The 10 Step Plan To Successful Email Marketing

When website owners and marketers talk about online marketing, they often refer to SEO and PPC. Email marketing can sometimes be overlooked despite being one of the most powerful methods to reach potential customers and to keep existing customers coming back for more. Perhaps a factor in this is that direct email campaigns are commonly associated with spam emails, but careful list management ensures that this need not be a problem.

There are a number of stages to a successful email marketing campaign and by nailing as many as possible you can improve your results. The key to success, though, most commonly lies in the planning stage � if this is your first foray into email marketing then be prepared to treat it as a test run. The more direct email marketing campaigns you run, the more opportunity you have to optimize the process and improve your results. Here are ten of the most important steps to an effective email campaign.

1 � Determine Your Ultimate Goal

This might sound obvious, but having a clear goal in mind will help to concentrate your efforts. There are many effective uses of an email marketing campaign from increasing brand awareness to pushing a new product or seasonal promotion. Each of these uses typically demands a different campaign with its own style and its own components.

Increasing traffic to your website is not usually a bottom line target. The reason for increasing traffic to a website is normally to improve sales and increase profits. In the majority of cases, it is more desirable to attain greater sales through fewer visitors, than having a site awash with visitors but with a poor conversion rate.

A prolonged and careful email marketing campaign will naturally help to improve brand awareness. Your readers will naturally remember your name and the products or services that you sell as they gain more and more exposure to your marketing emails. Similarly, as long as you produce relevant and useful emails, your potential customers will grow to trust you making it more likely that they will purchase from you now or in the future.

2 – Your Opt-In Email List

There are a couple of key aspects to this section. YOUR opt-in list will generate better results than the use of somebody else’s list. If you have taken the time and put in the effort to grow your own list, then the members of that list will already have some degree of awareness for you, your products, and your website.

Developing your own list can take time and money. To get a head start it is possible to buy or rent email lists from others. In these cases it is particularly important to pay attention to the second important factor � the list MUST be an opt-in list. Every member of that list must have opted in to receive marketing communication from you and they MUST be given adequate opportunity to opt out of future communication.

Particular care needs to be taken with your list management techniques to ensure that you are not deemed as being spam. If you purchase lists or partial lists then members that opt out need to be recorded separately. If you purchase another list that includes the same name and you subsequently email that person without their express request to be re-included in your list then you face the very real possibility of being flagged as sending spam email.

3 – Establish Performance Tracking Techniques

Tracking the performance of any advertising campaign should be foremost in your mind. This is the only true method of determining its worth and is the only way you can optimize your advertising to generate the best possible results. Web analytics are an absolute must-have, and with the wealth of affordable and even free choices available today there is no reason not to have a good analytic package in place.

Tracking code can also be placed into an HTML email. You need to operate a degree of caution when implementing code into HTML emails, because it could lead to your email being blocked by over zealous spam filters. If you can use hyperlinks that include tracking code, and your analytics package includes referral data, then this can generate the majority of the information you require.

The more information you can gleam from an advertising campaign, the better. You will be using these results to fine tune future advertising campaigns, so too much information is better than too little. If in any doubt then consider using an email marketing management service to conduct the tracking on your behalf.

4 � Ready Your Website

Directing visitors to your website is only a portion of the battle ahead. Once a reader clicks through the links in your email, you then need to be confident that your web pages are optimized to complete the sale. Conversion rates need to be high on the pages you direct traffic to, but you also need to target the traffic to the most appropriate pages and vice versa.

Consider the anchor text, or link text, that you will be using in your email. If you are encouraging readers to learn more about a product then don’t direct them straight to the purchase page unless that page includes the inferred information. Similarly, if you have pre-sold your readers so that they are poised and ready to buy, and your CTA (Call To Action) indicates that this is the next step then you can navigate readers through to a more direct sales page.

Introducing a new product or a new concept will usually take more information than you can provide in a single marketing email. If necessary, add a page or multiple complementary pages, to your website. Direct readers to these pages so that you can combine the use of your email marketing and your optimized and informative content to really persuade and hammer the message home hard.

5 � An Effective Subject Line

The subject line of your email is the first thing your readers will read, and you need to ensure that it won’t be the last. Human spam filters can be just as difficult to avoid as software spam filters, even for genuine email. You should certainly avoid the use of typically spammy subject lines and opt for a more effective approach.

