Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Why SEO firms Know Corporate Blogs are a Good Idea

Corporate blogs have finally caught on in the business world as part
of a company's overall marketing strategy. Research from May 17,
2008 says that 58 (11.6%) of the Fortune 500 are blogging. However we have noticed that some companies are still "afraid" of using this tactic. We hope this will help clear up any confusion. Why? Because blogs are a great way to keep the conversation going with current and perspective customers, and can often answer questions that people are asking. And blogs are a great Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tool that when used properly, can help get your company ranked in the top pages of search engines like Google or Yahoo.

Yes it is really important to maintain a blog strategy and carefully monitor ANY correspondence on the Internet, as we know because we also do reputation management for clients who may have said the wrong thing online or in a blog. BTW forum posts or responses to other blog posts are not always the best thing for an executive or an officer of a company to do online. We even have one client with a negative mention because of a book he is "badmouthed" in on businessweek.com. So we have a corporate blog that I ghostwrite on his behalf, talking about his charity work and trends in education. His personal website is getting great positioning within the top two listings in Google, and slowly but surely that negative listing is being bumped down to page 2 of the search engines.

But it is time for companies to pay attention when the Wall Street Journal writes about corporate blogs after a new study in June 2008 by Forrester Research. After they reviewed 90 blogs run by business-to-business companies in the Fortune 500, as well as close to 200 B2B marketers, word has it that most B2B blogs are “dull, drab, and don’t stimulate discussion.” Seventy percent focused on business topics, 74 percent do not get many comments, and 56 percent are full of old company news. Forrester does not suggest giving up on corporate blogging, but rather suggests companies spice the blogs up, post regularly, stick to it and give their blog posts some personality. Businesses need to offer visitors something like tips, insight, tidbits on how a product was designed, or something funny. The company says Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz’s blog is a great B2B blog example.

We have been doing corporate blogs as part of our SEO work for companies for a long time. We can train or ghostwrite blogs. They are a fantastic way to provide link backs to our client's websites. In fact, outside of affiliate websites, and optimized press releases, the blog is the next best tactic for online optimization.

It is always best to have your blog on your own website, because the weekly blogging activity creates a stir that the search engines notice. In fact MarCom has been experimenting with one new blogging program lately, and we are about to put up our own internal blog on our website, as opposed to only using Blogger.com. We'll use both. If your have your own blog on your website you would do internal linking to other pages on your website.

We have been ghostwriting a corporate blog for one client called the Entertainment Career Connection, a company that has recording, film, and radio schools for people who want to learn how to be a recording engineer, directors and producers, or DJS or sports announcers.

There are a number of types of blogs including CEO or executive blogs, employee and group blogs, advice or advocacy blogs, educational blogs, and of course, purely promotional blogs. Two to three posts per week are recommended in the beginning. Tagging and linking of the blog are also important tactics. TIP: Even photos posted to your blog can be named using your keywords.

If your company chooses to do an executive or a group blog, there's no doubt you are opening up to potential issues, so you will need to create and or extend your corporate policies. You will also want a blog moderator, who can go in and "clean up" a posting. Also it is important to give company bloggers a list of the key words and phrases so they can use at least three of the words in their blog posts, which will improve organic search results.

Here are some of the daily challenges of having a blog. Most blogs don’t receive tons of traffic, especially at first - as you can see if you go to http://www.technorati.com/, where you will note what blogs have made it to the top of the list via what is known as "authority." Some have no authority, some like ours have an azuthority of 4, qand others more than 300.

Blogs require time, making it important to consider the cost per hour of any employee - from managers to executives - posting on the corporate blog.

Another concern includes the challenge of CEO blogs in a public company, which require someone to manage. We often recommend adding a safe-harbor provision, which is a boilerplate statement that could prevent lawsuits. CEO bloggers need to be very careful in what they say, and they may not be able to offer strong opinions.

