When signing up for the Search and Social Media Marketing Course at the Manchester Salford Business School, I had precious little knowledge of how SEO worked – this, despite working as a freelance journalist and therefore attuned to promoting ‘brand awareness’ over the last four years for an industry-leading motorsport website. Journalists and writers tend to chase the next story and are much less concerned with keywords and search rank – rather leaving it to the organisations they are loosely connected with, or represent, to get on with task of improving results within SERPs.
Therein lay the problem – I didn’t understand SEO and how to maximise the opportunities that being creative presents. I enjoy my part-time writing work much more than my regular job, working within the warehousing and logistics sector as a forklift truck driver. At the start of this year my personal life reached a crossroads and this was the perfect time to do something about it. Learning SEO and Social Media marketing seemed a logical step forward and armed with a healthy Twitter following and enthusiasm to learn another skill, I signed up.
My eyes would be opened over the next six weeks much more than I could imagine. What became clear very quickly is that with any good business, success begins with planning, research and building the foundations to work from. Studying the competition, keyword research through Google and Google AdWords is a great place to start and can give you so much information in just a few minutes. Without a clear structure and plan of how you want to go about improving search rankings, failure to achieve the maximum is likely. In my case, I had just lost a deal to supply detailed written Formula 1 motor racing weather forecasts to the site I was affiliated with. The choice was either to stop completely and give up what I love doing – or to find another outlet to share my views and knowledge with others.
The #SSMM course – run by Aleksej Heinze – is the perfect educational tool to take your website on the road to major SEO improvements and a better search rank. Citing previous creative examples, students are guided through the do’s and dont’s of planning, keyword research, creating widgets, social media engagement and social media asset management to name but a few topics – all with you in mind. Prominent industry speakers are backing this course and give talks, adding further insight and giving information openly on how you can change things on your own site to help improve visibility and search ranking potential.
The road to success
Many people like myself, prior to enrolling on this course would be entitled to think that 99% of companies and website owners have their systems already optimised to the maximum, and therefore it would impossible to go and work as an SEO, or to create your own site as an independant. After all, SEO has been around for several years. When you actually conduct the research and examine the competition of your chosen field, you may be surprised. I certainly was. The best endorsement that I could give this course, is to demonstrate that in just 15 days from starting my own blog, I took http://f1weather.com to second in Google’s worldwide search for the short-tail keyword ‘F1 Weather’.
It will particularly benefit established Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs), who already use social media but are looking to increase their return on investment. The particular focus is on the increase of trade with Europe and how Social Media networks can help in developing business opportunities. Additionally, the seminar is also looking to develop a better understanding of student placements and highlight good practices. Participants will be able to identify ways of offering student placements as a means to increase their growth.
How is the workshop structured?
9:15 – 9:30 – arrival and refreshments
9:30 – 11:00 – focus group evaluating past experiences with Social Media networks and student placements and the identification of participants’ training needs
11:00 – 12:30 – How to use Social Media to identify appropriate business contacts
12:30 – 13:15 – Lunch provided
(The practical sessions will be informed by the findings of the focus group)
13:15 – 14:00 – Best practice in the use of Facebook
14:00 – 14:45 – Best practice in the use of Twitter
14:45 – 15:00 – Refreshments
15:00 – 15:45 – Best practice in the use of LinkedIn
In December 2011 Mary Portas published herreport into the on-going decline of the British High Street. In her report she clearly identifies the upward trend in eCommerce as one of the main reasons why sales and footfall on the nation’s high streets are in free-fall. Mary makes 28 recommendations all of which are valid but I am left wondering why she doesn’t encourage the small trader to believe that they have as much right to profit from the opportunities of eCommerce, Social Media and Search Engine Marketing as the big boy multiples with their enormous digital marketing budgets?
Who am I to have an opinion?
I am essentially Mary’s cause – Queen of my own shop and the proud owner of Venus Flowers.
A Manchester City Centre florist – a somewhat unusual sight in Manchester City Centre these days – a small independent retailer who engages in a daily battle to survive if not thrive in the brave new world of post credit crunch depression.
Like most small businesses I recognised years ago that I needed an on-line presence and have since lost count of the amount of time and money I have spent engaging with ‘experts’ in the field of web-design.
I am now onto the third developer and the third version of my site the previous two being utter disasters the details of which I don’t have the time or energy to go into.
I have literally lost thousands of pounds and at times my faith in humanity.
Sadly, I know from talking to other small business owners that I am not alone.
Taking Back Search Marketing and Social Media Control
At the end of 2011 I discovered by accident a huge mistake in the development of my current website (quickly acknowledged and rectified by my current developers) which was the final straw – I had an epiphany…
I realised that without knowledge I would never have control, I understood something of every other area of my business why not this one? So after some research (web based of course), here I am attending Salford Business School’s Search and Social Media Marketing Course, a slightly nervous florist/business owner/complete novice.
