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Building Community with Value

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Posted by Mackenzie Fogelson

Building a community around your company is hard work. Just like SEO, there are no tricks. Nothing you can buy in bulk. There really is no ‘easy’ way to do it. Even when you’re working with an agency, you can’t just put in an order for a large community at the drive thru window and expect it to happen over night. You’ve got to do the work.

Building community is about building awareness, and that involves a cohesive blend of many crucial components, including SEO, content, and social media marketing.

If you want to effectively use social media to grow your company, then you have to build a community around it. At the heart of building community is sharing and providing something of value.

What is value?

Simply put, value is something that holds worth. Something that is important to someone. Something that serves a purpose. Something that has significance to someone for one reason or another.

In the world of content and social media marketing, value can translate to a video, a photo, a blog post, a checklist, a whitepaper. With value, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so you’ve got to know what constitutes value for your audience. If you’ve got music lovers on your hands, maybe that’s the latest soundbite or leaked video. If it’s engineers, maybe it’s an infographic that beautifully lays out all the data they need to quickly digest (rather than, perhaps, a narrative or a spreadsheet).

Value is something good. But if you only remember one thing about this post, make it this:

Value is not all about you.

Focusing on the customer vs. focusing on you

People like to talk about themselves, and when you’re a company who has something to sell, it’s easy to think that the more you talk about yourself (specifically on social media), the more people will see you, hear you, and want to buy from you.

I’m thinking…not so much.

There is a HUGE difference between sharing value and self-promotion.

When you’re promoting yourself 100% of the time, the focus is, of course, on you, which means you’re basically saying that you’re the most important part of the company/customer equation. That gets old. It doesn’t leave you with a whole lot to talk about or share in the social space, leaves no room for growth, and certainly doesn’t provide much value for your customer.

When you focus on the customer and you think about what their interests are, what they need, and what they’re challenged by, suddenly the opportunities and choices for sharing value and making a connection with them are much greater.

Growing your online community with value

You can grow your online community (and transform your business) simply by focusing on your customer and sharing some value with them.

Take MailChimp for example. They have developed a plethora of resources on their website that help their customers do email marketing. Their guides cover everything from getting started with their product, to managing your list and using Google Analytics with your email marketing.

These guides don’t directly make them any money, but they are focused on the customer and provide them with value. These are the perfect things for MailChimp to share on social media. Even though they are indirectly promoting their own product, they are still focused on offering tremendous value to their customer.

Simply Business is another great example. Maybe this is an easy one for them because their sole purpose is to be a source of knowledge for UK businesses, but all Simply Business does all day long is provide a whole boat load of value: from resources on business insurance and fitness tips for business owners to the Small Business Guide to Google Analytics. All focused on the customer and all focused on providing value.

But wait, there’s more

All of this high quality content that both MailChimp and Simply Business creates is awesome, but I know first hand that this stuff takes a ton of time, energy, and a good amount of budget to generate. There is one simple, additional thing that both MailChimp and Simply Business could do that would serve their own customers and grow their community, but wouldn’t cost them a thing (except for a little bit of time).

They could leverage the communities of other companies.

What the heck does that mean? Well, Simply Business was almost on to it here:

They’re asking their community if they have anything of value to share. This is a great start, but what if Simply Business took the initiative to find for themselves the valuable content that’s out there, connected with the businesses generating it, and made this a part of their normal community management routine?

In addition to asking their customers for valuable things that they’d like to share, what if every few days Simply Business shared value from other companies that they respect, trust, and believe in?

Wouldn’t this help their customers and build community?

I’m thinking…yes.

Tap into neighboring communities with value and the 80/20 rule

Now this is where we get to the good part. You can try a new routine that will do several things:

  1. Save you from always having to originate quality content.
  2. Provide your customers with additional (and diverse) value.
  3. Cultivate and grow your online community and your relationships with other awesome people and businesses.

Win. Win. Aaaaand more win.

Here’s how you do it:

80% of the time, share value that you did not actually generate

That’s right. The deal with this is that if you’re spending 80% of your time on social media working to share other people’s value, you’ll end up building relationships, a more satisfied community, more fans, and bigger brand advocates. That means more supporters and more people who want to spread the word (i.e. do the work) about you (for free!).

Your quest is to find other people or companies online that you like, that may hold similar values or have a similar approach, and that produce good content. Get to know them. Read what they write. Share their stuff. Become their friend. It's not what's in it for you, it's what's in it for your customer and your community.

Even if the companies and people you are seeking out are a so-called competitor, if they align with your personal and company values (and have valuable content to share), they will appreciate you featuring their stuff, your customers will benefit from it, and they will want to become friends too (which means eventually they will return the favor). You can help each other learn and grow each other’s communities.

It’s real easy to do on Twitter:

And even more beneficial (for SEO reasons) on Google+:

But in order to do this and make it work, you’ve got to read. A lot.

Sharing value means you’ve got to be reading and learning. All the time. In addition to making friends with other companies, putting them on your radar and reading their blogs, make sure you’re following people on Twitter who are continually sharing value, or circle in people on Google+ who share good stuff. Find all of the useful information that you can get your hands on (the stuff that you know your community would love).

The benefit of this, of course, is that you will always have something useful (and valuable) to share with your community, and you will discover new niches and opportunities (i.e. other neighboring communities to tap into).

If you don’t have time to read the stuff you’re collecting during your day, use Pocket and save it for later. Then, make sure you’re setting time aside at least a couple times a week to read all the good stuff that you’re collecting so that you can then share that valuable content with your community on social media.

Bottom line, just make it part of your routine to share other people's valuable content approximately 80% of the time.

20% of the time, share stuff that you yourself created

When you’re focusing on sharing your own content, make sure it’s good. Real good. And remember, the stuff that you originate and share on your own blog and social media outlets should serve your community, not you.

And here’s a great tip that I stole from Rob Ousbey that will make an even bigger impact in your community and reach more people with your value: before you even create it, try asking for feedback. Interview your customers, survey them, ask them questions about their challenges, anxieties, and pain points. This helps you to get buy-in even before the effort is spent, and you’re ensuring that you’re developing something that really matters to them.

Then, once the content you’ve been working on is ready, show those people who provided you with feedback what you created. Now you have fostered trust because they were a part of the process. So when you go to do outreach and get the word out on social media, you’ve already got someone who is personally invested and wants to help you with outreach.

It's not that you want to avoid promoting your company or helping people understand what you do. It's that blatant self-promotion won't get you anywhere, and it certainly won't help build a community. When you are promoting yourself, make sure it's backed by value.

Always bring it back to value

No matter what, make the commitment to share value (and again, not just your own). Maybe your ratio isn’t 80% other people’s stuff and 20% your own (though that’s been the ratio that has worked best for us). Maybe it’s 60/40 or 70/30. Whatever the balance is, always share value and try (seriously, try hard, kids) not to make it all about you (at least a little bit of the time). Play around with it. Test it out and find the right mix for your customers and your community.

When in doubt, think about your customer first. How can you really be of service to them? If you can’t, refer them to someone else who can. They may not become your customer, but they will always be your fan, support your community, and refer you to their friends. That’s what cultivating community with value is all about.

Take the 80/20 challenge

People like to share. When you focus on other companies (and people) and not always on yourself, it will naturally catch on and those people and companies will start sharing your stuff. But the ‘trick’ to this whole thing is that you have to start with value.

So try it out for yourself and see what happens. Chances are, you’re going to become a lot smarter (with all of that hard core reading you're gonna do), you’re going to help others, and you’re going to grow your business (with a seriously awesome community).

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SEOmoz Daily SEO Blog

How To Start You Own Search Marketing Business

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Start your own business

Had enough of the day job?

A common new years resolution is “quit the rat race and be your own boss”. In this article we’ll take a look at what is involved in starting up your own search marketing business, the opportunities you could grab, and the pitfalls you should avoid.

But first , why are people leaving SEO?

Is SEO Dead?

There’s no question Google makes life difficult for SEOs. Between rolling Pandas, Top Heavies, Penquins, Pirates, EMDs and whatever updates and filters they come up with next, the job of the SEO isn’t easy. SEO is a fast moving, challenging environment.

In the face of such challenges, many SEOs have given up and moved on. Here’s a rather eloquent take on some reasons why.

