Google’s SERPs Post-Penguin

Wow. I’ve been gone for a while. But I’m back, and I’ve got a Penguin on the brain. The Google Penguin.

As an SEO enthusiast, I’ve watched Google closely for many years. If you’re reading this, you’re probably aware of Google’s most recent attempt to fight web spam. They call it the “Penguin” update. And I have some thoughts about it.

What’s most interesting to me is that prior to the release of the Penguin update in late April, I had been thinking about writing a much different post about Google. A post defending them. I’m glad I never wrote that post. Why? You’ll have to wait till next time to find out. Today I want to discuss Google’s search results.

But first I have to provide some personal background. For about 15 years I owned a small graphic design firm. Website development was a significant portion of our business. During these years our company launched two e-businesses. One that failed (an online apartment guide). And one that was successful (a promotional products website). With our successful online business, we drove our traffic from a combination of per per click advertising (PPC) and organic search results (SEO). I have a good eye for design. I know what makes an effective and efficient website. I’ve been successful in the promotional products industry. And I’ve spent years studying SEO.

As you can imagine I’ve followed my competition closely for years. I know who the players are in the industry. I know how much business they do. I know their websites. And I know how well they rank for the most competitive phrases in Google.

Not trying to pat myself on the back. I just have a somewhat unique set of experiences and insights into a variety of subjects that all culminate with an understanding for what should rank well based off of the website, the company, and the search. I do need to use a bit of caution as I move forward with this article, so excuse me if I’m not as specific as I could be. My goal isn’t to take shots at my colleagues in the industry, but to take a shot at Google.

When you have a diverse product line with thousands of products, there are tens of thousands of keywords and phrases that are used by people who use the search engines to find these products. But there are only a handful of phrases that offer high search volume, and that are very specific to our industry. If somebody is searching for these phrases, they’re searching for companies that do what we do. These are the holy grail of keywords. The most coveted words that will drive the most traffic to your website if you are lucky enough, and smart enough, to rank highly in Google for them.

To be clear, I was never that lucky, or that smart.

For many years, if you searched in Google for these most coveted phrases, you were rewarded with high-quality results. A who’s who of the industry. The most successful companies with the best websites. If I had hand picked the top ten results for Google, we would have routinely agreed on seven or eight of them. And I would have had few disagreements with the others. Occasionally a website would pop into the top ten that probably didn’t deserve to be there, but it never seemed to stay there very long.

Now enter the Penguin. Google has a legitimate fight on their hands combating what they call web spam. Companies create backlinks to their websites in order to rank better in Google for specific keywords. Many of the methods that are used to create these backlinks conflict with Google’s terms of service (TOS). Why do companies do it? Because thousands, and sometimes millions, of dollars are on the line. Google spends a significant amount of time and energy updating their algorithm in an attempt to deliver the best results for the searchers, while attempting to make sure that companies don’t game the system by building tons of backlinks to “artifically” rank higher in Google’s rankings than what Google would deem appropriate. The “Penguin” is their most recent attempt at fighting web spam.

What exactly does the “Penguin” do? That is still open to debate. And something that we’ll need to cover another time.

As I mentioned, for years Google’s results were amazingly good for the most coveted phrases in our industry. But no longer. For the most sought after phrase in our industry, the big companies are gone. Completely removed from the first page of results. Some have dropped so far they’re hard to find. Out of the current top ten, there’s only one left that I would have hand-selected for the top ten. Two that I know are quality companies with decent sites that I would never have included in the top ten. Four more that I have no clue how they got there with well below average websites. And three sites that do the searcher no good at all — a trade association, an industry supplier who doesn’t sell directly to the public, and a wikipedia page. Junk.

It’s enough to get my to try other search engines. I use Bing periodically, and have started using DuckDuckGo.com. Compared to Google? Bing is delivering eight results, six of which I consider high-quality sites for the same search. And DuckDuckGo is delivering eight high-quality results in their top ten! Google is on the verge of losing a loyal searcher. And if the message boards and forums are any indication, I won’t be alone.