My eCommerce Journey So Far
Here I am four weeks in writing my first blog-post, but more than that, understanding why blogging is important and how I can respond to some of my potential customers long-tail searches and build links to my website by writing interesting and authoritative blogs on subjects I understand and enjoy (GET ME!). For example this beautiful picture of a brides bouquet we made a couple of weeks ago which is lingering on my iPhone:
now gets a title of “Spring Brides Bouquet” (in response to a small but significant number of long tail searches I found when I was developing my keyword plan), and becomes a part of venus flowers blog I am writing on the subject, this will include a video of us making a Spring Brides Bouquet as well as links back to my wedding page where brides to be can click on a link to request a no obligation consultation – impressive hey? In the meantime I have been able to share this image with our Twitter Followers.
eCommerce – importance of Keyword Research
Using Goolge Adwords to research how people are searching for your products and services has to be the simplest but the most revealing part of the course for me. Why is it when I have paid thousands to have an eCommerce site developed I have been asked to write my own content “so it will be more authentic” without so much as a reference to the importance of keyword research?
I am ranking third for “florist Manchester”:
This ranking is more by luck than judgement, but I rank nowhere for “flower delivery Manchester” which has far higher search numbers – time to write some content!
I have also learned that my industry language isn’t necessarily the language of the searcher, when writing I would always use the term Sympathy Flowers believing this to be more grammatically acceptable, however my Google Adword research revealed only 480 monthly searches for this term and over 12,000 for “Funeral Flowers” – time to get back to plain English and write even more content!
Suffice it to say that encouraged by my tutor and our guest speakers industry experts like the mind-blowingly brilliant Mark Johnson from Latitude and Dan Taylor from Seowned both of whom have restored some of my faith in the integrity of the industry, I now have a fully researched keyword plan. This along with a carefully considered Pay-Per-Click (PPC) campaign for the areas I don’t yet rank organically for means that hopefully I should get a return on my course investment in the near future.
eCommerce and importance of Links
Having spent ages agonising over why a competitor who (in my humble opinion) has a poor website and isn’t actually anywhere near as good as we are consistently out-ranks us for some key terms. Using tools and techniques I have learned over the last four weeks like using google link query and SEOToolbar, I have been able to compare our sites and it’s clear that the only reason for this is the number of links into their site. Link-building is somewhat more time consuming and complex than keyword research and content writing, it also involves good old fashioned relationship building and networking. I however understand how vital this is to Google and also how to go after links with authority – quality rather than quantity.
Watch this space competitors I’m on your case!
Like Raef and Stuart from Channel 4’s Celebrity Wedding Planner you can follow us on twitter or Facebook where I will be sharing our latest flower pictures, stories and offers from Venus Flowers: Venus Flowers
So…eCommerce and the High Street – Crisis or Opportunity?
Having read my blog tell me what you think, do you think that eCommerce can help small business owners to stay on the High Street or are you with Mary Portas and believe that eCommerce will mean the end of British High Street? Please share your views in the comments section below!
Manchester Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Social Media Marketing training provides the key knowledge and skills people need to work in the growing SEO and Social Media marketing industry – says Anthony Mcloughlin.
From 26th January 2012, this course will be offered right at the heart of the region’s digital and media economy at the University of Salford’s new state-of-the-art facility at MediaCityUK:
10 Steps to start your SEO and Social Media Marketing career
Anthony McLoughlin from Burnley, graduated from the course in November last year and has already found that it has helped him completely change his career path for the better. As part of his studies he wrote and presented the following blog post on “SEO Career – 10 Steps to Help You Get Yours Up and Running”.
While working as a technical clerk at a conservatory roofing company, he began to take an interest in digital marketing. He explained:
“I didn’t mind my job, but I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life. I started to read up about Pay Per Click advertising and then progressed into taking an interest in SEO. I found it so interesting that I decided I wanted to develop a career in the SEO industry.”
Commuting from home once a week and participating in online discussions and self study using the online training material from SEMPO, it was not long until Anthony was able to write a blog post about a career in SEO using his newly gained knowledge and skills.
“The Search & Social Media Marketing course has helped me tremendously,” Anthony continued. “Before the course I barely knew anything about SEO and social media marketing, and now I can talk confidently about the subjects and give advice to people.”
“Learning from industry speakers from the Manchester SEO community was the main highlight of the course,” he said. “They gave me some fantastic advice and inside knowledge that only people in the industry know, and I’m adopting the advice and ‘secrets’ in my new role right now.”
“Content is King.” Since Bill Gates coined this term in 1996, it has become the golden rule of SEO (as well as one of its most pervasive clichés).Matt Cutts of Google has repeatedly said that quality content is key to getting to the top of the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPS). And the bods at Bing have also said that “all SEO signals revolve around content.” But what do we mean when we talk about ‘content’? How do search engines differentiate between good content and bad content? And, in the land of the SERPS, is content always king?
Before we start looking at the ins and outs of how to produce content, we have to ask ourselves why is good content so important in the first place?
Content is the lifeblood of the internet – it’s the blog posts you read, cat videos you laugh at, maps you consult and images you use. The major search engines main objective is to deliver the most relevant data and provide the best user experience possible. It does this by awarding higher visibility to websites that offer relevant and high quality content to the searcher. But there are a thousand and one websites out there that are talking about your chosen topic – how can you create content that enables your website to get to the top of the results?
