Archive for June, 2010

The ‘Craigslist Effect’ Spreads To Content As Free Work Fills Supply

After Andrew Brining took the bar exam two years ago, he had plenty of time on his hands, and he made a habit of perusing sports news online as he awaited the results. The 31-year-old San Francisco Giants fan, however, found the predictably captious nature of sports coverage frustrating. “It’s perversely counterintuitive,” he said. “You’re interested in this to be entertained, right?”

On the hunt for more positive fare he stumbled onto BleacherReport.com, where anybody can apply to post an original sports article. So he contributed a post. Then another. And another. In the past two years, Mr. Brining has written more than 500 articles for Bleacher, a prolific output that is more stunning for another fact: He wrote them all for free.

He is one of more than 3,600 Bleacher authors who willingly write without remuneration, and their gratis efforts suggest there’s a major adjustment going on in the economics of content. Despite the attention around search specialists such as Demand Media, Associated Content and Examiner, a growing group of sites is betting on something better than cheap content: free content.

Huffington Post is, perhaps, the mother of the model now with more than 6,000 unpaid bloggers bringing in an audience of 23 million people each month, according to ComScore. Not all of Huffington’s content is produced without cost, of course. The company employs around 53 editorial staffers who edit and produce original writing. (The company employs a total of 124 people.) But its overwhelming army of bloggers renders a bulk of the pages, thus lightening the cost. After five years in operation, CEO Eric Hippeau said the company will make profit this year. “We’re very confident that online news can be a profitable business,” he said. “Advertisers are very interested in reaching our audience — a very high-level, educated audience.”

Though such a claim may draw its detractors — where would the site be without source material for example — there’s little question an article on Huffington outshines an article from a low-cost purveyor like Demand, which does pay its writers. The average time a reader spends on Huffington is almost 15 minutes each month, according to ComScore. By comparison, the average time on a Demand property is just under six minutes.

Christopher N. Curtin, VP-digital strategy for Hewlett-Packard, says Huffington is considered a higher-end buy among marketers. “Their audience is a pretty attractive one,” he said, “and it’s the content that’s drawing that audience.”

It also underscores an emerging but difficult truth for professional writers. Free content can just as easily draw a higher-profile readership as expensive content, as well as high-end advertisers. Wikia, Jimmy Wales’ for-profit venture, also harvests page views from freely contributing members, and the company has already proclaimed its profitability. The site functions much like Wikipedia but centers on entertainment — for example, the “Twilight” Wiki. Mr. Wales said the site will continue to be profitable this quarter. Wikia has a monthly audience of 11 million, according to ComScore, who on average spend roughly 25 minutes on the site.

Despite a widespread jingoism among media watchers favoring new forms of journalism, some observers say no-cost writing is a disquieting trend. “I wonder whether we’re seeing the ‘Craigslist effect,’ but for content,” Newsonomics author Ken Doctor said, referring to how the free-listings site has vitiated the classifieds business. “You make the cost of content creation so much cheaper, but in so doing you are ruining the economics of traditional news publishing.”

Indeed, publishers have caught on to this changing tide. Bleacher Report has inked content deals with major media companies, including Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, Houston Chronicle, SI.com, CBSSports.com, FoxSports.com and the ailing Philly.com, a property of the Philadelphia Inquirer, which, along with Philadelphia Daily News, was bought out of bankruptcy in April for $135 million. Bleacher publishes a page for each partner, which has the look and feel of the publisher’s content but which entirely features Bleacher writers. The site splits ad revenue. An insider says Bleacher will be profitable this year. The company just appointed a new CEO, Brian Grey of Polaris Venture Partners and the former senior VP of Fox Sports Interactive.

“I’m sensitive to writers who say, ‘What are you doing giving your writing away for free?'” said Mr. Brining, who after failing the bar three times decided writing was more than a hobby. He is supported by his family. “Yes, Bleacher Report is reaping the financial rewards of my work, but it’s also helping me achieve my career. If I am good at this, the compensation will come.”

Provided By: AdAge.com

Search Marketers Turn To Twitter’s Real-Time Search

Search marketing isn’t all about Google these days.

Marketers are starting to get savvy about using Twitter search to promote their Web sites and brands, experts at the Search Engine Expo in Seattle said on Monday.

They aren’t simply searching Twitter for users that mention their company and then responding to them. “That’s easy to do and very effective,” but it misses out on some greater opportunities, said Danny Sullivan, editor of the blog Search Engine Land.

The smart way to use Twitter is to search for more generic words or phrases, he said. For instance, a company such as Domino’s could search for “anyone know pizza” and find queries from people asking their friends for pizza recommendations in their area. The company could reply to that customer with a nearby shop and include a coupon code, potentially winning a new customer.