Author Bio: Lee Eldridge is a writer, musician and marketing consultant with more than 20 years experience in customized promotional items. Lee writes for several blogs, and has launched a new site focusing on niche promotional products called Love Promos: http://www.lovepromos.com/.

Thinking Around the Edges of Promotional Products

What products do you think of first when you think about promotional products? Pens? Tote bags? Coffee mugs? Key chains? These may be among the most common promotional giveaways, but sometimes they’re not the best suited for your promotional campaign. It’s easy to do the same thing over and over. It’s much hard to think outside the box. Having spent years in busines and event promotion, I’ve found that a look around the edges will sometimes offer the best solutions.

Promotional Coasters
While they’re most commonly used within the restaurant and adult beverage industry, coasters can be highly effective tools for promoting causes and upcoming events. Organizations that promote designated driving such as MADD, or that promote personal safety such as a rape crisis center, can effectively use promotional coasters to spread their message and promote their organization. Local bars and restaurants may be willing to use, and even help pay for, the coasters. Looking for promotional partners to help cover the costs of promotional coasters is a great way to share the cost. And coasters are one of the most affordable items available. You can produce thousands of coasters for a small price.

Matchbooks
As more cities and states became havens for non-smokers in public places, matchbooks remain a cost-effective marketing tool even for non-smoking establishments. Matchbooks offer repeat exposure as the recipient will use the matchbook repeatedly. Like promotional coasters, restaurants and bars are often willing to provide your matchbooks to their customers for you. An excellent way to promote concerts, local artists, art galleries, bail bondsmen, taxi services and other upcoming events. And if you’re willing to pay a little more, personalized matchboxes are excellent promotional giveaways. Matchboxes are available in several unique sizes and shapes.

Napkins
And while it’s important to promote an event to get the people there, don’t forget to continue to promote your business or organization at the event. Fundraisers often serve food and various snacks, and your guests will need napkins. Custom printed napkins will allow you to continue to brand your organization during the event. Sponsors may be willing to pay for the napkins if you include their logo and contact information on the napkins.

Look for every opportunity to promote and reinforce your promotional message. And less-traditional promotional items might just do the trick. Whether you’re co-branding your promotional products with marketing partners or going at it alone, custom imprinted promotional products are still a great way to promote your business or event.

Author Bio: Lee Eldridge is a writer, musician and marketing consultant with more than 20 years experience in customized promotional items. Lee writes for several blogs, and has launched a new site focusing on niche promotional products called Love Promos: http://www.lovepromos.com/.

Economy is in Bad Shape

According to DNC party chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz: “We own the economy. We own the beginning of the turnaround and we want to make sure that we continue that pace of recovery, not go back to the policies of the past under the Bush administration that put us in the ditch in the first place.”

This pace of recovery? You mean the 1.8% economic growth this last quarter and the rise in the unemployment numbers?

This does seem to fly in the face of President Obama’s continued assertion that the current economic conditions remain Bush’s fault. I’m glad to see one Democrat stand up and admit that their party owns the economy. They do. Expect to see the Republicans use this repeatedly against the Democrats for the next year and a half.

For some strong analysis on the current state of the economy, read this from Martin Feldstein in the WSJ. I don’t completely agree with his comments on the stimulus, but overall he’s right on the money. The strongest paragraph:

The economy will continue to suffer until there is a coherent and favorable economic policy. That means bringing long-term deficits under control without raising marginal tax rates—by cutting government outlays and by limiting the tax expenditures that substitute for direct government spending. It means lower tax rates on businesses and individuals to spur entrepreneurship and investment. And it means reforming Social Security and Medicare to protect the living standards of future retirees while limiting the cost to future taxpayers.

Feldstein was the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Reagan, and is a professor at Harvard.

