Confession: It’s taken me nearly a decade to really figure out SEO and SEM

I have never pretended to be a search engine optimization (SEO) or search engine marketing (SEM) expert – far from it, in fact. I haven’t been involved in building a website in over five years, and even then, I had minimal input on the keyword descriptions and meta tags that were going to be used – people with far more experience than I were responsible for that. It wasn’t until recently that I began to really understand the difference.

I always understood that the “M” in SEM pointed more specifically toward paid advertising options; I distinguished the SEM and SEO by associating the “O” as organic and naturally built instead of bought. Perhaps the easiest way to visualize the difference between SEO and SEM is to picture your typical Google search results site broken down into three areas: the top above the natural results break, the area under the top results, and the right side bar. The top and side represent the SEM aspects with the bottom links comprised of the SEO results:

SEO vs SEM

My first exposure to the SEM world was about a decade ago, when I was working for a dot com that focused on higher education recruitment for specialized programs. I was in charge of public relations for the company, but I was often recruited to help think of “key words” when one of my colleagues ran into a lack of creative thinking for her “word buys.” Little did I realize then that I had run headlong into the 2004 version of SEM by way of pay per click (PPC) advertising. We just thought it was cool that Google came to visit and brought t-shirts.

Looking back at that experience, I was really immersed in the SEM world without knowing about it. The products we marketed were paid inclusion sites, which was an extremely popular way in the early days of the internet to end up at the top of search results; paid inclusion sites were essentially the forerunners to today’s paid search results.

Pay per click (PPC) was one of the next steps in the SEM realm, which was my first foray into SEM and SEO. The “word buys” I mentioned earlier were based on key word budgets for the early Google AdWords campaign that my company was running. I think back to how small our AdWords budgets were for a number of fairly generic terms and wonder what those budgets look like today and how competitive those words and phrases have gotten over the past decade.

While SEM in general gets most of the press because it encompasses a number of integrated marketing techniques, SEO is a crucial component of an SEM campaign. Smaller companies in particular that might not have the marketing capital to spend on AdWords PPC campaigns, sponsored ads, or don’t have the staffing for the maintenance that can be required for a full paid campaign. Making sure a company website has a fully developed SEO presence can be equally impactful. Both internal and external content linking are crucial to SEO, along with title tags, meta tags, keywords, links, and site quality.

While SEO and SEM are definitely two distinct marketing concepts, they cannot live independently of each other and survive. While SEO is a crucial part of SEM, SEM doesn’t work without property optimization.

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Potty humor at its finest

When I set about to write my discussion board post for the seventh week of IMC619, I had no idea what brand to discuss for compelling digital storytelling. I’ve – admittedly – been hitting a wall in recent weeks when it comes to academics and work; I’m blaming the cusp of the third trimester for wearing me down.

However, after our conversations in class, I discovered that I might be onto something with the brand I chose, not thinking the storytelling aspect was very strong. Charmin, purveyor of toilet paper and cute red and blue bears that promote it, actually has a strong storytelling presence through its social media outlets. Amazingly, not all of it revolves 100% around the bathroom.

Charmin, as a brand, has been known to bring its brand of “potty humor” to some of the biggest events in sports and entertainment. The morning of the 2013 Academy Awards, the brand tweeted all of the nominees luck while reminding them to “look down” before giving their speeches. The image shows an unknown woman in an elegant red dress with a strip of toilet paper trailing behind, seemingly stuck to her shoe – arguably every woman’s nightmare.

Oscars

Another example of this “potty humor” came this summer around the time the movie Guardians of the Galaxy was released. A part of Charmin’s #TweetFromTheSeat campaign, this particular tweet pays homage to the grade school astronomer in each of us:

GOTG

What other company can play on the fact that at least 75% of Americans use their cell phones in the bathroom without being completely out of line? Those cute little bears help.

Charmin has shown through these examples, as well as numerous others, than brands with serious competition don’t have to take themselves so seriously to gain customer shares. All it takes is some creative and compelling storytelling, a #TweetFromTheSeat campaign, and some creative potty humor to get the job done.

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Building Buzz with Raving Fans

There has been some conversation among my classmates on how to build buzz for marketing adventures. No one to date – unless I’ve missed something – has produced a silver bullet method for creating viral video-type buzz; I don’t think that’s by accident. There are some videos, blogs, campaigns, etc. that naturally have built-in hype – like the launch of new Apple products – and there are some that have a more controlled chaos surrounding them, like the “apparently” kid who has made it all the way to the Ellen show.

