Tag Archives: Online Marketing

27 SEO Strategies to Keep Your Content Competitive

Many things can be measured in terms of days, weeks, months, or even years.  The constantly evolving nature of the Internet, however, demands a more accelerated time frame, where things are measured in seconds, minutes, and hours.  What may be popular, trending, or successful right now could become a distant memory tomorrow.

This continual ebb and flow in the online world requires that online marketers and website designers perform site optimization in a way that ensures as much longevity as possible – despite the fact that all too often, the words “longevity” and “online” generally don’t complement each other very well.

For the most part, SEO has consisted of three primary methods: (1) continuing to use SEO that has worked in the past (“if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”), (2) integrating strategies that are overlooked and underutilized in an attempt to create a fresh perspective with content that is rarely seen, and (3) leaping ahead of the herd by employing innovative techniques that have not been time-tested or vetted through other means.

With all that in mind, how do you know which SEO methods to use on your own website to drive traffic, generate interest, and cultivate a base of prospects (readers, visitors, customers, etc.) that will keep coming back?  You really don’t know, and the best way to implement SEO strategies into your website design, online marketing, content writing, or other Internet-based activity is by finding out what’s out there and giving it a try.  What works for someone else may not work for you, and what has failed miserably for another site could propel yours into an unheard of dimension of popularity and success.

Here are 27 SEO strategies and techniques for you to examine, contemplate, and integrate into your website to increase your exposure and attract more interest in what you are offering, whether it’s information, ideas, products, or services:

  1. Be creative.  Never follow someone else’s lead, because you’ll always be in second place, at best.
  2. Include ALT text for every image or graphic that is contained on your site.  Images are part of the site’s content, so a description like “Luftwanstelbadtt, Germany’s oldest castle” is much more search engine pleasing than “001_39023.JPG,” and it also lets visitors know what the image is supposed to be if they have a slower-loading internet connection or the image becomes broken for some reason.
  3. Use long-tail keywords as often as you can.  By using a more specific keyword (long-tail), you are ensuring that visitors with both general and specific search terms can find your site.  (An example of a long-tail keyword would be “living on a budget as a single mother” rather than “living on a budget” or “budget living.”)
  4. Do not use deceptive anchor text with links to your site.  Google deciphers linkage and attempts to determine if the landing page a user reached is actually the one they wanted (based on the link they clicked), and if it was not, the website can be penalized.
  5. Determine your keywords, research them thoroughly, and place them naturally.  Don’t stuff keywords, don’t use keywords that aren’t relevant to the page’s data, and don’t include them in content where they don’t seem to fit.
  6. Stay away from selling links on your site.  If you do, make sure you nofollow them.  And it’s probably just a better idea not to sell them in the first place, because Google will likely change their mind on the nofollow and make it noselling.
  7. Blog often, and promote your posts through your website, social media pages, and other online outlets.  Make sure your blogs are relevant to your industry and link to pages on your site where appropriate.
  8. Do not employ page coding strategies that prevent a user from clicking/using the BACK button.  Google’s Webmaster Central Blog has an article on this and specifically refers to performing this underhanded tactic, where an advertisement-laden page is displayed instead of the previous page the user had been viewing.
  9. Establish a valuable linkfolio (“link portfolio”) by placing links back to your site on popular, reputable, and authoritative online locations.  These can be your social media sites, industry-specific directories (not “free for all” directories), through the use of affiliate marketing, and cataloging sites.
  10. Optimize your above-the-fold content for quick loading and minimal advertising.  Site visitors want their information “right now,” and if they have to wait to see it, they’ll go somewhere else in a hurry.  This tip is especially critical for mobile versions of your website (because Google seems to think that, based on user data, mobile phones can deliver information faster than the speed of NOW).
  11. Provide high quality, in-depth content.  This is straight from the search engine’s mouth.  According to Google, users are turning to search engines more often for information on a much broader scale than before, and they are seeking bigger quantities of data.
  12. Create a sitemap.  Both users and search engines like sitemaps.
  13. Don’t embed links in JavaScript and Flash plug-ins.  Search engine crawlers cannot find these links, and embedding links into a plug-in that a user may have disabled for security reasons may prevent them from finding your content.
  14. Make sure your website’s pages load quickly and accurately.  Nothing is more frustrating than waiting (and waiting and waiting) for a page to load, and when it does – it’s only half there.
  15. Avoid faulty redirects and smartphone-only errors on mobile versions of your site.  Again, from Google, regarding misdirection of links that provide a generic or main page result rather than the intended page when a mobile user clicks a specific link.
  16. Make use of keywords that are phrased in a way that real people would use them.  Don’t use “Denver residential sanitation repurposing facility” if you are a “trash recycling business for homes in Denver.”  People search for things in the way they would be said in a spoken conversation, not in a way that uses technical jargon, buzzwords, and officious-sounding titles.
  17. Make use of page titles and Meta descriptions in ways that emphasize your specific focus (via keyword insertion).  If someone is searching for “rare cat breeds” they won’t find you if your titles and descriptions say “exotic feline genus and species.”  (This is part of the “real world phrasing of keywords” tip.)
  18. Find, read, and use as many free SEO tools and resources as you can.  While a great deal of the “expert” SEO advice out there may not truly be expert, it can still be useful.  Learn all you can about SEO and use what sounds logical.
  19. Avoid duplicate content, period.  Google’s Penguin update targeted sameness in website content, and that could be anything from copying text from another site or even duplicating your own content from page to page.  Don’t do it.  You will be punished.
  20. Develop and publish resource and information-only pages on your website about industry or niche specific data.  Create something that WANTS to be shared and linked to.  Not only can this boost your status as an expert or authority figure, it can also help generate popularity via linking.
  21. Don’t include an internal link (to another page on the site) on any page on your website unless it’s important to do so.  Just because your site has 10,000 pages doesn’t mean links to all of them have to be on every page of your site.
  22. Create content for people.  The ultimate judge, jury, and executioner for your website’s content is the person who visits it, not the search engine that crawls it.  If you hold the #1 spot on Google and your content sucks, people will visit #2 or #10 or #1,000 because they are providing what the USER wants to see.
  23. Observe what your competitors are doing and learn from them.  Whether your competitors are wildly successful or flaming failures, you can learn something from what they are doing.
  24. Develop a unique and creative branding scheme to set yourself apart from the pack.  If your brand, company, content, or site is plain Jane, who is going to remember you five seconds after they leave your site?
  25. Create hyper-local content wherever possible.  If you have a target audience that is geographically restricted, capitalize on that in every way possible.
  26. Create longer content, blog posts, articles, etc.  Longer content is ranking better on Google than shorter content on the same subjects, so write more (and make sure it’s quality stuff).
  27. Make use of social signals within your site’s content.  Google is looking more and more at how users respond to a site and are taking that into consideration when it comes time to rank a site in search results.

