Have You Considered Free Tools?

free online tools

Quick – name the one indispensable tool that you use all the time for your SEO efforts. Maybe you named Google search. Or the Adwords keyword tool. Or maybe it’s Open Site Explorer or any of a large number of other free and paid tools that we all make use of every day in order to build our SEO profiles. We all use these things every day but few of us actually consider using them in a vastly different way.

Marketing By Giving it Away

I’ll assume that most of our readers here do have a business blog (and if you don’t, what are you waiting for? Pretty much every business on the planet can benefit from having a blog online). The odds are very good that you give away the content on your blog free of charge. By this I mean that you don’t have a pay gateway in order to access the material that you post there.

Ever think about why you do this? Of course, blogs are great for building your SEO profile since they are updated regularly and they also get you extra links which can increase the love you get from the Google gods. However, beyond that, blogs, at least if they’re well written and interesting can be great traffic drivers.

People come back to your site regularly to see what your latest blog post has to say and they may well stay to buy whatever it is that you have for sale. At least, that’s what most blog owners hope will happen. Some of us have blogs whose sole purpose is to sell the advertising that appears next to the blog posts in fact.

Now consider this: Almost every guy and his brother runs a blog these days. They’re ubiquitous and they can be difficult to attract traffic to since there is such a glut of blogs online. However, what you don’t see on every single website is a useful, even indispensable tool. Such items are typically the province only of the bigger websites, the ones that actually pull in a larger amount of traffic.

You Could Be One of Those Big Guys

I know what everyone is thinking – yeah, if I only had the money to build a server farm and to hire a team of engineers on the caliber of Matt Cutts, I too could have a powerhouse company offering all kinds of great tools to my customers. And you know what? Five years ago, you might even have been correct. It cost an awful lot of money to develop tools and to host them since you needed dedicated servers to do it.

However, today it’s possible to have a decent tool coded for you for just a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on how complicated of a tool you want to create. Plus, you no longer need to spend thousands of dollars a month for dedicated server farms to host your tool. Amazon, Microsoft, Google and IBM are all offering cloud computing services which can be purchased on the fly.

This means effectively that you can work with your coder (I’ll discuss this in more detail shortly) to arrange for the new tool that you create to be hosted with one of the cloud computing services and then simply pay to scale it up as the need arises. Of course, it will still cost something but that’s where the advertising and freemium models come into play.

Making Money from the Tools

As I said, this isn’t going to be free. It’s simply affordable for the average business owner to do whereas before you might have needed venture capital to build a tool and get it hosted. However, you do still need to make money from your tools in order to make them worth your while. There are several options for doing this.

Option number one is simply to provide it for free and hope that people will stick around and purchase whatever else it is that you have for sale on your website. You might even include some advertising on your site for whatever those products may be. This is a risky option however since more and more people are becoming immune to advertising alone.

Option number two is what I like to call the freemium model. In essence, you give away basic services but then charge your customers who want more advanced services. A great example of this is the Open Site Explorer from SEOMoz. They allow you to do three searches per day for free but if you need more or more detailed information, you pay for it.

open site explorer

In addition to offering the freemium model of course, SEOMoz also offers their other services to people using the Open Site Explorer. This I believe is the best model.

Option number three is to offer an unlimited experience but have it heavily populated with annoyware. Pandora used to do something like this. They offered a free monthly unlimited listening plan but they included ads every few minutes and annoying pop ups to remind you how wonderful their premium service, Pandora One is (I quickly tired of it and am now a loyal Pandora One subscriber BTW. I can’t live without my Pandora radio).

Pandora today decided to make the system even more limited for the freebie seekers by offering a maximum number of hours per month.

Getting Ideas

I’ve discussed in the past how to get ideas for offline tools that you use to build your links up through shareware sites. This works pretty much the same way. The single best way to get ideas for tools that people would need in your niche is to visit forums dedicated to your niche and see what kind of questions people are asking. Find a way to create a tool to address their concerns and you’ll have your idea for a tool.

Getting It Coded

Finally, there is the question of how to get a tool coded. This again I’ve covered in greater detail elsewhere when discussing how to get offline tools coded. The best way to go about this is to visit a website like Elance or Guru and to find yourself a good coder from the third world.

