Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Forget that content crown! How many hats do you wear?

If 2012 marketing conferences were all about proclaiming that CONTENT is KING, 2013 has been spent (so far) discussing MOBILE MARKETING. 

I have participated to countless discussions on both topics and offered my 2p on that old chestnut, SEO IS DEAD, but what I have realised, both as a marketing consultant (remote) and as a contractor (inhouse) is that the content crown has been replaced by a multitude of hats. This has created a kind of professional identity crisis: what am I now? 

By Marcus Hodges
To be honest, I'm not bothered, but it bothers other people, especially those who are very fond of pigeonholing. At a networking event, recently, I had to explain what I do to people who don't know what SEO is (they still exist, despite all the LinkedIn discussions, the DIY tweets - mine are called #TweetsforSEO and my moniker is @simonecas - and countless features in trade publications). 

At this business networking event, I started saying I do content marketing and SEO, then tried copywriting and website optimization, then went for "I rank websites on Google, I do social media, I monitor online reputation..." 

At some point I got asked if I was in marketing or PR. And to confuse the issue even further, I still do some editing and journalism work. Now, correct me if I am wrong but these used to be different 'fields' only a few years back:

Journalist: objective communicator
Editor: objective and subjective operator
Copywriter (ad copy): subjective
PR: subjective communicator (aka mouthpiece of brand)
Marketeer: mostly subjective but with some room for objectivity, for instance if raising awareness about an issue
SEO/social media bod: subjective (you bark for the client).

A few years back if you moved from journalism to marketing/PR you crossed the other side, as if a Darth Vader of commerce was lurking across an imaginary line, trying to seduce you to lose your objectivity. 

Are professional boundaries being blurred? You tell me.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Is social media a candy shop open 24/7?

Brian Solis & JESS

An incident this morning gave me an idea for this blog post, alongside something a business coach once told me: "People should not hire somebody else to do social media for them". I just stared at this 'rude person' who knows me professionally, after all that's how I make my living and while I agree that a small business might not be able to afford to hire a consultant, I think this is the silliest piece of advice I have ever heard. 

The reality is that all main social media platforms are free and there are so many of them you can easily be a victim of a pick-and-mix greedy attack: I'll have a bit of this and of that and the other. And what you see on the wheel pictured above, which I used to illustrate a client's business blog last year, is not all - platforms are invented at a fast pace. It's the same for blogging, one blog doesn't feel enough for certain people (I do declare my humanity here - and fallibility - by saying I have five blogs, which keep me quite busy. My excuse is that writing comes easy to me).

Anyway, back to social media, if you decide to have a bit of everything you will end up not being able to handle anything well (unless you make social media a full-time job, that is). Social media is time consuming and while it's necessary to build a business reputation, it's also true that you don't need to spread yourself across the net and be everywhere to succeed. 

Fist of all, what is your business? B2B or B2C? Where do your potential customers hang out? I will be honest and say that I have encountered businesses that don't need social media to survive because they have strong sales teams. A bit of a shocker for an internet addict like me. However unless you are a strong salesperson who thinks cold calling is fun (it's effective still), you do need to use social media as it's a cost-effective way of marketing a business.

Sounds easy but it's not. It's all about branding, which is a fancy way of saying, if your website or social media accounts don't explain clearly and consistently what you do, you will struggle to get customers. That's where a business realises they might need help - if they haven't got a marketing person, they either hire an agency or a consultant. 

I know anybody can write a blog post, but can you write copy that increases your sales? Can you craft posts on Twitter or LinkedIn or Facebook (depending if you are selling to consumers or businesses) that invite people to visit your website? Can your website's copy retain visitors' attention (ie the bounce rate) and translate browsers into buyers? 

Now, do you think that anybody can run a social media strategy? Can you analyse what you are doing, pivot if it doesn't work and try something else? Can you find the right channels for your businesses? Are you wasting time on Pinterest that could be better used on Facebook or Twitter? Decisions, decisions... Can you update your blog on a regular basis? Can you do all that while meeting clients, implementing your services and sourcing/dispatching your products? Can you also keep an eye on your competitors? Can you integrate all you do so you can build a solid reputation online and offline?

