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Google has been testing its proposed layout changes on potentially millions of online users for months. Technically, the changes are still in the testing stage and it is not yet known when they will be rolled out officially, but suffice it to say they have been implemented to such an extent that they are quite noticeable now. Both Google’s SERP results and Adwords platforms have been given a face-lift but are still relatively easy to navigate. These are the changes that have been implemented and how we recommend you work around them is discussed here.

Changes To Google’s Search Results Page

The title font of the search results is now a little bigger and is no longer underlined. Perhaps this is to compensate for the slightly smaller URL accompanying search results. Needless to say the end result is a lot more elegant than the previous layout design.

We also notice that the site links are written in larger font and are no longer underlined. We suggest that websites consider making their titles a little shorter to avoid any text being cut off.

Number one search results are also being separated from the rest of the search results by a divider, which is more incentive for you to rank in first place for your targeted keywords.

Changes To Image Vertical Results

The new vertical image format also makes use of the new font from the SERP headlines. It also includes a new link “more images for…”. The vertical divider is used above and below the image results, making them stand out slightly more.

News article results are also making use of the new larger font. The news results have been given divisions on the top and bottom, like images.

Google Adwords Platform

Literally after months of anticipation, Google has implemented its highly sought-after changes to the Adwords platform. As with organic search results, advertisers can expect to see the bigger, more vertically oriented font used in titles without underlining. Ads are no longer hosted on colored backgrounds. However, each sponsored link does get a prominent yellow box that says “ad” next to it. The “Ads related to” text is no longer being used in the layout.

The sponsored links on the right have gone through similar changes, but the right hand side bar only has one yellow “Ad” box for all the ads below it. The increase in vertical space sees the ads take up more space in the SERPS page. says of the changes to the Adwords results at the bottom of the page:

Note that the AdWords block on the bottom of the left-hand column looks very similar to the redesigned top AdWords block. Other SERP elements, including the knowledge panel, answer boxes, paid shopping, and carousels seem to have been unaffected by the redesign (so far).

The launch of the Google watch is expected in June this year, after much fanfare and speculation of its own. LG was put in charge of designing the hardware, while Google handled the software aspect. Additionally, Business Insider tells us:

Previous reports about Google’s smart watch have hinted that it will be integrated with Google Now (a smart, personal assistant that comes with all new Android phones), have a full-color digital display, and act as an Android phone accessory, not a standalone device.

It’s an interesting development for marketers, who are constantly under pressure to integrate online and offline experiences for users. Google’s new consumer product literally offers to do that for them, should the personal assistant be implemented in the new design. We wait with baited breath for the release in the middle of the year.

Online Reputation Management - Duncan Alney

Online Reputation Management – Duncan Alney (Photo credit: y0mbo)

Social media opens up a wealth of opportunities for any business, but it is also potentially treacherous territory if you are not prepared or don’t know what you are doing. Using your social media channels effectively is essential to manage any online reputation which, according to Business Insider:

Is used by a wide range of people and companies, from mom-and-pop shops trying to get good reviews on Yelp to celebrities, politicians, lawyers, and even tech giants like Samsung.

There are plenty of tips and lots of advice for what you should be doing but what about those big mistakes that can undo a lot of your hard work and eat away at your digital marketing budget?

Not Understanding Your Target Audience Properly

The right messaging is crucial to online reputation management. Constantly sending out self promotional material to fans and followers on a social network will not get the desired effect. Not responding to feedback and complaints in time or not monitoring what is being said, how it is being said and who said it, would also get you into trouble.

There is no excuse for not understanding your demographics, no matter how many you have. The insights and metrics available through the social media networks are far superior to what can be obtained through Google and its various products. The personal details and insights users share on social channels mean more metrics and more targeted communications for your business.

Underusing Social Media Channels: LinkedIn Showcase Pages

On LinkedIn showcase pages the content is highly targeted and personalized for the specific audience you are talking to. Upon publication of your content, metrics and analytics are available so you can monitor the progress of any page. If you are not making use of this enhanced feature, you could get left behind. HubSpot tells us:

Showcase Pages are niche pages off of a company page. They allow a company to promote specific products or market to a specific buyer persona. LinkedIn users can follow singular Showcase Pages without following the business or their other Showcase Pages. This allows businesses to promote for and cater to the audience specific to the page.

Underestimating Facebook: Staying Out Of Date With New Research

Are you one of the businesses that isn’t sure if Facebook is the right channel for you? Do you run an e-commerce store? Did you know the majority of Internet users prefer to log into a website using their Facebook credentials? Social Media Examiner informs us:

If you have a website that requires users to register, you should understand the concept of password fatigue. 92 percent of shoppers abandon a website rather than go through the process of recovering a lost or forgotten password. But if a website has a social login option, 65 percent of shoppers are more likely to return.

