Talking Social Media with Van Baird, Ashley Williams, Jake Dudley, and Taylor Cyr

Drafty-Kilt-bottle-tulipMy good friend, Van Baird (also my Insurance Agent), invited me to join him on his radio show, Emerging Enterprise, on Business Radio X on March 14, 2014. I was joined with some pretty awesome folks from the Atlanta digital marketing scene. Joining me as guests on the show were Ashley Williams with Giant Impact, and Jake Dudley with HiveATL. Along for the ride was a six pack of delicious, local, Monday Night Brewing Co’s Drafty Kilt Scottish Ale.

I had a fantastic time with everyone for the Friday afternoon (1PM EST) online radio show. In fact, I’m really looking forward to getting together with everyone again. Van has a knack for gathering people together, creating valuable connections, and developing relationships. If you’re interested in the social media landscape, I hope that you take a few minutes to listen to our conversation.

Big and Small Businesses Need to Pay Attention to the Basics

search engine basicsPeople often get very excited about implementing new (and sometimes outdated/risky) marketing strategies for their website. Over the past few years, I’ve worked with businesses that rather focus on link building or AdWords before taking care of the issues on their website. Some of the issues I’ve pointed out include the horrendous page load time, URLs that are over 150 characters long, lack of competitive / realistic keyword targeting, and keyword stuffing.

With all of the strange requests I’ve had over the years, it almost always comes back to me begging my clients to just spend some time and offer patience to the essential onsite optimization techniques. As Jon Henshaw so eloquently said in my last post, “The starting point for all small businesses is to get their virtual house in order before trying to bring attention to it.” If you’re a small (or local) business owner, it’s essential to your online marketing future that you invest in your onsite optimization. Let’s start out with the basics:

Onsite Internet Marketing Basics that You Shouldn’t Ignore

We often pay attention to the aesthetics of our websites and forget to pay attention to the details. Well, the little things that make your website function are often big fixes when they’re ignored. Here are a few things that I believe are essential to businesses and their marketing goals.

  • Make it mobile: I’m a big believer in mobile responsive design. It’s not the only mobile website solution, but I think it’s one of the best for most businesses. Mobile is growing at an incredible rate, and if you’re just thinking about joining, you’re not ahead of the curve… you’re trying to catch up!
  • 301 Redirect: When you build a new website, it’s fairly common that your URLs might change (hopefully for the better). The one thing that you don’t want to do is let those old URLs fall to the wayside. It’s important to take those old URLs and redirect them to the new pages. This should help reduce your 404 errors (page not found) and increase your marketing opportunities. Even if you are not migrating an old page to the new site, I would suggest that you send old pages to a comparable page on your new site. Unless you have an insanely creative 404 page, then you should pay attention to what people see when they land on your site.
  • Be Malware Free: Seriously… No one wants to catch a virus from interacting with you on the web. Make sure that your site is clean and clear of malware.
  • Meta Issues… Blah: Where do I begin? Please, don’t be lazy about titles and meta descriptions. These are fantastic opportunities for generating clicks to your website that you a can’t afford to skip.
  • Website Content Issues: Unless you’re Apple, I strongly suggest that the pages within your website have a definite purpose in mind. Purposeful pages typically include content. Most marketing experts will suggest that your pages should have a minimum of 250 words per page on your website. Obviously, there are always exceptions to rules, including your blog posts. However, for your evergreen pages, I suggest that you play it safe and keep the pages on your site filled with edifying content for your customers.
  • Link Issues: Seriously… Stop linking to bad sites, and stop falling for link building schemes. That’s all I have to say.
  • Optimizing Images: This has got to be one of the biggest issues that people skip over. Optimizing images for search is a huge opportunity for businesses, large and small. Hospitality businesses cannot pass up the opportunity to optimize their images. Many other businesses can generate natural links and buzz around images that are properly marked up so that they have a strong presence in image searches.

Ignoring key onsite optimization is a major mistake for businesses of all shapes and sizes. Whether you are Google (the bot) or a real person searching the web, there are basic fundamentals that attract quality users more than others. Taking care of the basics will dramatically help your web presence now and into the future.

