How to Compete in any Niche With A New Site

On October 13, 2009, in Expert Advice, by Adelard

SEO-ninjaFiguring out whether a particular niche is prime for taking over is key for anyone trying to play the search engine optimization game. Some marketers are simply bottom-feeder, and go after all the niches no one else is targeting. Others attempt to shoot for the sky and become hyper-focused on nothing but this. What I attempt to do is a little of both.

First you have become strong, search engine ranking wise and as well as TrustRank. The stronger your ranking power and trust are, the easier it is for you to get rankings. So in the phase we will bottom-feed. There are so many factors in search engine rankings I am going to skip most of then and go for the 1, 2, punch knockout: freshness factor (content) and link factor (backlinks).

Let’s look at getting rankings for New York Event Planning for my example. Here are the top 10 competing website for New York Event Planning and New York Party Planning along with their backlinks in parentheses (as of today, Oct 13, 2009):

Backlinks for top 10 (New York event planning):

#1 www.emrgmedia.com (2,909)
#2 www.gatheringguide.com (133,728)
#3 www.bizbash.com (44,202)
#4 www.eventique.com (1,147)
#5 www.davidtutera.com (3,215)
#6 www.yelp.com (12,208,011)
#7 newyork.citysearch.com (186,451)
#8 www.eventective.com (70,081)
#9 www.newyork411.com (1,272,799)
#10 www.nyc.com (40,730)

Backlinks for top 10 (New York Party Planning):

#1 www.davidtutera.com (3,215)
#2 www.gatheringguide.com (133,728)
#3 www.emrgmedia.com (2,909)
#4 & #5 www.partypop.com (375,140)
#6 & #7 www.alltimefavorites.com (4,224) (Ridiculous design)
#8 & #9 www.mypartyplanner.com (35,317)
#10 & #11 www.newyork.citysearch.com (186,451)

What I see is the #1 spots are going to websites that are more targeted for the keywords but have generally less backlinks that the other top 10, meaning the total search results is somewhat fragile.

A person with an aggressive marketing campaign is going to be able to skyrocket through these. A key indicator is the freshness factor, most of top sites all have fresh content on the their website, which is allowing them to outrank everyone else, but they are not totally focused on “New York Party Planning” as the top #1 positions for both keywords.

In this case I would recommend posting 4 to 5 articles weekly for about 2 months straight. Do keyword research and talk about topics that involve your business and keywords. It is very very very important that you post 4 to 5 ORIGINAL articles a week consistently, that either you wrote or hired a copywriter to write. Don’t copy and paste, please. WordPress is going to be your friend in this situation. Your freshness factor will become very strong, and we give you a significantly large advantage.

    2 Key Steps to increasing your freshness factor fast:

    1. A key to posting your articles is to have a Google sitemap.xml file, make sure it is submitted to Google and the other search engines, and it is visible in your robots.txt file (So search engines you don’t know can find it as well). I use WordPress, which has an XML-Sitemap plug-in that automatically re-created the sitemap after a new article, AND submits it to the major search engines.

    2. Make sure that once you post an article, you automatically ping as many ping services as possible. Again, WordPress has an updating/pinging service included, in which I include a huge list of ping services (Click Here to get my list of ping sites).

The down side to this is the link age; the new links you will be getting from the marketing campaign are all going to be relatively new. Google and the other major search engines take age of links into account as well.

This is where social media comes in. Having a viral marketing campaign along side is critical. Using several other social media websites pushing links, distributing your content, and generally talking about your company, it allows you to also be seen by search engines as a viral website, this is you creating your own “buzz”. Since the amount of backlinks we are gather are on several different major social sites, this combats the link age down factor that a new link faces such as in this case, with authority factor.

Exactly 4 days after you post each article, you will go to all your social media profile and send a backlink to each one, and a little snippet/intro to the article won’t hurt. During this process, post your article to the major article directories, and to avoid duplicate content penalty simply backlink to your original article in the resource box. The search engines will recognize this and will make sure your article on your main site is the one that shows up before others. It many take a couple of weeks or so of processing but in the end your original article will outrank your other ones, as long as you make sure to backlink to the original article.