Well, there are a number of ways. You could stuff your web pages so full of keywords that it resembles a rhyming dictionary. You could employ one of those shady ‘Black-Hat’ SEO types to buy up lots of paid links to ensure that your website gets a good page ranking. If you’re feeling confrontational (and fancy stirring up a bit of a social media storm), you could ‘linkbait’ – a tactic which sees you producing content which catches people’s attention (for both good and bad reasons – for a perfect example of how Linkbait works, watch how Twitter reacts every time Liz Jones writes a feature for the Daily Mail). Or, you could be really radical and actually produce content that people want to click on.
One of the key recommendations that the Google Webmaster Team advise that you consider when you’re creating content for the web is ‘authority’. Essentially, the more niche you make your content, the more of an expert you’ll become about that topic. People will like what they see on your webpage, won’t ‘bounce’ back to the search results, and will probably visit again – meaning you’ll be rewarded accordingly in the SERPS. Whilst Google’s engineers have said that they don’t favour ‘brands’, the reputation of a brand undoubtedly has an effect on how people search, and the conversions they make once they find what they want. Indeed, research has shown that 50% of consumers are more likely to click on a search result if a brand appears multiple times on a results page.
For an example of a brand who have got it right when it comes to unique content, take a look at Old Spice. Their series of ‘Old Spice Man‘ YouTube videos – custom made pieces of content where their spokesman responded to questions from bloggers, celebrities and fans who posted questions – is one of the most popular viral campaigns in recent history. And with good reason. After all, who wouldn’t want a personalised video from a devastatingly handsome man?
How does Google define ‘good content’? Simply follow the Panda
In early 2011, Google launched its ‘panda’ algorithm. This had one key goal – to “reduce SERP rankings for Low Quality Sites—i.e. sites with low value to users, generally containing unoriginal or shallow content.” This meant that sites which contained unoriginal content which had been scraped off other websites, or were just pages and pages of links would be penalised, whilst websites which contained original, ‘good’ content and encouraged social engagement would shine.
Panda was a game changer in terms of SEO. When it was rolled out by Google, it reportedly affected the rankings of almost 12% of all search results. Websites which was considered to be ‘high-quality’ sites saw their rankings improve, while those of supposed low-quality essentially vanished from top of the rankings.
Would you trust the information presented in this article?
Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
Good spelling and grammar help too. Google evaluates the ‘quality’ of content on websites, and the ability to spell correctly correlates with PageRank. As Matt Cutts explains in the video below;
“We noticed a while ago that, if you look at the PageRank of a page — how reputable we think a particular page or site is — the ability to spell correlates relatively well with that. So, the reputable sites tend to spell better and the sites that are lower PageRank, or very low PageRank, tend not to spell as well. The reputable sites tend to spell better and the sites that are lower PageRank, or very low PageRank, tend not to spell as well.”
Of course, well written words aren’t the only aspect you need to consider when it comes to SEO. Other things you should think about when you’re optimising a site for the web are:
User Experience: The more engaging your website is, the more likely that someone will look at multiple pages.
Avoiding too many ads on your site (pop-ups are a real turn-off!): This one is fairly self explanatory. Having too many adverts makes Google think that the website exists just to serve ads rather than providing authoritative information.
Duplicate content: Don’t repeat yourself! A page should contain its own unique content, title and meta description that tells the search engines exactly what it’s about.
Remembering that less is more: Having a lot of poor quality pages on your site can reduce your page rankings, even if you have plenty of high quality content. If you’re a Web Manager, try and do a regular audit of your website to ensure that it doesn’t contain lots of pages which contain out of date content and broken links.
If Content is King, then Linking is Queen
As we’ve established, good content is vital to getting your website noticed. But it’s nothing if you don’t have a good link building strategy in place. It’s not enough to put words, pictures and videos onto the web and hope that they get linked to by an ‘authority’ website. If your content is good, you need to shout about it!
Think about trading reciprocal links with your peers: (I write a food blog – Little Red Courgette – and I get a number of clicks to that from fellow blogs which have links to that on their pages). Just one link from an ‘authority’ website can have a massive impact on where your website appears on Google.
Leave comments on others blog posts which include a link back to your website: You get to tell someone you like their stuff and you get to promote your own website! Don’t be an idiot though – no one likes an idiot on the internet (well, unless they’re this kind of idiot).
Use good anchor text: If you’ve ever used ‘click here’ for a link, give yourself a slap on the wrist. Now. Then remember to never to do it again.
Alt tags are your friend! This is especially relevant when it comes to any images you’re hosting on your website.Make sure you add a full description of what the picture contains and any important keywords you’re trying to target.
Create ‘internal’ links to various pages on your website: This tells the Google spiders which pages on your website are important and which aren’t.
Add “rel=”nofollow” tags to your links where possible: This is an HTML command which instructs some search engines that a hyperlink should not influence the link target’s ranking in the search engine’s index. It also helps to reduce the effectiveness of certain types of search engine spam, thereby improving the quality of search engine results and preventing spamdexing from occurring.
Make your content easy to share across social networks: The easier it is to share, the more likely people are to share it.
