December 29, 2010

14 strategies to grow your blog’s audience

sequoia
Giant sequoia at Mariposa Grove, Yosemite (photo by JD Lasica)

 

Tips on optimizing your online presence by building links & making your content more valuable

Guest post by Rand Fishkin
CEO, SEOmoz

I‘ve gotten to spend some time recently with folks who run small, personal blogs. Many of them have asked me whether SEO, in particular link building, is an activity they can take on to help grow their online presence.

I sympathize with the challenges – from reading many of the guides and posts about link building, you could be forgiven for feeling “in over your head” or that “only real businesses can do this kind of stuff.”

This post is intended to provide answers specifically targeted to organizations and individuals running their own blog, personally or semi-professionally, on how to engage in activities that will draw in links from other sites and grow your potential to rank in the search engines.

Generic directories aren’t your best bet

1Thinking of spending a few dozen or a couple hundred dollars on a generic directory listing like Yahoo! or Best of the Web? For personal bloggers, my advice would be to save your money. These directory listings may provide some small amount of value, but there are dozens of different activities you could engage in that cost less or have higher return on investment. Generics are also extremely unlikely to send you direct traffic, and what’s more, Yahoo! only lists 46 personal blogs now; it might be hard to make the cut.

yahoo-directory-submission

Not worth the $299 for personal bloggers

Even directories like the long-neglected Open Directory Project have such long wait times, tough criteria and poor acceptance rates that it’s barely worth submitting these days. There may be a few exceptions here and there, but on the whole, I’d urge personal bloggers to shy away from large, subject-agnostic directory sites.

Note: These generics may make sense for larger operations and sites, depending on your goals.

Niche blog listing sites can be much more effective

2Don’t give up on directories or listing sites entirely. For personal blogs, particularly those with a targeted niche, there are a lot of good places to create listings or fill out a submission form. For example, here are some blogs in specific niches I’d encourage you to check out. You can find these types of sites quite easily through searches, but looking at the link profiles of other blogs in your niche that perform well in the search rankings can also provide a lot of value.

You can use search queries like “niche+blogs,” “niche+bloggers,” “niche+blogs+list” at Google or Bing or try Yahoo! Site Explorer or Open Site Explorer – plug in the blogs you’re most jealous of (or most similar to) and you’ll often find a few dozen to a few hundred opportunities.

A few well-targeted searches can reveal hundreds of link opportunities

3Finding quality, targeted directories and lists can be a good start, and may bring traffic as well as better search rankings, but if you get creative with your searches, you’ll often find even more specific and sometimes valuable opportunities. Think of these queries on three levels: overall blog topic (similar to the suggestion above), category theme (of or related to one of your primary, consistent topic areas) and post-specific (related to an individual piece you’ve authored or are considering writing). Continue reading

December 22, 2010

How social media buttresses the Fresh Air Fund

FreshAir

Guest post by Daniel Krueger

With the year coming to a close, it’s always fulfilling to approach the holiday season by giving to those in need. The Fresh Air Fund takes a distinctive approach to giving back to New York City kids, not by giving food or toys but the experience of summer vacations in the countryside rather than the concrete jungle.

The Fund is also taking a fresh look at marketing. Working for the past two and half years with Chris Abraham of Abraham Harrison and the Socialmedia.biz network, the Fresh Air Fund uses social networks like Facebook and Twitter along with targeted blogger outreach to help inspire more people to contribute time or money.

Each year The Fresh Air Fund recruits families to host youngsters from NYC who would otherwise not have the opportunity to spend their vacation in the country. The majority of children are asked to come back year after year, as deep relationships develop between hosts and kids. Thousands of kids are also sent to one of five Fresh Air Fund summer camps because of generous donations collected all year long.

Fresh Air Fund’s social media presence

Fresh Air Fund

Word of mouth is generally the best method to inspire friends and families to participate in programs such as the Fresh Air Fund, which has been in operation since 1877. Using social media expands the reach of word of mouth, allowing the Fresh Air Fund programs to continue and grow. The Fresh Air Fund’s Facebook page has a robust fan base — crossing the 10,000 followers threshold yesterday — with 194 photos uploaded by friends and family, plus a Twitter following of more than 11,000 followers.

