Are you stuck for something to blog about?

Alice

Finding enough content to write is always a troubling problem for bloggers. I constantly read on forums bloggers asking for inspiration about what to put into their blogs, especially since there is that constant nagging in their minds that they need to be consistent and frequent in their postings. This is particularly prominent if you have advertising and affiliates on your blog, as you rely on a constant stream of visitors to make such applications pay their way. 

I suppose it doesn’t help to say the more you post, the easier it becomes. It’s all down to practising, persistence and perseverance. Get into the habit of putting down your thoughts, even if it’s in draft form, to develop later into full-blown posts. Diligent bloggers may have plenty of potential posts in draft, waiting for that final finish.

Look around you for inspiration, there is plenty of ‘post fodder’ about if you know where to look. Look at the emails in your in- and out-box, especially the ones you write in reply. This is an excellent source of your expertise. If you are a prolific writer elsewhere, refer to past articles that you’ve written, and there is no reason why you can’t rewrite old stuff that may have got out of date, may have had more recent developments or needs a more prominent boost.

Refer to the internet for information: subscribe to Google Alerts with certain keywords that interest you or are relevant to your business, and you will get plenty of posts and articles other people have written. Use these not only to learn more about your industry, but rewrite these topics in your own style or in your own point of view, agreeing or disagreeing, adding to the subject matter or explaining a point further. This is not plagarism if you make your work totally different from the original.

Remember things that have been said or you’ve heard somewhere, such as networking events, or even when you are meeting your clients: ask them for ideas, or question them to get their point of view. They may ask for explanations on certain subjects, and their question with your reply could easily be adapted as a post.

It’s all due to you acquiring the right sort of blogging mind-set. This may sound pretentious, but once you do train your brain to start looking for posting material wherever it goes, content will start springing out of the woodwork! Start thinking in that frame of mind, and you might be pleasantly surprised…

How do you integrate your online marketing, to save time and money?

Chantal

The number of ways that you can promote your business through online marketing is constantly growing. It is now accepted that you need an online presence in order to market your business. I was asked to speak about this at a recent FSB IT event in Reading, so I thought I’d share with you a summary of the session. (The full PowerPoint presentation is available from the Free Stuff page of my website, if you’d like a copy.)

So What Online Marketing Can You Do?

  1. Keyword Research – use to find phrases people are actually looking for online. Use keywords for your website, titles for your articles, newsletters, blogs and tweets. https://adwords.google.co.uk/select/KeywordToolExternal
  2. Website – use it to give the key messages about what you do, promote your blog, tweets and newsletter; list your articles. Put Google Analytics on all the pages; do some keyword research.
  3. Google Analytics – see how people use your website; see what keywords they use to find it and put more of those words onto the site.
  4. Newsletters – provide regular advice and comments, promote your website, blog, tweets and articles; use keywords for titles.
  5. Social Networking – keep it business. Post your articles and newsletters.
  6. Networking Groups and Forums – if you go networking, do those groups have websites you can use? Post comments and advice on forums; post your newsletters and articles. Complete your profile page to promote your website, blog and tweets.
  7. Blogs – provide regular comments and thoughts. Promote your website, newsletter and articles.
  8. Google Adwords – research keywords for your website, titles for your articles, newsletters, blogs and tweets. Create specific landing pages on your website.
  9. Twitter – daily tips and advice. Promote your website, newsletter and blog.
  10. PR – submit articles and your newsletter. Promote your website and tweets. www.EzineArticles.com

Summary

The number of online marketing tools is on the increase. If you try to do everything, you’ll end up spending all your time online – leaving no time to do your actual job; or you’ll spend all your money on online marketing with nothing left for old fashioned off line marketing.

Remember these three things – quality not quantity; integrate it and keep doing it.

Why SEO is untouchable

Alice

I was talking to someone the other day about SEO (search engine optimisation) and they asked me to send them some examples. Of course I instinctively said ‘Yes’, but then I stopped and thought about it. SEO is intangible, it is not a solid item I can ‘put in the post’, you cannot hold it in your hand like a leaflet, nor can you immediately ‘see’ it like a website.

