Content Marketing, Online Reputation Management, SEO

Seven Steps to an Enhanced Online Reputation

reputation management

It can happen to any business.

A Tweet from an unhappy client that goes viral

A nasty blog post from a disgruntled former employee

An anonymous complaint written by an unscrupulous competitor.

On the web, it doesnt really matter if the statements are true or false. Once they are published online, they are picked up by the search engines. It is a sad fact of doing business in the age of the Internet.

How do you fight back?

You can try to get the people who posted their nasty remarks to remove them, but that doesnt always work. A far better way to go about it is to create a mountain of positive content to offset the negative. It is best to create the content before the negative comments appear online, because a trove of positive content can keep the negative content far, far away from the first page of search results for you or your company.

Here are seven ways to bolster your online reputation:

Your Business Website

If your business has a website, then, by all means, you should have a detailed personal profile in your About section. It should be search engine friendly with keywords emphasizing your areas of expertise. Your name should also appear in other areas of your business website. You will find that your business website will come up at or near the top of all search results.

Your Business Blog

If you do not have a blog, start one immediately! If you have the time and commitment, a personal blog is a great way of creating a significant body of content. This content is picked up by the search engines and will rise to a prominent place on your search results.

Beyond helping your search engine results, a blog can help humanize you and your business and help to establish yourself as an expert in your field.

Social Media Accounts

Google and other search engines love the major social media sites and give them prominent placement in search results. As you can see from my personal Google results, my LinkedIn and Facebook accounts appear in the top 10 search results for my name.

Along with personal accounts, create company pages on social media platforms as well. Blue Fountain Medias LinkedIn and Facebook company pages both appear in the top 10 results for a search for Blue Fountain Media.

Press

When it comes to online reputation management, having the press write about you can either be a great thing for your online reputation or a disastrous thing. No amount of content building will ever change the fact that a Google Search of Bernard Madoff will reveal pages and pages of negative press before you get to any results even mildly neutral.

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Positive press mentions, especially from major news outlets, can provide a huge boost to your online persona.

I have been fortunate enough to receive positive press from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Crains New York, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Inc. and many other major media outlets. All of these press mentions serve to bolster my online reputation and have led to a significant increase in business.

Press Release

Distributing your press releases online can serve your business in numerous ways. Obviously is it a great way to get positive news of your business broadcast and it can lead to press coverage (see above), but press releases often get prominent placement in a businesss or executives search results.

Speaking Events

Speaking events provide yet another way to enhance your online reputation. The organization sponsoring the event publicizes you and you also have the opportunity to promote the event through emails and newsletters. All of these become positive fodder for search engines.

If you videotape the event, use a site like YouTube to get further positive links to your name and your businesss name.

Commenting

Yet another way to take control of your online persona is to comment on blogs and news stories. If you have something intelligent to add to the conversation, if theres a way to demonstrate your particular expertise or insights, then- by all means- comment. The comments are treated like any other content and are picked up by the search engines.

In Conclusion

Your online reputation can either be a huge benefit to your business or it can destroy it.

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Content Marketing, General Business, SEO

Discover Why Customers Proceed to Checkout Online

For anyone who has ever shopped online, you know the experience is traditionally one that is relatively convenient and that you can often find things which wouldn’t be available in your local area. It turns out, though, that there are a lot more reasons than just these that people decide to hit that ‘Proceed to Checkout‘ button when they are shopping. Whether you are an online shop or not, the information we are about to share with you is most likely going to be helpful because it delves into the psychology of shopping on the web.

What you learn here might surprise you and that’s always a good thing. For those involved in online retail right now, there is so much involved in making your store competitive that it is easy to forget some of the core things people want from your business. This article is designed to get you up to speed if you are founding a store or refresh you on the core basics that matter to your customers if you already have a shop set up. For the rest of us, these lessons do give actionable takeaways we can implement because Internet Marketing is, after all, all about selling successfully. The statistics cited are from a recent post by Joann Pan on Mashable and mentioned to help illuminate the points we want to make.

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Fewer Hassles From Online Shopping Helps Lure Customers

No one likes hassles and we will go through a lot to avoid them, in many cases. In fact, easy and pleasant shopping experiences are part of branding for certain online retailers like Overstock, Amazon and Etsy. These big name stores go to a lot of trouble to convince prospective shoppers that their shopping experience will be hassle free. No lines, no waiting, no confused cashiers, no nasty weather, no driving or other transportation hassles, and no screaming children. It’s a pretty good deal, right? Pan actually states that half of the 500 people surveyed by the Lab42 market research company do almost three fourths of their shopping online – that’s close to 75% – and you have to admit, that is pretty impressive. Those of us who remember the naysayers that believed Amazon and other first generation retailers would never ‘catch on‘ will find this particularly delightful.