And, if you are really out of date with the latest, it is also worth knowing that Facebook-owned Instagram is now the most rapidly growing site on a global level. The last six months of 2013 saw the active user base increase by 26 percent. More significantly though: there were 90 million active users in January 2013 – but this figure increased to 180 million in January 2014. Instagram’s major appeal lies in the fact that users can share their photos instantly and take advantage of the platform’s post editing capabilities. If you hadn’t accepted it yet, we are really deeply entrenched into the visual cues provided by social networking, and Instagram is now at the helm.

Underusing The Power Of Twitter

You are probably well aware of Facebook’s suitability as a reputation management tool, but have you ever thought about or used Twitter? New data shows that 59.3 percent of customers’ questions are posted on Twitter whereas only 40.7 percent are being asked via Facebook.

It all goes back to knowing and understanding your target audience and where they like to hang out. If your target audience wants to engage more intimately with your brand, Facebook might be the answer. Not being active, or active enough, on this platform could see your customer relations management neglected and users not receiving timely responses.

Doubting Pinterest Can Work For Your Business

With 70 million users, Pinterest is driving lots of referral traffic. How much is lots? Writing for CopyBlogger, Beth Hayden states that:

Pinterest drives more referral traffic than Twitter, StumbleUpon, Reddit, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Google+… combined. And contrary to popular belief, maybe contrary to even your belief, that traffic is converting… because many pinners use the site specifically for product and content discovery.

Whether your site is used for informational purposes or as an e-commerce tool, this is pretty entertaining news for website owners. It is also worth knowing that the primary demographic, doing this shopping and sourcing on Pinterest, is female.

Forgetting That The Customer Is Always Right

Sure social media channels allow us to be honest, sometimes even opinionated about major issues, but ultimately any negative feedback needs to be taken into account. And you might be serious about repairing a damaged relationship with a disgruntled customer, but it actually goes beyond that because a live complaint is not just restricted to the customer who made it. When it’s on a social media platform everyone else can see it. And, they’re judging you, whether you like it or not. regardless of what is said or the manner in which it is delivered, your brand literally has to save face at every opportunity. And a humble apology really can go a long way.

Not Ensuring Your Social Media Pages Are An Extension Of Your Customer Relations Management

If you are a business that values and invests in customer relations it is something of a disappointment if users’ online experiences do not match their offline engagements with your brand. When customers have been able to click their fingers and have their wishes granted in your store or office and they discover they can’t have this online, you can also run into problems.

web search is a funny business - dscf2162

web search is a funny business – dscf2162 (Photo credit: sean dreilinger)

Search engine optimization is one way for online marketers to boost their traffic and develop leads for their sales funnels. Arguably, on a superficial level most marketers and website owners have a basic understanding of SEO: they know that it is important to develop high quality content and they know a little about keyword placement. But if you can’t put it all into the bigger picture, it is likely your SEO will only give you an ordinary return.

It’s worth a mention because a lot of businesses that have invested in SEO are either under-impressed with their results, or reeling from the penalties they might have received after Google’s last updates. If you remember nothing else, possibly the best piece of advice you can get about SEO is, it’s not about tricking the search engines or over-doing one particular technique to manipulate your results. It’s about applying the best practices in moderation and to play nice with the search engines so they’ll look favorably on your website.

Let’s have a look at the major factors that influence a website’s visibility on search engines and how they can be optimized even further to take a search query to lead stage.

Understanding The Search Engine And Its Algorithm

To get to grips with SEO you have to know how the search engine works and what affects it. The algorithm is the ranking recipe for the search engine. It is a mathematical formula that “scores” which website is the best match for a particular search query.

Of course, no one actually knows exactly how the algorithms work but Google’s is said to rely on 30% on-page factors (like great content and keyword placement) and 70% off-page factors, like social signals and backlinks.

Developing A Website’s Authority

A website’s authority is the credibility perception it is given. The authority is based on factors such as inbound link quality, social signals and shares, the site’s traffic, the number of subscribers, and the quality of the website’s content.

A Website’s Architecture Is Important For Search Engines And Humans

A website’s architecture is how well it has been put together from an information, technical and functional point of view. The website should be structured in such a way that it is easy for search engines to index. It also needs to be easy to navigate for a user and provide a good user experience. If a search engines deems the site difficult to crawl or index for a spider, it’s going to be difficult for a user to navigate it too. And, search engines like to look after their customers, in much the same way that you like to look after yours. If the experience is poor, you will not rank as well.

