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  • Where’s My Hoverboard? Time to Invent the Future

    by SF SF | May 08, 2012

    In 1999, Wired predicted that the 21st century would be a call-anytime, roam-anywhere, use-any-protocol kind of world. Mobile phones and the internet would converge, shaping the way we work, shop, pay bills, flirt, keep appointments, conduct wars and keep up with our children.

    Now that we’re living this reality, what’s next?

    An interesting read by the editor of The Atlantic: The Jig Is Up: Time to Get Past Facebook and Invent a New Future

  • What You Need to Know About Google’s Penguin Update

    by SF SF | May 01, 2012

    Not sure what to think of Google’s Penguin update? Whether your website was hit or not, here’s what you need to know about Google’s newest algorithm change.

    What is Penguin?

    Penguin is Google’s latest update to its search-ranking algorithm. Released in full on April 24, 2012, the changes are meant to level the SEO playing field once and for all. Penguin decreases rankings for websites that violate Google’s existing quality guidelines, which include spammy techniques such as keyword stuffing, article spinning and cloaking.

    Am I affected?

    If your website has great content backed by white-hat SEO techniques, you’re fine. In fact, if you’re playing by the rules you might even see a boost in rankings.

    Google does report some spamming offenses through Google Webmaster Central, but it doesn’t tell you if Penguin directly affected your website. So if you’re unsure, it’s wise to do some investigating.

    The Penguin update launched on April 24th, so if you see a major drop in search-related traffic immediately after that date, you’ve probably been hit. If your traffic dropped earlier, on April 19th, and never recovered, you’ve probably been hit by Panda, not Penguin. Panda was designed to penalize low-quality content, not spam.

    To put the Penguin update into context, the initial Panda change affected 12% of search queries, while Penguin only affected 3.1%.

    Are those link warnings related to Penguin?

    In mid-March, Google cracked down on blog networks that existed solely to generate links. Later in the month, Google sent notifications from Google Webmaster Tools warning users about violations related to “artificial or unnatural links.”

    So if you saw your traffic drop at these times, it’s not because of Penguin. Either you are no longer benefiting from the now de-indexed link networks, or Google has attached a penalty to your site.

    How do I recover?

    Get rid of the spam. Check Google Webmaster Central for violation warnings even if you’ve never verified your account, and fix anything that Google has flagged as questionable. If Google hasn’t flagged your website—and you’re 100% sure Penguin has hit you—correct whatever appears to be spam-like.

    Is Penguin bad for business?

    Penguin is still in its early days, so it’s easy to come away with a skewed view. The only people speaking up are those who have been harmed by the update; Google searchers haven’t complained that it’s suddenly gotten worse, and those benefitting from the update have no reason to make a fuss.

    Of those who were hit, most probably deserved to be hit. And of those who were rewarded, most probably deserved to be rewarded. If you’re a real business that provides real services and conducts web activities in a real way, you should be just fine.

  • On Twitter Content Is Still King

    by SF SF | Apr 20, 2012

    It is now possible to predict the likelihood of whether or not content will become popular if it is shared on Twitter, based on a new HP Labs White Paper.

    HP analyzed over forty-thousand tweets over the course of a week and found that some articles are indeed more tweet-worthy than others. Based on the:

    • origin of the content
    • person/business that first tweeted the content
    • category the content fell under (society, business, etc)
    • tone of the content’s language

    It was concluded that the source of the content was the biggest indicator of potential popularity. The more reliable the original source, the more chances it had of being tweeted and retweeted.

    Other important factors in the equation are the popularity of the category that the content would fall under. Health, entertainment and technology are all very popular categories, so content shared under these categories ended up being much more popular. However jobs and universities ended up being less popular categories and did not get shared as frequently.

    One thing that does not seem to have an impact on the tweetability of content is the tone in which it is written or the context in which it is shared. Articles written with more emotion or images used in certain places were no more likely to be tweeted than more objective articles or images, according to researchers.

    In the past it has been assumed that the higher the profile (the more popular) a user is, the more popular their tweets will be and the more they will be retweeted. While this is still true to a point, it is important to consider the nature of the content itself. Of course brand matters, information matters, and classification matters, but tone does not seem to make much of a difference when it comes to sharing something on Twitter.

