Larry BraunerYou want to market on the web and take advantage of the vast potential of social media. You start your blog, create your Twitter account, launch your Facebook fan page, and you’re ready to go.

Or are you? Have you missed any crucial first steps?

Sandy Abrams, begins her new book, Your Idea, Inc., with words that have been attributed to Mark Twain:

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking down your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

This quotation presents three problems, which I believe ought to have troubled Samuel Clemens:

  1. Isn’t “breaking down your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks” itself a step in the process?
  2. Aren’t understanding your needs and clearly defining your objectives vital preparatory steps as well?
  3. How do we determine the optimal sequence in which to execute all the small manageable tasks?

Neglected Stepchild of Social Media MarketingThese are three aspects of planning.

Planning is not popular, which explains the all too common lack of direction and focus in social media work.

Lack of direction and focus impedes progress and can cause frustration.

Your Social Media Plan

Before you jump into social media, devise your social media marketing and PR plan. Here are 16 key areas that might factor into your social media plan:

  1. Understand your business and objectives.
  2. Think about your products and services, what makes each special and their respective market segments.
  3. Develop positioning strategies for each market or program.
  4. Compile a list of your online competitors for each market.
  5. Identify suitable social media, such as social networking sites and social bookmarking sites, for both your vertical and horizontal campaigns.
  6. Identify desirable directories and other sites that might link to your content.
  7. Research and evaluate the extent and quality of industry-specific online content.
  8. Devise strategies and techniques for developing and promoting your content.
  9. Define a policy for governing your employees’ interactions with the public through social media.
  10. Study the online methodology of competitors and identify their search engine keywords.
  11. Analyze and critique your existing web presence.
  12. Gauge your competitors’ online success based upon their standing in search engines, the number and quality of links to their site, and estimated traffic.
  13. Identify opportunities to outmaneuver your competitors.
  14. Use a process called keyword discovery to develop a potentially useful vocabulary that will attract targeted search engine traffic to your content through SEO.
  15. Analyze keywords to determine which ones ought to be emphasized, based on the frequency of search and the amount of competition for each keyword phrase.
  16. Create a lexicon as an output of your keyword research and as an aid to your content development.

Action is Everything

You need not be concerned about every one of these areas. Use your judgment, since these are more suggestions than requirements. Certainly, do not use the length of my list as an excuse not to take action.

Action is everything. However, action begins with planning.

What are your thoughts?

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Larry Brauner

Social media sites are rapidly altering the web marketing landscape. Now you can use social media to drive targeted traffic to your websites.

You may be trying to determine whether social media is a viable alternative to search engine optimization.

After all, search engine optimization requires extensive keyword research and ongoing content development to achieve top search engine rankings. Is it possible that social media sites might provide a more expedient web marketing solution?

I’ve found in my experience that social networking sites and other social media can generate a modest level of response much more quickly than search engine optimization initiatives. So why not focus exclusively on social marketing?

Social Media AND Search Engine Optimization

Please read The Long Tail and Social Media, and you’ll start to appreciate the extent to which search engine optimization can enhance social media.

Not only does search engine optimization help you promote your website, it also helps you promote your social media content. Your website and your social media together constitute your web presence, and search engine optimization helps you to market your overall web presence.

Interestingly, the converse is also true.

Social media helps your search engine optimization efforts. It adds to the links back to your website generating both referral traffic and credibility with the various search engines.

They key is to coordinate your social media and search engine optimization, creating the maximum synergy between the two through an integrated approach.

The New Online Marketing Professional

It’s no longer enough for online marketing pros to be fluent in search engine optimization technique. They must also fully understand social media sites and their role in building both your online presence and the desired backlinks to your website.

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Larry BraunerCould it be that your website looks nice but fails to help you meet your web marketing objectives? Too often that is the case.

Lots of effort and expense went into building your site, but your return on investment is marginal or non-existent.

Here are possible reasons why your website isn’t generating leads or sales and some ideas that might help you correct the problems.

Too Little Website Traffic

Perhaps you lack an effective strategy for driving visitors to your site.

You set up your storefront but didn’t tell potential customers that you were in business, a mistake I often see both online and off.

Lack of traffic leads to lack of exposure for you and your offer or message.

