Monthly Archives: September 2010

How to Revive a Dead Email Campaign

Courtesy of Hal Licino, DIRECT MAGAZINE

You were one of the early adopters of email marketing—and your campaign shows it. You have emails going out that could have been pitched to the Flintstones.

If your emails are more stone tablet than iPad, you might want to consider some innovative ways to shake up your campaign and get those open rates out of the hibernation they’ve been in since the Emailocene era. Here are some tips:

* Announce huge changes. Nothing succeeds like a total revamp. If you announce to your customers that there are enormous changes in store, preferably with a countdown calendar to the big day, you will build up anticipation, which will pay off in renewed interest in your former snoozefest.

Everything has to be new and exciting, from your images to your layout right down to your fonts. And you can’t get away with just cosmetic changes; your campaign’s offerings have to be new, exciting, alluring, innovative, and relevant as well. It’s time to jettison Urkel and replace him with Robert Pattinson.

Reward your customers for their loyalty in myriad ways, by providing profound and overarching value your competitors can’t match. Make sure the accounting department is not looking and give away all the dusty old stock in the warehouse. You’ll be rewarded soon enough.

* Send out surveys. The essence of online life is that everyone is empowered to have his or her say on everything from the local dogcatcher to the president’s birth certificate. If you inform your customers that you’re listening to their feedback and that the survey you’re sending out is the best way to have their voices be heard, you may be surprised at the sound of clicks. Prospects who never have opened your emails previously might rush to get their two cents’ worth in. You can amplify your response if you announce that the more-relevant comments will be placed on your Website.

* Post the top 10 favorite products. Curiosity Got the Click, so the recipients who have been avoiding your emails like swine-flu vaccinations may be tempted to open one if they can compare their personal preferences against your top ten products. Just about everyone wants to be firmly seated on the bandwagon, as it provides a sense of belonging.

If you include a way for recipients to vote on the 10 favorites you’ve listed, and perhaps have a follow-up People’s Choice Top 10, it can provide a further incentive to get the recalcitrant laggards involved.

* Ask them to reconfirm their subscriptions. This piece of advice will actually cut down your list size considerably and runs counter to everything you were taught at Email Polytechnic: The ultimate goal of every email marketer is supposed to be to accumulate a list that encompasses all 7 billion people on earth and their pets as well.

In reality, however, there is an overwhelming amount of dead weight on your list right now, and continuing to flagellate the defunct equine is not going to do anyone any good. If they don’t want your emails any longer, then exercise the catch-and-release program. It will free up your resources for the prospects who are actually interested in what you’re selling.

You don’t have to roll over and placidly accept abysmally low open rates. Injecting your email campaign with some excitement, innovation, and flair will help to get your results out of the flatline mode they’ve been in and back to vigorous, vivacious, bouncing health!

Hal Licino is the author of two books and an e-mail marketing advocate for Benchmark Email.

Yes, Your Audience Wants Utilitainment (Explanation Below)

Google in 1998, showing the original logo

Image via Wikipedia

Courtesy of Chris Young and Online Video Insider 

When you consider the amount of time the average consumer spends staring at glowing rectangles each day, you’d think marketers would have figured out how to hold their audiences’ attention online.

Remarkably, though, there are some marketers who still think that simply having a basic Web presence is enough. It’s not.

Consumers are actually looking for brand interaction — a dialogue, if you will. The interaction must be based on authenticity, integrity — and for many brands, it’s got to have that element of “cool.” And when it comes down to it, not only is your audience equipped for interaction (i.e., faster Internet connections, smarter mobile devices & a host of social networks at their disposal), they’re demanding interaction.

So regardless of whether the term “utilitainment” makes you cringe, the concept behind this marketing jargon gem is genius, really. Here’s why:

In the world of branded entertainment, utilitainment is exactly what you think it means: utility + entertainment. It’s a word used to describe content that offers audiences entertainment value and a multidimensional consumer experience that is, above all, useful to them.