Optimized URLs for SEO

URLs are essential to good SEO ranking because they classify a page’s content for a search engine (and for the site’s visitors). Accurate, relevant URLs are required for a site to rank well. They should always be written in lower case, using dashes or hyphens instead of spaces between words. They should also be easy for humans to read and understand, and you should always restrict the use of URL parameters.

On-Page Optimization Techniques

On-page optimization may account for the smaller share of your page rankings, but it is the one element that you have control over. HubSpot defines on-page optimization as:

Focused on making the structure and content of a website both user- and search engine-friendly. It describes the practices used to optimize the factors that can impact the performance of web pages in organic search results – title tags, web copy, Calls-to-Action (CTAs), keyword placement and density, and so on.

Making The Leap From SEO To Hot Lead

Just because a user landed on your site in response to a search query does not necessarily make him or her a hot lead. The user could be doing some preliminary research or price shopping, using you so to speak. If you want to hook the user and convert him or her, you’ll need to tap into their buying process and understand their needs.

That makes your landing page an essential component within your marketing strategy. Writing for Entrepreneur, Eric Siu recommends:

These customers are intrigued by your products and are actively engaged in learning more about your specific offerings or about your market in general. Visitors at this stage are likely to be most interested in the high-level benefits of your product, rather than its exact specifications.

So, rather than inundate the user with all the technical benefits of the product, take a higher level approach and give them a gentle introduction to what you’re offering.

Once you have dished out the first level of product or service information and you feel your user is a little more educated, you can ask them for something back.

Effective Call To Action

So by now, you’ve given a lot to your users. You’ve put thought and work into the process they will follow to find your site and you’ve given them some of the information they need to solve the problem they are looking into. Now you get to ask for something back. It could be to request a call back, to fill out a subscription form or to send an inquiry. It might surprise you to know that more often than not, you actually need to make your call to action prominent in order for it to be noticed. HubSpot is known for its theories on using colors that contrast a website’s design palette or a corporate identity simply because they are more likely to be seen like this. Would you like to get more from your landing pages? Michael Aagaard says landing pages should incorporate the word “get” in order to boost conversions:

It’s not that get has some sort of hypnotic super power. It’s simply the fact that get focuses 100% on what the prospect is going to obtain – in other words, it clearly answers the question ‘What’s in it for me?’ Now try and compare get to a verb like order. See the difference?

“Order” denotes a process that still has to be followed, while get reflects something that is instant. Start testing your pages and making subtle changes to your copy to see which words your target audience responds best to.

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LinkedIn’s announcement that it will be opening its Publishing Network up to all members has been met with mixed reactions. While those interested in thought leadership and professional authorship have welcomed the move, SEO experts have expressed their alarm at a system that could potentially backfire.

Some fear that entire websites will be duplicated or reproduced by over zealous marketers, and develop problems for themselves and others. And while LinkedIn certainly is trying to discourage people from stealing content for reproduction, they haven’t said anything about duplicating your own website content.

It’s clear that LinkedIn did not initiate the program with the intention of causing a potential SEO problem by opening up the Influencer Network, but given the history of SEO and the amount of black hat techniques that are employed, some believe it is inevitable. Only a few years into content marketing, web masters are already feeling the pressure of originality.

So, what are the risks and can you end up penalizing yourself by republishing duplicate content?

Hubspot offers the following interpretation of the rules:

Currently, neither LinkedIn’s rights and responsibilities clauses nor their best practices state you should publish only original content. They go as far as to say that you can in fact “republish something that you have published somewhere else as long as it is ‘your’ original content that you own the rights to.

Google has not said much about it but the perception is that Google will always try to protect the originator of the content and establish where the duplicates are.

Can You Protect Yourself And Still Make The Most Of The Influencer Network?

Certainly. If you can keep yourself updated of all the LinkedIn rules, regulations and policies you should be able to protect yourself. Whenever possible do not use duplicate content. The experts recommend a ratio of five original articles to every duplicated article but we believe even that may be excessive. And at this stage, it could go either way.

Also important, do not expect that publishing on LinkedIn will fuel your SEO strategy. That means do not use keywords and anchor texts to link back to your site. Rather, include a real link and the date the original article was published. Do not copy anyone else’s content. Google takes duplication very seriously and even if things might be gray right now, they could take a turn in the not too distant future. And if you have been abusing the rules, you will probably be penalized.

LinkedIn has published other rules, which are bit clearer:

LinkedIn discourages and may disable posts that self-servingly advertise a service, business, political cause or other organization or cause that does not benefit the broader LinkedIn community.

As is the case with any other content marketing you’ve done to date, the point is to provide content that is useful and enriching for LinkedIn’s members. You can’t be overly promotional any way and you really need to add value.

