Can Any Inbound Linking Hurt My Ranking?

The answer is simple – inbound linking cannot hurt your search ranking. How is this known for certain? Well, for one, if inbound were to hurt your rank, your competitors would continually link to your site from link farms. Such a scenario is beyond your control. For this reason, Google cannot penalize your site for any inbound linking.

On the other hand, you can be penalized for illegitimate external linking. It is highly advised that you not link to any website or group of sites that may be involved in shady or unethical search practices. Doing so could result in being black-listed by Google, ultimately ruining your SEO strategy. Avoid this situation at all costs and ensure that all external links point to trusted and reliable sources.

Having been involved in the internet industry for a large part of my working life, I have spent a lot of time researching and browsing the internet and reading websites, mainly for client design research, but also for occasional personal use. The one thing that I find most disappointing, is the apparent lack of thought going into website creation and it’s purpose, which in turn creates a missed opportunity for many e-businesses to become successful.

My personal perspective on e-businesses and their websites, is that if they don’t take pride in their websites and show to their customers a passion for what they do, chances are, they won’t take pride in their products, and the passion for providing good customer service will also be missing.

What you must remember, is that your web site is a direct reflection of you and your business. The appearance of your site is the most important factor in determining your potential success rate. In short, if your site doesn’t look professional or pleasing to the eyes at first glance, the majority of people will assume your products and/or services to be of similar poor standard.

At the other end of the scale, you could fall into the trap of going overboard with the design and over complicate things with incorporating high costing flashy graphics. You may end up with a great looking and highly aesthetic web site, but the danger with this is that your site may prove unreliable and at times may take too long to load. There is nothing worse for a customer than trying to visit a slow loading site, and most will close the browser window in complete frustration. As i’m sure you will be able to work out, this will ultimately cost you business.

The other major consideration (if not the most important) when designing a website is your content. Not just links, but content with passion, relativity, and understanding to the customer. When someone is searching for something in particular and they visit your web site, they’re visiting for a reason. Your site has something they want, Whether this be your product, service, and/or information. If they are unable to obtain what they’re looking for, they move on to the next site and so on. To be able to get your visitors to stay and look around your website, you must give them a reason to. Providing them with quality content will achieve this goal.

There have been countless other lists and articles on the subject of website designing mistakes, but I have compiled my own list, from a designer’s perspective, of some pitfalls to look out for when considering either designing a website or purchasing a template. Remember that the simple, clear, informative and well designed sites are the most successful. If you are a current e-business and your sales aren’t what you had hoped, consider the above and take some time to look openly and honestly at your site. Spending money on improving your website is a much better investment than throwing money away on trying to advertise and market a site that just isn’t good enough to sell your product or services.

If you are looking for a template or a custom designed website, be aware of the above and be prepared to ask your chosen designer or template provider questions to ensure that your hard earned money doesn’t go to waste on an inferior design, which contains any of the above. Asking questions won’t cost you a penny, and in doing so could actually save you a lot of money over the long term. Getting your website right first time is vital in terms of saving money and time. The earlier your website is up and running properly, the quicker you will be able to reap the rewards of a successful e-business.

The prime mistake Newbies make is to put their website name into the Anchor Text. Unless your website contains your keywords this is a waste of a perfectly good link. Remember that Google puts a very big importance on those Anchor texts and they should always use your keywords.

The second mistake is trying to put every single keyword into your anchor text and give that to everyone. There are two mistakes with this technique. 1.) Google assigns weight to each word in anchor text so if there are a lot of filler words (common in long sentences), they will “dilute” your target words.

According to two recent surveys, conducted by Forrester Research and Gartner Group, ecommerce sites are losing $1.1 to $1.3 billion in revenue each year due to customers click- away caused by slow loading sites. If a page takes too long to load, your potential customer will not wait. Ultimately costing you business.

Make sure you include proper META tags in the HTML of each page of your web site. META tags are HTML code that enable the search engines to determine what keywords are relevant to a specific site. About 80 percent of all web site traffic originates from the eight major search engines. It would be a good idea to make sure you’ve done your homework and fully understand how to optimize your web pages prior to designing your site. This will save you a lot of headaches in the long run. For further information on META tags read the tutorial entitled, “Building Your Site.”

