03/15/2010
 
By Jim Gibson – Principal, GibSEM Group

Clearly, most businesses realize they need to get moving on a social media campaign or risk being left behind.  These days, pretty much everyone knows about Twitter, FaceBook and LinkedIn and most businesses have at least dipped their toe in the proverbial online marketing waters.  But unfortunately for some, that’s where it all stops.


 
 
By Jim Gibson - Principal, GibSEM Group

About four months ago, I made the bold prediction that Microsoft’s revamped search engine, Bing, would one day compete with Google for the top spot amongst the top search engines.  Although that may be a bit premature (Google currently owns a commanding 74% of the search market), it’s clear that Bing is quickly encroaching on the #2 spot and looks to overtake industry veteran, Yahoo (16%) in the near future. 

 
 
By Jim Gibson - Principal, GibSEM Group

LinkedIn is one of the fastest growing social networks for the business community and has quickly become the "de facto" site for B2B networking.  LinkedIn provides users a powerful set of features that offer companies and individuals to promote their brand and services as well as to connect with others who share common professional interests.  LinkedIn is a great tool for people who want to increase visibility for both their companies and their professional skills. 

But in order to use LinkedIn effectively, you should decide what your goals are and create a structured approach to leverage the online communities vast opportunities.  Here are a few tips to help you get started:

 
 
Social media and have the potential for transforming brands like no other communication methodology ever employed.  The reason?  It transforms the fundamental nature of the traditional brand/customer relationship.  Historically, companies have used traditional media to advertise in a uni-directional way.  It used to be all about broadcasting a message - with feedback loops tied chiefly to the ultimate purchase of a company’s product – or worse, no purchase at all.

Thanks in part to the transformative impact of online social media, that brand/customer relationship is experiencing a sea-change.  As increasingly informed and savvy consumers begin to demand more transparency and honesty from businesses they support, companies are no longer able to hide behind an ability to fully control the message.  Steadily, businesses are now leveraging social media as both an offensive and defensive means to forge new and solidify existing relationships while building trust through transparency.  The most successful of these organizations are now doing much more than simply monitoring the consumer pulse … they are engaging and interacting on a real-time basis with existing and potential customers, throughout the entire buying cycle.

In some respects, today’s businesses face the same challenges that early marketers experienced with emerging print and electronic advertising mediums, the most important of which is building meaningful and lasting relationships with new and existing customers.  The key difference this time around is that successful marketing efforts increasingly hinge on the ability to reciprocate, in authentic ways and real-time ways, with a growing and increasingly sophisticated online consumer audience.

That’s why, planning for consumer engagement through social media is an increasingly central consideration for today’s business owners!     

However, the pitfalls of a poorly or ill-conceived plan are myriad, and social media and conversation marketing by themselves are only a part of an integrated marketing solution.  Although it’s important to stress the value of building relationships through social media, it’s incredibly difficult to achieve success when you’re developing those relationships in an unstructured fashion.

Thus, social media is not to be performed in a haphazard way.  Rather, it works best when applied in a logical sequence using a more structured approach.  The mistake that most often leads to frustration and ultimately, abandonment, is not having a plan of attack!

Instead of thinking of social media as a freestanding tactic, first consider how you can add social media components into your existing marketing plan.  Before you begin any social media campaign, you should think about incorporating these three elements specific to these marketing channels:

1.      Know what you don’t know.

2.      Determine how much time you have to commit to a social media campaign

3.      Understand your audience objectives within each social network

4.      Dovetailing social media objectives with where your customers “live”

Know What You Don’t Know

Social media and conversation marketing are not ends unto themselves … like traditional marketing, they are simply tools, albeit transformative tools, to building brand, market affinity and sales.  And while it may be too much to expect even the wisest “old dogs” to learn to master all the nuances of these “new tricks”, true wisdom stems from surrounding yourself with people who get it.  Don’t let fear control, instead become intellectually engaged in ways that leverages your knowledge of your core business, customer and products and work with teams who can help convert your vision into the social media and converstion marketing space. 

