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Marcus Sheridan, an owner of River Pools, overhauled the company's marketing to focus on generating sales through informational blog posts and videos. Credit: Jay Paul for The New York Times

It is an indelible image of the financial crisis: a bird’s-eye view of the backyards of foreclosed houses, their in-ground pools festering with algae and mosquitoes. In Northern Virginia, Marcus Sheridan was in the financial storm.

By early 2009, his company, River Pools and Spas, a 20-employee installer of in-ground fiberglass pools in Virginia and Maryland, had a decline in orders from an average of six a month to barely two. That winter, four customers who had planned to install pools costing more than $50,000 each demanded their deposits back. For three consecutive weeks, the company overdrew its bank account.

Around this time, Mr. Sheridan began to overhaul his marketing. The company had been spending about $250,000 a year on radio, television and pay-per-click advertising. It would now cut the budget to about a tenth of that and focus on generating sales through informational blog posts and videos, what has become known as content marketing. But Mr. Sheridan took an unconventional approach to his content.

As a result, River Pools has recovered to exceed its peak pre-2007 revenue, and Mr. Sheridan, a 35-year-old father of four, has become something of a Web marketing guru. While he still owns a 33 percent interest in the pool company, his partners manage it day to day while he concentrates on his new venture, TheSalesLion.com. He recently spoke about his marketing approach in a conversation that has been edited and condensed.

Q. Take us back. How did you save your company?

A. I just started thinking more about the way I use the Internet. Most of the time when I type in a search, I’m looking for an answer to a specific question. The problem in my industry, and a lot of industries, is you don’t get a lot of great search results because most businesses don’t want to give answers; they want to talk about their company. So I realized that if I was willing to answer all these questions that people have about fiberglass pools, we might have a chance to pull this out.

Q. What was the first question you answered?

A. The question I was always asked within the first two minutes of talking to customers was, How much does a fiberglass pool cost? Pool installers are like mattress or car dealers — we hate talking about how much a pool costs until we have you in person because there are so many options and accessories we want to sell you. As a result, pool companies never mention price on their Web sites. But I said, I don’t care what the question is, we’re going to answer it.

Q. Did you actually tell people the price of a pool?

A. No — because I couldn’t. But see, that’s the magic behind this. Google’s search engine doesn’t really care if we answer the question. It’s just looking for companies that are willing to address the question. So I said in that article, there are a ton of options, so it depends, the price can range anywhere from $20,000 to $200,000 and a lot of our customers end up between $40,000 and $80,000. And that was enough. Within about 24 hours of writing that article, it was No. 1 for every fiberglass-pool, cost-related phrase you could possibly type in. And because I have analytics, so far to this day, I’ve been able to track a minimum of $1.7 million in sales to that one article.

Q. What was the next question?

A. People used to ask me all the time, “Marcus, I’ve been hearing that fiberglass pools have all sorts of problems and issues. So what are the problems and issues?” Of course, they’d been talking to a concrete pool guy, but it doesn’t matter where they got it, now they have the question. So we wrote an article about the problems with fiberglass pools and specifically came right out and said: Here are the issues. Here are the benefits. You decide. Now, when you go in and type anything about fiberglass issues and problems, you’re going to see the River Pools Web site and you’re going to think, “Oh my gosh, these guys are so honest.”

Q. Anything else?

A. In most industries, there comes a time in the sale process where the customer turns to you and says, “O.K., I like you, but who are some of the other good companies that do this?” Half the time it’s a test, because people know who our competitors are because they can find them in .5 seconds online. Most contractors avoid the question. They say, “Oh, we don’t really have competition.” But because I was asked that question so often, I decided to answer it. I wrote a blog post about the best swimming pool builders in Richmond, Va., one of our main service areas.

Q. Where were you on the list?

A. I wasn’t on it.

Q. You weren’t?

A. No, because the moment I put my name up there I would lose all my credibility. But here’s the thing. Take the first company on the list, Pla-Mor Pools, a top competitor of ours. If you type in, “Pla-Mor Pools reviews Richmond, Va.,” which of course people do all the time when they’re vetting a company, what comes up? Me! You vet all my competitors, now I’m showing up for all their key words. If you really want to understand the power of inbound marketing, it comes down to this idea: I want to have the conversation at my house.

Q. Once you wrote a blog post, how much time did you spend promoting it on Twitter and Facebook?

A. I didn’t. Dude, that one article on price has never been tweeted. It’s never been Facebooked. I’m not saying social media doesn’t help, but it’s nowhere near what people think. The only metric that really matters is total pages viewed. Here’s a statistic for you: If somebody reads 30 pages of my River Pools Web site, and we go on a sales appointment, they buy 80 percent of the time. The industry average for sales appointments is 10 percent. So, our whole marketing campaign revolves around getting people to stick around and read our stuff, because the longer they stay on our site, the greater the chance they’re going to fall in love with our company.

Q. What do you say to business owners who say they don’t know what to blog about?

A. That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard, and I hear it a lot. What they should be doing is just listening to every single question they get and answering it. In my consulting business the first thing we do is brainstorm what questions the company gets on a regular basis. I’ve never had a company come up with less than 100 questions in 30 minutes.

Q. How do you suggest companies find time to do all of this blogging?

A. Most of the time, they can take the employees they already have talking to customers and turn them into content producers. If you have 25 salespeople, and each one of them writes one post a month, your search is going to be through the roof because that’s a new piece of content every day.

Q. How have your competitors responded to all of this?

A. They still don’t really get it. They’re nice about it. I’ll have one of my best-pool-builder lists come out, and I’ll run into them. And they’ll say, “Hey, man, thanks for including me in that list. I’m not sure why you did it, but thanks.”

 
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How to Improve Your Blog

Watch out! Your blog site can be hurting your business. This week on Think Tank Tuesday, Paul tells a story about why he started his blog and what changes he made to improve it over time. Watch more to learn which strategies will help your blog become more successful.

We’d love to hear what you have to say. Comment below and follow us on Facebook.

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Social Media Engagement is a Two-Way Street

The most amazing part about the internet and social media is that it has opened up communication between people and businesses that was never possible before. We now have the ability to talk to our customers and for them to talk to us in an interactive fashion, allowing for clear lines of engagement that can be both public and private.