Search engine optimization is not some mythical concept that gets bandied about by attendees at technology conventions.  It is a method of making your website as attractive to potential visitors as possible, getting them interested in what you have to offer, engaged in your content, and coming back for more.  The secondary goal of SEO is to make Google happy.  No website will likely ever reach THAT goal.

43 Lead Generation Tips To Boost Conversion Rates

If you have an online marketplace, one of your biggest concerns is how to generate leads that will convert to sales.  Don’t deny it, because if you did – you’d be lying.  The existence of an online marketplace means that you’re interested in making money, and money comes from good leads that turn into good customers.

So how do you get people to visit your site, learn about what you’re selling, and buy it?  Oh, and it doesn’t matter whether you are selling information, ideas, products, or services – you are still marketing something and you still want someone to pay for it.  Generating leads isn’t as simple as creating your site or landing page and watching the dollars come rolling in.  You do have to work for it.

Here are 43 tips for online lead generation that will help you get traffic to your site:

  1. Use engaging, valuable, original, and informative content on your landing pages.
  2. Be creative and specific with your calls to action.  (“Click here” or “contact us” are SO boring; use relevant anchor text so you can boost your SEO.)
  3. Your landing page has about 5 seconds to keep your visitors’ interest.  Make those seconds count.
  4. Don’t put anything above the fold that isn’t vitally important to what you are offering (whether you are offering a product or service for sale, a newsletter to sign up for, a publication to download, or something else entirely).
  5. Give your landing pages short and high-impact headlines that snatch a visitor’s attention.
  6. Don’t ask visitors to BUY anything; tell them how what you’re offering can help them solve a problem, meet a need, or accomplish a goal.
  7. It’s not about you, it’s about your site visitors.  Keep yourself out of the equation.
  8. Prove your credibility.  (Don’t ask me how – that’s for another blog at another time!)
  9. ALWAYS have a landing page for whatever you are marketing.
  10. Avoid generalities (“it’s the best”) and be specific about why yours is better than your competitors.  Consumers already know that companies think their products and services are ‘the best’ – so you need to dig deeper and specify what, exactly, about your offering is superior to that of your competition.
  11. Provide content (articles, information, etc.) on your site that have nothing to do with selling at all.  This content should focus instead on letting people know that you are an expert in your industry or that you are the most knowledgeable about the product, service, or idea you’re marketing.
  12. If you ask people to fill out a form, give them a good reason why they should.
  13. Your landing pages should be very minimalist.  Avoid any links, information, or content that is not 100% focused on convincing the visitor that they need to take action NOW to obtain what you’re trying to give them.
  14. Do not use descriptive words for your products or services that are already overused.
  15. Do not use technical jargon or industry buzzwords.  The average person will not understand them and will therefore not understand what’s so great about what you are offering.
  16. If people fill out a form, reward them for it.  This can be with a discount, promotional offer, free newsletter, or anything of some ‘value’ that makes it worth your visitors’ time to complete your form.
  17. Locate sites that offer products or services that would enhance yours if paired together and arrange a mutually beneficial linking strategy.
  18. Do not hide your calls to action in your web page design; they are meant to stand out, so make sure they do.
  19. Less is more when it comes to landing page design.  Really.  Less is more.  Start chanting that.
  20. Monitor the ways in which people reach your site (referrals, direct URLs, search engines, etc.) and capitalize on those methods.
  21. Create landing page keywords that are extremely specific to what you are offering.  Long-tail keywords work most effectively for this strategy because they narrow down the pool of searchers to those that have a focused and specific interest in your offer.
  22. Use keywords that are designed with “real world” usage in mind.  Make sure your keywords reflect how people enter words and phrases into a search engine.  In other words, select keywords and phrases based on ‘conversational’ choices rather than ‘algorithm’ choices.
  23. Never link your calls to action to your home page.  Your CTAs need to go to very specific landing pages that contain very specific offers.
  24. Create a blog, post to it regularly, and link back to your landing pages where appropriate.
  25. Be chatty about the benefits of what you are marketing.  If your product or service has several fantastic features that totally set it apart from the competition, say so.  Be specific.  (But don’t include your greatness when it’s the same as your competitions’ greatness.)
  26. If you can do so, let your visitors know how many other people have downloaded, purchased, obtained, or contracted the products or services you are selling.  If everyone else is doing it, why shouldn’t they?
  27. Use your blog to increase your credibility as an authority or expert on what you’re selling.  (This builds trust and trust makes sales.)
  28. Sign up for as many quality affiliate marketing programs you can find.
  29. Create something that is the “first and only” and let people know you’ve got it and they can get it, too.  Exclusivity is a great motivator for many potential consumers.
  30. Use e-mail as a marketing method (but don’t spam!).
  31. Offer things that are exclusive, rare, or in high demand.  This ties in slightly with #29 in that exclusivity can motivate people to engage with your calls to action and/or enter your marketing funnel simply to have something that no one else does (or that everybody else wants, in the case of ‘high demand’ offerings).
  32. When you do create engagement through an online form or sign-up page, redirect the visitor to a “thank you” page and add more information on that page than just your appreciation (put more CTAs, product data, freebies, etc. on it).
  33. Make use of “free” in what you offer – free trials, free subscriptions, free newsletters, etc.
  34. To compel a more timely decision, add “limited time” to your offers.  Along with creating offers that are in high demand or exclusively available to a select few, a time limit can inspire action for some people simply because they do not want to miss out on something.
  35. Use multi-staged calls to action.  People go through different stages when they are contemplating a purchase, and if you multi-stage your CTAs, you are progressively directing their decision closer and closer toward a final YES.  This strategy can also help you overcome those indecisive consumers who fall out of a sales funnel, abandon a shopping cart, or simply choose not to make a choice until they have been pulled farther along toward the action you want them to take.
  36. Place calls to action everywhere you can (but don’t make them “used car salesman” obvious or make your web page look like a carnival freak show), and definitely put them above the fold.  For how NOT to place CTAs, visit Ling’s Cars (and prepare for bleeding eyes).
  37. Don’t use deception between what your call to action says the visitor will be seeing on the landing page and what they actually see.  This will instantly destroy your credibility.
  38. Include social sharing links so people will spread the word.  With social media playing a significant role in the online lives of many people these days, providing social sharing options allows you to obtain greater visibility and audience saturation simply through ‘word of mouth’ advertising.
  39. Don’t offer more than ONE thing on each landing page.  Restricting your landing page content to a single subject or offering will ensure that your visitor’s focus is on exactly what you want it to be on; also, if you present too many pieces of information at one time, it’s very likely that your visitors will make no choice at all.
  40. Keep your online forms short and sweet.  The more information people have to give, the less likely they are to give it.  (See #12 and #16 for more tips about online forms.)
  41. Don’t use the default SUBMIT button for forms; make it creative and make it specific to what they are going to get when they do complete the form and submit their data.
  42. Add customer testimonials and references when and where you can.  These types of information let your visitors know that other people have already taken advantage of your offering(s) and are glad they did.
  43. Test your different methods of acquiring leads frequently and discard those that aren’t working favorably.  Regular testing of your lead generation methods will help you redistribute those that work well, refine those that seem to be missing something, and either completely revamp or remove those that aren’t generating leads at all.

