The Donald Rumsfeld Manifesto and Search Engine Optimization

For those of you who know me, you understand that I hate politics… especially in the real world. That is probably one of the reasons why I hide behind this ergonomic keyboard, safe from getting annoyed, digusted, or gawdforbid, into a heated discussion with a friend or neighbor. As usual, I will use the mortgage industry as an example here, but it applies to anyone doing business on the net.

DOES ANYBODY REALLY KNOW?

When clients ask my partner Robert about search engine optimization (SEO), he likes to quote former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who Robert claims is highly relevant to search engine marketing. Mr. Rumsfeld was quoted as saying, “There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns, that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Then he tells the client that is how SEO works, whether Google, Yahoo!, MSN or any other engine. Search engines seem to more closely to the world of TV Star Trek than the real world. The engines have nonlinear boundaries, appear to operate in multiple dimensions, somehow contain all the information known to man and have unwritten rules that frequently change, without warning.

“THERE ARE KNOWN KNOWNS; THERE ARE THINGS WE KNOW WE KNOW.”

Here is what we know… If you want to be found on the internet you need to be found in the databases of Google, Yahoo! and MSN. Other engines are nice to be found in as well, but these three will account for 98% of traffic.

“WE ALSO KNOW THERE ARE KNOWN UNKNOWNS, THAT IS TO SAY WE KNOW THERE ARE SOME THINGS WE DO NOT KNOW.”

Matt Cutts is a Google employee who states on his web site “Hi, I joined Google as a software engineer in January 2000. I’m currently the head of the Google’s Webspam team. I sometimes blog about things, but please bear in mind my disclaimer that the views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.”

Here are some comments from MattCutts.com on some “known unknowns” about Google and ranking.

URL NAMING: Using dashes over underscores to delimit words in URLs is better. In example, MortgagePromote.com/mortgage-leads.html is better than MortgagePromote.com/mortgage_leads.html

SPAM STRATEGY: Overall Google’s strategy is to not spend time on correcting individual spam cases, but to concentrate on creating a better algorithm which takes into account spamming. Having said that, Google will take action on specific cases of spam.

SITE MAPS: A site map won’t necessarily get your site crawled. It is more important to have good quality links to your site to achieve a higher degree of full site indexing.

SELLING LINKS: In order to artificially create a sense of high quality links, many sites buy links to their own sites. If you sell links, you should mark them with the nofollow tag. Not doing so can affect your reputation in Google. Earned-links are earned and given by choice. Google does consider buying text links for PageRank purposes to be outside our quality guidelines. Google’s is against selling/buying links, and Matt indicates they are good at spotting them – both algorithmically and manually. Sites that sell links can lose their trust in search engines.

EGO AND SPLASH PAGES: It’s not only Googlebot who doesn’t watch a 20 second video load before the home page comes into view. A lot of users don’t either. Splash pages can negatively impact your Google indexing.

FLASH VS. HTML: If you use Flash, you create a HTML version as well. HTML is easier to index and improves your chances of getting indexed.

META TITLES: Each pages should have its own unique and descriptive < title > tag and headings for every page. In example, if your company is called Mortgage Promote, then Mortgage Promote should not be the meta title on every page. Titles should reflect the page substance. If you page is about San Diego Home Loans, then that should be the meta title.

SAY WHAT YOU MEAN: If your site is about “San Diego home loans” but the visible content of your site says “Get your mortgage loan with us,” you won’t be found for San Diego home loans” because those words aren’t visible to the visitor.

“BUT THERE ARE ALSO UNKNOWN UNKNOWNS – THE ONES WE DON’T KNOW WE DON’T KNOW.”

RANKING PARAMETERS: Factors such as “Page Rank (Google tool bar)” and “inbound links (more is better)” and “trusted sites (colleges and major corporations)” and “age of domain (older is better)” and “keywords embedded in URL (ie HomeLoans.com vs JohnsonAssociatesAgency.com)” and “ownership (do you own too many similar type domains?)” and a plethora of other unknown unknowns all impact where your site appears in the Google rankings.

GOOGLE UPDATES: Google updates everything all at the same time, typically every three or six months. This is what causes massive changes in rankings.

