Google Penguin 2.0 and Beyond: What Can You Expect?

inbound marketing agencyThe rollout of Google’s latest Penguin webspam algorithm update, Penguin 2.0, officially hit the search results late afternoon, Wednesday 5/22/13. Matt Cutts, Google’s head webspam fighter, says the update will impact about 2.3% of English-US search queries to a noticeable degree. 

Here’s a summary of what you can expect both from this Penguin update and other Google initiatives in the coming months, according to Cutts: 

Be genuine.

If there is one point to take away from all of these Google updates, it’s this: Google says they will always be aligned with websites that genuinely create a great site that users love, want to tell their friends about, want to bookmark, and visit over and over again. If that’s your goal and you’re working hard for users, Google says it’s on your side.  Penguin is here to fight webspam, not content marketing/SEO. This may be all you need to know.

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Put Your Online Coupon Ducks in a Row

Sorry for that title. But you know that no online marketing campaign – of any kind – gets those terrific returns unless you plan for it. You need to know your market and what you want to communicate to it before any tactic will work, coupons included. We have explored how online coupons can be used to ignite business, and what kinds of business models there are for using coupons.  In this post, we review your planning steps to make sure the effort you put into an online coupon campaign is not wasted.

This is the fifth and final post in our online coupon series.  You can find the first four at these links:

Coupons can generate traffic and sales. Online businesses need to evaluate how using coupons fits into a strategic marketing campaign with benefits that exceed the costs of price competition.

While the strategic issues will be somewhat different for every business, the basic marketing considerations will shape how each business will implement the tactic. These factors are Marketing 101, but we too often hurry past them to launch a tactic.

Know Your Market

Enough said. But it is important to keep this front and center: the people in your market segment shape the way to make your offer, and this is nowhere more true than on the Internet.

Define the Objectives of the Online Coupon

Direct mail campaigns have been used for years to achieve a variety of marketing objectives:

  • Market share
  • Product introduction
  • Customer acquisition
  • Sales promotions
  • Inventory clearance, and more

You might have similar objectives for your online coupons, but the tracking and communication tools of the Internet can help to make the coupons even more effective. The exact content of the offer, and the timing, duration and placement of the coupon will vary depending on the objective.

Analyze the Economic Value

All online coupons have costs. There are costs in creating them, distributing them, tracking them, and especially in funding the discounts they carry. Often, using coupons will put you in a loss position on those specific items, so the offer is worthwhile only if the longer run economic returns are there. One of the most important reasons to use online coupons is to acquire a new customer, so the lifetime value of a customer is an obvious basic consideration. Do you know the lifetime value of your customer?

Choose the Timing and Duration to Achieve Your Objective

We believe coupons are most effective for short-term boosts in traffic and sales. Using a coupon as a permanent tactic is just a unilateral price cut, and that cannot be good for your business in the longer term. That said, there are businesses that continuously offer coupons, but rotate the offer among products or services. Or, you might have a variety of offers in a variety of channels to reach your market in slightly different ways, while always building the brand.

Tracking and Analysis Always Required!

If you take the trouble to launch a marketing campaign, it is essential to learn from it. Even if it fails to hit your objectives, you will know something more for the next time around.

Coupons have grown up online. Even if you have not used them in the traditional marketing channels, consider them anew as part of your internet marketing strategy. As a source of new customers and new relationships, coupons may prove to be one of your most powerful tactics.


Groupon Re-Tools Coupons for the Internet

The most basic think about Groupon is that if you are a subscriber, a deal a day comes your way via email (or maybe Twitter). Over 35 million people now subscribe to Groupon’s local area offers in over 160 cities in the U.S. and over 100 more in about a dozen other countries. Groupon recently rejected Google’s offer of $6 billion and is reportedly preparing for a $15 billion IPO during 2011. The company is a money-making machine, taking in a sizable share every time a special offer is purchased.

Is Groupon Right for You?

Groupon seems to work best with local retail businesses like hair salons, restaurants, and clothing stores, but it can be used for many other kinds of products or services. A more analytical way of putting it is that the system favors businesses that can offer a commodity on a volume basis at price points that can attract a lot of people. That said, the price points don’t eliminate the luxury or premium goods segments – if you can handle volume and have local outlets, Groupon might work for you.

