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SEO Class Recap

On Thursday, SMB Consulting hosted a SEO Training Seminar/Bootcamp at the McConnell Technology Training Center off of Industry Blvd. here in Louisville. We had six attendees that seemed to really enjoy the class especially the hands on nature of it. Analyzing keywords seemed to generate the biggest “ah-ha” type of moments, and spying on competitors provided some eye opening information that is sure to help with the optimization efforts moving forward for everyone. One area that didn’t seem to matter as much is the history of search engines (beginning of the class) so less time will be spent on that as things progress.

One thing I personally learned is to combine the workbook with the textbook I generated for the class. I apologize to those that attended this particular class for the confusion the two books seemed to cause. I thought it might be better to have a separate workbook in order to go back and perform some of the tasks without having to weed through a larger book, but I was wrong and the updated book has the contents of both. The new book has been e-mailed out to everyone in the class so please contact me if you did not receive one.

We’re having another SEO Class on June 14, 2007 at the same location (visit http://mttc.org for more information and a map) from 9 AM to around 4 PM. There are a few spots open if you (or someone you know) might be interested in attending. Get more information about the class by visiting the SEO training section of our website (http://smbconsultinginc.com/seo-training.html). We’re also planning SEO Training in Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Nashville, and St. Louis should you live in one of those locales and have an interest in learning how to optimize your website for the search engines.

Another great post over at SEOMoz.org by Scott. This discusses how political candidates need SEO. I couldn’t agree more, and I was contacted by a couple of candidates just before the KY gubernatorial primaries went to the polls. It was too late (one or two months isn’t enough time for a good SEO Campaign in a political race), but I would strongly suggest the survivors consider SEO as part of their marketing campaign if they haven’t incorporated it already.

Whether DNC or RNC, Political Candidates need SEO

By scott@seomoz.org

Posted by great scott!

Due to the first round of Presidential Candidate pre-primary debates occuring recently, I decided to have a poke around and see what the State of the SERPs is like for the major 2008 Presidential hopefuls. I was surprised to find that, despite Howard Dean’s major success with online fundraising in 2004, and the vast popularity of political blogs and web-centric PACs like MoveOn.org, many of the 2008 Candidates are committing huge SEO blunders.

I know SEO is a fairly young industry and not everyone is hip to optimization techniques, but considering the reach and importance of the internet to young, vocal, passionate voters, writers and opinion leaders, one would think the masterminds behind these multi-million dollar marketing schemes campaigns would know of and appreciate the importance of search marketing.

Take the mind-boggling case of John McCain, a likely GOP front-runner: McCain’s active campaign site currently ranks #68 at Google for “john mccain” and just as abysmally for other terms and iterations of his name. How could this be? Well, behind his senate.gov profile page (which he can’t use for campaigning) and his Wikipedia entry, we find www.straighttalkamerica.com, Mr. McCain’s campaign site from the 2000 primary.

As you’ll notice, the Title Tag directs us to go to his new site, but, since it doesn’t rank, we can’t click through to it from the same SERP. If we go to his old site, we’re not 301’d, but rather instructed to click through to his new site. If ever (EVER!) there was a case for 301-ing a domain, this is it. Granted, McCain’s new site has its own problems, most glaring is that every single page uses the same title and meta description tags, and navigation is primarily via drop-down java script menus. As such, most of his pages are likely ending up in the Supplemental Index making his internal links worthless. Let me also point out that even the search “john mccain 2008” puts his new site #3 behind www.stopjohnmccain2008.com and his Wikipedia page. He does, however, have AdWords for his new site on the SERPs for every imaginable incarnation of his name.

On the flip side of this equation is Barack Obama’s site which is a redesign of his domain from his 2004 Senate bid. Nicely designed and fairly well optimized, he is the only candidate that ranks for such lofty keywords as “ending iraq war” (#10 on Google) and “2008 election” (#11) [Update: as of this morning, 5/10, Google is showing Dennis Kucinich at #8 for “ending iraq war”]. However, for these and other campaign specific keywords such as “candidate,” “2008 election,” “united states presidential election,” and “democratic candidates” or “republican candidates,” none of the current contenders are even in the top 50 at Google. Two notable exceptions are Hillary Clinton and Dennis Kucinich (possibly carrying links and domain strength from his ’04 run) who both rank in the top 15 for the term “president“.