It’s true that SEO isn’t as easy as it once was. You used to be able to follow a script: incorporate this title tag, put this keyword on your page, repeat it a few times, get links with the keyword in the link text, get even more links with keywords in the link text, and when you’ve finished doing that – get a lot more links with keywords in the link text.

A top ten position was likely yours!

Try that script in 2013, and…..your mileage may vary.

There are plenty of examples of sites that follow Google’s exhaustive rules and get absolutely nowhere.

But let’s say you’ve figured out how to rank well. Your skills are valuable, because top ten rankings are valuable. Another bonus, given Google is making life more difficult, is that it creates a barrier to entry. There will be less threat from newcomers who have just bought a book on How To SEO.

For those with the skills, the outlook remains positive.

Many in the industry are reporting skills shortages:

We do struggle to fill some of our positions, with SEO being a particularly tough one to find good people that have relevant experience,” said Chris Johnson, CEO of Terralever in Tempe.
Consultants in SEO and marketing in general have seen a huge uptick in job openings in the past few years. An October study by CNNMoney and place marketing consultants, which include SEO specialists, as the second-best positions in the U.S. based on pay and industry growth. According to the survey, they comprise more than 282,000 jobs with a 41.2 percent growth rate over the past 10 years.

SEMPOs 2012 report projects the search industry to grow to 26.8 billion in 2013, up from 22.9 billion in 2011.

So, the demand is escalating, SEO/SEM is getting more challenging, yet more people than ever seem to be throwing in the towel.

The nature of SEO is changing. Trends for 2013 – which are also highlighted in the SEMPO report – show that whilst lead generation and traffic acquisition are still favoured, areas such as brand awareness and reputation management are on the rise:

Survey responses show a drop in the blunt objective of driving traffic, but it remains a key goal for search engine optimization (SEO). Perhaps more interesting is the doubled number of agencies citing brand/reputation as a goal, up from 5% in 2011 to over 11% in this year’s survey

These might be niche areas worth exploring.

One sad trend is that the small business owner is being squeezed out. SEO used to be a way for small business to out-compete big brands, but that door is being closed.

What can we learn from all this?

SEO for the larger businesses appears to be where the game is moving. The advantages of business scale and brand reputation in the search engine results pages are not to be underestimated.

The SEO approach for smaller businesses needs to be about a lot more than just SEO, it needs to be more about SEM – with strong emphasis on the “M” (arketing) in order to avoid the fate outlined in the link above. Google looks deficient if people can’t find the big brand names, but few will notice if a small, generic operator falls out of the index as another relative unknown will take their place.

Of course, gaps in the algorithms will always exist, and this is the territory of aggressive SEO, but this is getting increasingly difficult to apply to legitimate sites that can’t afford to burn and replace sites.

The SEO these days needs to think about the fundamental value that SEO has always delivered – qualified prospects, leads, and positioning in the buyers minds. That might mean approaching what was once a technical exercise from a more holistic marketing angle.

Why Work In Search?

Search remains a very interesting business.

John Wanamaker, a merchant in the 1860’s was quoted as saying “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half!”. I think he would have liked the search marketing business, as it allows you to do three very important things: get inside the mind of the customer, only talk to the people who are interested in what you offer and track what they do next.

Using search, you know where 100% of your budget is going. It won’t be wasted so long as you target correctly. Targeting is what search marketing does so well. If you enjoy figuring out what people want, matching them up with a page that allows them to do that thing, and beat your competition at doing so, then search marketing is a good game to be in. Whether you do that using SEO, PPC, social media, or likely a mix of all three, the demand for qualified visitors will always exist.

The next question is whether you want to do it for someone else, or do it for yourself. There are obviously pluses and minuses for both options, so let’s compare them.

Work For Someone Else Or Work For yourself?

Some people feel frustrated working for someone else and not being the master of your own destiny, especially if the boss is an idiot. Then again, some people like the routine and predictability of working for others, and they might be lucky enough to have a great boss who nurtures and respects them.

So, what type of person are you?

If you like a regular routine, regular hours, and task specialization, then looking for a SEM job within an established search marketing firm might be the way to go. If you prefer a high degree of control, variety and the knowledge that all the rewards will flow to you for the successful work you undertake, then starting your own business might be a good way forward.

Only you know for sure, but it pays to spend a bit of time taking a good look at yourself, your existing skills and what you really like doing before you decide if “working for someone else” or “working for yourself” is the right answer.

You should also establish your goals.

Be specific. If your reward is monetary, set a measurable goal i.e. I want to make $ X per month in the first year, $ X per month in the second, and $ X per month in the third. Being specific about measurable goals will help you construct a viable business plan, which I’ll cover shortly.

Your goals need not be monetary. It could be argued the greatest rewards from a job or business aren’t monetary reward, but the satisfaction you derive from the work.

When it comes to working for yourself, it’s hard to underestimate the freedom of picking your own areas of working to your own timetable. These are real benefits. If your goals align more closely with a job i.e. a regular income and a regular time schedule, then you might decide that getting a job with an employer will suit you best. If you value autonomy, then running your own business might suit you better.

Split your goals into short term, medium term and long term. Where do you see yourself in five years time? How about this time next year? In the case of search marketing, who knows if it will be around in five years time, and if so, in what form?

Your one year plan might be focused on SEO, but your five year plan might be to provide the very same things SEO provides today – qualified visitor traffic – no matter what form the source of that traffic will take in five years time. The value proposition to the client, will be much the same. So, your five year plan might include learning about general marketing concepts and studying new digital marketing channels as they arise.

Being clear about what you like doing and your objectives will make your decision about whether to get a job or strike out on your own much easier.

Another way to think about it is to consider doing search marketing part time, at first. It may prove to be a lucrative second income if you already have a job. One of the biggest factors in running your own business is the risk, and having a steady income reduces this risk significantly. It also means you can start slow and build up without the pressure of having to hit regular targets. The disadvantage is that you don’t have as much time to devote to it, and working two jobs might tire you out to the point you’re not doing both well. You’re also unlikely to be available to clients during business hours when they need you.

Of course, be careful not to compete with your existing employer and check out the non-compete clauses in your contract.

Another thing to think about if you’re cash rich but time poor, especially with many people leaving the SEO game, is to buy an existing SEO business. You’re buying existing contracts and/or a client list, and you may be able to pick up some skilled employees, too. Buying a business is a topic in itself and outside the scope of this article, however it’s an avenue to think about especially if you are capital rich and time poor. You may be able to manage such a business part time, as you have less pressure to develop new business from scratch and the existing employees can handle the work at the coal face and deal with clients during the day.

Business Plan

Few business plans ever survive contact with the real world as the real world is constantly moving.

But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write one.

It’s essential to have a plan, just as you need directions to get to a travel destination. You could wing it without a map, and you might arrive in your destination, but chances are you won’t. You’ll most likely get lost. A business plan helps you assess where you are, and remind you where you’re going.

Having said that, a business plan is always subject to change, because as you encounter the real world – the rapidly fluctuating market – you will start to see opportunities and pitfalls you could never see whilst you were creating an abstract plan in your head. The plan needs to change with you, not lock you into a rigid framework. Treat it as a living document subject to change.

Entire books have been written about business plans, but unless you’re chasing bank financing and/or need to present formally to an external agency, it pays to keep business plans brief, clear and simple.

Crafting a business plan also enforces an intellectual rigour that will help test and challenge your ideas. In crafting your business plan, various questions will occur to you. How many clients do you need to get in order to meet your financial goals? How many staff members can you afford based on those goals? If you allocate all your time to existing clients, how will have time to acquire new clients? Do you have a marketing budget to get new clients?

These type of questions are addressed by the business plan.

A typical business plan covers the following:

  • Business Concept – describes what the business will do, discusses the search marketing industry in general, and shows how you’ll make the business work.
  • The Market – identifies your likely customers, and your competitors. Explains how you’ll get these customers, and how you’ll beat the existing competition.
  • Finances – shows how much it will cost to do what you plan to do, and how much money you plan to make from doing it.

Break these sections down as follows:

1. Introduction

What is your current position? What is your background? What is the purpose of your business? What is your competitive advantage? Who are your competitors? How will you exploit their weaknesses, and counter their strengths? How will you increase capability and capacity? How do you plan to grow?

