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Should Businesses Be Wary of Social Media “Experts”?

I'm No Expert But...

I recently read a really rather interesting article regarding the industry of social media. The author of the piece argued that there are no actual social media experts out there because the industry is a young one that continues to develop and so its employees are still learning how to fully harness its potential. The author also stated that anyone claiming to have “over ten years in the industry” is very likely to be lying through their teeth.

The article fuelled much response from its readers, many of which denied the accusation that there are no social media experts out there. It is important to note that the majority of these paradox opinions came from web marketing experts and other industry types who would claim experts do exist within the field because someone out there has to be (or at least claim to be) the top dog - that’s how competition works.  

But is the author of the critique correct? Are there really no social media experts out there?

I would argue that social media experts do exist. Someone who knows much compared to another individual who knows little is the comparative expert. This does not mean that the “expert” knows everything however. Usually, anyone claiming to be an expert at anything is constantly learning and trying to build upon their techniques – this is how they can continue to remain at the top of their game.

Should Businesses Be Wary of Social Media Experts

The problem comes when people give themselves the tag of “expert” without actually knowing their stuff as thoroughly as they should. The general understanding of social media today comprises of websites such as Twitter, Facebook, Digg, Reddit etc but knowing your way around these platforms alone does not make one a specialist in the field.  Anyone claiming to be a “social media expert” should be willing to be measured on their results – as the author pointed out; the whole endeavour of social media campaigns becomes pointless should this not convert into additional profit for the client at some point.

So should businesses be wary of social media “experts”? The answer is yes, businesses should be wary of anyone self appropriating this moniker with no evidence to back up such a claim. So this person can secure you over a thousand new followers on your business’s new Twitter account but what promises can they make in regard to how this will translate into actual customers? Always ask to see evidence of the results achieved via the work that your “expert” has previously undertaken and you may just stumble upon someone who can use the medium effectively to produce tangible results for your company.

Kat Cole has undertaken numerous social media campaigns during her time as a promoter for Quick Offices (who specialise in offices to rent throughout London). Despite this and the fact that Kat likes to use social networking platforms in her spare time, she would in no way claim that she is a social media expert!

Find Other SEO Legends Using Delicious

Delicious Social Bookmarking Website

As an SEO legend you no doubt understand how important it is to stay on top of your game and retain your legendary status. Therefore knowing the latest and greatest tools being used and discovered in the industry is absolutely vital. As you are aware there are those with such a keen eye for detail and experience with SEO techniques that we cannot help but refer to them as legends; SEO legends!

These legends are an invaluable source of information, news and resources as they have built up their network of high quality sources usually over a number of years. Now we all know that like attracts like and therefore in order to find these SEO legends you too must be a little bit of a legend. Luckily I believe in you. So where does Delicious come into this?

First let me say that Delicious is only an example but this may work with numerous other social bookmaking sites however I like Delicious. OK, getting started you need to at least know of some useful SEO resources and bookmark these in Delicious. If you are not using social bookmarking already then you’re seriously missing out.

Now that you have a number of useful tools and articles bookmarked Delicious will show you a count for the number of people who have bookmarked the same pages. What you are looking for here are the best resources with the lowest bookmark count. This is going to narrow you down you selection from the SEO pro’s to the SEO legends.

For example take the following set of Link Building Tools from Ontolo. This is a nice little tool set including a neat Link Building Query Generator you can use to generate a number search queries designed to find specific types of link sources. See Never Run Out of Link Sources with These Advanced Search Operators for more information about these types of queries.

Currently this set of tools from Ontolo is only bookmarked by 46 SEO legends on Delicious. Taking a look through these we soon realise we’re on the right track when we see Tom Critchlow , an SEO legend from Distilled in the UK, appear as someone who has bookmarked this link. We can therefore assume that the other Delicious users to bookmark this link know their stuff well enough to potentially have some other useful and rather obscure SEO tools stashed away. Let’s take a look.

