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How can I drive more traffic to my blog?

I recently was contacted by Yehuda Berlinger, a professional blogger who runs a blog about being a blogger looking for corporate blogging positions called Blogging Without a Wire and another blog about gaming.

He had a few great questions. I answered his email and then asked him if it would be alright to use my response in a blog post. With Yehuda’s permission, below are his questions and my (as usual) long winded answer. Any bloggers out there that have more to say, Yehuda and I would love to hear your comments. I would also like to put out a call for anyone that wants to be a guest blogger on this subject.

1. Yehuda’s Personal blogging question: While my own blog (http://jergames.blogspot.com) is doing "well" in terms of PR, it still has very little traffic (200 tracked visitors a day) resulting in only token monetization ($300 a month). I know that's better than most, but I feel like I have the potential to do so much better. How do I start really moving forward on my own blog?

2: Yehuda’s Corporate blogging question: I recently got, and left, a job as a corporate blogger. The expectation was that I will drive lots of traffic and lots of results. But my own blog took two years to get where it is today, and, while high in PR, it's low in traffic. If what I think I can do as a corporate blogger (create daily posts, control the corporate conversation, be the friendly face of the company) is so much different from what people expect from a corporate blogger (drive traffic and sales), am I pursuing the wrong thing?

First of all, congratulations on the 200 visitors per day, that’s a pretty good start. What you are asking about is a big question and a challenge that my team and I are faced with as well. It's true that blogs can drive traffic and lead to sales but I think what you are experiencing is something I, and I think many of our colleagues, are encountering as they try to instill social media participating practices into the corporate process. A lot of companies shut down or ignore the concept that there is such a thing as blogging best practices and that's not something you can just slap on the production line (believe me I've tried) and start to see spikes in sales and traffic. 

The bad news is that most of my answers require a significant investment of someone's time and brain power. Here's the opportunity or good news --- the fact that it’s hard to tap into blogging traffic makes corporate blogging a great value for the companies and people who master the art. Doing this takes a lot of time and effort and, depending on what the client is paying you, it may or may not be something that you can systematically provide as part of your arrangement. As professional bloggers, we need to sell the client and get the resources we need to prove the case for them. Once we get their buy-in, we need their support or a level of authority to go out and transparently blog on their behalf.

I think there are a couple of components to driving traffic. They are:

  • The actual setup of the blog,

  • Keyword research and targeting,

  • Community research,

  • Ongoing monitoring for keywords and identified blog feeds,

  • Quality commenting,

  • Quality posting,

  • Social media promotion and blogger outreach.

All of these are very important, but I think that monitoring and commenting are the keys to driving traffic.

There are also some other factors that play into the mix:

  • Who you are (commercial vs. independent blogger, due to the fact that many bloggers have their own commercial agenda. Just a hunch, but sometimes I feel that a blogging community is more apt to promote the independent voice than point traffic to a commercial entity even if the content is insightful and useful). This contradicts a point I will make below hosting the blog under the company domain but it does not override that advice.

  • How stimulating or controversial you are (do your posts spark discussion or outrage), or how inquisitive / conversational you are (some bloggers have a knack for getting the conversation started by raising questions and then keeping the conversation going. This requires dedication, vulnerability and passion on the blogger’s side because they’re saying 'I don’t have all the answers').

So, to answer your question, here are some things to try if you have not already.

  1. Optimizing the technical setup of the blog: If it’s a commercial blog, I think the ideal is when the blog is part of the company domain. For example, company.com/blog. My rationale… presumably, the company website has been around for awhile and this is an advantage over a brand new domain or a company.blogspot.com URL. If a company is going to invest in blogging, they might as well leverage this advantage and let the content and links that the blog generates boost the corporate website’s page rank and, as I like to say, overall content footprint. In my experience a sub-folder (.com/blog) is better for SEO than a sub-domain (blog.company.com). Also see my previous post written about this. In the past I've written about Should you host your own corporate blog or use a service and The Ups and Downs of Multiple Website Identities.

  2. Making SEO more than just an afterthought: Also, you want to make sure your blog has some of the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) basics. Each blog post creates a permalink. Make sure the permalink page uses a title tag that includes the title of the blog post. Also, tag and categorize the post with a category or tag name that is relevant but also part of your target keyword list (see next two items for how to discover keywords).  

