Monday, March 27, 2006

How to Avoid Search Engine Optimization Scams

Search Engine Optimization scams are nothing new. I've been watching seo companies offering all kinds of questionable programs since I started working in seo in the late nineties.

The troubling part is I see them getting worse before they get better. The seo industry is growing faster each year; 125% in 2005 and predicted to grow 150% more in 2006 according to SEMPO, a search engine optimisation industry organization. With professional seo companies charging anywhere from $2000 and 30,000 per month, the stakes are higher now than they were a few years ago, so the competition is getting fiercer.

We gained a customer last year who came to us to fix their broken seo program after they hired a company they met via e-mail. Their rankings had improved but the only pages that showed up in the search results were very ugly, spammy doorway pages that no-one would ever click on.

The first rule of thumb? Don't buy search engine optimization that is promoted to you via unsolicited email. You want to get to know a company that is going to be intimately involved in the your sites evolution.

Rule number two - get references. This can help identify companies that are more interested in cheap customer acquisition than providing value.

I have been recently been cold-called by a few ambitious seo companies looking for my business. You would think they would do a little more research so as to avoid calling my Toronto search engine optimization company trying to sell search engine optimisation! If you have ended up becoming interested in seo services after a call like this - do yourself a favour and get three quotes. And not only for price comparison but for more important service comparison. Seo is expertise, it's not a commodity.

Rule Number three - get educated on the issues of search engine optimization. When evaluating seo companies for your site, ask and take the time to listen to their proposed plan for your project and compare.

Simply put, seo requires about three or four general areas of knowledge and activity (depending on how you divide it). Unless your potential seo company has a good plan for each of the areas, your solution likely won't provide much benefit.

This is what needs attention on your site:

  • The content. The quality, quantity, depth and freshness are essential. One of the reasons why the good seo companies charge so much per month is because they need to work with you on the planning, creation and optimization of new content. You should be prepared to work with your seo on this, and they should be recommending quality, desirable content for your audience.
  • The code. This is also all of the technical stuff you don't see such as the alternate picture tags, the page titles, the coding of the important elements such as headlines and subheadlines, the page names, the javascript, the stylesheets and more.
  • The architecture. This includes where pages are located, how they are linked, which pages link to each other and what those links say.
  • Your site popularity. The above three are only as important as your sites linkage within the web of other related sites on the Internet. If few other related sites link to yours, your site cannot be very important and will be treated as such in the search results. Visit our site for more information on increasing link popularity.
Anatomy of an SEO scam
One of my top reads these days is the blog by Black Hat SEO. I believe that as an seo expert you need to be at least up to date on the techniques in the black arts so you know what you are up against. He recently published a supposedly funny , but actually quite scary article on how to make $200k per year as a search engine optimization scammer.

The future of the search engine optimization industry:
Now contrast this with a fabulous article written by one of the best SEO's in the business, Bruce Clay. In the emperors new clothes, Bruce lays out his vision of the future of search engine optimization. He covers the main challenges and what it takes to rise to the challenge for the honest and professional SEO practitioner:

Google's take on the SEO industry:
Google has published a page of tips on how to distinguish between good and bad search engine optimization companies.

Information on my Toronto Search Engine Optimization Company:
Toronto Search Engine Optimization Company

Friday, March 10, 2006

Blogs Helping to Achieve High Search Engine Positions

Blogging has taken the Internet by Storm. Not only do they provide an easy method of keeping your audience up to date with your news, help develop stronger relationships with your readers and raise your profile as an expert - they are incredibly effective at helping you increase your web site's ranking in the search engines.

Search engines are giving a large value to blogs. Why? Search engine's common goal is to provide users with the most relevant search results. Relevant content typically equals recent content. Therefore the most relevant results to searches are usually provided on recently updated pages.

Search engines love fresh content, but most of the content on the Internet is quite stale. Blogs, on the other hand, provide loads of recently updated content for the search engines to spider. In contrast, many corporate web sites have not been updated for months or even years.

Search engines also love sites with lots of inbound links.
Many inbound links (links pointing to a site) give the search engines an indication that the site the links point to must be popular or important, and therefore valuable and relevant.

In the blogoshpere it is quite easy to generate a lot of inbound links very quickly. Bloggers and blog readers like to comment on other blogs (which link back to writer) as well as link to other blogs in the main copy and sidebars. If your blog has good content and you actively market yourself in the blogoshpere you will increase your inbound links very quickly. (More on marketing your blog in an upcoming post)

To rank well for almost any phrase in a search engine, you need search optimized content. This is as basic as including the keyword phrases you want to rank for in the content you post to your blog. I'll use my site as an example:

I would like my Toronto Internet marketing company to rank number one in Google for the phrase "Toronto Internet marketing company". If I use the phrase "Toronto Internet marketing company" in my blogposts frequently, the search engine spiders will see this and conclude that my blog must be about a "Toronto Internet marketing company".