A good place to start is to take the content you currently have, do your research into LinkedIn’s demographics and refashion it for the business to business platform. Take the content concepts but rewrite it specifically for this audience. Experiment with different titles and styles. Use different images and graphics and see which elicit the most responses. You might want to consider adopting a more global voice or changing any local references you have in your content to references that might be better understood from an international point of view.

Blog articles you have written for your website might not be the right tone or voice for LinkedIn and it will be in your best interests to repurpose them especially for this platform.

Google Chrome

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Countless small businesses have been penalized for unnatural link building since the release of Google’s Penguin Update. Granted, many of the businesses would have shopped for the cheaper SEO services on offer, simply because they didn’t have the budget to go to a full digital agency. Sure, some of them probably were aware of what they were doing wrong too. Ultimately though, these companies are either experiencing a decrease in their traffic or/and have received a manual penalty.

Links are an important part of any optimization strategy. Fluxe Digital Marketing illustrates how links can add to your SEO efforts:

If quality websites are referencing your website in a positive way. Each website linking to a page on your site is a vote for your website to increase your search rankings. The more site referencing yours, the better ranked your site will be.

The quality of the links makes the difference though, and if you have been linking using poor quality links, you’re likely to be penalized. Reconsideration is one option, but, writing for Search Engine Watch, Chuck Price reminds us:

Google initiates more than 400,000 manual actions every month, according to Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s webspam team. Concurrently, Google processes 20,000 reconsideration requests in that same time period. Since a percentage of these reconsideration requests aren’t first timers, less than one reconsideration request is processed for every 20 penalties.

Whether or not you were aware that what you were doing was wrong is another matter. The hard work lies ahead to rectify the problem. What is link scheming and how is it defined? There are a number of different practices that can get you penalized and you will need to define what you did wrong when you send your reconsideration request at the end of the project.

Taking on automatic services just to develop back links is likely to get your site penalized, as is linking just for the purpose of creating a backlink. Creating link networks and article marketing conducted on an extensive scale will also probably result in penalties. If you write and distribute press releases with optimized anchor text, you will probably also receive a penalty.

So how do you manage this and get your online marketing back on track? Let’s have a look at some techniques that are either free or cost-effective.

Identify The Type Of Penalty

Before you can start any kind of recovery process you have to establish what kind of penalty you have been handed. If you have Google Webmaster Tools you’re in luck because you will be notified directly about a manual penalty. Your other option is to use free penalty finders like ahrefs, Panguin and Website Penalty Indicator.

Remember that patience really will get you far in this regard. Any reconsideration you send through too quickly after receiving notice of your penalty is unlikely to be successful. To be reconsidered you need to demonstrate you have made a considerable effort to address the problem

Figure Out What And Where The Offending Links Are

Finding the offending links is probably the most time-consuming part of the activity. And while there are very good tools available that will accelerate the process, they are a bit costly and we are looking at budget friendly options.

You can use Bing or Webmaster Tools to help you collect links. Technically speaking Bing actually offers a better data service but we know the lion’s share of your traffic is likely to be coming through Google, so they both have value.

Classifying The Links

It is possible and quite likely that at least a few of your links won’t even be live anymore. Make the exercise shorter for yourself by checking which links are live first.

Start With The Link Removal Process

Some SEO experts do not believe it is necessary to remove backlinks but if you want to move onward and upward with your online marketing you can’t do it working with a broken foundation.

Collect contact details for the offending domains and ask the site owner to remove them. This process might need a few follow-ups and there are chances you could be ignored. Try and explain yourself clearly and remember to be polite. Send a personalized email to the webmaster and use his or her name.

Disavow Links Pointing To Your Site

Webmaster Tools gives you the option of disavowing any unnatural links pointing to your domain. This is reserved for webmasters who feel their sites have been penalized for factors beyond their control. The disavow function allows you to upload a file containing the domains or URLs of the links you want to disavow. Once you have completed this, you can move on to submitting your reconsideration request.

Sending Reconsideration Requests

Once you have been able to remove a number of unnatural links successful you may send your reconsideration request through. It isn’t worth doing this before you have made a meaningful difference. Read Google’s Webmaster Tools to ensure you are compliant with the rules and guidelines and to ensure you haven’t missed anything.

Remembering your manners is a very good idea; you are on the back foot after all, and you are asking them to do you a favor by reconsidering your website. Search Engine Journal puts it this way:

Your email is being read by a human. They don’t care about your history, or your story, or your ‘future plans’. They care about the fact that you have been manipulating Google’s algorithm, and want to see plenty of evidence that you’ve repented and tried to right those wrongs.

