Sunday, August 29, 2010

My Sultry Summer

For a woman who has never liked summer and spent each entire summer running from air conditioned home to air conditioned car to air conditioned job to air conditioned stores, this has been a summer of surprises.

The air conditioning in my car as well as my home stopped working in early June. To my own surprise, I chose not to have either one repaired - knowing that if I did, I would keep the air conditioning running all summer long, driving up my electric bill at a time when I need to conserve and keep expenses down. 

I tried this for one day, then one week and now it's been almost 3 months of living a new and different way during the hot and sultry summer months.

My Sultry Summer Survival tips
  1.  slow down and take everything at a much slower pace
  2.  wear very loose breathable all cotton or linen clothing
  3.  take many warm showers -  the hot air feels cooler after a warm shower
  4.  use fans generously with one or two fans in each room of the house  
  5.  place fans on or very near the windows at night to blow in the cooler night air  - the house cools down a lot by morning
  6.  do not run window fans on very hot days - this will only bring the hot air in but do use other fans inside each room
  7. keep blinds or shades drawn during the day to keep out the hot sun
  8. cook and clean only in the very early morning or very late night hours when it's much cooler 
  9. reheat or microwave meals quickly during the day or just eat a lot of salads and other raw foods
  10. keep the ice-cube trays filled and use ice liberally in water and other drinks
  11. drink lots of water to replenish the water lost through perspiration
 The greatest benefit to living through the summer this way is the large savings in electric bills.  For me, though, learning that I can survive without air conditioning has been a lovely bonus.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Search Engine Marketing Issues

Social Media Marketing Doesn't Replace SEO

Looking at the latest search marketing conference agendas, articles, and online news in the SEM space, it certainly appears that social media marketing and networking are the wave of the future.

To a certain extent, they are.

Social media, and social networking in particular, create a back-and-forth conversation with your target audience, so you can virally market your website through the "buzz" that can be created. When something interesting, cool, or unique is being talked about in "all the right places," it can certainly provide a boost in website traffic.

We search marketers tend to hang out in numerous online and offline communities where it's easy to promote our own products and services, yet I can't help wondering if our view of Web marketing is skewed because of this.

Are potential B2B clients and even B2C customers spending time at Digg? Do they attend SEM conferences in order to hire a company, or are they just trying to learn to do it themselves? And what about other industries? Is there a Sphinn equivalent for developers of product lifecycle management software? Are there groups of people online comparing the various brands of auto parts? Are there really people seeking out articles on these topics?


And if so, we'd be remiss not to promote our clients' websites in those spaces. But is this search marketing? Or is it simply online marketing? Arguably, it becomes search marketing when it increases link popularity, but surely that should be the secondary goal of this type of marketing campaign. True link popularity comes from having something worth linking to, not something you've asked your insulated group of cronies to link to.

Certainly, the boost in direct traffic that a site can gain when it is being discussed in all the right places online is not to be taken lightly – and that alone is reason enough to try to be found in all the right places. Yet how much of that traffic actually converts into anything good, and how much does it help your organic search rankings?

More important – how does it increase your bottom line?

For instance, I've written a few articles that received upward of 1,000 visitors a day from StumbleUpon alone. The spike in traffic was nice, and the slight increase in newsletter subscribers was certainly welcome, but for the most part, those StumbleUpon visitors spent just a few minutes on our site, and only a small percentage signed up for our free newsletter. None of them were interested in using our services. They read the article and then stumbled their way to the next site of potential interest.

Isn't participation in social media really just preaching to the choir?

You reach your peers, not the people who will buy your product or service. Sure, it's a nice ego stroke to have others in your industry tell you how cool you are, and there's something to be said for building credibility within your own community. I'm certainly not knocking that, and have built my own credibility via various online communities in which I've participated over the past decade.

But how does it sell your products and services?

Do you gain customers and sales from your social media marketing and/or your participation in social networks? Does it increase your rankings for the keyword phrases your actual target audience is typing into the search engines? If your business model depends on traffic for traffic's sake, or on how many ad impressions your site generates, then there's an obvious value. But if you sell a product or a service – then not so much.

My fear with all the hype about social media marketing is that people new to search marketing will believe it's what SEO demands and what SEO is all about.

It isn't. Not by a long shot.

Social media marketing is a great addition to any traditional SEO work that you do, but it's not a substitute. It's more akin to hiring a PR firm once you've launched your already-SEO'd website. On-page SEO is definitely not as sexy as social media marketing, but it is still the most important investment in your website that you can make. Period.

So, go to all your social media conferences, and Digg your way to increased traffic. But first learn exactly who your target audience is, what they're searching for in the search engines, and how your website can solve their problems. Then make sure your website does exactly that. All the social media buzz and traffic won't amount to anything if your target audience isn't already part of the online conversation.

Be sure to have your own house in order before you give social media marketing a try.

And don't be surprised if it doesn't actually provide you with the ROI you hoped it would. In most cases it will depend on who your target audience is, where they hang out, the types of services or products you offer, and whether your website truly provides people with what they're looking for.

Getting back to SEO basics – that is, creating a crawler-friendly website that is built around the keyword phrases people use at the search engines to find what you offer – is the first and most important thing you can do for your website and your business. Yeah, it's not as fun and exciting as social media marketing, but skip this step at your own peril!


Jill Whalen, CEO of High Rankings a Boston SEO Consulting Agency, has been providing SEO services since 1995. Jill is also the host of the  High Rankings Advisor newsletter and the High Rankings SEO forum.

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