  3. Keyword Research: Do some keyword research around your topic and figure out the relevant terms that attract the most searchers per month. There are some OK free tools out there for doing this: Webmaster Toolkit or SeoBook's Tools and Gagets. I assume that you are probably already aware of these. There’s also a commercial product called Trellian which is what my SEO department uses.  

  4. Subjective Input: After you have developed your keyword list, give each of the phrases your own relevancy score. I like to use a scale of .01 – 1.0. A 1.0 is a dead-on match meaning that this term is very likely to be a qualified visitor. I would give a broad general term like “game” a lower score (because it is likely that only a fraction of the people searching on this term are interested in your what you are offering). You can then use these scores as a way to adjust and filter against your search frequency and post frequency (see next item). I use Excel to calculate by multiplying frequency by the score.

  5. Blog and Social Media Community profiling: Once you have figured out your best list of terms, use Icerocket.com to check the post frequency about those terms. If the term is searched a lot and posted about a lot you know that if you optimized a post around that term then it is likely to attract a larger share of attention. You can also look at it another way. If the relevant term is searched a lot but not posted on a lot, that could be an opportunity to post about something that is of interest to searchers but does not have a lot of completion in the social media search engines like Technorati.com. This means that your post will stay in the social media searches longer because it’s not getting pushed down into obscurity, but generating a high frequency of noise around the term. Assuming that the term is a popular search phase, it’s likely to garner some extra traffic and attention due to the decreased level of completion in the blogosphere.

  6. Content Strategy: Think about your audience. What are they interested in and what are the popular blogs that they are reading? Develop a profile of the bloggers who are reaching your audience. Read through their blog and look at who’s commenting and visit their blogs as well. Develop a matrix of the community and really try and identify the influencers and the active participants in the community. Create a blog roll on your site of these blogs that will help the bloggers develop an awareness of your site. Develop a strategy that will lead them to reference some of the work you’re doing (Admittedly, this is the toughest part but that’s the price we have to pay for greatness).

  7. Timely Monitoring and Quick Response: Start monitoring all the blogs and important keyword on a daily basis. You should be on the lookout for blog posts that you can add value to by either commenting or posting about. If you see a post that you think you can add value to, comment now and write a post later.

  8. Comment, comment comment: A good insightful comment on a popular or even not so popular blog can drive a significant amount of traffic and awareness to your blog. More importantly, comments will help you develop a trust within the community and with that blogger. Don’t assume one or two good comments are going to do the trick. It needs to be a consistent process that is guided by your monitoring. The earlier that you can spot a good comment opportunity and make a comment, the better chance you have of getting your thoughts into the mix and gaining some visibility and respect from the community.

  9. Use blogging best practices for outreach: A lot of people talk about how gaining the attention of influencers and getting them to blog about you is a great way to generate traffic. Of course that’s true but some people look at influential bloggers as a PR opportunities (visualize a juicy sizzling steak) and try to pitch them using traditional media relations techniques. This might work sometimes but it could backfire (see the Bad Pitch Blog). I would say developing trust through a comment is a far better approach than directly pitching a blogger to write about you. Of course, this approach takes more time, but luckily you did not ask me how to be efficient. Then try and develop relationships with not only the big influencers, but some of the more passionate and lesser known bloggers by commenting and reacting and adding value to what they are saying on their blogs. Commenting on blogs is one of the best ways to direct people to your site. Make sure your comment adds value to what is being said.

  10. Cultivate Inbound links: The ideal is when this happens naturally; you write a nice post and a blogger finds it and cites your page. That generates traffic and a link. However you can also give this process a nudge. This is a tricky area and it takes a certain chutzpa to do it but reach out to the bloggers and ask them to feed back to you on what you have written. You never know what they’re going to say, if anything, but I think that if you genuinely try to solicit their advices, it’s likely to lead to some link love down the road. I know that this also seems a little like you have an hidden agenda, but really you’re trying to be included in the conversation that’s going on, and sometimes you have to put your client or yourself on the line a little bit. Initially you may receive feedback that’s not entirely positive, but that’s something to build off of.