SEO is the use and performance of keywords and keyphrases within website copy, and in the meta tags in the code. It can manifest itself in many guises: meta tags behind pictures, keywords in headlines, keyphrases woven into webcopy in such a way they are not noticeable to the reader, but stick out like sore thumbs to the internet spider. The browser title in the webpage could be carefully constructed to capture as much SEO as possible, and the (almost) invisible description tags that only materialise in search engine indexing so necessary to match up with visitor search criteria.

In fact, the best SEO should almost be invisible to the web visitor. It is not designed to be obvious, but like a cleverly constructed machine the cogs and wheels behind the system are not revealed; with the fancy exterior perfectly designed to distract the user, they grind away doing their invaluable and important work.

What he could have said was to send him something that showed SEO’s results. This would have to be done in report form, analysed from Google Analytics over a period of time, tweaked to increase performance and perfect the spider response required to increase visitor traffic and ultimately conversions into business (but that bit depends on a combination of design and psychology on the ‘shop front’, a totally different story to SEO tangibility).

The difference between a blog and a blogsite

Alice

WordPress comes in two versions, .com and .org – so how do you use WordPress efficiently?

WordPress.com provides free hosted blogs that take about 20 minutes to set up. Everything is virtually done for you: the hosting, template, applications available, SEO, social sharing – even the URL. The CMS (content management system) is designed to be extremely easy to use, and applications to add in images, video, audio, other media and polls are fully integrated. In fact, WordPress are improving their free hosting service so much, there are frequently new features available to play with whenever I go in.

However, there are restrictions, you don’t get something for nothing. You don’t get an independent URL, it has to end in wordpress.com; even though there are about 100 templates (themes) to choose from, and some can have their headers and link colours changed, you are still stifled as to design; extra HTML is not accepted, unless it is for RSS subscription sign-ups and social media feeds; and selling or advertising results in having your knuckles rapped by the blog police (and sometimes your blog taken down), unless it’s automatically generated Google Adwords from your keywords.

The upside is that this version is brilliant if you are a blogging beginner and want to start with an easy version, or you want to quickly set up a blog ‘on the side’ that links both ways from your website and feeds to your social media.

But if you want to create a blogsite (a website with an incorporated blog, or a website created using WordPress), then you need to use WordPress.org, the self-hosted version. This requires your own web-host and some technical knowledge to set up. You can either add on WordPress as an extension to your website (eg URL/blog or blog.URL), or create it as an independent blogsite.

You will need a host that is compatible with WordPress. There are two kinds: those that are semi-compatible, and you have to undergo a lengthy procedure to set up the right conditions, create databases and configure WordPress; and those that are totally compatible using Fantastico, which does virtually everything for you and your blog can be created within minutes.

The beauty of a blogsite is that you have total control of what it does, what it looks like (there are literally thousands of themes to choose from, and they can be easily adapted to suit your corporate style by changing the CSS and image files within them), and you can add as much extra HTML and selling mechanisms you like, as well as check your stats on Google Analytics. You won’t be bothered by the blog police, but you will have to remember to upgrade and back it up regularly. You will need to research into which plug-ins are suitable for you, and be aware of the latest additions to WordPress so you can install them.

Your blogsite could be an identity by itself, or a fancy blog that’s attached to your existing website, and can easily be incorporated so you can’t tell the difference. It is as easy to use as the WordPress.com blogs, plus extra features to help with SEO and other benefits.

So which one should you use? If you budget is restricted, you don’t have much time and aren’t technically minded, you just want to write some posts to promote your brand and educate your audience, then a blog is the answer. If you want your corporate identity to be seamless, use extra pages to sell your products or services, or even incorporate it into your new website that can easily be updated by you and your colleagues, then a blogsite is the answer.

“Not all bounces are bad”

Alice

This title is derived from a quote from Cat Young of Solve the Web, who kindly came to the Appletree offices last week to give us a quick tour of Google Analytics. And it was her statement “not all bounces are bad” that stuck the most in my mind.

Let me explain what a bounce is.  It is the action of website visitors who don’t continue further from their entrance page to another page on the website, resulting in leaving the website altogether. This action is recorded as a bounce by Google Analytics, and there is a general consensus that bounces are not a good thing.

