All posts by Al Zibluk

Citi Launches Blockchain- Based Payments Service with Nasdaq for Private Equity

Citi Launches Blockchain-
Based Payments Service with Nasdaq for Private Equity

    

A major U.S. bank and financial exchange have married two blockchain-based systems

to enable clients who are raising funds or swapping private shares through Nasdaq to take advantage of payment services provided by Citi. The Citi-Nasdaq partnership is one of the first examples of an enterprise blockchain system to enter production. Citi says the project went live on Monday in an announcement at the annual Consensus conference in New York City. Over the past year, many banks and financial institutions have completed proofs of concept for projects that rely on blockchain or distributed ledger technology. But so far, few of those projects have graduated into functioning systems.

Nasdaq launched a blockchain-based platform called Linq in 2015 designed for private equity, but the system lacks the ability to process payments—it is mainly used to record ownership of shares. Investors or issuers had to leave the system and initiate a wire transfer to pay for shares once they were traded on Linq. With Monday’s announcement, Nasdaq integrated Linq with Citi’s WorldLink Payment Services through a new offering that Citi c CitiConnect for Blockchain. The offering allows Nasdaq to transfer a payment request from Linq to Citi as soon as a share is bought or sold. The bank then automatically processes that request through WorldLink, which Citi clients primarily use to make payments that require foreign currency exchange.

To make the integration work, Citi and Nasdaq developers had to create several new features, including a way for Linq to automatically retrieve an exchange rate request from Citi in a customer’s local currency, share that rate with the customer, allow the customer to accept the rate, and share the customer’s wiring instructions with Citi. (Individual investors need not hold a Citi bank account in order to participate.)

At first, the Citi-Nasdaq collaboration will focus on structured liquidity programs. The popularity of these programs has grown in step with a broader trend: Increasingly, U.S. companies are staying private for longer. As a result, early investors and employees who hold equity in a company must also wait longer to access the cash that their shares represent. Structured liquidity programs allow a group of early investors or employees to sell their shares for cash to new investors long before the company goes public.

Within Linq, a record of those shares will be preserved on a distributed ledger to which only the parties involved in the trade have access. Similarly, through CitiConnect for Blockchain, a record of payment is also added to the same ledger as soon as it is processed. On both sides of the system, this creates a “golden record” of the transaction and payment that either party can refer back to in case of disputes. The Citi and Nasdaq systems are built on a unified code base called Chain Core provided by Chain, a company that specializes in applying blockchain technology to financial services. Chain Core includes application program interfaces and software development kits to allow customers to adapt it for their own purposes. Nasdaq and Citi Venture have both invested in Chain.

“Nasdaq Linq, which we built on top of Chain Core, is completely different from the CitiConnect for Blockchain product,” says Adam Ludwig, CEO of Chain. “Both connect to a Chain Core underneath, those Chain Cores talk to each other on a shared ledger, they form a network, but they have their own separate IP.”  Chain, Citi, and Nasdaq began working on the project in April of 2016. Private equity has become a popular focus area for those interested in finance and blockchain technology because it has a low volume of trades. Fund managers and entrepreneurs may spend weeks or months completing a single deal.

Some blockchains have shown a limited ability to scale, which raises concerns about the technology’s ability to handle much larger volumes of transactions within seconds. To stress test Chain’s technology, Nasdaq required the company to run an entire day’s worth of trades from the public exchange through their system—which Ludwin says consists of more transactions than the Bitcoin blockchain handles in a year. “Nasdaq knew there’s no way you bring this type of infrastructure to run the public equities business first,” Ludwin says. “You don’t start there. You start in an area where you have more control over the end-to-end process.”

For decades, Nasdaq has provided a central clearinghouse for investors to trade shares of public companies through the Nasdaq Stock Exchange. Nasdaq’s Private Market, launched just four years ago, was Nasdaq’s attempt to allow private funds and companies to exchange options and shares with investors and employees. With its 2015 debut, Linq provided private parties operating in Nasdaq’s Private Market with the ability to issue or receive a digital record of ownership linked to a blockchain. For a private company, these digital records could theoretically replace paper stock certificates. With the new payment service integration, a company or fund manager could potentially raise a round of investments entirely through Linq.

Since its launch, it’s not clear how many of Nasdaq’s clients have opted to use Linq. Neither Nasdaq nor Citi were willing to share projections for the volume of trades they expect to pass from Nasdaq to CitiConnect for Blockchain in the project’s first year. At the height of activity, there could be hundreds to thousands of transactions flowing through Linq, according to someone familiar with the platform who wished to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to speak about it publicly. Nelson Griggs of Nasdaq said during the announcement on Monday at Consensus that a small transaction on the broader Nasdaq Private Market would hold a value of $50 million, and a large one would consist of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor
Please click either Link to Learn more about – TCC-Bitcoin.