Why it Works

Business owners take a steep discount to have a deal of the day available for 24 hours, but they make no upfront payment. Offers are not activated until enough people buy it, ensuring that the deep discount is partially compensated by volume. Since small businesses have been overwhelmed by responses, Groupon encourages limiting the number of coupons available (unless you happen to be a huge national chain like the GAP which could handle 445,000 redemptions). Businesses report acquiring many new customers through Groupon.

How it Works

Groupon expands city by city, starting by recruiting highly rated local businesses that it believes will be successful. It attracts local subscribers, and then pushes a daily email to them with the offer of the day. You can purchase online or on mobile device (iPhone or android app). Once enough people have purchased (the deal is ‘tipped’), you can redeem the offer. Print the coupon to present for discount, or show the vendor your coupon on a mobile device.

Relationships Build Groupon

Personalization helps target offers to you, though you can always browse your city
for more. Groupons direction of evolution is toward more and more social integration as it runs hard to stay ahead of the many competitors it has spawned (including Google).

Groupon has a lot of competitors, the largest of which is LivingSocial. But it is much larger than any competitor, and growing rapidly. If Groupon is active in your market, it is a powerful marketing tactic you should consider.


Gaming Google. And Getting Away with It?

An article published in the New York Times on February 12 almost makes it sound like you need to cheat to get top natural search results. The article describes how JC Penny fooled Google into giving it top ranks on dozens of keywords using a link spam operation, possibly resulting in millions of dollars in sales during the Christmas season.

The dilemma for site owners is whether to jump on the ‘black hat’ bandwagon for quick results, risking the wrath of Google, or to take the slower but safer route to high natural ranks.

Spark’s position is that website owners can benefit greatly from pursuing higher search engine ranks through Search Engine Optimization (SEO) even using ‘fair white hat’ techniques, without risking penalties. Natural search itself is changing rapidly with the addition of real-time results, location filtering, personalization, and other ways that search engines try to improve the relevancy of results.  Below we briefly list some ways SEO as practiced by a firm like Spark makes it an important – and ethical – tool in your company’s marketing strategy.

Why Do People Cheat?

People cheat to make more money, the usual reason. Website owners can profit handsomely from top ranks because the vast majority of referrals come from them, and ‘black hat’ SEO practitioners make money helping them get the rankings through techniques the search engines outlaw.

‘Black hat’ SEO means using mostly irrelevant links and pages to trick the search engines into giving high ranks to a site that is not necessarily the most relevant one for a search query. This violates search engines’ terms of service because their goal is to provide neutral results with the most relevant websites for a query at the top. When a black hat spammer is caught, the web site suffers penalties.

In the JC Penny case, the company benefited from a campaign to place links to the company’s product pages on thousands (if not millions) of extraneous websites. Many of these websites are virtually shells whose only purpose is to gather revenues from participating in link farm schemes and/or advertising. When it works, these external links using important keywords as anchor text are counted as inbound links by Google, with more links boosting natural search results because the search engine thinks the targeted website is authoritative.

Getting Caught

After the Times uncovered the JC Penny scam and told Google, Penny’s rankings dropped like a stone from #1 and #2 to fifth page or lower for the same search queries. Google can, and sometimes does, manually re-rank a site.

Google goes to great lengths to police search results because its most important value is in providing fair, accurate results. When it finds a spam scheme skewing its results, it will penalize the perpetrator and try to tweak the algorithm to make it harder for spammers to use that particular scam. Over time, Google eliminates cheating, but in the short run, some people will always try to beat the system – and some will succeed.

High Natural Ranks You Can Keep

Getting high natural ranks is important, and every Search Marketing firm works to improve clients’ positions. Here at Spark we understand that natural search is changing because the Internet itself is changing. Inbound links are still important for being found, but SEO means more than just links. With your website at the core of a search marketing ecosystem, we pursue visibility in many ways.

Content is STILL king. The most basic element of authority of a website is its content. We emphasize blogging, website updates, and content revisions to keep a site expanding, focused on our most important topics. This content is crucial to your site’s relevancy AND it can help to get inbound links.

Expanding the publication sphere multiplies visibility. Content published in forums, external blogs, article publishers, and various content publication sites (like YouTube) help create both traffic and visibility. These external publications will include inbound links to your site that are valid and helpful.

