May 21st, 2015.
Ideally already your slogan contains it and your potential users are not forced to watch a long video or read a wordy text. Also sending your visitors down a link or two makes most of them disappear. How to convert people right on the homepage?
Value Proposition? Are you kidding me?
First off, what the heck is a value proposition? My products represent the value, I don’t have to propose to anybody! Keep calm and read on. The value is obvious to you because you deal with your products or services on a daily basis.
Outsiders, potential clients or online supporters may not even understand what you are talking about. In the worst case they might assume your whole industry is just a bunch of crooks and liars. That’s certainly a problem for us when it comes to SEO and wide-spread prejudice.
The value proposition is not a promotional aspect of your advertising.
It’s not a marketing gimmick. It’s the essence of your business. It’s the actual offer. It’s your unique selling point. Consider a brand like Rolls Royce for example. What’s their value proposition? A car? Probably not.
The car is the product but the offer is the luxury and the symbolism. After all kings and queens ride Rolls Royce limousines. Unlike a renowned brand most average businesses do have to explain their value proposition n their site right away or their visitors might disappear in an instant.
Your homepage is like a hotel lobby
Imagine that you run a hotel. You want to convert your visitor when s/he enters right away in the lobby. Make the lobby minimalist or lavish depending on what your business is about but don’t plan to show everybody around the whole building and suggest them dozens of rooms. Make sure the facade and the neon signs outside are already appropriate.
When someone enters make sure that the temperature is pleasant. I could on like that for a while but we have to return the more abstract realm of websites. At least here we don’t need heating or air conditioning. I hope you understand by now that
a potential guest does not need to inspect all of the rooms to stay with you.
In short the first impression counts. Especially as you assume that the people who arrive in your lobby are already likely to look for a room. They may look for a restaurant as well or a spa but most of them want a place to stay for at least a night.
You don’t have to explain what a hotel is to most of them. This may be different in case your business model is a bit less evident. In any case it’s important to clarify why they should stay with you not the other hotel around the corner or down the street.
I have worked for a few hotels in the past – that is I optimized their sites – so that I know how to differentiate. One of them was a design hotel with a very good connection to to main train station in town. You could actually walk over there. We stressed the two aspects. What is your unique asset others can’t copy easily?
- What’s the unique flavor?
- What’s the local specialty?
- What’s the “killer” feature?
Try to fit that into a short sentence and put in big letters on your frontpage. Yeah, I know. It’s difficult. You’ll probably will struggle to word it in a concise manner. The outcome may sound more like a short paragraph. Then you need to cut all the unnecessary words mercilessly or at least try to prioritize certain parts by using different font sizes:
Testing your value proposition
You are probably familiar with A/B testing already. In most cases business people test whether a particular headline, button text or design gets more conversions than a previous one. Here again I have seldom witnessed test results or studies dealing with the impact of a changing value proposition.
How can you change your value proposition to get more conversions and thus probably more sales?
Well, just consider Ford. They were one of the first to attempt selling mobility instead of just cars. In an era where everybody owns a smartphone and can take part in car sharing without the need to own a car actually it’s about time to rethink the value proposition of car manufacturers.
Where I live (in Berlin, Germany) a lot of them offer their own branded car sharing brands. The foremost example is probably BMW which also owns the Mini brand by now. Thus you see DriveNow Minis and BMW’s seemingly all over the place around here. Also they not only stand around and block parking space, people use them a lot.
By changing the value proposition from something like “owning a cool car with a modern image” to “driving a car right now or whenever you want” BMW was able to adapt to the current market. It may be also possible in your area of expertise. Try different value propositions to find out how your company can adapt to the current trends.
* (CC BY-SA 2.0) Creative Commons image by That Hartford Guy
** (CC BY 2.0) Creative Commons image by Jun Seita
May 14th, 2015.
These days “too big to fail” corporations rule the Web. These companies don’t pay taxes, monopolise markets and can crush any competition from average business owners or freelancers who can’t buy their way up into public attention.
You can’t pay for Olympic sponsorships? Here’s what you can do instead to stay afloat and even thrive on the Web. You don’t have to limit yourself to a tiny niche.
Corporations are slow and ugly but you aren’t
In fact the best way to compete with huge corporations is too mimic some of their strategies. That’s impossible you argue? Well, there are ways to act like a corporation without having thousands of employees all over the world. Also small businesses are much faster than companies consisting of so many departments that the left hand does not know what the right one is doing.
Corporations are marred by organisational inertia because of sheer size. You aren’t.
When blogging was still budding only enthusiasts did it. A few years later most leading blogs have been taken over by corporations, most notably AOL. Others have bought whole blogging platforms (Google, Yahoo) or created them from scratch (Facebook).
Yes, what most people on Facebook do is essentially what bloggers did 10, 15 years ago, posting short updates with a link or image. Of course it’s not just blogging.
Any business model proven to be successful gets co-opted by transnational corporations sooner or later.
It’s no wonder then that AOL took over later on when blogging was ripe and most blogs out there are owned by Google (Blogger), Facebook and Yahoo (Tumblr). AOL even fired the blogger who created and grew TechCrunch to be the biggest tech blog on the web: Michael Arrington himself. As long as you own your bog yourself, nobody will “terminate” you.
Corporations are different than small businesses and freelancers not because of size
Unlike what you’re told by the media and the economics establishment corporations are not even part of the free market. They do not compete directly with you. They dominate markets and you have to compete with monopolistic forces. You can’t basically beat them. It’s like an ant trying to fight an elephant.
It’s about staying afloat and earning good money without having to grow to the size of a corporation yourself.
One of the main capitalist myths is the one of competition. While corporations create cartels or simply monopolize markets by themselves we are told to compete against everybody else. That’s the mythical “invisible hand” of the market.Yet, with this mindset we have lost from the start. We are just providing the stage for a farce.