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

Bitcoin Blockchain Copyright Startup Blockai Raises $950,000 amid Rebrand

Bitcoin Blockchain Copyright Startup Blockai Raises $950,000 amid Rebrand

  

Bitcoin blockchain to allow artists to protect their creative work,

Blockai, a San Francisco, Calif.-based technology company, has developed a copyright service that uses the Bitcoin blockchain to allow artists to protect their creative work, has rebranded itself as “Binded” and has shifted its focus from technology to creating legally binding records.Get exclusive analysis of Bitcoin and learn from our trading tutorials. Join Hacked.com for just $39 now. The company has also raised an additional $950,000, according to Techcrunch. The company wants to make it easier for content creators to protect their intellectual property by building a permanent copyright on a blockchain. The company believes the new name will have broader market appeal.

Why The Need?

While the Internet has unleashed a wealth of opportunities for creative work, protecting content has posed a big challenge, especially for independent producers of digital art, literature and even computer software. Nathan Lands, the company CEO, told CCN in July he planned to develop artificial intelligence to create unique fingerprints for all copyrighted works to protect copyrights and make sure artists get paid. He compared it to Youtube’s Content ID system for the entire Internet.

Funding Now Totals $1.5 Million

The new $950,000 in funding raises Binded’s funding to $1.5 million. The new investors include Asahi Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper; Mistletoe, which is led by Taizo Son, the founder of GungHo, a gaming company; M&Y Growth Partners; Tokyo Founders Fund; Vectr Ventures; and Social Starts. Lands said bringing on Japanese investors will help make the copyright the global standard. Such a standard is needed given the fact that in the U.S., to file a copyright infringement lawsuit it is necessary to register a new copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Lands see Binded’s platform as an intermediate step, one that is less costly and time-consuming than registration, it creates an independent record that should carry legal weight. Lands said the intention is to democratize copyright. He said the Binded product will always be free. In time, more services will be added that the company could charge for, such as registering with the Copyright Office.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor
Please click either Link to Learn more about – TCC-Bitcoin.

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

Blockchain Moves Ahead With Nasdaq-Citi Platform, Hyperledger and Ethereum Growth

Blockchain Moves Ahead With Nasdaq-Citi Platform,
Hyperledger and Ethereum Growth

  

Investors in private company securities on Nasdaq

can use Citi’s cross-border payments facility and blockchain to buy, sell and settle transactions. Nasdaq and City Treasury and Trade Solutions announced today they have developed a new integrated payment solution that enables stray straight-throughout processing and automates reconciliation by using a distributed ledger to record and transmit payment instructions. They have run a  number of transactions through the CitiConnect for Blockchain connectivity platform and the Linq Platform powered by the Nasdaq Financial Framework, the companies said in their announcement.

Nasdaq has been early in experimenting with blockchain for private securities which don’t trade on an exchange but can generate significant paperwork as they are bought and sold. At the Futures Industry Association (FIA) conference in Chicago in November 2015, Fredrik Voss, vice president for blockchain innovation at Nasdaq, said shares in private equity deals are deployed in paper certificates and transferring them is very time-consuming.  At the time he said Nasdaq was in a pilot with five clients.

This integration can allow businesses such as Nasdaq Private Market to address the challenges of liquidity in private securities by streamlining payment transactions between multiple parties, their announcement said. Key benefits include a seamless end-to-end transactional process for private company securities and direct access to global payments from Nasdaq’s Linq platform using CitiConnect for Blockchain and WorldLink Payment Services, Citi’s cross-border, multicurrency payments service. The service, which uses Chain’s blockchain infrastructure platform, will provide increased operational efficiency and ease of reconciliation with real-time visibility of payment transactional activity on the blockchain ledger, the announcement added.

"This new payment capability marks a milestone in the global financial sector and represents an important moment in the commercial application of blockchain technology," said Adena Friedman, CEO at Nasdaq. "Through this effective integration of blockchain technology and global financial systems, we can realize greater operational transparency and ease of reconciliation, which can have profound implications for outdated administrative functions in the capital markets.

In another blockchain development today, Hyperledger, an open source organization to promote distributed ledger technology sponsored by the Linux Foundation, announced significant new members including Alphapoint, CITIC, EY and Schroder Investment Management Limited. Hyperledger now has 142 members, a 373 percent increase since the project was announced with 30 members in February of 2016. he Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, which has more than tripled in size, today announced several new financial services members including Broadridge, DTCC and the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, which oversees licensed businesses in the state.

Ethereum is a blockchain-based, general purpose, decentralized application platform, enabling smart contract functionality, the DTCC said in its announcement. The technology is expected to improve banking trade settlement latency, increase transparency in supply chains and create peer-to-peer markets where intermediaries typically were previously needed between counterparties. Ethereum has a heavy representation of financial services firms — the founding members of the EEA rotating board include Accenture, Banco Santander, BlockApps, BNY Mellon, CME Group, ConsenSys, IC3, Intel, J.P. Morgan, Microsoft, and Nuco. Founding members include BBVA, ING, Credit Suisse, Thomson Reuters and UBS among others.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor
Please click either Link to Learn more about – TCC-Bitcoin.

