What Exactly Does SEO Really Mean Today?

courtesy of www.dreamstime.com
By Hector Cisneros

I often hear people talking about SEO as it were, some magical secret, that when implemented, would instantly land your website on page one of any search engine. They use the acronym SEO as if it was a single element used in internet advertising. The reality today is that the term SEO no longer holds any real meaning. That’s why you hear marketing professionals using phrases like Search Marketing, internet marketing and content marketing. In this article I will provide a clear understanding of the term SEO and what it now means for any business.  I will also provide you with a litany of the success factors needed to achieve organic page one results.

These Cookies are Anything but Sweet

English: Cookies settings and view in Firefox ...
English: Cookies settings and view in 
Firefox 3.0 browser  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
By Carl Weiss

It used to be that cookies were a sweet treat.  But not anymore.  That’s because everyone from search engines and media conglomerates, to advertisers and cybercriminals have learned how to use these tasty online morsels to sweeten their deal – regardless of what it means to you.  If you are tired of getting the “Betty Crocker Treatment” every time you surf the web, feast your eyes on today’s blog where we will show you how to start counting calories online.

Who Invented this Half-Baked Idea?

According to Wikipedia:
Netscape Navigator 6.1
Netscape Navigator 6.1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
“The term "cookie" was derived from the term "magic cookie", which is a packet of data a program receives and sends
 back unchanged. Magic cookies were already used in computing when computer programmer Lou Montulli had the idea of using them in web communications in June 1994.[7] At the time, he was an employee of Netscape Communications.  Together with John Giannandrea, Montulli wrote the initial Netscape cookie specification the same year. Version 0.9beta of Mosaic Netscape, released on October 13, 1994,[10][11] supported cookies. The first use of cookies (out of the labs) was checking whether visitors to Netscape had already visited the site. Montulli applied for a patent for the cookie technology in 1995, and US 5774670 was granted in 1998. Support for cookies was integrated in Internet Explorer in version 2, released in October 1995.[12]

At the time, cookies were virtually unheard of by the public at large.  It wasn’t until February of 1996 that the first article was ever published about cookies in the Financial Times.  Someone in the Federal Trade Commission was paying attention as well, since the FTC scheduled hearings in 1997 to discuss the obvious privacy concerns posed by these nefarious little programs.

Wikipedia goes on to note that:
The development of the formal cookie specifications was already ongoing. In particular, the first discussions about a formal specification started in April 1995 on the www-talk mailing list. A special working group within the IETF was formed. Two alternative proposals for introducing state in HTTP transactions had been proposed by Brian Behlendorf and David Kristol respectively, but the group, headed by Kristol himself and Aron Afatsuom, soon decided to use the Netscape specification as a starting point. In February 1996, the working group identified third-party cookies as a considerable privacy threat. The specification produced by the group was eventually published as RFC 2109 in February 1997. It specifies that third-party cookies were either not allowed at all, or at least not enabled by default.

These Cookies Aren’t Baked by Elves
Between that date and the year 2000, virtually nothing was done to reign in, much less curtail, the ever growing legions of cookies.  Worst of all, these prying I’s worked in the background, all but unobserved as they gathered information from computers at a dizzying rate.  Fast forward to the present date and like the supermarket shelves, there are currently scads of different cookie brands that currently abound. 
Courtesy of www.e-securing.com