There are many ways to write an appealing subject line. A newsworthy subject line will often grab the attention but only works effectively in limited cases. Otherwise, try to evoke an emotive response from the reader. The strongest emotions include greed, love, and even hatred or controversy. With these latter two it is again important that you exercise appropriate caution otherwise you may alienate your readers against this and future marketing emails.

Intrigue and appeal work very well. An intriguing headline will draw your readers into the main body of the content and the subject line will have then done its job effectively. Never mislead in the subject of your email but do try to peak your reader’s curiosity to the extent that they can’t help but open the email and read it fully.

6 – Email Body Content

Finally we reach the main body content of the email. That it’s taken to point six to do so is an indication of how important the planning and preparation stages are. The subject line has hopefully driven a good portion of your list to open the email, and those readers should be intrigued enough to want to read more.

Research shows that the more personalized the message, the more likely it will be to succeed. Start with a personalized greeting and use a friendly, even conversational tone, throughout the message. Inform readers of what they need to know but do so informally and in as friendly a manner as is possible by email.

The email absolutely has to be grammatically and factually correct, and must not contain typos. These types of errors can be an instant turn off for readers. Run a spell check. Twice. And then check it manually and have somebody else check it again for you. At the same time check the links and ensure that they do indeed direct to the proper pages.

Include a Call To Action, or CTA, rather than just a link. A CTA is a direction that points your visitors to perform your desired action. This could be to click a link, make a purchase, or even forward the email to friends. The CTA needs to be clearly defined an, obviously, as effective and accurate as possible.

7 – Hyperlinks To Your Site

The entire point (although probably not your ultimate goal) of your email is to get readers to click on links and visit your website. Include two or three links in the body of your email and make sure they are relevant without being too obvious. Lead readers to click the links rather than directly point it out and find something more effective than �click here� to use as your anchor text.

Two to three links is the ideal number. Too few links and your email won’t prove effective at driving traffic, while too many links will detract from the actual content of the email. If your email is very short then offer two links, or offer three links within longer messages. Contextual links (that is, those that appear within the body of the email rather than at the end) are usually significantly more effective.

Check and double check that links work and direct to the correct page. Once you’ve done this, have somebody else check them too. The number of marketing emails that have failed because of broken or incorrect links is alarmingly high and this is not a trap that you want to fall into.

8 – Choose The Best Time To Send Your Email

The time you send your email can have a significant impact on its effectiveness. During the night, most people’s emails fill up. In a lot of cases, this can mean that your reader will be faced with tens of emails in the morning, many of them rubbish. This leaves a very real chance that they will simply ignore or delete your email without noticing who sent it, what it is about, or whether they have any interest in reading it.

Consider your target market and when they are most likely to be sat in front of their email. Those with a global market may find this more difficult because of the time difference, but otherwise bear this in mind too. Not every website or marketing email is geared towards residents from the same country.

9 – Test Email

Initially, send a test email to yourself, friends, family, or colleagues. This is more to determine that it arrives looking as expected. Once you have done this and are happy with how your email looks, you should then move on to send a second test email to a small selection of your list. This gives you ample opportunity to make any last minutes changes or tweaks according to how this small test run performs.

You might even consider sending several tests out to different groups, if you have a large enough list. This enables you to test the subject line, content, and product price, by making alterations before each test run. Be sure to test the different components separately, though, so that you can determine what needs changing and what works well.

A test email also gives you chance to check that you are set up and able to track the results and any other information you want to track. A good email marketing service will do this by default, because the test email can prove to be one of the single most effective ways to improve the performance of a one-off email shot.

10 – Monitor, Optimize, And Start Again

Being careful not to send emails too frequently, you should send regular communication to your list. An unloved list will be more likely to unsubscribe and readers become most responsive after approximately seven items of communication from you. Monitor results, check bounce rates, and look for ways that your campaign could be improved.

Once you’ve found the best ways to improve a campaign make the improvements and begin the procedure again from the beginning. This process of monitoring, optimizing, and starting again will help to increase exposure, improve brand awareness, and generally improve results and profit levels.

Why Your List Is So Important

A list can last you a lifetime and it is possible to continue selling to the same list members over and over again. In fact, once a list member purchases from you, and presuming that everything goes smoothly during and after the sale, they will be more inclined to purchase from you in the future. You will have won their trust, gained their favor, and they can be relied upon to help you with extra sales in the future.

Look after your list and your list will look after your profits.

