The death of SEO as we know it

First of all, assume that Google is God and knows everything you do, and the intent behind it. Google essentially wants to kill off artificial SEO, and with good reason. Artificial SEO has become a major industry, peopled by marketers and SEO promoters who clog the Internet every day with nonsense posts, poor-quality articles that are not written to journalistic standards and packed with keywords, websites and directories that are manufactured purely for the purpose of generating artificially placed links, and phony “private blog networks” that all send links to one another.

Those tactics worked for a while, but thankfully, Google is on to the people who promote these schemes, and with any luck, those sorts of promotions will die a quiet death. Nonetheless, today the marketplace is still full of “SEO specialists” who offer $99 specials, which result in thousands of those spammy links in articles that appear to have been written by an algorithm rather than a real journalist. The result of course, is a high inbound link count – but at the end of the day, that will no longer help you.

One single unlinked brand mention in an A-list publication, within the body of an article written to the highest journalistic standards, is worth more than a hundred spammy backlinks. The people offering the $99 SEO specials cannot get you those types of brand mentions.

Every since Google’s Panda update, link farms have taken a hit, and the “link juice” that the SEO promoters mislead you into thinking are relevant, has taken a back seat to something more meaningful, but more difficult to achieve. Back when SEO meant manufacturing as many inbound links as possible from any source available, content was meaningless, and the Internet quickly became a vast wasteland of nonsense and spam. The fact that the link was there was the end game in itself, and the context in which it was placed was never considered.

Since Panda, brand mentions – even with no link – and the legitimacy of the source are taken into account by the Google algorithm, and in fact, if your ratio of inbound links to unlinked brand mentions is too high (nearly every mention is a link), Google will rightly assume that you are artificially spamming the Internet, and you’ll take a hit.

Today’s best practice is moving SEO into the realm of real public relations. Less focus on generating inbound links, and more focus on getting legitimate brand mentions in real articles written by real journalists is what will do the trick.


SEO and content marketing that works

Go onto any job board for writers and creatives, and you’ll see hundreds of jobs posted by startup wannabes who read some guru’s book, and decided that they can get rich by creating a web site, using “black hat” SEO and filling it with cheap articles that are so packed full of keywords that they no longer has any real meaning.

Keyword packing doesn’t work any more. The fact is, a well-written short article of 500 to 1000 words can be a great way to market your product or service. It’s called knowledge-based marketing, and the operative word is “knowledge” But there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about that content marketing, and unfortunately, there are far too many books and seminars out there that are telling you the wrong way to do it. Those articles should present you as a thought leader. Your primary goal shouldn’t be to pack them full of keywords – your primary goal is to create something of publication-quality, which provides useful and unique information to your audience, gives them something they didn’t already know and potentially solves a problem, answers a question, or entertains them.

Here’s the predominant business model being sold by those gurus: Find a subject, any subject. Let’s take toenail fungus. Make a quick-and-dirty website. Do some keyword research and find the top 100 keywords related to toenail fungus, and then hire somebody to write 100 articles of 500 words each, each one repeating a single keyword 50 times within the article, and pay the writer five bucks an article. Or, worse yet, hire somebody to write ten articles, then put each one through an “article spinner” ten times to churn the words around just enough to make the resulting spun articles seem different enough to Google’s spider. Put some Google AdSense blocks on every page, and wait for the money to roll in. When it doesn’t roll in, hire an SEO expert who will place artificial inbound links in a link farm network of other websites.

Those riches will never roll in. You have wasted your money.

Hiring writers to produce articles at a penny a word doesn’t work any more, either. Sure, you can get writers to produce five-dollar articles all day long, but that’s the heart of the problem – your website will be full of five-dollar articles. You may as well create a computer program to put words on the page at random – it will be just as effective. Professional writers who produce useful, intelligent and compelling copy don’t work for a penny a word. If you want real thought leadership, you need to hire a writer that is a thought leader – not a penny-a-word hack.

Third, inbound links only help you when they come from real websites – link farms don’t work. Building up your count of sites linking in to your webpage is not something an SEO provider can do overnight, despite their claims to the contrary. In reality, building up those links is more of a public relations task than it is an SEO task. It comes from real engagement, and a legitimate presence on other sites – it comes from placing meaningful commentary on forums, getting quoted in feature stories, and having your own meaningful guest posts hosted by legitimate online publications. Black-hat SEO experts can’t do that type of work. If you want those inbound links, hire a PR agent.