For car dealers, this has translated into an incredible way for them to broadcast their messages and get feedback in real time. On Facebook, people can like, comment on, or share their posts when they appreciate them... and even when they do not. The world is completely different than it was a decade ago when the most powerful method of online communication, the email, was still relegated to being private.

This all means that dealers can receive interaction, but it also means that they're required to deliver interaction right back at their customers. Every day, we see dealers who are not taking advantage of this. People will comment on their Facebook posts, talk about them on Twitter, or respond to their blog posts and YouTube videos, but we then see many of the interactions going one way. The people are talking to the dealers but the dealers aren't always replying.

This is a big mistake because proper two-way communication breeds more communication. When people see your posts and also see that you're replying to the people that are commenting, it makes it more likely that they'll want to comment even more.

It also creates a proper feedback mechanism. A lot of dealers are doing this best practice on review sites, but then the same dealers are failing to engage on social media. When you allow social media to be a way for people to engage in a proper discussion on automotive topics, you're allowing them to help you get more reach for your messages.

The more you comment back, the more new comments you'll get. The more new comments you get, the more people will see the posts that are getting the comments. It's a great way to increase your message exposure.

Perhaps the most important reason to reply to everyone who comments on your posts is that it's simply proper manners. If someone says "hi" to you in the grocery store, you'll usually say "hi" right back at them even if you don't know them. It's good form to reply to those who talk to you and that carries over to your social media interactions.

Dealers that are doing this well can take it to the next level. They can get involved with other conversations of a general interest to the local community and start to really express the dealership's personality. This is key on social media. After all, part of being "social" is interacting with as many people as possible.

The streets in the social media world run in both directions. Savvy dealers are making sure that they're not just seeking engagement from others but that they're being engaging as well.

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It's not for everyone. Some people just don't like to hear their voices played on audio or video. I know. I used to be one of them.

If you can get over that fear and if you want to get your YouTube channel some watches while helping to get your content seen and heard, it's a quick and easy way to kill a couple of birds with a single stone. The concept is pretty simple. Write a blog post, then read it off while recording a video. Attach the video to the story and now you have an easy way for people to either read your blog post or watch it.

Perhaps more importantly, it takes the art of writing and allows you to get creative in the fastest growing medium. Remember, everything is going mobile. While it can be annoying trying to read a blog post on a smartphone, listening to it on YouTube is often much easier. If you get good at recording the audio from the posts and applying it to either a visual of yourself reading it, a slideshow, a scrolling transcript, or other images that are pertinent to the video itself, you can make for an alternative experience for your content.

Some people are readers. Others are listening. There's even a few people that like to do both. I tend to listen to a video or podcast playing in the background while reading something else. Here's an example:

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Titles Affect Blog Traffic Instantly

There are all sorts of tips, tricks, and techniques to drive more traffic to a blog. They usually involve either paying for it in some way, improving an avenue such as through search engine optimization, or building subscribers. The reality is this – all of these things take time. What doesn’t take time other than the effort that is required to make it happen is writing better blog post titles. The right titles can increase blog traffic. The wrong titles can desperately hurt it. This is an immediate effect.

More and more businesses are starting to blog today. They are syndicating, optimizing, promoting, and doing all of the best practices that the gurus are giving them. Still, they are only seeing small increases in traffic if at all. Every now and then, they see a post that spikes. Was it amazing content? Possibly. Was it shared by the right people on social media? Probably. Did it have the right title? Almost definitely.

It blows me away when I see so many titles that simply suck. Yes, they suck. They aren’t attracting anyone.

The title in the blog post above attracted people. It was wildly shared. It was blogged about on other websites. It made an impact. Despite being wildly popular and talked about around the web for weeks, the story itself wasn’t that interesting. It was good, but not good enough to make it the talk of the blogosphere for as long as it was. The title, however, was brilliant.

Depending on your style of business and blogging voice, here are some quick examples of blog post styles. This is a very basic sampling. You can do better.

  • Emotional StatementThe Biggest Reason Your Blog Traffic Sucks
  • Numbered List7 Reasons Why Top 10 Lists Still Work
  • Play on Common Phrases - Why Good Guys Really Do Finish Last in Sales
  • Contrary Statement to Common PhrasesGood Guys Finish First if They do These Things
  • Big Time PromiseCut Your Blogging Time in Half While Doubling Your Posting Frequency
  • Three Worders (use sparingly)The Blogger’s Conundrum
  • Nonsense Titles (that make sense)The Best Blog Titles Work Best if You “Backwards Them Write”

Again, there are plenty of other types of titles out there. The key is to check out the right sites. See how other blog posts are being written and what titles they’re using. Just because it’s a business blog doesn’t mean that it has to be bland and boring. Titles drive traffic quickly. Make them count.

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Take Your Expertise to the Guest Posting Circuit

Blog Plan

By now, if you've been reading what I've been posting the last few months, you know that content marketing is the key to current and future search and social success. Businesses who really want to do what sites like Google and Facebook really want them to do will be using high-quality content on their websites as the hub through which they can make their marketing blossom.

This should by no means be interpreted that activities such as link-earning and social signals are not useful. In fact, the core of true content marketing to drive higher search results and stronger social interactions is still based around earning links and generating social engagement. It's for this reason that guest posting is a practice that should be considered if you want to get into more advanced techniques.

First, you have to be able to put high-quality content on your website and/or blog. Guest posting does not replace this. If you are having trouble finding the time to keep your own site active and growing, guest posting is something that you should consider. If you're doing well with your website and/or blog, then guest posting can generate exposure, earn links, and even send direct traffic to your website. As with all things in 2013, it all comes down to quality. I say it a lot, but it cannot be overstated.

 

Write What You Know


This is simple but it's also important enough to mention here. If you're running the marketing for a car dealership, write about cars. Write about the local area. Write about cars in the local area.

The biggest challenge is that we're often so immersed in "what we know" that we have a hard time identifying what can be interesting enough to get picked up by other blogs or websites. Sometimes the easiest way to fix this issue is to be mindful of what you learn about your industry. Fresh knowledge to you in your industry is likely brand new to others, so identifying "on the fly" can make it easier to find topics.

