Michael Fleischner’s SEO Made Simple, a Book Review

Michael Fleischner’s SEO Made Simple

Michael Fleischner‘s SEO Made Simple is a terrific book about search engine optimization.

Michael Fleischner's SEO Made Simple

First of all, written in a straightforward and engaging style, Mr. Fleischner makes his point: in order to dominate search engine listings, you need to make yourself known. Furthermore, you need to get your keywords into your website (but not stuffed there!) in a logical and natural manner.

Yahoo and MSN

Mr. Fleischner’s sole focus is Google but he does talk a bit about Yahoo and MSN. Furthermore, the reason to zero in on Google is made immediately apparent by the fifteenth page: Google is dominant. Here’s how the percentages of search stack up (he got his numbers from comScore for SearchEngineWatch.com)

  • Google: 43.7%
  • Yahoo: 28.8%
  • MSN: 12.8%
  • AOL: 5.9%
  • Ask: 5.4%
  • Others: 3.4%

Hence Google matters – but so do Yahoo and MSN, particularly when you consider that, combined, their share is nearly identical to Google’s. Yet don’t worry: many of the techniques Mr. Fleischner advocates will help with your placement on those search engines, too.

White Hat

White hat techniques abound, everything from adding unique keywords on each page to making sure that your page’s overall design doesn’t keep the spiders and crawlers from doing their thing. And that’s just on-site optimization. In addition, he also covers off-site optimization, e. g. writing and distributing articles, or generating press releases.

Furthermore, interestingly enough, there is little to no information on working the social media angle, e. g. Tweeting the existence of new blog posts or announcing page updates, adding similar information to one’s LinkedIn or Facebook statuses, or creating a fan page for your work (or, better yet, getting someone else to do that). However, that is, in part, a function of this being a book and not an e-book – there’s a time lag between going to press and the actual production of a paper book. Hence information is sometimes not as fresh as desired.

Instincts

However, there’s still plenty in here, for the serious web entrepreneur and the hobbyist. In addition, for someone like me, one great piece of it was some validation that I’ve got pretty good instincts when it comes to my own social media website. Oh, and if you’re paying attention – you’ll see that I just practiced two of his techniques in this very paragraph.

Dominate Google and get noticed. It’s that simple.

Rating

4/5

Google+ Tips to Quickly Boost Results

Google+ Tips to Quickly Boost Results

Tips to Quickly Boost Results. Rebekah Radice of Canva offers some great ideas for how to improve your engagement on Google+, a social platform that even a lot of experienced social media managers can find rather confusing and daunting, and hard to break into.

Google+ Tips to Quickly Boost Results
Google Plus (Photo credit: ivanpw)

Images

It should come as no great shock that images are key. But that is true for pretty much all social media platforms these days. Posts without images are just contributing to the enormous tidal wave of text that we are all dealing with, all the time.

The 800 x 1200 size is optimal for Google+.

Share Fun, Inspirational and Educational Content

Well, sure, that makes sense. For most social media platforms, the mix should be of fun and smart content, with a smattering of inspirational. If your business is angel flights for children, you’ve got no shortage of inspirational content. If it’s The Daily Show, you’ll never have to hunt around for fun content. And if you’ve got Harvard to promote, you can get educational content.

Then there’s the rest of us.

But Radice has some great ideas for engagement, printed here in their entirety –

  • “Share your thoughts, expertise, mission, vision and values.
  • Give a nice shout out to your favorite blogs and websites.
  • Share inspirational thoughts, funny quotes and timely news stories.
  • Share other peoples content with context around it.
  • Don’t post and run away. Interact, connect and engage!
  • Be grateful. Thank people that share your content.
  • Be personable and share details about your business in a fun and interactive way.
  • Follow people within your industry and niche and create a conversation. Get to know them, share their content and spread the good word about their business. This creates reciprocity and more meaningful interactions.
  • Repurpose your content. Just because it’s old to you, doesn’t mean it’s not new to someone else.”

Optimize Your Profile

This includes adding details about what you do, links to your other online content, and sprucing up your profile/logo image and cover image.   The 2120 x 1192 size is optimal for Google+ cover images.