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Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

Blockchain Entrepreneurs Target Apple and Google at Token Summit

   

Conference focused on new use cases for cryptographic assets

An inaugural conference focused on new use cases for cryptographic assets showcased today how blockchain-based applications that serve actual needs may be on the horizon. But not everyone at Token Summit agreed on the market's direction. As panel after panel of entrepreneurs took the stage in New York, some in the audience remained skeptical – while even the panelists themselves expressed a note of caution. To kick off the event, hosted at the NYU Stern School of Business, one of the earliest innovators in the crypto space, Erik Voorhees – who sold his first bitcoin company, Satoshi Dice, in 2013 – revealed more details about digital currency exchange ShapeShift's new product, Prism. Addressing the critics who say the cryptocurrency boom is little more than speculation, Voorhees positioned the work as part of the foundation for the next Facebook and Google.

Voorhees said:

"The real use cases will come in the future, but if this technology is going to make an impact, there should be speculation today."

Following Voorhees' addressed a number of panels continued with the theme of building real-world applications based on blockchain technology.

To build a real blockchain app

Speaking at the event, Brian Armstrong, co-founder of Coinbase, doubled-down on a years-old theory: that the developing economy would be the first to adopt these distributed applications. His comments came after Coinbase demoed an ethereum-based messaging app, dubbed Token, at CoinDesk’s Consensus 2017 event earlier this week. It's a messaging app built with cryptocurrency tech under the hood – but perhaps more importantly, it also includes an interface that Armstrong described as the "equivalent of HTML", but for ethereum rather than the Web. According to Armstrong, the developing world – and its estimated 2.5 billion underbanked individuals – is the primary target market for the app.

"The main value of cryptocurrencies is bringing financial services to the developing world," said Armstrong. “That’s what we’re going to do with Token." Muneeb Ali, co-founder of Blockstack, which launched its decentralized browser this week, said his startup was seeking a similar goal: facilitating the development of new kinds of apps. To help get there, Ali announced that his company had offered a bounty to anyone who could find a bug between his application and decentralized storage providers IPFS, Sia and Storj. Storj founder Shawn Wilkinson downplayed the potential competition between the projects, instead positioning their work from an enemy-of-my-enemy perspective. "We're all ideologically aligned to crush Amazon and other centralized services," said Wilkinson.

Slow progress

If the event showcased one thing, it's that there's little doubt that the road ahead with be characterized by slow and likely difficult progress. Bitcoin-powered browser Brave has had a service live for months, and in six days will launch its initial coin offering for the Basic Attention Token (BAT). Brave advisor Ankur Nandwani took the stage to explain how the browser startup, which has already raised $4.5m in venture capital, will leverage the token in an attempt to change user behavior. Out of 1.5bn tokens that will be minted, 300m will be set aside in a "development pool" to incentivize content publishers and users alike to download the app, which blocks third-party advertisements.

"Once you have users on the platform, advertisers will come," said Nandwani. Another possible explanation, though, for the slow growth of the technology and adoption came from an audience member and blockchain consultant Tone Vays, an outspoken critic of many decentralized applications. Speaking to CoinDesk during a pause in activity on the stage,

Vays said:

"It's not about the application. None of these applications need decentralization. They are just using the hype of bitcoin’s technology to blow their valuations out of proportion."

Blockchain honeymoon

Indeed, Maker software engineer Andy Milenius cautioned the crowd of investors, entrepreneurs, and students about the potentially painful process that young crypto-investors will likely go through on their way to learning how to properly conduct due diligence on their investments. "They're going to learn, probably the hard way, what makes a good idea worth investing in," said Milenius. Citing the vast separation between what companies like Apple and Dropbox can provide and what their decentralized counterparts can offer, Blockstack founder Muneeb Ali went even a step further, predicting a period of large-scale failures by ICO-backed companies before any kind of decentralized Web becomes a reality.

Ali concluded:

"Right now, we are in the honeymoon phase."

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor
Please click either Link to Learn more about – TCC-Bitcoin.

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

Blockchain Crucial Tool In Solving Global Financial Deficiency

Blockchain Crucial Tool In Solving Global Financial Deficiency

  

Solutions propagated since the advent of the Blockchain

Among the frontline solutions propagated since the advent of the Blockchain is the development of global financial infrastructure that will reach the unbanked and underbanked populations of the world.

Empowerment

More than two bln people around the world do not have access to basic financial services as a result of the absence of infrastructure. The consequence of this is that they are deprived of efficient methods of transferring value and affordable credit. According to Alexi Lane, CEO, and co-founder of Everex: “Affordable credit is a key element of entrepreneurship and economic empowerment.” The solution offered by Blockchain technology in the financial sector appears to be one of the most crucial promises that the global economy has been presented with in a long time.

