Lost in Cyberspace

By Carl Weiss

In the recently released motion picture Gravity, astronaut Sandra Bullock becomes detached from the Space Shuttle after a debris storm causes her and fellow astronaut played by George Clooney to wind up adrift in the vastness of outer space.  Tumbling all alone in the dark void with a limited supply of oxygen and little hope of being rescued, Sandra copes as best she can with the terror of being lost in space.  While few of us will ever come to know this kind of visceral fear, many website owners have experienced a similar sense of despair and helplessness when their site went from page one to the vastness of cyberspace after an algorithm reset by a major search engine.

The fact of the matter is that search engine operators do not want anyone save for a select few to understand how their algorithms work.  They are also known to throw a monkey wrench into the machinery from time to time.  Sometimes they do this to shake out the legions of businesses that make money by gaming the system.  Sometimes they do it just because they can.  Either way, while an update by Google may come with a cute and fuzzy moniker such as Panda or Penguin, once published it can leave website owners feeling more like they have been attacked by a Bengal Tiger or Great White Shark. 

Guilt by Association

While there are more than one hundred items that Google uses to rank pages, one of the easiest ways to run afoul of the 800 lb gorilla in the room is to game the system, or hire someone who does so on your behalf.  For more than a decade it was possible to aggregate rank by using underhanded tactics such as keyword stuffing, link farms and invisible text in order to create the appearance of viability.  Of course this was back in the days before the search engine spiders had the ability to analyze what they saw as they leapt from website to website.  Today the googlebots and other search engine spiders can not only understand what they read, but they have been programmed to detect cheaters and respond accordingly.  If your site is determined to be employing any of the Black Hat techniques that are frowned upon, not only will you be relegated to the backwaters of cyberspace, but it could be years before you will ever see the light of day. This last fact is regardless of whether you were the one who added the offending code, or whether it was added by someone in your employ. 

More importantly, when it comes to search engine success, you don’t need to cheat them to beat them.  While gaming the system may generate position in the short run, it almost always fails over the long haul. Plus there is a high probability that when the next algorithm change is published, you may fall into a black hole from which you may never be able to climb out.  Some website owners are literally forced to commission an entirely new website in order to get back into the game, losing both time and money in the process.

While it is impossible to completely understand every warp and weave of Google’s algorithm, just as you don’t have to understand how to build a chicken to make an omelet, you can get the gorilla to like you by feeding him what he likes to eat.  The Google gorilla is a picky eater who first and foremost likes his own brand.  This translates into creating lots of content on all the properties that Google owns.  So if you blog, you need to become familiar with Blogger, which is owned by Google.  If you produce videos, then you need to create a channel on YouTube.  And even though you may be addicted to Facebook, if you want to make the gorilla smile on your online marketing efforts, you had better start feeding Google+ as well.

What do Webmasters Want?

Now you will notice that so far I have failed to even mention on-page optimization (aka SEO).  That’s due to the fact that while important, it now only contributes to 25% of your overall score.  The other 75% is gleaned from legitimate backlinks, along with blogs, social media and videos.  Not that on-site optimization is unimportant.  It has simply changed over the course of the past few years.  Where such things as Meta Tags and keyword richness were all the rage four or five years ago, Google claims that they no longer rely on Meta Tags at all for ranking.  Today Google places more emphasis on SEO-friendly urls and titles, along with backlinks and mixed media.  Don’t confuse having links to social sites and blogs with feeding them.  Unless you are adding at least a blog a week and feeding your social nets on a daily basis, the googlebots will know and act accordingly.

In fact, as I pointed out in a previous blog entitled, “Is SEO Still Relevant?” the term Search Engine Optimization really needs to be altered to Search Engine Marketing, since optimizing the website is only a small part of the process to achieving page one results today.  As a result the task has become infinitely more complicated.  No longer can you create a perfectly optimized website every two to three years, spin it off into cyberspace and expect it to climb the ranks to wind up on page one.  Now you also need to commit time and/or money to feed the system on a daily, weekly and monthly basis in order to get into the game.  While many people see this as a way of tipping the playing field in favor of larger firms that can afford to hire a team of bloggers, social posters and videographers to do their bidding, nobody ever said the game was fair.

