product is definitely not an issue North of the border, is my point. As a lifelong fan myself, I’m going to enlist the help of a friend, give this a try and get back to you.

{ 2 comments }

square_pegs-showIf that seminal 80s TV show which launched the career of a very young Sarah Jessica Parker doesn’t already have a Facebook page – it damn well should. (Update: it does.) This article doesn’t directly involve any pimply, angst-filled teenagers with Flock of Seagulls haircuts, but any Facebook marketing effort that doesn’t have a specific goal or plan behind it runs the risk of ending up just as out of place, rejected and miserable as the aforementioned and unfortunate fictional highschoolers. Instead of hazing and wedgies, however, the end result will likely be unengaged followers, no measurable success metric and a tremendous waste of your precious budget. A wedgie may now seem more appealing. Like, gag me with a spoon.

The term in question of course comes from that old chestnut “It’s like putting a square peg in a round hole”. Other versions of this saying include putting “t*ts on a bull” or “spitting in the wind”, but they’re all metaphors for the exact same thing – futility. Cutesy crap aside, simply creating your company’s Facebook page is not a guarantee of success. Were I still being cutesy I’d have undoubtedly used the term “silver bullet” there. I may have also referenced the film Field of Dreams but unlike Costner’s cornfield to simply “build it” is nowhere near enough. I assure you – without a clear plan of attack coupled with a set of goals which is then multiplied by the internal resources required to operate your Facebook presence – they will not come. And never will.

I plan on typing up some tangible Facebook Marketing case studies in the very near future, as gross generalities like, “You’se guys need to get on Twitter” are about as helpful as those previously discussed bull-udders. For now, here are some admittedly general (but no less crucial) suggestions for initiating your Facebook marketing effort.

Facebook Marketing: 4 Crucial First Steps

  1. Identify Internal Resources
    You know you’re going to create a Facebook page for your company. Do you also know who will be responsible for its content population, follower interaction, tracking, etc.? If you don’t have about 15 minutes a day or an hour a week to devote – stop dead in your tracks until you reorganize your own schedule or find an intern, employee or consultant who can manage the page for you. It will require consistent attention over an extended period of time. If you don’t have a resource, don’t bother.
  2. Set Clear Goals
    Building a boat doesn’t make much sense without a destination to sail to. Likewise, a Facebook page without a purpose will never amount to more than the online equivalent of a vanity license plate. You’re allowed to rethink your strategy as time passes but at the very least start out with a handful of tangible intentions. Do you want to attract thousands of followers to build the Facebook equivalent of an e-mailing list? Do you want to give your paid Facebook ads an interesting landing page capable of converting? Is this effort meant to supplement your company website’s organic traffic? Write them down, refer to them, change them as needed – just make sure you’ve thought about the purpose behind the page.
  3. Define Tracking and Success Metrics
    You know you want your Facebook page to drive traffic to your e-commerce site, but how will you measure results and attach real value to your efforts? Get familiar with Facebook’s internal “Insights” reporting tool. Install Google Analytics on your website and add a Facebook referral tracking “Goal” to your dashboard. If it all gets too much there are a wealth of 3rd-party reporting tools you may wish to consider. You can track the value of your efforts far beyond the number of followers you have. Use readily available (and free) data to figure out how and why they’re engaging with your page (sharing, commenting, liking) and then use that data to do more of what’s working.
  4. Devise a Clear Plan
    Where to start? It can be an overwhelming question when dealing with a beast as open-ended as Facebook. Keep it simple and start off by “commoditizing” and scheduling certain recurring activities. Every Monday you might set a target of finding, adding and then contributing a comment to 5 Facebook pages or groups (operative word being “contribute”, don’t blatantly promote yourself). Tuesdays and Thursdays might be for manually sharing blog posts (on groups, other pages and with individuals) from your main site which were imported via RSS onto your page. Wednesdays share a relevant link. Fridays write a medium length piece of content which is unique to (and will only ever appear on) your Facebook page. See? It’s not that daunting anymore. Rinse and repeat, week after week until you can identify what’s working and change the plan accordingly.

What have we learned? Your content will never be seen without a plan. A plan is worthless without goals. Goals and plans have to evolve and change. And absolutely none of this will work without a steady stream of the aforementioned content and user engagement facilitated by a resource (ahem, step #1) with the time to devote. What a mind-cluttering maelstrom of interrelated dependencies. Break everything down into these four steps, however, and your efforts are far more likely to succeed. We’ll get into these steps in more detail over time. Until then please feel free to agree, disagree or contribute in the comments below.