  11. More tips and tactics: Here’s a good article I found that talks about some of the technical, feed related ways to promote a site.

  12. Create something new: Create a tool, academic research, do a poll/survey or produce some resources that will create some thought leadership or be of interest to your target community. I've done this for my own company (Corporate Blogging Survey , the Blogging Success Study, Corporate Guidelines for Using Blogs and Forums , 10 Tips for Becoming a Great Corporate Blogger ) and it continues to be a great source of links and traffic to my site.
  13. Social media networking: If you have not already developed a presence in the large social media networking communities such as MySpace, LinkedIn, Facebook, MyBlogLog, those are a great resource. Or, target more focused communities that focus on a certain industry. A great new example of this is MyRegan, a community of communicators. You can also engage in micro blogging with things like Twitter and Pownce.

Of course there are entire books (See below) written on this subject so by no means do I think my list is the authoritative list of ways and means. Let me know what you think. Did I tell you things you already knew or do you find some value in this? What really works for you? Let me know what points you like. Again, I’m sure you’re already doing a lot of this.

Books:

The Corporate Blogging Book by Debbie Weil

Strategies and Tools for Corporate Blogging by John Cass

What No One Ever Tells You About Blogging and Podcasting - Ted Demopoulos

The New Influencers: A Marketer's Guide to the New Social Media - by Paul Gillin

Blogging for Business: Everything You Need to Know and Why You Should Care by Shel Holtz

Blog Marketing by Jeremy Wright 

Naked Conversations by Shel by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel

Tags: advice, blog marketing, blog promotion, blogging strategy, blogging tips, online PR, professional blogger, successful blogging
Filed under: Blogging Strategy, Blogging Tips, Blogging Tools, Search Engine Optimization, Social Media

Posted by Stephen Turcotte on August 30, 2007 11:50 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0)

The Ups and Downs of Multiple Website Identities

I recently responded to a business reporter who posed a question to PR Newswire’s Profnet. The reporter asked to “speak with small-business owners who have more than one Web site up-and-running, to understand the pros and cons of establishing more than one online identity”. I wrote to her saying that I have some insight on this since I am a small business owner who manages a few different websites for my own company and clients. She responded asking “Could you tell me more about your different websites?" I responded to that request, but never heard back from her. No problem. She was probably too busy on deadline to acknowledge my response. That disclaimer aside, I’d like to share with you the jist of what I wrote in my email.

Backbone Media, Inc. owns and operate two websites.

BackboneMedia.com – This is the website for our main business. It provides information about all of our website development, website design, search engine marketing, and blogging services. This website address has been our company URL since 1996.

ScoutBlogging.com -  Scout is a new blogging service for companies. The website launched in March 06. We created the new website in order to provide a unique identity for Scout.

The upside to having multiple websites is that the Backbone Media service offering already covers a wide range of website services. I did not want the new Scout Blogging Service to get lost within the Backbone umbrella website. I also wanted to really promote this as a new and different branded service. Another factor in the decision Also, I did not think visitors would really understand the importance of the Scout Blogging Service if it was simply featured as another department of BackboneMedia.com.

Many people will probably focus on the branding implications of multiple websites. Those are definitely important, but I also think there are some serious SEO implications of starting new unique domain. Link popularity plays a big role in where a website is listed in the search engine rankings. The topic of inbound links is the biggest downside to having multiple websites. A company has only so much bandwidth to spend promoting a website. In most cases I think it’s better to focus your efforts into generating high quality links to one website rather than spreading your efforts over two or several different websites. The theory here is that there is more Search engine optimization power in concentrating 700 inbound links to one website rather than spreading them over multiple websites. It usually takes several months for a new optimized website to be indexed appropriately into the Google organic listings. The existing website may have already established a decent Google Page Rank that can be used as a plank for quicker inclusion in search results. A new website will have to start from scratch.

I have some anecdotal proof of this. Back in the spring of 2005 we conducted a survey for a paper called Corporate Blogging: Is it Worth the Hype. We used Zoomerang survey software and posted the survey questionnaire (within a frameset) at this address on our established domain www.backbonemedia.com/blogsurvey/. This page quickly ranked in the top 5 Google listings for the search phrase “corporate blogging”. We later replaced that page with the html version of the survey results and links to the paper's PDF. It now holds a steady #3 position in Google’s organic search engine rankings.