Sullivan conducted a small experiment and found that people respond well to such replies on Twitter. He searched for people who were asking questions about Google and Bing. Using a new Twitter account rather than his “dannysullivan” account, he responded with links to articles on his blog that could address their questions.

He answered 42 questions. “Not a single person complained. Ten came back to say thanks,” he said. “Can you imagine someone coming to you from Google and saying thank you when they clicked on your ad?”

That process doesn’t have to be totally manual. A new service called Replyz, still in beta, aims to make it easy for marketers to find relevant questions that Twitter users are asking. With Replyz, a company doesn’t have to think of the exact questions that people might be asking, Sullivan said.

Marketers can use other tools as well, said Chris Silver Smith, director of optimization strategy at Key Relevance. Using Twitter APIs (application programming interfaces), marketers can build tools to monitor Twitter queries and automatically send direct responses to people, he said. “A human doesn’t have to have a hand in it, but it’s still a good idea to monitor it in case someone sends back a question,” he said.

There are other ways to leverage Twitter search too. Mint.com, a personal finance service, constantly monitors trending topics, looking for matches with keywords important to the company, said Stew Langille, vice president of marketing at Mint.com.

For instance, it recently found the term “one trillion” trending up. “We’re not out there saying ‘Oh, well, one trillion is trending, let’s go out and tweet about it,'” he said. “But we’ll go out and make great content about it and put it out there, and the community grabs it and becomes an advocate for us.”

“One trillion” was trending up because of news coverage about the government bailouts. Mint.com developed articles and a video using the term “one trillion” and posted them to its finance publication. The content drove several thousand visitors to its site over a couple months, he said.

Twitter search offers a unique opportunity for marketers, Sullivan said. “You know exactly who’s asking,” he said. That’s compared to search engines. “Imagine if everyone who clicked on a link, you got a picture of them and their name as well. That doesn’t happen on Google but it happens all the time on Twitter.”

While it’s hard to quantify how important it is to target Twitter, Sullivan says marketers should pay attention to it. Twitter recently reported that it fields 18 billion searches per month. “That’s a huge market you should pay attention to,” he said, although he noted that a significant portion of those searches could be automated or done by people monitoring retweets. “My advice remains that you should participate on Twitter and build a reputation, and that should pay off for you as relevancy starts to change down the line,” he said.

Provided By: PCWorld

SEO vs. SEF

In my years in the search engine optimization industry, I have heard so many tales of Web design firms that claim to do SEO (define). Or, there are stories about programmers/IT folks who tell their superiors, “I’ve got search engine optimization handled.” All too often, these folks really don’t have a clue.

This is not the case 100 percent of the time, but many times people will build what amounts to a “search engine friendly” website, without truly understanding how to build a search engine “optimized” website.

What’s the difference?

OK, so here’s the deal…

Not every website that has a good URL structure is search engine “optimized.” A good URL structure might be defined as something that resembles this:

www.sitename.com/category/product-name/

A poor URL structure (for search engine “friendliness”) would be something like:

www.sitename.com/IWCatProductPage.process?Merchant_Id=1&Section_Id=691&Product_Id=1439522&Parent_Id=302&default_color=BLACK&sort_by=§ioncolor=§ionsize=

Yes, the above example of “bad” comes from an actual top Internet retailer’s website.

Creating a better URL structure certainly does help. But, does that make the site “optimized” or does it merely mean that the site is one step closer to being search engine “friendly”?

There are many technicalities to developing a search engine “friendly” website. For the purposes of this column, I’ll speak pretty high level on the search engine “friendly” factor, then get down a little deeper into how it can become search engine optimized.

How do we make sure that the website is actually search engine optimized, as well as friendly?

When you commit yourself to building a website that can do well in the search engines, you must first ensure that the website’s foundation is sound…that it’s search engine “friendly.” Many enterprise level content management systems are a horror when it comes to SEO. Some content management systems churn out URLs like the one mentioned previously. Some are so locked down that you can’t gain access to the structure to modify to make it more search engine friendly. Some items that come to mind are the ability to handle canonicalization issues, URL rewriting, adding breadcrumbs, changing headers, optimizing images, and so on. So, do some research on the platform. See if other websites are able to do well in the search engines, running on a similar solution. Make sure that you understand the details of the platform (do you have to pay extra to get the exact same solution that the websites which are ranking are running on?). Make sure that the websites running on the solution aren’t using one of the cloaking systems, which are somewhat popular with large e-commerce websites.