Location matters. Your physical location may be an important factor in your business, and if it is, it greatly affects how you can be seen online.  Especially for smaller businesses or for chains that compete in local markets, local search visibility opens up a whole new array of tools.

Social media magnify effects. For both inbound links and basic buzz, social media amplify both the good and bad about your company. You need to participate to shape the conversation, and be alert to issues.  In the process, you again add content to the ecosystem and create links and traffic to your site.

Creativity counts. Intelligent use of public relations or even outbound advertising can help make your site more visible in natural search as well.

Visit some of the pages on the Spark website to get a fuller picture of how we approach search marketing. Buying low quality inbound links is not your long term path to search dominance or business growth.


The Web is Awash in Coupons – Are They Yours?

The Web is doing its usual jerky dance these days, changing on the run. The talk is swirling about Yahoo’s death spiral, while at the same time Online Media Daily is reporting that Yahoo was the #1 site for unique visitors in November 2010. But the same story includes the nugget for online marketers that “coupons were the top-gaining site category [in November], with visits surging 40% from October…”

In case you didn’t already know, coupons are big on the Internet, where price competition dominates many categories.  Businesses of all kinds, from giant Proctor & Gamble to puny ma and pa eateries on Main Street, are posting coupons to entice people in the door. After being rejected by Groupon, Google is testing its own coupon network, possibly called ‘Google Offers’. Online coupons have become a major focus of an industry trade group, the Association of Coupon Professionals.

An important emerging trend in online coupons is the integration of social media with coupon distribution and marketing. These approaches not only build direct sales but also emphasize relationships. They help companies to be found and as such can be a part of a comprehensive inbound marketing strategy.

This post is the first of 5 posts about online coupons – we will post them every Tuesday for the next 4 weeks. The next 4 topics will include:

  • 8 Good Reasons to Use Online Coupons
  • 5 Great Online Coupon Networks
  • Groupon Redefines the Coupon for the Internet
  • Planning an Online Coupon Campaign

Online Coupons Share Basic Traits with Ordinary Coupons

Coupons have been around for a long time. Online coupons are similar to these familiar offers in important ways:

  • A coupon offers a discount, a bonus, or another form of enticement that the prospect has to claim through redemption.
  • Often a coupon is a physical link to a transaction between a business and a buyer or prospect for a specific item. Therefore, coupons are usually (not always!) redeemable in a business for something tangible.
  • Because coupons are usually redeemed in person, they are a good tactic for purely local businesses as well as national or widely distributed products.

Online Coupons Offer Unique Benefits to Marketers

As we know, the Internet has a number of advantages for marketing. This holds for coupon marketing as well:

  • Coupons are a good direct mail tactic, except using email allows much better targeting and tracking.  Offer codes are a thing of the past.
  • Social media make person-to-person distribution a reality, extending the reach of coupon campaigns to people not previously known to the marketer.
  • Online coupons can be set up to help marketers capture the buyer’s contact information and sometimes even profile data.  The implications for followup marketing are obvious.
  • Personalized options, either by segmentation or at the individual level, make coupons more flexible and more appealing to customers.
  • Online “coupons” can be emails that supply coupon codes to enable customers to get discounts in online purchases.

Building Marketing Campaigns Using Coupons

Online coupons have pros and cons. They are almost always a discounted sale and that’s a problem if it’s all you have going for you. But if the numbers work, coupons can be a great way to motivate buyers and establish relationships.  Our next post will look at how to decide if online coupons are right for you.


30 Marketing Tips in 30 Days: Marketing Tip #28 – Use Online Coupons for Short-Term Promos

Many businesses, especially in retail markets, have been using coupons offline for years to stimulate traffic and sales for very specific offers. Today, especially in tough economic conditions, coupons are one of the hottest phenomena on the Internet.

Coupons are not a marketing strategy, but as a tactic they might be part of your Inbound Marketing program to help your business be found. Generally, coupons will be used to promote a spike in traffic and sales in the short term, for a variety of marketing purposes, including customer acquisition or inventory clearance.

We do not advise using coupons as part of a permanent tactic for a given product or service. This will simply force you even further into price competition, which is all too easy on the Internet anyway. If you do determine that a short-term boost is the thing you need, here’s a few coupon options you might consider (there are many, many coupon sites on the Internet – these are representative).