Simple 1, 2 punch. This approach is targeted focused backlinks, and freshness factor. With this process the freshness factor is being ramped up significantly doing with constant articles.

There are several signs that are going to start arise to show the significant increase in ranking power, the most important one I measure is the Google Alerts. I setup Google alerts for my name, Adelard Gasana, and my website AdelardGasana.com, or KarmaSnack.com before doing anything.

When I post/schedule an article, the amount of time it takes Google to send me an alert tells me how high the trust factor is. If Google is sending me an alert, that means it has visited the website, has indexed the website, and is cached in Google’s database. So when I post an article on a Wednesday for example and it takes about 2 to 3 days until a Google alert shows up, that tells me that the freshness factor is growing.

As you know, there are some sites/pages that don’t get indexed for months. But the unique way of post lots of original articles and send rankings have allowed my clients and me to see sub-24 hours of getting index, cached, and traffic. My personal Blog AdelardGasana.com has got a freshness factor under 20 minutes. So as soon as I post an article there, within 10-20 minutes I am receiving an alert that Google indexes it. The freshness and trust factor is so high I am able to rank for almost anything I want by writing an article. KarmaSnack.com is at that level too, as well as all of our other clients.

There is no magic to doing this, just getting relevant backlinks, constantly posting articles, and knowing which ping websites to ping. Once you are receiving sub-24 hour Google indexing alerts, you can shift from bottom feeding to skyrocketing into the air. By this time, you will notice in your stats that most of your traffic is indeed targeted, and very focused. It’s prime for some good old newsletter list building, marketing, and promotion additional products/services or whatever you want to talk about.

Back in February when I launched adelardgasana.com, I was posting articles about 1 to 2 a day for about 2 weeks or so. Then I slowed it down to about 1 every other day. What this did was fill up the search engines with a lot of content, then I start limiting the content, this created a situation where search engines crawling my site constantly looking for new content, so when I publish something is gets almost instantly indexed.

This is why content is a very important part of the SEO process; backlinks are the next important step. Once you have a great combination of articles and content, and individual pages are getting sub 24 hour indexing you will be in a position to take over almost any targeted keywords.

That’s an overview of my trick to getting rankings. Of course I can’t divulge all the really big techniques I use to make sure I get extra boosts in the search engines, ridiculously increasing traffic techniques, and customized programs I can, maybe another day, stay tuned.

Let me know if you have any questions, this post was written of the top of my head, and not organized and outlined like I usually do.

evil-lurksApparently I’ve been under a rock this last week. I just learned that on October 5, 2009 the FTC has new guidelines for advertising, blog endorsements, and testimonials.

The biggest target of these new guidelines is going to be faux viral marketing efforts in my opinion. An example would be when a company recruits bloggers/3rd parties of any sort (even celebrities) to talk about their products/services in exchange for a free product, cash, or other service.

Most viral marketing efforts online are done using social media. It has been growing rapidly. Social Media spending has reached $1.35 Billion in 2007 and is expected to reach $3.7 Billion by 2011 according to the Word of Mouth Marketing Association.

The big social media platforms look like they are going to be monitored. Look for FTC agents to “friend” you on Facebook, Myspace and Twitter (LOL).

I believe though, these new guidelines are going to also affect those advertisement website (web page really) whose scrolling down never ends, with countless of fake testimonials from individuals that are not really credential. And at the end, they have a ridiculous price, or no price at all until you click on payment to get you to sign up. I mean, it’s just a single webpage, but yet people still signup and fall for it every time. Usually the main products they are selling are e-books, or SEO Expert tools of some sort.

Actually, now that I think about it, every industry, every niche, online and offline is going to be affected. In the guidelines it also specifies that “extraordinary results” can no longer be used, but only on average results/testimonials; so no more “results may vary”, or “these results are not common” practice.

In a nutshell a blogger or celebrity must now disclose their endorsement properly and also the payments that where made to them in detail (cash, goods, freebies, etc.)

Read the full FTC guideline.