SEO is not a mechanical process. It’s a creative one, and it takes time and costs money to do right.



Fragmented marketing doesn’t make the cut

In the “Mad Men” days and until very recently, companies orchestrated their marketing campaigns from a unified perspective, and usually through a single agency that handled everything from strategy, to branding and messaging, copywriting, design and execution. It worked well – because every person who touched any aspect of the campaign worked from a common strategy, and from a common messaging foundation. The message the public saw on a television commercial had the same theme and brand as the messages seen in print or online. Companies that are serious about marketing still use this strategy, although there has been an unfortunate tendency to stray away from it.

Marketing today has taken on a highly specialized focus, often with multiple providers, each one providing a single piece of the puzzle, and often with no communication at all between them. The results are unfortunate. When the company’s CMO says, “Hey, we need social media!” They go out and hire a social media expert. A video company is brought in to create a YouTube video, a graphic artist to create artwork and a logo, a copywriter to write copy, a website designer to create a new website, and an SEO guy to juice the search engine, each one a separate freelancer or separate small agency. Before you know it, there are ten completely separate creative professionals or service firms, each going in a different direction, with no communication or coordination between them. The social media guy doesn’t feel a need to talk to the web designer, the copywriter doesn’t want to talk with the social media guy, and the logo designer in Mumbai doesn’t speak English.

The obvious question is, why do website companies focus only on design? Why don’t they have copywriters on staff? The copy on the website is every bit as important, if not more important, than the look, feel and navigability. Depending on the client to provide the copy is a recipe for disaster – and the end result is often a great-looking website with unconvincing copy that doesn’t get the expected results.

By the same token, social media should never exist in isolation, yet too many times, it does. The social media manager often operates in stovepipe mode off in a corner somewhere, completely separate from public relations and media outreach – but what drives social media growth? Good posts on Facebook only go so far, and Facebook growth doesn’t happen just because you write good posts and throw in a picture of a kitten every now and then. Growth happens because people from outside Facebook find out about you and like you, and in that respect, social media and traditional public relations in the form of outreach to print, broadcast and online media need to operate together, from a common strategy and with a common goal.

Despite the proliferation of individual specialized providers, best practices in marketing are still the same as they always were—operate from a unified strategy, with a single branding and messaging platform across all tactics.



Indiana crowdfunding news and updates

Indiana has joined its neighbors in a growing list of states – Wisconsin and Michigan among them – to benefit from crowdfunding and related small business opportunities, with a law designed to rev up economic development and entrepreneurship. At Ugly Dog Media, we’re excited to be leading at the forefront on equity crowdfunding and what it means for local businesses and investors.

Our Indiana Crowdfunding project has been months in the making, and focuses on how the intrastate investment exemption, sometimes called the “crowdfunding law,” permits certain equity investment opportunities previously unavailable under federal Securities and Exchange Commission rules that govern investor qualifications and requirements. Learn more here.

Some Indiana businesses may now accept an unlimited numbers of investors without regard to their accreditation – but with very specific caps on how much money residents can invest and companies can raise. You can learn more here on our Ugly Dog Media website, see our new crowdfunding website – that’s a “coming soon” portal – or like us on Facebook at Indiana Crowdfunding.

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @IndCrowdFund, and keep an eye out for the results of our 2012-2014 equity crowdfunding survey and the insights we’ve learned!



Who’s the ugliest dog in South Bend?

When people see our office dog Pladook, they always say he’s not so ugly. That may be true, but we want to know who the ugliest mutt in town really is. This year, Ugly Dog Media is once again hosting the Ugly Dog Contest as part of DTSB’s “First Friday” event, titled “Dog Days of Summer”.

The event will be held in downtown South Bend on June 6.

We will be set up on the gridiron in front of the former Football Hall of Fame, and you can register on Ugly Dog’s Facebook page, or come by and register your pooch onsite beginning at 5 p.m. Our show will start at 7 p.m. and go until 8:30 p.m.

Lucy, Winner of the 2012 Ugliest Dog Competition

Lucy, Winner of Ugliest Dog Competition (2012)

If your dog’s not one of those snaggle-toothed, drooling mutts that make you recoil in horror, don’t worry, you can still enter. Besides a grand prize for the ugliest dog, we’re also offering prizes on the day of the event for cutest dog, dog who looks most like its owner, best-dressed dog and cutest puppy. Come on down and join the fun! Even if you don’t have a dog, you can enjoy the show.