But visitors have many reasons for looking at a website. The fact that they leave the website immediately from the same page, sometimes within a few seconds, doesn’t necessarily mean it was the wrong one. Obviously if Google Analytics shows they spent 0 seconds on the site, it was probably more likely to be an errant visit, but consider how long does it take to look up a telephone number, check on an email address, or find out the URL of a blog? This is particularly relevant if all this information is immediately available on the entrance (or landing) page.

Apparently it doesn’t matter how long a visitor spends on that page, 1 second or 1 hour, if they leave the website without venturing to another page it is classified as a bounce. This also means that ‘squeeze pages’ (specially formulated landing pages) for email campaigns and other internet marketing activities are destined to only show up as bounces on Google Analytics. These webpages are especially designed not to contain irrelevant links to elsewhere in case they distract the visitor’s concentration to its purpose. Their main function is to create a conversion: get the visitor to buy something, sign up to an event, or download a file.

Therefore you can see why bounces aren’t all bad, sometimes they are inevitable. If your website is purely for reference purposes, a source of relevant information about your company or your industry, and your webpages are beautifully designed to provide that information easily, effectively and immediately, your extremely grateful visitor will only reward you with a bounce.

Here’s something for you to think about: how do I stop visitors from bouncing? How do I rearrange my navigation on the landing page (which might not necessarily be the index page) to encourage visitors to venture further into the website? What added value to I provide my visitors to encourage this? Would they be adequately satisfied for being diverted from becoming bounces? Are all bounces bad anyway?

Why you should add blogging to your marketing mix

Alice

There are many pros and cons to having a blog. Unfortunately, if you mention blogging to the uninitiated, they immediately think of the cons, partly because they don’t know the pros. But in my mind blogging is an essential part of marketing that should be ignored at your peril, as businesses without blogs are seriously isolated in this ever-increasingly online world. So here are some pros and cons so you can make a choice:

The pros of blogging

Having a blog will increase your business’s credibility. Here is a medium that will allow you to express another side of your business, deliver more information that cannot be crammed into your website, somewhere to answer customers questions, and offer solutions and other valuable expertise. It allows you to converse with your customers through their comments, and influence prospective customers who want to learn more about you before they buy.

Blogs will increase your business’s visibility, not only through their pages, but because each new post can be ‘fed’ to other social networking sites, increasing your business’s exposure to a much wider audience than via your website alone. They are notoriously compatible with search engines, who send their spiders hourly to check for new material (since that is what a blog is designed to produce), not to mention their plugins (applications) that enhance the use of search engine optimisation, and proactive use of contextual links to direct traffic to your website and other online promotions.

The cons of blogging

The first thing that puts people off is the thought of constant updating and monitoring. OK, an effective blog is one that is posted in at least three times a week, as this consistent new material is what stimulates the search engines to visit, but if writing new stuff is deemed too difficult, especially when you can’t think of what to say, why not outsource this task to a copywriter, VA or marketing firm?

There are some people who worry about how much blogs are visible on the web, but then all online activities are exposed to ever increasing audiences, especially if they are connected to each other through social networking. The idea of a blog is to promote your business to more potential customers, and having the chance for your readers to immediately respond to your posts, and you returning a reply, is surely a valuable commodity to forming customer relationships?

OK, so it’s not easy to see immediate results, but then all online marketing is long term. Blogs can take up to a year to get ‘noticed’, but this depends on how often you blog (obviously if you post several times a day you will gain a following much faster than if you contribute only once a month). Self-hosted blogs allow extra applications to Google Analytics for monitoring your blog’s performance, but there is an in-built stats system that automatically shows how many times your blog is visited and which posts are more popular.

As you may have gathered I am totally biased towards blogging, because this is ‘my’ subject, and with good reason. This blog has helped promote Appletree to a higher online level, and linking it successfully to social networking has increased its exposure to a much wider audience than before. So, is a blog something you should ignore or participate in?

10 steps to succeed in online marketing

Alice

There are many examples of online marketing throughout the internet for all of us to see, and plenty of posts and articles from gurus and experts all saying how wonderful their versions are. So I have added my tuppence-worth to the fray to let you know what I think of this subject!