CLICK FRAUD: Many people want to know how Google prevents click fraud, but Google isn’t telling. Google’s priority is to protect advertisers, so that means not disclosing any proprietary methods which would allow click fraud perpetrators to reverse-engineer our systems.

THE RIGHT STUFF

Achieving success is not about doing a few things 100% right, it is about doing hundreds of things, many of which you don’t even know, 100% right. As you can see, Rumsfeld was in a can’t win situation. He had do everything right, he even had to be right in things he didn’t know about. He couldn’t and that is how he lost his top ranking.

Maybe we should update Rumsfeld’s quote to reflect the uncertainty of the search engines. “There are right rights; there are things we know we do right. We also know there are wrong rights, that is to say we know there are some things we should not do if they are not right. But there are also unknown right and wrongs – the ones we don’t know we don’t know if they are right, or wrong.”

Now if that makes sense… you can do the right thing and get your site highly ranked in the search engines.

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The Long Tail Of Web Site Leads

(I think I read something once about the how to tell if it is a “chick flick” or a “macho flick.” It went something like this… If the main male actor in the movie is gracious and likes the mother of the main actress then it is a chick flick. If the mother of the main actress doesn’t like the man then it is a “macho flick.” Gosh, I use my mother as an example in the body of this article, and I like her, so maybe this posting is an almost “chick posting.” )

Author Chris Anderson has a book, “The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More.” The Long Tail has implications for your web site and your source for online leads. And, it can also impact the amount of revenue you generate.

I will use the mortgage loan industry as an example for this article.

As you are aware, the abnormally variable interest rates of a few years ago are creating another boom in securing new loans. Many people may be seeking a new variable or new fixed loan for their property. This trend presents a real opportunity for mortgage companies, especially those with web sites.

Gosh, You Mean The Internet Is Different From The Real World?

In the real world a dog is man’s best friend, wagging their tail, every time they see you. On the web, a visitor is man’s best friend, using a mouse instead of a tail to greet you.

Not surprisingly, there are many distinctions between generating customers in the real world versus online client generation. In Anderson’s book he explains that in traditional retail, you have the 80/20 rule, with 20 percent of the products accounting for 80 percent of your revenue. He goes on to say that online it is different; completely different.

In example, the average Barnes & Noble store carries 130,000 titles, which is quite impressive for a real world store. But when you look at the online book retailer Amazon, over half of their book sales come from outside its top 130,000 titles.

More Is, Well… More

At Barnes & Noble all it can earn is on the books in the store, but at Amazon, since they carry more titles, they can earn more, and they do.

We also see that more is better occasionally in the real world; that is why my daughter’s favorite ice cream store is not called “Baskin & Robbins 2 Flavors”

Less is More Too

Essentially The Long Tail describes the ability of the Internet to service micromarkets. This is possible due to the delivery system of the Web provides. Take for example Ecast, a digital jukebox company providing service to bars. They find that 99% of their top 10,000 will play at least once per month.

This why the subtitle of his book is, “Why The Future of Business Is Selling Less of More.”

Long Tail, Plus Lots of Music, Equals Lots of Money

Kevin Laws, a venture capitalist, states this about the music industry, “The biggest money is in the smallest sales.” I am sure there are just enough sales of such classics as Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe Through The Tulips” and “William Shatner’s “Spaced Out” CD to add a few extra dollars to the bottom line of online retailers. When you add those dollars to the thousands of other songs that have just a few sales each month, the overall effect can be staggering.

My Mother’s Long Tail

My mother is English, but has lived in America since she was 20 years old. She still loves English humor. I bought her a NetFlix annual subscription for Christmas. She rents the most obscure English DVDs imaginable. She also contributes to the bottom line of NetFlix.

When The (Real World) Music’s Over

Even Wal-Mart, the largest music seller in the world, is physically challenged. They place their music section in highly visible locations at low prices but they are limited to about 3,000 titles in 500 square feet. They concede the niche music or older titles to the online sellers.

If you have ever been to Tower Records, an 89-store music retailer, you might recall walking down the aisles seeing thousands of music titles, or searching through the bargain bin for that one favorite song you have forgotten about. While that may be fun, online searchable databases and price comparison web sites can help you find the hard-to-find version of “Respect” by Otis Redding, (although Aretha’s version is far more popular), in less time than it takes you to get in your car and turn the ignition.