So while corporations are basically exempt from real free market competition you are not.
You are told to compete with everybody else. That’s insane! Yet, you don’t have to. There is no single force that can make you compete with the rest of the world other than you yourself. It’s a decision you can make. Do you really want to compete with everybody else or do you prefer to cooperate with people?
A capitalist market is not free
A capitalist market is not the same as a free market. It’s by no means free. Once you understand that you can adapt accordingly. Most people do not understand the set up of the capitalist market or do not want to adjust their belief system built upon decades of capitalist mythology.
There are numerous constraints in a capitalist market.
While the largest corporations have basically unlimited access to capital, do not have to pay taxes and can literally get away with murder you only have limited access to funds (the revenue you earn) can’t just move to a tax haven or commit crimes without getting into jail.
Google can dodge taxes. You can’t.
Corporations are basically top-down undemocratic bureaucracies.They are entitled to state support in many cases despite not paying taxes so that they can’t go bankrupt. They get “rescued” with tax payer money. This makes them not only slow but also complacent though. Whenever a new trend arises the largest corporations are usually the last ones to react.
We are free to market what we want
The people working for corporations are not free to do what they want. They can’t organize in an efficient manner but are subject to innovation-stifling hierarchy. At the end of the day modern capitalism is what the spectre of so called socialism always was in the West, a state supported planned economy only subject to internal power struggles, not to control by the people.
Luckily those of us who are real business people, not just corporate drones, create a parallel economy with a far freer market.
We still can decide on our own. We can choose what to market, where and how. We can even decide to cooperate without asking our superiors for permission. Ah, I forgot. We are the owners ourselves and have no superiors! True, even small businesses sometimes tend to become bloated and slow.
Having employees instead of working together with equals results in paying people who have no real interest in making their business blossom in the worst case. After all they are getting their fixed income no matter how effective they are at work. Without a fair share in the business, there is no real incentive to succeed. Without passion small businesses die unlike corporations. They are small enough to fail.
Create markets for yourself
OK, once you have realized that you don’t have to compete against the rest of the world and the only true competition you face is from corporations that are basically above the law you can start to act accordingly. What does it mean? Try to use the same techniques as the corporations.
First off, corporations do not compete, they dominate markets we have seen.
They literally create markets for themselves to rule. No other company is allowed to build an iPhone. Apple even sued Samsung for creating a smartphone that looked similar even though the iPhone was not the first touch phone on the market. The LG Prada has been on the market much earlier.
Be different or ideally unique
How do you crate a market for yourself? By adding names and features others do not offer. Your name is John? Then offer John’s cupcakes in your cafe not just generic cupcakes like everybody else does with the same ingredients.
Make your own juices or beer with a specific flavor no one else can offer.
There you have it. Your own market. Sure, people can still drink their juice or beer elsewhere or even buy it at Tesco or Walmart. You don’t need to care. You just need to delight a small number of people who will want to eat your cupcakes every day. Maybe a year or two later even someone at Tesco or Walmart notices and offers a similar juice range but lower quality. By then you will have created many new tastes.
Band together with your competitors
Most small businesses are local in nature thus they do not compete at all with most of the other small businesses. You do not compete with colleagues who are far away even by capitalist standards. Even in case there are several similar businesses in the same street the amount of competition gets overstated. Just think restaurants. Many people will visit your street because there are several restaurants to choose from.
I witness that process right in the area where I live and work. This is a neighbourhood already very popular among tourists who are far more likely to eat out. We have several Indian restaurants in one block for example. There are German, Italian, Chinese or American (burgers!) places in-between and they are all crowded. In summer you can barely move along the sidewalk because everybody is sitting in front of the places and eating outside.
The same logic applies to fashion boutiques. They even publish whole magazines filled to the brim with description of the stores. Do they compete? No, they get more attention because they are in the same mag as all the other cool stores. Humans have evolved so far because they have banded together to hunt and gather. Imagine everybody hunting on their own. Some animals would probably enjoy that kind of hunting. Afterwards they would have something to eat.
Do not compete against the rest of the world
Now you might argue, that’s fine as long as you cater to a local audience in a brick and mortar store but how about online businesses? Aren’t we all competing for a few spots on top of Google, a few minutes of attention on social media, a little money spent in online stores?
Guess what. On the Internet, it’s even better. You are still locally bound even as a freelancer or small business operating nationally, internationally or globally. Myself I have clients from all over the world. I blog in English and thus have to compete with the above mentioned AOL and millions of blogs on Blogger, Tumblr and people sharing updates on Facebook. Isn’t that crushing? No,
there are hundreds of millions of potential supporters out there!
I get shares, links and positive feedback from all over the world as well. People translate my articles into exotic languages. Do I really compete with colleagues in the US, UK, Australia or India despite living in and working from Germany? No, the opposite is the case. I have people from the UK, Spain or even Pakistan sending me high quality leads to mention just a few recent examples.
Just like a corporation has its underpaid workers overseas you can cooperate with people elsewhere but without having to exploit them like Apple does. You can simply use social media to work together, messaging tools like Skype and Wickr or more advanced tools for cooperation like Triberr and ViralContentBuzz.
* (CC BY-SA 2.0) image by Matt Biddulph
** (CC BY 2.0) image by Michael Righi
*** (CC BY 2.0) image by Clever Cupcakes
May 1st, 2015.
I have noticed that more bloggers are moving onwards to video blogging and cultivating an audience on YouTube.
Blogging is becoming visual literally.
Here are some examples where there is no need for fancy settings or a lot of preparation from two different niches: personal development and marketing.
The Hype is Over, Now Comes the Real Thing
I know what you think! YouTube? Video blogging? Are you kidding me? Do you want to sell years old trends to me as new? Well, no. The hypes of yesteryear have been long forgotten but nowadays bloggers really start to use video as a means of communications.
Over the years there were many obstacles to overcome when considering publishing videos.