Return to Your Buyer Personae

Why are people on Google+? And how can you align your strategy, and what you provide, to what they want, need, and crave?

Don’t forget about Google Plus.

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Supercharging Your On-Line Presence

Supercharging Your On-Line Presence

Supercharging? Yes! This post is a riff on the February 2011 edition of Law Practice Today

About a thousand (er, twenty) years ago, I used to practice law. And,

supercharging
LinkedIn pen (Photo credit: TheSeafarer)

of course, things were far different then as opposed to now. But I have retained some of my old interests and connections, and would get the paper version of the ABA Journal for years after I had hung up my shingle.

Once a lot of that started to go online, I renewed my interest in any number of facets of law practice, in particular how it collides and dovetails with the Internet and, these days, Social Media.

Viral Marketing Gone Wrong

And I have seen enough tone-deaf Social Media campaigns (Able2know is rife with laughably bad viral marketing attempts, for example) to see the need for a publication like Law Practice Today to try to clear up some misconceptions and get lawyers going in a good — or at least non-harmful — online direction. What is great about this article is that it doesn’t just apply to attorneys.

Get Your Own Domain Name

The first point made in the article is: You need your own internet domain name. Well, yes. And it continues to surprise me when companies and individuals who are attempting to make a splash (or at least not appear to be totally out of it) online don’t do this. C’mon, people, domain names are cheap! Go to GoDaddy and buy one! You can direct WordPress to be posting through a domain name that has naught to do with WordPress. This is not too tough (hell, that’s what I’m doing with my blog), or you can hire someone to do this. It’s a lot, to me, like buying business cards with your actual name on them versus cards that just say “Lawyer”.

Rejuvenate Your Website

The next point is: Rejuvenate Your Website. No argument here. Stale websites are as appealing as stale bread. I am not saying that you need to update every minute or every day or even every week but I see an awful lot of abandoned blogs and websites out there — or at least they appear to be, as their most recent changes occurred in 2010. That means it’s been at least nearly two months since anyone changed them. Surely there is news, or at least even cosmetic changes would give one’s readership/potential clients a feeling that someone was minding the store.

Use a Good Profile Picture

Point number three is: Your picture is worth a thousand words. A good picture is, well, good. You might not be able to afford to hire a professional as the article suggests. That’s okay if you at least get a decent photographer friend to take a lot of pictures. How many? How’s one hundred? Lighting varies. You might not smile perfectly the first time. Your tie might be crooked. Your hair might be flying in your face. You might not be looking directly at the camera. There are any number of reasons why a photo can go wrong. And get your pal to snap photos of you in various places, doing various things, so long as they are germane to the site. For a lawyer, that could be in the office, or in front of a courthouse or in front of the office building or with colleagues or alone. After all, with a good hundred photos, you might end up with several usable ones. If there are choices in different locations, you can use them to make different points on your site.

Fill Out All About Me and Profile Pages

Point number four is: It’s All About Me. That is, create an “About Me” page. There’s a place to put a photograph or two, eh? It doesn’t have to be long, but give it a little personality. Be sensible, of course. This is probably not the place (assuming you’re a lawyer) to tout your ninja skills. But if you play tennis or have two kids or are from Omaha, by all means, those things are perfectly fine here. Otherwise, you’re just nameless, faceless Joe or Jane Lawyer — and I, as your prospective client, can find a million of them.

Give Visitors Take Aways

The next point is: Give visitors something to “take away” from your blog. Me, I write articles and I allow the reprint rights. So if my experiences can help you, then by all means reprint my articles, and I wish you well, so long as you respect my rights in the matter.

Work on SEO

The next point is: Build a (Free) Google Profile. Here’s mine. Meh, I’m not so sure it helps me so much, but that’s probably also because I’ve made SEO efforts elsewhere. Still, for an SEO beginner, or someone with a limited budget, this is easy and free and it takes nearly no time.

Here’s another point: Make Sure You Advertise on Google Local. I felt no need to do this, but I’m not trying to push ecommerce directly through my site and blog. Your mileage will, undoubtedly, vary.