Apparently, he’s become very popular.

 

Kid and puppy tricks aside, how can marketers create buzz around their brands? A very simple was is to use already in-place raving fans to do some of the heavy lifting for you. We talked this week in IMC619 about unofficial blogs from Starbucks, Target, Amazon, and others, and the benefits companies can reap from these “outsider” blogs. These blogs, while not affiliated official with the companies they feature, are often more trusted than company blogs because they’re giving honest, third-party opinions versus what the company thinks its customers want to hear. Marketers can scour these blogs for customer feedback on a forum that they don’t have to monitor or moderate, using these unofficial blog comments to improve their offerings. While not done through official channels, this allows marketers to essentially co-develop new offerings, furthering brand loyalty and helping to create additional buzz for the brand.

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The world of in-app advertising

At any given point in time, I have several games of Words with Friends going on simultaneously. My sister-in-law and I have been playing nearly non-stop for about two years now, my sister and I play off and on, my mom comes and goes on the app, and my best friends and I have lengthy tournaments going. Despite my utter lack of Scrabble talent – my English degree hasn’t benefitted me here! – I am a self-described Wordie.

As much as I love the interaction I have with friends and family in two different time zones, four states, and various points in life, the in-app advertisements that come with the free version of the Words with Friends app drive me pretty much nuts, especially the video ads that blare sound at the most inopportune times – even with using the suggested mute options. The easiest way to get around these in-app ads is to purchase the paid-version of the game, but $4.99 is a couple of cups of coffee at Wawa, and that is far more important in my world that being able to entirely skip Words with Friends ads that have no bearing on my life, like the ones I captured this evening:

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As anyone in the IMC program knows, Monday night TV becomes a DVR event on nights assignments are due, so Sleep Hollow at 9pm is a no-go for me, and I have no idea what this other in-app game actually is.

Why has in-app advertising grown so much? In a world of economic reality, the answer is simple: the demand is there. Like me, “Consumers would rather see ads than pay for apps”  and “in-app ads can yield 20 percent engagement and 2,000% higher click-through“. Not bad for an industry that’s predicted to grow to anywhere between $17 billion for in-app ads  in 2018 and as much as $42 billion in total mobile advertising by 2017. Even in 2013, 71% of App Store revenue was from in-app purchases.

Where the problem with in-app advertising is a lack of targeting; the Words with Friends grabs from this evening are perfect examples. I can’t remember the last time I watched a show on Fox, but even more importantly, the ad flashed up after 10pm, which meant the show was over. Marketers will need to increasingly rely on more specific targeting for in-app advertising, utilizing geotargeting as much as possible to track consumer movement and locations for the most accurate advertising experience possible.

What can marketers do to increase engagement from in-app ads? In a world where over 70% of apps are used once and then abandoned or deleted, what can marketers do to increase their brands’ exposure and cut through all of the noise? And is $4.99 really too much to pay for some peace and quiet while playing an app with friends?

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Hiding in a Digital World – “I’d find you!”

While the “I’d find you!” line uttered by comedienne Isla Fisher in the movie Wedding Crashers is from a funny, boy crazy character who doesn’t want to lose her future-husband, the phrase is something that marketers have taken to heart in near-extreme ways.

Once upon a time, the standard pop-up ad was a source of frustration online; websites like CNN.com, Expedia.com, and innumerable others would launch a second browser window that featured an advertisement as the homepage was loading. Knowing that Internet users had a love-hate relationship with these pop-ups, developers soon found ways to block these windows within the browser software. Soon enough, marketers developed whole page integrated background ads, complete with banners, in-site pop-ups, and flash layovers; again, CNN.com is a guilty party with this intrusive advertising methodology.

CNN Homepage

CNN home page around 10:20pm on September 15, 2014. Flash-based butterflies on a pop-over ad not included.

In our class discussion this week, Lia discussed the Dollar Shave Club; my first visit to the DSC website was to get the link for this post, and yet my Facebook news feed somehow has had Dollar Shave Club ads displayed in it for quite some time. Not only was there a DSC ad, but a Ford Focus ad (subject of a previous week’s discussion), and baby furniture ads from Overstock.com (this weekend’s project).