Things like “it’s a lot of work, you need expensive equipment, attractive settings, high level editing” to name just a few. True, some people, especially those who can afford to hire whole teams for their videos are really creating content like this. Yet, a lot of people out there make videos with affordable cameras at home without special effects.
Yes, now that the hype is long over the actual shift takes place for real. Bloggers are seemingly not satisfied with only writing anymore. They want to talk with us and show us who they really are. I have found some excellent examples of high quality blogs that are successful on YouTube now.
Lavendaire by Aileen Xu
Lavendaire is a personal development blog and video channel run for roughly a year by the highly inspiring Aileen Xu. I discovered her channel just a short while ago after watching similar ones for a while on YouTube. Then hers got suggested to me. I subscribed after the first video.
Aileen manages to combine blogging and videos very well. Some other video bloggers tend to focus mostly on YouTube, build their audience there and neglect their own blog. Aileen displays her videos not only on the blog but also transcribes the most important points of each. She creates a short but already helpful blog post that can be read by itself or in combination with the video.
A good example of combining blogging and video is the Lavendaire latest productivity series.
Aileen offers valuable productivity advice on her blog without the fluff as text but also makes the video good to watch by adding extra context. Also note how she uses images for her posts so that neither text nor video are the only content. It’s usually an image of herself that appears to be a video still but has been apparently made in a higher quality than the video as a standalone photograph.
The videos itself are mostly recorded in her bedroom. She’s only talking to us while sitting on a bed. There is nothing else to see. Yet it’s perfectly enough. To be honest even less would suffice. An empty room and a wall are less distracting and let you focus on the face, voice and message.
Jay Today by Jay Baer
Jay Baer of Convince & Convert is a well known marketing blogger for years. To be honest he’s all kinds of things including best selling author, keynote speaker, consultant and coach. I just recently noticed his video channel which ran a series called Jay Today already for over 6 months when he covered the topic of search engine optimization by asking “Is SEO Still Relevant?“.
I expected another clickbait telling me that SEO is dead or something but couldn’t resist to click anyway. I wasn’t disappointed. Instead of trying to trick his viewers Jay Baer offered a very down to earth and matter of fact assessment based on stats from LinkedIn.
While the Convince & Convert blog is by now a group blog with several writers involved his videos are solely about Jay Baer personally and his take on things. No wonder the moniker of his video podcast is “Jay Today” and not “Convince and Convert Today”. Watch his introductory video. It’s just 15 seconds long and it’s filmed outside, maybe in his garden.
Mr. Baer manages to really intrigue us into watching more without any advanced technical voodoo. It’s just him, or mainly his face and his his way of speaking.
When watching a recent video you’ll notice that he got more professional with a sleek intro including music for example. The main focus is on him and his views though. He limits the videos to three minutes which is a wise choice. Longer videos tend to have a growing abandonment rate.
Rewild University by Kenton Whitman
Kenton Whitman published his Zen-inspired self-development blog already for many years and literally stopped a year and a half ago. Instead he focused on his monthly “Mindfulness Moment” email newsletter and recently on his video channel. I’ve been a regular reader for a long time despite the lack of popularity of his blog.
Kenton never went for spectacular lists posts or other more flashy marketing tactics that other self improvement publications have used frequently.
Staying true to minimalist Zen philosophy Kenton focused on a local “ReWild University” program instead of trying to sell books or become an influencer online. Nonetheless he started posting videos on YouTube a while ago and I subscribed to his channel after he mentioned one of them in his newsletter.
The ReWild University site a WordPress based itself. The videos he makes get embedded into a larger blog post explaining each issue in depth in text form as well. Kenton is not your usual nut job of survivalist or the noble savage he might look like. He’s combines the best of both worlds by using technology to make us aware of nature and it’s challenges.
He actually makes a living as a guide through nature who helps average people like you and me to become accustomed to nature again and gain back our self-confidence through it. After all we have lost a lot through civilization despite all of its convenience rather because of it. He covers everyday challenges too, like taking cold showers so that we don’t freeze in winter or trying to eat no sugar for at least one day (I tried both).
So the videos are made either outside in the snow or in the shower accordingly. In many of them he is just speaking though. No gimmicks needed. The “Sugar Challenge” is a good example of this simple technique. The only thing he added is the huge list of food industry names for sugar.
More Channels to inspire you
Koozai and Infinite Waters and two more excellent examples of YouTube channels. These two are already publishing much longer though and the connection between blogs and video channels is less apparent. That’s why I haven’t used them as the prime examples.
They are both pretty consistent and successful audience wise on YouTube so make sure to check them out.
Koozai are our colleagues from the UK also doing marketing. Infinite Waters (Diving Deep) by Ralph Smart is a very popular personal development channel with more than 200.000 subscribers by now. That’s a lot even or that niche. Ralph adds videos almost daily. He simply speaks and smiles in them. Sometimes he records outside but that’s it. Not a lot of fuss here.
Koozai have added a lot of videos throughout the years. Some of them have tens of thousand of views. That’s a huge number for a niche topic like marketing. After all it’s just them talking in front of a blackboard.
The Risk of Dependence from Google/YouTube
Hosting your videos solely on YouTube is risky for various reasons. It’s not only about putting all your eggs into one basket. Some videos get censored for copyright reasons in some countries. Germany (where I live) is especially a bad place for YouTube users.
A lot of videos get completely demoted for containing copyrighted music when thy use it as the background sound.
So while audience building on YouTube is easier than elsewhere – after all the largest audience is already there waiting for content – you may want to spread your videos using more than one site or service.
JayToday is a good example here. You can view his videos using three different tools, YouTube is just one of them, iTunes is another and a mobile app the third choice. You don’t have to change the platform completely, just use different video sites on the Web, Vimeo and Facebook allow uploading and hosting videos as well.
* Creative Commons image by go greener oz.