LinkedIn

Next point: Be LinkedIn. Hell yeah. Here’s my LinkedIn profile. Yes, I will link to you – just send me a request. Also, I have found that LinkedIn is an excellent way to get to know people attending an event with you. If you can get a hold of the guest list in advance (and with Eventbrite, evite and others, you can), look those people up on LinkedIn. Hey, you might have something in common with them, their photo might be up so that you can recognize them and they might be someone you’d like to know, either personally or professionally.

Gather Business Intelligence

Then there’s the penultimate point: Use Social Networks To Gather Business Intelligence. People share all sorts of stuff these days. Want to know if someone is moving? Going on vacation? Selling their business? Changing jobs? A lot of that information is out there, free for the taking. And other things are out there, if you know how to dig. I’m not suggesting that you turn yourself into a creepy stalker but if a possible client is tweeting about buying land, and you’ve got a real estate practice, well, do I really have to connect the dots for you?

Tell People the News (About You or Anything Else of Interest)

Here’s the last point: Be the Evening News. The idea is, broadcast youtube-type stuff, either your own or pass along others’. Agreed, but I wouldn’t overdo this, particularly not at the expense of other types of content, which are generally easier for Google to index (and for you to get an SEO bounce from). But by all means, if it adds value (there’s a big if right there. I adore the Old Spice Guy but he does not help me on my site), add it.

The bottom line, I think is: don’t be afraid. Yes, the Internet can bite you. But it can also be quite a good friend to you

supercharging

Social Media Continues its Relentless Pace to Try to Make You Stay Put

Social Media Continues its Relentless Pace to Try to Make You Stay Put

It’s a relentless pace out there. And much like the holidays accelerate the end of the year, and we suddenly look up on January 7th or so and wonder just what the hell just happened, social media is continuing to not so much reap the whirlwind as to be the whirlwind. But at the same time, there’s an effort afoot to slow down and control the whirlwind.

Twitter

Social Media Continues its Relentless Pace to Try to Make You Stay Put
English: Infographic on how Social Media are being used, and how everything is changed by them. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Case in point: Twitter‘s recent changes are designed to keep people on as long as possible. They do this by embedding media more directly and making it so that you don’t have to leave Twitter’s embrace in order to enjoy a clip or a photograph. So far, so good. But shortened URLs allow for more malware exploits. It’s like one step forward, a step back and another one to the side.

Facebook

Facebook, yet again, looks to change its layout. The profile is going to become richer and provide more information. This may or may not be useful to users but it will certainly keep them on longer. At least, that will happen in the beginning, when it’s a novel concept.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is adding Signal to make it easier to track even more of the social media avalanche – and, of course, to try to keep people on LinkedIn as long as possible.

What these changes have in common, other than, perhaps, novelty for the sake of novelty, is the desire to keep people on site as long as possible. Put some tar down, and have us all stick, at least for a while.

So while the Internet spins ever faster, and social media sites attempt to keep up, their overall strategies seem to try to slow us all down. Will it work? Is it a foolish dream to think you can keep people around with such tricks, such slick bells and whistles?

Lack of Content

What disturbs me is that there’s not a lot of content happening. And it would, could, should make me want to hang around. Instead of hiring writers to improve things, or rewarding good current content providers, each of the big three sites is instead pursuing a software solution. But what’s the sense in hanging around a site if the content isn’t compelling? Or are we, instead, merely getting the sites that we, perhaps, deserve?

Hence here’s what happens if my Facebook friends list is dominated by people I went to High School with over thirty years ago. Their status updates and my wall are dominated by news of their birthdays, their children and their careers. But isn’t that what’s to be expected? And if I instead tip my list in a different direction, and it’s suddenly dominated by the people I work with or diet with or do artwork with, the news is going to be different.

Comparison to Reality TV

One thing about Reality TV is that it’s anything but real if it’s at all successful. Because people just, generally, don’t lead terribly interesting lives (yes, you too, gentle reader). We pick up the dry cleaning. Or we bicker over the remote. We forget to buy sausages and make do with hot dogs. And around and around and around we go. And all three of the big social media sites, when we are not following celebrities and businesses, are really just a big agglomeration of Post-It Notes whereby we tell each other to grab milk on the way home. For “Reality” to be compelling at all, it’s got to be unreal, and scripted. It must be turned into this fight or that rose ceremony or this other weird pancake-making challenge.

