Tuesday, December 22, 2009

This Years Hottest Ranking Factors

Search Engine Optimization For Dummies (For Dummies (Computer/Tech))-Or-

Not Exactly the Billboard Charts

Every two years, SEOMoz.com polls some of the top search engine optimization practitioners and gurus and asks them, "What can you do to get ranked?"  They come back with all of the various factors that they have found to be most and least impactful on search engine ranking.  That data is all compiled and sorted, and presented to you at their site, as a guide to overall value in search engine optimization.

Now, this is absolutely incredibly vital information!  This tells us what to put our best efforts into, what to merely pay attention to, and what we can pretty much ignore altogether.

Keep in mind that these are the opinions of those professionals that are out on the field playing the game, but not pronouncements from those that are making the rules.  Google, Bing, and Yahoo don't come out and reveal their ranking algorithms.  They give guidelines, and leave it up to the rest of us to figure out what the details are.

Still, when a lot of really smart people with a lot of experience put their heads together and give their opinions, I'm gonna recommend that we all shut up and listen!

I looked over the various factors in several categories, and I noticed that many of them overlapped.  For quick simplicity, I merged the categories, and created a list of the most critical overall ranking factors.

  • External link popularity - The best links to boost your ranking are:
    • Inbound links
    • From diverse domains (many other unique websites)
    • From websites with authority in your area
    • From other relevant websites
    • Using keywords in the text they use to link to you.
  • Keyword use anywhere in the title tag - Many of the responses added that having a keyword match as the first word of a title tag was also very significant.
  • Having a valuable website - This is determined based on a lot of factors, including:
    • Unique, substantial content on the page
    • A high Google Page Rank
    • A high "TrustRank"
  • Keyword use in the URL - Especially in the root domain name (eg. "keyword.com").
  • Having internal links (from other pages in your site) that contain keywords.
  • Having a steady growth in your inbound links, rather than a sudden influx of many links.
  • How recently the page was created or updated.
  • Keyword use anywhere in the H1 headline tag.
  • Keyword use in internal link text on the page.

There are some surprises.  For example, for many years, people have talked about the possibility of the "Age Rank", that is, Google giving preference to domains that have existed longer.  That didn't appear in the list this time.  In fact, it appears that some preference is being given to the freshest content.

Also, some gurus have long dismissed the Google Page Rank as a factor, but it's still in the list, so many others still believe it has value.

Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter didn't appear to have that strong of an impact on search engine ranking.  However, most gurus seem to think their value is in more direct promotions and immediate clicks, rather than any search engine boost.

The META tags are pretty much ignored, however, the META description is still often used as the descriptive snippet in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).  So, having a good strong and attractive description can still help convince browsers to click on your link, instead of one that even ranks a step or two higher.

I'd encourage you to study the survey in detail, and begin to understand each unique element that combines to give your website the best possible chance for success!

Mark is currently in the curriculum Department of an internet and SEO training company. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including Mark's Black Pot - Dutch Oven Recipes, MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Optimizing eCommerce Shopping Sites

I read a blog post the other day about some of the challenges faced by webmasters of traditional e-commerce sites.  Basic shopping sites are in between a rock and a hard place.  They're a web 1.0 concept in a web 2.0 world.  Why do they survive?  Well, many don't.  But still many do!  The ones that survive do so because they are selling things that people want, and the webmasters know how to get the products in front of those that want them.

eBoot Camp: Proven Internet Marketing Techniques to Grow Your BusinessA big part of the problem is in differentiation.  What makes one herbal diet supplement site unique from another?  Should I buy the same remote-controlled car from this site or that one?  And, if they're all the same, that makes it very difficult for any one of them to rank well.

Here are some suggestions that will help you not only be unique, but also to rank higher, and draw more buying customers.

  • Optimize individual products

This is a biggie.  A lot of web browsers are just checking things out and doing research.  Others have done the study, made the decision, and now they're ready to buy.  They just need to find a site, and put down their credit card.  Optimize the individual product pages, and when someone searches for that specific product, it will be found.  Then the customer will buy from you instead of thousands of other sites that weren't as savvy as you.

To optimize your product pages, make sure, first of all, that your products are spiderable.  Check with your webmaster or the tech team of your website.  Then, make sure that the product name, brand, and model are in the page's title, and a few times in the product description.

  • Content pages

A good way to set yourself apart from EVERY OTHER WEBSITE selling the same stuff as you is to provide good useful information.  Not only does that make you unique, but it will build the customer's confidence in you.  You become an expert, not just a shop keeper.  They'll buy from you because you can help them better after the sale. 

If those content pages are optimized, too, then you'll draw in visitors while they're still doing the research I mentioned before.  Maybe they'll buy right away, maybe they'll come back.

  • Article links and blog posts

Offsite content is another great way to establish yourself as an authority in your field.  Plus, the inbound links will boost your ranking.  When you set these up, link to your main page, but also link to your product pages.  That will draw shopping traffic, and will also improve that product's search ranking.

  • Social Networking

Even if your website is still web 1.0, there's no reason you should be.  Get on Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks and talk with your audience.  Share your website with them.  Engage in the conversation. 

All of these strategies can work well to increase the value of your e-Commerce website!

Mark is currently in the curriculum Department of an internet and SEO training company. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including Mark's Black Pot - Dutch Oven Recipes, MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Do's and Do Not's of Social Networking

We can tell you to click here and click there, fill out this form and make a post over at that other website, but it's often not easy to truly understand what's going on in Social Networking.  It's true that a lot of the flavor of a meal is discovered while you're eating it.  In other words, you'll learn a lot about using social networks simply by being on them.  Still, here are some general guidelines of how to approach them so that you'll do better right from the start.