One of the other users is nadirg (who’s probably not too keen on me linking to all of his/ her resources but we all know SEO legends like you would of found him/her eventually). A quick look through this users bookmarks and we come across a number of useful tools, as well as realising that nadirg is a big electro and disco fan!

Free Keyword Niche Finder is a great tool for creating keyword lists and is a good find if you weren’t aware of this tool before. Also nadirg has bookmarked a post entitled Online SEO Tools – the Ultimate Collection which has some really useful, if slightly old, tools that anyone getting into SEO could make use of.

You never know what you’re going to find but if we did a little deeper we find Excellent Analytics a free to download plugin that hooks your Excel spreadsheet up to Google Analytics. Try using the tags in combination in order to narrow in on the resources you are looking for. In this example I used nadirg’s seo and tools tags in combination to find these great resources.

Now that you have your pass into the world of an SEO legend don’t stop there! Look through this users bookmarks for other useful tools or resources that have only been bookmarked a few times and repeat the process. Also take a look at the users network, if not set to private, which will provide you with other legends of the SEO scene. Remember if this is a true SEO legend you will want to add them to your network in order to keep yourself updated with any new tools and resources they find.

Finally if you want to make sure that you aren’t giving away all your best resources to wannabe SEO legends set these bookmarks to private and your competitive edge will be safe and secure.

The Importance of Online Video

The Importance of Online Video

(Photo: laverrue)

Online video is just a passing fad right? That’s what so many businesses still believe but that’s simply not true. It’s been over half a decade since the biggest online video site YouTube first sprang onto the internet and it’s not showing any signs of slowing down. Those who are adamant it’s just a passing trend are probably the same people who took one look at the motorcar and decided the horse and cart is still the way forward, or after finding out about email declared it a new fangled gadget that would never replace traditional mail. The truth is, like the car and email, online video is not a passing fad; it’s natural progression, the next evolutionary step for the Internet.

The main problems most businesses have when it comes to online video is the connotations that online video is just for people wanting to watch silly videos of skateboarding dogs or the latest video by their favourite music act. According to ScanScout, more people watch online videos about computers, technology and gaming than anything else, closely followed by people watching entertainment videos online. In May 2006, 6% of all online video consumed was from the business genre and this figure is growing year after year. YouTube alone claim to get more than 2 billion video views everyday which isn’t surprising considering it’s been the second largest search engine in the world on several occasions. In short, your target audience is online and they’re looking for video content so isn’t is about time your website started to accommodate it? If a picture is worth a thousand words then a video must be worth a thousand pictures. Just imagine how much more content you could convey to your target audience with the addition of a simple video.

By now I’m hoping I’ve convinced you to at least entertain the idea of online video, but you need to figure out how it can be used for you. At the very least any business can do a question and answer style interview, this doesn’t require any technical sophistication and will be very easy to edit. No matter what industry you work in there has to be something productive you can talk about. You aren’t trying to sell your product so there’s no point filming a sales pitch but maybe your customer service department can give you a list of the most frequently asked questions or there’s been a technological development within your industry that you could give an explanation of. No matter what product or service your website is offering there’s always going to be something you can say about it. You might even want to publish a downloadable white paper or PDF to accompany your video, this can be great for lead generation if you simply ask for a name and email address before the download commences.

If you have an ecommerce website creating video content should be easy. Filming practical applications of your products can be a great way to install faith in your brand and generate video content at the same time. If you sell cameras give a video demonstration of the different features, or a guide on how to shoot the perfect picture. If you sell clothes film an in house fashion show or film someone explaining what colours complement each other and what’s in style this season. The longer you’re able to keep any website traffic on site the more likely they are to remember you, so even if they don’t buy from you on this visit adding video content makes them more likely to think of you when they are serious about making a purchase.

Once you’ve created your video it’s simply a case of following best practice to get your video noticed. Make sure the opening still is engaging and entices people to click on it. Finish it with a still containing your contact information so people can get in touch if they want more information. Don’t forget to add the video content to your XML sitemap to let the search engines know it’s there and you’re ready to start marketing it.

How Can Social Media Help SEO?