The big three social media sites, when you strip away the celebrities and the companies, can be a boatload of errands or a standard-form holiday letter. You know the kind, where you’re told little Suzie has taken up the clarinet. Over and over ad infinitum.

No wonder we need software solutions to keep us there.

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Time-saving Tips from the Angels at HootSuite

Time-saving Tips from the Angels at HootSuite

Time-saving Tips? Sign me up!

Everybody’s busy.

Time-saving Tips
HootSuite Owl Van (Photo credit: Scott Beale)

Here are some time-saving tips from the angels at HootSuite. Everybody’s got a lot on their plate. Not to worry. HootSuite to the rescue, to help you manage all of those little social media bits and bobs that we all deal with, every day.

Make an Influencer List

Or just a list of important folks.  Or people who can help you succeed. Whatever you want to call it, use Twitter (or HootSuite itself), to separate the wheat from the chaff. If you’ve only got five minutes to look at your social media streams, populate this list with the people you absolutely, positively must read.

Curate Content and Auto-Schedule Using the Hootlet

It’s a little Chrome extension, and all you have to do is, click the owl, pull down on the drop-down to select the stream(s) you want to add the content to (just like in the full-blown version of HootSuite), modify the content if you wish, and either schedule manually or click schedule or Auto-Schedule.

Frankly, I’m having trouble envisioning how HootSuite could make it any easier.

Add Content at the Right Time for the Right Network

HootSuite says this so well that I’ll just quote it in its entirety –

Consider planning your posting to meet these times. For Google+ the highest engagement comes from 9-11 a.m., so maybe you can connect with a follower during breakfast. For Twitter it’s 1-3 p.m. and for Facebook it’s 1-4 p.m., perfect times to engage one or two users during your lunch break. For Pinterest it’s 8-11 p.m., and Instagram 5-6 p.m. —after work hours when you can likely spare a few minutes to interact with your following. When you don’t have time to use social media while you work, it helps to fit it in during quick breaks.”

I would add, make sure to keep these times in mind when auto-scheduling.

Share and Repurpose Great Content

This is what I’m doing right now!  In his great book, Optimize, Lee Odden advises, in Chapter 9, to adopt an “Oreo Cookie Tactic”.  That is, take content and add your own introduction and conclusion, with the content placed in between and properly attributed, of course (see page 118).

I love this tactic, not only because it is an easier way to add content (particularly when inspiration is harder to come by), but also because it promotes the Rule of Thirds, e. g. one-third of social media content should be about the content creator’s wisdom being imparted, one-third should be the content creator’s personality, and the final third should be the promotion of others’ content.

Evan Page has written an excellent article and I highly recommend that you read the original source material as well. His Time-saving Tips never seem to go out of style.

The Conquest of LinkedIn – Your Profile Page

The Conquest of LinkedIn – Your Profile Page

What’s with your Profile Page?

You’re doing it. And you’ve got your resume up. You’re answering questions. And you’re joining groups. You’re even meeting people offline. But you aren’t getting an enormous number of invitations to connect.

LinkedIn Profile Page
LinkedIn (Photo credit: Christopher S. Penn)

Or, perhaps, you’re blogging and tweeting. But you’re not getting a lot of readers in either medium. And you’d love to get some of your LinkedIn buddies to read some of your stuff. Maybe you want to use your writing and social media skills as a part of your overall job search strategy.

So the most obvious place to look, and to fix, is your Profile page.

Just like with a resume, a news story, or even if you were trying to sell your home, it pays to spruce up the first thing people see. Hence special care should be taken, as this is your first (and it may very well be your only) chance to make an impression. There are any number of things you can do to assure that this impression is a positive one.

Driving Traffic

And, you can even use it to help you drive a little traffic to your own website and/or blog. Here’s how:

  • Make sure that you make use of all available fields, and customize these as you are able.
  • Next, list your blog.
  • and I also recommend adding Twitter.