Don’t assume that traffic will somehow find its way to you through word-of-mouth, search engines or otherwise. It rarely happens that way.

Generate exposure for your website offline via print advertising, direct mail, radio, etc. and online using social media, search engine marketing, search engine optimization and so forth.

Think big. You can dominate your niche, so don’t settle for less.

The Wrong Website Traffic

You have website traffic, but either your website traffic is not targeted or it’s poorly targeted, the result of using bad copy, selecting the wrong media, or choosing the wrong keywords.

For greater and more targeted website traffic, employ a good mix of research, analysis and experimentation.

Direct marketers have been using this approach offline since before you and I were born, and it works like a charm online as well.

Insufficient Stickiness

You have plenty of visitors, but they leave your website too soon.

Consider these questions:

  • Are you targeting the right website traffic?
  • Are your branding and message clear?
  • Are your pages too cluttered, or do you give your visitor too many choices?
  • Is your font hard to read? Try to avoid white on black in all your media, since it slows down your reader.
  • Is important content “above the fold?” Can visitors see your most important content without scrolling down?
  • Is your content up-to-date, relevant and interesting?
  • Do you use social techniques on your website to engage your visitors?

Poor Conversion

You have plenty of visitors who stick around but nothing happens.

Here are more questions to ponder:

  • Do you have a conversion strategy?
  • Does each of your pages have a call to action?
  • If not ready to buy, can your visitor join, opt-in to or subscribe to your site?

If you don’t have a lead capture mechanism and follow-up strategy, you’re leaving lots of money on the table.

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Larry Brauner

The long tail has recently become a major buzzword both in business and online.

The long tail concept is rather abstract, so it can help to look at concrete examples. Let’s look at examples from my blogging experience.

The Long Tail of the Search

I started publishing Online Social Networking in November 2007, and I installed Google Analytics to monitor, analyze and track traffic to my website.

My blog, as you can probably guess, has been search optimized for the keyword online social networking.

Out of 25,515 visits that were due to search engines, only 1,469 were searches for online social networking. The remaining 24,056 visits were based on 10,769 other search terms. 3,658 of those 10,769 were variants of online networking.

Fewer than 500 of the 3,658 search terms were used to find my site more than one time. These search terms each occurred very infrequently, yet in aggregate they accounted for a great proportion of my visits.

The Long Tail of Social MediaThe long tail of the search refers precisely to this phenomenon.

Most searches are based on all sorts of low frequency keywords. See the diagram to the left in which the yellow region under the curve corresponds to the long tail.

The Long Tail of ROI

I spend several hours writing each post on my blog and another hour or so bookmarking and promoting it. My hope is that people will come read the article and subscribe. Just to keep things simple, consider subscribing to be my return-on-investment.

A couple of hundred people, more or less, will visit within a couple of days to read my piece. Some will comment, and some will subscribe.

As I mentioned above, my blog is search engine optimized. I receive more than 100 visitors daily just from search engines. Over time each individual article on the blog will be read by a handful of search visitors per day. That’s not a large number, but it eventually adds up.

That’s the long tail of ROI: The small number of residual daily visits and subscriptions eventually match or surpass the initial surge of visits and subscriptions when the article is first written and posted.

The Allure of Social Media for Marketing

There are many aspects of social media that are appealing. It’s free. It’s social. It’s far reaching. However, the long tail aspect of social media I’ve described makes it especially attractive to savvy marketers.

Well written and keyword researched content remains online indefinitely and attracts an enormous number of search engine visits over time, a benefit not enjoyed using other media.

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Larry Brauner

A web developer knows how to build a website and how to create a web page that interacts effectively with visitors.  Web developers can often organize information and design web sites with great visual appeal.

Generally speaking however, web developers are neither experienced Internet marketers nor skilled copywriters. They specialize in following, tweaking and implementing the specifications provided to them by small business owners and corporate marketing departments. A web developer is a technician skilled at converting a set of instructions into an interactive web site.

