Link Building Tips for Small Businesses

23 06 2011

Link building is a crucial aspect of Google’s organic ranking algorithm. Essentially, the more high quality links you receive from other websites, the more credible Google believes you to be. If you and a competitor are vying for the same keyword, with all things fairly equal in terms of on-site optimization (i.e. optimizing title/meta tags, headers, body copy, etc), it’s the off-site optimization, or inbound links, that will help you place higher in the search results.

All inbound links are not created equal, which makes link building that much more difficult. Google has a sort of ranking hierarchy when it comes to domain extensions. Any .gov, .edu or .org link is going to carry more weight than a .com or .net. The first domain extensions I mentioned are all informational in nature, generally providing resources, whereas, .com’s and .net’s are definitely more commercial. Sites that carry the .info and .biz domain extensions carry even less weight as these sites tend to be a bit more spammy (not always, but generally speaking).

So, as a small business, how do you go about link building in an effective way? There are a number of strategies you can take to obtain high quality links, however, I will warn you that it is time consuming. The strategies I’m going to outline are more manual in nature, versus link development tactics such as directory submissions or article marketing.

  1. If you reside in the same city as a university, consider working with the business/marketing department (or whatever) to get links. Ask if you can post potential job openings for internships. Most departments, and even professors will have a sub domain on the university’s website. This is an excellent .edu link.
  2. Do you provide a service to your city? If so, work with your city government to get listed on their site. Maybe you are hosting an event that would benefit the community, and they’d be willing to put a link on their site in the events section. We’ve worked with clients who have done this, pretty easy to do. These sites will all use the .gov domain extension too.
  3. Don’t overlook all of the hyper-local directories that are out there. Get yourself listed in the appropriate category.
  4. Utilize any PR experience you have to work with local newspapers to get links in stories. Always be thinking about how you can pitch a story to the local news channel.
  5. Working with local organizations, or charities, can be a great way to get a link. Whether you donate money or resources, ask them for a link in return, and most are more than happy to do so. Most of these organizations have a .org domain extension, which is a juicy one.
There you go, a few nice tips to get you thinking about how to obtain high quality links that can help increase your visibility and boost your organic rankings. One thing to keep in mind when obtaining these links, ideally the link you receive should contain optimized anchor text. This means the actual link to your site, called anchor text, should contain a targeted keyword (a keyword you’re trying to rank for). Don’t necessarily direct all of the links to your homepage either. Be strategic about it. If you are targeting keyword xyz on your services page, and you want to boost the rankings for this keyword, the anchor text from the inbound link should contain keyword xyz.
If you’ve got any other strategies that you want to share, please do so. Happy link building.

Do what you do best

19 05 2011

As the Account Director of Formic Media my responsibilities include team management, partnership development, business development/sales, a sprinkle of account work and many other things. Throughout my day I speak with a lot of companies, some interested in our services, others interested in potential partnerships.

I was on the phone with a potential client, discussing their goals/objectives and how Formic might be able to help fill their void. The question came up about creating new, fresh content for the search engines and what our process was. I mentioned to the prospect that we don’t do copywriting in-house, which seemed to surprise them. I went on to explain that we have several partners we turn to for copywriting services, but don’t actually have anyone focusing solely on copywriting. I told them it comes down to our core services. We prefer to do what we’re good at, which is search engine and social media marketing, with a dab of web design/development in there as well. Copywriting is a big piece of SEO, and who knows, maybe someday we’ll bring in a copywriter. For now, however, we’re going to stick to what we’re good at, and leave the “words” to those who know how to write in an effective manner for SEO. Our team is excellent at working with copywriters and helping them write for the web, but none of us would fancy ourselves a copywriter.

I think this is where Formic differs from a lot of other agencies, especially the bigger ones. Many of these big agencies (I won’t name names), most of them more traditional in nature, have seen how effective digital agencies have become, and the need that we’re filling for clients. Clients are asking for services like SEO, PPC and social media marketing, and these bigger agencies, not wanting to lose the work/client, have started to provide these services. I think this is a mistake to a certain extent. I can understand if you plan to hire a search marketing manager/director to build a team, but what I don’t understand is an agency asking their employees to just “jump in because we now offer these services.” With traditional marketing seeing a steep decline, and online/digital marketing going in the opposite direction, some of these agencies think they don’t have a choice, but I think they do. Partnerships.

I know a lot of traditional agencies are already partnering with digital agencies, and that’s great. I’m speaking more to the traditional ad agencies that decide to test their hand at search and social. Everyone thinks they can do social. I mean, how hard is it? You post a few updates on Facebook and tweet to a few key folks and call it good, right? Um, no. I won’t go into it, but there’s so much that goes into a search and/or social campaign; it isn’t something you can pick up overnight and suddenly see great success. These agencies dabbling in search/social need to take a long look at what they’re good at. For example, if you have years of experience getting placements in magazines, stick to that, but be knowledgeable about how to track your efforts online. If anything, this is where the traditional agencies are falling short, they aren’t able to measure how effective their ad buy was by monitoring website visits. Encourage the client to build a landing page for your specific ad buy, create a vanity URL and ensure you can track the performance. This is how traditional agencies should be thinking, not trying to create a whole new side of the business that they have no experience in. There is room for both traditional and digital agencies, especially since we’re able to track nearly everything that happens online. Traditional agencies need to reach out and partner with digital agencies, or they at least need to ensure they are educated on how to track offline campaigns effectively.

