An Accidental SEO Experiment

Niagara Falls, Niagara Falls Canada, Horseshoe FallsIt’s been 50 days since my last blog post.  Fifty!  That’s a long time for me since I aspire to post weekly (or at least 3x/month).  The reality is, summer simply got the best of me.  I was busy with work, busy with consulting, busy with college visitation road trips, busy with networking, busy with public speaking and busy relaxing.  Busy, busy, busy for fifty days!

My unplanned absence from blogging led to an accidental SEO experiment.  Even though my site contained relatively no new content, I had enough blog posts published (77 of them!) that it still produced a decent number of site views.  While the average number of weekly visits saw a small but gradual decline compared to previous months, it was relatively unchanged during that period.  One could argue that a slight downturn in the summer isn’t necessarily unexpected, given vacations and other distractions compared to other times of the year.

So what does this mean?  Can you simply stop what you’re doing, put your feet up on the desk and wait for the phone to ring?  Absolutely not!  My previous 77 posts took time and effort to write.  There was SEO coding that went with it.  The posts were promoted using social media channels and sometimes referred to in comments left on other blogs.  It’s because of that effort my site continued to attract daily visitors to multiple pages.  Imagine how many more visitors I would have had with new postings on a weekly basis . . .

Whether a business, freelancer or job seeker, my accidental SEO experiment illustrates that original content, SEO coding and social media promotion and activity will bring visitors to your website.  The simplest analogy I can make is to gardening…  If all you do is scatter seeds, you’ll probably see some growth in your garden.  But if you take the time to organize what you plant and spend some weekly maintenance on it, you’ll see a bigger return on your (work) investment.

Advertisements

The Value Of First Impressions

I’ve written previously about the value of first impressions.  A few weeks ago I was reminded about how valuable those first impressions can be.  I had the opportunity to bring my daughter to a local college fair with over 200 schools in attendance.  She did some homework ahead of the event and we had a large list of schools we wanted to speak with.

Upon arriving at the event, what struck me first, was that there was an immediate and obvious discrepancy among the schools.  Some had great signage that was branded consistently with their school.  Other colleges simply made do with what was provided by the convention center.  When you see something like that, what’s your first impression?  Is it that one school takes pride in their brand and another doesn’t?  Or is it something more cynical, such as one school charges more in tuition to support its marketing and promotions budget?

A few of the colleges had more than one representative at the table to help reduce waiting times.  As a parent with many schools on the list and many questions to ask, I found that to be very valuable.  But that begs the same questions, doesn’t it?  Is it “smart business” on the school’s behalf or is it flaunting a larger budget that can afford to send two representatives instead of one?

Many of the colleges had large visuals of campus.  Not surprisingly, all of the students look like models and the campus apparently enjoys nothing but  sunny, blue skies and 70-degree days all year-long.  What surprised me was that some schools didn’t have visuals at all, unless you proactively flipped through their glossy brochures.  You can’t flip through a brochure if your booth doesn’t attract the visitor to begin with!  That seems like Marketing 101 to me, and that doesn’t bode well for the offending schools offering a marketing degree.  I think they need to re-take that class, or perhaps take it at a different school that understands marketing!

My final observation, however, was how few schools had promotional products with them.  I was expecting to bring home enough branded pens to supply a few classrooms with.  Instead, we found one school that had postcards of campus images printed in 3-D and another school that gave out small smartphone screen cleaning pads.

After speaking with 30+ schools, I must admit that many of them blended together at the end of the event.  The ones I remembered either had a great representative, or they had the right combination of marketing and promotional collateral to stand out from the crowd.  For the colleges, isn’t it all about making a great first impression at an event like that?  My daughter was able to eliminate many schools from consideration based on first impressions alone.  The rest will be eliminated on other, more traditional criteria.

Does your business actively plan for making the right first impression?  If you’re looking for a job, what are you doing to ensure your first impression is a good one?

Ithaca College, IC, Roy H. Park School of Communications, Cayuga Lake, South Hill

A first-impression of my alma matter, the Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College, overlooking Cayuga Lake (image via ithaca.edu)

Is Social Media Right For Your Business?

I recently consulted with a business regarding their various marketing needs.  One of the topics we discussed was social media.  After our initial consultation, they decided to hold-off on moving forward with social media for a few reasons/concerns.  I hear these a lot, so I thought I’d share them (and my opinion) with my readers.

“I’m not sure I’ll do it correctly.”  While it’s not super-complicated, there is a marketing science (and etiquette) to using social media correctly.  In a nutshell . . . you need to determine if your customers are using social media, what platforms they engage in and what their expectations are.  You need to determine goals and objectives for your social media and create a strategy/plan to meet those objectives.  You’ll also need to determine what metrics you’ll use to evaluate your strategy.