All's Fair in Love and SEM 

Face it, Google and all the other search engines don’t make one slim dime from organic search.  They make their money from pay-per-click campaigns and banner ads, most of which comes from major corporations.  Besides, when you own 82% of search as Google currently does, fairness doesn’t even come into consideration.  As the saying goes, “What do you feed an 800 lb gorilla?  Anything it wants.”

For many small businesses, this isn’t the best policy, it’s the only policy.  Giving the gorilla what he wants gives you a chance to take advantage of the system just as your bigger brethren do.  In fact, we have worked with small businesses who not only competed successfully with Fortune 500 contenders, but who eventually bested them.  Another advantage of being smaller is that you can react faster.  You can analyze the competition and target their weaknesses.  If a larger competitor has the advantage in social media but is weak in blogging, bulk up your blog.  If they don’t understand the advantages of video, go after them on YouTube.  The beauty of the web is that the emperor wears no clothes.  You can see what everybody else is doing and react accordingly.

This brings up the second speed bump that stops many small businesses in their tracks: Making the time to
feed the beast.  Most business owners have enough on their plate day in and day out in simply running their businesses.  This leaves precious little time to write and post to blogs and social sites, let alone shoot and edit video.  However, the answer to this dilemma is but one point and click away.  It’s called outsourcing.  For less than most businesses spend on a display ad in the yellow pages, you can hire out some or all of the tasks mentioned above.  There are legions of bloggers, social posters and videographers out there that are ready, willing and able to come into the fray.  If you find that you don’t have the budget to outsource the entire project, determine which part of the equation you can do in-house and then outsource the rest. 

The only other solution is to ignore the Internet, as all too many small business owners are wont to do.  To this I pose the following question, “If you aren’t found on page one of Google, but your competitors are, is this good or bad for your business?”  (Danger, Will Robinson!)  While it may take a little time and money to get off the bench and into the game, even if it took several months to wind up on page one, this is still better than being lost in cyberspace. 

Carl Weiss is president of W Squared Media Group, a digital marketing agency that offers guaranteed organic placement on a number of major search engines.  He also owns Jacksonville Video Production and co-hosts the weekly online radio show Working the Web to Win every Tuesday at 4 pm Eastern.

Start the Presses

By Carl Weiss

Every business owner is always on the hunt for effective yet inexpensive methods to generate a buzz that can get the word out and command the attention of prospects.  While traditional advertising is one way to self-promote, it is not only expensive, but it is also difficult to track.  Pay per click advertising, while eminently trackable, is not all that inexpensive since it is sold for the most part on a cost-per-click basis.  But what if I told you there was one form of promotion that could provide the best of both worlds in one easy to afford package?  And what if this promotional vehicle could not only give you the clout to generate far more exposure than traditional advertising venues, but it could also park you on page one of many newsfeeds and search engines in less than a day.  Would that get your attention? 

A motorized Platen Printing press model which ...What I am referring to are press releases.  Not exactly the new kid on the block, press releases have been around for more than 100 years.  The first documented press release was documented in 1906 when Ivey Lee released a statement concerning a train wreck that killed 50 people in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  His news item was not only picked up by a number of newspapers across the Eastern seaboard, it also set the standard for the vehicle now used by millions of companies and thousands of news outlets around the world.  When you consider that over 80 million people in the US alone get their news online day in and day out, this is a niche that’s begging to be filled.  When you also take into consideration the fact that everyone from journalists to bloggers and broadcasters are always on the hunt for fresh stories and breaking news, then this is one promotional venue that’s hard to beat.

Before you dive headfirst into the water, there are a few things you need to consider.  First and foremost, press releases are not cloaked advertisements.  They are newsworthy stories.  As such, they can announce events, promotions, awards, accomplishments and new products.  Then can also be used to generate a feature story provided that they gain the attention of other writers.  Journalists of all stripes constantly comb though press releases in order to generate material for an assignment. This is also a place where they look for inspiration for an article or broadcast.  So the first rule in writing an effective press release is that you need to grab the attention of a writer or publisher.