Since the creation of Bitcoin and the other Blockchain platforms that followed, the hope of reaching the so far unreached population has been given a boost. The P2P technology offered by Blockchain has by far eliminated the cost and logistics of building physical infrastructure before reaching the ends of the earth. Also, intangible elements such as trust and data immutability, among others, are no longer issues of utmost concern. Therefore, the world is presented with an opportunity to indeed achieve global financial empowerment.

Fuel of expansion

The participation of corporations in delivering infrastructure to the far corners of the globe is evident in the level of growth of major Blockchain platforms. After Bitcoin, the most adopted Blockchain platform, as evident in their market capitalization, is Ethereum. As an example, a Blockchain company specialized in developing Ethereum applications, Everex, recently announced that it’s going to reach two bln unbanked and underbanked individuals by allowing them to access affordable instant micro-credit and global fiat transaction services from mobile devices.

Ethereum’s rise

Such developments among many others have seen the Ethereum value to rise by over $150 in less than two months. Founder at Expanse.tech, Christopher Franko, describes Blockchain as the single most important technology for the unbanked or underbanked.

Franko explains:

“In America alone, there are roughly 10 mln people that fall into this category and according to the Global Index, that number reaches higher than two bln. That’s over two bln people that don’t have basic access to the infrastructure needed to be an active participant in the global economy. Blockchain technology should focus heavily on this segment of people and offer low-to-no cost solutions.”

According to Franko, he and his team are focusing on that very thing as well as other empowering software for things like governance and identity management. He also notes that as the world becomes more interconnected, its need for borderless identity and financial and governance infrastructure increases.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor
Please click either Link to Learn more about – TCC-Bitcoin.

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

Bitcoin Should Figure in Your Investment Porfolio

Bitcoin Should Figure in Your Investment Porfolio

Bitcoin Should Figure in Your Investment Porfolio

 

Boris Schlossberg of BK Asset Management has joined the cadre of investment advisors who see bitcoin as a way for investors to hedge their bets against market uncertainty. Schlossberg, according to CNBC, sees bitcoin as an addition to an investment portfolio in the wake of political uncertainty.

CNBC’s “Trading Nation” explored ways for investors to hedge against growing political uncertainty following Wednesday’s big equities selloff. Stocks traded slightly higher on Thursday following the market’s biggest sell day of the year.

Investors are also being advised to look to international markets.

Bitcoin The New Gold

Schlossberg sees parallels between bitcoin and gold, and he noted that bitcoin is being called the “new gold,” due to its ability to retain value over time.

He noted that bitcoin is holding steady following its 92% rally this year. Speaking Wednesday on “Trading Nation,” Schlossberg said the cryptocurrency is holding at steady highs, and that when there is a big move for any type of instrument, there is usually some continuation.

Bitcoin is clearly signaling more demand, Schlossberg observed. He favors it as a hedge play moving forward.

Advisors Bullish On Bitcoin

Schlossberg is one of several investment advisors and investors who is bullish on bitcoin.

Thom Lachenmann and Parke Shall, advisors at Orange Peel Investments, have invested in bitcoin and suggest investors take a small position in the asset for the long term.

Billionaire investor Mike Novogratz has said that he is holding ten percent of his net worth in digital currencies such as bitcoin and Ether.

Charlie Morris, the investment director of the Fleet Street Letter, noted following last year’s bitcoin halving that he is buying the cryptocurrency because he sees it as a cheap stock with an opportunity to grow in value.

Needham & Co. LLC, a New York City-based investment firm, has been covering the Bitcoin Investment Trust, and last year gave it a “buy” rating. The investment company believes the price of the cryptocurrency stands to benefit substantially from rising demand for its two main use cases: as an alternative payments channel and as a “digital gold.” The growing demand is driven by market trends such as expanding ecommerce, globalization, and by the pervasiveness of enabling technology like mobile phones.

Many attribute bitcoin’s recent gains as a sign of its improved acceptance as a currency, despite the recent rejection by the Securities and Exchange Commission of a proposed bitcoin exchange traded fund.

Charlie Morris, the investment director of the Fleet Street Letter, is buying bitcoin. He sees it as a cheap stock with an opportunity to grow in value because of the halving. Morris gave his reasons for being bullish on bitcoin in a column in the Fleet Street Letter, a MoneyWeek Research Publication in London, U.K.

Morris compares the bitcoin halving to gold miners or oil producers cutting their production in half. He asks his readers if they would be more bullish on gold and oil if gold and oil supplies were cut in half. “That’s exactly what’s about to happen to bitcoin, the digital currency,” he noted.

Bitcoin: Limited Supply

Morris wrote that 25 bitcoins are now created every 10 minutes. On July 11, this number drops to 12.5. Four years later, it halves again.