Social Media Time Commitment

It’s essential to understand how much time you have to devote to social media.  The online world is a vastly different place than the traditional advertising space largely due to the lightning fast and highly reciprocal communications the web presents.  In terms of product marketing, people now have the ability to share experiences, provide recommendations and promote products and services with speeds unmatched in other forms of media.  Positive experiences, as well as bad ones, are shared easily and can make their way through the online landscape with an immediacy never before experienced.

As a result, dipping a tentative toe in social media waters without knowing how to swim (or at least tread water) is a prescription for looking at the sky from the bottom of a pool.  Nor is it right to spend time developing valuable online relationships, only to appear and disappear like a social media ninja.  The best results are often achieved with steady participation, constant communication and engaging interaction with your audience.  People will want to hear what you have to say as long as it provides real value to the community. 

But note, online communities can spot an online poacher from a mile away!  Savvy users of social media know what this term means but for those of you who don’t, online poachers are only there for one thing: to use social media merely as a platform to broadcast their marketing messages in much the same manner as they would with traditional media.   Don’t fall into this trap.  Make sure that you are prepared to get involved in more than a one way communication.

Ultimately, the only way to succeed is to make time and commit to an on-going online relationship campaign.  Know that once you decide to engage your customers in the virtual world, there should be no turning back.

Understanding Audience Objectives Within Each Social Network:

What is the audience objective within each social network?  The great thing about social networks is the ability to pinpoint with precision special interest groups that dovetail nicely with your company’s mission.  But beware the trap of hitting the “right” audience with the “wrong” message.   

For example, professional networks like LinkedIn are not really the best place to deliver your sales pitch as they often fall on deaf ears.  For instance, if your company sells women’s high fashion clothing, you’ll likely miss your mark with a buy now sales pitch on the 1,550+ entertainment groups found on LinkedIn.  Here, you’ll be better served offering helpful content relating more to industry news, trends, jobs and advice.  On the flip side, FaceBook’s 100,000+ entertainment groups offer a tremendous opportunity to find and interact with audiences that may already be talking about your products.  This may sound like marketing 101 stuff but no social media plan should be undertaken without understanding network- specific audience objectives. 

Dovetailing Social Media Objectives with Where Your Customers “Live”

This said, where do you go online to find that audience?  Social networks, much like traditional marketing channels, do tend to cater to specific audiences.  However, unlike offline marketing mediums, social networks require companies to engage with consumers on their own terms.  Therefore, it’s important to do some research to find out which social networks are right for your business’ message. 

At a high level, social networks like LinkedIn focus more on professionals while FaceBook and MySpace are more informal and cater to X and Y gen audiences alike.  But the real value (and opportunity) with sites like LinkedIn and FaceBook rests in the ability to get involved with a variety of mini networks such as Groups, Pages and Causes. 

Here, businesses can find and interact with consumers in a highly relevant setting.  Say your company sells high performance mountain bikes.  There are currently an amazing number of FaceBook Groups (3,600) devoted to mountain biking and over 35 on LinkedIn!  Your company’s target audience is here and might already be talking about your products so why not join in the conversation? 

FaceBook allows companies to create a free Fan Page where your product evangelists can “Become a Fan” and get breaking news, tips and even special Fan discount offers.  In addition, Fan Pages can be marketed to other FaceBook users much like the way Google’s Adwords paid search service works.  If your company doesn’t already have a FaceBook Fan Page, it is highly recommended to start one now.

The internet marketing era may have only come about in the decade or so but the rate of evolution is, to put it mildly, a revolution.  We haven’t yet reached the pinnacle nor can anyone say for sure where social media will be or what role it will play in business communications in the coming years but one thing is certain, having the right plan and committing to its proper execution will place your company at the forefront of the new age of digital communications.    
 