In addition to a lower level of hassles in the shopping process, easy returns also convinced shoppers surveyed to choose the online route. Less than a third of respondents preferred to take their purchases back to a physical store, but 68% preferred to make their return via the mail to an online retailer. In case this sounds as if a lot of people are returning merchandise online, that’s not the case. In fact, more than 60% said they rarely return anything they bought online.

Some store owners want people to return items until they get what they want while others would prefer not to deal with customers that want to make returns. Those stores that want customers to be happy regardless of price usually offer free returns. Free returns, it turns out, can drive a huge amount of business towards your stores. A full 87% of respondents said that they give preference to shops that have a free returns policy. You’ll notice that while the Mike & Troy brand is in a different industry, one of the things they are known for is a no-questions-asked money back guarantee on their digital products. This is one of the world’s most powerful ways to win over those who want to buy with confidence. That’s because only sellers who have confidence in their products or services would dare to offer such a guarantee.

Shopping Online is Better Than In-store Shopping

We listed a lot of benefits above that could sway people to choose your online shop, but there are other factors that can make a difference, too. Some people flat-out prefer shopping online and that figure, according to the Lab42 survey was around 66%. To think that two-thirds of the online population would rather shop online means your customer base is potentially quite a lot larger than you might think and this population is only going to grow. New ways to pay, more people coming online and easier ways to reach those people via social media all mean good things for anyone with an online shop. Yet, there are more advantages you will want to make sure your customers are informed about.

For one thing, people like shopping online because there is a broader selection. Among those surveyed, 80% said that broad selection was important to them. This makes sense when we consider that Wal-Mart has and continues to dominate the brick and mortar retail world. Stores similar to Wal-Mart also boast the most sales. Why? Because they offer convenience. You can get many different things in one location and just about everyone appreciates that. Even if you serve a small niche, if you offer a comprehensive selection of products, including those only loosely associated with that niche, customers are likely to appreciate having options.

Lower prices, another feature massive retailers like Wal-Mart and Amazon are known for, is another thing that drives people to shop online. Over 60% of people shop online due to lower prices 70% know that when they do, they are going to find superior sales and better promotions. You see, just as in the ‘real world’ those online like a good bargain. If you can get them excited about a sale or even build a reputation as the place to get low-cost products then you are definitely going to make their list of great places to shop.

Online Shoppers Listen to What Others Have to Say

Here’s something worth paying attention to: the #1 thing that respondents said convinced them to buy something online was a positive customer review. Makes sense, doesn’t it? We like knowing that another person, not a sales person, bought a product and can vouch for how good it is. This is why your store is going to need to have reviews even if you screen those reviews to make sure they are quality and not spam or offensive to potential customers. Wondering what the #2 reason was? The retailer’s description. That’s right, customers want you to describe the product to them and explain what all it has to offer. Does this sound like a good time to mention the importance of studying top content marketing strategies? We definitely think it is. Consider how you can make your content informative and engaging just like so many of our articles here on this blog are all about doing. Survey says: it’s a smart idea that pays off.

Now here’s something else that you should pay attention to in case you think your customers would back out of a potentially good deal if they heard a gripe about one of your products. It turns out that the #3 reason people decide to buy a product online is actually negative reviews. That’s right, they read the review and buy the product anyway. We don’t know for sure exactly why they do this, but in my own personal experience if I see a review that is complaining, but does not mention a negative feature that affects me, I often buy with increased confidence. This could be exactly what others are doing.

Customer Service Counts in a Big Way

What might surprise you most is that customer service is incredibly important to those surveyed. As much as they liked convenience, low prices and big selections, they were not so much looking for a robo-store. Only 7% of those surveyed said they had never contacted customer service. This means most people, for one reason or another, are going to contact you if they buy from you and possibly even before they do. What is surprising is that it is not phone help they want (25%) most, nor even live chat (27%). What they want is good old-fashioned email and 41% of respondents reported that this is their preferred method of contact. It makes sense, too, because the customer has time to compose their thoughts and not feel as if they are under pressure or perhaps even awkward during the encounter. Email makes it easier on them and if you are timely and courteous in your responses, they are definitely likely to appreciate it.

Guess what customers also know? The savvy people that they are, today’s customers of online shops know that they will get a better response if they openly contact you via social media. Almost half said they got different customer service by posting on the social media page of a brand. About 67% of respondents said the company then responds a lot quicker to their inquiry or complaint. Over half said they knew they would get their issue resolved and about 43% said their opinion was heard if they expressed it on the company’s social media page. While this certainly makes sense, it is worth considering being more proactive in taking care of your customers instead of forcing them to go to social media and make their demands in public.