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About the Author: Matt Jackson, founder of WebWiseWords, offers and a range of other to increase traffic and improve conversions for your website.

WNW Design Launches PDK Fundraising Website

WNW Design are proud to announce the launch of the PDK Fundraising website.

PDK Fundraising have been supplying quality fundraising products for nearly 30 years. They are especially renowned for quality soft toy tombolas which offer high profit margins, but also offer a whole range of products which will inspire and help you to raise funds for your organisation.

Please browse the website www.pdkfundraising.co.uk for great fundraising ideas.

WNW Design Launches Blue Moon Trading Website

WNW Design are proud to announce the launch of the Blue Moon Trading website.

Blue Moon Trading is a family firm of importers supplying retailers of all sizes with attractive and colourful items for the Home and Garden.

A tour of the website www.bluemoon-trading.co.uk will take you through the exciting home, garden and conservatory collections and you can end your visit in the gorgeous Christmas section.

Images are the Natural Evolution of Search

Over the past couple years it has been impossible to avoid the buzz about images and their increasing role in search; such as universal search which is becoming commonplace among the major search engines. But universal search is only the most prevalent news and only the baby-steps of a new format of search that is about to take over the Internet. Do I have your interest piqued? I will now lay the foundation of my statement to hopefully get you as excited as I am about this unstoppable search evolution.

Evidence 1) Photosynth
If you have any technology mavens as friends it is likely you saw this incredible video presented by Microsoft at the TED conference last year discussing Photosynth. To quote this software

“takes a large collection of photos of a place or an object, analyzes them for similarities, and then displays the photos in a reconstructed three-dimensional space, showing you how each one relates to the next. In our collections, you can access gigabytes of photos in seconds, view a scene from nearly any angle, find similar photos with a single click, and zoom in to make the smallest detail as big as your monitor.”
My jaw still hurts from hitting the ground after my first viewing of Photosynth many months ago. This software made a massive impression on me that has led me to many interesting ideas on the applications for this software; I will leave these thoughts to another time. For now, however, lets just say that the advent of a technology such as Photosynth provided a first glimpse into how images on the web can play a far greater role than ever imagined.

Evidence 2) PicLens by cooliris
PicLens is a fantastic plugin that allows searchers to navigate a 3d gallery of images associated with the topic they are searching. The user can also surf related images by simply clicking on a small play icon that appears on images anywhere in their browser (the icon appears on the image when the user’s mouse hovers over it for a moment). So where does PicLens get its content from? PicLens has complete access to the image caches of: Google, Yahoo, Flickr, SmugMug, Photobucket and DeviantArt.

This free, incredibly useful software is available now and it represents a new way for the masses to think about search; instead of showing information in a ranking format, PicLens makes browsing images as simple as a flick of your mouse (momentum will actually allow the images to move by). Right now PicLens is naturally designed for images but who says it needs to stay that way?

Evidence 3) SearchMe
When my colleague showed me the preview of SearchMe I knew I had the linchpin for this very article. SearchMe is a new search engine in private Beta at the moment but this next generation search engine has finally married image search in a manner that will get many tongues wagging.

As this video outlines in detail SearchMe allows searchers to type in a search and then define the intended topic of their search in order to provide the most relevant results. Once the user selects their topic they are provided with a slick but simple page showing pictures of each resulting web page that can be scanned through in a manner similar to PicLens.

Now these are not images in a classic sense, since they are actually just screenshots of the existing web pages, however, the technology is extremely similar and it seems natural that the final version of SearchMe’s image search option would utilize the same technology.

Tying it all Together
What is the one thing that all of these concepts have in common? The answer is marvelously simple; they all focus on the simple concept that a picture is worth a thousand words. Why show a snippet of content in a search engine result page when a complete image could say so much more about the destination?

Are You Excited Yet?
So are we on the same page now? Are you as fascinated as I am with the next generation of search? If not, you had better get on board quickly; there is no doubt in my mind that image-based searching is the natural evolution of search. Don’t get me wrong, on page content will still play a large role in algorithms but the days of top 10 results are numbered.

What Will this Mean to SEO?
Basically a few existing elements of search engine optimization will become more important:

1. Web pages will have to be designed with a tighter focus on usability and simplicity for screenshots to appear interesting/relevant enough to click on.
2. Images will always need to be appropriately tagged and described.
3. Web site images will have to be picked with more care from stock photography sites in order to capture the eyes of image-surfing prospects.
4. SEOs will find it useful to include sales-oriented information in images but not at the expense of the image.
5. Content around images and the overall page text must be extremely relevant to the image and the description and tags that are attributed to it.