What you should mention about your future plans, however, is that you do not have any intention of transgressing the rules again, whether it was your fault directly or because of mismanagement by an SEO firm.

It should go without saying, but we’ll say it just to be clear: make sure you disclose everything and do not lie. Big brother really is watching when you bend the rules and your only real chance of getting off the hook is if you are a first-time offender and you can prove with conviction that you have resolved the problems and have no intention of transgressing the rules again.

It’s unlikely that you will want to do something unethical again but if you do, remember the effort and expense you had to endure, to rectify it.


conversion_rate (Photo credit: Stefson)

Google’s algorithm changes have thrown search engine optimization (SEO) techniques under the spotlight and forced web masters and business owners to re-assess their online marketing strategies. And despite their ongoing efforts to improve the search-ability of their sites, many web owners don’t feel as though they are closing the cycle even though they are attracting traffic.

The purpose of SEO is to land traffic on a website by making it more visible to search engines and thus appear for its targeted keywords in search engine results. SEO considers the number of users searching for specific keywords, how many of them are viewing the website and the number of pages they are looking at.

But, as you probably know, a website with lots of traffic does not necessarily make the most sales. And, even if you are ranking for your desired keywords there’s still a great chance you are not meeting your business objectives, which means you are not achieving the returns you want.

In order to close the sales cycle, work has to go into a website from the user experience point of view, which is vastly different to the process of SEO.

Understand Your Conversion Funnel

To work out your conversion funnel, you have to think like a customer buying something on your site and work backwards. How does the website sell the product? Assuming the bulk of your traffic lands on your home page, and you follow the three click rule, is there a product link on the home page that takes the user to the order button? says:

The key to improving your conversion rate, and the success of your website, is to improve each page in your conversion funnel. In fact, if you increased the conversion rate of each page in your funnel by 10 percent, then your overall conversion rate grows a whopping 33 percent.

Pay Attention To Your Website’s Layout, Design And Load Time

No matter how much time or money you spent on your website, it still needs to be improved. There is no perfect site out there; only effective sites that are constantly trying to improve. A site that is not aesthetically pleasing is less than ideal but a site that is counter-intuitive or difficult to navigate is a bigger risk.

A site that is slow to load is also likely to send your traffic away and may contribute to a high bounce rate. The Brafton Editorial team reminds us that:

As early as 2009, Akamai Technologies had found that users expected web pages to load in less than two seconds. Today, pages should appear instantly and be easily navigable. If the internal structure of your website is hard to follow, it might account for a lack of follow-through and conversion.

“Good” or effective design is highly subjective, but you can opt for colors and layouts that are simple and thus universally appealing.

How Persuasive Is Your Landing Page?

Showing directly that you can solve your user’s problem is critical to making the conversion happen. Analysts working for MECLABS decided to run an A/B test on a product landing page to see if they could improve product conversions:

The team hypothesized that a key problem identified in the control was the lack of one of the most critical elements of copy needed for a product – the “why” factor.

By asking a direct question and telling online users why they should buy the product, the team managed to increase their conversion rate by 36%. In essence, the team actually only added one extra, very simple line at the top of the page but it changed their results markedly.

By asking a direct question the team was able to clarify the problem for their user, and then present the solution.

What About Your Call To Action?

So you’ve created a product page, you’ve listed all the product’s unique selling propositions and included a price. It’s obvious the product is for sale, isn’t it? Take another look at your landing page. Have you explicitly asked your user to make the purchase or swipe their card?

Using an imperative, or asking your online user to do something is only half of the process. If your website is busy and your user is like any other online user who has a very limited attention span, you might have to work a bit harder to make the call to action stand out. Inbound marketers recommend that calls to action be put into prominent buttons, which are easy to see and click. For best results, they also suggest making the color of the button a contrasting color to the rest of the palette on the site. If you have a strict corporate identity you might struggle to accept this but remember you want it to stand out, not blend in with the rest of the branding on the page.

How Easy Is It For A User To Buy Online?

Think about the number of landing pages you have on your website. If you blog often, upload new content or run social media campaigns, you probably have quite a few. If your conversion forms are not embedded into all your landing pages, you are missing out on valuable opportunities.

Think about all the routes that potential customers will use to reach your product and make sure they are appropriately structured to make it as easy as possible for people to make the purchase. If it is too complex or takes too long they may just as well walk into your store or call your office.

Are You Asking Too Much With Your Call To Action?

