All I Know About SEO I Learned in Kindergarten

September 28, 2013

Photo credit: Flickr user woodleywonderworks via photopin cc

Introduction

I attended kindergarten at Zena Elementary School in Kingston, New York, where my teacher was Ms. Silvernail. Back then, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) didn’t yet exist. Search engines didn’t exist because the web was not yet invented. Mainframes dominated the computing landscape and PC’s were a decade away from invention.

Despite the lack of tablets, apps and the web, I sure learned a lot in kindergarten. It was my first formal setting with other kids my age and Ms. Silvernail taught us a lot about manners and other social norms. When I look at today’s “white hat” SEO strategies – that is, those that follow search engine rules and guidelines and focus on the “human audience,” I see a lot of similarities with the concepts I learned back in kindergarten.

Let’s consider how kindergarten helped give me the foundation for today’s SEO practices.

Respect authority. “Listen to what the teacher says.”

Prior to kindergarten, we learned to respect the authority of our parents. In a school setting, we had to learn how to respect our teacher, along with other authority figures at the school.

With SEO, the search engines are authorities who hold a lot of “power.” In fact, they determine your effectiveness, in the same way that teachers determine your grades. For optimum results on Google, for instance, a good first step is to use Google Webmaster Tools.

Google will use this tool to send you “Messages” about your site’s availability, as well as instances where it suspects that link spam is pointing to your site. If a teacher asks you to sit up straight, you do it. If Google finds link spam pointing to your site, you investigate and resolve it.

“If you get something that’s not your’s, give it back.”

A classmate hands me something that’s clearly not mine. I’d tell Ms. Silvernail, explain that it’s not mine and she’d take it away from me. There’s a similar arrangement with SEO. Let’s say Google finds links to your site that violate their quality guidelines. You’ve never heard of the site linking to you and don’t understand why they’d want to do so.

You can use the “disavow links” feature in Google Webmaster Tools: “In other words, you can ask Google not to take certain links into account when assessing your site.” (read more at Google’s disavow links page). For expected turnaround time on the disavow, Google says this:

“It may take some time for Google to process the information you’ve uploaded. In particular, this information will be incorporated into our index as we recrawl the web and reprocess the pages that we see, which can take a number of weeks.”

“Play within the rules.”

Whether it was in the classroom or on the playground, we played by Ms. Silvernail’s rules. If we strayed from the rules, there were consequences to pay. Google has posted its own rules: a detailed Webmaster Guidelines that includes a number of sections. Pay close attention to the “Quality guidelines” section.

Also, have a look at a useful video from Google’s Matt Cutts regarding the Google Penguin 2.0 update, which deployed on May 22, 2013:

Alternatively, read a summary of the Cutts video, posted by Search Engine Land.

“No cheating.”

Truth be told, I can’t recall whether the concept of cheating surfaced in kindergarten (for me). But it was certainly introduced during elementary school. Google has a page detailing link schemes, which “includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.” Carefully review the “forbidden” practices listed in this article. And know that for SEO, it never pays to cheat (Ms. Silvernail said so).

“Be honest. Say what you feel.”

We were taught to be honest in kindergarten. The web, on the other hand, has seen shady practices that were implemented to “game” the search engines. For the most part, these practices are no longer effective: keyword stuffing, unnatural anchor text, etc.

Write content for your audience (of human beings) and not for search engines. Write clearly and “say what you feel.” Read your page content aloud to confirm whether it sounds natural. Search engines now reward quality content over “crawler optimized” content.

If you’ve been punished, correct bad behavior and let the teacher know.

Let’s say your website traffic fell off a cliff. Perhaps you can trace it back to May 22, 2013, when Google deployed Penguin 2.0. Just as in kindergarten, you work on correcting the “bad behavior,” then let the teacher know.

While a teacher explicitly tells you what you did wrong, the search engines aren’t nearly as direct. So the biggest challenge may be identifying the (perceived) bad behavior. Titan SEO has a good article on the “road to resubmission” that lists things to investigate. The article notes that after correcting issues, you can submit a reconsideration request to Google.