You also want to grab the attention of bloggers and search engines, both of which can propel your story to an even bigger audience.  A mention in a popular blog or a page one posting on a major search engine can have a profound effect on both your website’s traffic and your reputation.  It can also result in your receiving a call from other writer’s or broadcasters who wish to interview you for their station or publication.  While fleeting, the exposure from even a single well-placed press release can be game changing.  In fact it can elevate your status to that of “valued expert” which can catapult you and your business to a whole new level.
That’s the good news.  The bad news is that you are competing against millions of other press releases all clamoring for attention.  What this means is that unless your last name is Kennedy or you are on intimate terms with a movie star or some other well-known celebrity you are going to have to work long and hard to come up with a story that has star appeal. 

Take it From the Top

In the press release game, the headline is where the rubber meets the road.  Unless you grab the reader from the get go, the chances of your release getting read and reposted are slim to none.  Whether you write the headline first and the release afterward or the other way around matters not.  What counts is whether your headline not only describes the essence of your release, but also jumps out of the herd.  A dynamite release with a lackluster headline will simply get lost in the shuffle. 

Since you also hope to command the attention of major search engines, you need to include important 
keywords in your headline.  In fact, one of the best ways to kill two birds with one stone is to start with the keywords that are likely to generate search engine results and then frame a demonstrative statement/headline that contains these keywords. Feel free to use search engine keyword tools or consult social networks to see which keywords are trending before you begin crafting either the headline or the press release itself.  Not only is using keywords from the outset going to produce greater search engine visibility, it also makes it easier for journalists and readers to find your release.

Brevity Does a Body Good

Next comes the body of the press release.  Just as with social networking, there are rules when it comes to crafting an acceptable press release. Since journalists are your target, understand that they have neither the time nor the inclination to research or extensively rewrite your company’s big announcement.  Therefore you need to write the release as you would like to see it appear in a news story.  Start with the date and city from which the release originates.  The first sentence needs to be concise.  If the headline of the press release reads, “New Caveman Diet Rocks,” then the lead might be something like, “Forget the carbs, the Caveman Diet promises to shed pounds by revisiting caveman cuisine.” 

Then it’s time to move onto the first paragraph which needs to hook the reader into reading more.  Ideally it should fill in some blanks while expanding the lead and providing additional detail.  What you don’t want to do is turn the opening paragraph into either a tweet or War and Peace.  Ideally your release should be a maximum of a page in length.  It needs to communicate who, what, when where, why and how, while sticking to the facts and keeping your copy short, sweet and to the point.  Remember that whoever reads your release will in all likelihood have read dozens of others just like it.  If you want your story to get ahead of the pack you need your release to be more than well written.  You need it to be press-ready.

Who Are You?

Lastly, consistent press releases can establish you as an industry expert. This is important because establishing your expertise helps you gain the trust of your target audience. It can also be a positive boon for media relations. Whenever the media needs someone to comment on an issue related to your industry, wouldn’t it be wonderful if your name was front of mind. Expert status can be an asset that you can take to the bank.  Well written and properly distributed press releases will allow you to stand out among the crowd, gain the attention of the media and above all start the presses rolling.

Carl Weiss is president of W Squared Media Group, a digital marketing agency in Jacksonville, Florida.  He is also co-host of the online radio show Working the Web to Win which is broadcast live every Tuesday at 4 pm Eastern.

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Making Text Message Magic

By Hector Cisneros 

Most people don’t want you to text and drive, but businesspeople can drive web traffic with text messages! Text messaging also lets you sell products, announce events, deliver promotions and special offers to thousands of people. However, there are a number of speed bumps that you have to nagotiate in order to be successful. Join us this week as we dive into the depths of Text Messaging Magic for your business.

Texting on a qwerty keypad phone
The first question you will want to answer is; "What is Text Message Marketing?" Text message marketing is advertising via SMS technology also known as short message service marketing. In essence you can send a short message (160 characters or less) to a person's cell phone or to a short message account that they have on a computing device. These messages are very popular and are used by people of all ages.

