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February 18, 2011

SEO predictions for 2011

By Ross Gerring

What a year 2010 was for SEO and the internet. In 2010 we saw the introduction of Google Instant. We saw the release of the iPad and saw it sell 15 million units in its first calendar year, putting mobile Internet in the hands of an increasingly large user base (and the obvious implications for a well ranked website). We saw Facebook not only reach 500 million users (not bad a for a website banned in China) but become bigger than Google (at least in terms of traffic). Have you implemented or considered a strategy to better use Facebook? We also saw more and more content from social media sources such as Youtube, Twitter and Flickr begin to play a greater role in website visibility and overall online marketing strategy.

So what lies ahead in 2011?

Clicks/Visits begin to influence search engine rankings

We have already hadconfirmation from Bing that they are using click through rate to aid their rankings, but we have also seen this month that Bing copies Google search results (link) so they can hardly be considered the authority on such matters.

What better measure than the relevance of a website presented in a search result than its click through rate? This would begin to weed out sites that are not so relevant to the terms they rank so highly for.

The result will be that these sites which are often ignored by a searcher (yet still rank highly) would start to move down the rankings and the more relevant sites further down which receive greater clicks would rise to the top.

The rise and rise of social media will continue

There are currently more than 500 million activeFacebook users with an average of 130 friends spending 700 billion minutes per month onwww.facebook.com. 200 million+ Twitter users tweeting more than 70 million times per day. Now imagine that Google works out a way to rank content to present to you based on what your Facebook friends or Twitter followers have already consumed?

It may begin slowly, with, for example, the ability to limit search results to articles your friends have liked/tweeted, but we believe it will only grow from here.

Google Places and Reviews to become increasingly important

Creating and optimising a Google Places account will be even more important in 2011. It is our prediction that Google Places listings will continue to find their way into and up search engine rankings and the reviews that have been collated from sites such as True Local will either tell a good or bad story about customer experiences.

Companies should definitely start to encourage reviews from their clients, not just as on-site testimonials, but also as Google Reviews.

Set and forget websites are no more

The Internet has now become the first place many people go to for information on products and services and this will only continue to occur at an increasingly rapid rate in 2011. Couple this with the power of a referral provided to a potential client through their friends on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and you have a very strong proposition that many businesses continue to overlook.

A website needs just as much, if not more, attention as your offline activities receive. It needs fresh, relevant and informative content in order to add value to your website visitors and keep the site up to date.

So there you have it, a few predictions from Itomic for the ever evolving field that is search engine optimisation. How accurate will they prove? We look forward to finding out.


January 6, 2011

Bing using click through rate. Will Google be next?

By Ross Gerring

In October last year at SMX East, a representative of the search engine Bing confirmed that they are actively using click through rate (CTR) to aid their organic ranking of websites.

A quick definition of click through rate would be that it is a measure of how many clicks a site has received divided by how many times that site had been displayed in the search results.

To provide a little background to this article, as of August 2009, Microsoft (Bing) and Yahoo entered into an arrangement that saw Yahoo’s search engine powered by Bing’s index. In the United States this saw Bing’s market share increase to 28% against Google’s estimated 68%. Here in Australia however, Bing is a distant 2nd (according to hitwise data) with only 7% of users preferring its offering (combined with Yahoo), over the 85% enjoyed by Google Australia.

Justifiably then, the focus of businesses and SEM (search engine marketing) companies in Australia has been on Google and its stable of offerings. So what has all this got to do with Bing using click through rate in its ranking algorithm and what is the significance of this move? The answer is two fold.

Firstly Google has stated that Bing is its biggest competitive threat in the search engine arena and both are US based companies. Therefore it makes good business sense that anything that could potentially improve the quality of the search results (CTR in this case) and lead users to gravitate towards one offering over the other is something that cannot be ignored.