Do These Things:

  1. Find your audience - Using your keywords to search through profiles helps filter out a lot of people who have no interest in your business or your products.  Spend your time and efforts on people who are more likely to buy.
  2. Actively participate - Find your audience, and interact with them.  Before you know it, they'll be checking out your website and making you money.  But first, just join the party.  If you sit quietly in the corner and watch, nothing will happen.
  3. Share good content, not just your own - If you're at a party, and someone is monopolizing the conversation, talking only about themselves and their own accomplishments, it gets pretty old pretty fast, doesn't it?  Share some links and info about other, still relevant, sites you've found, and people will like following you.
  4. Be a source of value - Along the same lines, if they can count on you for the good stuff, the useful info, and the exciting news, then they'll be excited to see something you've posted.
  5. Use the same avatar - From one social network to another, it's a good idea to use the same avatar or profile image.  This is a part of your branding efforts.  Use your company logo, if it works as a small image.  People will begin to recognize you.  (One time at church someone came up to me and said, "Hey, I saw you out on the 'net the other day.  Man, you are EVERYwhere!")
  6. Update your site and blog, so you have something to talk about on the 'network.

Don't Do These Things:

  1. Don't just plug your products - It's OK to mention your own products and your own blogs every once in a while, but if your twitter feed or your facebook page is nothing but ads, I'm going to unfollow you fast.  Visit with me, don't just sell to me.
  2. Don't use tools to add millions of friends/followers - I recently tried a tool that got me thousands of twitter followers overnight.  Most of them were clogging my twitter feed with ads for diet pills and cheap mortgages.  When I posted about new blog entry, I got a couple of dozen hits from twitter.  Pretty lame percentage out of thousands of followers.  I've seen other things like this happen all the time.  Quantity is great, as long as it's a high quantity of good quality friends and followers.  Remember: find your audience!
  3. Don't spew out flow - Some people want to post every detail of their personal existence.  I don't care if you're in a Starbucks having a mocha venti grande.  I also don't care to read about how long it took you to get to work this morning.  Unless you make it relevant to your topic, leave it out.  I don't mind if a part of your social networking posts are personal.  That's what shows you're human.  But don't just share the mind-numbing dullness of your dreary life.
  4. Don't friend everyone - Not everyone is your audience, and not everyone is interested in your products.  Don't waste your time on people that won't buy.  If someone friends you and you can tell they're just looking for a bigger list, you don't have to friend them back.
  5. Don't use the same accounts for personal networking and business networking - The more I work this, the more I realize it's much more effective to split them into separate accounts. 
  6. Don't post too much - There's a guy on my Facebook friends list that shares good, informative content.  That's great, right?  Except he posts every 10 to 20 minutes.  I don't have time to read all that, and it clutters up my profile.  Even good content, 5-10 times a day, can get annoying.
  7. Don't post too little - You're easy to forget, and if you wait too many days in between blog posts, or Twitter tweets, it's tough to build up an audience of readers.

Like I said before, as you use the social networks, you'll learn more and more how to make it effective for you.  There are many more tips and tricks that you'll pick up along the way.  Many of the tips that I learned were shared with me by other users!  Keep learning and you'll do well!

Mark is currently in the curriculum Department of an internet and SEO training company. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including Mark's Black Pot - Dutch Oven Recipes, MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Google Personalized SERPs: Convenient or Creepy?

As of December 4th, Google has begun giving you personalized results on your searches.  they've been doing that for a long time, for those that chose to "opt in" to the service, but now all SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) will be personalized automatically.

What that means is that when you do a search at Google, and click on a result at that SERP, Google will keep track of that click for 180 days, along with all of the other clicks you do after a google search.  From that data, it will get an idea of the kids of sites you like, and those sites will get preferential ranking in your results.  Over time, the kinds of sites you look for often will drift to the top of your results. 

If you happen to run the Google toolbar, or are logged into google docs or gmail or something else Google, they're actually able to track all your web-goings.

The convenient part of that is that you're more likely to find what you're most interested in when you do searches.  The searching part of your internet experiences is more likely to become less "search-y" and more "find-y".  The 'net becomes more useful and friendly.

The creepy part is thinking that Google is going all "Big Brother" on you, watching your every move.  What about privacy?  What about freedom?  Who's watching my SERPs?

I don't mean to stir up conspiracy theories or frighten the already-alarmed alarmists, but really, this kind of thing has been going on for a long time.  A lot of the websites we use keep track of our activity.  That's good business for them.  That way they can know what their customers want, and can better deliver it to them.  In my own personal case:

  • Amazon knows that I like cookbooks, games, and religious commentary
  • Facebook knows who my friends are
  • Pandora knows that I like hard rock and classical music
  • Netflix knows that I like comedies, but am willing to watch a chick flick with my wife
  • Those that follow my blog know I love to cook outdoors
  • YouTube knows that I like music videos and parodies

So, this is really nothing terribly new, and certainly not anything to get too alarmed about.  It does, however, raise the question, "If search results and SERPs are going to be tailored to the preferences of the user, how do I make sure that my site ranks high?"

It does mean that getting a #1 slot, or even a page 1 slot is no longer going to be a constant.  It does, however, mean that if you all of the things that made you rank well before, you're still going to rank well, and you're going to rank even higher if someone is clearly interested in what you've got.

Keep in mind that personalization is only one aspect of a very complicated ranking algorithm that includes many other factors, like keyword matching, keyword placement, number of inbound links, the age of the site, and other elements.  There are all kinds of factors that all add up to the SERP you see.

It also means that "niche-ing" is going to be even more important.  That means that you'll want to make sure that your website is focused, and that you're well interlinked among other sites and blogs within that niche.  Showing that you're clearly "about" something will help you to rank when someone wants to know about that thing.  Trying to sell everything to everyone will end up with your site ranking for no-one.

Mark is currently in the curriculum Department of an internet and SEO training company. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including Mark's Black Pot - Dutch Oven Recipes, MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Listening to an FTC Lawyer: Clear as Mud, But it Covers the Ground

I recently sat in on a webinar given by the site "Blog with Integrity", with speaker Mary Engle.  Mary is the FTC's Associate Director of Consumer Protection.  I learned a lot about the new FTC guidelines, especially as it relates to blogging.  This is particularly timely, as the guidelines go into effect as of today, the day of this writing!