  • Google Places.  If you have one or more local businesses, chances are you have a Google Places account (if you don’t, set one up before the end of the day). In the very first screen of your Places account, Google invites you to “Attract new customers by creating an offer for your business”.  These offers will display with your listing in localized search results, and they will also display on mobile devices (unless you toggle off that distribution). You will have the options to add an offer code and image if you wish.  Google will even give you a preview of what the printed coupon will look like.
  • Valpak.  Valpak has been a giant direct marketing firm for a long time. Now they have an online distribution network you can access to promote your business to the geographic areas you choose (note that Valpak is not your only option in this category – a brief search will yield many coupon networks).  For a local area, just visit the general contact screen and you will be sent to a form that will be submitted to a representative in your area.
  • Groupon.  This is the 800-pound gorilla in this category. Google is reputed to have bid recently for Groupon, with a purchase price as high as 6 billion dollars, and was rejected.  Groupon has a unique business model that incorporates a pricing structure that allows a business to pay only for actual sales and leverages the social networks of participants to reach new customers.

Coupons may not be right for you, but they are right for millions of people online who “clip” them to save. It’s worth a thought.


Transition Time is Now: Yahoo to Bing PPC

In case you missed it, Bing announced taking over the Yahoo! organic search function at the end of August.  And this month (beginning early September) the transition of paid search (PPC) from Yahoo to Bing is underway in earnest.  Time to get it done!

From Yahoo! to Bing in 1,300 EZ Steps

Just kidding!  The search alliance folks have tried to make it easy to move from Yahoo! to Bing.  I think I can get it down to, well, not too many steps.  (btw, if you get confused in this discussion between “Bing” and “AdCenter” you are seeing things clearly.  See Kevin Lee’s rant on Microsoft’s brand confusion over this transition issue in his ClickZ post.  I will refer to Bing’s pay per click service as AdCenter.)

My own first experience wasn’t too bad, but it did include some typical Microsoft moments.  I took the straightforward route from my client’s Yahoo! account to import the campaign into AdCenter just following the screen prompts. Since we didn’t have an AdCenter account, I had to register before moving on, and everything seemed to go smoothly until I came to the screen with the payment information.  The import process actually included our Visa card info, except for the security code, so I just entered that and submitted the form thinking I’d be taken to AdCenter’s admin area.

Nope.  I got a message to the effect “Gee, we’re sorry, but we’re experiencing difficulties.  Can you try again later?” I’m used to this from Microsoft so I just turned it off and walked away.  Later, I went back directly to AdCenter and our new account worked. I clicked on the options I wanted and the account showed up ready to go, even with the billing information intact (apparently).

This is actually a very complex process behind the scenes, so I do not mean to be too hard on Microsoft. My point here is to expect some imperfections in the process, but persist.  It actually works pretty smoothly considering everything..

Finally, just so you know, AdCenter will give you the option to import your Google AdWords campaigns also, and you may prefer to do that.  In this case, you might end up abandoning the Yahoo! data altogether.

Nuts and Bolts

Here’s the basic steps I’d take to move a PPC account from Yahoo! Searchmarketing to AdCenter:
Set up an AdCenter account (I’m assuming it is new for this occasion).

  1. Log in to your Yahoo! account and download the compatibility report and the current campaign data.  You’ll want these for backup, certainly, but also for helping adjust your settings in AdCenter after the transition.  Not everything will come over intact.
  2. Yahoo! will give you prompts to link your account to AdCenter.  When you get to the login screen, sign into your AdCenter account, follow the screen prompts to complete setup and import your campaigns.
  3. The time-consuming part starts now.  You will have to go through the campaigns and adgroups one by one, either using your compatibility report as a guide, or just looking at the data as you go.  You will find a lot of missing or changed settings.  Get started.
  4. Don’t forget to turn off the Yahoo! account when AdCenter is working.

Some Changes to Expect in AdCenter

You are moving from Yahoo! into the AdCenter world, and they have always done some things differently. The rules going forward are Microsoft rules, so you’ll need to make some adjustments. Here’s a few common ones to look for (and your compatibility report can help flag these for you).