The second biggest challenge is that we tend to write in some pitching or marketing into our guest posts. At no point should you try to work in your credentials, products, or services into guest posts. You won't be accepted as easily if you do. The value that you receive from guest posting is in the links and the establishment of authority within the industry. Teach and/or entertain with your post, then link to your website either in context (we'll discuss that further later) or at the very least within the author's bio box.

 

Use Content on Your Website as a Resource


Some blogs and websites won't allow it, but whenever possible you should try to link to an article or piece of content that you've already placed on your own website or blog. Let's say you write an article about preparing an older vehicle for long trips. You can post an article first on your own website about summer maintenance tips, then include a link to it within the context of your guest post. Make sure it's natural and truly fits in.

In the above example, you might have somewhere in the body of your guest post a paragraph like this:

One of the most common times when we go on longer trips is for summer vacations. There are [summer maintenance activities](link) that you can do prior to the trip that can handle much of the preparation you'll need to do before heading to the beach.

As long as the piece you're linking to is informative and not pitchy, most will allow it to fly. One important portion of last year's Penguin update for Google was to devalue footer and resource box links while increasing the value of contextual links. If you can get those contextual links, your guest post will be much more effective, but that doesn't mean that you should bypass guest posting if your target publication only allows resource box links. Both help.

 

Find the Right Venues


This is the hardest thing to start and the easiest to finish. Once you see your content posted somewhere, it becomes much easier to push forward.

You may think that the only place you'll be able to post is something that is hyper-targeted to your industry. This isn't true. In fact, it's sometimes easier to get a guest post in related industries rather than your specific industry because they likely already have experts in your industry. In other words, a car blog has plenty of car bloggers, so they might not need your car content, but a tech blog who has a bunch of tech bloggers might be interested in seeing interesting technology posts about cars. I know, as I accepted a guest post at our tech blog that was about automotive technology just the other day.

Local news publications are also good targets. They like local writers and with a strong series of content you can even get a regular posting spot. This is good, especially for branding in the local area, but don't get stuck on one site. The more places you can guest post, the better.

* * *

Again, this is not a replacement for putting quality content on your own site. It's an enhancement if you're already putting the content there. Your goal in modern marketing is to use high-quality content to get exposure, links, social shares, and traffic. Guest posting is a tool that should be in your arsenal. Here's a video from last year from Google's Matt Cutts. Notice the importance of quality. Like I said, it can't be stated enough.

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Using Google+ as a Lite Business Blogging Platform



Facebook has the market cornered on true social networking. Twitter is the news source. YouTube owns videos. Google+, the network that's growing huge but still having challenges communicating its identity, has one major advantage over all of the other social networks: size of posts.

It's possible to format and utilize Google+ as a lite blogging platform. This is not necessarily a good replacement for those who already have a valid and active business blog, but those who are getting started or who never been able to generate real traction to their blog can take advantage of some of the things that Google+ does well.

Here are some of the advantages:

* Formatting - While it's not nearly the type of formatting that is available on true blogging platforms like Wordpress or Tumblr there's enough formatting options on Google+ to make it work. Again, this is only good as a lite version.

* Length - The constraints present on other social networks are looser on Google+. Sure, you can use hacks to plug in a blog on Facebook and there are tools available to fake a blog through Twitter, but posting directly to the feed is only possible from a length perspective on Google+.

* Instant Rankings - While I haven't tested beyond my own accounts, I know that Google+ posts tend to rank extremely quickly and very high for good keywords, particularly for those who follow me. Even unauthenticated web searches present Google+ posts.

* Tie-In to Google Local - The local components of Google through search and directed from other locations are generating more and more traffic. Reviews, maps, information - all of these give people reasons to visit a Google account for a business. Once there, people are often unable to find anything interesting on the pages because of how infrequently most post to their Google+ page accounts. By making it a lite blog, this can change.

The disadvantages are numerous, of course. Links, images, videos - pick one. Unfortunately, you cannot mix and match different media types. You also can't put them in-line the way you can on real blogging platforms. Unless you are one of the lucky ones with a vanity URL, it's not easy to get people to your G+ page without using a custom short link.

At this point, anything that can get businesses communicating more robustly with their customers and potential customers is a good thing. It's not that I would prefer that people use Google+ for blogging over Wordpress, Blogger, or any of the true blogging platforms, but if it's convenient enough to make businesses act, then it's worth describing in a blog post.

I guess that's what I just did.

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Using Your Website As Your Content Hub

There has been a continued push for corporate and even local business blogging since marketers started discovering the potential benefits several years ago. We're often told that a blog is where you put your content that doesn't necessarily sell your product, and that an offsite-blog is the way to go. In today's content marketing world, both ideas are wrong.


Content

The one constant in internet marketing (and everything else in life) is change. Ideas that worked yesterday may not work today, but may work again tomorrow. It's the nature of the beast. Content marketing is a portion of internet marketing that has evolved rapidly over the years. In recent months, it has become arguably the most important component of an internet marketing strategy because both search engine marketing and social media marketing have become extremely dependent on the quality and style of content.

 

Blogging is something that every business should be doing. Many are. The challenge is that the concepts of the past are starting to become less valid. For example, many (including us) have said that blogging off of your domain either on a standalone URL or a subdomain of the primary was the best way to go. It allowed for more powerful link-building from a search perspective as well as giving an additional destination that wasn't tied into the primary website. In short, you put your business material on your website and your human material on your blog.

 

There were those who believed that bulking up the primary website by putting the blog as a subfolder of the primary domain was the way to go. Today, this is correct, but not for the reasons that most once argued. Blogging is no longer an appropriate SEO play, at least not from a "bulk" perspective. The concept that you should blog to get more pages for Google and Bing to index is antiquated. Yes, you should be putting high-quality content on your website, but blog content in the traditional format doesn't quite qualify. Putting content on your website on or off the blog and using it as individual content "hubs" is the (current) right way to do it.

 

That can change. It almost certainly will. Thankfully, it's not one of those strategies that must be unwound later when things change.

