Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Dangers of Hyper SEO

SEO tactics have continuously become more sophisticated as marketers learn how to get the results they want from Google, Bing and Yahoo.  What we are hearing from the search engines however is that they are trying to give visitors the best possible experience by providing information that closely meets their search criteria.  Google and Bing both have indicated recently that so-called Hyper SEO tactics will become less effective as the search engines put more emphasis on freshness and quality of the content as well as social media signals.

Google recently announced Google+ Your World search which where google users will get results that include information from people they follow socially.  Matt Cutts, the chief of Google Webspam prevention went further in recent comments suggesting that those engaging in Hyper SEO practices run the possible risk of being delisted by Google.  

Hyper SEO tactics most commonly used are paid blog/comment postings and using mini sites to build links to sites.  The danger signal is when the search engine is seeing a lot of links to the root domain and not a lot of deep links.  Interesting sites generate lots of new page content and interested readers who share them.  

How do you deal with this change?  Simple start creating interesting content!  If you really engage in social media and start talking to your audience through blog and social outlets, your going to gain the benefits of the increased engagement and avoid getting slammed by Google.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How do I market my online training courses?

Effectively marketing your online training courses can be one of the most challenging aspects of building a training business.  As subject matter experts, you are expected to know the topic you are teaching but to be an effective training business person, you also need to know how to attract and sell prospective clients on your services.  Here are a few tried and true rules and tips to keep in mind.

1.  Identify your market (be specific!) - To begin marketing, you must be certain of your market. Be very specific. If you say "Anyone can take my course" then you should start marketing door-to-door.  A well defined market might be "Electrical Engineers who require annual continuing education courses".

2.  Know your audience - Who is the typical buyer? What are their motivations for buying your course?  What problem does your course solve for them (CE credits, hard to find skills etc.)?

3.  Do what already works - If you are effectively marketing classroom based training, the same marketing techniques will work for online courses.  Putting your courses online doesn't create a new market for you, it creates a new audience of consumers.  Don't assume you have to do all your marketing of online courses through online methods.

4.  Make it measurable - Use promo codes, tracking codes and coupons to help identify what tactic you use is effective and what is not.  Make sure you plan time to tally and measure the results so you can use that data to refine your message and focus on the most productive tactics.
If you follow those rules, it's hard to go wrong.  Here are a few tactics that have been most effective for our customers.

a.  Email blasts & Newsetters - Your best clients are your existing clients.  Send them helpful, simple informative emails (not more than monthly) that let them know about new courses and special offers.  Email is (almost) free and has fast, measurable results.

b.  Direct mail - Direct mail (yes, I said that) post cards and tastefully written (ONE PAGE!) letters to your target market.  We are on the Internet now, direct mail is dead right? WRONG! You get dozens of email ads every day but how many letters do you get?  Direct mail can go to new contacts the CAN SPAM law don't allow you to email.

c.  Business to Business - Find associations and organizations that would benefit from offering your courses and get them to promote the course for you.  The right affiliate partner can produce thousands of new clients.

Notice, nowhere did I list a great flashy website.  The internet is clogged with websites. Yes, you should have a site but don't spend more than 15% of your marketing budget on web design, it simply won't pay you back.  Web advertising can be highly effective, (DigitalChalk get's over 80% of it's business from online ads) but it can be expensive per new client unless your training packages sell for several hundred dollars or more.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Create eLearning with HD Video