I came away from the webinar with a slightly more clear understanding of the concepts behind the new FTC guidelines, but I'm still a bit confused about how they want them to be implemented.  As I listened, I got the sense that they, too, haven't fully defined the details, and that they're still in the process of interpreting them.

FTC Guidelines for Existing Laws

The impetus behind the new guides is that a lot has changed and adapted since the '80s, when the laws were put into place.  The advent of blogging, social networking, and a vast landscape of interconnectedness has come along since then, and now they're trying to apply those existing laws and regulations to new circumstances.

That's OK.  A well-written law should be able to be applied fairly to new situations.  It does, however, make for some generalities that can be difficult to detail.  One thing that Engle mentioned is that these new FTC guidelines, by themselves, don't have the weight of law.  They are designed to show the application of the current laws.

Disclosure, Not Deception

The idea is that whenever someone writes or talks about a product or a company, the reader or viewer should be able to know if there's any connection between the writer/speaker, and the product or company being discussed. 

So, if I post to my Facebook page that I'm gonna hit McDonald's for lunch, do I have to add a disclosure statement?  Well, probably not, but it depends:  Did McD's pay me to say that?  Am I getting my meal for free in return for mentioning it on Facebook?  If so, I need to say so.  If nobody paid me anything, or gave me anything for free, I can say whatever I want.

What if I blog about my family life, and I put affiliate ads on the site?  Do I have to tell people that the affiliate links make me money?  Again, that depends.  If it's a big graphic ad off to one side of the blog, it's a pretty safe bet that everyone "gets it" that it's an ad, and that I'm getting compensated for it in some way.

On the other hand, what if I blog about a book, and put a link to that book over at Amazon?  In that case, it's a little less obvious and should probably be disclosed.

The overall focus, according to Engle, is to eliminate the deception.  If a blogger writes about something, the readers should be able to judge his/her fairness.  Did they get the product for free?  Were they paid to write?  Are they getting commissions for recommending a particular book?  The audience needs to know.

Linking to a Website.

Let's say that you blog primarily as an effort to promote an ecommerce website.  Let's say that you sell products at the site, and you want to blog about them.  You'd definitely want to disclose that, to be in compliance with these FTC guidelines.  Fortunately, that's not too hard.  "Come check out these products at our website! (link, link, link)"


Having testimonials on your website is a great way to build customer confidence.  If you get a spontaneous email about how good your product is, or how quickly you delivered it, then you've got gold, and you should post it on your website.  However, if you offer discounts or other premiums in return for testimonials, that has to be disclosed.

My Own Disclaimer!

The things I've said here are the things that I gathered as I was listening to the FTC presentation mentioned above.  I don't really know how the FTC is going to enforce these.  Frankly, I'm not convinced that they're too sure, either.  My best recommendation is to take some time and listen to the webinar and learn for yourself.  They can also be contacted via email with questions: endorsement@ftc.gov

Mark is currently in the curriculum Department of an internet and SEO training company. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including Mark's Black Pot - Dutch Oven Recipes, MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What is Cloud Computing?

Even if you're relatively new to the internet, you might have heard this term being bounced around.  You might not be sure exactly what it means or what its impact will be.

Let me tell you right now, its impact will be huge in the upcoming years, and, in fact, it's very likely that you're already using it.  In fact, in some ways, it's getting difficult to tell, sometimes, when you are using it and when you're not.

What is "The Cloud"?

Let's talk about it and clarify it, so you know what we're talking about.  The internet, as a whole, is a huge, and vastly complicated space.  It's kind of hard to visualize just how big and expansive it is.  If someone were to sketch a visual representation of it, it would be very difficult.  That's why a lot of tech-y people in recent years have started calling it "The Cloud". 

If you send an email, you don't really have to know how it gets from here to there, right?  You just click "Send", and it goes out into "The Cloud" and it somehow arrives at its destination.  Do you see how well that works as a visualization?

Now, for a long time, people used their computers to do their writing, their games, their spreadsheets, their games, their calculations, their graphics, their games, and all sorts of other things.  They bought office software with word processors to write letters, they bought games and installed and played them.  They bought music players and video makers, and picture editors, and every time they bought a program they installed it on their own computers.  They stored their pictures and their videos and their game saves all on their own computers.

When they went out into "The Cloud", on the internet, they were just looking for information.  They'd read something, or they'd find something they were interested in.  Maybe they'd download something, like a program to install.

What's Cloud Computing?

Gradually, over the last few years, more and more people have begun to actually "Do" things out on the 'net.  So, instead of opening up an email reader program on my computer, they would go to a website on the 'net (in the cloud) and read their email from there.  Instead of just opening up their game on their hard drive, they would go to the game's website, login, and begin playing online.  Instead of opening up a word processor, writing a report, and saving it to my hard drive, they would go to a website that opened up an online word processing program, type the report, save it online, and be done.

The big difference is that instead of using a software that they purchased and installed on their computers, they're accessing programs and applications through websites.  That's why they're also called "Web Apps".  Since it all happens out on the Internet cloud, it's called "Cloud Computing".

Advantages of Cloud Computing

So, what's the big deal?  Why is it such a hot topic right now?  Well, there are a number of real advantages to using programs that aren't stored on your own computer.

  • If you have internet access, you can get to your work.  You can get to it from your job, your home, your supersmart cell phone, your public library, your friend's computer, etc...  Anywhere that you can get to the 'net, you can get to your stuff.
  • Your stuff changes with you.  If you work on something at home, and then you get to work, all the changes you made at home are still saved!  That's because the copy you were working on didn't reside at home or at work, but out on a server computer somewhere in the cloud.  You're just accessing the same thing from home or work.  Maybe you level up your wizard character in your onlinefantasy game late one night.  Then, when you're over at your friend's house the next day, you can take off playing right from where you left off!
  • You can allow others to access your stuff, so you can collaborate.  School project teams can cooperate better, and work teams can get more done.
  • You don't have to buy, download, and install upgrades.  When the company makes a better version, they just set it up in the cloud, and suddenly, everyone's using it!
  • A lot of the web apps you can find are FREE!  They're either supported by advertising, or they have premium features that you have to pay for.

