5 SEO Trends Every Entrepreneur Needs to Know for 2014

BY Jayson DeMers

"Is SEO dead?" It's a common question within the online marketing world today.

If you're an entrepreneur relying on a strong online presence to connect with customers, you're right to pay attention. It's undeniable that the SEO landscape is changing.

For instance, Google is taking a hardline approach. Shady link-building tactics (think Rap Genius), poor quality content and bad design are just a few of the factors causing websites to get penalized. So what's worked for your business in the past may no longer work, and in fact, could actually hurt your business now.

Today, successful SEO strategies have to incorporate diverse components including brand building, mobile optimization, content marketing and social media integration. It's time to adapt your strategy to address these realities. Here's a closer look at five trends that will shape your SEO success in the year ahead.

Effective SEO has three pillars.
A strong SEO strategy has three core components: links, content and social media. What's become more pronounced in the last year is the relationship between these elements. Content must be laser focused on your audience's needs and honed to drive specific profit-generating actions. Social media amplifies your reach, signaling to search engines that users find your content valuable. Links from high quality sites also reinforce that you're a solid, trustworthy site. A virtuous cycle is starting to emerge that all begins with writing great content.

The rise of content marketing moves toward digital maturity.
Content marketing was the top marketing buzzword of 2013, and it's a trend that's here to stay. Brands need to become savvy about telling their own stories and creating content that resonates with audiences. As the initial fascination with content marketing wears off, marketers are now demanding more return on investment, or ROI. Content marketing is maturing, and as a result we're better able to effectively target content, measure performance and correct course to improve results.

Mobile optimization is no longer optional.
With the release of Google's Hummingbird updates, it's getting harder for sites without a mobile strategy to rank well. This includes both a responsive design and a mobile content strategy. Realistically, it's time to invest in this anyway from a business perspective: Half of Americans own smartphones and more than a third own tablets according to Pew Internet. Responsive design ensures that your site looks great across a range of mobile devices. A mobile content strategy targets your content to the context, needs and behaviors of mobile users.

Building your brand is more important than building links.
A strong brand is playing an increasingly important role in SEO. One tangible example is Google's introduction and emphasis of Google Authorship, a program that connects content to your author profile with recognized authors' content performing better in search engine results. Building your brand and thought leadership in your space are critical steps to ranking well over time.

Social media, especially Google Plus, plays an integrated role with SEO.
Google is relying more than ever on human signals in the form of shares and mentions on social media to help vet sites. If you don't have a strong social media marketing presence and a strategy that makes it easy for people to share your content, it's time to implement one.
Social media has matured to the point where it's intersecting with SEO to help determine search rankings. Two easy places to start are building your Google Plus presence and ensuring that your website and blog have content sharing modules built in.

As you're developing your company's SEO plan, remember that all these trends add up to two things: integration and balance. Invest in all the key areas -- from writing good content, to building links and developing your social platforms -- with the understanding that they mutually support each other. Customize your plan by identifying your company's gaps and opportunity, and focus on the channels that bring you closer to your audience. Good search engines rankings will follow.

Are You 'Layering' SEO? You Should Be.

BY Brad Miller

SEO isn't what it used to be.

Ten years ago, an SEO specialist might spend 40 hours a week on keywords, title tags and content manipulation. Nowadays, he or she must possess a much broader skill set and think far more strategically.

That's because there's been a shift toward Search Marketing Integration (SMI) or "layering." This concept is forcing digital marketers to become master collaborators who can effectively utilize cross-departmental initiatives to fuel a rise in organic visibility.

The credit for this idea has to go to Rand Fishkin, CEO at search-software company Moz. During a conversation with Rand, I asked him whether the term SEO was still relevant. He explained that, rather than looking it as something distinct and isolated from your other business and marketing initiatives, you “need to add SEO as an important review layer on top of all of those other things.”

I think this is a really good way to conceptualize how SEO needs to be integrated into all aspects of your business to have the greatest probability of success. It really helps to visualize these concepts, let them sync in and “get it.”

In order to become a master collaborator and get the most out of your search efforts, it helps to break your collaborative efforts into four distinct areas:

1. Interaction
The first thing every successful digital marketer must do is learn to interact with the different departments within their organization. This has to be done regularly and consistently in order to produce results. The only way to discover the SEO opportunities that exist elsewhere in your organization is to communicate with your colleagues and actively undercover them. This includes attending cross-departmental meetings, happy hours and formal training sessions. You can even uncover SEO opportunities during conversations at the water cooler.