    From articles to images and everything in between, this research takes a hard look at the factors we have used in the past to forecast the popularity of content and serves up some interesting new things to consider.

  • F-commerce A Bust?

    by SF SF | Apr 18, 2012

    Facebook offers businesses the ability to have a functioning online retail storefront incorporated into their fan pages. The idea of making shopping a social experience sounded good and seemed like the perfect opportunity for businesses to convert their followers into paying customers. Companies of all shapes and sizes jumped on the bandwagon, from mom-and-pop operations to giants like GAP.

    What time has shown us is that Facebook stores just aren’t generating revenue like it was projected. The money just isn’t there and for this reason many big players are simply pulling out. For many online retailers there is simply no incentive for their Facebook fans to make a purchase via their Facebook stores versus through their already-established online store.

    Online shopping is already so convenient and many users were simply not interested in shopping on Facebook. The Facebook apps for ecommerce added delays to load-times, and in some cases required the user to go to the principle online store to complete the purchase. Many of these retailer’s just quietly took their Facebook stores offline and focused on maintaining their presence and brand in the space. Facebook is definitely not something to be dismissed because of these online store failures. Facebook is still often a major traffic driver to all sorts of websites at a fraction of the cost of using other means of advertising.

    Time will determine if the so-called “F-commerce” is not a viable means of doing business online, but it certainly will need to have the kinks worked out. Early adopters are often the ones who learn by trial and error, and in this case the trials resulted in low conversion rates that did not justify the high costs of development. Perhaps the future will reveal a way to sell products through Facebook beyond the capability to create another version of an already existing shop linked to a fan page, but for now this does not seem to be a viable way to generate revenue using Facebook.

  • B2B Mobile Marketing and Social Media Tactics: Part 2

    by SF SF | Apr 13, 2012

    In our last post, B2B Mobile Marketing and Social Media Tactics: Part 1, we introduced a few strategies to help you make the most of your B2B mobile marketing campaign. We gave tips on how to reach people at all stages of the buying process, how to drive traffic online, and why you need to consider the privacy of your users. These tactics are a great start, but they don’t even begin to cover the booming world of mobile marketing.

    Keep reading for more tips and tactics on integrating mobile and social channels in your B2B marketing strategy.

    Harness the Power of LinkedIn

    While B2C marketers focus on Facebook and Twitter, the B2B world is all about LinkedIn. Business professionals have a significantly higher level of trust in the business-related information they find on LinkedIn, and use it to find important connections and leads. And if you join relevant LinkedIn Groups, you can add value to your messages by participating, answering questions, providing resources and building new relationships.

    LinkedIn is the most difficult platform to automate, but if you make the time to get connected, either through Groups or friends, it’ll make your sales process much easier.

    Set Up Mobile and Social Analytics

    Combine your mobile, social, analytics and marketing automation platforms so they share as much data as possible.

    Hootsuite, for example, the leading social media dashboard, integrates directly with Google Analytics, which in turn integrates directly with many marketing automation systems. If the integration is set up correctly, you can track:

    • How they arrived at your site (from Google, Facebook or QR codes, for example)
    • Exact search terms (if they used a search engine)
    • Exact date and time
    • IP address, location and GPS coordinate data
    • Time spent on the site
    • Whether they’re converting, filling out lead forms or engaging in other activities

    With such specific data at your disposal, you’ll be able to see where your leads are coming from and tailor your content to increase conversion rates and lower the cost-per-lead. For example, if you notice 300 people from New York interacting with page 15 of your catalogue, everyone in your New York email database would get an email promoting that page or its products.

    Be Mobile Friendly

    Mobile users go online to find specific, useful information. They’re looking for things like calendars and contact information, not press releases and a detailed history of your board of directors.

    Mobile marketers have to deliver content succinctly in order to keep users happy. Cut back on the text (if your homepage contains 200 words, cut it back to 20 words for the mobile site), watch your page load times and encourage selection, not typing.

    Give Your Audience Multiple Ways to Access Your Content

    Not everyone loves QR codes, not everyone loves to text, and not everyone loves typing URLs into their mobile device. So the next time you send direct mail or hand out material at an event, let people choose how they want to find you by including a QR code with a URL and an SMS call-to-action.