Note on that: If the URL showing up in the SERP (define) is different than that if you were to navigate – directly – through the website, there’s a good chance that the website is utilizing “good” cloaking. Another good way to check is to check the website’s robots.txt file. You would check this by typing in the website domain, followed by robots.txt (www.sitename.com/robots.txt). If you see that they are disallowing (from the search engines) basically “everything” on the domain, there’s a good chance that they are doing “good” cloaking, and using one of these systems.

Once you get past that, in order for you to ensure that you are actually building a search engine optimized website, you must make sure that you’ve done some keyword research, competitive analysis, link analysis, and, yes, checked the overall structure of the website. My bet is that the Web designer/IT guy has not done any of this.

Content Is King

When you do keyword research, especially for a website that you are in the midst of building, you want to determine the keywords that are relevant to your business, searched often, and – here’s the kicker – that you have some degree of authority on, or a reason why the search engines might think that you’re a quality result to show in the rankings.

The first question to ask yourself is, do I have a page on my website that’s actually focused on the keywords that I think are important to my business? Amazingly enough, a lot of websites fall short here. You simply don’t have the content (sometimes not even so much as a mention of the keyword) on a page.

I typically like to see keyword research and competitive analysis done in tandem. You find keywords that have popularity/search volume, and then you determine if you have any chance at all for ranking for that keyword. If the answer to both questions is “yes,” then you need to determine a strategy for that keyword.

Information Architecture/Keyword Mapping

Once you’ve developed a list of keywords to target, find a place for the content/pages to exist. Remember, usability is very much an important part of this process. Don’t just build a bunch of pages, link to these (I would call them) “doorway” pages in the footer of the website, and think this adds value to the user experience. You want to add value to the user experience, as much as you want to add value to the search engines. Both usability and SEO can work towards common goals.

Blog Posts/Tips and Advice

A lot of times, the best way to create the content (especially for those websites in which your target audience is doing a lot of research) is to create a blog. You can take advantage of industry news, by writing quick blog posts against “new” news, you can ask questions, and then provide answers (“what to do about a broken air conditioner”). Case in point: Service Experts, our client that provides helpful information through its website. It has received quite a few visits recently from people searching for HVAC Maintenance Checklist.

This type of helpful content doesn’t really make a lot of sense for a corporate website, so you have to find areas of your website in which you can be a little bit more human in your use of the English language. Find out how people are searching, and develop content for those searches.

There’s a lot that goes into the process of search engine optimization. It’s not possible to get into everything that you should be doing for your particular website in one single column. The purpose here is to illustrate some things that you might be lacking by solely believing that a search engine “friendly” website structure is going to equate to a search engine “optimized” presence.

Provided By: ClickZExperts

The Do-It-Yourself Website Promotion Tricks

You have your own website, now what? In order to succeed online, you will need website promotion so your site would be visible to everyone connected to the Internet. It is a common belief that all websites are searchable by search engines. It’s not as simple as it seems. Website promotion entails a lot of work.

Website promotion suggests that submitting your site to directories first is more important than submitting to search engines. These two are different in such a way that sites submitted to directories are only approved if it has high quality and useful content, whereas search engines just simply accept submissions of sites or pages. In submitting a website to the directory, make sure that you read and follow the directory’s rules and instructions. Keep in mind that the editors will be very discerning of your web content.

Submitting to search engines definitely helps in website promotion but this takes quite a while, usually around 3-6 months. There are things to consider when submitting to search engines, you must prepare your website. Also, you will need to learn SEO or search engine optimization. You may do this by optimizing your website by improving the elements of web design like loading time, browser compatibility, etc. Another is keyword optimization wherein you make use of appropriate keywords; these would greatly help in your website.

Other website promotion techniques are:

• Link popularity – wherein you let people link your site to theirs. In this way, you can generate more new visitors and at the same time improve your ranking in search engines.

• Write articles – that are useful to your website and let other people publish these like in article directories. You may also opt for email newsletters that include a link to your website. In this way, your subscribers are informed and updated on what’s going on in your website promotion.

• Post to a forum or discussion boards. Forums are greatly increasing their popularity and this is a good way to spread the word about your website promotion.

• In line with posting a forum, you may also want to use a signature file, a text that is appended at the end of your every post.

• Improve website promotion through banner ads displayed in other websites related to your content. But be sure that your ad is well-designed.

• Write a press release – this can definitely help in website promotion. You have to write an article about your website and submit it to different publications and you’ll get new visitors in no time at all!