I'd love to hear how you have juggled all this and what you have learnt. I'm open to share my own journey.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Measuring ROI - the real digital divide (business reality against practitioners' theory)

By Glen Bowman

Aside being a beta junky (please leave a message if you are launching anything, any time soon), I'm addicted to LinkedIn discussions. I cannot resist butting in when somebody makes unrealistic, pompous, half-baked or old-hat assumptions about digital marketing. 

Yes, I love reading US, up-to-the-minute industry newsletters but often there is a big divide between theory and practice or, more to the point, what you should be doing and the budget/time you have. Mind the budget gap!

For me it's a given that for small businesses you can do internet marketing using free tools. But what about ROI, that slippery, hard-to-measure bane of any digital pro's life? Well, if you have zero budget for fancy tools, you use Google analytics to monitor visitors and Google Trends/Adwords Tool for keywords (for the website, blog posts and campaigns). 

You might well ask, yes, but what do you do? I help a customer to rank organically, do some targeted social media, use a few new free tools (beta commitment always pays off) then I ask the client if sales have gone up. 

A high Google ranking is useless if it doesn't convert into sales. So that's how I measure ROI for small businesses: I find out how many visitors have visited the website and then ask the client for sales figures. Of course it might not work out, but it's rare that you don't net any sales at all. And if sales are disappointingly low, you better have a quick, backup plan or the client will do some simple comparative maths and walk away (i.e. sales versus your fee).

Digital marketing on a shoestring

I come from a content marketing perspective and to me you write good copy that attracts customers, find the customers, engage them and get the sales. I used to work for huge brands with lots of money to throw into marketing activities, but when I'm managing the whole process for a small business, I have to roll my sleeves up and do what I can with a very small budget. 

But that's fine, because that's my personal journey. I set up my own website and ranked it all by myself. I built my own reputation from zilch, so I can do this again and again.

Simples as the meerkat said. But not really simple if the client gives you very little time. All this A/B testing people are raving about is time consuming and most clients want to see results pretty quickly, they are not impressed if you take a guru stance and ask for 6 months to calibrate the campaign, you are lucky if you get 3. 

One of my clients wanted a monthly report, which is a pretty tough call if they have just hired you and they have done zero social media beforehand. So you do your best, scratch your head, use any resources you can think of and try to educate your client so they can actually follow what you are doing, which might buy you a bit of time and some respect/empathy. 

But it might not work and you have to use all the knowledge you have and some to pull a rabbit out of the SEO hat (an ethical, white hat, of course). And it never stops, because Google is relentlessly changing ranking criteria. You need to keep learning or you are obsolete in a matter of weeks. Which is fine by me - internet addict and compulsive learner rolled into one small package.

Sometimes I'm allowed to use paid tools, but what if they don't perform? When the editor of an email marketing system refused to work for several days, I had to design email marketing campaigns by rewriting a template's html code. Which is pretty tedious, but brings me back full circle because that's how I designed my professional website in 2008 and before that, that's how I used to manage my fun London Cheapskate website in 2001.

So the moral of this tale is that reality is very distant from digital theory. Unless you work for 'moneybags', you'd better work out which free tools can help you do your job.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

LinkedIn, B2B, email marketing law, my business bootcamp & mavericks

So far I have done SEO work for B2C businesses, but my own business is B2B. I sell writing, editing, design and optimization services (including content marketing, SEO, social media, PR/reputation management) to businesses.

LinkedIn, the most popular social media platform among professionals and industry leaders, is where B2B businesses (I'm a small fish there!) engage through content (including Powerpoint presentations, articles, videos, infographics, etc.) and conversations.

I love LinkedIn, although I'm often irritated by people who mistake it as a hard sales tool to flog their wares. This is a no-no and in most groups these transparent efforts are flagged by members or the group's manager as promotions. 