Ok this is fine, you may be thinking, I see how I can use keywords in my blog to optimize them for search engines - but how does this help my web site?

In many ways. The first comes back to linking:

The context and content of links are another way search engines determine the content and relevancy of the pages they link to. Search engines are using the anchor text in a link (the text that is actually linked) and the context of the link as a method of determining what the page it links to is about. It's called latent Semantic indexing.

The search engines basically figure that what one site says about another site is a better gauge of truth than what one site says about itself. Compound this times lots of inbound links saying the same things, and the importance of the sites that are saying those things, the search engines have a very good way to measure the relevance of a page for any search.

You need to link to your web site and optimize those links. Since the search engines will read the text that is linked to your web site, they will use those links as a guide to what your web site is about.

I'll use my site as an example again. I have 3 main sections on my web site:

By creatively working these links into my copy, using the correct link text, and linking to the appropriate sections of my site, I am telling the search engines - and my readers - what my site is about. As I get more links and more readers to my blog, I also get the added benefit of more awareness and visitors to my site.

The second benefit is through RSS feeds. You can easily display the live feed of your blog right on your web site, therefore:
  • automatically updating your web site each time you post to your blog
  • increasing the keyword optimization on your web site
  • increasing the content on your web site
Other sites may also choose to display your blog's feed on their site (with each story linking back to you), creating even more links, more readers and more visitors to your blog and site.

Another way you can make the links to your blog help your sites search rankings is to host your blog on your own site. This is easy to do with most blogging software like Blogger, because you can have it simply FTP the blog to your site everytime you post.

Your blog can either be in a subfolder ( or a subdomain ( When you host the blog on your own site - all of the links to your blog are also considered links to your site.

In Summary: Blogs, written well and marketed well, provide all three of the components of a high ranking site - fresh content, optimized content, and lots of semantically relevant, important links.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Separating Qualified Leads from Tire Kickers

B2B companies that sell expensive, enterprise solutions seem to have a common problem: They receive a lot of inquiries from their web site, but many are not qualified prospects.

Depending on the industry and solution they provide, they may receive inquires from small businesses or even the general public looking for solutions that the company may seem to have a possible answer for, but for the company, the economies just don't work for these types of customers.

One large company I work with recently came to me with this issue.

They were looking over the ways they have been addressing the inquiries coming in.
Sometimes leads are assigned immediately to the sales reps and other times they try to fulfill these contacts’ need for information first (with administrative personnel), and then forward to the sales reps.

They wanted other ideas to handle their web inquiries – they wanted to spend less time responding to FAQs and concentrate more on those inquiries that are of direct business consequence.

There are many ways to deal with this issue, but most companies never give it the full attention that it deserves. Here are my suggestions:

Send an automatic FAQ email. Send a self service email designed to answer the most frequently asked questions in inquiries. You can phrase it so that you don't have to personally answer each email, but still provide a timely, relevant, professional response.

For example, tell people that you get a lot of responses, and to serve inquiries better you've put together this list of frequently asked questions that address most of the inquiries you receive. You will read their email, but if their answer is contained in the message they are reading, you won't be getting back to them. After all, they already have the answer. Tell them if they have any other questions, they should contact you again.

Create inquiry forms on your web site that send out custom messages with dynamically generated content for additional personalization. A form can ask many types of questions to give you insight into the nature of the inquiry.

Create auto response messages that include different links and different content depending on the prospects answers from the form. If prospects answer a certain way to a certain question, or series of questions, have that lead forwarded directly to a sales rep.

Follow up more than once. Create messages that go out in a timed sequence after the initial inquiry. Follow up in 2 days to ask if they have the information they need, or if they need any more. Ask if they found the brochure or case study they downloaded helpful. Ask if they would like to speak with a sales rep.

Follow up again after two weeks or a month, with an announcement or information on a recent project or new case study. Follow up again after two months. Start sending your entire email audience a monthly newsletter with information on your industry, your company, and recent developments.

Ask them to qualify themselves. In the follow up emails, ask them for more information. To do this effectively, you'll need to provide them with an incentive to take action. Have a new whitepaper, a demonstration, a sample, a free book, free tickers, a chance to win, something that would interest your audience enough to take a minute and answer a few question for you.

Ask the BANT (Budget, Authority, Needs, Timing) questions so you will see which prospects are 'hot', and respond appropriately.

Use Email polls and links that trigger other actions. With professional Email marketing software, you can trigger other email sequences based on which link a prospect clicks in an email.