 

Defining the Blog Versus Site Content Strategies

Pohanka Hyundai i.oniqWhether you put the content on your normal website template or add it to a folder such as "/blog" is determined by a few different factors. There are several different strategies to consider; here are a handful:

  • Blog-Only - With this strategy, every piece of content that you publish that isn't directly associated with selling, business information, or other services goes on the blog. This is ideal if you don't publish very often.
  • Blog "Fun Stuff" and Put Other Content on Your Website - If you're busting out a good flow of content on a regular basis, you may choose this strategy. In it, you'll post "fun" content such as employee-of-the-month or customer-highlights on your blog, but relevant content of general interest on your primary website. The example to the right uses this strategy. In it, a Hyundai dealership posts a promotional video and interesting images of a concept vehicle. This is relevant but not directly associated with selling anything in particular.
  • No Blog - The old ideas of what blogging should and shouldn't be have been blurred over the years. Just about any type of content can go on a blog, but that same content can find a place on the primary website as well. Rather than a chronological posting style, this technique employees categorization in the menu. If you post a customer testimonial, it goes in that category. If you then post a video and images of a concept car, that goes in another category. It doesn't matter when they were posted; both get equal treatment in the menu bar.

 

Once you've established a style, it's time to get the content out there.

 

Content Size is Important But Not a Guiding Factor

Size MattersThe biggest mistake that marketers make with blogging is to believe that there are size constraints. Some want all of their posts to be 300-words, 500-words, or larger. Others like to keep it quick and easy. In reality, content is content and as long as it brings value to the visitor, it's worthy regardless of size.

 

That does not mean that you should post only a paragraph or two with every blog post. Just because it's not a make-or-break deciding factor doesn't mean that you should opt for the shortcut. Let your content size be determined by the potential value it brings. If you have a killer video that tells the whole story, a paragraph will probably be enough to make it a valid piece of content. The video is the star of the page in that scenario, so highlight it.

 

On the other hand, a resource list of tools that people can use to buy a car should be more than just a list. Describe the pros and cons of each tool. Give a little history about them. Describe why you believe one tool is better than another tool for certain needs.

 

Above all, remember that high-quality, unique content is what you should be striving for in each piece that you create. Bring something to the table. It's better to spend the time to make a page that people will want to share rather than posting unworthy bulk content over and over again.

 

Say what you need to say to bring value. No more. No less.

The Importance of the Hub

Hub and SpokeThe hub and spoke model has been used in business, government, and life in general for centuries. You have a centralized focus point from which other components can branch out and draw their strength.

 

You website content should be your content marketing hub. Some have chosen to turn other tools into their hub such as Facebook, niche communities, or even Tumblr. These strategies can be effective if done right. Doing it right is the challenge; they are extremely difficult to pull off, particularly in a retail setting. Complex strategies surrounding these different styles may prove to be the best way to go in the future, but today the benefits do not outweigh the drawbacks.

 

Using your website (whether through a blog or your primary website itself) is by far the easiest way to get both a search and social benefit from the content you create. Depending on resources, time, and the type of business you're running, creating your content hub can be approached from different directions but the end result is the same:

  • Make your website sharable

Your goal is to put content on your website that others will be willing to share. The various types of social media sites out there give you a tremendous pool of potential share venues. Facebook and Twitter are the most common, but one mustn't forget Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr, and some of the other social sites out there.

 

A website that gets shared on social media gets benefits from three fronts. The first is obvious; any time your website is shared there's a chance that people will come and visit it. Depending on the power and reach of the profiles sharing it, you might get a nice spike in traffic. Even though it's the most obvious, it's also the least important. Visitors are nice, but those who come from social media shares are often the lowest value.

 

The second is becoming more important every day. Social signals are important to Google and Bing in their search rankings. They're becoming more important with every update. The more your website content is shared, the better the domain can rank.

  • Notice that I said, "the better the domain can rank."

 

It's not just the page itself that gets a benefit from your efforts. The domain gains credibility from the shares. If you're a car dealer, there's a good chance that people are not going to share an inventory details page of a vehicle they just found. They're not going to share your service appointment page. They're not going to share your oil change specials.

 

They will, however, share an interesting video and great images of a Hyundai concept car that they found on your website. By sharing this and similar pages, the search engines give it an authority bump.

 

The final front from which social media sharing can help is in sheer public perception. This is of light importance today but will grow in coming months as the social sites focus on domain shares. What's happening is this: widgets and apps are displaying "most shared" or "other pages from this domain" on the social sites themselves as well as offsite. The perception that content is sharable on a particular domain is going to become more valid in the near future. If your website has lots of good content that people have shared, they're more likely to explore your website. Again, this is minor today but is growing in importance.

 

Further Questions

QuestionsIn upcoming articles, we will cover:

  • How to make content that people will want to share
  • Finding content ideas by exploring
  • The proper content sharing structure to gain maximum exposure
  • How to build power accounts that can make "going viral" a possibility

 

In the meantime, keep reading everything you can about content marketing. It's not just the future. It's already here. Those who do content marketing properly are able to bypass traditional search engine optimization and social media marketing strategies because the content can be positioned to do all of the work for you.

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Content marketing is internet marketing. It has been for a while (which I'll discuss below) but in 2013 content management will emerge to become the "must have" component of automotive digital marketing strategy.

It was during a discussion on ADM where the venerable Ralph Paglia brought up a great point. In regards to an article about using your website as the content hub for both search and social, Paglia posted a comment pointing out that not all web platforms, particularly those in the automotive industry, give users the ability to post content as easily as they can on Wordpress, Tumblr, Ning, or any of the other platforms specifically designed as content management systems. Many automotive websites (and business websites in general) trap users with content restrictions. This has been an annoyance for years. Going into 2013, it will be a major drawback.

 

Content Has Been The Key Forever, But...

This isn't anything new. Content marketing has been a component of search engine optimization, social media marketing, affiliate marketing, and just about every strategy that relies on driving traffic from one source to another. The difference now is that it's going beyond the status of being a "component" and becoming the heart and soul of these various types of marketing techniques.