The point I’m trying to make is do what you’re good at. Don’t cross over into an area where you aren’t the expert, there are too many things that could go wrong. Take your core services and be the absolute best, that’s how you’ll succeed. If there are other strategies you want to get into, reach out to folks to form partnerships, but don’t rush into something where you could produce more harm than good. I’ll also make the point that this isn’t just for marketing agencies, but for any business/industry. If you’re Nike, you’re great at making sports shoes/apparel, but that doesn’t mean you should start making suits. Sometimes I think companies are trying way too hard to reach too many people, and many times forget what they do best and spread themselves too thin. This hurts the brand more than anything, which would obviously lead to losses in revenue and the decline of the entire company. Be comfortable doing what you do best, and do it.

How To Discover If Your Website Content Has Been Stolen [Case Study]

18 05 2011

With the recent Google Panda/Farmer updates continuing to roll out, the focus for search engine marketing efforts is now to create unique content.  It’s not all about having sound code, the perfectly optimized title, and alt tags on your images (although those are still very important).  You also have to have great content that’s original and helps your visitors – content that will keep them coming back (hopefully buy whatever you’re selling) and even share it on major social media networks.

But sometimes website owners are too busy to create that content themselves and end up using copy writers and free lancers for help.  While this is perfectly fine, you still want to ensure that your content is original.  Many of the websites negatively affected just scraped content from other sites and republished it.  In one of our first tool reviews ever, we’re taking a look at one tool that can help you verify how original content is – Un.Co.Ver.  This free desktop tool from TextBroker allows you to check for content and copyright infringement on a single URL, entire website, or manually entered text:

After you’ve entered in your source, Uncover checks that content against millions of websites for duplications.  In return, you’ll see a percentage of words that matches your source – the higher the number the more your content has been copied:

uncover tool results

In our testing, this tool worked so well we actually discovered someone stealing 54.4% of the Formic Media website.  Take a look at the first result in the screenshot above…a has 204 copied words and a 54.4% match. We found that quite extreme, given that we knew the other sites in the list were okay.  Already a little concerned, we took a closer look at Mr. James E. McIntosh’s site and discovered something even worse:

Notice a resemblance?

Now let’s see just where exactly we’ve been aggrieved:

  • Aside from the glaringly similar design (changing everything to blue doesn’t make it unique), the image slider at the top rotates in pieces exactly like ours,
  • The text under “Social Media Marketing” and “Website Design” actually links to our Website Design page,
  • The icons, which our designer worked tirelessly to create, still show a little of our orange behind the blue,
  • And on his “Social Media Marketing” page, he forgot to remove our name completely.

If you’re going to copy our site, at least do it well.  It appears as if all they did was copy our source code (which explains the links still pointing to our site).  The image slider loads way off-center, there are a lot of broken links, and the social media icons at the top link to brand new profiles that don’t have any content. Now our initial reaction was to broadcast to the whole world about getting ripped off, but we contacted Mr. McIntosh first and asked him to take down the current version or pay a licensing fee because of the copyright.  With no answer after a follow-up email and 6 full days, there is still a nearly duplicate site live (it now appears that the site has been taken down). The website is now up again, this time with his own name misspelled.

We shared Uncover with you in hopes that others might discover similar rip offs and take appropriate action.  We’re still waiting the hear from Mr. McIntosh, so in the meantime we would love to see if this has happened to anyone else.  Have you ever had your site or content stolen?

Formic Media Seminar Series: Elements of Sales Success

18 04 2011

If you own or manage a small business in the B2B market and struggle with generating consistent, profitable sales, the Formic “Elements of Sales Success” seminar will help you. With 15 years of experience helping small businesses increase their sales and profits, Andy Blackstone has distilled the lessons he’s learned into a set of small but fundamental changes that have profound effects on sales success. The seminar is organized into sections about changes in focus, changes in process, and changes in tactics, with examples from Andy’s wide range of clients. Andy leads you through a logical sequence of these small changes that will provide big results. Andy’s book, “Small Changes That Help Small Companies Make BIG Increases in Sales” expands the ideas that you will hear in the seminar.

Register now as space is limited.

Cost: Free

Date: May 11th, 2011

Time: 5:30 – Networking; 6:00 – Presentation starts

Where: Formic Media, Inc., 300 NE Failing St., Portland, OR 97212 (503-517-9059)

Google Playing with Hotel Price Ads…Again

14 04 2011

Google is, again, testing hotel prices in the search results. This first surfaced back in June/July of 2010. Google began to include prices in Google Maps/Local search results for hotels. I thought this was cool and interesting back then, but my how my mind has changed since this feature has resurfaced.