April 25th, 2015.
Last year I have published three(!) “biggest link building success” articles of 2013. Can I top that for 2014? Let me try. I didn’t write three “biggest” success articles to brag more last year. In fact
I tend to overlook my successes while I rather dwell on my failures.
Once I recognize there was success it’s hard for me to assess it. I succeeded more than once? Which success was the biggest? I can’t really say. Thus I cover more than one of them as possibly the biggest success. Judge yourself!
Success in numbers vs subjective success
I have had the single most shared article in my decade of business blogging published in 2014 with more than 4000 shares by now. No, it wasn’t on a mainstream publication. I usually got below 100 shares there.
So I covered this already in my first post this year dealing with the potentially biggest success. That one was obvious, after all the share numbers are public. Then I thought about the success that made me feel good the most.
Getting my “decade of SEO mistakes” post shared thousands of times was a bit embarrassing to say the least.
There was one kind of success I had that was not evident for outsiders while for me personally it was very uplifting. Is the subjective success less important than the one measurable by public numbers? I think subjectively felt success is sometimes even better. You can’t flaunt subjective success that much but it helps you to develop your strengths.
Is writing real work just like SEO?
For years I have written for client blogs about blogging, social media and search for often very low rates. I was glad I could write for a living because I love writing and especially blogging and I didn’t consider it real work at the beginning. Thus I was satisfied with almost any amount paid to me as long as I was able to do what I love.
Last year I finally raised my rates to what seems to be industry standard. I looked and asked around what other writers of similar quality and renown charge.
Yet writing for third party blogs, even for marketing publications, still doesn’t make you rich. Last year I still didn’t earn enough by blogging so that I needed to work additionally for actual SEO clients to finance my writing “hobby”.
In a way I had to subsidize my writing with my other proper client work.
Meanwhile I was a bit jealous of all the professional blogs that had custom illustrations for their blog posts. I knew that I couldn’t afford to hire an illustrator myself though. Instead I have used free images with a Creative Commons license like I have done for years.
Then one day a guy from Freepik.com emailed me with an offer. At first I thought it was just another outreach message. Outreach messages are perfectly fine but they require work on my part in most cases where I get very little in return. Yet Alejandro from Freepik offered to work for me for free.
All he wanted in return was a credit for the image. I always credit my image sources with a link so that would be no exception for me. I didn’t even have to think about that offer. You have seen Alejandro’s images on my posts ever since. I only occasionally used Creative Commons imagery after that.
How Creative Commons images can backfire
Don’t get me wrong. Creative Commons images (I usually get them on Flickr by way of Compfight) are wonderful once you find a good one. Compfight helps to find free images but they rather sell stock photography instead. Personally I ignore most stock photography or imagery. It’s mostly bland and full of stereotypes. I rather take real world images from photographers around the globe than to feature ridiculous stock photography clichés.
There are also issues with Creative Commons images though. As I have been using them for several years, some of their owners have changed their licenses to the good old copyright. I have located several of such images on my blog. I had to replace them or at least remove them.
Another issue is that some Creative Commons images have a “non-commercial” license. Different people interpret that license in different ways.
As I have no ads on my SEO 2.0 blog an I do not earn money from the blog directly I thought it was not a commercial use until one image owner actually wrote me an angry message. He did not like the metaphoric context I put his photo into and tried to wield the license as a weapon for me to remove it.
Apparently for some people a commercial use is already given when you publish a business blog dealing with business topics. Others consider ad revenue as sufficient to call it commercial use. So at the end of the day you basically can’t use Creative Commons images with a non-commercial license on your blog. You don’t have to resell the images or something. It’s enough that you’re not a charity.
The intrinsic value of link building
Long story short in 2014 I took another big step into becoming a professional blogger. I was able to charge rates equal to my client work in SEO and beyond (as SEO still sells the best despite all the rumors of its death). The reason why is also significant: I get approached by blogging clients now.
Until 2013 I had to apply to job listings like everybody else despite my “big name”, large audience and all the experience.
I got my work out there consistently and colleagues who often have known me for years through modern day relationship building have approached me. When people seek you out they are of course willing to pay more. You don’t compete with others that much anymore. You create your own league.
Now that so many people in the industry know me it’s far easier
not only to get recognized as a person but also to convey the value of your work. It’s not just the relationship building though. It’s the good old literal link building as well. Alejandro of Freepik approached me because a recommendation and link from a post of mine have so much value that I don’t even need to pay them for their work.
I “only” write for 3 to 4 blogs at once, including my own one, so that it’s not only about building links in the traditional “domain popularity” way. Freepik rather got several links from the same site. Nonetheless they were willing to provide me with custom illustrations to get the eyeballs as well, not just the link juice.
So there still is intrinsic value in link building, it’s not only about relationships
and all that hippie stuff I usually preach. It’s still also about getting direct visibility online. The link will be clicked by actual people, highly relevant audiences full of bloggers and Internet marketing professionals. They all need images.
I know this is not exactly the type of link building success story you may been looking for but it was important for me to tell it. It’s not just about getting hundreds of links using the latest tool or technique. Sometimes it’s such cooperation that makes the success big in a subjective way.
* The “biggest success” illustration has been made by my supporters from Freepik.com
April 21st, 2015.
I reached a success rate of 50% recently. Yes, that’s five links/mentions or positive replies per ten messages sent.
How I did I achieve it and how you can replicate that process: a DIY blueprint.
Reaching out to strangers
You know what outreach is and how it works by now: approaching people on the Web out of the blue (that is without prior relationship building) to get publicity and links is not the best thing to do. You also know that it’s difficult.
You can expect a lot of people to ignore you, others to want money to write about you while some will not even understand what you want from them. Even those who send a positive reply can’t be relied upon. They often won’t link to you despite liking you and your offer.
Did I mention that it’s already hard to get through to strangers?
