Inhouse SEO versus outsourced – but data can be deceiving

From toprank quoting Marketing Sherpa SEO report

For SEO, overall site traffic lift six months after optimization was:
Agency optimized 110% increase
In-house optimized 38% increase

OK, so for those of us who sell SEO as a service this is great news.  But let me flip that statistic for you.  It means that the content matter experts, the client themselves, is incapable of correctly articulating their point from a search engine perspective.  This indicates a huge failure on the part of both the authors (what IS your point?) and the search engines (trying to read the minds of the authors).  This is NOT good news for distributed authoring and putting SEO in the hands of the everyday user.

Our position remains that distributed authoring is vital to society.  It is vital to creating the mass that becomes the wisdom of crowds.  That voice can’t be heard if tools like search engines and SEO that is content focused doesn’t come naturally to the authors even if helped with tools (think wall studfinders when hanging a painting, that is what a keyword density calculator should be like to authors.)

Bloggers pay rates probably seem reasonable to companies

There is a lot of commentary on blogger pay rates (Can Bloggers Strike It Rich?) these days.  Working in marketing and being familiar with clients’ advertising budgets, they strike me as a bargain.  To have a strong online advocate posting and defending your product, perhaps working in conjunction with a creative online PR strategy, for $500 to $2500 a month is a bargain. 

Of course any online effort first needs to be ethical. So I do deeply hate fake blogs.  Where I see this going is bloggers are "sponsored" by news organizations as well as other companies.  Like NASCAR drivers have Quaker State on their car, a blogger should have an affiliated logo for CNN *and* MSNBC as sponsors. The consumer is smart enough to realize that a sponsorship does not mean the sponsored individual is the brand, or even fully represent the brand at all times.  The obstacle here is the media which currently asks their own reporters to not write for other organizations except for freelance writers.  So sponsored bloggers, with multiple sponsorships, is somewhere between the current world of reporters and freelancers.

Having contributed to numerous magazines for freelance articles over the last several years, the biggest problem for me is the time delay. It is hard to get excited about an SEO piece for public relations professionals that will run four to six months down the road when I am afraid the content won’t be fully relevant.  Publishing in the MSM compared to blogging and writing seo articles on our site in real time; there is just no comparison on which one is more gratifying.

Wiki’s beyond authoring

Rob Hoff wrote an interesting piece on wiki’s called Learning to Work with Wikis about the Business Week news team using a social text wiki to collaboratively compile their Best of the Web list.  They did a number of things right:

1) They waited until he had an actual need, to compile a collaborative list and keep work efficient, and then sought out an appropriate social software tool; a wiki in this case.
2) He limited the authoring on the wiki to a group of interested people, or knowledge-matter-experts.
3) They sound like they approached it with a sense of playfulness.  Social software does not work in my opinion without a sense of "what if" and "wouldn’t it be cool if" is behind it, at least initially.

Some observations on what he could have done to improve the use of the wiki.

1) Rob noted that he probably limited the authoring a bit too much.  Not enough authors, or editors, and you lose the creativity of a free flowing group.  Too many and you wind up with a spawiki (spam wiki).
2) Did not use, or at least did not mention work flow.  My personal belief is that wiki implementations need better work flow management.  He may have used work flow, but I’d sure love to hear about the work-flow even it the implementation of the work flow was social (verbal, email, offline, whatever).
3) He chose as a wiki test a topic that lends itself to opinion.  Not everyone is created equal despite the wisdom of crowds and when compiling a "best of" list you obviously have opinions which prevent the use of NPOV (Neutral Point of View).  So from a proof of concept point of view this was a tough selection.  Sort of like you really should fly an RC airplane before trying an RC helicopter (different story…)

Overall I’d like to see more journalists working with wiki’s internally or in a controlled but enthusiastic fashion to help move the media past the LA times wiki fiasco

Preference engines – will ROCK if they better integrate social software

In between hurricane Rita head counts, Slashdot has a post on an LA times story about preference engines.  From the article:

Their spread worries some who fear that preference engines can extract a social price. As consumers are exposed only to the types of things they’re interested in, there’s a danger that their tastes can narrow and that society may balkanize into groups with obscure interests.

"As these things get better and better, nobody has to encounter ideas they don’t already agree with," said Barry Schwartz, professor of sociology at Swarthmore College and author of "The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less." "We lose that sense of community we had when there were shared cultural experiences, even though we may not have liked them. Now we can create our own cocoon and keep all that unpleasant stuff out."

The doom and gloom predictions are not warranted, because almost all preference engines have a social element to them.  Google considers links, created by humans, so even their infamous algorithms are a combination of social and machine factors.  Preference engines do add value.