 

SEO for years has been a function of appropriate keyword-rich content, keyword-rich title tags, and powerful inbound links with keyword-rich title tags. There was a time when you could have next to zero content on your website and still rank well for challenging terms. Those days are behind us. With the Penguin update in April and the Panda update last year, Google forced search marketers to shoot for quality, to draw in the links based upon organic prominence. For this reason, content truly has become "king" even though it was really just a queen or a jack in the recent past.

 

Social media marketing can always relied on content as the driving force, but one could easily center the content on the social sites and still benefit from it. This strategy is still in play, particularly for big brands, but smaller or localized businesses (such as car dealers) should rework their social strategies to include the content that appears on their website.

 

The reality of the trends is this: content marketing was a part of larger marketing strategies before. Now, those other marketing strategies are easier to manage if you make the content aspect the central activity that bleeds over into search and social. It's a paradigm shift in many ways and is the reason why changes should be coming for many websites in the coming year. Some would argue that they shouldn't even wait for 2013, that now is the time to act. I tend to agree.

 

Post It or Move Along

There's an episode of Seinfeld where Cosmo Kramer starts receiving phone calls at his home from people wanting to get movie times. He tries to become Movie Phone. Unfortunately, he runs into some roadblocks.

 

Embedding is disabled, but watch it anyway.

 

This is sort of what's happening for many business website providers, particularly in automotive. "Why don't you just tell me what content you want on your website?"

 

They (dealer website providers) don't offer the tools that allow users to log in, post a piece of content, and make it live immediately. For some, you have to send them the HTML itself. Others tell you to email them the words and pictures and they'll post it for you. Some let you build a page, but won't allow it to go live until you call them.

 

Call them? Really?

To be able to perform the basic marketing techniques required for success in 2013, you must be able to post your content how you want it and when you want it without constraints. You must have the ability to put the right social media buttons on your content; that doesn't mean a blue "F" in a small box that links to your Facebook page. You need true share buttons. Social signals are becoming the most important tool in both search and social marketing. If your website platform breaks the codes, you need to make a change.

 

If you are unable to post content easily without putting a ticket into tech support, you will fall behind your competitors. If you cannot make your websites socially engaging, you will fall behind your competitors. People are really starting to "get it" when it comes to content marketing. Some of these people want to succeed over you. Will you let that happen?

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Poor Writing Is No Laughing Matter

The title of Lynne Truss’ runaway bestseller Eats, Shoots and Leaves (Gotham Books, 2003) illustrates the impact of a wayward comma:

A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots into the air.

“Why?” asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

“I’m a panda,” he says, at the door. “Look it up.”

The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

“Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

Although Truss’ anecdote is humorous, poor writing by employees is no laughing matter, and in fact can cost your company millions—or billions—of dollars in rework and misunderstanding. A 2008 white paper by International Data Corporation (IDC) showed that businesses in the United States and the United Kingdom were losing an estimated $37 billion as a result of “employee misunderstanding.” The term is defined as “actions or errors of omission by employees who have misunderstood or misinterpreted (or were misinformed about) company policies, business processes, job function or a combination of the three.” The authors wrote,

Employee misunderstanding is a very different proposition to a deliberate disregard for the rules or a plain mistake, whereby an employee simply does something that they didn’t mean to (like forgetting to back up computer storage or putting a decimal point in the wrong place)…. The financial cost of employee misunderstanding is immense…. Of the industries we researched, banks suffer the greatest losses and transportation the least. Loss of business due to unplanned downtime was the largest area of loss attributed to employee misunderstanding.

What causes employee misunderstanding? Poor, unclear, or no communication, leaving employees without the knowledge they need to do their jobs correctly.

There is more evidence. An SIS International Research study prepared for Siemens Enterprise Communications in 2009 explored and quantified communication difficulties experienced by small to medium-sized businesses, up to 400 employees. The researchers concluded that waiting for information, unwanted communications, inefficient coordination, barriers to collaboration, and customer complaints caused productivity losses estimated to be $26,041 per knowledge worker per year.

Unfortunately, even college graduates are not getting the preparation they need to communicate effectively in writing. In Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (University of Chicago Press, 2011), authors Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa concluded that 45 percent of students “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning” after two years of college; and that 36 percent “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning” after four years!

In an article about the book, Scott Jaschik of the Chronicle of Higher Education wrote,

[The authors] review data from student surveys to show, for example, that 32 percent of students each semester do not take any courses with more than 40 pages of reading assigned a week, and that half don’t take a single course in which they must write more than 20 pages over the course of a semester.

What are employers to do?

Clearly, there is a case for businesses hiring for potential and training for skill in writing. But do you know what you are getting? Does your company administer a writing test to job applicants? You should, says Kyle Wiens, chief executive officer (CEO) of iFixit, the world’s largest collection of online repair manuals. In a July blog post entitled, “I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here’s Why,” Wiens wrote,

Everyone who applies for a position at either of my companies, iFixit or Dozuki, takes a mandatory grammar test. Extenuating circumstances aside (dyslexia, English language learners, etc.), if job hopefuls can’t distinguish between ‘to’ and ‘too,’ their applications go into the bin.

Admittedly, he says, he and his colleagues “write for a living.”

But grammar is relevant for all companies. Yes, language is constantly changing, but that doesn’t make grammar unimportant. Good grammar is credibility, especially on the internet. In blog posts, on Facebook statuses, in e-mails, and on company websites, your words are all you have. They are a projection of you in your physical absence. And, for better or worse, people judge you if you can’t tell the difference between their, there, and they’re.*

Writing skills are important now more than ever in this age of digital communication, says consultant David Silverman, contributing editor to the Guide to Better Business Writing, 2nd Edition (Harvard Business Press, 2011). “With text messages and emails, most business communication nowadays is written,” he says. “Unfortunately, our reliance on written communication, which is increasing, is inversely proportional to our abilities and our willingness to learn.” Yet written communication, he emphasizes, makes up the private and public faces of your company.

Silverman helps employees in government agencies and corporations of all sizes develop better written communication skills. The worst mistake we all make? Writing too much. “Being succinct requires time and effort, whereas including everything under the sun seems safer,” he says.

Many companies see good writing skills as an indicator of leadership potential, Silverman says. So what should knowledge workers be able to do?