  • HTTP only cookie – These cookies can only be used when transmitted via HTTP (or HTTPS). These cookies are supported by the vast majority of web browsers.
  • Persistent cookieThese little devils do not expire when you terminate your web browser. They will continue to report to their masters every time you go back online. Also referred to as Tracking Cookies, these are favorites of the advertising industry.
  • Secure cookieThese can only be transmitted via an encrypted connection such as HTTPS.  Many of the transactions that you make when you hit the “Buy Now” button on most eCommerce systems utilize these.
  • Session cookie Employed by web browsers the world over, these morsels exist in temporary memory for as long as you use the browser. They are normally deleted when the user closes the browser, only to spring back to life the next time you surf the web.
  • SupercookieTracking technology does not necessarily need to rely on HTTP cookies.  A supercookie is designed to be permanently stored on a user’s computer.  This means they are more difficult to detect and eliminate.  They function just like regular cookies in that they can be tasked to collect and report on everything from your browsing history, to ad-targeting data.
  • Third-party cookieNormally a cookie’s domain matches the URL shown in the web browser’s address bar.  However the so called Third Party Cookies hide their true identity by appearing to emanate from a URL that is different from the one being displayed.  Typically associated with adware, these cookies can be used to deliver ads that are concurrent with the user’s browsing preferences.
  • Zombie cookieJust like the zombies made famous in “The Night of the Living Dead,” Zombie Cookies are tough to kill since they spring back to life even after you delete them.  Their ability to rise from the dead is aided and abetted by a client-side script that has stored the cookie in multiple locations on your machine.  When it detects that the cookie is no longer present (which will happen when you delete it), the script retrieves the cookie and brings it back to life. 
Courtesy of www.sugarvancouver.com

Not only can cookies be difficult to eliminate, they also have long memories.  If you have ever used a popular web browser to shop for products online you will notice that for days or even weeks afterward that ads concerning similar products will appear as if by magic.  While such activities can prove annoying to the public at large, they can also have more serious implications.

Wikipedia states that:

While cookies are sent only to the server setting them or a server in the same Internet domain, a web page may contain images or other components stored on servers in other domains. Cookies that are set during retrieval of these components are called third-party cookies. The older standards for cookies, RFC 2109 and RFC 2965, specify that browsers should protect user privacy and not allow sharing of cookies between servers by default; however, the newer standard, RFC 6265, explicitly allows user agents to implement whichever third-party cookie policy they wish. Most browsers, such as Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera and Google Chrome do allow third-party cookies by default, as long as the third-party website has Compact Privacy Policy published. Newer versions of Safari block third-party cookies, and this is planned for Mozilla Firefox as well (initially planned for version 22 but was postponed indefinitely).

That’s right, information gleaned via cookies can be bought, sold and traded like baseball cards once were.  Not only that, but advertising companies routinely use third-party cookies to track users across multiple websites where it has placed ads or web bugs. A web bug is an object that invisibly allows a third party to check to see whether a user has accessed content. Sound like nothing a little Raid couldn’t cure.
While the governments of the world haven’t exactly declared open season on cookies that eavesdrop on everything we do online, that doesn’t mean that they have closed their eyes to the possibilities for abuse of these online spies.
Courtesy of www.tipsnext.com

Speaking of spies, Wikipedia also reported that, “The United States government has set strict rules on setting cookies in 2000 after it was disclosed that the White House drug policy office used cookies to track computer users viewing its online anti-drug advertising. In 2002, privacy activist Daniel Brandt found that the CIA had been leaving persistent cookies on computers which had visited its website. When notified it was violating policy, CIA stated that these cookies were not intentionally set and stopped setting them.[44] On December 25, 2005, Brandt discovered that the National Security Agency (NSA) had been leaving two persistent cookies on visitors' computers due to a software upgrade. After being informed, the NSA immediately disabled the cookies.

It further reported: In 2002 the European Union launched the Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications, a policy requiring end users’ consent for the placement of cookies, and similar technologies for storing and accessing information on users’ equipment.[46][47] In particular, Article 5 Paragraph 3 mandates that storing data in a user’s computer can only be done if the user is provided information about how this data is used, and the user is given the possibility of denying this storing operation.”

Of course, none of this stops cybercriminals from both using and hijacking information being compiled and transmitted by third-party cookies.  Network eavesdropping is all too easy to accomplish when the information being transmitted isn’t encrypted. 

Courtesy of www.x-services.nl
In cryptography and computer security, the man-in-the-middle attack requires an attacker to have the ability to both monitor and alter or inject messages into a communication channel. One example is active eavesdropping, in which the attacker makes independent connections with the victims and relays messages between them to make them believe they are talking directly to each other over a private connection, when in fact the entire conversation is controlled by the attacker. The attacker must be able to intercept all relevant messages passing between the two victims and inject new ones. This is straightforward in many circumstances; for example, an attacker within reception range of an unencrypted Wi-Fi wireless access point, can insert himself as a man-in-the-middle.

Who Stole My Cookies?