 
Lately, I’ve been reading a ton of articles that discuss how social media is impacting search.  The most common question is whether social networking is changing the way people search for information online?  Or more importantly, does the word of mouth (WOM) nature of social media pose a real threat to search in general?

This question is addressed at a high level by on the blog in an excellent article titled: “” (thanks Chris!) however the article stops short of addressing the real value of social media for people searching for the right information.

Clearly, search engines dominate the quest for information landscape where, according to Nielson, 37% of respondents begin.  Portals such as Yahoo!, MSN and AOL account for an additional 34% and subject matter expert (SME) sites like CNET and Wikipedia round out the fold with a combined 20% of search; forcing the remainder of online channels (blogs, Wikipedia & social networks) into smaller, more relationship-type, search category.  But, size aside,  don't make the mistake in underestimating their real value!

Although blogs and social media cover a mere 9% of the search destinations, the long tail value of the traffic generated from these channels should not be overlooked.  A sufficient reason is the capital required entails only some blood, sweat and tears (yeah, tears..or trial and error) – in other words some quality time building relationships and a little elbow grease!

But what makes an even more compelling argument of the inherent value of relationship search is how social media and blogging plays into the typical buying cycle.  An often overlooked element of effective online marketing (off line as well), the buying cycle defines the phases consumers go through leading up to the highly coveted conversion. 

Whether you are asking visitors to buy your product, sign up for a newsletter or just hang out on your site, there are specific elements of the buying cycle that can be leveraged (using PPC, SEO & Social Media) to facilitate driving your audience to your goal.

The buying cycle generally consists of 5 stages: Interest, Gathering, Research, Exclusion and Purchase.  Consumers who are searching first express an interest in a given topic.  From there, they begin to gather and research information.  The next step is critical to the buying process and, ironically, lends itself well to social networking: the Exclusion phase.

This stage represents where people are learning what they don’t want and relationship channels offer tremendous opportunity through reviews and recommendations from friends who may already know about your products.  Never underestimate the value here.  Friends asking friends what they think is tantamount to developing a network of product evangelists who sell for you!  For Free!

If you have done a good job developing relationships, shedding tons of blood sweat and hopefully less and less tears, social networking (and blogging) actually gets your company to the stage closest to the final purchase phase. 

Companies pay a lot of money on paid search and countless hours on SEO (both important) in order to lead consumers closer to the conversion phase.  But very few ever really think about the opportunities social media creates – or at least, establish a firm justification for engaging in social media in the first place. 

This hopefully puts an exclamation point rather than a question mark on the oft heard challenge, “what’s the value of social media?”. 
In my mind, there is no greater value in search than this important, yet often overlooked, area of the buying cycle. 

Related Article:    
(Source: AdWeek)
 
 
Like anyone who’s starting a new company, the first thing you need to do is to make sure you have the proper tools to manage your business.  So before you start your online marketing efforts, you should have clearly defined goals and in place so you can track what’s working and, more importantly, what’s not. 

There’s a wide variety of analytics software on the market today. Although there are many that offer robust solutions, quite a few come with a price tag.  However, there are free applications, like , that deliver ample features that provide most small businesses with all that they’ll need.   When installed in your site, Google Analytics provides your business with traffic analysis tools that enable your company to monitor visitors, where they came from, how long they stayed, pages visited and even conversion statistics.  It’s really simple to install the tracking code in your site and once you have this up and running, you can check statistics as often as you like. 

The bottom line is without web analytics software, you won’t have the appropriate level of visibility to your site traffic – it’s like trying to fly a plane without a navigation panel!  So take the time and research which solution is right for your company.  You’ll be glad you did!

If you’d like help with your online marketing efforts, GibSEM Group is here to help.  Feel free to contact us and we’ll be happy to discuss your online marketing needs. 
 