Marketers also need to remember that blogs can be PART of a corporate marketing campaign, but it is not a campaign in of itself, so there is no ending date. It is also important to remember that employees don’t always know how to represent a company or brand properly. Last, it can be difficult to measure specific successes. Although marketers can measure campaign successes by drops in website visits and registrations, and we measure the optimization successes via monthly reports that show increased ranking in the search engines.

At MarCom, our goal as Los Angeles SEO consultants, is to provide our clients with a strategy, then work hard to accomplish our goals mutually. The Internet is constantly changing, so tactics like a corporate blog will always require monitoring and deployment of new better practices for optimum SEO results.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Engaging in Social Media Optimization (SMO)

Finally we are seeing that Search Engine Optimization (SEO) of websites is being taken seriously. Although many companies have been perfecting this for years, including our expert, Mike Keesling, today's best practices have been defined and now companies are competing for visibility within the organic search listings on the Internet. So much so, in fact, that while three years ago it took a couple of months to be optimized, today it is closer to six to eight months. Why? Because so many companies are finally trying to get optimized, and the search engines need time to put them in place.

As always, when it comes to new marketing practices, Social Media Optimization (SMO) is the latest new practice that is gaining visibility and ground. SMO is primarily a link building strategy providing links to a site from other sites so the search engines will give the site a higher ranking, and so people using search terms and phrases will be more likely to find your site. As SMO practitioners, we include links to your site in relevant blog posts, vlogs, forums, etc. Last, SMO is the tool by which Social Media Marketing (SMM) thrives. What is SMM? It is the online tools and platforms that people use to share opinions, insights, experiences, and perspectives with one another.

What does all this mean? Many websites are static. In fact when MarCom posted our new Los Angeles SEO consultants website, our old website known as MarCom Broadband was static, rarely updated and nothing more than a portfolio of our work. So the first rule (after your site has been optimized) is that you want to increase your links, the most important priority for websites. In order to increase the likability of content on our new website, the first thing we did was to start this blog with links back to our website. And it is important to reward those who read your blog. Mention them, allow them to post comments, and send a quick note of appreciation to them. I also mention other bloggers or authors in our space. Note Paul Gillin, Expansion Plus, etc. in our blog roll on this blog.

Next, we started doing PRWeb or MarketWire releases, and then posted articles on the Internet each with a keyword strategy that includes three key words or phrases. Every blog, article, press release and newsletter links those three key phrases back to the MarCom New Media website. There are other strategies including white papers, form posts, and and bookmarking on social media networks, all of which provide linking opportunities.

Tagging or bookmarking means adding content via buttons, for example, to "add to del.icio.us." You can also submit white papers, or relevant articles to other relevant sites to get your content out there. What's more, if you have short videos, these can be added to YouTube, plus syndicated to hundreds of other video sites via RSS feeds. This way others can create what the industry has dubbed "mashups" to drive traffic back to your website. Wikipedia defines this as "a digital media file containing any or all of text, graphics, audio, video, and animation, which recombines and modifies existing digital works to create a derivative work."

This new era of social media marketing is different than push marketing of the past. It is all about truth, and sharing of ideas. And more and more marketers are realizing the value of having a good social media marketing strategy in place.

Most important -- on the Internet -- it is critical to just be authentic.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Social Media Marketing Facts and Trends

Here is an interesting report with statistics for social media, which is the sharing of information and opinions online. The research firm called Datamonitor reveals an increase in the number of people participating in online social networking, and it is not all here in the United States.

In a separate report by Nielsen Research, the UK currently leads Europe and is expected to increase to 27 million users by 2012. In fact, in Britain, users spend the majority of their time online on social media sites. They spent four billion minutes on consumer generated content sites in April 2008, which is up 47 percent, according to Nielsen Research.

Social media sites that people visit include blogs, social networks and photo and video sharing sites. People are spending time online in community groups where they share common interests with one another on things that are important to them. The trend is that now, consumers are in control because they can choose what they want to read online. And they can share their thoughts, and opinions.