There's Gotta Be a Downside...

There are some problems and disadvantages.  Let's talk about those for a minute.

  • It's nice to have instant access from anywhere that you have a web connection.  But what if you want to work and your internet goes down?  You're stuck!
  • What if the servers that the web app company uses go down?  You're stuck!  Fortunately, most web app companies realize just how much people rely on them, and they set up backups and redundancies to keep their systems running smooth!
  • Some of the free web aps out there are very good, but not as full-featured as their old-school counterparts.  They'll handle most of the tasks you'll need most of the time, but occasionally, you might need one of the more specialized features, and it might not be there.  Still, as cloud computing grows and becomes more popular, the web apps will become more and more robust.
  • Security can be an issue.  If you're keeping your work on a computer out there in "the cloud", who has access to it, and the legal right to view it?  Just how much privacy do you have?

The whole concept of cloud computing, for a long time, was the talk only of the tech-y and the big business people.  It's only recently become commonplace enough for mainstream computer consumers.  Recently, small computers, called "netbooks" have started to appear in computer stores.  These will often have no hard drive storage of their own, no way to install a program, and will only access web apps.  They're becoming more and more popular with students and those that travel for work.

The reason that it's coming so strongly to the forefront is that Google is introducing a full operating system (called "Chrome") designed entirely to utilize web apps. Some are saying it may eventually replace Windows.  Others scoff. 

Whether or not it does, cloud computing is definitely here to stay, and will be growing.  The more you're aware, and the more you're able to use it, the more effective you'll be!

Here are some common and useful web apps to explore:

Mark is currently in the curriculum Department of an internet and SEO training company. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including Mark's Black Pot - Dutch Oven Recipes, MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How to Monetize a Blog

Let's suppose that you've been blogging for a while.  Maybe it's just a personal blog, or maybe you've been blogging about one of your hobbies.  Maybe you're blogging for your job, or to promote a product-based website.

Maybe you're just starting a blog, and have only posted your first bits of pillar content.  Maybe you've even just put up an introductory entry or two.

Let's talk about how to set it up to Make Money!

Now, I'm not talking about simply clicking into Blogger.com and clicking the "Monetize" tab.  Yes, that will set you up to start showing Google ads, which can potentially make you some money, once you get the traffic.  I'm talking about a deeper process which will set your blog up for success, rather than just getting a few hits and trickles of money from time to time.

Step One: Identify Your Audience

Who are you writing to?  A lot of this will entail deciding what you're writing about.  If your blog flits from idea to idea like a social networking butterfly, you'll find that you don't have a clear audience, and you'll have few consistent readers, and no money.

A large part of identifying your audience is identifying the keywords that they're searching for.  This goes back to the keyword research that has been taught many times before.  Using tools like Trellian's Free Keyword Discover Tool, or Google's AdWords Keyword Tool can help you determine the demand for your keywords.

Also, read other blogs and see what others in your niche are talking about.  These will help you to identify areas that your audience is interested in.

Step Two: Get in Front of Them

This step comes in two parts:  First of all, providing some great content that interests them, rich in those keywords they're looking for, is a great way to get your blog discovered.  Ultimately, the writing is the stuff that's going to bring people to your blog anyway. 

The other part of it is to discover other places on the web where your audience likes to hang out.  Are they in Facebook?  Or, an even better question would be, "Where can I find them on Facebook?", because they're probably already there!  They're probably reading other similar bloggers.  They're probably participating in forums.  Go find them, and join in with them.  Comment on their Facebook profiles, and join the discussion on the blogs and forums.  Mention your own blog.  Join the community and be active in it.

Step Three: Offer Them Something They Want

Now let's talk about making money off of this audience you have.  Now that you've gotten to know them, and they've gotten to know you, you can start recommending products to them. 

Ask yourself:  What are they wanting?  What do they need?  Find affiliates that are selling those items and sign up with them.  That's not as difficult as it might sound.  There are so many sources for affiliate products. Try some of these:

  • Clickbank.com - Good information products, electronically deliverable.  Some of the highest payout percentages in all of affiliatedom
  • Amazon.com - No matter what your niche or who your audience is, chances are, Amazon has a book about it.  They've also got a lot of other relevant products.  Plus, your can set up your affiliate link to click directly to individual products.
  • The Google Affiliate Network - This source can connect you with hundreds of affiliate companies.
  • A Product-based Dropshipping Website - Don't forget that product website that you're setting up, either!  Link to your site, and directly to products that you're blogging about!

Remember that monetizing a blog is much, much more than just putting ad codes into your site.  It's about the core of your blogging.  It's about developing a connection, a relationship to your audience.  Then, they'll trust your recommendations!

Mark is currently in the curriculum Department of an internet and SEO training company. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including Mark's Black Pot - Dutch Oven Recipes, MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Long-Term Power of Authority

I've been reading a great e-booklet, called "Authority Rules".  It spells out just how to get a lot of links coming to your website or blog.  And, as we know, links mean traffic, links mean search engine ranking, and links mean spiders.  Links are critical to success.

The idea is to become an authority in a particular area of knowledge.

I can hear people already saying, "I'm no expert!"  and "I just wanna sell stuff!"

My answer is: "You don't have to be an 'expert' to share knowledge, and wanting to sell stuff is a great place to start!"

Let me tell you some stories.

When I was growing up, I had a great friend named Jon.  He and I shared a fascination with World War II, and plastic ship models in particular.  He found that some of the Japanese model companies made some of the most detailed and beautiful models.  Unfortunately (at least in my eyes) they only made models of the Japanese ships.  That didn't seem to bother Jon.  He loved them.  He built them, and he read about them.  He learned their names, and the battles they were in.  I followed along for the ride, but never quite shared his fascination so completely.

