Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Link Prunning: Best Practice or 'Penguin' Consequence?

Since Google's latest update, Penguin, targets low quality, irrelevant, spammy websites and links (which we'll call 'bad links'), it's prudent to check your own website's back-links to ensure those who are linking to your are relevant and synergistic to your own site's content.

To do this you can use several free back-link checkers, such as http://www.opensiteexplorer.org/, http://www.backlinkwatch.com/, or
http://www.iwebtool.com/backlink_checker .  

Then, go down the list and see who's linking to you. This may be laborious, but well worth it. Especially if you noticed your traffic and SERP presence drop in the last few weeks, you may have speculated that Penguin is to blame.

Next, it's literally a manual process of visiting the 'bad link's' website and contacting them to remove the link going to your site. If there's several 'bad links',  it's best to create a form letter. According to searchenginewatch.com, the letter  should state that you are a website owner trying to recover from a Google penalty and would like the following links removed. Then, list the URLs where the links can be found, the URL on your site they point to, the anchor text ─ all the info needed to easily find the link you're requesting removed.

Sometimes, it's easy to find contact information of 'bad links', you simply visit the
site and can find email or similar information in the footer or 'Contact Us' area of the website.

Other times it's harder, and you may need to engage in some free tools to help determine a 'bad link's' website owner. According to searchenginewatch.com, such tools are:

-Domaintools.com: If you want to find out who owns the site your link is on, visit domain tools or type "whois.sc" in front of a URL.

-C-Class Checker: If you have a list of all the links you want to get rid of, you can run them through a bulk C-class checker to see how many of them are on the same C-class.

-SpyonWeb: If you only have 1 URL to work with, this tool lets you find out what other domains they are associated with. Just put in a website URL, IP address or even the Google analytics or AdSense code and you can find all of the websites that are connected to it.Keep a record of all efforts to contact 'bad links', as it will show Google you've been making a good effort to get rid of these irrelevant links.

If you find that Google's Panda & Penguin updates have affected your website and you believe there may have been an error of some sort, there is a form on Google you can fill out to pinpoint search terms that you believe you shouldn't be penalized for: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/viewform?formkey=dEVxdmdRWFJRTjRoLWZVTHZkaTBQbkE6MQ&ndplr=1   

Monday, September 10, 2012

Brand Building Basics: How to increase your biz's reach and visibility for pennies

When you’re launching a business it’s important to build your brand. But what does that really mean?
Your brand is your business – it should convey your USP – unique selling proposition.  It’s what makes your business unique, recognizable, and accepted in the marketplace.

And despite what many think, building a brand doesn’t take a lot of money.  If you’re a small business and have little to no budget, there are some creatively strategic ways to set yourself apart from the pack, establish your brand as well as increase visibility, bonding and sales.

Here’s some food for thought…
Name and Image. Make sure your name clearly reflects what you do. Especially with the Internet, business names are incorporated into your domain (or URL), so a name that is synergistic to what your business actually does and is keyword rich will help with search engine marketing. Your name should also be easy to understand not using obscure words, lay jargon or nomenclatures.  There’s nothing worse than a business name that is not search engine or user friendly.  If you chose to pick a ‘creatively challenging’ name, make sure from a search and human reader perspective, that your tag line, opening home page copy and meta data all reflect clearly what you do and your related keywords. Lastly, your name should have a long shelf life.

This just means it shouldn’t be tied to a specific point in time that will ‘date’ it or make it seem obsolete. 
Your image or logo should also clearly portray who you are in a symbol or graphic. It should be eye-catching and be on most every marketing you have – website, email auto signature, letterhead, PowerPoint slides, business cards, etc.

Branding tip!  When it comes to banner advertising, aside from your primary mission of the campaign, which may be for leads or sales, it’s a good idea to have your name and logo somewhere on the banner ad itself (perhaps lower right corner) for a secondary goal of branding. Your banner is going to be rotating on many websites and in networks getting perhaps hundreds of thousands of eyeballs … that exposure shouldn’t be wasted. 

Recognition. You want to place your name, logo, tag line and other information about your biz in front of your target audience.  This means placing content (editorial material) and promotional material in places where your audience congregates.