The following is a guest post by my good friend and SEO specialist Saurav Rimal.

I don’t know ask the social media expert! I am just kidding. I have tried explaining to many that social media does not play a big part in SEO directly but indirectly it can play a huge role. Social media and SEO can work well together if you have a strong framework and strategy in place.

How Social Media Can Help SEO

Find Your Target Audience

Use social media channels to track the behaviours of your target audience. Several companies track their users and customers through social media channels to figure out their preferences.

In my opinion Google is heading that way as well!

What Are Your Goals?

You need to have a goal, which you want to achieve from your campaign. Goals are normally achieved through marketing but social media is not direct marketing so you need to have different tactics. Once you set your goals you need a plan to execute your campaign.

Game Plan – E.G. Competitions

Many SEOs are always looking for ways to run competition for their clients because there is the potential for links and traffic to get from this and frankly they use social media channels and competition sites to spread the word.

Social Media Connection

Having an account doesn’t mean you are using social media; you need to interact and create some kind of connection with the people in your industry. If you do that then it will bring in the audience.

  • Social media connection can bring you relevant traffic, content and possibly links too
  • Another thing you can use social media network for is keyword research
  • Interact with people in your social channel that is how you increase your reputation along with your clients

Social Media for Traffic and Links

Where to Get The Latest SEO News

In the world of SEO things change on a daily basis and part of being a good SEO yourself means knowing what these changes are and even predicting how they will affect traffic coming to the sites you look after. Bear in mind however that the constant changes in the search engines are for the most part inconsequential and you need to use your own judgement to make a call on what changes will have a noticeable impact on what you do as an SEO.

But it is not only the changes in the search engines that you will want to keep up to date with. There is a tremendous amount of very intelligent people working in the SEO industry who are happy to share their views and understanding with you. The smartest people in the industry however are those that realise they don’t yet fully understand all that SEO is and test every theory or assumption that they make.

Finally there are those that take the next step and put their ideas and testing into practise, taking the form of a nifty web based tool. The more data points and tools you can use for analysing those data points the better you are going to get at understanding SEO.

Here are the blogs that I personally use to stay up to date on what is going on in the SEO community:

SEOmoz Blog

1. SEOmoz Blog – Starting with the big boys SEOmoz is a daily SEO blog providing you with some of the latest news along with some great tools and concepts in the SEO industry. The thing I most like about SEOmoz is they will test their theories, supply you with their findings but also give you the same data for you to make your own conclusions from. As you can imagine this is a very effective way to learn the art of SEO. You will also find many people contributing to the site via their YOUmoz section with the best articles being promoted to their main blog ensuring you always get a fresh mix of new ideas and techniques.

Viper Chill

2. Viper Chill – Viper Chill is the viral marketing blog of internet marketer Glen Allsopp. I have to say that this is one of my favourite. The posts unlike some other sites are much longer and talk you through a complete concept or methodology from beginning to end. Equally impressive is the effort that Glen puts into answering comments, so if you do find yourself struggling on a few points don’t hesitate to post a comment. Since the re-launch of the Viper Chill website in October 2009 Glen has published a monthly report, up until September 2010, offering a unique insight into how to create a popular and successful blog… definitely worth a read if you have not visited the Viper Chill site before.

SEO Book

3. SEO Book – Another of the big SEO blogs SEO Book produces a number of articles that will question as well as reinforce why you or anyone should practise SEO. More informative than action based SEO Book is a good blog to read if you want to increase you understanding on some of the inner workings of the search engines.

Distilled Blog

4. Distilled Blog – Distilled is a UK based SEO company that also operates in Seattle and has connections to SEOmoz. Blog  posts are less frequent than the SEOmoz blog, which isn’t a bad thing at all, and often introduce you to some nice new tools or plugins for you browsers.

Google Webmaster Central Blog

5. Google Webmaster Central Blog – No inside secrets or ground breaking techniques to be found here but the Google Webmaster Central Blog will keep you up to date with any changes Google think are important, which most times makes them important.