Describe the search marketing industry. If you’re unaware of the trends, refer to industry reports from the likes of SEMPO, Market and Nielsen.

Identify your target market and show how you will reach them. Describe what your search marketing service will do and highlight any areas where you have a clear advantage over competitors.

2. Business Strategy

Define the market you’re targeting. How big is it? What are the growth prospects? What is the market potential? How does your business fit into this market? What are your sales goals? What is your unique selling proposition?

Be specific about your objectives and goals i.e. make $ x profit in the first year, as opposed to “be profitable”. They must be measurable, so you can see exactly how you’re doing.

Outline your pricing strategy. Here are a few ideas on how to price without engaging in a race to the bottom. Outline how you’re going to sell. What sort of advertising and marketing will you do? Outline your core values. What do you believe? What are your principles? Outline the factors most critical to your success. What are the things you must do in order to succeed?

3. Marketing

Prepare a brief SWOT analysis. It sounds convoluted, but SWOT simply means strengths, Weaknesses,Opportunities, and Threats in terms of marketing.

Include any Market research you have done. Outline your distribution channels. Outline any strategic alliances you have. Outline your promotion plan. Prepare a Marketing budget. How will you appear credible in the eyes of your target market?

4. Management Structure

Who is involved and what are their skills? Do you plan to hire more staff? At what milestones? What plans do you have for training and retention? You need not solve this problem in house, of course. Your plan could involve using contractors as and when required.

Who are your advisors? i.e. your accountant, lawyer, mentor and financial planner, if applicable. This section is especially important if you’re seeking financing as banks will want to see that you’re operating with professional guidance.

Describe any staff management systems you plan to implement.

5. Financial Budgets And Forecasts

Ideally, you should include:

These can be hard to estimate, so calculate a best case scenario, a worst case scenario, and something in the middle. This gives you a range to think about, and how you might deal with various outcomes should they arise.

Cashflow is by far the most important consideration. You can have customers lined up, they are buying what you have, they are placing more orders, but if you can’t meet your bills, then your business will crash. Consider what line of credit you may need in order to maintain cashflow.

6. Summary

Restate the main aspects of your plan, highlighting where you are now and where you’re going to take the business. As business plans are always up for review, make a note of when you’ll review it next.

You might think a business plan is tedious and not worth the effort. However, it can save you a lot of time, effort and money if it shows you that your business won’t fly. It’s great to model a business on paper before you sink real money into it as there is no risk at this point, yet it will be clear from the business plan if the business has a chance of making money and growing. If the numbers don’t add up on the plan, they won’t do so in real life, either.


Your good name.

It’s worth spending time and possibly money investing in a great name as you’ll likely live and breathe it for the lifetime of the business

What do you want people to think of when they think of your company? Your name must create an immediate impression.

One of the problems with a crowded industry, like search marketing, is that generic, descriptive names won’t stand out. “Search Marketing Agency” may describe what you do, but such a name makes it difficult to differentiate yourself. A quirky name, like “RedFrog”, make be memorable, but may do little to convey what you’re about.

You’ll also need a name that doesn’t stomp on anyone else’s registered trademark, else you’ll likely get into legal trouble. It also helps if the exact match domain name is available. If you get stuck, there are plenty of branding experts who can help you out, although they do tend to be expensive.

Keep in mind that is easy to rank for a unique brand name. If it’s unique, it tends to be memorable. So my two cents for anyone in a crowded industry is to go for the unique over the generic and descriptive. You can also tack on a byline to the end of your name to remove any uncertainty.

And get a great logo! Check out 99designs. Keep in mind that a logo should work for both on-screen color display and print, which might be in black and white.

Search Business Models

There are a few different search marketing models on which to base a business.

The Consultant

Perhaps the most obvious search marketing model is that of the consultant whereby you help other businesses with their search marketing efforts. Think about the demand for external consultants and where that demand may come from.

Large companies tend to want to deal with large agencies. Large companies may have their own internal search team. There comes a point where it is cheaper to hire someone full time that hire an external consultant, and that point is the average full time salary plus employment costs.

Larger companies will hire one-man bands or small consultancies if they need what you have and what you have is difficult for them to get elsewhere. A lot of search marketing consultants won’t fill this brief, although some are brought in to help train and mentor their internal search teams.

A lot of the demand for external consultants comes from smaller businesses who don’t have the expertise in house and their low level usage of search marketing wouldn’t make it financially viable.

One of the great upsides of the consultancy model is you get to see how other people run their businesses.

Affiliate/Display Advertiser

The affiliate positions a site in the top ten results, gathers leads and traffic, and then sells them to someone else. The display advertiser publishes content in order to provide space for advertising, and typically makes money on the click-thrus.

Keep in mind that the competition can be fierce as any lucrative niche will likely already have many competitors. Also keep in mind that Google is likely gunning for you, as there have been clampdowns on thin-affiliates in recent years i.e. affiliates who don’t provide a great deal of unique and useful content.

The downside is that unless you’re diversified, your income could dry up overnight if Google decides to flick their tail in your direction. And to be truly diversified, you need diversification across markets AND strategies. Without that, there is a good chance you’ll then have to start from scratch at some point. Algorithm shifts tend to be great for consultants with deeper levels of client engagement, as the change can create new demand for their consultancy services. For consultants who sell low margin consulting across a large number of clients, the algorithmic updates can actually be worse than they are for affiliates, because you may suddenly have a lot of angry customers all at once & unlike an affiliate who prioritizes a couple key projects while ignoring many others, it is not practical to ignore most clients when things go astray. To each & every client their project is the most important thing you are working on, & rightfully so.

Some search marketers mix up their affiliate with consulting to even out the risk, provide greater variety, and deal with the inevitable slack that comes with many consulting-based business models.

Tools Vendor

There is a huge community of search professionals. They need software tools, data, advice and other services. Obviously, SEOBook follows a hybrid of this model. We provide premium tools, while also engaging in consulting through our community forums. Those who don’t value their time are not a good fit. But those who do value their time can get a lot out of the community in short order, without the noise that dominates so many other forums. The barrier to entry is a feature which guarantees that the members are either a) already successful, or b) deeply understand the value of SEO, which in turn increases the level of discourse.

Think about areas that are a pain for you in your current search marketing work. These areas are likely a pain for other people, too. If you can make these pain points easier, then that is worth money. The search community tends to be generous about getting the word out when truly useful tools and services spring up. The hard part is when more service providers enter a niche it becomes harder to maintain a sustained advantage in your feature set. As that happens, you need to focus on points of differentiation in your marketing strategy.

Integrated Model

A lot of SEOs/SEMs do a mix of work.

PPC and SEO fit quite nicely together. It’s all search traffic. The skills are pretty similar in terms of choosing keywords and tracking performance. They differ in terms of technical execution.

Affiliate and display advertising can balance out client work, providing income from a variety of different sources, which lowers risk.

The main benefit of an integrated model is you get to see a lot of different areas. Many people in the search industry talk the talk, but if their primary purpose is to sell, they’re less likely to have the chops. If you’ve got your own sites, and you win/lose based on how well they do, then you’ll likely have an understanding of algorithms that a lot of sales-oriented talking heads will never have. The downside is that you might spread yourself too thin over a number of projects, and thus become a master of none.

Clearly Defined Niche

The trick with any of these approaches is to find a niche, preferably one that is growing quickly. Okay, the SEO consultant market is swamped due to low barriers to entry, but perhaps the SEO provider market in your home town isn’t.

Perhaps there are web design companies who can’t afford a full time SEO, but would like to offer the service to their clients. Get three or four of these agencies as “clients” and you’ll likely create one full time job for yourself. This is a particularly good model if you don’t like sales, or don’t have time to do a lot of sales work. The design agency will do the selling for you, and they already have a customer base to whom they can sell.

Design agencies often like such arrangements because they get to add an additional service without having the overhead of another staff member. They also get to click the ticket on your services. Your billing is also more streamlined, as you’re likely be billing the agency itself.

Be very specific when choosing a niche. Who would you really like to work for? What, specifically, would you really like to do? “Search marketing” is perhaps a too wide of a niche these days, but how about exclusive search marketing for tourism businesses?