Fast forward.  We both went our separate ways, in college, jobs, marriages and lives, but we still keep in touch from time to time.

In the intervening years, he set up a website dedicated to his fascination with the Imperial Japanese Navy.  He showed pictures of the ships.  He started researching logs and historical documents and posting that information at his site.  Soon he was getting more and more traffic.  The site won awards and garnered much recognition among military historians and military history buffs. 

Keep in mind, that Jon's "day job" is NOT "historian".  He works in technology, in programming.  He just enjoys researching his passion, and shares what he learns.

Fast forward a little more.  A shipwreck is discovered, and it's believed that it's one of the Japanese aircraft carriers that was sunk in the battle of Midway.  An expedition is planned, with remote diving bots armed with cameras, to see if the wreckage can be identified.  Who do they call on to be the expert that can look at the video and images sent back up the wire?  Who can identify the ship?  Do they call on those with advanced degrees in naval history?  No, they call my friend, Jon, who runs a website. 

He goes on the expedition, and is able to work with them and identify the downed ship as the Kaga, which was, indeed, one of four Japanese aircraft carriers sunk in the battle of Midway.

Fast forward a bit more.  Jon and his colleague in the running of the website publish a book, "Shattered Sword, the Untold Story of the Battle of Midway".  It's considered by many to be the definitive work on the battle.  It includes many facets of the battle that had never been revealed before, including much from the perspective of the Japanese.

It's no surprise, then, that if you go to google and search for "Imperial Japanese Navy", that his website is #1.  It even outranks the Wikipedia entry.  It would also probably not surprise you to know that this site gets over 50,000 hits a month.

My point in telling you this story is to reshape your perspectives of what it means to be an "Authority", an "expert".  It doesn't necessarily mean you have to have degrees and the accolades of academy.  It does mean, you have to learn, and share what you learn.  In the process, you gain trust.  People will trust you to tell them what they want or need to know.  Once you have that, you are an expert, regardless. 

And they will come to you, and link to you, and tell others to find you, and your business will flourish because they will buy from you.

PS.  If you want to buy Jon's book, Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway, get it here.

Mark is currently in the curriculum Department of an internet and SEO training company. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including Mark's Black Pot - Dutch Oven Recipes, MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Best of 5 Years of SOHOMan

Happy Birthday to Me!  Happy Birthday to Me....

So, five years ago, today, I started writing here at SOHOMan.  It's kept fairly steady, except for a big gap when I changed jobs in 2008.  But now it's back, going strong.

I thought I'd celebrate by sharing some of the better articles, some of the ones that have been a bit more timeless, more impactful.  Keep in mind that some were written 5 years ago, so they might contain a few dead links or references to old companies.  I feel strongly that the concepts in them are still vital and important today, however.

Some of these deal more directly with web marketing issues, like SEO, getting traffic, and making a great web business.  Other articles are all about motivation and persistence, two big keys in Internet success. 

Dive in and feel free to comment!







Mark is currently in the curriculum Department of an internet and SEO training company. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including Mark's Black Pot - Dutch Oven Recipes, MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.

Monday, November 02, 2009

New Rules: Endorsements, Testimonials, and Reviews

Web marketers have been reviewing products, getting their products reviewed, and gathering testimonials for many years, but the rules are changing.  The FTC recently announced new rules that apply to web marketers, bloggers, and social network users as well as more mainstream traditional advertising, like celebrity endorsements.

The basic gist of the new rules are that endorsements, reviews, and such are fine, so long as any benefit arrangements between the endorser and the company are disclosed.  For example, if a star quarterback endorses a sports/energy drink, they have to state in the ad that he's getting paid for saying so.  If a blogger reviews a product that the company provided him/her for free, he/she has got to say so.

Where before, to not say up front who's being paid for what was simply bad manners in the internet community, now it can actually result in lawsuits and fines.

Here are a few more articles you can read about it: "FTC Sets Endorsement Rules for Blogs", and "Bloggers Covered by Endorsement Rules, Says FTC".

So, how do you do it so as to not get into trouble?  Well, fortunately, the rules are really just saying what you should have been doing all along.  If someone sends you a product for you to review at your blog, and they expect you to keep it, say so.  If someone pays you for an endorsement, or for a review, post that. 

Unfortunately, it's a little unclear how the rules of affiliate links and other ads should be handled, according to the law. Do those fall under the "traditional advertising" stipulations?  Personally, if it were me, I would recommend noting the affiliate links as being such, even though savvy surfers should be able to recognize a link to amazon.com as an affiliate.

A lot also depends, I think, on how you write your product reviews.  If your reviews are little more than thinly-veiled ads for the products, then few people will take them seriously anyway.  On the other hand, if you write your product reviews from a very balanced perspective and ask yourself, "What would my audience need to know about this product to make a good buying decision?" your reviews will come across as very useful and balanced anyway.  If you write to inform about the product, instead of just to praise it, you'll do better. 

"If you like such-and-such, and you're wanting to do this-other-thing, then this product will help you because it does this.  However, if you're not interested in this-other-thing, then you'll probably pass on buying this item."

Writing the disclosure can be done in several ways.  You could simply put a "disclosure statement" at the bottom of your review post:  "This product was provided to the author for free for purposes of this review."  Or: "The author was paid for this endorsement".

You could include the disclosure information directly in the review:  "My first impression of the product was that their packaging was great!  I opened up the box they sent me and saw that..."

Testimonials could be shown the same way, with a notice at the bottom saying, "Uncompensated opinions", or whatever you do.

Another thing that's unclear is how retroactive these new rules will be.  As a blogger, I've got hundreds of posts over years of blogging on 4-5 different blogs.  Those blog posts are still active on the web.  Do I need to go back and make sure that I've carefully attributed all of those posts?  A lot of these questions, it seems, still need to be sorted out.

And while it's also not clear how the FTC is going to go out and police the millions of blog and social network postings that happen daily across the net, they do have two very strong ally groups in the fight to keep you compliant with the rules:  one is your competition, and the other is any disgruntled clients/customers you might have.  It will help to dot your i's and cross your t's from here on out!