Why should every business  consider advertising with an SMS marketing service?
#1 It works! your ROI is very high. Your cost for engaging in SMS messages can run as low as 20 to 50 a month and still get real responses.
#2 It has a very high open rate. Most messages are read 95% of the time. On top of that your response time is almost instantaneous.
#3 A focused message gets read and usually works better. Focus gives the viewer clarity and asks them to make a decision.
#4 You can target an audience that wants to receive your message. Opt-in lists are the keys to success. Sending a message blindly to someone will only make them angry. However send someone a message for a coupon code for something they want and the phone will ring off the hook.
#5 There are more mobile phones in the world than there are computers. People are addicted to texting. For most young adults, it’s a way of life.

Here's What You Need to Insure Success.

#1 Avoid slang, abbreviations and most of all hype. People are tired of being lied to. Your message 
English: SMS messages sent monthly (June) in U...
English: SMS messages sent monthly (June) in USA in million, source: http://www.cellsigns.com/industry.shtml (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
needs to be a focused legitimate offer that easy to understand and act on. Don't try to be slick just  Simply provide a bona fide offer worth taking advantage of.
#2 There should not be a long time delay before the recipient can take advantage of the offer. The offer needs to be in the here and now, not next week. It should provide real time saving that recipients can take advantage of today.
 #3 Make sure your message is recognizable. It should clearly identify your company, brand or product. If they have to guess who you are you’re already lost.
 #4 Customers want to feel special. Your offer has to be a real value that the average Joe or Jane can’t have unless they are subscribed to your SMS marketing service. Let them know that only they have access to this special offer.
 #5 Make sure your message is positive and shows unmistakable value. If  they can't recognize the value of your offer, it's not a value to them!
 #6 Make your messages interactive. Sometime by following up your offer with another message you can get a second or even a third sale, by just asking.
 #7 Don't send your messages too often. Ask your subscribers when it's best to receive their messages. Find out which time zone they are in. If you don't know their needs, avoid early morning hours before 11 AM and don't send messages late at night unless you’re a casino in Las Vegas
 #8 Master the right marketing moments. Learn to send messages when your clients want them. Restaurants clients want messages before Lunch and Dinner.  Travelers like message on Thursday and Friday. Retail consumers like message before major holidays. Scan your website data for peek visitation times. Always ask clients what's best for them and they will tell you.
 # 9 Provide value first before you ask them for any information. Win their trust by providing value and they will be more willing to cough up an email address, time zone or address.
 #10 Always get a client’s permission. Always buy opt-in lists if you’re not building your own. Nobody 
SMS: Text Messaging Gets Redesigned
SMS: Text Messaging Gets Redesigned (Photo credit: pouwerkerk)
wants to see your message if they haven't chosen to subscribe to your service. If you add new campaigns, products or services, be ready to ask for permission again. Getting their permission is a fundamental key!
  #11 Don't just send coupon codes, send valuable content. Provide product announcements, free access to special websites and social pages. Send VIP status acknowledgements can also be a great way to build trust and loyalty.
 #12 Get your own vanity short code SMS phone number. Having your own number shows a commitment to this kind of marketing program. It’s much easier for a person to remember a short number than what that number spells. It also makes it easier for them to respond.

There you have a  comprehensive overview of what you need to know about SMS marketing.  If you have found this article useful please pass it on to your friends and co-workers. 

Hector Cisneros is CIO of W Squared Media Group, a Jacksonville Florida based digital marketing agency. Hector is also co-host of the weekly radio show Working the Web to Win which airs every Tuesday at 4 pm Eastern on Blog Talk Radio.