It doesn’t pay to try and be all things to all people, especially when you’re a small operation. In fact, the advantage of being small is that you can target very specific areas that aren’t viable for bigger marketing companies who run high overheads. Consider your own interests and hobbies and see if there’s a fit. Do companies in your area of interest do their search marketing well? If not, you’ve got a huge advantage pitching to them as you already speak their language.

Keep the customer firmly in mind. What problem do they have that they desperately need solving? Perhaps the restaurant doesn’t really need their website ranking well, but they do need more people phoning up and making a reservation. So how about running a restaurant reservation site in your town, using SEO and PPC to drive leads, providing customers copies of each restaurant’s menu? Charge the restaurant for placement and/or on leads delivered basis.

Trip Advisor started with a similar idea.

Doing The Deals

One of the biggest transitions from a regular job to running your own business, if you’re not used to working in sales, is that you will need to negotiate deals. Those working 9-5, especially in technical roles, don’t tend to negotiate directly, at least not with prospective clients and suppliers.

Negotiation is a game. The buyer is trying to get the best price out of you, and you’re trying to land more business.

Possibly the single most important thing to understand about negotiating is that negotiations should be win-win ie. both sides need to get something out of it and not feel cheated. This is especially important in search marketing consulting as you’ll be working with your clients over a period of time and you need them on your side in order to make the changes necessary.

It’s easy to assume the buyer has all the power, but this isn’t true. If they’re talking to you, they have already indicated they want what you have. You are offering something that grows their business.

However, you need to understand your relative positions in order to negotiate well. If you’re offering a generic search marketing service and there are ten other similar providers bidding for the job, then your position is likely very weak unless you’re the preferred supplier. Personally, I’d avoid any bidding situation where I’m not the preferred supplier.

This is where niche identification is important. If you have clearly identified a niche in which there isn’t a great deal of competition, you have a clearly articulated unique selling point and you know what buyers want, then your position in negotiation is stronger. This is why it’s important to have addressed these aspects in your business plan. Failure to do so means you’re very vulnerable on price, because if you’re up against very similar competitors, then your last resort is to undercut them.

Price cutting is not the way to run a sustainable business, unless you’re operating a WalMart style model at scale.

You need to set a clear bottom line and walk away if you don’t get it. This can be very difficult to do, especially if you’re just starting out. The exception is if you’re simply trying to get a few names and references on your books, and don’t care so much about the price at this point. In this case, you should always price high but say you’re offering a special discount at this point in time. Failure to do so means they’ll just perceive you as being cheap all the time.

Start any negotiation by letting the customer state what they want. then you state what you want. If you both agree, great! Win-win. Chances are, however, you’ll agree on some points, and disagree on others. Fine. Those points you agree on are put off to one side, and you’re focus on trying to find win-win positions on the points you disagree with. Keep going until you find a package that both meets you needs.


Starting your own business is a thrill. It’s liberating. However, in order for it to work, you must approach it with the same rigor and planning you do with your search marketing campaigns. Keep in mind you’re swapping one boss for many bosses.

Perhaps the best piece of advice is to dive in. A lot about running your own business isn’t knowable until you do it. so if one of your new years resolutions was to quit the day job and strike out on your own, then go for it!

Best of luck, and I hope this article has given you a few useful ideas:)



Why Content Goes Viral: the Theory and Proof

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Posted by Carson Ward

Not all great content goes viral, but (with the exception of awesomely terrible videos) content that does go viral is great. No one can guarantee that any piece of content will take the web by storm, but we can make sure that a piece of content has what it takes.

Long-time citizens of the web can often tell from a first-reading or viewing that a piece is going to explode, but why? Opinions about what it takes to be viral are easy to come by, but let’s look at the facts with data to prove it.

Write long, in-depth posts

In a scientific, statistical look at what makes content most shareable online, two University of Pennsylvania professors looked at the New York Times’ most emailed list to see if they could determine what cause people to share article. You can download the entire PDF here.

The first finding is that longer articles tend to be shared far more often. The correlation remains strong even after taking the amount of site exposure into account. In fact, sheer word count was more closely correlated with sharing than any other variable examined. John Doherty found a similar correlation this past October, finding that long posts receive more than their fair share of links.

Correlation isn’t causation (sorry, the phrase is cliché for a reason), and it’s possible that there’s something else at work here. Perhaps the journalists tend to write longer pieces when they’re writing on hot topics, for example.

A causal relationship makes sense, though. I’m far more likely to email or tweet something from #longreads or /r/DepthHub than a 200-word summary on the same topic. Long posts have the potential to be immersive and thorough in a way that’s impossible for short pieces. If I care about the topic at all, I don’t want to share an article with friends or readers if it just skims over the surface. If you want your word to spread, cover the topic fully.

Long posts aren’t all flowers and sunshine though. While long posts appear more likely to be shared through email and links, a separate study on blog comments found that users are less likely to comment on long posts.

Inspire anger, awe, or anxiety

You won’t be surprised to learn that posts that spend a lot of time on the home page are more likely to go viral, but after adjusting for variables the study does a pretty good job of showing which emotions make a post more viral:

Content that inspires low-energy emotions like sadness is less likely to be shared, where content that inspires high-energy emotions like awe, anger, and anxiety is far more likely to be shared.

Anger wins the award as the most viral emotion studied. Before belittling and insulting your readers, note that anger is typically directed at the topic – not the author or publication. Inciting anger in readers typically requires some tolerance for dealing with controversial topics. The comment study also found that controversial blog posts receive twice as many comments on average. Still, many brands will want to avoid hot topics that could alienate customers and partners.

For most, awe will be the safest and most reliable path towards viral content. Awe is more than surprise – it’s the reason we can’t stop watching movies with big explosions and larger-than-life heroes. Creative inventions, completed labor-intensive projects, stunning design, and novel are all ways to fill viewers and readers with awe.

Prove you care

Emotion-filled posts tend to be shared more, according to the survey. Creating content with an emotional tone can be harder than it sounds, especially in professional writing. This has always been a weakness of mine – I don’t write my emotions, even on topics I am freakishly passionate about. Overly-professional and mechanical corporate writing does not get shared.

There are piles and piles of good, insightful, thoughtful content that no one ever cared about – much of it was just too damn bland. If you need inspiration, look to Ian Lurie for examples of writing that no one would consider bland. (That’s a compliment, I swear.)

Practically useful, surprising, and interesting

Content that is surprising, interesting, and practically useful receives more shares than the obvious, boring, and useless content. These might be the most intuitive of the findings, but it’s helpful to keep in mind the degree to which each variable impacts sharing.

interesting, practical, and surprising increase viral chances

Known authors

Being known by the audience had a large impact on whether a news article was shared. In fact, the fame of the author was just slightly more important that content that was surprising. Luke Clum recently said it best on the Distilled blog:

“…a common misconception has developed amongst SEO’s – mainly that good content speaks entirely for itself. While content is innately influential, it usually only carries the authority of its creator or publisher.” (source)

SEOs are experts in detecting credible content online, yet we sometimes forget that every piece of content is at least partly considered based on its author’s reputation – or lack thereof – and credibility. If a piece of content is intended to go viral, an industry authority (aspiring or current) will usually be better off taking charge of it. Otherwise, content may need to make a special effort to inspire trust (e.g. through introduction and stories).

Female authors

The NYT study also suggests that female authors had a greater chance of going viral, but the underlying reasons are unclear. Do women choose more viral topics than men? Is the Times better at hiring female journalists? We may never know.

The easy answer: humor

Most obviously, content that is truly and broadly viral is almost always funny. One study interestingly titled “From subservient chickens to brawny men” found that despite 62% of ads being aired by Fortune 500 companies, 60% of viral ads were being generated by the smaller companies. The discussion continues:

“Humor was employed at near unanimous levels for all viral advertisements. Consequently, this study identified humor as the universal appeal for making content viral.”

Humor isn't always the answer, but it's essentially a pre-requisite for a viral ad. Small companies win more than their share of attention because they're willing to be a little more interesting and less sterile. Take Mike Pantoliano’s advice: shut up and be funny


As I’ve said, these studies looked at correlation (which is not necessarily causation). Further, quantifying human response is enormously difficult, and not everyone is the same. I am by no means suggesting that the viral checklist is applicable to every single person on the planet. Still, I’m pretty comfortable with the research behind the checklist, and it passes the common-sense test.