Launching and promoting a web site and building an Internet presence require more than a development effort.  Here are eight other elements that will likely figure into your online presence:

  1. Your niche and perhaps micro-niche - What specific need or needs will your products or services fill?
  2. Positioning and branding - What distinguishes you from your competition? How can you position your brand so that it’s at the top of it’s own category?
  3. Targeting - Who will use your brand and how can you connect with them online and offline?
  4. Your keywords - What terms are people searching for that are relevant to your brand and which are the best ones to compete for?
  5. Content - What do you say on your site? How do you communicate your ideas, and how do you weave in the keywords indicated by your keyword research?
  6. Contextual linking - Creating meaningful hyperlinks within your site content that help the reader and the search engines.
  7. Link building - Getting the best sites to link back to you and other SEO strategies to attract search visitors and drive referrals to your website. Listing your site in appropriate directories. Submitting your site and content to social bookmarking sites, and writing press releases and articles that will also link back to you.
  8. Web promotion and list building - Leveraging video sites, social networking sites, e-zines and PPC ads to drive even more people to visit and register at your website or your blog.

To build a successful web presence requires a team of marketing, design and development professionals to tend to each aspect of your online campaign. In many organizations, some people will assume several roles.

If you’re a small business owner, I recommend that you let a marketing consultant bring together and manage the expertise and skill sets that will be required.

If you have more time to invest than money, Site Build It! is an inexpensive option. You learn each phase as you go and are guided step-by-step through your project.

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Short Version of My Story

Today I tell some of my own story and share some of my own social media strategy.

This article is about an idea that was planted in my head and how I nurtured that idea. The article is slightly longer than usual, so please hang in there with me.

Creative problem solving has been a forte of mine since my teen years as a math whiz and chess champion. Once I began employment, I applied my problem solving capabilities to helping companies improve their business processes and getting a better handle on many different types of business and scientific data.

Thirty years into my career I learned about the social media and Web 2.0 revolution from Time Magazine’s BIG December 2006 cover story, Time’s Person of the Year: You. I saw that, while I could no longer be one of the earliest adopters of social media, it wasn’t at all too late to position myself near the forefront of this enormous trend.

I had previously experienced and benefited to a small degree from online social networking and social networking sites such as Ryze and Direct Matches, but the Time article opened my eyes to possibilities greater than I’d previously imagined. I decided in January 2007, after reading the Time article, to master social media and to watch and see where that mastery would lead me.

Online Social Networking

Rather than try to master all social media at one time, I instead focused only on online networking and developed a first version of my online social networking strategy. These early conclusions, I based on my observations at MySpace, Direct Matches and Yuwie, social websites I have since rejected.

By September 2007, I was contemplating my next step.

Blogging and SEO

At MySpace and Yuwie I experimented with blogging. The next step was to start an independent blog, and I chose Wordpress.org as my platform in connection with web hosting at Go Daddy.

Before launching my Online Social Networking blog I spent months reading about blogging and search engine optimization, as well as conducting keyword research. The time invested paid off. I got started right, and keyword research become an important skill for me, as well.

I began blogging in November 2007 and devoted a year to learning how to write, promote and optimize my online publication. By October 2008 I no longer viewed myself as a novice blogger.

At present Online Social Networking has more than 350 Feedburner subscribers, receives 2,000+ search visits per month, and is ranked by Alexa in the top 100,000 websites.

Ning Social Networks and Twitter

First Ning networks and then Twitter captured my attention. These two social media platforms are powerful and growing rapidly in popularity.

Just as I’d done with my online social networking strategy, search engine optimization and blogging, I set out to master Ning and Twitter, writing articles on each that have since been read many times and featured by top news sites.

@larrybrauner on Twitter has 20,000+ followers, and thousands of users have already visited my blog.

“One Bite at a Time” Works

The key to my progress is internal motivation coupled with focus.

Rather than go off in too many directions and spread myself thin, I’ve applied the 80/20 Rule, taking one bite at a time out of the social media giant. This strategy has worked well for me and will work well for others too.

It’s March 2009. What will my next bite be?

FacebookStay tuned, but Facebook is at the top of my social marketing list, and along the way, I’m building my social media brand, helping clients, and looking for new ones.

We’ve now reached the point in the article where you subscribe to my blog and join my Facebook business page. ;-)

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Larry BraunerMarketing is often as important to people as it is to businesses.

People seeking jobs, marriage partners or buyers for their personal property all need to target and reach out to their respective markets.

Social Media is Very Accessible

Old media such as TV, radio, print, mail — and even online advertising — tend to be very costly and are used most effectively by big corporations and by savvy direct marketers.