Until recently, the term has almost exclusively been associated with mobile apps. And there have been successes and failures. The new “Karate Kid” app produced by Sony Pictures for the iPhone, for example, provides real entertainment value, and offers users engaging utilities — i.e., five awesome games — to keep them coming back for more.

However, as online branded content shifts towards a more interactive experience for the end user, the term has become more applicable to the traditional Web world. In my experience, the success of any branded content campaign for the Web is entirely dependent on the right mix of sponsored content, brand messaging that doesn’t hit you over the head, lots of entertainment value, and of course, utility.

So whatever route you take-whether it’s offering up clever webisodes centered around a new car model and allowing your audience to create their own version right on top of the video player, or launching a celebrity chef spoof Web series that engages users with games, useful drink recipes, and a character that embodies the ethos of the brand — the content has to be both entertaining and useful.

Perhaps the inevitable shift towards utilitainment-oriented Web video content was best summed up last month at The Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival by Google’s VP for global media and platforms, Henrique de Castro. He told the audience: “Rebalance your media mix because the whole world will become digital.”

I’d argue that we’re already there.

Does Google Instant Mark the End of SEO?

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

by Chris Crum  Courtesy of WebProNews

Google Instant Considerations for Search Marketing

A reporter (I believe she was from AdAge) attending Google’s Q&A about Google Instant pointed out that the new search feature tends to favor big brands. This isn’t really surprising, as it is these brands that are more likely to be searched for most often. After all, they’re big because people know them.

Do you think Google Instant is a threat to SEO? Share your thoughts.

iCrossing has a list of brands that come up when you enter each letter of the alphabet (not all are brands, but many are). A is for Amazon (not Apple), B is for Bank of America, M is for Mapquest (not Microsoft), N is for Netflix, P is for Pandora, V is for Verizon, and Y is for Yahoo.

You must keep in mind, however, that the instant results are personalized. Google takes into account things like your location and your surfing habits when providing you results.

Google Instant doesn’t necessarily make things any easier on small businesses, but it’s showing big brands in cases where Google probably would’ve suggested big brands anyway. If users do a lot of local searches, it’s possible that Google could show more local results (including small businesses) for those users, I’m speculating.

Steve Rubel says that Google Instant makes SEO irrelevant. “Here’s what this means,” he says. “No two people will see the same web. Once a single search would do the trick – and everyone saw the same results. That’s what made search engine optimization work. Now, with this, everyone is going to start tweaking their searches in real-time. The reason this is a game changer is feedback. When you get feedback, you change your behaviors.”

He’s not wrong about that, but I’m not sure that makes SEO irrelevant. Google has been showing different results to different users for quite a while now. This is really just an extension of that.

Businesses might want to try (and have other people try) doing searches for keywords that they would expect people to use to find their site. See what comes up (keep in mind the personalization) and work from there. Easier said than done no doubt, but it’s something to consider. Think about what kinds of people will be interested in your products and what other kind of searches they might be doing. It’s not a science, but again, perhaps something worth considering. It might mean getting to know your customers better, which can’ t be a bad thing anyway. Maybe it means asking them to take surveys. Maybe it doesn’t.

The whole thing doesn’t help organic SEO’s case in the old SEO vs PPC debate. I’ll give Rubel that.

Speaking of PPC, Google says Google Instant changes the way it counts impressions. “It’s possible that this feature may increase or decrease your overall impression levels,” says Google’s Dan Friedman. “However, Google Instant may ultimately improve the quality of your clicks since it helps users type queries that more directly connect them with the answers they need.”

Trevor Claiborne of the Google Analytics Team says that Analytics users might notice some fluctuations in AdWords impression volume and traffic for organic keywords. “For example, you may find that certain keywords receive significantly more or fewer impressions moving forward,” he says.

You should read this post on the Google Webamster Central blog. It says that impressions are measured in three ways: the traditional way, when a user clicks on a link that appears as they begin to type, and when a user stops typing, and the results are displayed for a minimum of 3 seconds.

Sidenote: Google’s Matt Cutts weighed in on the whole will Google Instant kill SEO thing. “Almost every new change at Google generates the question ‘Will X kill SEO?’ Here’s an video I did last year, but it still applies,” he says.