Being stalked through online search history

Being stalked through online search history

In an “I’d find you!” type of world, how does someone remain anonymous online? What lengths do you have to go to to remain undetected to the Google bots?

Janet Vertesi attempted – and succeeded – in doing what my husband and I could hardly do for three months – she kept her pregnancy “secret” and offline the entire 40 weeks she was expecting. In order to keep big data collectors from discovering her pregnancy and bombarding her with baby-related advertising, Vertesi went to extremes that, frankly, I wouldn’t have time to think of, let alone implement. She set up her own server, never used a personal credit card, paid cash for pre-paid credit cards to make Amazon purchases, never had anything delivered to her house, and even “unfriended” an uncle on Facebook who dared to congratulate her on the pending arrival of her little one. Even more incredible is that Rite Aid threatened to call the authorities when her husband used cash to purchase gift cards to use online because he was buying in such large quantities.

Where is the line that marketers shouldn’t cross when it comes to finding its target market? Should consumer have to take extreme measures and go nearly off the grid like Vertesi did to keep more private life moments private? In today’s social world, is anything shared or searched online fair game for the “I’d find you” game that marketers today play?

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How responsive is your website?

Most of us work for a company that has a corporate website of some sort; some of us even have a corporate social media presence on any number of social sites – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc. Not every company is active in social media, and despite recent trends moving away from corporate websites, the corporate website will not be going away any time soon.

What marketers and companies need to be cognizant of, in addition to content, is responsive design. Technology has allowed consumers to cut the cord and not be reliant on desktop or laptop computers any longer and has moved to smaller and more portable devices, like tablets and mobile phones. As the daily user of two laptops, an iPad, and two iPhones of various generation, I run into responsive design issues on a consistent basis. Responsive design, in a nutshell, is how a website renders among various devices and browsers. There’s nothing more frustrating than using your phone’s browser on a website and having the site come up as an unusable disaster. Now imagine being a potential customer and coming across a site that is virtually unusable – you’re more likely than not to lose that customer because of a user unfriendly, not responsively designed website.

responsive design

How responsive design works on various devices

Making sure we can reach every potential customer in today’s hyper-competitive space is more important than ever. Keeping website design simple, user-friendly, and designed to use on any device can make or break a company’s corporate website.

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What Does “Emerging” Really Mean?

My husband and I decided to take a “baby moon” prior to our daughter’s arrival this coming January, and I’m writing this while gazing out at the Atlantic Ocean from our rented condo in Ocean City, Maryland. It’s also Labor Day, which will take on entirely different connotations in the not-too-distant future, but it’s also completely related to the mixed metaphors running around my head while attempting to work on IMC homework. 

Since starting this course – Emerging Media & the Market – I’ve been thinking exactly about what emerging media really is and how new ideas launch. For my own sanity, I’m going to take a step back and look at the definitions of the two words. The best definition for emerging seems to be: “to come into existence; develop.” Media becomes “the means of communication that reach large numbers of people, such as television, newspapers and radio.” The definition of media certainly isn’t the most up-to-date, as it doesn’t include anything about social channels, gamification, blogging, or really anything being discussed in the first several weeks of this course.

Because traditional definitions aren’t helping – which really makes sense for a course about emerging trends in marketing – I’ve had a couple of metaphors that I’ve been germinating on for several weeks. How do people like Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, or Bill Gates bring their ideas to life and recreate the world we live in? Did their ideas all pop into their heads one day, or did they have a longer gestation period – whether something akin to a 9-month human pregnancy or an elephant’s at 21 months? Did their ideas semi-surface – emerge, if you will – and disappear again over and over until they leapt into the mainstream, much like a dolphin or whale breaches the water while hunting or playing? What gives an emerging technology or social tool its staying power? Even better and more relevant to my needs, how to marketers really determine what emerging vehicles to jump on immediately, which to monitor for target market usefulness, and which to let pass by? 

Complicating these emerging technologies even further is how to segment them out into target demographics. Does a tool like SnapChat really fit into an IMC mix for real estate? How effective could Instagram or Pinterest be? Would Instagram usage effectively target Millennials while Pinterest boards attract Gen X-ers and Boomers to our apartment communities? Is Facebook the end-all, be-all? How does one convince decision makers in a slow-to-change industry that these changes are all ones to consider in order to move our business forward? 