So assuming that your resume has been integrated in its entirety, your next task should be to update the summary and specialties sections in your profile page. First of all, the specialties section is essentially just for keywords, so load them up. However, the summary section should be more grammatical. So don’t make it an old-fashioned and generic personal statement. Instead, highlight your main differences here.

Finally, with a little polish, your front door (profile page) can look mighty inviting to all.

Next: Groups and Answers.

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Community Management Tidbits – Look at Me! Look at Me!

Community Management Tidbits – Look at Me! Look at Me!

Look at Me!

Ah, marketing.

We’ve all seen it done well, and we’ve all seen it done not so well, and even downright poorly. Now let’s look at applying it to your extant community.

Look at Me
English: a chart to describe the search engine market (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A poorly executed marketing strategy cannot only turn off your preexisting users; it can also get your site marked as a Spammer. And the scarlet S can get your site unceremoniously dumped from Google. And that means, essentially, the equivalent of the death of the site.

Long story short: don’t spam

In order to effectively market your community, you need to cover three kinds of SEO/Marketing. Those are onsite, offsite and offline. Onsite will be covered later in this series, and that information will not be repeated herein. Plus, it may seem a tad counter-intuitive, but onsite SEO is not that big of a deal. Yes, you need good keywords and you need good content. But after that, your optimization and marketing efforts need to move offsite.

Offsite Marketing

Offsite can be divided into three areas:

  1. Directories and Search Engines
  2. Social Bookmarking and Networking Sites and
  3. Linkbacks.

Directories and Search Engines

Let’s start with directories and search engines. You must submit your site to Google. However, don’t submit to any other search engines. Why? Because others’ share of the market is virtually nonexistent. Hence this is a waste of your time, and they will likely pick up your site from Google anyway. So don’t use a blasting service. Heavens, no. You don’t need it and it is absolutely not worth it.

Directories are even easier. For general interest sites, you can start with only submitting to two.

  1. Technorati – only use this if you have a blog. Just submit your blog and copy in the code they give you, and
  2. Alexa – this is less vital than the other one and the metrics are not that great, but it is a free and easy thing to do.

Other directories you can submit to (depending upon your site’s overall purpose) include places like Universal Business Listing, Google Places, CitySearch and Yelp. It can be best to do well locally and rise to the top of the search engine rankings for specific search terms like, say, Indiana Relationship Forums, than to attempt to break into the top rankings for a more general terms, such as Relationship Forums. Consider directories in other languages, too!

Social Bookmarking and Networking

Social Bookmarking and Networking are different animals. Much like for search engines, there is a huge panoply out there, plus it’s tempting to just blast out information. Don’t. You don’t need to.

Only submit your site (and your blog, if you have one) to the following social bookmarking sites:

Forget the dozens of others unless there is a very specific and perfect match between your site and what they bookmark. Because they are mostly tiny, they can be spam factories and they are generally just not worth your time and effort.

Social Networks

Social networking implies more interactivity, and not just voting links up or down, perhaps laced with the occasional comment.

While there are international ones (and if you’ve got a perfect match between your content and their focus, then by all means establish a presence thereat), you really only care about the following:

  • Facebook – an official fan page helps for any number of reasons. First of all, it can make your site known to friends, family members, business colleagues and any other connections to your site’s currently existing users. And you can use it to post photographs and links directly back to your site. Furthermore, you can use it as a rallying point during both expected (and unexpected) site outages.
  • Twitter – even if your users are not, generally, on Twitter, it is still a useful marketing tool. Try feeding in a slice of the site via RSS. Just like with Facebook, this can expand the network of persons who know about your site.
  • LinkedIn – if your site is attached to a going concern, then at minimum make sure the company listing on LinkedIn is correct. And make sure all of the company’s employees directly linkg their profiles to it. Furthermore, make sure your site’s blog and Twitter stream are configured to feed it updates.

More Social Networks

  • Pinterest – demographics skew heavily female and over thirty-five. Got a restaurant? A shoe store? Wedding products or services? Go to Pinterest – but only if you’ve got excellent images.
  • Got great images but less of a female-centric slant? Consider Instagram instead.
  • Tumblr – demographics skew heavily under thirty-five and even under twenty-five. Got a video game? An indie film? Go to Tumblr.
  • Snapchat – demographics skew toward teens and tweens? Consider this fast-moving site.
  • Google+ – helpful for more than just communities, Google+ pages can bump up your placement in Google search results.