However, the new media such as blogging, video, online social networking and social bookmarking cost little or nothing to use and are as accessible to people and small businesses as they are to big corporations and direct marketers.

Ineffective Use of Social Media

The low out-of-pocket cost of the new media entices people and businesses to waste time and energy by using social media marketing more haphazardly and less rigorously than they would use more expensive old media marketing channels.

Many marketers further compound the problem by bringing to social media old media advertising and prospecting paradigms rather than a new media attracting, socializing and educating paradigms.

Marketers need to learn how to focus their social media efforts by applying rigorous standards and analytics to new media marketing campaigns.

Reaching the Right Audience

One way to focus your social media effort is through targeting. Simply put, targeting means reaching the right people, the people who can benefit from you, your product or your service.

Market segmentation is a form of targeting research that studies the characteristics and desires of different population segments. I assume for now that you know — at least approximately — whom you wish to target, and that you want to be able to tackle the how part of the problem.

Competitive Intelligence

Professional marketers, especially direct marketers, study what their competition is — and is not — doing in great detail. They may also try to understand why the competition is doing what it does, and if a campaign is used over and over, they’ll will assume that the campaign is profitable.

Watch your competitors and you’ll learn how they position themselves, what they write about, what keywords they optimize, where they bookmark their content, what tags they use, and much more.

Competitive intelligence applies equally to old and new media marketing.

Top Targeting Strategies

Here are my favorite targeting strategies:

  • Develop good content that is context sensitive, communicates who you are, what you do and how you might be different — all without reading like a sales letter.
  • Do keyword research, so that while you write for people, you can also help the search engines, as much of your traffic will come from search engines, especially form Google.
  • Fish where the fish are. Choose social networking sites that you believe attract the people you are looking to attract. If you find your competitors there, that can be a good thing. It indicates that your target audience is also there. Hopefully your content positions you in a way that you’ll stand out from the competition or address a need that they do not.
  • Cast a wide net. Don’t prejudge too much. Err on the side of targeting too inclusively rather than too exclusively. Participate on a variety of sites and expose as many people as possible to both you and your message. If you know me, you know that I pursue this strategy on Twitter, LinkedIn and Ning social networks.
  • Let people decide for themselves how relevant your content is and whether or not you might be able to help them. That’s an key element of both attraction and social marketing.
  • Don’t spread yourself too thin. Read The 80/20 Rule and Social Media. Cast a wide net but not too wide.
  • Get personal. Even if you’re a business, people will want to relate to you as a person. In social media you are an integral part of your brand.
  • Experiment and be ready to adapt and make changes as you go. Marketers know that they’re not likely to get it right the first time, so consider everything you do to be a work in progress.
  • Establish an ongoing social media presence. Be persistent. Timing is extremely important. Even if somebody is the right person, the time might be wrong for him or her. You will make a sale if you’re there when the time is right.
  • Use old media to supplement and complement your new media. Just because you use social media, you need not abandon any old media marketing that’s working for you.
  • Seek help if you don’t have all the expertise or writing skills you need to succeed. That help might include advice, project management or outsourcing.

This list is not intended to be complete. However, it should give you plenty of food for thought.

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Larry Brauner

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began to blog. I had lots of great reasons for blogging, so I just got started and hoped for the best.

As Mike Litman says, “You don’t have to get it right. You just have to get it going.”

I did do some keyword research before choosing a main topic and a domain name. I chose as my main keywords online social networking and made them the name of my blog.

In hindsight I see that I could have easily taken on keywords that were more competitive. Fortunately I realized before too long that I could venture off topic and rank well in the search engines on keywords other than my primary ones.

Content Attracts Traffic

Online marketing begins with content and traffic. A site needs to communicate with and pre-sell visitors and then ultimately monetize, i.e. sell them, and content is the catalyst.

One article I wrote about the Spider Web Marketing System has attracted more than 4,000 visits and one on Ad Surf Daily more than 5,000. The content in these two blog posts plus the content in the many comments they received drove them to the top of the search engines.

Overall my blog has received about 12,000 visits from approximately 5,000 keyword combinations making me a big believer in the power of content to draw substantial search engine traffic.

