Blogs, social bookmarking and social networking sites are allowing entrepreneurs to build powerful small business brands online. Web branding levels the playing field and lets you connect with prospects and customers in a way traditional marketing can't.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Friday, February 02, 2007
I've been thinking a lot lately about how so many large company employees are unsatisfied, frustrated and just fed up by their corporate job and the drudgery of their daily grind. Way too many people are sick and tired of going to the office every day, listening to an incompetent boss, and having to deal with petty office politics and senseless company policy.
Reading through blogs and forums I noticed that one of the biggest frustrations of employees who want to leave the corporate world is not being able to discover what their true "calling" is, that activity that will let them earn a good living while making them feel a deep sense of purpose.
I came up with another idea today, as I was cleaning and organizing my del.icio.us bookmarks: Going through your del.icio.us bookmarks is a great way to re-discover your interests and passions. If you don't have a del.icio.us bookmark file, I deeply encourage you to start building one. I assure you that you will learn something about yourself and that after a few weeks you will have a more clear picture of what the topics or activities are that may turn into a genuinely enjoyable and emotionally rewarding line of work for you.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
It not uncommon to hear less than stellar reviews of Google’s Adsense program. Truth be told, making money with Google Adsense is not as easy or straightforward as most people think. There is a misconception that all we have to do to laugh all the way to the bank is to publish a bunch of articles, slap some Adsense code here and there and sit down to wait for our visitors to click away.
There is much more to Adsense than that. Adsense success depends on a multitude of factors which must come together to create a “perfect storm”, among them:
- Blog topic: A product blog about car accessories or electronic gadgets will produce ads with better revenue per click than a blog about Greek mythology or medieval hunting habits.
- Kind of traffic: If your visitors come from highly relevant search engine queries, your Adsense click through rates will likely be higher than if your traffic is mostly repeat visitors who are already trained to avoid your ads.
- Position of the ads: Ads placed within the content area work better than ads buried at the bottom of a navigation column. Google even goes as far as sharing with everybody this heat map that shows the areas of the page that are likely to produce the best results.
- Color of the ads: Some people advocate blending the colors of the Adsense ads with the colors of the site, under the pretense that by making it hard to determine if something is an ad or just a regular link you will generate more clicks. Others believe that using contrast is better, since it makes the ad stand out. You can determine what works best for you after some good old fashioned trial and error.
- Size of your blog: Obviously, the more posts you write, the more Adsense impressions you will generate. If you post once a month and your blog has only twenty entries don’t expect great results. Hard work and consistency is key to build up content to the point that it generates enough traffic.
Before you rush to start blogging and filling up your pages with Adsense ads, I recommend that you first do some reading.
Probably the best place to start is these Google Adsense Optimization Tips from Google itself.
You should also read this extremely helpful and well thought eight step tutorial by Problogger.
I also recommend these Adsense tips, tricks and secrets by Graywolf, and this forum entry by a guy in Australia who writes about how he increased his Adsense revenue from $10 to $800 per week (and even shares with us the highly optimized template he uses to generate Adsense revenue from articles).
When you’re ready to read some eBooks, you can start with Joel Comm’s What Google Never Told You About Making Money with Adsense or The Definitive Guide to Google AdSense, by William Charlwood. Both are excellent and offer detailed, how-to advice.
As a footnote, in a significant new development, Blogger.com, the free blogging platform from Google, now lets you place Adsense ads without having to apply for a separate Adsense account.
Sunday, January 07, 2007
Actively participating in forums and discussion groups is a great way to get relevant traffic to your blog. This excellent technique has somehow been underutilized since the days when the search engines decided to combat forum spam by implementing the “no follow” tag. Some people mistakenly assume that because a link doesn’t have search engine value it’s not valuable at all.
That is a big misconception. Links in forums attract precisely the kind of high quality, relevant traffic you’re looking for. In fact, one of my blogs receives almost 60% of its traffic from forum inbound links that I’ve patiently seeded in a few forums related to my theme.