Fine, it’s early, maybe people are still looking for candidates by name only. After all, dark horse candidate Ron Paul (R) and Mike Gravel (D) have gotten tons of attention on the social media sites lately. Unfortunately, the data just doesn’t back it up. Despite 12 stories on Digg featuring Ron Paul in the headline, each receiving more than 1000 diggs, since he announced his candidacy on March 12, 2007–Mike Gravel’s been featured in nine 1000+ digg stories since announcing on March 9th–the search queries for his name pale in comparison to the big players who, oddly enough, get almost no love from Digg (Obama’s headlined in only two 1000+ digg stories since March 9th, same with Clinton).

While “Hillary Clinton” and “Barack Obama” get significant daily numbers as search terms (Clinton currently getting about 50% more volume than Obama), the rest of the candidates don’t get much love at all. John Edwards gets about 1/3rd of Clinton’s search volume, as does McCain. Even social media darlings Paul and Gravel are averaging only a relative handful of name searches daily. As far as traffic goes, things are pretty much the same, with the exception of a distinct inversion between Obama and Clinton. The chart below shows the relative search volumes for the names of the major candidates (data from Keyword Discovery) as well as their relative Alexa Traffic Rank (3 mos. avg.) to their official campaign sites.

Granted, the search numbers aren’t huge for the more general, campaign-related terms, but in most cases they’re more popular than candidate names and have a much longer tail.

So what’s it come down to? It seems the vast majority of candidates have little
to no idea of the importance of keyword research, keyword targeting or even basic, on-page SEO practices. I strongly believe that the Internet is going to play a huge role in the 2008 election. I also believe, after examining the current offerings by the major players, that the candidate that attacks the SERPs now, and positions themselves to rank for campaign-related and issue-related keywords will have a huge advantage in disseminating their beliefs and dominating the conversation.

UPDATE: Jonah Stein has published a great follow-up to this article, Political Search Marketing: Electronic Grass Roots, over at Alchemist Media. He offers an excellent analysis of how political campaigns and operatives could and should use the power of SEO/SEM to market their campaigns, marshal grassroots support and inform voters. Perhaps more importantly, he discusses how the campaigns, the engines, and the public need to be vigilant to avoid the potential for unscrupulous use that could make the internet the most effective catapult for political mudslinging and disinformation.

What's Your Exit Strategy?

By Valeria Maltoni

ExitstrategyAlthough very important for entrepreneurs and business owners, we would all be served well by having a well defined exit strategy. Similarly to your investment portfolio, an exit strategy needs to be recalibrated over time to make sure it serves you and not the other way around.

Every business goes through a life cycle. It may be a sudden chapter 11, the sale to a relative, wanting to buy something else, or a market opportunity to sell. It is a good idea to consider how your business (and skill) will be valuated, before you get to that bridge and need to cross it.

Business owners and entrepreneurs often risk placing an unrealistic value on the “good will” component of their organization. What are realistic market valuations of businesses? A couple of years ago, our professional network asked that question to Richard Ward, of the middle market investment banking firm Everingham & Kerr, Inc. and got an education. Here’s what we found out.

Where the value is

A normal growth per year hovers around 3-4%. And owners of mid-sized companies often have no idea of the value of their business. Many of the companies E&K works with started probably as businesses with a turnover of $200k or $300k and are now making $2.5MM a year.

Most founders are pretty poor at selling and marketing their businesses — they are the specialists: engineers, scientists, and operational people. For example, a business that earns $2-3MM per year may have the growth potential opportunity/value to $10MM but the owner takes home $750k and does not care. There is tremendous opportunity for a marketing specialist to help you build more equity in your business, yet, as Mr. Ward stated, most business owners are quite happy with status quo.

Another example is the value of a company’s customer base. E&K may talk to an owner that will be able to sell the customer portfolio for $2.7MM, stay on to help with transition for a hefty salary and, on top of that, lease the building he owns to the new owners of the business.

What is an Exit Strategy?

Having an exit strategy is about increasing the value of a business, not about the things you’ve always done and been successful at. What are the things you can do to make a business stronger?

Every situation is different. Take for example a company’s culture. It may seem a soft issue. Yet, it is a huge determining factor in buying and selling a company. The deal goes through if the buyer and seller like each other — and that includes the employees. In most cases the owner stays on for a transitional period of time to run the business.

This is true even of larger companies. I’ve been in 4 corporate acquisitions to date (on the acquired side), and the companies that in my view realized the most value out of the deal have been those who set a specific transition process for knowledge and people. Never underestimate the value of people. A bunch of files, even when well kept, will never give you the same value as the experience and relationships of the people who got the company to where it was palatable to buy.