The second part of the answer lies in the significance of using the click through rate to businesses and their online presence. By using click through rate, albeit as “one of” its ranking factors not its only factor, Bing is telling companies that “unless your website is compelling to our users from the get go then you will go down the organic rankings”. That means each website will not only need new, compelling content often, but it will also need to have compelling description and title tags for each and every page to ensure that when a searcher inputs their query and your site is displayed, it gets clicked on. If, as many are predicting, Google follows suit, businesses will need to also ensure that they have a properly configured Google Places account, that they have investigated using Google Adwords and that they are taking advantage of every opportunity to improve their CTR.

So as 2011 dawns, start thinking about your website. Is it a compelling, interactive and informative representation of who your business is? Or is it simply a brochure, a business card online or does it represent only a fraction of what you are capable of. If it is the former you will have nothing to fear as CTR measures as a method of ranking websites, becomes more widespread. If it is the latter chances are you will likely see your website traffic and rankings drop.


September 28, 2010

What is and why do you need an Online Marketing Strategic Plan?

By Ross Gerring

What is Online Marketing?

Online marketing is the marketing of products or services using the Internet. Online marketing is conducted through such services as SEO (search engine optimisation), SEM (search engine marketing), Social Media optimisation, PPC (pay per click) and banner advertisements, to name but a few options.

Traditional Marketing can be viewed as:

Brand Name + Marketing Efforts + Quality = Potential Customer

For example the iPod (brand name) is a popular brand that is heavily promoted (marketing efforts) as a high quality product (quality) and will garner business as a result of the perception generated (potential customer) by traditional marketing.

Online Marketing can be viewed as:

Definite Customer + Search Engine + Quality = Brand Name

In this example a pre-qualified searcher (definite customer) is online (search engine) searching for “Best MP3 Player” (quality). If any company selling iPods has a strong online marketing presence they will have these pre-qualified customers delivered to them on a silver platter. They become theirs to lose.

Online marketing ties together creative and technical aspects of the Internet, including: design, development, advertising, and sales.

A little overwhelming, isn’t it? It needn’t be. Any experienced web design company should (these days) create a website that will be fundamentally search engine friendly. What this means is that the ‘foundations’ of the website will be setup in such a way that, if you do nothing, there’s a good chance that, over time (6 months? A year?), your website will rank well for appropriate keyword searches in Google.

Your friendly neighbourhood web design company will ensure that your website is W3C compliant, that you have access to all relevant fields (such as meta and title tags) to SEO (search engine optimise) your own website, and that you have access to your websites traffic reports, preferably through a system such as Google Analytics.

BUT is that enough? For most businesses who want to maximise the return on their website – and sooner rather than later – it’s not. Although ‘success’ in Google is usually an important factor, there are an array of *potential* opportunities to drive more visitors to your business and dramatically increase sales, e.g.

  • Google Adwords
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Banner advertising
  • Keyword optimisation
  • Google analytics reporting, advanced configuration and analysis.
  • Google local maps
  • and many, many more

But which of the above should a company choose, and how much is enough to see a worthwhile return on investment?

Here’s how to make sense of it all:

An Online Marketing Strategic PlanThink of it as a business plan for your online marketing strategy.

One of our consultants will thoroughly review and document your existing site’s configuration, your competitors, your company aims and objectives, the industry you operate in… and make clear written recommendations and suggestions about an online marketing strategy for your business for the future.

You can then make an informed decision about where and when to best allocate your online marketing spend.

Online Marketing Strategic Plan

What is an Online Marketing Strategic Plan?

A typical online marketing strategic plan is essential in establishing what it is a company wishes to achieve from their online activity. Consultation begins with an initial consultation session to establish the following:

  • Goals for the Website
  • Situation Analysis
    • Where are you currently as a company online?
  • Customer Analysis
    • Who are they? What do you think they want from your website?
  • Online marketing plans
    • Do you currently undertake any online activities
    • Recommendations from your chosen web specialist for activities to undertake
  • SEO requirements
    • What industry does the website target
    • What terms do potential clients search for?
    • What SEO based activities if any are appropriate for this website

So what next?