He says, however that over time, it could change SEO. “The search results will remain the same for a query, but it’s possible that people will learn to search differently over time,” says Cutts. “For example, I was recently researching a congressperson. With Google Instant, it was more visible to me that this congressperson had proposed an energy plan, so I refined my search to learn more, and quickly found myself reading a post on the congressperson’s blog that had been on page 2 of the search results.”

Google Instant will likely become increasingly important to search marketing, because not only will it roll out to more countries (it’s starting in the U.S. and a select few others), but it will soon come to mobile and browser search boxes. Each of these factors will greatly increase how often Instant results are displayed.

The mobile factor actually has implications for Google retaining a substantial amount of mobile searches in general. The better (and quicker) Google can give results on any kind of query, the less reason users have to go to different apps to acquire certain information.

Google clearly said that ranking stays the same with Google Instant, but it will change the way people search. It will affect their search behavior, and that is what search marketers are going to have to think about more than ever. You should also consider that some people will simply deactivate the feature, leaving them open to Google’s standard results.

Tell us what you think of Google Instant. Do you like it or not?

29 SEO Mistakes

a chart to describe the search engine market

Image via Wikipedia

Here’s a quick summary of some common SEO mistakes prepared by Stephan Spencer of SEARCH ENGINE LAND:

Worst Practice N/A Will stop Won’t stop
1. Do you use pull-down boxes for navigation?      
2. Does your primary navigation require Flash, Java or Javascript to function?      
3. Is your web site done entirely in Flash or overly graphical with very little textural content?      
4. Is your home page a “splash page” or otherwise content-less?      
5. Does your site employ frames?      
6. Do the URLs of your pages include “cgi-bin” or numerous ampersands?      
7. Do the URLs of your pages include session IDs or user IDs?      
8. Do you unnecessarily spread your site across multiple domains?      
9. Are your title tags the same on all pages?      
10. Do you have pop-ups on your site?      
11. Do you have error pages in the search results (“session expired”, etc.)?      
12. Does your File Not Found error return a 200 status code?      
13. Do you use “click here” or any other superfluous copy for your hyperlink text?      
14. Do you have superfluous text like “Welcome to” at the beginning of your title tags?      
15. Do you unnecessarily employ redirects, or are they the wrong type?      
16. Do you have any hidden or small text meant only for the search engines?      
17. Do you engage in “keyword stuffing“?      
18. Do you have pages targeted to obviously irrelevant keywords?      
19. Do you repeatedly submit your site to the search engines?      
20. Do you incorporate your competitors’ brand names in your meta tags?      
21. Do you have duplicate pages with minimal or no changes?      
22. Does your content read like “spamglish”?      
23. Do you have “doorway pages” on your site?      
24. Do you have machine-generated pages on your site?      
25. Are you “pagejacking”?      
26. Are you cloaking?      
27. Are you submitting to FFA (“Free For All”) link pages and link farms?      
28. Are you buying expired domains with high PageRank scores to use as link targets?      
29. Are you presenting a country selector as your home page to Googlebot?

Worst practices explained: 