Conclusion

While the details of search engine optimization may seem complex, they’re based on principles that we learned in kindergarten. Follow guidelines, avoid tricks and be honest. And if you do stray from the guidelines, correct past wrongs to get back in the good graces of the authorities.

Unlike kindergarten, the rules and guidelines of SEO are constantly changing. Google makes more changes in a given day than your kindergarten made all year long. So keep up to date with changes from Google and the other search engines.

And if you’re reading this, Ms. Silvernail, I hereby disavow the free lunch that I received from the cafeteria on the first day of kindergarten.

Related Webinar

Titan SEO did a webinar titled “Google’s Latest Algorithm Update! What You Need to Know.” You can register to view the webinar replay. In addition, we’ve included the webinar slides below:

This post was originally published on the DNN Software blog.


10 Ways to Optimize Your Social Media Channels

September 14, 2013

Social media channels
Photo credit: Flickr user mkhmarketing via photopin cc

Introduction

Some organizations are rocking the house with social media (a few come to mind: Coca Cola, Starbucks, Virgin America). At the same time, many organizations I speak to are challenged to achieve the results they desire using social media.

ON-DEMAND WEBINAR: Social Media Optimization: 10 Tips in 30 Minutes.

The challenge? It’s usually a combination of “lack of know-how” and lack of resources (or both). So here are ten easy steps to take to optimize your social media channels. You can perform these steps in any order.

1) Use consistent branding across channels.

For personal use of social media, I recommend that people use the same profile photo across all social channels. Why? Because followers who know you on Twitter will recognize you on SlideShare.

So the consistent photo removes a barrier to gaining that new follower. For organizations, use the same logo everywhere. Also, if you’re running a campaign, use the same campaign theme across your channels.

2) Strategically hyperlink from profile pages.

Check out all the valuable hyperlinks we’re afforded on the DNN Google+ page. Take advantage of these opportunities. You can drive clicks (to your web properties) from views of your social profile pages.

And, the inbound links will help with Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Don’t be too cute, however. Make sure your link’s anchor text aligns with the page you’re linking to.

Additional tip: YouTube allows hyperlinks in the description area of your video:

Hyperlinks on YouTube

3) Reciprocate.

Gain a new follower on Twitter? Verify they’re a “real” person (vs. a “bot”), then follow them back. It’s a nice gesture on social media to follow back. And, by following back, you get the opportunity to listen to what your followers are saying. On Twitter, following back allows your followers to send you a “Direct Message” (a private message), which is often an effective channel for customer service or related inquiries.

4) Tag (link to) other users.

When I share an article on social media, I like to “link” to both the publication and the author. Why? Because it gets you (or your organization) noticed by the publication and the author (in addition to sending them some good karma). The author may follow you, retweet you or respond to you. In turn, the author’s followers may decide to follow you. In short, good things can happen.

5) Learn the tricks of the trade of each social network.

Using the “retweet” button on Twitter. Setting up a Google+ Hangout. Managing your Circles in Google+. Each of these things is unique to that service: get to know these unique features well and your use of that service becomes more effective.

6) Measure, evaluate, adjust.

Become BFF’s with analytics (and yes, you really should become best friends forever). Did you know: Twitter now provides free analytics dashboards to all Twitter users (read more on the Constant Contact blog).

Use analytics to evaluate your social media effectiveness across a number of dimensions (e.g. content type, content format, topic, time of day, etc.). Metrics to track include reach, engagement and traffic. Next, draw conclusions that help inform your subsequent social sharing.

7) Mix it up.

I know of professional sportswriters whose Twitter profile is an automated feed of every article they write (and nothing else). While I love their sports writing, I don’t follow them on Twitter. Instead, I follow other sportswriters who comment, respond, retweet and engage. So mix it up: share content, retweet, respond and engage. Don’t be a social media automaton.

8) Engage proactively and respond promptly.

Users on social media can be chatty. And they expect responses to their issues or comments. Your role: listen to what they’re saying and respond promptly. A same-day (or same-hour) response is far better than one that comes tomorrow or next week.

9) Cross-promote your channels.