Mark is currently in the curriculum Department of an internet and SEO training company. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including Mark's Black Pot - Dutch Oven Recipes, MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Business Twitter Primer

You might have heard about Twitter lately.  It seems the world has been, if you'll pardon the obvious pun, all a-twitter about it.  But what if you're one of those who's never seen it or never tried it.  How do people know what it is in the first place?

It's kind of difficult to explain Twitter.  If you think of it as primarily a place where you can find and interact with the audience you're trying to build for your website business, it'll be a little easier to understand.  It's one of a number of sites that are referred to as "Social Networking" sites.  These allow you to find and communiciate with your audience.

You'll go to the Twitter site and sign up.  You'll spend a little time checking out some of the people that are already on there, and reading the short messages they're posting.  You'll sort out who's a part of your target audience.  Then you'll start joining in the ongoing conversation that these people are having, drawing them to your website in the process.

On Twitter, people post short messages about things they're doing and things they find on the 'net.  You'll want to read messages from people that are talking about your niche, and you'll want people interested in your niche reading what you have to say.  On Twitter, you read the messages of other people that you've chosen by "following" them.  Other people who read your messages are "following" you. This kind of interactivity is what social networking is all about.

It's much easier to experience it than it is to explain it  Let's jump in, shall we?

  • Step 1: Sign up

The first thing to do is simply to go to twitter.com and sign up for a new account.  It only takes a quick minute.  You'll fill in some basic information, and you'll be ready to go.  It will offer you the chance to choose to follow some famous people, and to find some of your current friends to follow.  This can be fun, but I'd recommend that you not do that yet, because these people won't necessarily be a part of your web business' audience. 

  • Step 2: Find some other twitterers

Do a search for your site's keywords and read the messages (called "tweets") that other people are posting.  You can click on the avatar or icon of the person right next to their post and visit their profile page.  Read their other tweets, and their bios.  Click to their websites.  It doesn't take much to discover what they're interested in.

  • Step 3: "Follow" them

If it's clear that the person your looking at is a part of your website business' audience, then you can click the small button toward the top that says "Follow".  This means two things:  One, every time this person posts a tweet, it will appear on your twitter home page and you can read it.  Two, this person will get a notice via email that you're now following them.  Chances are, they'll at least check out your twitter profile page.  They might even check out your website.  It's very likely that this person will follow you back.  That means that whenever you post a message, they'll get it.

  • Step 4: Begin "Tweeting"

The last step in this beginning primer is to start posting tweets of your own.  You can post about things at your website, like a new product line, or a new article of content.  You can post about a new blog entry at your blog. 

You can also do what I call "resource tweeting".  That means you find a good article or resource on the 'net, and you tweet about it.  Sharing this kind of information builds your own reputation, even if people know the article wasn't one you write.  You're seen as someone who's active in the community, spreading good information and help around.  You should post at least two resource tweets for every time you tweet about your own website.

Then, you keep doing this same process.  Find more people interested in your topic.  Follow them.  Get more information into your own tweets.  Read the tweets of others.  Before long, your follower list is growing, and you're interacting with your community.  You find you're understanding social networking better.  You get more traffic and a better search engine ranking.

And that makes your business grow!

Mark is currently in the curriculum Department of an internet and SEO training company. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including Mark's Black Pot - Dutch Oven Recipes, MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Reciprocating Content

This is an exciting new buzzword in the world of blogging. I first read about reciprocating content here. The concept behind it really isn't very new, but the term, the label, is.

The basic idea is that you, as a blogger, can involve your audience in the creation of content.

The typical approach to blogging is this:

  • The blogger gets an idea for a rant
  • He/she rants out his/her knowledge, opinions, feelings or thoughts, and posts them.
  • The audience reads the rant
  • The audience, if moved upon by the post, will comment.
  • Other audience members will comment on the post.
  • Other readers will comment on the comments.

For all we say about "Web 2.0" and interactivity, this model really has a "Web 1.5" feel. It is more interactive than a static website ("Web 1.0"), where the visitor would simply read the content and then leave. But on the other hand, the author can simply sit back and watch the discussion around his/her thoughts. Occasionally, the author will join in the discussion.

But the original content still originated from the mind of the blog owner. It's true that there's some lateral conversation going on, but the initial communication is still top-down.

What if the readership were to participate in the creation of the original content as well as the discussion?

There are lots of ways this could work. Here's one way the model could work:

  • A reader begins communicating with the blogger, probably in a way that transcends simple comment posting
  • The blogger, sensing some really good information, follows up on what the reader is saying, possibly doing some research or just pondering the concepts.
  • The blogger formulates his/her own ideas and opinions on the topic.
  • The blogger discusses those ideas with the reader, and, if necessary, gets his/her permission to write about it.
  • The blogger writes a post about the topic. As a part of the post, he/she cites the original reader and his/her ideas as the source of the topic.
  • The readership of the blog, then, as normal, begins to comment and discuss the topic.

The cool part about this is that now the reader feels a certain connection to the blog. He/she is no longer just a reader, but an active participant. Do that over and over, and before you know it, you have a fiercely loyal and active readership.

Here are some ways to do that:

  • Read your reader's blogs. Post comments on them. Draw your own inspiration from them. When you write about them in your blog, cite them with a link. Then return to their blog and post that you blogged about their ideas.
  • Actively ask for help. A large part of establishing yourself as an authority is in your ability to draw from lots of sources. Build that reputation. You become a focal point for good information.
  • Be creative in ways to draw your audience in.
  • Recognize and accept your own areas of weakness. As people share their knowledge with you, you learn more, and you become more and more of an expert.
  • Be respectful. If someone contacts you outside of the comments of your blog (for example, via email) it might be because they don't want their experience shared. Ask permission first.

Getting your audience involved is a great way to build your audience. Anyone have any stories about how they've done this? I'd love to share them here! Post a comment or email me.