“Tell a story that people will remember,” Silverman says. “Tell a story with pictures, and remove extraneous information.” In other words, think about what will be in your reader’s mind as you write. Is it cluttered, or is the path to the crucial information straight and clear?

Naturally, the rules for good writing depend on your goal, Silverman notes. Are you striving to instruct, or just to entertain? “The only viable reason to send a business email is to request action,” he says. To write emails that people will read—and act upon—use clear subject lines and include your call to action at the top. “Your messages must answer the reader’s questions, ‘What do you want me to do?’ and ‘How will I know I’ve done it?’” Silverman emphasizes.

We all make mistakes. So for critically important email messages and other documents, Silverman recommends these three steps:

Proofread carefully.
Have someone else read your work.
Wait an hour and read it again before pressing Send.
As you prepare your training budgets for 2013, consider devoting some of your expenditures to developing your employees’ writing skills. After all, even if you only cut that lost productivity of $26,000-plus in half, that is a pretty significant return on investment (ROI).

*Although the word “grammar” may seem yawn-inducing to some, it is a hot topic: Wiens’ post has generated more than 3,200 comments since it was published.

Source: http://www.clarityconsultants.com/learning-resources/poor-writing-is-no-laughing-matter/?bms.tk=BzAEqwsEk20Fk21Vr30Wp33Rr26Js17Ek20BvfrFtg

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The Truth About Blog Post Tags

Let there be absolutely, positively no mistake here. "Tags" have completely different uses depending on the platform on which they're used. We're going to take a look at three of the most popular platforms and how tags affect them: Wordpress, Ning, and Tumblr.

 

Before we dive into each, let's get one thing out of the way. Those who say that tags are old and no longer useful are simply being lazy and encouraging the same. It takes less than 30 seconds to come up with a handful of appropriate tags to go along with any blog post and therefore it falls under the category of "why not?" Nobody outside of Mountain View, CA, knows for certain how tags benefit search engine optimization. They do, however, definitely have an opportunity to benefit the reader. It's a best practice that is getting pushed aside by many. Don't fall into the laziness trap. Tag away!

 

Tags for Wordpress

Depending on how you have your site indexing set up in the back end, tags allow search engines to find similar articles. The two major types of taxonomy, tags and categories, are intended to help people navigate a blog. As a result, Google and Bing will follow tags and categories in order to see what level of understanding a blog has on each individual topic.

 

The tag pages themselves, once visited, will give the search engines a depth-of-content picture. For example, if you have a blog for a Nissan dealership that often uses the tag "Altima", the search engines will be able to see that you have written a good amount of content on the topic. Many would argue that they know this already and that semantic indexing is designed in part to replace tagging as a method of establishing authority, but again, "why not?" It definitely doesn't hurt to tag. It probably helps on Wordpress, even if only a little. There's not reason to skip the few seconds it takes to add them.

 

Tags for Ning

On the Ning social platform, tags work in ways similar to Wordpress, but with an added bonus. Blog posts on Ning do not have categories the way that discussions do. As a result, tags become the primary taxonomy that search engines and readers use to navigate a site when they want to see similar articles.

 

Some have also speculated that there is a direct SEO value to the individual post, that the search engines look at tags very similar to how they look at highlighted content and will give a post a lift in the rankings as a result. This is unconfirmed and I've never tested it myself, but I would speculate that it is true.

 

Tags for Tumblr

This is an entirely different ballgame. On Tumblr, tags are everything. The community lives off of tags in a way that is similar to hashtags on Twitter, but there are certain ones that are eternally "trending", so to speak.

 

Tags are Tumblr users' primary method of discovery. Tumblr has devalued them a bit in recent months and focused on "Spotlight" that highlights individually influential tumblogs rather than the community-rich "Explore" page that lets people surf tags, but they're still extremely important and can help a new tumblog get found by the community. Getting found on Tumblr is the key to both social exposure and search; reblogs by other Tumblr users are extremely important and can mean the difference between having an invisible tumblog and having an extremely popular one.

 

Tags for Humans

At the end of the day, the real benefit of tags should be for the readers. Google and Bing may or may not pay attention to them, but allowing your blog visitors to latch onto a particular topic and follow it all the way through is a way to make your blog stickier.

Again, it takes second. Why not?

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Wordpress vs Tumblr for Your Dealership Blog

There will be complaints. I can already smell the onslaught of, "what about Blogger" and "Typepad is much more powerful". There will be others that say, "but Tumblr's not really a blogging platform". Let's put all of that to rest quickly...

 

For business blogs, Wordpress and Tumblr are the best options out there. I'd add "in my humble opinion" but that would detract from the absolute force of my opinion.

 

Google's Blogger has made some amazing changes recently and I would not argue against it as a decent platform, but it lacks the plugin compatibility of Wordpress and isn't quite as easy to use as Tumblr, so it doesn't fit into this particular argument. We're going to focus on the two extremes - those who want the most powerful and those who want the easiest. Keep in mind, today's blogging platforms are all easy to some extent as well as powerful. The most important criteria is access and comfort. In other words, if you're doing well and posting consistently with Typepad, for example, don't go changing because some guy says Wordpress is more powerful or Tumblr is easier. If it works with you, keep at it.

 

Wordpress is Powerful

For those who want the most gadgets, plugins, and flexibility, Wordpress is the hands down winner for business blogging. It can act as a full-blown content management system for those who know how to use it, or it can stay true to its original calling and act as the premier blogging platform. There are so many themes available and dozens more being created every week. Perhaps most importantly, its PHP base allows it to works seamlessly with modern concepts such as adaptive website design and HTML5.

 

If your goal is to be a "power blogger" and post regularly, Wordpress is ideal. It isn't hard but there is definitely a learning curve associated with it. One does not simply start blogging out of the gate with Wordpress. Here are some of the benefits of using it, particularly as a self-hosted installation rather than by adding a free blog on Wordpress.com:

  • It has massive collection of plugins. The only bad part is that one must be careful not to install too many as it can slow down the site and bloat the code.
  • With caching, Wordpress is practically indestructible. You could hit the front page of Yahoo with a story and still stay online with a decent host and the stories cached.
  • Google and Bing love the code. Between the instant pings once a post is published to the clean way that the code presents itself to the search engines, those who want to rank with their blog posts must use Wordpress. It ranks better than Blogger, a Google property.
  • Decent access to social media through the right tools makes it one notch below Tumblr when it comes to true social media integration.