LinkedIn is the perfect digital platform to create and nurture relationships - it's not a tool for direct marketing or spam. Yet, I get sales emails from members of groups who think they can just email everybody in the group to plug their product/services. This is not acceptable.

There are rules and laws regulating email marketing in the UK, so if you want to dabble in it, please visit the ICO's website and proceed accordingly. If you are not based in the UK and want to trade in the UK, you need to read it too. (If you are wondering, ICO is the UK’s independent authority dealing with information rights.)

Engaging potential customers on social media - aka the soft sale
As I've mentioned before, sharing content and expertise are efficient ways to find customers through LinkedIn. It has worked for many businesses and my own. Sharing expertise is a straightforward process, but what about content? You can share a link to your blog, an infographic, a photo or give away a pdf report through your website. This is a legal and acceptable way to get email addresses and build a customer database. You don't have to write your pdf/ebook from scratch, think content re-purposing, basically recycling articles you have written in a new form with an eye-catching design.

You can also refresh old content - unless the topic has dried up, all you need to do it to update it with current trends. A pdf can also be the resume' of a book you want to sell, a taster you give away to entice readers to get the full Monty. Or you could prepare a presentation in Powerpoint and upload it to Slideshare, then share the link on LinkedIn.

Do you feel some people don't get you? 
Apparently, I'm a maverick. A former client once defined me as a pair of safe hands, but the impression I give to people who glance at my CV is that I'm a maverick. I'm seen as a maverick even when I make comments/offer ideas that make business sense. Is it because I'm a foreigner, is it because I'm a woman? 

I recently realised that there are marketing managers out there who haven't got a clue about digital marketing. Some bluff their way, others hire consultants and believe anything that these people tell them. Which is fine if they picked the right consultants. I will say it again, SEO is an unregulated industry and there a plenty of cowboys out there. I can suss them out as I can analyse a website's structure and see if the work has been done or not. As I mentioned before, in one case a poncy London agency had claimed authorship of the very technical content of a website, which had been written by the client. And to add insult to injury, they had done zero SEO work but billed for it.

Latest example is a marketing manager dismissing digital badges just because this person didn't understand them. Most marketeers know what their value is in engagement and brand promotion, especially with young customers.

So again, a word of warning, before you snob the one-man band SEO consultant for a shiny agency, make sure you know what you are paying for. Maybe they have better offices, but that doesn't guarantee a job well done. And if you are maverick and people don't get you, don't fret, it's their loss not yours. You don't want to work for morons or the client from hell.

Business Ignition Bootcamp - what I have learnt
I have just completed a virtual bootcamp with Danny Iny of Firepole Marketing, which was very interesting as I learnt more about starting/running a business. I won one of 200 places worldwide and all the hard work was worth it as I learnt about the five Business Model Components from Randy 
Komisar's and John Mullins’ Getting to Plan B - basically the Revenue Model, the Gross Margin Model, the Working Capital Model, the Operating Model and the Financing Model.

I enjoyed it much more than studying economics at university because the theory was applied to real businesses (case studies and my own business). It was intense and culminated into a 'graduation' project in which participants formed teams to draft a marketing strategy for a non-profit organisation.

With this new perspective, I will surely find other ways to assess businesses. What the course confirmed is that with digital businesses you can achieve massive savings in the working capital and operating models - you can really reinvent the business wheel and slash costs with a bit of creativity. I have come away with a few insights, some from the course, others from the participants - we networked a lot in the forums.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Why is Google still ranking keyword stuffers? What is SEO in 2013?

Cool customer by Mastrobiggo

So you can still rank through keyword stuffing. Today I have found yet another copywriter using keyword stuffing to rank in a location he is not based at, which makes a mockery of local listings. He is not the first one, a few months back I nabbed one who has removed the page and is becoming prominent in the copywriting world.

The mind boggles... why are customers choosing these people as suppliers? They are using old SEO or black hat SEO, which are against Google's policy, to rank with words that are not relevant to their services - hardly a professional quality. They might be getting away with it for a while, but Google's Bell will toll for their websites.