Just like taking candy from a baby, it is all too easy to steal cookies using cross-site scripting.  Cookiejacking occurs when a hacker posts malicious code that once clicked, causes the victim’s web browser to send the victim’s cookies to a website of the hacker’s choosing.  Hackers can also employ known security holes in browsers and operating systems to steal cookies.

While most people are still asleep at the switch to the threat imposed by unauthorized parties that collect, use and sell information harvested by cookies, there is one threat that should wake them up: Identity Theft.  In a blog posted by identitytheftfixes.com, Max Anderson noticed that a cookie called spylog had been introduced to his system. 
We all know that Internet cookies can be annoying and an intrusion on our privacy, but I really didn’t think they could contribute to identity theft until recently. While most Internet cookies do not pose a significant identity theft risk, when a website installs a Spylog cookie on your computer, the webmaster of that website can track every move you make on the Web and sometimes can even track your every keystroke. When you think about how much information you type into your computer, that becomes a serious threat.

Max then went on to show the reader how easy it is for a hacker to entice the average web surfer to accept an unauthorized cookie that could very well be designed for and by cyber criminals.  Have you ever seen links that offer to:

Pay off your mortgage in 10-years or less!
This housewife found a secret to losing fifty pounds without going on a diet.
Losing your hair? Learn the secrets that can help you hold onto what you have.

In short, these offers will not only fail to live up to their promise, but there is a high probability that they will leave you with something you don’t want or need: A cookie.  While Max extolls readers to access the Internet Options tab in their browser and regularly delete unwanted cookies, there is more that can and needs to be done if you don’t want to sweeten the deal for someone who doesn’t have your best interest at heart.

Depending upon the browser you use, it is possible to defeat a number of cookies before they gain any real traction.  WikiHow has a how-to article that shows you how to lock the door on many cookies by tweaking the browser settings on a number of popular browsers, including Google Chrome, Firefox, IE, your iPad and Galaxy Tab.  http://www.wikihow.com/Delete-Tracking-Cookies
Comodo Dragon (web browser)
Comodo Dragon (web browser) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Better still, there are a number of web browsers and search engines that go out of their way to shield users from cookies, including Comodo Dragon and DuckDuckGo.com, (I am using them both to research this very article.)  You can also kill adware in its crib by installing ad blocking software such as AdBlockPlus.  Just make sure that when you click on the ad to install any of these or other software that it leads to the company’s official website.  Today, many cyber criminals set up false flag sites that look and act like the real deal until you click on them.  Then they load tons of malware on your system.

The bottom line is that as the world wide web becomes ever more crowded with people and organizations that do not have your back, take a bit of advice from your grandma who told you to never accept candy (or cookies) from strangers.

In this article I have described how companies, hackers and identity thieves are using various forms of browser cookies to track your browsing habits. This article covers the meaning and use of most cookies, but most importantly, I discuss the use of the new third party cookies, supercookies and zombie cookies.

If you like this article, you can find more by typing “internet privacy” in the search box at the top left of this blog. I further recommend reading “ The Piracy of Privacy - The Looting of Privacy in America,"  and "Is Google Watching You?"

If you found this article useful, share it with your friends, families and co-works. If you have a comment related to this article, leave it in the comment sections below.  If you would like a free copy of our book, "Internet Marketing Tips for the 21st Century", fill out the form below.  

Thanks for sharing your time with me.

When he isn’t cooking up tasty stories online, Carl Weiss is CEO of Working the Web to Win, a digital marketing agency based in Jacksonville, Florida.  He is also the co-host of the online radio show of the same name on Blog Talk Radio.

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Social Media Tips, Tricks and Best Practices from the Pros

By Hector Cisneros
Recently I was asked by the Clay County Chamber of Commerce to head up and participate in one of their Clay Chamber University events. These events are geared to educate its members on current hot topics so that they can effectively run their businesses.  I gathered a list of more than two dozen questions for the event as a way of preparing myself and the other panelists. If you're looking to understand many of the important issues in social media, then this article is for you. It will provide 24 questions that social media professionals are asked every day. So let's get started.