Finding programmers

Just make sure their English language skills are adequate to understand what you need and make sure that they have some decent feedback already.  You can usually get your project built for a fairly small sum of money and have them set it up with an easy to use backend hosted on one of the cloud computing services which are now proliferating online.

8 Ways to Improve Your Facebook Marketing

Facebook

Given the recent introduction of the Hummingbird Update into Google’s ecosystem, it’s more important than ever to seek out multiple sources of traffic. This means doing things like building up your guest postings on other popular websites and of course, building up your social media presence so that you are able to grab people from Facebook.

I’ve been doing some research and found some great, simple tricks that you can use to increase the effectiveness of the Facebook campaign you already have for your company (and if you don’t happen to have a Facebook page, what are you waiting for? Get to it!). Here are 8 simple tweaks that you can use to drive more traffic:

Consider Dropping by Other Facebook Pages

First and foremost, if you haven’t been doing this already, it’s a lot like doing good old fashioned SEO. Basically, you want to identify the Facebook pages which are most relevant to your own niche and which have lots of followers and then go ahead and start visiting them. Engage with the people who come there and offer your own expert advice (you are an expert, right?).

This can be even be done as if you were the Facebook page rather than with your own personal profile so that people who see your (hopefully useful and not spammy) comments will click the link to see what else you have to say.

As I said, this is really no different from the old comment on high quality blogs kind of thing. Rather than simply commenting on these blogs exclusively in the hopes of pleasing the Google gods, you should also be trying to leave an insightful comment within the first 10 comments or so. If you do so, many people will click your link to see who you are.

With Facebook it’s even easier since pages have timelines just like personal profiles. This means that if you can leave an insightful comment rather than a spammy comment, it’s likely to attract likes and stay at the top of the timeline longer than if you were to leave a great  comment on a blog but you were number 85 and buried so deep that even the webmaster might not see what you had to say.

Put a Call to Action in Your Cover Photo

I credit the good folks at Kissmetrics for putting me onto this amazing tip, one I plan to incorporate myself in my Facebook pages very soon. Basically, you can use your cover photo (which is after all the very first thing that your customers are going to see) as a giant ad.

Mind you, you cannot arrange to have a click take people directly to your website but you can do something almost as good. You can make the cover photo (which can be changed after all) into an ad promoting your product. When people click the cover photo, they’ll see your description, which can in fact include a link back to your website where the product is sold.

Another method which I had heard of and even used myself in the past involves using an arrow to point to a link on your Facebook page. Basically, since you can have links just below the cover photo, you can then use the cover photo to include an ad which promotes a product that you have for sale. As you can see, George Takei does this by simply pointing an arrow to the link promoting his latest book.

George Takei

Either way, this is an opportunity not to be wasted since the cover photo is easy pickings for you and a place where you’ll see the most impact from your Facebook page.

Link Your Personal Page and Business Page

This is really a no brainer but many people seem to forget to do it. We all have Facebook friends and they all have Facebook friends, not all of whom are our own Facebook friends. Why not make use of this fact to promote your business page to your friends and family who might just spread the word to the people they hold nearest and dearest (or whom they just happen to remember running into at a party sometime and decided to friend them for the heck of it).

Basically, all you need to do is ensure that your personal Facebook page includes a link to your Facebook page. You can do this by mentioning in your personal page that you own such and such a business and then including the link to the Facebook page. You can also ask any employees that you may have to do the same.

By the way, here’s a nice little bonus tip: If you do this, then whenever you leave a comment on a website that uses Facebook comments, you will  have automatically created a link to your Facebook page on that website. Whenever I leave a comment on Facebook, it always includes a clickable link to my Personal Finance website’s page.

Fill In the Short Description

Every Facebook page includes what they call a “short description.” Basically, it a sentence or two about your website and about the page for people to see what it’s all about. It will come up when people do a search for specific topics and will also be displayed if people hover over a link to see what the page is all about.

Filling in this extra piece of information can actually help you in two different ways. First and foremost, it’s possible to simply improve the number of people who are visiting your page by making the short description engaging and interesting. Think of as the same kind of deal like when you do a meta description for a blog post. The more interesting the description, the more likely you are to get click throughs.

In addition, you can also include a shortened URL link (i.e. Bit.ly or any of the thousands of other services. Or just roll your own). This allows you to provide an additional link directly to your own web page where you can hopefully get people to  make an additional purchase and or engage with your company so you can reel them in as a customer.