“I’m not sure it will pay off.”  If you’re expecting an immediate and significant boost in sales by suddenly engaging in social media, you will likely be disappointed.  Social media is more about relationship and community building, interacting with customers and a gradual build.  It’s about sharing and providing something of value.  It’s about the art of attraction.  It’s not a soapbox to promote your business with 90%+ of your posts.

“I’m not sure I’ll be able to generate content.”  Don’t let that stop you! Chances are, if you Google the product or service you sell, you’ll find millions of hits on that search.  Which is a good article?  Which is a trusted source?  Use your industry knowledge and experience to become an information filter for your audience.  That filtering of quality information provides value, builds trust and attracts others.  Over time, it positions you as someone with subject matter expertise.

Is social media right for your business?  It can be, if you use it correctly (or hire someone who does).

Five Reasons Why Job Seekers Must Blog

Looking for work is a full-time job but with a horrible “paycheck.”  I know first-hand, as I’ve previously spent an extended period of time looking for work.  I’ve often been asked, “if you knew then what you know now, what would you do differently?”

To this day, my answer is always . . . . blog.  When I was unemployed, I had dozens of people suggest to me that I should blog.  At the time, I had my excuses crafted:  I don’t have time, I don’t know what to write, it will detract from more important job search tasks, people won’t find value in what I have to say, etc., etc.

Since I’ve successfully navigated those waters, I can say from personal experience, these are five reasons that job seekers must blog:

  1. Improve Visibility & SEO.  You need to be active and visible if you want to be found.  While Google will find your LinkedIn profile, it simply isn’t enough.  SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization (improving the natural or “organic” way your site is found via search engines like Google or Bing).  Add to your digital footprint and improve your SEO by creating and maintaining a blog.  Google ♥ blogs because it’s fresh content.
  2. Exemplify Subject Matter Expertise.  What if your resume or LinkedIn profile isn’t read?  What if it’s read, but your expertise doesn’t come across?  Having a blog allows you to demonstrate your subject matter expertise with each post.  Repetition demonstrates your experience and knowledge.
  3. Demonstrate Personality.  By writing a blog, your personality comes through.  Readers get a sense of your style, your passion, your humor.  It takes what’s typically a very 2-D digital footprint and transforms it into 3-D.
  4. Personal Branding & Differentiation.  Most LinkedIn profiles look alike, aside from a few differentiators.  Since you can only customize your LinkedIn profile to a very limited extent, writing a blog allows you to creatively market yourself.  Open jobs often receive hundreds of applicants.  How can you stand out from the competition?  Try blogging!
  5. Proactively Share SCAR/STAR Stories.  A common interviewing strategy is to share a SCAR (“Situation/Challenge/Action/Result”) or STAR (“Situation/Tactic/Action/Result”) Story with the interviewer to demonstrate your experience, problem solving ability and value to the organization.  That’s great, but you need to get the interview in order to tell that story, right?  Not if you have a blog!  SCAR/STAR Stories can be great fodder for blog posts.

And, if you’d like a bonus reason, creating and maintaining a blog gives you the added skill sets of writing, content management, web development, marketing/promotions, publishing and social media!

Is blogging time consuming?  Yes, but make the time – it’s worth it!  Will people find value in what you have to say?  Yes, you’ll be surprised!  If your goal is to be found, be viewed as an industry expert, show some personality and differentiate yourself from the competition, then you must blog!

Misconceptions Everywhere

I recently visited a close friend who had relocated from the Rochester, NY area to the Cleveland, OH area.  It was my first trip to Cleveland and my friend was happy to play tour guide with the big venues being the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Progressive Field.  I have to admit that prior to this trip, I pictured Cleveland to be the run-down, rust-belt, dirty, “mistake on the lake,” river-on-fire city that I recall hearing about decades ago.  I couldn’t have been more wrong as I found Cleveland to be a fun, clean, friendly and vibrant city.

While in Cleveland, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle ran a topical blog post.  The blogger had relocated to Rochester and had some misperceptions about Rochester (as well as Cleveland).  The timing of her blog post couldn’t have been more perfect and my relocated friend found a lot of truth in her post.

I grew up in a small town in northeastern New Jersey.  Unless you’re from that part of the country, your perception is likely tied to one or more of these television shows:  The Sopranos, Jersey Shore,  The Real Housewives of New Jersey, Cake Boss and/or Jerseylicious.  Or, perhaps you’ve driven the NJ Turnpike and you think that the entire state consists of swampland, rest stops named after famous people and smelly refineries.  I can assure you the vast majority of the state is much nicer than that.  Trust me.