One of the biggest things to consider when marketing online is that your leads do not always come from the same source.  One person may come directly from a referral link on another industry-specific website while a different person may arrive at your landing page because they used certain words in a search engine query.  Make your lead generation techniques as diverse and varied as the people who will be finding you, and always – always – give them quality, information, relevancy, and appealing content FIRST.

Above or Below the Fold?

You have figured out a way to get traffic to your website or landing pages through online lead generation, now you need to find that magic formula that will provide you with through-the-roof conversion rates.  Guess what?  There is no magic formula. 

Converting visitors – even those that are highly qualified leads – is part of your overall marketing strategy that, like everything else, requires effort.

If only it were as easy as putting a particular phrase on your landing page or making a “buy now” button a certain color, and everyone who saw it would instantly be compelling to buy, buy, buy.  There are aspects of your website design that can be instantly compelling, but the results they achieve are usually in regard to instantly compelling your visitors to continue reading your content or move along to another site that is more appealing, engaging, or interesting than yours.

Statistically, when an internet surfer reaches your landing page, you have about 4 to 7 seconds to keep them on that page.  What this means in the most basic and logical sense is that your “above the fold” content has to be out-of-this-world.  If the first few pieces of content on your page don’t immediately grab their attention, your visitors will quickly lose interest.  This applies even if they are targeted prospects or qualified leads.  People using the Internet to obtain information or make purchases still make decisions that are measured in seconds, because of the immediacy that the Internet provides.

But does a call to action above the fold really make that much of a difference in conversion rates?  Some Internet bloggers and so-called experts claim that above-the-fold content has no bearing on conversion rates, while others will vehemently insist that if your important content and calls to action are not above the fold, you’re losing leads, prospects, and sales with every passing second.

In an article titled The “Above the Fold” Myth Debunked, Eugen Oprea discusses some specific examples where CTAs were placed below the fold and resulted in increased conversion rates.  He claims that the fold doesn’t matter because people know how to scroll.  Yes, and people know how to stop at stop signs, not beat their wives and children, avoid using illicit drugs, eat healthy, balance their checkbooks, flush the toilet when they’re finished going to the bathroom, wash their hands before eating, and stay below the posted speed limit when driving, but that doesn’t mean they do it.

The majority of people searching for something on the internet determine their interest in a page by what is visible on the screen when the page loads, meaning what they see “above the fold.”  Just because someone CAN scroll definitely does not mean that they WILL scroll (and more often than not, they don’t).

Eugen Oprea’s article also refers to what he calls “the cloud box,” that annoying floating advertisement that follows you down the side (or middle, even worse!) of the page when you DO decide to scroll for a second or two.  He claims this is wildly successful in terms of getting more leads and generating more interest.  In my opinion, it is wildly off-putting because it’s just more crap in the page that I have to look at while I’m trying to look at the content I came to the page for.

Eugen’s article page also displays a “sign up” window of some kind at some point during your viewing, and it is incredibly deceptive – there are no “X” boxes in the corners or a “no thanks” button or any apparent way to get rid of the window without signing up for whatever it was pitching…I didn’t bother reading it…but if you click outside the window, it goes away; good thing, too, ’cause when it appeared I was ready to “X” the entire browser tab to get rid of it.

KISSmetrics, a respected source for all things SEO and marketing related, also claims that calls to action above the fold have no bearing on conversion rates.  However, unlike Eugen Oprea, they qualify this statement by saying that placing your call to action above the fold is irrelevant IF your content is totally awesome (i.e., appealing enough to make the site visitor want to continue reading below the fold).  KISSmetrics actually claims that the fold has no bearing at all on conversions, whether CTAs are above or below it.

A study to determine fold placement for CTA success reported that long-copy content detailing the value and benefits of what is being marketed to the site visitor is actually what makes or breaks the visitor’s decision to stay on the page, keep reading below the fold, and activate a call to action at the bottom of the page.

An Unbounce study on landing page call-to-action placement determined that there are actually several different ways you can locate a CTA on your landing page and they can have varying effects on conversion depending on how you lead your site visitor to the finish line.  (They are, however, also advocates of the “people WILL scroll” school of thought, despite the fact that studies have determined that less than 20% of site visitors will scroll.)

Despite these examples that claim either that the fold doesn’t matter or that below the fold calls to action are either just as successful or more successful than above the fold CTAs, other industry and marketing analysts say otherwise.  An older article on DemandGenReport.com says that above-the-fold CTAs increase conversion rates exponentially.  A Boostability article says that a call to action is a “must have” for content above the fold to generate more leads and conversions.