Mark is currently in the curriculum Department of an internet and SEO training company. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including Mark's Black Pot - Dutch Oven Recipes, MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Whither the keywords META?

Search engine gurus have been proclaiming for some time that the use of the META keywords tag is pointless. Fewer and fewer search engines are paying any attention to it at all, they said.

Here's the history of it: Back in the day, when search engines were new, and directories like Yahoo ruled supreme, the keywords META tag was the be-all, end-all of search marketing. You had to have the right keywords in your tag, and you repeated them a lot.

Sadly, as soon as you get something good, someone figures out how to abuse it. People who wanted to "game the system" started including many, multiple instances of keywords and keyword phrases into their keywords META tag. Sadly, the pornographers were among the first to engage this one. It got to be like an arms race. "Oh, I see you've included "sex" 100 times in your tag! I'll include it 300 times in mine!" It got to be absurd.

Not long after that, they also started including irrelevant words in their keywords META tags. Sites started appearing in searches and leaving the searchers heads scratching. "How did THAT get there?" There was a time in the early 90's where you couldn't do a search for ANYTHING, it seemed, with out at least one naughty site appearing in the list.

Well, it's no surprise that the search engines realized that this wasn't gonna work. Searchers were starting to mistrust the results they were getting.

Google came along and started indexing the results based on the words that were visible in the text, and valuing the sites based on how many inbound links a site was getting. Before long, other search engines were starting to devalue the keywords META tag.

Last week, Yahoo, the longest holdout, announced that they no longer valued the keywords META tag in the search results. After a short test, and a clarification, it's now pretty safe to say that the keywords META tag is pretty much useless in search engine optimization. Yahoo no longer uses it. Bing.com says they don't use it. Google never did.

So, what good is it?

I, personally, still find some value in it. I work a lot of websites. Blogs, commercial sites, etc... It's not easy to remember and keep track of exactly which keywords I want to focus on when I'm editing and updating each individual page. If I put the keywords that I've researched to be strong in the META tag for that page, I have a valuable reference. I can look them up and remember what they are, and my edits and my tweaks will always be centered around those words.

Silly reason, you say? Well, I can't count how many times I've used this handy reference. Having some words in the tag doesn't hurt your ranking, even if it's not helping.

To recap, then:

The key to on-site search engine optimization is to use your keywords in the right places. Currently, those are:

  • The page title tag
  • The domain name and/or the URL
  • The visible text of the website
  • The page-to-page linking within your site
  • The description META tag
  • The ALT text attributes of your images

The key to off-site optimization has always been quality links from other sites and pages.

Go to it!

Mark also has other sites and blogs, including Mark's Black Pot - Dutch Oven Recipes, MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Utilizing other Resources to Write Great Content

What Do I Write?

If you've been blogging for a while, either as a way to drive traffic to affiliate programs, or as a way to promote an ecommerce or dropshipping website, you'll know that it can sometimes be tough coming up with ideas of things to write about. Here are some suggestions:

  • Other bloggers

If you're doing a blog, you should be reading blogs. Reading what other people are saying is a great way to get ideas of what to write about. Do a search for your topic, with the word "blog" after it, and just start reading what other people are saying. Then, write about the things you read.

Don't think that's stealing, either. In fact, if you talk about someone else's idea, cite them and link to them! Then tell them about it, and chances are, they'll link back to you. Bonus!

  • Articles Directories

Remember when you wrote articles and submitted them to directories as a way to generate links? Well, go back to them and use them as idea mines! Go to a directory like ezinearticles.com, and search for your own topic keywords. Read a few articles, and see what comes to mind.

  • Pop Culture

Popular culture is fickle. Movie and music stars come and go. It's easy to dismiss it all as fleeting. But, it's also easy to capitalize on the immediate attention it generates. If you write a blog post about something that's "in", and you do it right, it can spike your traffic! I once wrote a blog post about a controversial movie, that, in the long run, wasn't even that big. I included the name of the movie multiple times in the post, and my traffic went crazy that week.

On the lower part of the Yahoo main page, there's a box labeled, "Today's Top Searches". Look those over, and see if there's one or two that apply to your niche. If so, write about it, and use the keywords.

  • Newspapers/news sites

The news is also a great place to find ideas. Watch the local and national news on TV. Read the paper. Read current events magazines. CNN.com and BBC.com are also great sites. You can search those sites using your niche keywords and see what ideas those articles generate.

Google Alerts is a great way to get good news delivered to you as well. You can enter your chosen keywords, and decide how often you want it sent to you. Then Google emails you links to news articles and blogs that relate to your words.

  • Life

Finally, just keep your eyes open. Watch what happens around you. Everything can be a source for something to write about. Don't be afraid to be personal in your writing, too.

On my desktop, I keep a link to a "blog ideas" document. Whenever I read an article or see an idea, I jot it down in there, usually with a link to whatever sparked that idea. Then, when it's time to blog, I check that list first. I always have something to write about.

Mark also has other sites and blogs, including Mark's Black Pot - Dutch Oven Recipes, MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.

Mark's Other Blog Posts: Joseph Smith, Family, and Priesthood, Staging a Dutch Oven Gathering

Friday, July 31, 2009

How High School sports prepares you for the workplace

Our society places a lot of emphasis on sports. We gather in huge herds to watch the competitions, and we pay the athletes horrendous amounts of money. And we start in on it very young. The competitive drive is taught alongside academics in our schools.

But it's all good. See, because scholastic sports teaches our kids valuable skills and prepares them for the workplace in very meaningful ways. Here's how:


In the outfield, you have to be intensely focused on something that is not only boring, but seemingly irrelevant. If the person in the center messes up, the competition gets a hit, and you have to catch it and fix it. If you don't, the error is assigned to you, not to the pitcher who didn't get the strike in the first place.


In the line, your job is to protect the guy who, moments before, was shouting at you. You do this so he can stay standing long enough to toss his problem off to someone else.