Photo cred: UK Ministry of Defense 

Digital Marketing for Small Biz – What the Pros Say About Social, SEO, and Mobile

About two months ago, I reached out to my peers in the digital marketing world and asked them to contribute to my online survey. The questions covered topics such as the importance of Facebook in the near future, Google algorithm updates, and mobile website development for small businesses. Originally, I intended to just gather the information for my own edification, but some of the answers seemed worthy enough to share and archive in a blog post.

The starting point for all small businesses is to get their virtual house in order before trying to bring attention to it.

- Jon Henshaw, co-founder of Raven

A Quick Summary

If you don’t feel like scrolling down to look at pie charts, here’s a quick summary from the survey. Don’t forget to scroll down to the very bottom of this post to read the tips from some bright minds in digital marketing that took the survey.

  • Mobile website development, specifically responsive design,  is going to continue growing in 2014. Responsive design is attractive because it’s easy to implement and CMS platforms like WordPress make it very easy to manage a mobile friendly site.
  • Facebook is still important for a small business’s web presence. Even if your Facebook page isn’t driving engagement, an updated page plays a role in branding and search engine optimization.
  • Search engine optimization is NOT dead. The quality of your entire web presence (content, website design/build, social signals, etc) matters more than ever. Don’t skip over the basics of optimizing your site.
  • Bing (wait for it….) is growing in importance. More internet marketers are paying attention to Bing and making sure that their business ranks well.
  • Marketers are still unsure about the role of Google+ for small business. Some say it’s an absolute must, most are unsure, and some even think it’s not necessary to keep it consistently updated.

Internet Marketing is Evolving, and Small Business Needs to Adapt

 Shift focus from keyword jamming and an obsession with traffic to building an online audience that will follow you wherever you go.

- Michael Schein, Principal of Michael Schein Communications

The majority of small business owners know just enough about digital marketing to be dangerous. It’s easy to see why they still think that link buying is a magic bullet for any website, and that thousands of Likes on Facebook will propel them to fame and fortune. They go to conferences with charlatan (or washed up) guest speakers, and read news articles that are based off of buzz and irrelevant success stories. Basically, there are a lot of small businesses that can’t see through the mess that’s being thrown their way. Hopefully, the insight from these people will help us as marketers steer our clients in the right direction.

Small Business on Facebook


1. Facebook ads are a great tool for most businesses.

Facebook Ads Work for Small Business

2. Local / small businesses benefit most from Facebook Ads. Facebook Ads Best for Small Business

3. An active Facebook Business page is still essential for branding and SEO. Facebook branding and SEO

The Role of Google+ for Small Business

1. Google+ is becoming increasingly more important to your inbound marketing strategy. Google Plus in Small Business Marketing

2. Small businesses MUST stay active on Google+. Small Business and Google Plus

Website Optimization and Search Engines

1. Blogs are the best way to create fresh, and relevant content for businesses. Blogs best way to create fresh content

2. Optimizing for Bing search is more important than ever before.

Should you optimize for Bing search

3. Google’s Hummingbird update followed the natural progression towards a better search engine experience for users.

Google Hummingbird Update

 4. (Insert sarcastic tone.) The best solution for Google’s Hummingbird update is to pump out as much content on your website and social channels as possible.

content marketing strategy

Mobile Website Design for Small Businesses

1. Small businesses MUST have a mobile website solution.

Small Business Mobile Website Design

2. Mobile responsive website design makes the most sense for small businesses.

responsive website design

3. The best marketing strategy you can have is make your users feel loved. (listen and respond to questions, concerns, comments, and shout outs.)

Marketing Strategy

Pearls of Wisdom from Bright Minds

van baird“Give value until it hurts. Become an advocate for your current clients. Be about what they’re about to the point where they can’t help put you at the time of their mind when it comes to recommending you to their circle of influence.”

