Larry BraunerYour social media and web strategy necessarily starts from your website, the one place on the the web that you own and control.

Social networking sites, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, are very useful and will likely figure in your online plans. However, the possibility that any given networking site will become unpopular, change its rules, cancel your membership, or even shut down entirely, renders such a website unsuitable as a hub and foundation for your web presence.

GevrilYour website doesn’t need to be intricate, although it can be. I tend to prefer simple websites. The Gevril Group website, for example, which I developed in concert with Ivo Jackson and John Sealander, uses the WordPress content management system, a very basic 3-column theme, an opt-in form and a Facebook widget.

Launched this past December, the Gevril Group website now receives in excess of 8,500 visits per month.

Purple UmpkinOur latest creation, the new Purple Umpkin children’s book website, is even simpler in design and implementation. You can compare it to the original Purple Umpkin website. In my opinion, the new version is easier to use, and it looks and feels more like a venue for a children’s book. What do you think?

Work on a Children’s Books umbrella website is underway employing equally simple design principles.

Every web presence needs a website that attracts and speaks to its visitors. Online, your website is your brand. That website must be secure, and the content on that website must be nothing less than superb.

Your thoughts are welcome.

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Larry BraunerIn the past year, “findability” has become something of a buzzword, yet findability is much more than a buzzword.

Findability is people’s ability locate and engage with your web content through a combination of search and social mechanisms. And findability convergence is interaction you create and synergy you foster between search and social strategies and techniques.

Findability Trumps Quantity and Quality

Your web presence is at least as much governed by the findability of your content as it is by its quantity and quality. Findability activities need to be fully integrated with your web content production to permit your intended audience to find and interact with that content.

As I stated in Why Bad Things Happen to Good Content, “Sadly, very many potentially useful web sites languish in obscurity like proverbial trees falling in forests with no one around to hear them. While these web sites have excellent content, they have few readers to use or enjoy that content [i.e., they lack findability].

“Good content needs to be consumed. I would rather publish marginally good material that is highly consumed than top-notch content that merely gathers dust.”

Focus on Search and Social

Findability is necessary if your content is to be consumed and discussed. So if you’re content is good but isn’t getting enough reaction, your search and social initiatives are probably falling short.

Weekly Website Traffic from All SourcesThe New Website Traffic Case Study — Watch Company — Weeks 1-13 that I presented two weeks ago was an example of using search and social to increase content findability.

Focus as much on search and social as you do on content, and your web presence will grow.

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Larry BraunerI was surprised to learn from the Google Keyword Tool that a large number of people are searching on Google for free web sites, despite the ease of buying low-cost domain names and web hosting that can avert the shortcomings associated with free web sites.

Disadvantages of Free Web Sites

The three main shortcomings of free websites are:

  1. Lack of Control - You have less control of both the feature set and the security of free web sites than those hosted on paid web hosting services. For example, few free website providers will permit you to use your own domain name or obtain a dedicated IP address. On top of that, free web site hosts can delete your web site capriciously and without notice, leaving you with little recourse.
  2. Service Limitations - Free web sites may overly restrict allotted storage capacity, bandwidth, number of pages, etc.
  3. Host Advertising - In many cases, free web sites contain the host’s ads, making free web sites look cheap and unprofessional.

Valid Uses for Free Web Sites

Despite my reservations about free web sites, there are free web sites and free web pages I consider quite valuable.

At the hub of your web presence and social media, you ought to have web sites or blog sites that you control, as I asserted in Not Ready for Social Media Marketing.

However, extending out from your hub can be many outposts on free web sites that extend your marketing reach. Here are types of free web sites that enable you to extend your web presence far beyond your core web sites:

  • Social Networking Sites - Your member profiles on Twitter and social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn are free web pages on free web sites that help you connect with people.
  • Micro-Blogging Sites - Tumblr, Posterous and Amplify are free micro-blogging web sites for adding text, photo and video content that’s search engine friendly and accessible to users who follow you.
  • Social Bookmarking Sites - Many social bookmarking sites, such as StumbleUpon and Business Exchange, let you create profiles that are free web pages on free web sites and that tend to rank well in search engines.
  • Content Sites - Free content sites like Squidoo and Hubpages are communities of free web pages that behave somewhat like free web sites.

