Kittens!

No website design or internet marketing articles for Friday, because I had plans to pick up a mother cat and her kittens to babysit for a little while.

Here are the pictures, because if there’s one thing the internet doesn’t have enough of yet, it’s cats!

Sorry about iPhone-level image quality, but it’s all I’ve got to work with right now.

Kittens in cat carrier
The kittens enjoying their makeshift home in the cat carrier.
Kittens sleeping in group
They sleep on top of each other in a mass of cuteness all day.
White kitten crawling.
This is the friendliest, more aware one so far. She loves crawling on humans.
Cats and kitten nursing in carrier
Here’s mom and babies nursing. They hated the carrier on the drive home, but have made it their kitten nest.
Cat on desk
Mom keeps a close eye on them from every perch she can find. If it’s near a window, so much the better.
Mother cat on bookshelf
And here she is picking out which book she’s going to read while the kittens sleep.
Cat face in camera
And finally, here she is disturbing my writing process, which is her second-favorite activity after nursing kittens.

 

Social Media Marketing Options: Blogs, Networks, Videos and More

Social media can be a conundrum for a lot of business owners. Is Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn useful as a marketing channel? What about picture sharing sites like Pinterest and Instagram? And how do you even start a social marketing campaign? Where should it be based from? Let’s explore these questions, with the understanding first of all that social media is any type of content that is shared in an environment that encourages the sharing of resources and discussion.

Social Networking is GlobalBlogs are the main tool that bridge the gap between a company’s main website and their social media efforts. They were originally conceived of as online journals or diaries, but are now the core of social media marketing, and the home base for many companies’ creation of content, sharing of resources, and publishing of news and promotions. The theory is that more content leads to more visibility, and blogs are one of the easiest ways to release more content.

This also includes microblogging, such as Twitter. Microblogs allow for the exchange and sharing of short snippets of information. These can be in the form of thoughts, ideas, links to full articles, pictures, links to video, and more. They result in short thoughts and resources being shared and for companies or individuals to be followed by hundreds or thousands of other users of the microblogging sites.

Social networks are the powerhouses of social media. They are where a blog goes from part of a main website to a key component of social marketing. Because of the widespread use of social networking sites, there is a built-in easy communication channel, and communicating with users and be fast. The largest social networks such as Facebook and Google+ also have global audiences, broadening the potential customer base for companies. Best of all, it is free and easy to set up official company Pages on most social networks.

Video sharing has been increasing in popularity, especially over the last half decade or so, as the availability of high speed internet has become cheaper for the average internet user. Video sites have an entertainment factor, as videos that are enjoyable are more likely to be shared. For marketing purposes, short videos of 15-45 seconds seem to work best, and hosting videos on YouTube can increase the chances of them showing up in Google search results.

Social shopping and review sites are another type of social media that is becoming more popular as the search engines focus on local businesses. Sites like Yelp and Google+ allow users to leave reviews of companies they have interacted with, and ratings are now showing up in natural search results for companies. These sites provide a forum for customers to share their experiences, and also serve as a way for businesses to build credibility by establishing a company page and interacting with customers. One great use of social review sites is monitoring any negative feedback and addressing it as quickly as possible.

Social news sites are another form of social media, but one that is becoming less popular as people move to Facebook and other large social networks. Social news sites include Digg, Reddit, and other sites mainly focused on sharing links to relevant, enlightening articles. Social bookmarking sites are also closely related, and these allow users to save their favorite sites, categorize them, and access them from any computer.

Social events sites have their own niche and can be used well for marketing. Facebook has an event calendar with invitations and multiple features, while dedicated event planning sites like Meetup provide information on local groups with shared interests. These can help increase live foot traffic to a company’s retail stores, and mobile check-ins can build brand credibility.

Social media marketing should be a part of a company’s overall marketing strategy, with a focus on collecting useful resources, collaborating with other industry experts and customers, and engaging in conversation with a community. Social profiles and accounts are accessible to all sizes of business, so there is no reason to avoid them, especially if they are used wisely enough to contribute to the business objectives, build brand awareness, and support other marketing channels.