Van Baird, Chief Thank You Economist
@VanBaird
Relational EQ

 

 

 

jon henshaw“There are several things small businesses should do:

1) Optimize their site: Make it faster, responsive and the navigation streamlined.
2) Be social: Create and manage social profiles, and engage with potential customers.
3) Create relevant content: Write content that’s helpful to target customers and make it easy for them to share.
4) Get mentions: Build relationships with relevant sites to increase brand mentions, citations and backlinks.”

Jon Henshaw, C0-Founder
@RavenJon
Raven

sarah dethomasis“Start with what users go to most for information depending on the kind of business you have. For instance, restaurants should start with Yelp and go from there. Decide what your goals are – foot traffic in-store, sales online, awareness, etc. and then craft a strategy that accomplishes those goals.”

Sarah DeThomasis, Senior Manager of Strategic Partnerships
@SarahDeThomasis
Sarah on LinkedIn

 

 

don rhoades“ If it is a local business they have an advantage of Google+ Local. If it is a small eCommerce site who competes with larger retailers, look for opportunities to trump their low prices by offering better service based on Thank You Economy or similar philosophy.”

Don Rhoades, Digital Marketing Consultant
@TheGonzoSEO
The Gonzo SEO

 

 

michael schein“Small businesses need to shift their resources from interruptive advertising to content marketing. No news there. But since they are especially restricted as to time and money, they need to seriously consider how to use the resources they do have to their advantage. Can their employees contribute content? What systems can be set up to help them best do so? Same goes for bloggers and content creators in adjacent fields — they are looking to contribute…figure out how to make it easy for them to do so.”

Michael Schein, Principal
@MichaelSchein1
Michael Schein Communications

 

Ashley Velez“Focus on creating quality content that is helpful to their readers. Equal parts helpful, social, and honest (because customers can tell) is a winning combination. Humanizing your business and reminding folks that in addition to providing an amazing service, your children are in the same class, or you visit the same public park, keeps you in their minds over a larger company.”

Ashley Velez, Lead WebOp
@AshleyGraceless
AshleyGraceless.com

What do you think is the single most important thing that a small business can do to improve their internet marketing over the next 12 months? Leave a comment!

Want a Career in Digital Marketing?

Advice for Future Digital Marketers

Graduation Day with my Roommates

Graduation Day with my Roommates

The recession hit at the very beginning of my senior year at Georgia College. I remember watching the stock market plummet in front of my eyes while I was working out at The Depot (the name of our college gym.) Basically, I watched my inflated dreams of getting an amazing job out of college float away as market bubbles popped and poor financial decisions (and policies) came full circle. Headed into my senior year of college, I had no freaking clue what I was going to do, or if I would find employment come May.

My path into digital marketing was more of a stumble, mixed in with a few wrong interesting turns. There are things that I wish I had known, and things I’m thankful that I pursued. While I haven’t built a billion dollar company, I’ve been very fortunate regarding opportunities and experience so far in my career. Below are a few pearls of wisdom that I can offer from my strides and stumbles.

Internships: Don’t Skip Over the Free Ones

If you think that an internship is an opportunity for a company to get free labor out of you, then you’re doing it wrong. An internship, whether it’s free or paid, is an education opportunity for you. College courses alone will not prepare you for the work force. Through a free internship, you are paying the company and staff for their time, experience, and an opportunity to get in front of other job applicants in the future. You will most likely require training, lots of hand holding, and you will be mentored throughout your internship. Taking a free internship during my first semester of my senior year in college was the best decision I made for my career. I’m convinced that it is because of my internship that I was able to land a job before I graduated.

Learn Basic Coding

The coding knowledge that I graduated with came through learning on my own and my internship. One of my college courses involved about 4 weeks of Adobe Dreamweaver and Flash, but I wish I had taken some extracurricular classes that were hard coding focused. Despite my limited experience with coding, it was still more than most people in my field when I graduated, and it helped me standout when it came to interviews and job performance. Whether it’s a college course, or you become self taught, I strongly suggest that every aspiring digital marketer spend time learning basic coding.