I know Google cannot police everything, but it's very difficult to report this behaviour, can Google please provide an email address so disgruntled web surfers can contribute links? What's the point of Google Places if these underhand tactics are not discouraged?

SEO is part of digital marketing now, move ON
There has been talk that SEO is dead (see previous blog topic), that there is a new SEO, bla, bla, but SEO as it stands in 2013 is part of the digital marketing mix, which includes: ppc, link building, PR/reputation management, analytics, responsive design (one has to consider mobile users) and social media. SEO is not hocus pocus, it is a perfectly respectable business in an unregulated industry. SEO stands for optimization and online authority - and yes, you need all the elements of digital marketing to rank a website.

The unregulated industry bit can explain why SEO rates vary so much. It's a no brainer, though, good SEO increases sales, so why should this be a low-cost service? I'm not saying that it warrants eye-watering day rates, but people on peanutsperhour offering SEO for a fistful of dollars are, fittingly, cowboys.

Content marketing is as important as design
Content marketing includes words, infographics, images... so spending all the money on a designer and not willing to pay a writer is not sensible. And within content marketing,  pictures/infographics might be worth 1000 words, but they won't prop up weak copywriting.

I must confess, I rubbed my hands when international marketing conferences proclaimed content was king. In reality, people don't want to spend any money for copywriting because they think they can hire a cheap monkey or write the copy themselves. Newsflash, it has taken me several years to become a good copywriter and I have a solid background in journalism. Digital copywriting is a different skill from print journalism and it's very different from blogging.

The written bit people want to pay peanuts/bananas for is the sales message - whistles-and-bells design plus good SEO will attract visitors to a website but lacklustre copy will bounce them off in a jiffy. It doesn't matter if a shopfront is shiny, if the merchandise is badly displayed, nobody in their right mind will want to buy it unless it's as cheap as chips.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Can visual jokes create engagement?

I have got old news from you...

I'm a fan of usvsth3m.com/ and recently sent them the above Slideshare presentation I created using comedy sketches I wrote for a radio show a few years back. Sadly they were rejected again, in all their visual glory by this fine prank website.

Today I had another go with an idea that came to me looking at Benedict Cumberbatch in his Assange role. He looked very much like Warhol, so I did an image search and found confirmation in a picture on Wikimedia. I took the picture from usvsth3m.com/, turned it into black and white and created this spoof in Quark 5, then pdfed it, then turned it into a jpg (I don't have InDesign on my computer, nor the latest version of Quark, hence the long-winded process). I tweeted it and while double-checking the spelling of the surname of this fine, attractive actor, I realised it was his birthday! So I tweeted it again as a birthday card of sorts.

I'm going to post this joke on Facebook and Pinterest too.  Let's see what happens. Not expecting much, maybe a laugh or two from my followers.

Pinterest version

And I have a companion... in the Private Eye stylee...

UPDATE.... another one placed on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Lifelong learning + what's in a website name?

No relevance whatsoever to this article but it's eye-catching. Courtesy of tumblr through UsVsTh3m

I read an interesting conversation (or should I say convo?) on a business forum this week. I'm on a special Business Ignition Bootcamp - I say special because it was only open to 200 people worldwide and I feel lucky I got in. We are specially selected guinea pigs, which is exciting to me - I'm a sucker for beta stuff, and this is the best beta opportunity (or should I say oppo) to date.

It's also special because it is run by an ethical digital marketing company, Firepole Marketing - you won't find black hat SEO there or any other algorithm fiddling activity but a strong belief in content marketing. I'm doing yet another course (it seems every year I do a course, last year it was all about counselling skills) because I'm a fan of lifelong learning. This is handy because in SEO you have to keep learning or you will be obsolete in not time. Platforms are invented every week and Google's penguins and pandas breed at an alarming rate. To paraphrase a famous tagline you don't want to pick [on that] Penguin! I have to do a lot of reading, SEW and Social Media Examiner are very handy newsletters to be subscribed to as reputable practitioners offer a wealth of DIY tips in easy-to-read articles.