That being said, there are also good SEO implications to having multiple websites. The biggest benefit to multiple websites is that search engines attribute a lot of weight to the content in the root index page (default home page) of a website. To make a long story short, there are several key content areas of the home page that a search engine will look to see what the page is about; domain name, title tag, text headings, first sentence, body copy and internal links and anchor text. If your website is selling multiple categories of services, (such as our Search Engine Marketing, Website Development, Website Design, and Blogging Services) there is little room to promote all of them without having to demote some of them to a lower position in the pecking order. A website entirely devoted to one subject (in Scout's case "corporate blogging services") allows the site owner to really emphasize the primary / root phrases and support keywords for that service, and also expand into the long tail of keyword phrases.

Another observation: While conducting the survey we also created a blog dedicated to discussing the results of the survey and corporate blogging in general. The domain for this blog was actually a sub domain of backbonemedia.com -- address http://blogsurvey.backbonemedia.com . It is worth noting that this blog (setup as a sub domain) maintains a lower position on “corporate blogging” even though there is considerably more activity around the subject of corporate blogging.

Here’s my explanation of why the sub folder url backbonemeida.com/blogsurvey/ ranks higher than blogsurvey.backbonemdia.com.

  1. Backbonemedia.com has been our company's official address since 1996.

  2. At the time the lauch of the blog survey in Spring 2005, the site had a page rank of 7

  3. It already had hundreds of inbound links (decent link popularity).

  4. The frameset page was optimized for the term “corporate blogging".

  5. The announcement of the survey created many relevant links to the page from the blogosphere. 

  6. Once the page appeared in the top rankings it probably generated a favorable Click Through Rate (CTR) since it was a relevant result.

In summary: starting a new website is not ideal if you’re eager for short term search engine position results. It's better to leverage your existing page rank and link popularity by creating a section in your existing website (as long as you have a related website that is in good standing with the search engines). However, if brand differentiation is more important than search engine rankings, go with a new domain (not a sub domain).

Tags: multiple+websites search+engine+optimization, new+brand, new+web+site, new+website
Filed under: Product Development, Search Engine Optimization

Posted by Stephen Turcotte on February 1, 2007 10:04 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0)

Mounting a PR Case for Blogging ROI from an SEO Perspective

Charlene Li posted a magnificent and easily digestible blog post titled Calculating the ROI of blogging. In it she talks about the costs, benefits and risks of Blog ROI measurement. My favorite part is the simple chart of the blogging “Benefit” and “Appropriate  measurement”.

“Greater visibility in search results” is high on her list of benefits, but I wonder if the SEO benefits from corporate blogging is being given enough play in the broader blogging ROI discussion.

Here's some advice if you’re a PR or communications person trying to sell blogging internally, find out how much Marketing is spending on Paid Search advertising and SEO. We’ve researched 140 clients of a local PR firm and found that 28% of them are spending an average of $21k per month on paid search(for more on this research, see A case for the ROI of Blogging).

Working with a annual budget of $252,000 ($21k x 12) leads me to believe that a case can be made for the blogging ROI strictly from an SEO (organic search engine optimization) benefit point of view. Start with making the SEO case and then add on all the other noted benefits (consumer education, pr, thought leadership, crisis, management, reach enthusiasts) as gravy.

Blogging is a long term strategy to achieve organic rankings on the most sought after keywords because...

  1. Blogs are search engine friendly.
  2. Good blogs produce an archive of fresh relevant content, 
  3. Good blogs produce quality incoming links.

These are always the biggest challenges in producing SEO results for clients, but they are fundamental in blogging.

So what happens after one year of corporate blogging publishing at a frequency of about 3 posts per week. At the end of the year your company has substantially increased your fresh relevant content footprint by 150 interlinked keyword focused posts/ aka. optimized web pages. We're doing this for one Spherion now and their blog has already garnered "41 links from 20 blogs" in their target blogging community. At this rate they will have 492 quality links by the end of the year. The fresh content and links will add up to a much better rankings for the blog and the Spherion corporate site since the blog is a subdirectory of the corporate website. Is Spherion achieving other benifits from blogging? Sure, but this post is strictly about the SEO benefits.