I on the other hand would prefer if Rita would go away.  I am betting 100% agreement in the echo chamber of Houston opinion today.

In between Rita

Rita.  Everything in Houston is about Hurricane Rita. Shut down the office temporarily of course.  Thank heaven for data centers and redundant connections! The latest map suggests a hit on Galveston, and being on the North side of Houston we will likely get winds up to 100 miles an hour.

On the plus side, it was nice to set up a wiki page to handle employee communications and updates.  Besides email, the wiki may be our best connection given cell phone coverage was spotty yesterday, two days before the storm, from over use.

The traffic map in Houston shows mostly 5 or 6 miles an hour, or no data available.  Meaning people in cars are parked on the freeway making new friends.  Gas stations are out of gas on the evacuation routes.  Us silly humans haven’t exactly built the infrastructure to actually execute our emergency plans.

Rita is one hell of a brand

Today was/is/will be all about Hurricane Rita.  On a marketing and PR note, this "brand" was invented last week when the tropical storm was named.  Now we all refer to it like Nike.  So much for my belief in the Ries philosophy of "it takes 10 years to form a brand".  There is no doubt that Katrina is a brand, not a good one, but a brand nonetheless.

On a software note, we recently added first responder capabilities, volunteer coordination to supplement stuff already in place like newsletters (prioritized for first responders of course).  That is all great technology that actually helps people in a time of need.  Based on the number of newsletters relating to Katrina and Rita that I have seen go by in the last few weeks, the sum of the parts is very cool.

Tagging, SEO and Articles

On Information Retrieval and Tagging – Sometimes the counter point is great.  Such is the case with Gene Smith’s post on Why Tagging Is Expensive which asks the question of if the sum of the cost of tagging and wading through bad tags is greater than the benefit.  Actually Gene’s piece is a follow up on another article by Ian

If you have ever used a document management system that required meta data entry on save, then you feel my pain.  Being prompted for required meta data is ridiculous and I will freely admit that if I have a simple idea before lunch just knowing the stupid-human-tricks I will have to perform to create the document will prevent me from creating it.  Additionally adding keywords such as tags requires something of a knowledge matter expert to properly categorize things.  No, I am not siding with the librarians and their outdated hierarchies, but neither can I accurately categorize a picture of a whale (are they warm blooded?  hmmmm…..) as well as a George on Seinfeld.

Ease of use changes behavior.  So forcing tagging on all content authors is not the answer. And from a guy obsessed with distributed authoring, anything you do that slows down the creation of distributed content reduces the intelligence of the group.  The crowd is less wise – which is bad.

As for our Tendenci software, we are trying to divide the tagging into a prompt after content add.  So the user should see a keyword cloud, but then select from that on what they feel is the most relevant as the tags.  And be able to add other tags free form.  Having worked with SEO for years I can honestly say that people are *usually* surprised at the density of terms in their text until they are trained to think about it.  This is not surprising – you must learn to be a communicator and good communication skills do not come easily.  Why should you not also need tools to help you with accurate tagging?  The problem might be the tags, but then again it might be, it probably IS, a problem with the content!

IABC SEO workshop in Houston this Friday at HTC

This Friday September 23rd our team will be conducting a *hands on* Search Engine Marketing workshop at the Houston Technology Center (HTC) hosted by the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) Houston.  The official name of the event is:

Demystifying Search Engine Optimization: What it Takes to Rank Your Web Site Well and Be Found on the Internet   More information on the event is available on the IABC Houston site here:
http://www.iabchouston.com/en/cev/?85

And of course the Houston Technology Center is in downtown Houston at:

410 Pierce St.
Houston TX  77002
Google Maps

Start  23-Sep-05   7:30 AM   CST
End  23-Sep-05   10:30 AM   CST

Because IABC is hosting this event at the HTC the price is much lower than the typical luncheons.  I’d love to have you attend.  And at $15 to $25 you can’t beat the price!

New Tech Stuff worth mentioning

New Tech Stuff that I like, that relates to expression of ideas even if technical in nature:

  1. TagCloud – add a flickr like tag presentation to your site.  yes I am very late noticing this one. http://www.tagcloud.com/
  2. Meebo – browser based IM clients.  Great for kids with paranoid parents that block IM (cough) http://www.meebo.com/
  3. Audacity – audio editor for all of your podcast editing http://audacity.sourceforge.net/
  4. Blogpulse – this just keeps getting better http://www.blogpulse.com/ and be sure to check out the blog profiles section
  5. Blink Bits – from the site – "pick a topic, we continously go out and get info on this topic for you and then provide the tools for you to control the topic content, discuss it and share it." http://www.blinkbits.com

Of those I particularly like tag cloud and if we can help people understand the context of their content through tags in real time.  Post your content.  Review your cloud.  Verify topic sentence.  Edit.  Repeat.  Remix as needed.  Exactness of speech is hard work and any tool available to content providers will help. 