 Secrets, Shipping & Smartphone Savviness

Here is a tidbit that you might have guessed, but did not have proof positive about. A lot of shoppers like to shop for specific items online because online shopping is discrete. As you might guess, there are some things people are simply not comfortable purchasing from a brick and mortar store. Items like lingerie, books with embarrassing titles and sex toys are some of those mentioned by survey respondents. In fact, 45% of those surveyed said that they bought things online that they never would have in a face to face marketing situation. What does this tell us? That there are huge opportunities out there for those who sell products that might typically be embarrassing for someone to buy in a store with a cashier, or even other customers, seeing them. Obviously, adult markets have benefited from this, but there are other items that could cause embarrassment for the customer and offering a discrete way to have these types of products shipped to your home is certainly a good way to solve that problem.

Shipping turns out to be an equally important issue for online shoppers. Just how big of an issue? Well, 79% of those surveyed said they would rather have free shipping than to get a discount. That is a powerful motivator, then, but this is actually not even really capturing just how important free shipping is to the average online consumer. A full 96% of the survey’s respondents said they would prefer to shop at a store that offers free shipping when given the choice. People do not want to have to tally up the full cost in their head nor do they want to get an ugly, price-increasing surprise at the end of their shopping trip. If you can factor shipping into the price of everything you sell, you certainly stand to sell a whole lot more.

Finally, smartphones are a major factor in online retail success. You will note that sites like Groupon, Ebay, LivingSocial and Amazon all offer apps today to help ease the shopping process. With around 45 million people out there owning smartphones today who are accessing shopping oriented apps regularly, having one for your store is not a bad idea at all. In fact, marketing to smart phone users makes a lot of sense because according to recent Nielson ratings, close to half of all smart phone owners in the United States are now shopping via their phones each month. Imagine the opportunities out there – absolutely breath-taking levels of potential customers!

Using This Data to Improve Your Own Store

Hopefully, these survey findings have given you some insight into how online consumers think while they are shopping. We want you to succeed in your business and that’s why we share this kind of information. Knowledge in itself is not as powerful as putting that knowledge to work in intelligent ways. Once you understand how those coming to your store think, you can position yourself better in the market and take advantage of the many different marketing strategies we talk about here on TMS. After all, the goal is to succeed and strategies help you do that.

Have you noticed any of the same trends in your own customers or even in yourself as an online shopper? Are there any tips you have for those that have an online retail store that you believe could help them improve their sales or perhaps even the quality of the experience they offer their shoppers? We want to hear from you so we invite you to leave a comment below. We also encourage you to ask any questions you have because we’ll get back to you as quickly as possible.

Content Marketing, SEO

Inbound Marketing and SEO: Where does the future lie?

So, before I really get stuck into this blog, let me just say thanks for coming to SEO Inbound!  This is the first blog I have published on the site (so if anyone does read it, go easy on me in the comments!) and I’m really excited to finally have the opportunity to provide something of value back to the SEO community.  Well, I say value, but maybe that a bit of a lofty ambition for my first independently published blog post, so I should probably set that bar a bit lower…let’s just hope it’s not rubbish!

Times are changing

Then you better start swimming, or you’ll sink just like a stone, for the times they are a-changing.

What is SEO?

Right, to the matter at hand – what is Inbound Marketing and why do I believe it’s the future of SEO?  I assume that the majority of people here know what search engine optimization is, but I’ll just give a very basic description none-the-less.  Essentially, SEO Services is the process of using certain on-page and off-page strategies to achieve higher rankings for your website in the organic search results.

The purpose of these increased rankings is to drive a regular flow of targeted and relevant traffic into your website.  This targeted traffic, with the right information architecture in place, the right product, and right sales material, has the potential to be converted into paying customers.  This is the basic model that SEO is often sold on, and many businesses have had a lot of success adopting this approach.

What is Inbound Marketing?

I imagine the question at this point is how is Inbound Marketing different to SEO, and is it just the same process repackaged under a different label?  Well, I think there are some fundamental differences that people need to think about before embarking solely on an SEO campaign.  The emphasis with SEO is, by definition, on developing the organic search results (usually on Google) as the main source of traffic into a website and often, financially benefiting from those visitors.  With the amount of time and resources that are required to attain higher rankings, particularly for very competitive terms, it could be said that cultivating other traffic sources if something that is often neglected.

Inbound marketing is a more holistic approach to online marketing than SEO in that developing new traffic sources, developing a community and creating a positive user experience are all considered just as important as getting those high rankings.  As has been seen over the years, particularly recently with the Panda and Penguin updates, relying purely on organic search to bring traffic to your site can be a risky strategy.  Practically, with the flick of a switch, that traffic coming to your site can completely vanish.

inbound-marketing-new-seo

By developing other traffic sources, you are not only giving yourself an insurance policy should your website fall foul of Googles Webmaster Guidelines, but you are also building the outreach and visibility of your brand, and consistently attracting more targeted visitors.  These newly cultivated traffic streams are developed by adopting a wider range of strategies into the online campaign as opposed to just link building.  Social media marketing, content marketing, building mail lists, developing a stronger offline presence and creating communities around your niche or product are considered conducive to a successful inbound marketing campaign.