Building great elearning courses using HD Video is getting a lot easier.  When we launched DigitalChalk over four years ago, we devoted a significant effort to making it easy to upload and share videos for training.  Unfortunately the elearning market wasn't quite as ready for video as we hoped.  Things have definitely changed and at this point even the most technology aversed instructors are embracing the idea that they can and should use video as a training tool.  
Earlier this year we launched a new technology for building courses using high definition video called HDLearn. We dramatically increased the maximum quality of the video that can be delivered and significantly reduced the complexity required to upload and share videos in DigitalChalk.  I thought it might be helpful to give you a few tips on how to produce videos that can be shared quickly on DigitalChalk.  
1.  Camera options - There are really two kinds of video used in elearning, the video captured from a video camera and the kind of video captured by recording software on your computer.  When talking about recording video of lectures or discussions it's important to be sure your camera supports 720p or 1080p recording in MP4 or MOV formats.  If you camera has both 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratios, it will give you the most flexibility.  I recommend you stay away from MiniDV cameras because moving the files from tape to a computer is an unneeded hassle with today's flash and hard-drive capabile cameras.
2.  Lighting and background - It's really essential that you spend time thinking about the lighting and the background behind the subjects on video.  Poor lighting becomes very obvious to the students.  A neutral low contrast background will also improve lighting as well as help keep students focused on the subject on camera.
3.  Screen recording tools are very plentiful.  Make sure the recording tools you use can export a standard video file type.  In our experience, it's better to use standard video formats rather than Flash or Silverlight animation files.  Standard video formats can be edited with other camera video and you can use any standard video editor to make changes.  
4.  Video editors - Depending on what you are recording, there are a lot of options for video editing.  Most computers have either Windows Movie Maker (WMM) or iMovie (Mac) preinstalled.  These products are perfectly fine choices for the casual media editor who is cutting a few clips together.  Most businesses have access to Adobe Creative Suite or FinalCut Pro for the Mac.  
5.  Importing video to DigitalChalk - Once you are satisfied with your editing, it's time to export your file from the editor and upload it to DigitalChalk.  With DigitalChalk HDLearn technology you have a maximum of 1 Gigabyte per video file you can upload (or one hour, whichever is greater) per individual lesson.  The best settings for exporting are as follows:
    HD Video Sizes  a) H.264 MP4 codec (others are supported but this is ideal)
      b) 720p (1280x720 widescreen or 1280x960 standard screen) size
      c) Target bit rate or quality of 2.5 megabits per second (2500kbps) 
If you follow these settings you should be able to export a high quality video file of up to an hour long at well below 1gigabyte in size.  
Once you have created your lesson chalkboard in DigitalChalk you select the Manage Media link and click the + button to add your media file.  
6.  Tips for video lessons - Don't forget that DigitalChalk has a lot of options for putting in chapter points, check point questions and displaying slides in the chalkboard editor.  Sometimes you can mix the media and ask a question on video with a pop-up that is triggered inside of the DigitalChalk chalkboard to create a highly interactive feel to your video lessons.  

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sell Online Courses

DigitalChalk has become a market leading platform to sell online courses.  We are thrilled to see the growth in sales our content partners are enjoying on DigitalChalk.  When it comes to online video training software, DigitalChalk has taken the lead in giving you a complete toolkit to develop, sell and deliver online classes that include streaming HD video.
sell training onlineIf you are interested in marketing your professional skills in the form of online training courses or take your current classroom content to the Web, we would be honored to serve you.  DigitalChalk currently has over 1,600 organizations delivering more than 4,000 courses worldwide.  
Contact us if you would like to see a live, no pressure product demonstration from one of our specialists.  

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Setup Training Online

The effort to setup online training has become much easier in the past few years with the introduction of hosted software systems like DigitalChalk.  The hurdles of purchasing, configuring and managing software and servers have been removed with the introduction of Software as a Service (SaaS) products.  If you have course content ready in a digital format such as Powerpoint, video or SCORM modules, you can setup, configure and deliver online training in just a few hours.  
At DigitalChalk we are constantly striving to reduce the time and complexity required to product high quality elearning courses for online delivery.  We offer online tutorials on how to setup online training for free.  If you would like to have a live demonstration, contact us at 877-321-2451 option 1.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Keywords with Google Wonder Wheel

Have you ever wondered what people search for in place of the keywords you are already buying in PPC or optimizing for in SEO?  Wouldn't it be cool if Google would give you a search "thesaurus"?  They actually do, it's a very cool tool call the Wonder Wheel.  Here is how it works:

1.  Bring up the classic google search page and make sure that Instant Search is off.  (for some reason Google thinks we don't need wonder wheel if we are instant searching)

2.  Search on a keyword or phrase that use commonly use for your target audience.  One the result page you will see the option for the wonder wheel on the left column.

3.  Click on the wonder wheel and you will automatically see a spoked wheel representation of all the other phrases people search on when they also search for your keyword/phrase.

Pretty cool huh?  For me this visual representation of the phrases is much better than suggested keywords in PPC.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

More Bang for your Bing Buck

Bing's Adcenter is the first potential PPC challenger to Adwords I have found. The experience is better than Yahoo and the early returns on ad results are surprisingly good.

I have to admit, I was a little reluctant to jump into PPC ad marketing on Bing. Last year when they announced Bing, there was absolutely no way I could find to even setup an ad account. I recently used Bing to search for airline tickets and found that their user experience was better than any of the travel sites. As the market data recently reveals, Bing is growing at the expense of Yahoo, not Google so clearly it's a potential avenue for getting more clicks from new eyes. As a relatively seasoned Google Adwords administrator for our brand DigitalChalk as well as managing campaigns for several customers, I have a few preconceived ideas about how PPC should work and how it should be managed. My initial reaction of how Microsoft Adcenter works was surprisingly positive. Here are the pros and cons compared to Google Adwords and Yahoo.