BackLinking

Backlinking is where you get others to add your site link to their own websites. Back-links help a great deal as Google gives them weight when determining your site’s importance. And that is directly linked to search placement.

Blogs

For your blog, add a blogroll of other sites you admire. Just as importantly, post comments on those sites. This provides value to those other people, so they are more likely to spontaneously wish to link back to you. In addition, don’t leave it all to happenstance. Put a link on your site and approach the webmaster of that site and politely ask for a back-link. Some people are happy to oblige. Others are not, so remove their links from your site after a reasonable amount of time. Some may simply think about it, so give them a little time.

And be reasonable, but also be reasonable with yourself. If you’re not getting link-backs, try to figure out why. Are your requests too aggressive? Or do you ask people with wholly unrelated sites? Do you, perhaps, have no content (or no meaningful content) for them to associate with? Look at your site with a critical eye before throwing in the towel.

Offline Marketing and Optimization

Offline marketing and optimization means going back to techniques used before – shudder – there even was an Internet. Before computers even existed.

Depending upon your budget and your site’s overall purpose, offline marketing can range from something as simple as business cards or baseball caps or tee shirts with the site’s logo to a 30-second spot during the Super Bowl. It can even be completely free. After all, any time you mention your site to someone else, didn’t you just market it?

Look, sitting back and waiting for your site to take off will almost never work. You need to market it, particularly in the beginning. Get your name out there!

Next: Snakes in the Garden

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Community Management Tidbits – Get Together

Community Management Tidbits – Get Together

Community Management Tidbits – Get Together – Life online is all well and good. Many of us spend large chunks of our time connected, whether that is via a desktop PC, a smart phone, a laptop, or a tablet. Newer technologies will, undoubtedly, make it even easier to get and stay connected.

Community Management Tidbits - Get Together
Flickr Meet #3 – Nottingham (Photo credit: CraigMarston)

But sometimes you’ve just gotta say: Stop the Internet, I want to get off!

Of course you go offline every night for bed (you do, don’t you?), at the absolute minimum. But there’s more to it than that.

When your community has been around for a significant period of time (say, a year), your users are going to, naturally, be curious about meeting one another. In person. With no screens dividing them.

And this is excellent. It is a sign of the community jelling. You should encourage this. Or, if you like, you can even suggest a meeting yourself.

Informal Gatherings

For informal gatherings, there is little, if anything, that you need to do. If you can attend, great! And if you can’t, ask people to take pictures. However, remind your users they should get permission before they take any photographs and post them online. Furthermore, if there will be minors present, emphasize that photographs of them really should not appear online. Be prepared, if the child’s parents ask, to remove such photographs if they end up on your site. But that’s about it.

Formal Gatherings

Formal gatherings allow for a lot more dazzle. A get together can be as expensive or cheap as you like. Your attendees might wish to reserve a block of hotel rooms, or even a hall. Or you might just need to make reservations at a restaurant.

Or you could think outside the restaurant, and consider a visit to a museum, historical attraction or nature preserve. Your group might enjoy attending, say, a minor league baseball game (it’s often a nominal fee to get your site or company mentioned on the scoreboard or over the public address system. Usually this takes the form of a charitable donation).

Or your users might even enjoy a potluck, or a cruise, or a bowling tournament for fun. They might like to run a 5K race (or just watch) or even attend lectures or form a book group. And they might even enjoy helping to build a house for charity or volunteer at a soup kitchen for the day. The only limits are your imagination and the focus of your community. Because a forum devoted to young mothers, for example, might enjoy a gathering where they can bring their children. Whereas a board focusing on a hip hop artist might prefer attending a concert.

Swag

For a gathering (in particular, for one specifically planned and sanctioned by you), it’s nice to bring swag. That is, forum- or company-specific merchandise. Make it free for the taking! Hats, tee shirts, frisbees, key chains, whatever you like. The young mothers’ forum might like diaper bags or onesies. That hip hop forum might like licensed mix CDs, or special music that they can download. Just give them the URL and a key or password, so they can get it exclusively, at least to start. And, it’s not a problem if people begin to share the URL and the password. Because you want them to do this.