#1 Why are social networks important to my business?
  • Social network connections, posts, shares, comments and page views are all used as  ways that search engines rank your company’s website for organic search.
  • Social Media networks are an ideal way to connect and engage your following/audience. It is bi-directional, works 24/7, and allows you to provide positive messages.
  • It is the perfect place for your loyal customers to sing your praises and provide highly visible testimonials.
  • It is a live and viral form of word-of-mouth marketing that knows few borders or language barriers. It can give you global scope.
  • It is a great place and way to build your brand (social branding). 

#2 What is the best way to grow a following?
  • The best way to grow a following/audience is provide your audience with what they want and invite as many to following as is allowed by the different social networks.
  • Consistent inviting is a must-do on a daily basis.
  • Providing quality content on a daily basis is just as important as inviting.
Courtesy of socialstrand.com

#3 What types of content should I be posting?
  • There are two types of content: Curated and Authoritative content. Curated pertains to content created by others that you share. Authoritative content is content that you create and publish.
  • Your content must be of high quality that is focused loosely on your industry. It must be useful, informative, and/or entertaining in the eyes of your following.
  • Minimize any kind of sales pitch. Coupons can work if they're provided in a meaningful way, as in a contest or a rewards program. These are best shared by your customers versus your posts.

#4 What type of content gets the most interactions?
  • Quality content that is visual in nature is the strongest. Videos are the top draw, followed by pictures, then audio, and lastly text.

#5 How often should I post to my social nets?
  • This often determined by four factors. First, how many followers do you have? The more followers you have, the shorter the time span your post will sit above the fold on your page.
  • Second, how much quality content you have? Authoritative content is considered much better that curated in this matter and is more highly valued.
  • Third, if you have a nice sized following and If you have high-quality content, few will begrudge your post, even if you're posting often (even 10 times a day).
  • The rules and policies of the particular network also come into play here.  Some groups and networks have specific rules for how often you can post. Also keep in mind that all four of these rules work in conjunction together.

#6 How do you know what kind of content your clients like?
  • Test to see what they like.
  • Check out what leaders in your industry are posting.
  • Ask them to find out what they like.
  • Do a search and find out what the hot topics are in your industry.

#7 How long should it take to manage your social media account?
Courtesy of www.slideshare.net
  • You will spend about an hour a day if you're very disciplined and you're using aggregation software such as Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, or Buffer, that allows you to create automated and scheduled content post.
  • If you’re creating authoritative content (i.e., blogging), this will take about two to four hours a week for creating, publishing and distributing your content.

#8 How do you know if you should follow a person back?
  • First, you should do some vetting of anyone you follow back. You need to check them out!
  • Do they have a complete profile and are they connected to many of your friends and colleagues?
  • Ask a friend who they are and what they’re like.
  • Look at what they're posting, their pictures, their likes and dislikes. If you’re on Facebook you can’t see this information until after you connect with them. If you don’t like what you see then, disconnect!
  • If you can’t fully vet them, you have to make a decision as to how safe they are. For example, If I don’t know you and can’t see your profile, I won’t follow you.

#9 How soon should you follow back someone who has followed you?
  • Once I have vetted them, I try to follow back people and companies as soon as possible. I work at it every day.

#10 How do I find good content to post to my social nets?
  • Good content can be easily found by doing a search on the subject of interest.
  • Use pharses such as: "articles on …" "blogs on …" "images on ..." "latest news on… " "what's trending on ...
  • It’s a good idea to create a Google Alert on the subjects you're interested in and have the emails sent to a specific folder for future use.
  • You will stumble onto useful content daily when reading any online magazine or newsfeed.

#11 How do you handle negative comments or posts on your social nets?
  • You need to handle negative comments immediately.
  • Address the commenter in a positive way and try to take the conversation offline as soon as possible.
  • Try to resolve the commenter's issues as quickly as possible. Failing to resolve their issues will lead to more costs and more negative stains on your reputation that cannot be easily removed in any way!

#12 Can you make too many social posts per day?
Yes, it is possible to post too often, especially if it's one these types of posts:
  • TMI – Too much information about personal stuff, religion, politics, sexist remarks, cursing, racist remarks, etc.  Most subscribers don't want lots of controversy or TMI on your personal life and no one likes rude behavior.
  • Be nice, be liked and follow the rules your grandmother taught you about getting along with others. Don’t hog the site.
  • Sales pitches – Commercials, the latest and greatest announcement of your great product or service etc. Remember, no one ever joined a social network to be sold to!