Branding tip!  Have a cost effective multi-channel marketing plan.  Do your research, surf the web and note the websites, forums, and other locations your target audience frequents. Then, depending on each location, when applicable, upload banner ads (with your logo), relevant content, video snippets, and articles that reflect your company in a snapshot.  For offline locations, again, go to specific locations where your ideal prospect would visit, then post hardcopy marketing pieces.  This is old school, grassroots marketing, but it works for local branding and even is good for business development with local businesses. The marketing could be in the form of posters, tri-folds, business cards, and hand outs.  Direct mail is another great venue that doesn’t have to be expensive. Your most expensive items will be your list rental costs and postage.  You can reduce list rental by refining your list to ‘selects’ based on zip code(s)  and your postage costs can be reduced if you pick something simple like a 6x9 postcard mailer.

Loyalty. Leverage social media. This may take a little time for word of mouth to spread, but if you talk to your audience, not at them, viral marketing start to happen. Encourage friends, followers and fans to forward to friends and share news.  Post exciting pictures. Engage with readers.  Incent and reward your audience with special ‘social marketing’ only offers.  Ask for comments and interact.  This may seem like a waste of time but engaging with your prospects, and building and cultivating the relationship creates bonding and brand loyalty. It basically turns strangers into friends, friends into customers, customers into multi-buyers, and multi-buyers into advocates.  And soon your advocates will be marketing your brand for you (for free!). 

Buzz. It’s important when building your brand to cast a wide net and increase market visibility and 
exposure.  Free press releases are a great way to complement your initiatives. You can create a schedule for continuity and presence, to have a free press release go out two times a month.  These releases should be newsworthy and have useful information.  They should also be keyword rich (which will help drive targeted traffic back to your website) and link back to the longer release on your website (i.e. Press Room). Some free press release services I like are PRlog.org and Free-press-release.com.  For breakthrough news or company milestones, you may want to compliment your free release with a paid release.  There are many online press release distribution companies that have cost-effective rates.  Some that I like are PRweb.com and PRbuzz.com. 

Branding tip!  Don’t’ forget to upload excerpts (headline/synopsis) of your release to social marketing and bookmarking sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Digg, Stumble Upon, and more linking back to your ‘Press Room’ for added distribution and encourage website visits.

Quality. Your brand isn’t worth anything if your product or service isn’t of high-quality.  Make sure you offer a good, solid product or service. Do your surveillance, see what’s going on in the market place with your competitors – with product, pricing, customer service, guarantees – and be a leader, not laggard. Unfortunately, good reviews don’t spread as fast as bad ones, so make sure to deal with displeased customers promptly and swiftly offer to do them right by a ‘comp’ or other gesture of goodwill. Do periodic, brief, customer surveys. These should be short (10 questions or less), easy (online) and have incentive for participation (i.e. freebie).  The data obtained from surveys are invaluable for customer service, product development and more.

Branding tip!  Encourage customers to share their success stories.  Solicit for customer testimonials and feedback. There’s nothing more powerful than a great testimonial and customer advocates touting your business. With your customers’ permission, you can republish these on your website and other marketing material.

Website.  Make sure your website is conducive for branding (amongst other business goals).  As mentioned above, have an area for customer testimonials. Also, have visual and contextual features that reinforce your brand. For example, on the top of your home page have your name, logo, slogan or tag line.  Include a personal welcome message to your visitors.  Even better, if you have a spokesperson, figure head or guru that is part of your  ‘brand’, include a picture of that person so visitors can connect a name with a face. If your brand is specific to a product, like a publication (book, newsletter, magazine), have a thumbnail image of that publication on your home page to make it more recognizable in the marketplace.

Branding tip!  Have a social media/bookmarking icon or ‘favicon’. Create a social bookmarking and website bookmarking icon so visitors can quickly, visually and easily identify your business in their list other bookmarked sites.  A favicon is similar as a bookmark icon, but a favicon also appears in the website browser window.   For example, if you go to MSN.com, you’ll see their favicon (multicolored butterfly) next to their URL address in the browser window.  Your icon should encapsulate your business and standout. Use color, font and symbols to your advantage.  For more information on creating a bookmarking icon, read this. 

Building a brand doesn’t happen overnight. You’ll need patience.  And there may be some trial and error along the way.  Depending on your niche, you may even be competing with others that have a strong foothold in the market.  But hopefully these tips will help give your brand a boost.
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