As I write this article, I have just read that Tower Records can be almost $100M in debt and is on the verge of closing. The company went through a prepackaged Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection filing. Sources site the advent of the internet, from Napster to iTunes, as the downfall of Tower Records.

So How Does This Information On Books And Music Impact Your Mortgage Leads?

You can generate more business for your online mortgage web site by casting a wider net for mortgage leads. Take for example a relatively niched search like “San Diego Mortgage,” and you will find the number of searches last month at Yahoo are as follows:

Search Number Keyword
2386 San Diego mortgage
1393 San Diego mortgage broker
986 San Diego mortgage company
857 San Diego mortgage lender
391 San Diego reverse mortgage
254 San Diego mortgage refinance
217 San Diego mortgage rate
146 San Diego mortgage loan
143 San Diego home equity mortgage
115 San Diego real estate mortgage
111 mortgage company in San Diego
109 2nd mortgage San Diego
90 second mortgage San Diego
45 mortgage broker in San Diego
45 mortgage in San Diego
42 adjustable rate mortgage San Diego
31 mortgage lead San Diego

Could You Use Even An Extra 500 Highly Targeted Mortgage Leads To Your Site Each Year?

There are few interesting facts about the above list. First is that I left off over half the related searches to save on space. Second, note that even something like “mortgage in San Diego” is searched 45 times per month, or over 500 times per year. Now assume there are about 60 keyword searches with similar annual search counts. That works out to over 30,000 extra visitors.

And, that is just for “San Diego Mortgage.” A search for “San Diego Home Loan” found another 28,000 searches per year for related terms.

How To Apply The Long Tail To Your Site

You already might know what the top keyword searches are for your mortgage leads. Use those as a basis to create a list of keywords you might purchase at the various pay-per-click engines. Don’t forget to add local communities in your keywords. For example, the town of Del Mar, with less than 5,000 in population, produces almost 1,000 searches a year for “Del Mar Mortgage.” Even the cheapest condos in Del Mar are in excess of $500,000 so you can imagine the revenue this could generate for your mortgage company. In San Diego, there are approximately 60 communities (Encinitas, La Jolla, El Cajon, Oceanside, etc.) Each of these communities can produce mortgage leads for you. If you assume just 500 searches per community times 60 communities, that is another 30,000 potential customers per year.

Wag The Tail

You can see in the physical world; sales are limited by physical space; so retail acts in the realm of scarcity. In the online world, it is full of abundance and only limited by your ability to service the type of loan inquiries you receive. You can use the internet to minimize your costs of acquisition.

If you create and then purchase a broad base of pay-per-click keywords, which, in turn, will result in additional traffic and mortgage leads to your site. At this point, you will be the one wagging your tail…

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Using YouTube.com as a Speed Dating Medium Between College Coaches & High School Athletes

YOUTUBE – FROM $0 TO $165M

YouTube launched in November 2005 as a personal video sharing service, and has grown into an entertainment destination with more than 65,000 videos being uploaded daily. Visitors watch more than 100 million videos each day.


In October of 2006 Google announced that it was purchasing YouTube for $1.65 billion.

SHOULD YOU YOUTUBE YOUR SITE?
Now that Google has acquired Youtube.com, there is a need to pay attention to this new medium and see if you can utilize it to help with the online promotion of your web site.

I think in many cases embedding YouTube video on your site is probably not the best, or most professional, thing to do… but there are applications where it can be helpful.

BROADCAST YOURSELF
YouTube’s slogan is “Broadcast Yourself” and that is what we did. My daughter is a 16 year old high school junior who plays volleyball. She has been approached by several colleges about playing volleyball for their school; and there are many colleges that she wanted to contact as well.
The typical process is that an athlete sends a DVD to the school, they get around to looking at it, then they follow-up if interested. She created an online college volleyball recruiting site that allows college coaches to “meet” her online. In less time than it takes for a coach to open the mail, walk over to the DVD TV and find the remote, they can watch a video on Kenz and know if they want to recruit her or not.