A viral checklist

Two months from now it’s going to be easy to sit down and create content in the same habits we always have. Not all content needs to be viral, but when that’s the goal, make sure that you accomplish all of the following.

  • Did you sufficiently cover the topic? Is it long enough? (24)
  • Does the content inspire a high-energy emotion like awe (16), anger(18), or anxiety (18)?
  • Did your tone convey emotion? (12)
  • Is it practically useful? (16)
  • Is it interesting? (14)
  • Is it surprising? (8)
  • Does the author have fame/credibility? (8)
  • If it’s supposed to be funny, is it actually funny? Are you sure your friends aren’t just being nice? (∞)

You can’t always have all of these factors, so I've added a maximum score in parenthesis to help prioritize those factors that research has shown to be most important to sharing. If you rate your content at or near 100, it's likely that it has a far greater chance of going viral.

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Visualizing Duplicate Web Pages

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Posted by David Barts

We've just changed the way we detect duplicate or near-duplicate web pages in our custom crawler to better serve you. Our previous code produced good results, but it could fall apart on large crawls (ones larger than about 85,000 pages), and takes an excessively long time (sometimes on the order of weeks) to finish.
Now that the change is live, you’ll see some great improvements and a few changes:
  • Results will come in faster (up to an hour faster on small crawls and literally days faster on larger crawls)
  • More accurate duplicate removal, resulting in fewer duplicates in your crawl results

This post provides a look into the motivations behind our decision to change the way our custom crawl detects duplicate and near-duplicate web pages at a high level. Enjoy!

Improving our page similarity measurement

The heuristic we currently use to measure the similarity between two pages is called fingerprints. Fingerprints relies on turning each page into a vector of 128 64-bit integers in such a way that duplicate or near-duplicate pages result in an identical, or nearly identical, vector. The difference between a pair of pages is proportional to the number of corresponding entries in the two vectors which are not the same.
The faster heuristic we are working on implementing is called a similarity hash, or simhash for short. A simhash is a single, 64-bit, unsigned integer, again calculated in such a way that duplicate or near-duplicate pages result in simhash values which are identical, or nearly so. The difference between pages is proportional to the number of bits that differ in the two numbers.

The problem: avoid false duplicates

The problem is that these two measures are very different: one is a vector of 128 values, while the other is a single value. Because of this difference, the measurements may vary in how they see page difference. With the possibility of a single crawl containing over a million pages, that's an awful lot of numbers we need to compare to determine the best possible threshold value for the new heuristic.
Specifically, we need to set the heuristic threshold to detect as many duplicates and near-duplicates as possible, while minimizing the number of false duplicates. It is more important to absolutely minimize the number of page pairs which aren’t duplicates, so we’re not removing a page as a duplicate unless it actually *is* a duplicate. This means we need to be able to detect pages where:
  • The two pages are not actually duplicates or near-duplicates,
  • The current fingerprints heuristic correctly views them as different, but
  • The simhash heuristic incorrectly views them as similar.
We’re being incredibly careful about this to avoid the most negative customer experience we anticipate: having a behind-the-scenes change of our duplicate detection heuristic causing a sudden rash of incorrect "duplicate page" errors to appear for no apparent good reason.

The solution: visualizing the data

Our need to make a decision where many numeric quantities are involved is a classic case where data visualization can be of help. Our SEOmoz data scientist, Matt Peters, suggested that the best way to normalize these two very different measures of page content was to focus on how they measured difference between existing pages. Taking that to heart, I decided on the following approach:
  1. Sample about 10 million pairs of pages from about 25 crawls selected at random.
  2. For each pair of pages sampled, plot their difference as measured by the legacy fingerprints heuristic on the horizontal axis (0 to 128), and their difference as measured by simhash on the vertical axis (0 to 64).
The plot resulting from this approach looks like this:
Visualized data
Immediately, a problem is obvious: there's no measure of central tendency (or lack thereof) in this image. If more than one page pair has the same difference as measured by both legacy fingerprints and simhash, the plotting software will simply place a second red dot precisely atop the first one. And so on for the third, fourth, hundredth, and possibly thousandth identical data point.
One way to address this problem is to color the dots differently depending on how many page pairs they represent. So what happens if we select the color using a light wavelength that corresponds to the number of times we draw a point on the same spot? This tactic gives us a plot with red (a long wavelength) indicating the most data points, down through orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet (really, magenta on this scale) representing only one or two values:
Linear data visualization
How disappointing! That's almost no change at all. However, if you look carefully, you can see a few blue dots in that sea of magenta, and most important of all, the lower-leftmost dot is red, representing the highest number of instances of all. What's happening here is that red dot represents a count so much higher than all the other counts that most of the other colors between it and the ones representing the lowest numbers end up unused.
The solution is to assign colors in such a way that most of the colors end up being used for coding the lower counts, and to assign progressively fewer colors as counts increase. Or, in mathematical terms, to assign colors based on a logarithmic scale rather than a linear one. If we do that, we end up with the following:
Logarithmic data visualization
Now we're getting somewhere! As expected, there is a central tendency in the data, even though it's pretty broad. One thing that's immediately evident is that, although in theory, the difference measured by simhash can go to a maximum of 64, in practice, it rarely gets much higher than 46 (three-fourths of the maximum). In contrast, using the fingerprints difference, many pages reach the maximum possible difference of 128 (witness all the red and orange dots along the right side of the graphic). Keep in mind that those red and orange dots represent really big counts, because the color scale is logarithmic.
Where we have to be most careful is on the bottom edge of things. That represents simhash values which indicate pairs of pages that are quite similar. If two pages are not, in fact, similar, yet simhash measures them similar where fingerprints saw a significant difference, this is precisely the sort of negative customer experience we are trying to avoid. One potential trouble spot is circled below:
Pesky data visualization
The circled dot represents a pair of pages which are actually quite different, yet which simhash thinks are quite similar. (The dot to the left and even further below turns out to not be a problem: it represents a pair of nearly duplicate pages that the old heuristic missed!)
The vertical position of the troublesome dot represents a simhash difference of 6 (6 corresponding bits in the two 64-bit simhash values differ). It's not the only case, either: occasionally, such pairs of pages come up from time to time. It happens in 1% or less of the crawls, but it does happen. If we choose a simhash difference threshold of 6 (matching the threshold we currently have defined for the legacy fingerprints), there will be false positives.

Picking a threshold

Thankfully, 6 seems to be a border case. Above 6 bits of difference, the chance of a false positive increases. Below 6, I was unable to find any such pathological cases, and I examined thousands of crawls trying to find one. So I chose a difference threshold of 5 for simhash-based duplicate detection. That results in a situation represented by the final graphic:
Bounded Logarithmic data visualization
Here we have lines drawn to represent the two difference thresholds. Everything to the left of the vertical line represents what the current code would report as duplicate. Everything below the horizontal line represents what the simhash code will report. Keeping in mind the logarithmic color scale and the red dot in the lower-left corner, we see that the number of page pairs where the two heuristics agree about similarity outweighs the number of page pairs where they disagree.
Note that there are still things in the "false positive" (lower right) quadrant. It turns out that those pairs tend not to differ much from the pairs where the two measures agree, or, for that matter, from the false negative pairs in the upper left quadrant. In other words, with the chosen thresholds, both simhash and the legacy fingerprints miss seeing some true near-duplicates.

The visible results

With this threshold decision, the number of false negatives outnumbers the number of false positives. This meets our goal of minimizing the number of false positives, even at the cost of incurring false negatives. Note that the "false positives" in the lower-right quadrant are actually quite similar to each other, and therefore would more accurately be described as the false negatives of the legacy fingerprints heuristic, rather than the false positives of the fingerprints heuristic.
The most visible aspects of the change to customers are two-fold:
1. Fewer duplicate page errors: a general decrease in the number of reported duplicate page errors. However, it bears pointing out that:
  • We may still miss some near-duplicates. Like the current heuristic, only a subset of the near-duplicate pages is reported.
  • Completely identical pages will still be reported. Two pages that are completely identical will have the same simhash value, and thus a difference of zero as measured by the simhash heuristic. So, all completely identical pages will still be reported.
2. Speed, speed, speed: The simhash heuristic detects duplicates and near-duplicates approximately 30 times faster than the legacy fingerprints code. This means that soon, no crawl will spend more than a day working its way through post-crawl processing, which will facilitate significantly faster delivery of results for large crawls.
I hope this post provides some meaningful insight into our upcoming changes. I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments below.