On the bench, you desperately want to be the one out on the field. You want your chance to get out in the game and show your skills. But it's also sobering to notice that the last guy who stuck his neck out, the guy you're replacing, was carried out of the game on a stretcher.


In singles, each player in the game hits the problem back and forth, hoping to make the other person mess up while it's on their side. This is important preparation for something called "meetings".

In doubles, it's just like singles, except that if it drops on your side, your "partner" can blame it on you. This prepares you for the "Committee" or the "Project Team".

So, you can see that sports in school are very important. Maybe you can think back on your own high school athletic career. Why not send your old coach and email and thank him for helping you to so effectively climb the corporate ladder.

Anyone got any others?

Mark also has other sites and blogs, including Mark's Black Pot - Dutch Oven Recipes, MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.

Mark's Other Recent Blog Posts: The Zeezrom Syndrome: Book of Mormon Psychology, Dutch Oven Beef Ribs

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Keyword Analysis Research

Remember all that niche and keyword analysis research you did? Well, once you've did that at the start, you're done, right? You'll never have to do that again, right? It's all over, right?


It turns out that I'm constantly doing keyword analysis research. Let's talk about that, about why you want to do ongoing research, and about when you'll want to do it again. And again. And again.

First of all, let's clarify what we're really researching and analyzing, here. It's all about keywords. When you were trying to determine what to sell or promote from your site, you wanted to know if a product was a good one or not. You wanted to know if it was potentially viable in the marketplace. You might have thought you were testing your products or your niche, but in reality, you were looking to see if there were any viable keywords that related to that product or niche.

Let's go through the thought process:

  1. I have an idea of what to sell: Left-handed wind shifters
  2. I know that I'm going to create a site to sell the left-handed wind shifters, and that I'm going to have to promote that site.
  3. To promote it effectively, I want to know if there are search terms (keywords) that are in demand, but not flooded in competiton.
  4. If I can't find keywords that I can effectively use to promote, then maybe the niche itself is too narrow, too unknown, too obscure. Or, it could be too big, too broad, too crowded of a market. It's best for me to think of something else.

See? You're really researching keywords.

So, here are some times to do keyword analysis research that relate to your website:

1 - Keyword Checkup

Things shift, things change. That's the one thing that you can count on as a constant on the 'net. So, keywords that you thought were great when you started might not be the best ones six months or a year later.

A personal example: On one of my blogs, I had researched some keywords when I started, and I found that "Dutch Oven Cooking" was a good keyword. About a year later, I was revisiting my keywords and discovered that "Dutch Oven Recipes" was a stronger keyword, by the numbers. I was getting good ranking as it was, and I wasn't sure I should re-optimize. In the end, I did. My traffic and my AdSense revenues have multiplied five-fold since then.

2 - Blog entries, articles

Every time I write a blog article, when I'm done, I take a quick moment. I think of keywords that would be of interest to people searching for that kind of content. I jump in and do some quick keyword analysis research and find out how good they are, and which ones are the strongest. Then, I go back and rewrite a few sentences of the article so that they contain more of those keywords.

I did it while writing this article. Why do you think you're seeing "keyword analysis research" over and over? Oops, there it is again...

3 - Expanding a niche

Let's say that your website is about selling baseball memorabilia. You've been doing a good business with it, and you're established with good rankings. If you're thinking about expanding into football items, that would be a good time to research the keywords that relate to football.

4 - A whole new website

Let's carry on with the same example of the sports memorabilia site. If it's going well, and things are smooth, maybe you might want to expand in a totally different area. Maybe you want to sell cosmetics, or car parts. Those are so different from sports memorabilia that you'd really have to set up a second site, or even a third, to do both. So, when you're starting from scratch, you'll want to research from scratch as well. Time for more keyword analysis research.

The bottom line is that you'll want to be constantly exploring your keywords. If you do keyword analysis research enough, you'll find that it's very easy and you can get a good idea in just a few minutes instead of hours.

Then you can keep expanding and growing.

Mark also has other sites and blogs, including Mark's Black Pot - Dutch Oven Recipes, MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.

Mark's other blog posts: Save the Lawyer! A Book of Mormon Story, A Birthday Dutch Oven Gathering

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Using Google Analytics for Free Website Tracking

Google Analytics is, by far, the most extensive free website tracking system I've seen, and it's made even better by considering the price. Did I mention how much is it? Oh, yeah... It's FREE!

If you haven't yet installed Google Analytics in you website or your blog, I would recommend that you jump to it and do it right away. The rest of this article won't make much sense until you do, and until it has been running on your site for about a week or so.

Installing Google Analytics
Overview of Analytics main page

Once it has been running on your site for a while, you'll want to check your stats. There are a lot of different numbers, and a lot of different screens. Let me show you which ones I check on a regular basis.

The first one I look at is the visits. That's the default graph that shows up at the top when you first click into your reports. This will show you how many times your site was hit that day. Obviously, you want that to be as many as possible. It will grow, gradually, as you do more and more promotional strategies.

The next thing I always want to know is where my traffic is coming from. On the left navigation bar, I click on "Traffic Sources". There, I can see a list of all the top traffic sources, and all the top keywords that are bringing visitors to my site. If I want to study either one in detail, I can click on the "view full report" link. I can see which of my promotional strategies is bringing in the most clicking traffic.

I can also see which keywords are working the best for me. Sometimes, I've found that the keywords I assumed would be the best aren't the ones that bring me the most traffic. At that point, I have two choices. I can re-optimize for the keywords that my research showed was better, or I can re-optimize for the keywords that I can see are already working. In reality, a combination of both is probably the best way to go.

The last thing I look at on my typical daily checks is the content. It'll show me which pages are getting the most views. Again, sometimes this has surprised me, and shown me where to emphasize both my optimizing work in the future, as well as my monetizing efforts.

Advance research is great. It will prepare you for what's likely to happen. It's also very important to study what is actually happening and be able to adapt it, as well as adapt TO it! With free website tracking from Google Analytics, you can do it.

Mark also has other sites and blogs, including MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.