For example, you can ask people if they currently use a product like yours or if they are considering it for the first time. Each answer has it's own link that goes to it's own landing page. Depending on which links the prospect clicks, you can send follow up emails that discuss your product in a different way. For the people that already use a similar product, you can provide feature comparisons. For those that are considering the product for the first time, you will want to focus on the benefits your product provides in a different way.

Use engagement devices on your web site to draw even more people in, and ask them to qualify themselves as part of the process. Create an interactive questionnaire on your site that promises to provide an answer to their problem. Ask a series of questions about their need, one after the other, in a small pop-up or embedded Flash or Java element on your site.

Ask questions that flag them as a prospect, a hot prospect, or an unqualified person or company. The end of the process give the answer you promised, and let them know if they should be talking with you or not. Follow up with an email campaign as discussed above, and have the good leads forwarded automatically to your sales reps.

Create more customer self service content on your site. Certainly 90% of the questions that come your way are similar questions asked over and over. Commit to a large, user friendly FAQ or knowledge base section on your site. Consider a forum. Use tag-based web analytics to monitor usage of the section and see how you can improve it. Add to it regularly. Review your search logs to see what the most common searches are, and increase the visibility of content you have, or add more content to address needs.

In Summary:

Focus on intelligent automation of customer self service instead of more efficient manual response to customer inquiries.
Time and money invested in this will pay for itself quickly in costs saved, improved customer relations, and new sales.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

B2B Lead Qualification Strategy

Lately we've been asked to many business-to-business lead qualification strategies for our B2B clients. It seems now that we have search optimized their sites and put persuasive copy and compelling offers to download information from their sites, they are realizing that they are getting a lot of leads and they need to follow up with them.

Surprised? No. But this is still a great development. Now they are coming around the full circle of Internet marketing and finally, naturally see and want the next step to automating their sales process.

These are my recommendations for business to business lead qualification:

1. Don't get so caught up in the technology - figure out your strategy first

The technology is secondary and the strategy is primary. When you start planning, you should forget the technology and focus on what you want to accomplish from a sales perspective. Let the technology guys figure out how to do it once you've got the strategy. Of course you need to have an idea of what's possible, but why not assume everything is possible from the outset and then figure out how to do it once you have the perfect strategy. Don't be limited by technology.

2. The theory on creating the strategy is simple:

  1. What do you know about them already?
    They have downloaded something(s)
    Whatever else they told us in the form

  2. What does what they've downloaded tell you about them?

  3. What would you say to them based on what you know to engage them further and deepen the relationship?

  4. What can you offer them in exchange for them giving you some more information?
    Here are some ideas: It could be, a chance to win something or something for free. Something for free could be a whitepaper, a demo, a flash demonstration, a free consultation, a free sample, competitive assessment, benchmarking data, etc.

  5. What sort of information do you want from them?
These are the questions you would probably want to ask in return for giving them something they find valuable:

  1. Was the content useful and would you like something else on this topic?
  2. What is your role in researching or buying our product? (also what's your title)
  3. What is your researching/buying time frame?
  4. Is a budget authorized for this product or service?
  5. How quickly do expect the buying process to be concluded?
  6. Would you like to talk to one of our reps?
(ED NOTE: I must admit that I borrowed the above questions from Manhatten's Marketing Maven, because they were so good I didn't have to rewrite them. Thanks Danny. The articles on the blog great except a few points on how to engage people where I differ)

3. Dynamic Content. Sometimes, people may have downloaded more than one item on the site. Therefore I recommend that you should not send out one message per download because many people will then receive multiple messages. You should instead create one message for every contact, and craft segments of the message that are custom to what they've downloaded. It's like an IF/THEN statement. As each message goes out our server will go through a series of IF/THEN's to craft the message. For example:

Dear {NAME}:

We are following up on your recent download of information on our web site.

[IF they downloaded A, THEN tell them this]

[IF they downloaded B, THEN tell them this]

[IF they downloaded C, THEN tell them this]

As a measure of our thanks, we would like to make a special offer to you....

(your choice of X, Y, or Z) ....
... just click here to receive it**


Your Company

** The link should go to a form where you ask for the new information, and fulfill the offer.

4. Automate the process
In a perfect world, this would have all been done before you started getting leads from the web site so that this campaign would go out automatically to each new lead using triggered e-mail within 48 hours. People will tend to forget quickly what sites they've visited and why. You need to remind them quickly to keep their attention.

But in our imperfect reality, where clients want to see proof that extra traffic will come, and that people will download things before they decide to make a bunch of autoresponders, this the next best thing:

1. You create this campaign and send it out to all of the people that have downloaded something. 2. You take the same campaign, and you implement it as an automatic follow up 24-48 hours after all new visitors sign up on your web site.

What you have accomplished is a single follow up to every lead you've generated so far, and then you send an automated follow up every day, for every new lead, from now till you decide to stop.