Now you know what to do, know what you have to avoid as well. One of the common mistakes made is relying on free web hosting service. It’s harder for search engines to detect your website if it is hosted on a free host. If you mean serious business and eyeing it as long-term, then paid web hosting is the way to go. There are some companies that promise to submit your website to thousands of search engines at a very low price, do not be fooled. Majority of these directories and engines have very minimal traffic. Website promotion can be tricky but with good research, you and your business will succeed before you know it.

Provided By: ArticleCircle

Why You Might Want To Redo Your Website Using WordPress

When it comes to websites, small business owners tend to fall into one of two camps:

  • The first are those whose website is vital, and they integrate it into their overall business. They look for the latest and greatest trick, they understand SEO, they blog and post and all the rest.
  • The other group are those folk who know they need to have a website, pay it lip service, and either have a site (albeit an unexceptional one) or, horrors, no site at all.

If I were to tell you that the majority of small businesses fall into the second camp, you wouldn’t be surprised, would you? We have all seen what too many small business websites look like: With the look and feel of something out of 2002 or so, they have few, if any, Web 2.0 tools and act essentially as an e-Yellow Page ad.

Given that, it is not surprising that many small business people find their website to be a pain in the rear, a necessary evil, a chore to be handled, rather than what it should be – their MAIN window to the world, a profit center, an e-billboard, a marketing brochure, and a sales tool all rolled into one. But for too many small business owners, it is not that. Instead, their site is not only boring, it is difficult to update, and although they may want a nicer or more robust site, the imagined costs and effort make it seemingly prohibitive.

But it need not be, redoing your site with WordPress can change all that.

As you may know, WordPress is a popular program that many people use to blog. It’s popular because it is easy. But what you may not know is that WordPress can also be a very powerful and affordable website creation tool.

(Confession: Two years ago, wanting to redo my own site, I received bids as high as $75,000. Sticker shock led me to rethink the project, and my assistant extraordinaire, Vivian, convinced me that we should use WordPress. It turned out to be a very smart business decision. I love WordPress.)

Creating a website with WordPress is surprisingly easy. There are literally hundreds of themes to choose from, and most are free. These themes can be completely customized and installed quickly. You can see some of the best themes here.

The advantages of using WordPress for your business website are many:

The look: As indicated, there are tons of WordPress themes out there, so finding one that fits your business is easy. That it will be Web 2.0 enabled, and have the look and feel of something very now makes it all the more attractive. Slideshows, flash movies, blogs, video, advertising spots – all are a part of various WordPress themes, or easily integrated.

No longer need you be stuck with a site that is bland, blah, or mediocre.

The cost: Most WordPress themes are free, and those that are not cost less than $100, generally. Customizing your theme, if desired, is easy.

CMS: A CMS, or Content Management System, is what most small business people need but don’t have; that is why they need to go to their webmaster whenever their site needs updating. Not so with WordPress. The WordPress CMS is simple and intuitive. It is designed to make adding or changing content to a site a breeze.

SEO: SEO is built into the WordPress dashboard. Below the spot where you post a new article is an “All in One SEO Pack.” It asks you to give your keywords, tags, excerpts, and so on. WordPress does the rest. The result is that you get URLs that are indexed right, full of keywords, and are friendly to search engine spiders.  Suddenly, SEO is a snap.

Participation: Adding visitor comments to your site is always great, and with WordPress, visitor participation is integrated through comments and trackbacks.

Support: Because WordPress is open source software, there is a very large community of people out there who can help you.

Ease: Installing a standard WordPress site is quick and easy. Even a custom one can be done in short order. 1 and 1, GoDaddy, and other web hosts know how to add WordPress sites easily.

Bottom line: If you have been thinking of redoing your site, give WordPress a good look. You will be glad you did.

Provided By:OpenForum.com

Get The Most Out Of Your Ad Agency

Few relationships in the business world are as rewarding, or as rocky, as those between advertisers and advertising agencies. There are many reasons, from the inherent subjectivity of the business, to the stereotypes portrayed in shows such as Thirtysomething and MadMen, to the generational gaps that often exist between clients and their ad firms. But one thing is certain—when the relationship goes awry, making a change can be an expensive proposition.

It’s far better to make the marriage work. And just like real marriage, it’s less important to find the right partner than it is to be the right partner. Over the course of more than two decades in the ad business I’ve observed a handful of client characteristics that seem to result in the best work and the happiest client-agency partnerships. I humbly offer a handful below.

Start with trust. To do great work, an advertising agency must be informed. It must know everything it can about a client’s business, from sales and margins to strategies and plans. It’s important to treat an agency as a strategic partner—an extension of your marketing department—and not just a vendor. This includes sharing results—nothing is more demoralizing than working hard on a project and not knowing how it turns out.