Gatherings are fun. It’s enjoyable to finally see and personally interact with people you only know from online. Once you’ve heard their voices and seen their mannerisms in the flesh, you’ll never read their posts the same way again.

Next: Scaling

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Community Management Tidbits – Freshening Up

Community Management Tidbits – Freshening Up

Community Management Tidbits – Freshening Up – Communities go through any number of cycles, so it is inevitable — the forum becomes stale.

Community Management Tidbits - Freshening Up
Screenshot of phpbb in use on a games forum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are a few things you can do. First off, try to see it coming before it happens.

Say what?

Yes, it’s possible, although it’s not necessarily reliable. How? Check your site metrics. Now, there are natural variations all the time. A bad day or two is not necessarily an indicator of trouble, even if those days come in the same week, or even one right after the other.

Time the Avenger

The real issue is a decline over time. The two main metrics you care about are time on site and the percentage of new users versus returning ones. There is nothing wrong with having a lot of returning users. It’s a forum, and people get comfortable and will to want to keep coming back if the comradery is good. However, you do need to get a relatively constant stream of new users. As for time on site, check the average, and see if it has been declining over time. This is over a significant period of time as in: over the course of about a quarter of a year.

Follow the Bouncing User

Hand in hand with both of these metrics is a third: bounce rate. Bounce rate is defined as a visitor coming to only one page prior to exiting the site. You’re a lot more likely to see a higher bounce rate if you attract a lot of new users (e. g. they see what they want immediately — or don’t — and then depart). A lower bounce rate is generally a more positive metric. Hence, as you can see, in this instance, the converse may be true.

Therefore you should have some notice when things stagnate. Even if you don’t track your metrics too closely, you should follow your users. Are they not making too many new topics of any sort? Or are they complaining? Are they leaving?

But once you know, and it doesn’t matter how you determine that the community is stagnating, what do you do?

Don’t Panic

Don’t panic. This is relatively normal. One thing you should do, though, is determine whether it is a seasonal issue. As the weather improves in the time zone(s) where most of your users live and work, they will go outside and — gasp! — go offline. In that instance, don’t worry, the users will come around again. But there’s no reason why you can’t practice a few of these techniques anyway, in order to be proactive. Fortunately, if that’s what’s going on, it’s far less dire.

So let’s assume that the weather and the season are not factors. Your percentage of new users is down and has been declining. Your users’ time on the site is tanking. They’re leaving. And the ones who are staying are bored, angry and restless. Worse still, they’ve taken to causing trouble in order to entertain themselves.

Techniques

Here are a few techniques:

  • Improve your SEO – attracting more users will help to replace the departing ones.
  • While you’re at it, target your SEO better. E. g. let’s say you have a forum about relationships, but not a lot of gay and lesbian users? Try adding keywords about, getting link-backs from sites that feature, and get listed on directories that cater to: gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgender individuals.

Purchasing Another Forum

  • Consider purchasing a smaller forum that caters to the new users you hope to add. There are plenty of small forums out there for sale. Look for not only a targeted forum at a good price, but also an active one. Prepare the forums by telling your original forum that new people are coming. You can even tell them which kind of community they come from. Ask your extant members to be welcoming.
  • As for the board you are absorbing, diplomatically tell them about the transfer. Do this in as many places as possible so that as many people as possible see it. If that forum has a blog or a newsletter, use it to communicate this. Expect consternation, and expect some people to leave without giving the other forum even a chance.

Avoid Duplicate Accounts

  • Check your database, to be sure that you do not bring in what the database will think of as duplicate records. Whether your primary key is username or email address, or something else, compare the extant member list to the member list of the community you’ve purchased. For any duplicates, give the members of the board you’re absorbing the chance to rectify the situation by asking them to select a new username or email account (or whatever else you may be using as your database’s primary key) in advance by sending them a private message. Do not tell them where they are going as you can end up with even more duplicate records if the absorbed users create new accounts at your currently existing forum.