Blogs Are Problematic

Blogs are great for ongoing conversation with readers. However, their reverse chronological orientation makes it easy for visitors to access only the newest content. Older content becomes obscured. Bloggers attempt to compensate with extensive cataloging and liberal use of cross-linking — look at my blog’s sidebars — but this problem is never totally mitigated.

Traditional websites on the other hand are great for organizing and presenting large amounts of information. Their hierarchical orientation aided by site maps and cross-linking make it easy for visitors to access the most important and relevant content.

The Best of Both Worlds

The best way to market is to build a conventional website with a blog embedded in the site to communicate with visitors and customers.

This marketing idea works equally well for small businesses and large ones. I will be taking this direction for myself as I continue to develop my own web presence.

Conceptual and Technical Challenges

Starting a blog is easy in many ways. Blogger, for example, allows a novice to get up and going in a jiffy. Simply create an account, choose a theme and start writing. That’s it.

Building a marketing website is much more involved, both conceptually and technically, creating a major obstacle for the typical entrepreneur.

Faced with this obstacle most small business owners either

  • do nothing
  • opt for a simplistic small business website that resembles a big business card
  • rent of buy an expensive template to build a second-rate small business website that doesn’t get any traffic
  • hire an expensive web developer to build their second-rates mall business website for them

If they’re lucky they find somebody good, but the average web developer doesn’t understand marketing. I’m sure that what I’m saying will ring true for some readers.

My Recent Discovery

What we’re discussing isn’t new to me. I’ve been thinking about regular websites vis-à-vis blogs and conceptual and technical issues surrounding them for a number of months.

This past week I happened to listen to a conference call introducing a service that I knew existed but that had never managed to grab my attention. I listened for nearly 90 minutes as Ken Evoy explained how he arrived at his Internet business solution, Site Build It!, how it worked and why. He dealt with the blog vs. build issue as well. I was impressed by what I heard.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  1. Site Build It! costs $299 per year — everything included. No high price template. No expensive consultant.
  2. SBI! makes online business do-able by hiding all the technical issues and structuring the conceptual ones. The process is simplified to such a degree that success (i.e. profits, not the mere presence of a website) can be achieved — with serious effort — even by a motivated beginner. The 80/20 Rule still applies — of course — but why shouldn’t the lives of the 20% be made easier?
  3. Online profits require more than just having an online business card or a collection of Web pages. The SBI! service appears to include the tools and the proven process required to build a long-term, profitable e-business.
  4. SBI! is more than just a “site builder.” There’s no need to worry about separate hosting, a separate keyword research tool, integrating autoresponders, etc.
  5. There’s also no need to know anything upfront about building a website. The tedious, “under-the-hood” stuff is handled automatically.
  6. The SBI! service helps clients to design a profitable business, before they jump into building their sites. For beginners, the learning curve will be shorter and they bypass show-stopping errors.
  7. The Action Guide presents a step-by-step process in both written and video formats. The most successful site owners are the ones who follow the guide and don’t get sidetracked. They don’t have to guess at what to do next, since the guided approach helps them reach their goals. Continuous mentoring via the Action Guide and online help is always available.
  8. A keyword brainstorming and research tool helps verify that a site concept has acceptable profit potential, saving site owners from making a common fatal error. The SBI! service helps to find topics related to the site owner’s niche that will pull in traffic and generate income.
  9. SBI! provides fully customizable, easy-to-use templates (this page shows a range of styles).
  10. The SBI! service includes domain name analysis, optimization, and registration, as well as fast and reliable website hosting.
  11. Unlimited customer support and forums that are supposedly friendly and helpful are major selling points for me personally.
  12. There’s a no-risk, 30-day money back guarantee.

In Conclusion

I can see the Site Build It! service helping both existing small business owners and would-be entrepreneurs reach their online marketing objectives. My only caveat is that sufficient internal motivation is a necessary prerequisite for success.

If you find that building your website is not “your cup of tea”, please get help or exercise the 30-day refund option. Don’t waste your money.

Now it’s your turn. Feel free to share your small business website experiences.

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Larry Brauner

To the surprise of many, a Google PageRank update occurred late September, a month earlier than expected. I saw the page rank of many of my blog posts move up, and I also saw the page rank of a friend’s site move down.