But sharing information is only half of the trust equation. The other half is having faith that your agency knows what it’s doing. You no doubt hired your agency because you were impressed with its good work for other clients. If you want the same you have to give it room to ply its craft.

Give them your time. If your company was facing a multimillion-dollar lawsuit that could forever alter its ability to operate profitably, you’d make time for the lawyers. An ad campaign isn’t a lawsuit, but the stakes are the same in terms of potential impact. Don’t just hire an agency and expect it to perform magic. Be willing to do the heavy lifting from your end to ensure it’s informed, prepared, and set up for success. Be open and honest with your agency, communicating your needs and goals clearly. Make time for the agency, answer all of its questions, and allow it to immerse itself in your business.

Value risk. For advertising to be attention-getting, it has to be different. And anything different is risky. In every other avenue of your business you know reward is associated with some level of measured risk. If you want advertising that looks like your competitors’, you don’t even need an ad agency. But if you want to lead the category, you’re going to have to do something that, at least from the outside, appears risky.

Good agencies aren’t reckless. They have a sense of what risks are appropriate and how to mitigate them. But they can only do it for clients who value the benefits of a little calculated risk-taking. Of course, the risks you and your agency take won’t pay off every time. If your agency knows as long as it’s acting in your best interests it’s O.K. to make a mistake, it will treat the responsibility you give it with great care.

Keep your eye on the big picture, not the small print. Some ads will be better than others, and others may downright flop. But if your focus remains on the overall trajectory of your brand you’ll learn that for every “one step back” there will be two or three steps forward. If your agency knows you’re committed to it and you’re in this together, it’ll do anything to make those risks pay off.

Reserve judgment. Remember what you thought the first time you saw a Ford (F) Taurus? I thought it was the ugliest thing I’d ever seen. Its time has now come and gone, yet for several years it was America’s best-selling car. Sometimes ideas and designs that will one day be widely accepted are at first glance a shock. Reserving judgment may be the hardest part of the creative development process.

If you see something you like, say so.

But if you see something you don’t like, pause for a moment and think about it. Take a step or two back, ask questions, and really consider how what you’re seeing may be a breakthrough. If every idea was adopted immediately, there would be no such thing as early adopters. Sleep on the idea and try to look at it from a different angle. Keep in mind that creative, intelligent people who have your best interests at heart believe it’s going to work. Let them help you see it through their eyes. You can always say no tomorrow.

Be kind. The business of creating ideas is hard. Not every concept makes it, but every one leaves the nest with the hopes and dreams of its creator. When those ideas crash (for whatever reason), so do the egos of your partners at the agency. When you have to say no (and there will be times when you will), say it with kindness.

And don’t assume good work is its own reward, either. Thanking your agency for their efforts can do wonders for morale and creativity. People want to give their best to those who appreciate it the most.

Champion the work. After weeks and months of hard work and collaboration, tough calls and usually some tension, a campaign is finally ready to launch. Then someone in your organization who doesn’t understand the context or objectives catches a glimpse of it and says, “I don’t get it.” Or after the launch of a ground-breaking campaign, a consumer with an axe to grind calls and complains about the work.

The first time this happens, it can be nerve-wracking. But those of us who work at agencies have been through it often. Most of the time it’s a function of well-intentioned people making unreasonable rushes to judgment, and the biggest mistake you could make is reacting out of fear.

Hold your ground. Better yet, seize the moment and take the campaign to your internal audiences, providing them the background and rationale for the campaign and raising their confidence that you (and your agency) know what you’re doing. Then stand by the work, responding to, but not reacting to, consumer complaints. If you’ve done your job right on the front end, the complaints will pass (see “reserve judgment”, above).

Reward them. If great ideas were easy to come up with, everybody would come up with great ideas. Good advertising takes time and effort. And time and effort take money. Agencies have a (sometimes deserved) reputation for nickel-and-diming their clients, but the reverse can be true as well.

Pay your agency fairly and educate yourself about how much things cost. Remind yourself you get what you pay for. When your agency makes a mistake, it should pay for it—but it shouldn’t pay for mistakes, delays, or changes in direction that are out of its control.

The days of agencies making a killing on commissions are long gone, and the work they’re called on to perform—creating standout ideas that reach an increasingly sophisticated and cynical marketplace—is getting more difficult every day. No one gets into advertising for the money, but many talented agencies have folded for lack of it.

You’re the one writing the checks, and your agency should never forget that. But if you’re open to it, I encourage you to share this article with your agency team. Ask them to grade your performance, and do your best not to punish them for being honest. Clients that operate according to the above principles not only receive better work, they generate the kind of loyalty from their agency that makes it walk through fire.

Provided By: BusinessWeek