This year Drewrys Beer sponsors our event, and we’ll have some great prizes from our co-sponsors including South Bend Silver Hawks and Downtown Comedy Connection. Guest judges include Jasmine Norwood of ABC57 and Acting Mayor Mark Neal, as well as pet lover extraordinaire Valerie Schey.


If you like what you see, and your company needs event planning and public relations, please stop by and talk with us on June 6, or give us a call any time at 574-344-2056.


Activate Interactivity

It’s nice to be able to blame my job for the inordinate amount of time I spend thinking about the design of web pages. We are working on revamping our own website and we always have some microsite development projects on the table. When developing a client website completely from scratch recently, I reflected on the process and how web design has evolved.

There are tons of factors, choices, options, styles, etc. to consider and yet, like Occam’s razor, the simplest option is almost always correct. This is definitely the growing trend that I am seeing. By “simple,” I actually mean, “clean.” Clean design is the preferred method, because the content is the real star of your website. The reason I make the distinction between clean and simple is because you can make something that looks very clean but uses a great deal of sophistication. For me, I think the sweet spot is a style that is modest (or understated) and elegant and uses color sparingly in order to cut down on clashing. Also, I want a website to be graceful, and this has to do with movement.

Lately I’ve been giving a ton of thought to ways to make a site interactive. Interactivity is a multi-faceted issue itself. It relates to providing opportunities for users to give feedback on your content and then persuading users to become involved in the discussion. It involves the way a person relates to the website. EIther everything you need as a user is right in front of your face, so you don’t have to scroll around the web page, or, as I’m inclined to at the moment, building a page that has scrollability (i.e. encourages scrolling), which is another form of interaction that can have a profound impact on a user.

I’m thinking about ways to get people more involved in the experience of a website. Why do people play video games? Why do people find themselves losing hours on Facebook? They are physically and mentally engaged in the activity. That’s what it’s all about. So, I’m thinking of ways to make websites more like video games….this could go on forever.


Inspired by LIFE

I collect old issues of LIFE magazine from thrift and consignment stores when I come across them. Frankly I think they’re brilliant for inspiration and decoration. As a PR and marketing professional, I am always looking for great design, powerful copy, and vivid imagery to learn from and the pages of LIFE are chalk full of the triumvirate. There are plenty of aspects to focus on in discussing the magazine, but we’re going to focus on the advertisements, specifically, because that’s what we do.

The magazine was built around photographers. Then skilled writers were called in to cram important information into text blocks and short captions. LIFE magazine is simply one of the smoothest road maps to good marketing. The visual arrests the audience and the words drive the message home. The combined effect lingers on much longer after you turn the page.

Canadian Club’s Legacy

One of the magazine’s longstanding advertising partners, Canadian Club, has built campaigns that I find myself thinking of whenever I’m trying to get out of the box, so to speak. They developed story lines and contests that took readers to far off places on mysterious missions down winding paths, where eventually they would find…Canadian Club Whiskey. It’s completely bizarre, but it works marvelously.

Advertising Agency: Energy BBDO, Chicago, USA 

  • Chief Creative Officer: Marty Orzio
  • Creative Directors: Derek Sherman
  • Copywriter: Derek Sherman
  • Art Director: Jason Stanfield
  • Designers: Steve Denekas, Jason Hardy
  • Senior Art Buyer: Liz Miller- Gershfeld
  • Assistant Art Buyer: Jackie VanWinkle
  • Print Producer: Linda Dos Santos
  • Photographer: Robert Whitman
  • Account Services: Doug Ryan, Marzena Grecki

For more than a century, LIFE has documented history as it happened. It has also made history a time or two with brilliant design and ad campaigns. In the digital age, I see the lessons that can be learned from LIFE (it’s nearly impossible to get away from a pun) becoming more and more valid.

LIFE and Modern Web Design and Marketing

Web pages are extremely visual and fluid in terms of scale. Think of one web page as one broadsheet page from an old issue of LIFE. Now, the general rule is, keep the important information above the fold; however, most website pages are longer than that by necessity. Therefore it’s important to make sure that everything on the page is interesting and important. You want the reader’s eye to scroll all over it, soaking up as much as possible.