Start Building Your Web Presence

I was fortunate in having a really cool boss during my internship. He pushed me to buy my domain and build my own WordPress site. My boss even went ahead and set most of it up for me for no charge. He also told me to start working on my LinkedIn profile and Twitter account. During my senior year, I started to build my web presence and take my online reputation seriously. I put down the Xbox controller (occasionally), poured myself a beer, and started blogging. It was my web presence, along with my internship, that got me hired on the spot during my second job interview just 5 months before graduating. When I look for potential new hires now, I’m looking at their web presence and online reputation that they have or have not built yet. Every person that we have hired has some sort of footprint on the web, because it’s that important to us. You don’t have to blog about internet marketing to grab the attention of recruiters, or put yourself on every single social network. My suggestion is that you create a blog, update it once in awhile with content that is meaningful to you, and maintain a public web presence (Tweet drunk at your own risk.)

Prepare to Work

Over the course of about 10 or 11 months, I worked two jobs. My day time job was corporate, which gave me a lot of incredible (yet soul killing) experience. Luckily, I had some really cool and inspirational bosses, which made it much more enjoyable. Before and after my day job, I spent time working on TrustWorkz. Everyday, I woke up at 4 AM and went to bed at around 12 AM. There was nothing glorious, or healthy about it, but it’s what I had to do in order to get to where I wanted; Full time at TrustWorkz. I’m not saying that you have to kill yourself in order to get what you want in your career, but you need to wake up and realize that it’s going to take a lot of work and sacrifice. The great thing about pushing yourself to your limits is that you have the potential of exceeding your very own expectations of success.

Tip: Hard work does not always equate to time spent working. Looking back on it, I wish I had found a better way to manage my time and make room for things that matter more than work.

Do Something Other than Work

Go on dates, fall in love, find God, visit friends in different states, go on adventures, and have hobbies. Your job is only a part of your life, and there is much to be enjoyed and experienced. Make sure that you have a life outside of work, because there is so much of this great gift to be experienced and enjoyed. Plus, your coworkers and bosses want to be surrounded by dynamic people… People who have an insatiable thirst for life.

Life is not a problem to be solved; it is an adventure to be lived. That’s the nature of it and has been since the beginning when God set the dangerous stage for this high-stakes drama and called the whole wild enterprise good. He rigged the world in such a way that it only works when we embrace risk as the theme of our lives, which is to say, only when we live by faith. A man just won’t be happy until he’s got adventure in his work, in his love, and in his spiritual life.”

John Eldredge - Wild At Heart

 Embracing Your Journey

During my (still young) career, I worked jobs that I did not enjoy. I worked hours that truly sucked. Right after I graduated, I even went through a year long recruiting process for a job with the Federal government (which is funny, because I lean Libertarian.) Your path in digital marketing might be a bit more straight forward than mine. If you haven’t graduated yet, there’s also a good chance that you won’t even be working in marketing a few years from now. The truth is that your future is not dictated by a degree or your first few jobs. Enjoy exploring and finding a career that you are truly passionate about.

Hummingbird Madness

Google’s infamous algorithm updates typically send the average digital marketer and business owner (who knows just enough to be dangerous) into a tailspin of fear and night sweats. One of the biggest blows to the search engine world was dealt when Google’s update, named Panda, launched in early 2011. The Panda update added a new layer to how the “algorithm” absorbed website data and spit out search results to users.

Panda has evolved over the past few years, but it basically boils down to this: The update was made to rank sites based off of human standards. Most people were buzzing about Panda’s hit to content quality across websites. The Hummingbird update, unsurprisingly, continues to march towards creating a search experience based off of how real humans use Google.

Hummingbird update

Finding Relevancy and User Intent

Google’s Hummingbird update follows a pattern of updates made over the years (well before Pandas and Penguins) which focus on user intent versus strict word and key phrase matching. Additionally, it addresses how our search queries have evolved into more conversational searches over the years. You can thank the rise of mobile (and voice) search to making our searches more long-tail in nature. That said, there is still A LOT that we don’t know or clearly understand about the Hummingbird update other than the fact that it was huge (affects 90% of search queries.)