Be cautious when selecting your background and text colors. Busy backgrounds make text difficult to read and draw the attention away from the text. Always be consistent with your background theme on each page of your site. Your site should be nicely organized and uniform throughout. Keep in mind, colors affect your mood and will have an affect on your visitors as well. Bright colors such as yellow and orange, cause you to become more cheerful or happy, while colors such as blue and purple have a calming effect. Dark colors such as brown and black have a depressing effect. A good rule of thumb would be to use colors based upon the type of effect you’re trying to achieve.

Your main page should specifically let your visitors know exactly what you’re offering. How many times have you visited a site and never figured out exactly what they were selling? If your potential customer can’t find your product or service, they definitely won’t waste a lot of time looking for it. They’ll go on to the next site and probably never return. They’re visiting your site for a specific purpose. They want something your site offers. Whether it is information, a product or service.

Design your site to be easily navigated. Place your navigation links together at the top, bottom, left or right side of the page. Use tables to neatly align your links. If you are planning on using graphic buttons to navigate your site, keep in mind that with each graphic you add to your page, it will take that much longer for your page to load. If you only have a handful of navigational links, using graphic buttons will be fine. If you have over six links, it would be wise to simply use text links to keep your load time down.

If you must use frames, use them sparingly. Frames, if not properly used, can make your site look unprofessional. Avoid making your visitors have to scroll from side to side to view your content. This can be very irritating and cause your visitors to leave. If you must use frames, offer your visitors a choice. Frames verses No Frames. Try to keep the number of clicks required to get from your main page to any other page on your site down to four. Keep in mind, your visitors may enter your site from pages other than your main. Always have good navigational links on every page and place your company logo on each page.

Design a quality e-book to give to your visitors. It’s not as difficult as it sounds. If you can create a web page, you can create an e-book. The focus of your e-book should compliment your web site. Simply write about your passion. If your passion is sales, then you could share some of your knowledge and experience by designing your e-book to provide a complete sales training guide. If your passion is home based business, you could write an e-book about how to start your own home based business. If you’re writing about your true passion then you shouldn’t have any trouble coming up with something to write about. For further information on e-books, read the article entitled, “How to Create an E-book and Drive Massive Traffic to Your Site by Giving It Away.”

Having been involved in the internet industry for a large part of my working life, I have spent a lot of time researching and browsing the internet and reading websites, mainly for client design research, but also for occasional personal use. The one thing that I find most disappointing, is the apparent lack of thought going into website creation and it’s purpose, which in turn creates a missed opportunity for many e-businesses to become successful.

The Importance of Anchor Text in Back-links

The importance of anchor text with respect to a linking strategy cannot be overstated. Back-links are a huge part of the search engine algorithm. When initiating a linking campaign, it is vital that external sites link using the appropriate keywords and terms in the anchor text.

Almost always, linking candidates will use the company name as anchor text. This does not provide any type of description of the target company’s products or services. Sure, it may be great for branding purposes, but it isn’t usually needed. In most cases, companies already rank very high (if not first) for searches that incorporate their brand.

Here is an example using fictional company “Acme Plumbing Supplies”:

Most people will link simply using the terms “Acme”. This is alright, but it does not describe the company’s products or services, nor provide any context. By adding the word “plumbing” or term “plumbing supplies” (i.e. “Acme Plumbing” or “Acme Plumbing Supplies”), you may be able to drive additional traffic that may not have otherwise attained the corporate site.

Absolute Links vs. Relative Links – SEO Value

The debate between absolute links and relative links continues to live on in the SEO world. The individual significance of each has been contested, but it is widely regarded that absolute links provide better SEO value on the whole than relative links.

Many believe that absolute links have less potential for getting messed up when search engines index your page. It shouldn’t really make a difference, but many conclude that this is reason enough.

Furthermore, content scrapers and RSS services may ‘repurpose’ your content legitimately (or not). In either case, shouldn’t a proper back-link be attributed to your site? This situation favours absolute links. Although this is a minor argument, it’s still worth considering.