If 23% of conversations on the web include links, then we have to create content which users actively want to share. We also have to make it as easy as possible for people who are coming to our content to share it with others – be it via email, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus or any other social network. One way in which we can do this is by transmitting it via our own social networks (at LIPA, where I work, each piece of new content uploaded to the website is promoted via our Facebook and Twitter accounts). You can also add ‘share this’ buttons to your content which allows viewers to share it across a number of social networks with a single click of a button.
Another good rule of thumb when creating content for the web is to think to yourself ‘is this the kind of thing I’d be happy to share with my social media networks?’ Granted, a remarkable amount of (arguably) awful content is passed around social networks on a daily basis, but having a single tweet retweeted by someone with thousands of followers can lead to your content going viral. This means lots of new followers and customers for your website and a higher page ranking on the SERPS.
What can we conclude from this?
Content is undoubtedly the most important consideration to take into account when you are devising a strategy of how to get your website a better ranking on the search engines. And if a blog post, video or picture is engaging enough, then it will always be shared across the internet by people. But as Content Creators, Web Managers and Social Media users, we should always be thinking about how we can engage users and encourage them to share our content with their own networks. The implementation of Google’s Panda algorithm has shown that the emphasis is slowly shifting away from paid links and content farms to content which is truly ‘social’. Yes, good content is important. And when it comes to SEO, it probably always will be. But the impact of sharing links on social media really cannot be underestimated – and it’s an impact which is only going to increase in size over the coming years. Perhaps from now on, SEO specialists mantra should be that if content is king, then social is emperor.
The term ‘User Experience’ was first conceived in the 1990’s by Don Norman, while he was Vice President of the Advanced Technology Group at Apple. User experience as an emerging trend essentially describes how a person interacts with a product, system or service.
The practice of developing and improving the user experience is referred to as User Experience Design, which considers the emotional response and how a user feels about, perceives and interacts with a product, system or service. The decision to become a regular user or visitor will depend on answering key questions such as “does it give me value?” “Is it easy to use?” and “Is it pleasant to use?
“I invented the term because I thought human interface and usability were too narrow. I wanted to cover all aspects of the person’s experience with the system including industrial design, graphics, the interface, the physical interaction, and the manual. Since then the term has spread widely, so much so that it is starting to lose it’s meaning… user experience, human centred design, usability; all those things, even affordances. They just sort of entered the vocabulary and no longer have any special meaning. People use them often without having any idea why, what the word means, its origin, history, or what it’s about.”
Don Norman, 2008
Who creates the User Experience and how does UX translate to the web?
The User Experience Designer’s role is to impact the overall experience a person has with a particular product, system or service. They are enablers who define and improve existing systems in order to enhance the experience for the user. UX Designers come from a wide range of disciplines, and often have a focus in one particular area of UXD. Usability guru Jakob Nielsen’s focus for example, is almost exclusively on web usability. The User Experience Designer will cross a range of disciplines to develop an optimum experience for the end user. This can incorporate any or all of the following:
Information Architecture (IA)
Search and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
User Interface (UI)
SEO and the User Experience
Having a high ranking site amidst the endless lists of search engine results pages (SERPs), particularly in Google, is of paramount importance to the online User Experience. Your site may be a dream to navigate, well written with lots of useful info and look like it was designed by Apple, but unless it instantly appears when a user searches on one of your keywords, the User Experience can be destroyed.
The Search and Social Media Marketing course here at Salford is a mine of information on all aspects of the SEO journey to help you in your quest for search engine domination and improving the user experience for your customers. Sessions cover:
Understanding how Google and other search engines work
Using Google Analytics to learn from your website visitor’s behavior
Integrating social media into the mix
Speakers from industry attend the sessions every week, to give a commercial perspective on SEO and how it’s being used by business for competitive advantage.
Why does User Experience matter and why should we care?
The way a user feels about, and interacts with a product, system or service is of growing importance to the organisation as well as the end user. The ever-increasing complexity of technology and the role it plays in our lives, coupled with the rapid expansion of the web and the vast number of sites continually being created, simply perpetuates the demands of the highly discerning consumer who is only ever one click away from exiting your site.
The Internet has evolved from the early days of Web 1.0, which provided an extremely linear process where the author published to the web and the reader received the information. Now that we have reached the heady heights of semantic Web 2.0 and beyond, users can read and write to the same space enabling the mass multi-linear sharing of data, and creating an environment where networking online is taking collaboration to an unprecedented level.
The rapid growth of social networks and online communities reflects this huge change in the way the web is evolving, and the canny UX Designer can tap into this wealth of collateral to provide a comprehensive user experience not only through their corporate web channels, but also across a range of online media, networks and applications, in order to:
Increase conversions, turning visits to sales for their customer
Increase the early adoption of new technology by the end user
Enhance customer satisfaction through a sublime user experience
Act as a key differentiator in a crowded market
Illustrating how the web went from the old 1.0 system of one to many, to the more recent 2.0 environment of many to many, exposing the web to unparalleled levels of sharing, interaction, collaboration and community building.
Developing the Online User Experience – what’s involved and where to start?