  • AdCenter uses Google-like phrase match types, unlike Yahoo!.  You’ll have to go back through the keyword match types to fix these (this is one thing that might tempt you to import a Google account rather than Yahoo!).
  • Some of your ads will not import, especially if the adgroups or campaigns were paused (at least, that’s my experience), so you may need to re-write some ads.  Also, a common problem will be the 25-character maximum AdCenter has for titles so that the longer titles you may have used in Yahoo! will simply be truncated, making for humorous results you’ll need to edit.
  • Campaign settings like geo-targeting will have to be reset in AdCenter.  I found the geo-targeting tool in AdCenter very balky, working sometimes and not others to allow me to drill down to narrow geographic areas.  I might be doing something wrong, but for the life of me I could not figure it out, especially since it worked fine sometimes.  Try and try again.
  • Budget allocation may be a little strange since the import will simply calculate a monthly budget by multiplying from your daily budget setting, but for my client’s account it allocated almost all the money to a single campaign and assigned 17 cents per day to two other campaigns.  Why? I’m really not sure, but you may want to check it out.

Back to Bing

There you are, back in the Microsoft fold, in case you thought you had left it.  Bing and Yahoo together should draw roughly 30% of natural search traffic in the U.S., and having just two big PPC platforms simplifies the advertiser’s life a little.  If you don’t have it, you might want to get a Windows Live ID now that you are going to be working in with Microsoft again.


How Will New Google Product Listing Ads Affect Your Business?

Google recently announced that it is expanding their product ads within their AdWords listing with a new feature called Product Listing Ads.  This feature is in response to the widespread use of Google as a product purchase tool.  Many people use Google as a shopping tool to research specific products and where to buy them. Google’s Product Listing Ads work within Google Merchant Center where an advertiser can create highly targeted ads featuring rich product information, such as product image, price, and merchant name.

A significant benefit of Product Listing Ads is that businesses are only charged on cost-per-action (CPA) basis. Therefore, you will only pay if a user clicks on the ad and completes the purchase process on the website. Because Product Listing Ads is charged on a CPA basis, it offers a risk-free way for businesses to reach a larger audience on Google.com.

Another benefit of Product Listing Ads is that you don’t have to use keywords or additional ad text. If a searcher enters a query that is relevant to a product in your Google Merchant Center Account, he will automatically see the most relevant products along with image, price and product name. Here are two examples:

Google Product Listing Ads

Google plans to expand the service however, currently the product listing ad is a Beta feature available to a limited number of retail advertisers. Over time, Google will increase number of users who can see the ads as well as the ones who can advertise their product.

Looking for some help with your Google AdWords campaign?  Request a Meeting and let’s discuss!


Still Wondering Why You Should “Do” Social Media?

Overcome Social Media Confusion & Generate More Leads

Social media serves an important, yet often misunderstood, role in inbound marketing success.  No doubt, many companies feel that they should “do” social media, yet I find that many business owners and marketers are confused and apprehensive about implementing a social media campaign.

In the business-to-business world, especially, social media conjures up thoughts of posting holiday photos on Facebook, making silly movies for YouTube, or wondering who’s going to write all of those blog posts.  And for many business owners, the blood pressure starts to rise at the sound of the word Twitter.

Relax. It need not be so overwhelming.

Have content.  Will socialize.

Any discussion of social media must begin with content.

From an inbound marketing standpoint, the most effective way to use social media is as a content promotion tool.  When you create and optimize content that your prospects will value and you publish or share that content through social media, you will begin to understand the social media hype.   (Of course you won’t just talk about your own content – you’ll also share other people’s great content, comment on other content, and share ideas that don’t involve self promotion.  Yet, without your own content to add to the mix, you won’t get the social media results you seek.)

What kind of content do you need?

Articles, press releases, videos, presentations, webinars, eBooks, guides, whitepapers, blog posts, free trials, free demos, and just about any other type of content can be promoted through social media.  A video can be posted on YouTube, a presentation can be shared on SlideShare, a webinar can be promoted via Facebook, an eBook can be promoted with an online press release, an authority article can be submitted to any number of article submission websites, your latest blog post can be tweeted on Twitter, and a free trial offer can be promoted to your LinkedIn network.  Use keyword research to explore topics for your content.

Clearly, if you’re going to get serious about social media, you must also get serious about content. Without it you will continue to sit on the sidelines wondering if you’ll ever “do social media.”

3 Reasons to Love Social Media

With content in hand you’re ready to experience the benefits of social media.