  • B2B Mobile Marketing and Social Media Tactics: Part I

    by SF SF | Apr 11, 2012

    How important is mobile marketing in your B2B strategy? According to MarketingSherpa, businesses are at the forefront of smartphone adoption, yet less than half of B2B marketers are embracing mobile.

    If that fact isn’t enough to convince you to add mobile to your marketing mix, consider this: The Mobile Marketing Association says that 90% of Americans who have a mobile device have it within three feet of them 24 hours a day.

    But to win the favour of busy professionals, B2B marketers must employ tactics that make the workplace better, faster and easier. Although social media does have a role in B2B mobile marketing, business audiences are driven by efficiency, not entertainment, and they expect to get real value from the information they access on their mobile devices.

    Here are a few tactics to help you make the most of your B2B mobile marketing strategy. Stay tuned for more!

    Match Content to Buying Stages

    Because consumers are so connected to their mobile devices, your mobile content has the ability to reach people at all stages of the buying process. A person may arrive at the top of the sales funnel, via social media, and stay for the duration of the buying cycle.

    For maximum impact, present buyers with different content at different stages. Someone who stumbled across your Facebook page is likely to be at an earlier buying stage than someone who is actively researching your company, and needs to be provided with information, not a sales pitch. Don’t forget that social media leads may have arrived only because they saw something of interest in your social content, not because they need to purchase something.

    B2B marketing content all comes down to value: the exclusive how-to instruction, the mobile-friendly video clip of the CEO delivering a message that’s not in the annual report, or even financial reports. You can also take advantage of the instantaneous nature of mobile by using surveys and polls to gather useful demographic and directional data from your audience.

    In short, if your message is too pushy for buyers at the top of the sales funnel, or too weak for those on the brink of a purchase, you run the risk of driving them away—forever.

    Use QR Codes to Fuse Online and Offline Marketing

    Including QR Codes on print advertising is a quick and easy way to drive your target audience to the more trackable online world. If your audience isn’t tech savvy, you can go for a text-in option instead, which is something everyone is familiar with. QR Codes and text-in options provide an equal amount of data to tie into your automation systems and web analytics, so go with whichever one makes the most sense for your audience.

    Take Privacy into Consideration

    The Mobile Marketing Association has developed a Code of Conduct for marketers that protects mobile users from unwanted communications on their mobile devices.

    It’s considered an opt-in if a user texts to join, but it’s not if someone enters their mobile number on a webform and checks the “opt-in box.” The user actually has to opt-in from the mobile device itself to prove the number is theirs.

    Once a user is officially opted-in, make sure they receive information about the content of the messages they signed up for, how many to expect per day, how to get help, and most importantly, how to unsubscribe. Even though mobile phone users are more connected that ever before, they still want to be in control of what they see and when they see it.

  • Boosting Business with Pinterest

    by SF SF | Apr 05, 2012

    When Pinterest first launched in March of 2010, it was dismissed as a girly scrapbook for wedding gowns, cupcakes and all things DIY. But over the last few months, Pinterest has become a hot social network with over 16 million users. According to Compete.com, Pinterest saw a 155% increase in visitors from December 2011 to January 2012.

    Who should join? Any business that wants to drive high-volume traffic to their website to increase sales and generate leads. Research shows that Pinterest can be more effective at driving traffic than any other social media site, even Facebook.

    But like all social networks, Pinterest frowns upon blatant self-promotion. Marketers need to find creative ways to go about their business, ways that showcase their brand’s lifestyle, not their brand’s products.

    Not sure where to start? Here are a few tips to make sure your Pinterest campaign kicks off on the right foot.

    Feature Visual Content

    Pinterest is all about organizing and sharing the beautiful things you find on the web, and finding how your products or services fit into the lifestyle of your ideal audience. Some businesses, such as interior design firms and clothing retailers, are inherently visual and will have no problem finding things to post, while others will have to work at it. If your company isn’t obviously made for Pinterest, sift through visual content already in your possession: fun photos from around the office (photos of parties and volunteer events work just as well), photos of your customers using your product/services, beautiful imagery from blog posts, infographics, data sets, even ebook and book covers.

    Add the Pin-It Button to Your Website

    Making your content incredibly easy to share helps expose your brand to a new audience.