While your primary goal is to “be useful” on any given social network, there are times when you’ll want to promote your other social networks. Let fans know that you “exist” elsewhere. And, when you’re running events, contests or campaigns on a particular network, use your other channels to drive additional awareness of those activities.

10) Experiment with paid advertising.

Twitter Ads Dashboard

Image: a Twitter Ads dashboard for Promoted Tweets.

It’s great that you have a lot of fans and followers on social media. But did you know they’ll miss 80+% of what you post (that’s my own, unscientific estimate)? That’s just reality.

Paid advertising can create a higher likelihood that fans see your content – and, it extends your reach to people not currently following you. We’ve had fun experimenting with it here at DNN.

Conclusion

Social media can drive tremendous value to your organization – and, it can be a lot of fun doing it. I hope you found these tips useful. I presented a DNN webinar on this same topic recently – you can find the presentation slides below.

Originally published on the DNN Software blog.


The Real Reason Google Spent $1B to Acquire Waze

July 27, 2013

Google and Waze: perfect together

Introduction

According to their website, Waze is “the world’s fastest-growing community-based traffic and navigation app.” In June 2013, Google acquired Waze for $1B. One might speculate that the acquisition was based around:

  1. The navigation app.
  2. The potential to integrate the technology into Google Maps.
  3. Bringing social networking to navigation.
  4. The loyal following of the user base.

These items don’t add up to one billion dollars, however. Here’s my take on the acquisition:

Google’s acquisition of Waze is an investment (and bet) on where technology is headed.

In other words, Waze fits into Google’s product vision.

A Personal Story

I was driving home from Lake Tahoe with friends. We wanted to stop for dinner. Spread across three cars, we decided to meet directly at the restaurant. I had never been to this particular restaurant, so I entered the address into Waze.

My friends had been to the restaurant, so they were not using navigation. A major traffic jam developed on Interstate 80. Meanwhile, Waze routed me around the jam by taking me towards Sacramento, directing me down Highway 5, then connecting back to Interstate 80.

Life is good. Traffic is not.

Photo credit: Flickr user epSos.de via photopin cc

I bypassed the entire traffic jam and arrived at the restaurant 45 minutes before my friends. They had to sit in stop-and-go traffic for 45 minutes. I got to avoid it. For this particular moment, Waze improved my quality of life.

Waze has intelligently re-routed me a few more times since then. Often, the re-routing occurs before you even see the onset of traffic. Waze notifies you of the route change and lists the estimated amount of time you’ll save on the new route. It’s amazing.

How Waze Relates to Google’s Future

Recall Google’s mission:

To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

This is precisely where Waze comes into play.

Organizing the world's data

In Web 1.0, the world’s information was published online via the World Wide Web. Some ten years later, Web 2.0 emerged, in which web content was supplemented by user generated content.

Today, we’re starting to evolve into Web 3.0: user and machine-generated data.

And that’s what Waze is all about. As you drive, you generate data (accident reports, traffic reports, validation of accident reports) and your phone generates data by way of the “machine” (your car) it’s traveling in (direction, route and speed).

The value in Waze is its ability to organize this information and make it accessible and useful to its users.

Google acquired Waze for its real-time, back-end tracking system that intelligently manages data flows from millions of simultaneous users (and makes sense out of that data).

In other words, it organizes the (driving) world’s information and makes it universally accessible and useful. This sophisticated and intelligent data management system can be applied to many other use cases beyond navigation.

The Future of Organizing Data

To date, Google has been wildly successful at organizing the web’s information. Going forward, they’ll look to extend beyond the web to any entity that emits data (e.g. devices, people, etc.). And the $1B “bet” on Waze fits this vision. Let’s consider how this relates to navigation:

The evolution of navigation

In Navigation 1.0, the GPS system got you to your destination. With apps like Waze, you get there quicker. Next, “organizing data” will help us find interesting stops (along the way to our destination) and help us build better highways.

Where might Google venture from here? The first one is quite obvious:

  1. Driverless cars.
  2. Healthcare.
  3. Smart homes.
  4. Local or national government.
  5. Sporting events.

[Related article: A Self-Driving Car Will Create 1 Gigabyte of Data Per Second]

Imagine a “Waze-like app” inside each driverless car. As the driverless cars drive, they’ll generate the same sort of data that Waze users do today and receive similar benefits (e.g. where to turn, where to park, where to go when the gas is low, etc.).