Content Creation for SEO and Marketing

When it comes to marketing a website, content is still king, even in this era of social media, YouTube, and blended search results. If you want your site to show up in the search results that people type in, you need content that the search engines can read. And if you want to turn those visitors into sales, you need content that is of high enough quality to convert.

Create Compelling ContentIdeally, content marketing educates and empowers people to take action, preferably an action on your site that will lead to a sale or new follower. The goal is to get people to know about your brand, like your company, and trust you enough either to recommend you to others or to become a customer yourself. Becoming an authority in your industry or locality is the ultimate goal of content marketing.

While content marketing includes all types of content, let’s look at some of the most important popular forms of it. First up is article marketing, a tried and true method of getting content out both on your site and on external sites. You can customize articles depending on your target audience and whether you are publishing on your own site or blog or an article distribution website.

The best tip for article marketing is to maintain an editorial tone throughout all of your content. You do not want to come off as too promotional. People like learning and they will be open to learning about your topic of expertise, but they do not want to be exposed to nothing but commercials. Save that for your television or radio campaigns where you can do more promoting and less educating. For your article marketing, focus on the information and education.

Social media is becoming a great way not to to share content, but to publish it as well. Longer posts of strictly informational or entertaining content can result in a larger number of Likes and Shares. One company that I follow on Facebook has recently begun adding exclusive articles on their official Facebook Page, giving social followers a reason to become more engaged with their brand.

Additionally, if you run a corporate blog, make sure people are able to share your content. You can do this with sharing buttons on each post so people can share your articles with their own friends and followers. Or, you can include links to your official Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn pages so people can follow you through the social networks. Both strategies are important for social marketing success.

In larger businesses, press releases, news articles, and other public relations material are often created and distributed. Use these pieces of content created by the marketing or PR department and publish them on your blog or New section of your website, with appropriate internal and external linking. Anything newsworthy can be used as an opportunity to promote your target keywords for SEO purposes, if nothing else.

Finally, if you run an email newsletter, tie in your email marketing messages to your website content. Remember to keep emails compelling, though. People scan emails more than they read them, so use numbered lists or bullet points, and keep the long paragraphs to a minimum. Include some basic styling, along with links back to your site’s main content, and tie everything together on the landing page.

Content marketing will probably be the one constant throughout the entire life of the internet. People enjoy reading and learning, and writers enjoy writing and educating. The web is the most convenient place for both writers and the general public to connect, and turning readers and learners into customers and brand advocates starts with having the content they are looking for.

Six Basic Components of Web Design

Creating a brand new website or redesigning an older, outdated site present unique challenges for business owners. It can take years of experience to build a high quality web presence, and many small business owners just do not have the time or skills to do so, just as full-time web designers do not have the time or skills to be really effective real estate agents, chiropractors, or lawyers.

Compass and Web Design
Plan where you’re going with your new website.

However, there are some basic components of site design and maintenance that all business owners should at least have some knowledge of. This can save them a lot of time, resources, and headache in the future as they actually put together their sites and plan the marketing campaigns for them. We’ll explore each of these in more depth in this article. The six concepts are the following:

  • Time to build a site
  • Platforms
  • Domain names
  • Hosting
  • Maintenance
  • Mobile devices

1. Building the Website

In terms of the time to build a site, there are two main considerations. The first is the resources you can dedicate on your own or with help to your new site. For instance, you can build the website yourself, putting together as much as you can and customizing it to the best of your ability, but take away time from your own business. Alternatively, you can hire a web designer or web design company, saving yourself the time and resources, but spending some additional money to get the site you want.

There is also the expertise required to build a site, the second consideration. If you have built a website for your company in the past, you may know enough to create the new version of your site. However, if you want Flash animations, cool styling, and the latest HTML5 markup and microdata, it may be best to hire a company that specializes in such web design issues.

2. Website Platforms

When it comes to platforms, you can build a site in basic HTML, or use one of the Content Management Systems (CMS). Some of these include WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla, and each have their own learning curves and special features. While it may take more time to learn the CMS, it will make maintaining the site much easier over time, and the latest versions of these platforms usually include the most recent security updates and user interface features.

3. Domain Names

With domain names, you probably already have at least one domain name for your business. However, it may be profitable to secure others. If you have mysite.com, you may want to get mysite.net and mysite.org to prevent any competitors from purchasing them and competing with you on your own brand name. Misspellings of your domain name can also be purchased, and then forwarded to your main website.