The UX Designer will find themselves involved in a variety of tasks and processes at the beginning of a UX development project, and may need to wear many different hats when dealing with a diverse range of people and practices. This could include exploring all the areas below, or focusing more in-depth on one aspect such as User Research for example:
Identifying business objectives and the target market are primary steps in the process. It’s also imperative for the UX designer to gather a project team of associated professionals within the organisation, and also to look further afield towards additional staff who although may not be UX or Design professionals themselves can still have a creative and positive input into the process (in 1987 Peter Gorb and Angela Dumas termed this phenomenon ‘Silent Design’). The User Experience Designer always sees the wider picture.
Cartoon by Tom Fishburne, illustrating the ‘Silent Design’ phenomenon found in many organisations. This can be of particular use to the UX Designer in helping to develop the ‘bigger picture’ of the User Experience.
Challenges to the User Experience Designer
Often UX Designers work within organisations as a single practitioner, sometimes with a lone voice, which can present huge challenges in terms of engagement with those who have a non-design or digital background. San-Franciscan Leah Buley presents her experience as a self-styled UX Team of One and all-round UX Superhero, offering tricks and techniques on developing the user experience and overcoming some of the issues facing the UX Designer.
How was your user experience?! I’m really interested to hear your thoughts on my post, and your own personal stories in making the online user experience and ultimately the web a better place to be for all of us.
When you have no access to a site with a Content Management System (CMS) and you’re trying to build awareness and visibility of a business there are limited routes to go down when it comes to Search Marketing.
Why I Decided To Do Offsite Optimisation?
I am currently a Marketing Executive for an insurance broker in Manchester which does have it’s challenges when it comes so search and social media as insurance is not something people generally have light-hearted conversations about with friends or peers or tend to want to get involved with unless absolutely necessary. As we have a new site currently under development and or existing site is static with no CMS I decided to take on offsite optimisation in order to increase awareness until the new site was up and running and fully optimised.
One of the insurance products we provide is very specific; cover for those training within the conflict management and physical intervention sector. In laymen’s terms, people who train professionals in the security industry; security guards, door supervisors and so on. So what we have to offer is for a niche audience making our product unique.
I was up against two main problems which lead me to offsite optimisation;
1) Because the product is niche it was not visible on many platforms so few of the necessary audience knew us.
2) The site itself had and still does have little to no SEO, impacting even more upon the first problem as it was rare that our site appeared in any relevant Search Engine Results Pages (SERP’s).
What I Wanted To Achieve With Offsite Optimisation
I wanted to make us noticeable and known within the conflict management and physical intervention skills sector in order to generate more enquiries and hence new clients. Due to the lack of knowledge we had of the existing web developer the easiest and quickest route seemed to lie with offsite optimisation.
How I Used Offsite Optimisation
Optimising the existing site as much as possible before getting a new fully optimised one built took a lot of time and work. In order to get out name out there and build product awareness I began by setting up a twitter account specifically for the product (because the audience is niche and a world apart from our other clients and prospects) this allowed for all messages to be specifically tailored to the industry, their interests and their needs. We follow prospects and clients, keep up with industry news, network with industry press and generally do what we can to get to know everyone.
In tandem with this I was busy working on getting us up Google rankings, still with no on site optimisation. I felt this best way to do this was via web business directories both general and insurance industry specific in order to increase the chance of conversions plus gain credibility and the conflict management training industry. Some of the directories are very helpful as they allow keywords to be entered and so on, if used properly a free listing can be maximised. The web directory listings are updated on a monthly basis depending on how we are performing on each key term, determined by my own weekly monitoring.
Along side this press releases we sent out to industry press, associations and posted by myself on forums this too helped to generate link building.
Due to our increased visibility the number of enquiries on a daily basis has increased as has the number of prospects previously deciding not to take cover with us now getting in touch and deciding we are the right choice for them.
As a number of our prospects know us from twitter they are receptive to e-shot campaign material which having not known us may have been deleted without even reading the title of the email, figures show that a large proportion are being read and images clicked on. Social media has also resulted in both prospects and clients approaching us with more ease and on a more regular basis.
The outcomes above have given us a good platform to build upon when the new and more interactive site is launched.
Have you had an experience which has limited you to offsite optimisation? Leave a comment or follow me on Twitter.
So, you’ve decided to embrace the world of social media…
Perhaps you’re an organisation who has heard all the buzz about Facebook and its ilk, and feel that you’re missing a trick not being on there too. Maybe you’re a freelancer who feels that getting social would lead to a fatter contacts book and more juicy commissions. Or perhaps (like my Dad), you’re a fifty-something with too much time on their hands who likes the idea of Twitter because it allows them to keep tabs on their children (sorry Dad). But now, after registering on all of these sites – choosing a pithy user name and a swanky avatar – you’re not sure what to do next.
But wait! Don’t fiddle around with it for five minutes and then brush it off as being a bad lot. Social Media can make a difference to your business. It’s all about finding a niche, taking the time to make connections, and pushing out good content to the right people.
I’ve been using the internet regularly since 1996, when it was all fields and the occasional IRC chat room. And, throughout the years, it feels as though I’ve jumped on every social media bandwagon going – IRC, Livejournal, Friendster, MySpace, Friends Reunited, Bebo, Facebook, Twitter – you name it, and I’ve probably had a profile on there.