Conclusion

Ever sit in traffic for an hour? It’s so frustrating. It’s not just wasted time, it’s also the stop-and-go activity of driving that wears you out. Waze can help me avoid the traffic and give me back an hour of my day. That’s a quality of life improvement.

To date, Google organized data to help me find information on the web. Going forward, they’ll organize data to help improve quality of life.

Commentary from the Community

I invited Twitter users to chime in with their opinions on why Google acquired Waze. Here’s what they tweeted.


An Open Letter to Marissa Mayer of Yahoo!

March 4, 2013

Image source: User gaku on flickr.

Dear Ms. Mayer,

First, a belated congratulations on the birth of your son. Congrats, as well, on your new job. Speaking of the new job, it seems your “no work from home” policy has generated a lot of commentary and discussion. Some are in your camp, while others disagree with you.

Image courtesy of Planning Startup Stories and Huffington Post

It seems most organization’s internal memos find their way “out,” so I was reading the one announcing the policy change (posted at AllThingsD). In the memo, a number of goals were outlined:

  1. We want everyone to participate in our culture and contribute to the positive momentum.
  2. To become the absolute best place to work.
  3. We need to be one Yahoo!

With respect – and, knowing what your goals are, here’s how I would have done it.

1) Create an awesome office environment.

Image source: Robert Banh on flickr.

Look to your competition (Google – a place you may know a thing or two about). They provide office environments that workers love (perhaps more than they love their homes). Google provides free food, of course (and many other free services), but it really goes beyond that. The free stuff provides a foundation on top of which a flourishing, in-office culture develops and grows.

How you create awesome office environments depends on Yahoo’s culture and personality. Just copying Google won’t necessarily work. But here’s the great thing about doing it this way: you’ll be able to draw in those remote workers because they’ll decide that the perks of being in the office outweigh the conveniences of working from home.

So don’t compel them to come into the office, but create an office environment so awesome that it’s hard for them to stay away. An awesome office environment will naturally lead to higher morale and job satisfaction scores. On the flip side: if your current office environment remains unchanged, but you compel employees to come in and work there, can you really expect to achieve great things?

2) Identify the teams for which collaboration is most productive.

To be a rock star in Accounts Payable, you don’t need to collaborate (with others) as much as the rock star in Development or Product Management.

And while I can understand that HR policies need to apply to the entire herd, I think the “spirit” of driving more collaboration should be aimed at the particular groups for which it’s most productive and valuable. I think these teams should sit in the same physical space:

  1. Engineering and Development
  2. Sales (based on region)
  3. Products (product management, product marketing)
  4. Marketing
  5. Customer and End User Support

I’m a firm believer that a great idea can surface from a product manager speaking to an attorney and an accounting director. So I understand why you want all groups in the office together.

To start, however, focus on initiatives to get particular groups collaborating – then, find opportunities for cross-collaboration (e.g. product management and customer support, to help build better products based on what customers are telling you).

3) “Hack” your way to new products (in the office, of course).

It’s a “what have you done for me lately” world and I’m sure you’re focused on delivering results now. But consider things like overnight hackathons and Google’s “20% time.”

Hackathons can produce long term gains, while adding fun, excitement and “bonding opportunities” to your office environment. After all, with a hackathon, employees are required to come into the office – but this time, there’s an explicit purpose or goal. It’s not just, “come in, go to your desk, thank you very much.”

With regard to the separate activity of “20% time,” recall that without it, the world may not have Gmail.

Conclusion

Full disclosure: I’ve never run my own company before. So take this advice with a grain of salt. While some have disagreed vehemently with your policy, you’ve taken a stand. Best wishes on achieving your goals. The new home page looks pretty nice.