There are many, many more examples of marketing articles and information that support above-the-fold calls to action as the most appropriate location to generate better leads and increase your conversion rates.  Ultimately, the choice of placement is left in your hands.  Regardless of whether you decide to go above or below the fold with your calls to action, always make sure you have high quality, original, and appealing content to attract and keep your visitors’ attention.  If you lose that, you’ve already lost the potential conversion, no matter what you are marketing.

The Paradox of Choice: Real or Not?

The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less is a book by psychologist, Barry Schwartz.  In a nutshell, the book discusses why and how multiple options create stress, confusion, and a lack of decision-making ability on the part of consumers.  The first part of this post deals with real-world scenarios.  For the section on how the Paradox of Choice relates to online buying decisions and the effect it has on digital commerce, skip ahead to the section titled The Paradox of Choice and Online Commerce.

In a supposedly world-renowned, researcher-curated economic study where many different types of jams were offered to customers for sampling prior to making a purchase, people faced with so many decisions ultimately ended up not making a decision at all.  They felt stressed out and confused over the large variety of options, weren’t sure which single flavor to pick, and didn’t pick anything at all.  (Also known and referred to as The Jelly Experiment.)

There are supporters and detractors to the applicability of the Paradox of Choice when applied to consumer purchasing decisions.

In an online article titled More is More: Why the Paradox of Choice Might Be a Myth, The Atlantic Magazine presents a debunking of Schwartz’ theory.  They claim that in “several studies” attempting to replicate the results of The Jelly Experiment, the end result was that offering lots of extra choices made no difference either way.  The Atlantic’s article also claims that offering a single-option actually produces the results that Schwartz is claiming via the Paradox of Choice.

To demonstrate how one option creates a “no sales at all” result, The Atlantic cited Williams-Sonoma and how they nearly doubled sales of their $279 bread maker.  At one time, the $279 bread maker was the only one being sold by Williams-Sonoma, and they were not really generating noteworthy sales on the item.  They introduced a $429 bread maker and sales of the lower-priced version almost doubled (and practically no one purchased the $429 one).

Daniel Mochon penned a single-option aversion paper for the Journal of Consumer Behavior.  Mochon claims that when consumers are faced with a “take it or leave it” option consisting of one particular brand or item, they become more interested in shopping around for comparisons to make sure they are getting the best product, best deal, and best option.  Conversely, when they are presented with 20 different flavors or brands of potato chips, for example, the numerous options actually heighten distinctions and give us a greater and more confident sense of surety when making a final purchasing decision.

Mochon’s explanation for this is that by offering a much wider range of options, we are actually giving the consumer the impression that they have explored every possible option (on the shelf in front of them), and are making the best possible decision based on their ability to make comparisons on-the-fly.

While all of this explains the Paradox of Choice and how real or effective it is in real-world examples where consumers can see, touch, taste, and smell the options being presented to them, how does it affect online purchasing decisions?

The Paradox of Choice and Online Commerce

Real-world applications for determining how many options are simply too many can be made easily via a kiosk, sample counter, or simple survey.  Determining whether or not the Paradox of Choice is real in online commerce, however, is another thing entirely.  Companies may not have the time, staff, and budget to spend untold hours performing market research before coming to a conclusion on the best way to market, display, and sell their wares on the internet.  This means that, in most cases, a refinement of shopping options or marketing strategies is done on an as-needed or on-the-fly basis, when one particular method isn’t working and gets modified or replaced by an alternate method.

According to a Smart Insights article on the Paradox of Choice:

Less really is more when it comes to your customer’s satisfaction.

The study of how and why people make decisions, especially as those decisions relate to consumer purchasing, is not a new field of inquiry.  There is research dating back to the 1950s that examines whether or not the number of purchasing options impacts a consumer’s decision, and how more or less likely a consumer is to make a decision at all when faced with a greater number of selections or fewer.

A research paper published by Iyengar & Lepper in 2000 discusses When Choice is Demotivating: Can One Desire Too Much of a Good Thing? [PDF document] as part of a section on personality processes and individual differences.  This study begins:

On the face of it, this supposition [“the more choices, the better”] seems well supported by decades of psychological theory and research that has repeatedly demonstrated, across many domains, a link between the provision of choice and increases in intrinsic motivation, perceived control, task performance, and life satisfaction.

The Iyengar & Lepper study conducted field and laboratory research trials to evaluate choices made by potential consumers when faced with a varied number of options, as well as when faced with a different number of options that consisted of very similar and very dissimilar characteristics.  An example of the latter would be when you are faced with 20 different brands of plain potato chips of varied types (wavy, plain, kettle, salted, etc.), or 20 different flavors of chips offered by the same brand (sour cream and onion, BBQ, cheddar, wasabi, jalapeno, salt and pepper, etc.).

The conclusion reached by the Iyengar & Lepper study is that while people may initially prefer to be faced with a greater number of options (which appears to give them more power over their final decision), they often fail to choose decisively and confidently, or fail to choose at all.  A smaller number of choices produces the greatest level of post-selection satisfaction and almost always culminates in a decision being made by the consumer.

A perfect (and perfectly frightening) example of too many options can be found at the website for Ling’s Cars.  A word of warning – before you open the page, turn down your computer speakers.  There is quite literally so much information on the home page that you simply don’t know where to look or click first and, if you are like so many other people, you choose instead to just click away from the website altogether.

Some marketing experts recommend that you design an online landing page with some information and options for your visitor, but not too many.  The blog over at Kissmetrics provides The Anatomy of a Perfect Landing Page.  There are many other experts, however, that would disagree with Kissmetrics’ opinion.

Those dissenting experts mentioned above hold the opinion that a landing page should display nothing more than what serves the page’s purpose.  The purpose of the page is to get your visitor to buy something.  There should be no navigation links, options, menus, calls to action, write-ups, or anything superfluous on the page that does not say (literally and figuratively) “buy me now.”

This ‘less is more’ theory is certainly in line with some aspects of the Paradox of Choice, but oversimplifying a landing page by giving your visitor only one option that consists of spending money may be just as much of a deterrent as the carnival of the grotesque at Ling’s Cars.

If you do simplify your options to the point of having no options at all other than the one most beneficial to your business, you need to make sure it is as much of a no-brainer non-choice as possible.  Make it impossible for your visitor to walk away from what you are offering.

