Commemorating D-Day, Remembering the Heroes

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the WWII D-day invasion of Normandy, France.

Recently, a member of our team visited Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial and the D-day Beaches. It was a moving experience.

Here are some photos from the trip.

There are 9,387 marble tombstones throughout the 172.5 acre cemetery.

Many tombstones mark the graves of fallen soldiers who were never identified.

At the museum, exhibits show the rations received by troops and other artifacts.

The bravery of the service men and women in the face of death is unfathomable. Many sacrificed themselves for the greater good. The museum showcased some of their stories. Here are a few.

Creating a Search Engine Optimization Strategy: An Interview with an SEO Pro

By Maribeth Neelis

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is integral to a successful digital marketing strategy. When your website achieves a search ranking on the first page of results above your competitors, it's like receiving a recommendation from Google, or one of the other search engines. 

With a high ranking, search engines are telling users your company is the authority on whatever subject they are searching. 

Just like working to become an authority in real life, creating a website that is deemed an authority takes patience, persistence and knowledge. So we interviewed Brittany Heidtke who, after nearly a decade in the digital marketing field, has quite a bit of all three, and who we, and many others, consider an authority on the subject.

Brittany has specialized in everything: paid search advertising (Google Adwords, Bing, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter), email marketing strategy, social media strategy, and of course, SEO. She has worked to grow five-person start-ups to 75, consulted for Fortune 500 companies and everyone in between. Currently, she runs Clark Street Consulting, a marketing firm that helps small and medium size businesses take their digital marketing to the next level.

PPR: Most people have heard about SEO and understand that it influences a website's search ranking. Can you describe, at a basic level, how it works?

BH: SEO stands for search engine optimization. What it means is that you’re doing everything you can in order for Google (and the other search engines), to understand what content you have on your site and when it should call up your site within the search results.

The things that Google, and others, look for are a combination of how relevant the content on your site is to what a user is actually looking for, how recent that content is, how many inbound links are pointing to your site from other quality sites that are similar to yours, among a variety of other “secret algorithm” factors that they don’t like sharing.

Really what it comes down to at the end of the day is that Google is trying to give users the results that will help them with their search. So, you should concentrate on creating good, quality content that will give searchers the best experience and answer their questions.

PPR: Do SEO rules and guidelines apply to all search engines, or does each search engine employ a different algorithm?

BH: Each search engine has their own “unique” algorithm, but they are all very similar. Because ultimately, they are all trying to give users content that is the most relevant to their search. They all have that same goal. What people normally say is optimize for Google (since they have the biggest market share of searches) and you’re most likely optimizing for Yahoo/Bing as well.

PPR: When you are hired by a company, what is the first thing that you typically do for them?

BH: The first thing that we normally do is figure out what its goals are and then figure out what it has done previously to obtain those goals. That gives us a good jumping off point. From there, we’ll do a deep dive into the organic and/or paid traffic coming into the site and how it’s getting there. Based on the keywords already driving traffic and the company’s goal keywords, we can decide how to optimize the site to get the most traffic.

PPR: What are some of the most common SEO issues you see?

BH: Something we saw in the past was companies who were talked into buying links from scammy sites, because it was a quick win. Google laid down the hammer last year, and websites were penalized in the rankings for doing this. The biggest challenge those companies now face is that they must disavow those links within their Google Webmaster Tools and try to build again. So they’re basically at square one. 

When it comes to SEO, you always have to think “Is what I’m doing good for the end user?” If the answer is no, more than likely, Google will eventually penalize you for doing it. Even if it gives you a short-term gain, it will come back to bite you in the long term.

PPR: What are the worst SEO mistakes companies make on their websites?

BH: I think one of the worst mistakes a company can make is to create a home page entirely of images without any text. SEO is all about telling Google what your site is about. By just giving them images, they’re not able to gain any insight into why they should show your site in the search results.

PPR: We know that SEO is not an exact science, but what is one thing a company can do to improve its search ranking and start driving more traffic to its website?

BH: I would say to always be adding new, relevant content to your site. Google's algorithm takes recency into account, so having fresh content is one quick and easy way you can improve your ranking.