2. Persuasion
Once you’ve had a chance to interact and identify opportunities, you need to motivate your colleagues to help you achieve your goals. The best way to approach this is to find a champion within each department. I won’t bore you with tactics for motivation, but it’s vitally important to have a friend that can communicate initiatives from within their department. Having a reliable ‘point-of-contact’ can drastically help you turn ideas into actions and push your initiatives up the priority ladder.

3. Organization
This is probably the most difficult part of mastering the art of cross-department collaboration. Unless you are organized right from the start you will find yourself struggling to organize and motivate your ‘helpers’. In most cases it’s best to put the infrastructure in place right from the beginning – before you even start approaching people from other departments. There are some great tools you can use to help with this process including digital project management tools like basecamp, collaboration tools like tracky and idea organization tools like mind map. 
The simplest way to get started is to create a spreadsheet that will document all of your opportunities. You’ll want to create tasks for regular communication (weekly check-in emails with ‘helpers’), ongoing lists for all SEO opportunities, dates for timely opportunities, rating mechanisms for prioritization and a list of actions items for each new opportunity.

4. Implementation
The implementation process will vary based on the nature of each new SEO opportunity. Some things will be easy low-hanging fruit that can be accomplished quickly, like updating a press release. Other opportunities will take an incredible amount of time and effort like collaborating with your engineering department on creating an interactive site widget that can be used for link building purposes. The systems you put in place need to be designed to handle tasks at each end of this scale.

The search marketing world has changed. Content is still king and link building is still queen (debatable), but collaboration is the key to both crowns.
To make sure you publish content that delivers value to visitors at every point in the sales cycle, you need to collaborate with departmental colleagues across the organization. By approaching this ‘integration’ in a measured, organized way, you can increase the probability of success.

Google's all-or-nothing plan to make you a Google+ user

By Molly McHugh 
Digital Trends
Since Google+ launched, Google has created a variety of ways to loop users into the budding social network — and then keep them there. The brand has integrated its other Web products into G+, and more and more is beginning to go its own route when it comes to tying in social content. If you are among the few who liked Social Search and wanted those tweets mixed in with search results, you’ll now notice that these have been replaced with Google+ posts — and if you want to interact with them, you’d better get on board with the Google social site.
But in comparison to Google’s new plan of attack, these were relatively timid ways to rope in users. Now, all users who want to create a new Google account will automatically be added to Google+. Say you only want to create an email address. Too bad, you are obligated to be a member of the social network as well.
Google’s redesigned the landing page for creating your new account as well, and the layout and instructions emphasize you’ll be roped in to more than one property. “Talk, chat, share, scheduled, store, organize, collaborate, discover and create,” the site says. “Use Google products from Gmail to Google+ to YouTube, view your search history, all with one username and password, all backed up all the time and easy to find at (you guessed it) Google.com.”
Google’s been criticized for doing a poor job of integrating its various Web properties, and early G+ criticism saw users begging for the ability to reach their other accounts within the site. The company deserves kudos for quickly addressing whats its new social users were asking for, and doing it relatively quickly. But in traditional platform fashion, we’re now being given an ultimatum: It’s all or nothing. It’s a really user-unfriendly way to go about things, but one that is sure to spur G+ numbers – which have been climbing regardless. Google says the social network now has 49 million users and traffic is up 55-percent.
You always need to read between the lines with reports like these, and now we’ll be forced to even more. We can imagine that plenty of new Google account holders will turn their G+ off altogether, limiting their profile entirely and keeping themselves unreachable (if that’s you, follow this link and change all the settings to “only you”).

Google ‘+1′s for sale!

By Molly McHugh
A +1 sale operation was uncovered, giving Websites the option to buy their way into what they would believe to be a better social search ranking.

It’s time to talk about another Google+ – the +1 button Google introduced. The feature was officially rolled out in 2011 as an answer to the Facebook Like, allowing users to recommend content that their friends will then see via Google’s social search.
The +1 button launch brought concerns as to how the application would affect SEO. And while exactly how it affects page rank isn’t entirely obvious yet, we know it does. Which is why it makes perfect sense that +1s are now for sale.

A report in The Atlantic brought our attention to a site called Plussem.com, which is offering +1s to boost your site. At Plussem, for $20 you get 50, $70 nets you 250, all the way up to $360 for 2,000. The site describes itself, saying:

“Google are [sic] now striking back at Facebook with there [sic] version of the Like button. This will be used to judge contents [sic] worth [sic] by using real people to rate it rather than there [sic] own bots. To cheat the searching algorithm be sure to get the ball rolling for your site by purchasing Plus Ones.”