    So keep it on the QT. And, to make it easier on yourself,

    1. have a contingency plan for any records that are still duplicate (e. g. you tell the absorbed user and they fail to timely help you to fix the problem, and,
    2. keep the lead time short, as in less than a month.

New Features

  • Add new features. What kinds of features? Blogs, skins and groups are all great features to add if you don’t already have them. Spread them around and only offer one at any given time so that you have reserve magic rabbits you can pull out of your hat, or
  • Ask your users! Really? Yes. Send out a survey or conduct a poll, or just open up a topic or a blog post, asking: what would you like to see on the site? Some users will be flippant, but many more will take you seriously. And, most importantly, listen to your users! If you can implement any of the changes they request, see if you can do so over time. And if you can implement more than one, do so in stages (with the more important or more requested one being done first) so that the new features can keep coming. If you cannot, explain why. Your users will (mostly) understand. Some of them may even be able to assist you with implementation.

Communities, like anything else, can become a little flat. It’s like any other party. If a party gets dull, and it’s not yet time for everyone to go home, you bring out different foods, change up the music or even break out the board games or call other friends to come over. It’s not much different with an online party. You’ve got to keep it lively.

Next: Get-Togethers

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Community Management Tidbits – Analytics

Community Management Tidbits – Analytics

Community Management Tidbits – Analytics are a term that scares a lot of people. Don’t panic.

You’ve got a community. And you’re working hard on it. It’s growing. But you have no idea whether what you’re doing is having any sort of an impact whatsoever. This is where analytics comes in.

Community Management Tidbits - Analytics
Google Analytics: How to Identify Top Content Posts (Photo credit: IvanWalsh.com)

Now, don’t panic if you don’t have a data analysis background. It’s not strictly necessary. What you do need, though, are (a) a means of measurement (preferably you should have a few of these) and (b) the willingness to measure. Really, it’s that easy. You do not need a degree in Advanced Statistics.

Google Analytics

First of all, the primary measurement stick you want is Google Analytics. And it is free and very easy to use. It’s also a rather robust measurement system, showing trends in Visitors, Absolute Unique Visitors, and more. In addition, it shows, among other things, where your traffic is coming from, where your users land, and where they departed your site from. It also shows Bounce Rate, which is defined by Measurement Guru Avinash Kaushik as, “I came, I saw, I puked.” In other words, only one page of the site was viewed.

Compete

Yet another place for measurement is Compete. Since Compete gathers data for a good six months before you get anything useful, be sure to set it up as soon as possible. Compete’s virtue is that it allows for a comparison between you and up to two of your competitors at a time, assuming they are also on Compete. And a comparison of trends over time can be extremely enlightening.

Alexa

And another yardstick (albeit a far less useful one) is Alexa. Alexa really only works well for anyone using Alexa’s own toolbar for their search. Still, it is of some use, and it is free. Hence as an aside, ask your users if they will prepare a write-up about your site on Alexa.

More Yardsticks

Furthermore, there are also measuring websites specifically designed to help you comprehend how you’re doing on Twitter, namely:

  • Link Diagnosis – measure backlinks
  • HootSuite – count the number of clicks you receive on shortened URLs, to supplement your Google Analytics click counts
  • Hubspot – measure how influential you are and
  • Tweet Reach – measure how many people are receiving your tweets and any retweetings of your messages.

Using Your Findings

So what do you do with all of this information once you’ve amassed it? Why, you act upon it! Does one page on your site have a far higher Bounce Rate than the others? Check it and see if the links on it are all leading users away from your site. If that’s not the culprit, perhaps its content isn’t compelling enough. Got a series of links you’ve tweeted that have consistently gotten you the most clicks? Then check to see what they all have in common, and offer similar links in the future. And maybe even build some onsite content around those subjects. Has your Hubspot grade tanked in the past week? That might be due to external factors beyond your control, but check to see if any of it is within your purview. Perhaps your server was down.

Finally, small fluctuations over short time periods are perfectly normal and are no cause for concern. However, much larger hikes and drops, or trends over longer time periods, are more of an issue. But you’ll never know about any of these things unless you start to take measurements, and read and use them.

Next: From Small Things.

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