With an Online Marketing strategic plan, a business owner will be presented with all options available to them to market their website online – a medium that has consistently demonstrated superior returns on investment. This plan could be implemented in full or selectively, as resources permit.

Would you build a house without having a plan? The answer to this question should definitely be no. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. For your new website to truly be a success, put in place a strategic plan to market, improve and promote your website, now and into the future.


September 14, 2010

Lessons in tendering – honesty and quality win the day

By Ross Gerring

As an experienced web company that’s been around for a few years (10, at time of writing) we often get invited to tender for some good-sized projects. But in responding, how do we communicate the quality of our work in a ‘testable’ way, and how do we tackle the potentially delicate issue of some aspects of the request being a bit, well, crazy? Here’s a recent example of how we did this – and won.

Normally the invitation to tender is in the form of a document called an RFP (Request for Proposal) or RFQ (Request for Quote). We’ll stick with RFQ for the sake of this example.

The project requirements laid out in the RFQ were a great fit for our company. But the RFQ was proposing a very aggressive timeframe given the volume of work to do. One school of thought suggests that you just say “Yes!” to everything in order to win the project, then negotiate your way out of the tough stuff with the help of the small print in your offer – once the client has paid the deposit, of course! This approach doesn’t work for us. It’s not how we want to kick-off a new business relationship. Our sales people are accountable for what they sell – and not on commission – therefore we’re looking for an open and honest dialogue with the client right from the beginning – including pre-sales.

So our response to the aggressive timeframe issue was completely honest. We advised that the project as described wasn’t achievable in the suggested timeframe, and that a more appropriate timeframe (to ensure quality and completeness) would be at least 2-3 times longer.

On the issue of quality – the RFQ referred to the need to make the website(s) standards compliant. Reality check #1: many RFQs state this, but (in our experience) not that many clients know much about this issue in detail, or know how they might go about actually checking/validating websites for this. Reality check #2: despite our best efforts, it can be quite challenging to keep a website 100% standards compliant forever, even if it was 100% standards compliant on ‘live’ date. Why? Because content management systems (CMS) often allow contributors to add and manage quite sophisticated content (e.g. multimedia presentations, code ‘snippets’ cut and pasted from other sites), and it’s not always possible for the CMS to ‘force’ this content – or strictly speaking the code around the content – to be standards compliant.

All Itomic sites are designed and built to be standards compliant when they go live. We go one step further. After a new Itomic site goes live, we initiate a quality checking process which includes standards compliancy checking. The main bulk of the checks are performed by a non-technical staff member who was not been directly involved with the project so that they can review it with a fresh pair of eyes. If any quality issues are identified, the production team is notified and the issues resolved at no additional charge as part of our 3 month warranty guarantee period. (We also encourage a “feedback loop” so that the root causes of these issues are identified, allowing us to adjust our processes to reduce the chance of the same issues being re-introduced again).

The RFQ asked us to provide examples of previous work, but didn’t explicitly say “and make sure the examples you give are standards compliant”. So we gave lots of examples, but didn’t explicitly take the time to re-run our quality checks on those sites.

Cutting to the chase (with this particular example): we won the project. In our first day of meetings with the new client, they offered up the following insights into our bid versus the others:

  1. They were well aware of the crazy timelines! Indeed, they took a conscious decision to leave the timelines in the RFQ by way of a test. Whoever responded by saying “sure, we can do that” were rejected on the basis that either they were telling fibs, or they simply didn’t have the experience or expertise to know that the timelines were unrealistic.
  2. Of the tenders that were left, Itomic was the only company where all the sites we referred to (as previous examples of our work) validated as standards compliant. Naturally we were delighted that our quality checking processes had served us so well, but at the same time acknowledged that even we were a little surprised at this great result, given the aforementioned challenges in keeping sites standards compliant after the live date.