Incorporation of Company Branding and SEO

SEO is not an exact science. This becomes apparent when trying to incorporate both SEO and branding into a strategy. This process is finicky to say the least. On the one side, SEO deals with the placement of keywords and phrases. On the other side, branding deals with company loyalty and culture. Incorporating both sides dilutes the prominence of both. But eliminating one or the other may not meet all strategic and marketing goals.

Once again, it should be emphasized that SEO is a series of guidelines rather than an exact science. Having said that, the following recommendation can be used to satisfy both sides of the equation. In general, keywords and phrases (i.e. SEO) should remain the focus of any early-stage company, while the incorporation of company branding should appear later in the evolution. This is simply a general statement and should not be taken word for word.

The reasoning is pretty straightforward. At first, no-one knows the name of your company, but perhaps they are searching for your products or services. In other words, you want to target keywords and phrases that focus around your offering rather than your company. As you build loyalty and credibility, branding becomes more important. It’s at this point that you may want to incorporate corporate messaging to strengthen the relationship with customers and instill trust in your brand.

One final thought about branding: if a searcher types in the name of your company, they are likely to find your website anyways. This is due mostly to anchor text and back-links. Therefore, optimizing for the company name is rather insignificant in most cases.

Strategic Use of Images in Search Engine Optimization

When assessing page structure and layout, there is a subtle, yet strategic way to use images in an SEO-friendly manner (beyond ALT tags) that improves your search rank while allowing you to integrate the necessary marketing message(s). Confused? Let’s look at an example:

Suppose you operate a travel site and you want to optimize a given page for the term “Las Vegas hotel”. Suppose that you also want to include an enticing marketing message such as “Book now and save 20%!”. The aforementioned tagline lacks descriptive text, but possesses persuasive characteristics. That being said, you may want to place the tagline in an image and the key phrase (i.e. Las Vegas hotel) in a header tag. This places emphasis on the desired term, yet still provides a marketing opportunity without compromising keyword consistency.

In other words, images are a great place to insert marketing messages that lack the necessary keywords and phrases. Leveraging this technique will ensure that descriptive text is indexed, while less marketing jargon is overlooked. The combination of keyword-rich content and enticing messaging will satisfy both sides of the strategic equation.

Google now discounts all reciprocal links

For a long time, reciprocal links have remained at the forefront of most inbound linking strategies. This is going to have to change. Google now discounts all reciprocal links. The algorithm has been altered to identify the exchange of links by two parties for the purpose of increasing their number of inbound links.

The concept of reciprocal linking defies Google’s original intention with the algorithm. Quality content should attract links. The exchange of links is nothing more than a mutual agreement to unjustifiably promote others’ content with the end goal of promoting your own. Google doesn’t particularly like this (see Link Schemes).

Some even claim that Google is now able to identify three-way linking schemes (i.e. website A links to website B, who links to website C, who links back to A). Whether this is true or not is hard to say. One thing is for certain though: inbound linking strategies should NOT be centered around reciprocal linking. This manufactured form of link creation is not well-received and is ultimately a waste of time. Instead, focus on creating unique, high-quality content in a given niche. The links will ensue.

Measuring Sales and Marketing based on Customer Outcomes

Have you ever used Uber X, the freelance taxi service? Half the cost of a cab and twice the level of service. The cars are immaculate. The drivers are almost overwhelmingly nice. They care deeply about your experience. Not because they want a tip. They want your 5-star feedback. That’s so important to their success that they will do almost anything to make sure you are happy. It is a customer first model that works because customers have the ability to give feedback that has direct business impact. It’s the eBay model applied to real world human interaction.
Think of your salespeople as Uber drivers, they interact with customers every day. Your marketing is like the car – is it in the right place at the right time and taking the customer where they want to go? These things matter tremendously to customers and yet we have no means to empower them to drive the behavior of marketing and sales at the moment of engagement. We have customer satisfaction surveys. They are important but lack immediacy and context for sales and marketing.
I recently came across two articles that may be the proverbial starting gun for measuring customer focus. The first from the HBR blog, “Bonuses Should be Based on Customer Value not Sales Targets,” profiles how GlaxoSmithKline no longer calculates sales bonuses based on prescription drug sales but on a basket of metrics related to patient outcomes. The second on the Forbes blog, “The 5-Star Employee, Why we need a Yelp for Business” presents a provocative picture of why employee ratings should be standard practice.
Clearly there are cultural and generational issues at stake and a lot of education needed to make these transformations acceptable and actionable in a way that improves outcomes for everyone. As customer facing technology coalesces around the CX Cloud model, marketers should think about how to get customer feedback more frequently. It will require innovation born of experimentation. Of course, no one wants to rate every piece of collateral. But maybe every third touch or at specific points in the nurturing process. Companies that figure it out will have the great advantage of being able to monitor customer experience and course correct in flight as opposed to relying on satisfaction surveys that are too little too late. Best of all, customers will feel the power of the relationship, something they won’t get from traditional models. Uber X is not better just because it costs less, it delivers more at the same time.