One way to seed inbound links to your blog is by creating a signature file with a link to your blog, and always including it with your posts. Another one is to read through the different post threads and find common problems or questions. You can then research the solution or answer, write a post in your blog, and then direct forum readers to your blog. When you use this technique, I suggest that you turn off your signature file, so that your post doesn’t come across as self-serving.
Other forum strategy that generates a lot of traffic is to create a poll (most forums are run by the same software, most of which support polls). If the poll is interesting, it will draw a large number of readers, who will see the link to your blog in your signature file going when they access the poll.
After you’ve been doing this for a while, you’ll see that other forum members will have become habitual readers of your blog and will start to spontaneously link to it from their own posts. Other members will start bookmarking your best blog posts in social bookmarking sites like del.icio.us or digg.com. I’m sure that by now you see the potential. It’s a little bit of work, but it will pay off exponentially and will bring you plenty of relevant traffic for a long, long time.
Friday, January 05, 2007
Reading online is harder, slower and more uncomfortable than reading on print. By following these easy tips your blog posts will be better laid out and more concise, and your readers’ experience more pleasant. Here they go:
- Write less: Use 50% less words than you would use in print. Once you finish writing, go back and try to further reduce your word count.
- Use plenty of contrast: black type on white background always works best.
- Use headlines to break the discussion into several paragraphs. Breaking the discussion into small, manageable chunks makes things much easier for readers.
- Web users don’t read: they scan. Use elements that facilitate scannability: bolding key words and phrases, and using bullet points are two examples of this technique.
- Don't make your lines of text too long. With today’s high resolution screens, text that runs from one side of the screen to the other is very hard to read. Using a page layout with columns is a good way to keep the content area down to a width that makes reading comfortable.
- Try to convey one idea per paragraph, three to four lines each.
- Use hyperlinks to present complementary information instead of trying to include everything in the body of your post. Good bloggers use this technique a lot, not just to make their posts easier to read, but also to point readers to valuable resources and to give other bloggers credit for relevant content.
- Don’t use a font that is too small. I recommend using 10pt. or higher, and using font types that have been specifically designed for reading on the web, like Verdana or Georgia.
Thursday, January 04, 2007
One of my pet peeves is to see how many people (even employees of Fortune 500 companies) use those cheesy Outlook stationary templates in their outbound email. Nothing screams “unprofessional” more than a fuchsia background with clouds and ribbons, or a fake ring bound effect on a yellow background to go with those important email messages.
The damage doesn’t stop there. Considering the hundreds of emails that even a small company sends out every day, this terrible habit is also a waste of a great branding opportunity. Both from the esthetic and branding points of view, it is best to go easy on colors and textures.
Now, as far as branding is concerned, I recommend creating a simple signature file (open Outlook, click on Tools-Options-Mail Format-Signatures-New and type down your information).
Your signature file should include your name and job title in the first two rows. Then, leave a blank row and insert a small version of your company logo (right click on the place where you want to put it, click Browse and pick a logo). Once you’ve placed your logo, go to the next row and include your contact information: address, phone, cell phone, fax, email address, skype or IM username (if you have one) and your website’s URL.
Set your signature file to pop up in new messages as well as in replies and forwards and you’re done. You’ve just turned your outgoing email into a powerful branding tool.
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
People love lists. That's why articles called “10 Fastest Ways to Do This” or “Top 5 Ways to Save on That” are so popular, and are sometimes even called “linkbait”. It is also the reason why books in the Best Sellers lists stay there so long: by being in the Best Sellers list, more people buy them, which only fuels more sales, reinforcing the position of the books on the list, making even more people buy them. Wash, rinse, repeat…
Here’s a tip to easily increase your blog’s page views, maximize your conversion rates and grow your subscription ranks: create a “Top 5 Posts” list, “Favorite Posts” list or “Most Viewed Posts” list and place it at a visible location in your blog’s side column. To build the list you can pick a mix of the most visited posts, posts that generate the majority of search engine queries leading to your site, posts that have some kind of multi-media feature (like a cool video) or, if you are using Adwords, posts that are more likely to convert well.