Conclusion

Finding out what makes consumers tick – and what makes them click – is an endeavor that will continue to occupy the minds of market researchers, digital marketers, business owners, and other professionals for some time to come.  There are plenty of great resources for guiding you in the process of getting clicks and conversions, so make sure you do your own research, too.  Pay attention to your analytics, perform testing on content and CTAs, and keep fine-tuning your marketing strategies until you have ones that work best for your business.

What Is Lead Generation?

The most basic definition of lead generation is that it is ‘the initiation of customer interest or inquiry into the products or services of a business‘ (Wikipedia definition).  While some lead generation tactics are used for passive purposes such as list building or newsletter sign-ups, most tactics are employed for more active and aggressive purposes like cultivating demographically desirable and pre-qualified sales leads or refining a global audience or pool of potential consumers into a targeted one.

The Purpose of Lead Generation

Whether you are selling to consumers (B2C) or other businesses (B2B), there are two obstacles that must be overcome before you can actually close a sale.  You have to provide a compelling response to the following questions:

  • Why should I talk to you?
  • Why should I buy from you?

Most companies try to answer both of those questions simultaneously, using the same content, calls to action, sales pitches, and other strategies.  In reality, those two questions make up two distinctly different parts of the equation and should be treated as such, with your marketing strategies and sales processes focused on each one individually rather than looking at them as being indistinct from one another.

When you tell a potential customer why they should buy from you, you are engaged in the sales process.  Convincing that customer to pay attention and respond to your marketing content, however, by telling them why they should talk to you in the first place, is the primary purpose of lead generation.  A potential customer must first be interested enough to want to know more about what you are selling before they will begin the earnest effort of deciding whether or not to finalize their role in the sales process.

The Lead Generation Funnel

Lead generation, just like making sales, has a ‘funnel’ through which a potential customer must go before they become a qualified lead.  Some marketers consider lead generation as part of the sales funnel, albeit the broadest part at the beginning of the funnel, but others separate it and tackle it as a separate part of the overall marketing process. While the processes of generating leads and making sales should be viewed as separate and distinct for your overall marketing strategy, the bottom of the lead generation funnel overlaps with the top of the sales funnel.

Once a lead has reached the bottom of the lead generation funnel and attained the status of qualified and interested/engaged lead, he or she is ready to begin (or has already begun) the journey through your sales funnel to the end – which is the completion of a sale and the conversion of that lead into a paying customer. The first part of the lead generation funnel comprises your marketing efforts, rather than your sales efforts.  Before a potential customer can become a final sale, they must first be attracted to your offer (whether it’s a product, service, or something else entirely).

Associated with the book, Lead Generation for Dummies, Dayna Rothman writes for the ‘for dummies’ website and provides a comprehensive explanation of the components of a lead generation funnel and how they are used to move a person from a window shopper to a qualified lead to a final sale.

Stage 1: Awareness – At this stage, an individual is dancing around the widest opening of your lead generation and sales funnel.  They are aware of who your company is by name or that you offer certain products or services (in general), but they have done little more than visit your website, check out your social media page, or anonymously download a free document (like a white paper or eBook) through one of your marketing links.

Stage 2: Name – The interested individual has now become part of your database of potential leads, because they have signed up for a newsletter or other subscription, or given their personal contact information as part of a non-anonymous download.  While the individual’s interest may be slightly piqued, they are still not officially a lead at this point, because they may decide your company isn’t worth patronizing or your offerings don’t meet their needs.  A name is, after all, just a name until they become an actionable lead.

Stage 3: Engagement – Once your company has established meaningful communication with the individual, there has now been introduced a certain level of engagement.  This can come through the individual’s initial actions (such as downloading a white paper and expecting a marketing response from the company) or through your company’s initial actions (such as including that individual in an email marketing campaign with a targeted recipient demographic to which the individual belongs).  At this point, the individual is fully inside your lead generation funnel but not yet committed to your sales funnel.

Stage 4: Target – After you have established engagement with your potential lead, you must determine if they fit within your target audience.  The use of targeted recipients for email campaigns is slightly different than establishing an individual as belonging to your company’s desired customer base.  For example, someone who downloads an eBook describing symptoms, attributes, and cycles of drug addiction might be interested enough to reach Stage 2 and 3, but they cannot be compelled to achieve Stage 4 because their interest in drug addiction is to enable them to act in a support role for a friend or family member; thus solutions and assistance for addicts would be of no benefit to them personally.  A ‘target’ (in this context) is someone who has a desire or need for what you are offering and is ready to explore available offers so they can make an informed selection.

Stage 5: Lead – Closely aligned with Stage 4, this stage means the interested individual has become more engaged with your company through various methods and meets the criteria you have established for your target audience or desired customer base.  This is the point in your overall marketing funnel where the individual progresses from deep within the lead generation funnel to the beginning of the sales funnel.  While not a qualified lead yet, he or she is well on their way.

Recycling – At this point, when the individual is passed from your lead generation efforts to your sales team, he or she may not be ready to commit to a sale.  There are plenty of reasons why an interested and engaged potential consumer can fall out of the sales funnel at this point, and you should not discard them entirely.   Recycle them back into your lead generation funnel and attempt to re-engage him or her in the future.

Stage 6: Sales Lead – After your potential consumer has reached this point, it’s time for your sales team to step in and take action to guide the individual to a final sale.  The individual has expressed interest, become engaged, and should now be vetted by the sales team as a qualified lead.  This is the final point before the individual makes a commitment to a sale.  (If the sales team finds that the customer is firmly hesitant, for whatever reason, the individual can be ‘recycled’ back into the lead generation funnel for future action.)

Stage 7: Active Opportunity – Your initial, tentative lead has now reached the point where they are a qualified lead and you have an active sales opportunity that aligns with his or her needs.

Stage 8: Final Sale – Your qualified lead has made a purchase and become a bona-fide customer of your company.

After the Sale – Ongoing Lead Cultivation Efforts

Once your lead has reached ‘customer’ status in your sales funnel, you should make every effort to maintain a strong level of engagement and on-going relationship with him or her.  Many companies see a high level of profitability through repeat business and customer referrals, so it is important that you maintain the B2C or B2B relationship to encourage future purchases and referral leads and customers. It is extremely important that you devote attention to maintaining a relationship with your now-existing customer and either soliciting repeat business from that individual or encouraging them to provide you with referrals for potential leads and future business.