    Link Your Pins

    Whenever possible, link your images and image descriptions back to your website. Pinterest links are nofollow, but they will drive a high volume of traffic. You can use analytics software to track which people arrived at your website via Pinterest, and to learn what they’re most interested in and which items or services convert to sales.

    Link Your Accounts

    Pinterest understands that interconnectivity is necessary for social media survival. You can log in using your Facebook or Twitter account, and even choose to automatically post new pins to your Facebook feed for others to see. Users browsing your pins have the ability to instantly share them through Facebook, Twitter or email. As of right now, however, you can only connect your account to your personal Facebook page, not your business one.

    Use Hashtags

    Like Twitter and Google+, Pinterest users employ hashtags to make content more search-friendly. Use the same hashtags across all social media platforms for the most effective cross-channel campaign.

    Create a User-Generated Pinboard

    Involve fans and customers in your marketing by allowing them to contribute their own pins to your pinboards. You can pick out a few of your top customers, ask them to showcase what they love most about your brand and create boards dedicated solely to their pins.

    Hold a Contest

    To really make the most of this type of engagement, consider holding a contest. Ask users to create pinboards on their own accounts that showcase their love for your brand, product or service. You can either pick the winner yourself, or re-pin the top boards to your own Pinterest page and ask followers to vote on the boards to select the winner.

  • Why It’s Time to Ditch Your Homemade Website

    by SF SF | Apr 02, 2012

    The future of ecommerce looks bright, according to a recent report from Forrester Research. Despite a gloomy economy, Americans are spending more than ever online and show no signs of slowing down.

    Some of the report’s most useful findings:

    • Americans spent over $200 billion online in 2011. That number is expected to increase to $328 billion in 2016, which is a jump from 7% to 9% of overall retail sales.
    • In 2011, 167 million American consumers (53% of the population) purchased something online. That number is expected to grow to 192 million (56% of the population) by 2016.
    • Consumers’ average yearly online spending will increase from $1,207 per person in 2011 to $1,738 per person by 2016.

    What’s driving the growth? Current shoppers are spending more and new shoppers are enticed online by a flood of innovative shopping technologies. Online loyalty programs and flash-sale websites appeal to the frugal, while the rise of iPads and other mobile devices make impulsive shopping a breeze.

    There’s also a shift in mindset: Shoppers now believe the best promotions are found online. More than 70% of holiday shoppers said they purchased their gifts online solely because they believed the internet had the best deals.

    Yes, these stats are fascinating, but they’re also motivating. If your ecommerce strategy isn’t top notch, then you’re missing out on one of the fastest-growing markets in the world.

    Wondering where to start? Take a good, hard look at your website. Is it attractive? Well designed? Does is connect users with products in an efficient, intuitive and fun way? Is it easy for you to use?

    Ten years ago, building a quality ecommerce website took either a lot of money or a lot of technical know-how. Today, businesses can use any number of open-source platforms to whip up a complex, yet relatively inexpensive ecommerce site. But just because you can build it yourself doesn’t mean you should.

    Websites are too critical to your business to just throw together, DIY-style. While it may be perfectly functional, the quality of your website is a direct reflection of the quality of your business. If you have the same cookie-cutter design as even one of your competitors (or even worse, some kid with a blog), your customers won’t take you seriously.

    Custom designs are always going to cost more, but the result is a website that’s been designed to drive real business for you. You’ll have a team of information architects, graphic designers, coders, developers and project managers by your side to ensure your website is an effective representation of your brand.

    When looking for a design team, shop around until you find one that’s a good fit your business. Ask to see similar websites in their portfolio and make sure they can point to case studies for successful projects they’ve completed for other clients.

    Don’t rush—a good design process takes time. Once you’ve found your design team, you’ll meet with them to make sure they understand your business, your competitors and your goals for the project. Then, they’ll create a blueprint of your site, laying out the navigation and functionality. After the details are agreed upon, the coders and developers will build it to spec and work out all the kinks by cross-browsing testing and systematically checking every inch of the website.

    Building an ecommerce website is not an easy or inexpensive process, but it’s essential to the success of your business. If you have a business you need to be online, and if you want to stay in business you have to do it right.