Sincerely,

Dennis Shiao


10 Steps to Creating Blog Posts Your Readers Will Love

February 25, 2013

Blogs require ongoing care and feeding

Introduction

Blogging is like getting a puppy. You’re so excited the day you “bring it home.” You ask friends to come over and see it, then you snap pictures to share with the extended family. The next morning, reality hits, as you realize its needs to be walked at 6AM and find some accidents that it left you on the living room carpet.

In blogging, one of the most exciting moments is clicking “Publish” on your very first post. Soon, though, you come to realize that maintaining your blog (i.e. consistently churning out compelling blog posts) is like the family dog: it requires walks, love, nurturing, baths, brushing and visits to the vet.

To keep my blogging efforts going, I’ve developed a ten-step routine that I use to create each and every post. Here goes.

1) Find a topic.

This is the biggest blogging challenge for me. The more posts you publish, the bigger the challenge to find new things to write about. I’m quite discriminating with topics. The decisions you make with topics are closely linked to the overall quality of your blog. Lately, some of my topics have been driven by things I observe (and perhaps how they could be done differently or better).

2) Decide on a title.

I like to decide on the post’s title up front, because that guides the rest of the process. In the past, I paid a lot of attention to SEO-friendly titles (i.e. deciding on keywords I wanted to place in the title and where to place those keywords within it). These days, it seems Google is more interested in quality content. So I think in terms of key thoughts over keywords.

3) Assemble your thoughts: pen on paper.

Sketch out your blog posts on pen and paper

Pictured: here’s how I sketched out the outline for this post.

I find it extremely useful to close the laptop and assemble my thoughts on an old-fashioned notepad. Being “offline” helps me hone in on the key things I want to convey. The main objective is to map out the main themes of the post, rather than getting too deep in the weeds on any particular theme.

4) Take a break. Let it marinate.

Once the foundation is in place, go for a run, take a shower (or both). As I go off and do other things, the post will re-enter my mind and I’ll consider new ideas or new angles. This works quite well when I exercise. Then, go back to your trusty notepad and add the new ideas to your list. For my best posts, I’ve usually iterated via the notepad over a couple of days.

5) Find or identify the post’s main image.

The New York Times can get away with picture-less articles. Your blog can’t. Images are critical because they provide a nice balance (against all that text) and because they engage and sustain the attention of your readers. I like to use the clip art available in Microsoft Office and also search the Creative Commons area of flickr.

6) Ready to write? Use a word processor.

I compose my blog posts in Microsoft Word

I used to write my blog postings directly in WordPress. Now, I write them in Microsoft Word and it makes a big difference. Similar to “going offline” by using a paper notepad, writing in Word takes some pressure off me. For some reason, composing directly in WordPress made me more anxious. Writing in Word relaxes me. And, it helps me stay focused, since other browser tabs aren’t beckoning.

7) Look for additional images.

I like to avoid long blocks of text. It’s better (and more engaging for readers) to intersperse images throughout your post. So now it’s time to look for additional images that complement some of the main sections of your post.

8) On to your blogging platform.

adding-a-new-post-in-wordpress

OK, now that your post is done in your word processor, it’s as easy as copy/pasting it into your blogging platform. I like to embed hyperlinks in the word processor, so that all I have to do is format the headings (e.g. <h2>, <h3> and the like) and upload the images.

9-Tag and categorize.

Select the “category” for your post, then add a number of tags. Your blogging platform generates pages related to your categories and tags. Making relevant tag and category selections helps build valuable content pages that search engines love. As an example, here’s my category page for social media and here’s my tag page for Twitter.

10-Schedule, then promote (when it goes live).

I write my posts on the weekends, but like to wait until Monday morning to publish. So I schedule the post and have WordPress set up to tweet the link when it goes live. I’m also a member of a few Triberr tribes, which allows tribe members to tweet my post to their followers. After all the work you’ve put in to write a great post, it’s important to let others know. Sometimes, they’re too busy to see that you’ve just published a new posting.

Conclusion

There you have it: a blog post your readers will love. I followed this precise series of steps to write this one, in fact (hope you love it). If there’s one thing you remember from reading this, make it the important step of “going offline” when developing the post. Close the computer, use pen and paper, then do your writing in a word processor. Happy blogging!