Additionally, it can be worthwhile to purchase URLs related to your site which you will use strictly for marketing purposes. These are referred to as “vanity URLs,” and will be used if you do television, radio, or print ads and you want to track visitors from those campaigns. Just give out the vanity URL, my-tv-site.com, for instance, and then redirect that site to your main one. Easy and effective!

From an SEO perspective, it can be helpful to purchase domain names and register them for longer periods of time. Many companies will register their domain name on a yearly basis, renewing if they are still in business. However, it can pay with the search engines to register for 5-10 years, as it shows them that you plan on sticking around.

4. Website Hosting

When it comes to hosting, there are a number of considerations, but the decisions are often easy enough. First, how much space will you need? If you have a smaller website with a handful of pages, you may not need much; but if you are hosting multiple videos or downloads, you may need much more space and bandwidth.

Second, should you self-host your website or use a third party hosting company? In almost all cases but the very largest, just hire a hosting company. Many of them offer deals if you pay a year or more in advance, and even the monthly hosting charges can be very reasonable. Very few companies host their own sites anymore because it is just so easy to use a third party. Just research which third party hosting company you choose!

Finally, should you be on a shared or dedicated server? If you own multiple domains related to your business, all of which get traffic, you may need a dedicated server. But if you are a small or local business and your site doesn’t see too much traffic, you can stick with a shared server. Just keep an eye out for any bad neighborhoods on that shared server, such as spammy sites.

5. Website Maintenance

The next consideration is the maintenance of a website. If you are using a CMS, maintenance of the back end of the site may be very easy, if not automatic. One maintenance tip that often slips through the cracks is keeping track of all of the logins for accounts related to your site, from the adminstrative area of the website to the third-party web analytics program, to social media sites.

But you will also have to maintain the front end, planning a content strategy for new pages and products, keeping up on the latest technology. Plan to do at least some ongoing keyword research and content creation, as well as marketing of those new pages. If you do pay per click, plan on maintaining landing pages, creating new ones or taking down ineffective ones.

6. Mobile Devices

Mobile Device
My mobile phone still looks like this. Doesn’t yours?

Finally, you will have to decide what to do about mobile devices. CMS systems such as WordPress have plugins for creating a mobile version of your site, but you may want a more customized version. Or, you may not need a mobile site at all if most of your traffic comes from the web. Your web analytics program will be able to tell you how much mobile traffic your site sees, and you can plan from there.

Designing a website is often a longer process and more complicated than business owners first realize. As the web gets increasingly complicated, with new technology coming onto the seen nearly every day, it will become even more difficult to design your own website from scratch. Thankfully, CMS systems are also being continually developed to meet these challenges, and the price of website design for even the most complicated sites has come down in recent years.

Build Marketing Components Into Site Design

You have a website, and you know what your website is going to look like. But do you have a marketing plan for that website? And can you build some of the components for marketing your site into the design of it? That’s what this article is going to look at, because designing a site with some advertising and marketing goals in mind can help immensely when it is actually time to start targeting campaigns to different groups of internet users.

Website Design SuccessThe first step is to start out with a map of the website. Any business website (and any personal site that has a financial goal) needs to have clear expectations built into the design process. The purpose of each page or category should be laid out, and the entire list of pages to begin the website needs to be mapped out. Basic components like the navigation structure and login areas for users or admins should also be done at this stage.

Once a site is laid out in at least a basic form, the different components of the site should be mapped out. This can involve building in areas for widgets, social media buttons, signup boxes for the newsletter, and buttons with a call to action. And each component of the pages can also be mapped out even further, with their own sections and widgets.

This process is known as wireframing a website, and is one of the most important steps in creating a new site. The page architecture is defined, and each component is mapped and given a place on the real estate of the web pages. Navigation menus will be placed and given logical order, and placeholders for the page content will be set. The style of the site may not be done yet, but all of the pieces are in place to start building the site, inserting content, and giving it a unique look and feel.

The end goal for wireframing a site is to define the success of the company’s online presence and have a website that executes that strategy effectively. From the business perspective, a website is an online solution center for people interested in that company’s products and services. This is why clear page architecture, smart navigation elements, effective calls to action, and other marketing components should be planned from the beginning.