Maybe your online user is encountering your brand for the first time. Perhaps this person is not quite ready to make a purchase and needs a bit more information he or she is willing to commit. In these kinds of scenarios it is useful to include a subscription option, either for a blog or newsletter, to create an open channel of communication and to provide supporting information that will convert that lead into a sale.

content writing business

(Photo credit: PointRaiser)

No matter what changes Google seems to bring about, content continues to be the be all and end all of getting your rankings up. Sure, they have changed the rules about how content should be formatted and where it should be placed, but the reality remains that you won’t be able to get people to your website without good content, as this is what leads to good rankings and domain authority. However, not everybody is a content writer, so you have to think about a few very important things in terms of getting it right.

Getting Inspiration

The first thing you need to know is where you can go for inspiration. Because you have to make sure you always have content that is engaging, entertaining, captivating and up to date, it is possible that you will run out of ideas at some point. Although there are many ideas out there, including conducting interviews, using hashtags and reading billboards, one of the best ideas is to use the news for inspiration.

Instead of tuning out newscasters as being cheesy or unnecessarily fear-mongering, take some time to listen to the way they structure their pitches. Then, try to bring some of their persuasiveness into your own content creation efforts.

Become an Industry Leader

You also have to make sure that the content you do create demonstrates that you are a true expert in your field. People have to know that when they read what you write, you are telling them the truth and that it is information they can use in their own life, be that personal or business. The days of writing nonsense just to get people to your site are over, unless you are specifically creating a satirical site and this is very clear from your information. Some ideas for making good content include creating how to guides, white papers or case studies.

Content is best when it truly connects with your audience and solves a problem or answers a question they may have. When it comes time to pick topics for content creation, try to identify actual problems your audience is experiencing and create informational resources around those topics and subjects.

Know How to Talk to Your Customers

One very important part of creating excellent content is that you talk to your customers, rather than at them. It is all too easy, particularly if you want to create something informative as described above, to become somewhat condescending. When your customer arrives at your site, they want to feel valued. They want to know that you are providing information because it could be useful to them, not because you know everything and they don’t. This is key to making sure your content is truly engaging.

Many ‘conversations’ companies have with customers tend to feel like aggressive, boastful monologues, with the company at the podium and the customer patiently sitting in their seat, glazed expression covering their face.

If your text has that feel to it, you can guarantee that your customers won’t stick around to read it. Remember that they are not in school anymore, where they have to sit down and listen to what is being said. Instead, they have the power to click their back or home button at any time, and simply leave you to it.

With these tips, you should be able to create content that will attract your customers. In doing so, you will gain higher page rankings and more authority across the internet. This, in turn, should lead to higher sales and greater profits, which, at the end of the day, is what it is all about.

Social Media Audit 2013

(Photo credit: JNFerree)

Social media provides plenty of opportunities to reach out and engage with your target audience. Before social media, companies had to go to great lengths to communicate with customers and gather feedback. A lot of them would even operate without being completely aware of what customers actually felt or wanted. Now you have all the information and feedback you could possibly need readily available to you. These days you can communicate instantly with a customer, whether they are in the same neighborhood or if they are on the other side of the world. Customers can post comments on Facebook, tweet you on Twitter, or post a picture themselves consuming or using your products on Instagram or Pinterest.

However, for some reason, some brands just can’t seem to get it right. Either they have too many followers but too little engagement, or great engagement that doesn’t translate into more followers. What are they doing wrong? If you manage social media accounts for your company, here are a few tips to help you improve brand loyalty through social media and cultivate your following.

Cover All the Bases

A WikiHow article recommends that you:

Set up social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare and Google+. You may also want to set up a blog through WordPress or your own website, where you, or various employees, write about the company, its products or company culture. Set up all the accounts in your exact business name, or something very close to it, if they are not available.

Why? Because they’re the top social networks where a good majority of your target market will likely be found. So it only makes sense to go where your market is, right? Don’t forget about Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube though as they’re three of the top image/video-oriented social networks and also represent a good chunk of where you’ll find your target audience.

Dedicate a Person or Team to Handle Your Social Accounts

While social media is an important part of doing business these days, it shouldn’t be the “be-all and end-all” of everything you do. You should still have enough time and resources that you can dedicate to your business’ core functions like research and development or product/service improvement. According to a WikiHow article:

Appoint someone who knows the differences, strengths and weaknesses of all these social channels. For example, Twitter accounts should be text-based and conversation-oriented. Facebook is great for pictures and event marketing. LinkedIn content should be focused towards professionals, employment and press releases.

This person or team should be great at responding to criticism. Responding to criticism is one of the most important aspects of managing a social account and is often where big companies fall flat on their faces. The WikiHow article also says:

The mistake is not as important as how you react to it. Choose someone who can take criticism, offer a solution and turn it around to your advantage, rather than deleting the comment.