{ 1 comment }

ThirstyPony.com started as a search marketing blog way, way back in 2006 – and as we all know, 4.5 years is an absolute eternity in internet time. So the pony could also be accused of being a little dusty. Change, however, is afoot. Or “ahoof”, if you prefer.

The blog isn’t going anywhere, but the site as a whole is now the figurehead of a new Search and Social Media Marketing service focused on helping small businesses and entrepreneurs reach their target markets – and sell their goods and services – online.

Personally I split my time between Ottawa and Toronto, Canada as well as Boston, MA USA. Our current client base is international and if physical proximity isn’t a deal-breaker for you – it certainly isn’t for me either.

I look forward to keeping you as a reader, collaborator or client and am always happy to make new friends and start conversations pertaining to this exciting industry we’re in. ThirstyPony.com is not going anywhere.

{ 0 comments }

matt-foley About a year ago I remember saying to myself, “Damn. This Twitter thing has really hit critical mass. Who knew?” I was right… and horribly wrong simultaneously. The popularity of the strangle little mini-blogging/instant messenger mash-up that first reared its head in 2006 has continued to grow leaps and bounds in only the last 12 months. Dramatically. Amazingly. Ridiculously. Frighteningly. It’s a true monument and testament to the continuing evolution and power of both social media and the internet. And the un-ashamedness with which hundreds of thousands of employees screw the pooch while they’re being paid to do other things.

I tweet about 3-4 times a day and I like to keep it a nice mix of business-related and plain old silly fun. If you follow me you already know you may learn about Dumpling Butts and corporate mergers in the very same breath. You’ve been warned. I do find it useful and I do enjoy it, and one of my guilty pleasures is having a celebrity-only column on my customized TweetDeck dashboard – because everyone who’s anyone seems to be contributing to the dense tweet smog we have to sift through every day. And who doesn’t want to know what they’re favorite porn stars are doing in real-time. Let’s be honest.

jon-favreau-iron-man Directors like Jon Favreau are tweeting about the movies they are working on and even sharing exclusive set photos and other production details (In his case from Iron Man 2.) First-time sitcom stars like Joel McHale are single-handedly improving the likelihood that their new shows will score high enough in the Nielsen’s to be picked up for a second season (in his case, NBC’s Community). And R&B/Rap musicians practically paved the way for celebrity contributions to the network. MC Hammer of all people does a great job marketing his new music and reality show via tweets – when he isn’t praising God for something or other. People who think Twittering can’t be linked to tangible revenue and brand recognition are simply wrong. The challenge is making it appropriate and relevant for your own business – but that’s a separate post.

Movie studios and their many executives, sports teams and TV shows, however, are not particularly comfortable or excited about this new level of transparency. Versions of contracts prohibiting stars from giving away too much too soon, or sharing information the higher-ups just don’t want to disclose, are becoming commonplace. The Hollywood Reporter shared some examples earlier this week:

A recent talent contract from Disney includes a new clause forbidding confidentiality breaches via “interactive media such as Facebook, Twitter, or any other interactive social network or personal blog.”

alg_twitter_megan-mccain Dreamworks writers, while we’re driving down this road, now have to sign contracts that specifically state they will not leak any plot or script-related information via “a social networking site, blog or other Internet-type site.” If you haven’t been paying attention these new clauses may seem like paranoid overkill – but there have actually been more than a few instances over just the last couple of months that have left a few studios and teams looking very stupid as a result of loose-cannon celebrity twitter posts:

  • Paula Abdul used her Twitter account to announce she would not be returning to American Idol. 12,000 13-year-old girls had the news prior to Simon Cowell. Who was probably out trying on tight t-shirts.
  • Last week John McCain’s daughter Meghan posted a photo of her funbags on TweetPic that could not have been a delight for the Senator to discuss with his Arizona constituents.
  • Fox was understandably horrified when the executive producer of their hit show, Bones, let loose a tweet which declared “First time in ‘Bones’ history we are shut down from production. Damn swine flu!”
  • After Donte Stallworth discussed his DUI arrest and subsequent incarceration via Twitter, the NFL banned tweeting at functions and before, during and immediately after games. Full stop.