I realize this was already stated in the previous paragraph, but it is critical to your business that you stay ‘friends’ with your current customer base.  An extremely easy way to do this is by reaching out to your existing customers on a regular basis by sending an email. Your email can be short and sweet (‘we hope you are enjoying our product/service’) or it can encourage a response (‘please let us know if you have any questions, problems, suggestions, feedback’) or inform them of a new or similar product or service (‘check out the upgraded version’).

Regardless of the content of your email, make sure it opens the door to communication rather than closing it. Many companies just don’t realize how vital repeat business is to their success, and often let existing B2C and B2B relationships fall by the wayside while they focus on attracting new leads and customers.  Eventually, that pool of potential leads will dry up, which means you certainly should not neglect the customer ‘oasis’ already in your back yard.

Managing Leads and Making Sales

Part of an effective marketing strategy is the use of lead generation management and the establishment of mutually agreeable (to sales and marketing) criteria for determining when a potential or qualified lead should or can move on to the next step in your overall marketing funnel. Without knowing how to maximize the lead generation efforts of your online content, whether it is blogs, social media, landing pages, or your company’s website itself, you could be losing countless leads (and profits) simply because you aren’t utilizing effective lead generation management.

Furthermore, if you do not have criteria in place to help determine when a potential lead should be progressed forward through each stage of your lead generation and sales funnels, you could lose leads (and profits) simply due to indecision or ineffective sales or marketing on your part rather than the consumer.  Your marketing and sales teams will not have a cohesive guideline for determining whether or not that lead is ready to move forward, ready to be recycled, or ready to be converted into a paying customer.

Today’s digitally-driven society makes it incredibly easy for you to capitalize on numerous methods for generating leads and making sales, especially if you have the right support teams in place to nurture leads and encourage engaged individuals to complete their journey through your sales funnel. Don’t let a lack of understanding about the importance of lead generation or your failure to truly grasp how it can boost conversions and sales when used effectively keep your company from reaching a high level of profitability and achieving your marketing goals.

36 Must-Read SEO Trends and Predictions for 2017

seo-trends-2017

The beginning of the year is always the perfect time to find list after list of trends and predictions for the coming year relating to a variety of subjects.  For web designers, marketers, business owners, and others with a vested interest in an online presence, getting information about SEO trends and predictions usually ranks rather high on their ‘to do’ list each year.

When it comes to lists, especially those for trends or predictions, most writers will put together a ‘top ten’ that provides the reader with the ten most popular items (or the items that are expected to have the most impact).  This leaves the searching reader with plenty of digging to do, in the form of searching the internet and scouring the pages of countless websites for the information they are seeking.

Rather than leaving it up to you, the reader, to scour the internet for as many SEO trend and prediction lists for 2017 as you can, I have curated a complete list in this post.  Outbound links to external sources, of which there are many, are NOT provided because WordPress feels that outbound links appear to be nefarious in some way.