Tumblr is Easy

Don't get me wrong. Tumblr does have some robust features that allows it to be a strong platform for even the most active power bloggers, but that's not the reason that you use it. It's possible to post as quickly as you can type (or copy and paste in the case of image or video posts). The platform makes it super-easy to instantly format. For example, Wordpress out-of-the-box requires the embed code plugged into the HTML to present a video. You have to know the dimensions of your blog and use the old embed code from YouTube. Tumblr, on the other hand, only needs the URL. It auto-formats it to the right size - no embed code needed.

 

If you are more concerned about the ability to get content posted easily and quickly and less concerned about whether it's perfectly formatted, Tumblr is the right platform for your business. Here are some of the benefits:

  • A strong built-in community allows for instant visitors to your site through proper tagging.
  • Reblogging makes posting content easier than even posting the unique content. Unlike Wordpress, Tumblr actually encourages reblogging and tracks it for the source.
  • Direct integration with Facebook and Twitter is native to Tumblr; there are Wordpress plugins available, but native is always better for integration.
  • There is nothing wrong with using a subdomain on Tumblr.com. It's just as robust as putting it on your own domain, whereas Wordpress.com is a symbol of weakness.

Again, and I cannot stress this enough, all of the major blogging platforms are powerful and easy. You can do a ton with Tumblr and you can post quickly to Wordpress. It really comes down to preference and what feels right for you. Whatever it takes to get you excited and active as a blogger for your business - that's the right platform with which to go.
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Are You Asking the Right Questions About Your Message?

I've learned that coincidences don't really happen. There's always a reason. As I worked on my story today regarding content, I stopped to check Facebook and found exactly what I needed, courtesy of Jeff Glackin.

What you say in all of the media types - television, radio, print, social media, search marketing, billboards, etc. - has an opportunity to reach people. Often I'm asked questions about spends and ROI.

  • Will $10,000 spent on social media give the same or better yield than $10,000 spent on television?

  • Should I sink everything into online marketing or keep my offline marketing going strong?

  • Should I minimize my internet spend to just a website and classified ads and move the rest of my budget offline again?

The answer to all of these questions is the same. It depends on your message. That's it. The real question isn't whether or not a social media spend is better than a radio spend. The real question surrounds the way that you're putting your message out there. The words are often much more important than the medium.

This topic deserves much more research and examples than I can put together today, but it's important to get in the right frame of mind before exploring this topic more fully. To do this, I'll rely on a pretty good video on the topic. It's not a superb video but it evokes emotion and gets the basic point across.

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Does your dealership have its own blog? If your answer is no, then, I suggest you keep reading.....

The Importance of Blogging:Generation of Leads and Traffic

If you're reading this and your dealership does NOT have its own blog, consider this:

-B2C companies that blog get 88% more leads per month than those that don't

-Overall, companies that blog have 55% more website visitors

(Source: An Introduction to Business Blogging by Hubspot)

How Often Should You Blog

As evident in those statistics above, a blog can increase your website traffic, as well as your leads. However, it's not as simple as just creating a WordPress account or logging into Blogspot. A blog, just like social media, has to be kept up, maintained. In fact, companies that blog at least twenty times or more a month, see a SUBSTANTIAL increase in website traffic and leads. This is just one of the many benefits of having a blog. It gives you another avenue of customers to explore and reach. It helps to amplify your voice online for your dealership.

For your blog to be effective and useful, you must blog at least four/five times a week, or in between 16-20 times a month. There's no point in setting up your blog if you're only touching it every few weeks. That's what they call wasted real estate! The more you blog, the more likely you'll see an increase in your dealership's visibility online, and this is where SEO comes into play.

Blogging and SEO

All right, so you're blogging full-time and you should be showing up on the first page of Google in no time, right? Not so fast. With each post you create, there should be optimization taking place. You need to be do some research when it comes to SEO (Search Engine Optimization). You need to know the keywords your customers are using when they head to Google to do research. Once you begin blogging more frequently and using the appropriate and industry-relative keywords in your posts (Optimizing), your online visibility will increase. 

The benefits are obvious. You'll see a bump in website traffic. You'll receive more leads. You'll become a trust named and dealership online your customers can trust, and therefore, someone they could recommend to their friends and family.

If your dealership doesn't have a blog, why not?

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As social media continues to grow in influence in the automotive industry, Nissan is connecting with that powerful force to help create an ultimate street/track 370Z, called “Project 370Z.” Launched at a special blogger media day at the 2012 Chicago Auto Show.

Nissan enthusiasts are invited to vote on modifications and follow the construction online through Facebook.com/nissanperformance. The finished vehicle will be revealed May 17 at the annual ZDayZ gathering in North Carolina.

“Think of Project 370Z as a factory project car built in a non-factory way,” explained Erich Marx, director, Social Media & Interactive Marketing, Nissan North America. “Nissan Z® owners are among the most active of all on social media. We can’t wait to see how the finished vehicle turns out.”

At the show’s social media day, in the second year it has been held, Nissan also hosted a Google+ Hangout, and made sure the bloggers were introduced to culinary delights provided by a Southern Mac & Cheese Nissan NV food truck. Guests were also treated to Nissan’s new “virtual new car experience” using Microsoft Kinect technology.