…and the list goes on. And it will get worse. And I can’t blame Hollywood one iota. Or Ray Liotta. Please share some of your own favorite celebs to follow on Twitter in the comments.

{ 2 comments }

fishing-hookLinkbait can be a very effective tool for search engine optimization. Social media is important for marketing your small or large business in 2009. The sky is blue. Women have secrets. Thanks for nothing, Dave. We’re actually dumber for having listened to you just now. You’re so very welcome, and do you know of a bank in the vicinity where I can cash your seminar check?

Preach vs. Practice
You learned absolutely nothing from that first paragraph which you didn’t already know. Simply telling someone to consider linkbait, link building or general social media as a means to drive both direct and eventually organic traffic to their site is like lending them your car and forgetting to give them the keys. A big heap of useless nothing. Don’t be that guy. The interwebnets are already flooded with them. And for God’s sake don’t pay them to tell you all those things. Ask for specific examples of their own linkbait work that can actually teach you something practical about applying the strategy to your own business. Don’t let them get away with simply talking about those damned blender videos again.

One of the reasons I am a fan of Montreal SEO maven Gab Goldenberg’s blog is that he provides real-world examples of work he has done for actual clients. As a result he is never even in the running on those days when I get so overwhelmed by my Google Reader backlog that I decide to start culling the RSS feed herd. I thought of possible ways in which I too could provide something particularly helpful today and dug out six of my previous linkbait project URLs. I’m not saying they’re ground-breaking or even especially good – but I did learn a lot from them and maybe you can too.

What is Linkbait?
Simply put, linkbaiting is the creation of something online which you feel has the potential to go viral. “Going viral” means a piece of content is so engaging, funny, helpful, life-saving, disturbing or a combination of all five that people feverishly pass it around amongst their friends via IM and email. Scores of bloggers link to it because they want to share it with their audience. It becomes bookmarked naturally in tons of social media sites. The benefits are twofold. In the short term the popular webpage gets tons of direct traffic and brand recognition. In the long term the domain encourages many one-way incoming links which is a crucial factor the major search engines take into account when deciding where to rank your site for specific keywords.

Here are some great articles regarding the construction of effective linkbait if you’d like to read more on the basics. I’d rather spend my bloggy time today showing you some real and original examples of linkbait I myself created – and then looking into the reasons they worked, didn’t work or could have been improved upon. I didn’t make these with enormous production budgets or teams of semi-conscious, hungover marketing interns at my disposal – but I did use my imagination with some degree of tangible success. Perhaps this article should be called Linkbait Ideas for Small to Medium-Sized Businesses. Perhaps this article should be skipped altogether.

Linkbait Best Practices
I tried to follow the golden (and vague) rules that I’d been reading about since the term “linkbait” was originally coined. Use media. Make it informative. Make it funny. Put it in a “top 10″ format. Include prominent social media submission buttons. Include an “email this to a friend” form. Make sharing easy. Consider paying off some prominent Diggers (did I say that out loud?). Put it in a subfolder on the client’s domain without any branding and then move it under the main template after it has been live for a few weeks to disguise its true marketing purpose. Sacrifice a chicken and pray. Read up on Chaos Theory.

Original Linkbait Examples
I’m going to link to these 6 examples using the specific keyword phrases they were designed to draw traffic for. This is partially because I’d like that strategy to be abundantly clear and partially because this is my blog and it’s my perogative to keep flogging these pieces even years after they were created should I want to. A good, timeless piece of bait can continue to draw relevant traffic indefinitely.

valentines-dayValentine’s Day History
A client wanted to drive traffic for terms related to Valentine’s Day because they sold many products specific to the holiday. Product terms (“valentine’s day cards” etc.) were understandably extremely competitive. There were some related terms, however, that were far less contentious yet still had reasonable relevant search volume attached to them. I had a glance at the day’s Wikipedia entry and was fascinated to learn how many truly awful things had transpired on February 14th over the centuries. The dim, filthy lightbulb in my head clicked on and thus “14 Horrible Moments in Valentine’s Day History” was born.