I don’t claim to be an ‘expert’ about this subject, but I am one of those ‘Digital Marketing’ types (by day I’m the Web Manager for The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, and by night I post recipes and restaurant reviews on my food blog, Little Red Courgette), and I feel proud to say that I’ve managed to make a career out of messing around on the web. I’ve also recently been studying on Salford University’s Search and Social Media Marketing course which has enabled me to think about social media in ways which I hadn’t envisaged before. Whilst this isn’t going to be the definitive tome on the subject, think of it as a handy Beginner’s Guide.
But why should my organisation use social media?
As Bill Gates famously stated in 1996, when it comes to the internet, Content is King. But it’s not enough to create amazing words and pictures and let them sit there on your website waiting for people to stumble across them. If you want to make an impact on the SERPS, you have to be a bit noisy. As this handy infographic says, social is SEO and content is social.Google’s Panda algorithm actively encourages people to produce and share high quality content, and posting links on Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus allows people to share your content to their own personal networks. Having a single tweet retweeted by someone with thousands of followers can lead to your content going viral, meaning lots new followers and customers for your website and a higher page ranking on the search engines.
Become an expert
If you want to make an impact on social media, find your niche. There’s no shame in being a one topic wonder, so long as people connect with the content you’re sharing. If you provide users with the most useful, attractive and engaging content that you can, then this will motivate them to share it with their friends, link to it and keep coming back for more.
Don’t be afraid to tailor you content specifically towards your target market. If you try and be relevant to everyone, you won’t relevant to anyone.
Don’t sound too sales-y. There’s nothing worse than someone who is using a blogpost to simply flog their services. The more relevant information you can provide, the more people will be wanting to return to your website.
Remember – the more high quality content you share, the more valuable it becomes and the more people will share it. So make it sensational!
Start making friends
Social media should be exactly that – social. Don’t just use your profiles as a glorified RSS feed. Start conversations and make connections. Reply to tweets and Facebook messages. Comment on people’s blogs and befriend people in your industry who you think may be interested in listening what you have to say. A bit of cheekiness can go a long way – and can reap huge rewards.
I use Twitter to share links and chat with friends and freelance clients
I use Facebook to catch up with old acquaintances and the family members I have scattered across the globe
I use WordPress for my blog
I use LinkedIn to speak to colleagues and business connections
I use Google Plus to promote my blog posts to a wider audience
If you’ve not yet encountered Google Plus, it’s a social network which aims to be Facebook, but better (and with less risk of your boss seeing pictures of you drunk and falling over). To find out more, watch the handy explanatory video below.
Learn from the masters
When it comes to devising and implementing a social media strategy, it’s always good to look at what your peers are doing. If they’ve got a good online reputation, it’s usually because they’re doing something right.
A few brands who do social really well are fashion retailers ASOS, Topshop and Evans (which have all utilised blogs, Twitter and Facebook to connect with their key demographic). Evans have also reached out to the blogosphere, holding press days for fashion bloggers to see their new collections, and encouraging influential bloggers to contribute guest posts to their corporate blog.
The Golden Rule – Don’t be an idiot!
OK, so this just sounds like common sense. But it’s a sentiment which can easily be forgotten in the heat of the moment. The internet has a long memory, and it’s often quick to judge. One misjudged tweet or Facebook status update can have a debilitating effect on your brand. A good example of this is when, in 2009, Habitat used ‘Hashtag Spam’ to get into the top trending results on Twitter. Hashtags are the keywords used on Twitter which allows users to follow a conversation, and, using hashtags like #Iran and #Mousavi, the retailer added notes about its products into the stream of tweets about the Iranian uprising in 2009. Whilst Habitat blamed this on the actions of a rogue intern, the effect was debilitating and, arguably, the brand’s online reputation hasn’t really recovered since.
And, above all else, have fun!
It’s easy to take social media too seriously, but in doing so, you’d be missing out on seeing it for what it can be (namely, bloody good fun). If you’re prepared to put the effort in, you’ll soon reap the rewards, as well as make friends, influence people, and (eventually) become a social media superstar.
A recent U.S survey found that only 29% of consumer complaints received via twitter were responded to. In this blog post, I would like to speak to the 71% of companies who have chosen not to respond to their customers and explain why they should take the time to engage and how.
Why should you engage with customers who complain about you via Social Media?
Now, I’m not pretending that I am expert in customer service but being a consumer myself I would expect that if your customers are talking about your brands/products or services my hope is that you would want to know about it? Just as your phones are picked up and emails are responded to, I see Social Media as another channel of communication…albeit a very public one! Social Media is undoubtedly a very valuable tool which gives you access to free and honest feedback and it’s a great platform for showcasing how fantastic your customer service is…you really are missing a trick if you are not taking full advantage!