San Fran Bulldog Reporter PR Panel

In San Fran as a panelist on How Blogs, RSS, Wikis and Podcasting Are Transforming Corporate Communications.  My participation, albeit minor, led to meeting Craig Newmark and Mark Jen.  I suppose at a point a person shouldn’t be star struck (geek struck?) but it is pretty cool.

Craig had a few comments on moderation on CraigsList working "as is" but that plenty of conversations have occurred internally at CraigsList on the topic of moderation.  And it was good to hear him say that the vast majority of people are good with a few evil spammers.

So far so good, conference still in progress.  Eric Schwartzman is doing a great job moderating.  The afternoon started with watching the 8 minute movie on the future of news called "epic".

accidental panelist

As one of the sponsors of PR Day here in Houston my role at this morning’s blog panel was to introduce the panelists.  As fate would have it, one of the bloggers was unable to make it, so I had the privilege of filling in on the panel with John Wagner of "On Message".  Luckily I recently was on a panel with Bulldog Reporter called Blogs, RSS, Wikis and Podcasting which had me more than prepared, although trying to avoid the subject of RSS and Podcasts was challenging.  Given the format, just discussing blogs and PR was more than enough for the time slot.

John has been kind enough to already post a list of blogs he recommends for people in PR on his site.  Podcast should be available soon on the prsahouston.org site.

The one take-away I feel is important for PR professionals is "the cheese has moved".  But working directly with the public is what the "counsel on public relations" is supposed to do.  Yes the blogosphere is uncontrolled, and the rules are still forming, but from a pure PR perspective there is more raw material to work with.  That is a good thing … IF you are truly creative.  Churning press releases can be, for the upteenth time, declared dead.

Congratulations as well to Kelly Papinchak who was elected to the PRSA Houston board of directors.  Go Kelly!

Spyware by another name, still is

I have 99.99% good things to say about Steve Rubel (micropersuasion).  He was on a panel discussion with the Bulldog Reporter where I was a fellow panelist last week in NYC.  And having read his blog in the past I really do believe his insight on PR is great.  And he gets the good in Seth Godin without running around with a purple pain brush trying to interpret it all literally.  That said, in PR I firmly believe that a large portion of the strategy must evolve through truthfulness and honesty so it IS the PR practitioners responsibility to filter out icky clients.  I found that I cringed when Steve mentioned the spyware company Weatherbug as a client in one of his examples.  For fun, check out the historical edits on wikipedia for weatherbug to see the debate "it IS spware" … "it definitely is NOT spyware" … (repeat)

For the corporate defense they do offer a paid product that is spyware free (good) as well as an icky version that will pop-up for you if you don’t understand computers enough to grasp the concept of what you have agreed to (evil).  Look… there are people who will sell their organs for the right price.  That doesn’t make the practice acceptable.  In this case the client is wrong wrong wrong.  Client selection does matter in PR.  Choosing this client was a mistake.  A profitable one, but not something to emulate.  Even Edward Bernays eventually worked against tobacco.

Emergency RSS Proposal

This blog, written by an amateur, will hopefully evolve to be interesting to others as well as affect change on a global basis.  And the best way to affect change globally is to start locally.  To pick up the cigarette butt on the corner.  Cliché?  Sure, but damnit it works.

The biggest screamingly loud demand, need, I see in the world of social software is a distributed method of responding to a crisis.  We just had Katrina hit and she was a bitch by any measure.  Lives were lost.  Pause on that sentence, lives were lost.  The most sacred thing we are capable of creating or destroying, lives, were lost as a result of poor human organizational skills.  I don’t want to know who accepts responsibility, I want to know that disaster is prevented before it occurs.

To that end I want to state that we need a simplified RSS type system to track data in an emergency.  No one site can handle all emergency response.  Even if it could it would create a single point of failure.  We need something as simple as RSS, call it emergency RSS or ERSS, to handle the needs that arise in an emergency.

Let me step back and repeat the basis for the need.  With Katrina, which hit in 2005, what I observed were numerous sites heroically put up, only to go down once they were picked up by the blogosphere and the media.  Go here for help … everyone does globally including the curious from other countries …. Server dies.  Nobody gets help.  Next site is suggested.  Repeat the process. 

Yet when it comes to blogs and news we can easily replicate with RSS our posts.  Even if one server went down, the outline of the content would still be cached at feedburner or similar.  So if in time of crisis 10 sites had relevant content of who is looking for what, who needs what, who needs to be dispatched where, then if one goes down you still have 9 sites up and replication of 100% of the content on each node.  This is just like DNS.  I am not inventing anything here.  I am just screaming that we should have this in place for times of crisis already.