20 Social Media Predictions for 2013

December 17, 2012

20 Social Media  Predictions for 2013

Introduction

It’s December, which means that it’s that time of year. Predictions! While 2012 was an exciting year for social media, I find it challenging to look back and characterize it. Was it the year of the mobile app? The year of the pinboard? Pinterest was certainly one of the big stories of 2012.

What will 2013 hold for social media? Let’s explore.

Social Media Predictions for 2013

  1. Social media becomes a “given” and we no longer call it out separately. We use terms like “marketing strategy,” “engagement strategy” and “audience generation strategy,” and NOT “social media strategy.”
  2. Likewise, organizations with “social media” job titles broaden those roles to cover a wider set of responsibilities. For instance, the “social media marketing manager” broadens to become the “marketing manager.”
  3. We see the major players doing more blocking and disabling of each other’s services, not less. The measures taken by Twitter and Instagram (in 2012) were the start of what we’ll see far more of in 2013.
  4. Venture capital will dry up for “pure” social media start-ups. You’ll need to pair your social media offering with a mobile or big data angle – or, whatever will emerge as the hot new thing in 2013.
  5. The “social media darling” of 2013 will be a new app that uses your social graph, your “interest graph” and your location to facilitate face-to-face connections. It’ll have specific features to discourage its use as a dating app.
  6. There will be a drop-off in blog postings on the topic of social media (consider this one an endangered species).
  7. Twitter publishes its definition of “spam user / spam bot” and drops those users from its official registered user count. Its reported user base drops by 20%, but advertisers give them a pat on the back.
  8. One among Klout, PeerIndex and Kred will be acquired for an eight figure sum. My money’s on Kred.
  9. Yahoo! acquires Quora for $800MM. Quora remains an independent site in 2013, but merges its user database with Yahoo’s.
  10. Despite investigations of anti-competitive actions, Google places increased emphasis of Google+ content in its search engine results. This forces social media marketers to tell their clients, “If you’re not on Google+, you lose.”
  11. We’ve gone from blogging to microblogging. In 2013, our sharing isn’t 140 characters at a time, it’s 1 character at a time. As they say on Wheel of Fortune, “Can I have an ‘E’?”
  12. Twitter’s makes further progress with the stability of its infrastructure. The fail whale faces extinction.
  13. MySpace expands beyond music into sports, recreation and other selected hobbies. It makes some acquisitions to grow audience in those areas and becomes the talk of the town at year-end 2013.
  14. After making significant concessions to the Chinese Government, Facebook is made available in China.
  15. As Facebook, Twitter and others focus on growing revenue, their end users experience “ad fatigue” and response rates (e.g. clicks) take a hit.
  16. Finding success on Twitter, The Pope expands to Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest. He declines an offer, however, to become a LinkedIn Influencer.
  17. Facebook considers a move into the “data locker” space, figuring that they already have the critical mass of users – and, that it’s more effective than serving banner or text ads. See this related piece on data lockers from the New York Times.
  18. If there’s such thing as a “social media product of the year,” then in 2013 it will be Google+ Hangouts.
  19. Crowdfunding via social media is big. In 2013, it becomes huge.
  20. This post will receive precisely 17 comments. So leave your own social media predictions –and perhaps you can make this 2013 prediction come true in 2012.

Bonus Prediction Number 1

Bonus Prediction Number 2

Heidi Thorne (@heidithorne)

This prediction comes from Heidi Thorne (@heidithorne):

In 2013, I think that people will continue to collapse the number of social networks in which they participate to the Big Three: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

YouTube, though I have a hard time classifying it as a “social” site, will continue to dominate the web. Google Plus, while an awesome platform, will continue to struggle to be relevant due to their late entry into the social game, but will be used for unique functions such as Hangouts.

Pinterest? I’m biased, but I think its sizzle will fizzle in the not too distant future. Other social sites, such as the reinvented MySpace, will become, for lack of a better term, “sites.” May have social sharing capability, but would not qualify as social “utilities” such as Facebook or Twitter.

Conclusion

Thanks for stopping by throughout 2012. Hope you had a good year and I hope 2013 is even better. Happy Holidays!

Note: I invite you to connect with me on .


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