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January Mozscape Index is Live!

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Posted by carinoverturf

Today, we are releasing the latest Mozscape index – just three weeks after our last release on 12/21! Mozscape data has been refreshed across all our applications so you can see the latest data in Open Site Explorer, the MozbarPRO campaigns, and the Mozscape API.

The top focus of the Big Data team in the next couple months is to get our Mozscape index releases to be more frequent – consistently releasing every three weeks, and then, ultimately, every two weeks. We're utilizing both the high power compute AWS machines as well as our own virtual private cloud setup in our Virginia colocation. At this point, processing in AWS is still slightly faster than processing in our private cloud. However, our top notch Tech Ops team is working closely with us to fine tune our implementation of Open Stack, open source software that allows us to put a virtual layer on top of our fleet of hardware in Virginia. Our own super computers in Virginia should give us even more computing power than we've seen in AWS, meaning faster index processing and more frequent releases for you guys!

Here are the metrics for this latest index:

  • 68,291,839,694 (68 billion) URLs
  • 512,802,814 (512 million) Subdomains
  • 96,918,414 (97 million) Root Domains
  • 771,699,931,943 (771 billion) Links
  • Followed vs. Nofollowed
    • 2.24% of all links found were nofollowed
    • 56.32% of nofollowed links are internal
    • 43.68% are external
  • Rel Canonical – 11.39% of all pages now employ a rel=canonical tag
  • The average page has 61 links on it
    •  51.68 internal links on average
    •  8.77 external links on average

And the following correlations with Google's US search results:

  • Page Authority – 0.36
  • Domain Authority – 0.19
  • MozRank – 0.24
  • Linking Root Domains – 0.30
  • Total Links – 0.25
  • External Links – 0.29

Crawl histogram for the January Mozscape index

This index is a little bit smaller than the previous index, but fairly fresh with the oldest data being crawled late November and the freshest from January 1st. As you can see from the histogram, a pretty big portion was crawled mid- to late-December!

We always love to hear your thoughts! And remember, if you're ever curious about when Mozscape is updating, you can check the calendar here. We also maintain a list of previous index updates with metrics here.

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Semantic Web and Link Building without Links > The Future for SEO?

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Posted by simonpenson

Rand’s recent WBF about co occurrence was a real wake up call for those still transfixed with link building practices of old. While anchor text based links may still have some effect there is little arguing the fact that the factor’s importance is dwindling. In its place are things like social signals, link age and most importantly a growing reliance on relevancy and how that is deciphered.

For those that haven’t read it yet, I wrote a piece a few weeks ago about what I felt recent Google penalties are really trying to solve. My view is that Google is really trying to clear up the link graph and with it valueless links so that it can clearly understand relevance and associations again.

It’s something that web ‘creator’ Tim Berners Lee first wrote about back in 2006 in this magazine article and Google has been talking about ever since, ploughing lots of cash into acquisitions to get it there.

So, why invest so much time, effort a resource into such a game-changing project? Quite simply because its existing keyword based info retrieval model is in danger of being bettered by semantic search engines.

To understand why this is the case we must first delve into semantics and why it changes the way search engines work.

Semantic Association

Put simply Google wants to better map the associations between content so it can deliver what it believes will be a more personalized and effective result.

The nirvana for the engineers working on the project is to map the associations between types of content with an understanding of the intent of the user when typing in a query.

So, let’s say I type in ‘what’s the weather today?’ At present Google might know where I am but would find it difficult to associate other content to that query. The reason I’m searching for it may well be because I want to know whether I can BBQ, or complete that landscaping project I’ve been researching online.

Google can improve its results by ‘knowing’ why I’m searching for the weather so it can also throw up food offers or home improvement guides.

It can only do this if its data set is clean, and right now there are far too many spammy links muddying the waters; hence why Penguin came in to begin addressing that issue.

Why is Relevance important?

It is quite clear to see why relevance is therefore important and why search engines may reward those helping them out or working to this new system.

How does Google Measure this?

Clearly we are still a long way from a purely semantic engine and Google may never get to that point. The important thing is that they are certainly motivated to make much more of relevance to diversify search results.

As a search marketer your first thought will undoubtedly be ‘how can I ensure I work in a way to take advantage of this change?’ The answer to that question begins with an understanding of some of the patents Google currently holds that may help it do this.

(Hat tip to Bill Slawski and Dan Thies on some of the below)

Topical PageRank

Google had a busy time of it back in 2003, bringing in Taher H. Haveliwala, the genius PHD student behind a new way of applying topical relevance to the company’s faltering PageRank model.

His research around applying greater relevance to links from topical pages as graded by their newly acquired Applied Semantics’ CIRCA Technology meant that they could start developing ways of measuring relevance.

Reasonable Surfer Model

This theory is then taken another step further by applying differing weights to different links on that same page based on their ‘likeliness to be clicked on’. The more likely it is they will be ‘used’ the more authority handed to them. Everything from font size to position and even colour are taken into account in this computation.

Phrase Based Indexing

To further complicate the picture Google then also looks at co-occurrence of words and phrases on a page to work out their ‘meaning’. If you take the phrase ‘hair of the dog’ for instance, Google needs a way to understand its meaning.

To do that it will look at other pages that mention that same phrase to see what else they mention. If they also mention things like ‘drink’ and ‘the morning after the night before’, for instance it will understand that it, and the page it is linking to is talking about a drink to offset the impact of a heavy night out it will assign more authority to that link as it is extremely relevant.

Had it talked about dog hair’ it would be less relevant and therefore a less valuable link.

This is a key development as it is most likely responsible for a lot of the penalties we are currently seeing as a result of spammy link building practices. To stop a page ranking Google can simply remove the connection between the page and any particular term in its index.

It also throws up some interesting opportunity and new ways of working for those looking at how to optimize sites, and we’ll come onto that a little later.

Metaweb Acquisition

While this wasn’t a direct algorithm patent or algo change Google’s purchase of Metaweb, an open source entity database of people, places, things, powered the development of ‘Knowledge Graph’ and fast-tracked its move to add more diversity and ‘user intent understanding’ to search results.

It’s addition allows Google to better understand associations between pages based on their real life connections, not just how they are linked to.

How can you develop a Semantic Strategy?

Knowing all of the above is useless with some actionable ‘next steps’ in terms of how it affects your own search marketing efforts.

So let’s look at some of the ways in which this kind of knowledge has helped me structure our own on and off page process at Zazzle.

Mapping Relevance

The first thing you must work on when considering your off page plan of attack to proactively improve your own relevance profile is to understand what is considered ‘relevant’ to you, and how, in a semantic world. Below is an example of related words to ‘content marketing’ and how they are connected:

Semantic relevance map

The good news is that there is no need to use guesswork here. Tools exist to take the hard work out of the process and a few of the best are listed below: – this is a great tool to enrich your on page content. Effectively semantically optimizing your own site. By pasting in snippets of your post the engine finds semantically associated images and other content for you to link out to and add. – a few great blog posts have been created recently around the subject of LSI, or Latent Semantic Indexing, including this one linked to on our own blog.

We wrote about it, as it’s a key part of our own outreach process now. For every piece of work we do we will use a tool like this to ensure we stay relevant.

LSI Keywords is one of a handful of tools that will present a list of semantically relevant keywords and phrases for you to widen your outreach approach. – is a tool I have mentioned before here and its great for a multitude of things, especially big data led content cu ration. One of its ‘tools’ however is great for understanding degrees of relevance separation. Once you type in a keyword you have the option to scroll through a number of different tools but the one that we want to use for this is the Sonar+. It visually maps real time semantic relationships between concepts based on Twittersphere sharing and other big data.