Other social media efforts on Fresh Air Fund’s behalf over the years include:

freshairfundseason.com: a social media news release that captures highlights of this year’s activities, including camp news, testimonials from children and participating families, summer highlights, personal storytelling and embed codes that let supporters spread the word through bannners, widgets and embedded videos.

weneedfreshairfundhosts.com: a series of banners and widgets soliciting hosts for the 2010 program.

freshairholiday.org: a social media news release that offers summaries of 2009 activities, coverage of Fresh Air fund-raisers at the NYC Half-Marathon, video stories of kids taking part in the program, details about the 2009 holiday drive and embed codes.

And more social media releases:

freshair-news.com

freshair-press.com

freshairfundhost.com

freshairfundhosts.com

freshairfundcounselors.smnr.us

freshairvision.org

freshairfund-newsrelease.com

freshair-newsrelease.com

The program’s continuing impact on young lives

This year nearly 8,000 children enjoyed their best summers yet, 370 students participated in the Career Awareness Program, 11 counselors-in-training spent three days on the Appalachian Trail, and 168 young people were Leaders-in-training. Summer 2010 featured the Precious Center for Teen Leadership at Camp Anita Bliss Coler and a surprise visit from Shape magazine editors who traveled up to camp to share their expertise and dedication to fitness, education and career development with the ABC leadership campers. Todrick Hall also paid a visit to Fresh Air Camps this summer, sharing dance and performance tips, as well as swimming and working on the Model Farm.

School is still in session, but NYC children are currently participating in Fresh Air programs, from weekly tutoring sessions to job shadowings to weekend retreats at Fund camps in upstate New York.

No matter the season, Fresh Air children remain involved, excited and forward-thinking. We need loyal friends like you to continue serving thousands of New York City children throughout the year. Visit freshair.org to make a donation or inquire about becoming a host family. Continue reading

December 20, 2010

What to look for in social media execution

idea execution
“A really great talent finds its happiness in execution.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Jessica ValenzuelaThere is a lot of talk about social media, the latest and greatest in communication innovation spurred by social companies like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, DailyBooth and many niche destinations. With all the noise compared with signal, how do you start a social media program that works whether it is for a small business, a start-up, a product, a service, an organization or a brand?

The simple answer: details and scope of your social media execution should be based on what your goals are. Goals can be set on macro and micro levels. In large organizations, it’s a must that each business unit, team or department flows in sync to achieve the company’s social media goals.

It sounds simple — but executing it properly is not a simple matter.

There is no shortage of ideas

  • Gather the best ideas people from your organization. They do not necessarily have to be the upper management or executive-level types — sometimes the best ideas come from the mail room.
  • You’re a one-man or one-woman operation? Ask your friends and clients to collaborate with you. You’d be amazed at the ideas they’d come up to help grow your business or develop your personal brand.
  • Set clear goals that are approved and supported by the ultimate decision-maker of your social media program – the guy who has your program in his or her P&L.

Execution

  • Define your program requirements. Now that the goals are set and you have ideas — social media program managers need to create the scope of the program and the requirements list.
  • Any scale of social media program should consider these requirement areas:
  1. Define rules and variables
  2. Type of creative and development assets needed
  3. The resources you need to execute
  4. Identify distribution channels
  5. Performance metrics (data!)
  6. Risk and change management (Plan B/Plan C, in case Plan A sucks!)

You’re not a techie or a media person and don’t know anything about how all these social media tools can help you grow your business and shape your personal brand? Start small. Really small.

  • Check out Tumblr, a social media site that allows you to share information in various forms of media. It’s very easy and simple to use. Content can be auto shared to your Facebook and Twitter accounts. I use it more for fun!
  • WordPress is great for small or large operations. Highly customizable and an array of social and ecommerce plug-ins is available. We’re using it for a number of small and medium-scale client projects.
  • Get comfortable with exploring new technology and social media destinations. Be curious. It’s a great way to understand and learn about the demographic you’d like to engage your services or products with.
  • Build on top of what you’ve learned.
  • Continue reading

December 17, 2010

How to get your B2B company to use social media

Three experts demonstrate how B2B companies can capitalize with social media

David SparkThis is the first installment of the “Social Media ROI Series” (#SocialMediaROI) that my company Spark Media Solutions is hosting and producing for Zuberance.