1. Understand exactly what marketing is. This may sound pretentious, but marketing should not be confused with selling. It’s important to know that marketing is all about nurturing relationships with your customers and also having the chance to spread your expertise to gain trust and credibility. Once your potential customer has really got to know you and your company, only then will they make the move to do business with you.

2. Understand how important customers are. It really is worth doing some marketing analysis on your customers’ profiles, activities, buying habits, lifestyles – not to mention their needs and wants. This means you’ll be able to provide effective solutions to their problems, as well as placing your marketing exactly where your customers hang out, saving time, energy and money. And when you write copy, always present it within the customers’ point of view, to make them think you really care about them and want to help them.

3. Do you have a proper focus? It’s not worth setting up a marketing campaign without a suitable end in sight. Lots of people happily spend time marketing their business and then wonder why nothing comes of it. If you aim your marketing towards a goal, not only will it be more focused in its approach, but it will help towards measuring your results and analysing whether you are going down the correct route, being cost-worthy and productive, as well as achieving what you set out to do.

4. The importance of keywords. Search engines thrive on both keywords and links. Concentrating on the former, performing adequate research into which keywords are effective, relevant and up-to-date, plus knowing how and where to use them correctly, could make or break your online marketing.  Successful search engine optimisation may be considered a ‘black art’, but even small amounts performed appropriately is better than messy misunderstandings in large scale operations.

5. Content is king/queen. A well known phrase which can be interpreted in many ways. What you write about should always be relevant to both you and your customers. It should be focused on your customers’ desires, or aimed at filling a niche gap in the market, or promote your service/product within your customers’ point of view. It should be entertaining, educational and enterprising. It should pander to the needs of both humans and search engine spiders, to both be read and interact with the internet. It should not mention your company to say how wonderful it is!

6. Be aware of social media use. Rapidly rising in online marketing use, this phenomenon should not be ignored. Blogs are, of course, the hub of social networking, as well as all your online marketing activities, as everything can be directed back to them and thence outwards! But social media is not necessarily somewhere to dump material hoping it will be read and acted upon, it depends on social interaction and sharing with like-minded and relevant contacts. Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are facilities to collect a following and post notifications of what you are doing, whereas other social media such as StumbleUpon, Delicious, Mixx, Digg, Reddit and the like, rely on a voting system to promote your blog posts virally around the web. If you aren’t interested in what others are doing, how can they therefore be interested in you?

7. Gathering leads into lists. For some online marketers this is key. If you are able to collect a relevant and focused list of likely leads for you to market to, people who have willingly given their permission to receive information from you each month so that they can keep in touch with what you are saying, thinking or doing, being the first to know of any events or promotions you are creating, this is an extremely important source of marketing value. Email newsletters are big news because of their cost-worthiness in communication, and flexibility of use and transmission, and as long as they are used appropriately with the required focus, they are a very effective online marketing tool.

8. Using calls to action. Oh, how many times do I see online marketing with inappropriate or neglected call to actions! If you don’t tell your customers what to do, they won’t do it! And where you place these call to actions is also important: multiple mentions, within landing or squeeze pages within your website, with incentives and time-dependency, in postscripts at the end of communications – this little, much forgotten element of marketing could make all the difference towards success or failure. And the squeeze pages I mentioned before – another excellent marketing tool that when used appropriately can contribute much towards the benefits of online marketing.

9. How well are you performing? It’s no good undertaking a marketing campaign without knowing how well you are doing. Google Analytics for both your website and blog are vital to measure performance and analyse the correct procedure for future projects. Understand who is responding, why you got the responses you did, how to get more online visibility, what can you do to increase your conversions – all this is related to many of the points I mentioned above, plus a coherent understanding and focused appreciation to enhance your online marketing.

10. Nothing will happen overnight. Ignore all those marketing gurus who promise untold immediate wealth as soon as you sign up to their programmes. Online marketing is hard work, and you need to be in it for the long term. Many customers will read your newsletter and blog for years before they decide to take action, during which time they have been convinced of your expertise, have learned what you can do for them, and have formed a favourable opinion of you and your business to make the initial approach. If you show genuine interest in them (mainly through social networking) and gain a sizeable following of relevant, like-minded prospective customers, regularly communicating with them through your newsletter and providing them with valuable information that truly helps them, only then will your online marketing activities start to bear fruit.