Thus I was very fond of myself when I finally reached a success rate of 50% in a recent real life attempt to get the word out about a new calendar site. This was, as it’s often the case with my clients, a small business even though it acted internationally.
The owner had calendar sites in several European countries like France, Spain or Italy and wanted to get links for his latest site that was geared towards the German speaking population (that’s at least three countries: Germany, Austria and Switzerland).
Small business outreach tends to be small as well
Not only the budget was small, also the topic didn’t really make sense for relationship building. Why would someone want to befriend a calendar site or become friends with a calender site owner?
Sure, you could create content on each and every holiday and send reminders or such but that would require a lot of effort. Nope, we needed fast action with clear objectives. Reaching out to relevant sites and blogs to announce a new calendar site at the beginning of the year.
In this low budget fast track case I offered my smallest package available.
The “Outreach S plan” is only about researching and contacting ten highly relevant bloggers and website owners. You may assume that such a small number is pointless from the start given the industry average success rates of such campaigns that range below 5%.
Ouch, that’s roughly one in twenty sites reacting positively. Yet, it’s not the case with my outreach attempts. I had often 3 of 10 people write back. Some needing clarifications while others saying “thank you for the heads up” and linking right away.
Without a value proposition don’t even start
Only your mother loves you because you are you. To convince other people to support your site you need to add some value to the equation. Here comes the so called value proposition. “Here I come, please link me” is not a value proposition.
A value proposition is something that is helpful, useful, entertaining, lucrative or all of those.
You may argue that your business is
and thus everybody out there needs to link to you but that’s not true and you are of course biased. You may be offering the same thing as others do, why would someone want to link to you instead of the others?
Try to get into the shoes of the blogger/webmaster. What do they need you can offer them?
Of course money would be the most evident answer but that won’t work for link building outreach. Text links ads aka “paid links” have to use the crippling “nofollow” attribute according to Google so that they don’t work for SEO purposes. Alternatives are:
- unique insights (studies, surveys, data)
- high profile content (infographics, videos)
- expertise (interviews)
- freebies (tools, resources)
In some cases the site/tool you mention might be enough. This was the case with my client, who offered a free online but also printable calendar and widget. Why did this suffice? It’s because I’ve found bloggers and webmasters who covered exactly such services in the (recent) past and there was timely demand for it.
The most important part of outreach is not the message
The most important aspect of outreach starts before the outreach. Ideally you already know the people you want to send a message to. In case you don’t – just like with my “cold outreach” attempt – it’s crucial to address the right people. They have to be active, relevant and responsible for publishing.
- A blog that has written 5 years ago about your topic but hasn’t published a single post in a year is dead or on hold. They won’t even reply for the same reasons they don’t update their weblog.
- A blog that has mentioned a calendar in one sentence within an article dealing with something else is not relevant.
- An occasional writer who has contributed a post a year ago but hasn’t written for the publication ever since is not responsible for publishing most probably. The individual will in most cases not even be able to update the old post.
In case just one of these things is missing you already lost.
How to find relevant blogs/sites?
I keep it simple. I use Google to find most of the people I write to. What do I search for? Nothing fancy. I start with the obvious search queries to find out how competitive the searches are and whether I can find someone to talk to already here on top of the Google results or a few pages down the line:
[calendar 2015 blog]
[calendar 2015 inurl:blog]
I refine the search by limiting the results to more timely ones: I click on search tools “past week”, “past month” and “past year”:
The top 5 look already pretty relevant as you can see to some extent. Now I only have to look them up and find out whether they really are. Then of course I need to get their contact details.
Talk to individuals not companies or teams
As mentioned above you don’t want to write to company or group blogs where the writer isn’t even able to add something to an existing article let alone publish a new one. I had to learn that lesson the hard way.
You want to reach out to individual webmasters or bloggers responsible for their sites or blogs.
In other words you need to contact the person who decides what gets published, creates that content and owns it. Company blogs with email@example.com are the worst. You never get the right person to talk to. Even in case you get to speak to the writer s/he won’t be able to help you.
There are just too many people involved in the decision process. Even worse the internal hierarchy and goals will prevent them from linking out at all. Sadly most business do not help they just sell even in case a helpful gesture would be free like with linking out.
Outreach messages that don’t annoy
OK, now that you have 10 blogs/site that have covered exactly what you offer and found out name and mail address of the responsible owner here comes the easy part, the actual message. Keep it extremely short, as relevant as possible and as personalized as possible.
Many lazy SEO and PR practitioners tend to automate that process and they just clumsily enter a scraped name and URL to the message. I can spot such messages right away. Don’t start your message with “Dear Sirs!” or “Hello,”.
Both subject line and name have to be personalized to the site owner.
Let’s assume there is a fictional blog called Happy Blogging! run by Amanda Jones who has written an article called “Happy New Blogging Year with Fresh Online Calendars”. This is the info you need to have for personalized message:
- Blog name: Happy Blogging!
- Name: Amanda Jones
- Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Headline: Happy New Blogging Year with Fresh Online Calendars
- URL: http://happyblogging.com/blog/happy-new-blogging-year-with-fresh-online-calendars
Then the message would look as following:
Subject line: Calendar Post on Happy Blogging!
While looking for resources on online calendars your article “Happy New Blogging Year with Fresh Online Calendars”:
stood out in a positive manner.
Did you know that there is a new free online calendar out there that is also printable? It’s available at yourcalendar.link
I’d love to see it added to your post. In case you don’t like it, I’d appreciate some feedback so we can improve it.
Your name, company and signature
As already explained in the “actual message” link above you don’t want to ostracize the blogger by using an obnoxious signature. It might be even problematic to reach out with the wrong name of from the wrong company. I’m not kidding.
For example people in the US might be annoyed when someone with an Indian name is approaching them because there have been many attempts at low level outreach from outsourced companies in India in the past. On the other hand using a fake name like some Indians did and call yourself John Miller might backfire as well.