  • The Best Ways to Loose Friends & Followers on Facebook

    by SF SF | Mar 30, 2012

    Unfriended. Unfollowed. Unsubscribed. Even if you aren’t the sensitive type, social media rejection hurts. It’s unsettling to see our numbers drop, but it’s even more unsettling to not know why.

    While social networks lay out the obvious ground rules in their terms of service—don’t spam, don’t impersonate, don’t threaten—they don’t mention the everyday actions that drive away friends and followers. Without even knowing it, you may be pushing away the very people on whom your survival depends. Are you guilty of these costly social media mistakes?

    Retweeting Your Own Retweets

    Everyone loves praise. So when someone says something nice about us, it’s tempting to retweet it just to show the world how awesome we are. As nice as this self-congratulatory pat on the back feels, it’s comes across as both smug and insecure, and your followers will not be amused by it. If you’re absolutely dying to retweet it, at least say thank you.

    Automation Overload

    Tools like TweetDeck and HootSuite make it easy to cross-post to multiple accounts, but they also make it easy to become a social media robot. Thoughtless tricks like auto following, auto unfollowing and auto DM-ing won’t engage your friends and followers in an authentic way. While it’s perfectly okay to use social media dashboards to schedule your posts, don’t share the exact same content across all networks in exactly the same format. Saving time is great and all, but your Facebook users won’t be impressed when they see hashtags or other Twitter-specific content in their stream.

    Offensive Comments

    Consider Kenneth Cole’s tasteless tweet, which he personally posted during the height of the Egyptian uprising: “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online.” He removed the offending tweet about 5 hours later and apologized on Facebook, but not before the Twitterverse ate him alive with fake Kenneth Cole PR accounts and #boycottkennethcole hashtags. Over a year later, his negative press still ranks higher than his accessories line. The lesson here? Think before you tweet.

    Antisocial Behaviour

    If you’re a social media wallflower who never replies to anyone or follows back, you’ll lose followers and no one will pay attention to you. Social media is all about conversation, which requires some give and take. Unless you’re an extremely fascinating person who can get away with such things, like Beyonce (who has zero tweets and over 3 million followers), your followers will expect a certain amount of interaction. You don’t have to reply to absolutely everyone, but the more you engage with others, the more they’ll engage with you.

    Shameless Self-Promotion

    All business accounts require a certain amount of self-promotion, but that doesn’t mean you should peddle your wares 24/7/365. Nothing is worse than following an account and receiving a steady stream of product pushes. Instead, find a more social way to go about your business, like answering questions, sharing helpful tips and providing useful information specific to your area of expertise. Once potential customers trust you and see you as a real person, they’ll be more likely to get down to business.

  • Google Knowledge Graph: A Smarter, More Intuitive Way to Search

    by SF SF | Mar 28, 2012

    Google has just unleashed a search engine overhaul that promises to help users discover new information quickly and easily.

    The Knowledge Graph, a database containing more than 500 million objects, as well as 3.5 billion facts about and relationships between these different objects, goes beyond mere words to figure out what people are really seeking online. Users will no longer have to wade through a hodgepodge of search results because Knowledge Graph, in its infinite wisdom, will have presented the proper results in the first place.

    As Google said in its official blog post on the topic, Knowledge Graph “understands real-world entities and their relationships to one another: things, not strings.”

    For instance, look at a query like [phoenix]. You could be looking for the city, the bird, the football club or even the Grammy-Award-winning band. Knowledge Graph aims to eliminate this ambiguity by allowing you to narrow your search results. Google will pick what it thinks is the best result, but will show alternative, same-named searches. Once you click on your desired search, the irrelevant results will disappear.

    Another bonus of Knowledge Graph is the summarized information that appears on the right-hand side of the search results page. A search for Tom Cruise, for example, will not only return the expected search results (and alternative search results, if they exist), but also a nifty factoid box that includes key tidbits you’re likely to want to know, like Tom’s birthday, his full name, his height and even the names of his ex-wives.

    Google is calling Knowledge Graph the “first step towards the next generation of search,” which taps into the collective intelligence of the web and understands the world a bit more like people do. Knowledge Graph is so intuitive that Google claims it can even answer your next question before you’ve asked it. Fact: When you search for Tom Cruise, the information provided in the quick summary section answers 37 percent of the next queries that people ask about him.