In short, the evolution of search will continue to do what it has always done; make us all work harder to provide better quality content. One thing is for certain… the evolution of search just makes search engine optimization services interesting and necessary in order to maintain search success in multiple search environments.

About The Author
Ross Dunn is the CEO and Founder of StepForth Web Marketing Inc.; based in Victoria, BC, Canada and founded in 1997. You can read more of Ross’s articles and those of the StepForth team at news.stepforth.com or contact us at StepForth.com, Tel: 250-385-1190, TollFree: 877-385-5526, Fax: 250-385-1198 .

How Anyone Can Improve Their Search Engine Rankings

The goal of the search engines is to provide the most relevant information to its users. It’s in the best interests of the search engines to be relevant because if the information returned is not relevant, the web user will use a different search engine and this will take money out of their (massive) pockets.

The majority of searches worldwide are conducted on 3 major search engines (Google, Yahoo! and MSN).

Are you familiar with algebra? The search engines use mathematical formulas called ‘algorithms’ to evaluate your website’s relevance in relation to ‘search terms’ or ‘keywords’. Each search engine uses different algorithms (which are not disclosed to the public), which focus on 2 main areas which I call: Content and Link Popularity.

The term ‘link popularity’ as I refer to it, means: “How authoritative your website is in the eyes of the search engines according to the amount of links you have and the quality and relevance of those links.” (When compared to the content on your website and your competitors’ websites).

This means any content in your website including: all text, images, audio and videos.

PageRank� is a series of algorithms that was invented by Serge Brin and Larry Page, (the billionaire founders of Google) in 1998 and is constantly evolving.

Google’s description of Pagerank:

“PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page’s value. Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. But, Google looks at more than the sheer volume of votes or links a page receives, it also analyzes the pages that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves ‘important’ weigh more heavily and help to make other pages ‘important’.”

PageRank (from here on I will refer to it as PR) works on a scale from 0 – 10, with 0 being lowest and 10 being highest. The higher your PR is, the more authoritative your site is.

Each website that links to you will give you some of their PR (if they have any) and vice versa. A great analogy is that PR is like water. The higher the PR of the website that links to you, the more water that they will give you. It’s important to remember though that if that webpage is already giving water (linking) to lots of other sites, they will not give you as much as they would if they weren’t linking to so many sites.

Most websites have the highest PR on their homepage because that’s where the majority of their incoming links point to. A common theme is that a website will have a high PR on their homepage, but low or no PR on most of their internal pages.

It is important to have “deep links”, these are links going to a page in your site other than your homepage.

FAQs:

Do I need to have a high PR to get into the top listings of the search engines?

That’s a tricky question, my answer is Yes and No! Each of the search engines has different criteria when it comes to listing your website on their first page. It is possible that you could have PR of zero and get the first listing. However, this would most likely be only on a keyword with no competition. Example: “vanilla carrot croisants” Obviously this is not a word that anyone is typing into the search engines, (as of now lol).

If the keyword you are trying to get high rankings on is competitive, usually the top spots go to relevant sites that have the highest PR.

As the PageRank formula is an algorithm, how many links would it take from a PR 4 site webpage to equal one link from a PR5 site?

The answer to this is kept top secret by Google and Yahoo, but some industry experts predict that you would need between 8-10. So if that is true than it would take from 60-100 PR3 links to equal just 1 PR5 link based on PR alone.

Personally I think this is just a vague guideline that doesn’t hold true in many cases. A PR5 link will be more or less valuable depending on: how many pages it is already linking to, it’s relevance to your website theme, and other hidden factors.

How do I get onto the first page of Google?

Getting onto the first page of Google (and the other search engines) for a particular keyword or keyword phrase depends on 3 factors:

*Content – what your webpage contents say that it is about in relation to a particular keyword.

*Link Reputation – what other web-pages say your webpage is about (based on the words in and around the links that point to your website) and the determined quality and authority of those web-pages.

*Authority – how important your website is in the “eyes” of the search engines based on the amount of links and quality of links pointing to your site (PageRank)

The position that your site will get depends on the ‘score’ that it receives based on these factors. Remember that this ‘score’ is always in relation to a particular keyword.