A Brief History of Life

Starting in 1883, LIFE was published as a humor and general interest magazine until 1936, when Henry Luce, the founder of Time magazine, bought it and the trademark name. Luce launched LIFE as a weekly news magazine with a strong emphasis on photojournalism. From 1972 to 1978, it was published as an intermittent “special” that eventually evolved into a monthly from 1978 – 2000. From 2004 – 2007, Time Inc. published LIFE as a weekly newspaper supplement included in some American newspapers. With the launch of www.life.com in March of 2009, it came into the modern era, and then returned to the fold in Jan. 2012, as a photo channel on Time.com. While the emphasis is still on powerful imagery and sharp text, it has lost something of the style that I’ve been reminiscing about. You really have to pick up those old ads to see what I mean. Luckily, something that popular always finds a way to linger on long after the pages are gone.

For more on LIFE’s history:



SEO should never be a mechanical process

By now, every business large and small has come to understand that they need to tweak their web site to cater to the search engine. The Internet is a big place, and you can no longer take the position of “build it and they will come.” They won’t.

Unless that is, you take definitive action to make them come. Search engine optimization (SEO) is how you do it. Problem is though, there are differing opinions as to what that really is and how much it should cost. In the early days of the Internet, SEO simply meant creating a lot of pages of content, with a search phrase embedded in every sentence. The idea was to “game” the Google search algorithm, and it worked, but only for a little while, and we’re thankful for that. Keyword packing only results in lots of very badly written copy that’s written for an algorithm, not for people. Even if your keyword-packing tactics do get traffic to your site, once the actual people have found you, the klunky writing style of the keyword-packers will only make you look unprofessional and foolish.

Yes, you do need to write your web site copy with Google’s search rules in mind, but you can’t stop there. There are real, live people coming to your web site, and you have to write for them, and that means taking a much more organic approach to SEO rather than the mechanical keyword-packing, forum-spamming, artificial link-building tactics taken by the low-cost providers.

In addition to keywords, SEO also means creating mentions of your company and site in other locations, mainly for the purpose of creating links back to your main site. This helps your Google rank, and is a great tool for building traffic, but only if it’s done right.

Like the keyword-packers who generate bad copy that is little more than vessels to hold keywords, some link building services promise to give you an impressive number of links back to your site in a short period of time. The fact of the matter is, this is an organic process and it takes time to do it right. Here’s the dirty little secret these guys don’t tell you: They build spammy links by joining forums on your behalf, inserting links back to your site, and making article and forum comments that are meaningless nonsense–and make you look like a complete idiot. Most of these posts get deleted after a short time, but those that do persist will harm your reputation. This is not money well spent, and you don’t want those type of links.

And while we’re on the subject of dirty little secrets, here’s another one, relating back to the keyword trickery mentioned above. There are low-cost providers out there, who will offer, for what seems to be an unrealistically low fee, to get you ranked on the first page of Google SERPs, “guaranteed.” First of all, no reputable SEO expert is going to make guarantees, because there are too many factors out of his or her control. And, the way they are able to make these guarantees is by leveraging what are called “long tail keywords.” They make these guarantees, but if you read the fine print, they get to pick the keywords that you will rank for. If you want to rank for a primary keyword, for example, “tablet computers,” it’s going to take a lot of work. The “guaranteed first page results for $300 in one week” guys work this way: You’ll rank on page one, alright–but not for the key phrase “tablet computers.” You will rank on page one for a series of longer, very infrequently searched key phrases, such as, “macaque monkeys using tablet computers to search for bananas”. Obviously, the long-tail key phrases are very infrequently searched, so ranking on page one is easy–but does you very little good.

My key message is this: Search engine optimization doesn’t come in a box. It’s not a “package”, and it’s not a mechanical process. It’s ongoing, it’s organic, and more than anything, it involves sound marketing practices and just plain, old-fashioned good writing.


Decisions, decisions…

Well, I was planning on giving everyone my opinion about Windows 8. The problem is… I don’t yet have one formed. The beta is taking FOREVER to download! So I have something else of equal importance to talk about.

So today I’m a little torn. Tonight there are two local shows with great line ups on nearly opposite ends of the town. Tonight, Cheers will be hosting Battle of the Babes featuring Geronimo, Michigan City Vandals, Bitch Slap, Projekt Cog and a group of some of my favorite people, AKA Jed. The Bender Ballroom, located by the lovely Wooden Indian Motel, will be packed with talent presenting the bands Jassy Grazz, Fillmore’s Ladder, the Electric Jug Band and one of my favorite local talents, Infinite Buffalo. Unfortunately, I have told people at both venues that I would make an appearance, which complicates my evening.