According to VNU.net, nearly half of the online adult population around the world is a member of at least one networking site, with Facebook and MySpace being the most popular. They have more than 170 million monthly active users combined.

People no longer log online just to read relevant news. Following are some other new stats on the latest social media activity:

394 million people watch video clips online
346 million people read blogs
321 million read personal blogs
307 million visit a friend's social network pages
303 million share video clips
272 million create and manage a profile on a social network
248 million upload photographs
216 million download video podcasts
215 million download podcasts
184 million start a own blog
83 million upload a video clip
160 million subscribe to an RSS feed
(Source: Wave3 research of active users)

It also appears as if blogging and reading blogs is big with 34 percent of bloggers posting opinions about products and brands quite often. This is why it is so important for companies to be part of those conversations, or even to start the conversations. In fact, 36 percent of online users state that they think more positively about companies who run their own blog.

MarCom has been testing a variety of social media approaches with our clients over the last couple of years. Social media helps clients with building their brand, and a community of people for things like opt in lists, relationship management, and that can include crisis and reputation management, product development and customer support. And last but not least is known as defensive SEO. Nicely put, this is when you can get rid of negative mentions on the Internet or bad press by building positive online mentions. We have done this successfully for one client who wishes to remain anonymous, through his educational and charity website, a blog and articles distributed on the Internet.

What we have learned, is the most important thing is to have a social media marketing strategy. And in order to develop a strategy here are some issues that need to be considered:
1) Determine your goals - SEO, PR, traffic, etc. Are you trying to drive awareness, or advertising click through? Or is a conversation your goal?
2) Who is your audience - where does your target demo hang out online?
3) What are your realistic resources and budget?

First you need to look at social media as one of many Internet marketing channels. Second, social media marketing both Web 2.0 and Web 1.0 sites- so you need to be anywhere that there are discussions, people are sharing, and users are generated content. This includes:

  • Blogs, discussion boards and forums
  • Consumer review websites
  • Online Communities and social networks
  • Social news websites (e.g. Yahoo or Google News, etc.)
  • Social bookmarking websites
  • Social photo/video and music websites
  • Directories
  • Article websites
  • Wikis

At first you cannot expect social media to provide a return on investment (ROI). It will engage your audience(s), and should encourage user generated online conversations which increases your web presence, and can expand brand awareness. It also will generate publicity and provides measurable SEO benefits – but it will not necessarily convert. It can convert if you own the community, and can capture your own leads.

It is important to first gather all the blogs, forums, websites that are out there and monitor what people are saying. Then develop your strategy. Put a method in place to monitor what is being said. Then be prepared to go in and interact. However know that trust is a HUGE factor when it comes to social media marketing. It’s most effective when those in the community know and trust you, so you need to hire someone like MarCom to spend a lot of time online and track and manage your social web strategies.

Much of MarCom’s work is creating ghostwritten blogs, monitoring discussions in Forums, and knowing how to jump in with linking strategies back to our client’s websites using key words and phrases, which are picked up by Google and the other search engines.

This is evidenced by our client the Entertainment Career Connection, which is all about courses where you get a mentor. We have been improving their lead generation through SEO for over a year while reducing their Pay per Click budget. Now we have been able to take the funds saved, and invest in a social media network of writers that are building content on a special website. This site will be designed to track and capture leads. Once the community is flourishing, we can drive conversations, call-to-action, ads, promotions, and contests, anytime. Check out our MarCom Los Angeles SEO consultants case history.

Tactically, we also do blogger tours or we can gather a team to fan out into the blogosphere and engage in conversations, or go to forums with key messages for posts there.

Another method is via social sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, Readit, or the Newsvine, where articles posted there work for you if your news item relates topics that the community likes.

Finally today’s press use these sites to troll for trends and story ideas, so your articles and news can get picked up by bloggers.

The bottom line is that sales are a secondary benefit of social media, which is mostly about awareness.