Choosing a website domain

Back to the convo, it was about choosing a website name. One of the posters said it took him longer to find a name than to write down a business plan. This is very wise as a website name will have an impact on SEO. Pick the wrong one and you risk potential low ranking and confusion (for instance IP stands for intellectual property and also internet protocol, so if you call yourself IP solutions, people might not understand which service you are offering).

I will give you an example loosely based on previous job. However, this is a fictional business I made up for argument's sake. If you rent ski chalets in Bulgaria and call yourself Bulgariawinterexplorer.com because it sounds like fun, you will need a bigger SEO effort than with Bulgariaskichalets.com or Bulgarianchaletrental.com. It's wise to find out high-ranking keywords for your product/services through Google’s keyword tool and also have a look in Google Trends for phrasal keywords that fit your business. Phrasal keywords would be, in this case, Bansko ski chalets (a popular destination) holiday ski chalets in Bulgaria, Bulgarian holiday rentals... The more the merrier, as you'd need those for your headlines and subheads. Then pick your name. Some businesses rather like the idea of having a quirky name, which is fine, but you will need to do more work to promote your business so people understand what you are selling. There is nothing wrong with Bulgariawinterexplorer.com and it does hint at the snow bit, but this business could be a travel agent, a holiday rental, a bespoke travel guide, it doesn't spell out ski chalets. Another scenario is that the best name is taken or it costs too much, then I'd say, be creative but include a keyword in the name. For instance if Bulgariaskichalets.com is taken, consider using an adjective, such as Bulgarialuxuryskichalets.com or Bulgariabudgetskichalets.com, this will also give your customers a hint about prices.

SEO tip for creative names

If you still want that creative name, pick a sentence that is SEO friendly. So when your business appear on a Google's page it might read like:


Ski chalets in Bulgaria | Holiday rentals in Bulgaria | Bansko chalets

Followed by a good introduction of your product.

Roger out and over to you!

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Slideshare experiment + harnessing power of social media

Making the most of the internet  - my first Slideshare foray

As mentioned in my previous post, I'm trying out Slideshare as a digital marketing tool. In a matter of days I got 2070 views, an amazing result for a Slideshare novice (+ Powerpoint beginner - yes, I use its templates still!). 

I only had one 'old' presentation there (Making the most of the internet, at the top) but with very few views because I had only tweeted about it once or twice. This time round, each new presentation was tweeted, pinned, facebooked, g+ed and linkedin-ed.

I took up a Slideshare challenge to mark the 10th birthday of LinkedIn (above). I then contacted one of the sites I recommended on Lucky 7 steps to let them know I had featured them. This gained me an endorsementhttp://www.trafficgenerationcafe.com/weekly-marketing-skinny-may-11-2013/ (scroll down till you see Ming). Thanks Ana for your comments, I know you are a busy lady!

I'm also experimenting with branding - I have launched a Take 5 series, starting with a very popular topic (see above). I haven't invested a huge amount of time in all this - I'm doing it on top of a full-time marketing job, so I'm pleased about the results I got so far.

So if I can sum this up, the lesson I learnt is: come up with a popular theme, share like mad and do some blog outreach!

PS: If somebody wants to appear in my Take 5 series, I'm doing the first one for free! You need to provide me with 5 enticing facts about yourself or your company...

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Long time, no SEO... Just joking!

I haven't been posting for months because I have been really busy with work and other projects. I picked up a new client around the time of my last blog here and have been working less and less from home. 

Since April I have a full-time job in international marketing while doing bits and pieces in my spare time. So it might be long time, no see, but I have been reading, implementing, devising... breathing SEO techniques. 

In the meantime, cast your eyes on some presentations I have uploaded on Slideshare, my new addiction! I am experimenting with Slideshare as my new channel, adding it up to my LinkedIn, Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter activities.