We know we can’t win ’em all. We always take the time to ask a company why we didn’t win their business (so that we can improve for next time), but don’t always pro-actively ask a company “why?” when we do win their business. In this particular example, we didn’t have to ask, and what we did learn helped to reinforce two aspects of the way we like to do business: honesty (tell ’em like it is!) and quality.


August 4, 2010

Building an Online Social Network

By Ross Gerring

A well designed and executed website is an essential piece of the puzzle for any business no doubt, but it is just that, a piece. What you need is to turn these potential clients into actual clients and then convert clients into advocates for your business. It doesn’t matter if your business has 2000 Facebook friends or 300 twitter followers, how do you get them to commit? This article will explore another piece of the puzzle, how do you build and maintain an online social network? 

Be genuinely helpful

I am of the belief that if I cannot help a potential client with a web design or development solution then I should do my best to point them in the direction of someone who can. If I cannot recommend someone who could assist, I educate them on the pitfalls of choosing a website provider and the questions they should ask to help them level the playing field.

The message is simple, just because someone doesn’t purchase something from you, does not make them or their enquiry a waste of your time or effort. They may not become a client, but they could become an advocate. The more helpful you were, the more vocal they will be. And who knows, one day you may require their services. 

Participate, don’t just exist

Whether online or off, the organisation that gets the most out of a network is the organisation who is actively putting into said social network. If you are posting news items on your website, firstly you should ensure that you are consistent with your news items. One article every six months does not cut it. With consistency taken into account, offer to your potential network more than just the one line announcement of your “Fabulous spring sale” or  “Joe Bloggs joins the team”, tell your readers what is involved with your spring sale or who Joe Bloggs is, what makes him tick and why he is a good addition to the team.

The same applies to leveraging off the interest and excitement surrounding linkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. If your approach is to “build it and they will come” then I am very sorry, it just won’t happen. This is not Field of Dreams and you are no Kevin Costner. You must participate, share and not shout your message and above all maintain your participation. 

Love is all around you, so let it show

I have already mentioned participation as a key factor. How you participate is also very important. Do not jump onto Twitter, follow everyone you can and spam them with your products catalogue. The last thing you should do is create a Facebook business page and tell all your friends and family to “follow you” only to inundate them with witty one liners with a call to action of “Contact us today to find out more”.

Share the love. Make all your interactions on your chosen social network medium about your followers (who again I stress can become clients or advocates at any time). Be helpful, collaborate and show them that you are there not to sell to them, but to interact with them first and foremost. 

Come on, don’t be selfish 

Don’t make all your social network interactions about what you have done, what you are doing or what you are offering. Turn to your network and share in their interactions on occasions.

If a member of your network has just landed a big deal, got married, expanded their business or is simply going along nicely, share their news and talk about them. Even if all you do is congratulate them on their achievements, it shows that you care and that you realise you exist not just through your own hard work, but through the existence of happy clients and advocates. 

Give much more than you expect to receive

Before you should expect to get anything in return from the social network you have begun to cultivate, ensure you have given more in return.  Every time someone does you a good turn, do them one in return even if it is just an email thanking them.

Do not be greedy and never take more than you put in. Remember, building this network will take some time and effort and the last thing you want to be doing is undermining said effort by soliciting business at every conceivable opportunity.

Be helpful, give more than you receive and where possible simply pay it forward with no end goal in mind. You will be pleasantly surprised.

Strengthen the emotional connection with your brand by building relationships

There is a key difference, and an obvious one at that, between being connected to a social network versus participating in one.  They are not one and the same and to approach them as such would be fool hardy at best.

Invest time and effort on cultivating a social network and you will see returns. Sign up to Facebook, Tweet on twitter or simply post relevant articles on your website often.

Above all remember, like most things in life, you really only get back what you put in.