  • The Good: The piece definitely went viral, doing well in networks like Digg and Reddit, attracting many natural links from bloggers and was even linked to by some high profile news sites. It continues to attract lots of seasonal traffic and new incoming links to this day.
  • The Bad: Not much – this was definitely a success and made the client very happy.
  • Lesson Learned: The vague advice I’d been hearing was true – Decent linkbait can indeed drive tons of direct, relevant traffic and have considerable ongoing SEO benefits lasting years.

funny-custom-bbqCustom BBQs
In the middle of Summer 2007 I was asked to create a linkbait piece designed to attract grill and barbecue related keywords to a client’s bbq review section. I wondered if I’d be able to find photos of some custom made rigs having recently seen a homemade beer keg smoker at a friend’s house. Needless to say, I was not disappointed. Yeeee Haaaa! You’ve got a pretty mouth.

  • The Good: Although it had a disappointing social media run, it resulted in quite a few links from blogs.
  • The Bad: In retrospect the subject matter probably had a very limited audience. Again, failed virally.
  • Lesson Learned: If possible focus on a subject related to your client’s goods or services with the broadest potential appeal – men and women, old and young, kids and adults. And never, ever launch a linkbait the day before one of the biggest holidays of the year.

ncaa-buzzer-beaterNCAA Buzzer Beaters
This time last year March Madness was upon us and I had a client with a lot of tournament tickets to move. Being more of a hockey/football fan I researched some popular online NCAA discussion topics and quickly decided a list of “buzzer beaters” would be a good idea. I’d yet to use videos for a piece and got myself all excited about it. Everyone from the Director of Marketing to the CEO approved my final piece which took several days for me to write, research, collect and code. Then the NCAA (who were partnered with my clients in some respects) refused to let us use it. “Why on Earth did you even show it to them?” I remember asking them in frustration. I ended up using a revised, non-video version of it on my own semi-related hockey fights site. Cause hockey is a sport too, get it? I really just didn’t want it to go to waste. You can see the original video linkbait preserved for all time on my personal blog.

  • The Good: It was a good exercise in incorporating video into linkbait and I was able to repurpose it as an NCAA article (with SEO-friendly links) on several blogs and free article directories without alerting any ambulance chasers.
  • The Bad: It was nipped in the bud. Also, I found out that the client-side resource who offered to help with my bulletpoints and research completely plagiarized them from another website and had to re-write the entire thing the night before it was supposed to launch.
  • Lesson Learned: Let the CEO, Directors and lawyers see your proposed idea before you spend 20 hours putting it all together. Also, with a little re-writing many linkbaits can be repurposed in text form for alternate uses.

I have three more examples to share with you if you’re still awake, but regret I must get back to my company duties for the rest of today. Namely – plotting my next big viral failure success. Stay tuned for part two and I would love it if people shared their own linkbait creations with everyone right here in the comments.

{ 22 comments }

What is Link Building?
Link building is a very general, umbrella term used to describe any activities or tasks that involve getting other web entities to link to yours. Links are of the most value when they are “one-way”, meaning they link to you but there is no reciprocal link in return from your site to theirs. Search engines see one-way links as more objective because without reciprocation there is no need for another site to link to yours, unless they were truly impressed for some reason. One-way links are measured as more “objective” for that reason.

What are some practical examples of link building?
Link building activities can include relevant directory submissions, careful and relevant paid link brokering, press release/article authoring and submission, forum and blog commenting, linkbait strategies, providing link-friendly and free onsite resources and much more.

Why is link building so important to SEM?
Google, Yahoo and MSN consider one-way incoming links to a site to be “votes” for the site. It is also a good idea to ensure that any link to your site contains specific keywords that you are targeting, as search engines are very likely to begin associating link text with the site said link resolves on. The more general links to your site the better your overall chances for well-ranked keywords. The more targeted and relevant incoming links the better you will likely do for the keywords you are using in your hyperlinks.

{ 4 comments }

Since I moved to Ottawa, Ontario a little over a year ago, I have met many talented industry peers. While comparatively small, the Ottawa SEO community is alive and well, and I am flattered to have been asked to co-host a Search/Web Marketing Seminar on Thursday, October 23rd. This will be the first of a series, costs about $40 dollars to attend and you can register online here.

Topics covered by the speakers will include paid online marketing and I personally will be prattling on about organic search engine optimization best practices. This first seminar is designed as an overview for beginner to medium skill levels, but you’ll be able to ask me any questions you want and we’ll be working live on actual attendee sites in the interests of practical examples – which I insist on.

Space is limited to 25 people and the seminar itself includes a cocktail hour afterwards. The whole shooting match is conveniently located at the offices of Cyan Solutions at 58 Arthur Street. Register or read more details if you like and I hope to meet some of you local folks there.

{ 0 comments }