Working for a B2B company and you don’t think social media applies to you? Is your product too expensive to see any benefit from social media? Neither concern is true. Even B2B companies with high ticket items and long sales cycles can benefit from social media. And this was the discussion in the first episode of Zuberance’s “Social Media ROI Series” Webinar

In the first installment, I led a high-level discussion about leveraging the power of social media to achieve B2B marketing objectives.

  • First, Paul Dunay (@pauldunay), Global Managing Director of Services and Social Marketing for Avaya, outlines how the enterprise communications giant streamlined and fortified its approach to social media — and how it has been able to quantify the ROI.
  • Next, CDW’s Sr. Segment Marketing Manager, Lauren McCadney (@LMcCadney), shares the online retailer’s strategic approach to tapping social media networks to drive sales, build its brand, provide responsive customer service, and authentically engage with important customers.
  • Finally, Rob Fuggetta (@RobFugetta), Founder and CEO of Zuberance (@zuberance), offers three essential tips for B2B marketers looking to use social media to identify and activate their brand advocates.

The show also features questions from the Social Media ROI Webinar Series live audience. Please listen and watch the slidecast. Or, if you like you can subscribe to the Social Media ROI podcast via iTunes or RSS.

December 15, 2010

10 ways to measure social media for business

tape measure

 

See our accompanying article on Socialbrite.org: How to measure your nonprofit’s social media success.

JD LasicaIs your business a social business? Companies that are making good use of social media should take the next step and measure the progress of their social media programs and campaigns. How do you know if you’re succeeding if you don’t have the numbers?

Today we’ll look at 10 ways that metrics can offer visibility into your business’s performance. You won’t want to chart all of these, but tracking a few well-chosen metrics — and incorporating the learnings into your business processes — can contribute to the bottom line.

Customer engagement

1Engagement can take place offline and online, on your site, on your social networks and in real-world face-to-face events. By letting customers participate in conversations about your brand, you can improve your business, your products and your levels of service. Ultimately, customer engagement is key to improving satisfaction and loyalty rates and revenue.

Metrics to track could include:

  • Number of followers on Twitter, Facebook, et al.
  • Number of retweets on Twitter
  • Number of comments per blog post
  • Number of external widgets embedded
  • Invaluable assets as redistributors of content
  • Customer reviews and ratings

Note: Such customer interaction can be invaluable in fostering a culture of community and in guiding product development. In addition, endorsements can be used as testimonials in marketing materials (with permission).

Sales & profits

2In the end, you business’s social media efforts need to not just generate customer goodwill — it should contribute to your company’s bottom line.

Metrics to keep an eye on include:

  • Track sales from Google referrals
  • Sales from paid search
  • Sales as a result of social network mentions

Dell said it made $3 million selling products to its Twitter followers on the strength of coupons and discounts that other Twitterers gladly passed along virally as tipsters. And Blendtec’s Will It Blend? campaign on YouTube helped to drive a 500 percent increase in sales. Just don’t expect the needle to move right away.

Search marketing & rankings

3The importance of search engine optimization to your brand cannot be overstated: SEO & social media efforts should significantly increase your site’s visibility & performance in search results. It should also help you rank prominently for targeted items and increase your long-tail traffic.

  • Identify and incorporate targeted keywords on major landing pages on your site.
  • Strategically use keywords on social networks as well, such as Facebook.
  • You can use links from Twitter or YouTube to claim valuable search rankings on your brand search terms.
  • Tweets that rank for targeted keyword can lead to traffic from keywords that the site does not rank for.
  • Whenever someone shares content from your site on a social site, you get a link back and a submission history.
  • Try to convert one-time visitors from Digg, StumbleUpon and other social news sites into long-term members of your community.