There are a few things you should be paying close attention to (from a search engine marketing perspective).

  1. Using variations in your keyword targeting, and being aware of context
  2. Creating high quality, relevant content with landing pages and blogs

Repeat After Me: Context Is King

When dealing with search engine optimization (SEO), it’s never wise to put all of your eggs in one basket. Since content is a heavy factor in how search engines digest and reveal results to searches (Read: An Illustrated Guide to Google’s Algorithm), it would make sense that you would never want to lean heavy on one set of keyword targets for a single page or blog post too. This doesn’t mean that pages on your site shouldn’t target certain searches. For example; If I’m trying to target “Digital Marketing in Atlanta“, then that’s fine. There’s no problem with targeting that key phrase. A few years ago, that would mean that in order to optimize for that term, I would need to plaster it all over my homepage. In reality, the method of using a set of keywords over and over again is flawed.

What this really boils down to is that you should (and shouldn’t be afraid to) use synonyms in your content. Rather than forcing “digital marketing” in my content, it would be advantageous of me to write naturally and use synonyms (such as online marketing or search optimization) without worrying about my keyword count. The key to approaching content is to having a goal in mind. Why am I writing this blog post or page? What do I want people to gain from it? How am I providing edification to my (potential) client? What is the user intent? Are there terms similar to Keyword “A” that users might find relevant?

The question of, “what are they searching for”, should already be answered by now because you should have a purpose and a reason when creating content. You should be addressing questions, concerns, or searches that you know people want to learn more about. Keyword phrases and synonyms to your ideal keywords will flow naturally in your content. I don’t believe that optimization techniques, such as editing content to include more keywords and keyword synonyms, is bad at all. The editing process can help improve the user experience by including words that might catch the user’s attention so that they know they have found something relevant. This is nothing new though. Original and relevant content producers have nothing to fear from the Hummingbird update. It could quite possibly be their best friend.

At the end of the day, the content marketer should focus on creating relevant content that matters to the user. The focused practice of pushing a single keyword or phrase in your content is long gone. Include synonyms in your content. Write pages and posts that matter. Context is king.

Hitting Your Long-Tail Goals

Marketers have been harping about the importance of long-tail searches for years now. Again, this is nothing new. I started my career working for a company based off of this idea. The long-tail search has become more important as our searches have become more specific, and our language in search has evolved as well. Conversational searches are on the rise as mobile search has increased. Consider how you search these days, or even how you use voice search on your mobile phone. You are specific and intentional. The affect on long-tail searches comes naturally to the Hummingbird update since it is focused on user intent. Write your content for human consumption.

Speaking of keywords and long-tail searches, you might also want to recall how Google is removing our reliance on keyword data. In October of 2011, Google announced that it would begin to limit keyword search referral data in analytics. Almost exactly two years later, Google has tightened the belt on keyword data even more. “Not Provided” data in some of my reports is as high as 80% now. As our keyword data continues to dwindle, it’s obvious that we’ve been leaning on optimizing for keywords for far too long. It seems as if Google is pushing us to create content optimized for topics versus keywords.

Here are a few things you should focus on in your online marketing strategy:

  • Write relevant, topical content for landing pages and blog posts (have a purpose).
  • Be aware of keywords that you want to optimize for, but use synonyms and keep it natural.
  • Avoid creating pages or posts with low word counts (previously addressed by Panda/Penguin). Most SEO’s suggest 250 words or more.
  • Write blog posts to be social, to provide value to your (potential) customers, and for brand awareness.
  • Continue building a strong, natural, internal linking strategy to topical content.

We (people) continue to shape the way that Google adjusts their algorithm. The majority of their updates are most likely responses as to how we evolved in how we search. Keep this in mind: Empathy will become a much more valuable and necessary characteristic among successful internet marketers over the next few years. The ability to understand people has been at the heart of advertising and traditional marketing for hundreds of years, and it’s finally making its way to search engine marketing. The Hummingbird update should be a great move forward for the internet marketing community.