Try a George Takei

Like a great many Trekkies, I follow George Takei’s page on Facebook. Of course, today the man is also an advocate for gay rights and has really remade himself into an online personality and kind of a gay spokesman. However, one of the things I’ve noticed about him which I think works to his advantage is that he doesn’t try to be really sophisticated in what he posts on his page.

Instead, Takei posts a mix of simple trivia and irreverent photos and comments on his Facebook page. This allows him to connect with a very wide audience. I’ve seen some Internet marketers using a similar approach to their Facebook pages. They try to put up simple photos which will allow people to connect with them rather than trying to be sophisticated with lots of verbiage.

This is typical of the kind of thing Takei posts on his Facebook page.

This is typical of the kind of thing Takei posts on his Facebook page.

Facebook is after a place where people come to be entertained as opposed to informed and so it tends to lend itself much more to the visual kinds of cues that Takei uses on his page than to the kind of material you might find on this blog, which is meant to offer up long form, informative articles as opposed to simply offering up short, pithy comments.

Feature Your Customers

Another great way to get your customers to actively engage with  your Facebook page and to share it with their friends is to engage with your customers. There are lots of ways to do this. For example, you could always feature their comments and or questions on your Facebook page, allowing them to have a spot in the so called limelight. This will encourage them to tell their friends about the feature on your site that they got.

In addition, this makes customers feel as if they actually have a stake in your company and the success of your page rather than just being someone else you sell products to. You could even take this a step further and actually set up a contest related to your particular niche. Almost any niche can do this by the way.

For example, you might want to create a contest to see who has the most interesting question for your dental practice and then use the questions that are submitted to discuss various procedures that your office offers, some of which people may not be aware of.

Finally, there is the age old option of doing the whole birthday thing. People love getting a shout out on their birthdays and often, they’ll click like on a birthday greeting that you post with a mention of their name. This does three things for you.

First, it gets you onto their timelines because if they write a thank you (quite common), it gets you onto their timeline allowing your company to be seen by their friends. Second, it allows you to generate good will with potential customers and current customers. Third, it makes it more likely that you’ll end up in their timelines because when they click like, it means that Facebook is more likely to feature your posts in their streams.

Caption This Photo

Another favorite on Facebook is getting people to caption a photo that you post on your page. This gets people to try to come up with the greatest, craziest or just plain unique idea they can think of and this again will get you featured on their timelines. The nice thing about this idea is that you can actually engage with people on almost any level and it’s something simple that they can get into (see George Takei above).

In addition to offering your customers a way to get involved with you by offering to caption a photo that you post, you can do the reverse and ask your customers to come up with a photo that fits a caption that you create. The idea is really simple and will generate lots of good will and more importantly, mentions of your company on their timelines.

You can also encourage your customers to like the photo in question and to share it to their friend’s timelines in an effort to get them to have their friends get in on the action also. The bottom line with tis is to keep the photo interesting and open to multiple interpretations while still keeping it somewhat within the niche of your own web page.

Try a Buzzfeed

We’ve all seen the Buzzfeed lists that seem to proliferate on everyone’s Facebook timelines. These lists are usually funny and include a list of things which allow people to nod their heads in agreement as they smile while they go through them. The great thing about this though is that you can either roll your own Buzzfeed like post or just post directly onto the site itself with a link back to your own site.

Buzzfeed

In essence, you need to create a list of short, pithy comments which are no longer than a sentence and then find appropriate images to represent those sentences in a funny way. As can be seen on Buzzfeed, they actually include little animated gifs with bits from TV shows and films. I’ve never been clear on the legality of this but since they keep doing it, I’ll guess (but I’m no lawyer so don’t quote me on this) that such usage is consider “fair use.”

Now, as I said, you can roll your own and then post the link to your Facebook page. However, I’m more inclined to simply use the community feature on Buzzfeed and create one with a link in the author section back to your own site. The advantage of this is that it allows you to gain some exposure on Buzzfeed while keeping your own website’s character the same as it always has been.

Either way though, you do want to use this as a way to improve the number of people who will engage with your Facebook page by actually posting a link to your completed work on the page and allowing people to like it and share it.