If you were able to muddle your way through that grammatically-challenged mission statement, you know that there isn’t some complicated operation going on here: The site has a person with a verified Gmail account click +1 on your desired content and that way each +1 your site gets originates from a different IP address. Plussem also spreads out its +1 bingeing to make it that much more convincing. We contacted Plussem to ask about their process and if they would like to comment on the attention their site is getting. We were told that ”‘where there is demand there will be supply.’ I can not explain our process publicly. I can only say that we deliver our customers the service they request for a fair price.”
An SEO company trying to game Google is hardly revolutionary. The company’s stranglehold on search is motivation enough for Web publishers to attempt to understand the nooks and crannies of its algorithm – and to then exploit them. And Google does everything it can to keep its page rank process a mystery, possibly to a fault. Its Panda updates this year had varying results, and in some cases actually hurt its content farm crackdown. So given the power it wields over search, we don’t think it’s inappropriate for Websites to do what they can to figure it all out and try to boost their page rank.
That said, this type of marketing is generally bad news. First of all, we wouldn’t trust our money anywhere that can’t figure out the difference between “their” and “there” – that’s reason enough for caution. Secondly, +1s aren’t really worth the money at this point. The feature doesn’t have the kind of pull a Facebook Like does yet given Google+’s limited userbase. On the new social network, you can see what users give a +1 – but there simply isn’t a wide enough population on the site to make that useful yet.
Currently, +1s don’t have a big effect on search results. You only see them when one of your Google contacts +1s something, and we’re willing to bet you aren’t Gmail buddies with the spammers working for Plussem. Eventually +1s might become more visible to a larger population, but that isn’t currently the case.
Not to matter. The site that operates Plussem, SEOShop.biz, also sells Facebook fans, fake product reviews, forum posts, and a handful of other faux marketing services for your site. The SEO world is riddled with this type of trickery, and we don’t necessarily advocate against exploring and experimenting with methods to boost page rank. But given Google’s harsh punishments for this type of activity and its ever-changing algorithm, this particular scheme and many like it are definitely not worth the risk.

Google promotes Web journalists – as long as they have Google+ profiles

By Molly McHugh

Is a new tool from Google helping writers promote their work or cornering them into using Google+?

Google announced it would begin offering writers a new way to promote their work on the Web. Now, in Google News, writers have the option of having their identity given some spotlight alongside their stories. Given the obvious effect Google rankings can have on a site’s performance, this is inarguably an important tool.
But there’s always a hitch, and this time it’s the fact that you aren’t linking in your Internet profile of choice. Instead, you have to sync your work to your Google+ account.
It’s a poorly veiled—maybe even completely forthright—attempt on Google’s part to create a little Google+ interest and activity. While Google continues to protest the site’s success, users and analysts (and in one case a Google team member) complain the social network has become stagnant. Google itself seems to be halfheartedly reclassifying Google+, saying long term plans for the site haven’t revealed its true purpose, that it’s really a platform for looping you into Google’s Web properties as a whole.
And if that’s the case, then tempting writers with the lure of Web notoriety makes sense. The language Google uses in linking your authorship with your Google+ account also makes us a little wary. The site asks you to go to Google+, list your work email, make it universally public, and then verify its authenticity. Call us conspiracy theorists, but combine the remaining unknowns about the Panda update, the mystery of what exactly the +1 button does for page rank, and Google’s general secrecy about its algorithms, and we can’t help but wonder if verifying your place of work doesn’t help bump your articles further up the chain.

That isn’t to say there wouldn’t be any benefit from this: There are Internet “writers” and then there are Internet writers—and knowing a little more about them can help readers gauge where their information is coming from. For example, do  you want to read an article by someone whose Google+ profile lists him as employed by Taco Bell and living in “the man cave,” or by someone who has a background in the subject at hand and a corresponding work email address?
Of course there are sweeping generalizations that can be made when you’re cornered into linking one specific Internet identity to your work life. Google has danced around the issue of Web anonymity, and this would seemingly force writers’ hands into proclaiming themselves—and possibly into maintaining and using a Google+ profile. And it also makes a statement: If you choose to keep things private on the Internet, you lose. Even if using this new tool from Google doesn’t improve your site’s page rank, it will likely make those who do choose to use it seem more credible. Readers will see an image, how many Circles you’ve been added to, and a link to your Google+ page. Of course, being included in three Circles isn’t exactly attractive—hence your desire to become a more active Google+ member.