There are currently 15.5 million bitcoins at present and the halving process, which is written into the the cryptocurrency’s software’s code, restricts the supply of bitcoins to 21 million. The supply is expected to reach this limit in about a century.

Scarcity is a feature of bitcoin’s design. It is a feature that distinguishes the cryptocurrency from fiat currency, which can be produced in unlimited amounts.

A Social Media Stock?

While many people buy bitcoin for speculation, their bets will only prove advantageous if other people buy it for its utility. Hence, bitcoin can be viewed as a social media stock in that the more people use it, the greater its value.

Morris described bitcoin as a digital asset that can move across the Internet. It differs from a traditional database in some important ways. With a traditional database, the user goes into the database, opens a file, changes the data and closes the file. Both the seller and the buyer have to do this, along with intermediaries. Because of all the parties involved, there is room for error in settlement.

With a blockchain, the transaction gets recorded onto a new layer of data called a block. That block never changes. A new block comes into existence every 10 minutes. The data stores in a chain of blocks known as a “blockchain.”

Bitcoin, contrary to what many people think, does not have a serial number. Instead, it has provenance.

How The Blockchain Works

In a bitcoin transaction, the system checks to make sure the bitcoin being spent hasn’t already been spent. The system checks this by examining the blockchain, where the transaction history records. There are more than 5,000 identical copies of the blockchain that can be downloaded and examined by anyone. “It’s truly open source.”

Each day bitcoin survives, it quashes its doubters, Morris noted. There are already more than 200,000 daily transactions.

Bitcoin has experienced one boom and bust cycle already. The price rose from under $1 to $1,000 in late 2013, then fell to below $200 in the summer of 2015.

“But the bear has now turned and the price is challenging $500.” This time, there is less hype, and there is also a lot of capital investment. “The network is growing and the supply is falling.”

If the cryptocurrency goes mainstream, it will give Facebook Netflix, Amazon and Google a run for their money, Morris noted.

Another Option: Global Stocks

Mark Tepper, president of Strategic Wealth Partners, points to investments outside the U.S. as a way to find refuge from domestic conditions, according to CNBC. The political risk is shifting toward the U.S., he said.

Global growth, Tepper noted, is much stronger than domestic growth. Globally-oriented companies on the S&P 500 are getting at least 50% of their revenues from overseas. These stocks are “completely crushing” domestically-focused companies in the current earning season.

Tepper said most investors are overly weighted in U.S. stocks since these stocks have outperformed international markets for years. However, he sees a change coming, making him confident that investing abroad makes sense, even as first quarter earnings have been strong for U.S. firms.

Geopolitical risk has faded following South Korean and French elections, he said, which bodes well for foreign markets.

iShares MSCI EAFE ETF, an exchange traded fund that tracks large- and mid-cap equities in developed oversea markets, has gained 13% for the year, Tepper said. The S&P 500, by contrast, has advanced under 6%.

The MSCI Asia Pacific index rose 20% year to date, while Taiwan’s benchmark index rose 22% and European markets have outperformed the S&P 500.

Emerging markets have also rallied. EEM, an ETF that tracks these markets, has gained 15% this year. The fund did drop 2% Thursday when Brazilian equities fell on account of political concerns in the country.

Author: Lester Coleman

I have been investing via Trade Coin Club, which has a program which automatically trades on the top top chyptocurrencies and earn bitcoin 5 days a week and a very happy with the results.

David Ogden
Entrepreneur

 

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

How to Vet An SEO Agency (and Prevent Failure)

How to Vet An SEO Agency
(and Prevent Failure)

  

 Major Algorithm Updates, Explained 

Finding the right SEO provider is important. It also can be a lot of hard work. This is why vetting SEO agencies is so important. You want to make sure your SEO agency is:

  • Easy to work with.
  • Going to deliver real value to your business.
  • Consistent.
  • Knowledgeable about the industry.
  • Within your budget.

The stakes are high. In most cases, SEO can make or break your business. Choose the right SEO agency and your business could start generating more traffic and revenue than it’s ever seen. Choose the wrong SEO agency and it could lead you to failure. We’re talking wasted money, penalties, and countless lost opportunities (e.g., rankings, traffic, and revenues). Although there are many honest and reputable agencies to choose from, there are still a few scam artists and dishonest agencies looking to exploit unknowing businesses.

The SEO Agency Horror Show

As the head of an SEO agency, I’ve seen the success stories. It’s always great to see clients grow and succeed because it helps us take pride in our work and showcase what SEO can do for businesses. But I’ve also heard some horror stories. One frustrating aspect of being an agency is hearing stories from businesses that come to us wary and frustrated from bad experiences they’ve had with unreliable SEO agencies. In speaking with such clients, there seems to be a common crescendo that leads them to their unfortunate breaking point, and it goes like this:

A business decides SEO is the next step in their growth plan, so they seek out and speak with an agency about services. The agency sells them potential results of successful SEO and makes guarantees about what they can achieve for the business. The business thinks it sounds great and takes the agency at their word. Ultimately, the business signs a contract with the SEO agency and gets locked in for an extended period of time. Fast forward a year or two later, and some businesses find themselves drained of money with little to show for it, or in some cases, with penalties that have made their online performance worse.