One example of companies who are engaging with their customers is Silver Cross and Kiddicare. Here we have a very simple request for a contact number as the customer has a fault with her new Silver Cross Pushchair which she had purchased from Kiddicare (an online retailer) – click on the image to view the full Complaint story:
You will notice that even though the first tweet was not directed to @SilverCross_UK , they still managed to find and reply to the customer, apologising effectively. Later in this post I will explain a couple of online tools Silver Cross may have used in order to locate this complaint. The main point I want to make here is that a customer publicly declared she had a faulty product but rather than the problem escalating and resulting in further mentions of the Silver Cross or Kiddicare brand in a bad light, the companies sought to rectify the problem and even received positive public feedback as a result. Remember, it is highly likely that customers who complain via social media have friends connected to them who are also within your target audience. If your friends/family were to mention a brand in a bad light, are you likely to try their products/services?
Monitoring your Social Media – The basics
The first thing you need to be doing is monitoring what people are saying about your brand or services. It’s not spying as such….it’s just being aware….a bit like neighbourhood watch if you like…
There are hundreds of free tools out there which you can use to monitor social media content which you can then analyse and collate vital data from. Remember in my earlier example you saw that Silver Cross were able to locate and respond to the customer even though the tweet was not directed to their twitter name…. well, it’s highly likely they were using media monitoring tools which seek out where-ever and whenever their brand name is mentioned on a variety of social media platforms. Here are just a handful of top pick social media monitoring tools::
Google Alerts – Works by sending you an email every time a new item pops up in Google search with your chosen keyword. (i.e Silver Cross may have one set up for their brand name plus any of their products)
Board Reader – Forum search engine which seeks out ‘human to human’ discussions
Social Mention – Tracks blogs, blog comments, news, twitter, images, videos and can bes saved as RSS feeds
Yahoo Pipes – This is a bit more complex but it’s really useful as it enables you to Aggregate, Manipulate and Mashup data (so it basically picks-out the relevant bits data and put it all in one place!)
Have a browse on this list collated by Social Brite which brings together their top 20 social media monitoring tools, have a bit of a play and find out what tools work best for you. There are loads of YouTube video’s that can help you get the best out them. You can even use twitter itself my simply typing your brand name into the search box!!
Responding to Social Media complaints
Responding to a Social Media Complaint is a subject very much up for debate (no rhyming intended!). The best thing to do is analyse the data you have collected from monitoring your social media and collate a list of common issues which can be resolved quickly such as the example above where the customer could be directed to a telephone number or email address. For more complex or urgent issues (at your discretion) you could ask the customer to PM (Private Message) you their details and take it from there.
Don’t just use your social media platforms with replies to user comments though… you want to engage and break up the customer service with interesting updates – share articles, talk about current topics related to your market and encourage conversations and above all show humanity! You want be conveying that this channel of communication is open and you are comfortable connecting to your customers.
Uh Oh…it went viral!!
One recent example where a social media complaint has escalated is with Waitrose, which can read more about on The Drum. This emotionally fuelled complaint went viral with masses of people demanding action. Although the complaint was acknowledged very early on, there must have been so much subsequent dialog that Waitrose voice had been lost through the digital crowds. I would suggest that in these situations you keep your customers well informed and ride the social media wave until it passes, and it will!
I will just leave you with a question….
As a consumer yourself, would you or have you ever openly complained via social media?
With the demand for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) skills on the rise and the average UK salary paying £32.5k a year, it’s no wonder more and more people want a career in the SEO industry. The question is however, how do you get a job in SEO?
If you type the phrase “how to start a career in SEO” (and that’s including inverted commas!) in to Google’s web search, you are presented with over 2,500 pages of content in the search engine results page (SERP). With so many websites giving their own advice on which is the best way to begin a career in SEO, it’s hard to focus on what you really should be doing. This post covers the definitive steps you should be taking in order to maximise your employability in the SEO industry.
1. Start reading… Learn the basics
At first glance learning SEO seems like a near impossible task. With so much reading material available through the internet and with certain web sites charging for this privilege, it’s difficult to be sure of which material is worthwhile reading.
One thing is for sure though, you don’t have to pay to learn the basics. There is a wealth of free information out there in the form of e-books, blogs, videos, and web sites that are worth paying attention to. Google’s SEO Beginners Guide is the perfect place to start as it is written by the people who’s search engine you will be mostly optimising for. It’s a no-brainer really. Another great place to start reading up on the basics (and the more advanced) is the highly reputable and popular SEOmoz. With over 18,000 likes on Facebook and over 100,000 followers on Twitter you get the impression that they know what they are talking about. SEOmoz provide a comprehensive Beginners Guide to SEO that is easy to read and digest for people new to SEO. Both guide’s are available for download and best of all they are free!.
2. Get Advanced… Familiarise yourself with HTML code
Arguably this should be an ongoing step, and form part of your basic learnings but with the advent of WordPress and other WYSIWYG editing platforms, knowledge of HTML is no longer a pre-requisite. There will definitely come a time though when you will need to edit HTML code directly so it’s important (and often a required item on a job description) to know your way around.
3. Start Practising
The numerous ebooks, blog posts and learning materials you have accumulated in steps 1 and 2 may leave you a little overwhelmed. They say practice makes perfect, so now would be a great time to piece together your understanding of SEO by getting your hands dirty and putting it into practice. You could either build a site, and experiment with the different SEO tactics you have learned to date, to attempt to get it to the top of the SERPs or create a personal blog in a platform like WordPress and start practising from a content creation angle. If you’ve got friends in business who have a web site, offer them some free SEO advice. Small businesses and charities that are on a tight budget will be more open to listening to some free advice and may even let you have a go at optimising their website… for free of course.