Setup steps
The setup was simple and fast. Just as with Google and Yahoo, the setup wizards are designed to be usable for first time web marketers. I did have an initial hiccup, as a Mac user, the only browser Microsoft supports on my machine is Firefox so Safari & Chrome lovers, tough luck. This is unfortunately what I have come to expect from MS. Overall, the flow to get my first campaign going was good. It looked like a lot of "borrowing" of ideas from Adwords happened but that make setup feel more familiar to me. Early in the process, they mentioned that campaigns could be imported from Google but that turned out to be less useful than I had hoped. I was forced to create a campaign and bring in keywords before I was show any information about importing from Adwords. It turns out that the import really is just an option to bring in a campaign as a CSV exported from Adwords but you have to manually edit the CSV headers to make it work so on balance, just copying stuff in was as fast.

I started by building a campaign that mirrored my primary, highest performing campaign in Adwords. My goal was to get a feel for how the two performed side-by-side in a similar campaign. I used the same ads and keywords. I was initially thrilled that I could just copy from the Adwords Spreadsheet editor my keywords column and paste it into the keyword box without error. It was a bit disappointing when I realized Adcenter stripped out all my exact match [] and phrase match " " parameters but the upside was they stripped those out for me instead of throwing an error. The better thing would have been to parse my parameters and set them on the campaign. On balance, the whole process was fairly quick. I had my campaign published and my account setup in about 20 minutes.

Bidding and configuration
Once I got into my campaign and started to look at how Adcenter had created it, I found a few differences that didn't initially compute for me but some of that is probably adwords assumptions. For those of you accustom to using Adwords, you realize that for a given campaign, you can select the target audience of Search or Content Network in the settings. Adcenter assumes that you obviously would want to have both search and content in your campaign by default. What was a bit odd to me is that rather than letting me specify the target by campaign, it created two identical keywords, one for search and one for content. At first I thought their underlying model is bleeding through to the control panel but as I started to use it, I realized I liked that better than having to manage two campaigns. Adcenter does allow you to set bidding preferences for each type and also set unique bids for each keyword.

The keyword management was a bit buggy feeling. It could have been sub-par support of Firefox but one very annoying thing was that you have to switch to an edit view to set the Exact Match, Phrase Match or Broad settings. If you have to paginate to view the second page of keywords in this editor, it throws an error message telling you changes must be saved. The only way to save is to click Next to exit from that view. With seven pages of keywords, I had to edit, save, exit, return and edit seven times. You can however change your bids from the main view, so that was redeeming. The rules for pagination seemed odd also. In the main view my keywords took three pages, in the edit view they took seven.

Cost and results
When I setup my campaign in the initial wizard, it asked me what I wanted my total budget for a month to be (Note: to Microsoft, we LOVE our daily budget on Google) and a max PPC. I setup a campaign that was 1/3 of the Adwords budget and about 70% of the max PPC I use in Google.

There is no recommendations engine for Adcenter that I can see so if you are a first time marketer in PPC, choosing a starting bid is a stab in the dark. After realizing the content and search keywords were separate and all included in the campaign, I went in and set the global search and content max bids separately (good feature microsoft). Here is where it got yummy good, the ads pushed live very quickly and reporting data started flowing back in within the first hour. For a compulsive report watcher, that was like candy to me. I quickly realized I was hitting first position on most of my placements at the default bids and my cost per click was about 1/3 of what I was paying in Adwords. I dropped my default bid and tweaked a few keywords out that were behaving differently than on Google. Right now my average CPC is about 30% of Google with about the same number of impressions.

As I mentioned above, the data started flowing in faster than I am accustom to with Google. This could be a very good thing in managing new campaigns but in the long run, you may find yourself making too many small course corrections if you watch the hourly data too closely.

The Adcenter gives you a way to generate a conversion tracking code. This is helpful but I would much rather that Bing pass the keyword parameters over in the URL like Yahoo and Google does. Right now Google Analytics is the thing most of us use for tracking the life-cycle of the visitor and Bing data doesn't include the keyword.

Final Analysis
As I am sitting her writing this, I got an email from Yahoo marketing, informing me that they will be transitioning all of their ad marketing into the Micrsoft Adcenter. That's great because I gave up on Yahoo ad marketing some months ago.

In the short time I have run these campaigns side by side between Adwords and Adcenter, the results are very good. I'm getting more clicks per dollar spent on Adcenter. This is probably mostly due to the lower amount of competition for placement on the same keywords. It does also appear that Microsoft is more generous in their ad placement algorithm as well. I don't seem to be getting zinged on lower quality keyword-to-ad matches as I am in Google.

My tentative recommendation is that if you are feeling tapped out on clicks for your primary keywords on Google and you have the budget, go ahead and jump into Bing.

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