Personally I have a very weird looking and sounding name for most people around the world including Germany. Yet the name looks real and not made up. This is by now an advantage.
That’s why I use my full name when addressing people out of the blue. In case they don’t like my name for some reason (xenophobia?) they are probably not ready for my message either. I also only use my name “Tadeusz Szewczyk” then. I don’t add the company in my “name” yet.
As long as I have been doing outreach as part of larger projects and campaigns I used the mail address of the client company to send out messages. This time I changed my mind and for efficiency reasons I decided to use my own address (onreact.com) to send out messages.
It’s not only about efficiency though. True, some companies needed weeks to set up a mail account for me and then it still did not work properly so that I had to mail back and forth with the tech support guy.
My website is simple and friendly enough while not being overtly marketing oriented.
In short I don’t scare people by sounding and looking like a marketer or even worse search engine optimizer. I simplified my site copy so that everybody can understand it. I changed my wording so that it does not only cater to potential clients but also to average people who just want to know what I’m about. Now my outreach works better.
I can add a neutral signature to my mails without being afraid that the people will check my site out and leave
based on their prejudice. Remember most people hat marketing. Also the companies I write the outreach messages for are often very commercial. That’s why they need outreach in the first place as they do not use inbound techniques to get a healthy number of supporters.
My actual signature looks like this (with the exception of the mail address I had to change so that spam bots can’t crawl the original one):
Tadeusz Szewczyk, onreact.com/en
Help with Blogs, Social Media & Search
+49 (0)30 60 98 62 38
In Germany you have to add a signature when you are sending out business mail. It needs to contain your physical address and phone number. I’d add them even in case your local legislation does not force you to do so. This way you can ensure that people are assuming that you are an actual human being not a bot and work for a real brick and mortar business ideally.
* Creative Commons image by Kalyan Chakravarthy
April 8th, 2015.
There are numerous ways by now that allow the competition to hurt your site in the results of the market-dominating search engine.
It’s really pitiful but I have to tell the world about it, especially as the search giant uses this situation to discredit the whole discipline of SEO as “negative”.
What is SEO? No idea? You’re not alone!
“77% of respondents could not identify what SEO means.”
For those who know that it’s about Search Engine Optimization the majority rather assumes that it’s about SPAM or at least “manipulating” of search engines. It comes as no surprise to these people that SEO is actually negative. It has never had a positive connotation to the majority in the first place.
SEO experts calling SEO negative
Then there are the experts who read this blog and not only know what SEO is, but also practice it themselves without resorting to black magic. Even these specialists tend to repeat hearsay from others who tell them that links are unnatural or that SEO is negative.
Yes, most SEO practitioners even spread the word about how negative SEO is and try to prove that you can harm other websites in search results not only by links but also by other means. People oblivious to the topic who only scan such articles will only know one thing after consuming them: SEO is potentially dangerous.
Of course the skilled professionals refer to Google sabotage, formerly known mostly as Google bowling by old school SEO practitioners.
There is no such thing as negative SEO like there is no hot ice or dry water. True, you can sabotage competing sites in Google in manifold ways but false, you can’t negatively optimize for search engines.
Either you optimize and improve or you don’t. You can’t improve negatively. So why are SEO experts using such a paradox (in linguistics it’s called an oxymoron)? Well, most of us also say “unnatural links” as if natural links would grow on trees organically.
“Negative SEO” had its 15 minutes of fame in 2007
True, the term “negative SEO” seems to exist at least since 2007 when Forbes wrote about it in an article called – understandably – The Saboteurs of Search. So unlike the other paradox term that is used to demean SEO and is commonly used by Google – “unnatural links” – this term seems to be an invention of some self-proclaimed SEOs.
I have never heard of them despite a decade of reading about SEO other than in that article. Remember that our industry has no rules on using the term. Everybody can say s/he’s an SEO and nobody can prevent them from doing so.
Barry Schwartz confirmed the existence of the term a day later on Search Engine Land. He was still using quotation marks to distance himself from the term “negative SEO” though.
You won’t believe what happened next! Well, what happened? Almost nothing. Most people forgot about it. Google bowling has been mentioned ever since here and there but nobody really cared. Why? It was marginal at best. Also it was much easier to truly optimize sites and build links instead of trying to hurt your competition on Google.
So how can you sabotage your competition?
I won’t explain in detail (for obvious reasons) how you can harm competing websites on Google but even the article from 2007 on Forbes already lists 7 of them. I didn’t even know some of the terms they used but I know, and can imagine even more tactics to hurt your competitors.
Google bowling or pointing SPAM links at your competition’s website is the most known and obvious one. It boomed ever since Google sends out warnings of “manual action” because of unnatural or artificial links by way of Google Webmaster Tools.
You don’t need a PhD to engage in such practices. Just reply to one of those numerous spam mails trying to sell you dozens, hundreds or thousands of links for a measly sum of a few dollars. It’s certainly cheaper than optimizing your site the legit way.
Outing – Forbes introduces a widely used negative SEO techniques as tattling but by now it’s commonly referred to as outing. You have simply to catch your competition in the act of breaching the Google Webmaster Guidelines and report them in one way or the other.
You can snitch right away at Google or you simply tell the press so that they can raise enough hell so that Google has to act.
It works well, even in case of larger brands sometimes. Simply reporting paid links that lead to your competition might take a while or amount to nothing though. Of course you can combine buying links for Google Bowling and outing the competition then.
Google insulation – I’m not even sure that term has caught on but it’s about search result saturation. For example back in the days when I ranked #1 for the German phrase for search engine optimizer the largest economic weekly in Google.de other SEO practitioners got pissed off and started saturating the results with blog posts aiming to outrank me.
As it was just a niche and not that competitive before it worked after a while, especially as the huge number of leads from that magazine largely prevented me from optimizing my site further. I also used this technique for a good cause once, to outrank spammers collectively with other bloggers.
