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  • Personal Branding Interview: Joe Balestrino

    Today, I spoke to Joe Balestrino, who is an SEO expert and writer for blogs such as Search Engine Journal. In this interview, Joe explains how companies can be successful without internet marketing, what we could know about with Google real-time search, lists some SEO strategies, mistakes people make when optimizing their sites, and argues that social media is not the new SEO.

    Do you believe a company can be successful without internet marketing?

    Certainly, and in fact, many business models aren’t well suited to online sales or lead generation. Sectors involving overseas trade, as an example, have established channels for business that have been around since well before the internet. On the whole, however, most businesses can benefit to a greater or lesser degree from some form of online presence. As society moves toward further acceptance of the internet as an evolving replacement for older methods of obtaining goods and services, such as the Yellow Pages, the importance of establishing and maintaining a solid presence gains more significance.

    What is your opinion on the integration between search engines and social networks? What issues does this raise?

    The integration between the SERPs and social networking, led by Google, has a surface level value proposition that rewards the interests of the public. That may seem like a positive step toward more relevant search results, but it has quickly become another factor to be manipulated by the online marketing community at large.

    Twitter is a great example. It’s filled with accounts and tweets that serve as a marketing platform and provide no real value to the general public. Digg has become a “good old boy’s club” where marketers reward each others participation irrespective of the value of the content. Danny Sullivan’s “Sphinn” is a repository for manufactured blog posts designed to gain links and PR rather than promote genuine discussion. Marketers are flooding the net with “top five this” and “top ten that” articles and posts to the point where the formula is beyond contrived.

    Ultimately, the blame falls on Google, whose adherence toward Web 2.0, or social networking, was a calculated move to decimate link building and further devalue the organic rankings, on which they make no revenue.

    The reason social networking is ineffective for promoting business and has led to the manipulation described above is that most businesses aren’t sexy and don’t have a sexy product. Specifically, you can’t expect to succeed with viral promotion of a mundane product or service, and Google was well aware of that when they devalued directories, article submission sites and other formerly valid forms of link building. If a company established a good online presence before the advent of Web 2.0, they have organic currency. If not, and I’m specifically referring to new businesses here, it forces them to rely more heavily on paid search, for which Google does generate revenue. A lot of revenue.

    Some marketers have the naivety to believe social networking is simply the natural progression of the internet, but I assure you, it’s not. It’s just another stab wound in the dying value of organic listings, aided by above the fold placement for Google maps, Google local business results, Google Base (which may won’t always be free) and anything else Google can think of to push organic down while promoting more of their own agenda, which is the necessity of paid search.

    Can you name your top three strategies for SEO/SEM?

    Branding, branding and branding. Business branding transcends fads like social media. If you have a well established brand, you have a well established customer base. As for the “nuts and bolts” SEO/SEM strategies that are useful, the following three are integral to a well conceived online marketing effort:

    1. Keyword Research – This is the foundation for your online marketing efforts for both SEO and PPC. The terms people are using to search out products and services is the connection between potential buyers and sellers. Where most marketers fail is in the depth and breadth of research they are willing to perform and implement.
    2. Landing Pages – To the degree that on-site SEO is still valid, which depends greatly on off-site SEO, you need to find the proper balance between pleasing the SERPs and converting inbound traffic. Toward the latter end of that goal, appearance is everything. Give consumers confidence through the construction of good landing pages and you’ll experience high conversion rates. The same applies to paid marketing efforts.
    3. Inbound, Targeted Links – Without links, even the best optimized site will fail. Find a feasible, repeatable method for generating quality links and you’ll never be without business.

    What common mistakes do people make when choosing keywords for SEO?

    From an SEO standpoint, marketers tend to throw all their eggs in one basket, specifically the basket of broad, highly competitive terms with well entrenched competition in the top 10 search results. If you measure the validity of ranking for a competitive term in short order and the prognosis is failure, why waste your effort or your client’s marketing budget? Clients want you to make money for them, and most aren’t particular about how you go about doing it within the parameters of white hat SEO and SEM. Is a high ranking for one term that produces 100K in traffic and 200 conversions a month worth more than ten terms that produce 10K in traffic and 20 conversions a month apiece? To the bottom line, the answer is no.

    A lot of people used to say that social media is the new SEO. What is your opinion on this?

    Social media will never be SEO. It’s simply another tool to be manipulated by search engine marketers. The SERPs, and particularly Google, set and change the rules on a regular basis, and social media is a byproduct of that change. Our industry is served by finding ways to work within those rules, and in some cases, circumvent them.

    The reason some marketing professionals put so much stock into social media is that it’s a very effective marketing tool for their own interests. The problem is that it’s rarely an effective tool for their clients, especially considering the time it takes to properly cultivate and maintain a following on most platforms. They also put a lot of stock into it because it seems to have been embraced by the public at large.

    The reality, however, is that the public will embrace anything that’s new or popular until it becomes a chore to maintain, after which it will slowly yield to the next great thing. A few years ago, we might have been discussing Friendster, and a few years from now, we’ll be looking back on Twitter with the same goofy puzzlement. How many personal, professional or business related blogs were updated regularly for years on end and then suddenly ceased to provide new content? How many Facebook and Linkedin profiles haven’t had an “add” since shortly after their creation? We’d like to believe that we all have something to say, an unlimited amount of time to say it and a caring audience waiting with baited breath to hear it, but that’s not reality. Social media is dependent on social networking, and constant networking – both from a creation and audience participation standpoint – isn’t representative of how human beings change their behavior, needs, wants and lifestyles over time.

    SEO, like the human condition, is all about change. The engines change and we change our strategies with them in order to meet new challenges. I’ll stop short of saying that social media isn’t here to stay, but I will say that it’s just another challenge to be met, with many more looming on the horizon.

    Joe Balestrino
    started out as a web designer in the mid nineties. Realizing that a great website alone rarely translates into increased traffic, he set about to become a leader and innovator in Search Engine Optimization. Joe regularly shares his insider knowledge through his articles on Search Engine Journal, Associated Content, and Search Engine Channel.  He is published frequently both on the web and in print. Joe strives to give you the best value for your money. He is committed to increasing your bottom line by offering a full range of superior web services that are cost effective to your business. Follow him on twitter @joeybalestrino.


    Dan Schawbel is the Managing Partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting firm. He is the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success (St. Martin’s Press) and the #1 international bestselling book, Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future (Kaplan Publishing), which combined have been translated into 15 languages.

    Posted in Career Development, eBrand, Interview, Marketing, People, Personal Branding, Social Media, Success Strategies
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    2 comments on “Personal Branding Interview: Joe Balestrino
    1. avatar
      Jack says:

      I’m impressed. I’m especially glad to hear that someone out there is willing to talk about the difference between social networking for personal vs business. Couldn’t agree more.

    2. avatar
      Janine says:

      Hi there
      Thanks very a very interesting article.
      Could you let me know who owns the copyright of the social media bandwagon. I’d like to also use it.

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