The most successful bloggers are those who nurture and encourage the interaction between them and their readers. If your readers enjoy your blog, they will most likely want to know more about you. You can give them feedback about yourself in your Profile or your About Us pages. However, you can go beyond that by sharing your del.icio.us bookmarks with them.
By linking to your del.icio.us bookmarks you will give your readers a glimpse of your personal interests. By sharing with them the websites and blogs that you consider important, and giving them access to valuable tools and resources beyond your blog, you will strengthen the relashionship between you and your readers and get an edge over bloggers that are not doing it.
Sunday, December 31, 2006
If you’ve embraced web 2.0 you’ve probably replaced link exchange requests with social bookmarking, requests to subscribe to your email newsletter with RSS feed subscription buttons, and your old, static site with a lively, interactive blog.
There are still, however, ways in which you can leverage your old site’s content to generate traffic and support for your new blog. For example, place an RSS feed button and social bookmarking links in the most popular pages of your old site, and set the RSS feed button to point to your blog.
You can also write blog posts that link to relevant content on your old site for support. You can also use the copy in the resource box or by-lines of articles you may have written to create your profile in sites like Amazon, Yahoo! Answers, and forums or discussion groups where you usually participate.
If your old site has a good ranking and is well regarded with the search engines, pass along some of that authority to your new blog by linking to it from your old site.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Choosing your domain name is one of the most important decisions you will face when building your business. For years, the debate has centered around choosing either a Company Name Domain or a Keyword Domain.
Company Name Domain:
If we assume that, for example, you own a web design company located in Boston called Praxis Inc., you may want to register your company name as your domain name: praxis.com. One advantage is that your customers already know your company name and it will be easy for them to remember. Also, a company name domain looks professional when printed in collateral material.
The main disadvantage, especially if you are a small business, is that people won't be able to tell what you do based on your domain name, and it won’t help you very much with the search engines (since some of them use the domain name for cues on what the business does, and to determine its relevance to certain search terms).
Keywords are generic terms related to your field that you believe search engine users will type in the search box to find a company like yours. Since a domain name is usually the anchor text used to link to a site, and anchor text was a very important factor in search engine placement until not so long ago, keyword domains were very popular for a while.
Search engines are evolving and now recognize that people have been abusing the use of keyword-only domains, so they have downgraded their importance in their search algorithms. Keyword domains, though, still have some advantages associated with the growing trend of web users typing a bunch of keywords in the address bar followed by “.com” in their efforts to find relevant websites.
The disadvantages of keyword domains from a branding perspective is that they tend to be long and hard to remember, and look awkward when printed in company collateral material. For example: boston-web-design-company.com may give you a slight edge over praxis.com when it comes to search engine placement or getting direct traffic, however, its branding disadvantages are obvious.
A good compromise, and the solution that I recommend, is to combine your company name with a keyword. For example: praxiswebdesign.com. That will give you the best of both worlds: brand recognition and keyword strength.
- If you are just opening a small business, choose your domain name before you choose your company name. Many times, people have registered their company and then found out that their company name is not available as a domain name.
- By all means, secure a .com domain. It is the default extension and the first one that will come to mind to people trying to remember your domain name. You must try to register at least the three most common variations of your domain name: .com, .net and .org, to prevent unscrupulous competitors from benefiting from your brand equity.
- Registering a domain doesn’t cost a lot of money. In fact, nowadays it is common to find domain names for less than $10 / year. I use Godaddy to register all my domains. (disclaimer: I am also a Godaddy affiliate). They have great prices and a very user-friendly interface.