What is the investment/company dependencies for this? It’s going to cost a company about 20 – 40 hours in the setup phase and then 5 – 20 hours per week to write and publish 3 – 5 blog posts and deal with 6 – 10 comments. Add another 5 – 10 hours per week onto this equation for blog monitoring. Some companies may choose to augment some of this work and retain the assistance of blogging consultant, and that could range anywhere between $2k - $10k per month depending on scope and scale of the support.

Here's one way to calculate... If you're advertising in Google or Yahoo, or paying an SEO firm, figure out what a 1st to 3rd position on keyword X is already costing your company on a monthly Cost Per Click basis. A successful blogging strategy could generate free traffic on that keyword in 2 - 12 months. The less competitive the term the quicker you will see results. Duplicate that strategy/formula on 10 to 20 of your company's most important keywords and then double the totals(because Google is only about half the search market).

I found this article via Steve Rubel's post titled: A Model for Measuring Blogging ROI

Tags:
Filed under: Blogging ROI, Blogging Tips, PR Tips, Search Engine Optimization

Posted by Stephen Turcotte on October 3, 2006 4:21 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)

Is there SEO value in owning a stable of domain names?

A client of mine recently asked me a good question and I’d like to share with you my response to her …

    "Hi Steve, Quick question…we own about 50 domain names. Right now, some of them point back to our website and some are just parked. And some of them are up for renewal in the next few months. So, I want make better use of these by directing them to our website. My question is this…we have some domains like www.johnsmith.com and www.jsmith.com, etc. and I’m wondering if these are valuable or not. Should we keep these? Is it always better to have as many domains that point to your site as possible or are names like these worthless in the web/SEO world? Any insights would be appreciated."

Hi, Good question. Empty domain link pointers are worthless in terms of SEO. Search engines only credit inbound links from real websites. The only value in a pointer is if someone types that address into a browser and your site pops up. In that respect there IS a traffic driving value in a domain name that contains a popular industry phase like realestate.com. I would also add that if domains point to the main site, they should do so using a 301 redirect.  If they don't, there is always a chance somebody will link to them and cause duplicate content and not pass page rank to the main site.

Just in case you're wondering, I would not advise using the domains to create some phantom websites just on the premise of creating a real link into your site. That ship has sailed. It's a very spammy thing to do and it's not worth the effort.
 
I'm not going to advise you to sell or keep domains because you may want to maintain possession for competitive reasons or possible future use. The bottom line is, It's probably going to cost you anywhere from $300 - $600 per year to maintain ownership of those domain names. If you think a domain could be valuable to your business or someone else like a competitor in the future -- hang on to it as a speculative investment. It's ok to park it or point it to your site.

Tags:
Filed under: Search Engine Optimization

Posted by Stephen Turcotte on September 22, 2006 10:41 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0)

CNN: Teens can't name major TV networks

Just noticed this story on CNNMoney.com titled Teens can't name major TV networks. According to the poll "Almost 80 percent of 16- to 18-year-olds were unable to name the big 4 broadcasters."

Major marketers that are targeting teens with ad spending in 2006 and 2007 should be looking at Search Engine Marketing & Optimization, strategic blogging, and places like MySpace and SecondLife.

Tags:
Filed under: New Communications, Search Engine Optimization

Posted by Stephen Turcotte on May 15, 2006 12:07 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0)

Marketing People of Albany New York: Network and Learn about SEO

I'm really looking forward to a speaking next month (May 11th 2006) at the New York Capital Region Chapter of the American Marketing Association. They have graciously asked me to come out and speak with them about SEO Blogging and Podcasting. The event is dubbed Tag it. Blog it. Podcast it. And reap the rewards. If you are planning to attend this marketing event, I invite you to start firing your questions at me. I've also listed a few questions for you at the bottom of this post.

If you're going to be in the Albany NY area on May 11th, please stop in and say hello. Here's a taste of the areas that I will cover during the 1.5 hours session.

1) Why (and how) your web site can be a great source of new business

  • Most buyers use search engines (Google or Yahoo) to find new products and services
  • Most forms of advertising are an interruption. Exception... searchers are actively seeking information.