This is not even clearly sabotage, it depends on the context and intent.
In essence you just optimize third party sites to outrank your competition, which is legitimate. This technique is often used in online reputation management campaigns aimed at subduing bad press about a brand or person.
Copyright Takedown Notices – You can make whole sites disappear wielding the Copyright axe. Major sites like WordPress.com, Tumblr or Blogger (owned by Google) won’t ask many questions but instead simply delete your whole blog because of one or two copyrighted images.
You can even buy rights for an image afterwards and claim it’s yours.
Even in case the site comes back up later, a few days being offline are enough to hit you severely in Google and make you seem unreliable for the foreseeable future which results in downranking a few spots. This might be enough for your competition to outrank you then.
Copied content – Website scraping and republishing or manually creating duplicates by copying content can lead to so called duplicate content issues on Google. The search engine still struggles to credit the original publisher of content as the source in many cases.
Sometimes sites copying your content outrank you in Google as if they were the original and you are the copy.
Google doesn’t like to see the same content more than once in its search results so that copied content may quickly damage your site’s rankings. Even the BBC got a page specific penalty because of content scraped from their site by third parties.
Denial of Service – A so-called DoS (Denial of Service) or DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack on your site, that is someone bombarding a site with requests from numerous computers may results in slowing down your site, temporarily or permanently blocking access to your site.
The longer your site loads slowly or is down for good the more risky and unreliable you look to Google. By now Google can react quickly and show alternative sites even based on temporary high loading times. After all Google does not want make people to wait.
Hacking – Website hacking – in the sense of wrecking your site with malicious intent – as in infecting sites with malware may lead to getting blocked by Google. Sometimes Google will downright warn users from entering your site saying “this site may be hacked” right in the search results. When you’re site is down or infected for a longer time it might disappear from the radar altogether. Just like DoS attacks the hacking effectively damages your algorithmic reputation.
Spamming – Google does not value sites that seem to be abandoned because they have a lot of SPAM comments or forum entries for example. So you can harm a site by literally spamming them using comment spam bots.
You can simply invite SPAM comment by solely covering a topic that is often associated with SPAM. So in case you mention gambling, generic pharmaceuticals or NSFW topics you can bet that spammers will find you automatically and insert their comments.
The Fire this Time
That’s it for now. There are more techniques to sabotage sites in Google. I won’t mention all of them. I already feel bad about telling you so many. Most of them have been in the original Forbes article from 2007 so I didn’t start the fire.
There needs to be a public awareness of the current state of affairs on Google.
It’s not fun and Google can fix it with ease. Instead of labelling SEO as negative you rather need to call out Google for it. Why do they penalize websites for third party actions those sites have often no control of? Why penalize the victim for sabotage?
* Creative Commons image by Les Chatfield
Email marketing is still incredibly important for businesses. According to statistics, 95% of online consumers have an email address. This means that email marketing can be a cheap and effective effective method for reaching a large percentage of our consumers. It’s not just the wide reach of email marketing that makes it a worthwhile marketing method, but it’s also the potential return that it offers.
The conversion rates for email marketing are three times higher than they are for social media marketing. Statistics also show that for every $1 that a business spends on an email campaign, they get an average return of $44.25. In order to nurture leads, build your brand and increase your conversion rates, you need to be implementing an email marketing campaign. To make your email marketing campaign successful, avoid these ten email marketing fails.
Avoiding Responsiveness Optimisation
With emails being viewed from multiple devices, responsiveness optimisation is essential. Statistics show that 48% of emails are opened on a mobile device. If your consumers view an email from your company on their smartphone, and they have to scroll across the page, or scale the page to be able to read it, they are likely to just skip over it. The example below shows a lack of responsiveness optimisation by the sender.
The Email Address makes your Emails Look Like Spam
If your email address looks unprofessional, then your emails will probably be marked as spam. If you take your business seriously, get a professional sounding email address and ensure that the recipients stand the best chance of recognising your brand.
There’s No Clear Call to Action
Your emails talk about your products or services and maybe all of the generous promotional offers your site is offering. What’s missing is a clear call to action. A CTA is important. It tells your reader what you want them to do. Without it you will get minimal return on your investment, and you definitely won’t increase your conversion rate.
This email from The Whisky Exchange looks highly professional, but it includes no call to action. If there’s no call to action, the company’s customers won’t know what action to take next, and their email was essentially a waste of time.
Too Many CTAs
On the opposite end of the spectrum, many emails use too many CTAs. Putting a “shop now” link several times throughout your email is a bad idea. You don’t want your emails to be too cluttered or too unfocused. Emails containing dozens of CTAs end up looking like junk mail too. If the reader is presented with too many links, they will likely skip over the email. For example, this Macy’s email, which advertises the store’s Super Saturday promotion, contains far too many links. There’s the $10 off deal the 20% of deal and literally a dozen links to the store’s products. This simply leaves the reader confused and wondering where to click.
Too Many Graphics
A busy looking email that’s full of images, banners and flashing graphics is very distracting. These graphics will take away from the copy and the call to action, and you won’t get your customers to take the action you desire. Don’t use too many images, and make sure the ones that you do use don’t take away from what your email is trying to achieve.
No Valuable Content
If you keep sending out emails that simply promote your products, services or offers and deals that your site is currently running, then people will simply stop reading your emails, or they will unsubscribe. Your emails need to offer value to customers. So if you sell fitness supplements for example, don’t just promote your products. Instead, send out how-to fitness emails. Creating email content that is valuable, informative, and solves an issue or meets a need for your customers is essential. Good content also give you more opportunity to use a clickbait subject line.