So Google tested this feature for a few months, then it disappeared. Well, now they are back again, as was noted in this Search Engine Land article written by Matt McGee. This time, instead of the hotel prices residing just in Google Maps, the pricing is being included in the “7 Pack”, “O Pack” and the OneBox. as seen in the following images (taken from the same Search Engine Land Article).

This is groovy for consumers seeking to find the best hotel prices quickly, without having to visit the multitude of OTAs (Online Travel Agencies) in their initial searches. At first thought, I assumed the OTAs wouldn’t be very happy, but this actually gives several OTAs a nice boost in visibility. I see Expedia, Travelocity, and Priceline popping up the most. A user just simply needs to click on the price and you are whisked away to that hotel’s “profile” page on that particular site. OK, that’s great from a consumer/OTA perspective, but what I’m concerned about is the affect this feature will have on each hotelier if this feature actually moves out of beta and is rolled out.

This feature could potentially cost hoteliers a lot of money. Each hotel that sells rooms through an OTA has to pay a significant “commission” on every room/night booked. These can range from 10%, all the way up to 20%. This is a big chunk of change for hotels to give up. Now, the argument could made that without the OTAs these hotels wouldn’t reach full capacity (marketing themselves), and maybe that’s true, but if the large majority of consumers are purchasing rooms via OTAs, and not direct through the hotel’s website, the hotelier is dropping a lot of cash (and usually at discounted rates) which affects bottom lines and revenue. When searching for hotel rooms the user would generally click through to the hotel’s website from the search results (talking specifically about the local search results), but with this new feature Google is directing users from the search results directly to the OTAs if they click on the price dropdown. The hotelier’s website is included in the dropdowns, but it does not include price, and it’s always listed at the bottom.

If this feature does roll out, I think there are going to be many, many upset hoteliers as they’ll be dishing out lots of cash to the likes of Expedia,, etc. I didn’t even touch on those hotels that don’t participate with the OTAs because it is just too expensive for them. What does this mean for them? If a price dropdown isn’t next to their name, will that hurt credibility and reduce clicks to their sites? I guess we’ll see, but I don’t like this feature if I’m a hotelier.

Take that Google, Our +100 Beats Your +1

1 04 2011

The never ending saga between Google and Bing continues…

Back in early February, Danny Sullivan wrote how Google accused Bing of copying its search results. Google likened Bing to the dumb kid sitting next to you in class that leans over to try to cheat off your test. Bing didn’t come out and deny they were stealing the search results either. In a follow up interview with Harry Shum, Corporate Vice President of Bing Development, Danny Sullivan noted that one of Shum’s major concerns with this whole fiasco was his son’s feelings. Awww, ain’t that sweet. He called him at school and told his son that he’d explain more when they got home. Google has Harry, and Bing, running scared.

Well, to add insult to injury, earlier this week Google released a new feature in their search results, the +1. Formic’s own, John Hutchison, blogged about how Google continues to enter into social. Google has said that the +1 may enter into their algorithm in the near future. I’m not huge of incorporating the +1 into the algorithm as I think there are way too many opportunities to game the system, but we’ll see. So, Google wins, right?

Ah, not quite. Bing just launched an even bigger initiative than the +1. How about the +100. Try that on for size Google. Your wimpy little +1 has nothing on our +100. How does it work? Well, I tried to get to the bottom of that by contacting Bing. The only person I could reach was a product manager, and he didn’t have much to say. Here are his thoughts when asked about the +100 initiative. “Well, we aren’t quite sure how it works or what it’s for,” said the Bing representative. “All I know is if you click the +100 then your website will skyrocket to the top of the organic search results.”

Whoa, sweet. You mean anyone can reach the top of the organic rankings with the +100? There’s no catch? The Bing representative didn’t provide any insight into the consequences of using the +100, but could only warn me by saying, “Be careful, it’s dangerous. Don’t abuse it’s powers or else, or else, you might get banned from Bing. Just kidding, we need everyone on Bing that we can get.”

So, the +100 feature is currently in beta, and being tested on a limited number of IE browsers. From what I’ve heard though, the testing isn’t going well as the browsers are continuing to freeze up.  Typical Microsoft.


Formic Media Seminar Series: Going Places with Google

22 02 2011

Are you a local brick and mortar business? Maybe you have multiple locations? If either of these are true statements you won’t want to miss the upcoming Formic Media Seminar, Going Places with Google.

The seminar will focus on how to help increase your business’ visibility within the local search results by utilizing specific tactics that directly affect how Google “sees” your business. The Formic team will provide insights into the following:

  • How to claim/verify your listing
  • Optimizing your Google Place page
    • Choosing the right categories
    • Obtaining customer reviews
    • Generating web citations
  • New Google Products
    • Hotpot
    • Google Boost

If you’re a local business, you won’t want to miss this seminar. Reserve your spot today.

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