Author Bio: Lee Eldridge is a writer, musician and marketing consultant with more than 20 years experience in customized promotional items. Lee writes for several blogs, and has launched a new site focusing on niche promotional products called Love Promos: http://www.lovepromos.com/.

Balanced Budget: Theory vs Reality

Time for a Balanced Budget AmendmentI’ve long made a joke that credit cards are evil. But that’s not true. When a person who is responsible with their money uses a credit card responsibly, credit cards are not evil at all. Try renting a car or making a hotel reservation without a credit card. Credit cards also offer a level of protection when you make purchases. For instance, if you buy something online, and you’re unhappy with it, or it’s never delivered to you, you have the option of disputing the charges on your credit card. It can protect you from many of the possible dangers of purchasing something from an unknown company.

The problem is that many of us do not use credit cards responsibly. When my wife went back to school to finish her degree, we were making very little money. We were basically living off student loans and credit cards. By the time she got out of school, we had racked up thousands in credit card debt. We were buried with it and finding it difficult to dig our way out. We considered bankruptcy.

We went to a credit counseling service, chopped up our cards, and made monthly payments until we were out of debt. It’s a liberating feeling to make that final payment on your credit cards. We haven’t looked back. We no longer use credit cards. If we can’t afford it, we don’t buy it. We have learned the hard way that we’re better off without credit cards. It doesn’t make them evil. It just means that we’re not responsible enough to use them responsibly. Because of our access to “money” on our credit cards, we were spending more money than we were making. We were running a budget deficit every year.

Does this remind you of our federal government at all?

Since the early 1960s, our federal government has run budget deficits every year except 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001. They spend more money every year than they receive in tax revenues.

Many have brought up the idea of a balanced budget amendment. This would force the federal government to balance their budget every year, and eliminate budget deficits.

In theory, I disagree with this approach. But in reality, it needs to be considered.

Why? It’s kind of like credit cards. In theory, credit cards are useful and offer purchasing protections for consumers. But in reality, many consumers use them to buy products they cannot afford.

In theory I oppose a balance budget amendment. In times like these when our country is in a recession, or is coming out of a recession, tax revenues to the federal government are down. A balanced budget amendment would force the federal government to reduce services during a time we need them the most.

But reality shows us a different picture. If the federal government ran budget surpluses during the good times, we could trust them to make good decisions and allow them to run budget deficits during the bad times. The problem is that our government does NOT run budget surpluses, even during the good times. They just continue to increase spending in good times and bad.

They are not responsible with our money, and they need to chop up their credit cards. It’s time for a balanced budget amendment. It would be good for our country, and ultimately, good for our economy.

Author Bio: Lee Eldridge is a writer, musician and marketing consultant with more than 20 years experience in customized promotional items. Lee writes for several blogs, and has launched a new site focusing on niche promotional products called Love Promos: http://www.lovepromos.com/.

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Developing Content for Social Media

Developing Content for Social MediaRecently we discussed some of the most popular platforms for social media for a small business. The focus was on a company blog, facebook and twitter. This week we’ll dive into strategies for the development of content for these platforms.

Most of us involved with small business have to wear multiple hats and don’t have the luxury of a full time copy writer. Hopefully you have somebody on your staff who can do a little writing. If not, there are some options for you that we’ll explore in a moment.

Step One: Be an Expert
Give some thought to what type of content would be valuable to your customers and prospective clients. What type of knowledge do you have that they do not? Obviously you don’t want to give away all of your trade secrets. But at the same time, if the content doesn’t have value to your customers, it won’t be effective in grabbing their attention.

Let’s pretend that we’re a garden nursery, and that our primary business model is to sell plants, trees and shrubs. Don’t limit yourself to writing just about your specific products. Your content will be even stronger if you can also write around the periphery of your business — a great technique for not giving away all of your knowledge for free. The content needs to relate to your business, but this will open up the doors to many more ideas than if you limit yourself to only your core business. A few story ideas might be “Know when to fertilize your lawn” or “Grasses that grow well in Kansas”.