A Google PageRank update hadn’t been expected until October. The previous re-evaluation took place in July according to an apparent every three months pattern. Needless to say Google’s action raised many eyebrows.

On Saturday night the 4th of October I installed the Google XML Sitemap Plugin on a client’s Wordpress blog. While in the installing mood, I also installed the Google Toolbar on my Firefox browser. That’s when I noticed that something was up.

I looked at the page rank of a bunch of my blog posts and at the ranking of my friend’s site. It appeared that Google had rolled back pagerank to July’s numbers, an action would raise even more eyebrows.

Detailed investigation revealed that Google substantially revised but did not completely reverse their September page rank update.

What is Google PageRank?

In case you’re unfamiliar with page rank and wondering why so many people are obsessed with it, I’ll try to explain.

Website owners want their web pages listed at the top of the major search engines. They want lots of targeted visitors landing on their sites, and search engines are a great way to attract them.

Keyword research and optimization are important, but the use of keywords isn’t the only determining success factor. A web page’s authority is just as important, especially with Google.

Authority is determined by the quantity and quality of backlinks, links from other pages on your site or other sites. Backlink quality depends on the authority and the relevance of the linking web page.

Google’s rating of authority is called PageRank after Larry Page, Google’s founder. Google PageRank, or PR for short, is a number between 0 and 10. A PageRank of 10 is the best, but even a PR 5 isn’t easy to obtain.

Since Google PageRank is a key component of search engine optimization, and since page rank depends on receiving favorable outside attention, website owners and SEO professionals put enormous effort into cultivating relationships with relevant and authoritative sites that can link to them.

Back on the Link Farm

A note of caution: Buying links and link exchange strategies can backfire. Search engines are on the lookout for sneaky SEO strategies.

As with keyword stuffing discussed in Keywords Demystified, link farms and other linking schemes can also incur harsh penalties including search engine delisting.

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Larry Brauner

Needle in a Haystack?

There are millions of websites and billions of words of information on the Internet. You would think that finding anything would be like looking for a needle in a proverbial haystack.

Fortunately some of the savviest entrepreneurs have hired some of the smartest geeks to write some of the coolest computer programs ever written that allow us to find just about anything out there on the World Wide Web. These programs I refer to are what you and I call search engines.

The most popular search engines today are Google, Bing, and Yahoo!. While Google is the most popular, each of the others has plenty of loyal users too.

The search engines travel throughout the Web reading web pages and saving information about these pages for future reference, a process called indexing. When a page has been visited and stored away, we say that the web page has been indexed.

What are Keywords?

When we want to find something online, we bring up our favorite search engine and type some words into its search box. These words which closely relate to the information we want are called search terms or keywords.

We enter keywords, and the search engine responds with pages of results called search engine result pages – SERPs for short – that it retrieves from its index files.

If we are happy with the results, fine. Otherwise we try entering a different keyword combination, or we change the order of the search terms and try again.

Every Search Engine Must Do This

A good search engine is one that consistently finds us the web pages that are the most relevant to our search based on our chosen keywords.

The top priority of a search engine must be to retrieve and return to us the most relevant and helpful web pages. If it doesn’t, then we’ll look to a competitor’s search engine instead.

Search engines always focus on satisfying users, not website owners and not even paying advertisers.

Crime and Punishment

Website owners sometimes try to deceive search engines by stuffing keywords into their web pages completely out of context. They hope thereby to drive their pages up to the top of the search results.

This tactic, a form of spam called spamdexing because it spams the indexing process, once fooled search engines, but that is no longer the case.

Spamdexing can be spotted by sophisticated search engine algorithms and punished appropriately. A site might even be delisted altogether.

Once this happens it could be a long time before the site re-establishes its credibility and regains its standing.

Golden Rule of Web Design

Create your web site content with your visitors in mind. Your visitors and search engines will react favorably, and everybody will win in the long run.

With keyword research you can find the optimal keywords to use in your web pages, words or phrases that many people are searching for, but not so many that the competition for those keywords will be too fierce.

There are keywords that people use when they are doing research and there are ones that they use when they’re ready to buy.

Keyword selection is both an art and a science. There’s much room for creativity.

However, whatever keywords you select to use in your web page, keep this in mind:

Somebody will read what you write, so always be sure that what you write is worth reading.

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