WeeblyAnd yes, there are free web sites that you fashion more or less as you like. Hosts for these free web sites include Build Free, Google Sites, Weebly, Webs and Yola, as well as a long list of others.

WebsFree web sites make sense if used in the right context. They should only be used as part of your marketing hub if you can’t afford to pay about US$100 per year to host web sites that you own, and you control.

What are your experience with free web sites?

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Larry BraunerAs an entrepreneur or small business owner promoting your business on Facebook, you face a number of difficult challenges and tough marketing decisions.

Here are seven key issues to consider when networking and marketing your business on Facebook:

  1. Facebook profile pages are intended for networking with family and friends and not for business networking, and you can’t separate your personal and business networking on Facebook. Your family and personal friends are being irritated by business posts showing up in their News Feeds, while at the same time business connections are eavesdropping on your personal conversations.
  2. By connecting directly with business associates and total strangers on Facebook, you compromise the privacy of your family and friends, which is already much too limited. Your loved ones become “friends of friends” with your business connections and consequently more exposed to their scrutiny. If you’ll decline the invitations of family and personal friends to connect in order to protect them, you’ll surely have an enormous amount of explaining to do.
  3. You can’t legitimately set up a profile for personal use and one for business. Having multiple Facebook profiles is against Facebook’s Terms of Service. I haven’t done so, and I do not recommend that you do so either, unless you’re ready to risk deletion of both your Facebook profiles.
  4. Lack of privacy extends far beyond family and personal friends. Each of your business connections become “friends of friends” with all your other Facebook business connections and therefore more exposed and at-risk — something most Facebook users do not realize. This explains why Facebook business networking is suspect, and why Facebook demands that you connect only with people you know.
  5. If you aggressively grow your business network on Facebook, you risk having your Facebook account suspended. Proceed carefully.
  6. Facebook fan pages are more useful for marketing large businesses than small ones, since they won’t help to build your web presence unless, to some degree, you already have a web presence. Haven’t you noticed how many Facebook business pages barely have the 25 fans needed to claim their Facebook name? Business networking on Facebook is a way to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” but it’s also problematic and at best a slow process. A big businesses also has the marketing budget to create compelling Facebook applications.
  7. Twitter, Ning networks and search engine optimized blog sites are better for building your web presence than Facebook. Once you have a web presence, you can easily grow your Facebook page fan base with well-placed Facebook widgets and links. The main point is that you’ll need to reach far beyond Facebook to develop a following for your business, the kind of following that big brands already have.

FacebookIn the future, I’ll continue to explore ways in which businesses can build their web presences on and off Facebook, but for now, keep in mind that “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Or in a week or in a month.

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Larry BraunerI predicted in How Facebook Pages Will Help Facebook Dominate the Internet that before long, every business would want a Facebook page, and my prediction is coming true. I receive invites daily to “like” new Facebook pages.

Before even creating your Facebook fan page, you need to ask yourself why anyone should:

  • Like your Facebook page
  • Remain a fan of your Facebook page
  • Interact with your Facebook page
  • Recommend your Facebook page

What’s in It for Your Facebook Fans?

FacebookUntil you determine “what’s in it” for your Facebook page’s fans, you’re not ready to launch your Facebook page. You’ll only succeed by accident.

Perhaps you can provide useful info, customer service, events, prizes, gossip or entertainment.

In any case, there must be something in it for your Facebook fans, and you must continually create value for them to remain loyal to your page.

Connecting with Your Facebook Fans

On my Facebook page, I start discussions, share content, provoke thought, host networking events, and acknowledge people.