 
It seems in today’s age of lightening fast digital communications, few industries are exempt from participating in the one medium that facilitates this collective combustion of information the most – the internet.  More and more, people are tuning out traditional conduits to information such as TV, radio and newspapers and, instead, turning to the internet for the news, information and education they need.  Hey, I don’t have to tell you since you’re likely reading this with a cup of coffee in one hand and your mouse in the other.

If this is truly the case, then it stands to reason the one industry that has captured the imagination of young and old, from Wall Street to Washington, is facing a head on collision with the digital revolution.  That industry is Green. 

Yet the expansive , which includes its energetic sibling, , faces significant challenges in terms of educating the masses.  One reason for this is, aside from the more prominent national organizations, much of the industry’s grassroots efforts have been focused on establishing regional organizations that promote green building initiatives in local communities.  Please don’t misunderstand.   The industry as a whole has done an excellent job of building fundamentally sound standards for Green Building but the truth is, there is a lot more that can be done to effectively deliver the message and to a much wider audience.

I know this to be true since I am personally involved with an outstanding group of Southern California Green Building professionals, the (VGBTF).  Although I am not a Green Building professional, I’ve been fortunate over the last few months to have the opportunity to work closely with the VGBTF marketing and communications team.  In addition to establishing the operating principles that guide the group in its mission, the VGBTF, like many other Green Building task force groups, is discovering the power of the internet to promote the value of the triple bottom line benefits of going green.

To understand the degree of challenges the Green Building industry faces we are required to delve deep into the psyche of today’s business owners and consumers alike.  Unlike the way the recent health reform debate has been handled, questions about the key benefits of green building need to be addressed and answered in clear terms.  Questions that clarify confusing topics ranging from pending legislation, capital investment, rebates and ROI to an overall simplification to the process that lends itself well to building excitement, need to be outlined in a goal oriented education plan.  

This is where the internet has such huge potential in grassroots education.  Today’s internet has evolved into a highly effective medium for the dissemination of information that harnesses the value proposition that can deliver the momentum required to invoke the changes needed.  Online social networking has aided significantly in the industry’s efforts and there are already hundreds of websites that promote the benefits of sustainable energy for the Green Building industry.

But like any other online marketing effort, the focus needs to be, 1. How best to drive the message to a receptive audience and 2. Make that message go viral.  Trust me, it’s easier said than done but there are ways to create a foundation to build on. 

It all starts with the fundamentals of Search Engine Optimization (SEO).  SEO is the basic formula that all website owners adhere to when developing an online presence.  SEO is to online marketing what principles are to Green Building efforts.  Without either, the end result is confusion and chaos.  Therefore, a wise investment of time and effort should go into building effective SEO for your website.

The same can be said about Social Media.  Properly used, social media networking can cost effectively deliver your message and at a significantly lower cost than other forms of marketing.  That’s because social media incorporates the 4 fundamental elements of effective communications: Sharing, Cooperation, Collaboration and Collectivism.  If done correctly, social media enables these four components to drive awareness and allow individuals to work together towards a large-scale goal.      

Remember though, social networking, like SEO is not a set it and forget it measure.  Both require time and energy, not to mention, great planning!   I mentioned how SEO is to online marketing what LEED is to Green Building principles but social media gives a whole new meaning to the LEED acronym:  Listen, Engage, Effort, Dialogue.  These elements define today’s online collaboration and must be adhered to closely if you expect to achieve the desired results.

Is the Green industry headed towards a collision with SEO and Social Media?  We certainly think so.  Therefore, if you haven’t already, you should begin to strategize how best to take advantage of SEO and Social Media to further the cause. 

Our online marketing company is dedicated to these principles and we are excited to help the Green Building industry promote the important benefits that will help our world be a better place.  If you are interested in learning more about the basics of SEO and Social Media for your organization, plan to attend one of our upcoming online marketing workshops.  Or, if you just want to speak with us about your individual needs, feel free to visit us at: www.gibsem.com.          