Listen to What They’re Saying

Once you’ve established yourself on all the top social networks, the next thing you can do is start listening. The great thing about social networks is that they allow a lot of great engagement, and users often take the time to post feedback and criticism on Facebook pages. According to Jayson DeMers on Huffington Post:

If you recently launched a new product, social media listening is an effective way to determine what consumers are saying about it and what their overall experience has been. While there will probably be some people who absolutely love it and others who dislike it, observing social media feedback is a great way to make an initial assessment.

This data can help you pinpoint what you’re doing right and what mistakes you’re making. Knowing your business’s strengths and weaknesses is critical for building brand equity and sticking around for the long haul.

Improve Your Products/Services

Now that you’ve gathered some feedback, what do you do with it? Why, you improve your products and services, of course. Jayson DeMers says:

To grow a solid brand that stands the test of time, it’s important to earn a reputation for quality and responsiveness. Social media listening helps achieve this because it offers a firsthand look at what actual consumers think about a product or service and their overall view of a brand. Basically, the feedback you receive through this technique is like getting input straight from the source. Once you spot issues, you can resolve them before bigger problems arise.

On top of any criticism and feedback you might get from your fans, they also won’t be shy about sharing what they want or expect from you in the future. Take the opportunity presented by this kind of feedback by developing an all new product or service that no one else but you can offer. Not only that, but you can also gain a lot of information about your competitors that you might have never thought about.

Grow Your Core Following

Out of a thousand fans, you’ll have maybe 10 to 50 of them who will really take the time to engage with your posts. These are your core followers who you should really focus on pleasing. Why? Because they can serve as unofficial ambassadors for your brand, promoting it to whoever is willing to lend an ear. According to Rain Castle:

Your online consumer base is going to have a much more positive impression of and endorsement for your brand. Trust breeds loyalty, which in turn breeds willingness on the part of your consumer to take the time to spread positive reviews online and through word of mouth.

Respecting client endorsements and maintaining your responsibility to listen to your fans creates an ongoing cycle of recharged brand loyalty. Social media allows for continued conversations instead of one-time, stale recommendations. You have the ability to continually revive brand loyalty by consistently listening and responding – by keeping the conversation flowing and always providing an answer or a solution.

Image representing Matt Cutts as depicted in C...

Image via CrunchBase

Thinking about link building through article directories? Seriously? Don’t do it. Why? Because Matt Cutts said so.

Matt Cutts, Google’s head of search spam, likes to answer questions from users every now and then. The last one was from Deepika of India who asked:

“Links from relevant content in article directories – Seen as good or bad? eg. I link my beauty website from a cosmetic surgery article on say, Ezine? Would you do that?”

In typical Google fashion, Matt’s Youtube video response skirted around being overly direct, but his point was unmistakable.

“I wouldn’t necessarily count that as effective,” he said.

In case you need a refresher, article directories let you submit your own articles, often allowing you to embed a few links to pages of your choice. If people found the content useful enough, they could download it and use it on their own site. This had a lot of appeal as not only would you get some back links from the article directory itself, but potentially anyone else who might post it on their site, links and all.

It was a great concept, but back before the Panda and Penguin updates, SEOs used to abuse this by generating hundreds, sometimes thousands of articles for their clients with back links to the pages and sites they were optimizing. In order to generate that much content, they would use article spinners that would turn one article into hundreds or even thousands of low quality spun articles. As a result, Google has made changes to their algorithm so that links from article directories no longer have as much weight as they used to. There is still the possibility that some article directories might bounce back if they tighten their quality standards. However, even then, it’s not expected to be anywhere near as good as it used to be.

So where are we supposed to get back links? Well, it looks like everyone is driving content marketing into the ground right now. It’s an excellent way of delivering value, building an audience and converting their engagement into revenue. However, there is simply so much competition and content to compete with that establishing yourself will be difficult. However, if you deliver enough valuable content in the form of blog posts, videos, slides and the like, people will naturally link back to you.

Of course, these days, the name of the game isn’t just about natural back links and content marketing, but about establishing yourself on various social media channels as well. According to SEO-Alien:

With the explosion of Social Media, the share, the like and the re-tweet could now be trumping the ever important backlink. Though, at this time, Google will deny that they use Social Media likes and shares in their algorithms, though anyone using Google Analytics can see that Google keeps track of all the likes and shares.

At the moment, social networks like Facebook and Twitter don’t share any specifics with Google and other search engines about users, groups and pages that have driven referral traffic to your site through likes, shares and tweets. Still, referral data is being tracked from these sites, if only to identify traffic that came from these specific social networks, but nothing more. However, I do expect that they will eventually figure it out and pretty soon they’ll be a huge part of the next tactic that SEOs will start capitalizing on.