My fans and I are connected. We have a relationship.

When I post on my clients’ pages, I identify myself, so that their fans will connect with me as a person. Making personal connections is what social media is about, even on Facebook pages for businesses.

Facebook Page and Social Media Success Formula

My two basic success principles for Facebook pages, what’s in it for them and connecting on a personal level, apply equally to blogs, Twitter and all social media.

Whether it’s fans, subscribers or followers you want, always ask yourself, “What’s in it for them?” Then you can create the Facebook pages and web presence your heart desires.

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Larry BraunerI envisioned when launching my social media consulting practice spending my time creating and executing traffic generating and branding strategies using a wide range of social media sites. I did not envision spending my time optimizing clients’ websites and blogs.

Your Website or Blog

What I found, however, was that clients’ websites had not been designed to appeal to visitors and convert them into subscribers or customers, nor were they set up to attract search engine traffic.

This problem concerned me very much. As I’ve written numerous times, the core of a social media marketing campaign is always your website or blog. Consequently, I decided to offer a full range of services to help clients make more effective use of the web.

Social Media and Web Marketing in Action

Welkin Capital GroupI was asked very recently to market the website of Welkin Capital Group, a high-end real estate finance company. When I accepted the assignment, I knew that my work would encompass more than social media and search engine optimization. It would include a total website makeover, as well.

The transformation of Welkin’s website has been dramatic. The best way to appreciate the changes we made is to compare the new website to the old website. We still plan to add a newsletter and a blog but already, the new site has a better look and feel, more room to maneuver, additional content and a social component.

While working on the Welkin site’s new design, we began optimizing the site’s content for search engines — and for human visitors too:

  • During the first six weeks, March 7, 2010 to April 17, Welkin received 51 unique search engine visits from 25 search terms.
  • During the next six weeks, April 18 to May 29, the company received 152 unique search visits from 63 terms.

We’re still working on the website’s content. Writing and tweaking content is an ongoing aspect of web marketing.

If you’re interested in real estate, you can follow Welkin on Facebook and Twitter.

Conclusion

Your main takeaway from this article:

Web marketing begins with your website or blog, the core of your web presence, and without which your social media marketing plan isn’t complete and cannot succeed.

Please subscribe to Online Social Networking and leave a comment telling me what’s on your mind. :-)

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Larry BraunerWho wouldn’t want the kind of web presence that drives hundreds or thousands of targeted visitors to his or her web site or blog and converts them into customers or followers?

I’ve created that type web presence for myself. However, most businesses that try to build such a web presence fall short of achieving that objective. How about yours?

This a long article that covers a lot of ground. My hope is that this article and those articles and resources it links to will enable you to take a fresh look at your social media and web marketing program.

Over the past few years I’ve identified dozens of factors that contribute to lack of web marketing success, and in this article I discuss 25 of the most important ones:

  1. Failing to Plan - Strategy must precede tactics. Taking action is easy, but will that action help you achieve your objectives? Do you know precisely what those objectives are? It’s imperative that you define your objectives and devise marketing strategies to help you reach them effectively.
  2. A Flawed Plan - Including thinking too big or too small, e.g., with your keywords, quantity of social networking sites you employ or frequency of your blog posting. Be ambitious but realistic. Your time is limited. Make a plan that’s simple but not simplistic. Shama Hyder Kabani’s The Zen of Social Media Marketing provides an excellent overview of the planning process.
  3. Ignoring Your Competition - Developing your plan in a vacuum without any competitive intelligence prevents you from learning from your competitors and identifying optimal marketing strategies and tactics.
  4. Having Unrealistic Expectations - View social media and web marketing as a marathon, not a sprint. It takes a substantial amount of time to build credibility with your potential customers and with search engines too.
  5. Not Focusing on Your Niche - The more focused your message, the more it will influence your target audience. Trying to be everything to everybody will make your website look like a patch quilt. I’m sure you’ve been to websites that look like menus at diners or aerial views of battle zones. You hit the back arrow and breathe a sigh of relief. Successful offline marketers know that a highly targeted ad gets the best results, even with those people who aren’t targeted by the ad.
  6. Following the Pack - Don’t do anything solely because it’s trendy. Check new options at your disposal for consistency with your plan and expected return on time invested. You’ll need to rely mostly on intuition, but the more extensive your knowledge, the more reliable your intuition will be.
  7. Not Optimizing Your Web Site - What good is a website that looks great yet is dysfunctional? It doesn’t attract any traffic. Search engines are confused by it. Or it attracts traffic, but that traffic doesn’t convert. The lack of web site results is so wide spread that business owners tend to be very skeptical about the web’s marketing potential. See 10 Easy Way to Improve Your Blog or Website and 10 More Easy Ways to Improve Your Website.
  8. Optimizing for Search Engines Only - Some marketers optimize their web sites for search engines but fail to optimize for humans. The result: traffic that doesn’t convert. Optimizing “user experience” is more important than search engine optimization. SEO is only one of numerous ways to attract visitors to your site. On the other hand, all methods drive traffic to your website, and if that site is weak, your work is in vain.
  9. Your Logo or Flash Dominates Your Website  - A constant battle! A client said he wants his website to have an upscale image similar to that of the fluffy Tiffany site. Will that work for him? He’s trying to build his brand online. The Tiffany brand was powerful before the web even existed. All they really need is a pretty site with product illustrations and a shopping card to help you spend your extra funds on beautiful high-end jewelry. However, let’s be real. If you’re not a Tiffany or an Apple, nobody cares as much about your logo or flash as you do. They want content to digest. They want to know what you can do for them and whether or not they can trust you.
  10. Too Little or Lame Content - They say that content is king. I believe that is true. People are searching online for content. To succeed, feed people great content, such as text, video, pictures, podcasts, etc., and you’ll  gain positive recognition for your brand.
  11. Trying to Spam the Search Engines - Search engines are smarter than you might think. Game them, and you’ll come to regret it. But, feed them lots of solid content, and over time they’ll send your web site thousands and thousands of targeted visitors.
  12. Leaving Everything to Your Web Developers - Web developers are neither experienced marketers nor skilled copywriters. Check out Web Developers Don’t Know Social Media.
  13. Making Bad Money Decisions - How about the following example? You spent tens of thousands to engage top notch social media and web consultants, but you don’t want to spend a couple of thousand on the new website design they recommend. Why not? Because that would imply that the money you spent on the original design was wasted. Am I missing something here? Tell me.
  14. Not Hosting Your Website or Blog Yourself - Your website or blog is the core of your web presence. Should Blogger or Wordpress.com determine its disposition? Invest in a web hosting account — it’s not pricey. Learn how to use the Wordpress.org content management system to create and maintain your website or blog.
  15. Not Building Yourself an Online Community - If you have doubts about social media or the power of your own community, Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuk will make you a believer. Gary has built a community of wine lovers around his Wine Library TV brand, and his social media efforts have greatly added to the bottom line of his business, the Wine Library.
  16. Not Engaging Your Community - To cultivate and nurture your community of customers and fans is a golden opportunity to connect with the people who matter to your brand.
  17. Not Being Authentic - We live in an age of trust and transparency. Being who you’re not will set you apart from your competitors in a counterproductive way.
  18. Not Integrating Online Marketing with Offline - Relying only on Internet marketing when you can achieve results offline as well, including driving visitors from offline to your website. Marketing offline is not dead.
  19. Never Meeting People Face-to-Face - Nothing builds trust like an in-person meeting. If you’re in the New York area, let’s have coffee or do lunch.
  20. Not Diversifying - Don’t put All Your Social Media Eggs in One Basket — nor all your other eggs.
  21. Not Using an Autoresponder to Build an Email List - Most potential customers need to get to know your brand better before they buy. Keep in touch with them by letting them add themselves to your autoresponder newsletter or blog subscription list — even if you use RSS.
  22. Not Touching Base Frequently with Your Email List - If you don’t stay on people’s minds, they’ll forget you. Then when you do email them, they’ll flag your message as spam. That in turn will hurt your ability to get your email through the filters of the Internet service providers.
  23. Relying on Trial and Error - Keep reading. Keep learning. Trial and error is a luxury you may not be able to afford.
  24. Never Seeking Help - A little help can save you from much trial and error and many hours of spinning your wheels but remaining where you are.
  25. Taking Your Web Marketing Too Seriously - Lighten up. Make friends. Have fun.