I believe this will eliminate a lot of bad apples online, but only in the United States. So, it comes down to bloggers/celebrities around the world can say whatever they want, but not in the USA. The real problem here is that the FTC doesn’t really have control over the Internet. It’s not in “US territory”. The Internet is worldwide, and there is really no “Internet Police”.

The Internet is still like the Wild Wild West, and its evolution will continue. These bad apples can simply “move” to another country, and start making the claims again. There will always be scammers that slip through the cracks, and now policing the whole internet, and attempt to make sure no one lies seems too big of a task for even the FTC. What has happened in the past will continue to happen, the bad apples will continue pushing the limit, and the FTC will step in on the major ones they can find, but catching them all? It’s impossible.

One thing I am thankful for is that companies who are doing the right thing and not attempting to sneak around with deceptive practices will slightly have a better chance of getting their voices heard over the would be scammers.

Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what do you think about the FTC new guidelines, and some of the gray areas that have been left for interpretation? Do you think that the FTC can police the Internet? Successfully?

10 Ways to Better Customer Support

On October 8, 2009, in Online Branding, by Adelard

customer-supportSometimes I really dread calling customer support for some companies. I am starting to think several companies add annoying obstacles just so they don’t have to bother with us customer. I wonder if they forget that us customers are the reason they are in business. After dealing with some major companies like Sprint, ATT, Chase, and Wachovia to name a few I’ve come up with some suggestions on how to improve customer support for business that actually want to stay in business (I’m pissed since I had to spent over 40 minutes on hold with ATT/Bellsouth just to cancel my phone service, and they still tried to upgrade me).

Here are 10 rules I use to make sure clients get the proper attention they deserve and are happy with our services.

1. Offer Multiply Support Options
Offering a customer the opportunity to contact you on multiply levels gives them piece of mind from my experience. Not only do all my clients have access to the cell phone numbers of their account reps, but also project managers, marketing, the development team, the CEO, and me.

They also can get quick contact to us through our website through email, through a contact directory on our website, and as well as our project management system. What is a project management system; check out Basecamp, they know what they are doing.

Worst case scenario, if they lose their phone, or are not at their own computer, they can get in contact with us easily by visiting our website and looking up who and what department they want. Make communicating with clients easy for them.

2. Offer A 24/7 Emergency Line of Communication
Emergencies happen. Customer needs to communicate with you sometimes in the middle of the night. Lucky for me, I’m usually up at that time, but for other business owners allow customers quick access to an emergency number that does a round-robin connection to an “emergency team” will a better client experience. Nextiva is a service that offers such a way for cheap. (I’m not an affiliate).

3. Remove the Fax Process
Okay, serious there seem to be still companies that require a fax for certain documents. It might make sense, for example having a signed copy, but recently I need to reduce the overdraft to zero on a Wachovia account, and they only accept fax request of this one particular thing. Maybe it’s because the major banks are literally banking off of people overdrafting and know that by requesting my overdraft to be set to zero, there is no chance of me every overdrafting and them charging me $35 each time, they put a 1001 hurdles in front of me.

But seriously if I can open up an ING Direct account over the Internet, why do I need a Fax machine to make a change to my current account with Wachovia? I don’t even have a Fax machine. So now I gotta “figure this out”. Please business owners, making it easier for customers to handle their account will only keep them. In regards to Wachovia, yes, I am in the search for a new bank of course; I don’t have time to play around or figure out the ancient art of facsimile.

4. Metrics & Measure Performance
If you are running a business, especially a growing business, bottlenecks are going to happen. Having metric programs and measuring tools in place to monitor what is going on with customer support is essential. Even if you are a 2 person operation, there are programs that allow business owners to measure phone call times, time it takes to respond to email inquiries, message, project management, and other communication. Measure and understand where the bottlenecks are happening; then reduce or eliminate them!

5. Reduce Phone Waiting Time
I was really pissed at ATT, so I decided to cancel my phone service. Guess what?? I can only cancel my service by calling between certain business hours. I can’t cancel through the web or email, just by calling. 2 days later I remembered to call during business hours, and guess what, I was on hold for over 40 minutes. Seriously, 40 minutes of business day waiting on hold to cancel a crappy phone and Internet service. Am I to believe that ATT doesn’t have data analysts that see and say “Hey during business time, people are on hold for 40 minutes, maybe we should get more people to answer the phones?”

