Posts filed under ‘Marketing Strategy’

Of snake oil and SEO…

By Sally Saville Hodge

The client was happy. Very happy. He’d just hired an SEO expert to help boost the search profile of his Web-based business.

“Yeah, the guy’s going to do a blog for us. He’s going to get us in all the directories. He signed us up for a service called INeedHits.com. And he’s doing it really cheap!”

The red flags were being hoisted with the word “blog” and reached the top of the pole when we got to “cheap.” It wasn’t an issue that we were the “experts” (because we’re not) and I was being territorial. It was more that these activities were a) not very strategic; b) time consuming (if done right); and c) more appropriate for a broad-based e-commerce concern than a Web-based business with a very narrow audience.

I’m not sure if it all was being undertaken to boost traffic or to improve search rankings or both. I didn’t think the client understood SEO. I wasn’t sure the “expert” did, either – at least according to my understanding of it.

As Mark O’Brien, president of Newfangled, a Web development firm, says, “There is no element of Web strategy that is more replete with misinformation than SEO. SEO is actually quite basic, but a lot of SEO professionals make it more
complicated than it needs to be to stay in business.”

The goal of an effective SEO program is less one of driving visitors to a website, and more one of creating traffic that actually converts, whether into actual business or as a contact that has given you “permission” to reach out regularly (via newsletters, special offers, etc.).

And these days, that’s tied to two things, according to Ryan Evans, whose Rand Media Group specializes in SEO and Web marketing activities. “One is the content on the page. The second is the number of links to that page. So if you’re not generating content that’s generating interest from relevant websites, then you’re not doing SEO.”

The thing is that Google is smart. “It’s searching for the best content to match the search query,” explains Evans. “It’s all about making the search experience excellent. If your SEO program doesn’t contribute to that, then it’s not working.”

A quick look at the specific strategies that the client was so excited about:

  • Blogs. Yes, blogs are a great SEO tool, but only if “they contain original content based on your expertise, what you know, and what your clients and prospects care about,” says O’Brien. In this instance, the blog was aggregating content – credited reposts from experts in aligned fields. Google understands and only indexes the original source of the content. So an aggregator blog is not likely to boost search rankings or meaningful traffic.
  • Directories. “Getting listed on 10,000 directories was an SEO strategy a few years ago, but it really doesn’t do any good,” says Evans. It goes back to the content issue, and is an obvious ploy that Google recognizes as such. A further concern is relevance – if visitors do click through from all those directories, will they convert or bounce?
  • “Hit” sites. “Ineedhits.com? How about Ineedabrain.com?” O’Brien queries a tad sarcastically. “For most websites, unless they’re making money off ad revenue, visitor count is meaningless if it’s not the right sort of visitor. You measure efficacy not by traffic, but by how you engage visitors once they get on your site.”

As in any business, there are SEO practitioners who don’t stay on top of changing best practices and cling to tactics that worked five years ago, but not so well today. Neither they nor many clients understand that, especially in a highly fragmented media world, effective SEO can’t be done in a silo. It requires forging partnerships with PR and marketing experts who can ensure strategies and tactics are in service to the brand.

In this client’s case, Google Analytics showed exactly how well this SEO strategy wasn’t working. Traffic shot up enormously, but in keeping with the scattershot approach, so did the bounce rate (the number of visitors who clicked through and departed the site immediately because it was irrelevant to their needs). The bounce rate actually jumped from a respectable 30 percent to over 80 percent. At that pace, it’s doubtful that many conversions took place – not that I’m convinced that was a goal to begin with.

Our business is very consultative. We can’t be experts in everything, but we make it our business to learn and stay on top of best practices in fields that are aligned to what we do. That way, we know enough to ask the right questions and to try to guide our clients in their thinking and decisions. When you can’t get together on expectations, though, that’s when you part company, as we did with this client, with a Godspeed and good luck.

July 30, 2010 at 4:29 pm 1 comment

A Tale of $10,000 Tweets

By Sally Saville Hodge

Despite being a faithful (if abashed) reader of celebrity publications like People magazine, I somehow missed the hubbub over one of my favorite pseudo celebrities (not): Kim Kardashian.

Kim, of course, is emblematic of a new phenomenon with the American public: The elevation to star status of people who have absolutely no discernible talent or skills, but have been smart enough to hire effective publicists. (See Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie.)

She does have one thing going for her, however. She Twitters. Over 3 million people actually follow her tweets. That apparently gives her some degree of influence over the masses. And so, in a new twist on a time-honored marketing ploy, Kim is now in hot demand as a celebrity endorser via Twitter.

It’s called “sponsored Tweets,” a gentler term than advertising and presumably one that resonates more positively in an environment where authenticity supposedly rules.

Kim is at the top of this particular heap and reportedly rakes in a cool $10,000 per tweet. She’s not the only “publisher” to do so – just for lesser amounts. Dr. Drew is a big draw and so is Lindsay Lohan and her ex, Samantha Ronson. Even business groups with a big following – the CBOE and Stock Futures Forecast – are registered as being available via the leading matchmaking platform, Ad.ly.

The whole business raises a lot of issues relative to transparency and authenticity, the ultimate barometers of successful social media interactions. Ad.ly claims that the endorsed tweets it brokers are identified through the “#advertising” disclaimer at the end of each post.

But a growing number of concerns are entering the fray and may not be so principled. And unfortunately, while the Federal Trade Commission issued guidelines on celebrity (and other) blog endorsements last year, requiring full disclosure, it somehow left the Twitter issue to fall between the cracks.

Ultimately, the $64,000 question is whether a Twitter post by Kim or Dr. Drew or even the CBOE is going to pay off with new business. At least one expert says, “Not so much.” At last month’s Ad Age Digital Media Conference, Yahoo’s principal research scientist Duncan Watts told the audience: “If I had a fixed budget, I could get more value from a small amount of very influential [influencers], or a lot of smaller influencers, on Twitter. If you recruit enough people who, on average, influence just one other person, you could get a much better return on investment if you aggregated them and altogether paid them a tenth of what Kardashian gets.”

I’d settle! And to that end I’ll need to build up my followers. Follow me at @sallyshodge so I can give Kim a run for her money.

May 14, 2010 at 4:50 pm Leave a comment

Foursquare: The Web Series

By Sally Saville Hodge

When last I wrote (which wasn’t all that long ago, for a change), I took a look at Foursquare.

In a nutshell, this location-based social media tool allows people to “check in” when they’re out and about in their neighborhoods, and post tips and comments about their surroundings. They earn points for check-ins, the opportunity to earn special badges and to become “mayor” of frequently visited spots.

Participating venues can use Foursquare to track and reward users who are frequent visitors: “We see you’ve been at our bar 10 times in the last three days: Here’s a free beer and the address of Alcoholics Anonymous…”

It’s goofy fun, and for the most part harmless, depending on how much of your life you really want to share. (One of my staffers might be having second thoughts about friending me after I asked him how Saturday night’s concert was.)

You might get more of a sense of the ridiculous that can factor into this through the Foursquare Cops web series brought to you by Hubspot. Enjoy!

April 27, 2010 at 9:20 pm Leave a comment

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