 
 
In my last blog post, we shared some important tips about the value of content on your site.  We briefly mentioned as an important component of your SEO efforts but I want to delve deeper into when and where to use keywords when marketing online.  Keywords are an absolute must but it’s important to know how to differentiate the use of keywords for both organic and paid search. 

Organic keywords are generally the ones used in your site’s ; your title tags, header tags, meta descriptions and keyword tags.  These keywords appear naturally in your website content and help your site to gain better rankings in the organic listings on each search engine.  Although in some cases, organic keywords can be the same as those used in Paid Search campaigns, they’re usually more general terms that describe your business.

Search Engine Marketing keywords used in can take on a slightly different tone depending on what your objectives are.  For these keywords, it’s important to select keyword phrases that capture traffic that is closer to the conversion phase, otherwise known as “long tail” keywords.  In other words, keywords used in paid search should contain more detailed phrases that quickly eliminate the tire kickers.  If you provide Business tax software, select keyword phrases like: “tax software for small business” or “small business tax software for under $99”.  Although your organic keywords can include these phrases your site content will be fundamentally rooted in the concept of basic tax software.

This approach allows you to capitalize on the SEO benefits of using keyword roots without having to spend tons of money buying more expensive and highly competitive keywords in your paid search campaigns.      

If you’d like help with your online marketing efforts, GibSEM Group is here to help.  Feel free to contact us and we’ll be happy to discuss your online marketing needs. 

Thanks for reading GibSEM’s SEO Tips!  See ya next time!
 
 
For website owners, it’s not so much what you say on your website but how you say it that makes the difference between good content and great content.  Great content takes into consideration a variety of important elements.  From keyword placement to how often you update your content, the fact of the matter is search engines place a great deal of emphasis on well written content.  

When writing content, remember these important points:

* Place your more important keywords first and mention these at least 2-3 times in your article

* Make sure your keywords relate to the content of your site

* Use action words and write short pithy sentences.  Lists read better than paragraphs

* Add keyword rich links to your content

* Make your content unique.  Search engines love this!

And

Remember, always proof read your content vigorously!

When developing great content, always remember that much of how you are judged by search engines is on the value of the content to your readers first and importance to search engine rank second.

If you’d like help with your online marketing efforts, GibSEM Group is here to help.  Feel free to contact us and we’ll be happy to discuss your online marketing needs. 
 
 
Search engines rank highest those websites it feels are most "important". This means in order to rank higher than your competitors you have to show that your website is more important than the rest.  You should know that getting ranked high in search engines involves both time and effort, in other words, there’s no magic pill that gets your site listed on page 1 of the organic listings overnight.  But there are a few simple things you can do to jump start your SEO efforts.  

First, make sure your site includes Meta Tags for every page.  This includes unique title tags, meta descriptions, keywords and H1 tags that relate specifically to the content of each and every page on your site.  And, be aware that search engines may penalize you for duplicate meta tags so make sure to check each page carefully for redundancy.

And speaking of content, plan to create great content.  Text content equals importance on the Internet.  And don’t forget to update your content regularly.  Search engines visit your site frequently and although static content doesn’t necessarily hurt your SEO efforts it sure won’t help to constantly have stale content on your site.  I have other great tips to create dynamic content and I’ll be sharing these with you in future SEO Tips on this blog.  

If you like this info and want to receive more online marketing help, make sure to subscribe to our weekly SEO tips (SEO Tips).  Each week, you’ll receive a brand new SEO Tip in your email in-box.  In addition, make sure to check back here regularly as we’ll archive our SEO tips and you’ll also have the opportunity to register to attend our monthly online marketing workshops.  If you’re not in the Los Angeles area, no problem!  Each seminar is available via Podcast so you’ll be able to watch, listen and learn at your own pace.

We'd love to hear from you so feel free to share your thoughts in our comments section below.  See ya next time!