Tip: For some real-world work experience, check out the Analysis Exchange. They offer a great opportunity for people to develop their web analytics skills, a sure-fire way to boost your CV.
4. Keep Listening
Search engine algorithms are constantly evolving and there are always opinions and new techniques worth listening to. If your “beginners handbooks” are gathering dust, swap them with some more advanced reading materials, found on sites such as Search Engine Land and SEOBook to stay abreast of the latest insights and to generally stay sharp. Moreover, it is advisable to visit Google’s Webmaster Guidelines as these are updated quite regularly whenever they make tweaks to their algorithm.
Tip: Keep an eye on Matt Cutts’ Blog – he regularly hosts Q & A sessions on new Google algorithm changes.
5. Just dive in
Get involved with discussions; which include answering questions on Q & A forums and being involved with relevant groups/threads on forums and commenting with your own opinions on other blog posts. Don’t just comment “great post”, elaborate, give your opinions and ask further questions. SEOmoz, SEObook, and Matt Cutts blogs are definitely ones you should consider bookmarking. Quora is a question and answer website, where anyone can ask a question and anyone can answer. Many industry professionals are actively involved so you never know, the likes of Rand Fishkin could be answering your questions! The Warrior Forum is a highly popular marketing forum where you can find people talking about anything from programming to mobile marketing and just about anything in between.
6. Attend a course
So far all of your knowledge has come from the sources available on the internet which is great, I mean it hasn’t cost you a penny. However, you can’t exactly put this down on a CV can you? Although there isn’t actually an official SEO certification available, and probably won’t be for the foreseeable future, there are SEO courses out there. But which one should you choose? Well a lot of these courses are aimed at businesses rather than individuals starting up on their own and the majority of the courses only run for one day.
From personal experience, Salford University’s Search and Social Media Marketing Course is a must for anyone starting out in the SEO world either as an individual or as an established company. Not only do you get free refreshments and sandwiches, you get 1st class lecturing from the head of Salford Business school, guest speakers from the marketing industry, and official US based global leader SEMPO training course material. This course is sure to give you the knowledge to stand out from the crowd.
Tip: For an “at a glance” comparison of the courses available in SEO & Inbound Marketing bookmark this great post from the David Naylor blog.
7. Engage in Social Media
Chances are you are quite active on Facebook already, but for more professional social media activity, recommendations include Twitter, LinkedIn and more recently Google Plus. Google Plus has amassed around 40 million users and the majority of these are “first movers” that are heavily involved in the tech industry. This has led to a very active core of users posting regular digital marketing blogs and updates. All of these social media tools will provide you with great sources of SEO information.
TIP: Many SEO jobs will require social media optimisation (SMO) as part of the job role, so it makes sense to be actively involved and have an understanding of how they work so you can show off your knowledge in an interview.
8. Speak to Industry Professionals
Contact industry professionals and ask them for their advice. Ask them how they started out, they may reveal something that you could use to propel your career.
Mark Johnson, a Digital Insight Consultant at Latitude kindly took the time out to offer some industry advice for this post… “If you plan on building a website, before you do make sure you have a strategy and a clear goal of what you set out to achieve. Don’t rush in and always do your market research”. He also adds a bit of technical advice by saying, “Make sure your website is hosted in the right place (UK clients = UK IP address) and is URL friendly”. A great tip that should be applied to step 3 in this post .
Tip: A great place to meet industry professional in person is via the Manchester SEO (meetup). This meetup provides a fantastic opportunity to talk to like minded people who can offer you advice and point you in the right direction.
9. Apply for jobs
Now with all the SEO knowledge, tools and self generated experience you have developed it’s time start applying for jobs. Finding that perfect first job isn’t that easy. In fact your first job might not specifically be in SEO. For example, the requirements to become a PPC executive aren’t quite as demanding becoming an SEO executive. However, by being a PPC executive you can build up the experience and develop certain skills such as keyword research, analytics, & reporting that are required to be an SEO executive.
Tip: Now for when you get selected for an interview check out this blog post for an idea of what questions to expect.
10. Don’t just stop there….
Always look for ways to continually develop yourself no matter what level of knowledge and skills you have. It’s a competitive field out there so you must continually grow and stay fresh. You can achieve this by constantly engaging in the steps covered in this post, over and over again. You could even concentrate on one area such as the increasingly important link building and become an expert in that area.
In a recent SEOMoz Whiteboard Friday session, the topic was exactly what we’re discussing here – so for a visual representation of some of the topics covered, and to give this post one final element of depth you can view that below!
Each one of these steps could actually warrant their own detailed post but this is a summary of the key steps an SEO newbie should take. Sure, there are more which is the beauty of the SEO industry. The learning possibilities are almost endless. However, by following these 10 steps anyone’s arsenal will be well equipped with vital SEO weapons that employers look for and will ask about in an interview.
It would be interesting to know what you think about the steps covered in this post. If you are already in the SEO field, what first steps did you take and did any of these steps apply to you? Please feel free to comment below.