Continue reading

December 14, 2010

Launching a new site: 18 steps to successful metrics & marketing

Guest post by Rand Fishkin
CEO, SEOmoz

The process of launching a new website is, for many entrepreneurs, bloggers and business owners, an uncertain and scary prospect. This is often due to both unanswered questions and incomplete knowledge of which questions to ask. In this post, I’ll give my best recommendations for launching a new site from a marketing and metrics setup perspective. This won’t just help with search engine optimiztaion but on traffic generation, accessibility, and your ability to measure and improve everything about your site.

Install visitor analytics

1Nothing can be improved that is not tracked. Keeping these immortal words of wisdom in mind, get your pages firing analytics code before your first visitor. Google Analytics is the obvious choice, and customization options abound (for most sites more advanced than a basic blog, I’d highly recommend at least using first-touch attribution).

Google Analytics Metrics

Google Analytics, or any other package (see some alternatives), needs to be placed on every page of your site and verified. Do yourself a favor and install in a template file you can be sure is on every page (e.g., footer.php). GA’s instructions will indicate that placing the code at the top of the page is key, but I’m generally in favor of leaving it at the bottom to help page load time for visitors (though the new asynchronous GA code is pretty fast).

Set up Google & Bing Webmaster Tools accounts

2Both Google & Bing have webmaster tools programs that monitor data about your site and message it back to you through online interfaces. This is the heartbeat of your site from the search engines’ perspective and for that reason, it’s wise to stay on top of the data they share.

Bing Webmaster Tools

That said, the numbers inside these tools are not perfect and often have serious flaws. The referring keywords and traffic data are, in my experience, far off what analytics tools will report (and in those cases, trust your analytics, not the engines’ tools). Likewise, crawl, spidering and indexation data isn’t always solid, either. Nonetheless, new features and greater accuracy continue to roll out (more of the former than the latter unfortunately) and it’s worth having these both set up.

Run a crawl simulation of your site

3No matter how perfect you or your developers are, there are always problems at launch – broken links, improper redirects, missing titles, pages lacking rel=canonical tags (see more on why we recommend using it and the dangers of implementing improperly), files blocked by robots.txt, etc.

Web App Crawl Data

By running a crawl test with a free tool like Xenu or GSiteCrawler, or leveraging a paid tool like Custom Crawl from Labs or the Crawl Service in the Web App (pictured above), you can check your site’s accessibility and insure that visitors and search engines can reach pages successfully in the ways you want. If you launch first, you’ll often find that critical errors are left to rot because the priority list fills up so quickly with other demands on development time. Crawl tests are also a great way to verify contractor or outsourced development work.

Test your design with browser emulators

4In addition to testing for search engine and visitor accessibility, you’ll want to make sure the gorgeous graphics and layout you’ve carefully prepared checks out in a variety of browsers. My rule is to test anything that has higher than 2% market share, which currently means (according to Royal Pingdom): Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Opera.

There’s a great list of browser testing options from FreelanceFolder here, so I’ll just add that in-person testing, on your own PCs & Macs, is also a highly recommended use of an hour.

Set up RSS feed analytics

5Virtually every site will have some form of structured data being pushed out through an RSS feed. And, just like visitor analytics, if you want to improve the reach and quality of the feed, you’ll need to leverage data.

Feedburner Dashboard for  SEOmoz

Feedburner is the de facto software of choice, and it’s very solid (though, good alternatives do exist). Getting your feed and the analytics to track and measure it is typically a very easy process because there’s nothing to verify – you can create and promote any feed you want with just a few button clicks.

One important recommendation – don’t initially use the counter “chiclet” like:

Feedburner Chicklet  with 0 Readers

It has a bad psychological impact to see that no one has subscribed to your new RSS feed. Instead, just provide a standard link or graphic and after you’ve amassed a few hundred or thousand readers, use the numeric readout to provide additional social proof.

Tag the actions that matter

6No matter what your site is, there are actions you’re hoping visitors will take – from tweeting a link to your post to leaving a comment to buying a product or subscribing to an email list. Whatever those actions might be, you need to record the visits that make them through your analytics tool. Casey Henry’s post on Google Analytics’ Event Tracking will provide a thorough walk-through.

Once action tracking is in place, you can segment traffic sources and visit paths by the actions that were taken. If you’re pouring hours each day into Twitter mobile but seeing no actions, you might try a different channel, even if the traffic volume is high. Continue reading