#13 Is it OK to repost something you've already posted?
  • It’s OK to repost/recycle any high-quality content.
  • The more evergreen the content the better.
  • Changing your curated comments also help.
  • Changing the time of days helps as well.

#14 How do you test and measure your results in social media?

Courtesy of business-5u.blogspot.com
  • Testing and measuring should be integral to your social media marketing. Don’t rely on your beliefs, rely on the facts as they show up.
  • The least expensive way is to use the built-in analytic tools that come in Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, YouTube and your blog.
  • Third, you can use Google Analytics to measure social traffic. You have to take the time to do this right. I recommend using a Google-certified pro, or if you have an Adwords account, get a Google rep to help you.
  • Fourth, there are many third party products that can help. These range anywhere from nearly free to high-end, consolidated agency tools designed to track all your social transactions.

#15 Is it OK to have the exact same post go out to all of your social nets?
  • Yes, it is OK, although it is not ideal. This is especially true if none of your social nets are sharing posts with your other social nets.
  • Also, if you have multiple accounts on the same network, make sure you are following yourself.
  • Ideally, each post should be formatted for each particular social network. Each social platform has different rules, and restrictions on how long a post can be, so you must stay within the most common denominator of characters, pics, URLs, etc., which you’re allowed to post.
  • If all your posts are formatted for Twitter, you give up the advantage that Facebook, Google+ or LinkedIn provides for you. You're restricting yourself to only 140 characters, whereas other social networks allow you many more characters.

#16 Should I engage in pay-per- click advertising in social media?

  • You need to test to see if pay per click is cost-effective for your business. First, determine a test budget, create several ad copy messages, then run the ads and see what happens.
  • Courtesy of www.socialmediaelearning.co.uk
  • Your success will be determined by your skill at producing compelling ad copy, selecting the right target audience, finding the right bid rate to get your message out at the right time, and have your bid provide you with the right number of viewers to create an impact.
  • We use social media as a test bed for keywords and ad message before testing in pay per click in search, because it's generally less expensive. However, your results could be totally different from platform to platform and costs will vary greatly as well.

#17 Should I use keywords in my social post?
  • Yes, whenever possible. However, your post needs to use natural language and not come across as artificial in any way. It's more important to have good content then to insert artificially selected keywords.

#18 How do I know what keywords to use in my social post?
  • The keywords will be related to your subject matter, your industry and your audience.
  • Never force keywords into a post if they're not directly related to your subject.
  • Never try and trick people into clicking on something that it is not!

#19 What are the most important social nets I should join?
  • This depends on several factors. We like being in the top five (largest) social networks: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn. We also like using Blogger because it is owned by Google and it can also create its own audience.
  • If you sell a physical product, being in a visual social network can also be important. These include Instagram, Pinterest, Picasa and YouTube, where posting pictures and videos work best.

#20 What are Groups and should I join them?
  • Groups are forum-like communities that are part of many of the social networks. Essentially, they're groups of like-minded individuals and business that have signed up to participate in sharing content of various types (ideas, articles, podcast, videos, questions, etc.).
  • Each group has its own rules and moderators based on the goals of the group’s founders.  In most cases, you can share content and questions in a group you're a member of, as long as you follow the group’s rules.
  • The benefit of a group is you can share content and ideas with these people and businesses without directly being connected to them (except as part of the group),that is, you're not directly following alll the individuals within the group. This gives you access to thousands of connections without having built thousands of followers.

#21 How do you sell on social media?
  • Three ways to sell on social media. The best way is to have your happy customers sing your praises by posting their testimonials for you in the news feed. These posts can be recycled in other social networks as well.
  • Second, you can use pay per click in most social networks. It can be used to drive traffic to websites, landing pages, or even to Fan pages that eCommerce built into them.
  • You can have contests, use coupons, and also create a loyalty program that allows visitors to take advantage of these social elements. Again, it’s always best if your customers are sharing these contests and coupons for you instead of you pushing them out.