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Blogging for Big Bucks

by Hector Cisneros & Carl Weiss

We've all heard of the Gold Rush where people uprooted their lives and moved clear across the country to pan for gold.  Well I’m here to tell you that the Gold Rush isn't over.  It's just moved to Cyberspace. Today
there are people turning blogs into gold by creating huge followings online.  Even if you don't create hundreds of thousands of rabid fans for your blog, publishing a weekly blog is a great way to augment the bottom line. A blog can provide a platform to showcase your business, your expertise and your products. Add to this the fact that blogging can raise your credibility, increase your search ranking and allow you to spread your message on multiple social nets and you have a winning marketing tool. However, in order to turn prose into gold you have to learn a few new tricks.  You need to work the social nets to build your audience.  You have to learn how to use pull marketing to get them to buy.  In this article on Working the Web to Win we will discuss the ways you can use blogging to bolster your business' bottom line as well as making money directly through your blog 

Why do people love blogs?

I don't know if you have noticed it, but most people like their information in bite-sized chunks.  Most people have neither the time nor the inclination to wade through a ten page report.  They want their cookie and they want it NOW!  A well written blog feeds this need by providing useful, timely and relevant content in a compact space. Better still, it also allows bloggers to embed images, podcasts and/or videos which are designed to dovetail with the blog and provide even more readily absorbed information.  Adding mixed media to your blog is like offering dinner and a show to your crowd.  They not only get to chow down on the meat and potatoes provided by your prose, but they also get dessert in the form of video or audiocasts.  What's not to like.

You can get there from here

Of course, the rub is that you or someone in your employ needs to take the time and trouble to create the blog each and every week.  Most business owners say they would love to blog but have neither the time nor the expertise to do so on a regular basis. So, how do they bridge the gap? A business owner either needs to immerse him or herself in the learning process or they need to hire a copy editor or ghostwriter to help them produce the finished product. Sometimes copy editors not only polish your prose, but they can help you learn how to add blogging to your skillset.

Plenty of Free Help Online

There are many online help facilities that can assist novices in learning the art of blog writing. I highly recommend eZine Articles Online. They have tutorials and offer great examples anyone can follow to help them get started. Next a novice needs to practice by writing their own blogs. Understand that in the beginning your output may be less than Pulitzer material.  Everyone has to start somewhere.  That’s why in the early stages a copy editor is well worth the expense.  A professional writer will also keep you looking good because they will keep your submissions up to a higher standard than most novices are capable.

If you don’t want to spring for an editor, you need to at least opt for high quality grammar and spelling check programs. Always use the latest version of Microsoft Word, since it will help provide the most accurate first draft without any added expense. Two of my favorite grammar checkers are Grammarly and Ginger. These two online applications are powerful and full featured. No application is perfect so don't forget to always get another competent human to lay their eyes on your document before it gets published. (We refer to this individual in the trade as a Blog Buddy.)

Search Engines Love Blogs

Of course, even the most riveting story will lie there and die if no one reads it. (We refer to this phenomenon as a Billboard in the Desert.) One of the little known secrets of blogging and article writing is that a well crafted and distributed blog posts receive a relatively high ranking. The most important aspect of getting ranking is being read, commented on and shared.  Google and other search engines notice this readership and will often give it a relatively high score. Especially if the blog has a high keyword match, is timely, relevant, and has been viewed and commented on by a significant number of readers, it is not unusual for the blog to appear on page 1 of Google.  Apparently Google is gaga for blogs.

How do you build an audience?

This is where posting your articles to the social nets comes into play. More importantly, getting your friends, customers and coworkers to comment on them and then repost them to their social nets is the magic formula you need to master. About a year ago we created a subscription peer group where like-minded business owners help each other by committing to reading, commenting on and sharing each other's articles and blog post.

Don’t expect overnight success.  When you first begin this process you won't have very many readers. This is why it's important to grow your social networks. We recommend that you concentrate on the top 5 social networks. Facebook, YouTube, Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn. All of these networks have a minimum of 200 million subscribers and give you a large pool from which to attract followers. 

It can take upwards of a year or more to create an audience that numbers in the thousands.  But it is well worth the effort.  Better still is the fact that unlike the original 49ers, you won't have to pull up stakes and travel clear across the country in order to get in on this gold rush.

Hector Cisneros and Carl Weiss operate W Squared Media Group, a digital advertising agency based in Jacksonville, Florida.  He is also co-host of the weekly radio show Working the Web to Win which airs every Tuesday at 4 pm Eastern.