5 Strategies That Work Under Google Hummingbird

google-hummingbirdGoogle Hummingbird is now in full swing and we in the SEO community are trying to adapt to it as best we can. In all honesty though, it’s not all that difficult to adapt to the new algorithm as the basics of SEO haven’t changed all that much. You still need to have great content and relevant backlinks in order to rank well with the Google gods.

That having been said however, a number of the old “tricks” that some people used under the old system have gone by the wayside. Gone are the days when you could use low quality content and just attract the Google search bot with plenty of keywords. Most link networks have also died an untimely death on the altar of the Hummingbird.

However, after some careful research, I was able to find a number of solid strategies that do work and which will get you plenty of Google love in a post Hummingbird world. Here’s what you need to know in order to do SEO in 2013-2014:

It Starts With Great Content

I know I’m beginning to sound like a broken record (and if you don’t know what that means, ask your parents or someone over 30) but it really does come down to content, content, content. The better the quality of your content, the better your rankings are going to be under Google’s Hummingbird. There is no way to say it any more succinctly than that.

Penguin and Panda were all about weeding out the junk content and the MFA (made for AdSense) websites. The idea was to ensure that the content Google served up to its visitors was relevant and made sense.

We’ve all seen the ridiculous results that sometimes come up under a Google search where the website clearly has nothing worth looking at. Occasionally, we’ve even clicked a link, hoping against hope that it has what we need.

While that does still happen occasionally, especially if the information you need is rather esoteric (I recently found myself trying to find college graduation rates for 25-34 year olds from Poland as ranked by the OECD – never did find the numbers), Hummingbird aims to make that as rare as the old BSOD. By the way, if you don’t know what a BSOD is consider yourself lucky and ask someone over 20 to tell you about the blue screen of death.

Bottom line, if your website has junk to offer, it’s likely to be pushed way, way down in the rankings and disappear from the face of the earth, even if it is still technically in the system. Of course, as we always say here at Quantum SEO Labs, there are two sides to every coin. The flip side of this is that you also need:

Relevant, High PR Backlinks

Google-Backlinks

These need to be preferably from the home page of a relevant website but at the very least, the page that the link comes from needs to have the kind of good quality page rank that makes it a worthwhile link. The classic example I always mention is that Facebook’s home page is one of only a handful of PR10 websites worldwide. That does not mean that a link from a page on Facebook is worth a PR10 link.

In fact, many Facebook links are worthless as far as SEO is concerned because they’re often not indexed by the Google bot. Mind you, that doesn’t mean they’re worthless from a traffic perspective since a link on a popular web page, even if it happens to be a no follow link could still bring plenty of traffic to your site, which is after all what you wanted…

The other thing to remember however is that relevancy is important. In the old days, you could simply plant a few links on any old website with a decent PR and Google’s bots would ensure that the link juice flowed through to your page. Hummingbird (and really Panda/Penguin before it) basically does away with this.

Google’s engineers are not stupid and they know when you are trying to game the system. Thus the system will check whether or not the link that you just created is from a site which is relevant to your webpage. Thus a link on a high PR personal finance website for your company selling plumbing supplies isn’t going to be worth anywhere near as much as it would have been had it been on a website talking about how septic tanks work.

Of course, even the non relevant links are worth something. It’s just that they’re not going to get you the same kind of quality SEO as you would otherwise get from a relevant site.

By the way, please remember that your anchor text matters more than ever under Hummingbird. Pick numerous different kinds of anchor texts include mundane words such as “here” and “link” as well as the actual URL and of course relevant keyword based anchor texts.

Again, Google’s engineers are really smart people and they’ve designed Hummingbird to look for any links that look artificial. Even if you pick a truly awesome keyword as your anchor text, if you have zero links that look natural (most people when they link to your site organically simply put “link,” “click here,” “here” or even the URL itself as opposed to taking the time to create good anchor text), Google’s bot will know that something is up and that your links are pretty much all artificial.

Long Tail Keywords Are In

long tail keywords

Another change that’s really not a change is that   long tail keywords are more important than ever before. The difference between searching for say the keyword “car insurance” and “cheap car insurance in Florida” is now much more important than ever before.

Previously, Google would use the individual keywords to try to suss out what a user was looking for. Thus Google’s old system was designed to notice words like car insurance and Florida along with cheap and try to find as many matches to those specific keywords as possible. The new Hummingbird system changes this (hopefully) for the better.