In this manner, the home page of a website is the most important, since it is likely to be the most popular page on the site and is the first impression visitors will have of the company. It needs to be on-brand and on-purpose. As well, the home page needs to explain who the company is, what it does, and who it serves as its target market.

Web design should begin with the end in mind, and the end for most companies is defined by the success of their business objectives and the efficiency of their online marketing channels. With a little forethought, many marketing channels can be built into the structure of a website, from email subscription signup forms to social media sharing buttons to product pages that are prominently featured throughout the site.

What’s Working in the Real World of Internet Marketing?

What are other people doing out there? That’s one of the most fascinating questions that an internet marketer can ask, and provides the perfect opportunity for both introspection and gathering competitive intelligence. Over the past 5-6 weeks, I’ve spoken with a handful of companies that do internet marketing in one form or another, and gone into detail on their online advertising strategies.

Internet Marketing StrategiesOne company I spoke with stated that they have the best success with exact match domain names. No surprise there, as Google has claimed for years that domain match keywords are not important, but exact match domains with even a modicum of content on them appear at the top of search results. It’s not a guarantee to show up in the first or second position with an exact match domain, but a site with a handful of pages of relevant content on it seems to go a long way to outranking even the Wikipedias of the internet world.

Their strategy was to purchase an exact match domain, write 4-6 pages of content on it, and then go onto the next site, sticking to one particular niche market in the financial services sector. They had just a handful of high-paying clients and primarily used this tactic, with some pay per click sprinkled in when they had a particularly competitive local market.

Another company I spoke with was an internet marketing agency themselves, focusing primarily on social media. It was a fun couple of conversations, and they stated they get most of their business through referrals and pay per click. They also do an extraordinary amount of remarketing to anyone who comes to their website, which I discovered after checking out their site a couple of times. I was dealing with Google Display Network remarketing for a month afterwards.

Remarketing is one of my favorite tactics for keeping your brand in front of people. Depending on how far they get in your buying funnel, you can send them different messages. If they just saw the site, give them one ad. If they added a product to the cart but never checked out, send them a strong message. The brilliance of this tactic can be offset by showing your ad to them too much, so remember those frequency settings!

Another company that I spoke with was doing mainly pay per click, while another had spent years doing television and radio advertising, and had hardly any pay per click or search engine optimization strategy. This one was especially surprising as it was a huge name brand but had done no SEO over the years. In fact, it had fewer links than a website we worked on part time for the space of two years and helped optimize for numerous keywords.

The one thing that all of these companies had in common was a dedication to in-house internet marketing. While a few were using outside agencies for some of their pay per click campaigns, and one was an agency with several dozen clients already, they all had or were developing a dedicated internet marketer department.

It’s interesting to see what people are doing out there in the field, because the ones still in business have hit upon strategies that are working, at least for now. PPC is still a huge portion of internet marketing, which won’t change anytime soon. Social media is growing in importance for businesses. And exact match domains with a little bit of content are the latest under-the-Google-rader tactic, which is both surprising and not surprising at all.

Marketing and Internet Users’ Memory Capacity

I just started reading the book Affect Imagery Consciousness, by Silvan S. Tomkins, potentially the best face reader in human history. In just the first few pages, the book proves to be profound and, most important for marketers, actionable. One of his students, Paul Ekman, has written several books on face reading that have become some of the more popular and accessible in the field. I’ve browsed through those books, but have not yet read Ekman’s.

Memory and MarketingLet’s look at some choice quotes from the book, and how they mirror what we try to do in search engine marketing and conversion optimization.

This complex patterning of material we are defining as the informational aspect of the duplication transformation.

One of the most important parts of internet marketing is competing for the transfer of information in users’ brains. There are billions of webpages they could be browsing, and potentially hundreds they will want to remember for the short or long term. More than trying to just make a sale, we want to make an impression, and ideally cater that message to the users’ positions in the buying cycle.

Once the particular conventions [of language] are established, however, the use of language becomes more representational and less arbitrary.