Here are social media and web marketing resources you might find useful:

Wishing you success with your web marketing. :-)

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Larry BraunerSocial media critics are quick to point out that social media marketing isn’t really free.

Using social media requires a considerable time investment, typically by people whose time is quite valuable. Once time is factored into the cost of using social media — as it ought to be — not only isn’t it free to use, it’s expensive to use.

The High Cost of Using Digital Media

High Cost of Social MediaTo say that I’m enthusiastic about using  social media for branding, building a web presence, and online social networking would be an understatement. Yet, I do not contest the critics’ claims that social media is expensive. It is costly, and so are website development and search engine optimization.

Nevertheless, if executed properly according to a sound digital media plan, website development, search engine optimization and social media will be worth more than their cost in the long run.

The High Cost of Using Traditional Media

Buy traditional media and you’ll pay to reach your audience. You’ll invest time to develop your ad campaign and than pay for the price of the media on top of that. The more select your audience, the larger your audience, and the more frequently you intend to reach them, the more you’ll have to pay.

Your Giant Interactive Billboard

Last May I wrote The Long Tail and Social Media. The simple idea is that your website and social media content have value to you long after you’ve put them online. Search engines and social media channels provide you with constant exposure 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, like a giant billboard on a super highway.  Your billboard, however, is interactive and could be worth a fortune to you.

Primary and Secondary Target Audience

Your primary target audience consists of your potential customers or people who care very much about your cause. Your secondary target audience is everybody else who appreciates your content or uses your website. They can spread your message or click through your ads.

The way traditional advertising is priced, it probably won’t be feasible to reach out to your secondary audience. The return on investment would be too small. However, digital media, which has little or no incremental cost, enables you to cast a wide net and reach both your primary and secondary target audiences.

Digital Media Replacing Traditional Media

So far I’ve assumed that you have a choice about digital media, but you don’t. Traditional media is declining and is gradually being replaced by its digital counterpart. The question is no longer which but when. When will you jump on the bandwagon?

Please take a minute or two to leave a comment below and to subscribe.

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Larry BraunerHow well is your blog or website performing?

This past November, I wrote, “Some web sites clearly have it together. They have lots of traffic and appeal to visitors.

“Other sites aren’t bad. They have good potential. With a few tweaks here and there, they could enjoy much more traffic and appeal much more to their audience.”

Blog or WebsiteI listed 10 Easy Ways to Improve Your Blog or Website and indicated that there might be more suggestions to follow.

Here then are ten more tweaks (presented as problems and fixes), bringing the total to twenty. Hope they’ll keep you busy for a while. ;-)