Under the new system, instead of relying on individual keywords and trying to find as many as possible within a given piece of material on the web, Google’s engineers have designed the system to use artificial intelligence to actually try to understand the meaning of the whole sentence.

It’s kind of like the Ask Jeeves (now just Ask) search engine was supposed to be a few years back. The idea of Ask Jeeves was that you’d be able to give the system a natural language question and it would be able to provide real world results from its search database. Unfortunately, the concept was a little ahead of its time. Ask Jeeves never really worked right and today, Ask is a distant fifth or sixth in the search engine world.

Google believes however that they’ve cracked the nut and that they can now offer what Ask Jeeves was supposed to offer –something similar to a text based version of Siri. This in turn means that you are infinitely better off trying to do long tail keywords rather than sticking to the short, highly competitive keywords.

Not only are those highly competitive keywords still hard to rank for, but they are also now less likely to get you results because Hummingbird actually tries to look organically at an entire query rather than simply picking out specific keywords and then throwing up whatever seems to match most.

Use Bounce Rates Wisely

Another excellent piece of advice is a Hummingbird world is to look at your bounce rates. However, you need to consider those bounce rates in a fundamentally different way than you have in the past. Most people look at their bounce rates and, if they are high, try to see what people moved on to once they left the page.

People would then try to match up their own pages to those of the pages people bounced to. This strategy might have worked well in the past but in the world of Google Hummingbird, it’s important to look at it organically. Consider that Hummingbird is designed to get people’s exact queries answered as opposed to simply hunting down keywords.

Effectively, this means that (as I keep saying), the old strategy of looking for short keywords is dead. Instead, you need to look for long tail keywords. This also affects how you look at bounce rate. Instead of looking at what people bounced to, look at what made them arrive on your page to begin with. Did you  provide them with a relevant answer to the question they asked?

Generally, you’ll find that if you look at bounce rates this way, you can more effectively lower your bounce rate, especially now. That’s because you will be doing Google’s work for them. They are after all trying to provide the most relevant answers that they possibly can provide to the people doing a search on their website.

By honestly asking whether the query that led people to your site matches what you actually have there, you can effectively cut down your bounce rate significantly and actually improve your odds of keeping people longer (and by extension spending money on your site rather than that of the competition).

Remember that just because someone bounced to a different site after yours doesn’t mean that they found the answers they were looking for. By following the old method, you might just be repeating the mistakes of your competition rather than fixing your own site so that you are able to keep more of the kinds of visitors that you want to keep.

Provide a Well Rounded Experience

The final pillar of a good SEO strategy in the post hummingbird world is to actually provide a good, well rounded experience. By that I mean more than simply providing good content, which as I said above is the single most important aspect of doing SEO today. It means looking at your entire website organically in order to provide an overall positive experience. Here’s how this works:

Hummingbird was created first and foremost in an effort to help Google’s customers. Remember that Google doesn’t actually offer webmasters anything at all. Their primary concern is and always has been to get people to visit the Google homepage and click on Google’s ads. They do this by trying to provide the best overall experience that they can possibly provide.

Part of that is more than just finding an appropriate article that their customers can look at. Another aspect of what Google wants to do is provide the overall best address to respond to a customer query. This means that rather than just getting them to the one page on your site that deals with retirement savings strategies, they’d rather send customers to a site that is all about retirement strategies.

Thus it’s no longer enough to optimize an individual page to appeal to Google and your customers. Instead, a part of the new ranking algorithm seems to be where Google actually looks at the entire website and tries to decide if the whole website will provide the best experience it can offer instead of simply looking at an individual page.

Bottom Line

SEO is changing but it’s definitely not dead in the post Hummingbird world. If anything, it’s more important than ever because ranking in Google is going to require taking a smart, organic approach to your SEO campaign. Of course, if you have been trying to find the magic button to push that will flood your site with traffic, you’re probably wasting your time.

In fact, I’m pretty much certain of it. There will always be someone coming up with some idea for a sneaky trick but the people who will last long in this business are the ones who think about the customer first. If you look at what a customer really wants, which is good, high quality content and you make sure it’s easy to find it (i.e. with high PR relevant backlinks), you’ll do great in the Hummingbird world.