- Don’t register your domain name with your hosting company. Though it may be tempting to accept their “free” domain registration offer with your hosting package, if one day you want to change hosting companies they will make you jump through hoops to release your domain. Don’t play with your brand: register your domain in an accredited domain registrar and point it to your hosting company’s servers.
Monday, December 25, 2006
Writing articles and publishing them in article clearinghouses for others to use as free content was once the easiest way to get links and build up your reputation as an expert in your field . However, with the runaway popularity of blogs, social bookmarking and RSS, giving away articles to get links is not as important or as necessary as it once was. People are now finding it easier to get links by writing a remarkable piece, publishing it in their own blogs, bookmarking it in del.icio.us, digg or other social bookmarking service, and doing some promotion through comments in forums and other blogs.
If your blog is new and not very well known, I still recommend writing some articles and giving them away for others to publish in their own sites. Your articles will have your resource box or by-lines with a link to your blog’s main page, which will help you get some visibility both with search engines and people interested in your topic. As your blog gets more established, however, I recommend to give away articles only occasionally, and to keep your best content for exclusive publication in your blog. If your most remarkable articles are only available in your blog, other bloggers will have to deep link to them directly and not to other sites that may have published it. These spontaneous, deep links to your content have much greater search engine value than the links to your main page coming from free article sites or low value websites.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
- Choose a topic that you know, like, and are passionate about. This way you will never get bored and will keep your audience always interested and asking for more.
- Pick a topic where there is not a lot of competition. If your topic is too common, try addressing it from a particular angle or focus on a specific niche. For example, there are many sites that talk about cars, but few that specialize in only one brand, and even fewer that focus on only one model. The key to be successful is to find a specific enough topic with a large enough audience.
- Open a Blogger account. It is free and easy to use. That way, you won’t have to invest in costlier platforms like MovableType or TypePad before you have the chance of finding out if blogging is for you.
- Use a minimalist template, preferably one with a white background. This format is easier to read and pleasant to the eye when you combine it with color pictures.
- Use pictures to dress up your blog entries and give your blog a more professional appearance. You can find excellent pictures at a very low cost in istockphoto.com, or even free in Flickr (don’t forget to ask the owner of the picture for permission before you use it).
- In one of your blog’s side columns, list six or seven links to authoritative sites related to your topic. When the search engine robots visit your blog, they will find these links and your blog will benefit by association.
- Write in simple language, short paragraphs and using bullet points. These are essential guidelines for writing on the web, and will make your posts easier to read and understand.
- Always link out to the sources you use to document your posts. This is not only good etiquette but also a way to promote your blog and get links: when the people you link to find out that they’ve been linked to, they will most likely link to your post from their site or blog.
- Check your posts for spelling and grammatical errors. This will make your blog look more professional and will increase the probability of other people linking to it.
- Use labels to categorize your posts and keep your blog neatly organized. Blogger recently modified its software to allow the use of labels.
- Participate actively in forums and discussion groups related to your topic. Find what are the most common questions and provide the answers in your blog. Then, direct forum readers to your blog. Try to also direct forum readers to other resources, or answer without necessarily linking to your blog, sometimes. If not, you may be perceived as self serving and only interested in promoting your blog.
- Use HitTail to research topics to write about. HitTail gives you a list of the search terms used by those who came to your blog through a search engine. This search term list will give you ideas for future blog posts.
- Allow your blog readers to email your posts to other people. Also, give them the option to bookmark your posts using del.icio.us, furl, or any other social bookmarking service. You can go to AddThis to download a smart button that makes it easy to bookmark your posts. You can find instructions on how to add the button to Blogger here. The easier you make it to share your blog posts, the more relevant traffic your blog will get.
- Use Technorati tags at the end of your blog posts. Technorati tags are a way of classifying your blog posts by topic and have them added to Technorati’s index (Technorati is the most important search engine for blogs). Use this automatic Technorati tag generator to avoid having to create the HTML code manually.