SEO Blog by Dave Naylor

6. SEO Blog by Dave Naylor – This is a great blog for getting the latest on those little changes that Google makes on a continual basis. The blog will lay out the exact changes that have been spotted, usually with a nice screenshot, along with the author’s opinion and what it could mean for us SEOs. However you are encouraged to make your own mind up and ultimately that’s the way it should be and where this blog succeeds.

Wildcards:

Blue Hat SEO

7. Blue Hat SEO – This blog unfortunately hasn’t had a new post since July 2010 but on the plus side definitely won’t clog up your feed reader! What you will get however if you take a look at some of the past posts is a completely different view on how to do SEO. It is always good to read a few blogs like these that push the boundaries of what is considered “ethical” SEO. Learning how to build your SEO Empire is something that will surely get you hooked not only on this blog but a whole new way of looking at the SEO world.

SEO by the Sea

8. SEO by the Sea – If keeping up to date on the patent filings of the world’s biggest search engines is your thing then Bill Slawski of SEO by the Sea is your man. Why I stopped reading this blog; There is some great retrospective insight to be found here however from my limited understanding it seems most of these patents take a minimum of one year to be granted. Personally that’s a little too long in the SEO industry for my liking. I would however recommend this blog for anyone wanting to better understand the way Google and other search engines work at a very granular level.  The feeling I get though is that the time will also come when you decide what happened several years ago isn’t a great deal of help.

Update: It seems I may have jumped the gun when claiming that information from SEO by the Sea is only useful for retrospective analysis. Thanks to Bill for his informative points in the comment section at the end of this article. It seems that some of the patent filings are published before the technology they protect has been implemented and therefore could provide valuable insight into the future of the search engines.

Of course you can never be sure how long it will be until these technologies will be implemented if at all. However there is value to be taken from understanding the direction and thought process that is being taken by the major search engine providers. Therefore I will update my verdict to say that there is some valuable insight to be gained from SEO by the Sea. Although you should bear in mind that the technology discussed may have been active for years, due to be implemented in the near/distant future or may never by used by the search engines. A key point that Bill does make though is that this information is provided directly from the search engines something that, as mentioned above, will help you learn from the primary source you are optimising for.

I have found that other blogs such as Search Engine Roundtable and Search Engine Land produce far too much content on minor issues that just creates noise for you to sift through. Although it is only right that I mention them here, as these blogs are well thought of and often referenced sources of information within the SEO industry.

Finally to truly stay on the pulse when it comes to developments in the world of SEO you need to be able to find information on subjects that might not have filtered through to the top SEO blogs. For this Twitter is your greatest ally. Start by following these guys and you will soon have a fresh stream of high quality SEO related news and tactics from across the web:

@Seosmarty – Ann Smarty is an avid guest blogger with her own guest blogging community; MyBlogGuest.com which you can join.

@rustybrick – Barry Schwartz as founder of Search Engine Roundtable delivers some great links to articles on the site. As mentioned above Search Engine Roundtable is one of the sites that pumps out a great deal of content. Using Twitter provides an efficient way to filter this explosion of content for news and information that interests you.

You can also follow me here Smile

P.S. I should also mention Sphinn, the SEO equivalent of what Digg used to be, is a great way to find the current top articles and information as decided by the SEO (Sphinn) community.

The Blekko Argument

Blekko Logo

Blekko is a newly formed search engine that launch publicly on the last day of October this year. What makes Blekko different is the ability to remove and search only the sites you select using slash tags. The benefit of this is say you want to get the latest bit of news about a particular item of clothing from some of your favourite blogs; you could simply search for that clothing item and append a slash tag to focus on just these websites.

From an SEO point of view however the really interesting thing about Blekko is that the search engine reveals the algorithm they use to rank search queries. At least that’s what has been said anyway, what Blekko in fact reveals is the certain factors used to rank results. Whilst this can give you some insight it is not the whole picture because without knowing the weighting of each of these factors you are still in for some trial and error. Of course that’s exactly what SEO is all about testing your ideas and seeing what works. Whilst there is little to no reward to ranking well in Blekko at this current moment in time it does present a good testing ground for trying out some of your SEO theories. Knowing the factors used to rank a set of results is extremely helpful to the extent that you will now be aware of what you have to work with.