If your website is about “chocolate cake recipes” (are you getting hungry yet?), your website can achieve rankings related to this keyword. You won’t be able to rank for “banana pudding” or “creme brule” unless you have that content in your website.

If you would like to get higher search engine rankings I suggest you start to learn about how to optimize your content and how to get quality links to your site. Happy Optimizing!

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About the Author: Jason Storm is an SEO Expert who consults for small-business owners and webmasters who want to increase their search engine rankings by using content optimization and link building strategies. Visit his site http://www.Affordable-SeoServices.com.

Ecommerce Marketing – Improve Landing Page Performance

Undertaking any new advertising campaign should also entail the optimization of your landing pages. These pages need to be set up primarily to convert the visitors that your advertising generates. No matter the method of marketing or advertising you use, even offline advertising, you should have a clear understanding of the visitors that it will produce.

- What keywords, if any, led a visitor to your page?
- Are your visitors looking for information or products?
- Where are your visitors likely to be from?

The first step to landing page optimization is getting to know the resulting visitors. With paid search and even organic search you should have a good level of knowledge of the keywords that those visitors have used to visit your site. Consider whether the keywords and your campaign in general is geographically targeted, whether it will lead to visitors that want more information or are ready to start the buying process, and their general demographics. The more information you can determine about your new visitors, the more effective your landing page can be.

- Have you included the most relevant keywords in your page?
- Are the images relevant to the topic your visitors want?
- Are ALL of your page elements relevant?

The landing page should be optimized so that it is relevant to these visitors. Page relevancy is always a popular topic. The more relevant a page is to its visitors, the more targeted those visitors will be, and the more targeted a visit is, the more likely they will convert and perform your desired action. Including keywords is a part of page relevancy but generally matching all of the page content to the needs of your visitors is vital.

- Why did a visitor choose to visit your site?
- What did you promise or infer in your advertisement?
- Do your visitors want information or do they want to buy straight away?

If you promise information in the advertising link then you should provide that information. In contrast, if an advertisement implies that your visitor will be taken to a purchase page, then that is where they should be taken. Most searches are done by surfers looking for information on a topic – this may or may not lead to an immediate purchase. By providing the information that a visitor is looking for it provides you with the opportunity to increase brand awareness, and even make an immediate sale.

- What makes your product better than your competitors’ products?
- Why should visitors use your website rather than the next one?
- What do you have to offer that no other service, or very few services, also offer?

A Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is what makes you stand out from your competition. It’s the reason that your visitors should choose you over any other site. It’s also one of the most powerful conversion tools you have available to you. Many websites do not include their USP because they have yet to identify it – virtually every website and every company has a USP and promoting it early or prominently in the content of your site will help to increase conversion rates.

- Does the first paragraph of content include a summary?
- Have you got all of the important information on the page before the fold?
- Have you used an appropriate web content writing format?

Reading from a computer screen is very different to reading from paper based media. We can’t read as quickly, we digest less information, and we comprehend fewer facts and less information. As such, it is good practice to write differently for the Internet than we would for a magazine or other publication. The very first paragraph needs to be a concise and informative summary of the rest of the page. Sentences and paragraphs should be shorter in length and, therefore, simpler in their reading. Headlines and titles, as well as other formatting, should be well employed in the relevant areas.

- Have you removed any unnecessary links?
- Is advertising kept to less visible sections of the page?
- Have you moved distracting page elements below the fold?

The more external links that appear at or near the top of the page, the more likely that your visitors will leave your site. Similarly, distracting advertisements that aren’t a part of your CTA (Call To Action) need to be placed somewhere less distracting, along with other potential diversions. While these page elements all have a place on websites, they shouldn’t detract from a well optimized landing page.

- What do you want your visitors to do next?
- What will your visitors want to do next?
- Have you clearly defined and implemented your CTA?

The Call To Action, or CTA, is the online vehicle that will drive your visitors to take the next step in the process. What this step is will differ according to various factors. If you sell your own products then the next step for your visitors could be to make the purchase. Alternatively, the desired action could be to sign up for a free newsletter, click an affiliate link, or download a free ebook. Identify what it is that you want your visitors to do next as well as what you believe they will want to do next. Once you’ve identified your CTA you need to implement it on your page so that visitors recognize what they are expected to do.

- Do you have any special offers, reductions, or discounts?
- Do you have any promotional giveaways or other incentives to offer?
- Have you pushed these incentives above the fold?