  1. Key Content Hidden “Below the Fold” - You have seconds to capture a visitor’s attention. If visitors need to scroll down to view vital content, you’ll most likely lose them. Similarly, if you have an important widget, such as a Facebook fan page widget, place it where it will be visible without scrolling down.
  2. Long Flash Intro - I hate sitting through flash intros designed to impress. Don’t you? Why would you want to subject your visitors to long (or even short) flash intros? Flash intros are dead time. Why not instead impress visitors with your knowledge and the relevance of your content?
  3. Clutter - Some websites have too much going on; they look like patch quilts.  Others have ads that fill every nook and cranny. What can I say? Such sites are overwhelming.
  4. No Call to Action - What do you want your visitors to do when they visit your site? To buy? To subscribe? To leave a blog comment? Let them know what you expect, and if your request is reasonable, they may very well comply. If you don’t ask, they may not know what to do, and they’ll leave, perhaps forever, without taking action.
  5. Distracting Ads - Pop-up ads, blinking ads, glaring banners, sexy ads, scripts that forward to advertisers’ sites after a few seconds, inappropriate auto-playing audio, etc. I dare say, these are “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” Make sure your ads don’t interfere with your content. If your ads are your content, then please disregard everything you’ve ever read on this blog.
  6. Images Not Labeled - Make your visitors and the search engines happy. Whenever possible, describe your images using alt and title parameters in your img tags. If all this is gibberish to you, worry not. Your web development or HTML guru will know what to do.
  7. Hard to Navigate Site - Don’t confuse your visitors. Keep your website simple and provide a site map if you can.
  8. Difficult to Understand - Write for your audience. Not everyone will have an advanced degree, some could have nothing or as little as a certificate from an online school – unless of course such people are your target audience.
  9. Spelling and Grammar Mistakes - There ain’t no excuse for bad spellin and grammar.
  10. Stale Content - Fresh content is good for SEO and for attracting repeat visitors.

Implement as many of these ten website improvements (and the ones listed 10 Easy Ways to Improve Your Blog or Website) as you’re able to.

How time flies! Already, we’ve come to the part of the blog post where people usually leave a well thought-out comment. :-D

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Larry BraunerI’ve bookmarked and skimmed a dozen or more articles that project the path of social media in 2010. Collectively these articles represent many days of researching and writing.

Search Social Media 2010 on Google, and you’ll be able to compile your own social media 2010 reading list. If the information in all the articles isn’t sufficiently comprehensive, a list of 44+ social media books to buy and read can help fill the gaps.

2010Not that I don’t like reading about trends and innovations — I do. However, I learned long ago that the bleeding edge cuts both ways, and there’s merit in waiting until the timing is right.

Blogs and Facebook have been around for years, yet only recently have they emerged as key tools for main- stream businesses.

I suggest that we watch and see how social media and technology play out in 2010, but that we focus on the basics and build our web presences right now using techniques and resources at our fingertips.

Here are my eight social media marketing basics for building a web presence 2010:

  1. Core Marketing and PR Competencies - Analytics, branding, communication, competitive intelligence, design, list building, market segmentation, marketing research, targeting, etc.
  2. High-Quality Relevant Content - Producing and sharing articles, videos, podcasts, pictures, conference calls and talk shows.
  3. Search Engine Optimization - Social media and SEO complement each other. Read Social Media vs. Search Engine Optimization and Website vs. Web Presence.
  4. Blogging - Also in Website vs. Web Presence, Darren Rouse, author of 31 Days to Build a Better Blog, shares in a video his blog-centric approach to social media marketing, an approach to which I subscribe.
  5. Social Networking Sites - Nearly any social media site can present opportunities to network. By social networking sites, I mean sites that exist primarily for networking rather than content sharing.The principal social networking sites for business are LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. You can also throw into the mix Ning and other niche social networking sites.
  6. Content Sharing Sites - Two of the most popular content sharing sites are YouTube and Flickr, but there are many more.
  7. Social Bookmarking Sites - There are hundreds of business and social bookmarking sites. Two of my favorite sites are Business Exchange and StumbleUpon.
  8. Blog and Web Site Networks - There are many blog and website networks. My favorites include Entrecard, NetworkedBlogsTechnorati, MyBlogLog, BlogCatalog and Google Friend Connect.

With these social media basics, you can build a huge web presence in 2010. It’s not possession of the latest technology or an inside scoop on a new FB app that’ll enable you to soar in 2010. Your success will depend largely upon your own creativity, skills, efficiency and inner motivation.

I hope you have already mastered the all-important skills of subscribing to blogs and commenting on blog posts.  ;-)

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