This is a lesson I first picked up from Brad Geddes’ book Advanced Google AdWords, and is important to search engine marketing. Users do not type in the exact questions they have in their minds and for which they are seeking an answer. Instead, they tend to think in concepts, translate those concepts into words, more general or more specific as the case may be, and then hit the search button. Language is the tool they use to seek answers to questions they have about the experiences in their environment.

Transmitted messages are here further transformed by an as yet unknown process we will call transmuting, which changes an unconscious message into a report.

Again, another lesson for getting your search engine or display network or social media ads in front of users. In a split second or a few seconds at most, users will see your ad and already generate a “report” in their minds based on the look and feel of the ad. Is it poorly done? Have they seen it a hundred times before? Is there a misspelling? Is it a well-constructed ad with direct relevance to their situation? In some cases, we get the click and can continue helping the user transmute our messages into the report we want to give them. In other cases, they just click away or ignore our ads entirely as irrelevant or badly done.

There is, further, a rough match between the type, amount and rate of information which is received and the type, amount and rate of information which can be acted on.

Ever wonder, with billboards so huge, they often have very little actual text on them? On billboards, the rate of information is extremely fast due to the amount of information drivers are receiving and have to act on. There’s simply not enough time to read more than a few words, so the message has to be boiled down to an image and a couple short sentences, at most.

On the internet, while people are less mobile physically, the speed at which they can click, browse, hit the back button, click again, and so on makes it even more important to have a concise message to send. People can click on your ad and, in 2-3 seconds, determine if the landing page is relevant to them or not, and go right back to what they were doing before clicking on your ad. Same with your position on the search engines. Just because you’ll get more traffic doesn’t mean people will take the time to process it.

Not all the information which bombards the senses is permanently recorded. Rather, we think, it is that information which in the competition for consciousness has succeeded in being transmuted that is more permanently duplicated.

This is the last quote for today, but I saved the best for last. In the competition for impressions, clicks, and conversions, our messages have to be the best out of all the competition. Don’t be another “LCD TVs: Low prices on LCD TVs” type of ad that all your competitors are also running. Don’t use dynamic keyword insertion all the time if it turns a standout headline into a generic one. Use a landing page where the call to action is clear and stands out from the competition.

In branding campaigns, this concept is even more essential. With brand awareness marketing, we want people to get a strong impression of us, and be able to remember our website or name and be able to search for us again.

UPDATE: Here are some more passages from Chapter 1, which I just up and decided to finish last night before falling asleep.

[T]he human being as we conceive him as purposes, intends to achieve these purposes and does achieve them through the feedback principle. His purpose we think is primarily a conscious purpose — a centrally emitted blueprint which we shall call the Image.

This reminds me quite of bit of von Mises’ axiom of human action. Not being an economist or expert on Ludwig von Mises’ particular philosophy, I can’t comment much on this. But it seems as if Tomkins is saying essentially the same thing: humans act, they act purposefully to achieve their ends.

A sign need bear no resemblance to what it signifies, so long as it does stand in an invariant spatial or temporal relationship of some kind of the significate.

This is Tomkins’ restatement of the lessons learned from Pavlov’s dogs. The bell ringing doesn’t need to represent food in any way, but as long as it is close enough in space and time to the event of receiving food, it can come to signify food. In the same way, marketing attempts to associate feelings of fulfillment, happiness, and satisfaction with products and services that companies offer. Just take a look at the common 60-second advertisements for pharmaceutical drugs, which overwhelm 45 seconds of warnings of side effects with 15 seconds of positive messages and 60 seconds of images of people being happy.

[In discussing the affective system] The price that is paid for this flexibility is ambiguity and error. The individual may or may not corretly identify the “cause” of his fear or joy and may or may not learn to reduce his fear or maintain or recapture his joy.

Tomkins is going into deep psycohistory of the individual experience here. Why do people associate good feelings with certain advertising messages or products? They may be able to tell us, but they may be completely wrong about the reasons given. Why are some people depressed or have trouble relating to others? There may be a reason buried so far back in their past that they can no longer associate their current feelings with their coping mechanisms as children, for example.

[W]here a way of life puts a premium on early dispersal of the young, maternal care and the social responsiveness of the infant to this care are minimal and are replaced by individualism and competition.