Incentives are a great way to persuade undecided visitors to take the plunge and move on to the next step. Either have a creative ad made that is relevant to the incentive, or at the very least ensure that it is mentioned in or around the first paragraph of your page. It should also be considered one of your USPs so it is a critical part of optimizing your landing pages.

- Is there any way you can make improvements?
- Are you tracking results?
- Are you prepared to make changes according to those results?

Your landing page is all about getting results. This means you need a powerful analytic package so that you can track the performance of these pages. You should have this software installed on your site anyway, in order that you can track the results of the advertising campaign itself, determine your most successful and least successful pages, and gather important data. Make small changes in a bid to improve page performance, and ascertain the success of those changes before making any others. Keep monitoring and optimizing until you get the best possible results.

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About the Author: The landing page is as important as the advertising itself. Poor landing page performance essentially means wasted advertising revenue while optimized pages can mean excellent sales levels and highly profitable marketing campaigns. Matt Jackson, of WebWiseWords, creates compelling web site content, and also specializes in a range of other .

Wake Up Call – People Use The Internet To Shop

Results from a survey conducted by Cambridge-based Internet design and marketing company, Netflare revealed some startling statistics about small businesses and eCommerce.

Stats like:
- 23% of sites hadn’t been updated since their launch leading to inaccurate and obsolete content

- Only 8% even had an eCommerce element to their site

- 25% had no way of tracking online sales

- 38% didn’t have a budget at all for updating their sites
And the survey covered small businesses in 19 different sectors.

So if you run a small business and are starting to feel guilty reading over these stats, this is your wake up call! The amount of people using the Internet to do at least some of their shopping is growing all the time. Do you really want to miss out on all of these potential customers? Nobody said it was going to be easy, but you just can’t neglect your website and expect to get sales.

Not Selling Goods Through Your Site?

If you are selling goods, it’s time to offer them through your website. Not just through your brick and mortar store. Not only will this increase convenience for your customers (they love convenience by the way), it will expand your customer base across the world.

Not Tracking Online Sales?

Don’t you want to know where your sales are coming from? Knowing this will only help you better target your customers in the marketing process.

Not Updating Your Site?

Do not leave out of date content on your site for potential customers to find. I promise you that they will not buy from you if you are still promoting some dated content that isn’t even relevant anymore. It’s just unprofessional, and nobody wants to take a chance buying from someone they’ve never heard of if they can’t even present themselves in a professional manner.

No Budget for Site Updates?

If you don’t have a budget for keeping a website updated, it’s time to reorganize your budget. If you can’t afford to hire your own designer, work with whoever designed your site and learn how to update it yourself. And make sure you have someone available to assist in case your site experiences technical difficulties.

It’s the year 2008. It’s time to start taking the Internet seriously as a way of attracting customers. Why deprive your business of more sales?

About the Author:
Chris is a content coordinator and staff writer for SmallBusinessNewz and the iEntry Network.

Top 5 Ways To Benefit From Universal Search

What is Universal Search and Why Should You Care?

Universal Search combines all the information within its Vertical engines/databases into one index to serve a single set of SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).

An example of Vertical engines/databases are Google News, Google Video, Google Images etc.

What this means is when you go to www.google.com, (their most highly trafficked domain) and do a search, rather than just getting websites from their main index, you will also get results from the News, Images, Video, etc databases as well. It is a more comprehensive results page.

Google Vice President of Search Products and User Experience Marissa Mayer said the company’s goal for universal search is to create “a seamless, integrated experience to get users the best answers.”

Sometimes the information you are looking for is best delivered by video, or images or a news story. Currently, you would have to search each of the Vertical engines/databases to get all the information. Google is planning to integrate it into one search engine.

As a searcher this means easier access to various forms of information with only one search. It seems like a good thing, as long as the results are easily organized on the page. It could mean more scrolling to get to the different areas of results, depending how they lay it out.

What To Do and Why

Changes with the search engines can sometimes be confusing. There is a lot of information to evaluate and some decisions to be made. Before you decide anything, you need to understand what your options are.

If your site isn’t already properly optimized for organic rankings, that would be the place to start. You want to make sure you have clean, search engine friendly code and a solid foundation, as well as on-page optimization. This would be the starting point, without this in place you have no hope of competing in the engines – with or without Universal Search.

If your site is already properly and aggressively optimized, then you are in good shape to build on that and benefit from Universal Search.