Develop a list of potential story ideas. This is a great time for brainstorming ideas. Think about seasonal topics. Broad industry topics. And of course stories that relate to your specific products. Add to this list whenever new story ideas come to mind. Many of them you may never get around to developing into useful content, but the act of brainstorming and developing lists will help develop new topics to write about.

Step Two: Cross Platform Content Development
So now you’ve decided on how you can portray yourself as an expert in your field, and have developed a list of potential story ideas. Now give some thought to how you can share your content across different platforms. Do you do a company newsletter, either a print version or an emailed version? If not, this would be a good time to consider doing one. You’re already going to be developing content, and newsletters remain an effective way to promote your business. It’s not social media, but as small business people we must find ways to work efficiently. And sharing content across multiple marketing and social media platforms is a great use of our limited resources.

So for our nursery we’ve decided we want to write an article on what types of plants thrive in direct sunlight that bloom during the summer months. (Can you tell I was gardening this last weekend?) For our newsletter, we’re going to write an extended version of this content — anywhere from ten to twenty paragraphs of information. This fits well into our company’s printed newsletter. Keep the content informational, and not salesy. It’s OK to give it a little personality if you can, but the point is to develop content that is useful for your customers.

After this is done, you can now cannibalize the content for the rest of your media needs. If the content isn’t too long, you can use it on your blog, or condense it to a more blog-friendly length. Use the first few paragraphs in your e-newsletter with a link to the complete article on your website. Post some short quips on your facebook page — you might even be able to pull a few short quips so that you can post content on facebook on several different occasions from this same story. And finally, you need a few very short quips for tweets.

This is a fine strategy for what I would call your core content. Spend a couple hours writing an article then use it across all of your promotional platforms. But you’ll also need to develop some shorter content for your social media as well.

Step Three: Quick Hits
You will need to mix in some quickies into your social media. This is the best place to let your personality shine. Where your newsletter needs to be a bit more serious, let your hair hang out a bit with your facebook posts and tweets. Comment on special things that are going on at your business. Maybe you’re excited about a new product and want to share a picture and a quick description. Maybe you want to let people know about a special award you’ve received, or a community project you’re involved in. Or maybe you just want to say TGIF!

Let me give you a quick piece of advice: people like to do business with people they like. Let them get to know you better through your posts and tweets. Let them see some character and some personality.

Help! I Can’t Write!
So you say that you can’t write? And nobody on your staff wants to do it either? There are options. If there’s a college in your area, make friends with somebody in the journalism department. College students need experience, and often come cheap. Look around your community, there are probably a number of freelance writers who work from home. Do you belong to any trade organizations? They may have outlets where you can buy content. And there are many online communities of writers where you can post your needs for a freelance writer.

Well what are you waiting for? Get to it. And happy marketing.

Author Bio: Lee Eldridge has been involved in marketing for more than 20 years. He’s the co-owner of the promotional products company Snap Promotions out of the Kansas City area. As a custom promo products specialist Eldridge is known as an innovative leader within the promotional products industry. Lee writes for his company’s blog as well as Love Promos.

Recommended Reading: First, Break All The Rules

First, Break All The RulesLike many people, I’ve continued to look for ways for self-improvement. As a small business owner and entrepreneur, much of what I have learned about business has come from experience. Learning on the job. And a lot of trial and error. A few years ago I was faced with running a business that had rapidly grown from a staff of five to more than 40 full-time employees in a few short years. My duties and responsibilities changed significantly. And I quickly realized how little I knew about managing people. I was glad to have found First, Break All The Rules, What The World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman.

While I enjoy reading about business, leadership and motivation, I’m particularly drawn to books that have a legitimate methodology to their process and conclusions. First, Break All The Rules does this as well as any book I’ve ever read. This book is based on data from ongoing surveys conducted by the Gallup Organization over a 25 year period. They’ve interviewed more than 80,000 mangers across many industries trying to determine what makes a great manager. And some of the results will certainly surprise you. It did me.