Google Semantic Operator – not a tool per se but a really useful operator to help define semantic keyword relationships. By adding the ~ Tilde symbol when searching Google for your key phrase (e.g.: ~travel) you will see other words that Google has mapped against that word, such as Hotels, Flights, Holiday, Tours. although it is not officially a semantic tool ubersuggest is built on Google predictive search engine and so by default it delivers semantically relevant searches, which makes it great for building outreach keyword lists.

All of the above tools give the user the ability to create a keyword-based map of where to outreach to if links are your project aim.

Building the Outreach Plan

Once you have a view on where you want to outreach too then the next step is to construct a plan to do that.

The next stage is to create a time-based project plan to detail each and every step of the process. This is extremely important when carrying out outreach, as it can be very easy to get distracted and pulled sideways and out of your defined semantically relevant zone.

We use a simple excel table to plan this and below you can see an example based on a two week outreach campaign for a fitness brand.

outreach plan

As you can see we have planned time days on specific areas to ensure we cover off as much semantically relevant opportunity as possible. Into this plan we would then add outreach contacts and note what communication we have had with each.

How to outreach well has been covered in detail by posts like this, this and this and this post is already far too long to delve into this right now but one tip that must be followed is to be as exhaustive as possible in exploring each avenue. Think Face to Face, Phone, Twitter and finally email in terms of contact medium hierarchy as the further you get down the list the lower the conversion to placement will be.

Where things get VERY interesting in a semantically driven project, certainly in terms of off page activity, is when you begin to consider what the real value of that work is; the metrics you’ll be monitoring as your KPIs for the campaign.

Posting without links

Posting content without the need to obtain a link may seem like an insane proposition, especially if you are measuring success by ranking and search engine visibility metrics, but that may not be the case.

Real marketing is not about links. It’s about connecting your brand or business to people with similar interests and beliefs. Links are simply a mechanism that drives Google visibility to get you in front of more of those people more often.

Google understands that while its entire business is built on links it really needs to get away from that model and motivate us to act like above-the-line marketers. And that is where Lexical co-occurrence comes in.

For those really interested in this, both Bill Slawski and Joshua Giardino wrote great technical pieces on what it is and how it works.

In simple terms however it is a way of ranking websites and pages not on inbound links but by how many times they are MENTIONED in close proximity to key phrases.

That’s game changing.

If Google can work out what you are relevant for not by looking at dumb anchor text but what people write about you and what other phrases you regularly appear close to it changes the way you outreach and market your content.

Imagine being able to outreach awesome content without having to look for links. Simply make people aware of what you are doing and get them to talk about you. It’s how it should be and it would have a profound effect on the type of content you might produce and brand-marketing activity you might pursue. Expect PR stunts galore!

On Page Semantic Optimisation

Another key element of semantic ‘link building’ is to build out your relevance to widen the scope of what you are ‘about’. If Google is looking to diversify results then the more words and phrases you can associate yourself with the better.

This means expanding your repertoire. Writing more about those peripheral semantic phrases that are still on brand but may help you rank for a greater number of related searches.

In many ways this is not dissimilar to how any good content strategy should be constructed anyway but below are a few simple reminders and additional points to consider when designing content for a semantic engine:

  1. Proximity > keyword mentions, as we know are useful for helping keyword-based retrieval engines like Google work out what you are about. To improve this further augments the phrase with synonyms, as these are strong semantic signals that you are relevant for a cluster of phrases. Try and then align URL, H1, bold and italic text etc. to ensure continuity, as you normally would to strengthen the page. How close keywords are to key modifiers, and to other links, and the higher up in the code they are the better.
  2. Relevant Shingles and Keyword Co-Occurrence > Use the aforementioned tools and ensure you are adding in those co-occurred phrases within the copy of the page.
  3. Synonym keyword linking > Ensure you link from semantically relevant keywords back to key landing pages for bigger terms to create a strong semantic theme. So link internally using ‘holiday’, ‘hotels’ and other terms back to a key ‘travel’ landing page.
  4. Linking out > again this is not new but by choosing ‘Authority’ or ‘Expert’ documents within the niche, as described by the Hilltop Algorithm. This means looking for high authority sites already ranking for the term you want to be relevant for.


We have covered a lot of ground in this lengthy piece. My hope is that it gives a solid overview of where Google, and other key search engines, are heading. More importantly is gives some actionable tips and suggestions for you to begin implementing now to ensure your site benefits from these forthcoming changes.

Simon Penson is founder and MD of Zazzle Media, a UK digital content marketing and SEO agency. Catch him on Twitter.

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The Varying Effectiveness of Social Proof – Whiteboard Friday

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Posted by randfish

Whether is it's a tweet from a colleague or a face pile on a site, social proof can be a wildly effective form of marketing. But like all marketing, the effect can vary greatly for a number of reasons.

In this week's Whiteboard Friday, Rand discusses different ways to approach your social proof and tactics to increase the potential conversion rate by increasing the specificity of your efforts.

What do you do to enhance your social proof? Has anything really worked great for you? Share and discuss in the comments below!


Video Transcription

"Howdy SEOmoz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week I want to talk a little bit about the power of social proof. Now social proof is a psychological, like behavioral psychology type of phenomenon whereby human beings are interested in what other human beings are doing, and by showing that other humans are interested in something or are taking some activity, you can actually encourage people to take that same activity.

It's not that we're all sheep or lemmings. It's just that we like each other. We tend to follow each other. We tend to be interested in and remember the behaviors of those around us.

This gets used all the time in inbound marketing and web marketing all over the place. You can see this, for example, in search results. Think when you perform a search on Google and you see all those star ratings, and it's been rated by this many people, and it's 4.5 out of 5 stars. Now they've got the Zagat ratings and local. They have product ratings. You can see the number of times that someone has +1'd something, so it will say, "This is
+1'd by 3000, 4000 people." There will be their profiles on the right-hand side. Google is clearly doing this.

You can see this in Yelp and Urbanspoon, places like that, that rate local restaurants. You can see this in all sorts of places that rate hardware, rate software, rate anything. You can see this on a lot of people's websites, where they've got the Facepile widget installed, and they show the faces of people like you who have subscribed. If you're logged into Facebook, they'll show you, "Oh well, Rand, your friends, Mike and Adam and Sally, they've all subscribed to this email newsletter." All right. Great. Or they've liked this brand on Facebook.

This sort of social proof stuff is used all over the place, and primarily the activity that you're trying to drive toward is some type of conversion. You're trying to get someone to engage in an activity like share something socially, like something, +1 something, click on something, or you're trying to actually get them to convert. But social proof has varying degrees of effectiveness, and that's what I wanted to talk about a little bit today.

There's been a lot of research into this area and a lot of interesting tests performed online. I might try and cite some of those in the link here or on the page here or maybe in the comments below. You can see this type of varying effectiveness. So saying something like, and you'll see this on the front of a lot of websites or on their landing pages, where they'll say, "40,000 small businesses use" Or you might see, what's a good example? has something where they say, "92% of Fortune 500s use Box. Why aren't you? You should give us a try." That kind of thing.

What's essentially being said here is, "Lots of other people use us. Therefore, this is a good data point to indicate that we're reliable and trustworthy and we're popular." Usually even better than this generic is when you get much more specific. There's been a lot of good research to this effect. So, "141 restaurants in Portland, Oregon use GetListed to manage their online listings and SEO." Oh, well, if I have entered my information and GetListed knows that I'm a restaurant in Portland, Oregon, wow. This essentially says to me that may not be nearly as many as the 40,000 number, but this says, "People like me. My peers, my equals are doing the same thing. They're using this product. Therefore, this must be a good product." In fact, this proves out to be, generally speaking, much more effective in converting than the generic ones, and the more specific you get, the better it gets.

We talked about the Facepile widget saying, "141 restaurants in Portland, Oregon, etc., and your friends." Then these are your friends that are logged in from Facebook or from LinkedIn or Google+, whatever it is. These people in your network, especially if you've already done an email connect of some kind, and you can show who those people are, now this is very, very effective. You might be saying, "Well, okay, but this is a pretty specific use case. You've got to have a lot of information about somebody before you would be able to say, even the specificity of this, although you can get pretty specific if you know who your target customer is." Including the Facepile or something like that gets much harder because you have to get someone to log in with a social network, provide those details. Facepile, obviously, if they're already logged in, you get it automatically, but this actually works tremendously well for social networking itself.