Since Universal Search will take information from the Verticals (like images, press releases, videos, audios, Blog postings, etc) you want to make sure that you have some exposure in each of those areas.

Imagine someone does a search for what you have to offer, and in the Universal Search results your webpage comes up. In the same search your competitor’s site comes up PLUS your competitor has video, images and Blog posts as well. A searcher is more likely to click on your competitor’s site since more of the total number of results that come up will belong to your competitor.

The other factor is the layout of the results page. We don’t know yet how it will play out. If Google mixes all the results together (ex: videos, web pages, Blog posts, images, etc all come up intermingled) that creates one scenario. It means you aren’t competing apples to apples for the top spot. It could be video in the 1st position and you are hoping to get your web pages ranked in the 1st position.

Another way of delivering the results would be to group them by category. They could líst all the Blog results, then all the video results under that, and then all the image results under that, etc.

If that is the case, you want to have something listed in each category section because if you happen to have a ranking in the last category section but nothing higher on the page, you are not likely to get a click.

What you really need to do in addition to adding content and optimizing your site, is also focus on getting something in the other Verticals.

Top 5 Ways To Participate in Universal Search

1. Google Image Search: It has always been a good idea to use images on your site for illustrating your products and services. Now customers can find your site via Google Image Search. Optimize your images with descriptive, keyword-rich file names and ALT tags. Use accurate descriptions of your image files for the benefit of those who might need to view the site in text only format.

2. Google Video (beta): Use descriptive, keyword-rich file names for your video files. Also create a keyword-rich title tag, description tag, and video site map.

3. Google News: Submit your press releases for display as news, and also as a new content page on your site.

4. Google Maps: AKA Google Local – this has been included in Google search results for a while. Give your site a local presence through the Google Maps Local Business Center where local businesses can get a free basic listing to extend their reach in the SERPs.

5. Google Blog Search (beta): Use social media and Blog engines to drive traffic to the site. Submit to the Google Blog search and have your Blog help boost you in the new world of Universal Search.

With a better understanding of the options, it becomes clear that in order to boost your exposure in the search engines and get new traffic you need to be proactive in anticipation of these Universal Search changes. Don’t wait until it is too late and you are scrambling to catch up.

About The Author
Jennifer Horowitz is the Director of Marketing and co-owner of EcomBuffet.com . Since 1998, her expertise in online marketíng and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has helped clients improve revenue and achieve their business goals. Jennifer has written a downloadable book on Search Engine Optimization and has been published in many SEO and marketing publications. Jennifer can be reached at Jennifer@ecombuffet.com.

5 Competitive Research Tools To Boost Your SEO Performance

An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage. – Jack Welch
Many people may believe that obtaining top rankings in Google is nearly impossible. The competition for page 1 is fierce and it seems daily there is yet one more marketing must have that you must learn and apply to achieve top positions.

This is partly true. There are general markets that are hotly competitive, such as real estate, health and beauty, weíght loss or general medical supplies. Niche markets present an easier opportuníty to predict and/or manage the outcome of specific search terms.

Far from being an exercise in futility, top listings drive traffic and can lead to tremendous success online. You may be surprised to learn your competition can help you get there faster. Do not overlook the value of competitive intelligence in Search Engine Marketing.

When performing competitive research, the goals are to discover:

What methods and channels your competition is using, i.e. are they using social media such as video or social bookmarks?

How entrenched a competitor is and how hard it is to unseat them;

Level of SEO skills; and

Link prospects, so you can trade links, host articles and do reviews.
Competitive research should be an integral part of your SEO strategy. While it is sometimes painful to review and compare yourself to your competitors, it will always result in you improving your business and strategies.

There are several things that you can do to uncover competitive information and here we’ll cover:

1. Who is Top “Dugg”?

Social book marking sites can yield a wealth of information about your competitors and target market. What are the top stories in your niche area? This can help you to shape content that will draw your target audience. Check your competitors to see if they have any diggs and if so for what type of content. There are many social bookmarking sites such as Mixx, Reddit and StumbleUpon. Digg has a large content base which makes it a good site for assessment.

2. Determine Link Popularity.

Using tier 1 keywords, do a Google search. Pick the top three ranked Google sites. Take this information and check the link popularity using marketleap.com.

Take note of the number of incoming links. You want to review sites with the lowest number of incoming links and highest Google rankings. Do not limit your review to Google but check Yahoo and MSN results as well.