One of the great debates I have with myself is whether our society is getting more collectivized or individualized. Nationalism, patriotism, xenophobia, racism, and other tribalisms are still widely supported, yet all I hear on the radio is how isolated and competitive our society is becoming. I tend to agree with Stefan Molyneux that we live in a matriarchy of single mothers and fatherless children, where a handful of men in the White House and on bank boards rule the rest of us peasants who are in turned brought up primarily by women. Is this a reflection of the dispersal of the young, with decreasing maternal care and social responsiveness to children?

This is an extremely long book in four volumes, but it’s compulsively readable. I’ll post more choice quotes from it in the coming days, weeks, and months as I get through it. In the meantime, I’ll also be updating this blog as usual.

[As an aside, I’d also like to extend an invitation to anyone who wants to contribute a guest blog on any aspect of internet marketing. We’re always looking for great content to promote!]

The Importance of Directories for Local Business SEO

Just a few days ago, I wrote an article on all of the most basic optimization that local businesses should do for proper search engine optimization of their websites. That article included a lot of information on Google+ Local, prominence, distance, and keywords. It also went into some detail on the use of structured data to make sure search engines can figure out what the information on a page means, as well as the importance of reviews and ratings.

Online directories are the rolodexes of the web.
Be in as many relevant directories as possible.

In this article, I want to go into more detail on off-page SEO tactics that are much more “old school” than getting customer ratings or using microdata from Schema.org. Specifically, let’s get into the types of directories available online. Local businesses can benefit tremendously from these new tools and services to present their websites in the most effective manner to searchers, but old techniques still work and should not be discarded just yet.

For instance, local directories are still available and still useful. Google+ Local, formerly known as Google Places, is one such local directory, and possibly the most important at this point. There are local directories run by Yahoo and Bing, as well, and UBL.org, the Universal Business Listing, can submit a site’s information to dozens of local directories. All of these count as citations, and they all matter to local businesses.

Industry-specific directories should also include your local business. If you are the town’s plumber, why not submit to some of the bigger free website directories that focus solely on plumbing or home improvement? These links can be hugely beneficial for all types of local businesses, as they get at least the name of the company (a type of citation important for SEO) on sites with relevant content and links. Submitting to directories is one of the easiest SEO methods around, too.

It should be noted that paying for directory submissions is usually not worth the price of admission, unless there are significant benefits associated with a nominal fee. If your monthly marketing budget is $100, then buying a handful of $5 links may be worthwhile for a very niche-specific directory, but some sites will charge upwards of $50 for a link, a price not worth paying unless you are in an ultra-competitive industry.

Finally, there are probably some very overlooked directories in any geographic region. Especially if you are located in a smaller city, your local city government may have a list of local businesses, as well as links to their websites. Local newspapers may also have a business directory. These are some of the least-known but most valuable links to get from an SEO perspective.

Remember, Google wants local businesses to get links from other local sites. What more trusted source could there be than the city government or small-town newspaper directory? Of course, getting a contextual link in a press release or news story would be even better, but this could take more time. A directory listing may be extremely easy to submit and have approved with the cajoling of an email or two.

This was a relatively short article, but directories are one of the more important ways for local businesses to get internet-wide citations without having to invest in a lot of content creation. Not everyone has the time to write 500-1,000 word articles to get a couple of links, but many business owners have the time to submit their site to a handful of directories each week.

Do it, and local business SEO success will be yours! Or, you can check out our internet marketing services, which includes optimizing your local SEO, and success will still be yours!

SEO Tactics:The More Things Change…

Over the years, search engine optimization has both changed and stayed the same. Every SEO course I take, product I test, or article I read promises the next big way to outsmart Google, Bing, Yahoo, and all of the search engines around the world. But, when it comes down to it, the tactics are pretty much all of the same, and boil down to the strategy of getting links from whatever sites whenever possible.

SEO: a chess match between marketers and search engines?Yes, yes, avoid the link farms. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve come across the admonition against link farms, I’d probably be able to retire by now. But beyond these mysterious link farms, which I’ve come across maybe once or twice in nearly a decade of SEO work, the primary method of SEO is still getting keyword links on a wide array of websites.

And the methods of getting these links have also not changed much. There’s a basic list of link-building methods that are recommended for almost any website, and this list has not changed much in years, despite Google Penguin/Panda updates, the growth of mobile search, and the increasing use of social media. Let’s briefly run down the standard list of SEO tactics available today.