PPR: Content and social media marketing are real buzzwords right now.  Should these be considered separately from an SEO strategy? Or, are they all part of a broader online marketing strategy?

BH: All of these pieces should be considered together in a holistic marketing strategy. Everything you do online will have some affect on SEO, good or bad. Adding fresh content is key to an ongoing SEO strategy, so content marketing and SEO go hand-in-hand. And having a social presence that attracts visitors by sharing that content helps spread the word about your site and may earn you inbound links to your site from the new connections. Everything plays a part and everything really works together.

PPR: When does it make sense to create a paid search campaign? Or, should every company be using paid search?

BH: It makes sense to have a paid search campaign when you have the budget to spend on paid traffic and you have the time to work on both paid and organic traffic at once. Paid search is a quick way to drive traffic to your site, but you need to have the time to spend on it daily to make sure you’re getting the correct traffic and that traffic is behaving how you want in your conversion path. If you don’t have time to optimize these things, it will be a waste of money, and you’ll sour on the idea of paid search.

PPR: You also help companies run email campaigns. What is the most important thing to remember when creating an email campaign?

BH: The single most important thing to remember when thinking about sending an email is what you want the user to do after they read your email. Do you have clear call to action? Is it simple for them to understand? Most likely, you want them to visit your website and order or read something, so make that easy for them to do. 

Use a button or a well defined link to direct them where you want. And remember, people like to skim, so don’t get too wordy! And of course, always run tests, because what you think is the best way is not always what will resonate with users.

Have a burning question about SEO? Leave us a comment, and we will find you the answer. 

Get to the Point: Why Sound Bites Rule the Day

by Maribeth Neelis

: a succinct recorded statement (as by a public figure) broadcast especially on a television news program; also: a brief catchy comment or saying.

A Brief History

In politics
The term, coined in the 1970s in media circles, is said to have gained traction during the Reagan administration, as the President was known for his short, memorable phrases, like:

“Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

In the media
The first known printed citations come from that period.

"Remember that any editor watching needs a concise, 30-second sound bite. Anything more than that, you're losing them."

          --The Washington Post, June 1980

"TV's formula these days is perhaps 100 words from the reporter, and a ‘sound bite’ of 15 or 20 words from the speaker."

          --Time, June 1983

In marketing and PR
Social media has taken the sound bite to new levels, compelling companies and individuals to boil down ideas into short, catchy phrases, driving them to cheap tricks to get our attention.

Sound Bites and Reductionism

Even when they click, readers can’t stay focused. It's the age of skimming, and data suggests, the more words on the page, the less likely a reader will make it to the bottom. What’s more, many people share articles they haven’t fully read. 
Maria Popova discusses this issue that concerns her daily on her website

“the reckless reduction of complex ideas into sticky sound bites and catchphrases, a practice that … has become not merely an accepted cultural standard, but a profitable business model in the 'ideas economy.' Under such commodification of thought, after a while, all these bite-sized ideas begin to sound, look and, eventually, act the same."

You have probably experienced this first hand searching for information online. Despite different titles and URLs, articles often contain very similar information, sometimes sharing entire paragraphs verbatim.

The Value of a Sound Bite

Despite some drawbacks, a well-crafted sound bite can be a marketing or PR professional's secret weapon. Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, author, and science communicator, recounts how he discovered the value of the sound bite and how to whip up one that whets your audience's appetite.

Its anatomy: three sentences that tell something informative, make you smile and contain something so tasty, you might want to tell it to someone else.

"Why do you think we call them bites?"

deGrasse Tyson reminds us:

 “don’t think that sound bites aren’t useful if they don’t contain a curriculum. A sound bite is useful because it triggers interest in someone, who then goes and puts in the effort to learn more. … Take the moment to stimulate interest, and upon doing that you have set a learning path into motion that becomes self-driven because that sound bite was so tasty — why do you think we call them bites?”

His sentiment is relevant to anyone engaged in the art of communication, (or those of us who have ever been asked what we do for a living at a dinner party.)