3. Perform Keyword Research.

Use the search term suggestion tool at inventory.overture.com, and look for keywords and their permutations with a good search volume. Continue looking at the tier 1-type terms until you spot an opportuníty to build on. Use other tools like Google keyword tools (free) and keyworddiscovery.com (paid). Use the keywords you select in this step by adding pages to your site, a common and ‘must-do’ SEO practice.

4. Find Sites to Target.

Go to Google and enter “allinanchor: tier 1 keyword” If your tier 1 keyword is weíght loss you will type “allinanchor: weíght loss.” This will restrict the results depending on the number of links coming into a site based on that key word phrase. You are using this to determine sites from which you will target links. You can combine this with “allintitle:” as well – showing keywords used in tag of your pages(s).

5. Read Their Content.

Read and keep competitive marketing messages you receive in email or traditional mail. Review the messages, call to action statements, and special offers. What are they doing to engage customers and encourage them to buy? How does this compare to your marketing messages? Visit their website and compare it to your own. Is the site easy to navigate? Does the content encourage conversion? Do they emphasize call-to-action statements like “download a white paper,” “sign up for this newsletter” or “buy this product now”? Are they using long tail keywords, such as “weíght loss products for women in South Beach?” If they are using this method, you should consider employing it in your efforts.

Competitive research is an integral part of any marketing effort.

Competitive intelligence provides valuable information about your market, trends and your position. Include online and offline channels in your research to get a comprehensive view of your competition. Use tools like UrlTrends to track your progress and SpyFu to look at advertising costs, giving you an indicator of your competition’ s activity, spending and strategy.

The hard work is worth it as someone once famously remarked, “competition breeds excellence” and that excellence can result in a dramatic upside to your bottom line.

About The Author
Jon Rognerud is a recognized authority on the subject of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) , and has spent over 15 years developing online solutions at companies like Overture and Yahoo. His business, ChaosMap.com, provides informative articles and resources about search marketing.

Marketing Through Controversy

Ah, the good old tactic of using controversy to get exposure. The “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” cliché. Though this may be true sometimes, I don’t think it’s quite as simple as that.

Lets take a look at the positives and negatives of controversial marketing.

Why Controversy Can Help Your Business

Just look at the exposure that has gotten from the recent “Crispy Frickin’ Chicken Sandwich” controversy. I’ll tell you right now, I had never heard of Sheetz before this. Of course I don’t live in the region where all of its stores are located, but now the whole world knows its name thanks to this controversial ad.
I have to admit that I’m a little surpised that this ad has caused such a stir considering how “controversial” our pop culture and society itself have become, but Sheetz knew exactly what it was doing. Ruffling a few feathers always gets exposure. Exposure, means branding.

Now everyone that lives outside of the Sheetz region, knows what Sheetz is and will remember the name if they visit the region. And everyone in the region that is already familiar with Sheetz will have that Crispy Frickin’ Chicken Sandwich on their mind and just may want to check out the meal that has everyone riled up (I use the term “everyone” very loosely).

Why Controversy Can Hurt Your Business

Now we have to consider just how many people are turned off by this Crispy Frickin’ Chicken Sandwich ad. How many would’ve-been customers has Sheetz lost because of this?

Controversy can’t hurt your business because when you offend people, they want nothing to do with you. I’m guessing Sheetz didn’t think the ad would be offensive to too many people and was willing to alienate a few to bring in more. Shining negative light on your business is generally not something you want to do, but sometimes negativity is in the eye of the beholder, so judgment and risk assessment are things you have to use.

Consider Your Target

If you intend to spark controversy with your marketing, it is important to consider your target audience. Who is most likely to buy the product you are selling? If you can appeal to the target, the controversial campaign is more likely to be successful, but if your target is broad, controversy may not be the best route to go, due to the risk of alienating part of the demographic you are trying to reach. Again, this comes down to risk assessment. Sheetz no doubt considered that a chicken sandwich would appeal to a pretty broad spectrum of people, but felt that the campaign would gain them more customers than it would lose them.

The very topic of controversial marketing is controversial itself. Personal ethics come into play and there will always be disagreement. I’d love to hear your opinions on controversial marketing as well as stories of how controversial marketing has impacted your business. Please share in the comments.

About the Author:
Chris is a content coordinator and staff writer for SmallBusinessNewz and the iEntry Network.