  1. Do you use pull-down boxes for navigation? Search engine spiders can’t fill out forms, even short ones with just one pull-down. Thus, they can’t get to the pages that follow. If you’re using pull-downs, make sure there is an alternate means of navigating to those pages that the spiders can use. Note this is not the same as a mouseover menu, where sub-choices show up upon hovering over the main navigation bar; that’s fine if done using CSS (rather than Javascript.)
  2. Does your primary navigation require Flash, Java or Javascript? If you rely on search engine spiders executing Flash, Java or Javascript code in order to access links to deeper pages within your site, you’re taking a big risk. The search engines have a limited ability to deal with Flash, Java and Javascript. So the links may not be accessible to the spiders, or the link text may not get associated with the link. Semantically marked up HTML is always the most search engine friendly way to go.
  3. Is your site done entirely in Flash or overly graphical with very little textual content? Text is always better than graphics or Flash animations for search engine rankings. Page titles and section headings should be text, not graphics. The main textual content of the page should ideally not be embedded within Flash. If it is, then have an alternative text version within div tags and use SWFObject to determine whether that text is displayed based on whether the visitor has the Flash plugin installed.
  4. Is your home page a “splash page” or otherwise content-less? With most webites, as mentioned above, the home page is weighted by the search engines as the most important page on the site (i.e., given the highest PageRank score.) Thus, having no keyword-rich content on your home page is a missed opportunity.
  5. Does your site employ frames? Search engines have problems crawling sites that use frames (i.e., where part of the page moves when you scroll but other parts stay stationary.) Google advises not using frames: “Frames tend to cause problems with search engines, bookmarks, emailing links and so on, because frames don’t fit the conceptual model of the Web (every page corresponds to a single URL.) “Furthermore, if a frame does get indexed, searchers clicking through to it from search results will often find an “orphaned page”: a frame without the content it framed, or content without the associated navigation links in the frame it was intended to display with. Often, they will simply find an error page.What about “iFrames”, you ask? iFrames are better than frames for a variety of reasons, but the content within an iframe on a page still won’t be indexed as part of that page’s content.
  6. Do the URLs of your pages Include “cgi-bin” or numerous ampersands? As discussed, search engines are leery of dynamically generated pages. That’s because they can lead the search spider into an infinite loop called a “spider trap.” Certain characters (question marks, ampersands, equal signs) and “cgi-bin” in the URL are sure-fire tip-offs to the search engines that the page is dynamic and thus to proceed with caution. If the URLs have long, overly complex “query strings” (the part of the URL after the question mark), with a number of ampersands and equals signs (which signify that there are multiple variables in the query string), then your page is less likely to get included in the search engine’s index.
  7. Do the URLs of your pages include session IDs or user IDs? If your answer to this question is yes, then consider this: search engine spiders like Googlebot don’t support cookies, and thus the spider will be assigned a new session ID or user ID on each page on your site that it visits. This is the proverbial “spider trap” waiting to happen. Search engine spiders may just skip over these pages. If such pages do get indexed, there will be multiple copies of the same pages each taking a share of the PageRank score, resulting in PageRank dilution and lowered rankings.If you’re not quite clear on why your PageRank scores will be diluted, think of it this way: Googlebot will find minimal links pointing to the exact version of a page with a particular session ID in its URL.
  8. Do you unnecessarily spread your site across multiple domains? This is typically done for load balancing purposes. For example, the links on the JCPenney.com home page point off to www2.jcpenney.com, or www3.jcpenney.com, or www4.jcpenney.com and so on, depending on which server is the least busy. This dilutes PageRank in a way similar to how session IDs in the URL dilute PageRank.
  9. Are your title tags the same on all pages? Far too many websites use a single title tag for the entire site. If your site falls into that group, you’re missing out on a lot of search engine traffic. Each page of your site should “sing” for one or several unique keyword themes. That “singing” is stifled when the page’s title tag doesn’t incorporate the particular keyword being targeted.
  10. Do you have pop-ups on your site? Most search engines don’t index Javascript-based pop-ups, so the content within the pop-up will not get indexed. If that’s not good enough reason to stop using pop-ups, you should know that people hate them – with a passion. Also consider that untold millions of users have pop-up blockers installed. (The Google Toolbar and Yahoo Companion toolbar are pop-up blockers, too, in case you didn’t know.)