How to Craft a Sound Bite

Consider your audience.
For deGrasse Tyson, this a-ha moment came after ABC aired just a piece of his extensive interview about the discovery of the first planet orbiting a star that was not the sun. 

This piece:

He realized that although they were interviewing him in his area of expertise, it was actually for them in their place, where sound bites rule.

“Rather than have them sound bite me, why don’t I hand them a sound bite that's already condensed. They can’t edit that.”

Boil it down.
deGrasse Tyson begins by stating the main concepts he wants to articulate and then paring them down to three sentences that are informative, make you smile and contain something so tasty that you might want to share it with someone else.

“You trim, you carve the words such that all that’s left is the most important concept communicated in the simplest, most direct way.”

Be an artist.
Poetic techniques that work in literature can make a simple phrase more memorable. You can get ideas from popular advertising slogans, but don’t ignore the classics. Pick up a famous novel and read it paying attention to word choice, metaphors, contrast, rhyme, rhythm, and repetition.

Pay attention to sentence construction. A long, meandering sentence will dull your point. Short choppy ones can interrupt flow and rhythm.

deGrasse Tyson likens this process of whittling down an idea for social media to sculpting.

“When I compose a tweet, I feel like [Rodin] who said, “When I make a sculpture, I just cut away everything that isn’t the man or the woman, and then that’s what’s left.”

If you just skimmed through until the end of this post, here’s the sound bite:

Part of the evolution of communication, sound bites aim to distill ideas into pithy, persuasive packages. In our multi-tasked, content-crammed culture, they may be the most effective means to control a message, trigger interest and set a learning path in motion.

How to Create a Social Media Plan Using the POST Method

By Maribeth Neelis
I am working on a social media strategy for one of our clients, so I thought I'd share one of the ways I do this called the POST Method.
The number of social mediums can be overwhelming, and while it’s important to create content and engage with clients and prospects somewhere online, it’s not necessary (or even feasible) to be everywhere.
Before you begin using social, it’s important to create a plan. But, it's never too late to re-evaluate the way you are currently doing things. And there is no shame in saying, "(Fill in the social medium here) just doesn't make sense for our business." It's better to do this than waste your time on an approach that isn't working.

There are many ways to do develop a plan. The POST Method, from Forrester Research, is a fairly quick and simple way.
People: Get to know your audience (clients and prospects) and how they use the internet and behave online.
1. Look at the demographic (age, gender, occupation) and psychographic (values, beliefs, motivations) characteristics of your customers and prospects.
2. Think about what your clients and prospects do online. Do they fall into any of these six overlapping categories of social technology participation?
  • Creators: posting photos and creating videos
  • Critics: reviewing products and services, commenting in forums
  • Collectors: gathering photos, products and ideas they like and sharing with their network
  • Joiners: actively participating in groups and pages, providing feedback and offering solutions
  • Spectators: using and watching social media without contributing
  • Inactives: not using social media
3. Follow customers and competitors on various social media. Listen to what they are saying, and look at how they are using the various technologies. This will help you brainstorm what might work for you.
Objective: What are you trying to accomplish through social media? Figure this out before you begin. Then, figure out how you will measure it.
At least initially, focus narrowly and choose one main goal, such as,
  • Build awareness
  • Improve retention
  • Increase sales
  • Boost loyalty
Strategy: In the POST model, strategy means the result of your activity. How will your relationship with your customers have changed? Knowing this ahead of time will help you create an action plan.
  • Do you want to improve your relationship with your best customers?
  • Do you want to more people talking about your products and/or services?
  • Do you want a place where people will test your products, provide feedback and offer up new ideas?
Technology: Based on the people you want to reach, your objective and your strategy (or end game) decide what social technologies to use and how much time it will take.
  • Should you start a blog?
  • Do you want to develop your Facebook or Google+ community?
  • Should you be more active on Twitter?
  • Should you be posting photos and videos to Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest?
  • Should you start an email newsletter?
  • And finally, how will you measure your success—Google analytics, Facebook insights, Hootsuite, blog subscribers?
The deluge of content and slew of social media options can be overwhelming. But, the great thing about these uber-social times: there is a plan that will work for you, as long as you are thoughtful and strategic in your execution.
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