- Syndicate your blog allowing your visitors to subscribe to your feeds through their favorite aggregator. This way, they will be automatically notified every time you update your blog. You can use this tool to generate attractive syndication buttons, which you can then place in a side column of your blog.
- Post frequently. It is the only way to keep your audience interested and coming back. Two or three times a week is ideal. Once a week is the borderline minimum that I recommend to keep your audience engaged and maintain adequate visibility in the search engines.
- Keep a large number of posts in the main page of your blog. Search engine robots usually won’t crawl and index all your blog pages, however they will visit your main page frequently. The more content you keep in your main page, the bigger the chance of it popping up in the search engine results pages.
- Use Google Adsense to monetize your blog. Blogger lets you add Google Adsense easily and seamlessly in several locations within a page. The best locations are within the content, and on top of the page simulating a navigation bar.
- Don’t use Google Adsense excessively, at least at the beginning. Your initial focus should be not to monetize your blog, but to build your audience and establishing your blog's reputation as an authority within your topical community. A blog that is deep on content and lean on ads is more likely to attract the kind of links needed to become relevant to users and search engines.
- Once your blog is established and generates abundant, relevant traffic, you can monetize more aggressively, not only with Adsense but also with affiliate links and, why not, maybe even by selling your own products.
You can see a real example of all these tips at work in this blog ;)
Thursday, December 21, 2006
You've probably seen blog posts that show a Youtube screen that allows you to play a video clip hosted in Youtube without having to go to the Youtube site. It is really very easy to place Youtube videos in your blog posts. Just go to the Youtube page of the video you want to include in your blog, and you will find a small profile form to the right of the screen with information about that particular video clip. There, you will find two pieces of code: one called "URL", which is the web address of the video clip, that you can use to link to it, and another one labeled "Embed", which shows you the code you have to cut and paste to actually see the screen in your blog.
Just remember that just because a video is in Youtube doesn't mean that it is not copyrighted. Make sure you have the right to use the material before you put it on your blog. Other than Youtube, you can also find videos in Google and Yahoo!.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
We're entering 2007 and, as search engines become more sophisticated, small sites with limited authority are finding it increasingly difficult to rank well. Gone are the days when link exchanges or anchor text was all you needed to worry about to increase your visibility and traffic. The web is becoming more social in nature, and sites need to be more interweaved in the community to be successful. There is a great article in Aviva Directory that is especially relavant to us, small internet business owners. Here it is:
Little Known Ways to Brand on the Cheap: 99 Tips for Poor Web Startups
It is about 10 pages long, but there is some great, must-read advice there, so I suggest that you print it, grab a yellow marker and a cup of coffee, sit in your favorite chair and go through it. Then, put it to practice. Enjoy.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Testimonials are like referrals: they greatly increase the probability of converting prospects into customers. Bob Leduc, a sales consultant with over 30 years experience in marketing and sales, estimates that sales letters with testimonials perform up to 65% better than the same letters without the testimonials.
To get testimonials, he suggests to give customers a postcard asking them to tell you what did they like about your product or service, and then mail the postcard back to you (postage paid). Most of them will be glad to do that for you. You can then sift through the postcards, select the ones you like the most, and ask those customers for permission to use their feedback as testimonials in your marketing pieces.
Kevin Nunley, an experienced copywriter and web marketer suggests us to "get someone who is a recognized name in your field to say something good about what you sell. Let them mention their own interest in the testimonial. This is why blurbs on book covers go, "Best book I've ever read," Joe Blow, author of How to Get Rich. Joe lends his good opinion as a way to get a mention for HIS book".
Another good way to get testimonials, especially if you're just starting out, is to pay somebody to review your product, service, book, website, or whatever it is that you offer. There is a new service called ReviewMe that does just that... there is a caveat, though: ReviewMe reviews must be unbiased (you cannot pay for a positive review). However, if you practice rule #1 of getting testimonials: "always provide a great service and deliver what you promise", you will do OK.