  11. Do you have error pages in the search results (“session expired” etc.)? First impressions count . . . a lot! So make sure search engine users aren’t seeing error messages in your search listings. Hotmail took the cake in this regard, with a Google listing for its home page that, for years, began with: “Sign-In Access Error.” Not exactly a useful, compelling or brand-building search result for the user to see. Check to see if you have any error pages by querying Google, Yahoo and Bing for site:www.yourcompanyurl.com. Eliminate error pages from the search engine’s index by serving up the proper status code in the HTTP header (see below) and/or by including a meta robots noindex tag in the HTML.
  12. Does your “file not found” error page return a 200 status code? This is a corollary to the tip immediately above. Before the content of a page is served up by your Web server, a HTTP header is sent, which includes a status code. A status code of 200 is what’s usually sent, meaning that the page is “OK.” A status code of 404 means that the requested URL was not found. Obviously, a file not found error page should return a 404 status code, not a 200. You can verify whether this is the case using a server header checker and then into the form input a bogus URL at your domain, such as http://www.yourcompanyurl.com/blahblah. An additional, and even more serious, consequence of a 200 being returned with URLs that are clearly bogus/non-existent is that your site will look less trustworthy by Google (Google does check for this).Note that there are other error status codes that may be more appropriate to return than a 404 in certain circumstances, like a 403 if the page is restricted or 500 if the server is overloaded and temporarily unavailable; a 200 (or a 301 or 302 redirect that points to a 200) should never be returned, regardless of the error, to ensure the URL with the error does not end up in the search results.
  13. Do you use “click here” or other superfluous copy for your hyperlink text? Wanting to rank tops for the words “click here,” eh? Try some more relevant keywords instead. Remember, Google associates the link text with the page you are linking to, so make that anchor text count.
  14. Do you have superfluous text like “Welcome To” at the beginning of your title tags? No one wants to be top ranked for the word “welcome” (except maybe the Welcome Inn chain!) so remove those superfluous words from your title tags!
  15. Do you unnecessarily employ redirects, or are they the wrong type? A redirect is where the URL changes automatically while the page is still loading in the user’s browser. Temporary (status code of 302) redirects — as opposed to permanent (301) ones — can cost you valuable PageRank. That’s because temporary redirects don’t pass PageRank to the destination URL. Links that go through a click-through tracker first tend to use temporary redirects. Don’t redirect visitors when they first enter your site at the home page; but if you must, at least employ a 301 redirect. Whether 301 or 302, if you can easily avoid using a redirect altogether, then do that. If you must have a redirect, avoid having a bunch of redirects in a row; if that’s not possible, then ensure that there are only 301s in that chain. Most importantly, avoid selectively redirecting human visitors (but not spiders) immediately as they enter your site from a search engine, as that can be deemed a “sneaky redirect” and can get you penalized or banned.
  16. Do you have any hidden or small text meant only for the search engines? It may be tempting to obscure your keywords from visitors by using tiny text that is too small for humans to see, or as text that is the same color as the page background. However, the search engines are on to that trick.
  17. Do you engage in “keyword stuffing”? Putting the same keyword everywhere, such as in every ALT attribute, is just asking for trouble. Don’t go overboard with repeating keywords or adding a meta keywords tag that’s hundreds of words long. (Why even have a meta keywords tag? They don’t help with SEO, they only help educate your competitors on which keywords you are targeting.) Google warns not to hide keywords in places that aren’t rendered, such as comment tags. A good rule of thumb to operate under: if you’d feel uncomfortable showing to a Google employee what you’re doing, you shouldn’t be doing it.
  18. Do you have pages targeted to obviously irrelevant keywords? Just because “britney spears” is a popular search term doesn’t mean it’s right for you to be targeting it. Relevancy is the name of the game. Why would you want to be number one for “britney spears” anyway? The bounce rate for such traffic would be terrible.