Tips for Vetting SEO Agencies

The advice and questions that follow are what businesses absolutely must consider and ask while vetting SEO agencies from an actual SEO agency’s behind-the-scenes perspective.

Develop a List of Criteria

Having some criteria beforehand will make you think critically about your expectations, protect you from going in blindly, and keep you in charge of what you want.

Think about things like:

  • Budget.
  • Desired contract duration.
  • Whether you want a local service provider or if you’re OK with a remote agency.
  • Reporting frequency.
  • Any other potential deal breakers.

Talk to 3 Different SEO Agencies

It’s smart to talk to at least three SEO providers before you make a decision. Aside from this being a generally good idea for the sake of knowing all your options, it also helps give you some leverage for possible negotiations regarding prices, services, and contract stipulations.

Make a List of Interview Questions

Asking the right questions before signing a contract can prevent the majority of SEO horror stories. Have the questions ready to ask each agency you speak with, so later you can compare answers and have plenty of information to help guide your decision.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor
Please click either Link to Learn more about – Inbound Marketing.

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

Tips for Vetting SEO Agencies

Tips for Vetting SEO Agencies

Develop a List of Criteria

The advice and questions that follow are what businesses absolutely must consider and ask while vetting SEO agencies from an actual SEO agency’s behind-the-scenes perspective. Having some criteria beforehand will make you think critically about your expectations, protect you from going in blindly, and keep you in charge of what you want.

Think about things like:

  • Budget.
  • Desired contract duration.
  • Whether you want a local service provider or if you’re OK with a remote agency.
  • Reporting frequency.
  • Any other potential deal breakers.

Talk to 3 Different SEO Agencies

It’s smart to talk to at least three SEO providers before you make a decision. Aside from this being a generally good idea for the sake of knowing all your options, it also helps give you some leverage for possible negotiations regarding prices, services, and contract stipulations.

Make a List of Interview Questions

Asking the right questions before signing a contract can prevent the majority of SEO horror stories. Have the questions ready to ask each agency you speak with, so later you can compare answers and have plenty of information to help guide your decision.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor
Please click either Link to Learn more about – Inbound Marketing.

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

Questions to Ask an SEO Agency

Questions to Ask an SEO Agency

Any honest and well-established agency

will happily answer your questions and address the concerns or reservations you have about SEO. Pay attention to how receptive they are to providing answers. Most importantly, don’t sign a contract with an SEO agency without asking these questions first:

  • Can you guarantee that my site will have a top ranking position?
    • Start with this question, because it’s a quick way to weed out shady SEO agencies. Legitimate SEOs will never guarantee a client a top ranking position because they know there are no guarantees with SEO.
  • How do you handle penalized sites?
  • Does your agency ever deviate from Google’s best practices?
  • Has your agency ever bought links?
  • How do you build links and what kind of links do you build?
  • How many links can I expect to have built per month or over the duration of my contract?
  • How much on-page, off page, and technical work can I expect to be done and what specific practices do you do for each?
  • Which tools do you use to achieve results and carry out SEO services?
  • Do you edit and/or optimize existing content on my site?
  • Is any of the work or content outsourced? If so, who does it?
  • How does your team handle content strategy and development?
  • What will specific content pieces be done for my site?
  • How do you plan to optimize that content?
  • Do you have any examples of work you’ve done for a similar business?
    • Successful SEOs are quick to provide case studies or examples of other businesses they’ve helped, so if you hear “that’s classified” or “we don’t share the results of other clients” in response, be wary.
  • On average, when do your clients start to see results?
  • How many active client accounts do you have?
  • How many people on your team are working on them?
    • If an agency has 500 active client accounts and only 30 people on their team, chances are they’re either stretched thin at the expense of quality or outsourcing some of the work.
  • Do you work with businesses that would be considered competitors to mine?
    • This isn’t always a bad thing, but if a direct competitor hires the same SEO company and has a bigger budget, you could be in trouble.
  • How often do you run site audits?
  • What specific metrics do you track and report on?
  • How do you handle reporting and tracking of my account?
  • How often can I expect to receive reports and updates, and how will you communicate them to me?
    • Ideal answers to these questions will include information on conversions, rankings, traffic, campaign and outreach updates, etc. Most agencies provide clients with access to reporting software so they can view a dashboard with trackable metrics.
  • How many people will have access to our website?
  • What steps do you take to ensure the security of our website?
  • Will you be making changes to the structure, web design, or coding of our website? If so, is that handled in-house or outsourced?
  • Who would be my point of contact, and how can I contact them if I have questions or concerns?
  • Can I meet the people who work on my account?
  • What will you need from my end?
  • How much time per month is needed from our end?
  • Can you itemize the pricing package by specific services and hours spent working on each?
  • What separates you from other SEO agencies?
  • Overall, what results can I expect from my website?