Martha Elizabeth Cargill (Bixler) 1943 – 2005

ELIZABETH BIXLER CARGILL, was a Treasure. She passed away peacefully in her home Friday, March 18, 2005.

Elizabeth was born February 19, 1943 in St. Louis, Missouri. She graduated from Georgia State University and earned her CPA license in Texas. After moving to Houston in 1978, Elizabeth developed a strong friendship with her Sunday School class and touched the lives of all that knew her.

She was a graceful woman, both in presence and in her relationships with others, and was much beloved by her family and friends.

She is survived by her husband of 40 years, Leonard R. Cargill, Jr.; their daughter and son-in-law Dee and Andrew Healey of Austin; their daughter and son-in-law Rachel and Ed Schipul of Houston; their daughter and son-in-law Joanne and David Lewis of Richardson; their seven grandchildren: Jordan, Broden, Hannah, Stockton, Hope, Timothy, and Claire; her mother, Elizabeth Bixler; her sisters Ruth Hays and Nell Wayman; and preceded in death by her father, George Bixler.

A memorial service will be held at 10:00AM Tuesday, March 22, in the sanctuary of Memorial Drive United Methodist Church. The family will receive visitors in the fellowship hall after the service.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Memorial Assistance Ministries or to a charity of your choice.

Published in Houston Chronicle on March 20, 2005

(on Geni.com here)

Web Marketing Fundamentals Increase Sales Lead Generation

Web sites respond differently from other advertising media for two primary reasons. The first is that web users are incredibly impatient. The second is that they are incredibly smart. The more we treat people on the web like they are impatient and smart, the higher the conversion rate from visitor to phone call or contact forms.

So how exactly does a web site treat visitors as impatient and smart? By giving them what they want, on their terms, immediately and with humility.

Some of the specific ways you can achieve marketing success on the web are by making sure the following web marketing elements are in place on your web site’s home page.

1) Use a strong marketing headline that is focused on the site visitor. Try using the word “You” or “Your” instead of “me” focused words. The headline should be the dominant element on your home page and should be larger than your logo, your company name or your tag line.

2) Make your service or product the “hero” of the home page. Use pictures and relevant text that features what you do for them. Link directly from those images on the home page to detailed pages with extensive information and more pictures.

3) Use a clear “call to action”. Tell the site visitor, on the home page, exactly what you want them to do. People will read your site content at length if it answers their questions, so be sure to ask for the business at the end of the page or article.

4) Be consistent with your branding. Use your logo and keep the colors consistent with your other marketing materials so your site visitor immediately knows exactly where they are.

5) Make it easy to contact you. Use a mini-contact form on your home page, possibly on every page, as well as a complete contact form.  It is OK to use a mailto link but it should be in addition to a contact form for higher response rates. Put your address and phone number in text format on every page if possible so people can copy-and-paste your information into their contact software.

6) Use appropriate color and imagery.  Every industry has a certain “look and feel”. Now is not the time to try to re-brand your industry.  Give your visitors what they expect exactly as they expect it.  Branding includes positioning and consistency, so this is your opportunity to be consistent and professional at the beginning of the sales process.

7) Search engine optimize your site no matter how well known your brand is.  With all of the viruses and tacky web sites on the net, your visitors will *not* guess your site name but will go through Google or Yahoo just to be safe.  If you are not listed then you are invisible.  Start by registering with www.dmoz.org and read up on search engines at www.searchenginewatch.com.

8) Use testimonials and brand logos from your business partners (as allowed) assuring your site visitors that you are a “real” company with an honest reputation.  Try not to let your success convince you that everyone knows you want their business.

9) Interact intelligently with your site visitor.  Every brand is different of course, but there is always a creative way to interact.  If you sell books, let them buy online.  If you are a consultant, offer calculators for metrics and case studies.  If you are a plastic surgeon, offer dynamic before-and-after photo galleries.  If you are targeting the younger generation, offer games that feature your brand.

10) Respect the privacy of your site visitors with a privacy policy.  Link to a written privacy policy at the bottom of every page, and be sure it is written in normal language instead of legalese.

Additional hints include putting your phone number at the bottom of every page, in the text, at the top and making sure it appears on your home page a minimum of four (4) times.  Anything less and impatient users will miss it, costing you a potential phone call.

Your site visitors really are just as impatient and smart as you are, and they want to be treated that way.  Executing the web marketing fundamentals in their entirety will greatly increase the conversion rate of visitor to contact.

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Host with Tendenci Membership Management Software to measure your conversion rates.

{Note: the original version of this article was written by me in 2001 and published in 2003 on schipul.com. It now lives on our new company’s site here.