So that got me thinking about marketers in the tourism industry.  Besides touting the many positives of a given area, how much of their efforts are spent countering misconceptions?  I recently chatted with my friend Carol White Llewellyn, who is a travel and tourism promotion entrepreneur for the Finger Lakes region of NY.

According to Carol, the Rochester area has two big misconceptions.  “The first is that Rochester and this region does not get many tourists. In 2010, in spite of a still-down economy, Rochester alone got $1.3 billion in tourism revenue (http://www.actrochester.org/Indicator/Default.aspx?id=1&indicator=11).  Tourism is huge here, especially because of the growth of the wine and food/restaurant locavore movements. Various communities have also been listed in the “Top 10″ as must-see’s by a variety of travel press.  The other misconception among locals is that there is nothing to do here. In fact, about the only thing we’re missing that’s found elsewhere in the country is deserts and tornadoes.”

Carol goes on to say, “In truth, I don’t spend a lot of time correcting misconceptions. I just keep blogging and talking about all the wonders of the region.  I think sometimes, like most communities, we simply don’t recognize/appreciate/take advantage of the amazing wonders we have in our own back yard!”

As with most things in life, you need to take what you hear/see/read with a grain of salt.  Take the time to do some investigating.  If you don’t, you might incorrectly believe the misconceptions that are everywhere.

Social Media Experiment Results

In my post last week, I asked for your help in conducting a social media experiment to see if I could get blog/site views from specific countries for the first time.  I was hoping readers would share their favorite post of mine via social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+) and try to target some of the countries listed.

Immediately after publishing that post, one of the subscribers to my blog was kind enough to tweet it and reference some countries using hashtags.

In less than an hour, someone from Iceland had visited!  My excitement grew at the idea that the map would quickly fill.  I scheduled a few more tweets for the next few days with countries listed, paying attention to the time difference so the tweet would launch during business hours in those countries.  However, no new countries had visited and my tweets weren’t being re-tweeted.

I took to Google+ and tried to get some additional country views using that platform.  While it did bring in some additional views and was on-par with my normal quantity of visits, they weren’t from any of the “missing” countries I had specifically listed/identified.  I changed my LinkedIn status to see if anyone in my network could help.

So with Mike’s comment on my update, I set my sites solely on Greenland, perhaps the largest country missing from my map (land size).  Tweets referencing Greenland weren’t working as quickly as I hoped.  With a promised update for this week’s blog, time was running out.  I took a more strategic marketing approach and searched LinkedIn Groups using “Greenland” as a keyword.  I further narrowed the search to “open groups” plus English-speaking and found a few I could post a discussion thread to without first joining the group.  I decided to post one of my more popular blogs to date, The Lost Art of the Thank You.

Within a day, I had two site visits from Greenland!  Buoyed by the success of this new approach, I tried something similar with China, South Africa, Finland/Scandinavia and a few other countries.

I’m happy to report with just a tiny bit of extra effort this week, I’ve added 9 new countries to my map (many I specifically targeted):  Panama, South Africa, Greenland, Japan, Iceland, Hong Kong, Pakistan, Mongolia and Slovakia.

The biggest lessons learned?  Be targeted, provide something of value, be timely, monitor your progress and be willing to adapt/alter course as needed.

Plan Ahead Now for 2012 Holidays

In a recent Ad Age article, they advised marketers to plan ahead now for Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  Your calendar is correct – it’s only April and Easter was just this past Sunday.

As we learned last year (for many, with regret and disillusionment), the holiday shopping season moved back one day to Thanksgiving Day.   Expect more companies to jump on that bandwagon this year as for the most part, it was a successful strategy.  Think it will stop there?  Think again.  Expect the kickoff date to slide even earlier in subsequent years.

For marketers, the planning indeed needs to start now.  After all, there are the proverbial ducks to get in a row.  If you’re uncertain about your “ducks” – the answers to the questions of who? what? where? when? why? how? then you desperately need market research.  Without it, you’ll be planning blindfolded and will likely fail before you even begin.  I’d even argue that it should be your first duck in that proverbial row.

Properly designed market research can provide the answers to those questions, giving you direction for your planning.  It will capture where you are and where you need to be with your efforts.  It can prove or disprove assumptions you’ve made about your industry, your customers or your clients.  It can confirm a good plan and point out the flaws of a bad plan.

If you’re not experienced with market research, don’t assume any old Survey Monkey survey that you or your intern whips up will do.  Bad idea.  Really bad idea.  Poorly designed market research is actually worse than no research.  It could lead you to draw incorrect conclusions and send you down the wrong path.

If you think you can’t afford to incorporate market research as part of your planning process, I’d say you can’t afford not to.  Companies don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan.  No company is too big or small to need market research.

When is the last time you professionally researched your industry, company, competitors and/or customers?