8 Steps to Make Customers Love Your Brand

BY Imani Laners

Why do we choose one brand over another? Brand loyalty is not a mental act, but an emotional one, and brand loyal customers have an emotional relationship with the brands they're faithful to. And like Woody Allen explained in Annie Hall, "A relationship, I think, is like a shark. It has to constantly move forward or it dies."

The challenge for many brands is how to spark that emotional relationship and then keep it going. How does a brand get that first date and turn it into a long, happy marriage? Here are eight steps to creating a successful brand-consumer relationship online.

Determine your type.
In today's social media age, almost everyone has a digital profile. And as a business trying to connect with a certain type of customer, you need to create a comprehensive profile of exactly who that person is. You need to be as detailed as possible and know your type inside and out -- what they eat for breakfast, the kind of books they read, whether they prefer kickboxing or yoga and how they spend their discretionary income. The more detailed your profile, the greater the number of candidates your product or message could resonate with.  

Tell everyone you're looking.
If you were looking for a golf buddy, a gym partner or even a mate, part of your strategy would be to tell everyone you know that you were looking. It's no different when it comes to business. You want to align yourself with people and companies that can get you in front of your type, that ideal consumer you created a profile of. These people and companies are influencers who have a direct connection to your type and already have their attention and trust.

Find a way to work with and partner with these established influencers. Make them your "passionate champions" -- people and businesses who feel like they have a vested interest in your success. Do this by figuring out how to create a win-win with these influencers.

Look the part.
Know what your type is attracted to and make sure you look like what they want. To do this you have to know what kind of social environments your type prefers (e.g. Facebook or Twitter) and what kind of ways they consume their media (e.g. tablet, mobile or desktop). Your online environment has to generate interest and excitement and speak their language.

Look into their eyes.
Everyone wants to feel like they're one of a kind. Your customer wants to know that you get them, that you understand exactly where they're coming from and what they're thinking. Create a two-way conversation that allows you to get a more in-depth understanding of where they are and where they want to be. Give them a voice and let them know you're listening.

Deliver value.
Make sure your brand speaks to your type about what matters to them. Your customer wants to see how you can enhance their life, because if you can't, there's no reason for them to be a repeat customer. Show them that your product or service has value, and they will be more likely to move forward.

Ask for commitment.
If the brand-consumer relationship was one between two individuals, this would be where you would "put a ring on it!" But before you can "close" or finalize the relationship, you have to know what you want your customer to do. It could be to share your message, give you their contact information or make a purchase. Whatever it takes, don't let them walk away without telling them exactly what you need them to do, and then get confirmation that they've done it.

Keep the spark alive.
Ask anyone in a successful relationship and they'll tell you that the courtship can never end. Re-imagine your key message regularly and create targeted campaigns that will attract new customers as well as re-engage your "passionate champions." Re-energize your message on a regular basis and continue to drive home the importance and relevance of your brand.

Gauge your performance.
The only way to know if a relationship is working is to assess or evaluate results. Likewise, in business, you need to measure anything that relates to achieving your goals -- traffic, engagement, conversions, etc. Metrics help you take stock of how you're doing and help you get to where you want to be.

Apply these eight steps and you should be on your way to a lasting, mutually beneficial relationship with your customers.  Effective branding is more complex than ever and the American consumer is more savvy and discerning. It takes real ingenuity and vision to create and sustain the kind of emotional connection that keeps them coming back.

Want Your Site on Google Page #1 in 2 Days? Use Pligg site backlinking

BY Dave Guindon

Here's another quick "how to" video where I demonstrate how to get a brand new website ranked on the first page of Google ...
.. in less than 3 days
.. with a new method using Pligg site backlinking

...this is very cool, and something very new ...

Update: Google to Retire Checkout

Google announced two enhancements to the Google Wallet platform. The Instant Buy API enables merchants to offer a fast buying experience to Google Wallet shoppers on their Android apps and websites, while processing their own payments. In addition, the new Wallet Objects API enables merchants to engage their customers with loyalty, offers, and more.

As we continue to build the Wallet platform, we must focus our priorities. That is why we are announcing today that we will retire Google Checkout.

Merchants can continue to accept payments using Google Checkout until November 20, 2013. 

If you are a U.S. merchant that does have payment processing, you can apply for Google Wallet Instant Buy, which offers a fast buying experience to Google Wallet shoppers.

Sellers of digital goods on Google (Google Play, Chrome Web Store, Offers Marketplace and Google Wallet for digital goods) will automatically transition to Google Wallet and will not be impacted.

We will continue to process Checkout transactions until November 20, 2013. The last date for refunds will be December 20, 2013.
After November 20, 2013, all order reports and history will be available for download.