For marketing, the customer is the final score


Today in marketing we are in an exciting phase with so much change happening, but also so much opportunity. The current atmosphere is a scary proposition for some, yet energizing for others. This energy has brought enthusiasm to many areas within marketing that are touted as "the most important." While areas like marketing technology, big data and analytics, and content marketing are INCREDIBLY important, ultimately, they are only a portion of marketing and not the full picture. In the end the most important "statistic" is the customer. The buyer ultimately judges and scores you, so remember, how well you provide value to your customer will determine whether you win or lose.






Highlighting this customer focus, in our 11th annual marketing barometer survey we asked over 75 senior level marketing executives to "compose a tweet on the future of marketing." We then took those answers and created a word cloud (see above). Low and behold, the two largest words that came up were "Customer" and "Buyer". These executives, whether intentional or not, understand that the customer/buyer will determine the final score. So remember, while different marketing practices may have incredibly important functions, in the overall game of business, they are all just offensive rebounds. 



Follow Sam Melnick on Twitter @SamMelnick


Copyright 2011 IDC. Complete articles may be reposted. Reproduction in part is forbidden unless specifically authorized. All rights reserved. Please contact IDC for information on republishing or web rights.
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The Customer: The Most Important Statistic in Marketing – Everything Else is Just Offensive Rebounds

Let’s start with a story that relates to marketing today. When my brother in-law was trying out for his high school basketball team, the coach sat all the players down at the end of one practice and asked them, “What is the most important statistic in all of basketball.” My brother in-law, quite confident his answer would be correct, raised his hand and answered “Points scored.” The coach stared at him for a few seconds and responded, “No. Offensive rebounds.” For those of you who are familiar with basketball, you know that is a ridiculous statement – while offensive rebounds are important, the final score determines the winner, and thus is inarguably, the most important statistic in basketball.

For marketing, the customer is the final score


Today in marketing we are in an exciting phase with so much change happening, but also so much opportunity. The current atmosphere is a scary proposition for some, yet energizing for others. This energy has brought enthusiasm to many areas within marketing that are touted as “the most important.” While areas like marketing technology, big data and analytics, and content marketing are INCREDIBLY important, ultimately, they are only a portion of marketing and not the full picture. In the end the most important “statistic” is the customer. The buyer ultimately judges and scores you, so remember, how well you provide value to your customer will determine whether you win or lose.

Highlighting this customer focus, in our 11th annual marketing barometer survey we asked over 75 senior level marketing executives to “compose a tweet on the future of marketing.” We then took those answers and created a word cloud (see above). Low and behold, the two largest words that came up were “Customer” and “Buyer”. These executives, whether intentional or not, understand that the customer/buyer will determine the final score. So remember, while different marketing practices may have incredibly important functions, in the overall game of business, they are all just offensive rebounds. 