At this point and for the foreseeable future, it’s best to stay away from article directories for SEO purposes. Focus on your content creation and social media strategies to naturally build back links and social engagement with your site instead.

Google Chrome

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Since Google’s Penguin updates, there has been a lot more emphasis on quality over quantity. It isn’t about how much keyword-rich content you have or about how many sites are linking back to you. If the quality of your content and back links is bad, not only will you not rank well, but there’s a good chance you might be penalized as well.

While it’s been a while since these updates, there are still a lot of sites that have yet to recover. There are also sites whose owners have followed outdated advice and methods and as a result have also been hit by algorithmic or manual penalties. If you happen to own a site that’s one or the other, here are some content marketing tips to help you repair your site, improve your content, and hopefully regain a good chunk of the traffic you are used to getting.

Get the Basics Out of the Way

One of the first things of order should be to get the basics out of the way. Click Intelligence UK recommends:

Look for poor quality backlinks, broken links, over-optimized anchor text and other known factors to determine what’s causing your site to take a hit.

After all, you may not actually be getting hit by a penalty, but those small things can still impact your position in the rankings. Think of it as putting the children to bed so you can focus on your work.

Create Valuable Resources That People Will Want To Link To

When people think of content creation, they think of writing a whole bunch of articles. However, some kinds of content are more easily promotable than others and it is these kinds of content you should try to focus on if you want people to link naturally to you fast. According to Pratik Dholakiya of Search Engine Watch, a resource or “linkable asset” as he calls it, should have two or more of the following qualities in order to be elevated above ordinary content:

* Usefulness
* Interactivity
* Emotional Impact
* Relatability

Dholakiya lists a few examples of such assets:

* PDFs
* Slide Presentations
* Whitepapers
* Video Marketing
* Infographics
* Press Releases
* Case Studies
* Helpful Content Guides
* Tools

These are the kinds of resources that people naturally want to link to and produce exactly the kind of user behavior that Google and other search engines just love. Many of the best websites are built around these resources and it keeps them coming back.

Blog to Build an Audience

Most internet marketers are already aware of the importance of blogging for an audience. However, a lot of them tend to focus on marketing their brand, product or service. This shouldn’t be the case when it comes to blogging if you want to generate a following. According to Content Standard:

The way for content marketers to fix or avoid problems created by the Penguin 2.0 updates is to write their content with human readers in mind and let the targeted keywords appear naturally in the copy. Avoiding overly promotional or “filler” content that is simply there to ensure more usage of a given keyword is important – not only to avoid potential negative search performance, but also to ensure that the audience actually engages, learns from, enjoys and shares that content.

One good piece of advice is to think of your blog as a media outlet rather than a sales channel. It certainly sounds counter-productive, but you won’t come off as genuine if the entire blog serves as one big advertisement. Think about your readers’ needs and wants rather than your own to keep them coming back and sharing your content. Keep in mind that a blog takes users away from your sales page. Your blog needs to offer significant value to readers to keep them on your site then include a call to action every now and then for relevant articles so your sales page receives some loving too.

Augment Your Link Building

While creating linkable assets and generating quality content will naturally build links for you through user behavior and other sites picking up on your content to link back to it, this can still be a bit slow. Of course, you can speed the process up a bit as long as you don’t do anything spammy. Pratik Dholakiya says on E2MSolutions:

While our link building efforts are founded on basic principles, and we continue to rely on mainstays (like guest posting), we update our link building strategy each month. It’s important to experiment and use different approaches if you want to earn the hard links. Likewise, you should reevaluate your link building strategy based on where you are in the SEO cycle. Any particular strategy ultimately faces diminishing returns. You need to ‘move up a level’ every once in a while in order to keep showing meaningful results.

Grow Your Referral Traffic from Sources Other Than Google

For most sites, Google is often the single largest source of traffic. However, if you were to be hit by another update or for some reason Google went under, you would be stuck in a bad position with little other referral traffic to rely on. Dholakiya also says:

Other than the obvious fact that it’s not good to rely on Google alone for your traffic, referrals generate all kinds of positive signals that Google can pick up on. These ‘legitimize’ your site and allow it to pass through various Google filters.

Be Patient

Whether you’re recovering from a manual or algorithmic penalty, it’s important to have patience. Rushing your SEO was what got you into that trouble in the first place, so rushing your recovery will be just as unproductive and possibly as damaging. It’s not worth blowing your recovery budget on another high risk move that might dig an even deeper hole than you’re already in. It can take anywhere from weeks to months to resolve all the issues on your site depending on just how bad it’s gotten.