What rules do these great managers break? “Before they do anything else, they first break all the rules of conventional wisdom. They do not believe that a person can achieve anything he sets his mind to. They do not try to help a person overcome his weaknesses. They consistently disregard the Golden Rule. And, yes, they even play favorites.”

Are you a great manager? Would you like to be a better manager? Understanding what creates a satisfied and productive staff is a great place to start. Find out what really motivates employees. Whether you’re a small business owner with a handful of employees, or a corporate executive at a Fortune 500 company, I highly recommend First, Break All The Rules.

Author Bio: Lee Eldridge has been involved in marketing for more than 20 years. He’s the co-owner of the promotional products company Snap Promotions out of the Kansas City area. As a custom marketing products specialist Eldridge is known as an innovative leader within the promotional products industry. Lee writes for his company’s blog as well as Love Promos.

Don’t Market In The Dark Any Longer

Return on InvestmentAs a marketing consultant, I’m sometimes surprised at the number of business owners who don’t bother to understand their ROI or their target audience. Knowledge is the key to understanding your marketing. And without this knowledge, you’re marketing in the dark.

Return On Investment (ROI)
I’m sure most of you are already familiar with this term, but in case you’re not, ROI is the cost of a marketing campaign relative to the profit generated during a certain period of time.

Now ROI doesn’t have to be rocket science, though it’s sometimes a challenge to develop a trackable plan. As a marketing professional, I try to break down the ROI of every marketing opportunity we consider. For our business we start by asking ourselves a few simple questions. How much revenue must we generate to break even on this opportunity? (Though your goal shouldn’t be to break even, it’s important to know where this tipping point is located.) And what is our projected revenue from the marketing investment? If we can’t answer these questions, then it’s probably not the right opportunity for us. Or if we don’t expect revenues to reach certain levels, we look for other opportunities.

If you’re unable to measure the results of your company’s marketing plan, you need to reconsider your plan. You need to develop a plan that is measurable, and you must track the results. Can you be successful shooting from the hip? Sure. We all know business owners without a plan who have enjoyed spurts of success. But that’s a tough way to achieve success, and it’s particularly tough to thrive over the long haul without a good, measurable plan.

Target Audience
Too often have I seen business owners give little thought to their target audience. If you’re a plumber, your target audience for a marketing campaign should not be “anybody with water pipes in their house”. The broader the audience, the more difficult it is to develop an effective marketing campaign. The more you refine your target audience, the more likely you are to succeed with your next promotion.

Your targeted audience should coincide with how you position your company, and the image you want to portray. A plumbing company can do many things. Is your strategy to be the cheapest plumber in town? Is your strategy to be the company that specializes in installing high-end bathrooms? These would be two very different lists of prospective customers, and in turn, would require significantly different marketing campaigns to be successful.

Conversions
This is where we start to combine our trackable plan with our target audience. How many sales must you generate for your plan to be successful? What percentage of your audience can you convert into a sale? The more refined your target audience, the higher the return you should expect from an effective campaign. Having trouble making these predictions? That’s OK. Once again, that’s why it’s so important to track the results. Not every plan will generate the results you expect. And when presented with the same opportunity again, you can make even wiser decisions because you tracked the results the last time around.

Promotional Marketing
One of the reasons promotional marketing items are effective is because these promos are typically used to promote to a more refined target audience. Remember, the more refined your audience, the higher your expectations should be to convert prospects into customers. Where a radio spot or TV ad is broadcast (transmitted to a large undefined group), think of promotional marketing as narrowcast.

Good luck, and happy marketing!

Author Bio: Lee Eldridge has been involved in marketing for more than 20 years. He’s the co-owner of the promotional items company Snap Promotions out of Lawrence, Kansas. As a custom marketing products specialist Eldridge is known as an innovative leader within the promotional products industry. Lee writes for his company’s blog as well as Love Promos.

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