A case study

Comparing two companies that on the surface look similar:

  • Company A — Company L
  • Current $4.0 — $4.0 [revenues in millions]
  • 2001 $4.7 — $3.6 [revenues in millions]
  • Loans ($1.7)– (750k) [liabilities]
  • Capital 0 — (1.0) [expenditures needed*]
  • Owner 1/2/3-yrs — 3/cash [terms of sale in millions]

* purchase price = what you pay and what you have to spend

In the past, banks would lend against cash flow. Today you leverage against assets (equipment, for example). Plus there needs to be a personal guarantee (collateral). Many companies to not have many assets (consultancies, for example) so you put more up or the seller takes on more risk. For a good company you’d put down 20%, finance 60% and the owner holds the remaining 20% back, usually for three years.

Everingham & Kerr deals with mid-sized companies, but 80% of the deals that are done in today’s market are worth less than $1MM.

What are the Steps?

  1. A buyer LOI (letter of intent)
  2. Due diligence (up to 90 days)
  3. Purchase agreement (lawyers, bankers and accountants get involved — the accountants for the buyer are easy to work with; the ones for the seller don’t want to lose the account)

Situations happen at any time during the process. For example, someone may die in a car accident. Investment banks work in different ways, so make sure you ask yours. Everigham & Kerr takes a $15k retainer that gets applied against the success fee at the end.

Regulatory Environment

There is a moral problem inherent with dealing with people’s largest assets — their business. Mr. Ward is President of the PA Business Brokers Association and is working with State Senator Stuart Greenleaf to regulate business brokers. There have been many scams wrought in by unscrupulous companies that give seminars for $20-25k, give you a nice looking binder and then nothing comes of it.

There is an opportunity to write legislation that will protect businesses in their most vulnerable times: when they are thinking of selling. The International Business Brokers Association requires a license to do business.

How do you go about it?

Figure out what your future is and develop a transition plan. It’s not about revenue, it’s about value. Review your exit strategy with a professional. Look at fixed costs vs. revenue stream, for example and where your opportunity to increase the margin is.

The planning stage should be 2-5 years out. The market price is the amount of risk the buyer has to take on. For the seller it’s the future — when is enough, enough?

Time is an enemy when closing the deal so make sure that your communications are frequent and well articulated. And remember: “Goodwill” should be just for old clothes.

Ten Ways to Botch the New Employee Orientation

By Michael Wade

  1. Let seniority, not speaking ability or knowledge of the organization, be the main criterion for selection of the session’s speaker. That way, the new employees can get a clear look at what prolonged exposure to your workplace can do to what was once a dynamic individual.
  2. Hold the session in an unattractive location; preferably a basement or a messy conference room. A few hours there and the rookies will be eager to return to their work stations.
  3. If the size of the audience is considerable, don’t break it into small groups. Let “Large and impersonal” be an accurate reflection of your corporate culture. Besides, an auditorium with an ancient sound system will discourage questions.
  4. Collect the pastries for refreshments during an early morning raid of the various break rooms.
  5. Position a large clock behind the speaker so audience members can see their lives slowly ticking away.
  6. Instruct the speaker that employee benefits and retirement plans are best described in a droning monotone…and at length. Have plenty of illegible hand-outs.
  7. Make sure that your attorneys have inserted their favorite “Anyone can be fired at any time and for any reason” warnings throughout the employee handbook. Such material should be briefly mentioned at the end of the morning break and just before the “We are Family!” part of the presentation.
  8. The generous use of PowerPoint slides is always advisable. Small font and many bullet points have been known to bring entire audiences to a catatonic state, especially if the speaker carefully reads the slides.
  9. There is no reason why the session should lack humor. All jokes, however, must be lengthy and poorly told. Disaster is assured if at least one is in dialect.
  10. Have an executive reluctantly stroll in at any point to welcome the group, but give prior instructions that his or her remarks must be no more than five minutes and void of any practical use.

The Hidden Value of a Link

By David Berkowitz

Is PayPerPost evil?

Sure. I can get on board with that. Though it’s a flawed hypothesis, a lot of my column this week tries to explore why. It actually does have parallels in other media, and there are even some blog advertising campaigns enlisting bloggers themselves that tapped into the real power of community, but PayPerPost keeps making me squirm. I’ll take pop-ups over PPP any day. It does have some defenders, such as those who commented on the column on MediaPost (granted, those who emailed me were much more supportive – hardly a surprise, given sample biases).