2) Three keys to successful search engine marketing

  • Relevant content - provide your visitors with a wealth of info pertaining the keywords and phrases that they are most likely to use in a search
  • High quality links - links are like votes , develop backlinks from high quality related websites
  • Index-ability - make sure your website is assessable to search engines

3) How corporate blogging can improve your search engine rankings

  • Blogs are great for search engine rankings but the way to get the SEO benefits is by becoming a great blogger
  • How to become a great blogger
  • Analyze your company's blogging opportunity
  • Monitor what others are saying about your business or industry
  • Monitor the blogs and bloggers that are attracting your audience and add to the conversation.

4) What is podcasting

  • example of a podcast

Questions for the audience:

  • When you search do you tend to click on the sponsored ads or the organic listings? Do you know the difference?
  • How do you begin your research into a big purchase (personal or business related)?
  • Have you considered corporate blogging as a possible strategy for your business? If yes why have you chosen to pursue or not to pursue blogging as a business strategy?
  • Do bloggers influence your industry?
  • Can you name any of the blogs that are popular in your industry?
  • Do you or any members of your immediate family own an Ipod?

Tags:
Filed under: Search Engine Optimization

Posted by Stephen Turcotte on April 18, 2006 5:22 PM | | Comments (2) | TrackBacks (0)

A case for the ROI of Blogging

One belief that I am certain about is that great blogging translates into great search engine rankings. With that assumption in mind, here's a case for the value of blogging...

My team and I recently conducted research on 140 progressive companies to evaluate their Search Engine Marketing participation (are they spending in Google) and potential spend (what could they spend per month if they bid for top position on their logical keywords). The list of companies came directly from a published client list of a top tier PR agency.

Here's what we found...

  • The average client of this PR firm has the potential to spend $21,000 per month in Google Advertising (the high was as much as $251,000 per month)
  • All clients combined have the potential to spend $36 Million per year
  • 28% are spending on PPC Ads -- Verified that the company was advertising in either Google or Yahoo paid search programs.
  • Estimated Average Spend $12,816 per month for the companies that are participating in either Google or Yahoo paid search programs. -- Calculated by removing the top 5 highest spenders and the 5 lowest then averaging the remaining paid search spenders
  • 62% optimize their site in some way for search engine rankings.

The point of this basic research is to show the value of Blogging. There are many potential benefits of blogging but just looking at the SEO benefits alone should make a strong case to any Marketing Director (from a company that is spending or planning to spend on direct traffic from search engines) that blogging is a strategy to consider going forward. The message here is - look at how much a company could spend on paid search advertising. Blogging is a way to invest into your organic rankings rather than paying upwards of $144k each year on paid search.

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Filed under: Search Engine Optimization

Posted by Stephen Turcotte on March 22, 2006 5:38 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)

Do Conversion Rates Trump Google Juice?

Thanks to Neville Hobson (in FIR Podcast #121) for highlighting KDPaine's post that asks whether "Google Juice" is The ultimate measure of success. Katie thinks it is in 2006. Shel thinks it's a great way in the door, but it's not the "ultimate" measure.

For most of my clients, top rankings are huge but at the end of the quarter we need to demonstrate to the company's leadership how rankings translate into growth for their business. I think the "ultimate" measure of success is the conversion rate for quantifiable actions such as subscriptions, downloads, completed contact leads or sales.

Conversion totals and rates measure online marketing success, site design success and product positioning and more. For example, I recently meet with a prospect that worked with some top SEO advisors to optimize the writing of her website. She achieved success with SEO. By doing it, her retail products site achieved top rankings on a number of very important keywords, but her conversion rates went way down because the implementation of the SEO advice impacted on user experience. The big reason is that the SEO advice was to add lots of keyword optimized content to the home page and other pages of the site. In the process, very little attention was paid to what this strategy was doing to the user's experience. Sales did increase because of the added traffic. But now this particular prospect is looking to improve the user experience.

The point here is that while top rankings are very valuable for bringing in traffic the site needs to have a strategy to convert those visitors into some kind of business benefit otherwise a top ranking is just a bragging right.

Tags:
Filed under: Search Engine Optimization

Posted by Stephen Turcotte on March 22, 2006 1:15 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0)