Follow Sam Melnick on Twitter @SamMelnick

The one framework your CMO must share with your CIO

So many marketing solutions are available that it is very difficult for marketers, chief digital officers, and CIOs to have a holistic view of what they have, what they need and why. IDC has recently created a tool to help – The 2014 Strategic Framework for Marketing Technology. This tool provides a visualization of the different technologies needed to support different marketing organizations no matter how small or large, digital or non digital, modern or not. Pictured below is the whole map which presents solutions in four broad categories:
  1. Interaction: The primary function of these solutions is to be customer facing
  2. Content:  The primary function of these solutions is to facilitate the production and management of marketing content
  3. Data and Analytics: The primary function of these solutions is to store and produce insights from customer, operations, and financial data
  4. Management and Administration: The primary function of these solutions is to provide internal communications, workflows, budgeting and expense tracking.
IDC’s Strategic Framework for Marketing Technology
v1.0 = 78 categories 

We have found that the complexity of technology requirements can be defined around a few factors:
  • Company size
  • Business model (eComm, B2C, B2B direct, B2B indirect)
  • Vertical industry
  • Mission of marketing (awareness, demand generation, etc.)

Using these factors, the map can be easily customized to show the current state, recommended next steps, and long term vision for just about any marketing organization. If you’re a pure eCommerce company the advertising and digital commerce areas will be much more important and sales enablement would disappear. If you’re a B2B direct company digital commerce might be a very low priority and sales enablement would loom large in your plans. Regardless of whether you’re CPG, Health Care, Financial Services, startup or global enterprise, we can build a map to get your marketing, IT, and executive teams on the same page with respect to your marketing technology requirements.

For more information on our framework and the services we offer around it, please contact me at gmurray (at) idc (dot) com. 

Top 3 customer experience challenges for marketers

Customer experience management is fundamentally about providing a seamless and consistent flow as prospects move through different phases of development and points of contact with a supplier. Delivering on this presumes a level of connectedness that many marketing organizations struggle to achieve. The reason for the struggle is that there are three significant forces of fragmentation opposing their efforts: specialization of roles, organizational hierarchies, and tactical technology. These forces threaten every marketing organization with two fatal flaws: they slow everything down and fracture the customer experience.
Three forces of fragmentation that marketers must fight:
1.     Specialization: all areas of marketing execution have become inch wide mile deep endeavors. As a result, there can be many degrees of separation between key roles such as social marketers, event planners, web administrators, technical writers, etc. What do these people talk about when they get in a room together? Does anyone else care how the events person manages food service or logistics?

How to combat the fragmentation of specialization: It is becoming clear that the one thing all marketing roles now have in common is the need to master data and analytics. Each specialized role produces and consumes data from all the others. It is critical that everyone in marketing understand how customer and operational data flows, how others use the data they produce, and the best analytical practices for gaining insight. This should be a key topic of conversation and community building.
2.     Hierarchical org charts: Marketing is no longer a command and control world. Yes, there is an overlay of reporting that has to go “up the chain.” For many marketing leaders that grew up with the traditional B-school approach to management, adding layers to the org chart is a natural approach. However it results in compartmentalization that left untended creates a culture of disconnectedness.

How to combat the fragmentation of hierarchies: Marketing organizations should be defined around processes not activities. Marketing processes must be supported by collaborative environments that foster greater visibility and coordination between contributors. Enterprise social networks are becoming essential for creating a culture of openness and connection. Organic approaches are not enough, marketing leaders need to seed the social network with process oriented communities such as: campaign management, sales enablement, content lifecycle management, etc.
Transforming Marketing From Silos…
… To Systems
3.    Technology: IDC identifies nearly 90 different categories of marketing technology (not including middleware and infrastructure!) That alone should tell you the function and the IT market serving it are unsustainably fragmented. The deployment of highly specialized tools can empower people within their specialties but can leave them on a technology island in the greater scheme of things. Major IT vendors have started to consolidate some of the basic building blocks, but there are still many areas in which niche/best of breed capabilities are needed.

How to combat the fragmentation of technology: The two centers of gravity for your marketing IT infrastructure are your integrated marketing management solution and your website. They should be intimately tied to each other and all other marketing systems/tools should integrate with one or both of them. This becomes a forcing factor for integrating processes and data flows. Marketers also need to demand more of their technology vendors to accelerate the evolution of platforms that tie together the systems of engagement, content, administration and data.

The most successful CMOs will ensure the pervasive deployment and adoption of technology increases collaboration, socialization, and systems thinking. They will design marketing organizations around customer-centric processes and exert deliberate efforts at all levels to combat the forces that threaten the connectedness needed to serve up a seamless customer experience.