The column also once again, like last week, stars the link. The full column’s in the extended entry. Is PPP really just product placement or advertorial? Or is it corrupting the fabric of social media, and the entire social media ecosystem? I welcome your take, as this debate isn’t going away.

The Hidden Cost Of A Link

How much is a link back to your site worth to you?

That’s one of the questions that arises with PayPerPost, the service which, as its name suggests, offers a marketplace where advertisers can pay for bloggers to post about them with a link to their site, all within the blog’s editorial content. The link itself is arguably the most valuable part of the whole operation (for more on the value of links, read last week’s column).

The biggest problem with links from PayPerPost is that they’re in the editorial copy instead of with the ads. This presents a double-edged sword for PayPerPost. If the links were off to the side or otherwise demarcated as ads (such as when ads in RSS feeds are set off in a shaded box or surrounded by the word “advertisement”), then there wouldn’t be much controversy over money changing hands for running them.

The backlash against PayPerPost stems from these ads being included as regular posts. The fact that there’s a disclaimer requirement doesn’t do enough to blunt the negative effects of such a slippery slope with ads being included in the editorial content. Additionally, the disclaimer can negate the value of the blogger’s write-up (making the link the only real value) — and bloggers with impeccable integrity, or enough of an audience to otherwise monetize their blogs (whether it’s through ads, new business, or other leads such as speaking engagements) won’t risk their reputations to join.

Some defenders of PayPerPost claim that their model is no different than other forms of advertising. A perfect parallel is hard to find, so this may be a straw-man argument. One somewhat related model is in radio, where hosts will shill a product themselves on behalf of the good folks at the advertiser being promoted. You won’t find such advertising in The New York Times, or embedded in a Fareed Zakaria column in Newsweek. For similar reasons, it shouldn’t be on a blog.

Another parallel can be made with advertorials, which appear in many shades of gray. Some are merely ads that include editorial copy written by the advertiser, and they’re often made to look like other articles on the page or in the publication. As that’s just another type of ad, the parallel is tenuous at best. Some publications, meanwhile, will have their writers interview the advertiser and write the copy for the advertorial, which is the only place that the publication will cover a given topic. In such a case, the advertiser’s only way of getting into the “editorial content” of that issue is by buying its way in.

Bloggers have nothing in common with the second form of advertorial I mentioned. Bloggers can always write about whatever they want whenever they want. I’m a blogger, and I can post 20 times a day or once every 20 days, covering as few or as many trends, ideas, and companies as I wish. I’d never run PayPerPost ads for fear of losing credibility (full disclosure: I did register my blog with them to check out the service, though I never took part in any campaigns).

So how could a marketer reach me and take advantage of those 133 links Google counts pointing to my blog? Blogger relations would work better. I have companies write me every so often letting me know about new Web sites, products, and services. If it’s a really great Web site, for example, I’ll write about it (rarely do I cover things that don’t interest me just for the sake of posting about them), and I’ll provide a link with commentary. Instead of paying per post, the marketer invests time (by themselves, or through an agency) in researching appropriate blogs, developing pitches relevant to each blogger, and then making the pitch — with the occasional added cost of sending promotional items. While such a campaign can be more costly, it’s exponentially more effective. As a bonus, other bloggers will readily post their own links to something they find in another blogger’s copy, though with PayPerPost that viral effect isn’t there (I’ve never blogged, “Hey, check out what this advertiser paid this other blogger to write about!”)

PayPerPost refers to its service as “consumer-generated advertising,” but that’s a misnomer. When I write on my blog that I loved staying at the Ceiba del Mar in Puerto Morelos, Mexico, that’s a consumer-generated ad — better known as word-of-mouth marketing, and from the consumer’s perspective, it’s just sharing information. When Dale Backus won a contest for producing the Doritos Super Bowl ad, that was consumer-generated advertising. When advertisers pay someone to post a link and comment on their offering, it’s a cash-for-link deal that appears in the editorial content. When PayPerPost’s advertisers hire consumers to write the copy and post the link, it’s clearly not in the spirit of consumer-generated media, even if in some way it counts as a technicality.

It’s up for marketers to determine how much links are worth for them. They should keep in mind that the price can include intangibles that harm their brands. And that, by the way, is full disclosure.

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