Conclusion

A lack of preparation makes you susceptible to being taken advantage of dishonest and shady SEOs. Do your research and prepare beforehand so you can easily identify the right SEO agency when you find them, and from there they’ll help you determine the best strategies to address the needs of your business.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor
Please click either Link to Learn more about – Inbound Marketing.

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

How to Create a Comprehensive Inbound Marketing Plan

How to Create a Comprehensive Inbound Marketing Plan

 Folks who live and breath inbound marketing

are all too familiar with the complexities involved in formulating a full-fledged inbound marketing strategy. Inbound marketing demands that you be more than a jack-of-all-trades handyman. Instead, you need to be a pro at dozens of specific skills – content writing, search engine optimization, social media, website design, conversion rate optimization, pay-per-click, email marketing, the list goes on.

As a result, when we assist marketers with inbound marketing strategy, the conversation often evolves into a discussion about building a marketing plan – how to prioritize, what to do, what not to do, what works best for specific business models and how to implement the proper infrastructure to facilitate inbound lead generation. Whether you’re launching a new startup company or looking for quick ways to revamp your enterprise marketing activities, a solid plan can make the difference between treading water and an achieving exponential growth. Following this guide will help you put the proper inbound marketing plan in place for your organization, prioritize each aspect of your strategy and focus on what drives the best results. In a world of instant gratification where there isn’t much time for planning so this guide is designed to help you really hit the ground running.

Define Your Buyer Personas

Where Buyer persona is the foundation of all things inbound marketing. Understanding exactly who you are marketing to, what makes them tick and how they communicate will help you craft messaging that truly resonates with your ideal customers. For those of you who are not familiar with the concept of a buyer persona, they are a fictional representation of your ideal customers. For instance, within your target market, there are likely numerous types of buyers. Your product or service may frequently be purchased by CEOs, Marketing Managers and Directors of Sales. Buyers in each of these roles have very different interests, priorities, and goals. Taking the time to define and understand the characteristic of each of your buyer personas will help you focus your content creation on topics that attract ideal customers.

Outline Your Marketing Triggers

Once you have identified who your ideal customers are and what makes their world go round, the next step is to identify the events and pain points that cause them to search for information about your product, service or industry. These events are known more formally as marketing triggers. Trigger-based marketing aims to meet potential customers at a point of need by being reactive, and targeted, rather than arbitrarily pushing out messages to big audiences.

Let’s consider the marketing triggers for an office furniture company. Office furniture is most often purchased by organizations that experience rapid company growth, geographic expansion, are undergoing building renovations, currently have outdated office furniture or just have the desire to stay up with new trends in office interior decor. Companies that experience any of these events may identify the need for new office furniture and begin to conduct research online. This is the perfect point in the purchase decision to provide a potential customer with a top-of-funnel offer that speaks to their needs and introduces the value of your product or service.

Create a List of Keywords

Now that you understand who your buyer personas are and what causes them to search for information, the next step is to figure out how people are searching for information about your product or service. Keyword research allows you to see the estimated search volume by location, how difficult it is to rank for certain keywords and estimate of the cost of purchasing search traffic through pay-per-click advertising. When creating a list of target keywords try to choose search terms with relatively high monthly search volume and a medium to low competition level. Google’s Keyword Planner is a great resource to quickly generate a list of relevant keywords and identify search terms that are in your sweet spot of competition and search volume.

Through this research, you can create a list of key terms and phrases to create content about. Crafting keyword rich content that speaks to the common questions that your buyer personas have when they encounter a marketing trigger ensures you are attracting the right people, at the right time, to your website.

Set Your Inbound Marketing Goals

The first step towards measuring the return on investment of your inbound marketing activity is identifying exactly what you want to achieve and when you expect to see the results. As outlined in the SMART Goal Framework, goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely. To set your inbound marketing goals, begin by assessing your website’s current ability to attract traffic, convert leads and close business. Some of the key performance indicators may include:

  1. Monthly unique website visitors
  2. Number of inbound leads / month
  3. Sources of traffic – PPC, SEO, Blogging, Social Media, Email

It can be helpful to create a series of scenarios and calculate the results for a number of potential outcomes. The following is a hypothetical example.

Tip: For a quick competitive analysis put your website and your key competitors into Marketing Grader. This tool reveals how your site stacks up against the competition in terms of filling the top-of-funnel with qualified leads and nurturing them into customers.