Good copy engages and connects with your customers on a personal level. It looks professional and it’s written in a way that prompts the customers to take action. There are 247 billion emails sent per day, much of which is spam. If you want your customers to take your emails seriously, then you need to take the time to make your copy effective. Copy that’s poorly written or littered with spelling errors looks highly unprofessional, and simply screams spam.
This copy from Facebook is ineffective for a number of reasons. It’s not compelling, engaging or particularly interesting either. Also, the first line is missing a question mark.
The biggest email marketing fail is not personalising your emails. Starting your email with “Hi”, “Dear Subscriber”, or the dreaded “Dear Sir/Madam” is sure fire way to get your emails marked as junk. Your copy must use the terms “you”, “me” and “us” when addressing the customer too. This email from Polldaddy is a personalisation fail. It doesn’t even use the usual “Dear Sir/Madam”. Instead it begins with “Hi Unknown”. When the reader sees that, they will immediately cross of the email, and mark future correspondence as spam.
Email marketing campaigns often use truly abysmal subject lines. 69% of people report an email as spam as a result of the subject line. Subject lines that are overly sales-orientated or impersonal are usually marked as spam. Dull subject lines that don’t entice the customer or even intrigue the customer will also cause your emails to be ignored.
This email boasts the subject line “Marketing List”, which is a truly a marketing fail.
Misaligned text and poorly placed graphics can make a well-written email look very unprofessional. An email with a poor layout will reflect badly on your business. If your call to action gets lost between poorly aligned text and images, your emails definitely won’t increase your conversion rates.
Overall, email marketing can be a highly profitable marketing method. In fact, statistics show that customers who receive marketing offers via email spend 138% more than consumers who don’t. They are also the most effective way to increase repeat purchases and to develop brand loyalty. So when you create your email marketing campaign, make sure you avoid these marketing fails.
Due to the increased use of technology, particularly mobile devices, such as smartphones, eCommerce is expanding and evolving at an exponential rate. eCommerce sites are having to adapt and evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of technology. From the emergence of responsiveness optimised web design to the increased use of video content, eCommerce has changed a great deal in the past decade. These changes are set to continue in 2015. Next, year here’s what trends we expect to dominate eCommerce in the coming year.
Mobile Payments will be in Demand
People are using their phones for everything from sending text messages, to making purchases online, and often, they don’t want to use a card, because they worry about security, and because it’s inconvenient to enter card details. Mobile payment systems make paying from your phone a simple process, and no card details are necessary.
Payments made using mobile phone payment systems are increasing. By 2017, it is predicated that mobile payments will account for 3% of the international eCommerce market. This means that websites that allow consumers to pay using a mobile payment system, like Zong, will have an edge over their competition. In 2015, mobile payment systems will likely become much more prevalent among eCommerce websites. Mobile payments systems will likely become more refined and easier to use in the coming year too.
Quality Content will be even more Important
According to statistics, content marketing methods are 62% less expensive than traditional marketing methods are. While content marketing is much less expensive, in gets three times as many leads as traditional marketing does. In 2015, creating high quality content will be even more important for eCommerce websites. Nowadays, consumers are exposed to more advertising than ever. From television adverts to pay per click adverts on Google, consumers see advertising everywhere. This means that consumers tend to tune out advertisements and other things that they don’t perceive to be useful, valuable or relevant to them. This is why content marketing is one of the most effective methods for engaging customers, establishing trust and building a loyal brand following.
Content marketing methods, like social media, articles, blog posts, newsletters, and videos are more effective than television advertisements, and other traditional marketing methods, according to marketing trends. In 2015, if eCommerce websites want to compete in the market, they need to produce valuable, relevant, and informative content that customers will find useful.
Mobile Optimisation will be Essential
According to statistics, 15% of physical goods purchases were made from a mobile device and 32% of all online purchases are made from a mobile device. Optimizing your website, advertisements, and emails for mobile devices will become even more important by 2015. Next year, eCommerce sites will need to make their stores mobile responsive. Stores need to be convenient and accessible for mobile users. If an eCommerce store isn’t mobile responsive, it will lose out on a large percent of the market, and it will struggle to compete with competitors.
Social Media Marketing will become more Diverse
Social Media Marketing will become even more important in 2015. As mentioned earlier, outbound marketing methods, like television adverts, are losing their effectiveness, whereas content marketing is maintaining its effectiveness. Social media is an important part of the content marketing process. Next year, however, it won’t just be Facebook or Twitter that the eCommerce sites will be utilizing. More well-rounded social media platforms, and image-based sites, like Pinterest, will also be utilised more predominantly. Ultimately, in 2015, eCommerce sites will have to diversify their social media marketing efforts to suit their audiences.
Flat-Design will Dominate
Flat-design for websites will dominate in 2015. It’s already becoming increasingly prevalent, with large corporations like Google and Microsoft implementing it. A flat web design is clean, features neat lines and crisp edges, and utilizes flat, two dimensional graphics. Unlike other web design trends, which feature, shadows, gradients, garish graphics and other bold design elements, flat-design is minimalist, and uses a less is more approach. A famous example of a flat design user interface is the Microsoft Windows 8 interface. Flat-design is becoming popular because it looks clean and neat to the user, it’s easy to read and navigate and this type of design is easy to make responsive.
Retargeting Ads will become more Prevalent
Retargeting ads are incredibly effective, and will likely become more prevalent in 2015. According to statistics, retargeting can increase your ad response by up to 400% and three out of five consumers say that they notice adverts for products they have already viewed. Using browser cookies, an eCommerce site can track the sites, products and pages that their customers visit. After these customers have left the site, and are viewing other websites, the items they viewed will be advertised.
Fashion retailer New Look is a prime example of a large company that utilises retargeting ads. For example, if you view a pair of shoes on New Look, when you leave the site to look at a news website, for example, you will see adverts for the shoes and anything else you may have viewed the New Look site. Statistics have shown that just 2% of first visits to a site result in a sale. Ad retargeting can significantly increase your conversion rate.