#22 How easy or hard is it to run a contest on social media?
  • Running a contest on social media depends on the network you're using. Facebook has
    Courtesy of Tub King's Blog
    policies and facilities for engaging contest. A contest can be as simple as using Facebook's approved verbiage, posting a picture and then asking people to post a caption for the picture. Then create a random drawing for the winner and announce it on Facebook.
  • It could also be more sophisticated; for example, using an approved Facebook app that allows mobile scratch-off games with lots of prizes, odds and controlled entry methods. These contests allow you to easily capture participants' contact information and then have share their participation on their time like.

#23 What does it cost to have an outsourced company manage a single social network?
  • The prices I have seen are as low as $100 a month for a single network from a stay-at- home business, to $1,000 a month from a big name agency.
  • It’s important to note there are vast differences between what each vendor provides as a social media management program. Ask if they include setup, provide guaranteed organic growth, user engagement, how many daily posts are provided, is research provided, is curating provided, etc. In other words, is it turnkey or do you have to provide approved content?  Lastly, ask how much content and engagement is included.

#24 What are some useful tools that will help me be more effective when managing my social media?
  • The most common product used today is HootSuite. It is an aggregator application that 
  • Courtesy of www.entrepreneur.com
  • allows the management of multiple social network accounts and team members; plus it allows you to create scheduled posst, and post on the fly when reading/searching for content on the web.
  • There are literally hundreds of these applications. Do a search for social media management tools and you will find lots of them. They will range from free to thousands of dollars a month, and will allow you to manage from one to hundreds of social accounts and team members.

#25 Do businesses use social media as a recruiting tool? If so, what do they use?
  • Many businesses use professionally oriented social media sites such as LinkedIn, MedMasters.com and others recruit new employees.  These sites allow candidates to list their information for employers and employers can list jobs that are available.

#26 Should every company have a social media policy in place?
    Courtesy of www.lghmarketstrategy.com
  • Any company with more than one employee should have a social media policy.  It needs to address a lot of issues, like when can they be used, how they can be used, what can be said about the company and its employees. Also whether or not employees can promote the company without authorization, can social media be used personally and several dozen other important items. Most small companies (under 50 employees) don’t have (but need) a social media policy.

#27 Will a company look at my Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other social networks when they consider my application?
  • Many do look at an applicant’s social network footprint to get an idea of who they are. It would be wise to treat all candidates equally and get their permission in writing as part of the vetting process.  It has been my experience that applicants have disqualified themselves with poor behavior on their social networks.

#28 Can employees post negative comments about their boss or their company on social media? 
  • Yes, you can talk negatively about your boss or company under certain circumstances 
  • Courtesy of www.yahoo.com
  • because it is protected under the 1935 National Labor Relations Act. The rule is that your intention should be to improve or change the terms or conditions of your employment and the speech should be “concerted.” In other words, you should be trying to act in-concert with colleagues who might feel the same way as you do about your lousy boss.
  • Managers and supervisor are not protected under the 1935 National Labour Relations Act because they are not employees.
  • However, this freedom does not allow you to say whatever you want! If your speech in only about you and no one else, you may be terminated.

This article covers more than two dozen very important questions asked by businesses about social media today.  Each of the questions has multiple answers. As a whole, this article provides a comprehensive overview of the issues in this industry and it will help many businesses become more effective in their day-to-day operations when using social media as a marketing tool.

If you like this article, you can find more by typing “social media” in the search box at the top left of this blog. I further recommend reading “ The Twelve Secrets of Social Media Success, How to Get Fish to Jump in The Boat - A Social Media Analogy and Lessons Learned & Best Practices Part 3 – The Social Media Dynamic

If you found this article useful, share it with your friends, families and co-works. If you have a comment related to this article, leave it in the comment sections below. I hope you have found these questions and answers useful. Thanks for sharing your time with me.

That's my opinion, I look forward to reading yours.

Hector Cisneros is COO and director of Social Media Marketing at Working the Web to Win, an award-winning Internet marketing company based in Jacksonville, Florida.  He is also co-host of the weekly Internet radio show, "Working the Web To Win" on BlogTalkRadio.com, which airs every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern. Hector is a syndicated writer and published author of “60 Seconds to Success.”

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