I mean ATT, you’re the freaking phone company, how come I can analyze my sales teams and support phone calls, and know how many minutes each of them have been on the phone, and you can’t? ATT you fail. Don’t leave clients on hold for over 3 minutes in my opinion, 3 minutes and I am outta there.

6. Allow Call Back Numbers
Allowing customers to leave a call back numbers in my opinion is the best thing compared to leaving them on hold for 40 minute, ATT… The first time I encounter this was with Sprint, I called support, which for some reason is available 24/7 unlike ATT, and they gave the option to press 1, I think it was 1, to have a Sprint Rep call me back when they are available. 15 minutes later I get a call back, from someone waiting to help me out. Kudos Sprint. The technology exists, I don’t know where but if you can’t get it, simply stating on your voicemail to leave a call back number will give customers better piece of mind. Also in your voicemail, let them know about other opportunities to contact you like visiting your website, or your email address.

7. Lead Management
This one is more for sales that customer support. Lead management is critically to streamlining the sales process. If I fill out a form on your website at 9am on Monday, I should not have to wait till Thursday to get a phone call back about my inquiry. We have a lead management system in place at Karma Snack that once we get an inquiry we have email and text alerts going out and someone is calling the lead back within 5 to 20 minutes of them filling out the form, no matter WHAT TIME it is. If they filled it out at midnight, hey they are probably in the mood to talk at midnight, so we contact them (unless they specify a time to call them of course). A proper lead manage also eliminates the chance of losing deals/sales/potential clients. Know what stage a prospect is in, and the notes about conversations that were talked about. Lead management, it’s important for any business that has potential clients.

8. Ticket Support System
A ticket support system is also a great tool to help you communicate better with clients. A ticket support system allows support and clients the opportunity for back and forth online, and saves the conversation for later references. I’ve seen mostly software and online technology companies using them, but they can be a great replacement for simply emails for customers.

9. Don’t Outsource Support
Yeah, outsourcing is great for a business to reduce costs, but in the long run you are hurting your business, in my opinion. If a customer or client is calling you for support they have a problem, and are anxious or antsy to solve the problem. Now a days they get either an automated system or someone that is in a foreign land that is not even a part of the company that they are calling with the problem about.

It can really go down hill from there if a person has a heavy accent and is hard to understand. Remember they are calling because they have a problem, now they have to talk to someone who is not a part of the company in which they have a problem with, and now have a new problem of understanding what this current person is saying.

Or the person, who they are talking to, doesn’t even have the power to solve their problem, so the customer is just wasting their time talking and now have to re-explain their problem to a supervisor. In my opinion, if a customer has a problem, you as a business owner better fix the problem before they even realize they have a problem; it’s your business. Making the customer jump through hurdles doesn’t help your business in the long run, so the couple of dollars you saved outsourcing your support, probably costs you hundred of thousands in lost future sales.

I am trying to stress quality in this article. Giving your customer better quality support will keep your customer happy in the long run.

10. Listen To Customers
The saying goes, “Customers are always right”, right? I feel customers want to be loyal to a product/services they bought. In communicating with your customers you may find that several customers are suggesting certain things that can help you improve your business, company, or product. Listen to them. Enhance your product/services, and be glad that you are getting feedback.

If you don’t listen to them what will happen is that a competitor might listen and improve upon your product/services and steal your customers. A prime example is Chase, somehow I became a customer since WAMU was bought by them, and now there are ridiculous fees up my “you know what”. Chase is known for its fees, so I simply got tired and switched to ING Direct, No freaking fees on anything. All banking is online, I can get a great interest rate on savings and checking accounts, and did I mention, no fees? Listen to customers, otherwise they won’t customers for long.

Conclusion
Well that’s all for my ranting about improving customer support. I hope that anyone with a business can come out with a couple of great new ideas to better their interaction with customers. Contact me if you want more of my personal suggestions about any of items I talked about or to simply pick my brain! Adelard [at] KarmaSnack.com is my email.