Directory links are still recommended for most sites. They may be fairly useless and provide little value, but your competitors are all on them, and so you should be, too. Big, trusted directories are a good target, as are niche- or industry-specific ones. Most paid directories are not worth paying for, so stick with the free ones as much as possible.

Reciprocal links from other sites are almost entirely worthless these days, especially on long Links pages. Triangular or more structured links probably still work, and it will be difficult for search engines to figure out such link plans. Instead, they’ve taken to calling them link schemes to discourage their use.

Press releases are also still valid for building links, and you can run a single press release on several distribution services, from paid to free. Most of these are good links, so include as many as you are allowed and use appropriate keywords.

Article marketing is another tactic that is being discouraged, but there are thousands of article directories online, and each one is an opportunity for keyworded links. And all of your competitors are already on these websites, so you better get at least one link on them in the appropriate article category.

Links from blogs are another great one, but you want contextual links in the content of the page, rather than just comment links. Comments are good, and some blogs are making comment links do-follow, ignoring Google’s suggested use of nofollow links for such comments. While many comment links will be nofollow, it is another opportunity to get your sites indexed and mentioned on popular blogs. But try for the guest blogging or blog mention route, rather than just comments.

Link bait is one of those popular buzzwords that simply means “content is king.” If you make great content, people will link to it. Obviously, this tactic still works.

Social links are the only really new type of link, but most social networks use nofollow on the links. All outgoing links on Facebook are nofollow, for instance, and Twitter uses a larger portion of nofollow links, while Google+ has follow links. Forums and Q&A sites are a good way to get links which may be follow or nofollow. Social marketing is more important for engaging in conversation with people and getting traffic, rather than just SEO.

These are the main categories of links available to SEOs, and will not likely change in the coming years, despite the best efforts of the search engines to get people to do what they want. Plan your search engine optimization accordingly, get a natural link portfolio, and consider these tactics more as overall marketing for your website, rather than attempting to manipulate search results.

Notes on “Digging Into WordPress,” Chs. 4-6

It’s been a couple of days since I started the Digging Into WordPress notes and takeaways outline, but I’m back with the next three chapters today. While going through the book and picking out my highlighted sections and notes, I find myself skipping over pages and pages worth on information to get the points I put in these posts.

Digging Into WordPress BookHowever, that doesn’t mean that the content in the book isn’t relevant or useful. On the contrary, there is so much code in the book for extending WordPress functionality that it is simply impossible to put it into an outline like this. Seriously, if anything in these posts catches your eye, you should just pick up the book, either a print copy or the digital edition. And if there’s anything related to any of the topics I point out, you can probably bet on there being some code related to it in the book.

The amount of useful code is one of the greatest achievements of the book. Personally, I’ve been able to eliminate at least 3-4 plugins per theme that I’ve worked on since reading Digging Into WordPress, using the code snippets to achieve the same functionality within the theme files themselves. This saves on scripting on pages, server requests, page load times, and keeping plugins updated. For the price of the book and the time taken to change the themes around, I’m already saving time every week that I used to keep plugins updated and compatible.

Chapter 4. Theme Design and Development

Three ways to customize the WordPress loop functionality: query_posts(), WP_Query(), and get_posts().

Use the query_posts() function to modify the type of posts that are returned within a single loop. Place it before the loop.

Use WP_Query() to customize multiple loops and customize the output of each one. You can create any number and kind of loops.

Use get_posts() to create additional loops anywhere in a theme.

You don’t need the $query_string variable when using the WP_Query() function.

WordPress 3.3 and above includes a new function, is_main_query(), by which you can modify the main WP_Query() object.

The get_posts() function requies using an array for parameters, but this is the easiest and safest way to create multiple loops.

Worried about multiple loops? Sound scary? Don’t worry: it’s normal to have multiple loops going on in the same theme.

WordPress includes an RSS parser, making it easy to grab content from other sites to display on your own.

Child Themes are useful and easy to create. Just create a new folder and place a single style.css file with some standard theme language, and refer to the parent theme. Then customize at will!