But why would you expose your algorithm, or part of it, anyway surely this will just encourage spammers? Here’s where I think Blekko hits the nail right on the head, recently Rich Skrenta of Blekko made the following statement in an interview with Aaron Wall from SEOBook:

“The only way to get a strong encryption algorithm is to publish all of the details about how it works and have public review. Once the researchers can't punch any more holes in your algorithm, only then is it good enough to trust.”

This really sums up the mentality that Blekko as a search engine has towards delivering relevant results. My personal point of view is that this is a great way to differentiate Blekko from other search engines and whilst it may seem a little idealist would be fantastic if they can pull it off. After all the purpose of a search engine is to deliver the highest quality and most relevant result to be found on the internet for any particular search query. Therefore if you can create a cast iron algorithm that will only ever display the best most relevant content then this is what we as SEOs will have to focus our attention on.

Whilst the data set Blekko currently has is small in comparison to the major search engines it will only continue to increase and there are many other reasons why SEOs might want to use this search engine. For starters you are able to see all the backlinks that a site in their index has. So if Blekko reports 20,000 links you can just keep flicking through the pages and see them all unlike the top 1,000 you get from Yahoo! Site Explorer or the “sample” of links from Google Webmaster Tools. You can also view the percentage of links coming from different countries as well as from different U.S. states. There are many other features of Blekko geared towards SEO including one of my favourites the duplicate content tab. This tab will show you duplicate content that is occurring both on and off your site. Whilst there are already systems such as Copyscape to tackle duplicate content issues Blekko gives you as much wider view of your duplicate content and I can see this being an extremely useful feature in the future.

Blekko is definitely a search engine that any SEO will want to play around with for a bit. There is some great insight to be had from using the search engine especially for those starting out in SEO, which will only become more relevant as their index expands.

The Art and Science of SEO

Einstein Sticking His Tounge Out - Art and Science of SEO

(Photo: PsychoScheiko)

There’s no denying that SEO is an exact science. Each search engine has its own algorithm to sort the various webpages that are scraped from the World Wide Web on a daily basis. The algorithms have been created by humans and have a finite number of factors that determine what the outcome of what a search query will be. Therefore if you knew the algorithm and applied a little trial and error you would be able to create the ‘perfect’ website or webpage for your selected search queries. Thus search engine optimisation (SEO) is strictly science.

However this is not something that to the best of my knowledge is achievable and due to this many individuals approach SEO from a more free flowing and artistic stand point. First of all no search engine is going to reveal its algorithm, well except Blekko. This is the formula that their business is built upon and revealing this would open the gates to those interested in manipulating the search engines… SEOs!

If you consider that Google claims to have over 200 factors that affect its ranking algorithm, check out this Webmaster World thread to see how far the community have come to identifying these, then you can see what a challenge it would be to make a site to meet all of these requirements. Of course even knowing all of these factors wouldn’t ensure you of top positions as the algorithms have many more facets than this. Consider the complicated weighting of each factor, along with conflicting factors, thresholds and the fact that Google rolls out changes on a daily basis.

So why is SEO an art and not a science? Simply because the algorithms used by search engines are far too complicated to deconstruct to such a granular level. Instead of trying to determine each variable that gets put in at the start of the algorithm it has proved far more fruitful to determine the result the search engines are trying to achieve. For example instead of focusing on the keyword density of your copy, not that it would help, instead most of today’s top SEOs take a more holistic approach and focus on creating content of a high quality.

SEO is always going to be part art part science. An article without your keyword or phrase in it is unlikely to rank for the phrase easily however a keyword stuffed article is going to be of little use to end users. At the end of the day SEO is a means to an end and not an end in itself; if the result is more traffic to your site resulting in greater revenue and ultimately an improved ROI then you are successfully optimising your site for the search engines.

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