I remember reading an article by Lee Oden at Top Rank where he stated that, SEO is really just marketing, so deal with it.  It took Lee to point it out to me, but it almost felt like an awakening.  SEO is just marketing – the most long lasting, successful SEO campaigns will undoubtedly have a solid marketing strategy at the core.  I think the sooner SEOs start thinking with a more commercially driven mind set, the more successful their campaigns will be. Both in terms of financial gains and longevity.

Just to make it clear at this point, I am in no way saying SEO is dead – I don’t live under a bridge, and I don’t ask travelers to pay a toll as they pass me by. I’m even tempted to stay away from the SEO has evolved mantra, because that too is starting to become a cliché.  I like to think of it as something of a rebrand – the same principles at its heart (driving targeted traffic to a website), but with a wider scope and under a different label.

Is Inbound marketing accessible to all businesses/niches?

I’m sure there are many questions people have about then entire concept of inbound marketing, so Ill try and answer a few here.  Firstly, is inbound marketing more or less accessible to businesses or independent web marketers than SEO, and is successful inbound marketing often dependent on how active the online community is of the niche in question.

Well, my opinion is that if you have a business offering a service or a product, or are an affiliate marketer trying to sell a product, if you truly believe that what you’re selling is great then you have the potential to run a successful online campaign.  Of course, it’s easy to say that from my point of view, but then I’m not a small business struggling to sell lug nuts over the internet!

Is Inbound marketing more demanding than SEO?

I like to think of SEO and Inbound Marketing as like ice and water – different forms of the same composition.  By this I mean that the same basic skills underpin both SEO and IM campaigns, but the end result can be something completely different.

If you consider yourself to be an SEO it is your job to help a site rank higher. You’ll achieve this by implementing solid on-page SEO (keywords, URL structure, quality interlinking, silo structured categories, good content, social implementation, pretty pictures etc.) and your off-page might largely consist of various link building techniques.  How you approach link building will obviously depend on, dare I say it, the color of your hat – but to be honest I don’t really care.  If you build links you aren’t white hat anyway.  When you have achieved those rankings, you want to convert as many visitors as possible, so you just kick back and watch your Ad Sense account hit $30 a month.

If you do inbound marketing, it is also your job to make a site rank higher.  Like SEO, you achieve this through solid on-page work, and off-page.  Link building will inevitably be part of this off-page work, but it is by no means the be all and end all.  As mentioned above, off page work for an Inbound Marketer might involve more intense content marketing, a broader and proactive social media presence in order to cultivate these sought after multiple traffic streams.

When the users are on the site, instead of the objective being to have them convert as quickly as possible (whatever a conversion might be on your site), the real challenge to give them an experience.  Something to remember you by.  In the case of Zappos they offered super customer service, in the case of Old Spice its brilliant content and powerful, imaginative advertising (the man your man could smell like), at the Red Bull site you’re getting a memorable, viral news portal, and a similar thing with Coca-Cola.  These sites aren’t selling products, they are selling the brand.

Bring this jumbled mess of a post to a conclusion please!

FINISH HIM!!

SEO and Inbound Marketing aren’t that different – I just feel that one is an extension of the other.  The most successful online marketers, the ones who are good at SEO, will be good at Inbound Marketing because they don’t see the end goal as being number one rankings for a specific keyword.  They recognize there is digital life beyond the SERPs, and while Google might still send the majority of your traffic, your business won’t become dependent on it.

For an industry related example, look at iAcquire – they were outed for offering financial compensation for links by some self-righteous nitwit (I’m being very polite) who thought he was doing someone a service by pointing out they had overstepped one of Googles arbitrary guidelines.  As a result of this inexcusable hate baiting, acquire found themselves removed from Googles index.

For some businesses this removal of organic search traffic would have spelled doom, but because of the reputation acquire had built, and the reputation of several key staff within the SEO community, they were able to negotiate this 3 month spell without Google traffic.  In my opinion, that was a result of them developing their brand reputation successfully when some companies might have been satisfied to stagnate at the top of the rankings for certain search terms. Rightfully, they have been reincluded again.

Inbound Marketing is a long-term investment that requires dedication, knowledge and a real passion for the product or service you are selling.  Just to reiterate, I think SEO is still a hugely important, but its just one part of the online marketing process.  I think as businesses begin to become more web-savvy and have the realization that ranking for a keyword doesn’t guarantee long term success, the SEO industry will have to reposition in order to display these additional marketing skills.

I’d be interested to here other peoples take on the SEO/Inbound Marketing debate, so please, if anyone has managed to slog through this entire post, please leave a comment with your thoughts!

Thanks for reading the first ever SEO Inbound blog post – click the link at the bottom of the post to get your reward!