SEO Trends and Predictions for 2017

  1. A greater focus, especially from search engines like Google, on Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMPs).  AMPs are designed, via code changes, to load web pages on a mobile device almost instantly.  Google is already showing SERP preference for AMP content, despite the fact that page load times are more often the result of data transmission speeds instead of design coding.  AMPs are Google’s ‘baby’ so preference despite flaws is expected.)
  2. Page load time will continue to have a significant impact on SERP positioning.  Optimizing page load times for mobile experiences is the dominant focus, especially since mobile device usage numbers continue to climb steadily.  Google implemented a mobile-friendliness algorithm in mid-2015 and the search engine juggernaut continues to make tweaks to ranking factors that impact mobile content.  You can check your web page(s) at Google’s online Mobile-Friendly Test.
  3. Developing and implementing an effective content marketing strategy will remain important for the coming year.  Content continues to be ‘king’ and there is no way around the fact that high quality content always outperforms lower quality content.  An effective content marketing strategy as a core component of your overall SEO strategy will assist you in determining what content works best when and where, and how well it is performing once it is in place.
  4. Link building is not only an effective strategy for driving traffic to your online content, but it also continues to play a role in your content’s positioning in search engine results.  The long-term results of strategic link building can have a substantial impact on your content performance and remains an important factor in SEO.
  5. Page Authority may have a higher influence on SEO and search results than Domain Authority.  This will be due to the fact that some domains have become tainted over time if they have been used for certain negative (in the eyes of search engines) purposes.  Pages, on the other hand, are almost like fingerprints in that no two are ever alike, and it is easier to rank imperatively on Page Authority when determining content worthiness than it is to rank using Domain Authority.  Google examines both Page and Domain Authority, as part of their many ranking factors, with no official statement regarding whether one has more weight than the other (though they have stated that they do not use an ‘overall domain authority’ ranking signal).
  6. Personal branding will have an elevated importance in search engine ranking and greater popularity among online users.  Personal branding is the development of a ‘brand’ that is associated with you personally, not with your company, product, or service.  It is a great way to emphasize your online identity and style, and it also promotes your expertise, authority, and trustworthiness.  Personal branding lets you draw attention to your content individually, rather than attracting attention because your content falls under a corporate umbrella or business brand.
  7. The content revolution will compel a content evolution back to shorter content, but with a twist to benefit the on-the-go mobile user.  A decade ago everyone was scrambling to churn out as many 300 word posts as they could in a single day, just to increase their saturation level.  As time went by, the trend shifted toward longer, more detailed content that provided more value to the reader.  Articles and blog posts began to easily exceed the 3,000 word mark, despite there being experts and analysts on the long and short side of the content length debate.  In 2017, we will see the trend devolve back to shorter content, but they will no longer be the bite-sized fluff pieces of a decade ago.  Content creators will, instead, be packing as much ‘punch’ into each piece as possible while keeping the word count to a minimum.  This trend shift is largely due to the continued increase in mobile device usage and the time constraints of on-the-go people who don’t have time to sift through a 3,000 word piece to find the 300 most important words.
  8. Despite a shift back toward shorter content, long-form content will remain popular and valuable to a large number of users.  While mobile users want the short-and-sweet content when they are on the go, long-form content stays popular because it provides in-depth, highly detailed, and thoroughly discussed subject matter.  Shorter content may see preference for users and search engines, but longer content will not disappear at all, or lose that much ground in terms of search result positioning.  The key to keeping longer content popular in search results is to ensure that it stands out from the thousands (and millions) of other pieces of content published to the internet on a daily basis.
  9. Speaking of content, great content will – as always – be highly important for SERP ranking.  As the internet becomes more saturated with content, however, this means that the struggle is real for content creators to develop original, informative, and value-filled content that hasn’t already been done and re-done to the point of exhaustion.
  10. Artificially intelligent ranking components (like Google’s RankBrain) may change the way web designers and content creators optimize web pages and content to adjust for allegedly intuitive machine-learned ranking signals.  A variety of publications and online experts provide the answer for ‘what is Google’s RankBrain‘ along with details on how it works and how it can affect SEO.
  11. The focus on user experience optimization (UEO or UXO) will see a revival, not that it has declined in prominence since becoming an important element of SEO over half a decade ago.  On-page optimization emphasizes UXO and search engines have taken note of the fact that internet users prefer pages that are very user-friendly.  Aside from navigational ease and more simplicity in design, users also look for certain qualities and attributes of well-designed pages that increase the opportunities for lead generation, sales conversion, longer time spent on pages within a site, more shares and back links, and other actions that improve visibility, traffic, and page ranking.
  12. As search engines continue to cater more to mobile users with preferential search results, apps will become more dominant (for users and SERPs).  The number of mobile users continues to increase, and search engines have to provide mobile-optimized results to stay in the game or get left behind.  This means that mobile apps will increase in prominence in mobile search results, and SEO must be fine-tuned to accommodate a higher demand for apps.
  13. Personal digital assistants (like Siri for mobile and Cortana for desktop) will become more prominent in terms of usage.  This adds another machine-learning element to SEO and search results, as users begin to rely more on the ‘assistance’ of their PDAs and less on manual entry of specific search parameters.  PDAs already see significant use for mobile users because they allow more hands-free operation, and desktop usage of PDAs is growing as well (albeit more slowly than mobile PDA usage).  Search engine optimization should be shifted to factor in the increasing use of digital assistants, and there is some speculation that PDAs could actually function as a replacement for search engines.
  14. Long-tail keywords and specific phrases will become even more important.  Internet users become more savvy over time, and gone are the days of simple search queries accomplished with a word or two.  Users generally know exactly what they want and are more frequently entering longer phrases to narrow down the millions of results generated by a search engine.  A refined search query with very specific wording yields refined results, rather than pages of mostly useless links that must be plowed through to find exactly what the user is seeking.  Designers, content creators, and marketers will have to ensure that keywords compensate for this trend shift and SEO should be tailored to align with highly specific search query input.  Keep in mind that Google has stated title tag keywords are not relevant for ranking purposes.
  15. Google provides rich answer and branded search results to users who enter certain search queries, and structured data markup in your web design can provide opportunities to have your content featured in those results based on user queries.  Structured data markup is also known as schema markup, and using it allows search engines to give more informative responses to search queries.  According to a Kissmetrics blog post about using schema markup for SEO purposes, this type of page coding tells a search engine what your web page means, not just what it says.
  16. Speaking of Google’s rich answer results, pages optimized for placement as a rich answer naturally see higher ranking.  This means you should include SEO for search queries that will place your content higher on SERPs through its selection as a rich answer.  With users being more selective with their long-tail search queries in 2017, it is imperative that you match their queries with tailored rich answer results.
  17. Utilizing cross-channel marketing will become more important because spreading your brand across multiple channels in an integrated way will significantly increase traffic, leads, and conversions.  Multi-platform marketing has been in use for a while and considered part of a core SEO strategy, but cross-channel marketing allows you to retain a user’s interest if you have lost it on another channel.  Integrating your brand, company, products, or services across several channels allows users to move from one platform or device to another without losing engagement with your business.
  18. Mobile-friendly optimization will become almost mandatory for 2017.  Mobile usage surpassed desktop usage some years ago, and the number of mobile users only continues to grow.  Search engines are responding to that usage by using ranking signals and delivering results that are optimized for mobile devices, and the trend continues to shift toward highly preferential treatment on SERPs for mobile content versus non-mobile content.
  19. Because more users are interacting with search engines on mobile devices than desktop computers, local search will achieve higher status in search results.  As a result of this, marketers should ensure that SEO includes options for local search results where applicable, especially if your business is brick-and-mortar and relies to a large extent on local and personal patronage.
  20. SEO will evolve to focus on the most important ranking signals, rather than the entire list of signals.  According to various experts, analysts, and studies, there are less than a dozen ranking signals that have the biggest impact on search results positioning.  Web designers, content creators, and marketers will refine their SEO efforts to place an emphasis on the signals that make the biggest difference in search results, rather than trying to encompass a list of hundreds of signals on one page, site, or piece of content.