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I AM A SALESMAN

I am proud to be a salesman, because more than any other man, I and millions of others like me, built America.
The man who builds a better mouse trap - or a better anything - would starve to death if he waited for people to beat a pathway to his door. Regardless of how good or how needed the product or service might be, it has to be sold.
Eli Whitney was laughed at when he showed his cotton gin. Edison had to install his electric light free of charge in an office building before anyone would even look at it. The first sewing machine was smashed to pieces by a Boston mob. People scoffed at the idea of railroads. They thought that traveling even thirty miles an hour would stop the circulation of the blood! McCormick strived for 14 years to get people to use his reaper. Westinghouse was considered a fool for stating he could stop a train with wind. Morse had to plead before 10 Congresses before they would even look at his telegraph.
The public didn't go around demanding these things; they had to be sold!!
They needed thousands of salesmen, trailblazers and pioneers - people who could persuade with the same effectiveness as the inventor could invent. Salesmen took these inventions, sold the public on what these products could do, taught customers how to use them, and then taught businessmen how to make a profit from them.
As a salesman, I've done more to make America what it is today than any other person you know. I was just as vital in your great-great-grandfather's day. I have educated more people, created more jobs, taken more drudgery from the laborer's work, given more profits to businessmen, and have given more people a fuller and richer life than anyone in history. I've dragged prices down, pushed quality up, and made it possible for you to enjoy the comforts and luxuries of automobiles, radios, electric refrigerators, televisions, and air conditioned homes and buildings. I've healed the sick, given security to the aged, and put thousands of young men and women through college. I've made it possible for inventors to invent, for factories to hum, and for ships to sail the seven seas.
How much money you find in your pay envelope next week, and whether in the future you will enjoy the luxuries of prefabricated homes, stratospheric flying of airplanes, and new world of jet propulsion and atomic power, depends on me. The loaf of bread you bought today was on a baker's shelf because I made sure that a farmer's wheat got to a mill, that the mill made wheat into flour, and that the flour was delivered to your baker.
Without me, the wheels of industry would come to a grinding halt. And with that, jobs, marriages, politics and freedom of thought would be a thing of the past. I AM A SALESMAN and I'm proud and grateful that as such, I serve my family, my fellow man and my country.
 
GOD BLESS
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http://www.internetsales20group.com

Recently Google created a Tsunami of change by integrating Google Places into organic search results. Dealers called me to ask what I thought these changes would have to their Automotive SEO strategies. I was not quick to answer because I think that Google is still refining their balancing act of SEO, SEM, and Google Places.

With that said, I am feeling much better about the changes that are in play. I was worried that the new Google Places integration would start at the top of organic listings which would favor websites connected to a Google Places page. From what I can see, Google is still rewarding exact match domain names and highly optimized websites before the “mosh pit” (in green) is displayed.

In the example below, a broad search phrase like “Los Angeles Dealers” produces a list of car dealers that have Google Maps, but before those listings, three company websites appear.

Los Angeles Car Dealers

In the search results shown above, you can see that an “exact match” domain with good content, links, and relevance PRECEDES the massive block of results shown in green that are enhanced by Google Places data. You can also see the other two websites that rank above the Google Places block are not slackers at all: Automotive.com and Cars.com.

Google SERP Find Exact Matches First

I’ve said this before and will repeat it again, Google always tries to present, on a search results page (SERP), the best matching assets in its database. Google, Yahoo, and Bing all weight exact matching domains very high as long as the websites have relevant content. Redirected domains that are not hosted will never appear in search results so all those parked domains you may own are not helping you. It may be time to get those parked domains on a real content publishing strategy!

Don’t Forget The Stars

When Google integrated Google Places, the normal 8-10 organic listings were changed dramatically which created a “jump ball” once again in the search marketing Olympics.

I would like to remind all car dealers that they MUST develop a comprehensive Internet Reputation Management (IRM) strategy to increase participation of their clients to posted reviews. My recommendation is that a successful dealer should have TWICE the number of positive reviews “stars” of their nearest competitor. That may be harder in years to come but all dealers should have a few HUNDRED reviews posted from authentic customers.

Testing Search Results Start To Show A Trend

From recent testing that I have done, websites hosted on great domain names may actually have an edge over local car dealer websites. Take a look at the search listed below. The websites that Google felt were best matches and NOT in Google Places were listed first. Then the local dealers were listed.

Once again, the TOP websites above the integrated and enhanced Google Places organic listings are two heavyweight contenders UsedCars.com and Yahoo Autos. For the car industry, the bigger, more established inventory advertising websites could be getting more traffic because they are NOT in the green Google Places area and shown at the top of the page.

Miami Used Cars

This trend continues as you type in even broader searches, and you can see that websites that are EXACT matching or that have high SEO inbound links on targeted keywords, appear on Google Page One before the Google Places block. So, in essence, Automotive SEO strategies are still in tact and dealers that have EXACT matching microsites with great content are getting a boost.

The Future Automotive SEO

Since I am an advocate of Automotive Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategies, you would expect me to defend this marketing strategy but I will be the first to say that the changes with Google Places is still a dynamic event. I’ll keep you posted on what I find and make recommendations to take advantage of opportunities I see.

About the Author

Brian Pasch

Brian Pasch is the CEO of the PCG Digital Marketing and an active writer for the automotive community.

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http://www.internetsales20group.com

http://www.dealersynergy.com

***Re-Published from Dealer.com Site

How to use Facebook to promote your blog & engage your customers - Syndicate your blog through Facebook to gain readership - Pete Jewett, SEO Analyst

You don’t have to be a social media expert to know that posting fresh relevant content on your Facebook Page is a must if you want to keep your customers engaged. One way to consistently post content and engage with your consumer is by syndicating your blog to automatically feed into your Facebook page every time you publish a post. Whenever a post is added to your blog, it will automatically display on your Facebook page's news feed for all your fans to view.

Whether you subscribe to Dealer.com’s blog platform or not, if you have a blog you should be syndicating it to gain readership and offer your customers fresh content on a regular basis.

It is easy to link your blog and Facebook fan page for automatic syndication! It takes less than 5 minutes to configure... here's how you can set it up:

1.Find your RSS feed URL - Visit your blog's home page and click on the orange button labeled "RSS 2.0", click it and copy your RSS feed's URL in the address bar.
2.Edit Your Facebook Page -Go to your Facebook Fan Page and click "Edit Page" beneath the Page profile picture.
3.Find Notes - Find Notes among the list of applications and select "Edit." Click "Edit Import Settings" under the Subscribe Section
4.Paste the URL - Paste your blog feed URL in the Web URL box and start importing.
Be aware that once you set up your blog to be imported into Notes, Facebook will pull previous posts into your feed. Once set up, it will scrape your site daily for new posts.

Now that you have your blog set up to post to Facebook, start writing!

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