    Knowledge Graph has already rolled out to Google’s .com users, and in the future it’ll also be available on smartphones and tablets. Google plans to eventually expand Knowledge Graph to other countries, but no specific timeline has been set.

  • Google Search Gets Major Overhaul

    by SF SF | Mar 27, 2012

    Google search is about to get a whole lot more intuitive. Over the next few months, you’ll begin to see more detailed and direct search results that will make it easier than ever to find what you’re looking for.

    Google is moving towards semantic search, which means it will search more like a human and not just treat users’ queries like a bunch of keywords. It will understand the meanings of words and phrases and be able to produce quality results for conceptual questions.

    How is this possible, you ask? In 2010, Google acquired Freebase, a vast knowledge database that now has over 200 million interconnected entities and attributes. This raw data translates into relationships between words and facts that the search engine uses to provide better, more relevant results. Today, for example, a search for “Lake Tahoe” produces links to the lake’s official visitor bureau’s website, its Wikipedia page and a link to a map. After Google’s overhaul, the same search will return key attributes that the search engine knows about the lake, such as its location, altitude and salinity.

    If a piece of knowledge isn’t in the ever-expanding database, the semantic search will fill in the gaps by examining web pages and associating words with one another, such as ‘Google’ with ‘Larry Page’ and “Sergey Brin.’

    While semantic search has yet to be rolled out in its final form, some of Google’s baby steps are already visible. They’ve improved related searches by deploying a new technology that better understands associations and concepts related to your search, and they’ve also lengthened their snippets to provide more information and context.

    These “answers” will undoubtedly make Google search more efficient and enjoyable, but not everyone is thrilled. While Google isn’t replacing its current keyword-search system, which determines the ranking of website based on the words it contains, how may other sites link to it and various other measures, the new changes could have a drastic effect on the millions of websites that rely on Google’s current page-ranking results. According to the Wall Street Journal, the shift to semantic search could directly affect 10% to 20% of all search queries—tens of billions per month.

    Like it or not, Google’s massive search overhaul is a bold move towards the next generation of search.

  • How the Google Plus Box Really Works

    by SF SF | Mar 22, 2012

    By Richard Nosek, Director of Marketing

    If you use Google.com, you’ve probably noticed a little something called Google Search Plus Your World. While you are signed into your Google+ account, Google not only searches the world wide web, but also your Google+ universe. The results are incredibly personalized, with profiles, pages, posts and photos from people you know and follow. You may even be presented with the elusive “Google Plus Box,” which shows people and pages related to your search—a mega traffic builder if you can land yourself in one of those coveted spots.

    But how does Google decide which pages and profiles show up? And how does Google decide which search queries get the plus box, and which ones don’t?

    Ian Lurie, an internet marketing blogger, decided to find out. He put together what he called his “Plan For Google Search Plus Your World Research and Domination (PFGSPYWRD, for short),” which consisted of polling SEO folks and collecting data on top Google Search Plus Your World results.

    After 5 weeks of research, here’s what Ian found out:

    Profiles with no new posts in the last 72 hours have no shot at a plus box ranking.

    Adam Sandler has the 2nd highest circle membership, yet he never appears. Why? He has hasn’t posted since January 24th. You don’t have to post all original content—re-shares and links to interesting stuff will do the trick—but make sure you post at least a few times a day.

    Pages get preference.

    Pages with membership between 3000 to 6000 circles appear in the plus box, beating out profiles with circle membership as high as 1.5 million.

    Higher engagement leads to plus box ranking.

    Not surprisingly, the more +1’s, posts, reshares, replies and membership circles you have, the more likely Google is to reward you with plus box placement. Google’s really looking out for big (and great) content generators, so the more +1’s you get, the more thumbs up Google will give you and the higher you’ll rank. It also helps to circle influential people with big circle membership.

    It’s easier to rank for a concept than a commodity.

    A search for ‘computers’ doesn’t return a plus box, while a search for ‘internet marketing’ does. Try to rank for a the non-commodity term that fits your industry, like ‘design,’ not ‘designer.’ Ian believes this is because the plus box shoves PPC ads down the page and hurts Google’s revenue. Why would Google want to place a plus box on results pages for searches with high commercial intent?

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