  19. Do you repeatedly submit your site to the engines? At best this is unnecessary. At worst this could flag your site as spam, since spammers have historically submitted their sites to the engines through the submission form (usually multiple times, using automated tools, and without consideration for whether the site is already indexed). You shouldn’t have to submit your site to the engines; their spiders should find you on their own — assuming you have some links pointing to your site. And if you don’t, you have bigger issues: like the fact your site is completely devoid of PageRank, trust and authority. If you’re going to submit your site to a search engine, search for your site first to make sure it’s not already in the search engine’s index and only submit it manually if it’s not in the index. Note this warning doesn’t apply to participating in the Sitemaps program; it’s absolutely fine to provide the engines with a comprehensive Sitemaps XML file on an ongoing basis (learn more about this program at Sitemaps.org).
  20. Do you incorporate your competitors’ brand names in your meta tags? Unless you have their express permission, this is a good way to end up at the wrong end of a lawsuit.
  21. Do you have duplicate pages with minimal or no changes? The search engines won’t appreciate you purposefully creating duplicate content to occupy more than your fair share of available positions in the search results. Note that a dynamic (database-driven) website inadvertently offering duplicate versions of pages to the spiders at multiple URLs is not a spam tactic, as it is a common occurrence for dynamic websites (even Google’s own Googlestore.com suffers from this), but it is something you would want to minimize due to the PageRank dilution effects.
  22. Does your content read like “spamglish”? Crafting pages filled with nonsensical, keyword-rich gibberish is a great way to get penalized or banned by search engines.
  23. Do you have “doorway pages” on your site? Doorway pages are pages designed solely for search engines that aren’t useful or interesting to human visitors. Doorway pages typically aren’t linked to much from other sites or much from your own site. The search engines strongly discourage the use of this tactic, quite understandably.
  24. Do you have machine-generated pages on your site? Such pages are usually devoid of meaningful content. There are tools that churn out keyword-rich doorway pages for you, automatically. Yuck! Don’t do it; the search engines can spot such doorway pages.
  25. Are you “pagejacking”?” Pagejacking” refers to hijacking or stealing high-ranking pages from other sites and placing them on your site with few or no changes. Often, this tactic is combined with cloaking so as to hide the victimized site’s content from search engine users. The tactic has evolved over the years; for example “auto-blogs” are completely pagejacked content (lifted from RSS feeds). Pagejacking is a big no-no! Not only is it very unethical, it’s illegal; and the consequences can be severe.
  26. Are you “cloaking”? “Cloaking” is the tactic of detecting search engine spiders when they visit and varying the content specifically for the spiders in order to improve rankings. If you are in any way selectively modifying the page content, this is nothing less than a bait-and-switch. Search engines have undercover spiders that masquerade as regular visitors to detect such unscrupulous behavior. (Note that cleaning up search engine unfriendly URLs selectively for spiders, like Yahoo.com does on their home page by dropping their ylt tracking parameter from all their links, is a legitimate tactic.)
  27. Are you submitting to FFA (“Free For All”) links pages and link farms? Search engines don’t think highly of link farms and such, and may penalize you or ban you for participating on them. How can you tell link farms and directories apart from each other? Link farms are poorly organized, have many more links per page, and have minimal editorial control.
  28. Are you buying expired domains with high PageRank scores to use as link targets? Google underwent a major algorithm change a while back to thwart this tactic. Now, when domains expire, their PageRank scores are reset to 0, regardless of how many links point to the site.
  29. Are you presenting a country selector as your home page to Googlebot? Global corporations sometimes present first-time visitors with a list of countries and/or languages to choose from upon entry to their site. An example of this is at EMC.com . This becomes a “worst practice” when this country list is represented to the search engines as the home page. Happily, EMC had done their homework on SEO and is detecting the spiders and waving them on. In other words, Googlebot doesn’t have to select a country before entry. You can confirm this to be the case yourself: do a Google search a “cache:www.emc.com” and you will see the EMC’s U.S. home page.

19 Free Photo Sites for Blogging

Map of countries to which Creative Commons Int...

Image via Wikipedia

Our list of free photo resources has been a popular post since 2007. I noticed that one on the list had gone out of business and have found a few new ones. So, I wanted to bring you a new, improved list for 2010. Morguefile and Flickr Creative Commons are my favorites for truly free, not just royalty-free, images.

Please let me know if there are others you use that aren’t on our list.

Courtesy of Social Media Today.

  1. MorgueFile
  2. Flickr Creative Commons Service
  3. Stock.Xchang
  4. Image Base
  5. Open Photo
  6. FreeFoto
  7. EveryStockPhoto
  8. FreePhotosBank
  9. Image After
  10. Studio 25
  11. Free Stock Photos
  12. PD Photo
  13. Free Images
  14. Stock Vault
  15. Free Digital Photos
  16. Free Range Stock
  17. Unprofound
  18. Photo Rogue
  19. Free Pixels