For companies looking to build their business through inbound marketing, participation in social media can bring 3 primary benefits:

1.    Social media brings more traffic to your website.
Social media gives you more opportunity to be found by people who are looking for information related to what you offer.  And as more people find you, your traffic will grow.  Probably the best and most common way to build traffic with social media is through a blog.  Your business blog gives you an easy platform with which to create and publish content on wide range of topics.  When built correctly, the structure of a blog is naturally well-optimized for search engines and when you use good SEO practices in writing your blog, you can gain an immediate presence in the search engine results pages.

Create blog posts about a variety of niche topics that are of interest to your target market and you’ll give yourself lots of opportunities to attract high quality traffic to your site.   (Note: Your blog should be built into your website, not a separate domain.)

2.    Social media helps you generate more leads.

If you’re a B2B marketer, you are no doubt interested in lead generation.  In fact, if you’re like most B2B marketers you don’t even want to talk about marketing unless it involves lead gen.  Well, say no more.  When done right, social media can be a powerful lead generation tool.  The key, of course, is to create content that is so compelling that a prospect becomes willing to give up their anonymity in order to access it.  And once you have that compelling content in place, promote it through social media and tie it back to a landing page that captures lead information and fulfills your offer.

A webinar is a great example of using valuable content to generate leads. When you create and promote a webinar that is chock full of free and useful information, you can build a nice list of leads (through the webinar registration).  Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, your website, and press release submissions are usually great ways to promote lead-generating content, such as webinars.

3.    Social media helps you build more links.
Links. Perhaps no other word in the world of internet marketing generates more conversation and debate.  Yet, one thing is certain: Links are a critical factor in building your website’s search engine rankings and traffic.  Keyword-rich links from other high quality relevant websites to your website are the kinds of links you want.  The more, the better.

So, how can you build links through social media?

My favorite way is to create content that your prospects and customers will want to share!  (I told you, it all comes back to content.)  When people share your content with others through social media, you get more links. Bloggers can write about your content, Twitter users can tweet your content, Digg users can digg your content, etc.  Sure, not all links will lead to SEO credit, but only good can result from putting out great content that others want to share.  If not for direct SEO credit, how about for traffic and lead generation?  Links can do all of that and more.

There are many other ways to build links in social media, including submitting articles and press releases to submission sites, building profiles on social media sites, commenting on other blogs, and participating in Q&As.

In short, while the social media topic has been played out ad nauseam in the online marketing community confusion and apprehension among business owners is still alive and well.  Only by understanding the role of social media and making a commitment to content can B2Bers experience the positive effects of social media lead generation.

Want to talk about social media for your company? Request a meeting or call me at (800) 474-1573.

Interested in learning more about inbound marketing?  Request our free Inbound Marketing Guide here.


Marketing on Facebook: Create Fans, Earn Customers

More and more businesses are leaping into social media as an effective and inexpensive tool to reach potential buyers. As many already know, the benefits of using Facebook are numerous. It can be a great resource for generating brand awareness and building relationships with your clients and prospects. Using Facebook applications can be an exciting way to communicate promotions or events and provides an opportunity to find consumers you may have not otherwise discovered. One of the most effective ways to use Facebook is through its Fan Page application.

Like a personal Facebook profile, a Fan Page can be enhanced with applications that help your business communicate with and engage your fans. Available pages include a business profile, photos, and a discussion board. Pages can be informational and fun, thus creating relationships and connections. Facebook pages are easy to set up and manage.

Unlike the Facebook Group Page, a Fan Page caters towards clients looking to learn more about your business or new products. The pages are interactive and enable users to share your business and products with other Facebook users. By creating a fan page, you are virtually attracting a crowd to your business. This is applicable to individual clients as well as business-to-business networking.

When someone becomes a fan of your business, your icon is posted on his or her wall. Hundreds of friends of your fan will be exposed to your business when visiting your fans’ page. Moreover, when fans interact with the Fan Page, stories that are linked to your page are passed on to their friends via News Feed. One of the most valuable features is that businesses can send “updates” about new products and content to fans and the brand becomes even more visible.

Fan Pages are public and unlike a personal page, anyone can check out your fan page. Because of this, search engines can index your page. Happily this leads to SEO credit upping your Google ranking.  Speaking of SEO, check out our free SEO guide, “5 Things You Have to Get About SEO.”