Using a reset style.css? Should you have a default reset file, or just include the resets in your main style.css file? Including it rather than listing it as a separate file cuts down on server requests.

Use a plugin like CSS Optimizer to reduce the file size of your style.css file. It won’t be readable to you in that state, but will make your pages load faster.

There aren’t many takeaways from this chapter because of the amount of useful code snippets included for doing everything from importing Twitter updates to listing popular posts to enqueing jQuery. This is another chapter that goes much deeper into the mechanics of WordPress than I can get into in a simple list of key takeaways.

Chapter 5. Extending the Functionality of WordPress

Wonder why you get Hello Dolly with every install of WordPress? It was the first plugin ever created for WordPress and will probably be included with it until the end of time.

In many cases, you don’t need a plugin. Instead, you can add some lines of code to your PHP files to increase the functionality of WordPress. But sometimes, a plugin is the easiest way to get it done.

Try to keep the number of plugins to a minimum, however, as it will eliminate extra script processing, improving the speed of your pages.

Before installing a plugin, search online for problems and issues with it. If it’s not well supported or doesn’t function as advertised, you’ll soon find angry hordes complaining about it online.

If you download a bunch of plugins at once, install and activate them sequentially to avoid problems with one or compatibility issues which may break your WordPress experience.

Many plugins will make changes to the tables in your WordPress database. Well-designed plugins will clean up those changes if you later decide to uninstall the plugin.

There are numerous ways to disable plugins.

The functions.php file allows extending WordPress on a theme-by-theme basis with custom functions and scripts. Theme-specific, custom, and smaller script functions should be placed here. Site-wide functions should be done via plugin.

You can put entire plugins into the functions.php file, but it is easiest to do with with plugins that consist of just one file.

Modifying the WordPress core files is definitely not a best practice. Only do it if you have no other options, and make sure you back everything up.

Custom fields are one of the most powerful ways to use WordPress as a Content Management System, including large ecommerce websites.

Since WordPress 2.3, custom taxonomies have been available through the Taxonomy API. The three default taxonomies are category, post_tag, and link_category.

Chapter 6. Working with RSS Feeds

Don’t use relative URLs in your posts, because they can break when included in your RSS field.

Post comments have their own RSS feeds, but many people would rather subscribe to comments via email rather than an RSS reader.

Which type of RSS you feature (RSS 2.0, Atom, and so on) is no longer as important as it used to be, as most readers can now read multiple types of feed.

You’ll have to decide whether to set up your feeds to include the full post or just partial posts. There are arguments on both sides, from the free flow of information and giving customers what they want in the way they want, to avoiding content scrapers and encouraging people to visit your site for the full article.

Consider using FeedBurner for feed deliver for the analytics provided, and the halfway decent support of the system by Google, which acquired FeedBurner in 2007.

As a positive for content-focused websites, Google makes it easy to integrate AdSense with your feeds if you use FeedBurner.

You can easily redirect your feeds to FeedBurner with some code in your htaccess file.

For RSS statistics, FeedBurner is finally get some competition from sites and plugins such as FeedBlitz, RapidFeeds, FeedStats, and Feed Statistics.

WordPress has the capability to create custom feeds that include some categories, exclude others, segment by author, or exclude posts containing certain search terms.

If you’re not using some of the feed formats WordPress supports, you can redirect them to the feed type that you prefer.

Use the Feedstyler plugin to add some basic inline CSS styling to the content your pushing out via feed.

There is some extremely useful code for giving yourself a buffer of 5, 10, or however many minutes you want between a post being published and when it’s sent out via the feed. This gives you time to fix any last-second mistakes you see after hitting the Publish button.

As a last step, validate your feeds. There are multiple online feed validation services where you can enter the URL of your feed.

Chapters 4-6 were another tour de force of WordPress functionality and taking nearly any theme and making it better. Chapter 4 had a ton more code snippets that you can drop directly into your WordPress files and, with a little customization, greatly extend what a default WordPress installation can do, all without the use of messy plugins or paying for web development.

It might be another few days before I get to the next chapters, as I have some SEO content in the pipeline. But check back for more key takeaways from Digging Into WordPress as soon as I get a chance to put them together. Or, you can always subscribe to our RSS feed or Follow Traffic Motion on Facebook.