Click on the “PLAY” arrow to watch


HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETE – COLLEGE COACH SPEED DATING WITH YOUTUBE
In this way, YouTube can become a “speed dating site” between prospective high school athletes and college coaches.

She incorporated YouTube video on her site rather than just adding video directly to her web pages. We debated just loading video onto her site and bypassing YouTube, but I wanted her to have the extra exposure YouTube offers, plus at the end of her YouTube videos she offers the link to her site. This way she may get noticed at YouTube and via her site. I also attempted to optimize the YouTube video tags in an attempt to drive more traffic.

A YOUTUBE VIDEO IS WORTH A THOUSAND DOLLARS
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a YouTube video can be worth thousands of dollars in an athletic scholarhsip is obtained. Last week she sent out her first emails to college coaches. Within in 72 hours she received these replies:

Kenzie, Forget the part about sending a video tape. I was able to view your links attached to the email. I was impressed with how much you penetrated over the net when blocking. You bring power when you hit too! You are fun to watch. I know you’d bring strength to our team and depth in the S/RS position. I also noticed that you hand dig. I like when players do that. When you aren’t afraid to use your hands you are able to dig more balls. So needless to say I’m impressed with your style of play. I think you could make an immediate impact in this program. Keep me updated on everything on you end. I look forward to hearing back from you soon!<<>>

Kenzie, I have spent way too much time this morning playing around on your website. Needless to say, I’ve very impressed not only with the great website but with you. I think you are a great mix of a serious competitor, hard work, talent, personality and intelligence. Everything I like in a player. I look forward to recruiting over the next year or so. <<>>

Kenzie, Thanks again for the website link. I was very impressed and there was a lot of great information. I really feel like I have a good feel for you and the kind of person you are which is a very big priority for me and my program. We want great athletes of course but the person has to be great as well.<<>>

Dear Kenzie,That is a very impressive web site and I do plan on watching you play <>. I wish you the best of luck this weekend.<<>>

Hi Kenzie, I wanted to take 2 seconds to introduce myself. I am the Head Coach for the University volleyball team. I happened across your website and saw that you have a stellar GPA and course load and I know that you play for a good team. If you are at all interested in our school, please let us know and we will send you a recruit card and get the process going. We are in need of a setter pretty soon…one that can step in and run the show as a freshmen. Let me know if you are interested. Good Luck!<<>>
PS. If you will be at the Anaheim qualifier, let me know. My assistant and I will be there. Thanks.


YOUTUBE TRAFFIC INCREASES
Most of her volleyball videos have been up 1-2 months at YouTube.com . Her videos have been viewed as many as 2,000+ times in that short period, obviously not all by coaches.

YOUTUBE – BROADCAST YOURSELF TO COACHES
Obviously this is a very specialized niche, but you can apply the concept to other needs you might have.

In the February 22, 2007 edition of Time magazine, there is an article on how people are using video resumes to obtain jobs. Once the rest of the YouTube generation enters the workplace, “video résumés are going to be as ubiquitous as PDAs or iPods,” says Mark Oldman, a co-president of Vault.com.

See you, or you’ll see me, at YouTube.com

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Hey, That’s Smart Internet Marketing

It is hard to stand out among the tens, hundreds, thousands of Internet companies available to potential mortgage customers. In this month’s article, I am going to mention a few smart things that separate successful mortgage firms from their competitors.

I SHOULD BE IN PICTURES
My business partner, Robert, is a Wall Street Journal junkie. He is always reading about how companies do business online, then we discuss his findings and see what we can do for ourselves and our clients, if anything. Robert recently read about a company that converts those thousands of snapshots you have around the house into digital images. One of the companies mentioned, ScanMyPhotos.com, had an all-you-can-put into a box for $99 special.

I purchased their box, filled it with the about 2,000 snapshots, dropped it in the prepaid box they sent me. Then, just four days (that is smart doing such fast turnaround) later I got the box back with all my pictures plus a DVD with the digitized images. Apparently they have some high tech machine that takes a stack of regular photos and converts them to jpg images. Here is where it got real smart…

HEY, THAT’S ME…
Out of all those images I included, they actually selected one that they guessed was my family, and took my family picture and put it onto a postcard coupon for 30% off. In fact, four postcard coupons, all with my family’s picture, so I could send it to friends so they would receive a discount on their order. I even gave Robert a coupon since he actually found the company.