One of the things that we do here at Moz is we look at multi-touch attribution, and we look at where people have seen us and those types of things. We can actually see with some effectiveness that a lot of people, who eventually take a free trial of Moz or make a purchase or those kinds of things, have seen us, been exposed to us on a social network. In fact, they probably followed a link to us from a social network, often Twitter, at one point or another in their buying cycle, which by the way is usually about seven visits long.

In here, there's a lot of social proof in social networks themselves. If you've seen several people in your network mention a brand or a product or a place or a person, you are much more likely to think positively and to have a brand memory of that place. Seeing tweets like, "I just used GetListed to check my local listings," and you see that from two or three of your friends, and the funny thing that happens here is that people, who are exposed to just a few messages from close inside their network, often have a belief that a product is much more popular than people who see messages like this saying, "40,000 small businesses."

The fact that it's in my network, "oh well, if two people in my network mention it, it must be a huge product." As opposed to, "Well, it could just be that it's doing really well in your network." This isn't the psychological belief that we tend to have as people. So this can be very effective. Hence, social media as a branding tool becomes very effective for providing social proof.

Then perhaps not surprisingly, one of the really interesting ones to me, this is in offline use, but in person, if you are out with a group of folks, let's say you're at a conference or an event or a dinner or something like that and someone says, "Oh, have you heard about They're a great site to do these local listings," and someone else at the event says, "Yeah, they're awesome." These people who have never heard of it before will actually have the most positive impression and the highest likelihood to have a positive brand memory because that in person social behavior is so incredibly powerful.

We have to assume that they're actually going to remember it and that they'll have a brand association from that memory. But this in person stuff is the most powerful one. This is, in fact, why you will see . . . I think there was some great research done. I can't remember exactly the book. I'll try and pull it up. There's some great research done about online auctions versus in person auctions and why Christie's and Sotheby's continue to do auctions, a lot of expensive places, charity auctions, continue to get people together in person. It's because our social behavior and the power of social proof in person, when we're standing together next to each other and hearing from each other, is so much more powerful, and that turns up the dial on what people are willing to spend, how high they're willing to bid, and therefore all the big art auctions and charity auctions and these kinds of things still do in person because the web is not yet providing the same power of social proof as a psychological behavioral modifier that you see in these other ones.

Still I think these can be tremendously effective for your marketing efforts. I would urge you to try these out, if you're not already, on your landing pages, in the search results that you're trying to get, in your social media efforts, in your email subscriptions. Social proof, a very, very powerful tactic.

All right, everyone. Hope you've enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday. We'll see you again next week. Take care."

Video transcription by

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How’d He Do? Score Bruce’s Predictions for SEO and Internet Marketing in 2012

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How’d He Do? Score Bruce’s Predictions for SEO and Internet Marketing in 2012 was originally published on, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

Calling all online marketers! We need your input to get a good picture of what happened in the Internet marketing industry last year. We’re hoping you have a minute to grade Bruce’s predictions from last year.

SEO fortune cookie

The SEO Fortune Cookie says: “You will predict the year ahead with 68.725% accuracy.”

Every year Bruce reads trends and past events to forecast the Internet marketing industry in the year ahead. Predicting major happenings in the search marketing industry for the year to come is a fun tradition we do every year.

But now it’s time to get critical and see how accurate he was. Will you score Bruce? Did you see these predictions play out, or were they in the ballpark or total misses?

We’ll be publishing Bruce’s final scorecard for his 2012 predictions in the SEO Newsletter next week and can use all the graders we can get. We’d be grateful if you could share this survey with your networks, too. :)

Check out all of Bruce’s 2012 Internet marketing industry predictions published in the January 2012 SEO Newsletter.

Select all the answers you agree with for each of the 6 questions below.

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

Bruce Clay Blog

Guide to Replicating SEOmoz’s Graphs in Excel

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Posted by Annie Cushing

If you run reports from the SEOmoz toolset, you may find it difficult to make your data look as sexy as the graphs you see on the site. I hope to close that gap with this post and give you the tools to format your data like a pro. To accomplish this objective, I've provided several resources:

  • A video walkthrough of how to format your data like one of the SEOmoz charts for you DIY'ers out there.
  • Chart template files for all of the charts on the SEOmoz site that have export options (there are three in total).
  • Instructions on how to load the template files.
  • A video walkthrough of the data prep and cleanup steps required with the templates.

Here's a screenshot of the three charts you'll be able to replicate:

Download the Excel file

You can download the Excel file I worked from to create these charts to follow along. Whether you watch the video to learn how to steal all of SEOmoz's formatting ideas format like an SEOmoz data scientist or take the shortcut and download the chart template files, you may want to check out the Excel file for tips.

Watch over my shoulder as I create one

The report I’ll be demonstrating is the Historical Domain Analysis chart, found under Pro Dashboard (or Campaigns) > [choose your  campaign] > Link Analysis > History. Here's a before/after picture of what I show you how to do:

I could write out all of the steps to replicate the Historical Domain Analysis chart, but most people find it easier to watch over someone’s shoulder. Plus, it takes a fraction of the time to watch the steps as opposed to reading and interpreting all of the screenshots. I go through the steps on my Mac, but provide the steps for PC each step of the way. They really are variations on a theme.


Load chart template files

I went through all the SEOmoz reports that a) offer an export, and b) include a graph of some type on the site and created templates, so you don’t have to format the data yourselves. It’s pretty easy to use them. However, some of the raw data needs to be massaged a bit before you can apply the templates.

To load them on your computer, unzip and drop these template files in the chart templates folder on your hard drive.

  • PC: C:/Users/[Your User Name]/AppData/Roaming/Microsoft/Templates/Charts
  • Mac: Users/[Your User Name]/Library/Application Support/Microsoft/Office/Chart Templates

Note: If your Charts directory isn't in the default location and you're on a PC, you can click the Manage Templates button by navigating to Insert > Charts > Other Charts > All Chart Types. 

Data prep and chart cleanup

Each report has its own steps that you have to take to prepare the export for charting and a few cleanup steps you have to take afterwards. I don't normally do two videos in one post because I don't have a death wish; however, after writing out all the steps and taking the screenshots, I realized it looked scarier than it is. So I fired off another video to hopefully allay some of the intimidation.


Make your own

If you want to modify a chart(s) to your liking, no worries. It won't hurt my feelings. 🙂 When you're finished with your changes, you can save it as your own template. On a PC, you would just choose Chart Tools > Design > Save As Template. On a Mac, the easiest way is to right-click on the chart and choose Save as Template. But if you prefer using the Ribbon, go to Charts > Change Chart Type > Other > Save as Template. (Like I said, use the contextual menu.)

More resources

Here are links to the two posts I referenced in the second video for a deeper explanation: 


If you need help

So, if you want to regale your boss, client, or mom by replicating SEOmoz’s charts, hopefully this will give you the tools you need to do that. If you’ve picked up a few data visualization tips in the process, even better. But if you get stuck along the way or run into bugs I didn't run into (I didn't test these on older versions of Excel), feel free to comment below or hit me up on Twitter. Thanks for reading!

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Your Brand, Your Audience and “Design Thinking”

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Your Brand, Your Audience and “Design Thinking” was originally published on, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

Jess addressed an issue yesterday that all businesses face at one point or another: getting into your customer/user’s shoes to make sure what you give them is what they need.

In 3 Ways to Align Your Blog Content with Your Target Audience she writes:

When you understand what challenges your audience faces at what stage, you can begin assigning topics to keywords and building that content into your editorial calendar to offer content to this type of persona.

60 minutes interviewShe’s talking about a blog or website content specifically, but the challenge of empathizing with those using your product or service has a broad reach. It reminded me of a segment I saw last weekend on 60 Minutes, the weekly TV news magazine.

I think every product manager, small business owner, and marketer will enjoy this interview with David Kelley. He’s a designer who’s teaching “design thinking” at Stanford and was the inventor of the first computer mouse (technical revolution) as well as the stand-up tube of toothpaste (everyday useful).

Reporter Charlie Rose starts the segment calling design thinking an “innovative approach that incorporates human behavior into design.” Call me crazy but if you’re not considering human behavior as you design — be it products, services, software, an ad, a website or a content piece — then what are you doing?

Bruce Clay Blog

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