As you can see, emerging media has left my head spinning with far more questions than answers. Luckily, I have all week with my friends from this morning to ponder how they breach, if it is a metaphor for emerging media, and how to potentially implement some of these new-fangled technologies into my marketing mix at work, all while feeling baby girl’s first real kicks and she works her way toward emerging into this world.

We saw a huge pod of dolphins swimming around this morning from our balcony, emerging from the water but not jumping.

We saw a huge pod of dolphins swimming around this morning from our balcony, emerging from the water but not jumping.

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The Metamorphosis of Traditional Media

The Internet as we know it today is vastly different from the 1969 launch of Arpanet, so it’s no surprise that what we do online has morphed as well. Two short years after the launch of Arpanet brought about the first effective email addresses, and the practical usage of the Internet was born. Fast-forward to the 1990s, and the price of computers combined with the availability of dial-up access brought the Internet into homes across the country, exposing everyday people to the Information Superhighway and making the world a much smaller place.

With the explosion of Internet usage, marketers needed to adapt their messaging and how they connect with consumers. Traditional forms of media, such as billboards, television and radio ads, and newspapers needed to adapt or they would find themselves being left behind in favor of newer media, such as online advertising, blog posts, emails, and eventually social media. Banner ads, like the one below for Microsoft became online billboards. Newspaper classified ads were digitized and can now be found on the sidebars of webpages and social media sites.

Banner ad

Banner ad

Online ad placement

Digital ad

Social media’s exponential growth has also forced marketers to get creative in how to utilize sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, etc. in order to maximize exposure. Many traditional forms of media, like radio and television stations have embraced social media as a way to increase exposure for breaking news stories by publishing breaking news as it happens. Gone are the days of waiting for a scheduled broadcast or breaking into a program in progress as the sole method for gaining information.

The way people connect has changed as well. We have gone from a letter writing society to a people who communication via Twitter in 140 characters or less. Email, once the preferred form of communication, has lost favor in recent years, particularly among Millennials. The preferred method of communication has shifted to the shorter and faster text message.

Despite the growth of new media in its varied forms, traditional media is still a crucial part of the integrated marketing communications (IMC) mix. While email marketing, social media campaigns, and digital communications are becoming the norm, maintaining a delicate balance of those media with the “old school” television, radio, print, and billboard media will spell better success in the long-run.

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About Melissa…

Melissa Sampson is a marketing professional based in Philadelphia, PA. With over a decade of experience in marketing, advertising, communications, PR, branding and strategy, Ms. Sampson brings an integrated approach to her marketing efforts.

Ms. Sampson began working with Altman Management Company in November 2013 as a Marketing, Training and Support manager, responsible for oversight of marketing and training efforts for the company’s multi-family housing portfolio in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.

Prior to Altman, she was a Regional Marketing Coordinator at Pennrose Management Company, marketing portfolios in New Jersey, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Chester and Delaware Counties, and the Lehigh Valley. Her expertise at Pennrose was creating and executing marketing initiatives for lease-up properties, having successfully led the marketing efforts for a dozen new properties.

At Nason Construction, Ms. Sampson was responsible for proposal output, awards submissions, website and intranet creation and maintenance, and public relations efforts. Previous to Nason, Ms. Sampson worked at Maris Grove, an Erickson Community.

Ms. Sampson worked for the Philadelphia Eagles after relocating to the Philadelphia area. Starting as a cashier in the Pro-Shop, she worked her way up to Game Day Supervisor in less than two years. In her five years as supervisor, she successful promoted nearly half of the people on her staff to supervisor.

In addition to her professional positions, Ms. Sampson has also worked full- and part-time at several YMCAs and volunteered with HOBY, the Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership organization. She is currently a board member of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Michigan State University Alumni Association.

A 2002 graduate of Michigan State University, Ms. Sampson spent her days at MSU with the Spartan Marching Band and Spartan Brass pep band. Never one to sit still for long, Ms. Sampson enrolled in West Virginia University’s Masters of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications program in the fall of 2012 and is expecting to complete her degree in 2014. She currently lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband. The couple is expecting their first child in early 2015.

 

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Melissa’s family – brother-in-law Ralph, sister Caity, mom Mary Jo, dad Chris, Melissa, and husband Scott.

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