FLOWERS FOR MOM
This past Valentine’s Day I ordered flowers online for my mother, as I always do. I typically buy from costco.

There is a little lesson in this as well, as if your current customers had a good experience during their loan, they are far more likely to come back to you next time they need another loan.

Back to the GrowerFlowers.com story. As I was checking out, I remembered they always had a place where I could select what kind of card was to be included in the order and what I wanted the card to say.

This year I noticed a few things different; and better. First, they had more cards to choose from and they had images of both the outside of the card and the inside text showing where what I typed would go. Second, they added a feature where I could select a digital picture from my hard drive, and upload it to be imprinted into the card. For a moment, as I was thinking that is a cool feature, I pondered sending that picture of my wife in that cute little negligee that I liked so much… but then I thought mom would prefer to see her granddaughter instead. After looking closer at the picture of my wife, it was probably a good call.

And GrowerFlowers.com does other smart things as well. They have “suggestions” as what to say in your card if you are creatively challenged. They offer a handy reminder feature. I could enter names, birthdays, anniversaries etc of people and then GrowerFlowers.com would send me an email a couple of weeks before so I could remember what to do… Try missing your anniversary — that is not so smart.

I am sure a few other flower companies are doing this, but I am so pleased that I just keep going back… And, telling my friends.

CAR BUYING
I recently was buying a used car for my daughter and I wanted to try and find out about a car history so I ended up at a VIN site . Normally pop-ups are a turn off, but this pop-up said, “VIN Number Available? If not, please leave us your email address and we will send you a reminder to you.”

What was smart about this, is that many people don’t have a car VIN number immediately available and this site sent an email reminder to me so I could easily return to the site when I had the VIN number from my car.

BEST ENJOYED BY
The book, “In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies” By Robert H. Waterman, Jr., Thomas J. Peters; contains one of my favorite examples of how to be smarter about the presentation of your business.

Words are a very powerful tool, especially online, where words are the way a potential customer judges you. The “In Search of Excellence” book has an example of two companies and how they state the expiration date on fruit drinks. One company prints, “Expires on 6-25-07” on their product while the others states, “Best enjoyed by 6-25-07”. Now the difference is subtle, but the “best enjoyed” has better wording.

SEARCHING YOUR BACK YARD
Search engines are getting smarter too. Now when you do a search for something than is best served by a local provider (i.e. dry cleaning, donuts, real estate, home loans) the search engines are reading the origin of the request by using your Internet protocol (IP) address. The search engine can tell your location with your IP and deliver results that best meet your needs.

This is especially evident with Google and if you actually create an account with them, which I do. I just searched for the single, generic term “plumber” and I got back all my results that specifically said “San Diego” in the Adwords ad (that is the little column on the left of your screen that are paid advertisements). Google knows that if I get better results with them that I will keep using them. And if my results are better then I end up using the companies that advertise with Google, so these companies benefit as well. That’s smart.

HOW’S YOUR CHILD?
For a number of years, some doctors’ offices will call after a visit just to say they are following up on our visit and to see if we have any questions. Hmm, I always used to think that someone had a Porsche payment due… But, it makes good sense for marketing and patient relations and also helps with limiting malpractice exposure. Even our veterinary doctor (at least his staff) calls after visits to his clinic. (He should be providing us with kitty limousine service given how much we spend there.)

HOW’S YOUR CAR?
I did buy a car for my daughter and then I had several calls from the dealer. The first was from a person who specialized in answering questions such as how does cruise control work or where is the spare tire found. The second call was from the person that sold the car thanking me for purchasing the car and just making sure I was happy. These guys should call because if you think cats are expensive, you should try daughters…

GET SMART WITH YOUR SITE
So, take a few minutes and look at your site. Go back to your site and re-read how you have your wording. Try to click through your site as a first time visitor would. Is it friendly, concise, compelling, helpful and informative? Does your wording get you customers, or does your wording cost you customers? As you go through your site ask yourself what would you want to see? How can the navigation be better?

If you do this, you will find that your web site results in more closed mortgage loans. Ahh, so smart.

From a monthly column I write for a national mortgage magazine.

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