Finally, here are some more testimonial basics:
- Testimonials must describe a specific benefit, for example: "your product allowed me to accomplish three times as much in half the time", instead or "your product is great".
- Always include the name, city and/or website address of the person giving the testimonial. You can omit the address, for privacy.
- Send the person giving the testimonial a thank you note, or, even better, a small, symbolic gift like a gift certificate of a free sample. However, make sure you do this after you've received authorization to use the testimonial, or it will look like a bribe and may offend the customer, who most likely would have been glad to give you the testimonial with no expectations of receiving anything.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
No matter what business we are in, we need to be able to produce marketing material that sells. David Frey, president of Marketing Best Practices Inc. reminds us that we don't have to be award-winning copywriters to create effective sales letters, that writing great sales letters is more of a science than an art, and that anybody can produce compelling sales pieces by following a 12-step template:
1) Get attention
2) Identify the problem
3) Provide the solution
4) Present your credentials
5) Show the benefits
6) Give social proof
7) Make your offer
8) Give a guarantee
9) Inject scarcity
10) Call to action
11) Give a warning
12) Close with a reminder
Read the full article here and learn more about the 12 steps to writing effective sales letters.
Saturday, December 09, 2006
I've written before about the importance of including Technorati tags in blog posts. Until recently, I was crafting the HTML code of the tags by hand, by copying and pasting code of previously used tags and modifying them accordingly. Fortunately, I've found this automatic Technorati tag generator that makes creating Technorati tags a snap. Just type the name of the tags you want to use, press a button, and the tag generator gives you the HTML code to cut and past in your blog posts. Thanks to Fintan Darragh from Market West for this smart and useful tool.
Technorati Tags: blogging technorati
Sunday, December 03, 2006
Jim Kurkal, the author of Blog to Riches, has put together a handomely illustrated, 14 page PDF document with his top 10 web design tips. He covers timeless topics like how to use color effectively, how to create an attractive layout, why it is important not to forget the usability dimension, etc. Great information and a must read for small business owners who are planning to design a website or revamp an existing one. You can follow this link to pick up the document. Thanks to Jim Kurkal for sharing this valuable information with us.
Here's a quote from Ron Pate, successful real estate investor and author of "Leverage: A Key to Success and Wealth":
"If you carefully study the actions of people that have achieved significant wealth, you will find that one of the key differentiators between them and the average individual is their use of leverage, usually in a variety of ways, while the majority of people tend to conduct themselves in most or all areas of life in generally non-leveraged fashion. Interestingly, the more a person learns to employ leverage successfully, the faster his or her financial growth tends to accelerate. Since people who successfully employ leverage accomplish exponentially more in the same amount of time then people who do not take advantage of this powerful tool, they tend to have more free time and not only greater financial resources, but more balanced and fulfilling lives."
Read this article to learn about the four critical types of leverage you must employ if you are to achieve maximum success in the shortest possible time.
Contributed by Ron Pate.
Technorati Tags: Small Business, Leverage, Entrepreneurship
Saturday, December 02, 2006
Technorati is one of the largest search engines for blogs. They index content based on categories called tags. Blog posts labeled with a certain tag appear in a specific section of Technorati's site dedicated to that tag, usually hours after being posted. The fact that search engines regularly crawl Technorati's site, and many web surfers discover and subscribe to blogs they find in Technorati, should be reason enough for any blogger to tag their posts.
You can use this Technorati Tag Generator to automatically create the HTML code for the different tags you want to apply to your post.
After you've finished posting and have added tags to your post, you must notify Technorati that you've updated your blog. You do this by going to Technorati's Ping Form and typing the URL of your blog in the input box. Technorati will then crawl your blog and add your new post to its index. You can see my Technorati tags for this post here:
Technorati Tags: Marketing, Internet Marketing, Blogging
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