Outline Your Content Strategy

As we break down the inbound funnel you can see that leads typically fall into one of three stages:
Top-of-funnel Awareness:
leads at the top of the funnel are typically searching for general information about a subject
Middle-of-funnel Evaluation:
leads in the middle of funnel need to be introduced to your brand and learn what it is like to do business with you
Bottom-of-funnel Purchase Decision:
leads at the bottom of the funnel are most often looking for information that communicates the functionality and benefits of your product/service

The goal of top-of-funnel content is to attract as much awareness as possible and convert those visitors into leads. Social media, blog posts, videos, infographics and SlideShare presentations are all examples of top-of-funnel content that can easily spread amongst a large audience. Middle-of-funnel content begins to position your product/service. Branded webinars, case studies, free samples, catalogs, FAQ sheets, spec sheets or brochures can be used to effectively introduce your brand while providing value to the viewer. Leads at the bottom-of-funnel have shown signs that they are specifically evaluating your product/service. Sometimes these leads just need a little taste of what it is you have to offer – this might be a free trial, a live product demo, a discount or a complimentary assessment, consultation or estimate.

If you have great top-of-funnel content but you have nothing to offer leads in the middle and bottom of the funnel you won’t be very efficient at moving leads through the sales cycle. To identify where you may have obvious gaps in your content begin by evaluating your existing content and mapping it to each stage of the inbound funnel. Do your buyer personas have all the information they need at each point of the buying cycle? Understanding the questions, concerns, and objections that each of your buyer personas has, during the three stages of the inbound funnel will help your content strategy take shape.

Design Your Lead Nurturing Process

Some leads reach a decision to purchase a product or service much quicker than others. This can happen for a variety of reasons, but often the primary reason for a lead is to stall in the sales process is a lack of information. If a lead has unanswered questions, they are likely not ready to progress down the marketing funnel. The best way to reach out to leads and answer their questions is through a series of automated emails. Email automation gives leads a little nudge or reminder that you have valuable content available at their disposal. This encourages leads to re-engage with your content and move further down the inbound funnel.

The emails that you send to top-of-funnel leads should answer the most common questions that arise during your sales process. Once you have proactively reached out to answer these common questions, your leads will be better informed, more qualified and more receptive to accessing further information about your product or service. As leads progress to the middle of the funnel you can begin to position your product or service by delivering brand specific information. This might include a series of emails that address common questions and concerns about your business. Once a lead has acted on a bottom-of-funnel offer they are considered to be sales qualified. At this point, leads should be handed over to your sales team to be contacted directly and closed into paying customers.

Create a Conversion Focused Blogging Strategy

Conversion focused blogging strategies are designed to attract highly relevant traffic to your website with the goal of converting traffic into qualified leads. Each blog post supports an exclusive content offer by answering your buyer personas common questions and encouraging them to access your exclusive content. For instance, let’s think about our office furniture example.  If you write a top-on-funnel whitepaper about “The 10 Benefits of Open Concept Offices” you would then write a series of closely related blog posts that help attract traffic to that exclusive offer.
These might include:

  • Is Your Office Environment Crushing Creativity?
  • 4 Companies Leading the Open Concept Office Trend
  • 5 Design Trends Changing the Work Environment

Within each of the blog posts, you would feature a call-to-action to download “The 10 Benefits of Open Concept Offices” whitepaper.

Implement an Inbound Marketing Platform

While the bulk of the work in crafting an inbound marketing plan is routed, in strategy and content creation, the technology that facilitates inbound lead generation should not be overlooked. When considering infrastructure to facilitate inbound marketing choose platforms and approaches that will let you focus on your business, rather than the nuts-and-bolts of connecting disparate systems.

Recruit a Team of Inbound Marketing Experts

As we previously mentioned, inbound marketing requires a very diverse, yet specific skill set. Depending on your in-house expertise, capacity for additional work and the size of your budget it might make sense to hire for specific roles or outsource certain aspects of your inbound marketing execution.

A well rounded, Inbound Marketing team will have access to all of these skill sets:

  • Inbound marketing strategy
  • Copywriting
  • Blogging
  • Web Analytics / data analysis
  • Front & back end web development
  • Web design
  • Search engine optimization
  • Pay-per-click marketing
  • Conversion rate optimization
  • Email marketing
  • Social media / community management
  • Project management

Conclusion

Making the switch from traditional, Outbound dominated, marketing programs to inbound dominated marketing investments can seem like a leap of faith, but the benefits are indisputable. The sooner you can put this plan into action, the sooner you will be reaping the rewards of inbound marketing – more leads, at a lower cost, generated by a completely Scaleable Strategy.

Key Take-Aways:

  1. Define your buyer personas
  2. Identify your marketing triggers
  3. Create a list of keywords
  4. Set your inbound marketing goals
  5. Outline your content strategy
  6. Design your lead nurturing process
  7. Create a conversion focused blogging strategy
  8. Implement & Align infrastructure & business processes
  9. Recruit for the skillsets you need

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor
Please click either Link to Learn more about – Inbound Marketing.

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

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