It’s not so much the drive as it is Roseland. The venues are only five miles away from each other but the Roseland Police Department has had a lot of practice picking off the less responsible Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students and believe me – they will get you! Many scholarships have been lost on highway 933. I believe I’ve had nine tickets across several states for various traffic related offenses in my life, two of which are from Roseland. My last encounter transpired in the early morning hours after I passed an officer who was stopped at a red light that turned green as I approached, before I had to begin slowing down. I had my cruise set at 30 mph (yes, I’m paranoid) but he didn’t like that I passed him. I got off with a scolding and a written warning, thankfully, even though I think both were unsolicited.

Anyway, enough about Roseland…

There’s little known fact that I would I would like to share with the world: South Bend harbors some of the most talented musicians you’ll find anywhere. It also lodges some pretty awful musicians too, but I’m getting better ;) The general consensus about South Bend seems to be that there’s nothing to do. It’s terrible that this stigma is so prevalent because it’s not true. The mindset itself is a double-edged sword. It’s this mindset that has led many of my peers to destruction. But this is the same ingredient that makes great musicians. This perceived boredom has provoked several of us to pick up an instrument at some point in our lives and learn to play it.

I love music. I don’t love the radio. I would much rather listen to my friends play than turn on the radio only to have my heart broken when I hear Five Finger Death Punch destroy Bad Company’s, Bad Company. So support your local business and your local musicians! I hope to see people spilling out the doors wherever I may end up. Just please… love each other and be responsible :)


Crowdfunding will become a major game-changer for small business

The JOBS Act, which was signed by President Obama last week, promises to be a game-changer for small businesses throughout the country. Until now, the door to the capital market has been all but closed to most businesses. Fund-raising for a startup has been notoriously difficult, with roadblocks thrown up at every step. Banks don’t want to hear from you. Venture capitalist or angel investment? Not if you don’t have insider connections! Small Business Administration? All but useless for a startup. And let’s not forget the infamous “friends and family” round of funding they always tell you about at seminars and in business school! Most entrepreneurs just don’t have that type of friends or family, and this type of funding is mostly a myth.

Most small businesses, in fact, are “back pocket” funded, on a shoestring, and cobbled together mostly with smoke and mirrors, and a lucky few make it through and succeed.

Now, we’re at the very beginning of something truly ground-breaking. I recall at the beginning of the “dotcom boom” of the ’90s–most people didn’t know it was a “boom,” but those who were there and took advantage of it at the beginning, went on to create great things, launch successful companies and make lots of money. Although there were a lot of noteworthy failures, a lot of great things did come out of that era, and it changed the very nature of business forever. Crowdfunding will offer a change of that same proportion.

We are today on the verge of another major disruptive trend, which will once again change the nature of business forever. What we have is a “perfect storm” of circumstances, and those small businesses, entrepreneurs and innovators who jump on right now will become tomorrow’s Facebooks and Googles. Just what does that “perfect storm” consist of?

1. The long recession and painfully slow recovery changed the business model for good, and more companies are operating leaner than ever. “Fat” companies are gone forever, and even with an economic recovery, more large firms are finding their operating models work better with slimmer staffs and more outsourcing. This results in an opportunity for smaller businesses that are on the receiving end of that outsourcing pipe.

2. The long recession and slow recovery also put a lot of innovators and executives out of work. The fact is though, people like that don’t stay in the unemployment line for long–and many times, they launch their own businesses. We are already seeing this happen.

3. Cloud computing–this underlying technology allows those small businesses to offer the services mentioned above, at a cost-effective basis, and from any location.

4. Lower cost of start-up. Once again, due to cloud computing technology, launching a dotcom is cheaper than ever. During the ’90s, it may have taken millions, because the data center and infrastructure had to be built from scratch, but today, you can have the same functionality with a few hundred dollars a month.

5. And the final piece of the puzzle in this perfect storm–crowdfunding. The innovators that circumstances have put into the mix, now have the wherewithal to get funding for their creations.

The result is going to be a phenomenal rush once the crowdfunding sites are up and running and the government finally pulls the trigger and says “go” sometime near the end of this year. It’s going to be an exciting time–and now is the time to jump into it.