  21. Natural/organic link building will be more important and effective than ever, especially with intuitive content evaluation from RankBrain and other adaptive digital assistance.  Using different platforms to create organic links will be more significant for SEO, and search engines have already established a preference for organic links.
  22. User-focused content design and creation will rise to the top in terms of what designers are publishing on the internet.  When search engine ranking became the ‘end all, be all’ of web design years ago, content creators and web designers began designing content for machines – the search engines.  It is now evident that designing for machines is not the way to go.  Despite best efforts to implement the perfect SEO strategy, content designed for users always wins in the end.  This means marketers will have to focus more on finding out who their target audience is, what they want, and how it can be provided to them, in order to enhance the user experience and create content specifically for the wants and needs of the user, rather than the algorithms of the search engine.
  23. Social media signals will have greater impact on search results as search engines lean more toward SERP personalization.  It has already been predicted that social media signals are, in fact, a ranking signal (despite Google’s denial at the time), but studies have continued to show that social media signals do make a difference for search results.  With search engines paying more attention to delivering personalized results, it is only natural that social media – which dominates the lives of many internet users – will indeed have more of an impact on the results provided for search queries.
  24. With the increasing necessity for long-tail keywords (see #14), keyword research will remain a top priority for an effective SEO strategy.  Once you have identified your target audience and learned more about what makes them tick, you will also want to know more about what keywords and phrases they are using to perform their online searches.  This means that you will still need to perform keyword research to stay ahead of the curve and keep your content aligned with current user demands.  Some words and phrases may fall out of use or lose popularity in favor of others, especially as internet users become more capable in their ability to phrase their search queries with more natural and conversational language.
  25. Mobile optimization will increase its focus on data security.  With more people using mobile devices and mobile content to search and shop, they are also sharing more of their personal data.  This goes beyond a name and email address to information like bank account numbers, credit card information, and other very personal data.  Mobile content will have to promise security to individuals wishing to share that information or lose out to a competitor who can.  (As a side note, Google started giving ranking boosts to secure sites in 2014, so there already exists a benefit to your SEO efforts to increase mobile security of your content.)
  26. Lead and revenue generation optimization will focus less on search engine placement and more on diversified platforms for developing a following and popularity.  Product, service, and information search queries provide users with a list of results that might as well be pre-packaged.  The most popular companies get listed first, that’s a given.  Many marketers are trying to make their way into that list of popular results, often to no avail.  Instead of trying to get into the top ten on a search engine, you should diversify your content on a wide number of platforms and channels to achieve popularity elsewhere.  Search engines cull results from everywhere on the internet, and if your content is highly rated and extremely popular on social media sites, YouTube, app stores, or other locations, it will get noticed by the search engines.
  27. There will be more emphasis, for marketers, to track visits, leads, and sales to know where those users came from.  Site analytics for SEO purposes has always been important for online businesses, but it is often performed in a more generalized way.  By knowing which of your marketing efforts is providing you with the most returns – whether it is in terms of traffic, lead generation, conversion rates, or sales revenue – you will be able to streamline your SEO in a more specific direction.  Did your visitor arrive at your site through paid search?  Organic link building?  Social media advertising?  Using SEO metrics is important for you to know if you want to capitalize on the opportunities presented.
  28. The use of video content, and optimizing web pages to include video, will become more pronounced.  Video content is steadily gaining popularity as an SEO strategy because of the increase in mobile users.  Providing a message via video is easier on mobile devices and mobile users often have no difficulty with viewing the content and immediately acting on it while they are on the go; in fact, many mobile users prefer video feeds over text-based content because it requires less attention to the small details.
  29. It is expected that Google will implement Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) as a ranking signal at some point in the near future.  Google has provided guidance on PWAs, as well as a PWA checklist, to assist web designers, and some analysts believe PWAs will become a mainstream part of site design.  As such, it would then become necessary to modify your SEO strategy to include optimization for PWAs.  They are supposedly reliable, fast-loading, and engaging, which means the user experience will be enhanced by their use.
  30. While SEO may experience a shift to focus on more important ranking signals (see #20), marketers should adapt their SEO efforts to utilize a holistic approach.  SEO is, after all, the sum of all parts, even though some of those parts are more effective than others.  A well-rounded, fully-engaged, and effectively implemented SEO strategy will encompass a rich variety of SEO factors, rather than just a few select ones deemed ‘most important.’  The highlight can be on those few elite signals, but the overall effort should make the best use of the wide range of SEO options available.
  31. With millions of potential competitors on the internet vying for the attention of users, companies will have to refine their brand image into one that stands out in a significant way.  Ideally, you want your business to be recognizable in a word – literally.  Whether that is your company name, logo, products, or services, your brand image must reflect what you are known for, and you have to attain global saturation of that brand awareness.  No matter what market, niche, or industry you belong to, you want users to look for you by name.  Start working on brand awareness, brand marketing, and cultivating a brand image that is recognizable, shareable, and considered the ‘authority’ in your field.
  32. The authenticity of content will be extremely important in SEO for 2017.  This is partially due to the fact that we have entered the era of ‘fake news’ and inaccurate product information.  The internet is already over-saturated with content, making it easy for a few minor changes to produce information that looks legitimate (but isn’t), so it will be important to report data accurately and avoid embellishment or fiction (unless warranted).  Search engines cannot yet tell if web content is true or false, leaving it up to the user to find out once they’ve selected a link from their query results; false information creates an extremely negative impression.  This is something you do not want associated with your site, brand, business, writing, or products/services.  Always verify the authenticity of information before you publish, to avoid the backlash of inadvertently misleading or misinforming your readers, visitors, and users.
  33. There will be a revival of technical SEO to ensure the structural integrity and functional stability of online content.  Technical SEO focuses more on the behind-the-scenes components of a web page or site, ensuring that all parts of the site are working as they should.  Nothing is more frustrating to a user than to click a link and receive a ‘dead page’ error; this can sometimes cause the user to leave a site altogether in favor of one that works as it should.
  34. The importance of effective content marketing remains prominent.  Years ago, content marketing was considered as a peripheral addition to SEO, rather than a core component of optimization.  With the impact of rich content clearly showing that it makes a difference in search results, content marketing (along with content optimization) has become a vital part of an effective overall SEO strategy.  The content marketing process may continue to be refined and streamlined in the future, but it will stay in place as a critical part of your SEO efforts.
  35. While natural/organic link building (see #21) will be emphasized, link building itself will also stay as important in 2017 as it has ever been.  A great deal of online content receives much of its attention from inbound links, whether those are paid, organic, or otherwise.  Search engines pay attention to the number of links pointing to a site (and where they come from), which means that obtaining links from relevant, authoritative sites is highly desirable.  You should make sure you avoid, as much as possible, any inbound links that come from sites or content that is not relevant to the content to which it points, or links that come from locations that are filled with spam, fluff, thin content, or other undesirable traits.
  36. The importance of content usability will increase in 2017.  Search engines already pay attention to how  long a user stays on a web page, which is an indicator of the ‘value’ of that content.  Valuable content typically translates into a high level of usability, meaning that the page and content are easy to use, read, decipher, and share (if desired).  A high level of content usability means that your content can be read and acted upon regardless of screen size and device type, and some usability standards are now incorporating voice-activated content for mobile devices (especially since Google is transitioning to a ‘mobile first’ stance on search result placement).

While this list is certainly not authoritative in terms of what trends and predictions will be written in stone, most of the items listed here were culled from a consensus among SEO experts, analysts, and other individuals.  You can take it with a grain of salt or take it to the bank – either way, you should be prepared to evaluate your current SEO strategies and refine them, if necessary, to keep your content aligned with what search engines and users are looking for.